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

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    In this interview, NewsHour correspondent Ray Suarez chats with Denise Kiernan, author of "The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II." In the book, Kiernan tells the story of the women who worked on the Manhattan Project, a secret government effort in the 1940's to enrich fuel for first atomic bomb used at the end of World War II.

    Lured by well-paying jobs and the promise that their work would lead to a quicker end to World War II, thousands of young women came, in 1943, from cities around the country to work on a clandestine government project in rural Tennessee.

    Two years later, they learned they were lending their talents toward enriching the fuel for the atomic bombs detonated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    In her new book, The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, journalist and author Denise Kiernan profiles the lives of several women who traveled to Oak Ridge, Tenn. at the time.

    "Many of them got their brand new dress and just one bag and a tube of lipstick and a new pair of shoes and off they went to a city that really no one knew existed," Kiernan said at a recent discussion at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

    Officially called the Manhattan Project because its initial headquarters were in New York City, government officials created Oak Ridge in 1942 from 56,000 acres of land taken by eminent domain. They originally planned for 13,000 residents; by 1945, more than 75,000 women and men called the town home, and some still live there seven decades later.

    In the book, we meet several women who moved to Oak Ridge for the project.

    Celia Szapka grew up a coal miner's daughter in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania and had two brothers fighting in the war. She began working for the project as a secretary and was asked to move to Oak Ridge in 1943.

    "She didn't know exactly where she was going, exactly what she was going to be doing or exactly when she'd be done doing it, but she did know that it was supposed to help with the war effort," Kiernan said.

    "She had this tremendous -- and I would say most of the women I interviewed did -- this tremendous sense of adventure and spirit and dedication to what was the greatest war that any of them had ever known," Kiernan said.

    Jane Greer, a college graduate from Paris, Tenn., turned down several job offers to accept a position at Clinton Engineering Works, the official name for the plant at Oak Ridge.

    Jane wanted to stay close to her recently widowed father. With a degree in statistics from the University of Tennessee, she unknowingly helped the project estimate how fast they could produce enough enriched uranium to fuel the atomic bomb.

    Originally from Nashville, Colleen Rowan moved to Oak Ridge with more than 10 family members and found work as a leak pipe inspector.

    "She, too, had a brother who was fighting [in the war] so they decided leave what they were doing. They had some plumber cousins who told them that there was this big war project and they should come on over, " Kiernan said.

    At the end of their shift, workers leave a plant built to enrich uranium to fuel the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. Photo by James Edward Wescott, courtesy of The National Archives. Other images courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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    A new map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the precision by the Planck mission. Image by ESA and the Planck Collaboration.

    You may have seen this map, which has been making the rounds since its release by the European Space Agency on Thursday. It's a beauty, isn't it?

    The map reveals a snapshot of light left over from the Big Bang, also known as the cosmic microwave background. And it holds evidence that has refined our understanding of the ancient universe, scientists say.

    The light, scientists explained at a press conference on Thursday, started out as a white hot glow, which would have been blindingly bright 370,000 years after the Big Bang, when it was first emitted. But in the 13.8 billion years since, the universe has expanded 1,100-fold, and the glow has cooled so much that it is now invisible to the human eye.

    But not to Planck, the satellite that was built to see and measure this ancient light with unmatched precision. The Planck mission has been scanning and mapping the skies since it launched into space in 2009. On Thursday, they reported their analysis of the first 15 months of data. Planck is successor to NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). But it has more sensitivity and higher resolution.

    "It's as if we've gone from a standard-definition to a high-definition television," said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA, in a press conference on Thursday. "New and important details have become crystal clear."

    The colors in the map represent tiny temperature fluctuations, which show variations in the intensity of the light. And imprinted in this light, scientists said at the press conference, is evidence of the universe's origin and its evolution, clues to what happens just 10 nano nano nano nano seconds after the Big Bang.

    Among the findings: The universe, at 13.8 billion years old, is about 100 million years older than previously thought, said Martin White, a U.S. Planck scientist from the University of California at Berkeley. It expanded more rapidly in the past than previously estimated, but expands more slowly today. There's less dark energy, more dark matter, and that dark matter is "clumpier" than previously thought. White said.

    "The Planck satellite should be thought of as cosmology's human genome project," said Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. "Just as our DNA determines many of our individual characteristics, the Planck map sows the seeds from which the current universe grew."

    QUICK BITES

    Great lede from Discovery News: "Ever have one of those days when you can't find anything: your keys, your cell phone or that darned Farallon tectonic plate? I'm happy to report some progress on the plate. The Farallon plate, what's left of it, is just fragments of oceanic crust off the West Coast."

    Sex in space could be dangerous, CNET reports.

    Terrific post by Ed Yong on the science of the swarm, and how "complexity can arise from incredibly simple rules."

    Are you a cookie dunker? Science says you're not crazy; they really do taste better that way. NPR has the story on why our taste buds prefer crunchy cookies once they've been softened by milk, tea or coffee.

    Where's Voyager 1? That Depends.

    What happens to a teenager's brains when they sleep? It might surprise you.

    The cicadas are coming.

    NOT SAFE FOR LUNCH

    Forget Thanksgiving: In the world of gorging, the Dolly Varden trout has humans and their holidays beat. A new study finds this trout feasts once a year, expanding its gut up to four times the normal size to make the space.

    Photo credit: Planck is a European Space Agency mission, with significant participation from NASA. Image by ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Tom Kennedy, Rebecca Jacobson, Patti Parson and David Pelcyger contributed to this report.

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    84357511_homepage_slot_1.jpgNigerian novelist, poet, essayist, statesman and dissident Chinua Achebedied Thursday in Boston after a brief illness. He was 82. Achebe emerged upon the literary world in 1958 with the publication of his influential novel "Things Fall Apart," which has sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages.

    "For a long time, the story of Africa was told almost exclusively through the words of European writers," Jeffrey Brown reported in 2008 for an interview with the author. "That began to change in the 1950s, as African countries achieved independence and African writers began to tell their own stories. One book in particular, 'Things Fall Apart,' ... has become a classic of world literature."

    Achebe spent much of his life in the United States. Paralyzed from the waist down after an auto accident in 1990, he lived for many years in a cottage on the campus of Bard College, where he was a faculty member. He joined Brown University in 2009 as a professor of languages and literature.

    Watch Jeff's 2008 interview with Achebe below:

    Watch Video

    You can read the transcript here.


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    "Please Please Me" documentary courtesy of The Beatles' official website, beatles.com.

    "Twist and Shout," "Love Me Do," "I Saw Her Standing There." It might be hard to believe that these three songs, belonging to the soundtrack of a generation and beloved by several more, sprang from a single album 50 years ago today.

    On March 22, 1963, the Beatles' first album "Please Please Me" debuted in the U.K. as an LP on Parlophone Records following the success of the singles "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me." The album shot to the top of British album charts just two months after its release and remained there for 13 weeks. Though it wouldn't be for another year until the Fab Four visited America, Beatlemania had already struck in England, as Paul, John, George and Ringo were on their way to becoming household names.

    How well do you know your early Beatles history? Take the quiz below and find out.

    View Survey

    Quiz created by Cindy Huang, Ellen Rolfes and Colleen Shalby.


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    The Capitol Lawn cleared out during Irish Prime Minster Edna Kenny's visit to the Hill on Tuesday. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

    The political team took a look at the week that was on Capitol Hill. Got a tidbit? Email Allie Morris at amorris [at] newshour.org.

    Staking out the Supreme Court

    The arguments in the high-profile Prop 8 Supreme Court case may not begin until Tuesday, but the line to get into the court to watch them has already queued up in Washington. By Friday afternoon, eight people were already holding their places in front of the building.

    Among those hoping to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land was Jason Wonacott of California. He arrived at the back of the line three hours before the NewsHour spoke with him, and said he plans to spend the next four days sleeping, eating and hanging out on the sidewalk. "It's been awhile since I have been on a camping trip," he said. "Might as well make it on rough, hard cement."

    Wonacott got the idea to stake out this case last year, when he heard about people lining up before the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. "This is pretty much the biggest event that is going to happen for it in the U.S., just a moment in history I wanted to be a part of," he said. Wonacott, who is gay, said he realized his sexuality at the age of 17, about the time when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began allowing same-sex marriages. "That was almost nine years, going on 10 years ago, so its something I have cared about a lot since then, and I have been following really closely."

    Until the arguments begin, Wonacott plans to pass the time reading, watching movies on his phone and laptop and writing. He sat in a folding chair, his legs stuffed into a sleeping bag, with his bags of supplies surrounding his feet. "I have a lot of friends in the area, so hopefully they will bring me some blankets and hot coffee."

    Lobbying for the Bible

    Anyone passing in front of the Capitol Tuesday afternoon would have heard a rousing rendition of "Amazing Grace." It wasn't a recording, or even a planned performance. While waiting to get their group photo taken, some 300 pastors and their wives assembled on the House steps broke into song. During the impromptu 10-minute concert, the group sang "God Bless America," "Amazing Grace" and "Victory in Jesus."

    "These men love to sing," said Pastor Larry Borner, who came to Washington, D.C., from Wisconsin with his wife Donna. "We all sing these in our churches and so this is just a fun thing to do whenever we get together in groups. Anywhere that we travel we will always get together and sing like this."

    Members in the group hailed from 42 states and represented Awake America Ministries. In addition to talking with lawmakers, the organization distributed bibles to all members of Congress.

    "We have come up to Capitol Hill to be able to talk with all our senators and representatives and to just let them know we pray for them we love them," Borner told the NewsHour.

    The surprise singing drew a crowd and by the final performance as many as 100 people were gathered taking pictures and listening. One bystander was drawn to the performance when she heard the music from across the lawn. "I think it's great that we live in a country where people who believe in Jesus Christ can stand up in the stairs of the Capitol and sing about him," she said.

    Tourists Weigh In

    Money was the topic du jour on the Hill this week. Mainly, how the government is going to use it. On Thursday, the House passed the Senate's amended version of the $984 billion continuing resolution that will keep the government funded through September. But, how the budget process proceeds is up in the air. Also on Thursday, House Republicans passed their budget plan, while the Democratic-controlled Senate began debating its own budget proposal.

    The sequester still remains in place -- across the board spending cuts that impact almost every facet of the government. One of the most contentious cuts? Public tours. When the White House cancelled theirs, citing the sequester's budget cuts, Speaker John Boehner pointedly announced that Capitol tours were still on. With sunny weather on Friday, and some schools out for spring break, tourists descended on the Hill. But as the budget wars rage on inside, what do the visitors think about how Congress is performing?

