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

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    RAY SUAREZ:  The temperature kept rising on the Korean Peninsula today, at least judging from public pronouncements. The communist North declared its missile forces are ready to launch at American targets.

    More than 100,000 North Koreans filled Pyongyang's main square today, shouting "Death to the U.S. imperialists." The mass rally coincided with a new threat. State television announced North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has decided the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S.

    WOMAN: He has signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby for fire so that they are able to strike at any time the U.S. mainland and its military bases in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam and those in South Korea.

    RAY SUAREZ:  State media also released photographs of Kim and his senior generals during an emergency meeting late last night. They're seen looking at a map, purportedly showing U.S. cities that might be targeted by North Korean missiles. The White House responded through a spokesman traveling with President Obama today.

    He said bellicose rhetoric only deepens North Korea's isolation. On Thursday, a more forceful demonstration: A pair of B-2 stealth bombers flew 6,500 miles to South Korea and back, as part of ongoing joint military exercises between the two nations.

    The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, addressed the flight during a briefing with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman: Well, the reaction to the B-2 that we're most concerned about is not necessarily the reaction it might elicit in North Korea, but rather among our Japanese and Korean allies.

    You know, those exercises are mostly to assure our allies that they can count on us to be prepared to and to help them deter conflict.

    RAY SUAREZ:  All of this began with North Korea's latest nuclear test in February. That prompted the United Nations Security Council to impose its latest round of sanctions against the North. And, in turn, the North began a barrage of threats and other steps, from canceling the armistice that ended the Korean War to cutting off various hot lines to the South.

    Still, North Korea's closest ally, China, called today for restraint.

    HONG LEI, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman: Upholding the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, as well as Northeast Asia, serves the common interests of all parties and it's also their common responsibility. We hope that relevant parties will work together in pushing for a turnaround of the tense situation.

    RAY SUAREZ:  And for all the war talk, some economic cooperation has continued between North and South Korea. Workers and vehicles from the South are still being allowed to travel to a shared industrial park that generates millions of dollars for the North.

    I'm joined by Joel Wit. During his 15-year career at the State Department, he focused on North Korea. He's now a visiting scholar at the U.S. Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He also is the founder and co-editor of 38 North, a Web site devoted to North Korea analysis. Sung-Yoon Lee is an assistant professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School.

    Joel Wit, are we closer to war today than we were even just a week ago, a real shooting war in Northeast Asia?

    JOEL WIT, Johns Hopkins University: I think this is an extremely serious situation.

    And I would say that we are one step away from a second Korean War. And I say that because, in this kind of tense situation, the danger of miscalculation or accidental conflict is very high. And so this is a very dangerous situation. And we need to be very careful.

    RAY SUAREZ:  Professor Lee, do agree? Are we really in more jeopardy than we were just a few weeks ago?

    SUNG-YOON LEE, Tufts University: Well, we have seen a crescendo of bluster barrage.

    I don't think we are on the brink of war, because we know the North Korean regime harbors no suicidal impulses. I don't necessarily want to paint the North Korean regime as all-knowing, omnipotent, brilliant military strategists. So, there is always the danger of miscalculation, yes.

    But we have seen North Korea resort to periodic, deadly, but always limited, controlled attacks against the South and the United States forces in South Korea over the past 60 years. And I think the North Korean regime views this period, 2013, as a particularly appeasement-prone time.

    And, hence, it's in North Korea's interest to raise the stakes, paint Washington and Seoul especially into a corner, with a view towards receiving more economic concessions in the future.

    RAY SUAREZ:  Well, Professor, having said that, when any country, North Korea or any country on the planet makes threats of the kind that were made in the past 24 hours, does the United States have to take them seriously?

    SUNG-YOON LEE: This is North Korea's preferred strategy of graduated escalation.

    It's psychological warfare. And the U.S. and the ROK, the Republic of Korea, the former name for South Korea, have also been engaging in some psychological warfare of their own. We should take the North Korean threat seriously because there's a high likelihood that North Korea will once again resort to a deadly attack against South Korea.

    North Korea has shown a proclivity to launch such attacks and provocative acts on a holiday, major holiday. So perhaps even this Easter Sunday is an opportune time for another provocation in North Korean calculation.

    RAY SUAREZ:  Joel Wit, the targeting maps are said to show Honolulu, Washington D.C., Los Angeles. Do we have a very good idea of what North Korea is capable of and what it's not?

    JOEL WIT: Yes, I think we have an excellent idea.

    And we have that because we have observed their missile tests. And we know how far those missiles can go, even if they work. And the fact is, they haven't really worked very well. So they can't really reach the continental United States.

    Secondly, I want to return to this point about whether we're close to a war or not. And I would say that the problem here is -- and the professor has even predicted when a provocation might happen. The problem is that, if North Korea launches a provocation, the United States and South Korea, unlike in the past, are likely to respond.

    And North Korea is not going to roll over and play dead, contrary to what a number of conservatives think.

    RAY SUAREZ:  But do you agree with the professor's conclusion that the country that's in real jeopardy is not the United States from these threats, but South Korea?

    JOEL WIT: Absolutely.

    South Korea is in great jeopardy here. And as a close ally of the United States, that's very important to us. And we also have to remember we have 28,000 troops on the peninsula and are committed to South Korea's defense. So if there is another Korean war, it's going to involve thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of American troops.

    RAY SUAREZ:  Professor, nations around the world have toolboxes, various mixtures of threats, persuasions, inducement that is part of how diplomacy gets carried on. Are the rules different for dealing with North Korea than almost any other country on Earth?

    SUNG-YOON LEE: Well, in the case of North Korea, when you consider seeking better relations with other states and the international community at large, better relations for North Korea means what we have right now, creating a near crisis situation with a view towards returning to negotiations.

    And over the past 20 years of nuclear diplomacy, that has always meant returning to talks with big blandishments, bigger rewards in tow. So, yes, we have dealt with North Korea in a way that has not been a spectacular success. It's time to put some real stick in that proverbial carrot-and-stick approach. And I would say it has been all blandishments and concessions so far.

    RAY SUAREZ:  Joel Wit?

    JOEL WIT: Well, you know, I have experience actually working with North Koreans. I spent 15 years in the State Department working with them.

    And I can say that it's not a record of failure. In fact, the agreement we reached in 1994 stopped North Korea from building as many as 100 nuclear weapons by 2000. So that agreement worked. There have been other agreements that haven't worked so well. It's been a very mixed record.

    And I agree with the professor that we need to get tough with the North Koreans. But getting tough, in and of itself, is not a policy. You need to use diplomacy too to find escape routes for both parties.

    RAY SUAREZ:  But when you use diplomacy, do any of the standard tools of a diplomat, when dealing with another country, work with this country?

    JOEL WIT: They do work.

    I was part of an agreement, as I said, in 1994 that worked very well for eight years. Most people don't know that in the late 2000s, there was another agreement with North Korea, a moratorium on its long-range missile tests that lasted seven years. It worked very well.

    So the record is not an unblemished record of failure. It's a record of mixed success and mixed failures. And so that means we still need to continue to try to work on a diplomatic track of this.

    RAY SUAREZ:  Professor, quickly, before we go, when statements like the kind that have come out of Pyongyang in the last couple of days are issued, is that paranoia as gesture, or is there a real belief among the leading cadre there that, in fact, the United States does want to take over, steamroll, immolate this country?

    SUNG-YOON LEE: It's posturing.

    I don't think the North Korean regime believes that the U.S. is on the verge of attacking North Korea. That is not in the best interest of the United States. We tend to take a patronizing view of the North Korean regime because they are so bizarre and unusual in so many ways.

    But they are quite rational, careful. And self-preservation is of the utmost priority for the regime. I don't have any experience working in government or dealing with North Korea. But what I do know is that the Clinton administration paid North Korea almost $200 million worth of food aid for the empty privilege of inspecting an empty cave in the aftermath of North Korea firing a long-range missile over Japan on Aug. 31st, 1998.

    The Bush administration has similar failed record in dealing with North Korea. It removed North Korea from the state-sponsored terrorism list in October of 2008, resumed food aid, negotiated with North Korea again. North Korea blew up the tired, old, out-of-date cooling tower in Yongbyon at the main facility and continued to enrich uranium.

    RAY SUAREZ:  Very quickly, I mean, that record is an actual record of things that really happened.

    JOEL WIT: You know, I disagree with that characterization.

    And I go back to the fact that, when I was in the U.S. government looking at intelligence estimates in the early 1990s, we were looking at a program that was enormous. And by the Bush administration, we had turned that off, and the North Koreans had moved to develop another kind of nuclear weapon.

    RAY SUAREZ:  Joel Wit, Professor Lee, gentlemen, thank you both.

    SUNG-YOON LEE: Thank you.

    JOEL WIT: Thank you. 

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  A grand jury in Atlanta today indicted the city's former school superintendent Beverly Hall in a cheating scandal. Hall and 34 other educators were charged with fixing standardized test outcomes to show artificially high scores. A state investigation in 2011 found nearly 180 educators took part in the cheating. Hall resigned days before the report.

    Christians around the world marked Good Friday today, as they readied for Easter Sunday. From pilgrims to the pope, believers took part in services and ceremonies to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus.

    In Jerusalem's Old City, thousands of Christian pilgrims retraced the Way of Suffering, believed to be the route Jesus took to his crucifixion. An Alabama priest played the role of Christ, flanked by men dressed as Roman soldiers. Others also carried wooden crosses as part of the procession.

    In the West Bank, Palestinian Christians used an alternative route, after Israeli security blocked their entry to Jerusalem.

    XAVIER ABU EID, Adviser to Palestine Liberation Organization: What our people are doing today, they are walking the real Via Dolorosa, the one we have today between two settlements, around the wall, around checkpoints. They are also demonstrating because they don't have the right to get to Jerusalem.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  At the Vatican, Pope Francis presided over his first Good Friday since being named pontiff earlier this month.

    And, elsewhere, thousands gathered in Germany for a mock crucifixion.

    CHRISTOPH ESTCHMEIER, Germany: Easter is the most important holiday for the Catholics, and it was very authentic, what was shown here. Maybe it makes people a little more attached to religion.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  The reenactments were for real in the northern Philippines, where some two dozen devotees were nailed to crosses again this year.

    Holy Week for Roman Catholics and Protestants concludes this weekend, with Easter Sunday. Orthodox Christians will mark Easter in May.

    In Iraq, a series of car bombings rocked Shiite mosques today, killing at least 23 people and wounding dozens. Four of the attacks were in the capital, Baghdad, and one took place in the northern city of Kirkuk. They struck as worshipers left Friday prayers. The bombings bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, but no one claimed responsibility.

    Prosecutors in Colorado are refusing to let James Holmes plead guilty in the Aurora movie theater shootings last summer. Holmes made the offer this week and agreed to accept life in prison to avoid the death penalty. But prosecutors said Thursday there's no deal because the defense has refused to hand over key information. Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding up to 70 in the July 20th shootings.

    President Obama pushed plans today to attract private funds for rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure. He said it would help create construction jobs. The president flew to the Port of Miami, undergoing $2 billion dollars in public and private upgrades.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We still have too many ports that aren't equipped for today's world commerce. We have still got too many rail lines that are too slow and clogged up. We have still got too many roads that are in disrepair, too many bridges that aren't safe. We don't have to accept that for America. We can do better. We can build better.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  Public-private partnerships were a key part of the president's economic agenda in his State of the Union address last month.

    Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska drew a rebuke today for referring to Hispanic workers with a racial slur. In an interview yesterday, Young said his father once employed -- quote -- "50 to 60 wetbacks" on his California farm. Later, he said he meant no disrespect.

    Today, House Speaker John Boehner demanded an apology. He called Young's remarks offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds. Young is 79, and now in his 21st term as Alaska's lone congressman.

    There was good news today on former South African President Nelson Mandela. Doctors in Pretoria reported he is making progress and is in good spirits. Mandela is 94 years old. He was taken to the hospital late Wednesday night for a lung infection, his third hospitalization in four months.

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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to the EPA's new regulations requiring cleaner gasoline.

    The Obama administration announced the proposed changes today. They would require two-thirds less sulfur in gasoline and a reduction in other emissions beginning in 2017. They also would set tighter pollution limits for new vehicles themselves at the same time.

    The EPA says that it would reduce premature deaths and improve public health for a minimal cost. But opponents say it could hit consumers at the pump by adding as much as nine cents a gallon.

    Juliet Eilperin broke this story for The Washington Post and she joins me now.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    JULIET EILPERIN, The Washington Post: Thanks so much.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So why is the Obama administration doing this, putting these proposals out there?

    JULIET EILPERIN: Well, there are a couple of reasons.

    One is the fact that they are requiring vehicles to be cleaner in the years ahead. They have basically reduced greenhouse gas emissions from these vehicles. And so you will see between 2016 and 2025 the vehicles are going to become much more efficient. They're going to get more miles per gallon.

    And so one of the things automakers have been asking for is for cleaner fuel because the sulfur in gasoline really affects the catalytic converter and makes it less efficient, results in more tailpipe emissions. So they actually have an incentive to have cleaner fuel.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So I was going to say, it is interesting who is in favor of this, that it is not just the environmental advocates. It's the car manufacturers.

    JULIET EILPERIN: Absolutely.

