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- 04/11/13--06:33: _The Daily Frame
- 04/11/13--07:54: _How U.S. Obesity Co...
- 04/11/13--08:11: _The Hard Truth abou...
- 04/11/13--08:36: _Senate Ready to Deb...
- 04/11/13--08:45: _Judy's Notebook: A ...
- 04/11/13--09:33: _What do You Think A...
- 04/11/13--11:36: _Author Moises Naim ...
- 04/11/13--11:58: _Around the Nation
- 04/11/13--12:38: _Why More Religious ...
- 04/11/13--15:02: _Senate Blocks Attem...
- 04/11/13--15:06: _News Wrap: Senators...
- 04/11/13--15:10: _How Will President ...
- 04/11/13--15:24: _Can an Increase for...
- 04/11/13--15:34: _Book Traces History...
- 04/11/13--15:41: _Hospitals Dispute F...
- 04/11/13--15:49: _'Shepherd in Combat...
- 04/12/13--05:00: _Gwen's Take: Seeing...
- 04/12/13--05:38: _In Venezuela, Will ...
- 04/12/13--05:58: _With Procedural Hur...
- 04/12/13--07:43: _Britons Divided Ove...
- 04/11/13--06:33: The Daily Frame
- 04/11/13--07:54: How U.S. Obesity Compares With Other Countries
- 04/11/13--08:36: Senate Ready to Debate Gun Legislation
- 04/11/13--08:45: Judy's Notebook: A Budget to Get Worked Up About
- 04/11/13--09:33: What do You Think About Obama's Proposal to Reduce Social Security?
- 04/11/13--11:36: Author Moises Naim on Kim Jong Un's Troubles
- 04/11/13--11:58: Around the Nation
- 04/11/13--12:38: Why More Religious Singles Are Searching for Love Online
- 04/11/13--15:02: Senate Blocks Attempt to Prevent Debate on Gun Legislation
- 04/11/13--15:10: How Will President Obama's Budget Impact Medicare, Social Security?
- 04/12/13--05:00: Gwen's Take: Seeing Eye-To-Eye For a Change
- 04/12/13--05:38: In Venezuela, Will 'Chavismo' Last Without Hugo Chavez?
- 04/12/13--05:58: With Procedural Hurdle Cleared, Senate Begins Gun Debate
- 04/12/13--07:43: Britons Divided Over Thatcher's Legacy
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People sit below "Dora" by Umberto Baglioni in Turin, Italy. Photo by Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editor's Note: This article is the first in a series in which the PBS NewsHour and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, will explore how health care and health policy in OECD's 34 member countries compare with the United States. Below, Franco Sassi, leading economist for prevention policies at OECD, examines obesity rates.
New data is providing a gleam of hope in an otherwise fairly dark picture. After decades of rapid growth, adult obesity is stabilizing in many developed countries.
In the U.S., Canada and Ireland, obesity is still on the rise, but the pace is slowing. Childhood obesity rates are slowing in the U.S., as well as in England, France and Korea.
Despite these encouraging trends, obesity has become one of the biggest threats to public health in developed countries and increasingly so in emerging economies, especially in urban areas. At least one in two people are now overweight or obese in more than half of the 34 OECD countries -- and numbers are set to rise further.
In most countries, obesity is strongly linked to gender and socioeconomic standing, with poorly educated women two to three times more likely to be overweight than those with more schooling. For men, disparities are less prominent and almost non-existent in many countries.
In the U.S., however, obesity is more likely to be linked to race than to income, with African-Americans and Hispanics more likely to be overweight than non-Hispanic whites or Asian-Americans.
Hover over the bars on the graphic below to see how U.S. obesity rates compare with other OECD countries. Click 'Next story' to see how self-reported obesity figures compare with measured rates in each country.
Why do we need to halt the epidemic? Obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it are killers, with severely obese people dying eight to 10 years earlier than their peers.
There is also a financial loss. In Sweden, for example, obese people earn some 18 percent less than others.
But the financial impact itself is mixed. During their life-span, an obese person costs the health care system 25 percent more than a person of normal weight, or up to 3 percent of total health expenditure in most OECD countries (5 to 10 percent in the U. S.). However, due to a shorter life expectancy, overall heath care costs for obese people are not higher than for a non-obese person.
Many countries have stepped up efforts to tackle the causes of obesity. Programs range from counseling by family doctors and nutrition specialists to information campaigns targeting children and parents. In Japan, employees have their waist size measured as part of a compulsory health promotion program organized by their insurance fund. In the UK and Korea, national programs have been launched to reduce the salt and trans fat contents of foods.
The high immediate cost of these information and prevention campaigns, combined with the long lag-time for the benefits to impact health expenditures, have encouraged governments to use economic incentives. In 2011, Denmark introduced a tax on foods containing more than 2.3 percent saturated fats (meat, cheese, butter, edible oils, margarine, spreads, snacks, etc.). A year later, the tax was repealed after complaints that it was damaging small businesses and increasing cross-border shopping.
Other countries, other schemes: Hungary introduced a tax on selected manufactured foods high in sugar, salt or caffeine. In Finland, a tax on confectionery products did not include biscuits, buns and pastries. And for the past year, France has been taxing soft drinks.
Governments can use the extra revenue generated by these taxes to lessen the impact on low-income households or to increase the public health benefits, for example by coupling them with targeted health education campaigns or subsidies on healthy foods. In France and Hungary, at least part of the revenues from the new taxes will contribute to financing health and social security expenditures.
But taxing food is politically controversial and usually incurs strong opposition from the food industry. In addition, tax on food is far lower than on tobacco and alcohol -- also major killers. The biggest obstacle to the success of such programs might be the reluctance of many citizens to allow their governments to tell them what to eat.
What is your recipe for a better life? Good health, clean air, nice home, money? Using OECD's "Better Life Index" tool, rank what you value in life -- and see how your country measures up on the topics most important to you.
Franco Sassi is a leading economist for prevention policies at OECD. Top photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
By Jerry Muller
Economic historian Jerry Muller argues that rising economic inequality "is more deeply rooted and intractable than generally recognized" -- because of families. He says your financial fate could be determined by who you choose as a partner, if you decide to get married and your family unit. Photo by Vstock LLC/Getty Images.
A Note from Paul Solman: I have long been an admirer of economic historian Jerry Muller of Catholic University and his books "The Mind and the Market," "Adam Smith in His Time and Ours" and "Capitalism and the Jews." So when he recently published an article called "Capitalism and Inequality" in Foreign Affairs -- given our longtime interest in both topics -- I asked him to write something for The Business Desk.
He sent us a post that I don't buy in full. And others may find his emphasis on the influence of "assortative mating" on increasing inequality unappealing, if not downright objectionable. (Given all the attention grabbed the last two weeks by Susan Patton's "Letter to the Women of Princeton," the issue of assortative mating -- and the corollary theme of the "rich getting richer" -- is in the air right now.)
But neither of these constitute reasons not to read what Muller has sent us about the most troubling trend of my long career as an economics reporter: rising economic inequality.
Jerry Muller: Inequality is increasing almost everywhere in the post-industrial capitalist world. Despite what many think, this is not the result of politics, nor is politics likely to reverse it. The problem is more deeply rooted and intractable than generally recognized.
Inequality is an inevitable product of capitalist activity, and expanding equality of opportunity only increases it -- because some individuals, families, and communities are simply better able than others to exploit the opportunities for development and advancement that today's capitalism affords. Some of the very successes of western capitalist societies in expanding access and opportunity, combined with recent changes in technology and economics, have contributed to increasing inequality. And at the nexus of economics and society is the family, the changing shape and role of which is an often overlooked factor in the rise of inequality.
Though capitalism has opened up ever more opportunities for the development of human potential, not everyone has been able to take full advantage of those opportunities or to progress very far once they have done so.
Formal or informal barriers to equality of opportunity, for example, have historically blocked various sectors of the population -- such as women, minorities, and poor people -- from benefiting fully from all capitalism offers. But over time, in the advanced capitalist world, those barriers have gradually been lowered or removed, so that now opportunity is more equally available than ever before. The inequality that exists today arguably derives less from the unequal availability of opportunity than it does from the unequal ability to exploit opportunity.
And that unequal ability, in turn, stems from differences in the inherent human potential that individuals begin with and in the ways that families and communities enable and encourage that human potential to flourish.
The Role of the FamilyIt Pays Off to Invest in Early Education, Says Nobel Economist
The role of the family in shaping individuals' ability and inclination to make use of the means of cultivation that capitalism offers is hard to overstate. The household is not only a site of consumption and of biological reproduction. It is also the main setting in which children are socialized, civilized, and educated, in which habits are developed that influence their subsequent fates as people and as market actors.
To use the language of contemporary economics, the family is a workshop in which human capital is produced.
In a seminal book of 1973, the sociologist Daniel Bell noted that in the advanced capitalist world, knowledge, science, and technology were driving a transformation to what he termed "post-industrial society." Just as manufacturing had previously displaced agriculture as the major source of employment, he argued, so the service sector was now displacing manufacturing. In a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, the production of manufactured goods depended more on technological inputs than on the skills of the workers who actually built and assembled the products.
That meant a relative decline in the need for and economic value of skilled and semiskilled factory workers -- just as there had previously been a decline in the need for and value of agricultural laborers. In such an economy, the skills in demand included scientific and technical knowledge and the ability to work with information. The revolution in information technology that has swept through the economy in recent decades, meanwhile, has only exacerbated these trends.
The Rising Status of Women
One crucial impact of the rise of the post-industrial economy has been on the status and roles of men and women. Men's relative advantage in the pre-industrial and industrial economies rested in large part on their greater physical strength -- something now ever less in demand. Women, in contrast, whether by biological disposition or socialization, have had a relative advantage in human skills and emotional intelligence, which have become increasingly more important in an economy more oriented to human services than to the production of material objects. The portion of the economy in which women could participate has expanded, and their labor has become more valuable -- meaning that time spent at home now comes at the expense of more lucrative possibilities in the paid work force.
This has led to the growing replacement of male-breadwinner/female-homemaker households by dual-income households. Both advocates and critics of the move of women into the paid economy have tended to overemphasize the role played in this shift by the ideological struggles of feminism, while underrating the role played by changes in the nature of capitalist production. The redeployment of female labor from the household has been made possible in part by the existence of new commodities that cut down on necessary household labor time (such as washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, etc.).
The trend for women to receive more education and greater professional attainments has been accompanied by changing social norms in the choice of marriage partners. In the age of the breadwinner/homemaker marriage, which predominated from the nineteenth century and the first two thirds of the twentieth, women tended to place a premium on earning capacity in their choice of partners. Men, in turn, valued the homemaking capacities of potential spouses more than their vocational attainments. It was not unusual for men and women to marry partners of roughly the same intelligence, but women tended to marry men of higher levels of education and economic achievement. As the economy has passed from an industrial economy to a post-industrial service and information economy, women have joined men in attaining recognition through paid work, and the industrious couple today is more likely to be made of peers, with more equal levels of education and more comparable levels of economic achievement -- a process termed "assortative mating."
These post-industrial social trends have had a significant impact on inequality. If family income doubles at each step of the economic ladder, then the total incomes of those families higher up the ladder are bound to increase faster than the total incomes of those further down.
But for a substantial portion of households at the lower end of the ladder, there has been no doubling at all -- for as the relative pay of women has grown and the relative pay of less-educated, working class men has declined, the latter have been viewed as less and less marriageable.
Often, the limitations of human capital that make such men less employable also make them less desirable as companions, and the character traits of men who are chronically unemployed sometimes deteriorate as well. With less to bring to the table, such men are regarded as less necessary -- in part because women can now count on provisions from the welfare state as an additional independent source of income, however meager.
In the United States, among the most striking developments of recent decades has been the stratification of marriage patterns among the various classes and ethnic groups of society. When divorce laws were loosened in the 1960s, there was a rise in divorce rates among all classes. But by the 1980s, a new pattern had emerged: divorce declined among the more educated portions of the populace, while rates among the less-educated portions continued to rise. In addition, the more educated and more well-to-do were more likely to wed, while the less educated were less likely to do so. Given the family's role as an incubator of human capital, such trends have had important spillover effects on inequality.
Abundant research shows that children raised by two parents in an ongoing union are more likely to develop the self-discipline and self-confidence that make for success in life, whereas children -- and particularly boys -- reared in single-parent households (or, worse, households with a mother who has a series of temporary relationships) have a greater risk of adverse outcomes.
In today's globalized, post-industrial environment, human capital is more important than ever in determining life chances. This makes families more important, too, because as each generation of social science researchers discovers anew (and much to their chagrin), the resources transmitted by the family tend to be highly determinative of success in school and in the workplace.
Familial endowments come in a variety of forms: genetics, prenatal and postnatal nurture, and the cultural orientations conveyed within the family. Money matters, too, of course, but is often less significant than these largely nonmonetary factors. (The prevalence of books in a household is a better predictor of higher test scores than family income.) Over time, to the extent that societies are organized along meritocratic lines, family endowments and market rewards will tend to converge.
Studies show that educated parents tend to invest more time and energy in child care, even when both parents are engaged in the work force. And families strong in human capital are more likely to make fruitful use of the improved means of cultivation that contemporary capitalism offers (such as the potential for online enrichment) while resisting their potential snares (such as unrestricted viewing of television and playing of computer games).
This affects the ability of children to make use of formal education, which is at least potentially, available to all regardless of economic or ethnic status. At the turn of the 20th century, only 6.4 percent of American teenagers graduated from high school, and only one in 400 went on to college. There was thus a huge portion of the population with the capacity, but not the opportunity, for greater educational achievement. Today, the U.S. high school graduation rate is about 75 percent (down from a peak of about 80 percent in 1960), and roughly 40 percent of young adults are enrolled in college.
The Economist Gets it Wrong
"The Economist" recently repeated a shibboleth:
"In a society with broad equality of opportunity, the parents' position on the income ladder should have little impact on that of their children."
The fact is, however, that the greater equality of institutional opportunity there is, the more families' human capital endowments matter. Improvements in the quality of schools may improve overall educational outcomes, but they tend to increase, rather than diminish, the gap in achievement between children from families with different levels of human capital.
Recent investigations that purport to demonstrate less intergenerational mobility in the United States today than in the past (or than in some European nations) fail to note that this may in fact be a perverse product of generations of increasing equality of opportunity. And in this respect, it is possible that the United States may simply be on the leading edge of trends found in other advanced capitalist societies as well.
A growing recognition of the increasing economic inequality and social stratification in post-industrial societies has naturally led to discussions of what can be done about it, and in the American context, the answer from almost all quarters is simple: education.
One strand of this logic focuses on college. There is a growing gap in life chances between those who complete college and those who don't, the argument runs, and so as many people as possible should go to college. Unfortunately, even though a higher percentage of Americans are attending college, they are not necessarily learning more.
An increasing number are unqualified for college-level work, many leave without completing their degrees and others receive degrees reflecting standards much lower than what a college degree has usually been understood to mean.
The most significant divergence in educational achievement occurs before the level of college, meanwhile, in rates of completion of high school, and major differences in performance (by class and ethnicity) appear still earlier, in elementary school. So a second strand of the education argument focuses on primary and secondary schooling. The remedies suggested here include providing schools with more money, offering parents more choice, testing students more often, and improving teacher performance. Even if some or all of these measures might be desirable for other reasons, none has been shown to significantly diminish the gaps between students and between social groups -- because formal schooling itself plays a relatively minor role in creating or perpetuating achievement gaps.
The gaps turn out to have their origins in the different levels of human capital children possess when they enter school -- which has led to a third strand of the education argument: focusing on earlier and more intensive childhood intervention. Suggestions here often amount to taking children out of their family environments and putting them into institutional settings for as much time as possible (Head Start, Early Head Start) or even trying to resocialize whole neighborhoods (as in the Harlem Children's Zone project).
There are examples of isolated successes with such programs, but it is far from clear that these are reproducible on a larger scale. Many programs show short-term gains in cognitive ability, but most of these gains tend to fade out over time, and those that remain tend to be marginal. It is more plausible that such programs improve the noncognitive skills and character traits conducive to economic success -- but at a significant cost and investment, employing resources extracted from the more successful parts of the population (thus lowering the resources available to them) or diverted from other potential uses.
For all these reasons, inequality in advanced capitalist societies seems to be both growing and ineluctable, at least for the time being. That has implications for how those on the right as well as those on left should think about the safety nets provided by the welfare state.
Family members of Newtown shooting victims step off Air Force One with US President Barack Obama (2nd R) upon arrival April 8, 2013 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The family members traveled to Washington, DC with Obama to lobby for gun control. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Four months after the deaths of 20 first-graders and six of their teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the U.S. Senate on Thursday will begin debate on legislative proposals aimed at curbing gun violence.
The issue comes to the Senate floor after threats from Republican lawmakers to block the measure were quelled when other GOP senators criticized their plan to filibuster the bill, and after President Barack Obama flew family members of the Dec. 14 shooting victims to the nation's capitol on Air Force One.
In the days following the shooting, lawmakers from both parties expressed resolve to enact legislation aimed at preventing mass shootings, but in recent weeks, lawmakers seem less likely to develop consensus on what should be done. According to public opinion polls, nine out of 10 Americans support some efforts to strengthen America's gun laws.
Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013
Before Congress left the nation's capitol for it's two-week Easter recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. The bill features three titles: the Fix Gun Checks Act, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act and the School and Campus Safety Enhancements Act.
The Fix Guns Check Act would require individuals prohibited from buying a gun to be listed on the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It also would require a background check for every firearm sale, with the exception of exchanges between immediate family members.
Naming teen victims of gun violence Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, makes "straw purchasing" illegal. The proposal prohibits anyone from purchasing a firearm for someone else.
Finally, the Schools and Campus Safety Enhancement Act would appropriate funding to establish a task force to develop and implement safety guidelines for schools.
Reid Open to Amendments
The bill features proposals that the Senate Judiciary Committee passed in March. But, it doesn't include a controversial ban on more than 150 assault-style weapons and ammunition feeding devices capable of accepting more than 10 rounds, championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which passed on a 10-8 party-line vote. Reid told Feinstein he wanted to introduce a bill that could obtain "60 votes." He told Feinstein and other lawmakers that they can introduce additional measures as amendments to his bill.
Framing it as a bipartisan compromise, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Wednesday announced The Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act, a bill that would expand background checks to firearms sold at gun shows and online, require the addition of those prohibited from owning a firearm to NCIS and create a commission to study mass violence.
Manchin and Toomey are on opposite sides of the political aisle, but the lawmakers of neighboring states said in a press conference this week that their constituents maintain a view that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a right to individual gun ownership.
"We have a culture of violence and basically, we have a whole generation that's been desensitized. ... We've got to find out how we can change and reverse that. ... We also need to protect legal gun owners," Manchin said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, backs this approach.
"I want to thank Senators Manchin and Toomey for their determination to find common ground on a bill that Democrats and Republicans can fully support," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Our bipartisan coalition of more than 900 mayors strongly supports this bill and looks forward to working with other leaders, including Senators Schumer and Kirk who have worked tirelessly on this issue, to do all we can to ensure its passage."
Interest among other lawmakers to submit amendments to the bill suggests that the gun debate may turn into a protracted discussion this spring.
"I've had Mark Begich and others come to me. They've got something on mental health. Manchin's been working this for a long time on background checks. ... Blumenthal has a very forward-leaning proposal that he's worked with Senator Lautenberg on the size of and capacity of clips and magazines. There are all kinds of things that can be done with amendments to this bill," Reid said.
More than a dozen Senate Republicans including Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah vowed to block the bill from being scheduled for a floor hearing.
"We should look for ways to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill prone to misusing them, but I oppose legislation that will be used as a vehicle to impose new Second Amendment restrictions on responsible, law-abiding gun owners," Rubio said in a March 28 statement.
Sen. John McCain, R-Az., on a Sunday morning talk show scolded the lawmakers for their plan. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and member of the Judiciary Committee, voted against the gun proposals, but said that said he wouldn't join the filibuster. After an April 8 speech in Connecticut, Mr. Obama flew eleven family members of the Sandy Hook shootings to Washington, D.C., on Air Force One.
Over the past four months Mr. Obama has traveled the country to raise support for proposals he introduced in the days leading up to his second inauguration.
Meanwhile, local officials including police officials and mayors along with gun violence survivors and their families have advocated for new legislation. The National Rifle Association has proposed placing armed security personnel at every school along with a national gun safety campaign.
First Lady Michelle Obama choked back tears Thursday during a 10 speech on gun violence as she described speaking at the funeral of Pendleton, a 15-year-old from Chicago, who days before being killed, performed in the parade marking the president's second term in office.
Even as the drumbeat to pass new gun laws on the national level has gotten quieter during the months since the Newtown shooting, several states, including Colorado, Connecticut and Maryland have passed new restrictions on gun sales. At the same time, other states including Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, have enacted legislation that relaxes restrictions on where permit owners can carry their weapons.
Copies of US President Barack Obama's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget proposal wait to be distributed to Senate staff on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
The very words "federal budget" make most of us yawn.
The idea of looking at a list of numbers with dollar amounts noted (in the millions), references to baselines and fiscal assumptions, recently joined by the infamous sequester and now the "chained CPI," is enough to impel the most studious of us to turn the page, or click on the next story as quickly as our fingers can move.
Indeed, President Obama's budget proposal for 2014 was delivered two months late; it was "due" in February, but the White House explained that the prolonged wrangling with Congress over the fiscal cliff -- and, yes, the sequester -- delayed the process. Knowing that presidential budget proposals are almost always pronounced dead on arrival as soon as they're made public probably didn't speed things up.
But I'd argue that at 244 pages (not counting appendices and "supplementals"), according to the website of the Office of Management and Budget, and with a proposed $3.77 trillion in spending "suggestions," the choices Mr. Obama has made make for exciting reading.
Republicans seized on tax changes that would hit high-income earners hardest, mainly by limiting the amount of allowed deductions. They continued to insist that Mr. Obama is too fixated on raising revenues, and not enough on cutting spending. Some also accused the president of tailoring the budget to help congressional Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections.
But the more hostile reactions came from Democrats and their allies, who bristled at cuts they don't like, especially in entitlement programs. Normally friendly members of Congress like New York's Jerrold Nadler told the Huffington Post that the administration's move to use a less generous measure of inflation to calculate future Social Security benefits "is terrible." Nadler said, "Here's the first proposal by a Democratic president to start undoing the New Deal," adding that he hopes his party rejects it.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who campaigned hard for Mr. Obama's re-election, called the same feature "wrong and indefensible." Trumka said the plan wasn't what people voted for in November. "A president's budget is more than just numbers. It is a profoundly moral document." He accused Mr. Obama of "exempting corporate America from shared sacrifice."
This new formula for calculating cost-of-living increases for benefits like Social Security would save $230 billion over 10 years, and would appear to be a move in the direction of Republicans who've accused the president of not being willing to take a bite out of programs many Democrats consider sacred.
Even so, most Republicans still aren't giving him credit for the proposal, dismissing it as small potatoes.
Still, by taking on his own political party, Mr. Obama demonstrates he's ready to see at least some of the fight joined over what the federal government's role is in caring for the elderly, now that Americans are living longer and resources are strained. It didn't take long for the debate to rekindle over whether the president "really" holds progressive values or not. House Democratic leaders were careful in their comments, but made it plain they're not thrilled with this declaration by their leader.
Buried in that thick budget document are ideas that have consequences. And if leading players in both parties start to discuss them, things could get exciting around here.
President Barack Obama's proposed budget includes a decrease in cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security. Photo of Social Security checks by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images
WASHINGTON -- Advocates for seniors say President Barack Obama is breaking his promise to protect Social Security, while conservatives say he is breaking his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class.
Obama's budget proposal includes a mix of tax increases and benefit cuts in an effort to reduce government borrowing and spark the still-fragile economy. Obama says it is the kind of balanced approach that is necessary to tame runaway budget deficits.
Obama's budget blueprint would increase taxes by $1 trillion over the next decade. Most of the tax increases would target wealthy households and corporations, though some, including a tax increase on cigarettes, would hit low- and middle-income families, too.
At the same time, Obama's plan would trim benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare while adding new spending on infrastructure and early childhood education.
The most sweeping proposal is to adopt a new measure of inflation for the government, which would gradually reduce benefits and raise taxes at the same time.
Called the chained Consumer Price Index, the new measure would show a lower level of inflation than the more widely used Consumer Price Index. The change could have far-reaching effects because so many programs are adjusted each year based on year-to-year changes in consumer prices.
Starting in 2015, Social Security recipients, military retirees and civilian federal retirees would get smaller benefit increases each year. Taxes would gradually go up because of smaller annual adjustments to income tax brackets, the standard deduction and the personal exemption amount.
Most of the savings would come from Social Security. On average, the new measure would reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, by 0.3 percentage points. This year, the COLA was 1.7 percent. Under the new measure, it would have been about 1.4 percent.
Obama rarely mentioned Social Security during his re-election campaign in 2012. But four years earlier, he was more forthcoming, and some liberal groups have been circulating the video evidence.
In a 2008 speech to AARP, Obama laid down this marker: "John McCain's campaign has suggested that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost-of-living adjustments or raise the retirement age. Let me be clear: I will not do either."
On Wednesday, Obama said he was compromising.
"I don't believe that all these ideas are optimal, but I'm willing to accept them as part of a compromise if and only if they contain protections for the most vulnerable Americans," Obama said.
There would be provisions to reduce the impact on older Social Security recipients and those who receive Social Security disability benefits for at least 15 years. In all, the new measure would reduce scheduled benefits by $130 billion over the next decade, according to administration estimates. It would raise taxes by $100 billion.
By comparison, the biggest tax increase in Obama's budget would limit the value of itemized deductions for wealthy families. The limits would apply to all itemized deductions, including those for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes. They would also apply to tax-exempt interest, employer-sponsored health insurance and income exclusions for employee retirement contributions.
The proposal would raise $529 billion over the next decade.
What do you think? Should the president leave Social Security alone? Is his approach necessary to decrease the deficit? Will his plan protect future retiree benefits? Comment below and stay tuned to the PBS NewsHour Thursday for a discussion on this issue.
In a continuation of his broadcast interview with the PBS NewsHour's Ray Suarez, author and former Foreign Policy editor Moises Naim talks about North Korea's Kim Jong Un challenge to hold power in a world where democracies seem to be overtaking autocracies.
"It is becoming harder for him, for people like the North Korean government and the North Korean leader to stay in power," said Naim, author of the recently released "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be". "He can get away with it ... but the number of autocracies has been plummeting" in the wake of forces like the democracy movement of the Arab Spring.
More unconventional leaders of democracy, people like Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, made headway because they were able to mobilize the energies, hopes, desperation and political power that were against the more dominant structures of power -- South Africa's apartheid and Myanmar's military junta, Naim said.
China offers another complicated picture. It has succeeded in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, he continued, but now has an emerging middle class that is placing strains and demands on the government that "are in many ways undermining its ability to be that superpower that people fear."
Watch Ray Suarez's interview with Moises Naim on Thursday's NewsHour. View more of our World coverage.
Here are four arts and culture videos from public broadcasting partners around the nation.
The latest from the series "Blank on Blank" by PBS Digital Studios: "Jim Morrison on Why Fat is Beautiful":
Oregon Art Beat explores Julie Green's "The Last Supper," an exhibition of 500 plates, each one representing the last meal of a death row inmate:
"Away from the classroom, Paul created a new language -- Na'vi -- that is used in the most popular movie in the history of forever, James Cameron's 'Avatar.' Paul continues to 'curate' the language for the many people around the world who find it fascinating even outside the movie theater."
Idea Channel asks, "Is Community a Postmodern Masterpiece?" "Though the TV show 'Community' has never achieved huge ratings, it has a passionate cult following, including us here at Idea Channel. The show plays with genre and narrative in such a creative way that it brings to mind the cultural and artistic theory of Postmodernism."
Faith-based online dating websites like Christian Mingle for Christians and JDate for Jews have increased in popularity since 2008. Images courtesy of Sparks Network.
Jen Spencer had the jitters before she met up with her date Kenneth at an amusement park in the summer of 2012. It was a first date, but they had been talking for months.
Jen Spencer's profile picture on Christian Mingle, an online dating website for Christians. Courtesy of Jen Spencer."It was exciting and relieving," said Spencer. "Once the first minutes you meet face-to-face passes, it's like 'I can breath again.'"
The two met on Christian Mingle, an online dating website for Christians. The site has gained 5 million new users in the last two years.
Even though the couple didn't last past the summer, Spencer, 32, was nevertheless grateful to have met a like-minded man who shared her passion for the Christian faith.
"If I said I didn't want somebody without a Christian background, I would be lying to myself, and wasting my time," she said. With the tensions and conflicts that can exist in a relationship, Spencer said the foundation of faith becomes an important unifying force.
Sociologist Gerald Mendlesohn says the practice of choosing a romantic partner with a shared religion, culture, ethnicity and or nationality, is driving the demand for niche religious dating sites like Christian Mingle, JDate, which caters to Jewish singles and Muslima, for Muslims. And as these sites become more popular, the dating industry rakes in higher revenues. According to a recent market research report, the dating service industry is expected to reach $2 billion this year, growing at 2.9 percent in revenue every year since 2008.
Mendlesohn says research shows that marriage among partners of the same religion is on the decline. While young people are more likely than ever to date outside their religion, those who still prefer to date within their religion are capitalizing on niche online communities.
Matt Wolf, a member of JDate, says he prefers to be with someone Jewish, but he doesn't care whether or not they believe in God.
"It's a cultural thing as opposed to a very religious thing," said Wolf. "I just thought I want to raise my kids similarly to the way I was raised."
Wolf, 29, said that many of the people he has met through JDate feel the same way. They want to share Jewish cultural traditions with their significant other.
JDate was founded in 1997 and was immediately a hit in the Jewish community. The site has 750,000 members worldwide and claims to be responsible for more Jewish marriages than all other websites combined. Christian Mingle boasts a 9 million membership base. The religious online dating community is further subdivided into sites such as CatholicMatch for Catholics, Jwed for orthodox Jews and LDSMingles for Mormons.
JDate spokesperson Arielle Schechtman says that JDate is doing more than matchmaking, they're building the Jewish community so that traditions will be carried on.
"We say JDate makes Jews," said Schechtman. "We build marriage, J-babies, and (the members) send us pictures of the kids."
Relationship expert and therapist, Rachel Sussman says parental or cultural pressures often drive people to date on the online Jewish community.
After working with couples for more than 15 years, Sussman said shared culture, values and traditions are crucial to sustaining relationships. But the decision to date within one's religion should not come from external pressure. Rather, it should be the result of experience and introspection.
"It's my responsibility to ask them why they're making these choices," said Sussman. She advises her clients to expand their search, and then come to the decision of whether or not they can only date within their own religion.
Working with JDate members, Schechtman said that a mother's opinion is going to carry a certain amount of weight. She shared anecdotal stories about mothers who purchased their sons or daughters' JDate subscriptions, helped them with their profiles and weighed in on who they should contact.
While the popularity of niche religious websites is on the rise, in a study of a generic dating website, Mendlesohn found that the younger the member, the less likely he or she will have a religious preference.
"It's ironic that I chose to join a join a religious-based website even though I'm not religious," Wolf said, "And people who join those sites may not be religious. We all just want the shared interests and values."
JUDY WOODRUFF: The full U.S. Senate officially took up gun control today. Supporters swept aside a procedural hurdle and began what is likely to be a long struggle to craft a final bill.
SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Majority Leader: The hard work starts now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaking moments after senators rejected efforts to prevent debate on new gun legislation. It required at least 60 votes and the final margin easily exceeded that.
MAN: On this vote, the yeas are 68, the nays are 31.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Sixteen Republicans joined all but two Democrats in the majority. Reid had acknowledged powerful feelings on both sides.
Still, he said:
SEN. HARRY REID: But whichever side you are on, we ought to be able to agree to exchange thoughtful debate about these measures. Let's engage in it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The measures will include a compromise on federal background checks for would-be gun buyers. Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin worked out language yesterday to expand the checks to firearms sales at gun shows and online.
There could also be proposals on banning assault weapons and restricting high-capacity magazines, among other measures. But a majority of Republicans today, including Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said it's pointless to debate symbolic gestures.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: I'm not going to vote to proceed to a bill that has not yet been written, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. Rather than put on a show and pat ourselves on the back and call it a day, let's do something good to make sure we have done everything in our human capacity to prevent another Sandy Hook.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the proposals that Democrats are pushing would violate Second Amendment rights.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Minority Leader: I believe the government should focus on keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and those with mental issues that could cause them to be a threat to our society. This bill is a clear overreach that will predominantly punish and harass our neighbors, our friends and our family.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy fired back that such arguments were overblown.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt., Judiciary Committee Chairman: Senators should understand what is in this bill that a small minority of Republicans are seeking to prevent the Senate from even considering, the bill has three parts. None of them threaten Second Amendment rights. None of them call for gun confiscation or a gun -- or a government registry.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the end, gun control advocates acknowledged that today's Senate outcome doesn't guarantee ultimate success.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney called it a first stage.
JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: This is an important milestone, but it is a -- an early milestone. And there is no question that challenges will continue to be placed in the way of making progress on passing commonsense legislation that would reduce gun violence, but we are obviously very pleased with today's vote.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Carney also said that, after the vote, President Obama telephoned families of several children killed in the Newtown school shootings. Some of them had been lobbying senators all week to take up the gun control legislation. Now debate begins in earnest, but any final vote could take weeks.
HARI SREENIVASAN: A bipartisan group of senators wrapped up work today on the major elements of an immigration reform bill. That came after they agreed on a new farm worker program and visas for high-tech workers. The broader bill aims to improve border security and put 11 million people on a path to citizenship. It could be introduced on
Tuesday, once Senate staffers complete drafts of the legislation.
A wide swathe of severe weather has moved eastward, already blamed for killing at least two people. The system stretched all the way from Texas to Michigan and brought everything from tornadoes to ice and snow. At least one large funnel cloud ripped through eastern Mississippi today. Authorities reported one death and numerous injuries and damage. Last night, multiple twisters struck in eastern Missouri, damaging dozens of homes and a church.
Today, Gov. Jay Nixon toured the scene.
GOV. JAY NIXON, D-Mo.: Homes were destroyed. Lives were changed forever.
When you're in situations like this and in a few short minutes, the indiscriminate nature of Mother Nature puts tornadoes and high winds through your area, and your homes will never be the same. Your -- many people homeless. Obviously, open up shelters, had a number of folks that stayed away last night. Friends and neighbors have been injured. It's very traumatic and it's really important everybody stay calm.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In Minnesota and South Dakota, thousands of homes and businesses had no power today after heavy snow and ice pulled power lines down lines. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called out the National Guard to help clean up.
U.S. officials now believe that North Korea probably can mount a nuclear warhead on a missile. That word came today in a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment made public at a House hearing.
Later, President Obama weighed in on the rising tensions with North Korea. He met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the White House and urged the North to dial back on its war talk.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We both agree that now's the time for North Korea to end the kind of belligerent approach that they have been taking and to try to lower temperatures. Nobody wants to see a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The president said the U.S. will work diplomatically to reduce the tensions. And Secretary of State John Kerry headed to East Asia, planning talks with leaders in South Korea, China, and Japan.
Kerry and other G8 foreign ministers met in London today, but they failed to agree on arming the rebels in Syria. They criticized the Syrian government's use of heavy weapons in residential areas, but they went no further. Britain and France have pushed for sending weapons to the rebels. The U.S. has resisted.
Today, Germany's foreign minister voiced concerns as well. .
GUIDO WESTERWELLE, German Foreign Minister (through translator): I'm reluctant when it comes to the topic of direct arms deliveries to Syria, because, to date, I have seen no way to prevent these weapons getting into the wrong hands, mainly those of radicals.
My concern is that weapons that are delivered in Syria will then get into the hands of jihadists and terrorists.
HARI SREENIVASAN: More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Syria that began with a popular uprising two years ago.
Major Japanese automakers are recalling more than 3 million vehicles around the world for problems with air bags. Nearly half are in New York. Toyota, Honda and Nissan announced the recall today. The potential problem is with passenger-side air bags. Faulty inflators could burst and send plastic pieces flying. The air bags were made by Japan's Takata Corporation.
In U.S. economic news, the number of foreclosed homes fell in March to the lowest level in more than five years. The listing firm RealtyTrac also reported a 21 percent decline in the last 12 months.
And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 63 points to close at 14,865. The Nasdaq rose almost three points to close at 3,300.
JEFFREY BROWN: A day after the president sent his budget to Congress, several key proposals were hot topics among lawmakers in both parties.
MAN: This is 2 million-plus!
JEFFREY BROWN: Liberal and progressive leaders rallied outside the Capitol this afternoon, sounding off against the president's decision to curb some entitlement program spending in his budget proposal.
REP. DONNA EDWARDS, D-Md.: We have stood with you. It's time for you to stand with the seniors of this country. It's time for you to stand on their side and say that we're not going to tolerate a benefits cut.
JEFFREY BROWN: Two changes in particular have irked many on the political left. One is the president's willingness to adopt a new measure of inflation for the government known as the chained consumer price index. It would reduce future benefits to Social Security recipients, military veterans and civilian federal employees.
The president himself expressed reservations yesterday, but he said he made the offer to bring Republicans to the negotiating table.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And I don't believe that all these ideas are optimal, but I'm willing to accept them as part of a compromise if, and only if, they contain protections for the most vulnerable Americans.
JEFFREY BROWN: That didn't stop Democrats like Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin from pressing the acting budget director, Jeff Zients, today at a House hearing.
REP. MARK POCAN, D-Wis.: And I called my mother. I woke her up this morning to ask her exactly what she makes on Social Security per month. She's 84. I grew up in a lower middle-class family. They have a modest home, but she gets $1,101 a month at 84. And then I went through some of her bills with her and where she is at in her savings. It's just not a lot. And to try to address Social Security in that way to me seems to be breaking our promise to seniors.
JEFFREY ZIENTS, Acting Director, Office of Management and Budget: The president, as part of a balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction package included CPI. The other condition, however, is to protect the most vulnerable, including people like your mother, older Social Security beneficiaries.
JEFFREY BROWN: The budget also contains $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other federal health programs. Those would be achieved through lower payments to health care providers and drug companies and by requiring wealthier Medicare recipients to pay higher premiums.
In his remarks yesterday, the president also sought to allay concerns about the potential effects of those reforms.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will reduce our government's Medicare bills by finding new ways to reduce the cost of health care, not by shifting the costs to seniors or the poor or families with disabilities. They are reforms that keep the promise we have made to our seniors: basic security that is rock-solid and dependable and there for you when you need it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Back at today's hearing, the chair of the House budget committee, Republican Paul Ryan, said the plan represents a good first step, but doesn't go far enough.
REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.: The president does deserve credit for challenging his party on entitlements. Unfortunately, the budget doesn't include the structural reforms that we need to protect and strengthen critical health and retirement security programs. These policy changes in this budget wont save these programs. They will make them a little less expensive, but they still go bankrupt.
JEFFREY BROWN: House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, rejected the president's demands for close to $1 trillion in new revenues.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: The president calls this his compromise budget, but his bottom line is this: my way or the highway. And if that's the case, then I'm not very optimistic.
JEFFREY BROWN: Still, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said today the administration is optimistic a budget deal can be reached this year.
And we look at this more closely now with Jared Bernstein. He served as chief economist and adviser to Vice President Biden from 2009 to 2011 and is now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Max Richtman is president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an advocacy group. And Joseph Antos is an economist at the American Enterprise Institute whose research includes Medicare and health care system reform.
Welcome to all of you.
JEFFREY BROWN: Jared, first of all, I will start with Social Security and this chained CPI. Explain that to us.
JARED BERNSTEIN, Former Chief Economist to Vice President Joe Biden: Want to jump right in, huh?
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
JARED BERNSTEIN: Sure.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, how is it different from the way things are done?
JARED BERNSTEIN: Well, the punch line is that the chain CPI grows a bit more slowly than the CPI that's currently used.
Now, Social Security benefits are adjusted for price increases. They're adjusted with the Consumer Price Index. But for reasons that have to do with, most economists, and myself included, view a slightly better, more realistic way of estimating how people actually respond to price changes. This chain measure does a better job of capturing inflation and it grows more slowly.
Now, that said, there are critics -- and, by the way, that means that your real Social Security benefit goes up less because it's adjusted by a different deflationary measure. Now, let me just be clear, though.
JEFFREY BROWN: And there's the rub.
JARED BERNSTEIN: There's rub number one.
Rub number two, which I think is also an important rub, is that the prices that elderly people face are different than the prices that the rest of us face. They face more medical costs. They pay more out-of-pocket for medical costs. So while the chained CPI is a more accurate measure of inflation overall, it's probably not more accurate for elderly people.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Max Richtman, you hate this idea, right?
MAX RICHTMAN, President, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare: That's an understatement.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK.
JEFFREY BROWN: Explain.
MAX RICHTMAN: Well, rub number three is that the current formula that's being used, the Consumer Price Index that is under current law, that is inadequate.
It doesn't take into account enough of the goods and services Jared's talked about that seniors rely on. So not enough weight is given on health care costs, out-of-pocket costs. Medicare is a great program. It doesn't cover dental care, vision care, hearing aids, and out-of-pocket costs, which go up. Contrary to what the president said, a lot of out-of-pocket costs are going up under his proposal. So the current formula is bad. It doesn't keep up with inflation.
JEFFREY BROWN: So they don't get enough -- seniors don't get enough cost of living increase now, you're saying.
MAX RICHTMAN: Now. And so we're now going to tell seniors that inadequate COLA you have been getting, you got zero for two out of the last four years, that was too generous? We have devised a better way -- not myself, but in Washington -- and your COLA will be even smaller. So we're going to go from a flawed, inadequate adjustment for inflation to an even worse formula.
JEFFREY BROWN: Can you make a case for why this is a good move?
JOSEPH ANTOS, Health Policy Analyst, American Enterprise Institute: Well, let's be clear that if inflation is zero, which it has been for the last couple years, seniors are not going see a reduction in their Social Security payments. Let's not panic about that.
MAX RICHTMAN: I hope not.
JOSEPH ANTOS: It's illegal.
The fact is, however, that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the key drivers of our overall fiscal problems. Max is right. This represents a cut in payments. It's a slow cut in payments. It's not a gigantic reduction all at once.
JARED BERNSTEIN: A few tenths per year.
JOSEPH ANTOS: Yes, exactly.
What it basically says is, if we went back into a normal economy and we had, say, 2 percent inflation, instead of getting, say, a $200 raise on a $10,000 Social Security payment, you would get $150. The loss of $50 means something, but the increase also means something.
JEFFREY BROWN: But the question is, does it make sense as a way to deal -- one of the ways to deal with this large problem that we have?
JARED BERNSTEIN: I think only way it makes sense -- and, here, the president agrees strongly with what I'm about to say.
I think the only way it makes sense as an adjustment to Social Security is if you make sure that you offset some of the problems that Max and Joe just mentioned. And what the president is proposing -- this part maybe hasn't been reported quite enough -- is something called a benefit enhancement or a bump up starting after about 10 years of being on Social Security.
So you do take that hit that we just talked about in terms of the smaller increases for about a decade. There's a bump up which will ultimately after 10 years amount to 5 percent of the average benefit, which is about $750. So the president's proposing, yes, we think we should do this for a variety of reasons, not least of which is to bring Republicans to the table for other reasons, but we're going to try to offset the benefit losses with a bump up.
JEFFREY BROWN: So there are some protections.
JARED BERNSTEIN: It's a benefit enhancement to protect some of the folks that we worry about.
MAX RICHTMAN: I wonder if I could just comment on that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Go ahead.
MAX RICHTMAN: Because this is being sold, peddled, as a more -- this chained CPI as a more accurate measure of inflation. All right?
It's not more accurate for seniors, but it's being presented as more accurate. If it's accurate, why do you need a bump? There's something wrong with the formula if this -- if the COLA is supposed to keep up with inflation, you wouldn't need that.
But I also wanted -- you didn't go here, but I want to make this observation. We shouldn't even be here talking about this. I'm glad to be here talking on your show.
JEFFREY BROWN: Actually, that's why -- that's where I want to go.
MAX RICHTMAN: All right.
JEFFREY BROWN: Because that's the larger question.
MAX RICHTMAN: That is the larger question.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is Social Security, should it be part of this?
MAX RICHTMAN: It should not.
JEFFREY BROWN: It should not. Because?
MAX RICHTMAN: Because it didn't create the deficit, hasn't added a dime to the deficit, the debt or the annual deficit, has a surplus of $2.7 trillion, is sound -- and Jared knows this -- for the next 20 years, not according to Jared, Max, anyone here, is able to pay full benefits for the next 20 years.
Then there's a shortfall that needs to be addressed. We don't need to solve that today or in the next two months. We have time to do that. It shouldn't be part of the debate. And I was gratified today to see Senator Max Baucus at a hearing say this shouldn't be -- this change shouldn't be part of the discussion on debt negotiations.
I was gratified to hear Leader Pelosi wonder why it's part of this budget proposal. So I think we're making some progress.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right.
Should it be part of the debate?
JOSEPH ANTOS: We can't wait 20 years and then decide we have got an emergency.
This has, of course, been the tendency of policy-makers, to put off the pain until later. The fact is that we should be making reasonable reforms to encourage people to save more for their retirement. And 20 years is just about the right amount of time for people to get ready for reality.
The fact is that this is a budget hit. This is not a reform of Social Security. There's no question about that. What we need to do is, we need to provide incentives for people to stay on the job longer, if they are able-bodied and able-minded. And we're living longer and we're living healthier.
JARED BERNSTEIN: Look, I think just to be clear here, it's quite obvious that the president put the chained CPI in his budget because he wants to bring Republicans to the table on this key issue of revenues, new tax revenues.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that's right. But he's implicitly or even explicitly making a case, one you don't want, that it should be part of the discussion.
JARED BERNSTEIN: No, I think he is.
And I think that he's doing so in such a way with this benefit enhancement, this bump up that tries to offset it. He himself I think in his commentary has said this isn't exactly the way I would like to go. But we have to move forward. And we also have to be concerned -- and this -- maybe Max and I depart a bit on this point.
While I take your point on Social Security, when it comes to achieving a sustainable budget picture in the long run, that has to involve slowing the growth of health costs. And there, the president also has significant cuts in the budget, about $400 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, largely from Medicare, largely on the delivery side.
A point that we haven't made yet -- and this gets to some things Max has said -- the typical beneficiary of Medicare and Social Security has an income of about $25,000. So when we start fooling around with these kinds of adjustments and cuts, let's be mindful of not hurting these economically vulnerable folks.
JEFFREY BROWN: Medicare, Joe Antos? You scoffed when he said this was a significant reform.
JOSEPH ANTOS: It's not a significant reform.
JEFFREY BROWN: It's not?
JOSEPH ANTOS: It's a replay of last year's budget with minor tweaks.
Last year's budget proposal from the president didn't substantially reform the Medicare program. The fact is that the $400 billion of cuts are offset by $250 billion worth of additional spending that the president assumes will take place in the Medicare program. So we're not talking about...
JARED BERNSTEIN: Well, so here we have a disagreement.
Here's a fact. If you look back at the Congressional Budget Office's projection of Medicare costs over the next 10 years and you look back a couple years ago and you look at today, that projection is down by $500 billion. That means some of the changes that we and the health care industry have implemented, including things the president has brought to the table, have actually already slowed the growth of health care costs.
So I disagree with Joe.
JEFFREY BROWN: Go ahead.
MAX RICHTMAN: I do think that the Affordable Care Act has resulted in considerable savings.
Some of the savings have not even been implemented yet. So let's give that a chance to work. But keep in mind here we're talking about Social Security and Medicare, we're talking about retirement security. As Jared said, about half of seniors right now receive about $22,000 a year in income. So we're asking them to get less and to pay more, pay more for premiums, deductibles, co-payments, more for out-of-pocket costs.
JEFFREY BROWN: Briefly, a brief last word.
JOSEPH ANTOS: OK.
So the key here is that we have to have real reform. Real reform means that people change the way they behave. In the case of Medicare, the beneficiaries change the way they behave and the health sector changes the way it behaves. There is literally nothing in the president's budget that has that kind of influence.
JARED BERNSTEIN: I know that was the last word, but that's actually incorrect.
You said a little bit in your introduction, bundled payments.
JOSEPH ANTOS: That's not in the president's budget.
JARED BERNSTEIN: It is.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, OK, very big subject, short amount of time. And I promise you we will continue.
Jared Bernstein, Joe Antos, and Max Richtman, thank you all.
JOSEPH ANTOS: Thank you.
MAX RICHTMAN: Thank you so much.
JARED BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to our series on dropouts and what educators are trying to get more high school students to graduate.
We have spent much time chronicling the problem and looking at different approaches that make a difference. There's been better news to report of late, but with graduation season coming soon, there are also questions about what's behind the numbers.
The NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has the story for our American Graduate project.
JOHN MERROW: It's graduation day for the high school class of 2012 at College Career Tech Academy in Pharr, Texas. Graduation rates have been rising here. In fact, according to a U.S. Department of Education report, they have been going up all across the country.
The latest data show the high school graduation rate has risen to 78.2 percent. That's a 5 percentage point jump in just four years after flatlining for almost 40.
ROBERT BALFANZ, Johns Hopkins University: The nation's improvement over the last four or five years has actually been driven by the kids who have the highest dropout rates.
So, the rates are up the most among Latino, Hispanic students. They have actually had a 10-point gain over that five-year period. African-Americans are up about 6.5 points. And the white rate's only up a couple of points.
JOHN MERROW: Bob Balfanz is a leading expert on high school dropouts.
ROBERT BALFANZ: We're actually, for the first time in 40 years, seeing real progress at improving the nation's graduation rate.
JOHN MERROW: The gains are remarkable, but can the numbers be trusted? In the past, some school systems, including this one in Orlando, Florida, have played fast and loose with the numbers, labeling dropouts as transfers and advising low-performing students like Joel Martinez to leave school to get a GED.
JOEL MARTINEZ, Student: In school, we heard a lot: The GED is a lot quicker. You have less problems. You don't have to worry about high school credits. You don't have to worry about this, you don't have to worry about that. You go, take your test, get your GED, and you're done.
JOHN MERROW: According to a 2005 report by The Education Trust, at least one state, New Mexico, calculated graduation rates based only on the number of seniors who graduated. They didn't count the ninth, 10th and 11th graders who dropped out.
Balfanz says some schools and states are still finding ways to inflate their numbers.
ROBERT BALFANZ: We find in some states a number of 11th and 12th graders suddenly going to homeschooling. And then you push deeper, and you find that half those kids are over age for grade.
JOHN MERROW: Balfanz says that because some states, Indiana, for example, try to keep kids in school by taking away their drivers licenses if they drop out, but then they offer homeschooling as a way out.
ROBERT BALFANZ: You get to keep your driver's license if you can just say I'm going to be -- my parents agree I will be homeschooled, as opposed to, I'm dropping out of school because I'm not succeeding.
JOHN MERROW: Russell Rumberger of U.C.-Santa Barbara says many California school districts have created alternative school systems for low-performing students, a kind of parallel universe.
RUSSELL RUMBERGER, University of California, Santa Barbara: If a school wants to raise their performance levels, either test scores or grad rates, and they have students who are low-achieving who will drag them down, then one -- one alternative they have is to transfer them into an alternative system that either is run by them, their own -- the district itself, or outside the districts.
JOHN MERROW: Some schools offer students who are failing or have dropped out an opportunity to make up missing credits by taking courses online.
RUSSELL RUMBERGER: It may be legitimate in terms of how it actually -- technically, how it works, but it's questionable of -- of its qualities.
JOHN MERROW: These so-called credit recovery courses allow students to proceed at their own pace.
RUSSELL RUMBERGER: Somebody that worked in my office with her son where he I think made up a semester grade in about six days, in about 12 hours of work.
JOHN MERROW: Are these improved graduation rates, have they been influenced by the growth of credit recovery?
RUSSELL RUMBERGER: Well, I probably -- I would suspect they are, but I don't -- it's hard to quantify how much so.
JOHN MERROW: While some graduation numbers in some schools may still be questionable, both Rumberger and Balfanz say the recent improvement is real. They say, in 2005, political pressure forced all states to count graduates the same way, how many enter ninth grade and how many graduate.
ROBERT BALFANZ: About 2005, Mark Warner made it the year of the high school. And the -- and the nation's governors actually signed a compact to say we are all going to measure graduation rates the same way, because, before that, everybody measured it differently, so we couldn't really know where we're at.
JOHN MERROW: The country began paying serious attention to graduation rates in 2006, a national study called "Dropouts: The Silent Epidemic."
Time magazine made the issue a cover story, and states took action. Over the past years, the "NewsHour" has looked at several reforms that have helped push graduation rates up. One of the most important was closing dropout factories, large high schools with huge dropout rates.
ROBERT BALFANZ: The pattern these students would take in these schools was very routine, very predictable and very efficient, like a factory.
So, the basic story is they would come into high school many multiple years behind grade level. Many of them would fail their courses. The school system would say, well, try it again under the same circumstances. They might do a short time in an alternative and then drop out. And to us, that seemed very routine, very factory-like.
JOHN MERROW: The number of dropout factories is down, from about 2,000 back in 2002 to just over 1,400 today.
ROBERT BALFANZ: People recognized, from our research and others, that it was this subset of high schools, that 10 percent of high schools more or less, 10 percent, 12 percent were producing half the dropouts, which made it seem like a targeted, solvable problem.
JOHN MERROW: Another reason for the rise in graduation rates, some districts have adopted proven strategies like smaller schools, where everyone knows your name.
TANYA JOHN, High School for Violin and Dance: We give students opportunities who haven't had the chance for the arts.
JOHN MERROW: In 2010, Tanya John was the principal of the High School for Violin and Dance, one of about 100 theme-based small schools in New York City. Graduation rates tend to be higher at small schools. Halfway across the country in Texas, a district is keeping bored kids in high school by letting them attend college at the same time.
DANIEL KING, Superintendent, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District: What we're looking at doing is doing education in a different way, where the colleges come together with us and start working with these young people while they are still in high school.
JOHN MERROW: Before superintendent Daniel King began the college program, many students dropped out to get jobs. Now they see a clear path to a better future.
Jonathan Sanchez (ph) is a senior.
JONATHAN SANCHEZ, Student: I'm taking business computer systems. I'm taking medical billing, like, I want to be certified in it. I'm taking an OSHA course. There's, like, so much going on, like, it feels like my brain is being occupied the whole time.
ROBERT BALFANZ: For many kids to really believe schooling is going to lead somewhere, you have got to have really strong pathways to adult success. And that's different possibilities depending on where you're at.
JOHN MERROW: Multiple pathways?
ROBERT BALFANZ: Different. So, some could lead to college. Some could lead to really solid job training opportunities that lead to a job, some to community college and then a technical job.
JOHN MERROW: Graduation rates are also up at Shelbyville High School in Indiana. Shelbyville was the focus of that "TIME" magazine article on dropouts. The story was a wakeup call. School administrators now keep careful track of every student and intervene at the first sign of trouble.
ROBERT BALFANZ: They had a big data room where they had the kids coded by green, yellow, red, and figure out what their needs are. And they have driven their graduation rates up to 90 percent now.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That is a goal we can meet.
JOHN MERROW: To reach that goal, experts say the high school graduation rate has to jump significantly. That may not happen soon. That's because 45 states have adopted new, more challenging academic standards called the Common Core. They go into effect next school year.
ROBERT BALFANZ: The Common Core is going to make the ninth grade harder. And all the evidence says that the kids are up to the -- up to the task if we combine making the ninth grade harder with additional supports and school redesign.
JOHN MERROW: That's a big if. Given current budget constraints, many schools may not be able to provide that support. And if they don't, the rising graduation rates of recent years are likely to decline.
JEFFREY BROWN: John's report was part of the American Graduate project, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
JEFFREY BROWN: Next tonight: the changing nature of power and how it's wielded.
Ray Suarez has our book conversation.
RAY SUAREZ: In the 21st century, is the power that comes with running things, governments, armies, religions, all that it used to be?
In "The End of Power," Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that power as we have understood it for a long time is both harder to use and to keep.
He joins me now.
Moises, governments are bigger than they have ever been, armies more powerful and about to project power more than they have ever been, banks also big enough to take down whole continents, much less countries. How could power be harder to use?
MOISES NAIM, Author, "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn't What It Used to Be": In each of those examples, you have situations where -- that shows that size no longer matters as much.
Think about the Taliban and the army. They are facing the coalition army of some of the most modern, sophisticated military ever assembled. Well, they're not winning, but they're denying victory to this very large coalition. Think about the large companies that you mentioned, especially in the financial sector. Of course, they now concentrate a lot of assets, but many of them are under attack.
Many of them have been -- some of the CEOs have been fired. All of them are under regulatory attack that is going to constrain even more what they can do. So for each one of the examples, and even the governments -- think about the big governments that -- of course they're larger, but they're also more constrained.
They have a long list of actors. They are like Gullivers, just tied down by the Lilliputians.
RAY SUAREZ: So is it really that power is not as easy to keep and to use, or that it is distributed in more places and more people have it?
MOISES NAIM: Of course. And it's both.
And the end result is that it's easier to acquire, but, as you said in the introduction, much harder to use and more fleeting.
RAY SUAREZ: We have seen the spectacle of a new pope being elected, and here is an institution that is 2,000 years old that hundreds of millions of people have a vital interest in.
Is the pope a less powerful person than he would have been in the 19th century?
MOISES NAIM: Think about the process of selecting this new pope and think about the coalitions that were forming, how different issues, different regions, different factors played into the selection of this new pope.
And think about how, in places like Africa, like Latin America, the Vatican is losing market share, so to speak. There are more and more contenders and rivals and new types of religions and Pentecostalists, and all kind of Protestant churches. Protestantism is growing.
Brazil, in 1990, the census said that 90 percent of Brazilians called themselves Catholics, now 65 percent. In many countries in Latin America now, Catholicism is not the main religion.
RAY SUAREZ: You have mentioned that power is more attenuated. And in the book, you describe the ways that there are more checks and balances at play, that even people we perceive as being very powerful find it more difficult to use that power.
Has that created a more stable and in some ways safer world?
MOISES NAIM: Well, there's a lot to welcome, a lot to celebrate in this trend where autocrats and monopolists and people that concentrate a lot of power have a harder time retaining. They're less secure in their power. So there's a lot of good things happening there.
But there is also downside, especially in governments, in democracies that are surrounded by constraints, what political scientist Frank Fukuyama calls vetocracies. A lot of democracies have become vetocracies, meaning that they are full of small centers of power. Each one has a little bit of power to stop and block and veto the initiatives of others, but no one has enough power to push through an agenda, a policy, a decision.
Look at the sequester in the United States and how difficult it has become to just make some fundamental decisions about how to tax and spend. Look around the world at the kinds of coalitions. Very strange political coalitions need to be assembled that are unstable, that are fractured, that are hard to keep together, and have a hard time making decisions without diluting them, without postponing them, and without really giving them the content that is needed to really make a dent on the problems they're trying to address.
RAY SUAREZ: Sure. As you say, the power of no is really quite potent in the 21st century.
But can we flip that and maybe think of it as a more democratic ideal, the idea that the average person in the world is experiencing new power by being able to refuse to listen to the people that they used to listen to or be understood to have to listen to?
MOISES NAIM: There's no doubt that the trends have empowered individuals, have given individuals more choice, more opportunity, more options. And they're exercising that. That's -- there's no doubt about that.
But there is another side to it in which no one decides, in which everyone is empowered, everyone has a little bit of power, but there is no one who organizes the game. There's no one that provides direction. There's no one that makes the decisions, the collective decisions that we all need to live in society.
RAY SUAREZ: So are we on our way? If that is not a very good recipe for running a world, are we on our way to a more collaborative planet? Will stakeholders decide that, yes, there is some power in no, but maybe there's a little bit more power in working together?
MOISES NAIM: I hope so. I hope so.
I think a lot of policies are choking in checks and balances. There are too many constraints that don't let governments govern. And I'm not suggesting that they have to become more autocratic and that we have to give a blank check to a government. They need to be constrained and scrutinized. And accountability is a very important facet of democracy.
But they need to have some power to run things. And that is where we need to move towards, and that -- scrutinizing and understanding what are the checks and balances that are now in place that are counterproductive is a very important exercise.
RAY SUAREZ: I want to continue our conversation online.
But, Moises Naim, thanks for joining us.
MOISES NAIM: Thank you, Ray.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the questions surrounding a research trial with newborn babies that allegedly didn't provide adequate disclosure to parents.
The trial involved 1,300 infants at 23 hospitals who were born extremely prematurely between 2004 and 2009. Doctors were trying to better determine the right amount of supplemental oxygen they need to give to preemies. If the oxygen level is too low, babies can die. But if the rate is too high, it can lead to eye disease and blindness.
In the trial, half of the babies were assigned to a lower dose, half to a higher amount. But, last month, the federal Office of Human Research Protections concluded that there wasn't appropriate informed consent. In a letter to the centers, it said hospitals failed to "describe adequately the reasonably foreseeable risks of blindness, neurological damage, and death."
The nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen brought that letter to light this week.
And we get more now with David Brown. He's a reporter for The Washington Post.
David Brown, welcome to the program.
Explain in shorthand, what was this study designed to do?
DAVID BROWN, The Washington Post: Well, it was designed to answer a question that has been unanswered and that people have been trying to answer since the 1950s, when it was discovered that oxygen at high concentrations given to premature infants can cause very unexpectedly really serious eye damage and lead to blindness.
The problem was that when oxygen was limited to many of these premature infants, their brain didn't get enough oxygen to develop. Many of them developed retardation. Some of them died. So there has been a real problem for literally half-a-century to determine what the right amount of oxygen is to sort of balance these two bad outcomes, on the one hand, death and brain damage, and on the other hand blindness.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what was the outcome of this study?
DAVID BROWN: Well, this study showed that, as previous studies had hinted, that if you limit the oxygen that premature infants are getting -- this is all supplementary oxygen -- this is more oxygen than you get from breathing air -- but if you keep it at the lower end of what was the standard of care, then you reduce the chances of them becoming blind, but you slightly increase the chance of them dying.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And along the way to that outcome, though, there are now questions being raised about whether parents were adequately notified about the risks.
What is known about what parents were told?
DAVID BROWN: Well, parents were told that the current standard of care is to keep the amount of oxygen as measured by saturation of hemoglobin in a range between 85 percent and 90 percent, and that this was standard of care, and that all the babies were going to get oxygen that kept their blood at that -- in that range.
What wasn't adequately described is that there was going to be an attempt to essentially -- well, to definitely create two groups. One-half of the babies would be randomly assigned to get oxygen at the low end of the normal range, and the others were randomly assigned to get oxygen at the high end.
And the idea was to see if one of these two subranges was better than the other. And the fact that at one of them, there might be a higher risk of blindness and at the other end a higher risk of death, that really wasn't laid out in detail.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But now there's a dispute. The University of Alabama at Birmingham, which was the lead hospital out of, I guess, 23 medical institutions that were engaged in this study, they are saying that throughout this trial, they -- that physicians conformed to what's called the standard of care.
But Public Citizen, the criticism is that they didn't provide -- they didn't stay within the band of so-called standard of care. How is that going to be resolved?
DAVID BROWN: Well, they did stay within the band of standard of care as measured by these two -- this range of hemoglobin saturation, namely 85 percent to 95 percent.
Babies who are not in a trial like this, the physician with -- conferring with the parents usually, decides someplace where in that range the doctor and the parents think might be best. And, actually, it's somewhat hard to keep infants from -- at 1 percentage of saturation, they tend to bounce around.
But the -- even though that is the standard band of care, there is not enough knowledge to know what is the sweet spot in that -- in that range of 85 percent to 95 percent. And this trial was trying to find that sweet spot. The people who ran it say everyone was in the standard of care, and there was actually some evidence that the lower end wasn't only protected against blindness, but might actually increase the survival of these kids.
So, it just didn't go into the whole back story. How it will be resolved is -- remains to be seen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that's what I wanted to ask you.
Attempts now being made to reach out to the parents of these 1,300 infants -- of course, some of them did die. Some of them ended up with blindness or other vision issues. What's being done right now to reach out to those families?
DAVID BROWN: Well, it should be noted that babies were going to die, babies were going to go blind whether this trial was run or not, because that is just the hazards of extreme prematurity and oxygen therapy.
At the moment, this office, OHRP, is negotiating with the University of Alabama at Birmingham as to what they're going to do. They have basically been told do a better job next time with informed consent. But whether this is going to involve a formal apology to the parents hasn't been decided.
The people who've run the trial don't think they did anything wrong. They think that they had adequate explanation of the trial and truly informed consent. But the OHRP office says they didn't. And it's now a matter of negotiation, what they tell the parents.
JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the Office of Human Research Protections we mentioned that falls under the Department of Health and Human Services.
So, just quickly, David Brown, who or what is to determine now whether there was liability in all this?
DAVID BROWN: Well, of course, that's a big question that the Office of Human Research Protections doesn't want to the address. In fact, I asked them about that today.
If there is an apology, and that can be interpreted by a lawyer as some statement of culpability and liability, there probably will be lawsuits. But it's clear that blindness and death were going to happen regardless of the study. And it may be difficult to pinpoint which babies actually had a bad outcome because of the study.
JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brown, reporter for The Washington Post, thank you very much.
DAVID BROWN: You're welcome.
JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight: an award that's coming 60 years after the fact.
President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor on a Catholic priest who died in a Korean war POW camp. Father Emil Kapaun never fired a bullet in the conflict or even carried a weapon. Instead, he took care of wounded soldiers, often at the expense of his own safety and health, on the battlefield and later at a Chinese POW camp, where he would steal food to give to other prisoners.
Those who came home from the camp never stopped praising his actions, and that finally paid off. After a military investigation and some legislation, their hopes of a medal for Father Kapaun became a reality this afternoon.
President Obama presented the award to Kapaun's nephew in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Father Kapaun has been called a shepherd in combat boots. His fellow soldiers who felt his grace and his mercy called him a saint, a blessing from God.
Today, we bestow another title on him, recipient of our nation's highest military declaration, the Medal of Honor.
In the chaos, dodging bullets and explosions, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes, out past the front lines, and into no-man's land, dragging the wounded to safety. When his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay, gathering the injured, tending to their wounds.
When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he carried on, comforting the injured and the dying, offering some measure of peace as they left this earth. When enemy forces bore down, it seemed like the end, that these wounded Americans, more than a dozen of them, would be gunned down.
But Father Kapaun spotted a wounded Chinese officer. He pleaded with this Chinese officer and convinced him to call out to his fellow Chinese. The shooting stopped, and they negotiated a safe surrender, saving those American lives.
Then, as Father Kapaun was being led away, he saw another American, wounded, unable to walk, laying in a ditch, defenseless. An enemy soldier was standing over him, rifle aimed at his head ready to shoot. And Father Kapaun marched over and pushed the enemy soldier aside. And then, as the soldier watched stunned, Father Kapaun carried that wounded American away.
This is the valor we honor today, an American soldier who didn't fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all: a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live.
In the camps that winter, deep in the valley, men could freeze to death in their sleep. Father Kapaun offered them his own clothes. Their bodies were ravaged by dysentery. He grabbed some rocks, pounded metal into pots and boiled clean water. They lived in filth. He washed their clothes and he cleansed their wounds.
The guards ridiculed his devotion to his savior and the almighty. They took his clothes and make him stand in the freezing cold for hours. Yet, he never lost his faith. If anything, it only grew stronger.
Father Kapaun's life, I think, is a testimony to the human spirit, the power of faith, and reminds us of the good that we can do each and every day, regardless of the most difficult of circumstances.
JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama awarding the Medal of Honor to Father Emil Kapaun more than 60 years after his death as a prisoner in the Korean War.
Washington lives in its moments.
I got to sit in the East Room of the White House this week for the taping of an "In Performance at the White House" concert on Memphis Soul that will air on PBS next week. Justin Timberlake and Mavis Staples were there. I was in hog heaven.
But something caught my eye as the president and first lady were making their way out of the room at the end of the evening.
The president veered to his left to single out a white-haired gentleman in the front row for a personal greeting. It was Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Chattanooga.
Ordinarily, this would not mean much. There were other Tennessee lawmakers there too. But watching two men who typically agree on little exchange a firm handshake as the cameras rolled and the band played "Midnight Hour" reminded me of the value of even a moment's face time.
This did not change the world. By the next day, after the president delivered his annual budget blueprint to Capitol Hill for ritual denunciation, Corker would be taking him to task for failing to do enough to cut spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"The House, the Senate, and now the president have failed to produce budgets that responsibly address the number one driver of our country's insolvency -- unsustainable spending on entitlement programs," Corker said in a statement.
But in a world of high dudgeon and long-distance critique, these moments count, and this was a week full of them.
The next day, 12 other Republican senators, including Corker's Tennessee seatmate Lamar Alexander, joined the president for a steak dinner in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House. The goal, once again, was face time.
"This is a good first step," Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, who organized the dinner, told FOX News afterward. "Maybe we can find some common ground. We've got big problems. We need big solutions."
It's easy to forget how much does and does not happen in Washington without a little old fashioned eye contact.
Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin III, for instance, have little in common on paper. But when it comes to breaking through logjams, Toomey, a conservative Republican, and Manchin, a conservative Democrat, are soulmates. That's what happened when the two gun-owning senators hammered out middle ground that would allow a vote on a bill requiring background checks for gun buyers.
"I don't consider criminal background checks to be gun control," Toomey said. "I think it's just common sense."
And Manchin, according to the Washington Post, has taken to inviting colleagues out for a river ride on his boat, "The Black Tie." "I'm doing everything I can to build relationships," he told the Post. "[The] cheapest thing you can do is feed people."
If the Toomey-Manchin compromise is to become law, many more discussions will be needed.
Still, even the background checks breakthrough may not have happened if lawmakers were not also forced to come face-to-face this week with victims of gun violence. Surviving relatives of those killed in the Newtown, Connecticut shootings descended on the Capitol as others read victims' names in a vigil outside. Tears were shed.
It turns out it's a lot easier to denounce people and policies when you don't have to look them in the eye as you do it.
And that's what President Obama seems to be counting on with his well-documented charm offensive. It's what happens every time members of the Republican Party meet behind closed doors to harangue their leadership. It's what happened this week in a park across the street from the White House when liberal Democrats staged a rally to complain about the president's proposal to cut Medicare and Social Security. And it's what happened when Senator Rand Paul, a conservative Republican from Kentucky, visited Howard University -- an historic and historically black college in Washington -- to appeal to skeptical students about the virtues of the GOP.
No one has to agree in the near term, or even ever, but it all seems healthy to me.
It can be so much easier to take pot shots when you are hiding behind a virtual hedge -- or behind podiums in the Rose Garden or on the Senate floor. So why not try actually talking for a change?
Venezuelan acting President Nicolas Maduro campaigns in Guarico state April 7 while holding a picture of Hugo Chavez. Photo by Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images.
The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was the force behind "Chavismo," a left-wing political ideology that favors nationalization and social welfare programs over free market development. But will that ideology survive in its most robust form without the charismatic leader?
Chavez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, who is expected to win Sunday's special election for president, represents Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela and hopes to carry on its socialist ways.
However, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in last year's presidential election before Chavez succumbed to cancer, has criticized Maduro and other government officials for merely paying lip-service to socialism while they drive around in fancy cars and take exclusive vacations. "They are skin-deep socialists only. Their behavior, I'd say, is savage capitalism," Reuters recently quoted him as saying.
In light of the upcoming election in Venezuela, we asked some Latin America analysts about the future of Chavismo.
Whatever the results of Sunday's elections, Chavismo will not disappear any time soon. Though it lacks a solid, coherent structure, the movement created and inspired by Hugo Chavez tapped into a sensibility among many Venezuelans that is bound to continue in some form. Absent Chavez, chavismo may be diminished, and will manifest itself in different ways, under a variety of political figures.
Still, the clamor for greater social justice and empowerment, and a quest for identity and pride particularly among the nation's poor, will be sustained in some way. It is hard to overstate Chavez's influence and impact on a significant part of the population, as was reflected by the outpouring of grief right after his death. Since Chavez's revolutionary project is far from complete, it is reasonable to assume that the power of his message will continue to resonate and will have to be taken seriously by whoever is in charge of Venezuela.
There is little question that the movement Chavez left behind -- a peculiar amalgam containing strands of socialism, nationalism, and militarism -- will be a force to be reckoned with for some time. Looking ahead, the challenge for Chavez's heirs will be to hold it all together without Chavez's charisma, money and remarkable political astuteness.
The death of Hugo Chavez leaves a gaping hole in Venezuelan politics. During his 14 years as president, Chavez dominated virtually every aspect of political life. Through lavish social spending financed by the high price of oil (Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world), and through the sheer force of his charismatic personality, Chavez assembled a loyal base of supporters among those who received not only concrete material and political benefits but also something more ephemeral -- dignity. At the same time, and abetted by the fragmentation and, at times, abstentionism of the opposition, Chavez buttressed his dominance through the gutting of institutions such as the judiciary that provide checks and balances against unfettered executive power. He ensured the loyalty of the armed forces through successive purges and likewise stacked the state oil company, PdVSA, with loyalists following a failed strike in 2002.
Chavez's designated successor, Nicolas Maduro, will face significant challenges in keeping together the disparate elements of the Chavez coalition, especially at a time of mounting economic difficulties and increases in Venezuela's already astronomical levels of crime and violence. His campaign has been based exclusively on the invocation of Chavez's legacy and spirit, but he will need to develop his own connection to the Chavista base in order to maintain its active loyalty. As a civilian, Maduro will have a harder time consolidating his legitimacy with the military than his chief political rival, National Assembly president and former officer Diosdado Cabello. Finally, without further investment to boost oil production, the distortions of Venezuela's petro-export economy will only deepen. Chavismo will continue, and most likely radicalize, in the face of such challenges.
Miguel Tinker Salas
Informed by media reports in the United States, it may be difficult for those outside of Venezuela to understand the extent to which the political and social landscape has shifted during the past 14 years in which Hugo Chavez served as president. It is precisely these changes that ensure that Chavismo will survive without Chavez.
Despite the image of Chavez that is typically portrayed in the media, hundreds of thousands of people waited countless hours to see his body lying in state at the Military Academy in Caracas. Those mourners were real people, expressing real pain at the loss of a president they had supported. They were not people who flocked to pay respects because they received "free gifts" as is often suggested by the opposition. Their presence at the memorial highlights the extent to which new social actors -- especially women, Afro-Venezuelans, urban social movements, youth, and others -- see themselves as active stakeholders in the political process and whatever future course it takes.
After more than a decade of claiming that Chavez was an aberration who had used his charisma to "captivate" the poor, the opposition is now scrambling to alter its message. Like the Republicans in the United States, the conservative opposition in Venezuela is trying to adapt to new political landscape. Their presidential campaign committee has adopted the name the Simon Bolivar Command (after the Venezuelan independence leader revered by Chavez). Their candidate now calls himself a progressive and promises to increase wages by 40 percent while continuing and expanding the social missions, the Chavez initiated programs responsible for dramatically reducing poverty and improving the quality of life.
Chavismo will survive precisely because it built upon a rich tradition of social movements that empowered millions and addressed their plight. When the opposition candidate purports to be a version of "Chavez lite", it shows the way Chavismo has transformed the political landscape.
Diana Villiers Negroponte
"Chavismo" is based on the theory that an intrinsic relationship exists between the state and the citizen through the person of Hugo Chavez: he is both state and citizen. The state remains dedicated to advance the interests of its citizens and citizens commit to advancing the interests of the state. With the death of Hugo Chavez, who can provide the means to ensure this interlocking relationship between state and citizen?
Vice President Maduro inherited Chavez's mantle and he understands the philosophy of Chavismo. With plentiful resources, Maduro could continue the intrinsic relationship. But without those resources -- current economic problems will decrease disposable state expenditures -- Maduro will have to borrow money. Who will bankroll him?
The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) seeks to maintain the flow of Venezuelan crude and the stability of the Venezuelan government. Would the CNPC be willing to renegotiate its loans to ensure that both continued oil production and political stability continue? Probably. However, CNPC may impose limitations on Maduro's use of that "borrowed money". Maduro will have to accept a degree of austerity and further Chinese management and manpower in the Chinese housing, agriculture and energy projects. The nature of this "new reality" may be difficult for the Venezuelans to accept.
We should, therefore, expect Maduro to face growing domestic restlessness as he fails to deliver the promises of Chavismo. Maduro will seek to shift the blame onto others, including the United States. I anticipate deteriorating relations with Washington and raucous calls for the Bolivarian Alliance, known by its Spanish acronym ALBA, to intensify its anti-Yankee rhetoric. U.S. companies may find increasing restrictions on their activities, if not court cases such as the Chevron case in Ecuador. In the end, without sufficient resources ALBA will wither and Maduro will be a one-term president.
Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue and Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed Chavez's legacy on the March 5 PBS NewsHour:Watch Video
Browse all of our World coverage.
Gary Lampert of National Armory gun store in Pompano Beach, Fla., helps Cristiana Verro choose a firearm. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
Gun control advocates hailed Thursday's Senate vote allowing debate to move forward on a sweeping package of legislation as a victory for their movement. But things are just getting started, and any measures that curb access to guns are a long, long way from reaching President Barack Obama's desk.
The 68-31 procedural vote sets up a lengthy debate on big questions: How expansive should a background check system be? Where should you be able to carry a weapon under your clothes? Should schools set up different protections? From here, it could take more than a week to get through the legislation. Senate Democrats said the first votes on amendments will be "early next week."
Roll Call's John Gramlich rounds up the five amendments to watch when the Senate returns Monday afternoon to pick up where lawmakers left off.
Thursday's vote found 16 Republicans joining all but two Democrats to move forward.
(Of the 16 Republicans who voted in favor of bringing the measure up for debate, 13 have dined with the president in recent weeks, as Mr. Obama has sought to bridge differences with GOP lawmakers on guns, immigration and the budget.)
Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska were the lone Democrats opposing the procedural vote to begin debate. They have more in common than a first name; both hail from rural states with strong hunting cultures. Both are likely to maintain their spots in the 2014 midterm election's top-tier of vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
Todd Zwillich of WNYC summed it up, telling the NewsHour on Thursday that advancing to debate doesn't guarantee a thing.
"Republican senators didn't want to be associated with obstruction," he said. "They can do that procedural vote and not be in trouble with NRA. There are a lot of firewalls between now and something becoming law."
Zwillich noted that some GOP senators who voted to move toward the debate "won't ever" vote for the overall bill. "If you are a senator with a lifetime positive voting record from NRA, one vote proceeding to debate is not like voting for universal registry or something like that," he said.
Zwillich said the presence of families and parents of the children killed in the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has shifted the conversation and is impacting how lawmakers view the issue. After what happened in Newtown, Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz., lawmakers "don't want to be seen as not willing to be having a debate on the issue."
NBC reports that former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in that Tucson shooting in 2011, will return to Capitol Hill next week. The gun safety group she and her husband Mark Kelly founded will begin robocalls in Pennsylvania and West Virginia in support of Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin, the Republican and Democrat, respectively, who forged bipartisan agreement on a background checks expansion.
Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei have more on the Newtown families' lobbying efforts this week:
When a lobbyist for families of Newtown shooting victims called the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to set up a meeting, the first response was a standard D.C. offer. They could get a meeting with her staff, and a quick and simple "hello" from Collins herself, they were told.
The families' answer: Not good enough. According to their lobbyists, the families have a rule against staff-only meetings: they won't do them. They insist on sitting down with the senators themselves.
That rule is just one of the ways that the Newtown families, political novices just a few months ago, are proving to be savvy, effective advocates as they promote the gun legislation that has finally begun to move through the Senate. The families are well-educated, and many are well-off.
They have been polished and sharp on TV. They're mostly non-political, but quite accomplished in their own fields. With access to money and media, they're using persistence, visibility -- and, most all, their unique moral authority -- to help prod Senate action. They also have their own lobbyists -- several of them, in fact.
The Hill's Russell Berman notes there has been scant effort to bring House Republicans along to support gun control measures, a major contrast with how senators are handling immigration overhaul.
The Washington Post examines how geography changes the political calculus on guns for members of Congress.
As the debate continues, the NewsHour has you covered.
Watch Judy Woodruff's report on the issue here or below:Watch Video
Politico's Manu Raju reports Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is preparing to go "all-in" to support immigration reform. "Rubio is planning a media blitz to promote the bill -- which is expected to be released early next week -- making the rounds on all of the Sunday political talk shows starting this weekend, wooing skeptical conservative radio hosts and pitching the plan to Spanish-language news outlets," Raju writes. The Associated Press reports the legislation "could bar anyone who arrived in the U.S. after Dec. 31, 2011, from applying for legal status and ultimately citizenship," potentially excluding hundreds of thousands of people.
A Senate bill quietly passed Thursday that would exempt legislative and executive staffers from having their financial disclosure forms posted on the Internet, as stipulated by the STOCK Act, which was to take effect next week.
Virginia could join the growing list of states enacting stricter abortion measures this year when the commonwealth's Board of Health votes on abortion clinic standards Friday.
The Progress Kentucky super PAC apparently taped the leaked campaign strategy meeting of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. BuzzFeed's Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ruby Cramer ask if the liberal group is made up of perhaps the clumsiest Democrats in the world.
Supporters of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took on establishment Republicans on the RNC's rules committee at their spring meeting Thursday, voting to repeal the rule that winners of a state caucus receive all of that state's delegates. Conservatives' push to repeal all of the other rules changes enacted this summer failed.
An RNC vote Friday to reaffirm the party's position on same-sex marriage is expected to succeed. While many establishment leaders have "evolved" on the issue, the vote will underscore evangelicals' continued influence on the RNC's governing body.
National Journal has a roundup of Senate fundraising ahead of the first quarter reporting deadline on April 15.
The New York Times' John Broder notes that Republican senators were more interested in email accounts and research data than climate change and enforcement of environmental regulations at Thursday's confirmation hearing for Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Organizing for Action is telling supporters Friday that during the first quarter of the year, it had donations from 109,582 people, with the average amount of $44. The haul totaled $4.8 million, Politico reports.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress Thursday he backs closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley says he's considering running for president in 2016.
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie leading Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono by 30 percentage points, down from 42 percentage points in February. Still, 80 percent of voters say Christie will win.
First lady Michelle Obama will deliver commencement addresses at Eastern Kentucky University on May 11, Bowie State University in Maryland on May 17 and Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School for Health Sciences and Engineering at Historic Pearl High in Nashville on May 18.
Yahoo! News headline: "Republicans bring in media specialists to teach them how to speak to women and minorities."
It's true, there will be an actual congressional hearing -- spanning 30 hours -- to investigate aliens. The ones from outer space.
Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen sent -- and deleted, according to the Politwoops blog -- this tweet to Cyndi Lauper: "great night,couldn't believe how hot u were.see you again next Tuesday.try a little tenderness." Politico provides context.
Christina's profile of Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and his practice of yoga and meditation is on the cover of the new edition of Mindful Magazine. Editor Barry Boyce explains the piece here.
NEWSHOUR ROUNDUPWe examined the fervor around Mr. Obama's changes to entitlement programs in his budget proposal. Jeffrey Brown got three takes in a lively discussion with Joseph Antos of the American Enterprise Institute, Max Richtman of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Watch here or below:Watch Video
Judy writes this week that buried in Mr. Obama's 244-page budget document are "ideas that have consequences." And, she adds, "If leading players in both parties start to discuss them, things could get exciting around here."
Gwen Ifill reflects on the radical notion of Republicans and Democrats "actually talking for a change." Oh, she also hung out with Justin Timberlake.
Cindy Huang looks at online dating based on religion.
CT Sen. Chris Murphy doesn't want FOX to air the Sprint Cup because the NRA is sponsoring it politico.com/blogs/media/20...— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) April 12, 2013
Club for Growth adds Greg Walden to list of Republicans its seeking primary challengers for.— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlakeWP) April 11, 2013
Boehner says that the Hastert Rule "was never a rule to begin with."— Brett LoGiurato (@BrettLoGiurato) April 11, 2013
Still don't get the big deal about "secret" tapes of McConnell campaign. EVERY campaign - D and R - does the same thing.— amy walter (@amyewalter) April 11, 2013
Retweet it, share it, save it in your phone. Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) veteranscrisisline.net— Veterans Affairs (@DeptVetAffairs) April 11, 2013
Stories like this are why I serve: bit.ly/ZjW1eG— Patrick Meehan (@RepMeehan) April 11, 2013
Politics desk assistant Simone Pathe and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.
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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.
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Margaret Thatcher's death on Monday rehashed the debate about the former British prime minister's legacy. Headlines from "The Woman Who Divided a Nation" to "The Woman Who Saved Britain" piled on newsstands across London. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
For the past few years, Margaret Thatcher made the occasional appearance in the world press: seen at the unveiling of an official portrait, at the funeral of a political friend, sitting quietly at the kickoff of a seminar series on her premiership. In each photo she looked a little smaller, a little frailer, and was said to be losing her memory.
The battles she unleashed inside her own country and had a hand in unleashing throughout the west continued for years after she left office, unceremoniously dumped as Conservative leader in the face of declining popularity and a creeping exhaustion with her style. You might have guessed there would be different versions of the Thatcher years written in the days after death Monday at 87. What's grabbed me is how easily the old debates have re-inflamed Britain 20 years after the Right Honourable Member for Finchley sat on the Tory front benches in parliament.
The people who hated her, do still. The people who credit her with restoring national greatness in a demoralized and hobbling Britain, still do. One columnist in the Financial Times marveled at how, in retrospect, she turned out to be right, about almost everything. Other opinion writers tried to remind their countrymen and women, and school those who were too young or not even born, about just how tough those times were.
The opening for Margaret Thatcher came with the winter of 1978-79, the "Winter of Discontent," that saw Britain freeze through an unusually cold winter and withstand massive strikes by public and private sector workers. The affable James Callaghan was sometimes called "Sunny Jim," but gambling on waiting until 1979 for a general election to improve his Labour Party's electoral prospects turned out to be disastrous. Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher romped home with a solid parliamentary majority and the stated ambition to remake the country.
This week in Britain every radio and television talk show, every newspaper column, and many less formal interactions out on the streets and in the shops seem to bring up Margaret Thatcher. Both chambers in Britain's national legislature, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, held hours of formal session debating the Thatcher legacy. The cleavages she magnified in British society are still on view 34 years after she moved into 10 Downing Street. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said "Successive governments had failed to deal with what was beginning to be called the British disease. Let this be her epitaph: she made the country great again."
Carefully calibrating his critique to the moment, the leader of the opposition, Labour's Ed Miliband, said at a special parliamentary session Wednesday that while "you can disagree with Margaret Thatcher," she "sought to be rooted in people's daily lives. But she also believed that ideology mattered. Not for her the contempt sometimes heaped on ideas and new thinking in political life. And while she never would have claimed to be, or wanted to be seen as an intellectual, she believed, and she showed, that ideas matter in politics."
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool, October 1981. Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images.
Outside of party leadership, partisans could afford to be tougher. Not invoking national greatness but the social crises of the early 1980s, actress-turned-member of Parliament Glenda Jackson said that Thatcher promoted "greed, selfishness and no care for the weaker."
"By far the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism was certainly not only in London, but across the whole country in metropolitan areas, where every single shop doorway, every single night, became the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom for the homeless. They grew in the thousands. And many of those homeless people had been thrown out onto the streets from the ... closure of the long-term mental hospitals," said Jackson.
Though the American economy had also been through some really tough times in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that had not prepared me for the close-up view of the early Thatcher years in Britain, where I moved as a young reporter in 1980. My West London neighbors were afraid of the times and an even worse future. Though the closing coal mines and steel mills were far away in other parts of the country, the images of shuttered businesses and lengthening lines for government benefits were everywhere.
Labour Party leaders confidently predicated that the country would never stand for two million, then two-and-a-half million, then three million unemployed. The jobless numbers blew past all those milestones, and many working-class Britons in their 50s and 60s wondered if they would ever have a job again.
The cartoonists -- left, right, and center -- had a field day with the easily caricatured prime minister. They exaggerated her aquiline nose, slight overbite and extravagant head of hair. Right wing newspapers showed the prime minister as the ancient British tribal queen Boadicea, who fought off invading Romans in the first century. Left wing cartoonists showed a cruel leader making war on the poor, with the same luxurious bouffant.
During an hour-long interview in 1993, the Baroness Thatcher was as unrelenting, uncompromising and unreflective as ever. She expressed no regrets over the poll tax which played a big part in her ouster, over the reversed guilty verdicts in notorious Irish Republican Army bombing cases tainted by police misconduct or for the refusal to join the gradual diplomatic isolation of South Africa's white minority government, still in power when we spoke.
She entered the studio, was genial, inquired about the format of the radio program, how long we would speak and where she would sit. Crisis one arrived with the headphones: no one had told Lady Thatcher we would be taking phone calls in the second half of the program, and we would somehow have to get those headphones over her formidable head of hair. She tried them upside down around her chin and over the back of her neck. Finally, they had to be pressed down over the top of her head.
She arrived that afternoon ready for battle. We covered a lot of ground, and boy, was she tough. She talked about the defeat of socialism, the massive pushback against the power of trade unions in Britain, and the alliance with the United States. She was clearly possessed of a formidable intellect, and had spent decades in the parry and thrust of the much more demanding style of parliamentary debate in the UK. At the same time you could tell that my old London neighbors could be abstractions to her, rather than proud people who wanted to work and didn't understand what was happening to their country. I never expected Lady Thatcher, even in retirement, to agree with her adversaries, but what struck me was her inability to even understand their points of view. Many of her constituents were thrilled when she tossed away decades of consensus-style politics in her Downing Street years. Her slashing, imperious style of dealing with friend and foe alike meant that when political trouble came, she had few friends left even among her closest allies.
Yes, she evicted the Argentines from the Falkland Islands. Yes, she stood shoulder to shoulder with Ronald Reagan in opposing Soviet power, and shoulder to shoulder with George H.W. Bush in kicking Saddam Hussein's Iraq out of Kuwait. Much less talked about is the Big Bang, the thorough restructuring and deregulation of the London markets overseen by Prime Minister Thatcher. In the early years the Big Bang cemented London's stature as one of the world's financial powerhouses. Today critics around the world point to the Big Bang and the further deregulation under Tony Blair in 1997 as the policies that made the recent financial crises more severe and more dangerous than they ever would have been before.
In today's Britain, strikes are relatively rare. The unions are a shadow of what they were during the Winter of Discontent. The two main parties of government, Conservative and Labour, are much closer in their view of the role of the state in the economy and the British military in the world than they were when Thatcher came to power. But the country's problems today are very different from when the first and only woman prime minister came to power. The very financiers Thatcher sought to free from government interference are now held responsible for the continuing austerity and the slow speed of Britain's recovery. Thatcher's death has given the British people a chance to debate once again the changes she brought, and what they still mean today.