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

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    Click to enlarge. Photo by Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images.

    "Houston, uh, we have a problem." It looks like these astronauts were dropped off in the wrong place -- like the line to buy Powerball tickets, maybe? Write a caption to the photo above, and we'll send the author of our favorite a NewsHour mug.

    How it works: Every other Tuesday, we post a photo. You compose a caption, submit it in the comments section below or on NewsHour Art Beat's Facebook page by 5 p.m. ET Friday.

    We'll announce the best caption on Art Beat the following Tuesday and send the winner an official NewsHour mug. The tiebreaker for similar or identical entries will be earliest time of submission.

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    Watch Video Hari Sreenivasan hosted a Google Hangout with Dr. Robert Epstein, whose study on search engine rankings show that results can be manipulated in a way that may influence voter preference.

    Where do you get your political news? Perhaps you have a favorite blog, or scan Twitter for links to interesting articles. Most likely you look for information about candidates using a search engine. But what if those search results had been manipulated? Dr. Robert Epstein, Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, addressed that very question in his latest study, which he will present at the Association for Psychological Science Convention in May.

    "We've discovered that search engine rankings can be manipulated in ways that dramatically change voter preferences," Epstein told PBS NewsHour's Hari Sreenivasan in a Google Hangout on Friday.

    In the study, Epstein and his team used a mock search engine, real material from Australia's 2010 Prime Ministerial Election and three different test groups. When the study's participants looked up candidates on the search engine, one test group found search rankings favorable to candidate Tony Abbott, the second found rankings favorable to opposing candidate Julia Gillard and the last group had rankings that didn't favor either candidate. Epstein found that the differing results could influence people to vote for one candidate over the other by margins of 15 percent or more. "What we are showing is ... search rankings alone can shift people," he said.

    Epstein said the reasoning behind such a large change in opinion is that search placement affects people's thinking. "People trust higher-ranked search results and that's what we are doing, we are just tapping into that phenomena and applying it to politics."

    The findings have large implications both in the United States and globally. If search engines were to manipulate political search results, they could potentially determine who wins and who loses, according to Epstein. "This introduces though, another entirely new realm of influence and one which has no parallel in my opinion," he said. "What is happening here is that a company could literally influence the outcome of elections a) with no one knowing and b) with no possible balance, no corrective. In other words no one there counteracting what they are doing, so that's extremely dangerous."

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

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    Stacks of Veterans Affairs claim folders overtake a regional office in Winston-Salem, N.C. These photos were included in a 2012 report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General.

    While researching our story on the Veterans Affairs benefits backlog, we saw this Veterans Affairs Administration Inspector General's report that points out that at one VA center, a regional office in Winston-Salem, N.C., had so much paper that it "created an unsafe workspace for (VA) employees and appeared to have the potential to compromise the integrity of the building."

    The IG report, from August, 2012, found that at this one office alone, "37,000 claims folders were stored on top of file cabinets." The report says that this "creates an unsafe environment for the employees, overexposes many claims folders to risk of fire/water damage, inadvertent loss and possible misplacement, as well as impedes (Veterans Affairs Regional Office) productivity by reducing access to many folders in a timely manner."

    According to the report, the sheer weight of the combined folders actually exceeded the load-bearing capacity of the building itself.

    As claims continue to pour in, almost one million veterans are currently waiting for their benefit claims to be processed, according to an investigation conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The CIR's report also showed that the average wait time for a disability claim to be resolved is 279 days. First time claims take longer, averaging 318 days, and the wait time has grown 2,000 percent in the past four years.

    The managers at the Winston-Salem office told the inspectors that they asked the VA's regional headquarters for extra space, but "never received a formal written response to that request."

    This might be evidence of the fact that since 2009, the VA has processed a record number of claims, more than four million since 2009, according to a VA spokesman in Washington.

    In a conversation on April 1, the office's director C.J. Rawls told PBS NewsHour that the file problem has been solved with a new storage system. "I'm happy to tell you that we've moved those files." A local news program has pictures of the newly file-free facility, which you can see here.

    The inspectors took photos of the file overload, which they included in their 2012 report, and can be seen here:

    From the IG's report: "We noticed floors bowing under the excess weight to the extent that the tops of file cabinets were noticeably unlevel throughout the storage area."

    "Narrow aisles due to file cabinet placement may also impede employees from exiting file storage areas in case of emergency or crisis situations."

    "Sloping floors cause cabinets to shift due to the increased weight over time."

    After the inspection, Rawls wrote a staff memo. Among its directives: "Do not put overflow files on top of the cabinets."

    Rawls said that they put some of the files in temporary storage, while they built a "high-density file cabinet system."

    She explained that about 60,000 records that hadn't been referenced in the last year were moved permanently to a storage facility offsite. "But we can get them back in three to five days if anybody files a supplemental claim" and needs them, she said.

    Rawls said the changes were in place and fully operational as of March.


    Returning Veterans Face Huge Backlog, Disorganization in Fight for Benefits

    Where are Veterans Waiting the Longest for Benefits?

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    Swarms of cicada nymphs emerge from the ground. Photo by Michael Raupp.

    On Friday, we wrote about the impending arrival of the 17-year cicadas -- the root sucking, egg laying, battery-sized bugs that will emerge from the earth en masse around Memorial Day and emit a chorus of mating sounds louder than a lawnmower.

    We will cover them eagerly as they climb out from the soil and commence disrupting our sleep. But in the meantime, I wanted to point you to some fun cicada-themed activities and events.

    Radiolab has teamed with WNYC to launch a major citizen science project to track the Brood 2 cicadas. The cicada nymphs will emerge when the soil reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit. This site tells you how to build your own homemade $80 detector to predict their arrival. It even has a step-by-step assembly guide. (You can also buy a soil thermometer.) People have been asked to mark their detectors on this map, and update when they detect 64 degree Fahrenheit soil.

    This National Geographic site has audio of cicada calls, quick facts and a visual of the insect's size relative to a paper clip.

    And this site has tips on how to cook cicadas -- they're said to be "crispy and crunchy, with a nutty, almondlike, flavor."

    "The best time to eat cicadas," it reads, "is just after the nymphs break open their skin and before the exoskeleton turns hard. They are best harvested in the cool of the morning when the insects are more sluggish. Experienced gatherers focus on the adult females, each of which can contain up to 600 nutritious eggs."

    Here are some recipes from the University of Maryland. Includes recipes for "Cicada Dumplings," "Cicada Stir Fry" and "Sizzling Chili Cicadas."

    Plus, if you live near New York, the Staten Island Museum has a cicada exhibition through Spring 2014.

    For more information, check out www.magicicada.org and Cicada Mania.


    Natalie Angier and the New York Times has this beautiful story on dragonflies and their hunting methods. Includes wonderful descriptions of how they feed:

    "When setting off to feed on other flying insects," she writes, "dragonflies manage to snatch their targets in midair more than 95 percent of the time, often wolfishly consuming the fresh meat on the spur without bothering to alight."

    From Slate: Bacteria designed to live on caffeine

    Science on the runway: PopSci looks at how a fashionista uses fossils, insect shells and real meteorites in his designs.

    The Knight Science Journalism Tracker has this interesting write-up on allegations of plagiarism and errors in Jane Goodall new book.

    The Bad Astronomer's Phil Plait has this amazing video taken on Engineering Open House day at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign last month. This is their demo of how much pressure it takes to crush a concrete cylinder. The results, the video promises, are startling.


    The body: Can you eat yourself to death? This is a pay-to-read article from New Scientist, but it's worth it.

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

    Video credit: A cicada emerges from the soil. Video by Michael Raupp.

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    Watch Video

    Revisit NewsHour's interview with retiring NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who discussed why summer droughts in the summer of 2012 were linked to climate change.

    James Hansen, an outspoken advocate for action on climate change, announced Monday that he is retiring after nearly 50 years as a climate scientist for NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    Hansen, 72, wrote in an email that he was stepping down from the organization in order to spend more time on his campaign to cut carbon emissions. He first testified about the impending threat of climate change before Congress in 1988.

    PBS NewsHour interviewed Hansen in August about how the extreme heat events of 2012 were connected to human activity and climate change.

    Hansen and his team at Goddard began publishing climate models in 1981 that projected the influence of carbon dioxide on global warming. Hansen's models showed that the increase in greenhouse gases would have drastic consequences far earlier than previous studies suggested. He has continued to publish studies and articles on the topic, including a paper in 2012 in which Hansen coined the term "climate dice" to explain how climate change increases the odds for weather disasters like droughts, hurricanes and heat waves.

    Climate change has become a moral issue to Hansen, as he said in the email. The New York Times quoted his letter:

    "If we burn even a substantial fraction of the fossil fuels, we guarantee there's going to be unstoppable changes" in the climate of the earth, he said. "We're going to leave a situation for young people and future generations that they may have no way to deal with."

    Hansen spoke out against government authorities that he felt were not taking action to combat climate change or outright denying the problem. He has been a visible participant in climate change protests, and has been arrested twice for his role in these events. Most recently he was arrested at a protest in Washington, D.C., to stop the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring Canadian tar sand oil through the U.S.

    Once he has officially retired from government on Wednesday, Hansen plans to take up a greater role in lawsuits against state and federal governments for their lack of emission regulation, and lawsuits to stop further development in the Canadian tar sands.

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    Explore more news on climate from PBS NewsHour's Coping With Climate Change series

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    Watch Video President Barack Obama describes a new brain mapping initiative today in a speech from the White House.

    President Barack Obama unveiled the BRAIN Initiative today, a new collaborative effort to map the human brain and better understand how it works.

    "As humans we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter between our ears," Mr. Obama said.

    BRAIN -- which stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies -- will diagram how the brain learns, thinks and remembers. Using new neurotechnology, scientists will be able to understand how activity in specific cells in the brain affect behavior.

    In a live chat this afternoon on the White House website, National Institute of Health director Francis Collins said that this is an idea whose time has come. While neuroscientists have been able to study specific neurons and specific areas of the brain, there are trillions of connections and billions of neurons that work together. Scientists have never been able to map how the brain completes its tasks in real time, he said, and this initiative is an opportunity to finally understand that process.

    The president said that this project will give scientists the knowledge to cure diseases like Alzheimer's and advance biotechnology to treat traumatic brain injuries and other neurological problems.

    He compared the BRAIN Initiative to the Human Genome Project, a 13-year collaborative research effort to catalogue and study all of the genes in human DNA. These ambitious scientific research projects are an investment and generate economic growth, Mr. Obama said, citing that the Human Genome Project returned $140 to the economy for every dollar invested.

    The BRAIN Initiative is budgeted for approximately $100 million in fiscal year 2014 as a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation, as well as private partnership with organizations like the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

    This project is one of the administration's "Grand Challenges," proposed scientific and engineering projects to advance American research and technology.

