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- 03/21/13--08:28: _Judy's Notebook: Th...
- 03/21/13--10:42: _Cyprus: The Nightma...
- 03/21/13--11:20: _From War Zones to M...
- 03/21/13--11:52: _Happy 7th Birthday ...
- 03/21/13--12:30: _As Health Reform La...
- 03/21/13--12:30: _Progress on Immigra...
- 03/21/13--15:02: _Obama Discourages P...
- 03/21/13--15:08: _Obama Visit Raises ...
- 03/21/13--15:13: _News Wrap: February...
- 03/21/13--15:18: _Budget Battles Aren...
- 03/21/13--15:27: _Is Globalization Wi...
- 03/21/13--15:38: _Tennessee Is Home t...
- 03/21/13--15:47: _Remembering the Fac...
- 03/22/13--05:00: _Gwen's Take: When I...
- 03/22/13--06:10: _Will There Be Drama...
- 03/22/13--06:20: _The Daily Frame
- 03/22/13--06:24: _Economic Inequality...
- 03/22/13--07:09: _Obama and Jordan's ...
- 03/22/13--07:30: _Startupland: Irelan...
- 03/22/13--07:54: _Church and State: R...
- 03/21/13--10:42: Cyprus: The Nightmare Scenario and How to Avoid It in America
- 03/21/13--11:20: From War Zones to Museum Walls, Capturing the Iraq War at Eye Level
- 03/21/13--11:52: Happy 7th Birthday Twitter!
- 03/21/13--12:30: As Health Reform Law Turns Three, What Should You Expect Next?
- 03/21/13--12:30: Progress on Immigration Reform Leaves Rep. Gutierrez Elated and Wary
- 03/21/13--15:08: Obama Visit Raises Expectations of Support on Mideast Peace Dealings
- 03/21/13--15:27: Is Globalization Wiping Out the American Surfboard Industry?
- 03/22/13--05:00: Gwen's Take: When It Helps to Look Inward
- 03/22/13--06:10: Will There Be Drama in Senate 'Vote-a-rama'?
- 03/22/13--06:20: The Daily Frame
- 03/22/13--06:24: Economic Inequality: Isn't it Inevitable?
- 03/22/13--07:30: Startupland: Ireland Climbing out of Recession One Chip at a Time
- 03/22/13--07:54: Church and State: Religious Leaders Debate Same-Sex Marriage
We've moved on to other news stories since then: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, the shooting of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the Arab Spring, the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the 2012 presidential campaign, for starters.
But the health care reform law signed by President Obama in March 2010 will have arguably a bigger impact on the lives of more individual Americans than any of these. And a new survey demonstrates that a disturbingly large number of them still don't understand it -- or the impact it will have on them.
The Kaiser Family Health Foundation reported Wednesday that the public remains "uninformed and divided" about the law, based on a survey conducted earlier this month. Fifty-seven percent of those polled said they didn't understand Obamacare well enough to predict how it would change their own health care. More alarming, among those without health insurance and those who earn less than $40,000 a year -- the very pool of individuals the law was mainly designed to help -- two-thirds said they didn't have enough information.
In other words, after three years of efforts by the Obama administration to explain the law to the American people, including targeted messages to the uninsured and those with lower incomes, many are just as in the dark as they were during the political debate that seemed to go on forever. In fact, the Kaiser survey shows that public awareness and understanding of some of the most important elements of the law, such as the availability of health insurance tax credits for individuals and small businesses, has actually declined since the law went into effect.
Opinion of the law is, less surprisingly, also still divided, and mainly along party affiliation lines, but favorable views have declined just in the past few months. Now, 40 percent of Americans say they have an unfavorable view of health care reform, 37 percent say their view is favorable, and 23 percent either refused to answer or said they didn't know enough to answer. When Obamacare was signed into law, that was flipped: 46 percent held favorable views, 40 percent unfavorable, and 14 percent said they didn't know or declined to say.
Sixty-eight percent of Republicans have a negative opinion of the law; 58 percent of Democrats have a positive one. Kaiser says these findings are consistent with what they've seen since the law was enacted.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had pledged to undo health care reform if he were elected, but with his defeat, the law is safe at least for the next four years. That means the Obama administration has its work cut out for itself in the months ahead. What it has going for it is the fact that the public seems to approve of individual features in the law, such as those health insurance tax credits for small businesses, improved prescription drug coverage under Medicare, and expanding Medicaid, as well as requiring insurers to offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. But surveys show that many people don't realize the policies they like are included in the law. The Kaiser poll, for example, revealed that fewer than half of those who responded knew about the law's provisions that expand the Medicare drug benefit.
And large percentages of Americans still hold the false belief that Obamacare created so-called "death panels" to ration health care for those on Medicare, or provided coverage to undocumented immigrants. A majority hold the erroneous view that the law created a government-run health insurance program -- once called the "public option" -- to compete with private insurance companies.
President Obama and his team push back regularly on Republican claims that the law will raise health care costs, while physicians seem to be shifting gradually, if begrudgingly, to more positive attitudes about the Affordable Care Act.
But the larger task has to be informing Americans about the tangible changes ahead as the rest of the provisions of the law take full effect. It is hard to think of another piece of sweeping legislation that has required this massive of an education effort so long after it became the law of the land.
By Larry Kotlikoff
Customers queue to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine (ATM) outside a Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl, also known as Laiki Bank on Thursday, March 21. The European Central Bank said it may cut Cypriot banks off from emergency funds after March 25 as the island nation's president, Nicos Anastasiades, scrambled to forge agreement on a plan to stave off financial collapse. Photo by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images.
A Note from Paul Solman: Tiny Cyprus is tottering. Small Greece is quaking next door. Will the other larger borrowers of Southern Europe be next? And after that?
Our Social Security expert for PBS NewsHour's Business Desk, noted Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff, likens what's happening now to the day he himself nearly died, years ago, when the technology he was banking on suddenly failed him. His fears and his prescription are Thursday's Business Desk post.
Larry Kotlikoff: Ralph Nader, America's great consumer advocate, used four words -- Unsafe at Any Speed -- to describe the Corvair, General Motors' death car of the 1960s. The Corvair's engine was placed right in the middle of the automobile, which made it flip from a nice forward path to a crazy spin that would kill you if you hadn't said your prayers properly or were just damn lucky.
I was lucky, damn lucky, one rainy evening in 1969. I was driving my dad's Corvair, doing 65 on a major highway during rush hour. All was calm and serene when suddenly the car tried to kill me, sending itself into a wild 180-degree spin, which miraculously hit nothing. It was precisely in those few seconds that Unsafe at Any Speed burned into my cerebellum.
Nader's words came back to me in 2008 as I, like you, watched the global banking system collapse, which ushered in The Great Recession, from which the developed world is still reeling.
And his words returned to me in the last few days as I read about Cyprus' banking crisis. Like the Corvair, the banking system in Cyprus is built to fail - to spin out of control at a moment's notice. But Cyprus has barely a million people. What's so scary is that every banking system around, including our own, is vulnerable in the same way. And when any country's banking system fails, its economy flips from a good path to a bad one -- in economics-speak, from a good to a bad equilibrium. Given the interconnectedness of the world banking system, unsafe at any speed is a recipe for another 2008 -- or worse.
Why should bank failures hurt the economy? Two reasons. First, banks operate a country's financial highway system, connecting borrowers and lenders to savers and investors. When the banks fail, it's as if all the gas stations in the country go out of business -- simultaneously. And then the public good -- the highway system -- can't be used.
Second, bank failures change expectations. Everyone figures times are bad and about to get worse. They take actions -- like hoarding resources -- for the terrible times that might come. But such actions, while optimal for each individual, add up to a collectively terrible outcome. Bare shelves. Empty ATMs. Bank runs. Paralysis. Economists call this a coordination failure, but I like the late sociologist Robert Merton's way of putting it: a very nasty self-fulfilling prophecy.
What Happened in Cyprus
The Cypriot banks did what all banks do. They gambled. They borrowed money by taking in deposits, borrowed money by selling bonds. They swore to pay back all the money, plus interest, on the deposits and bonds. Then they took the money and loaned it out, at a somewhat higher rate of interest, to businesses and individuals who figured to pay it back. These loans were the banks' assets. The difference between the interest they charged their borrowers and the interest they paid to depositors and bondholders was used to run the banks, pay CEO bonuses, and cover bad loans. Whatever remained was profit.
The problem in Cyprus is simple: the banks' assets included, in large part, government bonds from nearby Greece.
The Greek tragedy that befell Greece and its bonds has thus become a Cypriot bank tragedy. Having borrowed roughly eight times Cyprus' GDP from depositors and bondholders, much of them allegedly insalubrious Russian companies and nationals, the Cypriot banks are now bust, bankrupt, belly up, and in no position to make good on their pledge to their lenders -- especially the depositors, to whom they promised, as banks do, to pay the money on demand. Indeed, Cypriot bank demand deposits are frozen at least through next Tuesday as the Cypriot government decides what to do.
Unfortunately, the small country's three options are: a rock, a hard place, and another rock. The first option is to reverse a decision of a couple days back and accepting the International Monetary Fund/European Union conditions for a bailout, namely, imposing a 9.9 percent haircut (a one-time tax) on deposits over €100,000 and a 6.75 percent haircut on smaller deposits. The Russians hate this and the non-Russian Cypriot public, which also has bank deposits, may hate it even more. The second option is telling the IMF/EU to get lost, reopen the banks, and watch crazed depositors rush to pull whatever remaining money they can out of the banks on a first-come, first-served, get-the-hell-out-of-my-way basis. That's what had begun to happen in Cyprus before a bank "holiday" was declared. The third option is going off the euro and declaring that all deposits will be paid off in new Cypriot pounds, which the government will print for the occasion.
Whatever happens, no one is going to trust or use Cypriot banks for quite some time. This will shut down the country's financial highway and flip Cyprus' economy to a truly awful equilibrium -- a replay of our own country's Great Depression, perhaps, which was fueled, if not kicked off, by the failure of one in three U.S. banks. That, of course, was also the fear worldwide in 2008.
Cyprus is a small country. Still, the failure of its banks could trigger massive bank runs in Greece. After all, if the European Central Bank is abandoning Cypriot depositors, might they not abandon Greek depositors next? A run on Greek banks could then spread to Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and Italy and from there to Belgium and France and, you get the picture, to other countries around the globe, including, drum roll, the U.S. 2008 all over again. Every bank in each of these countries has made promises they can't keep if all depositors demand their money back immediately.
Jimmy Stewart is Dead
We've seen this movie before. And not just in real life. Every Christmas, our televisions show It's a Wonderful Life in which small town banker Jimmy Stewart barely saves "Bedford Falls" from economic ruin by stopping a banking panic through the force of reason and good will.
But, you might ask, could little Cyprus, figuratively speaking, be the thin sheen of water that flipped my Corvair from a fun buggy into a death trap? Could it really kick off a global banking panic? Yes. The chances are small. But even a very small chance of an enormous collapse can spell a huge expected problem.
Yes, the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of England and other central banks can print so-called "hard" money and give it to the banks to pay off depositors. But the specter of such massive money creation would spark fears of massive inflation, since, in the U.S. case alone, providing enough to pay off all depositors would entail printing as much as $12 trillion overnight were bank runs to happen here. The fear of inflation or "hyperinflation" might, in turn, prompt everyone to get and spend their money as fast as possible before prices rise. This transformation of money into a hot potato would, by itself, produce the inflation that everyone would fear.
Given the above, the question we need to ask about Cyprus is not really about Cyprus. The question we need to ask is why we continue to tolerate a banking system that is built to collapse at the first sign of true alarm?
Perhaps we tolerate ongoing financial and economic fragility because we don't see a safer way to run our banking system. But there is, I believe, a much safer way. It's called "Limited Purpose Banking," which I proposed in my book Jimmy Stewart Is Dead. The plan, which I explained on this page in video a while ago is detailed here. Thoroughly non-partisan, it has since been endorsed by a Who's Who of leading economists and policymakers of all stripes, including six Nobel Laureate economists, former Treasury Secretary George Shultz, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
Limited Purpose Banking (LPB) eliminates the two key factors that make traditional banking so fragile. The first is leverage (how much the banks borrow in order to lend). The second is opacity (the banks don't tell us what they are doing with our money).
LPB eliminates leverage by forcing all financial corporations to operate as mutual fund holding companies that do one thing only -- give depositors 100 percent mutual funds. Such mutual funds take in money, not by borrowing, but by selling shares. They then invest this money in the securities in which they specialize. These mutual funds are, thus, small banks with zero leverage (debt). A bank that has no debt can never fail.
To eliminate opacity and ensure that people know what they are buying when they buy the shares of any given mutual fund, a new federal agency -- the Federal Financial Authority (FFA) -- would verify and disclose all securities held by the mutual funds. The FFA would do for the financial services industry what the FDA does for the drug industry -- ensure its products aren't arsenic parading as a cure-all.