    Owen Ashurt, 58, and his wife, Becky, 52, from Seattle, had just taken a Capitol tour and were well aware of the budget squabbles going on inside. Owen considers himself to be a conservative, and Becky is more liberal, but they agreed that both sides in Congress no longer know how to compromise and aren't throwing around realistic solutions to trimming spending. "We all know that these guys waste more money in a minute than it would cost to do a Capitol or White House tour," Owen said.

    Andrew Chinofsky, 22, who brought his girlfriend and little sister to tour the Capitol from Philadelphia, said he thinks cutting tours was a "publicity stunt," but one that the White House undertook understandably to raise public consciousness about the gridlock in Washington. He's hoping Congress gets its act together on the budget so that they'll take up some of the issues that have been pushed to the back burner, like the public health initiatives that have prompted him to write to his legislators.

    Although no one reported feeling the effects of the sequester personally, Wayne Jacobsen, 69, from Barrington, Ill., sympathized with people whose livelihoods have been hit. As he made his way toward the metal detector to enter the Capitol, he said he would support cutting tours if it would make a difference.

    Absolutely not, said fellow prairie stater, Patty Shook, 45. Taking pictures of her young daughter after their Capitol tour, Shook said she's "beyond frustrated" and doesn't feel as if lawmakers represent her.

    Congress Seeing Green

    Two days after the official holiday on March 17, St. Patrick's Day spirit was on display throughout the Capitol, in large part to welcome Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to the Hill. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, hosted the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon with special guests President Barack Obama and the prime minister of Ireland, known as the Taoiseach.

    Both the president and Boehner sported green ties and most members of the American and Irish press, who waited through lunch in Statuary Hall to cover the entertainment portion of the event, were also wearing festive flair -- dresses, scarves, ties, jackets in all hues of green.

    After dining on a lunch of lamb and potatoes and listening to a performance from Anthony Kearns of the Irish Tenors, the speaker, prime minister and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., (also wearing a green tie), escorted the president down the House steps to his awaiting motorcade.

    The end of the visit didn't signal the end of the celebration. Later in the day, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan, R-Wis., spoke on the House floor wearing green ties and shamrock pins.

    Photo above: A line forms outside the Supreme Court on Friday. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

    Photo above: Pastors and their wives assembled on the House steps sing "Victory in Jesus." Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

    Photo above: President Barack Obama leaves the Hill after the Friends of Ireland luncheon. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

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

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    JEFFREY BROWN: It was a day of diplomacy for President Obama in the Middle East. He promised Jordan he would seek $200 million dollars in much-needed help to cope with an influx of refugees from Syria's war. And before leaving Israel, he brokered a critical conversation between two regional leaders.

    Once again tonight, Margaret Warner reports.

    MARGARET WARNER: The last working day of President Obama's Middle East trip saw an unexpected breakthrough on an issue that has hampered U.S. efforts to contain the conflict in Syria, a long-simmering dispute between Israel and Turkey.

    On the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac before leaving Israel, the president facilitated an icebreaking phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan. Despite shared concerns about the Syria conflict and other eruptions in the region, they haven't been speaking for nearly three years.

    Mr. Netanyahu apologized today for the death of nine Turkish activists during a 2010 Israeli commando raid on an aid ship bound for blockaded Gaza. That had brought a sudden halt to what had been security cooperation between the two countries. Today, Erdogan and Netanyahu agreed to normalize relations again. The president spoke of the call and the importance of that relationship this evening in Amman, Jordan.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And, fortunately, they were able to begin the process of rebuilding normal relations between two very important countries in the region.

    You know, this is a work in progress. It's just beginning. As I said, there are obviously going to still be some significant disagreements between Turkey and Israel, not just on the Palestinian question, but on a range of different issues. But they also have a whole range of shared interests. And they both happen to be extraordinarily strong partners and friends of ours.

    And so it's in the interest of the United States that they begin this process of getting their relationship back in order.

    MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Obama had spent much of the day in Israel and the West Bank, visiting landmarks commemorating the history of the Jews, and one of Christianity's s holiest treasures safeguarded by the Palestinians.

    Mr. Obama had a few words when he got to Yad Vashem, the memorial to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Here, on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear the state of Israel doesn't exist because of the Holocaust. But with the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again.

    MARGARET WARNER: In the afternoon, he met Palestinian President Abbas in Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity. It is said to be built on the site where Jesus Christ was born.

    Mr. Obama was driven there through the Israeli checkpoints and security wall separating Israel from the West Bank, after a sudden sandstorm grounded the president's chopper. It was perhaps a too-perfect metaphor for the tangled peace process he leapt back into this week.

    From there, it was a short flight to Amman, capital of Jordan, the first Arab state the president has visited since the uprisings erupted in the region two years ago. King Abdullah has resisted the tide of revolution, but there are growing economic and political pressures on the Hashemite kingdom, chief among them, the conflict in Syria, its northern neighbor.

    The king was the first Arab leader to call on Bashar al-Assad to go, and he is cooperating with the U.S. and others to make that happen. Jordan reportedly hosts U.S. and other special forces training the ragtag Syrian rebels. But the pressures come from a flood of Syrian refugees, some 460,000 now housed in squalid refugee camps, and the numbers keep growing.

    The king was asked if he would consider shutting his kingdom's borders.

    KING ABDULLAH II, Jordan: How are you going to turn back women, children and the wounded? This is something that we just can't do. It's not the Jordanian way.

    The problem is obviously the burden it's having on Jordan. We have tried to quantify it as much as possible. The latest figure says it's going to cost us roughly $550 million dollars a year. Not only is that a problem, but it's going to be a tremendous strain, obviously, on infrastructure, and it's creating social problems and security problems.

    MARGARET WARNER: There are strains on Jordan too from the fact that an estimated half of all Jordanians are Palestinians from the West Bank. So King Abdullah has long urged the U.S. to get reengaged in trying to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

    The president said again today he was ready to do what he could.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: My hope and expectation is that, as a consequence of us doing our homework, we can explore with the parties a mechanism for them to sit back down, to get rid of some of the old assumptions, to think in new ways, and to get this done.

    I can't guarantee that that is going to happen. What I can guarantee is, we will make the effort.

    MARGARET WARNER: Jordan is only one of two Arab nations that has made peace with Israel. 


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret has traveled with the president all week. She was in Amman when I spoke with her just a short time ago.

    Margaret, hello.

    Tell us, first of all -- the administration seems very pleased about this breakthrough between Israel and Turkey. Tell us about President Obama's role in making that happen.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, the White House, the administration has been working for over two years to try to heal this rift, but it really became important as the Syria conflict got more serious in the neighborhood, because in the absence of going in militarily, the president is trying to organize all the neighbors, as we know, in the region to assist with refugees, to assist with figuring out where the chemical weapons are, to try to figure out which Islamist forces might be gaining ground among the rebel forces.

    It's very complicated. And to have two of America's three staunchest, best sort of security and intelligence allies in the region not speaking has been a huge, huge problem. So, John Kerry, when he went to Ankara on his maiden trip as secretary of state, talked to Erdogan.

    And then the president when he got here at his very first meeting with Netanyahu Wednesday brought it up, and has been working at it, we're told, each time they have met. So it was set up that they went to the airport. They had a trailer set up, and Netanyahu and Obama went in, and the call was made.

    And we were all wondering -- it took something like half-an-hour. And we wondered, why so long, why was the president there, why did he get on the phone. And what I'm told is that both Netanyahu and Erdogan required the president to be there, because for each one that gave him cover, that leader cover to do this sort of forced apology.

    Erdogan could say President Obama has explained that it's very, very important for to us at least cooperate on security intelligence. I need to do this for my friend Barack Obama, and Netanyahu could make the same case to the people who are criticizing him at home for apologizing to Erdogan.

    So, that's why Obama got on the call as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, you mentioned Syria.

    When the president got to Jordan, he and King Abdullah held a joint press conference, news conference, and the president announced there that he is going to be asking Congress for more money to go to Jordan, to help them deal with all the refugees coming in from Syria.

    Why is that important for the Obama administration?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, when I said there were two of the three allies in the region, the third most important ally there for the United States is Jordan, a tiny country, but punches above its weight.

    Jordan security forces and intelligence forces are excellent. And I described in the earlier piece some of the role it's playing. But King Abdullah's on somewhat shaky ground, the economy is bad, and part of the problem is the refugees are a huge pressure point, as the king sort of eloquently said today.

    Few of us saw the foreign minister this afternoon, who said it's almost as if -- he said it's as if another eight or nine -- the king said 10 percent has been added to our population. And the foreign minister said -- I asked him actually the question that the king was asked, would you ever shut your doors? And he said, we just can't do that.

    But he said, I have to say my nightmare scenario is I get a call at 3:00 a.m. and I'm told there are 50,000 refugees at the border; what do we do?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, just to wrap up quickly, we know the bulk of the president's time was spent in Israel trying to patch up relations there, but also calling for new thinking on the part of the Israelis and the Palestinians. Have you picked up reaction yet to what the president was saying?

    MARGARET WARNER: Judy, in the public, especially on the left in Israel, there was great, great joy at what the president had to say about resolving the conflict.

    But the reaction from people sort of in the political circles was a little more true to form. For example, Naftali Bennett, who is from the settler movement who did very well in the election and is now in the government, said we don't need -- a second Palestinian state, that isn't new thinking. And he said very pointedly, people can't be occupiers in their own land.

    In other words, he was rejecting the idea that Israelis don't have the right to live anywhere they want in the entire territory. Then, today, I talked to Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian very prominent, who is still a member of the PLO executive committee, and she said, we don't need new language or new thinking. We need new will and courage by the United States.

    And Palestinians were widespread in their disappointment with the trip, because they felt that the president had really embraced the Israeli kind of view of this conflict, and had not expressed a willingness to press for some freeze on settlements.

    So, it doesn't mean something may not happen. But you could see that new thinking is going to come hard in this region of a very old conflict.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner, thank you very much, joining us from Amman.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The Senate looked ready to pass its first budget in four years in a midnight finish. The final vote was set to come later tonight or early tomorrow morning, after a flurry of votes on dozens of amendments dubbed vote-a-rama. The nonbinding budget bill would impose almost $1 trillion dollars of tax increases coupled with $875 billion dollars in spending cuts.

    Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware said crafting a budget should be about more than the bottom line.

    SEN. CHRIS COONS, D-Del.: We need to do it in a way that both stabilizes our deficit and debt, makes critical investments in growing our economy and preserves the core of the programs on which Americans rely. This is not just about numbers. It is also about values. It is also about priorities.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama called Democrats out for how they were using the word balance during the debate.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-Ala.: Also, using the word balance, they hope people will hear it and think that this means we have got a balanced budget. They know they don't have a balanced budget. They won't tell the American people they don't have one. They just use the word. But it's not in their document.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Sessions forced a vote on an amendment to put Democrats on record in opposition to balancing the budget by the end of the decade. It failed on a near-party line vote.

