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

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    Obama for America volunteers work in Colorado on a 2011 day of action. Obama for America has been restarted as Organizing for Action. Photo by Flickr user Barack Obama.

    It's house party time in New York.

    Supporters of campaign finance reform are kicking off 100 parties across the state this week to pressure state legislators to approve a public matching system before the end of the session in June.

    Modeled after New York City's system, the bill has strong support from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and support has grown since the recent arrests of elected officials throughout the state.

    Much like house party invitations Empire State progressives may have received over the past two presidential cycles from Obama for America, this house party push is coming from OFA, too -- the new OFA, that is.

    Organizing for Action -- the tax-exempt organization launched in January to advocate for the president's agenda -- joined the New York Fair Elections coalition at the end of March with an email to their 744,000 state members.

    As a 501(c)4 organization, OFA is not required to disclose its donors or cap their donations, which -- along with candidate Obama's decision not to accept public financing in 2008 -- doesn't create the strongest parallel with the New York Fair Elections coalition.

    "What we don't want to do is repeat the mistake that I believe in 2008 we made, where some of that energy dissipated and we were only playing an inside game," Mr. Obama said recently in defense of OFA at its "founders' summit" in Washington's St. Regis hotel.

    But nearly as soon as OFA debuted, public finance and clean government groups like Common Cause urged it to shut down.

    Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center co-wrote a letter to Mr. Obama questioning the legality of his soliciting gifts, while Progressives United, former Sen. Russ Feingold's group, said simply, "this is what selling access looks like."

    Even after OFA's decision in early March to reverse course on accepting corporate donations eased some criticism, the Sunlight Foundation raised concerns about OFA only disclosing donors quarterly and withholding their donors' employment data, potentially concealing their interests and agendas.

    OFA disclosed their first quarter donors of $250 or more online Friday but reports that the average donation from their 109,582 supporters was $44.

    Even without big corporate money, OFA's "finance leadership levels" include much bigger donors than the kind of small donor movement Fair Elections New York is hoping to foster. An OFA memo obtained by the New York Times reveals that raising $1 million over two consecutive years is a prerequisite for serving on the board of directors, which will include a council of 10 "leaders in industry."

    So by stepping into New York, OFA has put some of its toughest critics in an interesting position. Suddenly, the 12-week-old group is adding major legitimacy -- not to mention potential resources -- to a movement many of these same public finance and clean government organizations have championed.

    OFA's involvement has injected the campaign with a greater sense of urgency, said David Donnelly, executive director of Public Campaign Action Fund, one of the four main leaders of the 100 organizations in the coalition.

    On the ground, Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, credited OFA's mobilizing efforts with helping turnout an estimated 500 people at a rally in New York City, and boosting turnout at others in Albany and Syracuse last week.

    Common Cause President Bob Edgar heralded OFA's involvement in the Fair Elections coalition as a "precursor to a national drive for reforms like public financing and full disclosure of campaign donations to campaigns, PACs and the politically active and tax-exempt 'social welfare' organizations that have emerged since the Citizens United decision."

    Never mind that OFA is a social welfare organization. "We welcome OFA. We don't want them to be the elephant -- I mean donkey -- in the room," Edgar told the PBS NewsHour.

    But Edgar still thinks they should shut down and start anew with a commitment to campaign finance reform. "It has every right to exist. That's not my concern. My concern is the optics of it for reform."

    OFA officials counter that getting involved in a state-level campaign, at the behest of their state members, is a testament to the organization's grass-roots structure. OFA acts on requests from members when local priorities align with the president's agenda, explained OFA spokesperson Katie Hogan.

    That's an argument Sunlight Foundation Policy Director John Wonderlich isn't buying. Acting like a grassroots organization while accepting "dark money" is "dissident at its core," he said.

    Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer echoed that sentiment, telling the NewsHour that OFA's involvement in New York does "not change our view of the fundamental problems" with the organization or of Mr. Obama's unfulfilled commitment to campaign finance reform.

    Hogan and Fair Elections partners would not hint as to whether OFA's involvement in New York is a precursor to engagement in campaign finance reform in other states or at the national level.

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    Elvis Presley receives the Salk polio vaccine in 1956. Awareness about the vaccine led to the end of polio in the U.S. Most babies today still receive the injection. Photo courtesy of March of Dimes.

    April 12, 1955, was supposed to be Tommy Francis's day. At 10:20 a.m., the distinguished epidemiologist conducted an international press conference in Rackham Auditorium at the University of Michigan. The topic was the field trial he had just completed -- the largest of its kind ever -- evaluating the efficacy of the poliovirus vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh.

    It is hardly hyperbole to note that the speech by Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. was eagerly awaited by most of the world. Few diseases were capable of arousing more fear than poliomyelitis. Almost every summer, polio epidemics left behind a wake of paralysis and death; horrific images of children struggling to walk or trapped inside iron lungs were etched into every parent's brain.

    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the world's most famous polio patient, significantly advanced the American fight against polio. In 1937, convinced that nothing short of the conquest of the disease was required, Roosevelt announced the formation of a National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP) that would "lead, direct, and unify the fight of every phase of this sickness."

    Frank Sinatra helps support the March of Dimes in 1946. Photo courtesy of March of Dimes.

    Soon, millions of Americans were responding to the pleas of the radio comedian Eddie Cantor to "send their dimes directly to the President at the White House . . . and we could call it the March of Dimes."

    By the late 1940s, several groups of researchers had independently identified the three distinct types of poliovirus, a microbial distinction that was essential to the development of an effective vaccine. At Harvard, John Enders, Frederick Robbins, and Thomas Weller developed a method of growing poliovirus in non-neural tissue using a tissue culture of monkey kidneys -- a seminal achievement that won them the Nobel Prize in 1954.

    At the University of Cincinnati, Albert Sabin began work on a live attenuated oral vaccine that he insisted would provide better immunity than a killed-virus vaccine but would not be ready for widespread use until 1961. Jonas Salk, who relied on older vaccine-production methods involving formalin-killed viral strains, was able to proceed more rapidly. By early 1953, Salk had begun campaigning relentlessly for a national field trial of his vaccine.

    For this critical but unglamorous task, the NFIP turned to Salk's former teacher, Thomas Francis, who had introduced Salk to the design of killed-virus vaccines at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Francis was internationally known for his deft direction of complex field trials for influenza virus vaccines during World War II. He agreed to conduct the polio-vaccine field trials if three inviolable rules were followed: there would have to be two study groups, one given vaccine and another, at least as large as the vaccine group, given placebo; the trial would have to be conducted in a double-blind manner; and the NFIP was not to interfere.

    The study formally began on April 26, 1954, when Randy Kerr, a six-year-old boy from McLean, Va., received the first inoculation. No detail of the field trial escaped Francis's watchful gaze -- from complex issues of experimental design to such mundane matters as the packaging of vaccine, the composition of safety instructions for parents, and the selection of the "Polio Pioneers," the 650,000 children who received the vaccine and the 1.18 million who received a placebo. The trial relied for its implementation on some 150,000 volunteers, 15,000 schools, and 44 state departments of health.

    Second and third from left: Dr. Francis and Dr. Salk at the University of Michigan. Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan.

    Before a jam-packed audience of scientists and dignitaries, Francis approached the lectern. He began his speech with two simple declarative sentences: "The vaccine works. It is safe, effective, and potent."

    He then explained that the Salk vaccine was 60 to 70 percent effective in preventing infection with type 1 poliovirus, the most prevalent strain, and at least 90 percent effective against types 2 and 3.

    Thrilling as this news was, there was one person in the auditorium who was visibly unhappy with Francis's report: Jonas Salk. As the diminutive virologist took the podium after Francis's speech, an avalanche of applause greeted him. Yet this public show of appreciation on the part of his scientific peers was not enough for Salk, who insisted that he had created nothing less than the perfect vaccine. Too flustered even to mention the names of the colleagues who had worked with him at Pittsburgh, Salk assailed the accuracy of Francis's findings.

    The failures encountered in the trial, he declared, were caused by Merthiolate, a mercury-based antiseptic that had been added to the batches of vaccine, against Salk's wishes, at the express orders of the U.S. Laboratory of Biologics Control. With a dramatic flourish, Salk proclaimed that his new and improved (Merthiolate-free) vaccine might well be 100 percent effective.

    Salk's comments created a controversy that his critics used to disparage him for the rest of his career. Backstage, a furious Francis was heard scolding his former student. "What the hell did you have to say that for?" Francis railed. "You're in no position to claim 100 percent effectiveness. What's the matter with you?"

    Children line up for their shots in September 1961. Photo courtesy of Jason A. Roberts/Sydney Morning Herald.

    Salk's failure to recognize the achievements of his coworkers and his injudicious (albeit ultimately correct) claims aside, the rest of the world was eager to lionize him as a bona fide medical hero. As the journalists scrambled out of the auditorium to call their editors, the spotlight of fame permanently shifted from the epidemiologist to the young creator of the polio vaccine.

    For many days, there wasn't a front page of a newspaper, a television or radio show, or a newsreel that did not shower Jonas Salk with praise and gratitude. For millions of parents and their children around the world, Salk became the avatar of medical progress. Even so, a decade later, Salk admitted, "I was not unscathed by Ann Arbor."

    It takes little imagination to understand why April 12, 1955, turned out to be Salk's rather than Francis's day. After all, he developed the first effective vaccine against the dreaded polio; his teacher, Thomas Francis, merely undertook the chore of testing its efficacy on a mass scale and then confirmed to the world that Jonas Salk had succeeded.

    Dr. Howard Markel is the director of the Center for the History of Medicine and the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan.

    He is the author or editor of 10 books, including "Quarantine! East European Jewish Immigrants and the New York City Epidemics of 1892," "When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America Since 1900 and the Fears They Have Unleashed" and "An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine."

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    Do you have a question for Dr. Markel about how a particular aspect of modern medicine came to be? Send them to us at onlinehealth@newshour.org.

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    The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare rallied at the White House on April 9, 2013, to protest a provision of the president's budget proposal.

    Max Richtman stood in the bright sunshine steps from the White House Tuesday, waiting for his turn on the bullhorn to assail a policy of a president he usually agrees with.

    Leaders of a half dozen liberal and progressive groups -- including Richtman's National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare -- shouted to supporters that President Barack Obama's call in his budget to reduce cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security and other federal benefits amounted to economic assault on senior citizens.

    And they rolled out crates of petitions with 2 million signatures of people who agree with them.

    "It was exhilarating," Richtman told the NewsHour on Wednesday. "It was encouraging to realize that a coalition could put together a couple million signatures on petitions and pull an event like that together in front of the White House."

    Richtman says he and other Social Security advocates are just getting started.

    "This step was the first step in a process to try to derail that portion of the president's budget," he said. "There are many good things in the budget -- this [the chained CPI] should not be in there."

    The chained Consumer Price Index takes into account that when prices rise on some things, consumers react by seeking out less expensive alternative products and services. That means beneficiaries can get the same purchasing power with a smaller benefit check.

    The president proposes to adopt chained CPI and reduce Social Security outlays by $130 billion over 10 years.

    But Richtman says senior citizens aren't like the typical urban consumer on whom chained CPI behavior is based.

    "People we're talking about don't have the luxury of other income in many cases and have the kinds of needs that you can't substitute. If you need dental care, which is not covered by Medicare, you need it. You can't decide to go see a podiatrist instead. If you need glasses because you can't see any more and you need some strong glasses, you need to get glasses. You can't substitute something else for that," Richtman argues.

    "Seniors are more limited and restricted in their mobility and their choices. This is an approach to figuring out the COLA [cost-of-living adjustment] that really has only one purpose and that is to cut the benefit."

    Another purpose of the chained CPI proposal -- one acknowledged by the White House -- is to encourage Congressional Republicans to agree to the president's call for tax increases as part of further budget talks.

    "The inclusion of entitlement reform, specifically chained CPI ... comes at the specific behest and request of Republican leaders," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday. "It is the responsible thing to do to try to find common ground. To find common ground you need to meet the other side halfway. You need to accept you're not going to get everything you want. You need to accept things that the other side wants."

    Mr. Obama has said he dislikes the chained CPI change and in fact promised in the past not to adopt such a measure.

    Some critics of chained CPI among congressional Democrats say proposing it nonetheless may be useful toward getting bipartisan negotiations going.

    Richtman sees it another way.

    "You know, it's sad when it seems that we -- the progressive community, defenders of Social Security -- have gotten to the point where we almost have to rely on Republican intransigence to keep anything bad from happening, " he said.

    And Richtman says his and other groups will keep trying to get seniors' attention on chained CPI, to prevent it from coming closer to reality.

    "I've done hundreds of town hall meetings, mostly with members of Congress. And [seniors] know the term COLA almost as well as they know Social Security. And they look every fall for the announcement of what that will be because it's so important to-- not living lavishly, but just getting by," said Richtman.

    "The current formula understates inflation as it affects seniors' purchasing habits. And this new formula is even more flawed, will lead to a lower COLA, smaller benefits -- much smaller -- and growing over time."

    And he added, "I would not want to be the politician who goes out to a senior town hall meeting and says, we decided that COLA you've been getting -- that $5, $7, $9, $10 a year some years -- that's too generous, that you're getting too much money."

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  • 04/12/13--11:51: The Daily Frame
  • Click to enlarge.

    The Empire Polo Field prepares for this month's 2013 Coachella Music Festival in Indio, Calif. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

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    By Paul Solman

    Staffers pick up their copies of the President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget at the Senate Budget Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on April 10, 2013. Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images.

    Today we present a range of reactions to President Obama's proposal to trim Social Security, as discussed on the NewsHour last night.

    The President proposes to use a new measure of inflation called the "Chained Consumer Price Index" (Chained CPI). Right now Social Security uses the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) to make cost of living adjustments. That measure doesn't take into account the fact that consumers can substitute one product for another when prices change. Chained CPI does. The result is that cost of living adjustments would be lower using a chained CPI measure of inflation which would reduce future benefits to Social Security recipients.

    The description of the proposal on the White House website includes this:

    The Budget contains the President's compromise offer to Speaker Boehner from December. As part of that offer, the President was willing to accept Republican proposals to switch to the chained CPI. But, the Budget makes clear that the openness to chained CPI depends on two conditions. The President is open to switching to the chained CPI only if:

    The change is part of a balanced deficit reduction package that includes substantial revenue raised through tax reform.

    It is coupled with measures to protect the vulnerable and avoid increasing poverty and hardship.

    The Budget contains two types of protections:

    Benefit Enhancement for the Very Elderly and Others Who Rely on Social Security for Long Periods of Time

    The benefit enhancement would be equal to 5% of the average retiree benefit, or about $800 per year if the proposal were in effect today.

    It would phase in over 10 years, beginning at age 76, or (for other beneficiaries, such as those receiving Disability Insurance) in the 15th year of benefit receipt.

    The benefit enhancement would begin in 2020, phasing in over 10 years for those 76 or older (or in their 15th year of eligibility or beyond) in that year.

    Beneficiaries who continued to be on the program for an additional 10 years would be eligible for a second benefit enhancement, starting at age 95 in the case of a retired beneficiary.

    Because of the benefit enhancement for the very elderly, the Budget proposal would not increase the poverty rate for Social Security beneficiaries, and would slightly reduce poverty among the very elderly according to SSA estimates.

    We asked a panel of experts to weigh in.

    "Ask Larry" Kotlikoff is our reigning Social Security answer man, whose Q&A column appears on Mondays.

    Teresa Ghilarducci is a professor and author of "When I'm Sixty-Four: The Plot Against Pensions and a Plan to Save Them." Her last post concerned raising the retirement age for Social Security.

    Jared Bernstein is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. From 2009 to 2011, he was the Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, and a member of President Obama's economic team. He defended the President's plan on last night's program.

    Phil Moeller writes the Best Life retirement blog for U.S. News & World Report.

    Alice Rivlin was a member of President Obama's Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (The Simpson-Bowles Commission) and co-chaired, with former Senator Pete Domenici, the Bipartisan Policy Center's Task Force on Debt Reduction. She also served as Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board and was Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget in the first Clinton Administration.

    Boston College economist Alicia Munnell is a retirement expert who has appeared on the NewsHour often over the years. She and I visited a community college some years ago to discuss raising the retirement age for Social Security and raising the pay ceiling on Social Security taxes.

    Russ Roberts is a Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is the host of the weekly podcast series EconTalk, and he blogs at Cafe Hayek.

    Larry Kotlikoff

    According to table IVB6 of the Social Security Trustees Report, which, it appears, neither the President nor anyone else in Congress has examined, the system is 31 percent underfunded and needs a 22 percent immediate and permanent benefit cut to achieve fiscal sustainability. The President's proposal to gradually reduce benefits by adjusting the calculation of inflation does far too little far too late to get the system into long-term financial balance. Suggesting it will fix the problem and that all that the system needs is to be "tweaked" (this is precisely what the President said in the debates) is a grave disservice. What's needed is to freeze the existing system, pay off all accrued benefits over time, and implement my Purple Social Security Plan discussed at www.thepurplesocialsecurityplan.org.

    Teresa Ghilarducci

    Don't cut Social Security benefits with a chained CPI, instead increase benefits with a more accurate inflation index for elderly households, Current Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). If you believe that elderly Social Security recipients can easily substitute goods and services with cheaper goods and services of the same quality, raise your hand. I don't see many hands when I ask a group of people this, especially if they are gerontology experts and economists.

    Seniors have to pay co-pays on medical services and drugs and can't find cheaper ones with ease. Old people don't have as much flexibility to shop at different stores or buy in bulk to avoid high prices. But the false belief that the elderly can easily find cheaper substitutes for the things they buy, backs president Obama's policy recommendation to substitute the chained CPI for the traditional measure of inflation called the Consumer Price index - the CPI.

    Advocates for the chained CPI say it accurately reflects the real cost of living by taking into account the possibility that people can easily substitute chicken for beef as beef prices rise. That works in theory, but not in fact. Studies of the real lives of seniors show the opposite. The goods and services that seniors buy more than others, namely medical care, rise in price more. That means increases in Social Security benefits have not kept pace with increases in the prices of those goods and services purchased by the elderly, and that some other index might be more appropriate. Social Security should be chained to the CPI-E, which measures the changes in buying prices of a typical bundle of goods and services older people buy.

    The differences between the chained CPI -- the President's proposed inflation index -- and the traditional CPI are small, just about .03% lower per year. But these small cuts year after year really add up--the average retiree would lose $1,147 a year by age 85 even though they lose just over $600 when they are 65. The cumulative cuts to people on Social Security reach $28,000 by the time a retiree is 95 according to advocates.

    In contrast, linking Social Security inflation protection increases, cost of living adjustments (COLAs), to an elderly-targeted index (a more accurate CPI according to a Congressional Research Service report) would raise benefits by 6% for a 95-year-old rather than cut them by tens of thousands of dollars.

    Jared Bernstein

    First off, I wouldn't call what's in the President's budget anything like a Social Security plan. The only proposed change to Social Security is the switch to the chained CPI. As I argued on the NewsHour last night, most economists, myself included, judge that to be a more accurate measure of inflation for the general population, but not for the elderly, since they spend more out-of-pocket on health care relative to everyone else. And it's implicitly clear that the administration agrees with that assessment, because they also propose a "benefit enhancement" to older Social Security recipients, a 5%-of-the-average-benefit bump-up, equivalent to $750 dollars today, phasing in at age 76. Interestingly, for low-income elderly, this would actually lead to an increase in their benefits relative to current law.

    Look, we're making this way too complicated. The President didn't propose a plan to shore up Social Security's finances. That would be better accomplished by a bipartisan commission than crammed into a budget that is, I fear, unlikely to go very far given its call for higher taxes (which we do, in fact, need but which Republicans are unlikely to yield on). He put the chained-CPI in there as a concession to get Republicans to come to the table (it does, however, raise $230 billion over 10 years in deficit savings, not from Social Security but from its application to other parts of the budget and the tax brackets). It's a play for that "grand bargain" you hear a lot about: D's give on entitlements and R's give on taxes. I could be wrong, but I don't think the politics are there for that yet, but that's the context for understanding the one change to Social Security in the budget.

    Philip Moeller

    President Obama has offered up the wrong sacrificial lamb in proposing to replace Social Security's cost of living index with the so-called chained CPI. It has some virtue as a good measure of how consumers react to inflation with real-world spending changes. But both the present index and the chained CPI provide far too little weight to seniors' medical spending and thus sharply understate the impact of price changes on retiree pocketbooks. There is another price index that more accurately measures elderly spending patterns that could be the basis for a new Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) - CPI-E.

    Perhaps worse than the proposal itself is that is has been introduced as a stand-alone offer. Social Security changes simply must be addressed as a separate and complete reform package. Restoration of the program's long-term financial soundness is not hugely challenging in relation to the scale of Medicare and Medicaid deficits. But it ought to include a sensitive and politically challenging mix of payroll tax increases, means-testing of benefits, strengthened support for lower-income beneficiaries, long-overdue changes to help women and longevity-related adjustments that brings us into the real world of longer life spans, careers and retirements. Adopting the chained CPI as the new COLA would do none of these things.

    Alice Rivlin

    I favor using a chained inflation index for federal programs--including indexed tax brackets, which would generate a bit more revenue--although I would prefer to see the change accompanied by other Social Security reforms to make this vital program secure for future retirees. A "chained" cost of living index takes account of the fact that people adjust their purchases as prices change. When beef prices shoot up, they buy less beef and more chicken. Hence, a chained index is a more accurate measure of inflation than one that assumes people keep buying the same items no matter what happens to relative prices. However, because the chained index rises a bit slower (maybe .3 percent a year slower) than the index we are currently using, the shift can be regarded as a benefit cut--one that would adversely affect the poor and the very old, who are already struggling. To compensate these vulnerable groups, the Domenici Rivlin budget proposal increased the benefits for low-income beneficiaries so they would actually be better off after the change and bumped up benefits at age 85 to help the very elderly. The President's budget does this, too, but does not take other needed steps to ensure the solvency of Social Security.

    Alicia Munnell

    The budget is by nature a political document, not a serious plan. Any serious plan to fix Social Security would recognize first and foremost the need for additional revenues. The Social Security replacement rate - benefits as a percent of pre-retirement earnings - is declining for the average age-65 worker from 42 percent to 36 percent as the full retirement age moves from 65 to 67. Moreover, in the 2030s, when the Trust Fund is exhausted, the program will be able to pay only three-quarters of that amount, or 27 percent of pre-retirement earnings - a level not seen since the 1950s. The program needs more money.

    Therefore, to start a dialogue on Social Security with a single proposal to cut benefits by shifting to a chained CPI is not helpful. It may send a political signal to Republicans of a willingness to deal, but it only makes the task of eliminating the Social Security deficit more difficult by tainting a proposal that could otherwise be part of a larger package.

    In terms of the proposal itself, the administration should be clear that the shift to a chained CPI is a cut, not simply a "technical adjustment." It is a cut because the CPI currently used to index benefits understates inflation experienced by the elderly who spend more than the rest of the population on health care.

    It is time to fix Social Security - the backbone of the nation's retirement system. A serious proposal, which relies more on revenues than spending cuts, would be much appreciated.

    Russ Roberts

    There is no "correct" price series for calculating cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients. Certainly it isn't the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), the series that is currently used. I don't know any economists who use CPI-W to correct for inflation. Here is how it is described by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

    The CPI-W...seeks to track retail prices as they affect urban hourly wage earners and clerical workers. It encompasses about 32 percent of the United States' population and is a subset of the CPI-U [Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers] group.

    The CPI-W places a slightly higher weight on food, apparel, transportation, and other goods and services. It places a slightly lower weight on housing, medical care, and recreation.

    That isn't exactly a scientific endorsement on behalf of the CPI-W. But it was left in place as the cost-of-living measure for the elderly because the more general indices such as the CPI-U and the CPI Research Series Using Current Methods (CPI-U-RS) would have meant lower cost-of-living increases. Keeping CPI-W allowed the politicians to give more money to seniors without having to explicitly raise Social Security benefits.

    Now politicians want to lower the amount they give seniors. They're looking for a way to do so without explicitly lowering benefits. Changing to chained CPI does that. It may be a more accurate measure of the cost-of-living changes facing the elderly but that's irrelevant. It's all politics.

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

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    A mantis shrimp peers from its burrow in the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea. Photo by David Doubilet/ National Geographic/ Getty Images.

    We're a little late to the party here, but if you haven't yet read this comic by the Oatmeal'sMatthew Inman on the unlikely shrimp that sees an unimaginable array of colors, I implore you: Read. Immediately. As Radiolab's Robert Krulwich writes, "no one, and I mean no one, has loved this shrimp better than Matthew Inman."

    And lo, it is glorious, this love comic to a vicious shrimp. It describes how we see colors, via the light-sensitive rods and cones in our eyes. How we see more colors than dogs and how butterflies see more colors than us, "color our brains aren't even capable of processing." And how the mantis shrimp possesses an unfathomable number of color-receptive cones: sixteen. (For perspective, we have three.)

    "Where we see a rainbow," Inman says, "the mantis shrimp sees a thermonuclear bomb of light and beauty."

    What's so great about this comic is that in addition to being visual and fun, it's an example of powerful science writing. In just a few words, it tells us so much about the shrimp: the speed and force with it strikes and then dismembers its prey, why it is a terrible bedfellow to other sea creatures, and why researchers think its cell structures could inform advanced body armor for combat troops.

    It puts its mantis facts vividly into a perspective to which we can relate. For example, if humans could accelerate their arms at a tenth of the speed at which the mantis strikes its prey, "we'd be able to throw a baseball into orbit."

    And then it takes a sudden, farcical, but quite lovely turn to the dark side. If you read anything this weekend, please read this.


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    What a fish with fins behind its anus says about how our bodies evolved.

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

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    Jonathan Winters, who ascended to fame in the late 1950s as one of the great stand-up comedians, died Thursday at his home in Montecito, Calif., at age 87.

    Winters was well-known for his frequent appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and "The Steve Allen Show," as well as in movies, such as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." He also served as inspiration to other comics like Robin Williams because of the characters he created, his ability to ad-lib and his sometimes surreal jokes. One of his best-known characters was the sarcastic and sometimes grandmother he played in drag, Maude Frickert.

    Several comedians paid tribute to Winters on Friday after the news broke:

    I just lost a best friend, Jonathan Winters. He meant the world to me.A genius and the greatest improvisational comedian of all time.

    — Richard Lewis (@TheRichardLewis) April 12, 2013

    Jonathan Winters was wildly funny.

    — Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) April 12, 2013

    He was a magic, unencumbered stream of explosive comedic firepower full of unexpected twists and turns of imagination.RIP Jonathan Winters

    — RUTH BUZZI (@Ruth_A_Buzzi) April 12, 2013

    In 1999, he sat down with Jim Lehrer and discussed his career, how he first started loving comedy as a child, his time in the Marines and why he loved improvising. Watch the video above, and you can read the transcript here.

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    With the government sequestration now a fact of life, we've been looking on the program at how cuts are affecting or might affect various sectors. Today, we look at the arts and arts organizations with a leading advocate, Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts.

    (A transcript is after the jump.)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Are you seeing any immediate impact of this 5 percent across-the-board cut on arts organizations? What's happening?

    ROBERT LYNCH: Well, what's happening is, to the organizations' credit, they are all trying to make cuts that don't affect what the public sees. That's good and bad for this cause. Everybody is trying to do a good job so the public doesn't see things, meaning maybe access is as close to the same and so on. But what's happening is that things -- maintenance, staff, people who are involved with the edges of production and so on -- those things are being cut, they have to. Something has to be cut. So what suffers is the experience that the American public is having. It would be like doing this show but maybe without that light. Or maybe you don't actually need the wonderful guy standing behind the camera. Maybe we just leave it on. That's what's happening right now.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, these are organizations that are used to cutting to the bone, I suppose, right?

    ROBERT LYNCH: Well, they've cut so much already. You take something like the National Endowment for the Arts. The National Endowment for the Arts had a budget that had reached $176 million in the mid-90s. One big slash came along in the Gingrich Congress and it went all the way down to just a little over $90 million. Now it's built back up all these years to $166 [million]. It was almost back up to where it was, and then it was cut $20 million in the last couple of years, and then sequestration comes along and there is another $7 million off of that budget. So it's back down in the $130 million area.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I did see, though, on the other hand that the president's proposed budget would give it a little bit more or keep it about the same, NEA and NEH.

    ROBERT LYNCH: More actually. We had proposed in national arts advocacy efforts to this year bring it up to $155 million. And that's what the present had in his budget. So if it gets to that level, given to where it's been cut to, that's a significant leap. So we're excited about that, NEA, NEH, in the president's budget. Now of course it has to go through the House and Senate.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For people who don't understand how this works, how does government funding for the arts affect people's experience on the street. If I go to the theater, how much of a role does government or state, for that matter, play?

    ROBERT LYNCH: Well, what's interesting about that is that one role is the money and a much bigger role is the leverage of government money on other money. If you take a look at all the national arts organizations in America, 115,000 of them. When the National Endowment for the Arts was begun in 1965, there were only 7,000 of them. So one aspect of the influence of the infrastructure of support that was created was this growth of the arts in America. So you have the National Endowment for the Arts' budget, 40 percent off the top goes to state art agencies. They exist because they went after the matching money. There were four before the National Endowment for the Arts existed, and there were 50 the year after. So it's very clear that that government incentive from the federal government created all the money -- some billion dollars -- for the state arts agencies. So the leverage there then of the federal and the state money goes, and when these arts organizations are out there asking for private sector dollars, local government dollars, one of the first things that local government and private sector look for is, well, are the feds in? It makes a huge difference. If you just look at the money itself -- federal, state and local government -- it's about 9 percent of the pot. Nine percent. If you just looked at the National Endowment of the Arts alone, it would be one-third of 1 percent. The money is not necessarily the big deal here; it's the leverage.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You mention the incredible growth and the number of arts organizations. There are sometimes the question, Are there too many? I don't suppose you want to make -- you are not going to make that case.

    ROBERT LYNCH: I'm not going to make the case, because I don't believe there are too many. But there are people -- my good friend Rocco Landesman, he --

    JEFFREY BROWN: He raised it.

    ROBERT LYNCH: He raised it and he said there are too many. There are a couple of problems. First of all, the American system is about abundance. The American system, unlike all the other systems in the world, which can actually control how many things there are out there. I just mentioned that our government money is 9 percent. Well, in a place like France it might be 90 percent. But here, the arts organizations are self-determined, because like an investment portfolio it's a mix of money. There is no one piece of money that actually can put an organization out of business. So what you have is this wonderful, enthusiastic, very American system of trying, like Mickey Rooney said, Put on a show, get out there. But it does cause a struggle, because there's only so much money to go around. And yet the nonprofit organizations have continued to grow in number even during the recession. The enthusiasm for making the arts happen is at the core of it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, the argument, I guess, is that it's a tough time, right? Everybody has to share in belt-tightening. Why not the arts, as well? Especially when you're weighing it against other very important needs from people. I saw that a couple of years ago. I went to Dayton, Ohio, and I was looking at the arts organizations vis-a-vis food for the homeless shelters and things like that. People have to make tough decisions.

    ROBERT LYNCH: They do, although the tight belt in the arts community has almost got a strangle hold on the arts community. I'll just give you an example of what the arts have done related to that. Today if you look at the money for the arts, 60 percent of the money for the arts is from earned income. They're small business making their own way. A decade ago that would have been 40 percent. What's happening is that they're tightening their belts related to contributed money and government money, and they are doing more as far as selling things and getting out there as entrepreneurs. That's a good thing. They've been cut back so much already at the federal government level, and state and local have held pretty flat, that the idea of cutting more is in many ways unfair. The figures that I gave you earlier about the National Endowment for the Arts, it was already cut by 40 percent only 10 years ago, and so these additional cuts are on top of that. And also just one other thing: It's not good conservative policy either, because the nonprofit arts in America are a big economic engine -- $135 billion dollars of economic activity -- and they are returning a very significant amount of money -- $21 billion dollars -- to tax coffers. So we're trying to balance the budget? Don't cut the thing that's putting money into the tax budget.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Are you getting much traction on that argument on the Hill? I introduced you as an advocate, and it's Advocacy Day you had recently to try to make the case, right? And you go to the Hill.

    ROBERT LYNCH: We had 2,400 people here on Monday night because Yo-Yo Ma gave an inspirational lecture on public policy in the arts, including money from government. And then we had 600 people up on Capitol Hill on Tuesday knocking on every congressional door. We hit all the offices, and their message was simply the arts are important and give a tiny little bit of investment and you get a huge return. Whether it's the National Endowment for the Arts or the Humanities or the Institute of Museums and Library Services. And does it have resonance? Huge resonance. If we can actually get to make the argument about this model that we have in America, it's actually a very conservative model. A little tiny bit of government investment leverages a whole industry, returns dollars to the tax coffers. Somebody has to listen to that, but once they listen to it or see it in their own community, we have a lot of friends. Which is why we have a good size Congressional Arts Caucus made up Republicans and Democrats, and they are people who are passionate about telling the story. But we have to do it constantly because there is constant change in legislators of every level -- federal, state and local -- so the story has to be told again and again.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Robert Lynch, Americans for the Arts, thanks so much.

    ROBERT LYNCH: My pleasure. Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And thank you for joining us again on Art Beat I'm Jeffrey Brown.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: The unease over North Korea's military intentions topped the agenda today for Secretary of State John Kerry. He traveled to the region and put the North on notice: Don't go too far.

    The secretary of state arrived in Seoul for meetings with South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, and her top aides. And he again warned North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, against any new missile launch.

    SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY, United States: It is a huge mistake for him to choose to do that because it will further isolate his country.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The North has recently moved as many as five medium-range missiles to its east coast, missiles that can reach as far away as Guam.

    A possible launch was made more worrisome by parts of a Pentagon report that became public yesterday. At a House hearing, Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn questioned Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey and read out findings by the DIA, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

    REP. DOUG LAMBORN, R-Colo.: DIA assesses with moderate confidence that North Korea currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low.

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman: And your question is, do I agree with the DIA's assessment?


    MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, I haven't seen it, and you said it's not publicly released, so I choose not to comment on it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A Pentagon statement later played down that assessment saying -- quote -- "It would inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage."

    And the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said the DIA report is not the judgment of the overall intelligence community.

    Back in Seoul today, Secretary Kerry also rejected the analysis. And, he said, the North should have no illusions that its small nuclear weapons capability gives it world standing.

    JOHN KERRY: We are all united in the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power. The rhetoric that we are hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable, by any standard.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In turn, South Korea's foreign minister struck a firm but moderate tone toward the North.

    FOREIGN MINISTER YUN BYUNG-SE, South Korea: We have kept to our principle that we will maintain a strong deterrence and will respond strongly to North Korea's provocations.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But threats from the North, coupled with concerns about its young untested leader have ratcheted up tensions.

    Near the Yalu River border with China today, a North Korean paratrooper exercise was conducted for a second day. At the same time, the atmosphere in Pyongyang was festive, with people preparing to celebrate the birth of Kim Il-Sung, the communist state's founder.

    In an odd juxtaposition, orchids were being tended near models of ballistic missiles.

    Kim Jong-gum is a flower show guide.

    KIM JONG-GUM, Flower Show Guide: The situation is now very complicated, but families are still full of laughter. I don't know whether there will be a missile launch test, but if we do, I think it will be just for national defense.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. has more than 28,000 troops in the South, and has made recent shows of force, over flights by bombers and fighter jets. Missile defense and naval assets also have moved into the region.

    In the event of actual conflict, the Combined Forces Command would carry out the response. An American general sits atop that chain of command with a South Korean deputy; 600,000 troops from both nations are at their disposal. 

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    Margaret Warner picks up the story from here.

    MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the prospect of hostilities between the two Koreas, and the implications, we turn to retired Marine Lieutenant General Chip Gregson, former commander of U.S. Marine forces in the Pacific and assistant secretary of defense for Asia in President Obama's first term. He's now with the Center for the National Interest. And Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

    Welcome to you both.

    Patrick Cronin, what do you make of the DIA report that came out yesterday about the prospect of North Korea having a nuclear warhead that could fit atop a missile, and then the rollback by the head of -- the director of national intelligence and the Pentagon?

    PATRICK CRONIN, Center for a New American Security: Well, based on the excerpt of the DIA report, it seems that the defense intelligence community is saying it's reasonable to assume that North Korea has overcome the major hurdles to miniaturizing a warhead so that it can be place atop a missile, but we don't have evidence of that. We don't have direct evidence.

    And so I think the rollback, the pushback from Secretary Kerry and others today in Seoul was saying, not so fast. Don't make people think this is a black-and-white issue. We're making assumptions based on circumstantial evidence. We haven't yet seen it demonstrated. But we may not until they actually have that capability and they test it. So there is a reason to assume the worst.

    MARGARET WARNER: General, one thing, as Jeff's piece made clear, that the U.S. and South Korea are looking at very intently is whether North Korea launches a missile or a missile test on or around next Monday, which is the founder's birthday.

    What are the possible ranges of responses from either South Korea or the United States if such a thing occurs?

    RET. LT. GEN. CHIP GREGSON, Center for the National Interest: That depends on the circumstances that surround the missile launch.

    Obviously, if it's a short-range missile that just goes a few hundred meters and impacts the water, there's probably -- there's likely not much of a response. If it's a missile shot at greater distance, and it's not -- it's gauged or assessed to be not aimed at anything that is important, Japanese territory, South Korea territory, U.S. territory, there might be other responses.

    If there is something that is aimed at Japan or South Korea or Guam, we have already stated we're going to shoot it down.

    MARGARET WARNER: So what about the prospect, Patrick Cronin, of a lower level of hostilities, but some sort of strike, some sort of attack by the North that engages the South? At what point, I mean, is the U.S. also obligated to respond militarily?

    PATRICK CRONIN: The United States is committed to the defense of South Korea by a mutual security treaty.

    That doesn't mean it's automatic. But there is a lot of automatic response built into our military training. We have a Combined Forces Command of U.S. and South Korean forces. They train. They're ready to respond to a provocation. And on two occasions in 2010, North Korea used lethal force against South Korea, and there was no significant, swift, direct, immediate response.

    I think this time, it would be different. So even a small use of lethal force, if you can call lethal force small, would receive a pretty dramatic, swift response this time.

    MARGARET WARNER: And who from?

    PATRICK CRONIN: Well, from the Combined Forces Command.

    That is, it could be South Korean forces, but under the leadership of General Thurman, who is the head commander, the U.S. commander.

    MARGARET WARNER: But who would make the political and military decision in that case, General? I mean, would it be -- the president of South Korea came out, I think, earlier this week and just said, if there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations.

    CHIP GREGSON: The national leadership of both countries would be involved.

    President Park's statement said that there shouldn't be any interference from the national leaders, but that doesn't mean that the national leadership is giving up their command. The national leadership, the elected leadership, will remain in command.

    MARGARET WARNER: But does it -- is it ultimately South Korea's discussion, as a sovereign nation, if it feels -- if it's been attacked, let's say there is some sort of attack on a disputed territory, something like that, as happened in 2010, is it ultimately South Korea's decision?

    CHIP GREGSON: South Korea would have a key role in a decision, but it would be done as an alliance in consultation.

    MARGARET WARNER: Does that always work, Patrick Cronin? Is there ever tension between what the South Koreans might want to do and what the U.S. thinks is prudent?

    PATRICK CRONIN: There's a tight alliance. It's professional and disciplined.

    But we have to recognize that South Korea does have sovereignty over South Korea. And the South Korean forces are not all under the command of General Thurman. Some of them are under different command. They are not supposed to respond, necessarily, but who is to say that they wouldn't if they saw a local provocation?

    MARGARET WARNER: And then does that the U.S. would be automatically -- you said it's not automatic -- but sucked in?

    PATRICK CRONIN: Well, we are there. We're there to deter conflict. We're there to try to preserve peace and to try to find a diplomatic path forward.

    North Korea is making that very difficult. We are there together. We have to work on this closely together. General Thurman and his Korean counterpart, the deputy commander of the Combined Forces Command, have lead responsibility, but it will be the president of South Korea and the president of the United States who have to make the big call.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, General, as we know, there have been no, like, massive movements of forces near the border or anything like that by the North Koreans. But what form might a provocative strike take? I mean, what -- what are the U.S. and South Korea prepared for?

    CHIP GREGSON: The advantage for the provocation lies with North Korea. They have the luxury of studying U.S. and Korean habits, movement, preparations, patterns of deployments, any number of things, and choosing the moment and the method to attack.

    The incidents before, the sinking of the Cheonan ...

    MARGARET WARNER: The submarine.

    CHIP GREGSON: ... there is no doubt that they tracked the movements of those ships and that they knew where the ship was likely to be.

    The shelling of YPdo, Yeonpyeongdo, that was a planned provocation and it was done in a manner when they judged that the South Koreans would not be prepared to do it. In the past, we have had a number of other provocations, the attack on the Blue House, their equivalent of our White House, the assassination of the first President Park, the current President Park's father, any number of things.

    So they are capable of egregious actions and provocations. And, as Patrick mentioned, South Korea has sovereignty. Every nation has got the right to defend itself. So South Korea has every right to react quickly if something like that happens. Now, whether they deem it in their judgment the best thing to do is a matter of the circumstances.

    MARGARET WARNER: And brief final word from you, Patrick Cronin. What is the danger of escalation? If you just had a tit-for-tat attack, the North shells a disputed island, the South shells where that shot came from, does it end there?

    PATRICK CRONIN: Well, escalation is not likely, but it's increasingly possible.

    Risk is growing. North Korea is closing in on the capability of having nuclear-tipped missiles. That means governments are going to act maybe with more risk than they would have before.

    MARGARET WARNER: And the U.S. will be involved.

    All right, Patrick Cronin and General Gregson, thank you both.

    PATRICK CRONIN: Thank you.

    CHIP GREGSON: Thank you. 

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    KWAME HOLMAN: The U.S. imposed financial sanctions and visa bans today on 18 Russians accused of human rights abuses. The Treasury Department made their names public under the new Magnitsky Act. It's named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. He accused police officials of embezzling state funds, and died in prison, allegedly after being beaten.

    At the White House today, spokesman Jay Carney said most of those blacklisted are linked to the case.

    JAY CARNEY, White House Spokesman: We will use the tools in the Magnitsky Act and other available legal authorities to ensure that persons responsible for the maltreatment and death of Mr. Magnitsky are barred from traveling to the United States and doing business here.

    KWAME HOLMAN: In turn, Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to retaliate by imposing similar sanctions on Americans.

    In Iraq, a pair of bombs at a mosque killed at least 11 people and wounded 30 more. The attacks happened in the town of Kanaan, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad. Police said the bombs went off in quick succession just as Muslim worshipers were leaving midday prayers. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

    A strong spring storm made its way up the East Coast today, leaving more destruction. Across the Southeast, the system brought high winds that blew down trees and power lines and hail the size of golf balls. And for many parts of the Upper Midwest, heavy, wet snow made an unwelcome reappearance, causing some rivers to top their banks. The storm system also spawned tornadoes a day earlier. Overall, it was blamed for at least three deaths.

    The first family released 2012 income tax returns today. President and Mrs. Obama reported an income of nearly $609,000 dollars. That's down from $5.5 million in 2009, their first year in the White House. The Obamas paid federal taxes of more than $112,000 dollars last year for an effective tax rate of just more than 18 percent. They also donated more than $150,000 dollars to charity.

    Congress has killed a mandate that congressional staffers and executive branch employees post their financial disclosure forms online. The requirement, under the STOCK Act, was to take effect on Monday. Repeal passed the House and Senate today without debate.

    On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average lost a fraction of a point to close at 14,865. The Nasdaq fell five points to close under 3,295. For the week, both the Dow and the Nasdaq gained more than two percent.

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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn now to Venezuela.

    On Sunday, voters in the Latin American nation will head to the polls to elect a new president. However, the legacy of the country's former leader, who ruled for 14 years, still looms large.

    Venezuela's longtime leader, Hugo Chavez, has been dead more than a month, but he is hardly forgotten. Daily, visitors view his stone coffin at his final resting place, a mountaintop army barracks in Caracas.

    LUZ MUJICA, Chavez Supporter: For us, he is not dead. He is here. We say that he rose, that his spirit is accompanying us like Bolivar's, and that he's going to be present in this struggle.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This struggle is Sunday's election, pitting acting president and Chavez's chosen successor Nicolas Maduro against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who was roundly defeated by Chavez just six months ago. To no one's surprise, the contest quickly turned ugly.

    ACTING PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO, Venezuela: Conceited, conceited, bourgeois, bourgeois. Capriles wants to be president of the republic.

    HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI, Venezuelan Presidential Candidate: The worst thing that could happen is that Nicolas Maduro would win, that he would continue to sink Venezuela.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For the U.S., the race could hold profound implications for relations with a major oil supplier and a country that Chavez transformed into a socialist ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro. Earlier this week, the reclusive Castro paid a musical tribute to Chavez, no doubt because Capriles has vowed to turn off the flow of subsidized oil to the communist country.

    Maduro has served as head of state since December, when Chavez flew to Cuba for cancer treatment. The 50-year-old former bus driver routinely invokes Chavez's name, here describing an unusual encounter with a bird during a visit to Chavez's boyhood home.

    NICOLAS MADURO: The bird looked at me strangely, whistled a little, circled me and left. I felt the spirit of Chavez. I felt as though he gave us a blessing, telling us, today, the battle starts, go to victory. We have our blessings. That's how I felt.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What's more, Maduro has at his disposal the sweeping power that Chavez consolidated in the presidency during his 14 years in office.

    That includes broad control of the media, with its frequent invocations of Chavez, including this cartoon showing the leader welcomed in heaven by various Latin American revolutionaries and his grandmother. Maduro also has access to the deep pockets of the state-run oil company.

    Meanwhile, Capriles is the 40-year-old governor of Miranda, one of Venezuela's most important states.

    HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI: Nicolas isn't Chavez. Capriles is the guarantee that the country will get ahead. I am not the opposition; I am the solution.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Capriles has nearly gone hoarse as he's campaigned tirelessly, crisscrossing the country to meet with both urban and rural constituents. And despite the odds, he's again generating considerable support.

    MARIA ELENA FONSECA, Supporter of Capriles: Capriles has done everything. There is education, there is culture. There is a future for the freedom of Venezuela.

    LUICA FONSECA, Supporter of Capriles: And because we don't want more crime, more problems, more aggressiveness, and no more violence.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, late polls show Capriles trailing Maduro by as much as 10 points. Whoever wins will confront a raft of problems, including sky-high inflation and ongoing scarcity of basic goods.

    MAN: We lack sugar, milk, chicken, bread, flour, and meat.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There's also the country's crumbling infrastructure and high rate of drug-related violence.

    ANA FERNANDEZ, Venezuela: I have been attacked with pistols seven times, and I'm here. I am alive by chance, thanks to God. One is forced to live locked up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As Election Day approaches, both candidates have expressed fears of campaign-related violence.

    NICOLAS MADURO: We have captured several Colombian paramilitaries wearing Venezuelan uniforms that came to kill here in Venezuela. We are dismantling a right-wing plan for violence.

    HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI: May we never take a step backward. We must always move forward. We must never feel hate. May Venezuela never in my lifetime have a confrontation between brothers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier this week, several students were injured after fighting broke out between government supporters and the opposition. The Venezuelan military, while seen as pro-Maduro, has vowed to enforce security once the election results are known.

    We asked four Latin America analysts to weigh in on the future of Chavez's political ideology, Chavismo. Find that on our World page. 

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    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, taxes are due on Monday. And, yes, once again, tax reform is in the air. It's been more than a quarter-century since the last overhaul, and now President Obama and key leaders in both parties say they'd like to work on simplifying the tax code.

    But if the past is a guide, that it's much easier said than done. This week, the president brought back some of his longstanding proposals as part of his budget. They include capping itemized deductions and exemptions, such as the mortgage interest and charitable deductions, for wealthier households earning $250,000 dollars or more, tax increases on the foreign earnings of American companies, and a rise in taxes to at least 30 percent for individuals earning a million dollars or more.

    We take a look at all of this now with David Cay Johnston, a columnist for Tax Analysts magazine and professor of law at Syracuse University College of Law, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist and president of the American Action Forum.

    David Cay Johnston, let me start with you, and start with personal taxes that so many people face a deadline on. Help us think about possible reforms. What is the biggest problem with the system right now?

    DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, "The Fine Print": Well, for most people, it is that they shouldn't have to file.

    The government has all the information it needs for people who only get income from wages or pensions. And so if we excluded a small amount of money from dividends and interest, which we did do in the 1970s, we could eliminate tax filing for about 100 million of the 140 million people. So that is at the bottom end.

    At the top end, we allow people to make unlimited amounts of money and not pay taxes on them if they run hedge funds or executives. They can defer the taxes into the future, sometimes decades into the future. And they can borrow in many cases against this money to live on and not pay taxes for a long time.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Douglas Holtz-Eakin, first, respond to that. Does that sound look a good wish list?

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, Former Congressional Budget Office Director: Well, that's a good starting point.

    I think the number one thing I would put on that list is the perceived fairness of the tax code.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Perceived fairness?

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: The U.S. has relied on voluntary compliance. And it actually has by world standards a good tax code that people comply with.

    If you lose faith in the fairness of the tax code, people don't comply, you start to have big problems. So ...

    JEFFREY BROWN: And why have people lost faith?

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: They don't understand how the tax code works.

    So, I think to begin the discussion on tax reform, you shouldn't talk about what we are going to go get, that sort of money-grubbing approach to tax reform that says, is, I'm going to go get that deduction, I'm going to go get that exemption, I'm going to go find their money, and instead say, we know the tax code is supposed to raise revenue, but what else do we want it to do?

    Do we want it to support growth? Do we want it to hit some fairness objectives? Are we interested in social objectives, like owning a home, going to college? Should it be really simple? Should it be easy to comply with? Figure out what the tax code should mean so it means something and people can see it doing its job.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, why -- David Cay Johnston, why doesn't that happen?

    DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, because we have all these interests that are out there promoting this or that.

    We have driven up the cost of housing, for example, through the mortgage interest deduction, which is an upside-down deduction. The more money you make, the bigger the subsidy you get. And you have a whole industry that wants to support that. And I think Doug is exactly right.

    We have to talk about what is it we want out of the tax code, what social benefits if any do we want, and how do we raise sufficient revenue? We're raising -- per capita adjusted for inflation, we are taking in about 35 percent less in the income tax system than we were in 2000.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the Republicans talk about lowering rates, but broadening the base or widening the base.


    JEFFREY BROWN: How do you do that fitting into what we are talking about, simplifying and making people trust the system?

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: That's the conventional definition of tax reform, lower rates, broaden the base, have that base be the things we agree should be taxed, and have the things left out of the base be the things, charities or whatever it may be, that we agree should be exempt from tax.

    So that's the recipe. We have seen bipartisan efforts that do that, Bowles-Simpson commission, for example, lower rates, broader-based rate, a lot more money, more than just the current amount. I think the real outlier has been in this administration's desire to have a broader base and higher rates. And that's no one's conventional definition of tax reform. And the question is whether you can get everybody to sign on to that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You want to respond to that, David?

    DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I think we can justify higher rates way up.

    You know, we talk about this as a quarter-million dollar threshold. We have people in this country who make a million, three million dollars a day and, they're taxed at the same rate as people who are in the quarter-million, half-million dollar rate -- income level.

    And I think we need to recognize that the system doesn't capture people at the very, very top. And the Bush administration in 2005 acknowledged that -- they said, we have made the system more progressive up to the 99.9 percent level.

    Well, the top 10 percent make almost as much as the bottom half of Americans. We should focus a lot on them. But we also want to broaden base. I agree entirely with that. And I think we should try to get rates as low as we can to bring in the necessary revenues.

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: So, I think David Cay -- this is exactly the discussion that I would love to hear on Capitol Hill, because what he is saying is, yes, we need to raise the revenue. Taxes have to pay the bills of the government. That is the main job.

    And they should be fair. We're going to try to get and make sure the upper end pays taxes because the money there. That's a set of priorities. That tells you what a tax code looks like in Mr. Johnston's mind. At this point in time, I think a fair argument can be made that the second priority, the one past raising the revenues, should be let's grow more rapidly.

    We have very high unemployment. It's been around a long time. We're growing at rates people that don't like. So you're going hear voices that say, OK, I understand that. But in the list of things, when you can't do everything, let's have a tax code that supports economic growth. That affects individuals, but it also affects all those small businesses that are taxed as individuals, and it affects the corporate code.

    So the tax reform debate gets shaped by what your objectives are in a deep way.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And speaking of the corporate code, David Cay Johnston, because I know this has been a big issue for you, briefly, tell us what the problem is.

    DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, just 2,600 of the six million corporations in America own 80 percent of the assets.

    And under a 1986 law, they can build up unlimited amounts of cash offshore. And they're allowed to siphon profits earned in the United States out of the country as expenses. They pay themselves to their foreign subsidiaries for the use of patents and intellectual properties that they own.

    This is damaging our economy. It's encouraging companies to invest elsewhere. And our rate is too high, given that the rest of the world has lowered their rates. So -- but the worst thing we could have, I think, Jeff, would be to lower the rate and not fix these fundamental problems that allow companies to game the system.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, and you're agreeing at with least part of that.

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: Oh, yes, certainly. I think we have a corporate tax code that hits the worst of all worlds. It's not helping us compete. It's not helping us grow and it raises no revenue. That's a terrible code. So ...

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the reason for this is again going back to what you were saying before about the interest and...

    DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: Well, it's in part these international transactions.

    So if you think about where you could get bipartisan consensus, I think you could get it on, let's get the rate down to 25 percent. Ours is too high. Let's do it, say, in a revenue-neutral fashion. Let's not have individuals have to pay for corporate reform. Let's make the corporations do their own reform.

    And then you get to the tough part. How do you want to handle the international transactions? I think the solution to that is, let's have a tax code that matches the rest of the developed world and tax companies largely on what they do in the U.S., leaving their Brazilian operations to be taxed by Brazil, and then pair that, before Mr. Johnston jumps in, with a set of geeky rules known as base erosion rules that will be so tough that he will never get to write another book on international tax evasion.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, I'm not going to let him...

    We're going to end the discussion, but we're going to watch carefully to see if this continues on Capitol Hill, as you have suggested.

    Douglas Holtz-Eakin, David Cay Johnston, thanks very much.

    DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Thank you. 

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we look at new efforts to bring television online in a way that could alter the broadcast landscape.

    It's about a company called Aereo, which picks up free signals from local TV stations and streams them for a small fee. Some broadcasters, including FOX, Univision, NBC-Universal, CBS, and PBS sued, accusing Aereo of copyright violations. A federal court of appeals recently ruled that Aereo could provide network shows.

    This week, FOX and Univision fired a warning shot in response, suggesting that they may one day provide television programming only through cable.

    Hari Sreenivasan sat down with Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post on the potential impact.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We're joined by Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post.

    Thanks for being with us.

    CECILIA KANG, The Washington Post: Thank you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, let's kind of flesh out what Aereo is trying to do.

    CECILIA KANG: So, what Aereo in the simplest form does is it takes broadcast TV, network TV, and it brings it to the Internet. And it brings it to your Internet-enabled devices, so your smartphone, your tablet, your computer, or your Internet TV.

    And it does that by capturing public broadcast shows like PBS, NBC shows, ABC, CBS, Univision, from the public airwaves, and it captures those signals through thousands of tiny, tiny antennas. And then a consumer can choose to pick and choose from a menu of options any show they want to watch on network TV on any of these devices. So it brings TV to the Internet, basically.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So all these broadcasters, including PBS, went to court and said that this is copyright infringement. And the judges disagreed.

    CECILIA KANG: The judges did disagree.

    And it was a really important case that everyone in the TV industry is watching, in that what the broadcasters are saying is that Aereo seems to be kind of look and feel just like a cable television provider. If you look at its menu, it actually looks a lot like your Verizon FiOS, your Comcast menu of options that they provide.

    But what the judges decided and what Aereo has argued is that they are not. What they essentially do is they just provide thousands of tiny antennas that allow individuals to pull content that's already on the public airwaves. And they essentially act no different than a DVR. And a DVR service is actually deemed legal.

    So the judges agreed with Aereo in a very technically complicated case that has big implications for the broadcast industry.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So how much money are we talking about? Obviously, the broadcasters are kind of concerned about this because it could compromise some of the money they make from cable companies that pay them for the same signal.

    CECILIA KANG: That's right.

    There's so -- there's millions and millions of dollars in contracts that the broadcast networks have -- receive in licensing fees from cable companies. They want Aereo to pay in the same way. So this is millions and millions. And this is an individual contract that they are losing out on in their mind.

    At the same time, they say that they believe that they're losing out on advertising revenue, too, because they think that people skip through the advertisements when they see their network programs on the Aereo service.

    Aereo does actually air all the advertisements just as the networks would provide.

    So they're talking about lost revenue in advertising, as well as licensing fees, which are known as retransmission fees.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So one of the executives at FOX News said -- or I should say FOX overall said, maybe if this succeeds, we're going to go ahead and take ourselves off the public airwaves and put ourselves just on cable.

    And would other content providers follow suit?

    CECILIA KANG: It was a pretty audacious statement.

    This was this week, where the president of FOX did say that. And other networks have also voiced support. CBS has also said that they sympathize with FOX's position. Univision said that they would do potentially the same thing. So there's a lot of -- and NBC -- there is speculation that NBC might be interested in the same thing.

    There's speculation also, but there is sort of a -- some people think that this might be a business negotiation tactic, sort of just a threat that may not be really in earnest. But at the same time, it's a hugely audacious and very interesting idea to go completely behind a pay wall, if you will, to go from free over the air to cable only.


    CECILIA KANG: And there's 54 million Americans who rely only on still broadcast over the airs -- over the air. And that 54 million who would lose out on television programming.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So that's obviously the market that Aereo wants to go after. They see that that is possibly money.

    How disruptive is this technology, and what is maybe a parallel analogy? Is what Aereo doing to TV similar to what voice-over I.P. was to telecom companies? Or how do we keep this in perspective?


    Well, I think big picture, the Internet is disrupting every single industry, my industry, the newspaper industry, the broadcasting industry, entertainment, music, et cetera. But it is very disruptive in the sense that it provides consumers something that they want increasingly, which is on-the-go, on-demand entertainment and information, and much more control over what they can see and get and hear.

    And so they want to, wherever they are, on their smartphone, be able to watch the shows they want to see, live TV, live sports, live news, record it. They want control. And consumer demand is really what's driving these businesses, these new businesses to emerge, like Aereo.

    So it is very disruptive for the traditional broadcast industry, but not only that. It's very disruptive for consumers because it provides consumers -- disruptive in sort of a positive sense, if you will, in that it gives consumers the kind of options that they are increasingly yearning for. They want to be able to pick and choose what content they get on TV, as opposed to being forced cable bundles of hundreds of channels, for example, which are increasingly more expensive each year.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what's next for Aereo, lawsuits or expansion?


    Aereo plans to continue to expand to 22 cities, including Washington, D.C. And it will continue to do so as long as the courts don't stop them. But the network broadcasters are continuing their fight in the courts. So they will take this, their case, into the courts continually. And they will probably also take this to the Hill to really try to get lawmakers to relook at redefining where Aereo fits in the space of communications law, and whether there needs to be new definitions for Internet online service providers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Cecilia Kang from The Washington Post, thanks so much.

    CECILIA KANG: Thank you. 

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

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Welcome, gentlemen.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: So let's start with gun control.

    David, the Senate is going to let there be a debate and let there be a vote, Republicans divided. It's going to move ahead. What does that all this mean? How did this happen?

    DAVID BROOKS: I would say the theme of the week is that we were given the illusion this week that we live in a functioning democracy, where things pass, where things move ahead.

    And that's been the case with guns.

    Now, not everybody is happy, but there is going to be a vote. There is going to be a debate. And I think there is a reasonably good chance that something significant will get through the House -- excuse me, through the Senate ...

    MARK SHIELDS: Senate.

    DAVID BROOKS: ... and then go over to the House. And that will include some background checks, not on everything, but on some of the commercial transactions. It will include a significant mental health element, which I think has been overlooked.

    It will include some of the gun trafficking laws. So it's not what the gun control people wanted. There's -- some of the private transactions will probably be left out. But it will pass, I think, the Senate with significant Republican support, put reasonable pressure on the House, and I would say you would have to say there is a better than 50/50 chance that a law is signed, not much better than 50/50, but a little better, I think.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how did this happen?

    I mean, enough Republicans moved over and voted with the Democrats to let this move ahead, at least to debate.

    MARK SHIELDS: Several things happened, Judy.

    First of all was we got truly a bipartisan pair of senators, Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, increasingly red state, NRA member, and Pat Toomey, a card-carrying authentic conservative from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, who challenged Arlen Specter in 2004, to the point where Rick Santorum and George W. Bush both campaigned for Arlen Specter.

    He was that much of a conservative, founder of the Club for Growth. And there is light and there's heat involved. The light is that Republicans are going to be facing the prospect of voting against even debating a bill which involved background checks.

    Now, having -- is there anything that is more commonsensical than background checks? And you are going to go out to the American people, especially to women voters, suburban voters, and say we're against background checks. We don't care if someone has been accused and convicted of spousal abuse. We don't care if someone is convicted of assault and battery. We're not going to -- and that's going to intrude on their privacy, that kind of scrutiny.

    That was the light. The heat is that in the collar counties of Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, Bucks, and Montgomery ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Toomey is from Pennsylvania.

    MARK SHIELDS: From Pennsylvania -- the Republicans have gotten murdered. That's where Rick Santorum lost the Senate seat to Bobby Casey. It's where Barack Obama carried both times. And those are suburban voters. They're women voters. They're people who care about gun control.

    And I think that he did the Republicans a great service. And the other thing, Judy, you cannot ignore is the Newtown families, the families of those people coming down. They put a face on this. This isn't a piece of legislation. They sat there, and they talked to senators. And it just became impossible to vote against bringing it up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that why these other Republicans joined with him?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think so.

    I think, as Mark mentioned, the suburbanization -- my favorite newspaper wrote a story about this the last couple days -- the suburbanization, the effect on the families, and the fact that because it was Manchin and Toomey, it wasn't a bunch of East Coast liberals telling the rest of the country what to do, some of the cultural elements of this, which is always ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: West Virginia, Pennsylvania.

    DAVID BROOKS: It was West Virginia, Central Pennsylvania, two big hunting states.

    And so it felt a little more comfortable. And I have to say one little political reasons why Republicans wanted it to come up for a vote, it's an uncomfortable vote for a lot of red state Democrats. And they didn't want those red state Democrats to not have to vote on this. So there was a small political element, but I would just underline what Mark said about the families. That was ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Shocked that there is a political element in any of this.

    But, Mark, what does it mean in terms of the substance of gun control?

    MARK SHIELDS: I think once the genie is out of the bottle, I think it's on the floor, I think literally every piece of legislation has a dynamic unto itself.

    I think what David said on the background checks, I am confident on that. I am confident on gun trafficking, that there will be adopted -- adapted -- adopted.

    I'm also hopeful that, if it really starts to move and there is support, that they can -- they, quite frankly, will have a real chance at some of the tougher provisions in the legislation. I think they will get a thorough background. And I think, you know, the magazine vote, I think there will be a vote on it.

    I think it's scheduled. And so I don't know what will happen. But I feel so much better than I did a week ago at the prospects.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president rolled out his budget proposal for next year, David. It seemed like as many Democrats are upset with him as there are Republicans.

    What does all -- what does all this mean and what do you make of the budget?

    DAVID BROOKS: I think it's -- I give him credit for some things.

    He did have some reasonably small Social Security reform, this thing called chained CPI, which is part a benefit cut, part a big tax increase. He does do some things which are brave. He does, I think, sort of move to the center.

    I think he still does some small things in the right direction. What he doesn't do is alter the fundamental trajectory of our budget politics, which is that money for the entitlement programs going to senior citizens is going up and up and up. And domestic discretionary spending, which is the stuff on education, welfare, the stuff that helps social mobility, reduce inequality, that will be -- within 10 years, it will be below wherever it was under Reagan, under the Bushes, under Nixon. It will be back to Eisenhower levels.

    And so I think that the -- I wish the president would alter that fundamental trajectory, so he had a little less entitlement money, a lot more discretionary money, and lower deficits, because the single biggest item in the budget will be interest payments on the debt.

    So I salute him for doing the right thing in small ways. But he still hasn't altered the disastrous trajectory our budgets are on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Not altering the disastrous trajectory?

    MARK SHIELDS: I can't argue with David's numbers. And I will point out this, Judy.

    In the past 10 years, the percentage of Americans over the age of 65 living in poverty has dropped by 20 percent. The percentage of children under the age of 18 living in poverty has grown by 30 percent. And it is -- it does say something about any society's values where they do spend their money, and is there -- and are they building a future?

    And I don't think there is any question that we disproportionately now, our resources go towards the elderly, rather than toward the young and children and building better lives for them.

    I think what he did was gutsy; any time you make your own base that angry, as he obviously has done. Last fall, the Republican Senate leaders said about the chained CPI and the means-testing for wealthy Medicare patients -- recipients, that these are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in revenues.

    Well, President Obama is doing that. And there seems to be precious little interest in revenues on their part. But -- so I think he -- I think he gets credit and should get credit for doing something bold and difficult. And any time you make your own base angry, you're probably doing something that is ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It sounds like are you giving him a little more credit than David is.

    MARK SHIELDS: I probably am. But it's Friday, and I'm generous.

    DAVID BROOKS: I'm innately hostile.

    No, I give him credit, too. And there was a move to the center. It certainly disproves the notion -- Mark made this point recently -- that he is some kind of Norwegian socialist. He's not. He's a ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the president.

    DAVID BROOKS: The president.


    DAVID BROOKS: Now, the question ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Norwegian. OK.

    DAVID BROOKS: I wouldn't go to Finnish. They are much worse.

    MARK SHIELDS: There you go.


    MARK SHIELDS: ... very shortly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, while we're talking about -- at least we were on gun control -- the parties may be working together, bipartisan immigration deal, David, looks like it may be announced in the next few days.

    Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, is going to be out on television over the weekend. Does this look like it may be happening?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, so this is the best news of all. I think they have made progress on guns, moderate progress on the budget. But the immigration is just a sheer -- if you are for comprehensive reform, a sheer win, because these gangs -- there is a gang of eight.

    Usually, the gangs fall apart. They can't reach agreement. This gang has actually produced something, in part because they have got some people who have been through it the last time, people like McCain and Lindsey Graham and others, Chuck Schumer. In part, they have got some productive newcomers. So they're coming out with -- the administration is giving them space.

    And they're coming out with a bill which I think has got border security for the people who care about that. It's got a path to citizenship. It's got a shift towards skills, which is what we need for the economy. It's not just a small piece of legislation. It's a pretty robust piece of legislation. It's impressive.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Impressive?

    MARK SHIELDS: It is impressive. And I can't argue with what David said.

    I would just say there is some arithmetic here involved. I mean, it's not simply the realization on the part of Republicans that, with the exception of those who were here when Columbus arrived and those who were brought here against their will in chains, that every American is himself or herself an immigrant or the direct lineal descendants of immigrants.

    That has kind of come true to Republicans at this point. But there is a math, Judy, an inexorable math. In 2008, Barack Obama carried the Latino vote by 2-1, a little over 2-1. He carried them by almost 3-1 in 2012. More important even than that is all foreign-born Americans or those who come from first generation feel less and less warmly toward the Republican Party.

    Barack Obama carried Virginia and Mitt Romney lost Virginia because of the vote of Asian Americans, upscale, higher-educated, all the rest of it, because they see a xenophobic Republican Party that says hostile things about people who aren't 110 percent American.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you are saying the election has concentrated the mind of ...

    MARK SHIELDS: I don't think there's any question.

    Republicans, in order to be competitive with non-white American voters, have to become credible on immigration. I think that has contributed to it. Yes, John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others have, you know, been there and been there in the past. But I think that's why I think this is so important for Republicans. But it's obviously a lot more important for the country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Final comment. I want to ask you both about the death of mart Margaret Thatcher this week. She obviously leaves a legacy, strong feelings on both sides of the ideological spectrum, David?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, before Margaret Thatcher, you could say the history seemed to be headed towards Swedish socialism. I'm back to that. After ...

    MARK SHIELDS: Sweden.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Or Norwegian.

    MARK SHIELDS: Sweden, Finland, and Norwegian.

    DAVID BROOKS: I'm very Scandinavian today.

    So she shifted history, where we thought we were going. The second thing is she introduced a sort of working-class conservatism. So she was not only rebelling against the labor unions in the British left, but also against the Tories, the aristocratic side of the Tory Party on the right.

    And so she stood for a sort of working-class conservatism, a sort of version of our Reagan Democrats.

    And so that was part of her historical legacy.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes. She was the non-fop conservative. They all seemed a little bit inbred and all the rest.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Fop, non-fop.

    MARK SHIELDS: Fop, yes, fop.

    And she really -- she was crucial, as important -- and Lou Cannon put it well -- as important as Winston Churchill was to Franklin Roosevelt, she was even more important to Ronald Reagan. And she gave the credential on Gorbachev, on ending the Cold War, this is a man we can do business with.

    At the same time, as Lou pointed out, she gave cover to Reagan among conservatives once he started to reach out. So, I think, in that sense, she was -- and both of them, both Reagan and Thatcher, remember this, they were succeeded by leaders of the other -- who changed their own parties to succeed them, I mean, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

    So, I mean, they both left long shadows.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the two of you leave nothing but positive vibes.

    MARK SHIELDS: Except in Scandinavia.

    DAVID BROOKS: I'm apologizing to the Danish socialists for not mentioning them so far.

    MARK SHIELDS: He's alienated every Scandinavian person. My wife is Norwegian. And I think ...

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

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    JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, we remember Jonathan Winters, a true master of comedy.

    JONATHAN WINTERS, Comedian: I did a thing that a lot of us probably would like to do. Maybe a few of us don't. I don't know. I will just have to ask you. Did you ever undress in front of a dog?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Jonathan Winters performed his pioneering brand of improvisational comedy for nearly five decades. In the process, he inspired a series of stars who followed him, from Billy Crystal to Robin Williams to Jim Carrey, with a madcap ability to transform into a multitude of characters.

    JONATHAN WINTERS: What do you want to do?

    DEAN MARTIN, Entertainer: I don't know. What's your pleasure?

    JONATHAN WINTERS: Well, if I told you that, we would be off the air.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Born in Dayton, Ohio, Winters studied painting and later served in the Marine Corps in the South Pacific during World War II.

    JONATHAN WINTERS: Come on, tiger. I know you're down there.

    Well, we know one thing. He's armed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: He broke onto the national entertainment scene in the 1950s in the early days of television, often appearing on "The Steve Allen Show."

    MAN: One of the biggest figures in the world of comedy, the irresistible imp, Jonathan Winters.

    JEFFREY BROWN: He later frequented "The Tonight Show," before eventually landing his own variety program.

    MAN: The one and only Jonathan Winters, ladies and gentlemen.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Winters also appeared on the big screen, notably in the 1963 comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

    JONATHAN WINTERS: Now, fellows, you keep this up and I'm going to get sore. I mean it. OK?

    JEFFREY BROWN: But with success came a struggle with depression and drinking, and Winters had himself hospitalized for eight months in the early 1960s.

    In 1981, he came back to television and a new generation of fans in the comedy series "Mork & Mindy" starring Robin Williams. Eighteen years later, in 1999, Winters became the second recipient of the Kennedy Center's annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

    JONATHAN WINTERS: There's a lot of things I would like to say. I thought the head would be bigger.

    I have played some pretty good-sized pads in my career. I don't think I have ever played anything this size and this high. They have got chandeliers. My wife said, could we get one?

    We live in a trailer.

    JEFFREY BROWN: His "Mork & Mindy" co-star was there to pay tribute to the man he called his idol.

    ROBIN WILLIAMS, Comedian: And for me, he was the guy that I saw, like I said, make my father laugh. And I went, God, that must be amazing, because my father was a tad stern.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The day after being honored, Winters spoke to Jim Lehrer and recalled how his penchant for comedy grew out of his childhood.

    JONATHAN WINTERS: Well, I was an only child. I don't say that with, you know, little tears, and mother and dad didn't understand me.

    I didn't understand them. So, consequently, it was a strange kind of arrangement. They didn't understand me. And I would be in my room. Being an only child, I would talk to myself, I would interview myself. The guy would be a general. I would be a war hero or something, whatever I wanted to be.

    And it was always, well, what is he doing in there? And I -- so I decided, hey, I was working alone. Maybe I ought to try something in the schoolyard.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Jonathan Winters died overnight at his home near Los Angeles. He was 87 years old.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hear what Winters had to say about the value of laughter and more online, where you can watch Jim's full interview. 

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    Mark Shields and David Brooks pondered political sex scandals in the Doubleheader Friday. If it's in the name of love, is it less offensive?

    As I filled in for Hari Sreenivasan, we started with the "sport of politics" and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's comparison of an eavesdropping scandal to Watergate.

    Then we turned to the -- ahem -- overexposure of ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner in this weekend's New York Times Magazine.

    Watch to the end of the "politics of sport" section to find out if Mark paid up for picking Syracuse last week in the NCAA tournament.

    I also asked each of them if they could outrun a senator in the ACLI Capital Challenge 3-mile run. PBS NewsHour is fielding a team for the May 15 race. Funnier still, I'm the captain!

    Please subscribe to the Morning Line.

    Follow @cbellantoni

    Support Your Local PBS Station

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    Cherry blossom trees in bloom in Washington, D.C., shot and edited by Cindy Huang.

    After a chilly start to spring on the East Coast, cherry trees are in full bloom in Washington, D.C. But the trees' pink and white blossoms are not just beautiful. They've been an evolving symbol of the nation of Japan for hundreds of years.

    Most Japanese visit their country's trees in groups for special cherry blossom viewings known as hanami. Students visit the trees taking a half or full day off from lessons. Neighborhoods organize their own viewings. Companies send their newest employees to stake out areas for corporate picnicking under the trees. When the flowers burst out of their buds, the Japanese people celebrate their New Year with food, dance and music, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, a Japanese-American anthropologist, explained.

    Of the original 3,000 trees given to the U.S. by the people of Japan, only 100 still live on the National Mall. Learn about research geneticists are cloning the original trees. Photo by Cindy Huang/ NewsHour.

    Ohnuki-Tierney walked with her class every year to view the cherry trees. Growing up in Japan, she didn't search for any deeper meaning except their beauty. "In my childhood, I never thought about it," she said. "Everyone just assumes the meaning," which for Ohnuki-Tierney was purely aesthetic.

    Only after becoming an anthropologist did Ohnuki-Tierney ask why the cherry blossom is such a revered symbol in Japan. Her research resulted with her book, "Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms and Nationalisms."

    Held above all other flowers by the rulers of Japan, Ohnuki-Tierney writes the cherry blossom or sakura has been a symbol of "the cycle of life, death and rebirth, on the one hand, and of productive and reproductive powers, on the other" throughout the history of Japan. The trees have been used as symbols for everything from predicting successful harvests of rice to giving the World War II kamikaze pilots courage for their one-way missions.

    Here is a history of the cherry blossom and its evolving meaning, from ancient Japan to current day.

    710-794: Ritual cherry blossom viewings begin and trees are transplanted to towns.

    Cherry blossoms are connected to Japanese folk religions, a symbol of reproduction and new life.

    During this period, the Japanese begin to transplant cherry trees from the mountains to areas where people lived. The cherry trees were connected to beliefs in Japanese folk religions; many Japanese would go into the mountains during the spring to worship the trees. The trees were seen as sacred, since they were considered to carry the soul of the mountain gods down to humans.

    Ohnuki-Tierney says that every spring, the mountain deity traveled down to the fields on the falling petals of cherry blossoms and transformed into the deity of the rice paddies, a critical crop for Japanese agriculture and productivity. Cherry blossom viewings, therefore, began from religious rituals.

    712: First known written reference of the cherry blossom is recorded in the "Kojiki."

    Cherry blossoms are symbolic of Japan's uniqueness.

    The "Kojiki," a compilation of oral accounts of the origins of Japan, was commissioned by Empress Gemmei. The Tang Dynasty of China was at its height of cultural, economic and military influence. The empress, threatened by Chinese culture seeping into the country, sought to establish a unique Japanese identity that proved Japanese culture developed autonomous to other regions. Thus, the book described what came to be known as the "Japanese spirit."

    While the Chinese prize the plum blossoms, the aristocracy of Japan raised the cherry blossom to new status. The ritual of hanami -- elaborate cherry blossom viewing ceremonies and celebrations with singing, dancing, and drinking -- began at the imperial courts, practiced by elite classes, but commoners also celebrated in rural areas.

    1192: The samurai class rise to political power.

    A samurai on horseback from the Momoyama period, at the turn of the 16th century.

    Cherry blossoms exemplify the noble character of the "Japanese soul" -- men who do not fear death.

    Yoritomo and the Minamoto clan seized power from the aristocracy establish a military government in Kamakura. Minamoto no Yoritomo defeated other powerful Japanese families to seize control of certain functions of the government and aristocracy. Minamoto then established a feudal system, with a private military known as the samurai who also had some political powers.

    Constantine Vaporis, professor of history at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says that as seppuku (ritual suicide) became a key part of the samurai's Bushido code, the samurai "identified with the cherry blossom particularly because it fell at the moment of its greatest beauty, an ideal death."

    The daimyo (or warlord) Asano Naganori captured this sentiment before committing ritual suicide:

    "Sadder than blossoms swept off by the wind, a life torn away in the fullness of spring."

    Vaporis also said that the Samurai decorated their military equipment with emblems of the cherry blossom, especially sword guards.

    1868-1912: Meiji Restoration promotes imperial nationalism.

    Emperor Meiji in 1872, only four years after he restored the position of emperor as the sovereign authority of Japan. Silver print by Uchida Kuichi/Wikimedia Commons.

    Cherry trees reflect the sacrifice of Japanese soldiers in service to the state of Japan.

    Emperor Meiji reclaimed all the governing authority from the position of the shoguns (military leaders) and asserted that the emperor held supreme authority, establishing the Empire of Japan.

    The samurai lost their social status and privileges. After universal conscription, a new Japanese imperial army was created and all of its soldiers were bestowed with the Japanese spirit or soul, which Ohnuki-Tierney documents as "an exclusive spiritual property of the Japanese that endowed young men with a noble character, enabling them to face death without fear."

    Ohnuki-Tierney writes that these soldiers were told: "You shall die like beautiful falling cherry petals for the emperor." This idiom was only one part of the new Empire of Japan's imperial nationalist goals and guided Japanese colonial efforts.

    Cherry blossoms are planted at the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial specifically devoted to fallen soldiers since the Meiji period that the emperor visits occasionally. The cherry blossoms were supposed to console the souls of the soldiers.

    1912: Japan gives U.S. 3,000 cherry trees.

    The trees given to the American people were planted along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., which is adjacent to the National Mall. Photo by NewsHour.

    Cherry trees represent friendship and political alliances.

    The Japanese government sends cherry trees to Washington on behalf of the people of Japan. The gift came after William Howard Taft was elected president and took office. Prior to the presidency, Taft served as the Secretary of War; he visited Japan and met with the prime minister so that they could affirm each other's stakes and claims to colonized regions in Asia.

    Japan has given cherry trees to many other countries besides the U.S., including Brazil, China, Germany and Turkey.

    1945: Thousands of kamikaze pilots fly to their deaths defending Japan.

    A tokkotai or kamikazi plane with a cherry blossom painted on its side. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

    Cherry blossoms represent Japanese soldiers who died during World War II.

    Nearing defeat, Japanese vice-admiral Onishi Takijiro launched kamikaze operations as a last ditch effort to save the Japanese homeland and the Japanese spirit. Tokkotai pilots affixed cherry blossom branches to their uniforms, with painted blossoms on sides of their planes.

    The cherry blossoms at the Yasukuni Shrine no longer mourn for the souls of the Japanese. Each petal that fell was meant to represent each soldier who had died trying to protect the nation of Japan.

    2011: A tsunami strikes Japan on March 11.

    An aerial view shows debris that remained on the ground after a tsunami wave to have hit Hitachinaka. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

    Cherry trees symbolize hope.

    In the 2012 Oscar-nominated short documentary "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom," a Japanese man reflects on the strength of the cherry trees to live on past the devastation. "This was all killed by the tsunami," he told film director Lucy Walker. "But now, a month later, there are new shoots. The plants are hanging in there, so us humans had better do it, too."

    For many Japanese, the cherry trees were part of the life they knew prior to the renewal and rebuilding in the face of so much death and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami.

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    The 2013 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced Monday at a ceremony at Columbia University.

    Winning in the letters, drama and music categories were...

    Poetry: "Stag's Leap" by Sharon Olds, a book about grieving and healing at the end of a marriage. Last year, Olds talked to the NewsHour about her collection, finding her poetic voice in her 30s and the "usefulness" of poetry:

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    Pulitzer judges called Olds' collection "a book of unflinching poems on the author's divorce that examine love, sorrow and the limits of self-knowledge." Olds also read several of her poems for us:

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    Fiction: "The Orphan Master's Son" by Adam Johnson, a novel about a young man's life in North Korea, one of the world's most isolated and potentially dangerous countries. Last year, Johnson spoke to Jeffrey Brown about his book:

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    Pulitzer judges called Johnson's work "an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart." Johnson read an excerpt from his book for us:

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    Drama: "Disgraced" by Ayad Akhtar.

    History: "Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam" by Fredrik Logevall.

    Biography: "The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo" by Tom Reiss.

    General Nonfiction: "Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America" by Gilbert King.

    Music: "Partita for 8 Voices" by Caroline Shaw.

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    WASHINGTON -- Eddie Weingart witnessed his stepfather shoot and kill his mother when he was 2 years old. The gun was turned on him. But a gun malfunction spared his life. Weingart said he vowed to devote his life to preventing his tragedy from happening to other people

    "There are so many people in this country that have not been affected by gun violence, but the sad reality is that a lot of us are," said Weingart, the founder of Project End Gun Violence.

    On Sunday, he joined about 100 other artists and activists in a flash-mob style performance against gun violence at the Lincoln Memorial. At precisely 12:45 p.m., the participants, organized by the group Art=Ammo: Artists Against Gun Violence, gathered by the memorial's reflecting pool and raised their arms. Passersby watched solemnly as the demonstrators slowly lay down on a large canvas on the ground. They proceeded to trace each others' bodies with chalk, and then wrote inside the outlines names, dates and words associated with victims of gun violence.

    The event was organized by actress and choreographer Lorin Latarro, who felt compelled after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., to address the destruction of gun violence. She chose to use flash mobs because she wanted to change the minds of strangers on the street. Latarro organized a similar flash mob in New York City's Times Square on Feb. 24 before coming to Washington, D.C.

    "This combines something visual, something visceral and something literary," said Latarro. "And I think it hits people in the gut."

    At around 1 p.m., participants, tourists and onlookers gathered around the chalked area and reflected on the body outlines, numbers and words. One participant, Bridget Smith, said she was overwhelmed by the experience.

    "It's hard to keep back tears when you participate in something like this," Smith said. "It's solemn. It feels like a ritual. It feels very important and it brings thoughts of loved ones killed by guns."

    Latarro said the chalked canvas will be sent to the Senate. But she hopes the flash mob will leave a lasting impression on the witnesses.

    "Maybe somebody would just look at that as an example of what's happening in our nations everyday," she said. "When you see it visually, it might changed your mind."

    Art=Ammo plans to travel to different cities to perform the demonstration in the next couple of months. The next flash mob against gun violence will be April 27 in Boston.


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