Mutual fund banking is not new. Most of us have our 401(k)s or IRAs invested in mutual funds. Indeed, there are more mutual funds in the U.S. than there are banks. The ones that were equity financed -- that is, they got all their money without borrowing any -- sailed unscathed through the great crash of 2008. The ones that were leveraged, like money market funds, did not. Yes, all mutual fund investors lost money if their shares went down in value. But the funds themselves -- their part of the financial highway system -- never failed.
Those who don't learn from history repeat its mistakes. The lesson from Cyprus is the same one we should draw from the long history of banking crises and the terrible economic fallout they engender. The lesson is simple. Traditional banking is unsafe at any speed. I've been saying it for years: It's time to switch to Limited Purpose Banking.
Photographer Thorne Anderson captured this image in Najaf, Iraq, in 2004 while working as a freelancer covering the Iraq War.
When photographers go into the field to cover a war, it would seem that making art to hang in museums is probably pretty far down on their to-do list -- after staying alive, getting good action photos and selling their work to newspapers and magazines.
Thorne Anderson and Kael Alford in IraqThat's pretty much what Thorne Anderson and Kael Alford did 10 years ago, when they went to Iraq as freelancers to cover the beginnings of America's war.
They went as journalists, which is what they still call themselves -- objective, hardworking photographers who decided not to embed themselves with the American forces who invaded the country, trying to rid it of weapons of mass destruction and of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
By not being embedded, Anderson and Alford cut themselves out of a lot of the "action." But they found other subjects to photograph equally interesting, perhaps more insightful. They covered Iraq itself -- and its people -- as best they could, living with the war. An exhibit of their work, "Eye Level in Iraq", is on display at San Francisco's deYoung Museum, on the 10th anniversary of the beginning of that war.
Kael Alford shot this Fallujah scene in 2003.
Anderson is well aware of the difficulty in remaining objective when he is working with people whose lives are endangered by the war all around them. In preparing a story for PBS NewsHour about the photos, I observed him and his wife, Alford, as they talked to photography students at the San Francisco Art Institute. Anderson was eager to bore in on the topic of journalistic objectivity:
"This line between journalist and activist is hard to draw. It is really important for me to maintain a distinction between when I'm acting as a journalist, and whether or not people see me as an activist. It doesn't mean that I don't see injustice in the world, and it doesn't mean that I don't directly try to address that injustice. It's definitely something that is always in the back of my mind."
For Alford, it seemed difficult to completely divorce herself from issues faced by the Iraqis she was photographing:
"We decided we were going to show this from an Iraqi civilian perspective; we also wanted to be sure we helped Americans understand the motivations of those people who decided to challenge the U.S. occupation ... Certainly many Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein and wanted him go, but what followed was this sort of long intractable conflict where American forces were staying in Iraq. A lot of Iraqis saw that as a colonial enterprise, a kind of occupation, a kind of offense really to their own sovereignty."
This photo by Kael Alford shows a protest in Baghdad from 2004.
However, they resolved these sticky issues -- issues that every journalist must face -- and their work was judged as of museum quality. Not always easy to look at, it portrays the life of a people during a war. And as such, it was more than simply a record of that war. The chief curator at the San Francisco Art Museums, Julian Cox, said he was mesmerized by the photos when he first saw them in 2006. "I felt vehemently they needed to be seen by a large audience."
Cox acknowledged that putting them on display was unusual for a museum like the deYoung:
"Those kinds of pictures are not typically seen in major art museums. There are one or two institutions across the country that do show these kinds of pictures, but you don't usually see them in art museum context ... The pictures are incredibly moving."
Despite the lack of combat shown in the photos, Cox praises the nerve and the skill of the photographers. "Their bravery and their commitment to telling this story is what motivates me to put this war in front of a much larger audience," he said. "And sometimes where there is horror, there is also great beauty."
Alford and Anderson are back in the United States these days, both teaching at a college in Texas. But they would like to return to Iraq now that the U.S. is mostly gone. "I'm sure I'll go back at some point," said Alford. "I don't know when, but I like Iraq. I like the people that I know there. I miss it."
Their work is on exhibit at the deYoung Museum until June 16.
Watch Spencer Michels' broadcast report on the exhibit on Thursday. Plus, view the NewsHour's 2010 reports from Iraq on the end of official U.S. combat operations.
Happy birthday, Twitter!
just setting up my twttr— Jack Dorsey (@jack) March 21, 2006
The company posted this video late Wednesday night, chronicling its development as a social-networking site -- from its 140-character start in 2006 to the invention of hashtags and retweets in 2007 ...
To this Twitpic, documenting the U.S. Airways plane crash on the Hudson.
Twitter became a focal point of coverage in June of 2009 in the wake of the disputed presidential election in Iran, as users organized demonstrations and shared on-the-ground knowledge.
In 2011, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told the NewsHour's Spencer Michels that the site was not only a medium for breaking news, but also one for relaying context.
Today, the company reports it has well over 200 million active users creating over 400 million tweets each day.
"As we've grown, Twitter has become a true global town square -- a public place to hear the latest news, exchange ideas and connect with people all in real time," writes Twitter editorial director Karen Wickre.
NewsHour first tweeted in April 2008 amid a closely-watched Democratic primary season (back when we were called The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and our homepage looked like this).
Planning a PA roadtrip to cover the Democratic primary... many more updates to come.— NewsHour (@NewsHour) April 18, 2008
More than 41,000 tweets later, we say happy birthday, Twitter! (can we get a RT, please?)
Three years after the Affordable Care Act became law, a roundtable of reporters weighs in on what's changed for consumers, businesses and state governments -- and what you should expect next.
A transcript follows.
JACKIE JUDD: Good day, I'm Jackie Judd and this is the "ACA at 3."
PRESIDENT OBAMA (Voiceover): We have now just enshrined, as soon as I signed this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health.
JACKIE JUDD: What's changed since that day for consumers, businesses, state governments, with the coming expansion of Medicaid and the creation of exchanges? What challenges lie ahead?
We answer those questions with journalists who've covered every angle of the Affordable Care Act. Joining me: Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News, Jay Hancock, also of KHN, Sam Baker of The Hill, and Christine Vestal of Stateline. Welcome to you all.
Sam, exchanges -- or marketplaces, as the administration now likes to call them -- it's a mixed bag at the moment: Some states are doing it on their own, some looking to the federal government for support, and then there's a partnership. Give us a broader picture.
SAM BAKER: Exchanges are arguably the cornerstone of the health care law. It's the biggest structural new thing that was created. And it was envisioned initially as something the states would very much take the lead on. The assumption was each state would want to control its own marketplace or its own exchange. That hasn't really proven true. I think the federal government is going to be totally running exchanges in 26 states. Of the minority who are working in some capacity with the federal government, a few are running their exchanges entirely on their own, but there's also some interest in this partnership model -- as what HHS calls it -- where the work is divided between the state and the federal government.
JACKIE JUDD: In the states where the federal government alone will be running the exchanges, is it going to be a one-size-fits-all or will the states have input?
SAM BAKER: The states won't have much input. It's sort of an interesting question to put to HHS about whether it's a one-size-fits-all, because on the one hand they say, "Once you build one exchange, it's easy to upscale that to 26 exchanges." But they're also in this pitch to get states to do more and more. They're also trying to emphasize that each one would be customized to each state, and you'd have different carriers in different states, so a little bit of a balance between the two.
JACKIE JUDD: Enrollment begins in October. They actually start running in January. Are most states at the point -- and the federal government, as well -- at the point at which they will be ready to go in October?
SAM BAKER: The federal government insists that they are. Anytime you ask, it's "We will be ready. We will be ready." On the other hand, they did just request and didn't get some extra money from Congress to help stand up and run exchanges, which would seem to be a sign that there's not enough money to do that in what they have now, but they say they'll make it work.
JACKIE JUDD: The other significant expansion of that access, of course, is going to happen through Medicaid when income requirements change. Chris, you've spent a lot of time covering that story. How many states are in? How many are out? How many are on the fence?
CHRISTINE VESTAL: Twenty-five governors have said yes, either through their budgets or declarations they've made. Eight of those are Republicans. Fourteen have said no, and the rest are undeclared. But that's not the end of it. Now, state legislatures have to approve the governor's [declarations], and that's not necessarily going to happen in all of the states. There are -- in the eight Republican-led states -- five of them [where] it's going to be quite a battle. And if not all states say yes, there will be big disparities in 2014. They can decide later, the following year, and a lot of people predict that's what may happen.
JACKIE JUDD: Are some governors trying to cut special deals? You and I just saw a story out of Maine where the governor of Maine is saying: We will expand Medicaid if you, the federal government, pick up the entire bill for the next decade.
CHRISTINE VESTAL: That's a one-of-a-kind, as far as I know, but there other deals. Governors early on asked for a lot of things and got some nos and got some yeses.
One of the more interesting deals right now was forged by Arkansas and Ohio, with the administration. It hasn't come out on paper yet, but apparently the administration is saying they can use Medicaid money from the federal government to purchase private insurance on the exchanges for this new population, which will be adults with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty.
So that's privatizing, using more of a market approach, which may appeal to the Republican legislators that aren't in favor of the expansion.
JACKIE JUDD: There have been some very tangible results of the ACA. Children -- young adults up to the age of 26 -- can stay on their parent's policy. Some preventive services are now free. When it comes to Medicare beneficiaries, over the past three years, Mary Agnes, what kind of changes have these individuals seen?
MARY AGNES CAREY: There have been some new services added to Medicare. For example, an annual wellness visit that wasn't there before, some more cancer screenings -- and all these preventive services now don't have copays or deductibles.
For example, in 2012 you had 34 million Medicare beneficiaries avail themselves of these new benefits. There also have been some changes in the Medicare prescription drug arena: A closing of this "doughnut hole," that gap in coverage where seniors are on their own. And about six million beneficiaries have saved almost $6 billion on their prescription drugs as a part of the health law.
JACKIE JUDD: The secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, was touting all of the results of the preventive services piece, in recognition of the third anniversary.
The other big piece of Medicare is the payment structure, linking pay to performance. You attended a Senate Finance Committee hearing just yesterday. What kind of results do we have this early on?
MARY AGNES CAREY: We don't have results this early on, and that was a problem for some of the Senate Finance Committee members. Richard Gilfillan, who runs the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation -- they're overseeing the accountable care organizations, bundled payments, the readmissions policies - was really urging the senators and, frankly, every member of Congress: "Please be patient. These take time. Some are going to work. Some are not going to work. And as soon as we have results, good or bad, we're going to share them with you."
JACKIE JUDD: Jay, you have a very big swath of this story. You cover the marketplace, meaning insurance companies, employers, etc.
Going back to the discussion we had with Sam and exchanges, what kind of indications are you seeing from the insurance companies about whether they're going to jump into the exchanges? And what kind of challenges are there with that?
JAY HANCOCK: It's still a little bit early.
JACKIE JUDD: Really? It's March. They start in October.
JAY HANCOCK: Oh, absolutely. It's March. They start in October, yes.
Part of it is due to the fact that the exchanges are still rolling out. Some of the insurers are saying: We can't make decisions until we see what the exchanges look like. Some of the rules are still being written by HHS and the Treasury Department.
What we do know is that the insurers that have spoken out publicly about this -- the private insurers -- have said, the CEO of United Health, for example, has said: Don't assume we're going to offer a plan in every market where there's an exchange. Even United Health, that has a nationwide footprint, their CEO has said: We will not do it unless it makes sense for us economically, for our shareholders, and unless we think this market's going to stick around and be there for a while. Which points out the uncertainty of the whole thing -- these are critical. The insurance companies are the vehicles. This whole plan was written to be filtered through the private insurers for the most part, for people under 65. And if they're not there in force, that's a big question mark.
JACKIE JUDD: And so do you think that they would be on the sidelines for a year or two to see how these exchanges work? And are there any carrots that the administration could provide the insurers -- or the states even -- to encourage the insurance companies to get in?
JAY HANCOCK: In some cases, if you're not there in the first year, there's a penalty. And I don't think anybody's going to sit this out entirely. I suspect we'll see everybody with a foot in the water somewhere, and they'll forget we're going to have two national insurance plans which don't get talked about very often.
But in addition to all the state-based plans, there are going to be a nonprofit and for-profit national plan in every state that will have benefits and compete with whoever the local offerings are there. The thinking is that the blues organizations will also be quite active in this, and be pretty interested in being in the markets in the first place.
JACKIE JUDD: Part of the issue of growing the exchanges, as well as expanding Medicaid, is how do you reach people who are eligible and let them know what's available? The Kaiser Family Foundation just released another survey yesterday that showed the very people who could most be impacted by the ACA understand it the least. Two-thirds of the people who are uninsured, and about two-thirds of people in families who are under $40,000, don't really understand how it will impact them. So Chris and Sam, you could each take this one: What kind of enrollment efforts are going to be made, or going to have to be made to pull people in?
CHRISTINE VESTAL: One thing that's going to happen is that [with] Medicaid, states don't have a choice. They have to make it easier to enroll in Medicaid. So the application process will be easier, which should mean that more people are successful once they find out about it. And this lack of outreach has been a problem in Medicaid already. There are thousands, maybe millions, of people who already qualify for Medicaid and haven't either heard about it, don't want to apply, or tried to apply and couldn't pull together all the paperwork. But I think most of the marketing is going to be through the exchanges.