    The car manufacturers, who already basically have to comply with these rules in California, which is a huge part of the U.S. market, have asked for uniformity. And so they were actually in the Office of Management of Budget just this month asking for these rules to come through. And so that's one of the reasons why the Obama administration was comfortable moving ahead with this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, on the other side is the oil and gas industry. And what is the argument they're making?

    JULIET EILPERIN: They're argument is that oil refineries in the United States, which aren't quite as profitable as, say, the big oil companies, will take a hit because it will be expensive to reduce the sulfur in their emissions.

    They have already reduced it 90 percent since 2004 because of federal regulations. And they're saying it will both be costly for them to do this, and also in fact it will require more energy, which will increase their carbon output from these refineries.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But the administration is disputing that. So what is the administration basing their argument on?

    JULIET EILPERIN: The administration is saying that this will add less than a penny a gallon to any gallon of gasoline.

    And they say that, first of all, the oil industry is inflating their statistics. They have done a survey of refineries and they have looked at what kind of modifications, that only a tiny fraction of the roughly 140 refineries in the country will have to do a major overhaul, and also that they allowed for flexibility in this proposal, so that the smallest refineries and the ones that will take the biggest hit will have, you know, an easier transition to this new regime.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But the industry, again, the oil and gas industry, is pushing back?

    JULIET EILPERIN: Absolutely.

    They're saying that, you know, on average, it's at least going to be two cents per gallon and, in some instances, it's going to be as much as nine cents because they estimate that it will cost $10 billion dollars to do the upgrades that they will need for that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Juliet Eilperin, it is my understanding also the administration is saying that this will save money in terms of public health costs.

    JULIET EILPERIN: Absolutely.

    When you do the math, what they are saying is because these tailpipe emissions, nitrogen oxide, soot, things like that, volatile organic compounds, those can contribute both to smog and in the case of soot also to heart and lung disease.

    So overall they're saying that, by 2030, the benefits will be between $8 billion and $23 billion dollars, outweighing the cost of compliance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just to clarify, Juliet, the argument here is that it's not that the sulfur itself in gasoline is the problem; it's what it does to the catalytic converter, the emissions device.

    JULIET EILPERIN: Right. That's what is very interesting.

    Basically, the more sulfur you have, the less effective the catalytic converter is. So, as a result, you have greater tailpipe emissions. And it is these emission, the volatile organic compounds, the nitrogen oxide, the carbon monoxide and the soot, that are what actually affects the air that we breathe and what it does to our heart and lungs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, let's broaden this out, because at the same time the administration issued these proposals today, meanwhile, everybody is out there waiting for two other sets of, I guess, regulations or proposals from the administration.

    One has to do with of course the Keystone oil pipeline.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: The other one are the greenhouse gas emissions for power plants.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: How does this factor in to those sets of regulations which are -- we're waiting to hear now?


    I think it's all part of the broader Obama second-term agenda. And so what they are obviously saying is, they are moving ahead with this, this one. They have made it more cost-effective and they're saying it is a huge public benefit. At the same time, the environmentalists are looking at all these other fronts. And they're saying, for example, on the Keystone pipeline, that they are saying that, you know, yes, this will supply oil from Canada, but it's basically a referendum on what Obama will do on climate.

    So that is a very difficult decision that he will be making this summer. It is unclear what he is going to do, whether he is going to disappoint the community. And what also looking at is whether they will regulate both greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. That's something that should be finalized soon, but may not be. Or are they going to regulate existing power plants in the future?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So how do you see the calculus here in announcing this while these others are pending?

    JULIET EILPERIN: Well, certainly, this is something that was broadly welcomed by the environmental community.

    And it's really going -- it's going to be, with one possible exception, one of the most significant air policy rules that the Obama administration does. But it's not going to make up for, for example, if they decide to allow the Keystone pipeline to go through. That and regulating existing power plants, those are the two biggest litmus tests for the Obama administration this term.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, these are proposals, but is it expected that they will take effect?

    JULIET EILPERIN: Yes. While they haven't outlined the timeline -- for example, the rules that were unveiled today could take a few months.

    These are proposed rules, but there is an expectation that, since they have already done some negotiations, the final rule that will be adopted in a matter of months will be very similar to what we are seeing today.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Juliet Eilperin, the Washington Post, thank you very much.

    JULIET EILPERIN: Thank you so much.

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    RAY SUAREZ: Now to the battle for benefits for service men and women after they return home.

    President Obama has called caring for veterans a top priority of his administration, but a new report shows that the number of men and women who served in the military who are waiting more than a year for benefits has grown 2,000 percent since 2009.

    We turn again to Hari for that story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: These Iraq and Afghanistan veterans brought their fight to Capitol Hill last week. They're trying to draw attention to the medical benefits backlog at the Veterans Administration, benefits owed to them for their service.

    Nearly a quarter-of-a-million men and women who served in the armed forces have been waiting more than a year for their claims to be resolved. According to an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting, based on leaked internal VA documents, the claims processing time has grown in the past four years, and the number of people waiting has increased.

    Aaron Glantz has written extensively about the VA's problems and uncovered the story.

    AARON GLANTZ, Center for Investigative Reporting: The most consistent thing that I hear is that: I came home and the country doesn't care and the government is making me wait far too long for my benefits.

    And then, if you have a traumatic brain injury or PTSD or one of these other conditions, you're dealing with it on your own.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In 2009, 11,000 veterans were waiting more than a year for benefits. Last year, that figure was 245,000, a more than twenty-fold increase, numbers the VA confirms.

    Glantz's report also showed that, in urban areas, like New York City, the average time to have a claim processed is 642 days.

    We sat down with three veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are frustrated with the delays.

    REIRED SGT. RACHEL MCNEILL, U.S. Army Reserves: My name is Rachel McNeill. I was a sergeant in the Army. And I was medically retired in 2010. The most recent notice of disagreement that the VA acknowledged was over 800 days ago.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Sgt. McNeill had respiratory ailments from a tour in Iraq.

    RETIRED CAPT. AARON THORSON, U.S. Army; My name is Aaron Thorson. I was a captain in the Army until 2011, when I exited out, transitioned into civilian life. I waited 405 days for my disability claim to go through.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Capt. Thorson was a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan who suffers from a crushed disc in his back, a common injury among combat pilots.

    RETIRED STAFF SGT. ZACH MCILWAIN, U.S. Army: I'm Zach McIlwain. I was in the United States Army. I was a staff sergeant. I deployed in Iraq in 2005 -- or 2006 to 2009. And when I got back, I filed my claims, and yesterday was my day 908.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Staff Sgt. McIlwain sustained a hand injury during his time in the Army. The average time for the resolution of a disability claim is 279 days.

    First-time claims can take even longer, averaging 318 days, leaving veterans to pay for expenses on their own in the meantime. These veterans say their interactions with the VA included difficulty finding someone to talk to, lost paperwork and a slow, unresponsive bureaucracy.

    RACHEL MCNEILL: It's really hard to find someone to actually talk to. You know, I spent a lot of time on hold. You know, I can't even -- I can't even imagine how many hours of my life I have actually spent on hold at the VA.

    I will be -- you know, they will pass you around to different departments, and nobody can help you. And you know, then you will get hung up on because they -- somebody just drops your call. You know, it's just -- it's a totally incoherent process.

    ZACH MCILWAIN: They kept losing my medical documentation. I kept handing it off to them, and somebody would lose it. And then, in fact, one of my claims was denied because, even though I had handed in the paperwork, they lost it and denied my claim for failure of receipt of paperwork.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Retired four-star Gen. Eric Shinseki was appointed Cabinet secretary for the Veterans Affairs Administration in 2009.

    He says a big part of the backlog is because the VA began making it easier for veterans from previous wars to claim benefits from the side effects of Agent orange and Gulf War Syndrome.

    SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS RETIRED GEN. ERIC SHINSEKI: We added to our workload a bit, because three years ago we decided to take care of some unfinished business, Agent Orange for Vietnam veterans, for the Gulf War veterans, Gulf War illness. Nine diseases in 20 years had never been addressed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Reporter Aaron Glantz:

    AARON GLANTZ: I think there is some merit to that, but it's not the complete answer. They have had a 50 percent increase in the number of veterans filing claims during the Obama administration.

    On the other hand, as I mentioned, the number of veterans waiting more than a year has increased by more than 2,000 percent. And the overall waiting list has more than doubled. So, it's not just that more people are filing claims or that more people are filing more complicated claims. It's also that the reforms that they have put in place to deal with this have not worked.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The veterans we spoke to are part of that waiting list and feel like they have to keep fighting even after returning home.

    So we spoke to a couple of veterans that came by our studios yesterday, and I told them, if I was to sit in your office, I would carry their message. It's fairly simple.

    ZACH MCILWAIN: When I volunteered to do convoy security, where I knew that something could happen, I did that having faith that if anything happened to me, you would be taken care of.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You feel left behind?

    RACHEL MCNEILL: Yes. Why should you have to fight? Why should you have to fight for your benefits? I went to war. I did what I had to do.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What do you say to these veterans?

    ERIC SHINSEKI: There is no reason for veterans to have to wait, as these veterans are obviously confronting.

    But we are here to solve this problem. Four years ago, as I said, no plan. We have a plan today, and we are in the midst of fielding this. I think 260,000 claims were added to our inventory just by that one decision alone on Agent Orange. And you can add to that Gulf War illness and you can add to that combat PTSD.

    So, hundreds of thousands of claims added to a paper process, we thought that was the right thing to do.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Some of the veterans we spoke with, one of the key things that they have learned in the military is failing to plan is planning to fail. You knew this was coming. Congress has been lobbying for 10 years to try to incorporate these groups of veterans in. Was there a systematic failure to plan for this influx of veterans?

    ERIC SHINSEKI: Well, 10 years of war and the requirements have grown.

    And we're in paper, and four years ago, there was no plan to come out of paper to go into electronics. That plan is in place.

    AARON GLANTZ: The VA loves to talk about how they're computerizing this process.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Glantz says the plans are insufficient and that the system is still buckling under a mountain of paperwork.

    AARON GLANTZ: In our internal documents that we have obtained from the VA, they show that, as of January, 97 percent of claims were still on paper. And this is after a four-year, half-billion-dollar effort.

    Last August, the VA's own inspector general found that there were so many paper file folders at the VA office in North Carolina that it was damaging the structural integrity of the building.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, for some veterans, the wait has already taken a toll.

    Did any of you feel like giving up?

    ZACH MCILWAIN: I had moments where I just didn't see an end. I didn't see an end state. There was no way I was going to get through this as far as being able to move forward.

    I don't think I ever -- I was never really going to follow through, but I had my moments where I was in a dark place trying to find -- seek resolution and figure out -- it's hard to talk about and it's hard to admit to is, yes, I had my moments where I questioned what kind of future I would have.

    RACHEL MCNEILL: We don't have time.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: These veterans stress the urgency of a solution.

    AARON THORSON: Yes, there's no time. And we can't afford for this to happen, continue to happen. There's -- there's 22 veteran suicides every day, and there's people out there that need help.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So who do you think is responsible for where we are today and the frustration that so many of these veterans are facing?

    ERIC SHINSEKI: The president was very clear when I arrived four years ago he wants this fixed. And he has given us the resources, a 40 percent increase. And so you're speaking to the individual who has that responsibility.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The buck stops with you?

    ERIC SHINSEKI: The buck stops right here.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: While this group of former service members didn't hold the secretary personally responsible, they are pushing for a presidential commission to figure out solutions to what they consider a broken system.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Online, you can see more from Hari's interviews with the veterans and VA Secretary Shinseki. 

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    RAY SUAREZ: Next: a story about love, life and the quest for success in a modern metropolis.

    Jeffrey Brown has our book conversation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A poor boy from a rural village comes to a sprawling, wild, sometimes violent city and struggles, succeeds, makes and loses a fortune. That's the outline of a new novel set in an unnamed country, very much like Pakistan, but one told in the form of a self-help book.

    It's titled "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia." Author Mohsin Hamid grew up in and lives now in Lahore, Pakistan. In between, he also lived and studied in the United States.

    And welcome to you.

    MOHSIN HAMID, Author, "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia": Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: First, we should address this great title and the idea of writing -- writing the book as a self--help book. Why that approach?

    MOHSIN HAMID: Well, it started as a joke.

    I was with a friend. And we started talking about novels feeling like hard work sometimes as a reader, and that maybe it was like self-help for us to read it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For you?

    MOHSIN HAMID: Yes, for us as readers and also as writers to write them.


    MOHSIN HAMID: And the more I thought about that, the more it seemed there was some truth in that, that actually maybe I do write novels as self-help. And maybe I even read them partly for self-help.

    So what started as a joke became kind of an earnest approach to thinking about the novel.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And I assume that it also was tapping into what many people read, right, I mean, how -- especially I think in the countries you're talking about, sort of how to succeed. Everybody is trying to figure that out.

    MOHSIN HAMID: Yes. Well, we're surrounded by self-help books.

    If you walk into a bookshop in Pakistan, or really anywhere in Asia, you will see shelf after shelf full of, you know, how to become successful, how to build a spreadsheet, how to give a good job interview. And newspapers and magazines are full of it, too. So, I think there is a barrage of self-help hitting us all the time.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the protagonist here is unnamed.

    In that light, he becomes a kind of everyman, sort of striving, right? And it looks as though you really wanted to use this individual life to tackle some very, very big questions of a changing society, migration, for example, from rural to the city. Is that fair, that you were trying to look at all that?