    Lawmakers in North Dakota moved to outlaw abortion today. The Republican-controlled legislature there passed a bill defining life as starting at conception. It is one in a series of anti-abortion measures that have passed this year. The bill now goes to the state's Republican governor, Jack Dalrymple. He opposes abortion, but has not said whether he would sign the bill into law.

    A compounding pharmacy in Augusta, Ga., is recalling all of its injectable medicines after an inspection by the Food and Drug Administration. Earlier this week, the same pharmacy recalled the drug Avastin when five patients got serious eye infections after using the medicine. FDA inspectors found issues at the pharmacy that call into question the sterility of its drugs.

    The president of Myanmar declared a state of emergency in several townships after fighting between Buddhists and Muslims left at least 20 people dead. The city of Meikhtila was covered in thick black smoke as firefighters raced to put out fires set by rioting mobs. And police fanned out and seized machetes and hammers along the way. Ethnic violence has spread in Myanmar over the past two years, when decades of military rule ended and the country turned toward democracy.

    The parliament of Cyprus adopted laws today to create a solidarity fund to pool state assets and impose capital controls on banks. The votes were the first of several as the island nation raced against a Monday deadline to qualify for an international bailout. Cyprus needs to raise $7.5 billion dollars to get a $13 billion dollar bailout from the Eurozone and International Monetary Fund.

    Stocks on Wall Street rose in anticipation that Cyprus would reach a deal. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 90 points to close at 14,512. The Nasdaq rose 22 points to close at 3,245. For the week, the Dow lost one-hundredth of a percent; the Nasdaq slipped a 10th of one percent.

    The universe is 80 million years older than previously thought. That's according to astronomists working with the European Space Agency. They analyzed a new, more precise satellite image of cosmic radiation left over from the Big Bang that created the cosmos. The scientists now think the universe began 13.8 billion years ago and is expanding more slowly than first thought.

    The celebrated Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe died today in Boston after a brief illness. Achebe is best known for telling the history of his native country and the story of Africa after colonial rule. His first novel, "Things Fall Apart," was published in 1958 and sold more than 10 million copies.

    In 2008, he sat down with Jeff on the NewsHour.

    CHINUA ACHEBE, Author, "Things Fall Apart": After my novel "Things Fall Apart" was published, it just looked as if people had been waiting everywhere, in Africa, in Nigeria, in Igboland, to tell their own version of their story, as if something was holding them before. And it seems to me that that's a very good thing, indeed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Achebe was 82 years old. Jeff's full interview with him from 2008 is online on our Art Beat page.

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


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    JEFFREY BROWN: The debate over the city of Chicago's plan to close dozens of public schools intensified today. Public school officials cited a billion-dollar deficit and under enrollment as the driving factors behind the move. But critics claim it will hurt the communities where the schools are located, primarily Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods.

    The closures could start as soon as this school year ends. This week, parents received letters alerting them to the proposed cuts.

    WOMAN: Now we have got to worry about our kids going to another location and worry about what's going to happen to them going to school.

    MAN: It's all about routine. And so now you're disrupting the routine of the children.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The Chicago Public Schools proposal would close 54 underutilized schools, forcing the relocation of approximately 30,000 students. The district says the move would save $560 million dollars over the next decade.

    CPS chief executive officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett addressed the plan in a video posted Wednesday on the district's Web site.

    BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT, Chicago Public Schools: What we must do is to ensure that the resources that some kids get, that all kids get. With our consolidations, we're able to guarantee that our children will get what they need and what they deserve.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Opponents of the shutdown include the Chicago Teachers Union, whose members struck over demands for higher pay and other issues for a week last September. They have organized a march and rally for next week.

    But some parents see the potential change as something positive.

    WOMAN: It would be a great opportunity for her to get outside of the neighborhood school and go to a better school.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on the measure in May.

    Declining enrollment has also forced other major cities like Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to close scores of public schools in recent years.

    And we take up the debate now with two people at the center of the fight. We start with Jesse Ruiz. He's vice president of the Chicago Board of Education. He was appointed to that post by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011. I spoke with him a short time ago.

    Welcome to you.

    So, why is such a dramatic action so necessary? Is this resources, money, pure and simple?

    JESSE RUIZ, Chicago Board of Education: No. It is twofold.

    One, we are looking at a record budget deficit of about one billion dollars next year. So we're looking for every aspect to reap savings in our system. And we have underutilized schools that -- as a result from population loss in certain parts of the city of Chicago. And so it's healthy for those schools to right-size, to become fully utilized schools, and thus combining underutilized schools, which happens to then garner us savings that we can reinvest and focus those limited resources we have in one school building, as opposed to multiple, partially used billions.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For people around the country, give us a sense of how serious the situation is there. Is there a sense that Chicago is failing some of its students right now?

    JESSE RUIZ: I think we have.

    We have failed to provide those resources that can give them added benefits, particularly in underserved communities. And so thus we're focusing on these underserved communities. And it happens to be areas where there has been population loss. And so we can consolidate some of these schools, save $43 million a year in operations, reinvest those $43 million into the classrooms, and directly toward our students that will benefit them every single day and help them get a better education in Chicago public schools.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One of the criticisms, of course, is that this will hurt poor neighborhoods even more. They will lose a kind of hub of the neighborhood and that many of the students will now have to travel longer distances, in many cases through unsafe neighborhoods.

    JESSE RUIZ: Sure.

    And we're cognizant of those concerns. We're concerned about those things, and thus looking to repurpose some of those buildings so that they don't stay vacant, that they continue to serve the neighborhoods, just simply not as schools, perhaps as parent centers, other neighborhood centers, perhaps that other NGOs and nonprofits can use those for other services to provide to the community.

    Meanwhile, we can take those savings and then also put it into safe passage programs to make sure that students that now have to travel in different routes or a little bit further will have a safe route to get to school and try to ensure that the safety and security of our students is utmost.

    And so we're going to reinvest those dollars to make sure they have a safe -- and feel comfortable attending a new school.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But doesn't that take some money to repurpose those buildings? I guess one argument would be the money you're going to use for that, you could use to do to enhance the buildings right now, keep the kids there.

    JESSE RUIZ: Well, we won't repurpose the buildings. Other folks will. We could potentially provide the building to them at little or low cost, and other agencies can do that. We will take the money that we will save, again $43 million dollars a year in simply not operating them.

    On top of that, we will save $560 million dollars in the next decade in capital avoidance of costs that we won't have to put into some of these buildings that are very, very old and need a lot of repairs. We'd rather focus those on a newer facility that's more already prepared for 21st century learning with the latest technology and libraries and laboratories that students need and the technology that students need to use to learn today.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Another question I have heard is, why all at once? I mean, this is -- it becomes a very disruptive thing when you do so many schools at one time.

    Is the city prepared for this, when you're going to have thousands of people, many buildings affected?

    JESSE RUIZ: Well, we have been doing this a little bit at a time for last decade, frankly.

    And we're, frankly, weary of having to go through this every single Europe in Chicago. Every spring is school closing season. We want to be done with this business now, get it done with, right-size of district. It's frankly something that should have been done. This is a problem that has been a decade-long in the making, should have been addressed before.

    The current school board and school management at CPS is determined to not ignore those issues. I think, frankly, that I would be disappointed in all of us if we didn't recognize this issue and address it, and not be satisfied with the status quo. And let's go on to the next five years, and have a moratorium on school closings, which the mayor and the school administration has said would be the case, and focus on teaching and learning every spring, not closing schools.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Race is inevitably an issue. These are largely black and Hispanic majority schools and students affected.

    What do you say to people who say that this is always -- it is these minority communities where the disruption is felt?

    JESSE RUIZ: Well, it's these minority communities that have been underserved, and thus, even though we're facing a billion-dollar deficit, we want to take those savings and reinvest it in the schools that do need those critical supports, that do need wraparound services.

    And this is a way to get those monies out of, frankly, buildings and put them into student services and classrooms that directly impact the learning environment for a student. And so we're cognizant of that. And, again, we're frustrated that folks that were running the school system previously didn't address this, and we're here today, and we're going to address it today.

    We think there's an urgency about this to get this work done, do it well, and make sure that the best interest of the student is always at heart, which it is.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, does this mean loss of jobs, teachers' jobs, administrative jobs, and do you think this is it? Is there more to come?

    JESSE RUIZ: There potentially could be some loss of jobs. In the last teacher contract, there was a negotiated system of how these teachers would reapply for positions.

    Obviously, the students aren't going away. They're just being consolidated in one school building. So we still need those high-quality teachers. We will save on some custodial services, that we will have fewer of those needs in one building vs. two or three.

    And, yes, we look forward to this being it, and thus making a big effort this year, making huge strides in getting a current right-size system, and then for the next five years being done with this and focusing on teaching and learning.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Jesse Ruiz of the Chicago Board of Education, thank you very much.

    JESSE RUIZ: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And joining us live now is Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago's Teachers Union.

    Welcome to you.

    So, tell us, what is the most important reason that you oppose this move?

    KAREN LEWIS, Chicago Teachers Union: Well, we oppose it because it's completely destabilizing of neighborhoods in which their neighborhood is already destabilized.

    Jesse Ruiz is very good at laying out the problems from a spreadsheet analysis. And it makes perfect sense. Oh, let's put two places together that are underutilized. The problem is, the reason most of these buildings are underutilized is because we have had decades of school closings.

    So, the school closings have created this underutilization issue. And one of the things that is very problematic about it is, if you listen to him, it's all corporate-speak. So, this is an attack. It's a corporate attack on public education. We have 25 buildings right now that are still vacant from the closings.

    I love how he says, well, we're going to repurpose these buildings. Those are all perhaps. I hope everybody noticed that. There's no plan for this. There's no safety plan block by block. People do not understand how unsafe Chicago is right now. I know you have heard it and you have talked about it. But, literally, we have 59 different gangs in Chicago and 650 branches of those gangs.

    So, we're talking block by block. So sending children from one place to the next could be deadly. And, in addition, there are a lot of special ed programs. I was at a school yesterday that was a fairly new building that had already been retrofitted with the things that they said they wanted to give, libraries, computer labs, science labs, beautiful building.

    They're being sent to a school that is much, much older, not in good shape, and not really equipped to handle the children with special needs there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let me ask you the same question that I asked him about whether and to what extent Chicago is failing its student today. Where do you see the failure and where do you see the cause?

    KAREN LEWIS: I mean, I don't understand the -- what we're talking about when we're talking about failing.

    We have been failing poor and minority children across this country. It's not just Chicago. It's everywhere. And the issue is, we don't want to have honest conversations about poverty, because doing these other things and focusing the conversation somewhere else allows people to not talk about the other issues.