SAM BAKER: The exchanges could be sort of a heavier lift, you know. The administration has said it's going to have a pretty significant outreach education campaign over the summer. There's an independent group that's formed called Enroll America, which is an offspring of some advocacy groups, that's also going to try to help raise [awareness].
JACKIE JUDD: That helped elect the president.
SAM BAKER: Right, [it] now will take ostensibly a more objective role in just making sure that the law works. But that poll that you mentioned really did indicate the challenge of explaining something that is pretty complicated. You know there was a big political fuss, last week or two weeks ago, about a draft of the application to enroll.
JACKIE JUDD: Fifteen pages or something like that.
SAM BAKER: Right. It had all sorts of information that most people wouldn't know about their employer plan and almost asking them to figure out for themselves whether they were eligible for subsidies -- which is a really complicated determination even for the IRS. So, there are some real hurdles there.
JAY HANCOCK: One of the underrated enrollment forces here is going to be the providers. Nobody has a bigger incentive to make sure that you have coverage than the hospital or the doctor who's taking care of you. I suspect they may also be part of the mix.
JACKIE JUDD: Have you seen evidence or heard evidence of that, Jay?
JAY HANCOCK: Yeah. The hospital -- one of the for-profit hospital companies, Tenet Healthcare, told investors a couple weeks ago that they're gearing up in a very disciplined fashion to make it easy for their patients to explore their options on the exchanges if they don't have coverage when they're at the hospital.
MARY AGNES CAREY: And they're also going to have a series of navigators, right? These are individuals that are kind of boots-on-the-ground to explain to people: You do qualify for Medicaid; this is how you navigate that exchange form. But to your point, it's also in the best interest of the providers to get these folks enrolled, because otherwise they're uncompensated care.
JACKIE JUDD: And some states are being pretty aggressive in terms of simplifying the process. I know in one state -- I believe it's Utah or possibly Michigan -- you can sit down in front of a computer with a navigator and find out instantly if you're going to be eligible for Medicaid. If so, you would then get the benefits.
Jay, you also cover employers, small business. You talked, before we started taping, about something called avoidance and coping strategies. What do you mean by that?
JAY HANCOCK: Well, we should call it avoidance, coping, and compliance strategies, because many employers will end up signing employees up for insurance.
To back track a little bit, the Affordable Care Act requires employers with at least 50 workers to offer affordable coverage to their full-time workers. After that headline, there's a lot of moving parts underneath. What's a full-time worker? One of the things employers are looking at now is: OK. If I had sixty employees, and I'm not offering coverage, is there some way that I can go under that 50 line? Employers are talking about hiring part-timers. So that reduces their total employee count. It's part of their formula -- it's part-timers plus full-timers and then you take an average of their hours.
They're talking about outsourcing. There's a lot of talk about partnering with temp staffing agencies like Manpower and Kelly Services, because if all my frontline employers are working for Manpower, they aren't technically my employees. That might put me under the 50 mark. That might be a way to increase my part-time workers.
There's a lot of discussion going on about this in the employer community. There are also small employers saying: Look. We have a health plan for our employees. They like it. It helps us retain good workers, and we think it will be good for you, as well.
JACKIE JUDD: Are you talking about the self-insurance there?
JAY HANCOCK: Self-insurance is another wrinkle in this. That wasn't what I was referring to, but self-insurance is a whole other thing that I think is going to get more attention this year because of federal court cases that go back way beyond what we want to talk about. If you're self-insured as an employer, which is to say if you fund most of your employees' health cost through your own finances, you are exempt from several measures under the Affordable Care Act, including the insurance premium taxes that come with this, including the pricing rules that say you basically can't charge a lot less for young healthy employees and you can't charge a lot more for older folks with pre-existing conditions.
And, there's the worry now that even smaller employers are going to be switching to self-insurance, which they can do by buying reinsurance policies, which is something else we don't need to get into, but the bottom line is it's another potential out.
I had a story last week in which one of the people I talked to, who is no fan of the Affordable Care Act, sees this as a loophole that could undermine small business exchanges in the states, because if employers see an opportunity to self-insure their young, healthy workers, that may leave older sicker folks in the exchanges and drive up premiums and make it less affordable.
JACKIE JUDD: Others who were not fans of the Affordable Care Act three or four years ago and to this day, of course, warn that for some small businesses, the impact of the law would mean they would be out of business. Is there evidence of that?
JAY HANCOCK: "Out-of-business" would be the extreme case. I haven't heard too many people saying this is going to make me close up my doors and go home. However, whether or not this is affecting job creation is something that's being talked about a lot these days. The Federal Reserve, which does a periodic survey of business conditions and is not a partisan organization, reported a few weeks ago that businesses were telling their surveyors that they were holding off a little bit on hiring. They wanted to see how all of these uncertainties about the exchanges that we're talking about were going to play out. They wanted to understand the law more. And until that happens they may hold off -- if they are talking about expanding that would put them over the 50 mark -- that may keep them from doing some hiring, as well.
At the same time, however, you should point out that the economy is doing pretty well. We had a great jobs report last month, and we're just going have to see how things turn out between now and next year.
JACKIE JUDD: Sam, in recent days, backers of the ACA, friends of the White House, have begun to express some concern that premiums will be higher than had been anticipated and had been promised when the law was being debated. What are you hearing?
SAM BAKER: There are sort of two sides to that question. In one sense and for some plans, premiums will be higher basically by design. The law does away with certain plans that are referred to as mini-meds that are very cheap but also the coverage is usually pretty skimpy -- it will carry high out-of-pocket costs or have a cap on how much it will play out. So people who were insured with one of those plans will now have a more comprehensive plan that will be more expensive, but that's sort of a value determination that the law makes that this is something that should happen.
There is also the question -- insurers refer to it as premium shock, the sticker shock once so many new regulations kick in at the same time, which would be the beginning of next year that you have new limits on how much you can charge based on age, based on health status, pre-existing conditions. Younger people are probably the people who would bear the brunt of any increases, because they are generally cheap to insure now, and by bringing sicker people into the system and by providing guarantees of coverage to them you might be shifting some costs onto the younger workers.
JAY HANCOCK: What insurers will also tell you, generally off the record, is that they're insuring what by definition is sort of terra incognita, an unknown territory. These are people who by definition have lacked coverage in the past, and insurers will say: Look, we don't know the health histories of these populations. We don't know the claims histories, and when push comes to shove that may cause us to decrease our risk by raising our premiums rather than taking the chance that there might be higher-than-expected claims histories with some of these newly insured folks.
JACKIE JUDD: And one part of the unknown territory, Chris, is this question of with so many more people becoming insured, will there be enough doctors, especially primary doctors, to take care of them?
CHRISTINE VESTAL: That's a big question, especially for Medicaid, because Medicaid pays lower rates. Primary care doctors got a raise this year, paid for by the federal government. It will be paid for one more year. After that it will be up to states to continue the pay raise or not.
But one of the things states are doing as they look at this expansion, they're saying this program isn't working anyway. A lot of them feel that it is inefficient and that doctors' time is not spent well. So one of the ways, rather than adding new doctors, which you can't do overnight, states are looking at having doctors work in teams so that they're not the only ones spending time with patients.
JACKIE JUDD: Nurse practitioners?
CHRISTINE VESTAL: Nurse practitioners, also expanding their scope of practice so that they can work at the top of their skill level. That's another initiative that's going forward.
JACKIE JUDD: We can't really have a conversation about the ACA without talking about the politics, which continue in force.
Just last week Congressman Paul Ryan introduced a budget on the House side, in which he called for the repeal of the ACA. As time goes on that seems so, kindly put, less and less likely. So what is the goal of Republicans in the coming year as the ACA becomes more ingrained in our system?
MARY AGNES CAREY: We've talked about a lot of these provisions that kick in in 2014, so that's a year away. So if you're going to make the case against the ACA, if you have any hope of stopping implementation, which, as you noted, they really don't because the president is a Democrat and the Democrats run the Senate, they still want to make their case.
Paul Ryan was asked a question during the budget rollout at a news conference like: You didn't win the election. Republicans didn't get the White House. You didn't get the Senate. Why do you persist? And this and a variety of other provisions that don't seem likely to go forward, and Paul Ryan said: Look, these are our principles.
They don't like the ACA. They want to defund it. The House voted something like 33 times last year to defund either part or all of it. And you see those amendments coming up again on the budget resolution, on the continuing resolution. And while they're not successful, Republicans tell me: This gives us the chance to make our case on why we think the ACA is terrible.
Even yesterday in the Senate Finance hearing I attended, Orrin Hatch, the ranking member, a Republican from Utah, said he sees a train wreck in 2014; things will be a disaster and then people will finally understand the Republicans' concern about the ACA.
But one note on the Paul Ryan plan. We've got to remember that while he would repeal the ACA, he would keep all those savings, all those cuts to providers as part of his budget. So, there was some questioning on that, as well.
JACKIE JUDD: I would like to end our conversation on predicting, as your lawmaker did, a year from now, what things may look like in each of your areas: Medicaid, exchanges, marketplace and Medicare. A year from now, what will you be looking for to report on whether things have been successful or whether they are not working as people had hoped. Chris?
CHRISTINE VESTAL: Well with Medicaid, first of all, it will be interesting to see how many states actually do take the very good offer from the federal government and expand Medicaid. And then, among those that do, how well is it working? How much are these new people using their Medicaid card? Are they having to wait too long to get appointments? And how are the hospitals doing? That's going to be a big question, especially in states that don't expand. Because they [the hospitals] will not get a subsidy that they've been getting for uninsured patients. So there may be a push in those states to go ahead and make the move.
SAM BAKER: On exchanges, I think the top-flying concern is just how many people enroll which will sort of be how you judge the law's political success. They said it would cover about 30 million people. How close do you get to that number? And how many young people enroll? Because that will have a pretty big impact on premiums and on whether the goal of bringing young people into the system to offset other projections is fulfilled.
JAY HANCOCK: I think we will have functioning exchanges in every state, but I suspect there will be hiccups. A lot of people are concerned that 2014 will be the acid test of the Affordable Care Act, and I would suggest that that's probably not the right test. A lot of people compare this to Medicare Part D, which was passed in the last decade. I think that's a good benchmark. The lesson is, in terms of how long it takes to work things out. And when Medicare Part D was adding prescription drug benefits to Medicare, Mary Agnes, how many years did that take to get smoothed out and have everyone understand it and insurers participating and so forth?
MARY AGNES CAREY: It took a while, but the thing to remember about this is that [program] was adding drug coverage to a population that understood the Medicare program. What's really different here is you're bringing in millions of people who may not know anything about how to get health insurance, so that's a further complication in implementation.
JAY HANCOCK: That's true. What the Act's defenders say is: Don't judge us on 2014. And I think that's probably fair.
JACKIE JUDD: As a final word, I'll let you judge 2014, Mary Agnes.
MARY AGNES CAREY: I think we have to see: do these measures to link the payment for care to the quality delivered, do they really work? You've already seen wrinkles in implementation of the ACOs -- the accountable care organizations, bundled payments, the readmissions policy that providers are pushing back on. We have a series of payment changes to Medicare Advantage and to hospitals and other providers. And now we have sequestration -- this additional 2 percent cut that's in place [for Medicare providers]. Providers have a way of putting political pressure on to reverse cuts. And what will happen with those in 2014 and the years ahead?
JACKIE JUDD: Thank you to each and every one of you for bringing your expertise to the table. I appreciate it. Thank you for watching "The ACA At Three." I'm Jackie Judd.
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.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., center at the podium, has long advocated for the comprehensive immigration reform. In November 2012, the representative stood with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and announced a declaration of nine principles for comprehensive immigration reform. Photo courtesy of Rep. Luis Gutierrez/Flickr.
This week, the Republican National Committee, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. and Speaker of the House John Boehner all have endorsed bipartisan work in Congress toward comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
But Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., still worries.
"I'm not sleeping because I'm thinking about what [more] needs to be done," said the 10-term Democratic congressman from Chicago. "There are other more nefarious forces out there."
Gutierrez has made securing a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented residents living in the U.S. -- most of them Hispanic -- a personal mission. Now that he's closer than ever to the goal, he's not letting up on his image as a tireless, vocal firebrand widely considered the preeminent voice for immigration reform in Congress.
He's led rallies against the deportation policies of President Barack Obama and challenged Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders who support immigration reform to push harder and faster for a comprehensive bill.
But Gutierrez now says the November election may have done for the cause what all his years of hectoring the political class could not.
"I said this before the election. Everybody said, what's going to change, Luis? What's going to change if we vote for Barack Obama? All these deportations, people getting arrested," Gutierrez said in an interview with PBS NewsHour. "I remember saying, oh, I'm working for Obama. I'm gonna make sure he gets elected because the victory is going to be so huge he's going to be indebted to Latinos."
Latinos voted overwhelmingly for the president and other Democrats, and that changed the calculus of Republicans as well, Gutierrez said. "That vote was so huge and numerous that Republicans, who had always wanted to either take this [immigration reform] off the table or -- many more -- who were our allies, our partners" could now support comprehensive reform, he said.