    MOHSIN HAMID: Yes, I think so.

    I mean, I wanted to look at a big canvas, and in particular the movement of billions of people from the world's villages to the cities.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Billions?

    MOHSIN HAMID: Yes. It is billions, because something like half the world's people now live in cities. And it will be more like 90 percent in another 20, 30 years.

    And that means billions of people are going to move. My city, Lahore, has 10 million people. When I was born, 41 years ago, it had one million people. So it is now New York size.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Really?

    MOHSIN HAMID: And it used to be a small, much smaller town.

    So I wanted to talk about that huge shift in the human population all over the world, and not just in Pakistan, but equally in Mexico City and Lagos and Bangkok.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the shift, of course, is a kind of rise in affluence, which is what you are talking about, getting filthy rich or at least rising out of the rural poverty, but still all kinds of problems at the same time and rigidities within the society.

    MOHSIN HAMID: Well, there's all kinds of problems in terms of what you have to do to rise up.

    It isn't easy, obviously, and many people don't make it, even though the middle class is swelling by millions and millions of people. But the other thing which is cutting against it is this sort of market narrative of growth, more money, more cars, a bigger home, is only half of the human story, because the other part of the human story is loss.

    We get older. We get more fragile. We lose everybody we loved, and eventually we lose our lives. And that side of the story, how to deal with loss is something that this big economic boom isn't equipping us for, and I think creates a lot of tension.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The self-help book is not written for that one, right? It is for the way up.

    MOHSIN HAMID: Well, interestingly enough, I think this self-help book is actually intended for that one.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, I see that.

    Well, it's interesting, because your -- every title is a kind of piece of advice. And it starts with move to the city. Get an education. Don't fall in love, which your protagonist doesn't listen to that one.

    But then it becomes this sort of darker, avoid idealists, which brings in the notion of religious zealotry. Befriend a bureaucrat, the corruption in a society, and then finally be prepared to use violence. So there is a darker side here.

    MOHSIN HAMID: There is.

    I think -- you know, I think the market is a brutal thing. It's, you know, the law of the jungle with some rules. And in a place like Pakistan or much of the world really, where those rules are pretty flimsy and loosely enforced, it's a -- it's an often violent and corrupt experience trying to make it up.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I read one of your previous novels, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," and now this.

    And I -- your book and other books helped me understand what's going on in these countries that we often more on our program are looking at through terrorism and all kinds of bad things. But I wonder, for you as a writer, do you feel a sense of mission, if that's the word, to try to tell the rest of the world what's going on in your society?

    MOHSIN HAMID: Well, it's less that I'm trying to tell the rest of the world and it's more I'm trying to figure it out myself.

    So I'm equally confused by what is going on.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You are?

    MOHSIN HAMID: And so this novel, in trying to chart all the different phases that people move, from absolute poverty up to wealth, and what it takes, and what that might feel like, was an attempt, I think, as a writer, to make sense of this world I'm seeing around me.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And without giving away the ending here, but after all the trials and losses that you were referring to, there is a kind of hope and happiness, even if it's not of the filthy rich kind.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Did you -- well, go ahead. Is that what you were striving for too?

    MOHSIN HAMID: Yes, because the idea is that it is possible to find a certain degree of release or contentment in life, and that, you know, despite sort of the cynical nation of a lot of our art and literature and culture, that effort should remain part of, at least for me, my project as a writer, to try to find that for myself and to try to find that just generally.

    It's easy to end a novel sort of in sorrow and have it be a good literary work. Having it end with a degree of happiness and not be a cliche actually is a lot harder. So only in my third novel did I finally have the guts to try doing that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that is true, you are saying, even in a place that is rife with all kinds of problems that, as I said, we report on all the time?

    MOHSIN HAMID: Absolutely, because I think that, actually, if you -- the attempt to find some human connection, to find some empathy, to find some way of going beyond yourself is actually connected to all those problems as well, because those problems that you referred to, terrorism, violence, et cetera, come in part from a rampant state of depression and mental illness that has set in as people have lost traditional ways of looking at the world and don't have anything to replace them with.

    JEFFREY BROWN: "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia."

    Mohsin Hamid, nice to talk to you. Thanks.

    MOHSIN HAMID: Thank you.

    RAY SUAREZ: You can find Jeff's extra questions and Hamid's answers on Art Beat. Also there, Hamid reads an excerpt from his book. 

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who is with us from New York tonight.

    Gentlemen, welcome.

    MARK SHIELDS: Good evening.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, all eyes this week on the Supreme Court, two cases, all eyes on same-sex marriage, two sets of arguments. What do you see the role of public opinion in all this as a backdrop?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, Mr. Dunne said the Supreme Court follows the election returns.

    And if that is the case, Judy, I have never seen an issue move with this kind of velocity. Just think about this. Two short presidential elections ago, the Republicans' ace in the hole was to put 11 ballot questions on 11 different states opposing same-sex marriage, in hopes of turning out religiously conservative voters, and who would vote then for President Bush.

    The conventional wisdom is that Ohio, where one of the ballot issues was on, that was the key to turning the state from John Kerry, the Democrat, and the White House from John Kerry, the Democrat, to George W. Bush, the Republican. It was 60 to 29 Americans opposed same-sex marriage. All the intensity, all the passion was on the other side.

    That has done a total, complete turn. If you want to see it crystallized, less than a year ago, the president of the United States, a liberal Democratic president of the United States' position was, he was in favor of civil unions. Today, that is now the safe harbor political position for Republicans.

    That's how quickly it's changed. And the president, of course, is an advocate of same-sex marriage, having come to that position after his vice president took it first.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, why has this change happened so fast?

    DAVID BROOKS: Because it's about obligations.

    We have a language in this country that we have become accustomed to, which is the language of rights and freedom. But gay marriages and marriage in general is not about rights and freedom. It's about limiting your freedom, going into a relationship which limits the contingency of your relationship, limits your ability to choose and be free.

    It's about creating a set of obligations. And I think most Americans do believe that life is best lived within a series of relationships that are reasonably firm and fixed. And once gay and lesbian issues became about marriage, once it became about fixing yourself down in a permanent relationship, then that was going to be something that was going to appeal to a lot of people.

    And a lot of Americans had the mistaken notion that the gay life was about bath house culture and gay bars. And I think they -- that held them back. But once it became clear that what gays and lesbians, what a lot of them wanted was marriage, which is a pretty bourgeois, mainstream institution, then the door was swung open and there was no turning back. And I think that is basically what is happening.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, over time, Mark, public opinion has shifted, but then in the course of one week, you had, what, half-a-dozen Democratic senators announcing a change of heart.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes. That reminded me of the old French general who said, there go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.

    I mean, it just comes down -- it comes down to that.

    There was a real -- there's been a real switch, Judy. Now, some of them individual cases, and there are individual reasons why people change. And their conscience obviously is a part of it, but two of them were just reelected, Jon Tester in Montana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

    So, they have six years. They have got history on their side, momentum seemingly. The one aberration in that whole crowd is Kay Hagan. Kay Hagan is a first-term Democratic senator from North Carolina. She's got a tough race. The Republicans are out to get her in a state that Barack Obama carried by 14,000 votes in 2008, and then the only battleground state he lost in 2012.

    And her own state, there was a referendum question in May of 2012; 61 percent voted against same-sex marriage. She came out for it. I mean, this will be the litmus test. If she wins and with the support of people who believe in same-sex marriage -- and I think David is absolutely right.

    I mean, the only people who want to get married in this country right now are gays and lesbians.

    I mean, if you think about it, marriage -- no, seriously. Marriage has declined. People are waiting longer, fewer people getting married. And all they really wanted was basically what everybody else has.

    It wasn't some special privilege, a special right that they were seeking.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, you don't see a similar rush, a change of heart on the part of Republicans.

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, there's been some movement.

    I mean, Rob Portman -- there's been a lot of movement among non-elected Republicans, I would say. There has been some movement among elected Republicans. And, you know, they're from red states, and so there's going to be a difference of opinion about that.

    But I do think, eventually, you are going to see a movement. And the one thing I would say there has been, if not movement on necessarily what position you're going to take, there has been a decline in salience. I do think that if you look at the various conservative organizations, there's still a firm pro-life movement, and opinion on abortion has not shifted.

    Opinion on abortion, if anything, has shifted slightly to the right. But the number of people who really want to get engaged in the gay marriage issues is just down. And I think, at the CPAC meeting, they had a special meeting about trying to resist the shift toward gay marriage, and it was very sparsely attended. And so I just think ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David -- I didn't mean to interrupt, but you do hear this argument out there that if the court were to legalize gay marriage across the country, that there could be a backlash.

    DAVID BROOKS: I think that's a fear, that it becomes Roe v. Wade-like.

    And I guess I have thought about that a lot over the last week, and I think it -- probably not likely to happen. I think it's probably the momentum is such that if the court did move aggressively, maybe there would be some pushback, but I think it's not like the abortion issue and we shouldn't draw that parallel.

    I think it's really pretty much cemented. The one thing I will say about the court, of it -- is, though, to the extent that we can understand what they're thinking on the basis of oral argument, I really got a sense reading about it was the really hesitancy on the part of most members of the court to interfere with the flow of public opinion, a real sense that public opinion is shifting so much, they don't know how to insert themselves into it, and, given their druthers, a lot of them, at least, several of them at least, would just like to stay out and are looking for an avenue to stay out, and not interfere with the flow.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I -- Judy, I think that it is irrefutable that Roe v. Wade remains, 40 years after the decision, an open wound in the body politic of the United States. It is unresolved.

    The questions may be unresolvable. They aren't the same as same-sex marriage. But I think it's an admonition and a warning to our political system and our judicial system that it is -- we're far better off when we work our political will through the legislative process, through the political process.

    We were on our way in the early 70s to reaching state laws. We're changing on abortion. And as Justice Ginsburg herself pointed out, you know, with one fell swoop, that single decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, they repealed all the abortion laws in the country. They made it illegal. And ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Justice Ginsburg ...

    MARK SHIELDS: Justice Ginsburg.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: ... was talking about this, not -- so a liberal justice saying ...

    MARK SHIELDS: A liberal justice, that's right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: ... the court may have moved too quickly.

    MARK SHIELDS: May have moved -- I think it did. And it remains unresolved.

    And, you know, a political punching bag became running against judges, beating up judges, I mean, which is not, again, good for our system. And I don't think it's comparable to Brown vs. Board of Education, because in Brown vs. Board of Education, we had a national ill that was going unaddressed in the states and jurisdictions in which it was a problem in the 1950s. And, therefore, the court had to intervene.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Change of topic, gun control legislation.

    David, we are now, I guess, three-and-a-half months past Sandy Hook, the terrible shootings, 20 children, six adults, not to mention the other -- the other mass shootings in this country. Yesterday, the president came out and said shame on us if there has been a slowing of the momentum to do something about gun violence.

    Where do you see that right now, that issue, and Congress' disposition to do something about it?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, there's been a slowing of momentum.

    The polls have shifted back toward where they were pre-Sandy Hook level. I think it's why they acknowledged that the assault weapon ban is gone. That's not going to pass. The magazine clip limitation, which I thought actually had a better chance, the conventional wisdom I guess now is that is probably not going anywhere. Now the fight is over the background checks and some of the other things like the gun trafficking laws.

    And so it's now down to that. And so I think what's happened is the president, I think, even -- and I understand the heartfelt speech he gave yesterday. But I think what wasn't developed was a red state strategy, a strategy to win over some of the momentum that existed among some Republicans, but especially among red state Democrats, to try to win them over to this, and to win public opinion in those states over to this.

    And that -- that strategy was never quite developed. And so, for a lot of senators from those states, it's just -- the political pressure is all on the other side. It's all on the Second Amendment side. And so that -- that was sacrificed. And I'm not sure the president did anything yesterday to really turn that around.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Was that a mistake? And how would you have done that?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I -- I'm not sure what David is recommending in the way of a strategy to red state Republicans, to the -- the only Republican, it seemed, that was available to Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, who has a pro-NRA record, and was quite personally and publicly moved by what happened in Connecticut, was Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is not really seen as an NRA kind of Republican.

    So I'm not sure that was available. I thought, yesterday, that we saw the unscripted president. I mean, I thought that was real emotion coming through that he was expressing. And shame on us if in fact it does happen.

    You know, Judy, people say the country has moved left on same-sex marriage. We have moved right on gun control. I mean, 20 years ago in this country, more than 70 percent of people were for stricter gun control laws. And that is down basically in the 40 percent range now. And the only time we get a blip is after a Columbine or after a Tucson, after a mass shooting and mass deaths.

    But we had 154 cartridges spent ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Information came out yesterday about ...

    MARK SHIELDS: ... in less than five minutes in that classroom, those classrooms in Newtown.

    And, to me, if you can't make a case for magazines, I mean, I don't know at what point, you know, you just say reason has to prevail.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David, what would you have done? What argument should the administration have made in these red states?

    DAVID BROOKS: I would have included the gun control stuff like the assault weapons ban. Or -- well, I might have thrown that out, because that really had no chance, but the magazine clips, I would have included that, the background check.