    So, in the poorer parts of town, children have not had access to good things, and then, all of a sudden, we're starting to see that happen. Almost every single school that is on the bubble here, we have seen a lot of resources put in lately, but some not so much at all.

    So the city and the administration, look, we have had four different CEOs in the last three years. We have had a constant churning of the Board of Education and people in CPS. This is not the time for them to do this drastic, draconian -- I mean, this is a complete warfare.

    This is warfare now. So we're not going to only have food deserts in Chicago. We're going to have places that actually have school deserts.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I asked him about potential cuts. I wonder what you -- how you see that. Do you see this as an attack on teachers and the union?

    KAREN LEWIS: Absolutely.

    I mean, this is a problem that we have been seeing, again, nationwide. But here in Chicago, it's especially heinous, because we have a mayor that only has the ear -- the only people that have his ear are the corporate reformer types. So they won't listen to ways to really accomplish the kind of things we want to do.

    Everyone wants the best education they can possibly have for their children. We don't blame parents. We don't blame society. We don't blame anything, but we have to honestly look at why are they attacking us so much? We feel like we're in Chiraq. It's terrible here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me turn it back on you, because there is a perception, fair or not, from many people that teachers unions are often a barrier to changes that are necessary.

    And you heard this when you went on strike last year, that whatever is put forward, the response will be, no, we want to stay with the status quo. Right?

    KAREN LEWIS: And that is not true. The status quo is that rich people get richer and beautiful schools, and poor children have bad schools.

    We are absolutely against the status quo. But what our children have been subject to is status quo education, a status quo of ranking and sorting. We are absolutely against the status quo.

    But they use it all the time because they are the ones that actually promote the status quo. They don't want to end -- they don't want to end the status quo. But they want to point their fingers at us.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What happens now? Are you planning to fight this? How do you do that?

    KAREN LEWIS: You know, there are a variety of ways. But you never put all your eggs in one basket. There are legal means. There are legislative means.

    There are -- but the most important way is to mobilize our parents. We have had weeks and weeks of hearings. They have had thousands of people come out and say, do not close our schools. This was Rahm Emanuel's number, the number that we have now, 50. It was always that number. They put out 300 and some. Then they came back with 129.

    They were always spent in having this number, this shock and awe, this complete destruction of publicly funded public education in Chicago. The key is mass mobilization of our members, our teachers, our paraprofessionals, clinicians, along with parents and community. They do not want their neighborhoods destroyed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union, thank you so much.

    KAREN LEWIS: Thank you for having me. And we miss you in Chicago. 


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we explore the so-called digital divide, the gap in access to the Internet and the challenges posed by how we use it even when we're wired in.

    It's been a concern for the Federal Communications Commission. Today, that agency's head, Julius Genachowski, announced that he will be stepping down soon.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story, the last in our series on broadband and how it's changing our habits, our work, and our communities.

    JULIUS GENACHOWSKI, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission: If you have connectivity, but you don't know how to use the programs and the software, it doesn't really help.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That's outgoing FCC Chairman Genachowski last month on a new effort to close the so-called digital divide.

    JULIUS GENACHOWSKI: If you don't have the digital literacy, you can't even apply for a job and increasingly you're not eligible for a lot of the jobs being that are created in our economy.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Approximately 100 million Americans still don't have broadband access. A disproportionate number are people of color, lower income or with less education.

    LEE RAINIE, Pew Research Center: In the broadband world, we still see digital divides.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Lee Rainie runs Internet studies for the Pew Research Center.

    LEE RAINIE: When it comes to age, older people are less likely to be online than younger people. Education -- the more education you have, the more likely it is to have broadband at home. Income still matters a lot. The higher you have, the more likely you are to use the Internet. In the rural areas, there are still concerns about access to broadband.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And there's increasing concern over the way broadband is being used among different groups, whether spending more time on social networks, streaming television programs and movies and playing games is at the expense of educational advancement, managing finances and pursuing job opportunities.

    This week, the Ad Council launched the website EveryoneOn.org, part of a nationwide campaign from to increase digital literacy.

    For more on the digital divide, we turn to Vicky Rideout. She is the author of several studies about children and media. She currently runs VJR Consulting and is an editor at The Journal of Children and Media. And Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, who stepped down recently as the U.S. representative to the OECD, or Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. She also served as assistant chief at the FCC, where she worked on broadband access.

    So, Karen Kornbluh, let me start with you. Where do you see the divide? How do you see it playing out?

    KAREN KORNBLUH, Former FCC Official: Well, Hari, this is such a technical issue, it's a good idea to step back and remember why we care.

    And the reason we care is because the Internet has become the innovation platform. It's where we all come together to collaborate and innovate. And we all know we need more growth. If we don't have equal access, then we can't have equal access to jobs and growth.

    And I think there are really three kinds of divides, and you heard that in the intro. There's a divide in access to today's technology. And there, we see that a third of Americans don't have access to the Internet, and it's much higher levels for African-Americans, Hispanics, lower-income Americans.

    Then there's access to tomorrow's technology. And what we're talking about there is the very high speeds. And mobile can help ray great deal, but we're facing a spectrum crunch. So the FCC is doing what it can to get more spectrum available through auctions.

    The third kind of divide we were talking about in the~ preceding segment where we talked about education, the divide in terms of digital literacy and access to skills and education. And technology, the Internet should be used to close the divide that we have in this country in education. What we don't want is unequal access to increase the divide.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Vicky Rideout, you're still studying these. How do you see it?

    VICKY RIDEOUT, VJR Consulting: Well, I think that what Ambassador Kornbluh says is exactly right.

    We do still have a digital divide. And I think sometimes there's a temptation to say, well, the fact that we have mobile access now has kind of solved the digital divide. All schools are connected, so we have solved the digital divide.

    But, really, there is a very big difference in the quality of online access between the haves and have-notes. And when it comes to children, which is what I study in particular and I'm most concerned with, lower-income kids are still at a very real disadvantage, if you're looking at kids who are trying to research their homework online, or who are wanting to apply to colleges or financial aid online or looking for jobs online.

    That's not something that is very easily done on a smartphone, if you happen to be one of the lower-income kids who has a smartphone.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Karen Kornbluh, let's talk a little bit about that seeming literacy gap, where if I have access and if I have the means and the education, maybe I'm taking an online course, whereas maybe if I don't have that, I'm playing an online game.

    KAREN KORNBLUH: Exactly.

    There's that difference where you're a passive consumer of the Internet vs. an active participant and you're really learning how to do self-guided education. One of the great success stories we have had in this country is the E-Rate. It's a very little known program, but it's been hugely successful.

    In 1996, if you were a teacher in a classroom, you didn't have access to a phone. A kid got sick, you would have to go to the principal's office and leave your kids alone because there was no phone. Now over 90 percent of classrooms have an Internet connection because of this program. But it's not yet that high-speed ubiquitous kind of connection.

    If we look at where the South Koreans are, they show us where we need to go. What they're talking about is a real ubiquitous education using technology, where there is going to be great access at home, great access in the school, the teachers are going to be trained, and you're really going to be able to completely upgrade people's education using that technology.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, Vicky Rideout, I also wanted to touch base a little bit on not just the literacy gap, but that gap that's physically still present. As Karen just mentioned, some of those classrooms don't have access yet or perhaps in rural areas, as Lee Rainie was mentioning, right?

    VICKY RIDEOUT: Well, what we have seen is there have been some great successes as far as public policy goes. And that's thanks to folks at the FCC.

    And that's why the fact that the chairman of the FCC has just stepped down, and his replacement will be a very important pick for this president, because we do need somebody who will put the public interest first. We have had some successes, so that you find that low-income and high-income kids are just as likely to use the Internet at school.

    But it's at home that you see the biggest gaps in terms of the quality of their access. And you were talking before about the difference in terms of the types of things that people do with the Internet, whether it's used mostly for entertainment or whether folks are taking the best possible advantage of some of the educational content there.

    And I think that's really another question for policy-makers and educators is whether we are making the most of that technology. Whether it's for low-income kids or high-income kids, are we really making sure that the technology is reaching its highest promise as far as providing high-quality educational content for kids who need it?

    And I think that's more the question than what the individual kids are doing with it, because low-income kids and high-income kids, kids from lower-educated parents and kids from parents with higher educations are all mainly using computers and new technologies for things like playing games and social networking and watching YouTube videos.

    So we have to make sure that there's the good-quality content and services for them as well.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Sure.

    Karen, I also want to talk a little bit about -- you said earlier tomorrow's technology, and one of the ways that the digital divide to access has decreased is through mobile. So, where do you see that fitting in?

    KAREN KORNBLUH: So, that's a tremendous opportunity.

    But, as Vicky said, too often kids are using it to waste time. They talked about the time-wasting gap, because the lower-income kids are using it to do passive things like watch videos or play games. And so what we need to do is get great content online.

    And that's one of the things the South Koreans are showing us how to do and other countries. They're getting great content online. And I have heard about some experiments here where some of the game companies are actually teaming up with educators to try to develop some new technologies.

    But that's a real role I think for public policy, both in terms of getting greater broadband into the schools with this E-Rate, solving the spectrum crunch with these new incentive auctions, and then also getting really good content online that is educational and fun and engaging.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Vicky Rideout, how is mobile reshaping this landscape?

    VICKY RIDEOUT: Well, it has certainly expanded access a lot, and that's very important.

    But, as I say, it's the quality of that access that is still -- where there's still a gap. In my family, we have got a couple of high school kids who are applying for colleges and applying for financial aid. That's not something you can do with a mobile device. We have got another family member who is unemployed looking for work, not something you can do very effectively with a mobile device.

    So it's important in helping to bridge that gap, but it doesn't do it alone. And I think this is a perfect example of where we have to consciously use public policy, as Ambassador Kornbluh said, to make sure these technologies are helping to reduce inequalities and don't end up exacerbating them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Vicky Rideout, Karen Kornbluh, thanks so much.

    KAREN KORNBLUH: Thank you.

    VICKY RIDEOUT: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And you can watch our previous stories about high-speed broadband. All that is on our website.


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

    Welcome to you both.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, more ferment in the Republican Party this week, David. We heard, I guess, among other things, Rand Paul talking about a completely new position for him on immigration. What's going on?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, the immigration story is just good news for those of us who want a comprehensive solution.

    Whether it's the defeat or some other reason, what's happening on immigration is we failed probably seven or eight years ago, but now it's moving. And so there's a group of eight senators in the Senate who are working together to come up with a bill. And they have overcome what used to be the main hurdle, which is how -- what are we going to do with the 11 or 12 million who are here.

    They have more or less got that. Now they are arguing how are we going to get the long-term flow of immigrants to be stable, so wages aren't depressed and so Americans can have first crack at the jobs. So suddenly you're seeing just progress, and that's in the Senate. In the House, you're seeing some private meetings where they are making progress there, too, which is actually a harder job, under the aegis of leadership of both parties.