Working closely with Republicans, as he did several years ago during the last run at comprehensive immigration reform, Gutierrez is part of a small group in Congress quietly fashioning a bill.It's allowed the liberal former Chicago city council member to forge new bonds despite ideological differences.
"There are a lot of wonderful personal relationships that are being developed across the aisle between people who politically have nothing else in common, who come to this issue, this 'public policy matter,' [they] you would say, so that it would be drained of any emotion, right? - from a different perspective. I see it as a civil rights issue, as a human rights issue," Gutierrez said.
As the economic, political, and practical advantages of immigration reform get voiced by both parties, he believes potential obstacles to passing a final bill continue to fall away. And he says he's less worried than before about one such pitfall -- the demand by some conservatives that undocumented residents not be allowed to become U.S. citizens but only legalized residents."I start from the premise that never again will we allow America to let there be a permanent second-class anything. We had a civil war over that," Gutierrez said. "We're not going to revisit it now. We're not gonna allow a permanent subclass of Americans."
Predictions are that immigration bills in the House and Senate will be unveiled formally after next week's Spring congressional recess. Legislation could arrive on the president's desk before summer's end.
But some advocates worry something they can't see now, such as the grassroots "anti-amnesty" movement that scuttled public opinion support for a law six years ago, could arise again.
Gutierrez says it's what keeps him from sleeping well.
"There are days when I say to myself, 'wow, we have fought against forces in this nation who have just said no -- vehemently -- to anything that isn't they-should-pack-up-and-leave," he said. "I just can't believe that they're not organizing somewhere getting ready and I'm being lulled into a false sense of where we're at."
Desk Assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.
JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama called on young Israelis to see the world through Palestinian eyes and challenged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to abandon -- quote -- "formulas and habits that have blocked peace."
But even amid his visit, the old threats and realities of violence were present.
Margaret Warner reports from Jerusalem.
MARGARET WARNER: The second day of the president's trip to Israel and the West Bank was met with rocket fire from one place Mr. Obama won't go, Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Two landed in Sderot, Israel, a clear breach of the cease-fire the Islamist Hamas faction and Israel struck late last year. There were no injuries. A little-known militant group claimed responsibility, saying it wanted to show that Israel could not protect its airspace during Mr. Obama's visit.
The Israeli mayor of Sderot said there was another message from militants to President Obama.
Mayor David Buskila, Sderot: The message is, why you go to Ramallah? We are the owners of this region. You can arrive to Gaza and talk with us. Why do you go to talk with Abu Mazen in Ramallah?
MARGARET WARNER: Abu Mazen is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who greeted Mr. Obama in Ramallah on the West Bank at midday. A small band of protesters in the city center was kept well away. Just outside the city, there were minor clashes with Israeli troops.
The two leaders held talks on one priority of president's four-day visit to the Middle East, reinvigorating peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But contrary to the apparent and unusual chumminess with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, Mr. Obama and Abbas displayed an understated, businesslike tone in their brief press conference.
The president denounced the morning's rocket attack and the group that rules in Gaza.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hamas cares more about enforcing its own rigid dogmas than allowing Palestinians to live freely, and because too often it focuses on tearing Israel down rather than building Palestine up.
MARGARET WARNER: On the issue at hand, the president did say his administration was committed to give the moribund peace process another try, and he urged the Palestinians to do the same.
But Israel's continued expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank has been a stumbling block to reviving peace negotiations. The Palestinians have made halting Israeli construction a condition for restarting talks.
Mr. Obama initially joined that call in 2009, but hasn't since.
Today, Abbas seemed to reaffirm that insistence, though he didn't use the word condition.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian Authority: It is the duty of the Israeli government to at least halt the activity, so that we can speak of issues. And when we define our borders and their borders together, each side will know its territory in which it can do whatever it pleases. So the issue of settlements is clear.
MARGARET WARNER: But the president said, while settlement activity wasn't constructive for peace, setting preconditions for talks was counterproductive too.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace.
If the only way to even begin the conversations is that we get everything right at the outset, then we're never going to get to the broader issue, which is how you actually structure a state of Palestine that is sovereign, contiguous, and provide the Palestinian people dignity.
MARGARET WARNER: The president also met with young Palestinians, many of whom have lost faith in any resolution to the decades-old conflict.
Back in Jerusalem, before thousands of mostly young Israelis, the president gave the featured address of his Mideast tour. While reiterating America's unwavering support of Israel, he also called on them to identify with their young Palestinian counterparts.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own.
It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands, or restricting a student's ability to move around the West Bank, or displace Palestinian families from their homes.
Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer.
Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
MARGARET WARNER: In a speech shot through with adrenaline from the president and the crowd, Mr. Obama echoed some of the themes that helped get him elected in 2008, that citizens can and should compel their leaders to act.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And let me say this as a politician. I can promise you this. Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see.
MARGARET WARNER: The evening closed with a state dinner in Israel. Tomorrow, the president leaves for Jordan.
JEFFREY BROWN: Margaret, start with the speech there in Jerusalem. The president has been unpopular in Israel. He specifically targeted young Israelis in this major address. What did officials there tell you about the message he wanted to get across?
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jeff, he wanted to do very much what he did in the 2008 campaign as a senator in which he directly appealed to younger and uninvolved citizens, people who have been apolitical in the past to get engaged and get involved and actually believe they can change their country, and really very resonant of the '08 campaign.
He had one line at the very end where he said, as we face the twilight of Israel's founding generation, young people of Israel must claim the future. Now, he spent a lot of time talking to some of the founding generation or their sons and daughters here, but he is saying to the Israeli young people that you are not going to be secure if you -- if the Israel of the future is still worried about terrorist attacks, rockets coming over the border, increasingly hostile neighborhood. And there are no number of Iron Dome defense systems that can adequately protect Israel. Even the United States can't.
So it was a kind of a call to action.
JEFFREY BROWN: It's been interesting today, yesterday. We see the president telling both sides, really, that peace is still possible.
I wonder if the American officials there are talking about to what degree he really is committed to putting a renewed effort into this.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jeff, it was so interesting because the president and his people have been so careful not to make that commitment before this trip, but today, yesterday and really today, I think he did raise expectations, not that he's going to do shuttle diplomacy himself, but that his administration not only thinks it's possible, but more than that, that it's doable.
And so I think they are going to have to follow through. Now, he said Secretary of State Kerry is going to do a lot of this. And he put his hand on Kerry's shoulder essentially to say, he's my man. But the people around the president say that he got indications, he thinks, despite the language in public, that each of these leaders is ready to take some steps that will advance getting back to the peace talks and getting to the core issues.
JEFFREY BROWN: One key issue of course is still the question of the Israeli settlements.
What's your sense after hearing what the president had to say today?
MARGARET WARNER: From what we can figure out here, the administration has this idea that there will have to be some reciprocal confidence-building measures.
Now, that's a term from the old post-Oslo 20 years of negotiations, and they didn't really pan out -- but that there will have to be some taken by each side and, as one official said to us today, that will kind of commit each side to getting invested in this process.
One of the ideas being floated, I mean, there are things like releasing Palestinian prisoners on the part of the Israelis or transferring more security control to Palestinians in certain areas of the West Bank. But the key thing is, will the Israelis restrict settlement-building in some way, perhaps by saying we won't for a while do any outside the settlement blocs?
And in return -- not in return, but at the same time or a day or two later, the Palestinian leader would make clear that for now at least he's not going to go to the U.N., which he's now entitled to, whether it's the International Criminal Court or other agencies, and keep pushing this unilateral agenda, recognition agenda.
So nobody's made that connection publicly or even privately to us, but that is the kind of thing that's being looked at and I think quietly encouraged. But then what the president kept saying today is pretty quickly when the talks start, it can't be around these peripheral issues. It's got to be about security and borders. And once you settle those, the other issues go away, like settlements. The borders issue will settle the settlements issue.
JEFFREY BROWN: And very briefly, Margaret, just even today while the president is there, you have those rockets coming in from Gaza. Is that seen as having any immediate impact, or is that just more a sense of difficulties that are very much still out there?
MARGARET WARNER: I think it's the latter, Jeff.
If you had big demonstrations or any kind of violence from the West Bank, that would be different. But, in fact, it helps the president prove his point, which is that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has been doing a good job on security and has a different approach than Hamas in Gaza.
So they didn't seem terribly troubled by that particular incident. That said, it does make the point that this situation only grows more perilous by the day for both sides.
JEFFREY BROWN: Margaret Warner in Jerusalem, thanks so much.
KWAME HOLMAN: More Americans are putting their homes on the market, and that's helping fuel home resales. The National Association of Realtors reported sales were up 0.8 percent in February, the fastest increase in home sales in more than three years. Housing markets across the country have benefited from near record-low mortgage rates and job growth.
The housing news wasn't enough to lift Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 90 points to close at 14,421. The Nasdaq fell more than 31 points to close above 3,222.
It was a race against the calendar in Cyprus today, as the island nation's government tried to come up with a plan to qualify for a Eurozone bailout by Monday.
We have a report narrated by Faisal Islam of Independent Television News.
FAISAL ISLAM: Not your average bank holiday in the Mediterranean. Cyprus' five-day-long bank stroll sped up this morning into a bank jog and then a first, a cash machine run on a banking system who is still officially closed. The uneasy calm broke today.
MAN: It's just the situation where an E.U. citizen feels that it's more encouraging to take money and basically stick it under a mattress or, you know, in a pillow or something, rather than have it in a bank. I mean, how disgusting is that?
FAISAL ISLAM: The first spark was unconfirmed Cypriot broadcast reports about the liquidation of Laiki Bank, also known as Marfin and popular. It's Cyprus' second biggest bank and it's heavily dependent on emergency central bank funding. This morning, Europe's Central Bank said that this emergency liquidity support would be pulled on Monday in the absence of Cyprus agreeing an E.U./IMF deal.
Cyprus only joined the euro five years ago. Then it was a wealthy nation on the receiving end of $5 billion euros of so-called safe haven flows fleeing from bankrupt Greece. Now having aggressively rejected the first deal where all depositors would lose some of their savings, today, the politicians were trying to conjure a new deal based on levies on larger deposits, property sales, mortgaging gas fields, and pension fund cash reserves.
AVEROF NEOPHYTOU, Cyprus Deputy Democratic Party Leader: I believe that the political parties will shoulder the necessary responsibility for the survival of the Cypriot economy.
FAISAL ISLAM: By the evening, however, news firmed up about the plan to split Laiki Bank, and its staff marched on parliament in the first really tense protests in this country's crisis.
This evening, the queues at the cash machines grew even longer as they ran dry. Parliament is also considering capital controls to stop money being taken out of this country.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late tonight, a new proposal was floated in parliament to create a fund using revenue from natural resources, bonds and other assets. But debate was delayed until Friday.
The U.N. agreed today to launch an investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Syrian government and rebels have accused each other of using them in an attack in Aleppo this week.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the investigation will begin as soon as possible, but not overnight.
SECRETARY GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, United Nations: The investigation mission is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government. In discharging its mandate of an investigation mission, full cooperation from all parties will be essential. I stress that this includes unfettered access.
KWAME HOLMAN: In Syria today, a mosque in central Damascus was struck by a suicide bomber. At least 42 people were killed, among them, a top Sunni Muslim cleric who supported President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran appeared today to open the door to possible direct talks with the U.S. over its nuclear program. The Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he is not opposed to talks, but he also said he is not optimistic they'd accomplish much. He also repeated Iran's claim that its nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes.
A car bomb killed 13 people waiting in line for food at a refugee camp in Pakistan today. Hundreds were lined up for food rations at the Jalozai camp in Northwest Pakistan when the bomb went off. An aid worker and a security guard were among those killed; 25 others were injured. Many of the refugees at the camp have been displaced by fighting along the Afghan border between the Pakistani army and the Taliban.
A jailed Kurdish leader in Turkey called for an immediate truce today in one of the world's longest and bloodiest insurgencies. A huge crowd of Kurds danced and cheered as Abdullah Ocalan's letter directing his forces to withdraw from Turkey was read aloud. His Workers Party, or PKK, has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for 30 years. The truce announcement came after months of peace negotiations with the Turkish government.
Those are some of the day's major stories -- now back to Hari.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And we turn now to domestic politics, as another congressional fiscal fight takes shape.
There are three major money matters at the Capitol right now with deadlines looming, the sequester, the continuing resolution, and the budget. Each has distinctive parts, but fits into the bigger theme of how each party wants to fund the government.
First, the continuing resolution: Lawmakers were facing a deadline next week to pass a $984 billion dollar measure to fund the government through September. That spending legislation was necessary because Congress hasn't passed a budget in years.
MAN: The yeas are 73; the nays are 26.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It passed both chambers in a rare show of bipartisanship.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: The way we used to do things is fund the government in a timely fashion. We have the opportunity to do that now. We're taking care of the next six months. During this six months, the government is functioning because of what we have done here.