    I would have included that in a broad anti-homicide agenda. And that agenda really would have highlighted the things we do know works to reduce homicides, a lot different sorts of policing, giving -- holding local police officials accountable for homicide rates in their areas, focusing on those few parts of the country where homicide rates are very high, a broad series of legislation, for example, if you are living with someone who has a psychiatric problem, an illness, holding you legally accountable for them not being able to get guns, making it a norm that you report people who you think may have sort of homicidal urges, the way people are reporting people who may commit child abuse.

    So I would have wrapped it in a much broader package, emphasizing some of the police stuff, which people in the Republican side are much happier with. And I would have done that both for political reasons to win over the red states and also for substantive reasons, because if the evidence is reasonably clear, a lot of the gun control legislation can do limited good.

    We have a lot of different little things that can do limited goods. But we have no thing that can totally transform and totally do maximum good. And so I would have had a much broader agenda with a lot of little things that maybe can contribute to a solution, but which -- we just don't have a big magic weapon here to control gun violence. So, you got to do a lot of little things all at once.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We have to leave it there.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you both. Tough subject.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy. 

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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    Social Security card and money

    Larry Kotlikoff answers your Social Security questions. Photo by 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. -Paul Solman

    Steve Hirsh -- Ridgeland, Miss.: I'm 67 and have filed for my Social Security. My wife is 62. Her full Social Security retirement base amount is slightly more than half of mine (hers, $1,250; mine, $2,340). I have been told repeatedly by various Social Security reps that she cannot file for the spousal option because her base is equal to more than half of mine. We wanted to have her file for the spousal option at her full retirement age (66) and defer her own benefits until age 70 (which would provide an approximately 32 percent increase over her original base). Are there any options? Is the Social Security office correct that we can't do this because of the relative values of our full base amounts? Thanks for your time and advice.

    Larry Kotlikoff: No, the Social Security office got this one wrong. Your wife can file just for spousal benefits starting at age 66 and receive $1,170, then switch to her own retirement benefit at 70 and receive $1,650. I suggest you refer them to this page on the official Social Security website. And for any of you out there who are unsure on this issue, read the page yourselves.

    MORE SOCIAL SECURITY ANSWERS How a 'Stop-Start-Stop' Strategy Can Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

    John Pearce -- Mill Valley, Calif.: Are my Social Security benefit amounts tied to my lifetime income? I've had radically varying income, in many years zero, in some a great deal. How will this affect my benefits?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, Social Security first looks at your past "covered earnings" up through age 60 -- earnings up to the ceiling ($113,700 this year) after which income is no longer subject to the payroll tax. Social Security then "indexes" these earnings upward to adjust for the economy's average wage growth, a way of accounting for inflation. Next, it adds all covered earnings after age 60, unadjusted. It then takes the highest 35 of all these yearly values to calculate your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). Your AIME is the sum of these 35 highest values divided by 35 years to get an annual number, and then divided again by 12 months to get the per month total. The AIME is then plugged into a progressive benefit formula to calculate your full retirement benefit, called your primary insurance amount (PIA).

    Regarding your second question about "radically varying income": if you compare someone making $100,000 per year for 40 years, say, with someone making zero for 20 years and $200,000 for 20 years, the person making the steady $100,000 will fare better. The reason is that $200,000 is far above the covered earnings ceiling of $113,700. Since the person who works every year earning $100,000 has more of their earnings, on average, covered than someone who works every other year, the sporadic earner collects less in Social Security benefits.

    MORE SOCIAL SECURITY ANSWERS Read more about 'getting WEPped' in Larry's answer to Rich Grawer

    Raymond J Guerrero, Jr -- Austin, Texas: The "windfall elimination provision" is an abominable piece of legislation! Is there any chance of its being done away with? Would those of us currently being victimized by this provision (myself included) be able to receive all of our Social Security benefits if this provision is done away with?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes to your second question. No to your first: there's no chance, absent a wholesale change in the system.

    AR -- Las Vegas, Nev.: We could use some help. My husband will be 68 in the fall and is not collecting Social Security, planning to work until 70. I will be 59 this spring. I have worked (and will be again) and qualify for Social Security. What would be the best scenario for us considering our age gap?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your best strategy will be to have your husband collect his retirement benefit starting at age 70. This will ensure you receive the highest possible survivor benefit should he die before you. You should probably take a spousal benefit when you reach full retirement age and also wait until 70 to collect your own maximum retirement benefit.

    Marcy -- Northridge, Calif.: I am 56 and a widow. We were married for 17 years. I have one child who is getting a survivor benefit until the age of 18. I am planning to work until 67 and my salary has been more than my late husband's was in the last 5 years of his life (he was 53). Since my son is drawing a benefit, will I be entitled to my late husband's Social Security too and if yes, when should I start to draw his benefit and when should I start to draw mine? Thank you.

    Larry Kotlikoff: From what you've described, your best strategy is likely to be: Wait until you reach full retirement age, which, assuming you were born in 1957, will be 66 and 6 months; start, at that point, to collect just your survivor benefit; then wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit. Software available on the market can verify if this is indeed the best course of action.

    MORE SOCIAL SECURITY ANSWERS Why You Should Wait Until 70

    Tom O'Shaughnessy - Midland Park, N.J.: My wife took early retirement benefits at 62. She is now 66. I started taking benefits at full retirement age, 66. Can she suspend hers and get spousal benefits? Would they be reduced even though she is now 66?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If you were collecting your retirement benefit when she started receiving her own retirement benefit, she would have been forced to take her excess spousal benefit. Her excess spousal benefit is 50 percent of your full retirement benefit less 100 percent of her full retirement benefit, if this difference is positive. If it's not, the excess spousal benefit will be set to zero. So your wife can suspend her benefit through age 70 and start it up then at a 32 percent higher level. But between now and then, she may get an excess spousal benefit of zero. If you are under age 70, you too can suspend your benefit and start it up again at 70.

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

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  • 04/01/13--09:09: The Daily Frame
  • Click to enlarge.

    Students from Swansea Metropolitan University use mirrors to look up to a fresco by Thomas Wallace Hay, which is on display in a recently restored room in the National Trust's Dyffryn House near Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

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    This World War II advertisement informs the soldiers about a new "wonder drug" that can cure gonorrhea. The disease is one of many diseases -- including the infamous "superbugs" -- now showing resistance to all modern medicines. Photo courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

    Here are three good reasons the nickname "superbug" doesn't cut it anymore for the drug-resistant crop of bacteria showing up in U.S. hospitals under the more formal title Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae:

    They kill about half the people they attack They've appeared in at least 42 states And their resistance to drugs has quadrupled in the last decade or so

    That's why Dr. Tom Frieden -- director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- came up with another name: "Nightmare bacteria."

    Pretty startling language from the head of the CDC. But Frieden told reporters recently that the hype is justified. "Our strongest antibiotics don't work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections," he said.

    Before panicking, here's a caution: these germs aren't very common. For the moment, they're confined mostly to inpatient health care facilities. And while the exact scope of the problem isn't known -- largely because medical facilities in most states aren't required to track and report the number of CRE infections and deaths -- the CDC estimates that only 4 percent of U.S. hospitals and 18 percent of long-term acute care centers had a patient with CRE in the first half of 2012.

    That's why Frieden stressed that if the proper steps are taken, "we now have a window of opportunity to prevent its further spread."

    The same is true for a number of other germs that seem to be growing more indestructible against modern medicine by the year.

    A drug-resistant form of gonorrhea reached North America earlier this year and a "virtually untreatable" type of tuberculosis is currently spreading in some parts of the world.

    If nothing is done, CDC officials warn that a "post-antibiotic era" may be around the corner -- an era in which diseases commonly cured today with a few pills could once again run rampant. And it may be closer than most people realize.

    "It's not something that's theoretical," said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate Director for Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs at the CDC. "It's not a statement that someday, we might encounter bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics. That day is here. And it really calls upon us to take action now."

    Srinivasan joined PBS NewsHour last week to discuss the CDC's latest findings on antibiotic-resistant infections -- including gonorrhea and tuberculosis -- and what Americans should be doing to protect themselves.

    Dr. Srinivasan, thank you so much for joining us. Let's cut right to the chase: How concerned should Americans be? Is this a crisis in the making?

    Dr. Srinivasan: I think crisis is probably not too strong a word for it. A number of factors add up here.

    Antibiotic resistance writ large is a huge and global issue. It is a challenge in America. It's a challenge in every country in the world -- in both our health care facilities and also out in the community. We are reaching a situation where we are running out of effective antibiotics to treat a host of different infections. We talk about resistance in malaria, in tuberculosis, in gonorrhea, in Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus, or MRSA, and most recently in these Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. So it's really a far-reaching and global problem. And it's something that is going to impact many, many people all over the world.

    Dr. Frieden called this a 'nightmare' for public health. How, specifically, is that the case?

    Dr. Srinivasan: It is absolutely a nightmare scenario. The prospect of having bacterial infections that we can't treat with antibiotics is indeed a nightmare. It has the potential to undo so much of the progress that we've made in medicine. A lot of the medical advances that we enjoy today are directly dependent on our ability to treat infections that patients might develop. For example, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants and a host of the other treatments that we give people for rheumatoid arthritis -- all of these treatments have the undesirable effect of weakening a patient's immune system, which means that all of them put patients at high risk for infection. We can offer people these treatments because we can treat infections, for the most part, that the patient is likely to develop as a result. So if we lose the ability to effectively treat those infections, we will lose the ability to safely offer people many of the modern medical advantages and advances that we take for granted every day.

    What's happening to make these bacteria resistant to the antibiotics we use?

    Srinivasan: Bacteria always develop resistance to antibiotics. They've been doing that since the dawn of time. And that's because they have numbers on their sides. There are trillions of them. And over time, with exposure to antibiotics -- and sometimes even without exposure to antibiotics -- they will randomly develop mutations that might confer resistance to the antibiotics that we use. And so this is something that we know is going to happen and can never stop. So you will always have a need to have new antibiotics, because we know that bacteria eventually are going to develop resistance.

    But some of the other factors that are promoting this problem are the ability of these bacteria to spread, particularly within health care settings. So you might have one patient who has a resistant infection. But if we don't do a good job of controlling infections within our hospitals and nursing homes and clinics, those bacteria can spread to other patients.

    And another contributing factor is, of course, the overuse of antibiotics that we see in the United States and indeed around the world. If you look at studies that have been done, they show you that across the board, in hospitals and nursing homes and outpatient clinics, up to half of all the antibiotics that we use are either not needed at all or we're using them incorrectly. So there's a tremendous overuse of antibiotics that's also fueling this antibiotic resistance.

    Which resistant infection is the CDC most worried about at the moment?

    Srinivasan: We're worried about all of them. The one that we are really sounding the alarms about is Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, and one of the reasons that we're so particularly concerned about this one is that it really is that nightmare scenario where there are very limited treatment options and for some of them, there are, in fact, no treatment options.

    So this CRE really does take us into the post-antibiotic era. It's not something that's theoretical. It's not a statement that some day, we might encounter bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics. That day is here. We are encountering infections with these CRE that are resistant to all antibiotics. And it really calls upon us to take action now.

    What's the risk that someone who contracts CRE will die?

    Sreenivasan: It depends on a number of different factors, including which type of infection and a lot of issues with the type of patient. For example, studies in this country and in others have shown that nearly half of patients who get a bloodstream infection with the CRE will die.

    These CRE "superbugs" you've mentioned are contracted mostly by sick people in the hospital. But infections like antibiotic resistant gonorrhea seem like they could spread far more easily in the general population -- should people be more concerned?

    Sreenivasan: Antibiotic resistant gonorrhea is a major concern and it is indeed not one confined to health care facilities. It's out in the community. And it can be spread fairly readily. The challenge that we face is that we are running out of the first-line treatment options that we like to use. And in particular, we're running out of many of the oral treatment options that we have been able to use. Which means that as we run out of those oral agents, people might need intravenous therapy for treatment of simple gonorrhea infections that in the past could have been treated with an oral antibiotic. This is now being seen in the United States.

    Let's look at another disease Americans don't typically worry about these days, at least not within U.S. borders: tuberculosis. There's a strain circulating now that's "extensively resistant" to all drugs. How concerned is the CDC about that? Could this become a major problem for the U.S. again?

    Sreenivasan: That's another major concern. It's certainly something that is more of an issue in other countries than it is the United States, but we really believe that resistance anywhere is resistance everywhere. A pathogen that's drug-resistant in any country anywhere in the world is a short plane ride away from being here in the United States. And the challenge with tuberculosis is that it's very transmissible. And so if you do begin to develop cases, there's a high potential that those cases can spread to other people. So it's one that we are working on closely with folks in other countries to better understand and figure out ways to control that.

    You used a term earlier that many health officials are using with great urgency at the moment -- "post-antibiotic era." What exactly does that mean? And what repercussions could that have for patients?

    Srinivasan: We use that term post-antibiotic era to compare what could be coming to the pre-antibiotic era. There was a time in medicine when we didn't have antibiotics -- and a lot of people sometimes forget that that time wasn't that long ago. Antibiotics really came onto the medical scene in the 1940s and 50s. Before that, when patients developed infections, they either healed themselves or they didn't and there's not much we can do to influence that outcome. And then we entered the era of having antibiotics and all of a sudden, the mortalities from infections plummeted. We were able to effectively treat the vast, vast majority of common infections that people develop.

    When we talk about the post-antibiotic era, we're talking about a time that basically takes us back into time. Back to a time when people developed infections and we as clinicians could do nothing but stand by the bedside and hope that the patient would be able to fight the infection themselves because we had nothing to offer them in terms of treatment. It has major implications for our ability to practice medicine.

    All of this begs the question: How much research is being done into new types of antibiotics?

    Srinivasan: There is research being done into new antibiotics. I think a lot more research needs to be done and this is a case where no one group should be working independently to lead that development. This is a case where academic partners, the government, drug companies -- all of these groups should be working effectively together.

    Developing antibiotics is a very difficult prospect. A lot of people who are very knowledgeable about antibiotic development have said that the "easy" -- not that any of them are easy -- but the easier antibiotics have all been developed. The new antibiotics that we need to develop are going to be much more challenging than the ones we developed in the past. And so it's going to take a coordinated and concerted effort on behalf of a variety of different experts in these areas to develop new antibiotics and bring them to our patients.

    That being the case, how long will these new antibiotics take to hit the market?

    Srinivasan: My understanding is that the antibiotics in the works will take a while to develop. I think there are a few agents that are farther along than others. But I think that most experts in this field would agree that it's likely to be many years before we have a new antibiotic to treat some of these infections. And particularly what they're usually referring to is completely new antibiotics. Not simply a variation on a current theme but a truly new antibiotic that's going to be effective against some of these very resistant pathogens we're seeing today, like CRE.

    So what preventive measures is the CDC currently pursuing to stop potential upcoming deaths?

    Srinivasan: Our preventive strategies with effect to antibiotic resistance really fall into three broad categories. One is monitoring and tracking. It's important that we better understand where these resistant bacteria are, who is likely to get these infections with resistant bacteria and what factors might be driving that resistance. And to accomplish that, the CDC is very engaged in what we call 'surveillance' or 'monitoring' of these resistant infections.

    The other area where CDC is very focused is in trying to prevent the spread of these infections, particularly within our health care facilities. It's a concept we call 'infection control.' And CDC develops guidelines and recommendations for how health care facilities can safely care for patients and minimize the risks of these types of resistant bacteria spreading within our hospitals, our nursing homes and our clinics.

    And the last area where CDC is very focused is trying to work with partners and work with clinicians to figure out how we can improve the use of antibiotics so that we can slow the development of antibiotic resistance.

    One way to do that is to slow down the use of antibiotics. Patients are often told not to overuse them. Is that more of a precaution for keeping individual resistance to antibiotics in control -- or is it mostly helpful for the population as a whole, in terms of staving off the development of these resistant microorganisms in the first place?

    Srinivasan: It's really both. What we found is that when a patient takes an antibiotic that they don't need, they are exposed to the side effects of the antibiotic without getting any benefit from it. Antibiotics have potential side effects, including allergic reactions and severe diarrhea in some cases. If you don't need an antibiotic, you're taking a medicine that has risks and you're accruing no benefit from it. There was also a study recently that showed that if you take a course of antibiotics, you are significantly more likely down the road to develop an infection with a drug resistant bacteria.

    And of course there are the societal issues, as well. We know that the overuse of antibiotics helps breed resistant bacteria more quickly, which can be spread among other patients. So improving the use of antibiotics will not only have benefits to society but important benefits to individual patients.

    Interesting information to consider. Dr. Srinivasan, thank you so much for being with us.

    Srinivasan: Thank you for having me.

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  • 04/01/13--10:58: Weekly Poem: 'Song'
  • By Cynthia Zarin

    My heart, my dove, my snail, my sail, my milktooth, shadow, sparrow, fingernail, flower-cat and blossom-hedge, mandrake root now put to bed, moonshell, sea-swell, manatee, emerald shining back at me, nutmeg, quince, tea leaf and bone, zither, cymbal, xylophone: paper, scissors, then there's stone—Who doesn't come through the door to get home? Cynthia Zarin is the author of four books of poetry -- "The Swordfish Tooth" (1989); "Fire Lyric" (1993); and "The Watercourse" (2002); and "The Ada Poems" (2010) -- and five books for children.

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    Google announced its "Google Nose" search function that would give people the chance to search the smells of the world since "smelling is believing." Alas, it was too good to be true.

    Your guard is up. You trust no one. It's April Fool's Day, the day of the year when making fools of people is celebrated ... unless the joke's on you.

    Chances are by this point, you've been duped. If not from your friends or coworkers, then by one of these pieces of tom-foolery:

    YouTube said that after eight years it was finally ready to pick a winner for "best video" and that over the next 10 years, the website would shut down to take time to judge each "submission."

    The official White House YouTube channel released a video Monday morning with a message from the president. But instead of President Obama at the podium, it was nine-year-old Robby "Kid President" Novak reminding us to "be awesome."

    Twitter announced that they would start charging tweeters for using vowels in an effort to "encourage a more efficient and 'dense' form of communication." Following this new rule, the site would change its name back to the original, Twttr.

    Twyttyr? Why byy vywyls whyn yyy gyt "Y" fyr fryy? Syckyrs! #nvwls

    — Joan Rivers (@Joan_Rivers) April 1, 2013

    And last week, Scope launched a bacon-flavored mouthwash ad campaign that claimed their latest mouthwash would taste like bacon while swishing, but leave you with a minty-fresh aftertaste. Sounds ridiculous? Maybe. But their advanced preparation caught many off-guard.

    Surprisingly, the TGI Friday's "No cheese" ad campaign is not in fact an April Fool's Day prank.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. officials said today that a Navy guided-missile destroyer capable of shooting down ballistic missiles has been positioned slightly closer to the Korean Peninsula. This comes in the wake of an escalating verbal exchange between North and South Korea, and a day after top North Korean officials said that building nuclear capabilities was one of its top priorities.

    In Seoul today, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye issued a stern warning during a meeting with the country's defense officials.

    PRESIDENT PARK GEUN-HYE, South Korea: If there's any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be strong response in initial combat without any political considerations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Over the weekend, North Korea said it had entered a state of war with South Korea -- the latest threat from Pyongyang since the United Nations slapped sanctions on the country's nuclear program last month.

    North Korea said the most recent move is in response to ongoing joint military exercises between the South and the United States. The U.S. announced it has sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to the region as part of the annual war games.

    Today, North Korean state television also released new video of military training exercises. It showed soldiers at a firing range shooting at targets with the letters "USA" on them.

    In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney downplayed the statements by the North.

    JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: Despite the harsh rhetoric we're hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces.

    Now, we take this seriously. I have said that in the past. And we are vigilant and we are monitoring the Korean situation very diligently.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with members of the country's Labor Party and said building nuclear capabilities and the economy were top priorities.

    Today, during a parliamentary session, Pak Pong Ju was appointed the country's new premier, a position he held previously from 2003 to 2007. The move is seen as one that may be tied to Kim's call for economic improvements. The United Nations says two-thirds of North Koreans suffer from inadequate food. 

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Two former Korea intelligence analysts weigh in now. Robert Carlin had a 31-year career at the CIA and State Department. He was involved in U.S.-North Korea negotiations and traveled to North Korea 25 times. He's now a visiting fellow at Stanford University. And Bruce Klingner spent 20 years at the CIA, where he served as the deputy chief for Korea. He's now a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

    Gentlemen, welcome to the NewsHour.

    Bruce Klingner, to you first.

    How would you describe the state of relations right now between the North and the South and the U.S.?

    BRUCE KLINGNER, Former CIA Intelligence Analyst: They're very strained.

    We have had five years of very strained relations under the previous president, Lee Myung-Bak, as he did not continue the unconditional provision of benefits to North Korea that his two predecessors had done. North Korea reacted very strongly, increased the rhetoric, increased the threats during his administration. And we have seen no change in the threat level since the new North Korean leader came and the new South Korean president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Carlin, have strained?

    ROBERT CARLIN, Former CIA and State Department Intelligence Analyst: I think the rhetoric is at a high level.

    I would hope that the events over the past couple of days in North Korea would provide an opportunity for us to lower the temperature a little bit. We had some pretty important developments in terms of policy and personnel from the North Koreans over the last two days. I think we should step back.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What are you referring to?

    ROBERT CARLIN: I'm referring to the lower profile that the military now has in the top-level leadership in North Korea.

    I'm referring to something that the North Koreans -- they don't use this term, but I will. It's the nuclear dividend. It's the ability now that they have nuclear weapons, they say, to divert more money for their civilian economy. And the question is, is there an opening there? Does that provides some element of stability in this situation that we can use?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean because they feel more secure about their nuclear capability, they then have the space to expand in the economic front?

    ROBERT CARLIN: Yes. Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what about that, Bruce Klingner? How do you -- does that make sense?

    BRUCE KLINGNER: We can always be hopeful.

    We have been hoping for 20 years that North Korea will implement economic reform. I remember 20 years ago, State Department predicted Kim Jong Il was a bold economic reformer and we were on the cusp of widespread economic reform. That hasn't happened. It hasn't happened under the new leader.

    The important New Year's Day editorial and the speech by him really was just a continuation of exhortations for a planned economy to build a socialist paradise. So, we haven't seen indications yet of economic reform. But more importantly, we have seen no indications of political change or moderation of their foreign policy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see concrete, Robert Carlin, examples of where the North may be heading in a reformist direction with regard to their economy or their politics?

    ROBERT CARLIN: I hate to use the word reform because it stirs up all sorts of impressions, different impressions in people's minds.

    The question is, is it -- is there going to be change in their economic policies? Kim Jong-un indicated a year ago that he was going to begin town that path. He used the term they weren't going to have to tighten their belts anymore.

    I think that he's continued that in his latest policy statements, and the new prime minister that he appointed strongly suggests that they're going to push ahead with that policy. It's not going to unfold in isolation, however.

    It's going to depend on how the outside world reacts to it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This appointment of the new premier who was the premier before, what's the -- do you see significance there?

    BRUCE KLINGNER: I think we need to look at North Korean actions. We have had times where we thought an official was a reformer in the past, and it didn't lead to change in their economic policy. They have had sort of minor steps forward and then they retract from that.

    But we can debate, as we have for 20 years, whether North Korea will implement reform. But I think we have to look, more importantly, that another country implemented Chinese-style economic reform, China. And that didn't lead to the predicted political reforms, nor a moderation in their foreign and security policies.

    So far, I mean, we have the announcement of this premier, and yet in the same meeting, they affirm that they will never give up their nuclear weapons, they're not negotiable. And they continue the threats against South Korea and the United States.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Carlin, if you see the possibility of an opening or a moderation somehow, why then all this bellicose rhetoric from the North?

    ROBERT CARLIN: The bellicose rhetoric is largely propaganda.

    And propaganda is, by its nature, rough, tough, bellicose, mean, ugly. And we shouldn't get carried away paying too much attention to the propaganda. I mean, Bruce just made the point, we have got to look at what they do, not just what they say.

    And so it's sort of the clock starts now. The new premier comes into office. What are the policies that they're going to pick up on? What are the interactions with the Chinese going to be from now on? What are the new proposals they are going to come up with towards South Korea? And I suspect there will be some.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meantime, Bruce Klingner, the U.S. publicizing the fact that there are these joint military exercises with the South, the F-22s. They're positioning this -- I guess it's a -- what is it? A sea-based radar platform closer to the North, a guided-missile destroyer that we mentioned earlier.

    If the situation -- if the U.S. thinks what the North is doing is what it's always -- what it's done before, as we heard the White House say today, why are the Americans doing this?

    BRUCE KLINGNER: Really, we're sending a signal to both Koreas. We're sending a signal to North Korea that we will defend our South Korean ally. We have the capabilities to do so and we have the resolve to do so.

    We're also sending the same message to Seoul, which has begun the question U.S. capabilities and resolve, particularly after the sequestration cuts and the previous cuts to the defense budget. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was in the area to try to reassure our allies. But the cuts do impact our capabilities.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And does sending those sets of reassuring signals make sense at this point?

    ROBERT CARLIN: We're right in the middle of a pretty bad situation.

    And if every -- if our allies think, after all of these years, they need more reassurance from us, then by all means we should give it to them. But we have to be careful not to be provocative about it towards the North Koreans.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question to both of you. What is the North capable of doing?

    ROBERT CARLIN: They're capable of unleashing incredible destruction on South Korea.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The region?

    ROBERT CARLIN: Right. True.

    BRUCE KLINGNER: They have conventional forces. They have certainly used those in two acts of war in 2010. They have conducted acts of terror. They have a growing missile capability, a growing nuclear capability.

    Certainly, the Obama administration has taken it seriously, because they reversed their previous policy to cut missile defense interceptors in Alaska. Now they have put them back into the budget from what they cut them four years ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But so far from the North, it's just talk so far, and the exercises?

    BRUCE KLINGNER: It's talk until it happens. We thought it was just talk before they sank a South Korean ship in South Korean waters. We thought it was just talk until they shelled a civilian island.

    So, it's always trying to discern the bluster from the threats. And that's very difficult with North Korea.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We will leave it there.

    Bruce Klingner, Robert Carlin, we thank you both.

    ROBERT CARLIN: Thank you. 

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: A Southwest Virginia interstate reopened today after a massive pileup killed three people and injured dozens more. Police officials said dense fog triggered 17 separate crashes along I-77 yesterday, all within the span of a mile. The chain reaction involved 95 vehicles in a notoriously foggy mountainous area near the North Carolina border.

    The top court in India rejected a patent application from a Swiss drug maker for a major cancer drug. The ruling means Indian makers of generic drugs can keep on making copycat versions of the Novartis drug in question, Gleevec. It's been highly effective in treating some forms of leukemia. The decision sets a benchmark for intellectual property cases in India. Novartis responded to today's decision by saying it will not invest in drug research there.

    Calm returned to the streets of Kisumu, Kenya, today after a weekend of heavy rioting. The city is home to Raila Odinga, who narrowly lost the presidential race to Uhuru Kenyatta. On Saturday, the Supreme Court confirmed Kenyatta was the winner of the March 4th election. That announcement angered Odinga supporters, who set tires on fire and blocked major roads. Police responded by firing tear gas at the rioters. Kenyatta is expected to be sworn in on April 9th.

    Stocks edged lower on Wall Street today in a light day of trading. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than five points to close above 14,572. The Nasdaq fell 28 points to close at 3,239.

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

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    MARGARET WARNER: And to updates on two shootings, in Texas and in Colorado.

    Guards with semiautomatic weapons patrolled Texas courthouses today, after Kaufman County district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were murdered Saturday night in their own home. It is the second shooting of a prosecutor in the small Texas town this year, coming just two months after assistant district attorney Mark Hasse was shot dead outside the local courthouse on his way to work.

    I'm joined by Bill Zeeble. He's covering the story for KERA Public Radio in North Texas.

    And, Bill, welcome to the program.

    Tell us what you can about the investigation. What trail of events, what possible links are authorities looking at and trying to get to the bottom of who killed McLelland and his wife?

    BILL ZEEBLE, KERA Public Radio: Well, good to be here.

    Authorities are looking at gangs, like the Aryan Brotherhood, possibly other gangs, because there seems to be a tie-in to these deaths, Mark Hasse, as you said, January 31, and then almost two months later, DA McLelland and his wife at home.

    So they're looking at -- at anybody who would have a reason to kill these law enforcement officials. Vengeance might be one. And you will find vengeful prisoners who might want to get these guys.

    They're -- and within the Aryan Brotherhood, there was a message, an e-mail sent out from the U.S. Marshals that said after an indictment last fall against members of the Aryan Brotherhood that, in December, there was a warning that said they might be out to attack and punish law enforcement officials, and from Aryan Brotherhood anyway, punishment could be mean violence and death.

    So that's a possible link. It's not proven yet.

    MARGARET WARNER: And so had assistant DA Mark Hasse or district attorney McLelland been involved in anyway in the furtherance of these indictments from last fall?

    BILL ZEEBLE: Well, the office of the district attorney in Kaufman County was one of a broad range of affiliates involved with the racketeering indictment, but just one of many.

    Mr. Hasse wasn't directly involved in prosecutions regarding members of the Aryan Brotherhood. That was according to Mike McLelland when he gave a press conference Jan. 31st. And then there was no direct link from the sheriff who talked to reporters the other day tying Mr. McLelland to the Aryan Brotherhood direct link, but Mike McLelland had said that members lived in and were involved in his community in Kaufman County. So he knows they existed.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, what is exactly the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas? And what sorts of things are they accused of?

    BILL ZEEBLE: Well, they're largely prison-based. They date back to California in the 1960s, so they have been around almost 50 years.

    It's a white supremacist group with a military-style setup with generals and other leaders. You're supposed to report to them. And you're not supposed to break any bond of loyalty, at the risk of severe punishment or death. And they apparently make money from illegal drugs and robbery and thievery and all sorts of criminal activity.

    MARGARET WARNER: And I understand that also investigators are looking at the killing of, speaking of prisons, a prison chief in Colorado just two weeks ago. What could be the link there?

    BILL ZEEBLE: Well, the link is the method.

    Tom Clements, who was the chief of the prison system in Colorado, was shot at -- at his front door. Knock on the door, opened it, and he was shot by a former prison inmate from the Colorado prison. Then the other day, you know, the Clements family -- or, rather, the McLelland family were shot in home. A knock on the door and then Cynthia McLelland was shot. And then a little further in the house, officials report that they shot Mike McLelland.

    So a knock on the door and the shootings then occur. And so that's the common link. But the officials -- law enforcement officials have not been able to connect the dots directly to say beyond a superficial method that there's a link.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Bill Zeeble of KERA in Dallas, thank you.

    BILL ZEEBLE: You're welcome.

    MARGARET WARNER: And to our update on a second shooting.

    It involves a trial for the suspect in last summer's massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. During a court hearing today, prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for James Holmes in the attacks that killed 12 people and injured 58 others. The judge put off the start of the trial back until February.

    Carol McKinley is a freelance correspondent who has been in the courtroom. I spoke with her between court sessions earlier today.

    Carol McKinley, thank you for being with us.

    Tell us about what happened in court today. Why did the prosecutor say he is going to go to trial and seek a death penalty and essentially rejecting the offer by the defense to have a plea agreement here?

    CAROL MCKINLEY, Freelance Journalist: Well, this is a pretty conservative prosecutor.

    He just got voted in, in November knowing that this was going to be his case. His name is George Brauchler. And one of the things he said was that he looked over every statute. He met with 60 victims and relatives of victims who died, only the ones who died. Also, his office reached out to 800 of the people who were in theater nine the night of July 20th.

    And from talking to all those people, he said he assessed his decision that justice is death. He feels like if anyone deserves the death penalty, it would be James Holmes, because most people believe that James Holmes is the person who committed this act that early morning on a Friday.

    MARGARET WARNER: Did he say anything about why he didn't entertain the defense's offer to plead guilty to this crime in return for life in prison without parole?

    CAROL MCKINLEY: Well, he believes that what the defense was doing was posturing.

    He believes that they were just trying to stall for time so that they can keep their client alive, because basically that's what they want. That is their M.O., and that's what they're going to do, is they are going to throw as many motions out there as they can to keep James Holmes from, you know, being killed basically by the government.

    And so what Brauchler said is that, if he takes the offer of guilty in exchange for life, the door would be closed. By going for the death penalty, he can change his mind now if he wants to, so he feels like he has much more to -- you know, to work with if he goes for death.

    MARGARET WARNER: And what was the reaction in the courtroom?

    CAROL MCKINLEY: Well, in the courtroom, there were quite a few victims' families and people who were injured who were crying, very upset, maybe not because they were sad for James Holmes, maybe because they were sad for their loved one.

    One woman ran down the hall in tears. There were people who defiantly looked at the press because they were trying to send a message, this is what I believe, too. In fact, one of the -- one of the friends of Alex Sullivan, who died in theater nine that night, said, I want to be in the front row if James Holmes is executed. I'm all for this, even if there's pain involved.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, what can you tell us or what do you know about what the defense intends to do now in terms of whether or not, for instance, to file an insanity defense?

    CAROL MCKINLEY: They probably will.

    They will probably change their plea from guilty in that -- the deal that they tried to make to not guilty by reason of insanity. There will be motion after motion. They have got hundreds of pages of discovery. There were thousands of detectives and police officers who were involved in this. They need to talk to all of them.

    They wanted -- they didn't want this trial to start until the fall of 2014. The trial is going to start Feb. 3rd of 2014, so a year-and-a-half from when, you know, the people were killed. So we're looking at just a little bit of less than a year from now. But I think what they're going to do is, they're going to file every motion they can.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, in -- every state is different in terms of capital crimes. In Colorado, how much harder is it to convict someone and get the death sentence than simply to win a conviction?

    CAROL MCKINLEY: You know, it's hard to say.

    The last time we had anyone executed in the state of Colorado was in 1997, November, a guy named Gary Davis. We just had a huge issue in our state legislature where the Democrats brought forward an idea to abolish the death penalty. Knowing that James Holmes was likely going to go to trial soon, that idea was repealed. So we still have our death penalty, but it's been up in the air.

    At this time, we have three people on death row. One of those people has been on death row for a couple of decades. So it takes a long time. It's very hard to do here.

    MARGARET WARNER: And, finally, on an insanity defense, again, every state is a little different in terms of what the standard is. What does the defense have to demonstrate to get him declared not guilty by reason of insanity?

    CAROL MCKINLEY: You know, they're going to have to show that he was spiraling, that they're going to have to call witnesses who saw him in spiral, which could be people he was in school with, maybe his professors, maybe his family. And they're going to have to show his communications, things that were in his computer. Was he holed up in his apartment in the dark by himself as he spiraled down?

    They're going to need to bring in his psychiatrist, the one from the University of Colorado, Lynne Fenton, who we have heard so much about. They're also going to have to go down to the state hospital and have him diagnosed. They have said -- they have hinted that he's schizophrenic.

    And the prosecution says, yes, maybe he's mentally ill, but he meant to do this and he planned it. He knew what he was doing.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, as the judge said today, this trial is going to last a very long time.

    Carol McKinley, thank you very much.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: an awakening in India to the problem of violence against women.

    Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has a report, part of our “Agents for Change” series.

    And a warning: Some scenes in his story are disturbing.

    WOMAN: Outrage against a barbaric crime is only growing.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It used to be socially taboo to talk about rape or sexual assault in India. Now it's in the news almost every day. And advocates who have tried to bring attention to these issues say it might just bring a shift in attitudes after decades of indifference.

    RANJANA KUMARI, Center for Social Research: People really, really are very angry.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ranjana Kumari, who runs the Delhi-based Center for Social Research, says that anger welled over after last December's gang rape in Delhi of a 23-year-old medical student who died from her injuries. The incident dominated global headlines and touched a nerve across this vast country.

    RANJANA KUMARI: We saw so much of brutality, six men brutalizing this girl beyond anybody's imagination. And here is this system which didn't respond.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: National crime records show a woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. Kumari says perhaps one in 10 cases of rape is actually reported, with minimal consequence.

    RANJANA KUMARI: Look, there are 95,000 cases of rape are pending at different levels of the court system. We know that seven to nine years it takes to get a conviction. Three out of four perpetrators of crime just go scot-free.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The criminal justice system is beholden to corrupt political leaders, says Kiran Bedi. She was one of the country's top police officials before retiring three years ago.

    KIRAN BEDI, Retired Police Official: If you are a nobody, then the law is heavy on you. But if you're somebody, then the law is very alert, very selective on you.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not only have politicians been indifferent toward violence against women, she says. Dozens of themselves accused of crimes and yet unpunished.

    KIRAN BEDI: Yet they go on as being members of the sitting members of the legislative assembly and the parliament. They're sitting members. It's a clear violation of their oath.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And some of them are actually accused and charged with sexual crimes against women?

    KIRAN BEDI: As I said, yes, of course.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Uma Vangal says the cultural acceptance of sexual violence against women is reinforced in India's influential cinema. Vangal is a professor of film in the Southern city of Chennai. She showed me one scene from a movie in the regional Tamil language. It was an elaborately choreographed rape.

    UMA VANGAL, L.V. Prasad Film Institute: She's pleading, says, OK, I said something, I humiliated you in public, but can we forget about it?

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The film's hero, as male leads are called, has been spurned by his prospective bride. The marriage had been arranged by the families, according to local tradition.

    UMA VANGAL: Look at this. Look at the insensitive way it's been handled. You don't know whether to laugh or whether take it seriously. But the audience obviously accepted the argument that it's all right to rape a woman if you want to prove your masculinity.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In fact, this film was such a hit, she says, it now is being remade in Bollywood, whose Hindi-speaking audience is many times larger.

    Rape may be the extreme, but many scenes mirror male behavior that is commonplace on the street.

    UMA VANGAL: Catcalls, comments, sometimes rude gestures, sometimes actually feeling up, everything. I think any woman who ventures out is subject to some kind of harassment.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Harassment.

    UMA VANGAL: Though they don't perceive it as harassment. The men don't see it as harassment. They see it as harmless fun.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Either that or, invariably, she says, there's a hero in the wings to do right by the wrong woman.

    UMA VANGAL: The mainstay of Indian cinema is the male hero. So, it's all about that.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At least one group is trying to harness the power of the media to shift attitudes about violence against women. Its best-known campaign has been broadcast spots like this one since 2008. When you hear domestic abuse, they suggest, ring the bell.

    SONALI KHAN, Breakthrough: That was a very, very simple message. It was a concept to really, if metaphorically looked at, that let's ring the bell and break the silence. But, very interestingly, people took it literally.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The campaign has been taken beyond India to Pakistan, China, even a cable system in Atlanta, Georgia.

    SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, United Nationa: I'm Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations. This is a simple step, but a very effective one.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Recently, it launched a global anti-violence initiative in partnership with the United Nations. The group also studied the impact of its work in two local areas in India, looking especially at attitudes among women.

    SONALI KHAN: They didn't feel confident to go out of the household, to complain to either an NGO or to some legal officer, seek counseling. But post the campaign, there was a lot of difference in terms of women actually exhibiting confidence in going out, men and communities recognizing that it is fine for women to go out and complain, and they don't need to resolve it only in the marital or, you know, the natal family space.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But there are few places women can go when they are in trouble. The Center for Social Research offers crisis counseling and intervention for victims of violence in four locations in the capital.

    Sangita, a 32-year-old mother of three boys, presents a classic case.

    WOMAN: So, what is your thought now? Do you want to give him another chance?

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sangita was married when she was 15, and her family gave a large dowry to her in-laws, even though both dowry and marriage before age 18 are illegal.

    Her husband's beatings got so bad, she wound up in hospital, and that's where she learned she could get help at the center.

    SANGITA: When I look at the kids, I really want to make things work.