    So, I think it's quite likely what we couldn't do a couple of years ago, we're going to do this time, which is have a comprehensive immigration reform bill and fix the system.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And a big turnaround in position for somebody like Rand Paul and for some of the other members.

    MARK SHIELDS: Rand Paul ran in 2010 as the Tea Party candidate for the Senate, beat Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, the leader, senior Kentucky politician's favorite candidate, Trey Grayson, the secretary of state.

    And his position on immigration at that point was, he was seriously questioning the birthright citizenship of a child born in this country not to American parents. He wanted to construct along the 1,969-mile border between the United States and Mexico electronic fences, projecting a cost of $10 million to $15 million dollars. I don't know who the contractors he was getting to do it, 1,969 miles.

    And so it is a turnaround. Judy, the polling places closed on Nov. 6th, but the election returns are still coming in. All you have to think about is this. Mitt Romney got a higher percentage of the white vote in 2012 than any candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. The difference is, in 1984, if Mitt Romney had gotten 59 percent of the white vote, he would have been elected president.

    He wouldn't have need an African-American, a Latino, an Asian. He could have won. That would have been an absolute majority with 86 percent of the whole electorate. It's down to 72. And so not only the loss of Latinos, but the loss of Asians -- the real loss for Republicans over the last three elections has been their total decline and collapse of their support among Asian voters, high-education, higher-income.

    And there's a sense of anti-immigrant. So, I think David is absolutely right in his diagnosis. I think it's very encouraging. But I think there is some political motivation here that Republicans understand if they're going to be competitive in a national election, they have to make amends and make fences, especially after Mitt Romney ran on self-deportation as an answer to the problem in 2012.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, hence, this autopsy that the chairman of the Republican Party announced, rolled out this week. Now, he's saying that not all of that is going to be implemented, but it was kind of a remarkable exercise.

    DAVID BROOKS: I certainly can't think of another postmortem as bold and as comprehensive. The party basically admitted error.

    Now, I personally don't think it went far enough. My line is, it makes me look forward to the autopsy of 2017. It was good enough to suggest it will be promising, not so good that we won't have another probably.

    But it was incredibly comprehensive. And so some of it is just trying to limit the number of debates. Remember, they were having many, many debates. Some of it is trying to have -- they are talking about this, having regional primaries in order to get a wider selection of the electorate talking all at once, so you don't get the most conservative people right up front winnowing people out.

    Some of it is just having a little -- being a little less off-putting to some of these groups that Mark is talking about. So it was a complete across-the-board sweep. I still think they need to do more on the policy substance. And some of which I like particularly is getting the convention moved to June or July, instead of being August or September.

    And so it was just an across-the-board series of changes, quite bold, and they're to be congratulated for it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David is saying they didn't go far enough.

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I would say two cheers for Reince Priebus and the Republicans.

    Usually, when a party loses a presidential election, it has two excuses. One, their candidate was flawed. It was John Kerry's fault. He was a foreigner. It was John McCain's fault -- he's a Republican -- because he was the old grumpy, "get off my lawn, kids" candidate.

    Or, if it isn't that, you blame the customer. It's the voters' fault. Voters used to be smart and patriotic and bold, and now they're weak and dumb and they vote for the other guy. This was an acknowledgment that there was something wrong with the party. It wasn't just the accident of Mitt Romney or whatever else.

    They just called themselves out of touch, narrow-minded, stuffy old men, tribunes of the deserving rich. I mean, I just -- I think they deserve enormous credit. And the one policy recommendation they did come up with, of course, was immigration, strongly, I mean, strenuously endorsing that.

    But, you know, to me, it was it was a mea culpa and, at the same time, sort of a candid assessment of where the party ...

    DAVID BROOKS: Let me just go into a little why I think it was insufficient, even agreeing with what Mark said.

    The party cannot be competitive nationally unless it's competitive in California, Oregon, Washington, New England, Pennsylvania, along the coasts. And the problem for the party is, you can't get there from here. You can't start out where the current Republicans are and win back those places. To me, what you have to do is create a different Republican Party that can win in those places.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean because these are more diverse?

    DAVID BROOKS: Right, and so a different wing of the party.

    And it has to talk in a different language about mobility, a different language about social issues, probably a different language about role of government. And parties that are majority parties are incoherent parties. The Democratic Party in the 1930s was very Southern -- very conservative Southerners, pretty progressive Northeasterners.

    And you have to have these two wings which are going to fight, but that's what you have to have to have a majority party. And so far, they haven't done the infrastructure to get a coastal wing of the Republican Party.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if all that is about the presidential cycle every four years, what about in Congress, where every day we see the Republican philosophy and the Democratic philosophy playing itself out?

    This week, they did agree on a budget, Mark, or at least a funding of the government for the next, what, six months, through the end of the fiscal year.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is any of that playing out in what you see in Washington?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, on David's -- on David's point, I agree with him, but neither party right now has two wings.

    I mean, the Democratic Party that won the majority in 2006 did it by winning House seats in border districts, in Southern districts, sort of Blue Dog Democrats. They all got wiped out in 2010, and I haven't seen much efforts or much success in rebuilding that. The Democrats have become a more liberal party and a more sectarian party since then.

    But they had to win elections. Yes, Judy, I think there's almost been an acknowledgment that dysfunction is not helping, A., the government, the nation, or either political party on Capitol Hill. And I think that that encouraged or was sort of the handmaiden to reaching this accommodation for a continuing resolution. And I take any sign of an encouraging sign as an encouraging sign at this point.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it say anything, David, that maybe there's going to be some grand bargain agreement ...

    DAVID BROOKS: No. Let's not get carried away.

    There's still a remote chance they will have a sort of medium bargain, but it's mostly a decision that we're not going to kill ourselves. We're not going to have these midnight budget deals. We're not going to go over fiscal cliffs. We're just going to try to hit some singles. And that is fine. So, that's progress. We're doing things by the normal rules the Constitution laid out, and that's progress.

    For the party of the Republicans, that's good news. The bad news is, they continue to shoot themselves in the foot on small symbolic things. So, a couple of weeks ago, Mark and I were exercised about an attack on a treaty about the disabled abroad ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    DAVID BROOKS: ... a trivial thing in which they just looked like idiots.

    This week, Tom Coburn wants to defund political science. Well, defunding a university discipline is just -- it saves you no money and it sends an anti-intellectual message. And so it's these little symbolic things that makes you think, oh, those Republicans are weird.

    And so that remains a problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, change of topic. The president went to Israel, went to the Middle East this week. He was in Jordan today, Mark.

    In Israel, he's trying to patch things up with Netanyahu, with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But he also talked a lot there about new thinking is needed. He said that to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. What are you seeing from this trip?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I saw the clock turn back five years. I saw the charismatic, eloquent, inspiring Barack Obama of 2008 that arrived in this country and captivated the nation.

    I thought the speech in Jerusalem was evocative and of that standard. I thought it was fresh. It was inspiring. It was elevating. It was eloquent. He spoke candidly to both sides. He talked about the importance and urgency of -- he reached across the generational divide to younger Israelis, I mean, to people who had been not stuck in that ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were surprised by that?

    MARK SHIELDS: I was -- well, I think the White House played it very smart. I have to be honest.

    They made the trip sound like it was an obligatory visit to the relatives, that you didn't have to really go. And then they did this. And then it not only has translated in what I thought was a moving blueprint, but then the phone call today that Margaret and you discussed about -- from Prime Minister Erdogan, putting Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu on the phone, first time he had spoken to him since he'd been prime minister, apologizing for the flotilla deaths and murders in the Turkish ship.

    I just -- I just think it was encouraging. I'm not saying that peace is at hand. But I think it was a very important step in the right direction. The president acknowledged that his requirement at the outset of laying down stopping settlements wasn't wise or necessary at this point in order to proceed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you as positive?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I thought it was a remarkable speech.

    It was an ardent statement of Zionism, which made the Israelis feel listened to. But then he went on and talked to Palestinians and said, I'm going to explain to the world and to Americans and Israelis what it looks like from your point of view.

    MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

    DAVID BROOKS: He did step back from the settlement freeze, which I think is realistic.

    And, basically, he laid out a U.S. policy which says, listen, we're not going to probably have a peace process that's going to have some huge breakthrough right away. That's probably rash, if the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take over the West Bank. But we do have to encourage those moderates by having some sort of process going.

    And so it was -- deep down, beneath the soaring rhetoric, which I think moved a lot of people, there was a realistic set of policies. Let's just try to shore up the moderates, to the extent we can, by giving them something. And that might be the short-term all we can do, and then in the long-term, maybe things will get a little better if the Islamists are sort of weakened.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes. He did reassert American commitment to the well-being, survival, defense of Israel.

    But when he said, put yourself in their shoes, the Palestinians, look at the world through their eyes. It's not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own, living their entire lives in the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of the parents every single day. That's -- that's requiring -- that is speaking very candidly on a very sensitive subject, and I commend him for it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing I will raise. We have only got about 30 seconds, so this is tough.

    The 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, just a very brief thought from both of you about how it -- looking back, some people are asking, was it worth it? I may not -- I don't want to put you on the spot in 15 seconds, David, but ...

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I'm not sure it was worth it.

    I think we look back, and we are more modest about what our intelligence can do, more modest about how we can nation-build, more modest about our own sort of role in the world. And so I think it's been a lesson in modesty, but not isolation.

    MARK SHIELDS: It wasn't worth it, Judy.

    It was a -- it was a war of aggression. It wasn't a war of self-defense. It was organized against a country that had never attacked the United States, that had no either capacity nor intention of attacking the United States. And it -- there are 4,488 American families without a son or a husband or a daughter or a wife at the table next Christmas.

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

    And Mark and David keep up the talk on The Doubleheader recorded in our newsroom -- among tonight's topics, congressional escapes and March Madness. That will be posted at the top of the Rundown later this evening. 


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    We start the Doubleheader with discussion about how Congress always scrambles to escape before the "good" holidays. Then syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks turn to their strategies for picking the big winners of the glorious month of basketball we know as March Madness.

    Enjoy your weekend.

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

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    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

    The Morning Line

    Lawmakers are on recess for the next two weeks, but for 15 senators, there is no escaping New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the upcoming debate over new gun reform legislation.

    Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg co-founded in 2006, is launching a $12 million ad buy this week in 13 key states where it says it "can most influence the upcoming Senate vote" on gun control efforts.

    The group's off-year election ad campaign focuses on expanded background checks rather than other gun control measures, such as banning assault rifles or limiting the number of rounds in a magazine, which face stiff opposition on Capitol Hill. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month found 88 percent support for universal background checks, including 85 percent among gun owners.