HARI SREENIVASAN: This came after lawmakers agreed on easing some budget cuts to food inspection services and flexibility for the Pentagon on the sequester. Those automatic across-the-board spending cuts, agreed to during the last fiscal fights, will start being felt more intensely over the next few weeks.
Finally, the broader issue as Congress battles over the budget. Today, House Republicans approved their budget, which dramatically changes entitlement programs like Medicare and makes more spending cuts. The Senate began debate today on a very different version of a 10-year spending plan written by Democrats. They call for higher taxes to fund government programs.
House Speaker John Boehner remained skeptical.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: The budget that Senate Democrats are considering never balances, ever. That means more debt, fewer jobs and, frankly, much higher taxes from the American people.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The negotiations over these competing party visions for governing will begin in earnest when President Obama submits his spending blueprint on April 8th.
With their work done, House members leave town today for a two-week recess, while senators will remain in a marathon session until a vote on their own plan to fund the government.
Judy Woodruff takes it from there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And for what's happening behind the scenes, we turn to Todd Zwillich. He's Washington correspondent for The Takeaway on Public Radio International and WNYC.
Welcome back to the NewsHour.
TODD ZWILLICH, The Takeaway: Good to be with you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, first, this vote to keep the government funded through the end of the September, the end of the fiscal year, both the House and the Senate passed this. Does this mean Democrats and Republicans finally see eye to eye on something?
TODD ZWILLICH: Well, it means that they see eye to eye on not having another showdown right now. Both sides have agreed that they don't want to have a big battle over a government shutdown and the media attention and cable news and the countdown clocks. Both sides have decided that's not in their interest.
Now, I wish I could tell you that they see eye to eye on fiscal matters. That's just not true. They just decided to go to their corners for now. There are other things that the president and Congress, members of both parties, do want to get done over the spring and summer. There's a lot of optimism about comprehensive immigration reform.
The White House really wants to get a gun control bill done, even if Republicans are a little more reticent on that. They do -- there is some hope rekindled on a grand bargain on Medicare and entitlements and taxes. People do want to try to get those things done. And the leaders and some of the senior appropriators, especially, didn't want to poison the well with yet another battle over a government shutdown.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we just heard in Hari's report that the sequester, these automatic across-the-board spending cuts still in place. There's some flexibility now built in, but still there for the foreseeable future. Is that a victory for Republicans or for whom?
TODD ZWILLICH: Right now, it does seem like a victory for Republicans. And they want more from that victory.
Republicans are the ones who want the spending cuts. And you're right. Those spending cuts are now baked into the rest of the year. And the sequestration cuts actually are now looming even heavier over further negotiations on spending in a couple ways. They are going to have to fund the government next year.
This deal on the continuing resolution goes to Oct. 1st. After that, you have to fund the government from then on. Conservatives in the House who have a lot of power over leadership we have seen on these issues are already telling the speaker, John Boehner, we insist that these sequestration cuts, these new values, that they get baked into future levels. We want this to be the new baseline. Don't treat them as though they're temporary cuts that you will negotiate away in some other deal. We want these etched in stone in perpetuity.
Democrats do not want that. So you ask if they see eye to eye. No, not by a long shot on the sequestration cuts.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So that is going to be part of the debate going forward, and as we heard in that report just then, they are already talking about what each side would like to have in the budget down the road.
But does either side have the upper hand at this point on that set of arguments?
TODD ZWILLICH: It doesn't really seem like it because what you see today in these two budget resolutions that are passing, the Ryan budget in the House, the Democrats will complete theirs by this weekend, two very, very different visions.
These budgets are not spending bills. They're really governing documents. You can read through them and see what each party's sort of ideological priorities are. But neither of these budgets that pass is really going to be the basis of any grand agreement on how to spend money or any grand bargain.
What is going to have to happen and the reason why this budget process is more than just sort of showboat, it really is more than that, because this process, if it's to succeed, was going to have to involve the president and the speaker and members of both the House and Senate in this budget process to try to reach the brand bargain that some people think is still possible.
We already know what the outlines of that grand bargain has to be, $500 billion in new revenue and fundamental changes to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. We know what the parameters of that deal are going to be. They're far from that deal, but it has to take place in the framework of this budget. We saw today where opening bids, Republicans, this is our ideological position, Democrats, the same.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Todd, you were telling us earlier today that the Republicans have been able to cut out some of the money for the president's health care reform law. Now, how -- what form did that take and how did that come about?
TODD ZWILLICH: The Republicans did get a victory in this way. They got a couple small victories in this continuing resolution.
Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, basically, right now, what the administration is doing is using a lot of money to get the infrastructure for those exchanges up and running so that in 2014 when the Affordable Care Act kicks in, those exchanges hopefully are ready to go, ready to take on millions of new members.
Republicans have been trying to chip away at that, deny the funding. This continuing resolution funds the infrastructure at a lower level than it would have if they had done regular spending bills. And that is a victory for Republicans. They have been trying to erode away at Obamacare any way that they can.
They had a couple small issues that are probably a victory for Republicans on guns, some other issues.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So they don't have the votes to repeal it. The president would never sign that. But they are, you're saying, able to undermine it.
Todd, I want to ask you about one other piece of news today, and that is the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, announced that as part of the gun control legislation that will come up in April in the Senate, he will include a bill or language devoted to strengthening background checks.
What's the significance of that in this big gun control fight?
TODD ZWILLICH: Well, this is news because there's been a lot of bipartisan negotiations.
Gun control advocates after listening to the president and Joe Biden and Democrats after Newtown and these tragedies were really disappointed. They learned this week that an assault weapons ban will not be included in the bill, that limits on high-capacity clips will not be included. They will get votes, but those will probably go down.
Background checks is a huge issue. It's a big issue to the White House. Harry Reid saying today that it will be included in the bill means that a Democratic placeholder -- there have been a lot of negotiations over background checks with conservative Republicans. Those have failed so far.
Harry Reid is saying this is going to be in the base bill that we put on the floor. Republicans, if you want that out, negotiate with us because this bill if it's going to pass is going to pass with some form of strengthened background checks in it. This is our hard position.
The White House is going to be pleased with that. Of course, that makes you wonder later what can the conservative House actually get passed?
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, a helping hand from the Senate majority leader?
TODD ZWILLICH: For gun control advocates, absolutely, after some disappointments this week.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Todd Zwillich, thanks very much.
TODD ZWILLICH: My pleasure.
JEFFREY BROWN: And next: The surf's up for NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman -- his subject tonight, how the monster waves of international trade and globalization threaten, yes, the surfboard industry here in the United States.
It's part of Paul's ongoing reporting: Making Sen$e of Financial News.
MAN: That's Steve and Barrie Boehne. They're the leading force in tandem. Look at the grace. Look at the style.
PAUL SOLMAN: Now, what, you may ask, could a surfing star of the 1970s have to do with economics in 2013?
MAN: Isn't that great?
PAUL SOLMAN: Well, Steve Boehne's life in the surf, which began at age 12 here in Dana Point, California, has involved shredding the waves, since 1958, on boards of his own invention. He's the founder and still maker and seller of legendary high end Infinity Surfboards.
STEVE BOEHNE, Infinity Surfboards: Paul, you can use my board any time.
PAUL SOLMAN: Even if his heavy lifting days are over.
This is a large board, isn't it?
STEVE BOEHNE: Yes. Yes. This is bigger than normal. It's a stand-up surfboard. It's become popular in the last five years. And a lot of the older guys really embraced it at first, because it's a little bit easier. You're already standing up.
PAUL SOLMAN: But these days, Boehne's got a bigger problem than gnarly knees.
STEVE BOEHNE: 95 percent of the boards being sold in the world weren't made by us in California, who started the surfboard industry. They're being made in other countries. And so my workers are competing for a job against a guy in another country who's making a 10th of his wages.
PAUL SOLMAN: But that's the story in literally every manufacturing industry I can think of since I started reporting on TV on business in the 1970s.
STEVE BOEHNE: Yes, it's true, but I know that every surfboard that comes into America comes in duty-free. And when I sell a surfboard to Australia, Japan, Europe, it's a 20 to 25 percent duty that they have to pay to get mine.
PAUL SOLMAN: That's the twist to Steve Boehne's tale: not just cheap foreign competition due to lower wages and laxer environmental standards, but import taxes that other countries slap on his product to protect their domestic board makers.
The U.S., meanwhile, has moved toward freer trade by lifting all taxes on imported boards.
STEVE BOEHNE: I had a dealer, a surf shop in Taiwan and he wanted to get American-made surfboards. And he sent me an e-mail: I want to get 50 surfboards.
OK, this is great. And we worked out the deal. And then I got a phone call from him. He says, I'm sorry. I can't get those boards. And I said, well, why not? He says, well, I have to pay a 50 percent duty when they come in, and that will increase the price so high, I can't buy them.
And then I realized that all the boards that come in from Taiwan come in duty-free in the United States, so is that fair?
PAUL SOLMAN: Boehne's crew, with him just about every day for both work and play, agree, like, totally.
BRENT PASCOE, Infinity Surfboards: It's really tough when even just up to Canada, the guys on the line is going, dude, I got to pay 20 percent tax on this thing when it comes in.
PAUL SOLMAN: Brent Pascoe is a surfboard shaper who also handles Infinity's shipping.
BRENT PASCOE: Usually, they're pretty bummed out because they really want the board. It's a good board. And we offer it at a really good price on our end. But if you're already spending $1,200 to $1,500 dollars, 20 percent on top of that is a lot of money.
DAVE BOEHNE, Infinity Surfboards: It happens on a daily basis, for sure.
PAUL SOLMAN: Dave Boehne is Steve Boehne's son.
DAVE BOEHNE: France, Japan, Spain, Australia, you know, you name it.
ANTHONY VELA, California: And that's what has made some of the more established board manufacturers have to outsource and actually have some boards produced in China.
PAUL SOLMAN: Where, says Anthony Vela, they not only get their American-branded board made for less, but can import it back to the U.S. duty-free, and thus the stock bottom line of businessmen hurt by free trade.
STEVE BOEHNE: I just want an even playing field.
PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, says economist Robert Lawrence, a trade enthusiast, most Americans are at least as skeptical of free trade as Steve Boehne.
ROBERT LAWRENCE, Harvard Kennedy School: When you poll the American public, something like 70 percent say that trade is bad because it causes job loss and lower wages. Only about 30 percent of them say that trade is good because it leads to lower prices and gains for consumers.
PETER MORICI, Former Director of Economics, U.S. International Trade Commission: Low prices don't do you any good if you're unemployed. And a good number of our folks are unemployed because of our free trade policies.
PAUL SOLMAN: Economist Peter Morici claims that protectionism alone costs the U.S. two million to three million jobs a year, a number Lawrence dismisses as nonsense, but, insists Morici:
PETER MORICI: Free trade is not working for the United States because of all these high tariffs and other protectionism in places like China, and Japan, and Germany. And, as a consequence, America is not growing and we would have five percent unemployment, instead of eight percent.
PAUL SOLMAN: And for those who still have jobs, say skeptics like Morici, their wages have been shaved for decades.
Dave Naylor, who puts fiberglass on the boards, earns less, in real dollars, than he was making 20 years ago.
DAVE NAYLOR, Surfboard Maker: They were paying me a process in the '90s about $15 or $17 dollars, and the same process now pays $18 and $20 dollars.
PAUL SOLMAN: He'd need close to $30 dollars just to have kept pace with inflation.
Tom Sutherland, a 40-year veteran of the industry, has experienced stagnant wages since the '80s, when he made $50,000 dollars a year. Working 14-hour days, that's what he still makes. And he's fighting to hang on even to that.
TOM SUTHERLAND, Surfboard Maker: I was offered to go over there to teach the Chinese -- this was about four or five years ago -- how to do my craft. They were going to pay me for a six-week time over there $15,000.
PAUL SOLMAN: Chinese manufacturers offered you $15,000 dollars to teach their workers how to make boards?
TOM SUTHERLAND: Yes.
PAUL SOLMAN: And?
TOM SUTHERLAND: I told them to pound sand. I'm not going to be a mercenary to go over there to sell my services so I get my throat cut over here in the next four or five years by training somebody to do what I do here. I have more sense.
PAUL SOLMAN: But is trade really bad for America?
Gordon Hanson isn't just a trade economist. He's a surfer himself who learned the sport as a teenager ripping on an Infinity board built by Steve Boehne, with whose tariff plight he deeply sympathizes. But when it comes to trade itself, says Hanson:
GORDON HANSON, University of California, San Diego: I think what most economists would say, if you tally up in terms of what's happened to our national income as a result of free trade, it's larger.
PAUL SOLMAN: Harvard's Lawrence is one such economist.
ROBERT LAWRENCE: The fact is that a lot of people are being able to -- because of free trade, are able to buy cheap surfboards, and this raises, ultimately, our standards of living.
PAUL SOLMAN: But the standard of living for most Americans hasn't been rising for years now.
GORDON HANSON: It's a big concern. Globalization is just one more item on the list which is contributing to widening opportunities and widening incomes in our economy.
PAUL SOLMAN: So, then the perennial question: What is to be done? With the World Trade Organization talks stalled, in his State of the Union, the president pushed U.S. exports via regional trade agreements with both Asia and Europe.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To boost American exports, support American jobs and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a transpacific partnership. And, tonight, I'm announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment partnership with the European Union, because trade that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.
