Articles on this Page
- 05/30/13--08:07: _Sources: Obama to N...
- 05/30/13--08:56: _Alzheimer's and the...
- 05/30/13--09:11: _Starting the Conver...
- 05/30/13--10:19: _David Stockman: We'...
- 05/30/13--15:02: _Ricin-Laced Letters...
- 05/30/13--15:12: _News Wrap: Baghdad ...
- 05/30/13--15:15: _Obama to Nominate F...
- 05/30/13--15:17: _How Would James Com...
- 05/30/13--15:26: _Coping With Alzheim...
- 05/30/13--15:33: _Satiating Chinese A...
- 05/30/13--15:42: _Chopra Brothers Tel...
- 05/31/13--07:00: _Gwen's Take: The Pe...
- 05/31/13--09:18: _Do Americans Win or...
- 05/31/13--12:29: _Investigating Bombs...
- 05/31/13--12:42: _Remembering Julian ...
- 05/31/13--13:26: _Medicare Trust Fund...
- 05/31/13--15:02: _Americans Still Str...
- 05/31/13--15:10: _News Wrap: Extreme ...
- 05/31/13--15:12: _Presidential Push t...
- 05/31/13--15:24: _Leader of Free Syri...
- 05/30/13--08:07: Sources: Obama to Name Ex-Bush Aide to Head FBI
- 05/30/13--08:56: Alzheimer's and the Artist
- 05/30/13--10:19: David Stockman: We're Blind to the Debt Bubble
- 05/30/13--15:17: How Would James Comey Be Received on Capitol Hill?
- 05/31/13--07:00: Gwen's Take: The Perils of the Absolute
- 05/31/13--09:18: Do Americans Win or Lose When Someone Becomes a Billionaire?
- 05/31/13--12:29: Investigating Bombs with Robots and Shrapnel
- 05/31/13--12:42: Remembering Julian Dawkins
- 05/31/13--13:26: Medicare Trust Fund's Life Extended, But What Does It Really Mean?
- 05/31/13--15:02: Americans Still Struggling to Recover from the Recession
- 05/31/13--15:12: Presidential Push to Stop Sky-High Student Loan Interest Rates
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is prepared to nominate James Comey, a former Bush administration official with bipartisan credentials, as the next FBI director. In a possible warning sign, the top Republican on the Senate committee that would review the nomination said Comey would face questions about his ties to Wall Street.
Three people with knowledge of the selection said Wednesday that Obama planned to nominate Comey, who was the No. 2 official at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. Comey was general counsel to Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates from 2010 until earlier this year and now lectures at Columbia Law School.
Comey would replace Robert Mueller, who has held the job since shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which forced the FBI to transform itself into one of the nation's chief weapons in the war on terror. Mueller's last day on the job is Sept. 4.
The White House may hope that Comey's Republican background will help him through Senate confirmation at a time when some of Obama's nominees have been facing tough battles. But Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicated Comey's confirmation hearing would raise questions about the Obama administration's investigations of Wall Street.
Grassley said in a statement late Wednesday he had not heard from the White House about Comey's nomination but said Comey possessed a lot of important experience on national security issues.
"But, if he's nominated, he would have to answer questions about his recent work in the hedge fund industry," Grassley said. "The administration's efforts to criminally prosecute Wall Street for its part in the economic downturn have been abysmal, and his agency would have to help build the case against some of his colleagues."
Comey became a hero to Democrats for the central role he played in holding up Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, one of the administration's great controversies and an episode that focused attention on the administration's controversial tactics in the war on terror.
In stunning testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007, Comey said he thought Bush's no-warrant wiretapping program was so questionable that Comey refused for a time to reauthorize it, leading to a standoff with White House officials at the bedside of ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Comey said he refused to recertify the program because Ashcroft had reservations about its legality.
Senior government officials had expressed concerns about whether the National Security Agency, which administered the warrantless eavesdropping program, had the proper oversight in place. Other concerns included whether any president possessed the legal and constitutional authority to authorize the program as it was carried out at the time.
The White House, Comey said, recertified the program without the Justice Department's signoff, allowing it to operate for about three weeks without concurrence on whether it was legal. Comey, Ashcroft, Mueller and other Justice Department officials at one point considered resigning, Comey said.
"I couldn't stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis," Comey told the Senate panel.
A day after the March 10, 2004, incident at Ashcroft's hospital bedside, Bush ordered changes to the program to accommodate the department's concerns. Ashcroft signed the presidential order to recertify the program about three weeks later.
The dramatic hospital confrontation involved Comey, who was the acting attorney general during Ashcroft's absence, and a White House team that included Gonzales, Bush's counsel at the time, and White House chief of staff Andy Card, Comey said. Gonzales later succeeded Ashcroft as attorney general.
Comey testified that when he refused to certify the program, Gonzales and Card headed to Ashcroft's sick bed in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital.
When Gonzales appealed to Ashcroft, the ailing attorney general lifted his head off the pillow and in straightforward terms described his views of the program, Comey said. Then he pointed out that Comey, not Ashcroft, held the powers of the attorney general at that moment.
Gonzales and Card then left the hospital room, Comey said.
"I was angry," Comey told the panel. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general."
Comey was deputy attorney general in 2005, when he unsuccessfully tried to limit tough interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists. He told then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that some of the practices were wrong and would damage the department's reputation.
Some Democrats denounced those methods as torture, particularly the use of waterboarding, which produces the sensation of drowning.
Comey's selection was first reported by NPR and was not expected to be announced for several days at least. It was confirmed to the AP by three people speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the selection ahead of Obama's announcement. Senate confirmation will be needed.
The change in leadership at the FBI comes as the bureau and Justice Department are under scrutiny for their handing of several investigations. Obama has ordered a review of FBI investigations into leaks to reporters, including the secret gathering of Associated Press phone records and emails of a Fox News reporter. And there have been questions raised about whether the FBI properly responded to warnings from Russian authorities about a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. The agency, meanwhile, is conducting a highly anticipated investigation into the Internal Revenue Service over its handling of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status.
Earlier in his career, Comey served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, one of the nation's most prominent prosecutorial offices and one at the front lines of terrorism, corporate malfeasance, organized crime and the war on drugs.
As an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia, Comey handled the investigation of the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. military personnel.
He led the Justice Department's corporate fraud task force and spurred the creation of violent crime impact teams in 20 cities, focusing on crimes committed with guns.
Mary Wyant spent years as a professional artist. But after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she slowly became unable to paint. Here is a look at her work through the years, and as the disease took hold. Click on the image below to see how her art changed over the years.
I'll admit it -- I don't like to talk about death, dying or getting older. And long-term care or end-of-life issues are not subjects I really want to discuss with my parents on the few occasions each year when I travel cross-country and spend time with them. But after working on the first story in PBS NewsHour's series on long-term care, I bit the metaphorical bullet and started that conversation.
One night, over a family dinner, I described the experience following small-business owner Rebecca Wyant as she also tries to manage being the full-time caregiver for her mother Mary who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. I also mentioned that the Wyants had not done any planning for this possible eventuality, which had caused some stress when it became clear Mary was becoming increasingly unable to care for herself.
Talking about the Wyant's experiences provided a natural segue to ask my parents if they had made any arrangements for long-term care, or considered what kinds of health-related decisions they might want made on their behalf, should it ever become necessary.
Rebecca Wyant helps her mother Mary, who suffers from Alzheimer's, out of bed. Photo by Mike Fritz
Starting the discussion was also made easier because my sister, who had joined us at the dinner table, was quick to "second the motion" that we all start looking ahead, and make plans for some situations we hope we never find ourselves in.
As a family we still have quite a bit to discuss. But at least the conversation has begun. And there are resources to help broach the subject of planning for the later stages of life. The SCAN Foundation, a non-profit charity with the mission of changing health care to encourage the independence and preservation of dignity for seniors, has created several 10 Things You Should Know... lists about aging and long-term care.
10 Things Every Family Should Know About Aging with Dignity and Independence:
1. You are not alone
Today, there are nearly 67 million people in America providing assistance to a spouse, parent, relative, or even a neighbor. As individuals grow older, they are more likely to need assistance that will enable them to live with dignity and independence in their homes and communities. Start preparing today by talking with your family about what aging with dignity means to you, and ask for help if you need it.
2. Different people need different kinds of support
Older people with health conditions and difficulties with daily activities have a variety of needs such as preparing meals, getting in and out of bed, getting dressed or going to the bathroom, and running errands like going to the grocery store or the doctor. All of these routine activities that we often take for granted as part of our everyday lives are vital to allowing individuals to age with dignity and independence.
3. Support that family members give counts
Family caregivers make up the backbone of support to older Americans. There are usually three different ways that families can help an older loved one get the support they need: physical or hands-on care, financial support, emotional support to their loved one, especially as health issues become more complicated. Whether you are providing one of these types of support or all three, a little bit of care from family can go a long way towards helping loved ones stay in their homes and communities as their abilities change.
4. Long-term care is expensive
Paying for daily support services can add up. In 2011, the average cost of having a part-time aide come to your home averaged about $21,840 per year, and the average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home was $78,110. Such high costs are often unaffordable for the majority of the nation's middle-class families.
5. Medicare doesn't pay
Many people mistakenly believe that Medicare will pay for long-term services and supports. The reality is that Medicare only pays for short-term rehabilitative care.
6. Talk to your loved ones
Planning ahead is important. Do not wait for an emergency or other critical incident to start discussing care needs of your loved ones. To ensure that they receive the best care possible that honors their wishes and desires, begin a dialogue about these issues now.
7. Talk with your loved one's doctor(s)
People's health needs can change over time. There are a number of important conversations to have with your loved one's doctor(s) to make sure he or she is getting the right care at the right time and from the right professional.
8. Build a circle of support
Your loved one may have identified a surrogate decision maker in case he or she is unable to make health decisions on their own, so be sure to find out who that person is. There may also be others who are counted upon to help make important decisions, such as attorneys, financial planners, insurance providers, family members and others.
9. We all want to age with dignity, choice and independence
This means being able to live life to the fullest, regardless of our daily abilities or physical limitations. Find out how your loved one defines living with dignity, choice and independence and have that be part of your master plan for securing care and services for him or her.
10. Your voice is important
Decisions are being made at the state and federal level that could impact the services that are available to you and your loved ones. It is important for you to stay informed, get involved, and take action. Talk with your local, state, and federal officials about what kind of support you want as you grow older.
Full English and Spanish language versions, and others "10 Things You can Do" lists on aging with dignity can be found on the SCAN Foundation's website.
The SCAN Foundation is an underwriter of the PBS NewsHour.
By Paul Solman
David Stockman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, says America has become addicted to debt and that there's no way to avoid catastrophe. Still from NewsHour Footage.
Paul Solman: On yesterday's Making Sen$e Business Desk, Paul Krugman argued that the U.S. government's debt load should not be our chief concern at the moment. Today, President Reagan's first budget boss (until he resigned in disgust), David Stockman, argues vehemently to the contrary. I interviewed Stockman at length about his new tome, "The Great Deformation." Some of that interview will appear on the PBS NewsHour. Here's an extended excerpt from the interview to keep you occupied until it does:
Paul Solman: How did you come to be a member of the prosperous class?
David Stockman: I think everybody in this generation, and I'm the leading edge of the baby boom -- I was born in 1946 -- has benefitted from a 30-year explosion of debt, which created temporary but unsustainable economic prosperity and a financialization of the system through lower, and lower, and lower interest rates that has created massive rewards to speculation but not real investments so I benefitted from it. Almost everyone who has been in the market has benefitted but they didn't earn it.
Paul Solman: You didn't earn it either?
David Stockman: No. One of the things I say in my book is we need a wealth tax that on a one-time basis is going to take back at least some small fraction of the great windfall that the upper 1%, or 5% and pay down the government debt, pay back the federal debt because we can't put this on the next generation or they're going to be buried paying taxes.
Paul Solman: So, you're in favor of taxing yourself now for your fortune or perhaps ill-gotten gains?
David Stockman: I think everybody benefitted from what I am calling a bubble finance system, a bubble economy and if we're ever going to right the system, we're going to have to stop this explosion of the federal debt. We need huge spending cuts, OK? Don't get me wrong, we need to raise regular taxes too but even beyond that it's not going to hurt if we want to reset the system to ask those who have benefitted disproportionately -- remember, we got $60 trillion of net worth in the household sector. $45 trillion of that belongs to the top 5 percent...
Paul Solman: Yeah, I don't forget that ...
David Stockman: OK, so the top 5 percent is going to have to chip in along with everybody else. We're going to have to reform Social Security, cut back defense, all the rest of it. Look at what's happening between Main Street and Wall Street. The stock market index is up 136 percent from the bottom. Middle class jobs lost during the correction: six million. Middle class jobs recovered: one million. So therefore we're up 16 percent on the jobs that were lost. These are only born-again jobs. We don't really have any new jobs, and there's a massive speculative frenzy going on in Wall Street that is disconnected from the real economy.
Paul Solman: So, you're not, I take it, invested in stocks at the moment?
David Stockman: I wouldn't do it. I think it's a very dangerous place to be at the present time. In fact, the stock market today is almost identical to where it was in October 2007 and then there was a $7 trillion crash and before that in March 2000. In other words, the stock market today is identical to where it was 13 years ago and we've had two massive crashes in between. The middle class has been invited to come and buy stocks and get sheared like so many sheep. They've done it twice and I certainly hope they're not lured into this again because it's not sustainable because our economy really is failing. Yes, in the short run it's recovered, or recreated jobs that existed in 2005. You know, the number of jobs today is the same as it was in 2005.RELATED CONTENT: Paul Krugman on Debt, but Are Soaring Interest Rates Running Against Him?
Paul Solman: I had a very knowledgeable esteemed friend who teaches economics. He thinks the stock market is going to go down to, well, I think he thinks to around 1,500 on the Dow. Will it go that low?
David Stockman: I don't think it even matters because if the stock market does go through a crisis of confidence, which I think clearly will happen one of these days, no one can predict just like you couldn't the dot com crash or the Lehman crash, but when it goes down it will go down by thousands of points because everyone will panic. No one owns this market today because they believe there's a huge sunny future for the United States economy. They're buying because they think the Fed can keep the thing pumped up, the bubble expanding.
Paul Solman: By keeping credit cheap.
David Stockman: Yeah, but 0 percent interest rates is crazy. It's lunacy. The Fed put the overnight rate at zero in December '08. You know what that does? It doesn't help Main Street. Main Street has too much debt already. It is simply a bonanza for speculators who can borrow the overnight money and then buy something that they can speculate on.
Paul Solman: But, interest rates are by historical standards impossibly low all over the world. It's not just the Fed. Switzerland is borrowing money for 10 years and paying 0.5 percent. Japan 0.6 percent and they have a huge amount of government debt as a percentage of their economy. Germany 1.2 percent or something like that. The United States 1.7 percent to borrow for 10 years and we have inflation that's as high as that, a little higher even. (Note: This interview took place on April 29.)
David Stockman: I think you've recited the monologue that comes from the land of the bubble blind. Every central bank in the world is doing the same thing. The rate of expansion of balance sheets is unprecedented, off the charts. No one even dreamed of doing it 15 years ago. So, Japan is a massive bubble, has been for 20 years. Their bank has driven the interest rate down to zero because they're buying everything in sight. The same is true with the (European Central Bank). The Bank of England is a disgrace.
Paul Solman: But if a bubble has been in existence for 20 years how can you know when it's a bubble? It could go on forever. Keynes said "in the long run we're all dead." I'll be dead by the time the Japanese bubble bursts.
David Stockman: There was a massive bubble in Japan. Half the real estate value in the world in 1989 was in Japan. It crashed. Real estate in Japan has been declining ever since. It's one of the great deformations, malinvestments, that's ever occurred in world history. The stock market in Japan was half the world market and where has the Japan economy gone since the 1990s? Nowhere. They've been struggling for two decades in the aftermath of a massive bubble that's collapsed. They've tried to work their way out of it by printing even more money and it hasn't worked. Now, I'm saying this is what all the central banks are doing. There is no honest interest rate in the world today.
Paul Solman: But how can anybody lend to them unless there's arguably too much capital, too much money in the world with no particularly good place to invest?
David Stockman: The problem is that you're creating a system of bubble finance where interest rates are so low that people can speculate. An asset value goes up. You put it up as collateral. You borrow against it. You buy more of the asset. You then take the rising asset. You borrow against it again. This is the nature of what's going on in the world. This isn't an excess of real savings. This is an excess of artificial credit that's being fueled by all the central banks.
Paul Solman: So, your solution to this is to impose discipline by pegging the currency to how much gold you have, right?
David Stockman: Well, my solution before that is to say let's have honest interest rates. Let's let the free market set interest rates in that zone where supply of savings is matched up with demand for real borrowing for capital projects. And if you freed the interest rate, which is what Carter Glass wanted to do in 1914 when the Fed was created, he never intended that the Fed would set interest rates and anybody who denies the Fed is setting interest rates is bubble blind. They can't see what they're doing. But, if you let interest rates be freed, be set by the free market, they would rise dramatically. There would be a lot of broken furniture on Wall Street. It needs to be broken. The back of the speculative bubble would be broken and we could slowly heal the financial system. That's what I think we need to do but it's never going to happen because there's trillions of asset values dependent on the Fed continuing to suppress, repress interest rates and shovel $85 billion a month of liquidity into the market.RELATED CONTENT: What Are the Risks of Low Interest Rates?
Paul Solman: Then, why isn't there rampant inflation all over the world? Why is inflation below 2 percent in this country?
David Stockman: Because, you're in a race to the bottom by all the central banks in the world that are expanding their balance sheets at rates that have never been seen before. This money is not leaving the financial markets. All of the liquidity the Fed has pumped in, this balance sheet has gone from $800 billion to $3.2 trillion in just a few years, all of that liquidity is just circulating through the canyons of Wall Street. A lot of it comes back as excess reserves in the banking system which gets deposited at the Fed. It doesn't go into credit on Main Street because Main Street is already saturated with debt. But, it does suppress interest rates and it makes gambling highly rewarding. When you put interest rates at zero, you'll buy anything that's going up and fund it with zero cost money. You will buy anything with a yield and fund it 98 percent, $0.98 on the dollar with zero cost money. So what this is, is a gambler's dream. The 1 percent are just laughing all the way to the bank
Paul Solman: So, what happens now? What's going to happen now?
David Stockman: I think we're so addicted to bubble finance at the Fed that they can't get out of the corner they painted themselves into. I think the Fed is making federal debt so cheap that Congress has no interest, Washington has no incentive to ever face up to our massive fiscal gap that is going to grow, and grow as we go forward in time and so we have a paralyzed system. Bernanke is making it up by the day. He has no clue how he got where he is or how he's going to get out of the massive balance sheet expansion that's already happened.
Paul Solman: But he says that if, for example, inflation takes off what he'll do is raise the interest rate, right now it's only 0.25 percent, that he's paying to banks to redeposit their excess reserves with him. He'll raise that to 0.75 percent and so money that starts to circulate will come back to the Fed just as most of the money he's created so far is at the Fed at this very moment.
David Stockman: But that supposes that the problem is goods and services inflation or labor inflation. I don't believe that is the problem. I believe the problem is speculation. I believe he keeps the interest rate at 0 percent because he doesn't see any CPI which, again, is a little distorted. Real inflation is higher than CPI.
Paul Solman: CPI is the Consumer Price Index. It's a measure of inflation.
David Stockman: Right, right. As long as he doesn't see any consumer price inflation that you're not going to have in a world where people are still coming out of the rice patties to take a job at $0.70 an hour, then he's going to keep the interest rates artificially low, totally medicated and rigged, and that will encourage speculators to just keep going, and going, and going until the next bubble. He's making bubbles and he doesn't know it. He's already made two bubbles and he doesn't have a clue. He didn't see subprime. He didn't see the housing bubble. He didn't see the economy about ready to crater under the credit bubble in '07 and '08. He's seen nothing. He's been wrong ever since he's been in public office and yet you have this confidence that somehow they can get out of this corner that they're in. I think it's not even likely.
Paul Solman: How soon do you think this collapse is going to come? I know nobody can time these things but what's your guess?
David Stockman: Well, a lot of people said in 1999, "Yeah, maybe there's a little bit of froth out there." But, you don't understand this time is different and then within three months, devastating collapse. Remember they called it the "Goldilocks Economy" in late 2007/2008? You had the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors saying, "No recession in sight anywhere," in June. Okay, so no one sees it coming until suddenly there is an event, a black swan, something unexpected or unpredicted that tells everybody that the emperor is naked. You know who is naked? The Fed. They're running a con game. This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown -- NewsHour's blog of news and insight.
JEFFREY BROWN: The word came from the Secret Service today another suspicious letter has been intercepted at the White House mail screening facility. It's undergoing testing. The letter is similar to two others sent from Louisiana to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and to his group advocating gun control. Those have tested positive initially for ricin.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly discussed the situation today.
POLICE COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY, New York City: I believe that there are three letters. The letters, I also believe are the same. They are not -- they are addressed on the front of the envelope, but not in the letter itself.
In the letter, it says "you" and then it starts off with the narrative. So, I don't want to republish the letters. That would be doing the bidding of the individual who sent this letter. But the letter in essence complains about gun control and says that, anyone who comes for my guns will be shot in the face.
JEFFREY BROWN: And for the latest on the investigation, we turn to Jeff Mason. He covers the White House for Reuters.
JEFF MASON, Reuters: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: A lot is not known at this point, but what can we say about the new letters, starting with where they came from?
JEFF MASON, Reuters: Well, the Secret Service is actually not saying where they came from.
But they did say that they looked out for letters after these ones that were sent to Mayor Bloomberg, and intercepted this particular letter at that mail service facility. So, they were ready for it. They didn't open it, but when they saw that it had similar aspects to the ones that were sent to Bloomberg and to his group, they stopped it. They grabbed it. And they turned it over to the FBI.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, as far as we know, when they say similar, that is in terms of what, language?
JEFF MASON: Probably in terms of postage and signs from the envelope and from where it came. They said that it was not opened at that facility, which is different from what happened to those letters that were sent to Bloomberg, where there may have been some exposure.
JEFFREY BROWN: In terms of the letters to Mayor Bloomberg, we heard Police Chief Kelly talk about a specific tie to guns.
JEFF MASON: Correct.
And the president has, obviously, been out in front on gun control as well. Although not everything he has wanted on gun control has happened, he's been very, very vocal in favor of stricter gun control measures, as has the mayor of New York.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, how does this work, this facility? Where is it? How much -- who is looking for things?
JEFF MASON: Well, there is a lot of mail that goes to the president every year. More than a million of packages and letters come in through a facility in Washington, D.C.
So, there are people who look through that mail or divide it and make sure it goes to the right place every day. And they have a screening process. And, in this case, as I said before, the Secret Service was watching out for something after this news broke about the mail in New York.
JEFFREY BROWN: This is deliberately away from the White House, right? There's a history here.
JEFF MASON: It is indeed. And it's important to note that this letter never made it to the president, just like the previous time when this happened several weeks ago. The letter never made it as far as the White House itself or to the president.
There is a reason why there is a screening facility, and this is one of them.
JEFFREY BROWN: The -- what can we say about ricin itself? Remind us a little bit about what it is, how it works.
JEFF MASON: Sure. It's very dangerous. It can be lethal within 36 to 72 hours.
It comes naturally -- or appears naturally in the castor bean and needs to be -- there needs to be a deliberative action to make it into poison or into a biological weapon. So that would have had to have been done in this particular case.
JEFFREY BROWN: And how lethal? How much does it take?
JEFF MASON: Not much. It can be really just the amount of a pin point to be lethal and to be lethal very quickly.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, last -- when we were referring to the other letter that came, was sent to the president, that was only last month.
JEFF MASON: Right. Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: In that case, somebody was arrested.
JEFF MASON: Somebody was arrested from Mississippi.
And in this case, the letters to New York were from -- or to Bloomberg were from Louisiana. They will certainly be looking to find who sent these.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, is there any -- I guess one could think there might be a copycat situation going on here.
JEFF MASON: Could be a copycat situation. I spoke to the Secret Service today and they said it's too early soon to say whether there is a connection between those letters and the letter that was found here, but it's certainly something they will looking at closely.
JEFFREY BROWN: There was also this month a man charged with sending a ricin-laced letter to a federal judge in Washington State. Right?
JEFF MASON: Right. So it is happening.
Also important to notice, though, or to note that authorities do say often when letter comes that say they have anthrax or ricin in them, frequently, it ends up being baking soda or something that is harmless. But that doesn't mean it's not something to be taken very, very seriously.
And in the case of the letter that were sent to Bloomberg, they said that there was a substance within them that had sort of a blue or orangish hue and that's what led them to be suspicious.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, do we know what happens next or when we learn more?
JEFF MASON: Yes, we don't know when we will learn more. We do know, however, that the FBI and the Secret Service, through the FBI joint terrorism task force, is investigating. So they will be looking into this very closely, and hopefully giving us details once they have them.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Jeff Mason of Reuters, thanks so much.
JEFF MASON: My pleasure.
KWAME HOLMAN: There was no break in the bloodshed in Iraq today. At least 33 people were killed in Baghdad, amid a surge of sectarian violence.
It's a scene that's becoming all too familiar again in Iraq: street crews cleaning up the carnage left by bombs.
MAN: We were sitting inside our shops when we heard a bang. We don't know what happened, but people are saying the car went off as it was moving.
KWAME HOLMAN: Most of today's attacks were car bombings that targeted Shiite sections of Baghdad and hardly any part of the Iraqi capital was spared. A car bombing also hit a mostly Sunni section of the city. A day earlier, 30 Iraqis died in bomb blasts in two other Baghdad neighborhoods.
MAN: Bombs went off here, one here and the other one there. Many people were hurt. Why? What is our guilt?
KWAME HOLMAN: Indeed, Iraq is facing its worst outbreak of violence since U.S. forces withdrew in December 2011. More than 500 people have been killed in May, and more than 700 died in April, the deadliest month since 2008.
The violence surged in April after security forces of Iraq's Shiite-led government raided a Sunni protest camp north of Baghdad, killing 20. Sunni militants and al-Qaida's Iraqi wing responded, and the killing scarcely has paused since then.
But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed this week that perpetrators of the violence will be hunted down, no matter who they are.
PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraq: We will chase all kinds of outlawed militias and gangs that want to instigate a wave of sectarian conflict and violence, which, as far as we are concerned, constitute a red line.
KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the tough talk, Iraq's foreign minister acknowledges there's real danger of returning to the dark days of a few years ago.
FOREIGN MINISTER HOSHYAR ZEBARI, Iraq: It's the government's responsibilities to redouble its efforts, to devise its security plans to contain this wave to prevent that from sliding into sectarian conflict or war, as I and you witnessed in 2006, 2007.
KWAME HOLMAN: Iraqis also fear the example of neighboring Syria, where sectarian divisions are helping to fuel a civil war.
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad raised new fears today, saying his government has received new weapons from Russia. He didn't say if they include advanced air defense missiles. Such weapons could threaten any attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. Assad spoke to a Lebanese TV station that's owned by Hezbollah, the militia that is now aiding his military.
PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, Syria: The contracts with Russia are not connected to the crisis. We have been negotiating with them on different types of weapons for years. Russia and Syria are committed to implementing the contracts. And all that we have agreed upon with Russia will be implemented. Some of it was implemented previously, and we and the Russians are still continuing to implement the contracts.
KWAME HOLMAN: Also today, Syrian rebels urgently appealed for military and humanitarian aid in the town of Qusayr. Government forces now control most of the strategic town near the Lebanese border after a 12-day battle. The rebels say hundreds of wounded are trapped there and might die unless they get help.
Taliban militants in Pakistan have withdrawn an offer to hold peace talks with the country's government. The announcement today came a day after the group's number two commander, Wali-ur Rehman, as reported killed in a U.S. drone strike. The Taliban confirmed his death today. A spokesman said the Pakistani government has condoned the drone attacks, so there can be no peace negotiations.
In economic news, the Obama administration announced it's extending its main foreclosure-prevention program known as “HAMP” for two more years, through 2015. So far, the program has helped just more than one million homeowners rework their loan terms. The administration initially estimated three to four times that number would benefit.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 21 points to close at 15,324. The Nasdaq rose more than 23 points to close at 3,491.
The outspoken priest and author Rev. Andrew Greeley died last night at his home in Chicago. Over decades, Greeley was widely quoted and interviewed on matters concerning the Catholic Church. He openly criticized the church's failure to prevent and punish child sex abuse involving priests. He also voiced frustration with the primacy of the Vatican, as in this 1995 interview with the NewsHour.
REV. ANDREW GREELEY, Priest/ Author, "The Making of the Popes 1978": And I don't approve of the authoritarianism or the centralization of the Vatican. I think that's a deplorable practice, and it's hurting the church. The church does change its moral teachings as it understands the human condition better. I think most people, most ordinary folks out in the parishes are Catholics because they like being Catholic. They like the stories; they like the imagery; they like the ceremonies; they like the rituals; and particularly they like the parish community.
That's what holds them in, and that's why they're not going to give it up.
KWAME HOLMAN: Greeley authored more than 50 bestselling novels, dozens of nonfiction works, and a weekly column for the Chicago Sun-Times. He was 85 years old.
Those are some of the day's major stories -- now back to Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn back to Washington and examine the man President Obama is expected to choose as the new FBI director and what he will face leading the agency.
James Comey would come to the FBI with a Republican resume and a history of taking positions that won him Democratic support. Between 2003 and 2005, Comey served as deputy attorney general in the Bush administration. In 2004, while his boss, John Ashcroft, was ill, Comey refused to reauthorize the administration's program of warrantless wiretapping.
That led to a confrontation with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales at Ashcroft's hospital bedside. Comey recounted the incident at a Senate hearing in 2007.
JAMES COMEY, Former Deputy Attorney General: I was angry. I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general, because they had been transferred to me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A year later, Comey tried, unsuccessfully, to limit water-boarding and other enhanced interrogation methods used on terror suspects.
Since leaving the Justice Department, he's served as a corporate attorney, first at Lockheed Martin and later at the hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates. Those ties to business may raise questions for some.
In a statement last night, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said: "The administration's efforts to criminally prosecute Wall Street for its part in the economic downturn have been abysmal, and his agency would have to help build the case against some of his colleagues."
Comey is also sure to face confirmation questions about how he would handle leaks of sensitive information. The Obama Justice Department is now under scrutiny for its tough tactics with journalists. Comey addressed the subject in a speech in 2007.
JAMES COMEY: Troop movements, search warrants about to be executed, the undercover identify of a covert operative with the CIA, some things can't leak. The flip side of that is, when they do leak, the government has to do something about it, has to, because we care about the rule of law.
JUDY WOODRUFF: If he is nominated and confirmed, Comey would replace the current FBI director, Robert Mueller, who assumed the agency's top spot just seven days before the Sept. 11th attacks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how would Comey be received on Capitol Hill? And what challenges lay ahead for the FBI and the beleaguered Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder?
We turn to Phil Mattingly of Bloomberg News and Michael Schmidt of The New York Times.
Welcome to you both.
Phil Mattingly, why did the president turn to Jim Comey from the Bush administration?
PHIL MATTINGLY, Bloomberg News: Well, Jim Comey kind of checks all of the boxes.
In a particularly polarized time, he's a Republican, a Bush appointee, but he's one, as we just heard, gained a lot of respect from Democrats during his role in the Bush administration. He's one that's going to get support from both sides.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Schmidt, what is it about his resume, his experience that qualifies him for this job?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, The New York Times: Well, he's pretty much done everything at the Justice Department.
He prosecuted Martha Stewart. He prosecuted terrorists. He appointed someone to look -- to do a leak investigation. He dealt with significant national security issues between 2003 and 2005. He did gun cases in Richmond, Va. So there's a wide swathe of things, and in all of them he's gotten very high accolades.
And in the sort of the culture -- sort of the temperature up on Capitol Hill, he's seen as someone who will be fairly easy or easier to get confirmed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Phil Mattingly, what about his views? We heard a little bit of that in the clip just a second ago, but his views on civil liberties, do they square with those of the Obama administration? What do we know about that?
PHIL MATTINGLY: So, it's a bit of an interesting mix.
We have already heard from the ACLU, who came out with a statement just about an hour ago, that said, look, we understand that he's viewed kind of as a white knight by Democrats for his willingness to stand up to senior Bush officials back in 2004. However, he still signed off on a number of the programs that the Bush administration used to counter terrorism.
So, it's kind of a split-the-difference-type issue. I think the important thing that you are going to see from the Obama administration, and the important pitch to Capitol Hill with his nomination is, look, on some of the most egregious of programs, as determined by the lawyers at the Justice Department, Jim Comey was willing to stand firm, to stand up to the most senior officials, and really take a stand for civil liberties, despite some of the programs he signed off on.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Schmidt, how unusual was it for the deputy attorney general to stand up to the White House counsel, the White House chief of staff?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Well, I think he was -- I think what he was doing there, he's gotten credit for, is standing up for the law, what people say, in the face of politics.
And I'm sure there have been a lot of examples of it, but I'm not sure there has ever been one where it defined someone's career as much as his. I'm not sure whether we would be talking about a nomination for him today if that story had not come out. It gives him certainly a bipartisan feel that's very different than certainly the other person who was considered for the job, Lisa Monaco, who works at the White House, and pretty much anybody else.
So, there's something kind of different about him that distinguishes him here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should say the president -- there has not been an announcement. This has been -- it's out there in the media. It's expected, but we don't know for sure.
I want to ask you both about what is going on right now at the Justice Department.
Phil Mattingly, you had -- today, the attorney general, Eric Holder, reached out to news organizations. This is in the middle of a lot of controversy about how aggressive the Justice Department has been in going after reporters in investigating government leaks, classified information.
Why did they want -- why do they want these meetings today with news organization executives?
PHIL MATTINGLY: This is Attorney General Holder, and this is actually at the request the President Obama.
This is his effort to reach out. I think people familiar with this within the Justice Department are saying, there has been a sense at DOJ, in the attorney general's front office that maybe on these leak investigations, there might have been some overreach.
There are at least some issues that they wish would have gone a little bit different or at least appeared a little different. He's reaching out in an effort to draw -- to start at least a dialogue for this review ordered by President Obama.
Now, the media organization reaction to that I think has been mixed. The Justice Department wants these meetings to be off the record. Several media organizations, I think eight up to this point, have said, if it's not on the record, we don't want to do it. So, I think what you saw -- what you're seeing right now is the Justice Department reaching out and maybe not getting the response that they wanted, but at least it's a start to a process.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Michael Schmidt, we know that the editor of The New York Times, we're reading today, Jill Abramson, said The New York Times would not participate in a meeting they were invited to.
What do we know about any meeting that happened today?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: All we really know is that the meeting is going on or was going on this after afternoon.
And, beyond that, nothing else has really come out. And, you know, we're sort of waiting, like everyone else.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Why -- is there a sense, Michael Schmidt, that the -- that Justice, that officials at Justice, whether it's the attorney general or people around him -- and, for that matter, the White House -- are now regretting happened with these episodes, going after the AP, going after a reporter at FOX News?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Yes, I mean, it certainly -- I don't think you would have seen what was going to go on today in that type of meeting if these things hadn't come out.
So there's certainly an effort to reach out and to try and sort of assuage some of the fears about what's going on. Now, will that have any impact or how seriously that will be taken I think remains to be seen. It seems to be sort of mixed at best so far.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Phil Mattingly, why -- what is the sense of why the attorney general has managed to engender some really tough criticism that has been aimed in his direction, not just from Republicans, who have been critical of him from the beginning of the administration, but now the news media and even some Democrats very critical of him?
PHIL MATTINGLY: Well, look, as you know, throughout his four-and-a-half years as attorney general, he's gotten a lot of pressure from Capitol Hill, almost entirely from Republicans, on a number of different issues.
What makes -- what differentiates what is going on right now is you have got Democrats, you have got some liberal commentators who are coming out and really kind of not only questioning his role in these leak investigations, but actually asking for him to step down or asking for him to at least consider that process.
I think what you're seeing out of his office right now and what you're seeing out of the Justice Department, why they're reaching out, why they're involved in this review, is they're understanding, they're grasping kind of the enormity of what has occurred here. And I think they're trying to address it before it snowballs into a bigger issue. JUDY WOODRUFF: What's your sense, Michael Schmidt, of how the attorney general has managed to draw so much attention, and a lot of it not positive?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Well, he seems to get the most criticism out of all of the Cabinet secretaries, and it seems to happen every few months and certainly several times a year, where there's something like this that blows up.
So it makes you wonder what he's doing and why he's not maybe being proactive enough to have -- you know, to try and knock some of these things down, because certainly the other secretaries deal with controversial things like this, and probably the attorney general is one of the most controversial, but he doesn't seem to be able to fend it off the way that the others do.
Maybe he's too aloof or -- you know, I'm not sure. But I was talking to one senior government official today who said that, early on, in Fast and Furious, there was -- he had a lot of trouble sort of pushing back on that, and that allowed it to snowball and to become this sort of Republican issue that they have used against Holder and the White House.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Quickly, finally, Phil Mattingly, connection between the difficulties Holder's having and the choice of Comey?
PHIL MATTINGLY: I don't -- I think this decision was made really before all of this stuff blew up, is my understanding from talking to government officials.
I think the idea the timing of it doesn't hurt. And certainly going after a bipartisan pick like this, if nothing else, it shifts the narrative for a day or two. And, certainly, when Jim Comey is on the Hill representing the administration as a nominee, whenever that does occur, I think that looks better for the administration than having Eric Holder trying to fend off issues about leak investigations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. And, again, we want to stress there has not been a nomination yet. We're -- but -- but a lot of news reports that point in that direction.
Phil Mattingly, Michael Schmidt, we thank you both.
JEFFREY BROWN: And now the first in an occasional series of stories about long-term care.
With baby boomers aging and living longer, more people will need it. But new research has shown most Americans have done little or nothing to plan for these situations that can carry a heavy emotional and economic toll.
We're calling our series “Taking Care.”
Ray Suarez kicks it off with the story of one family's struggle with a debilitating disease.
REBECCA WYANT, Caregiver: This is my mother, Mary Elizabeth Wyant. She is 74 years old and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the age of 65. She is a retired professional artist and a former professor at the University of Arizona.
My name is Rebecca Wyant. And I'm her youngest daughter and her primary caregiver and guardian.
RAY SUAREZ: It's been nine years since Mary Wyant was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's. In 2006, she moved in with her daughter, making Rebecca part of a growing population of Americans, now nearly one in five adults, who provide unpaid care for family members over the age of 50.
Rebecca says her mother used to be a fun-loving and vibrant artist who was always at the center of attention.
REBECCA WYANT: Very creative, very outgoing, very gregarious, very much a social butterfly, just really liked to be around people. And she could take nothing and create something magnificent from that, so very smart. But more, I think, anything, it was just her energy and her social skills and her ability to engage with people, with anybody.
RAY SUAREZ: Today, that Mary still comes out from time to time, but often it's seen only in short spurts and can be followed by rapid mood swings, incoherent outbursts and blank stares.
Mary exhibits all the symptoms of what the Alzheimer's Association has called the defining disease of baby boomers, with 10 million in that age group expected to develop this form of dementia in the coming years.
Jeanette Wendt is Mary's neurologist.
DR. JEANETTE WENDT, Neurologist: She has very severe language difficulties and has very severe memory problems and really has the inability to take care of herself in almost all aspects.
RAY SUAREZ: Moving to Tucson was a homecoming of sorts for Mary, who had raised her daughters there, but had been living in Central America with her second husband. When the marriage fell apart, Rebecca became Mary's legal guardian and her primary caregiver.
Rebecca, who is 48 years old and unmarried, is now on call from the moment Mary wakes up every morning, getting her mother out of bed and dressed, and then helping to brush her teeth, combing her hair and figuring out new strategies for medication.
REBECCA WYANT: You're going to choke on them. Here.
RAY SUAREZ: It can be stressful and difficult.
REBECCA WYANT: It's a 115-pound 2-year-old who is not potty-trained.
RAY SUAREZ: Even awkward at times in public.
REBECCA WYANT: People still when they talk to her speak in a very loud voice, because they think people with Alzheimer's can't hear. Or they speak very slowly. And I try and explain to them she's not understanding what you are saying, so you don't have to worry about that. I mean, just speak in your normal voice and just go with the flow.
But it's very uncomfortable for a lot of people, because they don't understand the disease. And the problem is, for every single person with Alzheimer's, it's totally different.
RAY SUAREZ: But Rebecca says people need to understand that her family's situation, all of it, is normal, and not without its special moments.
REBECCA WYANT: Every now and then, she will -- I don't know what sparks in her mind, but she will just say -- she will say, "Oh," and she will turn and she will look at me and she has something to say to me. You can just see it in her face, and then it's gone. But, for that moment, you just know, I know she's still in there. So when she manages to let a little bit of that out, it's wonderful.
RAY SUAREZ: Rebecca owns a self-serve dog wash and retail business, and brings Mary to work, where she will stay until the shop closes in the evening. It's round-the-clock care that Rebecca says she was willing to take on for one simple reason.
REBECCA WYANT: Nobody can take care of my mother the way I can. Nobody understands my mother the way I do. And someone can take care of her and provide sustenance, but no one can take care of my mother the way I can.
RAY SUAREZ: And the experiences of the Wyant family will likely be shared by millions in the coming decades. The number of Americans 65 and older is expected to more than double in the next 40 years, due in large part to aging baby boomers.
The government estimates 70 percent of those over the age of 65 will need some form of long-term care. But a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center found nearly two-thirds of Americans over the age of 40 have done little or no planning for their potential long-term care needs, such as setting aside money or talking with family members about how they want to be cared for.
That survey was funded by the SCAN Foundation, which is a NewsHour underwriter.
Again, Dr. Jeanette Wendt:
JEANETTE WENDT: The vast majority have not thought about it and have not made plans. Even if they have an inkling or they even in their heart know that's what's going on, one, they don't want to address it with the person who has the problem.
RAY SUAREZ: And until it became clear Mary would need long-term care, the Wyants hadn't discussed the subject either.
REBECCA WYANT: There was really no long-term planning. It was just like, right now, what do we have to do? Right now, someone's got to be her guardian, because I have got to have the ability to make decisions for her on any level. And we didn't want to wait until it got so bad.
RAY SUAREZ: The issues around aging are easy to ignore and often difficult to talk about and address, but communities around the country, including Tucson, have long had federally funded programs that are supposed to help people like the Wyants.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Older Americans Act, which provided for the creation of a national network of agencies on aging to support community social services for older people.
Tucson's Pima Council on Aging is one, with caregiver specialists like Suzy Bourque.
SUZY BOURQUE, Pima Council on Aging: Often, people will come in for a parent, but then they will think, OK, this tells me, I need to do my own powers of attorney. I need to think about how I'm going to pay for long-term care. So, I think most people, they need to think about the fact that whatever care they may develop a need for is going to be very costly.
RAY SUAREZ: Bourque also connects caregivers to experts and services, and Rebecca has contacted the agency several times with basic questions. But like many organizations dealing with budget cuts, this one has to do what it can with less. It's had to cut back on how many people it serves.
SUZY BOURQUE: The population of the, you know, over 60 in Tucson has greatly increased. So we're not meeting the need even as well as we did 20 years ago.
RAY SUAREZ: That means caregivers like Rebecca Wyant often must navigate a complicated and opaque health care system practically alone.
Rebecca had been paying for Mary's care with her own earnings and with her mother's assets. But when Mary's money was gone, she qualified for financial assistance through Arizona's Long Term Care program, but the enrollment process took several years. Now the state pays Rebecca for some of the time she spends looking after her mother, 14 hours each week, or roughly $500 dollars a month. It's a small amount, but money Rebecca says she is immensely grateful for.
REBECCA WYANT: I'm not being paid by someone else. I don't have a paycheck that I bring home every two weeks. I don't have benefits that I receive from an employer. If the business makes some money, that doesn't necessarily come to me. It goes back into the business, so any little bit helps.
RAY SUAREZ: But long-term care doesn't just exhaust financial resources. Dr. Wendt is concerned that, like many full-time caregivers, Rebecca may be putting her own health at risk.
JEANETTE WENDT: She's a great caregiver, but I think she is at great risk of burnout, because you never know what they are going to do in the middle of the night. You never know if they are going to get up and try to leave the house or turn the stove on and try to make something, or burn the house down. I mean, it's really always on edge. And so it's extremely stressful.
RAY SUAREZ: Rebecca, as a small business owner, has been unable to find affordable health insurance that could help her manage the physical and emotional toll.
And she says she also doesn't have the money to put her mother into a long-term care facility she would be comfortable with. Even so, she's happy to still have Mary at home.
REBECCA WYANT: It's not always perfect, but she's my mother. And so that's the way you have to look at this disease. You can't dwell on what was or what might be. It's what it is today. And so she's alive. She's functioning. She's getting up. She's moving around. She has happy moments and not-so-happy moments, but it's not a sad situation.
RAY SUAREZ: Rebecca plans to take care of Mary for as long as she possibly can, even if she has to sell her business to do it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Online, you can see how Alzheimer's has affected Mary Wyant's artwork. We have a multimedia slide show from the painter. And how do you recognize the early warning signs of Alzheimer's? We have more information on our Health page.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: A Chinese company made the biggest play yet for a U.S. company in a bid for Virginia's Smithfield Foods.
China's appetite for pork keeps growing and growing. It's now the largest market for pork products in the world.
WOMAN: When I was young, my family could only afford to have pork once or twice a year. We were poor, and our clothes were covered with patches.
JUDY WOODRUFF: With increasing prosperity and more consumption of luxury goods across China, meat consumption has quadrupled over the past 30 years. Now China's largest meat processor Shuanghui, known as Shineway in the Western world, has turned to the world's largest pork producer.
NARRATOR: Smithfield Pouch Pack, a new way to love bacon.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Shineway is offering to buy Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion dollars. Smithfield is headquartered in Smithfield, Va., right outside Norfolk. It's been a family-owned company since 1936 and some Smithfield workers said yesterday they want to keep it that way.
Curtis Bond appealed to CEO C. Larry Pope.
CURTIS BOND, Smithfield Employee: We work hard. We helped build this country -- I mean, the company from the ground up. A long time ago, before my generation, there were other generations that help build this. So, I hope that he would think about it a little more and give it some thought.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Locals in Smithfield also expressed worry about losing jobs if the company is sold.
MAN: You know how it goes with mergers. Then, soon, there will be layoffs. Then they will be moving the foundation or moving the headquarters.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Smithfield CEO Pope says, if anything, the deal will create jobs, and he dismisses any fears of Chinese meat flooding the U.S.
C. LARRY POPE, CEO, Smithfield Foods: There is no plan to move China-produced pork to the United States. That wouldn't make any sense. That's sort of like exporting ice to the Eskimos. It's a dumb idea.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It's not a done deal. Smithfield says rival bids may still come from companies in Brazil and Thailand.
For more on what this deal might mean both here and in China, we turn to two economists who follow these matters.
Steve Meyer is president of Paragon Economics, an agricultural markets analysis firm. He formerly served as director of economics for the National Pork Producers Council. And Thilo Hanemann, he tracks Chinese global investment at the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm.
Welcome to you both.
Thilo Hanemann, to you first. Why would the Chinese be interested in Smithfield?
THILO HANEMANN, Rhodium Group: Right.
The Smithfield-Shuanghui transaction is actually quite representative for a common motive that we see for Chinese acquisitions in U.S., which is not primarily to expand into the U.S. market, but becoming more competitive in the fast-growing home market. So, as the clip has shown, pork consumption is still growing at very fast rates back in China, but there are tremendous problems with the food safety there.
So, by acquiring a company in the U.S., Shuanghui hopes to tap into the quality control expertise of that company, transferring some of that expertise back to its Chinese infrastructure, and at the same time using an American household brand name to cater to domestic Chinese consumers.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Steve Meyer, right now, what portion of the world meat market, pork market does Smithfield have?
STEVE MEYER, President, Paragon Economics: Well, Smithfield Foods is the largest producer in the world of pork -- for hogs and pork.
They have a market share on the processing side somewhere around 24 or 25 percent in the United States. They have about 16 percent of the U.S. breeding herd. But we need to remember that the U.S. pig industry, though large and important, is a fraction of what is in China. They have 10 times as many pigs as we have, in China.
So it's a very large market already. It's growing because of those income factors that you have cited earlier. And people there love pork. As so, as they get more money, they're going to improve their diets and add more meat protein to those diets.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a role -- in listening to this, before we get much further on the question of meat and pork, I want to come back to you, Thilo Hanemann. Does the Chinese government play a role in all of this? How do you see that?
THILO HANEMANN: Well, people always have that understanding that Chinese outgoing investment is all government-directed and part of a grander strategy.
But I think the truth is actually quite the opposite, that restrictions on the government side are a major factor why we're only seeing this investment happening now, and not earlier, because the Chinese government has -- had imposed very strict controls on the outflow of capital, and only recently, the regime of capital outflows has been reformed somewhat.
So, I think they're playing a more supportive role in retracting from that field and letting Chinese companies do those global deals. So, I think, in that specific deal, the influence of the government is fairly low.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, this company -- this is a company that seems to be moving because it thinks it's -- it thinks it's a good move.
Steve Meyer, what does this bring to Shuanghui, the Chinese company, if it were able to be able to pull off this merger?
STEVE MEYER: Well, I think, to support what Thilo said a while ago, this is an issue of them accessing a consistent supply.
The United States' pork production doesn't change a lot from year to year. We have been on a steady uptrend for many, many years, so, a consistent supply of high-quality, wholesome products. China has had trouble with their supply chain in the past. They have some endemic disease problems that at times have caused large death losses among pigs there and shorted the market there of pork products.
So, I think the big thing is access to this supply. It's access to professionalism and expertise of the Smithfield Foods staff and management.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And from the perspective -- from the American perspective, staying with you, Steve Meyer, what should the concerns be? We heard the workers at Smithfield saying they're worried about their jobs. We know, today, we talked to other folks in the meat -- or the veterinary medicine field who say there are concerns about safety down the road, especially if the company were to take all the processing to China.
STEVE MEYER: Well, I mean, that's -- I guess that's always a possibility.
At this point, I think you have to take them at their word that they're not going to make any big changes. This is a successful company. There's not a lot of reasons to start toying with this thing. Some of the fears that have been expressed are some things about food safety -- which Larry Pope is right -- this is not going to be something where we import Chinese product.
We have a competitive advantage over China. They're going to take our product to their market, not bring it here. So, I don't think food safety is an issue. It doesn't change the structural characteristics of the U.S. pork production or processing sectors. It doesn't change the amount of vertical integration that's here.
I don't see a negative of this for the U.S. pork industry. As a matter of fact, I think it is a positive because I think it will help grow our exports China and provide opportunities not only for Smithfield, but for other producers and other processors in the United States to increase their production. And in doing so, that increased production should keep our domestic prices at some competitive equilibrium, like they have been in the past.
We might have been short-term price increases, but I don't see anything long-term, as long as our producers are allowed to respond to market signals.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thilo Hanemann, how would China look at some of these same questions, these concerns we're hearing from -- from folks in the U.S., whether they're worried about jobs, whether they're worried about food safety, market share, and so forth?
THILO HANEMANN: Right.
I very much support what Steve just said. I think, if you look at the deal and its commercial logic, what the Chinese company is really interested in is the local supply chain the local expertise and the made-in-the-U.S. brand.
So, it would be very foolish for them to sell the local operations or even bring some of the processing back to China. It will certainly bring some of the expertise back and ask the management team and the experienced staff that they have to streamline some of the domestic value chains and distribution channels.
But I think, overall, the Chinese company and certainly also the Chinese government will see this as a positive contribution to domestic food security and efficiency.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Meyer, what about just the idea that such a big part of the American meat/pork business could be foreign-owned?
STEVE MEYER: Well, that's something that Americans, you know, we have to decide how -- our comfort level with that.
It is not the first time this has happened. I remember, in the '70s and '80s, the Japanese, we feared that they were going to buy the whole country. They own Pebble Beach. My goodness, that's a serious deal.
Before that, it was the Arab countries. And so I don't know if it's going to last a long time. But we do have to be comfortable with that. And while there's a committee that will review this, I don't see any national security issues. There's been concerns raised about food security.
Well, if we exported all the pork that Smithfield produces and processes, as long as we can respond to the market, we will grow more. And we have plenty of food in the United States. We can argue about distribution sometimes, but, still, I don't think there's a real issue there that merits a lot of hand-wringing on our part, even though, at some point, we have to be concerned about foreign ownership. I don't think we're nearly at that point, in my mind, at this point.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Among other things, it's interesting. As Americans are eating less pork, the Chinese are eating more.
Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us, Steve Meyer, Thilo Hanemann.
JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: a tale of two brothers, immigrants to the U.S. who came from India in the 1970s, doctors who've had great success and impacts in different worlds of medicine.
Their story is told in the new book "Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and the American Dream." It's a double memoir by Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra. Older brother Deepak is the bestselling author and authority on Eastern medicine. Younger brother Sanjiv is a professor at the Harvard Medical School and himself author of five books.
I sat down with them recently.
Welcome to both of you.
DEEPAK CHOPRA, Co-Author, "Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and the American Dream": Thank you.
SANJIV CHOPRA, Co-Author, "Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and the American Dream": Thank you very much.
JEFFREY BROWN: A key character clearly in your lives, obviously, and the link to a lot of what you did is your father, a physician himself, deeply involved, thoughtful man. Tell me -- tell us about him and what he meant.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: It's very clear that he was the most important influence in both our lives, not that our mother wasn't. She was a great storyteller.
But he was an amazing, skilled cardiologist and physician. He trained at a time when the EKG was just coming, in the 1940s in England, with people who had actually invented the EKG machine. He could listen to the heart and tell the exact interval, which we call the P.R. interval -- that's the electrical -- and to the microseconds the difference between the auricle and the ventricle of beats. He was that good.
He was an amazing diagnostician, too, but he was compassionate, he was empathetic, storyteller, just a renaissance man.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the two of you clearly followed in his footsteps in studying medicine. But I was wondering about the other side of the -- the troops -- sometimes, there's a flip side of a father-son relationship, of a rebellion against the father.
Was that there that as well?
SANJIV CHOPRA: I think Deepak did.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes.
SANJIV CHOPRA: He didn't want to be a doctor. Initially, he wanted to be a journalist. But I will let him tell that part of the story.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is that right?
DEEPAK CHOPRA: Yes, he wanted both of us to go into the medical profession, and I didn't want to.
So, I wanted to be a writer, fiction, mostly. And on my 14th birthday, he gifted me a few novels by great people like Sinclair Lewis and Somerset Maugham. And all the protagonists in all the novels were physicians.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: So, I went to, I think I want to be a doctor.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, there was a message there.
SANJIV CHOPRA: Oh, yes, a subliminal message there. He planted the seed.
JEFFREY BROWN: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
And your experience was a bit more straightforward?
SANJIV CHOPRA: My experience was more straightforward.
And when I was 12 years of age, and we were studying in high school at Saint Columba's High School in Delhi, I turned blind one day.
JEFFREY BROWN: You write about this, yes.
SANJIV CHOPRA: Yes, I write about that.
And I said, Deepak, Deepak, I can't see. And he started crying. I have one brother, and he's turned blind.
They took me to the military hospital in Delhi. The doctors didn't have the foggiest idea as to what was going on, even thought of hysterical blindness. And our father 300 miles away made the diagnosis by taking the history and said, Sanjiv, you have got that anti-tetanus serum. He is having a rare idiosyncratic reaction to that. Start an intravenous. Give him massive doses of corticosteroids, prednisone.
And my vision returned six hours later.
JEFFREY BROWN: And you said, this is what I'm going to do?
SANJIV CHOPRA: And I said, this is what I'm going to do.
But I was afraid to go into cardiology because I thought he was such an esteemed cardiologist. He was physician to the president of the India.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: And to Mountbatten.
SANJIV CHOPRA: And to Lord Mountbatten.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: And he was the first one to describe mountain sickness, high-altitude pulmonary hypertension.
And when the Indian soldiers were coming down with this strange sickness in the war with China, he landed a plane 22,000 feet above sea level and he was putting caps in people's heart while people were shooting each other.
JEFFREY BROWN: Fascinating chapters in your move to what you're so well-known for, a move toward ayurvedic medicine.
And you describe -- and keeping on the theme of your father -- your father considered this superstitious, folk ways, and here you are bringing to the U.S. what was in some, he -- I guess many thought of kind of backwards.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: And many still do.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: I was very selective, though.
Just because something is ancient doesn't mean it's good.
JEFFREY BROWN: Right.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: But there are certain things that have survived, and most are really in the area of how consciousness affects our biology.
So, when I would say your biology is different in different states of consciousness, people said, what kind of rule is that?
JEFFREY BROWN: Right.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: But I also trained in neuroendocrinology, where it's very clear that every emotion that you have is followed by a molecule that represents that emotion.
So, I was, of course, privy to this ancient wisdom through my own personal experiences and the experiences of my patients, but I also saw the scientific link because of my training in ...
JEFFREY BROWN: What kind of tensions did this bring about with you or -- and your father?
SANJIV CHOPRA: Yes. I thought Deepak was being very courageous, embracing ...
JEFFREY BROWN: Courageous.
SANJIV CHOPRA: Courageous.
JEFFREY BROWN: I was wondering about a different ...
JEFFREY BROWN: ... crazy.
SANJIV CHOPRA: Yes, crazy also.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
SANJIV CHOPRA: And he had a thriving practice in Massachusetts. The medical students from New England Medical Center, Tufts Medical School would rotate through the office. He would teach them.
And then suddenly one day announces he's going to go to California and do mind-body medicine. But one of my favorite quotes if from Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher and theologian. And he once said to dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself. I think Deepak found himself and launched this ...
SANJIV CHOPRA: He's a real pioneer.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: California was more tolerant of hippies.
JEFFREY BROWN: Back then, right, yes.
The other thing you're clearly doing in this book is telling an immigrant story, right ...
SANJIV CHOPRA: That's true.
JEFFREY BROWN: ... of coming to a country and learning its ways, and especially the early chapters. You have the things that so many have gone through, of learning, watching television and new food and all, right?
JEFFREY BROWN: To what degree -- let me ask you, Deepak, first, to what degree do you feel that you became an American, even years later, and -- or how much do you still live in both worlds?
DEEPAK CHOPRA: I live in both worlds, and the formative years never go away.
They shape your personality. They shape your character. They shape your values. But we have lived 43 years in the U.S. and 22 years in the -- in India, so, obviously, we are American citizens. Both of us received the Ellis Island Award for contributions to the United States.
I have been close to two U.S. presidents and, you know, have had very good fortune meeting just about every major contributor in this country. So, I consider myself an American with an Indian accent.
JEFFREY BROWN: How do you feel about that?
SANJIV CHOPRA: I do, too. I feel very American.
I was passionate about cricket. I don't even think about cricket now anymore. It's baseball.
JEFFREY BROWN: That's the most telling factor of all, right?
SANJIV CHOPRA: That is.
And our 6-year-old -- our middle daughter, who now has -- is married and has two daughters, when she was six, one day came back from school, and when I came back from the hospital, she said, dad, I need to talk to you. I said, everything OK? She said, dad, are we Christian or are we Jewish?
And the reason was, everybody at school was celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas with gifts.
JEFFREY BROWN: Right. Right.
SANJIV CHOPRA: And that was very telling.
We used to celebrate a holiday called Diwali. But we would do it on the weekends. So, for the next few years, they didn't go to school on that day. We took them out. My wife and I took them out to lunch, bought them gifts. And the next day, they went to school, and their classmates said, what happened yesterday? And, we were celebrating Diwali. And then they explained the story behind that.
JEFFREY BROWN: We are going to continue our conversation online. And I will invite our audience to join us there later.
But, for now, the book is "Brotherhood."
Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra, thank you both very much.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: Thank you.
SANJIV CHOPRA: Thank you very much, Jeff.
I want to own a pair of glasses that will allow me to more accurately see shades of gray.
That way, when bridges fall down, the urgency to find out why -- right away -- will fade. I will more easily understand that it could be poor maintenance as well as outdated design as well as the fact that it got hit by a speeding truck.
When the economy suddenly surges, fueled by a steadily rising stock market and a spike in home prices, I will be able to see the people still standing in line for jobs, many of them minority teenagers. Check out this depressing post from the PBS NewsHour's great Paul Solman.
(I will also remember what happened the last time the housing market took off. The glasses we wore were rose-colored that time.)
And when the Attorney General signs off on an order that allows the Department of Justice to investigate who is leaking information to reporters, I will be able to detect the difference between investigation and prosecution. Perhaps.
I will also remember that his job is not mine.
But politics does not lend itself to the grays.
But we seem to be living for now in a world of absolutes. How else to explain why Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who announced this week that she won't seek reelection, is so wildly popular in tea party circles and so derided among liberals?
How else to listen every day to former journalist and White House spokesman Jay Carney parse words and phrases so carefully that they become impossible to understand?
And how better to get some kind of grasp on the choices world governments face when they decide whether to intervene in intractable civil wars in places like Syria? Not only have tens of thousands died, but hundreds of thousands more remain huddled in misery in refugee camps that have sprung up along the border in Jordan and Turkey.
My shades-of-gray eyeglasses would really help when the Supreme Court weighs in on affirmative action and same-sex marriage some time in the next month. And maybe they would finally bring Benghazi into focus.
We often make a mistake when we leap too quickly toward certainty. But politics does not lend itself to the grays. Every scandal is Watergate. Every dispute is scandal. We are forced instead to distinguish between self-interest and ignorance and disinformation.
The glasses would help. Somebody get on that, would you?
By Paul Solman
French artist Jacques Callot created 18 etchings known as "The Miseries and Misfortunes of War," published in 1633. The works depict victorious soldiers burning down villages and hanging those who lost the battle. Is the case the same for economics? Is it to the misfortune of the larger U.S. population when one American accumulates enough wealth to become a millionaire or billionaire? Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Paul Solman answers questions from the PBS NewsHour audience on business and economic news here on his Making Sense Business Desk page. Here is Friday's query.
Mark P. Mallett -- Sunbury, Penn.: Is wealth accumulation a zero-sum game? Must 333 million Americans each cough up $3 in order to create a billionaire? Are billionaires created at our expense? Is their gain our loss?
Paul Solman: "Is wealth accumulation a zero-sum game?" Well it's certainly not supposed to be. The whole point of a competitive market system is to achieve a win-win, not zero-sum, outcome. Wealth accumulation in general doesn't benefit everyone, but it results, in theory, in the greatest good for the greatest number.
Market participants compete with one another, producing goods and services ever more efficiently in order to satisfy more customers. Thus is overall "productivity" increased; the competitive market creates more with less. And most would agree that, all things considered, the market system has delivered as promised since it first took off in Europe some hundreds of years ago.
Before that, remember, competition over material resources really was zero sum. The ascendance of the West arguably comes with the gradual shift from this zero-sum mindset to win/win thinking, a shift chronicled by economic historian Albert Hirschman in an unforgettable 1977 book, "The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph," still in print. In the book, Hirschman explains capitalist thinking as a reaction to the zero-sum horrors of Europe's war-ravaged 17th century.
The wars of the 1600s were driven by passions, Hirschman argued -- largely religious ones, as Protestantism battled Catholicism across Europe. But if those passions could be harnessed into equally spirited self-interests, might not the zero-sum tragedy of war be superseded by the win-win bounty of commerce?
Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) wrote:
"Out of ferocity, avarice and ambition ... [society] makes national defense, commerce and politics .. .the passions of men who are entirely pre-occupied with their private utility are transformed into a civil order which permits men to live in human society."
Here's France's Baron de Montesquieu in 1748:
"Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling: and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities."
And Montesquieu again in 1769: "Commerce polishes and softens (adoucit) barbarian ways as we can see every day," which may have been cribbed by the Scottish historian William Robertson, a contemporary of Adam Smith's: "Commerce softens and polishes the manners of men."
Smith's friend, Samuel Johnson, wrote, he of the dictionary and Boswell bons mots:
"There are few ways in which a man can be innocently employed than by making money."
And here's a friend of Montesquieu's, Voltaire:
"In the London Exchange, more respectable than many a court. You will see assembled representatives of every nation for the utility of mankind. Here the Jew, the Mohametan and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion, and reserve the name 'infidel' for those who go bankrupt ... Upon leaving these peaceful and free assemblies, some go to the synagogue; others, for a drink; this one goes to have himself baptized in a large tub in the name of the Father through the Son by way of the Holy Ghost; that one has his son's foreskin cut off ... And all are content. "
(Voltaire was something of a scam artist, by the way; he made his first fortune cornering a lottery in Prussia, and died one of the richest commoners in France.)
Finally came Adam Smith himself whose "Wealth of Nations" -- the Bible of what we now know as "economics" -- was written as a manifesto against the zero-sum doctrines of "mercantilism" (in effect, crony capitalism) and colonialism. Smith argued that the merchant class was trying to run his beloved United Kingdom in its own interests.
He also argued that his country would be far better off trading with its arch-enemy France than fighting it, that it would be better letting its American colonies become independent than continuing to suppress them. Let trade flourish and both sides would prosper. Win-win. QED. (P.S. "Wealth of Nations" was published four months before the Declaration of Independence.)
So win-win, not zero-sum, is the theory behind capitalism. Unfortunately, the reader's question is an increasingly common one in America these days as economic inequality continues to widen, much as it has for 30 years or more: Is market economics in practice now diverging fatefully, or even fatally, from its ideal form in theory? Is the "99 percent" receding ever farther from the "1 percent"? Are "billionaires" and the rest of America's rich now taking so much of the market system's bounty that there's less, not more, for the rest of us?
In short, are we moving away from win-win and back towards zero sum? My guess: that question will continue to plague us for years to come.
For Tuesday’s NewsHour, Science correspondent Miles O’Brien visited the barren desert canyons of New Mexico, where investigators study explosives… by building and exploding bombs. While there, they assembled a pressure-cooker bomb — the kind used in the Boston Marathon bombing. Shrapnel, like the nails built into that bomb, O’Brien explained, travel at 1,000 to 2,000 feet per second.
But shrapnel shot out from high-pressure pipe bombs, he reports, travels even faster, adding a frightening new dimension to the threat.
While reporting for the NewsHour and the related NOVA documentary, “Manhunt-Boston Bombers,” O’Brien produced the short video above, along with the video below on another piece of the investigation puzzle that didn’t make it into the NewsHour segment: bomb robots. Manipulated remotely, they serve as eyes and tools for investigators trying to keep their distance from a possible bomb site.Watch Video
Also, don’t miss O’Brien’s related piece that aired on Wednesday’s NewsHour broadcast: “Are Faces the New Fingerprints?”Watch Video
Watch Video PBS NewsHour reflected on the life of Julian Dawkins on Friday.
Family photo of Julian DawkinsThe PBS NewsHour lost one of its own on May 22 in the shooting death of Julian Dawkins, our 22-year-old shuttle driver.
On Thursday, Arlington deputy sheriff Craig Patterson was arrested and charged with first degree murder.
Friends and family filled Antioch Church of Christ in Alexandria, Va., to capacity for his funeral on Friday, where NewsHour senior correspondent Gwen Ifill spoke about the impact he made. Her words from the service are below.
Friends of Julian Dawkins wear T-shirts that say "R.I.P. JuJu" and "Justice for Julian" at his funeral in Alexandria, Va., on Friday. Photo by Anne Davenport/PBS NewsHour.
My name is Gwen Ifill. I'm honored today to represent my colleagues at the PBS NewsHour.
Julian was family to you. He was to us, as well.
I wish I could capture for you the outpouring of emotion that greeted the news of his passing. There were tears, yes. But there was also regret, and anger and fond memory.
I think it's accurate to say it would have shocked even Julian what an impression his gentle presence left in our lives. One NewsHour Alum called him a "balm and a rock" for us.
I'd add, in his passing as well as in his presence.
Another former NewsHour colleague, who is now working as a reporter in New Hampshire, learned of Julian's passing and immediately sent this note:
"Julian was a good man, a kind man, a quiet, respectful man. We worked together. He had a nice car and amazing dreadlocks...we rolled the windows down and listened to music I'd never heard before. I still recall fondly those rides in his car. They made my day."
Another colleague wrote: "Tragedy indeed. But tragedy is too weak a word."
"Julian was such a sweetheart," another said. "A gentle soul who was intensely shy, but always offered a beautiful smile and warm hello whenever we met. He felt things deeply, and you could see it in his eyes."
"What can I say." another wrote, "about a person that was like a son to me?"
Everyone remembers that smile. "Julian was definitely the sunshine on a cloudy day," another colleague said.
And this: "Julian knew what was important -- family. Even with a heavy load on his shoulders, he was an optimist and looked out for those close to him, especially his brother. Sounds like we all agree that we would do anything for one more day and one more smile from Julian."
To the family: you should know that -- just like you -- his NewsHour family will not rest until we get the answers to the questions we all still have.
And even when we do, we will continue to grieve with you, pray for you, and consider you our family, too.
He was our balm and our rock.
Gwen Ifill also wrote about Dawkins in her blog on May 23.
Slower growth in spending is helping extend the life of Medicare's hospital trust fund to 2026, two years beyond last year's estimate, officials said Friday.
They also reported, however, that Social Security's disability trust fund, which pays monthly benefits to disabled workers and their families, is expected to be exhausted by 2016. Social Security will begin to run out of money in 2033, nearly the same timeframe as predicted last year.
Spending on Medicare and other entitlement programs remains a flash point in the ongoing debate over federal spending and deficit reduction, but Democrats and Republicans have widely different views of how to strengthen the financing of those programs. Medicare's six trustees, who include Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, urged lawmakers to address the financial challenges of both Medicare and Social Security as soon as possible, an unlikely outcome in the ongoing partisan environment.
Nearly 50 million people are enrolled in Medicare, the health care program for the nation's elderly and disabled. Enrollment is expected to grow to 80 million by 2030.
The Medicare spending projections also encompass areas of current law that are not likely to remain, such as a 25 percent payment cut for Medicare physician services scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1 that trustees say "is highly unlikely."
Trustee Robert Reischauer said it would be a mistake to make too much of the two-year extension on the life of the Medicare hospital trust fund. The Medicare projections involved a lot of uncertainty, he said, both on the legislative front -- Congress will likely stop the scheduled Medicare physician payment cut, for example -- and from the cost impact that new technologies, drugs and medical devices will have. Those "historically have tended to push up costs," he said.
Medicare trustees said the improved solvency estimate of the trust fund, which covers Medicare Part A payments for inpatient hospital services and other facilities, was due largely to lower than expected spending on Medicare services -- especially for skilled nursing facilities -- and lower projected costs for the Medicare Advantage program, where private insurers provide health benefits to about 27 percent of Medicare enrollees.
The growth of individual beneficiaries' costs also declined to an historic low of 1.7 percent a year between 2010 and 2012 and is expected to remain lower than the rate of economic growth over the next decade, Sebelius said at a news conference.
She also announced that the lower overall Medicare spending means that premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers physicians visits and other outpatient services, "won't increase a single dime" in 2014 over their current level of $104.90 a month.
Sebelius and other administration officials said Friday that the 2010 health care law played a major role in the improved Medicare projections. Medicare spending changes in the law include reduced payments to hospitals and other Medicare providers, lower reimbursements to Medicare Advantage plans and efforts to cut program waste.
"With the health care law, our goal was to put the Medicare program on more stable footing," Sebelius said. "Not by cutting benefits, but by putting reforms in place to ensure that Medicare dollars were spent more wisely."
Paul Spitalnic, the acting chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, echoed earlier actuarial concerns when he noted a potential problem. Over the long term, he wrote, some of the health law's changes would cause Medicare payment rates for home health, hospital and other services to drop below those now paid by the Medicaid program, "which have already led to access problems for Medicaid enrollees."
Mary R. Grealy, president of the industry group Healthcare Leadership Council, said the report's core message was that the program's "financial future remains in jeopardy and structural reform is essential." But rather than further reduce provider payments, "Congress needs to move forward with improvements that drive greater value and cost containment by investing Medicare beneficiaries with greater powers of consumer choice," she said in a statement.
This article was produced by Kaiser Health News with support from The SCAN Foundation, which is also a PBS NewsHour underwriter. Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. Top photo by Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Government officials said today the trust fund fueling the nation's Medicare program is in somewhat stronger shape than it was last year. They projected it will stay solvent until 2026, two years later than last year's projections.
At the same time, the budget outlook for the nation's Social Security program remains unchanged. It is projected to stay solvent until funding runs out in 2033.
Meanwhile, a new Federal Reserve study found that, while some Americans are rebounding from the economic recession, others continue to struggle. Among the results: U.S. households have recovered on average only 45 percent of the $16 trillion dollars of wealth lost during the recession. Two-thirds of that regained wealth is tied to rising stock prices, which have disproportionately benefited well-off Americans.
But for middle- and lower-income households, the economic picture is not so bright, due in large part to depressed home prices, still 30 percent below their peak.
To discuss what this means for the nation's economic recovery, we talk to a co-author of that report.
William Emmons is chief economist at the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis.
Welcome to the NewsHour.
So it's clear, Mr. Emmons, that for many Americans they're doing very well since this recession. But for others, in your report, they're not. Who are those who are still struggling?
WILLIAM EMMONS, Chief Economist, Center for Household Financial Stability, Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis: Those that are struggling tend to be younger families, some middle-aged families, in general, also families whose heads have less education, also members of historically disadvantaged minorities, African-Americans and Hispanics.
So those are the demographic features of families that are struggling the most.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that the -- so there's a bright line you can draw between -- it's people at the lower end of the economic scale?
WILLIAMS EMMONS: Actually, the same families that we knew were struggling a bit even before the downturn are still struggling.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you. There was a national Federal Reserve report, as you know, that came out not long ago ...
WILLIAMS EMMONS: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... that said 91 percent of the wealth that had been lost during the recession has since been restored. How does that square with what your findings are?
WILLIAMS EMMONS: That's the starting point, those numbers through the end of last year. The next report will be coming out in early June that will bring us through the end of the first quarter.
Those numbers gave that 91 percent recovery figure. Then we adjusted that for inflation that's occurred since that time, since the peak in 2007, and also adjusted for the number of households. The population has grown. When you make those two adjustments, in fact, you get this lower level. So it's -- that earlier report is absolutely the foundation of what we did. We just adjusted it to put it in terms that I think are probably more realistic for most families. What can their money buy and what does an individual family feel in terms of the share of wealth?
JUDY WOODRUFF: What is known about how many of these families who are still below water, if you will, in terms of not regaining wealth, about how about how many of them were really kind of -- were overextended before the financial crash, had borrowed too much, were borrowing too much off their homes, were just more in debt than they needed to be?
WILLIAMS EMMONS: Absolutely.
More so than in earlier times before downturns, we know from some of the data that we're looking at, that an unusually large number of families, in fact, as you said, had a lot of debt relative to their income, to the value of their assets, also lots of concentration in housing on the asset side of their balance sheets, also, as we know, very low savings rates, and for some families using expensive financial services.
So those are really the key vulnerabilities, what we call “balance sheet failures,” that, as you suggest, were even more common going into this downturn than was usual. And, of course, the downturn then exacerbated those problems.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So to the extent they were overextended, had borrowed too much, could one argue that it's smart, that it's wise for them to be more cautious in what they're spending right now, not to go back into debt?
WILLIAMS EMMONS: Oh, absolutely.
I think it makes perfect sense that people are trying to rebuild their financial strength, rebuild their balance sheets. And that involves in some cases paying down debt or not taking on as much debt as they had in the past. Certainly, people are struggling to reattach to the job market. The job market is weak. Income growth is strong -- and also diversifying a little bit beyond housing.
So those are absolutely the things that you would expect people to try to do to respond to this sort of a downturn.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What is it going to take to restore fully the wealth that Americans had before the financial crash? Or is there reason to believe it won't be restored?
WILLIAMS EMMONS: I think there are reasons to think it will take a long time to get back to any semblance of what we had before.
Now, probably in 2005, '6, and '7, that was unrealistic. We had, remember, a housing bubble, so we really don't expect housing values to get back to those levels any time soon. Also, the stock market was very strong. So, in answer to your question, I think it will take years to get back to anything close to what we had, but it could also be that as we look back, that that was an unusual peak level of wealth that wasn't in the end sustainable.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And when you say takes years, meaning years for companies, for employers to hire, years for wages to go up? Is that what you're referring to?
WILLIAMS EMMONS: That's, of course, the raw material. Most people are going to rebuild those balance sheets through the earnings from work and savings, and, of course, some appreciation of asset values.
Stock prices have gone up a lot. House prices maybe will increase a bit more. So that -- all of those things combined, as well as managing the debt, so we don't have the buildup of debt we had before.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, from looking at all that you have looked at, Mr. Emmons, what would you say are the lessons we should learn for the next time we have a financial crisis?
WILLIAMS EMMONS: Well, that's exactly what we're looking at.
And I think -- as I said, I think we were overly dependent on housing. People had too much of their wealth invested in housing. We had too much debt relative to our -- certainly our income. We even could see that before the downturn. After house prices declined, we can see it was too much debt relative to the value of even the houses.
And just in terms of building savings, building wealth through savings, as you suggest, we really do need a more consistent, higher level of household savings to -- to help build in those buffers into stronger balance sheets.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it helps us to understand all of that through your research.
Williams Emmons with the Saint Louis Federal Reserve, thanks very much.
WILLIAMS EMMONS: Thank you very much.
KWAME HOLMAN: Flash flooding and tornadoes killed three people in Arkansas overnight, and a new string of severe storms marched across the nation's midsection today. Up to a dozen tornadoes touched down in Arkansas alone, as well as one in Illinois and three in Oklahoma that caused structural damage to homes. The storm system brought heavy rain with it, making flash flooding a problem across the region.
In the Western U.S., firefighters fought two growing wildfires. A rapidly moving blaze some 25 miles west of Santa Fe, N.M., already has already scorched 1,000 acres and jumped a highway. Meanwhile, 500 firefighters in California tried to control a 1,400-acre wildfire in the Angeles National Forest, north of Los Angeles. It was only 15 percent contained.
The FBI has confirmed three letters tainted with ricin, including one sent to President Obama, were postmarked on the same day from Spokane, Wash. The other poisoned mailings targeted a federal judge and a post office in Spokane. A fourth letter sent to nearby Fairchild Air Force base still is being tested. The FBI also is trying to track down a fifth suspicious letter en route to the CIA. The Secret Service said the letters were similar to ones sent to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The U.S. urged Russia today not to send Syria's Assad regime highly specialized weapons that could prolong that country's civil war. Today, the Russian manufacturer of MiG fighter jets announced plans to sign a new agreement to ship at least 10 of the aircraft to Syria. Separately, Russia said it will supply Syria with an order for anti-aircraft missiles.
In Washington today, Secretary of State John Kerry said those actions would only hinder efforts at peace negotiation.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY, United States: It is not helpful to have the S-300 transferred to the region while you are trying to organize this peace and create peace. It is not helpful to have a lot of other ammunition and other supplies overtly going in, not just from the Russians -- and they are supplying that kind of thing -- but also from the Iranians and Hezbollah.
KWAME HOLMAN: We will have more on the situation in and around Syria later in the program tonight.
Unemployment in the Eurozone hit a record high of 12.2 percent for the month of April. That calculates to more than 19 million people out of work across the 17 countries that use the euro. The European Union's statistics office warned that if the jobless rate continues at this pace, 20 million people could be unemployed by the end of the year. Spain and Greece already have unemployment rates above 25 percent.
A late afternoon sell-off on Wall Street sent stocks tumbling. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 209 points to close at 15,115. The Nasdaq fell 35 points to close just below 3,456. For the week, the Dow lost more than one percent. The Nasdaq fell a tenth of a percent.
Those are some of the day's major stories -- now back to Jeff.
Ray Suarez talks with Margaret Warner who reports from Beirut where she's examining the spillover effects of the Syrian civil war. She recently spoke with Gen. Salim Idriss, leader of the Free Syrian Army, about the consequences of the West giving arms to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and the potential game changer for the war.