    The BRAIN Initiative comes at a time when grants for scientific research have been significantly reduced as a result of the sequester. The president also said that cuts to science research will hinder young scientists' ability to enter the field.

    "When our leading thinkers wonder if it still makes sense to encourage young people to get involved in science in the first place because they're not sure whether the research funding and the grants will be there to cultivate an entire new generation of scientists, that's something we should worry about," he said.

    Related Links

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: With Congress poised to take up gun control legislation in the coming days, the National Rifle Association battled back today, as it tried to shift attention to a different set of proposals. They include calls for arming trained personnel in every public U.S. school.

    The NRA turned to former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson to chair what it calls the National School Shield Task Force. He laid out the centerpiece of its 225-page study in Washington.

    ASA HUTCHINSON, Former Undersecretary for Homeland Security: If you are interested in making our schools safer and to save children's lives, look at these recommendations seriously, and this -- the presence of an armed security in a school is a layer that is just as important as the mental health component.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Aimed at reducing violent crimes on school grounds, it is the NRA's latest push in the gun control debate. The report includes proposals for revised state laws to allow trained personnel to carry firearms on school grounds, training for designated school personnel to handle active shooting incidents, and mental health pilot programs to reduce bullying and identify potential threats.

    This review comes as Congress continues to pursue gun control legislation. The Republican-led House has not yet taken up bills in the almost two months since President Obama made this issue a priority at his State of the Union address.

    But, today, Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings highlighted one area where he said Congress should act.

    REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, D-Md.: Most Americans already think gun trafficking is a federal crime. I have news for you. It's not. They have no idea that there is no federal law targeting firearm traffickers who commonly use straw purchasers to buy guns for convicted felons and other dangerous criminals who cannot legally buy guns on their own.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Scrutiny of such purchases has renewed calls for universal background checks. Recent polling shows nearly nine in 10 Americans support near-universal background checks on all gun purchases.

    Calls for expansion of background checks and new penalties for gun trafficking has stymied action in the Senate. New legislation is expected on the floor when senators return from recess next week. It won't include bans on assault weapons and on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

    And five Republican senators, including Florida's Marco Rubio, had vowed to filibuster any new gun restriction. Still, some state legislatures have already taken action on their own. After weeks of negotiation, Connecticut legislators agreed on a package yesterday, among the most far-reaching in the country, including universal background checks for all gun sales and bans on new high-capacity ammunition magazines.

    Yesterday, leaders from both parties hailed the agreement.

    STATE REP. BRENDAN SHARKEY, D-Conn.: It's also critical that we send a message to Washington and to the rest of this country that this is the way to get this job done.

    STATE SEN. JOHN MCKINNEY, R-Conn.: At the end of the day, I think it's a package that a majority of people in Connecticut will be proud when we vote on Wednesday.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The bill is expected to pass both houses of the state General Assembly tomorrow.

    The president returns to Colorado tomorrow to press his gun control proposals.

    We get two views now on the NRA's plan and where it fits into the bigger debate right now, first Asa Hutchinson, whom we heard earlier and was the lead author of today's proposal on school safety. He's not an NRA employee, but is consulting with the group on this issue. I spoke with him earlier.

    Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, welcome to the NewsHour.

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we heard what you said today at the news conference. Why are more guns the answer to preventing violence in schools?

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, whenever there's a tragic incident in a school, the first person who is called and the shooting stops whenever a police officer or an armed guard arrives.

    That's when the shooting and the death stops. So the quicker the response, the more lives you save. And the best response can be when there's a school resource officer in the school or some other armed personnel. That's the reason that that's one of the solutions.

    There's many more parts to school safety, but that is an important part of it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But if someone is determined to come in to a school and harm people, why wouldn't they be able to overpower one or two individuals who are trained?

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, if someone tried to come into a school, first of all, hopefully, the access controls that we recommend, the perimeter security, the surveillance cameras, all of these will come into play to delay that activity or prevent it.

    But, sure, any good -- bad guy can go in and try to break the systems down and get through. And then it's a response capability. And the best response is somebody who is close and quick. You're either going to call the police to come in 15 minutes later or you're going to have someone there on site.

    And this is not an unusual proposal. We have had armed guards in the schools since Bill Clinton recommended it while he was president. We just haven't had sufficient.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me read you a comment from the person, the woman who founded and led the -- and still leads the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman. She said -- quote -- "There's no evidence that armed guards or police officers in schools make children safer. She said: "Columbine High School had an armed guard. Virginia Tech had a full campus police force."

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, that's why it's not just one solution. There's many solutions here.

    But, for example, the training has totally changed since Columbine. So we see what happened there. Improvements have been made. But, for example, who talks about the Pearl High School in 1997 whenever an assistant principal after having two students shot goes out in his truck to retrieve his .45 semiautomatic, goes back in and disarms the assailant?

    And so that indicates that there is evidence that you can stop an assailant whenever you have armed protection.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you mentioned that example earlier today.

    Congressman Hutchinson, I also want to quote what the Brady Campaign, founded in the name of Jim Brady, of course, who was terribly wounded the day President Reagan was shot back in 1981 -- the Brady Campaign said: "This is an effort that is missing the point," because what the American people want, they are saying, is a comprehensive, broad-based approach to reduce gun violence, in other words, more than just something that is focused on adding armed guards in schools.

    ASA HUTCHINSON: I would agree with part of it.

    What we need is a comprehensive approach to school safety. And you can pass all the laws you want in Washington in terms of restricting guns. Bad guys are still going to have access to guns. And they're still going to be a danger to the school.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're saying there's no place for any additional restrictions on guns in this country?

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I don't think it's going to solve the problem of loss of life in schools.

    And so if you want to address the problem of safety in schools, you have to have security measures in place. That's what schools all across this country are doing as we speak.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me also ask you about a -- as you know, there's a measure that is going to be before the Congress in the weeks to come, universal background checks or a version of background checks. The polls are all showing now that the vast majority of Americans, 90 percent of Americans, think that that's an appropriate way to go, to find out who is buying a gun, make sure they don't have some problem in their history before they're allowed to buy a gun.

    What's wrong with that?

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I agree that criminals shouldn't have guns, convicted felons and people who have been adjudicated with mental problems shouldn't have weapons, should not have access to them.

    They need to be adequately put into the system. We first need to fix ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Adjudicated, though. That -- but -- so someone who is being treated for a psychological problem wouldn't already be in a system, would they?

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I think the mental health professionals have some concerns about who is put into a database.

    And so you usually articulate it as to those who have been adjudicated. There's obviously threat assessments that have to be done otherwise. But that's a mental health issue as to who is put in the system. But the problem is, 23 states are not putting that information into the system right now, so fix the system first. Fix the system first.

    And that's the best way to prevent those who are not supposed to be getting weapons, firearms, from getting them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As a former member of Congress and as someone who was an official at the Department of Homeland Security, where do you see this issue going? Do you believe -- I mean, there's a lot more attention being paid to it. It's certainly in the media. The American public is saying they want something done.

    How do you -- where do you see it headed?

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, Mayor Bloomberg is spending tens of millions of dollars to advocate for gun control legislation.

    I would rather that money be spent in school safety programs. You can make a huge difference in safety across our country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And violence outside of schools?

    ASA HUTCHINSON: And where we're going in my judgment is Congress will debate, as they always debate, and what you can agree upon is some real measures that we have recommended for funding, for better coordination, for some changes in laws to provide for the school safety equation.


    That's where I think we can reach agreement now. The rest is going to be an ongoing debate.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, thank you very much for talking with us.

    ASA HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now for a different view.

    Mark Glaze is the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group of 900 mayors, including New York's Michael Bloomberg, advocating for changes to federal and state laws.

    Mark Glaze, welcome to the NewsHour.

    What do you make of this proposal by the group? It was under the auspices of the NRA. It was led by former Congressman Hutchinson. It's a package of proposals that includes one that would train armed guards and ideally have them in every school.

    MARK GLAZE, Executive Director, Mayors Against Illegal Guns: Well, it's a solution that nobody wants who is knowledgeable on the subject. Police think it's a bad idea. Teachers came out against it.

    They don't want these guns in their classrooms. They think the answer is better background checks and tougher gun laws to keep guns away from people who shouldn't have them so they don't wind up in the schools killing 20 kids my son's age.

    But it's altogether typical of the way the NRA has done business for a generation. It's legitimately their view that an armed society is a safe society and that the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But the irony of this is that we have so many guns in our society, around 300 million, because the NRA has systematically whittled away at modest restrictions, so that they can now make the argument that, with so many guns out there, you're never going to get them out of the hands of criminals. We had better arm everybody.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But they say -- you heard what he was saying. Among other things, he's saying it would serve as a deterrent.

    If someone has the intention of going into a school, harming children, harming anyone, knowing someone is there with a gun is much more likely to keep somebody from doing that. It would at least cause them to think twice.

    MARK GLAZE: You know, it's possible, but if you look at the mass shootings that we have had recently, they're all young men who are deeply troubled.

    And you have to ask yourself whether, you know, the Columbine shooters who actually went into a school that they attended and presumably knew there were armed guards there, though they may not, Virginia Tech, big security on the campus there -- if people are as troubled as they have to be to do the things that young men have done in recent years, I don't know that an armed guard is going to stop them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about his argument, though, that this is an important part of a package that would make schools safer? They are talking about other steps as well.

    MARK GLAZE: Well, I think that having armed guards in schools is something that school districts should have the choice to make. And some of them do.

    I know that some of our mayors in Michigan have had off-duty police officers in the classroom for a long time. And there's a general sense that there's a greater sense of comfort having police there than paid security guards.

    But I have to point out one last irony, that he assured people during the course of this event today that these security guards would be vetted, they would be safe because they would be given background checks, presumably to make sure that they were not felons or domestic violence perpetrators or seriously mentally ill, and could therefore carry a gun.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me broaden this out, Mark Glaze, and ask you about the overall effort to pass gun control legislation.

    What has happened to the momentum? After the Sandy Hook shooting back in December, there was a lot of -- it felt like there was momentum to do something about guns. Today, as Congress takes up legislation, we know that, as we mentioned, no assault weapons ban is included. A ban on or restrictions on high-capacity magazines are no longer included. What happened to that momentum?

    MARK GLAZE: Well, I think that people who thought this would be quick or easy have not followed this issue and have not really followed the Congress recently.

    I mean, Congress recently took more than 500 days to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which is, after all, about what it sounds like. It's about helping women against whom violence has been perpetrated. I never thought that this would be done immediately or very easily.

    I think what has happened is that a lot of senators and House members are still kind of living in a bygone era, when the NRA was the only game in town. Many of the senators who have not committed themselves or have said they will not have accepted a lot of NRA money and have known for a generation that there wasn't a lot of political support or much grassroots activism on our side of the ledger.

    That's one of the things that our mayors and 1.5 million grassroots supporters, many of whom came to us after the Newtown shooting, are trying to change. But this is going to take some time. I do think we will pass a very good background check bill and a good trafficking bill.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that now the focus of your efforts and other gun control groups to just -- mainly get background checks through? Is that what it's come down to?

    MARK GLAZE: Well, we think it's really important that assault weapons and also high-capacity magazines, which are after all what make mass shootings mass -- one person can fire for as long as they can as long as they have bullets, and they will have a lot of bullets.

    But we have always said that the biggest solution, if you had to choose just one, is making sure everybody gets a background check, because, you know, well over 90 percent of the firearms fatalities in this country are related to handguns, and not to assault weapons. And the best way to address that without getting in the way of what you or I can do with a gun dealer is to make sure you can pass a background check.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We heard the comment just now from Asa Hutchinson, but you also hear it from some Democrats, from, shall we say, gun rights' parts of the country, who say having the mayor of New York City as the face of the movement, part of this movement anyway, is -- may not be helpful, that there are folks who care about gun rights and they would rather see somebody who understands that culture leading the charge on this.

    MARK GLAZE: Well, you know, Mayor Bloomberg may not sell in some of those places in the same way Wayne LaPierre doesn't sell in other parts of the country.

    You can't make the mistake of tying the principle and the debate to some of the people who are involved in it. Mayor Bloomberg is the co-chair of a coalition that has almost 1,000 mayors in it today. More than 100 of them are Republicans. They're very different people who are all unified by one thing, that you can actually support the Second Amendment and have no intention of taking people's guns away, but still do much more to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

    So, I think people ought to focus on kind of the coalition and the ideas, rather than trying to demonize the person.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, just -- and just quickly, we mentioned states like Connecticut passing tougher gun control. But there are other states that are pushing back and loosening restrictions on guns.

    Could you end up losing the battle in the states at the same -- you know, at the same time you're trying to focus on Washington?

    MARK GLAZE: No, I don't think so.

    In fact, there's been a shift. The NRA has done most of the bad work that it's done under the radar and without us in Washington noticing for the past 10 or 15 years. I mean, state by state by state, they have methodically passed outrageous laws like the stand your ground law that resulted in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and no arrest for more than a month for the perpetrator, though he may not end up being guilty.

    They have done this across a range of issues. And so the fact that you're actually seeing some pushback and seeing some good laws passed, including in my home state of Colorado, which has a very strong libertarian streak and a high tradition of gun ownership, if you can do it there, you can probably do it anywhere.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Glaze with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, thank you for being with us.

    MARK GLAZE: Thank you.

    MARGARET WARNER: Follow our ongoing coverage of the guns debate on our home page.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.N. General Assembly adopted the first-ever treaty on global arms trade today. It was overwhelmingly approved 154-3, with Iran, North Korea, and Syria voting against it; 23 countries abstained, including China and Russia.

    It will require nations that ratify the pact to regulate the transfer of conventional arms from light weapons to combat aircraft. They will also have to ensure those weapons won't be used to commit acts of terror or organized crime. Supporters hope that will make the estimated $60 billion arms trade more transparent.

    Unemployment in the Eurozone hit a record 12 percent for the month of February. It's the first time the rate has been that high since the euro currency was created in 1999; 12 percent unemployment translates to more than 19 million people out of work across the 17-nation Eurozone. The figures also came out before the recent economic crisis in Cyprus.

    President Obama asked Congress to invest $100 million dollars next year to help unlock the mysteries of the human brain. The so-called Brain Initiative Project would map brain functions, with the hopes of eventually finding cures for disorders like Alzheimer's and epilepsy. The president unveiled the plan before a group of scientists at the White House.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Think about what we could do once we do crack this code. Imagine if no family had to feel helpless watching a loved one disappear behind the mask of Parkinson's or struggle in the grip of epilepsy. Imagine if we could reverse traumatic brain injury or PTSD for our veterans who are coming home.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The White House is slated to release President Obama's budget next week. The president has maintained that investment in education and research are critical, even in the face of spending cuts.

    The Arkansas attorney general is opening an investigation into an ExxonMobil crude oil pipeline that ruptured last week. Exxon has been asked to keep all documents and information related to the spill and cleanup efforts. The spill, about 20 miles northeast of Little Rock, forced 22 residents to evacuate their homes as crude oil bubbled up onto their properties from the pipeline. Exxon has agreed to cooperate with any investigation, and the pipeline remains shut.

    March was the best month for U.S. auto sales in at least six years. Ford and General Motors each reported their sales rose about 6 percent, and Chrysler posted five percent gains. Nissan had its best showing in company history, with sales up one percent. Low interest rates and new models helped drive the sales, but another factor was the need to replace older cars. The average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads is more than 11 years.

    Those auto sales reports drove the Dow Jones industrial average to another record high on Wall Street today. It gained 89 points to close at 14,662. The Nasdaq rose more than 15 points to close above 3,254.

    Subaru announced a recall of 200,000 of its all-wheel-drive vehicles to fix a brake problem. It affects the Legacy and Outback models from the years 2005 to 2009. Salt used on icy roads in the winter could cause their brake lines to rust and leak fluid. That could result in longer vehicle stopping distances and increase the risk of a crash. So far, no accidents have been reported.

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

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    MARGARET WARNER: We turn again to the Korean Peninsula, where there was yet another escalation in rhetoric today, as North Korea declared it was reactivating its nuclear facilities.

    The announcement came on North Korean state television.

    WOMAN: The General Department of Atomic Energy decided to adjust and alter the use of existing nuclear facilities. This includes readjusting and restarting all nuclear facilities in Yongbyon. This work will be put into practice without delay.

    MARGARET WARNER: At issue, a plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant both at Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang. The reactor was shuttered in 2007 amid disarmament talks. A year later, the North destroyed the facility's cooling tower.

    But, in 2009, North Korea pulled out of the talks, and it revealed its uranium enrichment program in 2010. Today's announcement follows leader Kim Jong-un's weekend pledge to build up the nation's nuclear capability.

    KIM JONG-UN, North Korean Leader: It is on the basis of a strong nuclear strength that peace and prosperity can exist and so can the happiness of people's lives.

    MARGARET WARNER: Last December, the North successfully launched a long-range rocket. And, in February, the country carried out its third nuclear test, leading to another round of United Nations sanctions.

    Today, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warned, nuclear threats are not a game.

    U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: Things must begin to calm down, as this is a situation made worse by the lack of communication. It could lead down a path that nobody should want to follow.

    MARGARET WARNER: And in Seoul, South Korea, residents expressed unease.

    WOMAN: North Korea threatens us every day. I am very anxious.

    MARGARET WARNER: The Pentagon said today a second U.S. guided-missile destroyer has been deployed to the Western Pacific on a missile defense mission.

    This afternoon in Washington, Sec. of State John Kerry met with South Korea's foreign minister.

    SEC. OF STATE JOHN KERRY, United States: Let me be perfectly clear here today. The United States will defend and protect ourselves and our treaty ally the Republic of Korea.

    MARGARET WARNER: The current condition of the North Korean facilities isn't known, nor how long it will take to restart them. 

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    MARGARET WARNER: For more, we turn to veteran CIA officer Joseph DeTrani, who also served as North Korea manager in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He now heads the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

    Mr. DeTrani, welcome back.

    JOSEPH DETRANI, Intelligence and National Security Alliance: Thank you.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, how alarming a development is this, North Korea relaunching these nuclear facilities?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: I think it's significant, very significant.

    Certainly, their admission that they have a highly enriched uranium program, which we knew all along, but they never admitted to having this program, that's significant. Reconstituting the Yongbyon plutonium facility, it will take a few years, but that's significant.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, how long will it take? What condition is that -- let's take the plutonium reactor, which I gather used to supply, produce most of the nuclear fuel for whatever they -- what they had.


    MARGARET WARNER: How long will it take to get that up and running again?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Well, the sense is, it's in disrepair. It's been 2007 when they took it down and the cooling tower.

    So the sense would be at least a few years, two to two-and-a-half, three years to get it up and running.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, we already know that they have enough fissile material, it's believed, for, what, six to eight bombs, four to eight bombs.

    And, in fact, they have had their own nuclear tests. So what is the big deal about restarting this plant?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Well, it's producing more fissile material, more plutonium for more nuclear weapons.

    And that's what Kim Jong-un said the other day, enhancing their nuclear weapons program. They're talking about building more nuclear weapons using plutonium with this facility, and now admitting to using highly enriched uranium for another path to nuclear weapons.

    MARGARET WARNER: All right, so explain what's the significance of the highly enriched uranium plant.

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Very much ...

    MARGARET WARNER: But why do they need it? Why -- how significant is it?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Well, this is something they have denied all along.

    For many years, they maintained they never had a highly enriched uranium program. They, in 2000 said -- said they have a uranium enrichment program. The key here is a highly enriched uranium program speaks to nuclear weapon. There's only one purpose for HEU, highly enriched uranium, and that's to build nuclear weapons, two paths to building nuclear weapons.

    MARGARET WARNER: And what's the advantage to them of having two paths?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Well, more nuclear weapons.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, but why pursue two different technologies?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Well, this is something that could be denied.

    They could -- highly enriched uranium is something that could be done very clandestinely. There are very little, if any signatures. So they could have significant capabilities, unbeknownst to the international community, while a plutonium facility is very visible.

    MARGARET WARNER: You mean just because of its size?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Because of its size and because of the technology. You could bury a highly enriched uranium program, and there are literally no signatures coming out of it.

    So, you could be building capabilities which no one is aware of.

    MARGARET WARNER: Especially because they have no weapons inspectors. There are no IAEA ...

    JOSEPH DETRANI: That's exactly right. That's exactly -- and when the IAEA was there, they were restricted to Yongbyon, just looking at the plutonium facility.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, the question that concerns, of course, Americans, among others, is how close are they to being able to build, construct a compact enough nuclear warhead that would fit atop a missile that could be delivered to the United States?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Those are very good points.

    The sense is -- I have been away for it for a number of months, but the sense is from the information available that they are not there obviously at this moment now. But with the third nuclear test they had in February, they're moving towards that capability. Again, the assessment is they are not there to miniaturizing such that they could marry it up to a missile delivery system.

    They're not there yet. They would need more time for that.

    MARGARET WARNER: And do they have the technical capability?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: I think the assessment is they do have the technical capability.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, what about their -- targeting their neighbor much closer to home, South Korea? Are they at the point that they have a deliverable nuclear device that could be, say, shot off by a rocket launcher, surface to surface, or dropped from a plane?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: That's an excellent point, excellent point.

    When you're a neighbor and you have the proximity and so forth, a nuclear weapon can be delivered as you just described. They could drop it out of an airplane if they need be. It doesn't have to be married up to a delivery system, a missile delivery system. So if you're in the neighborhood, the threat is very significant, and it's much more imminent.

    MARGARET WARNER: But are they -- what do they still need to do to be able to say that ...

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Well, you need to weaponize it.

    And the sense is, they have the capability of weaponizing the fissile material, putting it into a weapon. The next issue would be miniaturizing it so it could fit onto a delivery system, and that's -- the sense is that they're working towards that capability.

    MARGARET WARNER: Finally, as an expert in this field, can you derive any conclusion about intentions from announcements like this and decisions to restart operations like this?

    JOSEPH DETRANI: This is significant escalation.

    They are definitely getting everyone's attention. And by claiming to have a highly enriched uranium program, now admitting to the program, that is very significant. And it's obvious that Kim Jong-un wanted to get a message across. And he wanted to get a very stark message across, which he has done.

    MARGARET WARNER: Joseph DeTrani, thank you so much.

    JOSEPH DETRANI: Thank you. 

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The past few years have seen more gridlock in Washington and politics nationally than at any other time in memory. From the fights over health care reform and the debt limit to the so-called fiscal cliff, the two parties have seemed like separate armed camps.

    Is it possible for lawmakers to bridge the partisan divide?

    We put that question to former Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. She's now a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and she's co-chair of the group's Commission on Political Reform, charged with making the system work better.

    Sen. Snowe, thank you for joining us.

    You were -- as I added it up, you were in politics for, what, three or four decades.

    Why would you take on this task after you have retired?

    FORMER SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, R-Maine: Well, you know, it's interesting.

    I have often said, you know, at my age, you face enough drastic change. You're not seeking more. But I decided if I was going to continue in the political arena, perhaps I should contribute in a different way, given the polarization that's occurred, and most exponentially over the last few years. It has truly gotten worse.

    You could see the slow, steady erosion of what was happening and evolving. But it had clearly gotten worse to the point that we're no longer solving problems and most especially the big problems facing this country. So, I thought I could add my voice on the outside to encourage people to demand bipartisanship, to understand the value of bipartisanship and consensus-building in the political arena.

    What is the purpose of public service? It's to solve problems for the people you represent and certainly in the United States Senate, thinking about your state and thinking about your country as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you consider fixing the problem, or at least making some improvement in the problem? What would be a better way of operating in the Senate?

    OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, just looking at the last two years, I mean, I think it's a template. But it had been happening even before that, obviously.

    But just over the last two years, when we had, you know, some very serious problems, from the debt ceiling, take that, for example. You know, we didn't grapple with that issue at the very beginning in Jan. 2011. And we waited until the 11th hour in Aug. of 2011 to the final hour in the deadline. And, ultimately, the country experienced the first downgrade in its history of its credit rating.

    And that's going to cost, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, which I'm a senior fellow, $20 billion dollars over the next 10 years. And yet we knew the implications and ramifications of deferring, delaying, and obfuscating that kind of action. And so then you look at no budgets, and I know the Senate has finally passed a budget. And, obviously, it has to be reconciled, but for the first time in four years.

    We didn't address any of the major questions over the last two years. We just neglected, you know, the interests of the country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What can be done about it?

    OLYMPIA SNOWE: I think the American people have to demand change.

    And what I have been saying in my speeches all over the country is that it's time for all of us to provide rewards for those who are willing to engage in bipartisanship and working across the political aisle and providing a political penalty for those who don't.

    I mean, after all, if you see the emergence of groups on both sides, from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, I mean, how did they get mobilized? Through social media and through the Internet. And the same can be true for those who want to see their country work and want their political system to work.

    I mean, they're fearful about the future, simply because they see the debilitation of the political process in Washington. It really has frustrated, but it's angered people. It's made them fearful about the future.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You know, with all due respect, Senator, I hear many analysts say, yes, the problem is on both sides, but more of the problem is with your party, with the Republicans.

    In fact, respected political scientists Norman Ornstein and Tom Mann wrote a back last year. The thrust of it was that it's the Republicans who have been the most ideologically extreme, the least willing to compromise, the most dismissive of the other party. How do you see that?

    OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, you know, I don't disagree with them that, certainly, Republicans, you know, have also induced where we are today in terms of the partisanship and more filibusters. I would agree with that.

    You know, I didn't -- I don't support all of the filibusters. I think there were instances that were legitimately, when the majority leader doesn't allow the minority to offer amendments. So the whole process has broken down in the United States Senate.

    I think more than anything else is what institutionally has occurred in the Senate. Yes, it started certainly with the Republicans instigating more filibusters . And, you know, it becomes tit for tat over the time. It depends on which position each side is in. If the majority becomes the minority, the minority becomes the majority, they use each other's tactics.

    And so the point where the process wasn't working, nothing is happening in the committees to build up on legislation, to work on legislation, and no amendments. So the whole process had shattered. And this falls to both sides. And there's no question the Republicans have that responsibility, as well as Democrats, to make the system work.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But what is it? I mean, in the mind -- if you were again a member -- and you were a member of Congress for a long -- for, as we said, several decades.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: You're hearing many in your own party say to you, back in your district or back in your state, don't compromise. Stand on principle.

    And then you see polls perhaps that show most Americans want Washington to work. And you think it should work. But then there's really no pressure on you to work with the other side, because you're not rewarded for that. You may not get reelected if you work for the other side. How do you see that tension?


    And I think there has to be changes in that sense, I think, even at the local levels, in terms of, you know, opening up primaries and so on, so that, you know, elected officials -- and redistricting, for that matter, for the House of Representatives have more independent commissions.

    But I think, absolutely, the fact is, if you had a process that was working, you know, and you had amendments, and people on both sides had the opportunity to weigh in, the rank and file, then you can say, listen, I tried to modify this legislation, make changes, make it better, this is what I was able to accomplish, and let the process work, and then you can explain to your constituents, you know, what you're able to support and the reasons why.

    But now, when you say it's all or nothing, it becomes the parliamentary system that it has been, at least over the last two years, where both sides are working in unity and political blocs, rather than letting the -- especially in the Senate.

    And I say it's for the leadership too and for the president. I mean, frankly -- and, sometimes, it's in the interest of the leaders to centralize the decision-making in their hands and concentrate it there, rather than allowing the rank and file to build support for various initiatives.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, let me ask you another question about your own party, the Republicans.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: The leadership of the party recently conducted what they called an autopsy to look at what went wrong in the election. And they said a lot of it was just communicating with the voters.

    But others are looking at it and saying it's some of the beliefs in the Republican Party that are out of the mainstream. Right now, on gun control, which is an issue before the country, your party is the party that's basically saying we don't need any more restrictions on guns.

    How do you see your party?

    OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, I think that there's no question the Republican Party has had a serious problem.

    I remember writing an op-ed piece last summer, before the national convention, in fact, on what they needed to do, but, even then, in many ways, almost too late for the perceptions that had already been embedded about the Republican Party, which many of them are realistic, I mean, too rigid, too inflexible, too intolerant, too, you know, exclusive.

    Certainly, as a Republican within the -- as a Republican member of the Senate and having been a Republican almost all my life, I have seen what has changed in the Republican Party. It wasn't the party that I joined, obviously, or served during my time in office.

    But that doesn't mean to say it can't change. And they're recognizing that. But it's going to be more than communications, absolutely. It has got to be the policies. They have got to understand what the average person needs in America. They have got to be more tolerant, and not -- and be more inclusive in reaching out to people.

    And, obviously, that's why they have lost women and lost Hispanics. We know the list. Not surprised by it, just because they know they have been intolerant of diversities within the party. So, how is it they can be tolerant of views outside of the party? So, that's what's got to change. And people understand what's happened within the Republican Party. And they're going to have to change.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And does that include on gun control?

    OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, that's one of the issues.

    I mean, obviously, I mean, everybody -- I think, basically, that's more or less -- more regional and geographic than it is even partisan. And I know that from my own state, for example. But I think that certainly they have to look at those issues as well and see what is it that makes reasonable, practical sense in this day and age and what occurred in the horrific event in Connecticut at Sandy Hook?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Sen. Olympia Snowe, we thank you.

    OLYMPIA SNOWE: Thank you. 

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    MARGARET WARNER: Next: allegations of widespread cheating by principals and teachers in Atlanta's public schools. The charges have tarnished the school system and triggered criminal indictments. Today marked an important deadline in the case.

    Early this morning, Tameka Goodson turned herself in to authorities at Fulton County Jail, the first of nearly three dozen former Atlanta educators required to surrender after being indicted in a systemwide cheating scandal.

    Fulton County district attorney Paul Howard announced the charges Friday.

    FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY PAUL HOWARD: The four principal crimes that are charged in the indictment are the statements and writings, false swearings, theft by taking, and influencing witnesses.

    MARGARET WARNER: Prosecutors say, as early as 2005, under pressure from the top, principals and teachers engaged in coordinated doctoring of students' standardized test scores.

    The charges range from giving students the correct answers to changing wrong answers to right ones. At the center of the scandal is former superintendent Beverly Hall. During her 12 years as its head, the Atlanta public school system gained attention for its meteoric progress, so much so that in 2009 Hall was named national superintendent of the year.

    She retired in 2011, just before a state investigation found evidence of cheating involving 178 educators, including 38 principals. The ex-school's chief now faces racketeering and other conspiracy charges, including theft.

    District attorney Howard:

    PAUL HOWARD: Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree that it took place, because, as we know, this took place in 58 of the Atlanta public schools. And it wouldn't have taken place if her actions had not made that possible.

    MARGARET WARNER: Prosecutors say Hall received bonuses tied to the falsely inflated test scores. Hall has denied any involvement in the cheating scandal. And, yesterday, some of the others accused also denied any wrongdoing to local press.

    FORMER SUPERINTENDENT MICHAEL PITTS, Atlanta Public Schools: I am actually considered a criminal for doing the best I can for children all my life?

    WOMAN: I can tell you Dr. Hall has never told me to cheat, nor have I told anyone else to cheat.

    MARGARET WARNER: Trial dates have not been set. Hall faces up to 45 years if convicted on all counts.

    As of 5:00 p.m. today, just 11 of the defendants had turned themselves in. And defense lawyers complained about some bonds that initially were set at one million dollars or higher.

    We look more closely at the cheating scandal with Mike Winerip, who's covering it for The New York Times.

    Mike, welcome to the program.

    The scope of this alleged operation is huge. How did it actually work? What were the methods teachers used, allegedly, to change or boost test scores?

    MIKE WINERIP, The New York Times: Well, the most basic changes, Margaret, were done by erasure, where wrong answers were turned right.

    The investigation showed that something like -- some of the schools, the odds of it happening randomly were a trillion to one. Principals often directed the teachers. The teachers -- there was one teacher, a case where he went into a locked testing room. He had a razor blade. He cut the cellophane on the test. He took the test out. He copied it. He returned it. He used a cigarette lighter to reseal the cellophane.

    MARGARET WARNER: And what was Superintendent Beverly Hall's role, again according to the prosecutors? In other words, is she accused of being the mastermind and ordering or directing this, or was it something less overt than that?

    MIKE WINERIP: At this point, it appears to be something less overt. There's no evidence, as her attorneys pointed out, that she actually sat in her office and said, I want cheating at Venetian Hills School or I want it at Parks Middle School.

    What there is of evidence is that people came to her directly. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Education Department, her own investigators said there's substantial cheating at these schools. And she did nothing substantial about it.

    MARGARET WARNER: You also wrote, I think, that under her system, if principals didn't consistently improve the scores at their school, they could be fired and often were.

    MIKE WINERIP: Yes, indeed.

    They were given three years to make the targets. And if they didn't, she told them they would be gone. And in the course of her decade or so there, something like 90 percent of the principals were replaced.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, you had a very interesting story -- you mentioned Venetian Hills Elementary School -- about how the special prosecutors appointed by the governor and an investigator cracked this case. And it involved an elementary teacher at Venetian Hills.


    Her name is Jackie Parks. And Jackie is a third grade teacher. And when Richard Hyde, the lead investigator for the special prosecutors, turned up there, for a couple of weeks, the teachers lied to him about whether they were involved. Jackie Parks indeed blocked his entry into their third grade class.

    But he kept coming back. And Ms. Parks is a very religious woman, and it weighed on her conscience. And she finally approached him and told him what happened. And what happened was a group of seven teachers, including herself, known as the chosen, sat in a room, a locked room with no windows and erased wrong answers and made them right.

    And because of her religion, her Christianity, she couldn't bear it anymore. And after she confessed to Mr. Hyde, he wired her an electronic wire and she recorded other teachers at the school.

    MARGARET WARNER: What about the real victims here, the children who were advanced to the next grade and the next grade despite not being ready? How much damage was done? Have they tried to quantify that? And what's being done to rectify things for them or to help them catch up?

    MIKE WINERIP: Well, there's no -- it's not known exactly how many children were negatively affected by this.

    When the new superintendent came in, Errol Davis, one of the first things he did was set up special remedial courses for the kids who had been at schools where there was cheating. Something like 8,000 students were included. The -- there was testimony at one of the schools from a teacher that she had students at a middle school who came in and were supposedly proficient in reading.

    And when she actually tested them, they were reading on the first grade level, because they had been passed as proficient, when they had actually flunked the test in previous years.

    MARGARET WARNER: Finally, when you look at the national picture, I mean, there are accusations of teacher or principal cheating like this in other parts of the country.

    Do you know if the Atlanta -- the scope of the Atlanta case, is this an aberration? Is Atlanta really an outlier, or is it possible there are other widespread operations like this?

    MIKE WINERIP: No, I don't believe it is an outrider.

    And I believe there are other operations like this. The problem is only Atlanta has invested the resources to find out. Most of the school systems don't want to know, Washington, D.C., the state of Ohio, what's going on now, what's going on in El Paso, Texas.

    And in Georgia, the former governor Sonny Perdue appointed two prosecutors, lead prosecutors in the state, a former attorney general, a former district attorney, the best investigator in the state, gave them an open budget and said find out what you can find out. And they eventually hired 50 investigators and were given a year's time.

    And they came up with the evidence. I believe that would be found at many, many other school districts if there were the political will to get to the bottom of these things.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Mike -- Mike Winerip of The New York Times, thank you very much.

    MIKE WINERIP: Thank you for having me, Margaret. 

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, we talk with one of the country's most acclaimed poets, Gerald Stern, as he looks back at more than 70 years of writing verse.

    Jeffrey Brown has our conversation, part of our occasional series on poets and poetry.

    JEFFREY BROWN: At 87, Gerald Stern has been writing poetry a long time and has been one of the nation's most honored poets. Now he's received a new honor for a collection of some of his earliest works.

    The prestigious Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress is given for the most distinguished book of verse published in the last two years. Stern won for his "Early Collected Poems." His newest book is called "In Beauty Bright."

    And welcome to you.

    GERALD STERN, Author, "Early Collected Poems": Hi, Jeff.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What happened when you look -- I want to talk about these early -- this early collection. What happened when you looked back at the early poems? What did you see?

    GERALD STERN: Well, you know, I paid a lot of attention to it in the last couple of days, because I felt there it was my duty in terms of this prize to read from that book, rather than recent poems.

    And what struck me was two things, the overwhelming similarity of what I'm doing now and the overwhelming difference.

    JEFFREY BROWN: On the one hand, on the other hand.

    GERALD STERN: In a certain year, '64/'66, I suddenly developed a voice that I have been happy with ever since. And I have never been left alone. I have never had a time when I didn't have five or six poems from that day to this where I'm ready to work at ...

    JEFFREY BROWN: I see. So, in that sense, you feel sort of the same poet.

    GERALD STERN: Right, albeit, you know, you write differently when you're 70 than when you're 30 or when you're 80 than when you're 50.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What does that mean? How do you write differently?

    GERALD STERN: Well, because you're closer to death. You're farther from birth.

    Your children, if you have them, are older. You have some money.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You grew up in Pittsburgh.


    JEFFREY BROWN: You describe walking, walking the streets. You came from a working-class background.

    GERALD STERN: And that's what I did. I walked all the time across the bridges.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And ...

    GERALD STERN: Through the tunnels.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the background wasn't one of literature and poetry. Right?

    GERALD STERN: We didn't have one book in my house, not one book. And we used to get Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, which was a Hearst paper. And we subscribed to Look magazine. And that was the extent of reading material there, plus a Bible in Hebrew, you know?

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, when it came to there you were now teaching American literature, and you had to teach yourself in some ways?

    GERALD STERN: I was a prisoner of the library.

    And I just -- just spent hours sitting on the -- in the stacks on a lighted floor which gave off some heat in the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh just reading, reading, and reading. And I just -- after I graduated from college, and I did with highest honors -- I was really a bright student -- I wasn't a major in English. I majored in political science. I was going to be a lawyer.

    And I -- my dad, my poor dad said, well, what are you going to do? Because I was offered all kinds of scholarships. And I said I'm going to take off a year and read. And that became 10 years. I lived in Paris, New York, and all that stuff.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And then a life of reading and a life of writing.

    GERALD STERN: Yes. Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, just bring us up -- in our last minute here, like, bring us up to date. I mean, where are you now as a writer, as a poet?

    GERALD STERN: In 2012, I had two books published, this book called "In Beauty Bright," which is a book of poetry, and a book of prose called "Stealing History," which is published by Trinity University Press. It's about 300-some pages, 85 short sections.

    They're not essays, but they're essay-like and they're almost like prose poems, some of them. And since I have published this book -- I counted the other day -- I have 63 new poems.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, you're certainly not slowing down?

    GERALD STERN: I'm speeding up.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In a sense of urgency, or it just happened?

    GERALD STERN: Just joy.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Just joy?

    GERALD STERN: And there's no -- joy and sorrow, of course. They go together, and -- don't they?

    JEFFREY BROWN: I guess so.

    GERALD STERN: And it's just what I do.

    I have another poem again that's a recent poem. I don't have it with me. I don't think it's in here. It's called "The Mule." And I think of myself as a mule with blinders or blinded. Some of them, they actually blind. And they went in a circle pushing against a stone grinding corn, grinding wheat, and, only, I make poems, so I'm a mule.

    And that was the metaphor I used in that poem.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    Well, the honored book is for the "Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992." The new book is "In Beauty Bright."

    GERALD STERN: "In Beauty Bright."

    JEFFREY BROWN: Gerald Stern, nice to talk to you. Thanks.

    GERALD STERN: It's a pleasure to talk to you, Jeff. It really is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What an inspiration. And you can go to Art Beat to listen to Stern read his poem "The One Thing in Life."

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    By Dan Ariely

    Dan Ariely is not just a great and funny teacher, but he's dedicated his life to making the world a somewhat better place. To that end, he's produced an online course on behavioral economics that already has attracted 140,000 students. Ilustration of Dan Ariely by Coursera.

    A Note from Paul Solman: Behavioral psychologist and good friend of Making Sense Dan Ariely has written today's post, introducing his new free online course on behavioral economics.

    Dan was featured on The Business Desk most recently when he explained "Why Our Brains Might Not Be Able to Resist Black Friday" -- that is, why some of us can't stop shopping. It elaborated on an observation he made when we interviewed him, his kids and Sesame Street's Grover, among others, about the nearly irresistible allure of instant gratification, a story subsequently sampled on the Stephen Colbert show, necessitating a response from myself, Dan and family.

    Dan also appeared on PBS NewsHour during harder times. During the depth of the financial crisis in early 2009 he used a stuffed dog to illustrate the "learned helplessness" Americans were then feeling. (Dan answered follow-up viewer questions in a one-on-one with me: "Money, Morality and How We Make Economic Decisions")

    Dan used Valentine's Day in 2011 to reassure viewers that it's okay to spend money on gifts, despite what economists call "the deadweight loss of Christmas."

    And he's the man behind the inequality quiz that we featured that same year, "Land of the Free, Home of the Poor" using what's now being called "the Ariely chart." It has since gone viral, though we modified the data somewhat in a follow-up story.

    Dan has been working for the past year to craft a course for free, online consumption.

    Dan Ariely: I am an experimentalist both in my profession, and in my nature. So, when Peter Lange, the provost at Duke University, asked me if I wanted to teach a massive open online course (MOOC), I naturally said yes (not to mention that he is my boss).

    Among other things, this was an interesting lesson in the extent to which I can underestimate the amount of time and resources that it takes to produce such a class -- but all that is behind me now and the class is just getting on its way.

    Here is my invitation video for the class:

    Watch Video

    The class is just starting but I am already learning a lot from it. I have learned that some students feel that it is their basic human right to get free education (they call it free but of course free in this case is a shorthand for "someone else should pay for it,") while the majority feels privileged to live in a time when such adventures are possible. I am also learning how generous and helpful the students can be toward each other in the discussion boards. And above all, I feel more connected to about 140,000 more people on this planet, across 138 countries. It is truly a privilege.

    And if you want to join this adventure, all you need to do is to check out my class on Coursera.

    The proprietor of this page, Paul Solman, posed a few specific questions to me. The first: How does the quality of online discourse compare to in-class discussion at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke, where I've taught?

    My answer is that so far (and as I note, the class has just begun, so it may be too soon to say), the only way to answer this question is to start by differentiating between the average discussion quality and the discussion quality of the outliers, because you get a very different picture when you examine them separately.

    In terms of average quality, we have to consider the environment of a typical four-year university student, which leads to a very different approach to academics. These students often live on campus, show up to class and have their meals on campus, spend lots of time studying in the library, and are generally immersed in academia all day every day. They live to learn, at least at Duke and MIT, and their waking hours basically revolve around education.

    As a result, they have more resources, time, and attention to devote to their studies, as well as friend groups who share the same collective experience. Taking this unique kind of atmosphere into account, the average quality is higher in regular classes.

    RELATED CONTENT Catching Cheaters on Open Online Courses

    At the same time, there's a great deal of room for variance once you have over 140,000 students in a class. There's a substantial probability that at least some students will be engaged, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and passionate about the class. And indeed, the discussion boards for my online class show just this -- a select group of students truly stand out as motivated individuals who are taking the content seriously and thinking critically about how ideas can be developed and applied to the real world.

    In this regard, the diversity of backgrounds is also a huge benefit in online classes that are available internationally. We hear from students of different ages from around the globe who have so much to contribute. And they not only contribute by sharing their perspectives with their professor and teaching staff, but also with their fellow students. They help each other out and take the strain of dealing with such a large group off of the professor. I am thoroughly grateful that they are so willing to help their peers.

    The interesting thing with variance, however, is that there's also a low tail. And as class size increases, it also increases the likelihood that there will be some people in this tail who are bitter, annoyed, and disgruntled in their personal lives and looking to express this anger in a public space.

    RELATED CONTENT Another Professor's Approach to Online Learning

    There will inevitably be a couple students who are prone to complaining and tend to be very vocal with their opinions. I've seen some of this in my online class, and have tried to do what I can to calm the waters. In contrast with the online space, when people meet face to face they are more likely to censor themselves and put forth more effort to make a good impression. When you are talking to a list of students, strangers who you will probably never meet, you may be less likely to care about whose feelings you hurt or how your comments could come off as slanderous. This especially shows up when people have the ability to post anonymously, which is an option that Coursera provides.

    Another of Paul's questions was, "Doesn't it matter that you and the students are not in the same physical space?"

    When I give lectures in front of a video camera, I simultaneously play the student role in my mind and imagine that person sitting across from me, reacting to what I say. I try to be as clear as possible to that imaginary student.

    RELATED CONTENT How Free Online Courses Are Changing the Traditional Liberal Arts Education

    The problem is that my imagination is limited in many ways, which means that every time I underestimate the clarity, the lecture doesn't live up to what I could do if I had students in front of me giving me real-time feedback, helping me tailor it to their needs. This problem, by the way, becomes much more challenging as the number of students from different countries, with varying levels of English skills, join the class.

    I can hardly imagine, for example, the complexity (and potential confusion) of someone from the Czech Republic trying to understand my English in an Israeli accent. But if this person were sitting in front of me, I would be able to interpret their blank stares and raised eyebrows and offer a different explanation of the material. And perhaps most importantly, I feel that my sense of humor does not transfer as well in the online environment. Or maybe this is just what I'm telling myself.

    As for the students, I think it matters a great deal in terms of motivation and the connection to the material. And that helps answer Paul's next question, whether or not the current university business model is "doomed?" "Is your video an accurate depiction of the future?" Paul asked.

    I don't think that the future of the university is doomed for a few reasons. First, having a scheduled class with obligations, deadlines, exams, real consequences and real rewards is incredibly important for human motivation and getting people to spend the necessary time and effort to really understand the material. The second reason is that the model of many universities, in which students study and live together, is a particularly helpful model for creating the environment that people need to take their education seriously. It is not just about the particular classes, but about being immersed in an academic environment for a substantial period of time.

    I also think that some of the teaching in traditional colleges could be transferred to video lectures, but rather than serve as a replacement, they could be used as a supplement to free up the regular classroom to have higher level discussions and debates. This is the "flipped classroom" approach that has been getting so much hype. In essence, it could make the undergraduate college experience more similar to the graduate experience, at least in terms of the quality of the discussion.

    And finally, video lectures are incredibly time-consuming to create. The team that worked on the videos for "A Beginner's Guide to Irrationality" figured out that we spent about 150 hours on each hour of video that was produced. Of course, we could have spent much less time and effort, but then the quality would have suffered and the learning experience would have taken a toll. This initial effort was worth it to me, but I think that spending so much time revising the lectures, improving them, and creating more classes, is something that very few professors and universities will be willing to do long-term.

    Paul's last question was the most personal: "Do you enjoy virtual teaching more than physical?"

    I'd answer that there are many ways to interpret the word "enjoy." When I'm in a classroom and have the benefit of the reactions from my students (making eye contact, laughing at my jokes, and so on), I get immediate gratification from teaching. Online classes are very different in this respect. You put in a tremendous amount of effort upfront (we've been working on this class for about a year), and for an extended period of time you don't get any feedback for all the hard work.

    On top of that, in a physical classroom I learn new things from my students every day. They ask interesting questions, bring their own examples, and at the end of each class I often feel as if I've learned something as well. In an online class, however, I don't get feedback until much later -- after preparing, taping, and polishing the lectures. At this point, when the class has started, I do get to enjoy the feedback, but it is less connected to my efforts.

    When I teach in the classroom, I also try to explain things in different ways and see how the students react, and depending on their responses I can instantly fine-tune my explanations so that they will be most helpful. And finally, did I mention that my sense of humor does not always transmit as well through video?

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

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    This KHN story was produced in collaboration with USA Today. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

    For 15 years, Congress has bestowed special privileges to some small remote hospitals, usually in rural areas, to help them stay afloat. Medicare pays them more than it pays most hospitals and exempts them from financial pressure to operate efficiently and requirements to reveal how their patients fare. Nearly one in four hospitals qualifies for the program.

    Despite these benefits, there's new evidence that the quality of many of these hospitals may be deteriorating. A study published Tuesday found that during the past decade the death rates of patients at these critical access hospitals were growing while mortality rates at other hospitals were dropping.

    "This carved-out group of hospitals seems to be falling further and further behind," said the paper's lead author, Dr. Karen Joynt of the Harvard School of Public Health.

    The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that in 2002, mortality rates at critical access hospitals for Medicare patients with heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia were about the same as at other hospitals. But they have diverged since then.

    While death rates at other hospitals dropped by 0.2 percent a year, reaching 11.4 percent in 2010, mortality rates at critical access hospital death rates rose about 0.1 percent each year, reaching 13.3 percent in 2010. Critical access hospitals also did worse than other small, rural hospitals that were not in the program. The paper said all these results were statistically significant.

    Joynt and her co-authors, John Orav and Dr. Ashish Jha, also of Harvard, suggested that the hospitals' care may suffer because they don't have the latest sophisticated technology or specialists to treat the increasingly elderly and frail rural populations. A previous paper by the trio found that critical access hospitals were less likely to have the ability to perform cardiac catheterizations and to have intensive care units.

    "As we have more advanced treatments, it's harder for rural hospital to keep up," Joynt said. "It's hard to provide care for really, really sick patients in a resource-limited setting."

    She also suggested that the hospitals may have been victims of their lenient treatment by the government. Since hospital officials are not required to evaluate their performances to make reports to Medicare, the government may not realize that facilities could need additional assistance in caring for sicker patients.

    "This is 1,000 hospitals, a quarter of the hospitals in the country, that are invisible," she said. "We've created a completely separate system, and in this case it looks like that has not done patients in these hospitals any favors."

    Brock Slabach, an executive at the National Rural Health Association, cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the report. "Mortality is just one small part of the picture of what qualities means," he said. He said the association's own research has found that rural hospitals do better in patient satisfaction surveys than do urban hospitals, and that there's no substantial difference in other measures such as readmissions.

    Congress started the critical access program in 1997 to stave off hospital closures in places where patients had no good alterative because the next hospital was at least 35 miles away by regular roads or 15 miles by secondary roads. Hospitals with 25 or fewer beds could qualify. Hospitals near competitors, in cities as well as rustic areas, also got into the program through a loophole that until 2006 allowed states to designate hospitals as "necessary providers."

    In 2011, 1,331 hospitals qualified for the program, which reimburses hospitals for all of the costs of caring for Medicare patients plus an extra 1 percent.

    It's a generous system compared to the way Medicare pays other hospitals. They are given set sums for each patient based on their illnesses, a method that does not always cover all the costs of treatment.

    Medicare spends about $8 billion a year on critical access hospitals, amounting to 5 percent of the country's inpatient and outpatient expenses, according to Congress' Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

    The states with the most critical access hospitals are Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas and Nebraska, all with between 65 and 83 such facilities, federal data show. In 2011, only Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands lacked any critical access hospitals.

    Tuesday's study adds to previous research by the Harvard researchers. In 2011, the researchers found that critical access hospitals were less likely to have basic electronic health records. They also first reported then that these hospitals had worse death rates. After that paper was published, Joynt said rural hospital officials complained that the researchers did not note the improvements the hospitals had made over time.

    In the study released Tuesday, Joynt and her colleagues examined that objection, but they determined that although some critical access hospitals had improved, overall the group had done worse compared with others. Tuesday's study is the result of that research.

    An accompanying editorial by Dr. John Ioannidis, a medical professor at Stanford, called the paper "the best study to date" on the issue, though he said the paper might not have captured all the potential reasons for the discrepancy in death rates. He also questioned whether policymakers should enact broad changes on critical access hospitals.

    "Trying to impose quality data collection and reporting in such hospitals that have already strained resources may actually do more harm than good," Ioannidis wrote. "Even for non-CAHs, the evidence is tenuous that performance and quality initiatives do work."

    Joynt said that her research, while not conclusive, indicated that the hospitals might need additional help. For instance, she said, through telemedicine, larger hospitals could offer the advice of their specialists to rural hospitals confronting complex cases. In addition, there might be better ways to transfer those patients to more advanced hospitals, she said.

    "I see this as more of a systems problem than just a hospital problem," Joynt said. "I don't think that there really exists the right sort of systems or incentives to make that happen."

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

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    A scientist from the National Center for Toxicological Research analyzes microarray results to measure and assess the level of genes found in a tissue sample. FDA photo by Michael J. Ermarth.

    Rebecca Riggins, an assistant professor of oncology at Georgetown University, was about to stick a FedEx shipping label onto a package containing about two dozen samples of human breast tumors for analysis when the phone rang. Her team was in the process of investigating why certain types of breast cancer respond well to the common hormone therapy Tamoxifen while others fare poorly. The tumor analysis was a critical part of the project.

    The Feb. 25 phone call was from her colleague, the study's principal investigator. Program officials at the National Institutes of Health had just told him to expect at least a 50 percent reduction in funding to their research. It was part of the sequestration cuts to the federal budget, which include 5.1 percent cuts across the board to non-defense agencies.

    She had no choice but to put the mailing on hold and move the samples to the freezer, where they remain today.

    Riggins' team can no longer afford to continue some of their more expensive experiments, like the tumor analyses. And they're scaling back their smaller experiments involving breast cancer cells grown in the lab and mouse model studies.

    "To do the most simple lab experiment, all of that is built in the grant," Riggins said. "I'm keeping a nervous eye on the stocks on the shelf. It makes it very difficult."

    Deep federal budget cuts, which kicked in on March 1 after Congress failed to reach a budget compromise, are already forcing scientists to scale back their research and look elsewhere for funding. Fewer dollars will mean fewer research projects, layoffs among scientists and cuts to equipment, all of which could influence scientific and medical advances and ultimately affect patient care.

    The National Institutes of Health, the country's largest supporter of basic research, is facing $1.6 billion in cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year. While most research grants from the NIH are awarded for a four or five-year duration, the federal budget operates on a fiscal-year time frame. Which means effects are immediate and likely to impact research that's already underway, according to Keith Yamamoto, vice chancellor for research at the University of California at San Francisco. UCSF receives more money from the National Institutes of Health than any other research institution. The hit to its $500 million annual research budget will be about $28 million.

    "As funding gets cut back...it can affect both the personnel that are brought in and technology or supplies for an experiment," Yamamoto said. "In the best case, things are slowed. In the worst case, projects are cut entirely."

    Some see the sequester as a necessary means of exercising spending restraint. Cato's Daniel Mitchell, for example, argues in this essay that "a sequester merely means that spending climbs by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion." And an essay by T. Elliot Gaiser and Jason Lloyd, members of the Heritage Foundation's Young Leaders Project point to projects funded by the NIH that they cite as non-vital. One studied whether male fruit flies were more attracted to older or younger female fruit flies. Another looked at whether golfers perform better when using their imagination.

    On April 8, as an outgrowth of the American Association for Cancer Research's annual meeting, scientists, patients and caregivers will mobilize at a rally near the Washington, D.C., convention center to protest cuts to medical research. NIH director Francis Collins and Rockefeller University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne will speak alongside survivors of breast cancer, diabetes and cardiac arrest. Organizers are hoping more than 20,000 will attend.

    Roberta DeBiasi, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Children's National Medical Center, plans to attend the rally.

    "I think the important thing is to make it visible that there really is a threat to research," DeBiasi said.

    She worries that rare diseases will become more overlooked as a result of the cuts and fears the impact on basic science research. She cites the outbreak of the SARS virus as an example of the importance of basic science research. Had scientists not been studying a related corona virus similar to the one that caused SARS, they would have lacked critical information that helped them understand the virus and contain its spread.

    One big question as government funding slows is whether private foundations and companies will step in to fill the void.

    Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a nonprofit group, said organizations like hers are already feeling pressure to raise more money for research. Her group raised $5 million for research this year (mostly from individual private donors and events), up from $3.8 million the year before.

    "Certainly it's a call to action for organizations like ours to fill the gap, and to be smart strategically," she said.

    Another more immediate result: widespread discouragement among young scientists. Riggins said the vast majority of students working on her floor likely won't pursue academic biomedical research as a career, unwilling to enter a field with little money and grim job prospects.

    "And these people have good ideas," she said. "They're smart, they're creative, and we're going to lose that."

    It's becoming harder and harder for young scientists to find tenure-track positions, Yamamoto added. Training programs, too, are accepting less students and reducing class size.

    "Many of the people who enter postdoctoral training have aspirations to become professors and carry out independent research," he said. "But the sequester has led to great concern among the trainees....To see these training programs have to cut back is really tragic," Yamamoto said.

    Photo credit: Photo by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

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    GWEN IFILL: The mounting hostility on the Korean Peninsula took an economic turn today at a cluster of factories jointly owned by the two countries.

    Trucks filled with supplies and South Korean workers waited in long lines at the border with the North today before being turned away. And some already on the other side couldn't go home.

    MAN: People couldn't return because they were supposed to leave by trucks, which were scheduled to enter the North carrying supplies. However, those trucks couldn't get into North Korea.

    GWEN IFILL: The Kaesong Industrial Park is a rare example of economic cooperation between the two countries. It houses factories for 123 South Korean companies, employs more than 50,000 North Koreans and hundreds more South Koreans who commute across the heavily fortified border each week.

    South Korean managers and workers feared the travel ban would cost jobs and hurt business far beyond Kaesong.

    SHIM SUNG-MAN, Apparel Maker: It's very serious. Given the current situation, factory operations could have problems two to three days later, and it will damage deliveries.

    GWEN IFILL: South Korea's unification minister urged Kim Jong-un's government to reverse its decision.

    KIM HYUNG-SEOK, South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman: North Korea's measure to suspend the industrial zone is an obstacle to the stable management of the zone. We urge the North to immediately normalize the access to the Kaesong industrial zone.

    GWEN IFILL: Today's border action is the latest response to South Korea's ongoing joint military exercises with the United States.

    It comes a day after North Korea announced it would restart production of nuclear weapon materials. And, today, North Korean state television broadcast an undated video of what it said was an anti-American rally with thousands of students chanting, "Let's kill."

    South Korea's defense minister advised the North to tamp down its rhetoric.

    KIM KWAN-JIN, South Korean Defense Minister: I am warning North Korea to stop its threats. I want to announce here that we have a full military readiness posture. It is important for the South Korean people not to be agitated by North Korea's threats, because we have a firm military posture.

    GWEN IFILL: And, speaking in Washington today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. must remain vigilant.

    DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL, United States: I don't want to be the secretary of defense who was wrong once. So we will continue to take these threats seriously. I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down.

    There is a pathway that is responsible for the North to get on a path to peace, but they have got to be a responsible member of the world community.

    GWEN IFILL: Defense Department officials announced this afternoon the U.S. is sending a land-based missile defense system to Guam in response to rising North Korean threats. In the past two days, the Pentagon has also sent guided-missile destroyers to the Western Pacific. 

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    GWEN IFILL: For more on the escalating border tensions, we turn to former Ambassador Jack Pritchard, who has been involved with Korean peace negotiations for both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.


    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD, Former U.S. Special Envoy for Negotiations with North Korea: Thanks very much.

    GWEN IFILL: Is the pressure shifting from military to economic now?


    But this is an unsettling development when you think about how important the Kaesong industrial complex is to the North Koreans. It's a source of hard currency for them. And so shooting themselves in the foot for a longer period of time means they're going to be missing out on kind of the golden goose here.

    GWEN IFILL: We saw South Korean businesspeople saying it could be a bad effect for them as well because of the supply chain that feeds Kaesong.


    To put in the context, the Kaesong industrial complex produces about $500 million dollars of merchandise each year, watches, shoes, clothes, things of that nature. It's a drop in the bucket when you take a look at the overall South Korean economy, but for those 123 companies and the supply chains that are associated with it, it is a big deal for them.

    GWEN IFILL: And, symbolically, this was the fruit of the sunshine policy, this idea which the North and South, the previous presidents of the North and South, could actually agree on something. Is that dead now?

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: I don't think it's dead, but we have got to watch it very closely.

    As you rightly say, this was the product of the summit, the first summit between North and South in 2000, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il, and opened in 2004 and has been operating for about nine years now.

    GWEN IFILL: So, is this provocation or pot-stirring, or both?

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: Well, there's the interesting question.

    If it were not for a precedent that was set in 2010 with the sinking of the Cheonan, the ship, South Korean ship, by the North Koreans and the artillery firing on the Yeonpyeong Island later in that year, you would say conventional wisdom says this will pass. There will be a return to normalcy.

    But that precedent suggests that you must watch what's going on. Will it turn worse?

    GWEN IFILL: Now, this park, this particular complex, has been kind of a pawn in the geopolitical chess game before. It didn't have any lasting effect, or did it?

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: No, it didn't. About four years ago, the North Koreans did what they're doing now, and they restricted access to South Korean workers.

    Strangely enough, in 2010 with the sinking of the ship and the artillery firing, nothing happened at the Kaesong industrial complex. So now we're back to saying, you know, what's going on, how long will that last, what's the impact and the political significance?

    GWEN IFILL: Should anybody watching this be worried that, for instance, South Korean workers who now aren't being allowed to cross the border to go home could be treated as hostages?

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: Well, that was a concern four years ago, but so far what we're seeing today is the North Koreans restricting access in, but allowing South Koreans out. So right now, there's not a hint of a hostage situation, but it's something the South Koreans watch very carefully.

    GWEN IFILL: Maybe in intra-Peninsula politics, this is a way of testing the new leader of South Korea?

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: Well, it's interesting because, as you know, the South Koreans have a new president, Park Geun-hye, has been in office about five weeks so far.

    So there's a little bit of a testing, but it's unusual, in the sense that the North Koreans hated the previous president, hard-line, and saw in the election of Madam Park the potential of a partner. But they're not operating as though that's their intent.

    GWEN IFILL: Jay Carney, the president's press secretary, was asked about this today on Air Force One and he said this is part of a familiar pattern.

    You have been following this pattern for some years. Does it feel different to you?

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: Well, as I say, the only difference is that precedent of almost three years ago.

    Were it not for that, it would be a very familiar pattern. But you cannot assume that it will follow previous events and end up with a reduction of tensions and a return to normalcy.

    GWEN IFILL: It doesn't feel more dangerous to you?

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: Slightly more dangerous because you have a compounding of events that have taken place since December with the launch of a successful missile by North Korea, their nuclear test in February, the U.N. Security Council's sanctions.

    It's come at a time where U.S. and South Korean annual exercises are taking place. So there are a lot of things that are making this slightly different and potentially more dangerous than we have seen in the past.

    GWEN IFILL: At the very least, it seems like the rhetoric is more heated. Is China the solution? Is there a back-channel way to calm all this down?

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: Well, we certainly hope so.

    We saw news reporting today that the Chinese vice minister has spoken separately to the U.S. ambassador, the North Korean ambassador and South Korean ambassador. That's a good sign. There needs to be a pathway off of this rhetoric by North Koreas, and hopefully the Chinese can provide some effort in this regard.

    GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Jack Pritchard, thank you so much.

    CHARLES JACK PRITCHARD: My pleasure. Thank you. 

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: At least 53 people died in a Taliban attack in Western Afghanistan today; 34 of the victims were civilians, according to an Afghan provincial governor. Suicide bombers dressed as Afghan troops raided a courthouse in Farah province in an unsuccessful attempt to free insurgents on trial there. Afghan forces fired back in a gun battle that raged for most of the day. It was the largest death toll from a single attack in Afghanistan since 2011.

    Tensions flared between Palestinians and Israelis in the heaviest exchange of gunfire since a truce last November. Palestinian militants fired several rockets into Southern Israel, and Israeli aircraft fought back, bombing targets in the Gaza Strip. The strikes coincided with unrest in the West Bank, where Palestinians protested the death of a prisoner who died of cancer while in Israeli custody. They accused Israel of not giving him proper medical care. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves for a trip to the Middle East this weekend.

    Torrential rainfall in Argentina led to massive flooding today, killing at least 52 people. Most of the deaths were in the eastern city of La Plata in the Buenos Aires province. People there drowned after taking refuge in their cars overnight. The flooding completely covered streets, left thousands stranded and set off a fire at the nation's largest oil refinery that took hours to put out. The downpour dropped nearly 16 inches of rain on the region in two hours.

    President Obama headed to Colorado today to draw attention to that state's newly passed gun laws. Colorado expanded background checks and put restrictions on magazine sizes. Congress takes up gun legislation when it returns from recess next week. The president met with law enforcement officials at the Denver Police Academy and then made his case for tougher national laws.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Surely we can have a debate that's not based on the notion somehow that your elected representatives are trying to do something to you, other than potentially prevent another group of families from grieving the way the families of Aurora or Newtown or Columbine have grieved.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Connecticut's General Assembly moved toward passing a tough new set of gun controls. Members debated the legislation today, some of which will take effect immediately. It includes an expansion of the state's assault weapons ban and background checks for all firearms sales. Gov. Dannel Malloy said he will sign the legislation into law.

    It was widely reported today President Obama is returning five percent of his salary to the Treasury each month for the rest of the year. The president earns $400,000 dollars annually. A White House official said it's a show of support for thousands of federal workers who face furlough because of automatic spending cuts.

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is also taking a voluntary pay cut, in solidarity with the Pentagon's many civilian employees required to take unpaid leave.

    Stocks fell sharply on Wall Street today, with the Dow recording its worst day in more than a month. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 111 points to close at 14,550. The Nasdaq fell 36 points to close at 3,218.

    Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia are recalling nearly two million vehicles across the U.S. because of problems with air bags and brake light switches. The switch recall affects most of the automakers' lineups from model years 2007 through 2011. The air bag problem is on about 200,000 Hyundai Elantras. Both companies said there have been no reports of crashes or injuries.

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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: how an oil spill near Little Rock, Ark., is casting a shadow over the proposed expansion of the Keystone pipeline.

    MAN: So that is a pipeline that has busted and has flooded the neighborhood.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A local resident described the scene in the small town of Mayflower on Friday after Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured close to his home.

    MAN: I mean, look. Incredible. And that is oil.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And not just any oil, a type of heavy crude called diluted bitumen, from the tar sands of Western Canada and similar to what the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would carry.

    Running from Patoka, Ill., to Nederland, Texas, the Pegasus pipeline is capable of transporting 96,000 barrels of oil a day. It passes through this Little Rock suburb, and also through 13 miles of the close-by Lake Maumelle watershed, leaving many concerned with the risks posed to Arkansas' water supply.

    Yesterday at a bird shelter in nearby Russellville, specialists cleaned ducks covered in the heavy crude. Investigators are still trying to find out what caused the rupture. According to Exxon's estimates, between 3,500 and 5,000 barrels of oil spilled. More than 20 homes were evacuated.

    Last year in the U.S., 364 pipeline spills occurred, resulting in the dumping of 54,000 barrels of oil, according to the Department of Transportation. This latest breach, while considered relatively small, raises new questions about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline extension and whether President Obama should approve it.

    It would carry 800,000 barrels a day of diluted bitumen crude over 1,700 miles, from the tar sands of Western Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Environmentalists worry about potential spills, ruptures, and higher gaseous emissions from the use of tar sands oil. TransCanada Corporation and others have been awaiting approval for four years to move ahead with the project. A final decision from the president is expected this summer.

    We examine some of the questions raised in the wake of this spill with Anthony Swift, an attorney who closely follows pipeline safety for the National -- I'm sorry -- Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC. And Andrew Black, he's the president of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines.

    For the record, BP is a member of that group and a NewsHour underwriter.

    Welcome to you both.

    So, Andy Black, let me start with you. How serious is this pipeline rupture near Little Rock?

    ANDREW BLACK, President, Association of Oil Pipe Lines: Well, no matter how rare a pipeline accident is, you don't want to see a scene like that.

    What an operator wants to do is respond quickly, clean up, and try to learn the cause. As you said, we don't know the cause yet. He wants to share that that information to continue improving the safety records of pipelines, which are the safest method of transporting crude oil.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Anthony Swift, how serious do you think this particular incident is?

    ANTHONY SWIFT, Natural Resources Defense Council: Well, this was a spill of up to 200,000 gallons of tar sands crude.

    We saw it going through a suburban community in Arkansas. It's a very serious spill. EPA considers it a serious spill. And, you know, frankly, we have found that with tar sands spills, these are spills that are more difficult to clean. A similar spill in Kalamazoo, Mich., became the most expensive onshore pipeline spill in history, much because of the unique behavior of tar sands when it spills.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what are you saying, that there's something particularly complicated about this kind of oil?

    ANTHONY SWIFT: That's exactly right. The tar sands crude is a crude that has not -- is not similar to the crudes historically moved on the U.S. pipeline systems. It's basically a mixture of very thick bitumen, which is solid at room temperature, and volatile petrochemicals that are very toxic once they reach the air.

    And once spilled, you have a gas-off of the petrochemicals that expose residents to toxins and the bitumen itself then becomes heavier. If it reaches a water body, it flows underneath it. It's hard to control.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Andy Black, how much more complicated, how much riskier is it to be sending this kind of bitumen crude across the country?

    ANDREW BLACK: It's no more complicated, Judy.

    And U.S. pipeline incident records show that. With more than 40 years of moving crude oil from the Canadian oil sands, there's not been one pipeline accident in the United States caused by that and -- caused by the type of crude from the Canadian oil sands. And the Department of State, when they have been exhaustively reviewing the Keystone XL pipeline, have similarly found that there are no more corrosive elements of crude from Western Canada as there are from California, Venezuela, Mexico. Crude has been safely moved for decades.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if it's the case, why the additional concern on the part of environmental groups?

    ANTHONY SWIFT: Well, it's simply not true.

    We saw with the Kalamazoo spill, 800,000 barrels -- gallons were spilled from external corrosion. We don't know what caused the Pegasus spill, but we do know that pipelines moving tar sands-diluted bitumen have had poor safety records. And, as an example, the first shipments that came into the U.S. came in the late '90s into the Northern Midwest.

    Those pipelines now over the last three years have spilled 3.6 times as much crude oil per pipeline mile as the national average.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, we were seeing, Andy Black, as we have just reported, 364 spills or ruptures in the country last year, and you just heard that number of just this particular kind of tar sands crude. It sounds like what the two of you are saying doesn't reconcile.

    ANDREW BLACK: Well, two things.

    First, I would like to put that number in context. The 54,000 barrels spilled last year, that's out of 11.3 billion barrels of crude oil moved safely last year, crude oil and refined petroleum products, a reliability record that's 99.9995 percent.

    As to the accident in Michigan, as Mr. Swift mentioned, that it was an external corrosion-caused accident, which the National Transportation Safety Board said had nothing to do with the type of crude that it was carrying.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: External corrosion meaning the outside of the pipeline, rather than what was flowing through it?

    ANDREW BLACK: Exactly.

    If there was a problem with Canadian oil sands with corrosion, it would have caused an internal corrosion accident, and it didn't. And no pipeline accidents from internal corrosion have occurred on pipelines carrying that crude from Canada.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that? Because that bears directly on what might happen with the Keystone pipeline.

    ANTHONY SWIFT: That's right.

    And we know small set of California pipelines that higher-temperature pipelines spill more frequently due to external corrosion than conventional pipelines. If they're over 100 degrees, they spill up to 23 times as often due to external corrosion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying what is going through the pipeline affects what's happening outside of it?

    ANTHONY SWIFT: Around the pipeline.

    ANDREW BLACK: If you look at the State Department study, not ours, the State Department's, they say you need to look at that California study with caution. Those are different design characteristics on a pipeline.

    Again, no accidents on U.S. pipelines carrying oil sands crude caused by oil sands crude.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He's stating that as a fact.

    ANTHONY SWIFT: And it's not.

    The NTSB didn't say that the conditions under which the pipeline was operated based on what the crude -- what crude it was carrying had nothing to do with the accident. It just didn't weigh into it. And the State Department hasn't studied this issue. Pipeline regulators have said that they haven't studied this issue.

    In fact, the head pipeline regulator told Congress in 2011 that her agency couldn't guarantee that regulations were strong enough for diluted bitumen pipelines.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, do you want to respond to that?

    ANDREW BLACK: I'm not going to disagree with the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

    And this issue is being studied right now by the National Academy of Sciences. If it's done fairly, as I believe it will be, it will show what the decades of experience have showed us, that there's not a concern for corrosion. It's no more corrosive than any heavy crude.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Some people look at what's happening with the pipelines that run across this country and say it's inevitable that they're going to be some spills, some ruptures. It's just by the very nature of what's going through these lines.

    ANTHONY SWIFT: Look, we have seen -- I mean, the question is, are the risks worth the benefits?

    You take a look at Pegasus and Keystone XL. Pegasus is a pipeline with a 10th of the capacity of Keystone XL. You build Keystone XL, you have a more significant -- a 10 times more significant risk if there is a spill. And the question is, what is the benefit to the U.S. public?

    You're dealing with a low-quality crude that increases climate emissions well above conventional crude, has increased risk to U.S. water bodies and communities, and is meant to go through the U.S. in order to bring tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries which are now exporting over three million barrels a day of refined products.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So he's making the argument for -- I mean, against the XL -- the Keystone XL pipeline, for expanding it.

    ANDREW BLACK: We have not reached the goal yet of zero pipeline accidents. The industry works hard for that. The safety record has improved.

    Over the last 10 years, the number of accidents per miles of pipe has dropped 60 percent. The industry spent $1.1 billion dollars in just 2011 on this. It continues to work every day on this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Making safer pipelines? Working on the oil? How? How are they safer?

    ANDREW BLACK: We -- we're building pipelines today safer than ever before using modern techniques, modern coating, modern welding practices.

    And that's what Keystone XL Will have. But, also, the technology is improving to inspect pipelines and learn more about what is happening. Now, all -- all of that is contributing to, again, that 60 percent drop in accidents over the last 10 years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is either -- go ahead.

    ANTHONY SWIFT: Well, I was just going say just take a look at TransCanada's first pipeline, Keystone one in the Midwest. It was a new pipeline in 2010 and it spilled 14 years -- in its first year of operation and had to be shut down by federal regulators.

    ANDREW BLACK: It has had a couple of accidents at facilities.

    The pipeline right of way has never been affected. The integrity of that pipeline has not been found at fault yet. I would like that add, as you were mentioning, about Keystone XL, and Anthony, the pipeline should be considered as an alternative to other modes of transporting crude oil, which our country needs, that can move on rail, truck, barge.

    Nobody disputes that pipelines are the safest method. So if we're going to be bringing those barrels of crude oil into the U.S., it should be on a pipeline.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there.

    Anthony -- Andrew Black, Anthony Swift, thank you.

    ANTHONY SWIFT: Thank you, Judy. 


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