GORDON HANSON: The approach the United States is taking is to try and create little clubs that you can only join if you adopt our rules.
PAUL SOLMAN: But since the playing field for his product is at such a steep angle, says Steve Boehne, why not level it by playing tit-for-tat?
STEVE BOEHNE: Match tariff for tariff.
PAUL SOLMAN: Well, says Robert Lawrence, the result could go either way.
ROBERT LAWRENCE: One possibility is that we raise our tariffs, and that persuades them that they ought to lower theirs. But a second possibility that I think we need to be concerned about is, we get into a trade war, in which we raise our tariffs on products, and then foreigners start to retaliate, and what we end up is cutting off all trade.
PAUL SOLMAN: Meanwhile, at his own shop, Boehne himself sells cheap Chinese duty-free boards, with an Infinity label no less, along with his more expensive handcrafted product.
STEVE BOEHNE: That's right. I have to play by the rules that are given to me, and to survive, to pay my rent at my retail store. And so we sell a lot of boards made out of the country. And so I'm conflicted, it's true.
PAUL SOLMAN: As are Boehne's workers.
DAVID NAYLOR: Yes, I do buy foreign goods. Everybody does. And I guess if we made everything here, things would be a lot more expensive because everybody wants a higher wage.
PAUL SOLMAN: And that's the essence of the trade argument, says Gordon Hanson.
GORDON HANSON: I think the surfboard industry really is a microcosm of globalization. We have winners and losers.
PAUL SOLMAN: But he doesn't think the U.S. surfboard industry is doomed, because of a distinctly American advantage in global trade these days.
GORDON HANSON: It's in marketing the lifestyle, you know? It's in coming up with the images, the aesthetic, as well as the actual technological designs that makes people want to be Southern Californians.
PAUL SOLMAN: Southern Californians like surfer C.D. Kinley.
C.D. KINLEY: Yes, got some Vans, typical Vans, stay in socks, try to keep your warm, kind of look cooler, not your average white boring socks. So it's kind of cool.
PAUL SOLMAN: Speaking of cooler, is it cooler to ride an American-made surfboard or an imported surfboard, say, from China?
C.D. KINLEY: Yes. Well, just to me personally, supporting a brand that's from California like Infinity, who's been making boards here for 50 years, that's a lot cooler for me.
PAUL SOLMAN: And at least around here, that's how a lot of the cowabunga crowd still feels and still spends its money.
JEFFREY BROWN: International trade and a call for reduced barriers were on the agenda this week, as Treasury Secretary Jack Lew met with top Chinese leaders in Beijing. No word yet if surfboards came up.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Now our series on broadband and how it's changing our habits, our work, our communities.
Tonight, we focus on why some cities are opting for even faster access and whether it will make sense for other places to follow suit.
New York, Boston, Silicon Valley, those are the kind of innovation hubs that may come to mind when it comes to high-speed Internet. But the city, home to the country's fastest broadband, is nestled below Lookout Mountain along the Tennessee River, Chattanooga.
NARRATOR: In 2010, Chattanooga became America's first Gig City.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In 2008, using a bond issue and more than $110 million dollars in federal stimulus funds, the city's utility began laying 6,000 miles of fiberoptic cables. Today, with speeds of up to one gigabyte per second, Chattanooga's 170,000 residents enjoy broadband that's 200-times faster than the country's average.
The network ties together public services like traffic lights, a smart power grid and gives emergency responders access to more information on the go. City leaders credit it with bring new high-tech businesses and jobs to the area. Out in Kansas City, last fall, Google began rolling out its own network to rival Chattanooga's.
NARRATOR: Introducing Google Fiber.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Part of a project to illustrate the benefits of high-speed broadband.
In 2010, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told Jeffrey Brown he agreed the U.S. must do more.
JULIUS GENACHOWSKI, Federal Communications Commission: We will need to get those speeds up dramatically. We set a goal of 100 megabits to 100 megabits to 100 million households by 2020.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, 100, that's like 25-fold over what -- you're saying over where ...
JULIUS GENACHOWSKI: A very significant increase over where we are -- where we are now.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Yet questions about cost remain for such services.
In Chattanooga, most don't pay the $350 dollars for a month for the one gigabyte of speed, instead opting for a 50-megabit-per-second connection that's still 10 times faster than the national average.
So, is Chattanooga a model for the rest of the country when it comes to broadband?
We explore that with Sheldon Grizzle, founder of The Company Lab, which works to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Chattanooga, and Richard Bennett, senior research fellow for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. He's worked for 30 years on Internet network engineering and standards.
Thanks, both, for joining us.
Sheldon, I want to ask you, for those folks not in Chattanooga and the rest of the country that are watching, give us some concrete examples of an economic impact.
SHELDON GRIZZLE, The Company Lab: Yes.
Well, it's very simple, and it's been very recent, too. About a year ago, we launched a program at The Company Lab called GIGTANK. And the GIGTANK, we basically started around the idea that we need to create these new business models around what the next-generation networks are going to look like.
And so we brought in eight teams from around the world, 15 really highly talented students from around the world to talk about, what do you do with a gig? What does the world look like when you do this? One of the teams that came out of that was a team called Banyan. And what Banyan is trying to do is literally cure cancer.
And the way they're doing that is through a software platform that helps match up researchers that are doing this kind of high, very intense data research around like things like bioinformatics and things like that. And so that team launched in Chattanooga. They're doing real-time collaborative research and version control, very data-intensive stuff, where they're moving massive data sets back and forth in real time.
HARI SREENIVASAN: How is this helping with, say, for example, the number of jobs in Chattanooga? Are there new jobs coming in because of the fact that you have this broadband network?
SHELDON GRIZZLE: Absolutely.
And it's early. It's early in the game. I think people are just starting to catch on with this. But we do have early signs that there are new jobs coming into the area. And we're really excited about that.
But, specifically, they're more around startups. And it will take us a couple years to fully realize that. But we're definitely seeing some early traction with new jobs being created.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Richard Bennett, if this is working in Chattanooga or if it's still taking time, why are there so few communities in the country that have made this kind of an investment?
RICHARD BENNETT, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation: I don't think it's really time to say that it's completely working for Chattanooga.
They're doing some exciting things in terms of developing the incubator, trying to attract talent to the city that's probably a more important element than building staff networks. But Chattanooga isn't especially unique in terms of the overall trend toward faster networks across the United States.
In fact, the actual speeds that consumers in Chattanooga get today are below the national average. But we're installing something like 20 million miles of optical fiber cable in the United States every year and investing more per capita in broadband networks than any other country. So this is an example of an kind of an innovation focus that we're seeing in many communities in the United States, including San Francisco.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, Sheldon, is everyone there in that city using this gigabyte that's coming to their door?
SHELDON GRIZZLE: No, no, not yet.
The local company that ran the fiber to the home is just like any other service provider. You have to sign up for their service in order to receive -- in order to receive that service. So, a lot of people are still on some of the more traditional service providers, like AT&T and Comcast and people like that.
So you do have to subscribe to that service. And the minimum that you subscribe to is 50 megs a second, which is still really fast.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.
So, Richard, why is this parallel that we all -- we always have a tendency to lump in infrastructure when it comes to roadways and when it comes to building the sort of digital superhighway. Why is that not an accurate analogy?
RICHARD BENNETT: I think it is an accurate analogy with broadband as far as analogies go.
The thing that's important to emphasize, though, is the challenge that communities like Chattanooga have is not actually the speed of what we call the last mile connection, which is the fiber to the home or the cable to the home, which would be sort of like your streets in your residential neighborhood.
Their problem is that they're an isolated community in terms of the major switching centers that comprise the Internet in the United States. There are 24 -- basically, your NFL cities are where the large firms get together and meet and interconnect their networks.
And so what you need is more investment in the -- what would be the equivalent of the interstate highway system to connect communities like Chattanooga to probably Atlanta where they go to actually become part of the Internet. And so the tendency among these sort of populist initiatives to -- is to overinvest in the last mile and underinvest in what we call the middle mile that would, say, connect them to Atlanta.
So that's why -- that's where most of the 20 million miles of fiber are going in the United States are in the parts of the broadband network or the Internet that you don't actually see, that don't connect to your home. But they are where the traffic jams are that prevent communities like Chattanooga from really enjoying the speeds that their last mile networks, the cable networks and phone company networks are capable of providing.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Sheldon, what about that notion that perhaps the last mile today of fiber isn't going to be the fastest network around five years or 10 years from now? Could it be wireless?
For other communities, would they be better off investing in some other type of infrastructure?
SHELDON GRIZZLE: Today, we do have an asset that is at our disposal.
And whether the last mile is covered by fiber to the home or wireless, either way, we know that more broadband is coming to people's homes and to people's businesses. And it's important for us to be thinking about innovation, about when that broadband comes into people's homes. How does that change the way that we live our lives?
HARI SREENIVASAN: Richard, your organization just did a paper on how the U.S. compares to other countries. Help put us in perspective.
RICHARD BENNETT: In the late 2000s, especially during the economic collapse, the United States was actually in a fairly dire position relative to other countries in terms of the speed of our broadband networks and the rate at which people were signing up for the advanced services.
We were 22nd in the world in late 2009 and falling. But since then, we have risen to eighth place in the average speed of Internet connections to the home and to the business compared to the rest of the world. And we're rising every year. It wouldn't surprise me if next year we're close to the top five.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Richard Bennett and Sheldon Grizzle, thanks much for joining us.
SHELDON GRIZZLE: Thank you. My pleasure.
RICHARD BENNETT: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight: the war in Iraq, which began 10 years ago this week, as seen through a camera lens.
NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports on a new exhibit at San Francisco's de Young Museum.
A warning: Some images in this story are disturbing.
SPENCER MICHELS: By far, the majority of American journalists who covered the early days of the Iraq war, 600 of them, were officially embedded with American troops, dependent on soldiers and Marines for protection, food, and for the stories they wrote or photographed.
But while the Bush administration encouraged embedding and said it wasn't responsible for the safety of those not embedded, some journalists set out on their own to see what they could see without American military supervision or restrictions.
THORNE ANDERSON, Photographer: With Iraq, this is what I knew about it before I went the first time.
SPENCER MICHELS: Thorne Anderson and Kael Alford, a married couple who live and teach in Texas, were among the unembedded photojournalists who covered Iraq back then.
Their San Francisco exhibit, "Eye Level in Iraq," shows the result of their taking chances as they tried to find Iraqis in situations apart from the troops.
THORNE ANDERSON: When you talk to an Iraqi person and you're surrounded by these giant men with automatic weapons and flak jackets and helmets, they just cannot respond to you in a normal way. You can't sit and have tea with them. You can't go their funerals. You can't play with their children.
The only way to have that experience is to get outside of the Humvee, to take off the flak jacket, travel in an ordinary car, to relate to people in an ordinary one-to-one kind of way.
KAEL ALFORD, Photographer: The time that we were working, between 2003 and 2004, it was a much safer place to be an unembedded journalist in Iraq, that, by the time we left at the end of 2004, journalists were being targeted more specifically.
SPENCER MICHELS: Working often as competitors, sometimes as colleagues, they came up with pictures, many published in American journals and newspapers, that told a different kind of story, as Alford related to a group of docents at the museum.
KAEL ALFORD: I wanted to be sure that I could make photographs that revealed that no war is clean.
This girl is an 8-year-old girl who was killed in a market on the outskirts of Baghdad. And so this bomb, we think, was probably launched by an aircraft carrier, a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and landed in this busy marketplace, killing more than 50 people.
These are her brothers who carried her into -- basically, this is a morgue area inside a mosque. And so this is a very intimate kind of moment. And, as photographers, we were always looking to find ways to communicate the urgency of horrible drama in these situations. And I actually -- it was challenging for me to make this picture.
It's been one of the photographs that most -- I get the most reaction from, from people, because it is so intimate and rare to see somebody this vulnerable, this young, and she's so perfect. She seems alive.
SPENCER MICHELS: Anderson's photos tell stories as well, stories he admits are sometimes beyond the photographer's control.
THORNE ANDERSON: A lot of these photographs are, if we're honest with ourselves, something of a collaboration between the photographer and the people being photographed. They're allowing you to photograph. They prevent you from photographing some things that they don't want you to see.
And even if you think that you have captured something very, very specific, when it comes to the audience, who knows the way they are going to see it.
SPENCER MICHELS: This Anderson photo portrayed part of the Mahdi army of Muqtada al-Sadr.
THORNE ANDERSON: We had managed to work behind the Mahdi army's front lines and to photograph that organization from the inside.
And that's what you are trying to do as journalists. I'm photographing these two men and the son of one man repairing an RPG that had been damaged in battle. And it think of it as a very intimate moment.
Primarily, for me, it's really kind of a visual representation of how a history of violence gets passed on from one generation to another.
SPENCER MICHELS: As close as he got to the people, Anderson says he tried to remained objective.