    I have been married for 18 years and my children are 15, 13 and 11. I just want a future in which my children are well provided for and grow up in a good family.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The center has helped her get a protective court order that has stopped the abuse, she says. It's a limited service available to a tiny number of women. But many advocates hope that the sustained media attention following December's rape and the public outrage, which included many young men for the first time, may just signal a new sensitivity and accountability.

    India's parliament, not known for moving fast, quickly approved laws that broadened the definition of sexual assault and stiffened the penalties. One university even announced a quota of admission slots for victims of sexual harassment and human trafficking.

    SONALI KHAN: Actually, it's really sad that we needed a moment like this to shake things up, because we have been talking about mind-set change, getting men engaged, talking about all this for a while now. And then this tragedy sort of shook everyone out of their complacency and then got everyone into the sort of arena, as it were.

    But it's very easy to slip back. We as women's groups are also very active and pushing, so where we really want to make sure, as Breakthrough, that the conversation doesn't drop.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That's not likely to happen, at least for the next few months, as the trial of five men charged in December's gang rape in Delhi gets under way.

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

    Editor's Note: To see more of the ads designed by Breakthrough, go to their website.

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    MARGARET WARNER: Now the debate over vouchers and school choice is heating up anew in some states -- the latest, last week, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a 2011 state law allowing tax funds to be used for private schools through tuition vouchers.

    We turn again to Hari for that story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ahead of last week's ruling, Republican Gov. Mike Pence rallied students and parents at the state legislature in Indianapolis in support of the voucher program.

    In 2011, education correspondent John Tulenko visited Indiana soon after the law passed and found passions still strong on both sides. Then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett was the driving force behind the Republican-led choice movement.

    TONY BENNETT, Former Indiana State Superintendent: What this has done, it has allowed -- and the statistics are bearing it -- it is allowing families the opportunity to pursue prosperity for their children.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Democratic State Representative Ed DeLaney said he preferred high-quality public schools over choice.

    STATE REP. EDWARD DELANEY, D- Ind.: This is not a scientific experiment. It's an attempt in my view to just push down public education.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Indiana is one of more than 15 states that allows public funds to be used for private education. There are several types of choice programs, including vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and in Arizona, where the state provides education savings accounts allowing public money to be used for tuition, supplies and books.

    While most programs target the poor and those who live in districts with failing schools, Indiana's is far more expansive, opened to households with incomes of up to $64,000 dollars a year for a family of four.

    In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that providing school vouchers, which can be used at religious schools, doesn't violate the separation of church and state, leaving individual states to decide. Some state courts have overturned school choice programs like vouchers, while others, such as Indiana's have upheld them.

    Next year in Indiana, more than half of the students will be eligible for vouchers worth up to $4,500 dollars per child.

    For more on the fallout from the Indiana case and the broader national outlook, we turn to two leading voices on opposing sides. Kevin Chavous is executive counsel for and a founding member of American Federation for Children, a group promoting vouchers and school choice. And Dennis Van Roekel is the president of the National Education Association, the largest labor union. It represents more than three million public school employees, most of them teachers.

    Thanks for joining us.

    Kevin, I want to start with you.

    How concerned are you about this Indiana case? What are the broader implications?

    KEVIN CHAVOUS, American Federation for Children: Well, the broader implications are clear, Hari.

    People really want change. You really need to go back to "A Nation at Risk." This is the 30th anniversary of that landmark federal report in which it said that we were running a major risk in terms of not being able to educate all of our children. The educational outcomes, if a unilateral force had done this outside of this country, it would be declared an act of war.

    Well, things have gotten worse. And the bottom line is people and parents are clamoring for change. And that's why you see that these scholarship programs, these voucher programs, tax credits, they're emerging all over the country, because people don't want to be consigned to a bad school based on zip code.

    And this really isn't about partisan politics. It really is about making sure that parents have as many quality options as possible available to educate their children.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dennis Van Roekel, do you think this is possibly a tipping point, that this will refocus or reframe the conversation?

    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL, President, National Education Association: Well, the legal implications for Indiana don't go beyond the borders because it simply applies in Indiana.

    I do think it will increase the conversation. And I don't think that's bad. I think it's important that we talk about the students in America that are not getting the education they so richly deserve. But I think what we have to do is to stay focused. We need to stay focused on the right of every child to have a good public education. And for those who oppose vouchers, what we believe is that you do not use -- pay private school tuition at taxpayer expense.

    Instead, we ought to do what we know works. Take schools and invest in early childhood. Increase parental involvement, small class size, especially in high-poverty schools at the lower grades. Make sure that we have a well-trained, qualified and certified work force that is stable.

    When we do that, children succeed. But we do not believe it is a solution to take the few out and leave the rest behind.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Kevin Chavous, what about that argument, that there is going to be inherent inequality?

    KEVIN CHAVOUS: Well, we know what works. Yes, we know what works.

    Accountability works, higher standards, higher expectations. And part of the challenge is we have got to figure out the best way to fly the plane while we fix it. Fixing it is all the things that Dennis talked about even more. We have got to look at work rules. We have got to look at paying at our quality teachers more and firing the bad teachers.

    But as we have seen since "A Nation at Risk" 30 years ago, that's going to take years of work. In the meantime, half the kids of color are dropping out of American schools. Our good schools aren't as good as they used to be. And even before I finish this sentence, Hari, a child is going to drop out.

    What do we do to help those kids that we know are consigned to bad schools? In the D.C. scholarship program, we know that 94 percent of those kids who are getting those vouchers are graduating; 89 percent are going to college. And 100 percent of those kids who come from families with a combined family income of $24,000 dollars came from schools that were failing.

    So, at the end of the day, we have got to fly this plane while we fix it. And to do the accountability stuff and the long-range stuff, some of the things that Dennis talked about, it may take another 30 years. But we can't afford as a nation to let the sameness of what we have been doing continue to cripple our children and our future.


    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: I believe you can go to any state in this country and find incredible examples of making a difference.

    Members of my organization go to a school each and every day giving everything they have to help children succeed. What we need to do is provide them with services and the programs they need to assist children.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Do you think vouchers wouldn't make that happen?

    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: No, I believe it's a shortsighted solution.

    It's changing the American focus that we ought to provide it for some and not for all. It's such an inequitable system in America. You can go into some schools that have elaborate science laboratories, all kinds of technology, well-qualified and well-trained faculty. And you can go into others that look like they're abandoned factories. That's wrong.

    In the richest, most powerful nation in the world, the fact that it's just wrong that we don't provide that for every child, regardless of your zip code. I don't think we should accept nor tolerate a system that only provides a good education for some. And the answer is to invest in those schools now. They do want to change. Parents want their kids to go to a neighborhood school that meets their needs, that has the resources and the programs they need to succeed.

    And that's what the focus of America should be, not just on some, but for every single child in America.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Kevin, I just want to ask you.


    HARI SREENIVASAN: He keeps talking about that sort of inequality, that possibility that in a voucher system, you could have a lottery where some families will qualify for a school and then the school that they like, they didn't get into and they're kind of stuck back in the school that they were at.

    KEVIN CHAVOUS: What do we do?

    I mean, let's look at it. In Florida, where we have 50,000 kids in a tax credit program, a study done by David Figlio and Cassandra Hart from Northwestern University showed that the kids who didn't get the vouchers, their standardized test scores did better.

    And you know why? Because the competition really does matter. I mean, no school district has ever reformed itself from within. They never have. They never will. The best form of change, the best way to get to where Dennis and I both want these kids and these families to get to is through external pressure. And the best form of external pressure is through educational choice.

    Look, this is not an either/or zero sum gain. I'm not saying that all kids need to avail themselves or all families need to avail themselves of scholarships or vouchers. What I'm saying is, through tax credits, through scholarships and vouchers, through charter schools, homeschools, traditional public schools, we need to put all options on the table.

    That's the only way we're going to fly this plane while we fix it, help those kids with immediate needs, and also provide the impetus for public schools to right-size themselves.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Dennis, what about the idea that we have this system where G.I. Bills, Pell Grants, and for post-secondary education, we're taking taxpayer money and distributing it through people to whatever school that they're interested in? Why is it so different for primary and high school education and kindergarten?

    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: I think post-secondary education, college and university, I think you have to put that into a different category than K-12 education, because then you're choosing between a career or college and specialized training. That definitely makes sense.

    But for young children, they shouldn't have to be bussed somewhere. It should be in their neighborhood. We do know what needs to be done in these schools. And too many of these schools, especially in communities of high poverty, they have a transient work force. They don't have teachers teaching in a certified area. They're teaching out of their area of expertise.

    I was a high school math teacher for 23 years. I hope I was a good math teacher all those years. But if you were to put me in the music class, I wouldn't have been an effective teacher. And in too many of our schools of poverty, they're doing that. And it's wrong.

    What we need to do is to make sure that we have a well-trained, certified work force that is stable, provide the services and programs, and especially the wrap-around services, so that we remove obstacles from students that don't enable them to learn.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, my math says my time is up.

    Dennis Van Roekel and Kevin Chavous, thanks so much for joining us.

    KEVIN CHAVOUS: Thank you very much.

    DENNIS VAN ROEKEL: Thank you. 

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As the Supreme Court took up arguments last week in two high-profile cases looking at same-sex marriage, many users of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media took to changing their profile pictures. What was behind that viral online campaign?

    We ask two journalists from the website Daily Download.

    Lauren Ashburn is the site's editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief and host of CNN's "Reliable Sources."

    Welcome back to you both.

    HOWARD KURTZ, Newsweek/CNN: Thanks.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Howard, what was behind this? How did all this get started?

    HOWARD KURTZ: The Human Rights Campaign, which of course lobbies for same-sex marriage, put out this logo against a red background, punk equals sign, and Facebook itself says that 2.7 million more people changed their profile picture to adopt some form of this logo, and people were pretty creative, than usual. And this amounted to 120 percent increase.

    And you won't be surprised to know that the most active people were around 30 years old.

    LAUREN ASHBURN, Daily-Download.com: And what's interesting also about this, Judy, is that this logo, the person who created this logo said it exceeded her wildest expectations of being shared across the Web.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, this started as the Supreme Court was having these arguments last Tuesday and Wednesday. Who was doing this?

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Most of it, you know, it was -- most of it was the younger generation, 30-year-olds. And, you know, 80 percent of 30-year-olds are on Facebook.

    But, in addition to that, there was some really high-profile people who did it, including Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart, there was one that was put up.

    HOWARD KURTZ: Here we go.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: A red velvet cake. And you can see that the icing on that is the equal signs. And there was also George Takei, the "Star Trek" -- of "Star Trek" fame, now soon-to-be-"Star Wars" fame -- wrote for those opposed to marriage equality. And instead of the two lines, he made it into a division symbol.

    HOWARD KURTZ: And other corporations are getting involved as well. I think the next one was Bud Light and going to the creative aspect. There we see two beer cans. And you will like the next one.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: My favorite is this of the two corgis. It's such a cute picture. It was just done by an average -- an average person.

    And then Beyonce weighed in. And she has a lot of heft in social media. She has 44 million followers. And what she did, instead of changing or making a symbol, she wrote, if you like it, you should be able to put a ring on it. And that is, of course, a play ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Playing off of her song.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: ... of her popular song.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Howard, how often does something like this happen, where an organization, an advocacy organization gets something going and -- it was an issue getting a lot of news coverage last week. But how unusual was it that it just took off like this?

    HOWARD KURTZ: The way it spread like wildfire is pretty unusual, but in this age of social media, everyone is trying to do some version of this. What I think is interesting here is rather than just create a page and you get a certain number of likes, the fact that people could adopt this and put their own twist on it, make it their own, do it and make it a little funny is what contributed to its popularity.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: In previous times, you have breast cancer and people turn things pink, right?

    You had Arab spring and everybody would turn their profile picture -- there was a piece that you could put over it that was green. And so everybody who was supporting what was happening there would turn their Facebook profile green.

    HOWARD KURTZ: Although there was such a tide of this that some people started to find it a little bit annoying or perhaps feel like it was trivializing the issue. But as a galvanizing tool, boy, it's hard to match these kinds of results.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Trivializing because some of them were silly or didn't -- made you take it not as seriously.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Right, yes.

    I think there are people who said -- that we're reporting on who said, why would you put corgis there lying upside-down as something to talk about gay marriage rights? And so there were people who just thought it did, it minimalized this very important issue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What does something like this accomplish? I mean, when that many people are saying they agree, yes, it's kind of a referendum on what some in the public are thinking, Howard. But what does it do for the movement? I mean, do we know?

    HOWARD KURTZ: Well, since the issue that galvanized this is the Supreme Court taking this pair of cases, I don't know that it's going to change any five justices' opinions.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Although there was a very funny cartoon that said -- of Justice Kennedy saying, can we rule yet? Well, have we checked in with Facebook?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I saw that.

    HOWARD KURTZ: Right. Right.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: We have to check in and see who worked ...

    HOWARD KURTZ: And it does have the potential, I think, to turn off or alienate people who are on the other side of this issue who don't support same-sex marriage.

    And there's -- even though the polls show now 58 percent in a Washington Post survey supporting same-sex marriage, there's still a lot of people in a lot of states that are opposed to it. But it raises the visibility I think in a way that we haven't seen and probably energizes those who feel like this is the moment that gay marriage is finally getting cultural acceptance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about those on the other side of this issue who are not -- who don't think that same-sex marriage should be legalized?

    LAUREN ASHBURN: We did some research into that. And the comparisons are vast.

    The amount of momentum that gay rights advocates have on social media is 10 times that of anti-gay.

    HOWARD KURTZ: There was one page.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: There was one page that really we found on Facebook was a million stand for anti ...

    HOWARD KURTZ: Traditional marriage.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Right, anti-gay marriage. And it had only 3,000 likes. JUDY WOODRUFF: That's reflective of the age of those who are using, which you both have been talking about.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Right. 80 percent of 30-year-olds are on social media. So, that's a very logical conclusion.

    HOWARD KURTZ: It could also reflect the fact that even Republicans who have been opposed to same-sex marriage have been pulling back or muting their opposition as it surges in popularity, which is in part because many younger people grew up thinking there's no problem with this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, as Facebook is being used more and more as a political tool, we find the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has announced that he's going to himself get more involved in political issues. I heard his name connected with immigration in the last week.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Immigration and education.

    He's forming a new political group. He has already hired lobbyists, both Republican- and Democrat-leaning lobbyists. And he is interested in championing causes that benefit him, obviously. He would like more visas for skilled workers. So, he has an incentive to really get involved in issues like this.

    HOWARD KURTZ: But Zuckerberg, who is a wealthy guy, is entitled to use his money any way he wants, to push for any position that will help him or his company, but I do think there's a danger here if he becomes associated with one side of divisive political issues.

    People who just want to use Facebook to check in with their friends and post pictures of their children might be turned off if it seems excessively political.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: I don't know. CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, came after an investor during a meeting. The investor didn't like the fact that he had supported gay rights. And he said to the investor, I don't care.

    And I think people are still going to Starbucks.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It's an interesting question, though, because so many people are using Facebook, and then Zuckerberg is clearly associated with an issue on one side or the other. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is.

    HOWARD KURTZ: Exactly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Howard Kurtz, Lauren Ashburn, thank you both.

    LAUREN ASHBURN: Thank you.

    HOWARD KURTZ: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You can weigh in online. Do you think these types of social media campaigns can influence change? Go to our website to be part of that conversation. 

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    Graffiti on a wall in West Beirut. Photos courtesy of Bob Harris.

    They live continents apart -- Symon in Kenya and Bo in Cambodia -- but they have a common thread. Both started small businesses with microloans they received through the networking website Kiva.

    Kiva's website lets users donate $25 as a loan to people around the world who are seeking to start their own businesses and have been screened by organizations in the field. Once the loan is repaid, the donor can contribute the amount again or withdraw it.

    Writer Bob Harris contributed his $25 numerous times and then decided to meet some of the people he helped fund. In "The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time", the Ohio native traveled to far-off lands to meet Symon and Bo and dozens of other microloan recipients.

    Harris spoke to us about some of the clients he met and the impressions they made. He used pseudonyms for several people, although they didn't request it, saying he felt a sense of responsibility for their safety.

    Bo's Story

    Bo works on some of her plants in the outskirts of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.

    "Bo" is about 60 years old, a "sweet lady" who sells morning glories at market and helps her son run a motorcycle-taxi business. Of her business acumen, Harris wrote in his book:

    "This tiny Cambodian grandma picking flowers by the side of the road has built a more robust business and retirement portfolio than at least half the Americans I know."

    She buys seeds for $5 and makes a healthy profit by selling the attractive flowers for $40 at market. "I remember thinking, 'I'm totally in the wrong business'," Harris recalled, laughing.

    She had a persistence that characterized many of the microloan recipients. "There are very few clients I met who tried one thing and then succeeded," said Harris. "Generally, they try five or 10 things, and when something goes bad, they try another." Like them, Bo experimented with several products before she found what worked, and is using the profits from her morning glories to help fund her other projects.

    Symon's Story

    Symon and Jenn show off their cow Grace, a Guernsey hybrid who produces more milk than most local cows in Kenya.

    Symon and his wife Jenn live in rural Kenya near the city of Murang'a. They purchased a cow, who they named Grace, through an organization called Juhudi Kilimo. The group facilitates the sale of high-yielding dairy cows, which can be milked twice a day. The second batch of milk is what pays off the loan, which generally takes about a year, said Harris.

    The program is doing well and a lot more dairy is being produced in the region, so Juhudi Kilimo is now looking for more distribution and supply chains, Harris said. (Read more about the group's work.)

    Harris wrote about trying to get an uncooperative Grace to pose for her picture:

    "As I snap several photos, Symon and Jenn alternate between posing proudly, stumbling out of the way of the lurching animal, and laughing at the silly moment, big grins on their faces. Finally, Symon pats the cow's head and gives its neck a little push, and the cow obligingly turns her head toward the camera, too, as if to say, 'Fine, you win, let's get this over with.' Click. As group portraits go, it's as sweet as they come."

    Yvonne's Story

    A photo of Yvonne's neighborhood in Kigali, Rwanda, shows some newer houses in the distance.

    "Yvonne," a single mother of three, lives in Kigali, Rwanda. Through a neighbor, she learned to buy staples such as sweet potatoes and sorghum in bulk, and sell them in her neighborhood for a profit.

    "Eighteen months before I met her, she was renting a shack for the equivalent of about US$5 per month, and she and her three children were sleeping on a mat," said Harris. But by the time he came to her town, she had moved into a small but solid dwelling and could send her children to school. They lived in the back portion of the house and the front room served as the shop, "bursting with items all the way out onto the porch."

    Her first loan of US$140 was all she needed to get off the ground. Harris writes:

    "Yvonne's business model is very much the same one used by 7-Eleven and other convenience stores across America. I tell her this -- about shops just like hers on street corners in every city, playfully suggesting that she has the beginnings of an empire. She laughs, and for a moment, I can see the young girl she so recently was."

    Huseyn's Story

    Harris (seated) poses after getting the "best shave I've had in years" from Huseyn's barbershop in Beirut.

    "Huseyn," who is about 40, runs a barbershop with a couple of chairs in West Beirut. He's not as poor as the other clients Harris met, but still would have been unable to secure a conventional bank loan.

    He lives in a generally violence-free part of the city, but isn't too far from where former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated and where Sunni-Shiite tensions still smolder.

    But Huseyn stays above the fray. "He'll shave anybody; he doesn't care. A beard is a beard," Harris said.

    Lebanon was one of the places that Harris said his family and friends asked if he was nervous to go, and whether the people there liked Americans. "It was never an issue," he said about Lebanon and all the countries he visited. "What I received everywhere I went was a remarkable welcome, not because I'm an American, just because I'm a person."

    He said he's trying to correct some of those misperceptions in his book.

    Read about more Social Entrepreneurs and how one high school student is encouraging others to invest in Kiva loans.

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    By Nick Corcodilos

    When HR personnel are put in charge of hiring new employees, they often rely on database searches, keywords and collecting stacks and stacks of resumes. Headhunting expert Nick Corcodilos says these may not be the most effective strategies to find the right person for the job. Image by Art Glazer/Getty Images.

    Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

    In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees -- just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

    Question: Throughout my career I have gotten new jobs by meeting and talking to managers who would be my bosses. Now I keep running into the human resources roadblock in companies where I'd like to talk to a manager about a job. Honestly, I just don't see the reason for silly online application forms or for "screeners" who don't understand the work I do, when companies complain they cannot find the right talent. I really don't get it.

    Why do companies even have HR departments involved in hiring?

    Nick Corcodilos: Good question. Better question: Should human resources (HR) be in the recruiting and hiring business? My answer is an emphatic no for two main reasons, though there are many others. First, I believe HR is qualified only to recruit and hire other HR workers. HR is not an expert in marketing, engineering, manufacturing, accounting, or any other function. HR is thus not the best manager of recruiting, candidate selection, interviewing, or hiring for any of those corporate departments.

    Second, putting the critical tasks of recruiting and hiring in the hands of HR tacitly relieves departmental managers of what I believe are two of their most crucial management jobs -- finding and hiring good people.

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    In an article titled "The Recruiting Paradox," I offer employers three simple suggestions for improving recruiting:

    "Don't send a [human resources] clerk to do a manager's job, Put your managers in the game from the start, and Deliver value to the candidate throughout the job application process."

    I think companies suffer when they subject applicants to the impersonal and bureaucratic experience of dealing with HR.

    Which brings me to the third reason HR should be taken out of the recruiting and hiring business: HR has no skin in the game. It virtually doesn't matter who is recruited, processed, or hired because HR isn't held accountable. It's hardly HR's fault, but it's a rare company that rewards or blames HR for the quality of hiring. HR is typically insulated as a "necessary overhead function."

    Don't get me wrong: There are some very good people working in HR, and there may be a legitimate role for HR in many companies. But HR's domination of recruiting and hiring has led to a disaster of staggering magnitude in our economy. In the middle of one of the biggest talent gluts in American history, employers complain they can't fill jobs.

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    According to NewsHour's latest estimate, nearly 27 million Americans are currently looking for work, either because they are unemployed or under-employed. (The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] reports 12 million unemployed. I prefer the NewsHour figure because it tells us just how big the pool of available talent is.) Concurrently, BLS also reports that 3.7 million jobs are vacant.

    What does HR call this 7:1 ratio of available talent to vacant jobs? It has a special term. HR departments and employers call this 7:1 edge "the great talent shortage!"

    While the economy has put massive numbers of talented workers on the street, HR nonetheless complains it can't find the workers it needs. That's no surprise when HR's idea of finding talent is to resort to database searches and keyword filtering, which are disastrously inadequate methods for finding and attracting the best hires.

    The typical HR process of recruiting and hiring is most generously described as "hiring who comes along" via job boards and advertisements. It's a rare (and precious) HR worker who gets up from behind the computer display to actually go find, meet, and bring home good candidates.

    "The typical explanation for why HR recruiters have no time to recruit actively is that they have too many resumes to sort. This very real problem is solved easily: Stop soliciting and accepting resumes." Go recruit! (That's just one of "Seven Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make.")

    I could write pages about corporate maladies that arise from employers' over-reliance on HR to recruit and hire. Instead, I'm just going to list some of the ways HR can kill any company's competitive edge by interfering with these management functions:

    Wasting money. Last year, almost a billion dollars was sucked up by just one online "job board," Monster.com, which was reported as the "source of hires" only 1.3% of the time by employers surveyed. HR could be advocating for the personal touch in recruiting, but blows through massive recruiting budgets with little to show.

    Hiring who comes along. Job boards and similar advertisements--the high-volume, passive recruiting tools HR relies on--yield only applicants "who come along," not those the company should be pursuing.

    Wasting good hires. Good candidates are lost because database algorithms and keyword filters miss indicators of quality that are not captured by software. And highly qualified technical applicants are rejected because they are screened not by other technical experts, but by HR, which is too far removed from business units that need to select the best candidates.

    Mistaking quantity for quality. HR has turned recruiting into a volume operation--the more applicants, the better. This results in impersonal, superficial reviews of candidates and quick, high-volume yes/no decisions that are prone to error.

    Excusing unprofessional behavior. Soliciting far more applicants than HR can process properly results in unprofessional HR behavior, angry applicants and damage to corporate reputations. HR routinely suggests that the high volume of applicants it must process "explains" its rude behavior--while it expects job applicants to adhere to strict rules of professional conduct.

    Failing to be accountable. Because HR does not report to the departments it recruits for, it tends to behave inefficiently and unaccountably with impunity. The bureaucracy grows without checks and balances, and the hiring process becomes dull, rather than honed to a true competitive edge.

    Marginalizing professional networks. HR tends to isolate managers from the initial recruiting and screening process, further deteriorating the already weak links between managers and the professional communities they need to recruit from.

    Bureaucratizing a strategic function. The complexity of corporate HR infrastructure encourages isolation and "siloing." Evidence of this is HR's over-emphasis of legal risks in recruiting and its administrative domination of this top-level business function.

    Wasting time. With recruiting and hiring relegated to an often cumbersome HR process, managers cannot hire in a timely way. Good candidates are frequently lost to the competition. (HR doesn't have to deal with the consequences, but when a good sales candidate is lost to a competitor, the sales department loses twice.)

    Killing a company's competitive edge. HR owns two competing interests, further dulling a company's competitive edge: the hiring process and legal/compliance functions. Because hiring is a strategic, competitive function, it deserves its own advocate. If business units and managers took full responsibility for recruiting and hiring (while HR handled compliance) the daily abrasion of these competing interests would strengthen a company's edge.

    This situation didn't arise overnight. It crept up on business in the form of a smothering shroud of red tape. Today this HR bureaucracy is propped up by an industry of "consultants," "professionals," and "experts" who advise corporate HR departments about how to maintain their administrative hegemony over the key differentiator that defines any company--its people.

    HR should get out of the recruiting and hiring business and give this strategic function back to business units and managers who design, build, manufacture, market and sell a company's products. Give recruiting and hiring back to the people who actually do the business. Who better to decide who's worth hiring? Who better to aggressively go find the people who will give the company an edge?

    In the meantime, job hunters have no choice but to "Outsmart The Employment System."

    Please share your thoughts below about whether HR should relinquish its recruiting and hiring functions. Have you experienced problems with HR in this regard? What do you think should be done about it? (And if you think I'm wrong, please tell me why.)

    Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters...and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?" and "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps."

    Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

    Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown -- NewsHour's blog of news and insight. Follow Paul on Twitter.Follow @PaulSolman


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