    Here is a sample spot:

    The ads will target Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Arizona), Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Dan Coats (Indiana), Charles Grassley (Iowa), Susan Collins (Maine), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), Dean Heller (Nevada), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania). On the Democratic side, Sens. Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Kay Hagan (North Carolina) and Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) will see the ads in their states.

    Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Bloomberg warned lawmakers that they could face a backlash among their constituents if they opposed the background check measure.

    "If 90 percent of the public want something, and their representatives vote against that, common sense says they are going to have a price to pay for that," Bloomberg said. "The public is going to eventually wake up and say, 'I want to put in office somebody that will do the things that I think are necessary for this country.' That's what democracy is all about. And all we're trying to do is to tell them what people are doing in Congress, who's voting for what. And then they can make their own decisions."

    While Bloomberg said he expected to "win" the debate over background checks, he acknowledged that getting a ban on assault-style weapons would be a much tougher sell with lawmakers and the public.

    "I don't think we should give up on the assault weapons ban. But clearly, it is a more difficult issue for a lot of people," Bloomberg said. "I don't know that that reflects the NRA's power. It may be just that people have different views about assault weapons than they do about background checks."

    Following Bloomberg on "Meet the Press," National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre accused the New York City mayor of trying to "buy America."

    "[H]e can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public," LaPierre said. "They don't want him telling them what food to eat; they sure don't want him telling them what self-defense firearms to own. And he can't buy America. He's so reckless in terms of his comments on this whole gun issue."

    LaPierre also said the background check measures under consideration by the Senate would not prevent the kind of mass shootings seen in recent years. "The whole thing, universal checks, is a dishonest premise. There's not a bill on the Hill that provides a universal check," LaPierre contended. "Criminals aren't going to be checked. They're not going to do this. The shooters in Tucson, in Aurora, in Newtown, they're not going to be checked."

    At a Democratic event in New York City Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden referenced Bloomberg's effort to spend "a great deal of his own money" and the political pressure facing lawmakers. But he said members of Congress facing opposition on gun control back home are "gonna have help."

    "Why the hell we can't show the courage by standing up and doing what the American people want us to do?" Biden told the Democratic supporters, according to a pool report from the event. "This is gonna be one hell of a fight."

    Biden said the families from Newtown have shown "incredible courage" and he believes "this is a different time. What happened in Newtown shocked the conscience of the American public."

    Lawmakers will face a vote on the gun control package soon after the Senate returns from its Easter and Passover recess April 8, at which time the influence of the Bloomberg-led ad push will be put to the test.

    SCOTUS PREVIEW

    Ahead of the Supreme Court arguments for two major cases involving gay marriage, Christina talked with four faith leaders about religion's role in public policy.

    Supporting marriage equality were Rabbi Jan Uhrbach of a conservative movement synagogue on Long Island, N.Y., and Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, a minister for LGBT concerns at the national office of United Church of Christ, the first Protestant church to endorse gay marriage.

    On the side opposing same-sex marriages were Father Paulinus Odozor, professor of Christian ethics and moral theology at the University of Notre Dame, 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.

    The free-form discussion, which continued on Twitter under the hashtag #churchandstate, allowed each person to share his or her personal views and featured spirited debate from both sides.

    You can watch here or below:

    The Washington Post's faith editor hosted a similar discussion last week with Richard Land, Rabbi Carie Cater, an openly lesbian rabbi from Brooklyn, and Ella Robinson, daughter of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

    The New York Times on Sunday offered detailed analysis over the comparisons between the gay marriage cases and the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. "Judges, lawyers and scholars have drawn varying lessons from that decision, with some saying that it was needlessly rash and created a culture war," Adam Liptak writes in the front-page piece. The paper also has a nifty graphic clearly outlining the possible outcomes for each case.

    The weekend featured a good roundup of stories before the arguments about Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban, and the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.

    The Los Angeles Times' Maura Dolan speaks with Chief Justice John Roberts' lesbian cousin, who will attend Tuesday's arguments on Prop 8. Dolan and David Savage also look at the menu of options facing the justices in the case involving California's ban on same-sex marriage.

    Politico examines how some Republicans' shift on same-sex marriage may prove a significant fundraising boon for the party. Meanwhile, conservative Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri used her Tumblr to endorse gay marriage.

    On Friday for their Week on the Hill column, Allie Morris and Simone Pathe talked with people already lined up in front of the court ahead of the landmark hearings.

    LINE ITEMS

    While you were sleeping Saturday morning, the Senate passed the Democrats' $3.7 trillion budget, which calls for higher taxes, after considering more than 600 amendments. Voting against it were four Democrats facing tough re-election bids in 2014: Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana. But remember -- this budget is a long, long way from becoming law.

    In the all-nighter that was the vote-a-rama, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., directly confronted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, around 4 a.m. over the amendment he was pushing, which would tie United Nations funding to China's abortion policy, by crossing the floor to his desk.

    The Washington Post's Zach Goldfarb writes in a front-page analysis that when President Barack Obama signs the continuing resolution to keep the government funded for the next six months, he will "lock into place deep spending cuts that threaten to undermine his second-term economic vision just four months after he won reelection."

    Mr. Obama will host a naturalization ceremony Monday at the White House.

    At the New York event, Biden talked about the Republican Party, saying Democrats won a "decisive victory," but it is "quite clear they [Republicans] didn't get the message" or "they got the message and they don't think it matters." Biden also said it's not clear who the leaders of the party are because, "There is nobody you can sit across the table from and shake hands, make a deal with." Biden also said that House GOP leaders have backed out on deals they made with him five times. "The problem is we have the tail wagging the dog in the Republican Party," he said.

    The White House on Friday withdrew Caitlin Halligan's nomination to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after she could not overcome GOP opposition. Bloomberg has more here on the president's court nominees.

    Mr. Obama returned from his Middle East trip over the weekend. The analysis coming out of his discussions with leaders there suggests he made progress toward peace. Here is Margaret Warner's final NewsHour dispatch from the trip. You can watch the entire news conference with the president and Jordanian King Abdullah here.

    Roll Call's Eliza Newlin Carney writes that as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus fight for comprehensive immigration reform, they're bolstered by Latinos' growing ranks in the House -- the result of the caucus' BOLD PAC's unprecedented spending in 2012.

    With bipartisan negotiations over expanded background check legislation having broken down when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., objected over fears of a gun registry, Democrats may now be able to turn to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to help get the job done.

    The left is pleased Mr. Obama has chosen Melissa Rogers, who was general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and is a former director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, as the new director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She replaces Joshua Dubois.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said on "Fox News Sunday" that Mr. Obama and former President George W. Bush could have "conceivably been put in jail" for their drug use.

    There's nothing like an election to divide a House delegation. The Hill's Russell Berman dissects the divisions among Georgia's nine representatives, as at least four of them weigh a run for Chambliss' seat.

    Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg wants to get involved in policy debates.

    Ashley Judd made a rare acknowledgement of the speculation she'll challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., when referring to his campaign coffers. Speaking before the American Counseling Association, she joked about her mom turning her garage into a campaign headquarters.

    Noticed: Across the country, pro-Obama volunteers were at farmers' markets and parades handing out information about the Affordable Care Act as the weekend marked three years since the legislation was signed.

    The Pentagon is considering building a $49 million prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to replace the secretive Camp 7 prison, which houses the likes of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

    Could Jenny Sanford endorse her ex-husband's potential political rival?

    Where are the female Jack Kerouacs? Vanessa Vaselka asks over at Salon.

    Ramona, a two-year-old Goldendoodle, has invited Bo Obama to be the Grand Marshal of the Oregon Humane Society's 26th Annual Doggie Dash in Portland on May 11.

    If you live in the D.C. area and haven't been to the refurbished Courthouse theater in Arlington, you are missing out. Team Politics may or may not have enjoyed a field trip to see "Zero Dark Thirty" there this winter.

    Today's tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA: The federal government spends $74 billion on information technology, but a quarter of those projects are hampered by mismanagement.

    NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

    Mark Shields and David Brooks talked with Judy Woodruff about the Republican Party's autopsy, immigration, the 10-year anniversary of Iraq war and the president's trip to Israel.

    Watch here or below:

    Watch Video

    Then the guys joined Hari Sreenivasan in our newsroom for the Doubleheader and talked budget and March Madness.

    Watch here or below:

    Watch Video

    Don't miss Hari's terrific series on broadband access in America. The final piece is here, and the others are linked in the right-hand column.

    Ray Suarez talked with Denise Kiernan about her book "The Girls of Atomic City." Cassie Chew has our preview of the story.

    Ray has been blogging about Ireland's economy. Don't miss his piece on the show this week.

    We looked at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to take over some of the city's schools.

    Jenny Marder explores the universe.

    A programming note: We'll bring you the Morning Line this week through Thursday, and then will take a little recess of our own. We'll return April 8.

    TOP TWEETS

    #Snowquester finally arrives, a month late, still not quite up to the hype. Sound like something else you know?

    — Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) March 25, 2013

    Best window washers ever. (Here, at a children's hospital.) twitter.com/JusticeWillett...

    — Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) March 24, 2013

    You know it's a fun day in Trenton when @shaq stops by for a visit. twitter.com/GovChristie/st...

    — Governor Christie (@GovChristie) March 22, 2013

    Friday blockbuster options in DC: Olympus Has Fallen, or Senate vote-a-rama

    — Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) March 22, 2013

    The Senate will now move to an amendment to repeal the Obama presidency and replace it with Matlock reruns.

    — Ben White (@morningmoneyben) March 22, 2013

    No less than 360 amendments filed for vote-a-rama. Not all will get votes. It's a stamina game. 1.usa.gov/YufqsU (1/2)

    — Todd Zwillich (@toddzwillich) March 22, 2013

    I had clean water when I needed it. 800 mil don't. Joining w/ @charitywater 2 help change that charitywater.org/birthdaystwitter.com/marcorubio/sta...

    — Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 22, 2013

    This is the first balanced debate I've heard in a long time.Thanks for inviting all voices to the table! @newshour#churchandstate

    — Joanna D'Agostino(@JwsDago) March 22, 2013

    Thanks to #crimson and Ole Miss, ranked 99.6% in @newshour bracket pool - 1st place. BTW, go Bears! twitter.com/cbellantoni/st...

    — Christina Bellantoni (@cbellantoni) March 22, 2013

    Politics Desk Assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

    Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    Follow @cbellantoni

    Follow @burlijiFollow @kpolantzFollow @elizsummersFollow @indiefilmfanFollow @tiffanymullonFollow @dePeystahFollow @meenaganesan

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  • 03/25/13--06:39: The Daily Frame
  • Click to enlarge.

    A man gets a tattoo at the International Tattoo Convention in Frankfurt, Germany. More than 700 artists from all over the world made more than 3,000 tattoos at the three-day show. Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images.


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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    Social Security card and money

    Larry Kotlikoff answers your Social Security questions. Creative Commons photo courtesy flickr user 401(K) 2012

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

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

    Jim Norton -- San Rafael, Calif: I am 63 and intend to retire at 65. My wife is 60 and also will retire at 65. We are both high earners. What is my best strategy for maximizing Social Security? I'd like to defer my own claim until age 70 but will need something between ages 65 and 70.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your best strategy is likely either A or B. In A) When your wife reaches 66 -- her full retirement age -- you file for your own retirement benefit and immediately suspend it. You then restart your retirement benefit at 70, when it will be as large as possible. Your wife, meanwhile, applies only for a spousal benefit based on your work history, which will equal half of your full retirement benefit (since she will not have filed before full retirement age for her retirement benefit). Finally, when your wife reaches 70, she applies for her full retirement benefit.

    MORE SOCIAL SECURITY ANSWERS How to Take Social Security If You Earn a Lot More Than Your Spouse

    Or you can do B) Your wife files for Social Security when you reach full retirement age (66); you file at full retirement only for a spousal benefit based on your wife's earning record (which will equal half of her full retirement benefit). You still file for your maximum retirement benefit at 70, your wife suspends her retirement benefit when she reaches full retirement age and your wife restarts her retirement benefit when she'll get the max, at age 70.

    How much does it pay to wait? As I explained to PBS NewsHour readers in one of my most popular columns ever here on Paul Solman's Business Desk, fittingly titled "Why You Should Wait Until 70," it is the best insurance you can "buy" against outliving your savings.

    Victoria Chance -- Hanover, Pa.: I became a widow on Aug. 28, 2012. My husband's birthday: Nov. 6, 1948. My birthday: Sept. 28, 1949. Will I have to choose his benefits or mine when it comes time to collect Social Security?

    Larry Kotlikoff: I am truly sorry to hear about your loss, and I'm glad you gave me this opportunity to do something useful, if only for a few minutes, on your behalf.

    The answer to your question is "yes and no." For a while, you can take one benefit and not lose anything because you are letting the other benefit grow. Once the other benefit stops growing (because the Survivor Benefit Reduction Factor or Delayed Retirement Credit no long apply), you'll want to take the larger of the two.

    Your two best options are, I believe, either A) you start taking a reduced retirement benefit now, and then, at 66, when you reach full retirement age, you start your spousal benefit, when it will be as high as possible; or B) you start taking a reduced survivor benefit now and wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit, when it will be as high as possible.

    Which option is best depends on your unreduced survivor benefit (the benefit your husband was receiving or would have received at full retirement were he not receiving when he passed away).

    Be very careful when you first go to the Social Security office that you not apply for both benefits. The folks you'll encounter at the Social Security office have a range of knowledge about the system's thousands upon thousands of rules. They also have a range of training. Not everyone you'll encounter is a technical expert. I've received lots and lots of emails from people who feel they received bad advice from their local Social Security office. Of course, I'm not receiving emails from people who are happy with the advice they received, so my sample is biased. But just be aware that people in the local offices can and occasionally do make mistakes. Hence, it's important to know when you meet with them precisely what you want to do and make sure they are filing the right forms as opposed to doing what they think is best in your case. Ask them to write down what you have decided to do and sign it so that they are on record with your plan to do either A or B.

    Betty -- Phoenix, Ariz.: My husband is 69, retired at 65. I'm 61 this year and would like to retire and get on with the fun part of life. Can I collect at 62 under his account, receive the 50 percent of his benefit and get 100 percent later under my own earnings at 66 or even wait to 70? I've been led to believe that since my earnings are higher than his were, I will only be able to collect under my account. I don't want to give up the 25 percent. We each have pensions and savings to help get us to my full retirement age, but I'm reluctant to start drawing on that too soon.

    Thanks for this column, I've learned a lot.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You can't receive a spousal benefit until your husband files for his retirement benefit. But if he files before you apply for your spousal benefit, when you apply for your spousal benefit at 62, you will be deemed to be applying for your retirement benefit as well. In this case, given your circumstances, you'll get a reduced retirement benefit and zero spousal benefit for the rest of your life. Your spousal benefit will be computed as the excess spousal benefit, which is the difference, if positive, and zero, if negative, of A) half of his full retirement benefit and B) 100 percent of your full retirement benefit. Since you say you were the higher earner, the excess spousal benefit will surely be negative and, thus, set to zero.

    If you wait until full retirement age, the deeming goes away. At this point, you can apply just for your spousal benefit. And, get this, it will calculated as your full spousal benefit, namely simply half of your husband's full retirement benefit with no subtraction of your full retirement benefit.

    I think your best strategy is to have him wait until 70 to collect his retirement benefit; you wait until full retirement age -- 66 -- to collect just your full spousal benefit (again, equal to half of his full retirement benefit); you wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit, which will be up to 76 percent higher than what you'll get if you start collecting at 62. Note, the full spousal benefit is half of his full retirement benefit, not half of the benefit he'll start collecting at 70. What he'll start collecting with be his full retirement benefit augmented by the Delayed Retirement Credit, which raises retirement benefits by 8 percent per year for each year you wait to collect between full retirement age and age 70. There is no compounding, so if you wait 4 years, your benefit starts 32 percent higher, which is 4 times 8 percent.

    Heather -- Daly City, Calif.: I just turned 70 and will begin collecting Social Security benefits for the first time this month, four years after full retirement age. I am continuing to work full-time and intend to work a few more years if possible. As I'll be making more than in previous years, and will continue to pay Social Security taxes, will my benefits be increased?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, if your earnings end up exceeding one of the prior 35 highest covered earnings years in your earnings record. See another of my most popular columns here on the Business Desk where I explained how I myself can increase my own benefits by 20 percent if I work past 70: "How Social Security Pays You to Work Forever"

    Jose Lopez -- San Diego, Calif.: I plan to retire at 66 but my wife is five years younger than me. If I retire, she would not have medical insurance because her employer does not offer it. What should I do?

    Larry Kotlikoff: This isn't a Social Security question but if you're asking me: Don't retire. Keep working.

    Retirement is boring and expensive. You have all this free time on your hands and it costs money to stay entertained. Plus, Jose, as I say in my answer to Heather of Daly City, not all that far from you in San Diego, there is, potentially, a big advantage to continuing to work in terms of larger Social Security benefits when you finally start collecting. There is no earnings test once you reach full retirement age. But I would advise -- and I think software I've developed would concur -- that you should consider waiting until 70 to start collecting your retirement benefit and consider having your wife start her retirement benefit at 62. You'll be 67 and can then apply just for a full spousal benefit equal to half of her full retirement benefit. When she reaches full retirement age, she can suspend her benefit. It's critical that she pay her Medicare Part B premium out of pocket. But she can start her own retirement benefit up again at 70, when it will be 32 percent larger than when she stopped taking it. Between full retirement age and age 70, she may be able to collect an excess spousal benefit, depending on the size of her full retirement benefit and yours. The excess spousal benefit is calculated as half of your full retirement benefit less all of her full retirement benefit. This strategy does, however, need to be compared with your waiting until 70 to collect your retirement benefit, having your wife A) wait until full retirement age to collect her full spousal benefit and B) wait until 70 to start her retirement benefit.

    Kani -- Sunset Beach, Hawaii: I am 62 and still working while my husband (65) is already collecting Social Security. (He started at 62.) I plan on working til 66 or maybe longer. (I am the higher wage earner.) Can my husband request the spouse benefit now or does he have to wait til he's 66?

    Larry Kotlikoff: You need to file for your retirement benefit in order for him to be eligible to collect a spousal benefit. Probably the best option is for you to wait until full retirement age (66) and then apply just for your full spousal benefit, which will equal half of his full retirement benefit because you didn't make the mistake of filing for your own retirement benefit. You can then apply for your retirement benefit at 70, when it will be up to 76 percent higher than at age 62. When your husband reaches full retirement age, he can suspend his retirement benefit and start it up again at 70, when it will be 32 percent larger than when he suspends it.

    Rick -- Burlington, N.J.: My wife is on Social Security Disability of about $1500/month. Our two children get survivor benefits of approximately $720/month for a family maximum of about $2200/month. I work, but if I died, would the children be entitled to any additional money based on my survivor benefits? I have approximately the same work history as my wife.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your unmarried children would be able to collect survivor benefits, provided they are A) younger than age 18 or B) age 18-19, but full-time students in a grade no higher than 12 or C) 18 or older and disabled, with a disability that started before age 22.

    Your wife, if she does not remarry, would be eligible to collect survivor benefits as a mother while your children are under age 16. There are also survivor benefits available starting at age 50 to widowed disabled workers who became disabled before the spouse dies or within 7 years of the spouse's death. My understanding is that the wife can receive the larger of the two benefits.

    Jerry Lutz, the former Technical Expert with Social Security who helps me on disability issues and checks over my regular Social Security answers, provided this extra discussion of your case.

    "The wife/widow would not be eligible to draw both benefits, at least not in full. Here's how it would work, using an example:

    Her PIA (primary insurance amount) = $1500. His PIA = $1500. She's receiving $1500/month in disability benefits, and her children get $360 each due to her family maximum of $2220. He dies, leaving the same two minor children currently receiving on her account. (By the way, he says the children currently receive survivor benefits, but they're obviously getting auxiliary benefits.)

    Let's say his family maximum would be $2700 (it can be higher for retirement/survivor benefits than for disability). Widows with minor children (under 16) and eligible surviving children are each eligible for up to 75 percent of the PIA. In this case, that would be $1125. If the widow wasn't already getting disability, she and the two kids would each get $900 (i.e. one third of the family max), but since her disability is more than the $1125 she could potentially get on his account, she would just get her disability benefit of $1500, and the kids would each get $1125 on dad's account, instead of the $360 they had been getting on mom's account.

    In some situations, the family maximums on the two records can be combined when children are entitled on both records, but that wouldn't be needed in this case, since everyone would receive their highest possible benefit without combining the maximums. However, if there were three or more eligible children, the maximums on both records would be combined so that more could be paid.

    Now, let's say the kids are all grown and no longer eligible, and the wife is over age 50. In the above example, she would still receive nothing from his account, since her PIA is equal to his. However, say his PIA was $2000 instead of $1500. If she was between 50 and 60, she could receive a disabled widow's benefits, which would amount to 71.5 percent of the difference in their PIA's, or $357.50 (i.e. ($2000-1500) x .715). This would be added to her disability benefit of $1500. Also, the 28.5 percent reduction would be removed when she reached FRA, raising her total monthly benefit to $2000."

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


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    Dr. Katie Bakes, an emergency department physician in Denver, says treating gunshot victims has led her to 'hate guns.' But not all E.R. doctors feel the same way. Story by Eric Whitney of Colorado Public Radio; photo courtesy of Denver Health.

    DENVER | In Colorado, where more people die from gunshots than car crashes, the victims have a profound effect on the physicians who treat them. For some of the doctors on the front lines, the experiences lead to a strong opposition to guns, questions about gun laws and even activism.

    Dr. Chris Colwell, an emergency department physician in Denver, says he sees gun-violence victims on a weekly basis. And when those cases are fatal, they are hard to forget.

    "These are the injuries that the [patients] will come in, and they'll look at me, and they'll talk to me, and then they'll die," says Colwell, who's been at Denver Health, the city's biggest public hospital, for 20 years.

    Colwell also treated casualties from two of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. He responded to the scene during the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School where 15 people died. He also treated victims of last July's movie theater shooting in Aurora, where a dozen were killed and 58 wounded.

    Often, Colwell will treat a shooting victim, and then treat the shooter after he or she has been caught by police. Colwell describes a case from a few months ago in which he treated a woman who later died -- and then her husband, who fired the gun.

    "They had had a fight. He had caught her in what he felt was cheating, and he had lost his temper," he says. "He went and grabbed the pistol that he had for home defense at his bedside, and he made a snap decision." Now, he adds, "his life will never be the same, and hers was gone."

    Colwell says it's remarkable how often people who pull the trigger are surprised at the consequences of their actions. And he's deeply disturbed by how easy guns are to get.

    "I see patients every day that are right on the edge of being unstable. ... They describe problems with access to medications; problems with access to psychiatric care or substance abuse care; problems with access to homes or to shelter," says Colwell. "But they don't describe problems with access to guns."

    Dr. Katie Bakes, who has worked with Colwell in the emergency department for 10 years, also says it's the gunshot victims that she can't shake.

    A few weeks ago she treated a three-year-old who'd been shot in the head. Her mother had shot each of her three children and then committed suicide. "Our patient was the only one who was a survivor," Bakes says.

    Such experiences have made Bakes unequivocal in her opposition to guns.

    "I hate guns. If I could snap my finger and get rid of all the guns, I would. I think they're evil," Bakes says, "I don't really care what the other side of the argument is. I just don't want to see another 3-year-old come in and be shot in the head."

    Bakes and Colwell say gun injuries feel much more deliberate than any other kind of trauma they see.

    "It's so senseless," Bakes says. "You know, it's not an accident, somebody intentionally pulled the trigger for whatever reason."

    But not all physicians share this perspective.

    Dr. Jack Cletcher, a retired orthopedic surgeon, has treated his share of gunshot victims, too, from the streets of Chicago, and, decades ago, he took care of wounded soldiers just off the plane from Vietnam. He can sympathize with Bakes and Colwell, but he doesn't agree that laws need to change.

    "This is the kind of emotional reaction that occurs with these horrible catastrophes that happen," Cletcher says. "The gun is only the instrument. It's not something that happens because the gun does it. There has to be somebody holding the gun to do it."

    Cletcher is opposed to most of the new gun restrictions lawmakers are talking about in Denver and Washington.

    "I don't think we need new laws, we just need to make the ones we have work better," says Cletcher, who would rather see lawmakers focus on better treatment for the mentally ill, and keeping guns out of their hands.

    Recently, leaders of the Colorado Medical Society went to Washington to lobby for measures to help prevent gun violence. Strengthening mental health care was on their agenda, and they support President Barack Obama's executive action for increased research into gun violence.

    Dr. John Bender, the organization's president-elect, showed Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D- Colo., the results of a recent survey of the medical society's members in which about two-thirds want to see gun regulations strengthened and about a third don't.

    No similar survey exists for doctors nationwide, but a majority of AMA delegates have endorsed tighter restrictions on guns. Not all doctors agree, but among those calling for stricter gun control laws are the AMA and several groups of specialists, including the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

    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.

    This story is part of a partnership that includes Kaiser Health News, Colorado Public Radio, and NPR.

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    By Li-Young Lee

    I sang in a church choir during one war American TV made famous. I fled a burning archipelago in the rain, on my mother's back, in another war nobody televised. In the midst of wars worldwide, many in places whose names I can't pronounce, my father taught me, "When asked about your knowledge of politics, answer, 'None.' " I doodled in the church bulletin on Sundays while my father offered the twenty-minute Pastor's Prayer. Every morning, I tucked Adam's promise and Jesus' disgrace together with my pajamas under my pillow, unable to distinguish which of them was God's first though, and which God's second. When asked about my religious training, I answer, "I seek my destiny in my origin." Most of my life, I've answered politely to questions put to me, speaking only when spoken to, a sign of weakness unbefitting of any free human being. . . Therefore, for the sake of free human beings everywhere, and because no one asked, I now say: My voice's taper graduates to smoke, dividing every word between us, what was meant and what was heard. And speech's bird threads hunger's needle or perishes in a thicket of words. And so, speaking as one of the flowers, I'll seek rest in falling. I'll seek asylum in the final word, an exile from the first word, and refugee of an illegible past. Li-Young Lee is the author of four books of poetry: "Behind My Eyes" (2008); "Book of My Nights" (2001); "The City in Which I Love You" (1991); and "Rose" (1986).


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    Van Cliburn's triumphant Cold War performance in Moscow, the mambo music of Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez, and Chubby Checker's "The Twist" are among the 25 sound recordings newly inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, Librarian of Congress James Billington announced last week.

    The Librarian of Congress, with guidance from the library's National Recording Preservation Board, annually selects recordings that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant and are at least 10 years old" and that celebrate the "diversity and creativity of the American experience." With the 2012 additions, there are now 375 recordings in the registry. The selections feature spoken-word and musical recordings representing nearly every musical category from 1918 to 1980.

    This year's other inductees include Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, The Ramones and Pink Floyd.

    The public and the National Recording Preservation Board -- composed of leaders in music and sound preservation -- submit ideas for the registry. The library is currently accepting nominations for the next registry at the NRPB web site.

    As part of its congressional mandate, the Library of Congress preserves the best existing versions of each recording at the National Audio-Video Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va. We sat down there this week with executive director Patrick Loughney to talk about the new inductees (see video above).


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    The 2010 rescue and recovery effort at Bin No. 9, right, spanned 13 hours. More than 200 people worked to rescue Piper and recover the bodies of Whitebread and Pacas. Photo by John W. Poole/NPR

    On a scorching July day in 2010, Wyatt Whitebread showed up for work at the Haasbach LLC grain storage complex in Mount Carroll, Ill. It was his first job. He had been working in the grain bins for just two weeks. He had his pick and shovel and climbed the four stories to the top of the bin, half-filled with 250,000 bushels of wet corn. Whitebread was just 14 years old when he was killed that day, sucked under the suffocating weight of grain that gave way below his feet.

    Whitebread's story is just one of many highlighted in an investigative series, "Buried in Grain," by NPR, the Center for Public Integrity, Harvest Public Media and the Kansas City Star. The series highlights the dangerous working conditions at the country's grain storage facilities, how government agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversee the industry and the penalties for companies that violate workplace safety laws.

    Howard Berkes of NPR and Jim Morris of CPI spent six months reviewing government documents, interviewing workers, government officials, victims' families, company owners and legal and agriculture industry experts who have studied grain bin working conditions.

    Berkes said he first noticed oversight from government regulators while reporting on the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in 2010. "I noticed how MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) routinely cut fines even when employers were willful and egregious and coal miners died," Berkes told PBS NewsHour.

    A year later, after a report of a grain elevator explosion in Kansas that killed six, and a report by Purdue University that sited record entrapments and suffocation deaths in grain, Berkes teamed with Morris to begin a reporting project on death tolls from grain bin accidents. "We talked to Ron Hayes, whose son died in a grain bin in Florida in 1993," Berkes said. "He told us about his ongoing activism, especially aimed at grain deaths. He met with OSHA after that record year and was astonished when OSHA officials asked him what more they could do. Hayes told us that fines were routinely slashed and that prosecutions were rare even in the most egregious cases. We found that to be true and indicative of all worker fatalities."

    NPR and CPI found that grain incidents brought few criminal prosecutions. "An examination of OHSA grain engulfment data and the agency's criminal referral records shows at least 19 fatal and nonfatal grain incidents since 2001 with willful citations, the kind that trigger consideration of federal charges. Eight were referred to federal prosecutors. Three resulted in charges, and one is still under review," wrote Berkes and Morris.

    Grain operations manager Austin Clubb, wearing a body harness for safety, gazes into the "cone" inside a massive grain bin at Amana Farms in Homestead, Iowa. Cones, which can trap workers, form in the flowing grain as it's drained from bins. Photo by John W. Poole/NPR

    "We do everything we can within the current regulatory framework," OSHA administrator David Michaels told Berkes and Morris. "We issue large fines. We go after companies we think are scofflaws. We do repeat visits to the worst companies."

    Whitebread wasn't the only victim to lose his life in Bin No. 9 that day in July. It was 19-year-old Alex Pacas' second day at the facility. Will Piper, 20, who was also working that day, remembers what happened. According to Piper and a deposition from a Labor Department investigation, while the boys were working, a second drain hole was opened at the bottom of the bin.

    "It created a quicksand effect, and Wyatt ended up getting caught up in it and started screaming for help," Piper told Berkes and Morris. "Me and Alex went in after him, and we each grabbed one side of him under his armpits and started dragging him out and got pretty close to the edge of the quicksand, and then we started sinking in with him."

    It took hours for the rescuers to get the boys out and Piper was the only one to survive. You can find the entire story at NPR and CPI. You can also explore the complete series with links to the original documents related to the cases, as well as an interactive page where you can learn more about each of the 180 deaths investigated by OSHA in 34 states in grain bins since 1984. The Kansas City Star also reports on how federal prosecutors are considering criminal charges related to a grain elevator explosion from 2011 that killed six workers.

    On Tuesday, you can hear Berkes' first report in the series on "All Things Considered." Also on Tuesday, Berkes will be on PBS NewsHour describing what this series has uncovered.

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    Dr. Sampson Davis will join PBS NewsHour for a live chat 1 p.m. ET Tuesday. Do you have questions for him? Leave them in the comments section below or tweet them to @NewsHour using #healthchat.

    Sampson Davis grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Newark, N.J., robbing drug dealers and participating in other dangerous acts before eventually dodging the life of crime that consumed many of his childhood friends. Today, Davis is an emergency medicine physician at St. Michael's Medical Center, just blocks away from the streets of his rough past. What steps did he take to change his title from "criminal" to "doctor"?

    Last Wednesday, Davis spoke with PBS NewsHour correspondent Ray Suarez about his new book, "Living and Dying in Brick City," which recounts the path he took to turn around his life. He offered perspective on the public health challenges that he watches his patients face every day. Watch that interview above.

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