THORNE ANDERSON: 100 percent, this is journalism. One of your biggest jobs is to show people something they can't see for themselves. And the furthest you can go is into an intimate moment in some stranger's life.
SPENCER MICHELS: But, as Anderson told a group of art and photo students at the San Francisco Art Institute, objectivity isn't always that clear or obvious.
THORNE ANDERSON: I have to navigate the sort of territory where it's not always clear the difference between what a journalist and what an activist is.
There are certain things that for me are very black and white. I call myself a journalist. And I think, for my purposes, I think it is really important to for me to maintain a distinction between when I'm acting as a journalist and whether or not people perceive me as an activist.
It doesn't mean that I don't see injustice in the world, and it doesn't mean that I don't try to directly address that injustice. It's definitely something that is always in the back of my mind.
SPENCER MICHELS: At the museum, only a few of the photos show American soldiers, yet the specter of war permeates the exhibit.
And that's the point, argues Julian Cox, chief curator at the museum.
JULIAN COX, San Francisco Fine Arts Museums: They're not easy to look at, but they are beautiful. Think about Francisco Goya and The Disasters of War. Think about Picasso and Guernica.
I mean, these are not -- not easy things to look at, but yet they have -- they transit across time, and they become very powerful, very significant.
SPENCER MICHELS: Cox says most fine arts museums shy away from contemporary, newsy photos.
JULIAN COX: Those kinds of pictures are not typically seen in major art museums.
Photography is a medium that most people now take for granted. Everybody has a camera. These images are historically important, also very beautiful to look at.
SPENCER MICHELS: The exhibit was timed to coincide with America's leaving Iraq. For Anderson, it was a time to reflect.
THORNE ANDERSON: What I see is the desperation that I felt at that time, to try and capture these fleeting events before it was too late. When people see the museum, I really want them as much as possible to feel what it must have been like for Iraqi people at that time.
SPENCER MICHELS: "Eye Level in Iraq" remains at the de Young in San Francisco until June 16th.
JEFFREY BROWN: Online, we have more lasting impressions of the Iraq conflict from two veteran broadcast reporters: ABC News' Martha Raddatz and NPR's Deborah Amos.
This has been a good week for introspection.
It can be easy to look at Washington's hijinks and see only the shallow end of the pool. But every once in awhile, before they dive in and hit their heads, our leaders actually pause to engage in a little beneficial navel gazing.
This was on display as President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, frosty but necessary allies, joked and joshed in Jerusalem this week -- bending over so far to accommodate each other that they looked like political pretzels. Disagreement on Iran? Downplayed. Worries about Syria? Glossed over. Optimism about a two-state solution? Rampant.
In a blurt of candor that occurred toward the end of their Thursday joint news conference, Netanyahu explained why to one persistent questioner, 'NBC News' Chuck Todd. "Well, for this, you need, you see, a second term as president and a third term as prime minister," the prime minister said. "That really fixes things."
Another moment of clarity this week came courtesy of the Republican National Committee. After suffering what Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel once termed a "thumping," the post-2012 GOP set out to discover what they'd been doing wrong.
The list of faults Republican chairman Reince Priebus compiled was nearly 100 pages long. The party was seen as the province of stuffy old men. They lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 national elections. Single women fled. Hispanics were offended by the notion that their relatives should self deport. And the Democrats outsmarted them ontargeting and technology.
The recommendations for solving these problems -- including reaching out to groups like the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza -- would have gotten Priebus tossed off the floor of his own convention only months ago. But losses focus the mind.
Even Senator Rand Paul, darling of conservatives and libertarians alike, suggested the government should find a way to legalization for undocumented immigrants. And tea party activists who denounced this approach as amnesty just an eyeblink ago, announced they thought this might be a good idea.
And there's more. Congress looked long and hard into the political abyss of a potential government shutdown this week -- and blinked. Even though it meant setting the across-the-board budget cuts so many despised in stone, it was a better option than taking the hit for another Washington train wreck.
Across the country, other realities set in. In Colorado, where 12 were killed and 58 injured in a rampage shooting at a suburban movie theater last year, the governor signed new gun controls into law. In Maryland, the state legislatures passed a law that would fine anyone caught smoking in a car with a child. A New York judge went the other way, rejecting Mayor Mike Bloomberg's effort to ban large, sugary drinks. Every debate featured vigorous public input -- and changed minds.
But in Washington, we have fallen out of the habit of seeing our leaders looking inward. There is, in fact, little incentive to take a breath and revisit hardened positions absent the prospect of conflict, electoral defeat or embarrassment.
But if that's the choice, I'll take it.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., checks his phone as he takes the U.S. Capitol subway on Thursday. Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call.
Here's a little primer for the day ahead in politics.
On Thursday, members of the House voted to fund the government, approved a budget and beat it out of town for Easter recess, leaving the Senate behind to spend all day on the floor arguing over minor amendments to a 10-year spending plan.
The marathon session, known -- ahem -- affectionately in Washington as a "vote-a-rama," could last into the night. Lawmakers will debate abortion, repealing the Affordable Care Act, whether they deserve automatic pay raises and even the legality of drones.
And it doesn't matter.
Sure, Senate Democrats will ultimately pass their budget for the first time in four years. It looks to raise taxes to boost infrastructure investments and maintain entitlement programs. But that's dramatically different from the vision laid out by House Republicans in the form of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's blueprint, which was approved Thursday by a vote of 221-207.
In theory, once Senate Democrats have their plan, negotiators would come to the table and hammer out a compromise. That's how it works in most statehouses. But in an increasingly polarized Washington, and with the midterm elections feeling closer by the day, that's not likely to be the process.
In fact, the Senate already rejected the Ryan budget on a 40-59 vote Thursday evening. It wasn't Senate Republicans hoping to vote on that GOP vision for funding the government; Senate Democrats put forth the amendment to force their political rivals to take a position and unanimously opposed it. There were five Republican "no" votes, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
And don't forget neither chamber has seen President Barack Obama's budget, expected April 8. Pop quiz: How many presidential budgets have become law as introduced? That's right: zero.
The action gets going Friday morning with the first series of votes. Some are interesting policy questions, dealing with education reform and sales tax on Internet purchases. Others are philosophical: an amendment requiring a balanced budget already failed.
And then there's some for show: barring the budget from including tax increases if the unemployment rate is above 5.5 percent or dealing with contraception and other social issues.
On Thursday's NewsHour, Hari Sreenivasan reported on the latest in the fiscal fights on Capitol Hill, and Judy Woodruff talked with Todd Zwillich of PRI's "The Takeaway" about the budget and some Senate moves on gun legislation.
Watch the segment here or below:Watch Video
Mr. Obama spoke to students in Israel on Thursday, asking them not to give up on pursuing peace. Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post writes that the president "showed us the love" and Israelis swooned. Still, the trip so far has failed to exceed low expectations because of the president's unambitious diplomacy agenda, the Los Angeles Times' Carol Williams writes. The president is also traveling to Bethlehem in the West Bank and then will meet Jordan's King Abdullah, where he likely will discuss Syria's civil war. Margaret Warner reported from the trip on Thursday's NewsHour.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., now stands behind a background checks measure in any gun bill that passes through the Senate, and he said he would allow the assault weapons ban to get a vote in the form of an amendment. The guns legislation will be the first order of business when lawmakers return from recess.
Reuters' Thomas Ferraro checks in with each member in the Gang of Eight, who "might be on the cusp of a major legislative breakthrough" in writing a Senate bill on immigration, which may include a 10- to 15-year path for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship or a green card.
Immigration protestors on Thursday stormed the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Roll Call's Jonathan Strong gets to the bottom of the Republican "no" votes on the Ryan budget.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee [voted],(http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2013/03/21/senate-panel-votes-to-confirm-jewell/) 19-3, to move the nomination of Sally Jewell to be interior secretary to the Senate floor.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Thursday that he was "fine" with civil unions. An aide to the Republican governor later walked back those comments, telling BuzzFeed that Kasich had used the term civil unions "loosely."
The Respect for Marriage Coalition, which advocates for same-sex marriage, is buying $150,000 worth of air time for this new ad in the Washington, D.C., market.
Before Mitt Romney secured the Republican nomination, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrigh attempted to form a joint "Unity Ticket" to consolidate the conservative vote. Things broke down when they couldn't agree over who would be president if they won, reports Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Green.
"Republicans hold more than 30 of the 50 highest-profile, in-house lobbying jobs in town," Politco's Anna Palmer and Elizabeth Titus write to summarize their analysis.
First term Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin will lead the DSCC's outreach efforts to women in 2014.
Meanwhile, who knew Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., strategized over the farm bill in the women's bathrooms near the Senate floor? The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer examines the relationship and influence of women in the upper chamber.
The Atlantic's Molly Ball ponders the question: Has Mr. Obama turned a generation of voters into lifelong Democrats?
A new Pew Research Center poll finds the president's approval rating has slipped to 47 percent, down eight points since December.
Yahoo News' Chris Wilson has an amazing diagram of Senate votes that we missed earlier this week.
National Journal's Ron Brownstein explores how Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry's rejection of Medicaid expansion could turn the state blue. (Hint: Hispanics make up 60 percent of the state's uninsured).
Politico's Maggie Haberman scoops that Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades and Republican National Committee research director Joe Pounder are launching an outside group called America Rising, which will focus on opposition research of Democratic candidates. The organization will also include RNC spokesman Tim Miller, who previously worked on Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign.
Podesta Group's Kevin Griffis, a veteran of the Obama campaign, Virginia politics and the Commerce Department, is moving to New Jersey to be a senior adviser for Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Quarterback-turned-lobbyist? Drew Bledsoe is getting involved in a fight over wine.
The Onion makes a presidential birthright joke.
And even more paintings by former President George W. Bush!
Don't miss Christina's Google Hangout Friday morning at 11 a.m ET. We'll be joined by four faith leaders -- Rabbi Jan Uhrbach, United Church of Christ's Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, Biola University's Erik Thoennes and Notre Dame University's Father Paulinus Odozor -- for a discussion of religion and gay marriage ahead of the landmark Supreme Court arguments next week. On Twitter, use #churchandstate to send thoughts and questions.
Three years after Mr. Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Americans are still in the dark about how it works. Judy Woodruff blogged about a new survey that breaks down the numbers.
Kaiser Health News marks the third anniversary with a disuccsion about what lies ahead for governments, businesses and consumers.
It's been a good week for introspection, according to Gwen Ifill. She writes that "every once in awhile, before they dive in and hit their heads, our leaders actually pause to engage in a little beneficial navel gazing."
Kwame Holman talked with Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, one of the Democrats working on a bipartisan immigration package, about prospects for a deal.
What was the NewsHour's first tweet? Meena Ganesan breaks it down.
Everyone remember, amendments to a budget resolution are not binding.Amendments to a budget resolution are not binding. Repeat after me.— Jonathan Weisman (@jonathanweisman) March 21, 2013
The Road Taken by Dr. Ben Carsonto.pbs.org/162wI5M speaking to Newshour Extra (for students & teachers) in 1999— hari sreenivasan (@hari) March 21, 2013
Officially dropping any pretense that I'm going to get anything done today. #marchmadness— Nate Silver (@fivethirtyeight) March 21, 2013
Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.
Follow the politics team on Twitter:Follow @burlijiFollow @kpolantzFollow @elizsummersFollow @indiefilmfanFollow @tiffanymullonFollow @dePeystahFollow @meenaganesan
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A visitor looks at photographs by Marven Graf at "From Beckmann to Warhol: Art of the 20th and 21st Centuries," an exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The show, which features works by Picasso, Chagall, Warhol, Miro, Richter and others from the private collection of the Bayer corporation, will be open to the public Friday through June 19. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.
By Paul Solman
If you get equal opportunity -- an equal slice of the educational cake or pie -- that doesn't necessarily mean you will have equal economic opportunities as a result. Paul Solman answers a reader's question on why, so many times, there are unequal outcomes for different people, regardless of talent or opportunity. Photo by Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images.
Paul Solman frequently answers questions from the NewsHour audience on business and economic news on his Making Sen$e page. Here are Friday's responses on economic inequality and the vertiginous price of bonds.:
Dale -- Storrs, Conn.: Could someone explain to me why a rich educational environment should not be producing wide variations in achievement? Don't plants vary more widely in rich soil and the distances between runners increase in longer races? Kurt Vonnegut once wrote a story in which the Handicapper General was responsible for holding back the gifted and highly motivated. It ends badly and suggests that there is a fundamental difference between focusing on equal results instead of equal opportunity.
Paul Solman: There is of course a fundamental difference between focusing on equal results instead of equal opportunity, but the Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. story which you cite, "Harrison Bergeron," was not a plea for equal opportunity so much as a satire -- a reductio ad absurdum about absolutely equal results, absolutely enforced. Just read Vonnegut's most ambitious novel, "Player Piano," to see how dystopian a country of non-equal outcomes seemed to him.
As for your question, it all depends on what you mean by "a rich educational environment." "Rich" as in well-funded? Socio-economically and ethnically diverse? Are you actually suggesting that the educational soil in America is homogeneous -- i.e., everywhere the same? That a five-year-old going to school in inner city Detroit, for example, grows in the same kinder-garden as one in my hometown of Newton, Mass.?
