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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is off today.

    And whether they're watching us on television or their laptop or their smartphone, we're glad you're here.

    DAVID BROOKS: Or stone tablets.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So the president's big speech yesterday on national security, he basically said that we need to redefine as a country our approach to the war on terror. In so many words, he said, if we don't define it, it's going to define us.

    David, what ...

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think redefine is a little strong. I think we're fine.

    We had a period of really intense expansion of the national security state in the early Bush years. By the middle of the Bush years, we'd begun to try to normalize things. And so they began to scale things back. They began to try to figure out, how can we get out of Guantanamo Bay?

    And then things have been slowly returning to some sort of permanent normalcy since. And I think the speech the president gave this week was a very mature speech, a very serious speech, and moved us another step in the direction. Rhetorically, it was pretty big. Substantively, it was pretty uncertain and small, but I think a step in the right direction.

    So things like getting -- making at least a nod toward the idea of getting the drone policy out of the CIA and back in the Defense Department, where it belongs, trying to find a way to get rid of Guantanamo, adjusting our level of panic, how strongly we're going to react to terror attacks, getting it more like we're less scared out of our minds, and more like, OK, this is a permanent part of reality, I think it was a very positive step in that right direction. It was not a dramatic shift in substance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Step in the right direction? Or were -- some critics are saying it's capitulation to the enemy.

    RUTH MARCUS: Well, I wouldn't say that. But I'm pretty much in line with what David said.

    I would like to give the president credit for tackling this issue. It's something he's been stewing about and thinking about. He's been agonizing about it. I'm all in favor of agonizing. I don't think George W. Bush did enough agonizing about the legal footing of the war on terror and its future going forward.

    That said, listening to the speech, reading it again, I -- it strikes me that the president is in some ways a better law student than he is a president, by which I mean he's terrific at spotting the issues. He will give you the argument. He will identify the issue. He will analyze it really well. He gives you the argument on this side. Then he gives the argument against.

    What he doesn't come up with -- and David touched on this in saying that it was rhetorically big, but substantively small -- he doesn't come up with a solution. So, on Guantanamo, he talks about the legacy issue. Well -- the legacy issue of people who can't be safely released, but can't be tried. Well, it's been four-plus years of his presidency. That's something we need to figure out the answer to. It's hard.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're saying he should have supplied the answer or ...

    RUTH MARCUS: Well, I'm saying it's great to -- it's important and useful to have the discussion, to educate the public.

    But it's frustrating on -- we -- there was movement, clarity, a little more clarity on drones, but, simply, what are we going to do in terms of oversight on drones? He raised the issue, but he didn't answer it. What are we going to do about the Guantanamo legacy prisoners? He raised the issue, but didn't answer it.

    And there were, time after time, that kind of sort of sidestepping.

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would say I sort of -- I guess I'm going to be a tad more positive.

    First, on the drones, I think he's been reasonably responsible about the drones. When you're faced -- as president, you're faced with a couple choices. If you say we know there's terrorist X here, you can send in the Marines, which is like hundreds of people, which is terrible collateral damage. You can send in bombers, or you can use a drone. And it's the least bad option.

    Having some sort of outside review procedure, which he sort of nodded to, but -- Ruth is right about this -- did not define, I think that would be more positive. On Guantanamo, it's just a terrible situation. All the evidence is tainted by how it was gathered. Nobody wants to take them. Congress is blocking it.

    So it's sort of a very difficult situation that's landed in the Bush administration and now this lap, and no one has been able to think of a solution, as far as I could tell. The one positive thing I wish there were more of is going back -- and now I'm going to sound like a Bushie -- but going back and saying -- he talked about the uncertainty of the Middle East.

    It's still true, I think, fundamentally that the only way out of this and the long-term answer is the promotion of democracy and moderation. And I wish we were a little more aggressive in using soft power to help the moderates, to help the democratic project, knowing that it's going to take a couple generations, but a little more of that, I think, would be nice.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But he didn't really get into that yesterday.

    DAVID BROOKS: But I -- he did talk about the instability of the Middle East. He gestured toward the Arab spring.

    I still think that has got to be our -- the core of our policy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, essentially, David is saying there aren't answers yet to some of these questions you're raising.

    RUTH MARCUS: There aren't answers, but when you're the president -- I'm sorry to be uncharitable here -- you need to do more than raise the issues. You need to start to sketch some of those answers.

    I'm not saying -- it was a step forward. But, for example, on drones, now we're only going to -- the guidelines say we're only going to use them if there is a near certainty there won't be civilian deaths. Well, the attorney general revealed that drones, which, I agree, are a -- can be a very, very valuable tool -- that the drones killed four Americans.

    Three of them were not Americans that we targeted. So how do you -- guidelines are nice. Ask the -- but ask the press about guidelines in the AP investigation. Guidelines are only as good as the people who are implementing them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That was the Yemen strike.

    So let's -- one of the other things that has landed in the president's lap, the IRS, a couple of developments this week. We learned that the woman who was overseeing decisions on what was tax-exempt and what wasn't, she's been put on administrative leave.

    David, we also learned that the president's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, knew about this, but decided not to tell the president.

    DAVID BROOKS: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this a bigger controversy, smaller?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it's a little more appalling.

    I think we have learned the IRS is not in the business of owning up to what they did and trying to say here's how we will fix it. They're more in the business of let's try to shut down. And I guess they're doing it for criminal -- for fear of criminal prosecution or something. But they're not exactly pointing toward a solution and they're not exactly pointing to a fix.

    They're not exactly pointing to any sense of contrition. And so I do think we have a problem there. Was it a problem for Denis McDonough to not tell the president? I don't think so, actually. There's a lot of things. If you pick out this isolated thing, why didn't he tell the president? Well, every day, Denis McDonough or whoever the chief of staff is probably learns a lot of things that he doesn't tell the president, because the president has a limited amount of decision time.

    And there are a lot of people who want to get a lot of things in front of him. So blocking information to the president is his job. And so I think this probably seems maybe the political radar didn't go off. I think probably seemed like something the president didn't need to worry about.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do see that?

    RUTH MARCUS: I see it a little bit differently.

    I think we need to keep the IRS story in focus, which is this. Yes, the IRS actions were reprehensible. Heads should have rolled, and they did roll. There is no evidence that this was anything except for bottom-up incompetence and stupidity, abetted by management, incredibly bad management at the IRS.

    There's no evidence that anybody at Treasury, no less anybody at the White House, knew about any of this before the I.G. started investigating. So when this did go to the White House, though, they in their usual way managed to make their own mess of things, which is, they gave out information that wasn't full and accurate information ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Oh, you mean what the press secretary, Jay Carney, said?

    RUTH MARCUS: ... about -- with the press secretary -- about who knew what when.

    And then, if they did have the information early, why didn't they do a better job, for goodness' sakes, of responding quickly to this thing? Because I don't think it was a lack of political radar. They knew this was going to be a big mess and they should have had the president out there more quickly responding to it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're criticizing the way they handled it ...

    RUTH MARCUS: Yes. I ...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: ... not so much the -- what McDonough did or didn't do in telling the president?

    RUTH MARCUS: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is it -- would do you think? Is it a bigger -- is the scandal controversy growing? And Republicans are saying there's still going to be more hearings, more investigations.

    RUTH MARCUS: It's continuing. I do not think it's growing.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    RUTH MARCUS: Because I think this is all sideshow, the -- not the IRS -- just to be clear, not the IRS targeting itself. That's outrageous, but who knew what at the White House and what was the decision-making about what to tell the president, I think it really goes to, they erred on the side of caution in not telling the president, because they didn't deal with the what did the president know and when did they know it question.

    It's so going to continue, but I do not believe it's going to mushroom into -- to keep on with the Watergate -- cancer on the presidency.

    DAVID BROOKS: Right.

    But I find it hard to believe, though, I should say, that they happened to pick the most anti-tax groups in America, and there wasn't some prejudice. I feel -- I don't know if it was political targeting. I do think there was prejudice. As a scandal, I remain convinced the Justice Department attack on the press is a much -- will balloon into a much bigger scandal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that's what I wanted to ask you about, because we have learned more about how aggressive the Justice Department has been in going after reporters at FOX News, at AP.

    But the president yesterday in his speech said, there needs to be limits, clear limits on how far an administration goes after journalists in pursuing leaks. So where ...

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, he might talk to his attorney general.

    I really think what's happened to Rosen at FOX News, what happened to AP is almost historically unprecedented and unconscionable.

    I think it's without limits, without any sense of legal responsibility, of invading someone's private e-mail. And it's partly we have this technology where it's easier to trace people, because it's all done on e-mail now, and you can look at it this two ways. OK, there's going to be greater temptation for us to pry into every media reporter's e-mail, so we have got to police ourselves.

    We have got to have some self-distrust. Well, there's no evidence of any self-distrust at the Justice Department. It's just hog wild. And I think this scandal is vastly over the line. I don't even say that as a reporter. I'm not a particularly open government kind of guy. But I think it's truly offensive.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does the finger point at the attorney general, at Eric Holder? What ...

    RUTH MARCUS: He's recused from one of these, the AP one, not from the other.

    It's a classic example, right? There are Justice Department guidelines that, if they were followed carefully, should have stopped this. The richest part of the president's speech was when he said, we need to make sure that we protect reporters and the press from government overreach.

    It's like, excuse me, sir. That's your government you're talking about. Now, just to be slightly fair to the president, it is very difficult, right, in a criminal investigation. You do not want the White House micromanaging. You don't want them saying, this subpoena is OK and that subpoena is not OK.

    But you do want them making clear what the general tenor of their relations with the media should be. And I do fault both him and his attorney general for allowing this.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

    I mean, the press -- when we -- when anybody in the media reports on a story that's somewhat based on leaks, it's public. And if that's going to be a crime, publicly reporting on leaks, then we just can't function.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Final question, I want to ask both of you about Oklahoma, terrible tragedy this week with the deaths in Moore, and we just saw that story about other parts of the state.

    They just get devastated every spring by these tornadoes, but some discussion this week, David, about -- and Ruth -- about, number one, whether communities have a responsibility to make sure there are shelters in public buildings, and also whether in federal aid, there should have to be an offset of any money that's spent on disaster aid.

    RUTH MARCUS: Well, we can't predict what disasters there are going to be, but we can predict that there are going to be disasters.

    And one of the things that we need do is, instead of needing to have emergency spending -- and there's -- there are – Sen. Coburn is right. There are -- this emergency spending becomes a way to slip in all sorts of extraneous things. And I say that with due sympathy for the folks of Hurricane Sandy, for these tornadoes.

    But we need to have a sort of better functioning general fund that anticipates disaster spending and budgets for it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Less than ...

    DAVID BROOKS: And it's crazy to worry about offsetting some tiny little bit of discretionary spending, when the entitlement spending is a giant wave.

    And we perpetually spend our time worrying about little stuff, and not focusing on what's actually causing the big debt problem. And this is just another example.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that's another topic for another whole discussion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Ruth Marcus, thank you.

    RUTH MARCUS: Thanks.

    DAVID BROOKS: Thank you. 


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    JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight, the first of two takes on America's role in the world.

    Margaret Warner has our book conversation, which was recorded before President Obama's national security speech yesterday.

    MARGARET WARNER: In his new book, "The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat," Vali Nasr, a former adviser to the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, blames the White House for mishandling those countries and the broader Middle East.

    Politics and the Pentagon drove too many decisions, Nasr argues, while overlooking broader strategic solutions offered by his former boss, the late Richard Holbrooke, and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    And Vali Nasr joins me now.

    Welcome.

    VALI NASR, Author, "The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat": Good to be here.

    MARGARET WARNER: Why did you feel the need to write this book?

    VALI NASR: Because I think it's important for us to have a good gauge of our foreign policy-making, particularly with regards to Afghanistan, which was a very important foreign policy issue at the beginning of the Obama administration, and because I think the way we handled it has an impact on our standing in the region and our standing globally.

    And I think we in many ways didn't handle that war and the end of that war in a way that protects our interests. And I think the same set of approaches and attitudes towards foreign policy-making is now governing our approach to Syria, to the Arab spring, and also potentially more broadly in terms of the style of foreign policy that's very tactical, it's timid and cautious, and it is too much driven by domestic political considerations.

    And I think also, still, we are looking at our main form of engagement with the Middle East through the prism of military and security issues.

    MARGARET WARNER: You were on the inside for two years. There's a lot in this book of -- in the way of tidbits from meetings. Did you have any qualms about writing it?

    VALI NASR: I did.

    I thought very hard about this. And I thought that, after the election, once the politics is over, it's time to go back to really considering, are we on the right track with foreign policy? Did we make the right strategy for Afghanistan? Was it right to surge when we did and then immediately withdraw? And have a debate about how we are projecting our role in the world to allies and enemies and how we are being perceived.

    And I think, by and large, the perception outside is that we're not keen on leading, and we are retreating from many policy areas globally. And I think Americans ought to think about these issues before going down that path.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, when you say the administration is driven by, say, politics and by the military, do you mean in terms of both surging in Afghanistan -- let's take Afghanistan, which you were deeply involved in -- and now also in setting this timetable for withdrawal?

    VALI NASR: Yes, I think ...

    MARGARET WARNER: Or isn't it -- or is it the realistic thing to do, given all the financial constraints that the U.S. finds itself in?

    VALI NASR: Well, then we shouldn't have surged -- we shouldn't have surged in the manner that we did.

    That was largely a domestic political consideration, because the military came out of Iraq victorious and triumphant. It had saved the day in Iraq. So we surged. But then he didn't like that policy, and he immediately put a deadline on the surge, which made it basically dead on arrival as far as the Taliban/Pakistan/Iran, et cetera, were concerned.

    And then we began to withdraw. So in the end result, we didn't win in Afghanistan and we didn't achieve a political settlement that would allow some kind of stability when we leave.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment, who worked a lot in Afghanistan and served as an adviser to some U.S. military figures, she wrote a real rebuttal of your book. And I'm sure you read it in Foreign Policy magazine.

    And she agrees with you that the military -- the Pentagon had too much to say about the policy, but she actually faults your shop and the State Department. She says: "Neither Holbrooke nor Clinton ever produced a serious analysis of issues like the corruption of the Afghan government or the Pakistan military's coziness with the Taliban, nor developed coherent approaches for addressing them."

    VALI NASR: That's actually not a valid criticism, because that's about operational issues at the lower level.

    The most important thing that the State Department tried to do was to convince the White House that, instead of just either choosing between the surge, all in, or just withdrawing everything and relying on drones, which is all out, there has to be a medium approach to ending the war, which is focus on diplomacy. Give the primacy to a diplomatic solution that would engage the neighbors and also the Afghan government and the Taliban. Put enough troops on the ground that would back up this plan.

    At the highest level, the solution that the State Department was looking for was never part of the options the president considered for Afghanistan.

    MARGARET WARNER: But there were these arguments within your meetings, which you make clear. Isn't this what -- because the Pentagon of course was pushing back against engaging the Taliban while the Taliban was ascendant militarily.

    Isn't this just the sort of disagreements that are supposed to take place among the different players in an administration and voiced vigorously inside, and then the president decides?

    VALI NASR: But it wasn't.

    The president considered two options. One was a fully resourced counterinsurgency, a military solution to the war. And one was the idea of counterterrorism-plus, which was advocated by the vice president, which means we should just abandon this war and focus on counterterrorism.

    It wasn't debated. The whole idea is that, yes, it could have been debated and it could have been rejected based on its merits, but it wasn't.

    MARGARET WARNER: So what now? I mean, what's done is done.

    What do you predict Afghanistan and the region will look like two years from now?

    VALI NASR: I think everybody is in a holding pattern until we leave, because they factored us out.

    We announced we're leaving without any kind of a closure to this war. We have come out with a narrative that we will have an Afghan security force that can take over from us. I don't think many people in the region take that as a serious solution for Afghanistan. And everybody around Afghanistan still has vital interests there. And they are likely to pursue those interests.

    And that means the potential for breakdown of the current order, ultimately, potentially, civil war in Afghanistan.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, I look forward to continuing our conversation online.

    Vali Nasr, author of "The Dispensable Nation," thanks for being with us.

    VALI NASR: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Those extra questions and answers are indeed online, as is Margaret's second conversation. It's with Richard Haass, who served in both Bush administrations. His new book is titled "Foreign Policy Begins at Home." We will air that on the NewsHour next week. 


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    At a Hezbollah rally in Machghara, Lebanon, Saturday, tens of thousands celebrate the 13th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. Photo by Morgan Till

    MACHGHARA, Lebanon -- At first, Saturday's Hezbollah rally in this picturesque village in the Bekaa Valley had the feel of a gigantic open-air concert or campaign victory event. Tens of thousands who came to celebrate the 13th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon were greeted by parking ushers in yellow baseball hats, Hezbollah youth scouts in bright blue, a 40-piece camo-clad military band of horns, clarinets and violins, and videos of triumphant Hezbollah fighters with martial rock music ditties like "Nasrallah, your victory over Israel shook the world."

    A 7-year-old served as poster boy for Hezbollah fighters. Photo by Margaret Warner

    But while the fight against Israel was the theme, the conflict in Syria -- and an attempt to blend the two battles -- was in the air. Hezbollah's media team stood up a 7-year-old boy in full battle fatigues and machine gun for cameramen to film. A giant banner quoted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's defiant response to Israel's threat to strike Syrian weapons caches in Lebanon: "Any idiocy committed, we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa."

    It was no surprise. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had Hezbollah's back in 2006 when the Shiite militia group fought its most recent, 34-day war with Israel. Now Hezbollah militias are breathing new life into Assad's struggle to maintain his hold on power. Hezbollah forces are fighting alongside Assad's predominantly Alawite Shiite troops in a strategic corridor along the Lebanon border. The Syrian ambassador was on hand for Saturday's event, and the Iranian ambassador too, along with every Hezbollah party bigwig. And when Nasrallah appeared -- by video only to minimize risk of assassination -- he made clear that Hezbollah is in the Syria fight to stay. "I have always promised you victory, and I promise victory again," he declared, as the flag-waving crowd cheered.

    A poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrullah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad greet arrivals at Hezbollah rally. Photo by Margaret Warner

    How does a party that built its image at home and throughout the Arab world on "resistance" to Israel explain to the faithful why it's now setting its guns on fellow Muslims in Syria?

    Nasrallah tried to make the pivot seamlessly, saying it's all part of the same larger struggle against Israel and the U.S. Hezbollah is fighting Assad's mostly Sunni opponents in Syria not for sectarian reasons, he said, but to oppose extremists in their ranks who are backed by Israel and the U.S.

    He characterized the Syrian opposition as dominated by extreme Islamist jihadists who are now trying to impose their influence throughout the post-Arab Spring Muslim world. "Libya and Tunisia are suffering from these groups," he said. "This disease is coming to Lebanon. If we do not go to fight them there ... they will come here."

    How did it play? Not well among many Sunnis, according to the tweeted response from the Muslim Brotherhood's English language website: "#Hezbollah lost any credibility left & revealed its sickening sectarian face by deploying fighters to support a regime killing civilians."

    But here in the Hezbollah heartland Nasrallah's message appeared to sell. I kept asking why. "If they come here, we will die. They don't have the same religion we do," 16-year-old schoolgirl Kowhar said. "They don't have any mercy as we do." A 64-year-old grandmother told me, "If we don't fight them there, they will come here to get us. We are not like them. We do not slaughter people." I pressed her to explain what she meant. "We are not going to eat our enemy's heart," she said. "We are not savages like them."

    Suddenly it was clear. She was referring to a YouTube video that went viral earlier this month of a jihadist Sunni resistance fighter, who calls himself Abu Sakkar, cutting open the chest of a Syrian soldier, ripping out his heart and biting into it.

    Every political cause has its Abu Ghraib moment, when a few ill-chosen words or a revolting image boomerang to lethal effect. The most deadly underscore the public's darker suspicions about the central figure. Photos of U.S. guards abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib confirmed to many Arabs and Muslims that the Americans were exploiting their post-invasion power in Iraq to humiliate Muslims.

    Now it seems Syria's predominantly Sunni resistance has met its Abu Ghraib moment -- at least among Shiites in neighboring Lebanon. While the Syria conflict has been marked by brutality on both sides, beginning with the Assad regime's prison torture cells, those weren't caught on YouTube videos. Abu Sakkar's gruesome stunt was, fanning fears that the Syria resistance has been taken over by Taliban-like fundamentalists who will aim at Lebanon next. Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah's PR machine saw their opportunity, and they took it.

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    World War II veteran Marvin Murphy tells PBS NewsHour anchor Jeffrey Brown about what the "Honor Flight" trip meant to him.

    "It was your duty, it was your country," World War II veteran Marvin Murphy recently said about his mindset and that of others serving in the military at the time.

    Murphy, 85, who lives in Apache Junction, Ariz., was one of 30 men taking part in the "Honor Flight" program, which brings veterans to the War World II and other memorials in Washington, D.C., for free.

    Murphy explained to the PBS NewsHour's Jeffrey Brown that after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, people wanted to join in the fight whether they were age 40 or 15. "You don't let somebody just run all over you if you can stop it. And so we decided to stop it."

    Murphy poses with a student holding a sign thanking him for his service in this video snapshot.

    Those who served didn't expect special recognition afterward. "I don't think, if they were like me, the country didn't owe me anything. ... They took care of us while were in there."

    But when the expressions of appreciation came during his trip this year, starting at the airport with rows of waving flags and handshakes with military personnel and non-military alike, "I was speechless," Murphy said.

    That part of the visit Murphy took with his daughter Trudy was what made it such a special event, he said. "Forever I'll be grateful. It was something, really something."

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    Watch the NewsHour's report on the Honor Flight Network.

    The non-profit Honor Flight Network has brought more than 98,500 World War II veterans to see memorials in Washington, D.C., since its inception in 2005. To find out if you have an Honor Flight group in your state, view this list on the organization's website or find the one closest to you in this map.

    You also can bring the "Honor Flight" documentary, which tracks some of the veterans' visits to Washington, D.C., to your hometown through the website Tugg.com. View the trailer.

    Browse all of the NewsHour's foreign and military coverage.

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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    Photo of the Social Security Administration in Oakland, Calif., by flickr user dumbeast

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

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

    Daniel Polk -- Matthews, N.C.: My mother-in-law started taking survivor's Social Security benefits at age 60 and is now 77. She receives what seems like a low amount compared to what her husband's full benefit would have been.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, she probably was given bad advice by someone, perhaps even someone at the Social Security office. Back when she was 60, someone might have told her that if you don't take your benefits as early as possible and then die, you'll lose them. This is an implied view of the afterlife that is, shall we say, a-biblical. We don't generally think of heaven as a place where everyone is kicking themselves for not taking Social Security benefits early.

    By taking her survivor benefits early, your mother-in-law had them permanently reduced by roughly 30 percent. Plus her husband may have taken his own benefit early as well. In this case, that may have reduced her benefit even more.

    The calculation of survivor benefits is especially complicated when widow(er)s take their survivor benefits before their normal retirement age. First, the benefit is based, in part, on the full retirement benefit of the decedent worker. For decedents who pass away prior to age 62, their full retirement benefit is calculated two different ways and the higher of the two is used. Second, the decedent's full retirement benefit is multiplied by the survivor benefit reduction factor to form what's called the Widow(er) Insurance Benefit. This, however, may not be what the widow(er) receives. S/he may get an even smaller amount equal to either what the decedent was receiving when s/he passed away or 82.5 percent of the decedent's full retirement benefit.

    I keep telling readers that Social Security is too complicated for those who haven't spent years studying it. Now do you believe me?

    Margaret -- Audubon, N.J.: I am 62 and I am collecting my Social Security. If my husband were to die, can I wait until I am 66 and then apply for full survivor benefits, or must they be taken immediately?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, you can wait until your full retirement age -- 66 in your case -- and collect your full (i.e., unreduced) survivor benefit. However, because you took your own retirement benefit early, you will get the larger of your survivor benefit and your retirement benefit. So, ugh, you will get hit by one of Social Security's nasty gotchas.

    You have one year to repay all your retirement benefits after you start collecting them and wipe your slate clean. So if you can swing it financially, you might consider doing this. By taking your own retirement benefit early you have eliminated the chance of collecting a full spousal benefit starting at 66 and also the ability to take just your survivor benefit up through age 70 (while having your own retirement benefit grow due to the absence of any reduction factor and the application of the Delayed Retirement Credit) were your husband to die before you reach age 70.

    MORE SOCIAL SECURITY ANSWERS: What About Social Security Benefits for Singles and the Divorced?

    Joan -- Carefree, Ariz.: Can I take my deceased ex-spouse benefits at 62 and mine at 66? Neither of us remarried.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, readers, there really is a "Carefree, Arizona," north of Scottsdale. Its southern border runs along E. Carefree Highway.

    And yes, Joan, you can take just your survivor benefit at 62 (indeed, you can start taking them as early as age 60), but the problem is, in so doing, the benefit will be permanently reduced. And another yes: you can wait until 66 to take your unreduced full retirement benefit. But for all my 'yesses,' this may not be the best strategy.

    It may be better, depending on which is larger, to take your reduced retirement benefit at 62 and take your unreduced survivor benefit at 66. Which one is best to take first depends on your earnings history and that of your former spouse.

    Karen Berthine, San Francisco, Calif.: It seems only logical, given the scholarly research and open admissions of recruiters and HR managers, that anyone 55-plus who is laid off should be allowed to enroll in Medicare and collect Social Security.

    Larry Kotlikoff: I feel for those 55 and older who lose their jobs since they have a harder time finding work than any other age group. Paul Solman has covered the challenges they face on the NewsHour broadcast and on this page. However, I'm not sure 'logical' is the right word here. I maintain that our country is entirely broke. We have a fiscal gap of $222 trillion separating the present value of all projected future federal expenditures and all projected future taxes. As it is, our children face massively higher taxes to pay for our benefits and everything else the government projects spending, including on defense. So your logic says you deserve more. But who do you want to pay for your extra benefits? Your kids? Your grandkids? What we have in place is one of the most generationally immoral policies imaginable. Your "logic" would make the situation worse. These tough love words, by the way, are coming not from a Republican or a Democrat (I think politicians are a lower life form and adherents of politicians are wasting their free wills), but from an adult. My definition of an adult is someone who looks out for his and other people's children.

    Jacki -- Boston: I turn 66 in August, reaching full retirement age. I want to take the spouse's benefits for which I qualify. One problem: my divorce becomes final next week (34-year marriage) and I noted on SSA's spousal benefits requirements that I don't qualify until 2 years after the divorce. Is this the case or do I qualify under other circumstances? I feel I am in limbo and will lose this important income. Thank you.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Divorcees who were married for 10 years or more can collect a spousal benefit based on the ex's earnings record, provided they are 62 or older and their ex is 62 or older and either: a) their ex has filed for his/her retirement benefit or b) they have been divorced for at least two years. So if your soon-to-be ex is over 62 and has already filed for his own retirement benefit, you don't need to wait two years. If he hasn't, you do.

    Bob Stoker -- Soda Springs, Idaho: I will be 62 in June. My wife is 10 years younger and has never worked. Is she entitled to any SS benefits as a spouse or, heaven forbid, any widow benefits, and when could she file for them if any are due?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your wife can collect spousal benefits starting as early as age 62 and survivor benefits starting as early as 60 on your earnings record, 50 if she is disabled. But beneficiary beware! Collecting either type of benefit before her full retirement age means the benefit will be permanently reduced. I take it she's now 52, meaning she was born later than 1960. As you can see from the numbers below, copied from the "Full Retirement Age" page on the Social Security website, her full retirement age is 67.

    Born: 1943-1954 -- Full Retirement Age:66

    1955 -- 66 and 2 months

    1956 -- 66 and 4 months

    1957 -- 66 and 6 months

    1958 -- 66 and 8 months

    1959 -- 66 and 10 months

    1960 and later -- 67

    And here's what that same page has to say about the timing of spousal benefits:

    If you start receiving spouse's benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit amount is reduced to about 32.5 percent of the amount your spouse would receive if his or her benefits started at full retirement age. (The reduction is about 67.5 percent.) The reduction for starting benefits as a spouse at age

    63 is about 65 percent;

    64 is about 62.5 percent;

    65 is about 58.3 percent;

    66 is about 54.2 percent; and

    67 is 50 percent (the maximum benefit amount).

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


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    PBS NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni talks with Gabriel Schoenfeld about his new e-book, "A Bad Day on the Romney Campaign."

    Gabriel Schoenfeld says when he sat down to outline flaws that cost former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the presidential race last fall, he knew he would lose some friends. But he penned "A Bad Day on the Romney Campaign: An Insider's Account," released earlier this month as an e-book, because he felt detailing a single day in the race and what went wrong could be instructive for his party.

    Schoenfeld pinpointed foreign policy, and specifically Romney's response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, as a big moment for when the campaign lost traction.

    "Foreign policy seemed to be something that really did have major problems and that did count and that really hasn't been fully appreciated," Schoenfeld said.

    As a senior adviser and speechwriter for Romney, he wrote a short book in September 2011 about Romney's plan for jobs and economic work and foreign policy white papers.

    In his book, which he dubs a "tell-all," Schoenfeld presents Romney as dependent on his aides and not as engaged on what was happening abroad.

    He argues in the book that Romney should have pressed harder on the Benghazi issue during the debates. "The violence in Benghazi and the murder of our ambassador there held the potential, after all, to be a major political vulnerability for Barack Obama," he writes.

    Schoenfeld introduces the book in the prologue by saying it is an account that is "as accurate and incisive as I can make it." And former Romney aides told the Boston Globe's Matt Viser that Schoenfeld's book exaggerates his role.

    From Viser's piece:

    Another adviser said that Schoenfeld was not a "senior adviser," as he claims, but a "writer in the policy shop." Another adviser said in an email, "I think he just has stuff he wants to get off his chest. Sigh. Welcome to ebooks."

    So far, Schoenfeld suggests he is not too impressed with the Republican National Committee's makeover or the potential contenders for the next national contest. But he thinks a Republican who speaks his mind, instead of listening to high-priced consultants, is likely to gain the upper hand for the 2016 race.

    I recently talked with the former senior adviser and speechwriter about Benghazi, the debates, criticism from campaign loyalists about his book and whether he will ever return to politics. Watch our conversation in the NewsHour newsroom above.

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    NJ_President's Comfort President Barack Obama hugs North Point Marina owner Donna Vanzant as he tours damage done by Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, N.J., October 31, 2012.

    On Sunday, President Barack Obama spoke from Moore, Okla. He stood in front of neighborhoods shattered by last week's deadly tornado and offered support and comfort to the families and communities just beginning to rebuild. Just three weeks ago the president spoke at the memorial service for 15 volunteer firefighters who were killed in the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Days before, he delivered an uplifting speech at an interfaith church service in Boston for those killed and injured in the Boston Marathon attacks.

    Week after week, Mr. Obama assumes the critical duty of "consoler in chief" to the nation. In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Joe Heim wrote:

    ...this is a relatively new role for presidents, one that reflects not just the emphasis on an ability to communicate and express empathy, but also an increase in power to direct the federal government to assist in recovery.

    Tonight on the PBS NewsHour, historian Michael Beschloss and political reporter Alexis Simendinger consider the evolving responsibilities of presidents during times of national tragedy.

    Below, we've created a playlist of President Obama's appearances after the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, Tuscon, Boston, West and others.

    Support Your Local PBS Station


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    GWEN IFILL: The traditions of Memorial Day played out today at museums and monuments, parades and picnics. It was a day to remember that some Americans still venture into harm's way and end up making the greatest sacrifice.

    It was a day for time-honored observance, beginning at Arlington National Cemetery, where the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns amid somber silence. The hush of the ceremony gave way to tributes to those who have served and died.

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel:

    DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL, United States: The memories of America's heroes laid to rest here at Arlington and at American cemeteries around the world are kept alive by families and communities across our great land. This Memorial Day, we honor those families who are heroes left behind. We honor them in an appreciation for the sacrifices they have endured.

    GWEN IFILL: President Obama cautioned that the nation is still at war, but he said it has become harder for the many to recognize the sacrifices of the few.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, most Americans are not directly touched by war. As a consequence, not all Americans may always see or fully grasp the depths of sacrifice, the profound costs that are made in our name right now, as we speak, every day. Our troops and our military families understand this, and they mention to me their concern about whether the country fully appreciates what's happening.

    GWEN IFILL: The president and Mrs. Obama also toured Arlington's Section 60, where troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. And they met with family members.

    Overseas, U.S. troops serving in the Horn of Africa remembered their fallen comrades with a 12-hour overnight relay race in Djibouti. It ended with a flag-raising at the camp's morning reveille.

    Elsewhere, Americans gathered for their own Memorial Day remembrances, from a parade in Arlington Heights, Ill., to this ceremony in Raleigh, N.C.

    MAN: I really think Memorial Day is for the one that has fought and died, and also the one who came back. So, they didn't give all, but they gave a lot.

    GWEN IFILL: Still others spent the holiday with family and friends, including many who trekked to the Jersey Shore, now back in business after last year's pounding from Hurricane Sandy. 


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Car bombings swept through Baghdad today, killing at least 66 people in Iraq's latest wave of sectarian violence. More than 350 people have died in the past two weeks. Today, at least 11 explosions tore apart busy markets and shopping areas in the capital city. The targets were mostly in Shiite neighborhoods.

    In Britain, police arrested a 10th suspect in the murder of a British soldier in London, as tensions over the killings continued to grow.

    We have a report from Andy Davies of Independent Television News.

    ANDY DAVIES, Independent Television News: Outside the Woolwich barracks this afternoon in South London, riding in, yet another group here to leave their imprint on the growing bank of flags and flowers which border street where Lee Rigby died five days ago. From a group calling themselves Africans for Heroes, to a motorcycling riders association, the public eulogies come one after another.

    MAN: Three cheers for Lee Rigby!

    Hip hip!

    CROWD: Hooray!

    MAN: Hip hip!

    CROWD: Hooray!

    MAN: Hip hip!

    CROWD: Hooray!

    ANDY DAVIES: On a bank holiday Monday, it is striking just how many people have been coming here to leave flowers, read messages and take photographs. The mood, as you would expect, quiet, respectful, and what a contrast to what's been going on 10 miles away in the center of London.

    KEVIN CAROL, London: A soldier has been murdered. That's why I'm here.

    ANDY DAVIES: So declared Kevin Carol as he and more than 700 supporters of the English Defence League lined up against several hundred counterdemonstrators, today's arena, Downing Street, a new stage for an old story.

    The fallout from last Wednesday's killing has not been confined to London. In Grimsby, the imam at this mosque has reported two attacks in the last five days, the latest involving suspected arson.

    IMAM AHMAD M. SABIK, Grimsby Islamic Cultural Center: We became really worried about our children, our families, our people who attend the mosque because of some people who didn't understand Islam and who didn't understand they must not link such a crime, which we condemn, with Islam or with Muslims.

    ANDY DAVIES: Meanwhile, the police continue to make arrests as they investigate the murder of drummer Lee Rigby, 10 arrests so far, the latest a 50-year-old man from Southeast London held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Demolition crews in Washington state began clearing the remains of a wrecked bridge today. The span fell into the Skagit River last Thursday, cutting Interstate-5 between Seattle and Canada. Work at the site started before dawn this morning. A crane lifted out mangled pieces of steel. The wreckage has to be removed before repairs can begin. The bridge collapsed after being hit by a truck hauling an oversized load. Federal safety regulators now say they want to know if hundreds of similar bridges might be at risk.

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


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And we return to the bloody civil war in Syria.

    Today, U.S. Sen. John McCain became the highest-ranking American official to enter Syria since the start of fighting there. He crossed the Turkish border accompanied by a Free Syrian Army general.

    Meanwhile, a fierce battle continues in the strategically critical town of Qusayr, with Hezbollah sending fighters from its home base in Lebanon to support the regime of Syrian President Assad. And, yesterday, two rockets exploded in an area of Beirut controlled by Hezbollah. That raised new concerns about the spread of the Syrian conflict into the larger region.

    Margaret Warner is in Beirut. And we spoke earlier today.

    Margaret, let's begin with those rocket attacks in southern Beirut. How much is known about who might be behind them, and why now in these Hezbollah-controlled areas?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, since this is Lebanon, Jeff, the land of many conspiracy theories, there are a lot of conspiracy theories about this, from that it's forces allied with the Sunni rebels in Syria who are upset about what Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, vowed on Saturday, that Hezbollah is going to fight on the side of Syria to the end, to -- that is, to the Syrian regime -- to, you know, there are other people in the street who will say it's the Israelis.

    One person who has talked to investigators said they are looking hard at a radical Sunni faction, a couple of them, in Palestinian camps that have been here for very long time. And there are some groups that are thought to be allied with either al-Qaida or the Al-Nusra Front, which is the jihadi rebel group in Syria.

    It is going to be very hard to tell, however. I was -- diplomatic sources told me today that the .107-millimeter rockets were set on detonators and timers, so that the perpetrators could be long gone. They went from an uninhabited area in the hills.

    But everyone, whatever their theory here, agrees that it was a response to what Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday and to the presence and growing presence of Hezbollah fighters on -- in Syria fighting on the side of Bashar Assad.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that being Lebanon, as you said, with all of its history, what has been the reaction and how much particularly vis-a-vis raising old conflicts, old tensions, sectarian tensions?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, exactly, Jeff.

    This is a country divided among Sunnis, Shias and Christians. They had a bloody, bitter civil war for 15 years that ended in 1990. And they ended up with a fragile, sort of cobbled-together political system that everyone gets a little share. But the tensions remain.

    And the new dividing line really is, are you for or against Assad, the Assad regime? Hezbollah and most Shias do support the Assad regime. Most Sunnis support the opposition. The Christians are split. And the fear here is that, as people said to me on the street, you know, this could reopen -- the -- the tensions are already there, that it could really inflate them, incite them.

    They have had fighting, of course, in Tripoli, as you know, between Alawite and Sunni factions there on different sides of the Syria conflict, and also in the Bekaa Valley. This is the first time there's been any blowback in the capital, Beirut.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, we have mentioned this speech on Saturday by the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah. In fact, Hezbollah's support for the Assad government in Syria has become ever more important in this conflict, right?

    MARGARET WARNER: Right, Jeff.

    At first, Hezbollah leadership kept saying, well, these are just popular committees of committed Shia who don't like what's going on in Syria. But Saturday, Nasrallah -- we were at this speech, which he didn't actually show up. It's a big television screen in front of some 60,000 people in the Bekaa Valley.

    But he made it clear that it's official Hezbollah militia policy that they are going to stay in this fight until they feel they have assured that Assad is going to hold on to power. It is -- where they're fighting is a very important corridor. It sort of hugs the Lebanese border. It's the corridor that links Damascus to the coast.

    And though the coast isn't entirely Alawite, which is Assad's Shia sect, it is the area that is believed to be sort of Assad's plan B. He's lost control of a lot of country, but that's the area where it's believed he would try to consolidate power and then perhaps go back and retake areas.

    But this corridor all along the Lebanese border is very important. And Hezbollah fighters are over there. No one knows for sure, but I heard from fighters, rebel fighters on the ground who had come into Lebanon yesterday that there are thousands of them.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And this includes, Margaret, that battle that's ongoing right now and is considered quite a key one in Qusayr.

    MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

    The town of Qusayr is key in that corridor. It's on the Damascus highway to the city of Homs and to the coast. And what the Free Syrian Army, the sort of moderate resistance, has been doing is using areas in Lebanon to, say, bring their families to safety if they can get out.

    We talked to a couple of fighters who had done exactly that yesterday. They said they are -- the rebels have held that town for quite a while. But they are being pounded and pounded from the air, that it's really hollowed out, but there are still probably tens of thousands of civilians there. I said to this young man, how are they surviving? He said, well, we have dug some shelters under the buildings that remain.

    But this is where Assad has turned the tide, in the area around Qusayr. And these people are getting -- are really getting cut off. I did ask, how did he know? He said most of the fighters that they do see on ground from the Assad forces are Hezbollah. And I said, how do you know? And he said, well, first of all, they have uniforms, but they have M-16 rifles, he said. Not even the Syrian army has M-16s. They have Kalashnikovs.

    And he said they wear these uniforms, they cover their faces and there's just no doubt they're Hezbollah.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well, Margaret Warner in Beirut, take care. And we will look for your reporting in the days to come. Thanks so much.

    MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Jeff.

    GWEN IFILL: Late today, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the European Union talks on Syria failed to reach an agreement, effectively lifting the ban on arming the rebels. He says Britain has no immediate plans to ship them weapons. 


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now an update from Bangladesh, where more than 1,000 garment workers died when their factory collapsed last month. That tragedy focused attention on dangerous conditions for people who make clothes for Western retailers. In the aftermath, some workers are walking off their jobs in protest.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN, Independent Television News: Beyond the smoke stacks of these brick factories, amid an industrial landscape lost in time, and you find Ashulia, a town which is home to scores of clothing factories, serving some of the world's best-known high street brands.

    The police seem to be expecting a riot. And they are everywhere, patrolling the main highway and guarding every factory gate against attacks by the workers supposed to be making clothes inside. Mid-morning, and thousands of workers are working off the job. They make clothes exclusively for H&M. The Swedish retail giant is Bangladesh's biggest clothing buyer.

    And this is one of more than 20 factory closures in Ashulia town because of unrest. It was the collapse of this factory complex in the capital which has left millions in Bangladesh's clothing industry angry and afraid. Well over 1,000 died here last month. It's the biggest industrial disaster of the age.

    In Ashulia, workers told us, enough was enough. "We're not safe," said this man, "and that's why we decided to come out."

    MAN: Our main problem is salary, very, very less. Everything we buy, expensive. So, the money, pay not enough.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: The factory itself says it pays above the industry's minimum wage, which is around $40 dollars a month, the lowest in the world, though the government has pledged to raise it.

    MOHAMMED ISLAM, Manager: We are now -- we are working for -- only for H&M.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: One of the factory managers told me his clothes went to H&M in America and 25 countries across Europe. He said he had sent his workers home because they were frightened by local unrest and that he would love to give them a pay rise, if only he could.

    MOHAMMED ISLAM: Our international buyers, they're bargaining with us for one thing, for one end.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: So, you're under big pressure.

    MOHAMMED ISLAM: So, many competition here. Our neighbor country, India, we already lost so many orders. And those orders, they are going to India. That's why we can't increase our salaries, as are expected, as there are expectations.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: Afterwards, he gave me a tour of his abandoned factory floor, where H&M's clothes were discarded mid-stitch. "Our factory is very safe," he said. But when he tried to open the door of a fire escape, it was padlocked shut.

    Earlier this month, H&M joined other multinationals in signing up to a new agreement on fire and building safety.

    In a statement, H&M told us: "We support the workers in their struggle for higher wages. We have a regular presence at supplies factories. The last full audit in the mentioned factory was in April 2013. From our audit protocol, we can tell that the factory has followed our code of conduct in regards to wages and fire safety."

    Ten minutes down the road, this is what remains of Tazreen Fashions. Much of it was built illegally. The workers say the fire exits were padlocked shut, and 112 of them burned to death here during a fire in last November.

    The workers here are squeezed by factory owners who need to make a profit and by consumers and high street brands overseas who want cheap, cheap prices. And until the rules of this supply change, nothing for these people is likely to change very much. 


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    GWEN IFILL: Next: a look at some low-skilled workers in this country, as we continue our series on the immigration bill now making its way through the U.S. Senate. It's part of our ongoing focus inside immigration reform.

    Ray Suarez has tonight's conversation.

    RAY SUAREZ: The U.S. has used unskilled immigrants throughout its history. They worked in factories, on farms, in hotels and restaurants. And over time, those workers could see their opportunities change and their families' life chances improve.

    For two different views on immigration and the low-skilled labor force in history and moving forward, we turn to Mae Ngai, a history and Asian-American studies professor at Columbia University, and Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.

    And, Professor Ngai, let me start with you.

    As we look at the long arc of American immigration law, have there ever been attempts to distinguish between high-skilled and low-skilled labor?

    MAE NGAI, Columbia University: Well, that's a great question, because it's actually a fairly recent phenomenon.

    In the past, we actually had no restrictions on immigration, so anybody who wanted to come just came. And they found work. And at the turn of the last century, 100 years ago, most of the immigrants who came actually were in the lower-skilled strata.

    RAY SUAREZ: And, on balance, in your view, as a historian, have they done well and has the country done well for their presence?

    MAE NGAI: Well, the first generation of immigrants then, as now, usually are working in the lower-skilled strata of the work force. Over time, they tend to move up, or some of them move up. And their children tend to move up. So this is a general pattern, I think you could say, in American history, yes.

    RAY SUAREZ: Professor Swain, as we debate how to move forward and whether to rewrite American immigration law, is today different from the way we might have had this conversation during the years of the Ellis Island generations coming to the United States?

    CAROL SWAIN, Vanderbilt University: It's very different, because the -- where we are today, we have a huge population of American citizens that are African-Americans, Hispanics and immigrants that are unemployed. They're not doing well.

    And we don't have the same national growth that we had during the turn of the century. We no longer live in a world where parents can expect their children to do better than they did. And we also are facing the fact that America is a -- will soon become majority minority in the not too distant future. And I believe that all changes the calculus.

    RAY SUAREZ: Well, who benefits and who loses when we allow large numbers of new people to come in as legal residents who are either lowly educated or low-skilled?

    CAROL SWAIN: I think the group that is most harmed are those Americans that have high school educations or less. If you look at the current unemployment levels from the first quarter of this year, young people between the ages of 18 and 35 with a high school diploma or less have unemployment figures as high as 30 percent.

    And that's for young people. And for African-Americans, it's above 30 percent, for Hispanics that are in that age group. And these are people that are actively looking for jobs.

    RAY SUAREZ: And, Professor Ngai, when we look back at other periods in our history of the 1880s, the early years of the 20th century, there were low-skilled and low-paid workers who viewed the arrival of yet more as -- with great alarm, weren't there?

    MAE NGAI: Well, this is always the case.

    The people who got here 10 minutes ago are nervous about the people who got here two minutes ago. So this is true. That is a pattern. But let me just say that the level of immigration recently is actually, in terms of absolute numbers and as percentage of the total population, it's not significantly more than it was 100 years ago.

    In the decade before World War I, you had a million people come into the United States a year, most of them unskilled workers. Immigration today is about a million a year. But we have ...

    CAROL SWAIN: But the new ...

    MAE NGAI: People in the -- excuse me. Could I finish?

    RAY SUAREZ: Please do.

    MAE NGAI: So -- but, as a proportion of the population, it's still actually about the same or a little lower.

    But the other point I want to make is that there is unemployment today. There are many native-born workers and people of immigrant background who are struggling economically. That's absolutely the case. The cause of that is not immigration, though. The cause of that is a restructuring that we have had of the economy -- some people call it globalization -- a vast increase in the disparity between the very rich and the very poor.

    Those are the causes for economic stress, not immigration.

    RAY SUAREZ: Professor Swain, go ahead.

    CAROL SWAIN: I disagree, because the individuals that I mentioned that are in that age group from 18 to 35, these are people that are competing in the same labor market as many of the people that are undocumented.

    And certainly there's been some data to suggest that 75 percent of the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented persons, they have a high school education or less. They will take jobs and they will be competing for the same jobs as American citizens.

    And it's not just blacks that are hurting. Black men are hurt the most. But Hispanics are hurt. Poor whites are hurt. And I believe that America needs to focus on developing its own human capital. Under the new immigration being pushed by the gang of eight, it wouldn't only legalize the 11 to 12 million and bring them openly into the labor market, but they could also bring in their relatives that are low-skilled.

    And so whatever the numbers are coming now legally, there's going to be an explosion. So ...

    RAY SUAREZ: Well, it's like -- is it likely, Professor Ngai, that if family reunification numbers are counted in with those of the legal immigrants, we're actually looking at an awful lot of people, and if you're a low-educated, low-skilled worker, it's likely that your family members coming in are not a lot different economically or socioeconomically from what you, the immigrant, are?

    MAE NGAI: Well, that's true.

    But I want to address this point about our own human capital in the United States. And, you know, if you look at the numbers in the aggregate, you might come to a conclusion like Professor Swain's, but I think you have to look at labor markets in a local way. And you have to look at a lot of factors that go into how the labor market is segmented. And it often is segmented by race or by ethnicity.

    For example, you have high unemployment, especially among African-Americans, in parts of the South, where you have very, very little immigration. So you can't really say immigrants are competing for jobs with black people in those areas.

    CAROL SWAIN: That's not true.

    MAE NGAI: You have certain industries -- excuse me. I didn't interrupt you. So I would appreciate if you didn't interrupt me, OK?

    You also have industries where you have very different outcomes in similar industries, for example, in the building cleaning services industry. In Los Angeles, that industry broke the union and started to bring in subcontractors which did use immigrants and many of them undocumented. And that did lead to a loss of jobs among African-Americans.

    But, in New York City, where the building services -- these are janitors and people who clean office buildings and apartment buildings -- where that union remains very strong, you have a diverse work force that includes African-Americans, Hispanics, and immigrants, et cetera.

    So I think there are a lot of factors that go into why some groups struggle in the labor market and others struggle less so. But I don't think -- it's too pat an answer to say that immigration is the problem.

    RAY SUAREZ: Professor Swain, your response, and very quickly, please, because we're close to out of time.

    CAROL SWAIN: Yes. Immigration ...

    RAY SUAREZ: But what about Professor Ngai's assertion that these are not workers who are directly competing against each other in a lot of cases?

    CAROL SWAIN: Well, what she said is that immigration is not a problem in the South.

    It's a national problem. It's a problem in Georgia. It's a problem in Tennessee, South Carolina. African-Americans have been displaced. There's plenty of data to suggest that, but it's also poor whites and Hispanics. And I think that's the issue.

    And with the new immigration bill, there's not enough attention being paid to the populations that are most vulnerable in the U.S.

    RAY SUAREZ: Professor Swain, Professor Ngai, ladies, thank you both.

    MAE NGAI: Thank you for having us, Ray.

    CAROL SWAIN: Thank you. 


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now a special effort to honor those who have served in the nation's wars.

    World War II veterans from Arizona preparing to take a flight, one filled with anticipation and special meaning. This is an Honor Flight, part of an eight-year-old nonprofit program for vets who've never had the chance before to go to Washington to see the memorials, particularly the one honoring their service.

    Upon landing in Baltimore, they met a large crowd of well-wishers offering a hero's welcome. This group, 30 men in their 80s and 90s, is one of 370 visiting the nation's capital this year alone.

    Eighty-five-year-old Marvin Murphy lives in Apache Junction, Ariz., east of Phoenix.

    MARVIN MURPHY, U.S. Military Veteran: We had tears. I was speechless. They didn't promise us this before we came. It was just, well, we're going to take you here, you know? And forever, forever, I will be grateful. It is something, really something.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The next day, at the World War II Memorial, the tour and the welcome, this time by middle schoolers, continued.

    More than 800 veterans of that war die every day. And there's a quiet understanding on these trips that this may well be a first and last visit.

    EARL MORSE, Founder, Honor Flight: One of the greatest joys is when you look over at the World War II Memorial and you see it filled with World War II veterans. That's what this is all about. It's their memorial. They have earned it, and they need to see it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Earl Morse is the founder of Honor Flight. He works as a physician assistant for the VA in Springfield, Ohio. He's also a retired Air Force captain and private pilot. In 2004, he flew his father, a Vietnam veteran, to Washington, along with several World War II vets he'd been caring for. Seeing their reaction, the idea was born.

    The program began with small private planes ferrying vets and has grown exponentially. On some days, four different jets fly in veterans from all over the country. It's funded by donations, corporate and individual.

    EARL MORSE: They come out here for two reasons. Reason number one is, they want to see how this nation is going to remember their accomplishment. Reason two is they want to know how their buddies are going to be remembered.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Part of the power of the experience, clearly, is sharing it with others, a common bond that exists even when they're meeting for the first time.

    MAN: Wow. You were a good-looking young man.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Eighty-seven-year-old Bill Casto, who enlisted on his 17th birthday, served in the Navy in the Northern Solomon Island campaign and was injured on his P.T. boat.

    I asked what he remembers most from that time.

    WILLIAM CASTO, U.S. Military Veteran: A lot of fear for, one thing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Fear?

    WILLIAM CASTO: Yes, most of it because of the unknown.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    WILLIAM CASTO: Once you got a little experience, you had less fear of certain things.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Right.

    WILLIAM CASTO: But there were times when I was scared to death. I remember I used to have the fear of standing guard duty at nights in the jungle, because I could just imagine some Japanese sneaking up behind me and cutting my throat.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Casto went on to serve in Korea, Vietnam -- his son served there as well -- and later in the Merchant Marine during the first Gulf War. He thinks few Americans understand that members of his generation, the so-called greatest generation, often experienced problems associated with later conflicts.

    WILLIAM CASTO: I was too old to go back to high school, so I took high school courses at a vocational school, and I got my diploma. But I kept having problems. They call now post-traumatic stress now. We didn't know what it was. But I didn't know where I belonged or how I fit in. And I was really getting concerned about it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It was hard to get back?

    WILLIAM CASTO: Oh, yes, it was hard for me to adjust, really.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Marvin Murphy enlisted days before his 18th birthday. He, too, served in the Navy and participated in the atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll just after the war.

    MARVIN MURPHY: It was your duty. It was your country. And I don't know. You don't let somebody just run all over you if you can stop it. And so we decided to stop it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: How do you feel after all these years later, where you're watching at the memorial?

    MARVIN MURPHY: Oh, awesome.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes?

    MARVIN MURPHY: Awesome. I can cry with the best of them.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And today -- and, today, you had some tears?

    MARVIN MURPHY: Oh, yes, yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: On this day, the veterans talked with the young students and together observed a wreath-laying in honor of those who gave their lives.

    When we saw you with the young people here a little earlier, what do you want them to know?

    MARVIN MURPHY: Oh, yes. Well, I think not the sacrifice that we made, but I think they need to realize that if and when the time comes, if they have to do that, that it should be their duty to do it. They should want to do it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The men also visited other sites, including the Naval Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery ...

    MAN: Thank you for your service.

    JEFFREY BROWN: ... where they observed the changing of the guard, and the Iwo Jima Memorial.

    It was also clear that an important part of this experience was for family members of the aging veterans, like Trudy Miller.

    TRUDY MILLER, Family Member of Veteran: I was very proud to be walking with them.

    MARVIN MURPHY: Yes. Yes.

    TRUDY MILLER: We will never forget this trip, will we?

    MARVIN MURPHY: No, no.

    TRUDY MILLER: No. No, very special.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And then there was a smiling Sarah Kersh, who happened upon another group of Honor Flight veterans at the airport and sought us out to talk about her grandfather, Maj. George Elbert Douglas, who'd made the trip in 2012.

    SARAH KERSH, Granddaughter of Military Veteran: I have the tags from my grandfather's Honor Flight -- Flight on my suitcase. And he went on the Honor Flight and came home and died three days later. He loved his experience, and it was, he said, the happiest time of his life.

    He loved his World War II buddies, but didn't talk about the war at all when I was a child until I started asking some questions. And by the time I was a young adult, he had collected a whole bunch of memorabilia and books, and wanted the world to know what they had lived through and what they had done.

    JEFFREY BROWN: To date, Honor Flight has brought some 100,000 veterans to Washington. The oldest was 108. Top priority goes to World War II veterans and terminally ill vets of any conflict. But demand is great. Some 20,000 men and women are on a waiting list.

    EARL MORSE: When you tell a veteran, I'm sorry, we don't have the funds right now, but we should get you next year, the response is usually, I hope I'm still alive next year.

    JEFFREY BROWN: As of now, 41 states have Honor Flight groups. The hope is that number and the number of visits will continue to grow.

    And, online, you can watch an extended interview with 85-year-old Marvin Murphy about his experience in World War II. 


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    GWEN IFILL: Now a look at the time-honored, but seemingly more frequent role of president as consoler in chief.

    FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here.

    GWEN IFILL: They are the increasingly familiar moments of searing loss, when presidents give voice to the nation's grief.

    FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people ...

    And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

    GWEN IFILL: Three days after 9/11, President George W. Bush stood on the rubble at Ground Zero in New York. Six years earlier, in April 1995, President Clinton comforted mourners in Oklahoma City after 186 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

    PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: We pledge to do all we can to help you heal the injured, to rebuild this city, and to bring to justice those who did this evil.

    GWEN IFILL: The presidents act as stand-ins for a nation's anguish. In Jan. 1986, hours after the destruction of space shuttle Challenger, it fell to President Reagan to remember the seven astronauts killed that day.

    FORMER PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to such the face of God.

    GWEN IFILL: And five days after President Kennedy was assassinated in Nov. 1963, the newly elevated President Lyndon Johnson went before a shaken Congress and country.

    FORMER PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that he began.

    GWEN IFILL: Yesterday, President Obama returned to the task, traveling to Moore, Okla., where 24 people died a week ago in a massive tornado.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We know Moore is going to come back stronger from this tragedy. And I want folks affected throughout Oklahoma to know that we're going to be with you every step of the way.

    GWEN IFILL: For Mr. Obama, it was only the latest in a series of somber occasions that have taken him from Colorado to Arizona to New Jersey to Boston.

    So what can presidential words of comfort mean to victims of disaster, accidents and terrorism?

    For that, we turn to presidential historian and NewsHour regular Michael Beschloss and Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for Real Clear Politics.

    Welcome to you both.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Thank you.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Michael, is this now part of the job description to be consoler in chief?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think it is.

    And it sure wasn't in the Constitution. And it's pretty recent, because for most of American history, we didn't have air travel, so it was hard for a president to get to a scene of a disaster. The federal government didn't do that much for emergencies like this. And you really didn't have TV, so this is really a creation of recent times.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Alexis, the president doesn't have much choice but to show up at this point.

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER, White House Correspondent, Real Clear Politics: We are seeing now that most presidents feel that they are not just wanting to be there, but they're almost compelled to be there, that there's an expectation by the American people that he's the manager.

    He's the uniter. He is representative of the federal government and all the help that is supposed to be coming from Washington in a world that expects to be almost risk-free now, that there's more benefits. There's lots more infrastructure inside the government, at the Department of Homeland Security, for instance, for natural disasters and catastrophes.

    And there's an expectation in every community that the president and the entire executive branch with Congress will move to respond.

    GWEN IFILL: Has this always been true? Has this always been the role?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: No, it really hasn't, because -- two points in time I like to think about, 1963, the submarine Thresher, nuclear submarine, sank off Cape Cod.

    Over 120 -- or 129 people were killed. President Kennedy, even though he was in the Navy and this was his home state, Cape Cod, basically issued a statement. You would never see something like that nowadays. And LBJ, as we just saw in the taped package, 1967, the first Apollo crew perished in that horrible fire down at Cape Canaveral, and you didn't see the kind of thing you would see now, with the president going down, consoling families. He, sure, attended the funeral, but nothing like you would see today.

    GWEN IFILL: So, what was the turning point?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: The turning point, I think, was really Ronald Reagan.

    And probably the reason for that, as it oftentimes is in the history of a presidency, he was so good at it. The Challenger, we just saw a moment ago, that was the day he was supposed to give a State of the Union. He actually was only dimly aware of the shuttle flight. When he was told about it, he asked is, that the one with the teacher on it?

    Everyone knew that this had a teacher in space. So he gave that speech that was so powerful that evening from the Oval Office that, ever since then, presidents are expected to do that.

    GWEN IFILL: Is there a downside to this, toying too close to exploitation? For instance, in Tucson, when the president went and spoke after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, there was a little question about whether he was going to be doing a rah-rah thing for gun control.

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: I think the impression that most presidents get very quickly is, it has to either be genuine or it has to sound genuine.

    And it has to be less about them and much more about the people that they're seeing. As Michael was saying, presidents that are good at it get enormous benefits from it and -- and embraced by the American people.

    Presidents who stumble, for instance, doing it, they teach presidents after them lessons.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Especially if it looks too political.

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: If it looks too political or it looks too late. And so we have seen that happen over time.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, Katrina is a perfect example.

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Katrina is a perfect example.

    President Bush was, as we know, absolutely clobbered by the American people, politically, in terms of -- as management, everything about Katrina and Rita.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Absolutely.

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Congress -- and the laws changed after that to add a lot more to the whole process of managing crises.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Yes.

    And also no president is going to make that mistake again. They will err now on the side of going to every disaster conceivable, rather than suffer the fate of George Bush, who looked as if he was a little bit indifferent.

    GWEN IFILL: How much of this is symbolism, and how much of is this about bringing cash on the barrelhead to the problem?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, the symbolism -- symbolism is important. The founders did say that a president has to be both prime minister and chief of state.

    But that's what monarchs do. But if you look through history and try to draw a correlation between, like, number of hours a president visits the scene of a disaster and amount of help that's effective from the federal government, virtually no correlation.

    GWEN IFILL: What do you think about that?

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: I think that there's a mix.

    For one thing, the president doesn't have to be there. It happens now without him. He could be abroad, and all of this would happen. He signs ...

    GWEN IFILL: All of what?

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: All of the help, all of the infrastructure from FEMA, and -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency, all of that would happen without the president even if he were abroad.

    But he signs the declaration. And those who have actually been comforted by a president or a first lady after a catastrophe have talked about how much it meant. For local media, we're listening to the president say, here's where you call if you need help. American Red Cross, here's what you do if you want to help, give money.

    So, his bully pulpit, it is symbolism, yes, but it also has a practical impact too.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: And, also, he can learn from it. President Obama has said that, for instance, meeting with those victims of this violence taught him a lot, made him feel more passionate about trying to assure gun safety.

    GWEN IFILL: And is it also one of those rare cases where government intervention is now welcomed, rather than, stay out of my business?

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Well, in this particular environment this month, does the president want to talk about how management and government is a good thing? Absolutely.

    After the IRS problems that he's been experiencing, he wants to spread the word that government does good things, which is what he's talking about, and that management is -- in the executive branch is top notch at FEMA.

    GWEN IFILL: Michael?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Can't disagree with that.

    But, you know, Lyndon Johnson, even at the moment of John Kennedy's assassination, you would think that would have been the most horrible thing for him to turn into politics, but he said, no memorial oration could more eloquently honor John Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of his civil rights bill.

    People thought it was very appropriate.

    GWEN IFILL: So, even if you're Chris Christie or Mary Fallin, this doesn't necessarily -- I'm just being crass about this, I guess, talking about the politics -- it doesn't necessarily hurt you?

    ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Oh, it doesn't hurt you at all.

    And the two governors -- we're talking about Republican governors. They are more than happy to see Washington, represented by the president of the United States, come to their communities.

    GWEN IFILL: Alexis Simendinger, Michael Beschloss, thank you both so much.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Gwen.

    GWEN IFILL: On the Rundown, you can see more video of Mr. Obama and other presidents reaching out to communities in times of trouble. 


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    JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight: We spend a lot of time chronicling the hits and misses on Capitol Hill.

    Author and journalist Robert Kaiser writes about a little of both, focusing on how lawmakers reshaped Wall Street regulations after the 2008 financial crisis.

    Judy Woodruff spoke to Kaiser about his new book: "Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't."

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Kaiser, welcome to the NewsHour.

    The book, as we say, is “Act of Congress.”

    And you are very critical of Congress in this book. You write about the principal preoccupation is politics, instead of legislating, that members are skilled at politics, but not at enacting laws. And yet they were able to pass this big piece of legislation.

    ROBERT KAISER, Author/ Journalist, "Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't": Thanks to two very talented chairmen, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, who really knew how to make the system hum, and they did it.

    But it was upsetting to me as a citizen to realize how few members understood the issues they were dealing with. These are, of course, extremely complicated financial matters, how banks work, how they're regulated, so on.

    Not everybody can know this, but I -- at the end, I concluded that you could fit the number of experts in Congress on financial issues easily onto the roster of a Major League Baseball team. That's 25 people. I think that is the max.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is what you write about in the book about the passage of the Dodd-Frank law typical of the way Congress works, or was this unusual?

    ROBERT KAISER: Well, it's unusual in recent times because it was a success. Most of the time now, we don't get anything, right? We get deadlock.

    But I think my hope is that this is a real window on the culture of the Congress, which shows lots of things about if -- to remain relevant regardless of what the bill is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What is it? Clearly, so much of the book you focus on the principal sponsors, former Sen. Chris Dodd, former Rep. Barney Frank. What was it about them that made this happen?

    ROBERT KAISER: Well, Barney -- any member of the House would tell you Barney was the smartest member of the House. Republicans agreed about that too. He was really sharp. He really mastered most of these issues.

    In the beginning, I thought that was the key fact. Ultimately, I realized Dodd's political skill, his ability to deal creatively with his colleagues, to win the three Republican votes which he did get which were crucial in the end to the success of the enterprise, was just as important, if not more important, than Barney's brainpower. But they were very complementary, these two talents.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You also spend a lot of time writing about the -- that part of Congress that we don't really see most of the time. And that's the staff and some really key figures on the staffs who ...

    ROBERT KAISER: You know, Teddy Kennedy wrote a good memoir just before he died in which he revealed the following state secret.

    He said 95 percent of the nitty-gritty work on legislation is now done by the staff. As Kennedy wrote, this represents quite a change in the allocation of responsibilities over the last 30 or 40 years. Indeed, it does.

    But this is the point. The staff really does the work. Indeed, in this case, it seemed to me, at the end, 95 percent might understate the amount of the work that the staff did, and particularly two wonderful women, Amy Friend, the counsel of the Senate Banking Committee, and Jeanne Roslanowick, who was Barney's chief of staff, on House Financial Services, friends of each other, both very smart lawyers, both longtime Hill aides.

    They made this thing happen as much as anybody.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you write they not only had to know the substance. They had to know the -- understand and work with the politics as well.

    ROBERT KAISER: Absolutely.

    And they really -- they were more influential in the end, I think, I write, than any member of the House or Senate, except Frank and Dodd.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: If it was Dodd and Frank and staff -- and you write about some other elements that made this legislation possible -- what stood in the way? What were the principal obstacles to making this happen?

    ROBERT KAISER: Well, I think the biggest obstacle is the one we referred to. It's that there are so few experts.

    So, there was widespread agreement among experts in all parties outside of Congress that something big ought to be done after the catastrophe of 2008. But, in Congress, the usual political reflexes took over, so that, for example, House Republicans, against government regulation on principle, very antsy about the new Obama administration, their natural tendency was just to say, no, we don't want to do this.

    In the Senate, there was more Republican interest, but, as it turned out, there too, Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican, I think, really wanted to make a deal, but ultimately his colleagues wouldn't let him do it. So the idea of a bipartisan enterprise collapsed completely.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So it was partisanship, you're saying, as much as lack of expertise and understanding?

    ROBERT KAISER: Partisanship and ideology, both, but yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a belief that this was the wrong way to go? So, you're saying the opposition was genuine?

    ROBERT KAISER: Well, it was the belief that it was the wrong way to go held by people who didn't understand the situation.

    So, I'm not sure whether genuine is a good word to use or not. They're not -- they're well-meaning. They think that they're right. I don't agree that they were right. But this is one of the great problems we have now. You don't really engage on issues in this Congress. What you engage in is political warfare, partisan bashing, one or the other. And the result is that serious policy issues, as we have seen again and again, get very short shrift.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And your writing about it helps us understand a whole lot more about how the institution works.

    Bob Kaiser, thank you very much.

    ROBERT KAISER: Thank you. 


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    A young refugee from the Daraa region of Syria, sick with fever, lies down in his family's tent at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. The camp is home to more than 120,000 Syrian refugees. Frame grab from video shot by freelance journalist Ted Nieters on assignment for PBS NewsHour

    ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan -- As the United States and Russia continue to push their plan of a conference aimed at bringing representatives from the Syrian government and the opposition together to discuss a political solution to Syria's bloody civil war, many Syrian refugees claim they have no hope that this conference or other conferences will yield results.

    "There have been too many conferences but there is no actual settlement or solution," said 25-year-old Nadia Raja who arrived at Zaatari refugee camp a few weeks ago from Daraa, Syria, with her husband and five children.

    Others, who have been at the camp for several months, were much more angry in their response, claiming that Russia had no interest in easing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power and that other countries weren't doing enough.

    Zaatari resident Um Hassan cursed Russia when she was asked about the Geneva conference. "(Damn) all the countries that stand with Bashar. If they didn't side with Bashar, he will fall tomorrow."

    "Are all these countries of the world not capable of standing up and saying a word of truth against Bashar?" asked Hassan's neighbor at the camp Um Shadi as they stood outside their tents with their children. "All these people that are dying, all this blood that is flowing, isn't it valuable enough to interfere?"

    'Jordan's Fifth Largest City'

    Thousands of tents which house Syrian refugees line the Zaatari camp in Jordan. Photos by Justin Kenny

    One-hundred-twenty-thousand victims of the Syrian conflict are packed into U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees tents or "caravan" trailer units at the Zaatari refugee camp in Northern Jordan.

    Located just a few miles from the Syrian border, residents and camp workers said they can often hear the fighting between Assad's forces and the Free Syrian Army in the evening.

    There are more Syrian refugees in Zaatari than any other camp in the world. The dustbowl community's meteoric surge in population within the past year prompted King Abdullah to call the site "Jordan's fifth largest city."

    Aid Agencies Overwhelmed

    Andrew Harper, UNHCR's representative to Jordan, said that his group and other nongovernmental organizations dealing with the refugee crisis are strained.

    "I don't think you can think it can get any worse but it does every night," said Harper. "There's over a half million Syrians that have come through (into Jordan) since March of last year -- anywhere up to 3,000 to 4,000 per night which basically means a thousand families. This means a thousand families with women and children who come across with nothing and we have to provide everything for them -- the tents, the food, the water, the health facilities and the protection."

    Nadia Raja fled Syria with her husband and five children. They remain at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan where 120,000 are currently residing while the conflict in Syria continues.

    Harper said that nearly $1 million is being spent per day to run the camp and construct another site to care for the refugees. He's worried about the future of funding for Zaatari and other camps as the war in Syria continues to rage on month after month.

    "No one can give me one positive indicator from Syria that this is going to be resolved any time soon -- whether it be one year, two years or beyond that," said Harper.

    "We've got enough resources until the end of June. The United States has been very generous, a number of Western states have been very generous but that basically the needs as they exist now, not the needs that we are probably likely to expect coming across the mountains."

    Zaatari's Desperate Residents

    Despite a constant stream of aid trucks dropping off supplies including water (nearly 500 per day, according to UNHCR), highly organized distribution centers, medical facilities and schools in the camp, residents told us that they don't have enough to eat, clean water to drink or adequate medical care.

    The only thing here in ample supply seems to be despair.

    One man waiting outside the UNHCR administrative gate attempted to tell anyone and everyone who passed through about his grievances at the camp. In a sign of desperation, he offered to light himself on fire in front of our camera to protest his living conditions. We declined his offer. He was immediately escorted back to the entrance gate by a security officer where the man continued to look for anyone who would listen.

    In the camp's version of a "Main Street" many impromptu businesses have opened. Refugees who manage to have or get money can purchase meat (chickens are slaughtered in plain sight), baked goods, drinks, clothing and many other items.

    Twenty-year-old Abdul Mounim Droubi works at makeshift bakery in Zaatari refugee camp.

    Twenty-year-old Abdul Mounim Droubi is able earn some wages working at a makeshift bakery on the merchant strip. His life, in some ways, is much better than those of others in the camp who are not working and have no access to additional income. He told us that his existence at Zaatari is no way to live and that he will likely be going back home despite the war.

    "I have no hope," he said in front of a lit oven at the market stall. "I'd rather die in Syria."

    Life Inside a Tent

    At a section of the camp for some of its newest residents, we were quickly surrounded by a group of small children who were excited by the distraction of a foreign news crew with cameras. They asked to have their pictures taken and laughed as I showed them images of themselves in my view finder.

    This is where we met Nadia Raja, the mother from Daraa, and her five children. She invited us inside her new home.

    The Raja family tent is sparse with just a few sleeping mats atop a floor mat with UNHCR logos that serves as the floor of their new home. With each step inside, I could feel the large stones and pebbles underneath my feet.

    Children hang laundry outside their tent in the refugee camp.

    There's no electricity and the temperature in the tent is easily 10 degrees hotter than the 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The tent is amazingly pristine which seems like a minor miracle with all the dust kicking around outside.

    Even though there is no food left out, the Raja's shelter has not been spared the flies that have infested the camp.

    I noticed one of the family's five children -- sick with a fever -- huddled in the corner clutching a water bottle as flies hover and land on his face and body. The boy, weakened from sickness and the heat, made no attempt to swat away the persistent insects.

    Nadia Raja told us she doesn't feel in danger since coming to Jordan a few weeks ago. It was the only positive statement about her life that she uttered during our 15-minute interview.

    She told us her children have been sick for 20 days.

    "They have fever. They are suffering from the hot weather. They are suffering from the polluted water -- because there is not clean water -- and from the situation in general from the camps. It's too hot in the camp."

    Raja said she has no idea how long she will be living in Zaatari.

    "We have no electricity, there's no television and we don't know what's going on," said Raja as her youngest child cried in her lap. "We are just hoping that God has the best for us."

    After the interview, as we packed up our vehicle to go on to the next site at the camp, Raja ran over, waving her Syrian cell phone number. She made sure all of us copied it down, hoping that the world wouldn't forget about her family among the millions of Syrians displaced.

    Children at the Zaatari refugee camp.

    Related Resources

    Bringing the Classroom to Jordan's Exploding Refugee Population

    Jordan's King Abdullah: Coming Weeks Critical for Syria, Assad, Arab League

    Justin Kenny is the PBS NewsHour's foreign affairs senior editor. His broadcast report, narrated by senior correspondent Ray Suarez, on the Syrian civil war's spillover in Jordan will air later this week. View more of our World coverage.

    Follow @NewsHourWorld

    Support Your Local PBS Station


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    By Nick Corcodilos

    The connection between advanced degrees and jobs isn't always clear. Photo by flickr user jeco

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

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

    Question: I am making a career change and I plan to pursue a master's degree. Any suggestions on how to proceed after I earn it, or tips on selecting the best grad programs?

    Nick Corcodilos: Before you invest in any kind of education program, be absolutely sure why you're doing it. If you think it's going to help you win a job or change careers, think again. I can't tell you how many people I know who invested in an advanced degree and found it didn't serve their career objectives very well.

    Advanced degrees are not tickets to jobs, not by a long shot. I've had clients turn down candidates with MBAs in favor of candidates with measly liberal arts degrees. Why? Because a good liberal arts grad can think, write, speak well, learn quickly and prepare a plan to get a job done. (See "Making The Liberal Arts Degree Pay Off.") The question the employer tries to answer is, does the advanced degree mean better performance on the job?

    MORE FROM NICK CORCODILOS: How New Grads Can Get in the Door for a Job Interview

    Now, I've got nothing against advanced degrees. I have one myself. I believe in learning for its own sake, but I caution you: The connection between advanced degrees and jobs isn't always clear. A good, basic bachelor's degree delivers much more mileage than you might think, and the expense of a new "education vehicle" is often unjustified. When I ventured outside the field I was educated in (I have a masters in cognitive psychology), what mattered most was my ability to learn the work -- a skill I acquired as a liberal arts undergrad.

    In some fields, an advanced degree is the coin of the realm. You must look at the standards in your line of work, and decide what will pay off for your career.

    (If you're an undergraduate reading this, you might wonder what employers expect. Please read Vinh Pham's excellent article, "Advice to A Young College Student.")

    But here's the bottom line and the most important advice I can give you. The ultimate buyer of the degree you're considering is the employer that hires you. The ultimate test of the degree is whether it's worth something to the business. So, decide what kind of work you want to do. Then, go ask the employer you want to work for what kind of training and education will help you do it better -- before you enroll in a program. In other words, is the degree worthwhile to the employer? You might be surprised at what you learn.

    I think every college student (and the parents who may be funding the degree) needs to consider these questions.

    For discussion, Nick would like to hear from you: If you have an advanced degree, has it paid off for you? How? If you don't have an advanced degree, have you ever won a job while competing with more highly credentialed job applicants? If you are an employer, just how important are graduate degrees to you when you're hiring?

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

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

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


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    Click to enlarge. Photo by Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images.

    Life looks a little different on the other side of the bars, doesn't it? Yes, sometimes it's good to change your perspective. It can make you appreciate the things you take for granted -- like that you don't sleep in a cage and participate in pageants. You tell us: What's going in the photo above? Are those dogs more crafty than they look?

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

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


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    Now is your chance to ask the PBS NewsHour senior correspondents anything you want. Tweet your questions to @NewsHour.

    Forty years ago, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer reported on the Watergate scandal. Their coverage laid the groundwork for what would become the MacNeil/Lehrer Report, known today as the PBS NewsHour.

    Over the next few months, you will have the chance to chat with the NewsHour's senior correspondents in our live chat series. Learn about their milestone moments in journalism, their start at NewsHour and their take on the state of media and global politics.

    The senior correspondents are:

    Jeffrey BrownGwen IfillHari SreenivasanRay SuarezMargaret Warner and Judy Woodruff

    Join our kick-off live chat with Judy Woodruff, Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. EDT. Leave your comments for her below or tweet #AskJudy to @NewsHour or @JudyWoodruff.

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    On Tuesday's PBS NewsHour, Miles O'Brien visits the nation's most active explosives test facility, where scientists investigate the bombs that were detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Screen grabs from PBS NewsHour/NOVA

    It's a strange phone call to make -- dialing up a perfect stranger to ask him if he will explode a bomb for you. After a moment of pause to reflect on the irony, I placed the call to Van Romero at New Mexico Tech, home of the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, the most active explosives test facility in the U.S.

    I called him on Thursday, April 25 -- ten days after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 275. It was just a week after the murder of MIT police office Sean Collier and the bloody standoff in Watertown, Mass., that left bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead and the massive search effort that shut down much of the Boston area and led to the capture of his wounded younger brother, Dzhokhar. Miles O'Brien, the correspondent who I have worked with doing science and technology reporting for nearly 20 years, had accepted an assignment from the PBS program NOVA to do a fast-turnaround program on the forensics technology used in the bombing investigation and manhunt. The air date for NOVA was set for May 29 -- just a few weeks out.

    Miles O'Brien waits in a bunker at New Mexico Tech while a team of experts sets off a pressure cooker bomb.

    By the time we were setting up our production, law enforcement had found the mangled lid of a pressure cooker on top of a six-story building near the marathon finish line. It was the first time I had ever heard of a pressure cooker bomb -- though it turns out it is a weapon of choice for terrorists internationally. It is shockingly low-tech. A few pounds of black powder, some ad hoc shrapnel and a pressure cooker like the one my grandmother used to use. Small enough to fit in a backpack.

    We knew going in we had to step carefully: we absolutely do not want to show anyone how to build a bomb, or give any unstable viewers any ideas. The tricky part to building a bomb like that is the trigger. Van Romero wouldn't show us that and we wouldn't have included it in our report in any event.

    Often times, the logistics of the shoot are the hardest part -- I was in my office making calls, videographer Cameron Hickey was on location in Los Angeles, and Miles, as usual, was on an airplane. The shoot date was set for May 1 -- less than a week away. Bringing Miles up to speed on the plan and getting his feedback turned out to be harder than you would think. I would try to catch him on the phone when he was changing planes. And he had to watch his mouth -- too much chatter in the gate area about detonating bombs was likely to get him tackled by an Air Marshal.

    New Mexico Tech experts piece together the elements for a pressure cooker bomb to demonstrate how forensic teams investigate explosives.

    In the end, we decided to go with two detonations -- the pressure cooker bomb and also a pipe bomb. That way, we could compare and contrast the explosions, see how researchers analyze such factors as the color of the smoke, the blast impact and the shape of the bomb fragments.

    We paid New Mexico Tech for the explosions -- it's not so much the expense involved in building the bombs themselves, but the clean-up costs.

    Another big factor we had to consider for the production was how we would shoot it. The folks at the Center maintain one high-speed camera near the site of the explosions so they can document the blast for themselves. We also set up four GoPro cameras near the bombs and we shot a long-range shot using our Canon-C100 camera. We were prepared to "sacrifice" a couple of the GoPro's to the blast to get good angles -- but in the end, all of the equipment survived intact.

    At the end of our two days of shooting, one thing was clear: expert eyes can tell a great deal about bomb forensics just by looking. Mix in the lab analysis -- like chemical residue testing, DNA testing, and the like -- and a bomber would be hard pressed to get past the experts at New Mexico Tech. I'm glad they are wearing the white hats.

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