But even if you are suggesting this, there would still be a problem with inequality. It's bad for all of us. Demonstrably so.
I'm recently back from a shooting trip to California. Among our locations: the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. Their findings bear out what we've reported here again and again and again. As the third of these stories put it in the broadcast headline: "Inequality Hurts: the Unhealthy Side Effects of Economic Disparity."
These are the simple facts: the lower you are on the economic ladder, the unhealthier you are, the shorter your lifespan. All else equal. And the higher you are, the more you cordon yourself off -- protect yourself -- from society, which leads to a negative outcome of its own: you're less connected to others, more on your own, less happy.
Rufus Dude -- Irvine, Calif.: So, with bonds at half-century historical highs, you're still pushing the same old "your age in bonds" advice? Amazingly bad. Next, you'll probably argue that a high debt-to-GDP ratio won't have any consequences for interest rates (or bond prices) either.
Paul Solman: I'm not pushing anything. I'm just responding to people's questions by being honest about what I do. You could be right, of course. Indeed, my recent post about TIPS yields was prompted by a similar anxiety about bond prices. But then, more experienced investors than I have been warning about bond prices for how long now? And what's happened to bond prices over those years of admonition?
Right now, I look at Japanese 10-year bond yields - down below six-tenths of one percent, last I looked - and I say to myself (and friends): "It's ridiculous." That very debt: GDP ratio you mention is well past 200 percent in Japan, more than double ours in the US. The now well-known economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reihardt, featured here in 2009, say that history shows any ratio above 90 percent to be unsustainable. Domestic Japanese investors -- individuals, companies and the government -- have been buying Japanese bonds. But won't they have to start borrowing from abroad at some point? Won't they then have to pay a far higher interest rate than 0.6 percent?
You're worried about inflation, "Rufus Dude." I am too. That's why I've long pushed TIPS, which build the Consumer Price Index into their return. But if instead deflation becomes the rule, as it has been in Japan for decades now, then interest rates will go down, not up, and current bond yields will look very attractive.
To me, asset allocation these days, no matter what your age, is a conundrum. That's why I recently put the bulk of our retirement assets into a liquid fund that guarantees 3 percent. But as I explained on this page, I am grandfathered in with this fund, which has since been closed to the public. Back in the day, a 3 percent guarantee didn't sound like much. Today, it's rather more attractive.
The plain fact is, I don't know what to do except diversify, as my asset allocation suggests. But I'm not saying this is the right formula for others.
Updated -- 5:45 p.m. ET:
At the end of his Middle East tour, President Barack Obama traveled to Amman, Jordan Friday to meet with King Abdullah II. Both countries' leaders emphasized their strong alliance and commitment to security and peace in the region.
One of the highlights of their discussions was Syria and the growing refugee problem in neighboring Jordan. The Associated Press reported that the nation hosts 500,000 refugees from Syria or about 9 percent of Jordan's total current population.
In the conference Friday, King Abdullah reported that his government anticipated the number of Syrians in Jordan could potentially double by the end of the year. "That would be like 30 million crossing over the border into the United States," he said. He added that the Zaatari desert refugee camp is now the fifth largest city in Jordan.
Syrian refugees cross the border from Syria into Jordan, near Mafraq. Jordan provides free health and education services for more than 200,000 U.N.-registered Syrian refugees, according to officials. Photo by Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images.
Abdullah reasoned that action needed to be taken in order to avoid "prolonged sectarian conflict" in Syria. Inaction could "lead to the fragmentation of Syria and have disastrous effects on the region," he said.
This sentiment was consistent with the king's past statements. In 2012, when Abdullah visited the United States and told PBS senior correspondent Margaret Warner that he expected the "loss of life" to continue in Syria and that the key players "don't really know what to do" about the conflict in the Middle Eastern country.
With a total of 70,000 Syrians dead, Abdullah voiced concern that the international community needed to step up, increasing humanitarian aid in Syria and for countries like Jordan playing host to Syrian refugees and preventing the radicalization of Syrian politics.
The influx of refugees -- Abdullah said the Jordanian government would not close its borders to future refugees -- has created social, economic and security concerns in his kingdom. "[We] have opened our arms to many throughout our history, said Abdullah." But if the $550 million in costs related to Syrians fleeing to Jordan also doubles along with the number of total refugees in Jordan, Abdullah conceded that it will have a tremendous effect on the economy.
In February, the Obama administration disbursed another $60 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels to provide basic needs for war-torn communities, including sanitation, medical care and food delivery, as well as to build up the organizational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.
At the press conference Friday, President Obama reiterated the importance to find a political solution and announced his intentions to work with Congress in order to provide an additional $200 million to Jordan to assist in rising costs regarding ever-increasing numbers of refugee.
President Obama and King Abdullah also addressed the need for a two-state solution and reiterated the contributions and efforts of the U.S. and Jordanian governments to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
While Jordan has remained a relatively stable country and ally of the U.S., Council on Foreign Relations' Steven Cook wrote Thursday that there are many more reasons why King Abdullah is now is facing mounting pressures and tensions in the region and from within his Kingdom:
"In January the Jordanians held elections, there have been a spate of protests over food prices, strong criticism of the King from some of the monarchy's heretofore strong tribal supporters. ... The fact that Syria is in chaos, sectarian gangs rule Iraq, Egypt is in turmoil, and predictions of a 3rd Palestinian intifada abound places King Abdullah and his Kingdom in a more uncomfortable position than usual."
View more on President Obama's trip to the Middle East on the NewsHour's World page.
Trams on Dublin's new light rail system stop for passengers. Photos by Ray Suarez/PBS NewsHour.
There's no oil. The domestic market is small, and scared. Overseas customers who once made you rich are now in economic crisis. After a housing bubble was blown up for a decade, it popped, and left behind wreckage it will take a long time to clean up. There are plenty of people figuring out the best way to fix the Irish economy, looking at the post-Celtic Tiger world from the bottom-up and from the top-down.
I've just spent the week talking to business people, leaders and ordinary Irish about what went wrong, and what needs to go right, right now. There is a remarkable level of agreement about what's ailing Ireland. Unemployment almost twice that of the United States is a drag on domestic demand. Massive debts left behind by the real estate meltdown, and the cost of bailing out the banks that underwrote the massive overbuilding is not a short-term project. Prices got too high, it is widely agreed, and no longer resembled sustainable value in the Irish economy.
Still, it is striking to see modern glass and steel office buildings put up since my last visit to Dublin a decade ago, standing empty. In some of the toniest neighborhoods south of the River Liffey, blocks of small office buildings sprout too many For Sale and To Let signs to comprehend. Where did everybody go? To cheaper digs, or out of business all together?
Economies are such interconnected machines. Big things can't happen in isolation. The government has no choice but to prop up failing banks that were once pillars of the Irish economy. The meltdown in the economy forces hundreds of thousands onto the unemployment rolls just as government costs are going up, tax receipts are going down, and the bank debt is slowly getting digested. To keep the books in closer balance the governments at various levels have had to raise taxes and cut government services. It's a stringent dose of medicine for an already heavily burdened people to swallow.
Unemployment is dropping, though not nearly fast enough for the workers' tastes or for the government's revenue needs. Wages have risen slowly, if at all -- in line with inflation. When I did back-to-back interviews with the heads of the equivalent organizations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, I was reminded how different the same economic landscape can look in different eyes. Fergal O'Brien, an economist with the IBEC, talked about the ways living through the collapse had strengthened Ireland as a competitor. "If you look at Ireland versus Germany for example, we gained 25 percent against Germany in unit labor costs since the global recession began. And a lot of that isn't wages, it's efficiency and productivity," he said. "Ireland is now a much more attractive place to do business than it was before the crisis."
David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, noted that "at the peak of the boom we had 2 million people working in the labor market. We've lost 365,000 jobs. The construction sector was particularly hard hit. The effect has been horrendous in that area particularly."
Begg told me a much higher share of the Irish workforce is unionized than in the United States, some 38 percent, and unless employers work with unions to smooth out wage demands in the coming years, a young and fragile recovery could be slowed by runaway wage demands from people who have seen declining standards of living for many of the last five years.
Irish potatoes trundle down a conveyor belt in a chips factory in Dublin.
One of the real pleasures of this reporting trip was meeting people who had started a wide variety of small enterprises. I began Thursday amid farm fields outside Dublin, watching washed potatoes drop from a bin onto a conveyor belt to begin the journey to become potato chips.
The Keogh family has been farming potatoes for generations. In the go-go Celtic Tiger years, Irish households started to move away from potatoes, eating more pasta and rice. A more sophisticated palate was a consequence of more affluence, as were time demands that left more working women convinced potatoes took too long to prepare. Unwilling to watch their business fade, the Keoghs took their potatoes and turned them into chips, turning an "inconvenience food" into a convenience food, if a not-so-healthy one.
Fourteen workers efficiently moved from process to process, taking less-than-beautiful potatoes out of the production line, stirring sliced spuds in the frantically bubbling kettle of safflower oil, loading freshly filled bags into waiting boxes and onto pallets for shipments. Keogh's has created 14 full-time jobs and found export markets around the world, including high-end American grocer Dean and DeLuca. If you come across the Roast Beef and Stout flavor, give it a try. I was skeptical. One of the Keogh's popped open a bag, and the chip tasted of beef broth, wasn't greasy or overly salty.
Demand is strong. The flavors are popular. The bottleneck now is the automated bagging line. If the second kettle was opened to meet new orders there wouldn't be enough packaging capacity to smoothly get the product into the trucks to head out from the Irish countryside to supermarkets in Europe, Asia and North America.
No less ambitious in his way is Garrett Fitzgerald. He and his partner James Boland have a success on their hands, Brother Hubbard's café, opened for breakfast and lunch near Dublin's law courts. Fitzgerald took advantage of the Irish government's leave policies for civil servants, went to cooking school and then to kitchens in Australia before coming home to create his dream.
The place is getting rave reviews from the Dublin papers and from visitor's guides for foreign tourists. From the beginning, Fitzgerald and Boland wanted to stress Irish ingredients and Irish suppliers. They took it to a degree that symbolizes their vision. Said Fitzgerald, "If you look around the café, we could have gone to Ikea and opened up the place in two weeks. Instead we got two young designers, custom designed and hand built everything here from native Irish ash.
"When you look at our cheeses, our meats, everything's Irish. I felt it was very important that we use local Irish suppliers. Now we have a close relationship with them ... that's good for them ... and it's good for us." And a reminder of the way a small business like Bother Hubbard's is knit into a web of commerce.
As the breakfast rush begins, a barista quickly and smoothly brews coffee drinks using beans direct from the supplier. The cashier rings up sales on an iPad, using software designed at the request of Bother Hubbard's. The software designer, a friend, has gone on to launch a startup for marketing iPad-as-register applications to other businesses.
The café has also created 14 jobs. It opened as a lunch place. It added breakfast at the beginning of 2013, and took on more staff to meet the additional business. Now on the drawing board, a light evening menu, and a seventh day of operation. At first, said Fitzgerald, they plan to cover the added shifts with existing staff. If the new opening hours are a success, more workers will join the payroll. He doesn't want to hire, only to fire. "When you hire someone you're responsible for them. The way we've approached adding on staff, we've put in more of the effort ourselves until we're sure there's an opportunity there."
Artisanal foods. Business software. Vintage clothing. Cloud-based video production. Delicious scones. Irish businesses are chipping away at a mountain of losses since 2008. There are still massive problems to be solved, like the tremendous number of underwater mortgages. The country appears to be making slow progress on what all the stakeholders agree will be a long road back.
Related Coverage:Ireland: Is the Worst Over?
Watch for Ray Suarez's broadcast report on Monday's PBS NewsHour. View more of our World coverage.
Watch politics editor Christina Bellantoni moderate a Google Hangout debate between religious leaders that take opposing sides on same-sex marriage.
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two major cases addressing gay rights -- California's Prop 8 law and the Defense of Marriage Act. While the focus of the discussion has centered mostly on politics, PBS NewsHour got a different, non-legal perspective on the same-sex marriage debate and look at how it has played out in the world of religion.
Politics editor Christina Bellantoni hosted a Google hangout Friday with religious leaders from both sides of the argument. They addressed how each of their faith communities view same-sex marriage, and how and why they've gotten involved with the political discourse.
Joining her were:Father Paulinus Odozor, professor of Christian ethics and moral theology at the University of Notre Dame. Rabbi Jan Uhrbach, rabbi of a conservative-movement synagogue on Long Island and a member of the Rabbinical Assembly. She wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on the subject this week. Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, minister for LGBT concerns at the national office of United Church of Christ, the first Protestant church to endorse gay marriage. And Erik Thoennes, professor and department chair of Biblical and theological studies at Biola University and a pastor at Grace Evangelical Free Church in Southern California.
Watch the hangout above and chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comments below and on on twitter with @NewsHour using #churchandstate.
The NewsHour will continue its coverage of the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act legal challenges on March 26 and March 27. For more information on the cases, watch National Law Journal Washington bureau chief Marcia Coyle on the NewsHour late last year after the high court decided to take the cases: