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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we come back to the civil war in Syria. It's triggered a massive humanitarian crisis for the country's 20 million people.

    Margaret Warner has that story.

    MARGARET WARNER: According to the United Nations, more than four million people are displaced inside Syria. An estimated three million more have fled to neighboring countries. But the U.N. reports it doesn't have enough international funding to meet the needs.

    Secretary of State John Kerry met in Washington today with the chiefs of the U.N.'s humanitarian agencies and had this to say.

    SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: We are having a very difficult time being able to access people, move people directly and protect people. So, we intend to have a very solid, in-depth discussion today about creative ways that we can meet our obligations to human beings who are in huge danger and under stress.

    MARGARET WARNER: For more, we turn to Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state for population refugees and migration, and Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development in charge of conflict and humanitarian assistance. Both have been to the region in the past month and both were in today's meeting.

    And thank you both for coming in.

    Nancy Lindborg, I will begin with you. This humanitarian crisis has been going on really for a couple of years now. Why did Secretary Kerry feel the need to convene all these honchos from the U.N. agencies here today?

    NANCY LINDBORG, U.S. Agency for International Development: You know, it was primarily an opportunity to hear directly from them how the crisis is proceeding.

    And one of the most important statements is that this is no longer just a Syrian crisis. This is really a regional crisis. And the humanitarian dimensions are no longer just an outcome of the war. They are their own crisis with the level of needs escalating, and the amount of misery as people flee the country, flee their homes inside Syria continues to increase.

    MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that?

    ANNE RICHARD, U.S. assistant secretary of state for population refugees and migration: They had a good understanding of the problems. So we were able to get right down to business and talk about what else was needed.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, let's talk about what else was need.

    And I will start with you, Nancy Lindborg, because AID works really within Syria. What are the challenges and the dangers of delivering aid in a conflict zone like Syria, where you have got opposing forces, two, even three or more, controlling different parts of territory? How do you do it?

    NANCY LINDBORG: Well, the challenges, as you said, are really threefold.

    One is the inability to access everybody who is in need. Second is the insecurity. We heard stories today and we are hear it constantly from our partners that the checkpoints, as they try to move from one place to another, continue to proliferate.

    Along one road, there were 65 checkpoints manned by various factions, and both the regime and the opposition.

    So it comes down to extraordinarily courageous humanitarian workers. We work with a whole variety of partners, the U.N., NGOs, and the majority of them are Syrians who are actually on the ground helping friends and neighbors.

    MARGARET WARNER: And how do you actually navigate through these different -- different zones? Now, you spoke in Geneva earlier this year about having to send in a heavily armed convoy, taking complicated negotiations to be able to do it.

    NANCY LINDBORG: Well, they're not so much heavily armed, as they are heavily armed with information about who they need to negotiate with.

    And so it's understanding the terrain, having the ability to call the person who can tell that checkpoint this is a humanitarian convoy. Let them go by. But it can take days. It can take four days to travel what should be a three-hour roadway.

    MARGARET WARNER: And then, Administrator Richard, what about -- I mean, Secretary Richard, what about the situation though in Lebanon and Jordan? Let's take two of the neighboring countries bearing a huge burden. You don't have an access problem there. So what are the big obstacles to delivering enough aid?

    ANNE RICHARD: That's right.

    People are coming out of Syria, crossing the borders, because while some aid is getting delivered inside Syria, it's still a very dangerous place. And so they're safer if they cross to other countries.

    But there, they have to find places to live. There are tents for about a quarter of the refugees, but most refugees are living in cities and towns and villages. They're living with friends. They're living with relatives or they're living with strangers or paying rents.

    And so they need help too, but they're harder to find and they're harder to help.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, how dire are the needs or how unmet are the needs? The U.N. said, in announcing this new request just, what, last month, for more money, that they were like three billion short, I think, just toward the end of the year. What isn't getting done?

    ANNE RICHARD: The scope of this crisis is so big, it grew so quickly and the numbers are just unanticipated and quickly rising.

    And so, as a result, we're constantly playing catchup to provide the assistance that people need.

    MARGARET WARNER: But are people going hungry now?

    ANNE RICHARD: No. The U.N. has done a great job in getting help to people that need the help. But the problem is that we don't see it stopping any time soon.

    And the longer this goes on, the more acute people people's needs are. They run through their savings. They become a burden on the people who are hosting them.

    There's the possibility of tensions with host communities in countries like Jordan and Lebanon, where they're expecting their government to help them and they see refugees getting aid.

    So, one of our approaches that we endorse is to help local citizens, as well as the refugees. Anybody who needs help, the idea is to get them the help that they need, so that they continue to host the refugees.

    MARGARET WARNER: And so what came -- what, if anything, came out of today's meeting in terms of getting more funding, getting -- I know the United States has given a third of the funding so far, but getting other countries to step up more, and in general try to get ahead of this curve?

    NANCY LINDBORG: The United States is currently the world's largest donor to the crisis.

    And one important outcome was a renewed commitment to connect with a variety of donors, including those who don't typically give to the multilateral system. This is going to be an international effort, if we are going to succeed in providing assistance.

    MARGARET WARNER: It's fair to say that some countries -- and I would mention the Gulf countries -- sometimes, there have been big pledges, but not met?

    ANNE RICHARD: Well, the U.N. agency heads gave us a more rosy picture on the funding from the pledging conference that we attended and represented the United States at last January.

    They felt that in the subsequent time, not only had the United States met our pledges, but also Kuwait had provided $300 million through U.N. agencies and international organizations, and Europeans had made major contributions. So the trick that we have to address is finding new donors, new countries to come to the table and provide aid.

    And that's where a diplomatic outreach is really needed.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, we have to leave it there, but thank you so much, Nancy Lindborg and Anne Richard. 

    ANNE RICHARD: Thank you.

    NANCY LINDBORG: Thank you, Margaret.


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: It's not a subject much discussed, certainly not in public, but it's growing increasingly consequential as baby boomers age and the incidence of Alzheimer's grows.

    The issue is sexual relations, dementia, and what constitutes consent, and it has nursing homes struggling with ethical, legal and practical questions.

    Bryan Gruley of Bloomberg News has written two in-depth reports on the subject, and joins us now.

    And welcome to you, Bryan.

    You tell the story of a case that occurred at a nursing home in Iowa called Windmill Manor that shows how unprepared institutions are for dealing with this.

    A man and a woman, not married to one another, are discovered in bed once and then again. Tell us a little -- tell us briefly what happened from there.

    BRYAN GRULEY, Bloomberg News: Well, it was the second incident, Jeff, that really triggered things, because they were actually having intercourse. The woman was married to somebody on the outside. The man was divorced. Both of them had dementia to some degree.

    And the results of this was catastrophic for a number of people. The man was eventually removed from the home. His family then had to drive almost two hours to visit him. The administrator was fired. He's no longer in elderly health care. The nursing director was fired and eventually lost her license.

    And it just didn't end well for anybody, even though these two people appeared to like each other.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The issue, of course, was, what is consensual and then what needs to report -- to be reported to whom? And you show how these questions simply are not clear.

    BRYAN GRULEY: Well, that's right.

    I mean, the laws -- and they vary from state to state -- the laws obviously deal with issues of rape. And they deal with issues of -- to some degree, of how much privacy that people who want to be together in nursing homes have.

    But there aren't very clear guidelines. Many nursing homes and other long-term care facilities who are financially strapped anyway, you know, they haven't really had to deal with this. But the coming bubble of baby boomers over the age of 65 may well force them to come to grips with these issues. And they're very complex.

    And, you know, even people who are experts in geriatrics will say it's difficult to tell whether somebody with dementia would have the right -- or -- excuse me -- the capacity to consent to sex. They might have that capacity even though they don't know how to, say, balance their checkbook.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In this particular case that you write about -- and we should say you withheld the names of the people out of respect for their privacy -- but you say that the woman called the man by her husband's name and was calmed by his presence.

    There was an intimacy there, clearly. It wasn't clear what she knew at the time. And so that led to some of the questions.

    BRYAN GRULEY: That's right.

    And, you know, maybe I missed it in the hundreds of pages of documents I read, Jeff, but I couldn't find a reference to the various authorities at the nursing home and in the state regulatory agencies ever asking the man or the woman what they thought. And maybe they just didn't trust them because they had dementia.

    But the question remains, you know, were they -- were they exercising their own right to intimacy? And the truth is they have a right to this.

    And obviously they also have a right to safety if they're uncomfortable in a situation like that. But what evidence there is -- and we don't know because we weren't in that room -- the evidence is that, you know, they kind of liked each other.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, your second report, you write about some nursing homes that are taking a rather different approach. And one in particular you wrote about is Hebrew Home in New York, where you say -- which you say presumes that residents with dementia have the capacity to decide whether to have sex. More encouraging of intimacy, including sex?

    BRYAN GRULEY: Yes.

    The Hebrew Home back in 1995 recognized the fact that people were being intimate, whether it's hand-holding or kissing or fondling or all the way to intercourse. It was happening, whether they wanted to admit it or not.

    And the folks there decided, let's confront this head on.

    And so they wrote a policy that helped staff know what to do, what to look for to make sure that residents, including those with dementia, including those without, were comfortable in those relationships, the underlying belief being that not only did they have a right to these relationships, just as they would on the outside, but it's good for these people, particularly those who have dementia and may have lost touch to some degree with family or friends.

    And that feeling of closeness with somebody else, the feeling of touch, is a gift later in their life.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Bryan, very briefly, if you would, to the extent that this is becoming a bigger issue, is there more talk about it? Is there more being done with guidelines and standards?

    BRYAN GRULEY: I think there's more talk about it now, Jeff, than there was even five years ago.

    And, hopefully, these stories and some of the conversations it generated will make nursing homes think about it more and will get researchers to do more research into this, because the numbers are what the numbers are.

    And they're big. And they're going to have to deal with this as this generation, my generation moves into their late 60s and 70s and 80s.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Bryan Gruley of Bloomberg, thanks so much.

    BRYAN GRULEY: Thank you.


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    Anthony WeinerAnthony Weiner, a leading candidate for New York City mayor, addressed new allegations that he engaged in lewd online conversations. The former congressman says he will continue his candidacy. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    It's not every day that a newsletter closely following elections and governing in Washington can legitimately write about sexting and an alias that could have been scripted by Hollywood.

    But sometimes the practice becomes a political story -- and sometimes more than once.

    Enter Carlos Danger, the name that New York mayoral candidate and former Rep. Anthony Weiner allegedly used to send sexually charged messages and photographs to a young woman, long after similar behavior forced the Democrat's resignation from Congress.

    Here's the basics: Weiner came clean Tuesday to engaging in behavior that he says was "wrong and hurtful to my wife" after a website called "The Dirty" posted the accusations, screengrabs and photos from a 22-year-old who claimed to have an internet relationship with Weiner for about six months, just after the couple welcomed the birth of their son.

    Huma Abedin joined Weiner for a press conference a few hours later, telling reporters it was not an easy time but making clear she stands by her politician husband. Weiner insisted he will remain a candidate for the mayoral election, and declared there is "no question that what I did was wrong" and that this type of behavior is behind him.

    "I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out, and today they have," Weiner said. Earlier this year, Weiner had told New York Magazine that he had engaged in sexting with multiple people, and predicted that people hadn't seen the last image: "If reporters want to go try to find more, I can't say that they're not going to be able to find another picture, or find another person who may want to come out on their own."

    It's salacious and silly, no doubt. But it does matter in politics.

    Between Weiner's freeform press conference and resignation in the summer of 2011 and Tuesday's admissions, a very deliberate strategy has emerged that is one model for other politicians caught in scandal. (After all, this is the year of the comeback for people like Mark Sanford, for instance.)

    Together, Weiner and Abedin let the world in, allowed their baby son to be photographed by People magazine and went in depth and on the record with the New York Times magazine as the attempt at a comeback bid materialized.

    New York City's mayor is an important position on the national level. Weiner has to survive a primary before making it to the November general election.

    His rivals -- Bill de Blasio and Sal F. Albanese, both Democrats, and John A. Catsimatidis, a Republican -- demanded he drop out, the New York Times reports.

    And the New York Times editorialized Wednesday that the Democrat has "already disqualified himself" from office and called on him to leave the race.

    Still, New York voters have made clear they don't have a problem with indecent politicians, and Weiner's presence in the race has certainly captured the city's attention.

    The news in New York, of course, came as many Americans were enraptured by the still-to-be-named royal baby, and as President Barack Obama prepared to give a speech Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

    Mr. Obama is returning to the school where in 2005 as a just-elected Senator with a bright political future he laid out his economic vision. The White House says he will "lay out his vision for rebuilding an economy that puts the middle class and those fighting to join it front and center."

    The idea is to talk about the ideals of the middle class: job security, education, retirement savings and affordable health care, administration officials said, and Mr. Obama wants to "chart a course for where America needs to go -- not just in the next three months or even the next three years, but a steady, persistent effort over the long term to restore this country's basic bargain for the middle class."

    The president's remarks are set against a backdrop of House Republicans proposing even deeper spending cuts to some of the very programs he will be lauding, and as his own approval rating suffers.

    A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 adults released Wednesday found that "the American public's dissatisfaction with Washington has reached new heights."

    NBC's senior political editor Mark Murray writes that, "(a) whopping 83 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress' job, which is an all-time high in the survey. What's more, President Barack Obama has seen his job-approval rating dip to its lowest level since Aug. 2011, when the debt-ceiling showdown wounded almost every Washington politician."

    Respondents blamed partisanship for their unhappiness with Washington, and also said the middle class is being ignored.

    That's one reason the president will refocus his efforts on the economy, and head to Warrensburg, Mo., for a second push. He'll give a series of speeches over the next few weeks with similar themes.

    LINE ITEMS

    The Associated Press previews the "high-stakes" House vote on changing the nation's surveillance and data collection program.

    Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has repaid more than $120,000 in loans to his friend and political donor. The Washington Post's Laura Vozzella and Rosalind Helderman have the latest on the scandal.

    Politico writes that the debt ceiling drama has returned.

    Thank you, Slate, for giving us the Carlos Danger Name Generator.

    Only in Washington do party invites look like this, Yahoo's Chris Moody explains.

    As noted Tuesday, we have been having some technical difficulties with the NewsHour site. Below are a few things you might have missed over the last few days.

    Democrats are excited that former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn's daughter Michelle Nunn is running for Senate in the Peach State. Republicans face a crowded primary in the open-seat contest.

    The Washington Post's Matea Gold looked at super PACs already getting active for 2016.

    Two-time Senate candidate Linda McMahon won't run again in Connecticut, but is playing an active role with the state GOP.

    But New Hampshire Republicans, including ex-Rep. Frank Guinta, are gearing up for 2014 congressional bids.

    A book publisher on Tumblr presents a collection of the best .gifs of George Washington.

    The royal baby's impact on the U.K.'s economy? An estimated $380 billion in economic stimulus.

    NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

    Political Editor Christina Bellantoni interviewed Victor Navasky about his book on political cartoons, "The Art of Controversy." Watch here or below.

    NewsHour's Judy Woodruff interviewed both candidates for Virginia governor after their debate Saturday. Watch the interview with Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, Republican nominee and the state's attorney general, below. [Video is not available at this time.]

    Watch Video

    TOP TWEETS

    NBC-WSJ poll: long road for '16 hopefuls. Rubio 23% positive, 20% negative, 57% neutral/don't know; Cuomo 16%/15%/69%; O'Malley 7%/5%/88%

    — John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) July 24, 2013

    Not many politicians get a chance to do two national press conferences on their sexting problem

    — Taegan Goddard (@politicalwire) July 23, 2013

    Weiner: It's not problem; I wasn't driving.

    — David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) July 23, 2013

    [Weiner rips off mask] YES! Ha ha! It is I, Joaquin Phoenix!

    — daveweigel (@daveweigel) July 23, 2013

    Overhead at Weiner presser: "Who gets involved with someone named Carlos Danger?!"

    — Holly Bailey (@hollybdc) July 23, 2013

    Terence Burlij, Katelyn Polantz and Mallory Sofastaii contributed to this report.

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

    Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    Follow @cbellantoni

    Follow @burlijFollow @kpolantzFollow @elizsummersFollow @tiffanymullonFollow @meenaganesanFollow @ljspbs

    Support Your Local PBS Station

    //

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    Eighth grade teacher Darrell Walker routinely teaches his science class in the wetlands behind their North Carolina middle school. Video by Rebecca Jacobson

    "Snake! Snake!" an eighth-grade student shouts from the boardwalk as she crosses a bridge. A dozen of her classmates rush over, scouring for the snake in the water. It's a Friday in April, and these North Carolina students are making their weekly trip from the science classroom into the stormwater wetlands behind Elizabeth City Middle School's baseball and soccer fields.

    This manmade stormwater wetland, and the natural waterway it flows into, are more than just habitat for snakes, turtles and tadpoles. It's where students can learn about the environment "in living color," says teacher Darrell Walker.

    "It's a classroom without walls," Walker tells his students. "Can we get this from a textbook?" They shake their heads no.

    The wetland flows into the Pasquotank River, the town's primary source of drinking water located just a mile or so from the schoolyard. Last year, a specialist with the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute determined that runoff from the building, parking lots and athletic fields were draining into the existing wetlands, carrying oil and other hazardous material into the delicate ecosystem. So Walker pledged to tackle the problem.

    He and his students partnered with the institute to plant native grasses and other marsh plants to filter the water coming off of the school grounds and transform it into a new habitat.

    By the water, Walker's students point out a cloud of tadpoles living in the new pond. A few reach in and scoop the swimming pollywogs into their hands to examine them closer.

    Tadpoles are a good thing, Walker explained. They're eating the algae and keeping the water clean. Today they're looking for examples of the four types of relationships in nature -- predation, commensalism, mutualism, and parasitism.

    Walker turns them loose on the grounds, and the children, armed with cell phone cameras, return to him with plants, bones, moss, snapping turtles and lots of questions. If he can't identify it or explain it, he helps them send their photos and questions to professors at the nearby Elizabeth City State University.

    And it doesn't stop at the food chain. The eighth graders learn chemistry by collecting water samples and measuring pH levels. They discuss sustainability -- how plastic bags and other trash contaminate the water.

    Walker describes one touching moment where a group of his eighth grade girls found a turtle crossing their parking lot. He expected them to shy away from the reptile, but the girls instead formed a human shield around the animal, escorting it to the safety of the pond.

    His goal is that they become good stewards of the environment and carry that message home to their families.

    "We've only got this one planet and one shot," he says. "And we've got to get it right."

    Do you know a science or math teacher who has a creative lesson plan for his or her students? Send us your nominations here, and your teacher may be featured as a part of this ongoing series.

    See more videos from this series:

    Chemistry Teacher Mixes Science and Innovation ... and Sets It on Fire

    Jerriel Hall Creates New Planet for Math and Science Students

    How Math Got Its Groove Back

    Support Your Local PBS Station


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    By Hal Salzman, B. Lindsay Lowell and Daniel Kuehn

    Foreign guest workers depress wages for domestic workers, the authors argue. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

    Paul Solman: A battle rages in economic policy circles: Should America make its borders more open to high-tech guest workers, or should we batten the hatches? Even those who oppose totally open immigration often support temporary guest worker visas, known as H-1B work visas, for high-tech.

    But some oppose them, arguing that -- as in other industries -- workers from abroad undercut the wages of those domestic workers who would otherwise do the jobs here in America.

    Today we present the case against high-tech guest workers from a trio of academic researchers associated with the Economic Policy Institute.Hal Salzman is a professor at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. B. Lindsay Lowell is director of policy studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University. Daniel Kuehn is an adjunct professor and doctoral candidate in American University's department of economics.

    Thursday, a former guest worker, now Silicon Valley guru, responds.

    Salzman, Lowell and Kuehn: When Bill Clinton was president, wages for American IT workers were climbing and American students were clamoring to become computer scientists. Fifteen years later, average real IT wages are no higher. It is no coincidence that high-tech industries are now using guest workers to fill two-thirds of new IT jobs.

    And now they're asking Congress to provide them with an even greater supply of guest workers -- a supply that by the IT industry's own estimates would equal 150 percent of the expected number of new IT jobs each and every year going forward. With its passage of the comprehensive immigration reform bill, the Senate has complied, putting out a sign for IT jobs that says, "We prefer guest workers."

    The IT industry and its many supporters argue that without this infusion of guest workers it will starve because of the scarcity of domestic native and foreign-born citizens with the right aptitude or interest. Researchers like us, who have the temerity to suggest that the evidence fails to justify importing ever more guest workers, are accused of being anti-immigrant, anti-capitalist, Luddites, or just plain troglodytes who can't fathom the character of modern technology industries.

    For those of us who simply want to get the policy right, however, this is a debate about America's policies for creating good jobs, strong technology and an innovation-based economy. We welcome immigrants and support an immigration policy that draws the best and the brightest and provides opportunity to newcomers. But policy should not be about targeting government giveaways to a few industries by supplying ever more guest workers when there is an ample domestic supply of qualified graduates and workers.

    We're Already Generating More Qualified Students Than Jobs

    Our analysis of the data finds that high-skill guest worker programs supply the preponderance of all new hires for the IT industry. The inflow of guest workers is equal to half of all IT hires each year and fully two-thirds of annual hires of workers younger than 30.

    Can it be a coincidence that wages in IT jobs have been stagnant for over a decade? The chart below shows trends for programmer and system analyst jobs; wages for other IT occupations follow similar trends.

    In the above graph of average salaries and unemployment rates for computer and IT occupations from 1992-2011, wages for IT workers have held steady over the past decade. This table is reproduced from "Guestworkers In The High-Skill U.S. Labor Market: An Analysis of Supply, Employment, and Wage Trends" (2013) by Salzman, Kuehn and Lowell.

    At the same time, U.S. colleges are graduating more than twice as many science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates than the number of STEM openings generated by our economy each year. In short, there is little justification to support the escalating numbers of new guest workers called for in the Senate's S744 legislation. Why then did it pass?

    Today's guest worker programs target an important industry with a substantial hold on the public's imagination. But guest worker programs should be justified by national interests, not by the shortsighted interests of a particular industry. Proclaiming "shortages" where there is no evidence of them is not only disingenuous, it obscures the likely impact of large-scale guest worker programs, which stand to hurt all STEM grads, but especially minorities who are underrepresented in high-tech, as well as other foreign-born workers who compete most with newcomers. Can anyone argue that prioritizing access to good employment for high-skill domestic workers is not in the national interest?

    The number of guest workers and STEM green card beneficiaries in the Senate's legislation exceeds the number of new hires in the IT industry in 2011. Image courtesy of Economic Policy Institute.

    Isn't Ours a Market Economy?

    Markets are supposed to reflect demand through the price mechanism. In the case of labor, the "price" is wages. How can it be, then, that if the IT industry is experiencing labor shortages, wage levels in this highly profitable industry are no higher than they were in the last millennium? How can an industry expect to attract the best workers without raising wages? Is there what economists call a "market failure" here?

    Or is the hidden truth quite simply that large supplies of guest workers allow many firms to swap out higher-paid, high-skill domestic workers for lower-paid, high-skill guest workers? A recent analysis by the Brookings Institution observes that "it is likely that the extra supply of foreign-born workers does bring downward pressure on the wages of incumbent workers, as research suggests."

    All the evidence suggests the IT labor market is still bound by the usual dynamics of supply and demand. When we look at the trends of the past 20 years, we see that when wages increase, the number of computer science graduates increases. When wages fall, the number of graduates falls. When the supply of guest workers increases, wages stay flat, and too many domestic students must find employment in other fields.

    Some commentators argue that this last result is good for the economy: science and engineering skills are now being used in millions of non-STEM jobs. But an alternative view is that far too many domestic STEM graduates are in jobs that do not fully use their education, which represents a loss of our greatest source of innovators.

    Yes, employers claim they have thousands of unfilled job openings, but the evidence is hardly compelling. Only about half of engineering graduates find engineering jobs, down from previous rates of about two-thirds before the current recession began in 2007. At the largest IT jobs website DICE.com, over half of the advertisements are for contract, short-term and part-time jobs -- assuming these jobs exist at all. (A recent Making Sen$e story suggested they well may not.) But even if they are available, these are not the types of jobs that U.S. graduates will find attractive, nor are they the types of jobs that will allow these graduates to pay off student loans, much less enter the middle class.

    Meanwhile studies by Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School and by Burt Barnow of George Washington University find a decrease in the intensity of firms' recruitment efforts since the recession and an increase in pickiness about whom they are willing to hire. Again, the inference seems obvious: the supply of potential workers is already plentiful relative to employer demand. So why are stories about the need for guest workers and the U.S. falling behind in the global high-tech talent search dominating the discussion?

    H-1B guest workers are concentrated in computer programmer and system analyst jobs; in fact, they fill 85 percent of them. But most of these are commodity-like production jobs in IT services, doing back office programming for companies. A disproportionate number of H-1Bs provide onshore customer management for offshore programming teams. Ironically, without the visas, much of the programming work couldn't have been offshored in the first place.

    There may be highly innovative guest workers, but most are in jobs far away from the innovation frontier. The Economic Policy Institute's Ron Hira found that few of the largest H-1B employers could be considered technology innovators, with most generating very low levels of patents. So an often-heard argument for a massive increase in guest workers -- that we'll snag a few key innovators for America -- is in reality a high stakes lottery with few winners but, like most lotteries, many losers. Increasing the number of guest workers will not ensure that we admit, among the tens of thousands of guest workers, the few geniuses who could make a decisive contribution relative to American workers.

    If Jobs Go Begging, Why Aren't Computer Students Flocking to High-Tech?

    Those on the front lines of IT now tell students that given the industry's stagnant wages and unstable career tracks, better students should seek jobs elsewhere. An extensive survey of a recent college cohort by the National Center for Educational Statistics corroborates their advice. Only two-thirds of computer science graduates went into IT jobs in 2009. Of those not landing an IT job, half said they found a better job elsewhere. Fully one third reported there were no IT jobs available.

    This was also the finding in our analysis of changes in the composition of STEM graduates going into STEM jobs over the past three decades. We found that although the overall supply remained strong, fewer of the highest performing students were going into STEM jobs. As the lead author of a widely-cited study asserting the need for more STEM graduates, Tony Carnevale of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce said, "If you're a high math student in America, from a purely economic point of view, it's crazy to go into STEM." The best of these students flock to Wall Street and corporate law firms and the rest end up employed in non-STEM jobs which often pay less and underutilize their skills.

    Many of the claims about IT worker shortages thus boil down to employer reports about the difficulties they face in hiring. Our fieldwork finds that reports of hiring difficulties often reflect unrealistic expectations and sometimes strategic posturing. Traditionally, during tight labor markets, such as before the dot.com crash, employers will hire good candidates who may not be "perfect," but the firms will invest in training them.

    However, the two recent studies of employer recruiting mentioned above find a decrease in recruitment intensity and little evidence of efforts to address unmet hiring needs. Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School concludes that employers have become willing to wait, hoping for the perfect candidate, believing that unemployment is high and there must be someone who will not require training. Because it is a slow economy, there is less urgency to fill positions quickly and a longer search time is possible.

    In Summary

    Currently, U.S. colleges graduate far more scientists and engineers than find employment in those fields every year -- about 200,000 more -- while the IT industry fills about two-thirds of its entry-level positions with guest workers.

    At the same time, IT wages have stagnated for over a decade. We cannot expect to build a strong STEM workforce and encourage domestic innovation by developing policies that undermine the quality of STEM jobs. Before asking government to intervene in labor markets by handing out more guest worker visas and green cards to STEM graduates, we should ask for audits of shortage claims and workforce impacts as a first step toward developing evidence-based policy on this issue, an issue critical to the nation's future.

    Asking domestic graduates, both native-born and immigrant, to compete with guest workers on wages is not a winning strategy for strengthening U.S. science, technology and innovation.

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


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    President Barack Obama will use a series of back-to-back speeches over two days to sell the public on his vision of a thriving economy. He gave the first of those speeches Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

    GALESBURG, Ill. -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Washington has "taken its eye off the ball" as he pledged a stronger second-term commitment to tackling the economic woes that strain many in the middle class nearly five years after the country plunged into a recession.

    Obama returned to the college campus where he gave his first major economic address as a U.S. senator, and he chided Congress for being less concerned about the economy and more about "an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals."

    "I am here to say this needs to stop," Obama said in a speech at Knox College. "This moment does not require short term thinking. It does not require having the same old stale debates."

    The president's attempt to refocus on the economy comes amid some hopeful signs of improvement, with the unemployment rate falling and consumer confidence on the rise. But looming spending and budget deadlines this fall could upend that progress if Washington spirals into contentious fiscal fights like those that plagued Obama's first term.

    "I believe there are members of both parties who understand what's at stake," Obama said. "But I will not allow gridlock, inaction or willful indifference to get in our way."

    Even before the president spoke, Republicans panned his pivot back to the economy as little more than vague, empty promises.

    "It's a hollow shell, it's an Easter Egg with no candy in it," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

    The president announced no fresh policy proposals, though he promised new ideas in a series of speeches he plans in the coming weeks. They will focus on manufacturing, education, housing, retirement security and health care.

    On education, the president promised to outline "an aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs, and improve value for middle-class students and their families." He renewed his call for increasing the minimum wage.

    Despite pressing public concerns over jobs and economic security, the economy has taken a back seat in Washington to other issues in the first six months of Obama's second term. That's in part due to the White House's decision to focus on other agenda items following Obama's re-election, most notably stricter gun control measures and immigration.

    Some distractions also have thrown the White House off balance, including revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political groups and the Justice Department's seizure of journalists' phone records. Foreign policy crises, particularly in the Middle East, have competed for Obama's attention, too.

    The president said that while he will continue to press for his other agenda items, there will be few resources and little resolve for solving other problems without a strong economy.

    Perhaps more than any other issue, the economy will also be central to Obama's legacy as president. The deep economic troubles that accompanied his first inauguration have eased and the stock market has soared. But at 7.6. percent, the nationwide unemployment rate remains high and millions more Americans are underemployed or have seen their wages stagnate.

    "This growing inequality isn't just morally wrong. It's bad economics," Obama said. "When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country."

    The economic themes Obama spoke of Wednesday were strikingly similar to address at Knox College eight years ago as a young Illinois senator. White House advisers say Obama has frequently harkened back to that speech throughout his two runs for the White House and nearly five years as president.

    The economy in the surrounding Galesburg, Ill., community reflects much of the underlying economic concerns facing Americans. A Maytag plant in the town shuttered its doors in 2004, leaving hundreds of people unemployed. Today, the factory still sits vacant. Galesburg's unemployment rate is just under 8 percent and nearly one-quarter of its population lives in poverty.

    "Those old days aren't coming back," Obama conceded. He said the proposals he will outline in speeches later this summer will be aimed at adapting the U.S. economy to an increasingly competitive and interconnected world.

    Among the initiatives Obama will tout in the coming weeks is pre-school for all 4-year-olds and training tailored to the jobs of the future, along with a strategy to tackle the rising cost of higher education.

    The president also promised steps to encourage homeownership, make it easier for people to save for retirement and to continue to put in place the elements of his unpopular health care law in the face of efforts by Republicans in Congress to repeal, delay or eliminate funding for its various parts.

    He also pledged new efforts to help manufacturers bring jobs back to America and to create jobs in the energy sectors of wind, solar and natural gas.

    From Galesburg, Obama planned to travel to neighboring Missouri for a similar economic speech. He was also scheduled to visit a port Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday to call for increased spending on infrastructure.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: It was billed as a major policy speech, as President Obama called his commitment to combating economic inequality his highest priority and blasted partisan politics in Washington for undermining continued recovery.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington's taken its eye off the ball. And I'm here to say, this needs to stop.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    BARACK OBAMA: This needs to stop.

    JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama kicked off his push to refocus on jump-start the economy at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, the site of his first major speech as a freshman senator in 2005.

    BARACK OBAMA: This moment doesn't require short-term thinking. It doesn't require having the same old stale debates. Our focus has to be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you, the people we represent.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The president said five cornerstones support his plan to rebuild America's middle class.

    BARACK OBAMA: Good job. Good education for your kids. Home of your own. Secure retirement.

    Fifth, I'm going to keep focusing on health care, because middle-class families and small-business owners deserve the security of knowing that neither an accident or an illness is going to threaten the dreams that you've worked a lifetime to build.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The speech came amid some signs of an economic rebound, but continuing concerns. Hiring, while on the upswing, remains sluggish. The latest jobs numbers put the nation's unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, compared to a high of 10 percent during the depth of the downturn in 2009.

    And housing prices and consumer confidence continue to rise. But the president said more work still lies ahead.

    BARACK OBAMA: We need a new push to rebuild rundown neighborhoods.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    BARACK OBAMA: We need new partnerships -- we need new partnerships with some of the hardest-hit towns in America to get them back on their feet.

    And because no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I am going to keep making the case that we need to raise the minimum wage, because it's lower right now than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. It's time for the minimum wage to go up.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    JEFFREY BROWN: The president also demanded a new political approach to tackling the nation's problems.

    BARACK OBAMA: The key is to break through the tendency in Washington to just bounce from crisis to crisis. What we need is not a three-month plan, or even a three-year plan.

    We need a long-term American strategy, based on steady, persistent effort, to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades. That has to be our project.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Even before the remarks, but after its focus and theme had been reported, Republican leaders were out in force criticizing the president's campaign-like strategy.

    House Speaker John Boehner demanded specifics:

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: There are no new proposals in this speech. The president himself said it isn't going to change any minds. All right, well, so exactly what will change? What's the point? What's it going to accomplish? Probably got the answer, nothing. It's a hollow shell. It's an Easter egg with no candy in it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, to be effective, the president must engage Republicans.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Because every time he goes out and gives one of these speeches, it generates little more than a collective bipartisan eye-roll, a bipartisan eye-roll.

    It's just such a colossal waste of time and energy, resources that would be better spent actually working with both parties in Congress to grow the economy and to create jobs.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The back-and-forth comes as America's frustration grows with Washington, particularly with Congress.

    An ABC/Washington Post poll released today found 73 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress' job. And another by NBC and The Wall Street Journal put the disapproval rating at 83 percent, an all-time high for that survey.

    New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman said opposition to today's speech is all part of a larger Republican strategy to take on many of the president's economic priorities.

    JONATHAN WEISMAN, The New York Times: They believe that they are answerable to a different electorate than the one that sent President Obama back to power. They don't believe that they are doing something out of spite. They believe that they are -- that they are representing their voters. And to most of these Republicans, they probably are.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But President Obama today said he is ready for the political fights and compromises that lie ahead.

    BARACK OBAMA: Now, in this effort, I will look to work with Republicans as well as Democrats wherever I can. And I sincerely believe that there are members of both parties who understand this moment, understand what's at stake, and I will welcome ideas from anybody across the political spectrum.

    But I will not allow gridlock or inaction or willful indifference to get in our way.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Still, other major financial deadlines loom large over Capitol Hill.

    On the agenda after the August recess: avoiding a government shutdown by Oct. 1 and once again raising the nation's debt ceiling.


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    KWAME HOLMAN: Russian media today reported National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden now has obtained a document allowing him to enter Russia.That allows him to leave the transit zone of Moscow's airport, where he's spent the last month.But Snowden's attorney said he will remain at the airport for now, until his asylum status in Russia is finalized.

    ANATOLY KUCHERENA, Attorney for Edward Snowden (through translator):The issue is not yet resolved.Edward Snowden hasn't been denied asylum status, but unfortunately the current situation is a truly unique one for Russia.We have to account for the bureaucracy involved in the process, so his documents are still being looked over.

    KWAME HOLMAN: In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said Snowden's movement from the airport would be deeply disappointing.She said Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the matter with Russia's foreign minister today.

     The leader of Egypt's military called today for mass demonstrations to show he has popular support to confront ongoing violence.The army chief urged Egyptians to demonstrate on Friday in support of the army and police forces.The military has been cracking down on loyalists to President Mohammed Morsi since it removed him from power earlier this month.

    GEN. ABDEL FATTAH AL-SISI, Egyptian Defense MinisterI would like to call all the Egyptians to take to the streets to remind the whole world of the Egyptian will and decision.Therefore, I would like you to take the streets to show the world that you are giving the military and police a mandate to put an end to violence and terrorism.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood responded by saying the general's call was an open invitation to civil war.They plan their own demonstrations on the same day.In another development, the Obama administration said it has delayed the sale of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in the wake of Morsi's ouster.The announcement didn't mention more than a billion dollars in other military assistance.

    A train derailed in northwestern Spain today, killing at least 35 people.Some 50 people were injured.It occurred near a train station in Santiago de Compostela as thousands of pilgrims were traveling there for a Christian festival tomorrow.There was no immediate word what caused the derailment.

    Police in India today arrested the principal of the school attended by 23 children who died last week after eating contaminated school lunches.Tests showed cooking oil used to prepare the meals contained high levels of pesticide.It was purchased from a shop owned by the principal's husband; 47 children in all fell ill after consuming the meal.

    President Obama has nominated Caroline Kennedy to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan.The daughter of late President John F. Kennedy was an important early supporter of Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign for the White House.If confirmed by the Senate, Kennedy would be the first woman to serve as the American envoy in Japan.

    In Washington, House lawmakers moved today to act on a measure that would nullify the National Security Agency's authority to collect phone records of millions of Americans.It was the first time Congress has taken up the issue since the recent leaks about the NSA's secret surveillance programs.

    Meanwhile, National Intelligence Director James Clapper became the latest administration official to say the amendment would unwisely end a critical counterterrorism program.

    Also in Congress today, the father of slain teenager Trayvon Martin appeared before a special caucus on race.The group convened by black lawmakers hopes to focus more attention on issues disproportionately affecting black men and boys.They gathered just days after President Obama insisted the nation has to do some soul-searching in the wake of the Florida shooting.

    Today, Tracy Martin praised the president for opening a new national dialogue.

    TRACY MARTIN, Father of Trayvon Martin:It sparks the conversation in every household over the dinner table.And that conversation is, what can we do as parents, what can we do as men, what can we do as fathers, what can we do as mentors to stop this from happening to your child?And I think that's where the conversation begins.

    KWAME HOLMAN:Martin said he wants to channel his family's tragedy into something positive.He and his wife have established the Trayvon Martin Foundation to address issues facing African-American men.

     Stocks were mixed on Wall Street today after several disappointing corporate earnings reports.The Dow Jones industrial average lost 25 points to close at 15542.The Nasdaq rose a fraction of a point to close at 3579.

    The duke and duchess of Cambridge revealed the name of their son today, George Alexander Louis.He was born on Monday, weighing eight pounds, six ounces.Kensington Palace officials said the prince, who is third in line to the British throne, will be known as His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. Those are some of the day's major stories.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, thank you very much for talking to us.

    SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: It’s really my pleasure. I try to watch almost every night when I’m home in time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s great to hear.

    President Obama is out on the road today trying to refocus Americans’ attention on the economy, talking about job creation. Do you think he’s going to be able to do that? And second of all, do you think that Congress is going to be able to do what it should do this year to improve the

    HARRY REID: First of all, the president’s speech is not a photo op. This is something he’s been planning for a long time. I was at the White House recently and I -- just the two of us, and I was stunned about his optimism for doing good things. He’s never backed off of -- what he wants to do is create jobs. He knows that’s where the issue is.

    So this isn’t one speech. He’s going to give a series of them and, in effect, keep his eye on the prize. And the prize is to do something to help the middle class. So I support what he’s doing.

    And the second question you asked me is what can we do about it here in Congress? I hope that what’s taken place in the last week or so has set a better tone here in Washington. The American people are upset with Congress. If one of those pollsters had called me, I would agree with the 83 percent that thinks we can do a better job. They don’t call me, but if they would I would tell them how I feel about Congress myself. But what we were able to do to defuse some of this, we were able to get some Republicans to break away from the pack and start working as we used to do, to compromise to get things done.

    So I hope that with the financial crisis that’s facing us because of what’s happened with the tea party-driven Republican leadership in Congress, that reasonable Republicans will break away from this, because we can’t-- they’re threatening to not pay the debts the country has already incurred.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Senator, are you saying -- first of all, are you saying you think Congress can do something about the economy to help the economy?

    HARRY REID: Well, sure. All we have to do is to work together. That’s why, as we speak, Patty Murray is working with Susan Collins on an important transportation appropriations bill.

    We haven’t done appropriations bills here for a long time. That’s a job-creating measure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about--

    HARRY REID: And I would say this: 19 Republicans joined with us to make sure we have a good debate on this bill. That’s something that hasn’t happened in a long time around here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But let’s talk about that poll. You just cited 83 percent of Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing -- the lowest rate it’s ever had. Are Americans right in their perception?

    HARRY REID: Yes, of course they’re right. Gridlock. We have gridlock. We have a House of Representatives -- they’re doing nothing. My friend the speaker was on television on one of the Sunday shows and he said, my job isn’t to pass laws; it’s to repeal them. Well, by that metric he’s failed every place because he hasn’t passed any laws and he damn sure hasn’t repealed any.

    We have to start talking about things we work on together, and that is what’s missing here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You said most of the blame lies with the Republicans, but don’t, in fairness, the Democrats bear some of the responsibility?

    HARRY REID: Judy, you should tell me -- I’ll take whatever blame is there, but we have people who work all the time trying to come up with issues. I talked about Patty Murray. She has really worked hard. We got a budget passed over here. The Republicans won’t let us even go to conference on that. We have Barbara Mikulski who is so energetic on starting the appropriations process again. She has a wonderful relationship with Dick Shelby, who is a ranking member.

    And I could go through all my Democratic senators who are trying to work.

    But we have a situation here. Let’s acknowledge it. The vast majority of the Republicans in the House are tea party members. Forty percent of the Republicans here in the Senate, tea party. They represent about 5 percent of the American people but they veto everything we do here.

    And that’s why the last week there was a breakthrough. John McCain and others-- I called John and I said, John, we need to try to work something out on this, and he stepped forward with others and did that. When it came time to go to floor, I talked about John McCain more than I talk about Democrats.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So that did happen just last week, but today there is talk about potentially another filibuster on funding the president’s health care reform, on Obamacare. Could the fix that happened last week turn out to be just temporary?

    HARRY REID: Judy, if you look at what Mike Lee, the young man from Utah, is talking about -- read what he says. What he wants to do is shut down the government to get rid of Obamacare, but in the process he wants to keep all the good things we have in Obamacare -- no pre-existing disability problems, no limits on how much insurance companies have to pay. They want to make sure that all the wellness for millions of seniors still exists. You can stay on your parents’ insurance policy until you’re age 26.

    He’s living in a dreamland. So Republicans -- even Republicans won’t agree with what he’s trying to do. And he is representative of the tea party, and that shows how senseless and illogical it is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you think it’s possible that what happened last week could turn out just to be temporary, that you could just end up right back at war with the --

    HARRY REID: I think it’s possible, but I don’t believe it’s going to happen. I believe that Democrats and Republicans will recognize that we have to work together.

    Take, for example, student loans, student loans. We have-- student loans went from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent at the beginning of July, for students and their parents trying to get a college education. We can’t let that happen, even though that’s-- we don’t have 3.4 percent; Democrats said, then we’re not going to do anything, so we’ve worked together. Dick Durbin led the charge and we’re working together with Lamar Alexander, a Democrat and a Republican, a liberal and a conservative, and now, we have written up-- approved this legislation, because it’s a compromise. What it does is says the next five years, parents and children -- students, I should say -- are going to pay far less than 6.8 percent; that’s pretty good.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But so you’re saying you believe Republicans are ready to work now with Democrats, but you also are very critical of the tea party, so which is it?

    HARRY REID: It’s not a -- it’s not [an] either/or. The tea party makes up 40 percent, I repeat, of the Republican caucus in the Senate. They control the House of Representatives. But there are people in the Senate who are breaking from that. Now, that was proven last week and you know, there’s still 60 percent of the Republicans who want to do good things, and I’m confident that some of the people who are-- have tea party affiliation, I think even they’re tired of the gridlock.

    The American people are sick of gridlock. We’re not doing important things. So we should all work together, even the tea party.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, despite what you say, there was a low moment very recently when your counterpart, the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said you were on the verge of becoming the worst majority leader the Senate had ever seen. What was your reaction?

    HARRY REID: Well, Mitch was upset because I was doing, he thought that that was the wrong thing to do, and he was frustrated, but he’s, of course, changed his tune on that.

    Sticks and stones will hurt my bones, but names will never hurt me. I am very happy. I’ve been the majority leader longer than anyone in the history of this country except for Mike Mansfield, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and so is my Democratic caucus.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what’s your relationship right now with Sen. McConnell?

    HARRY REID: I think it’s -- I think because of what happened last week, it’s going to be better. We’ve never been enemies, hated each other. It’s just been a little difficult to work together, and I think things will get better. That’s one of the things his Republican Congress -- I was going to say ask, but told him, he’s going to have to start working, and I accept that. We’re going to have to start meeting on a regular basis. We haven’t been doing that. Bill Frist, who was his Republican predecessor, led the Senate for a number of years for the Republicans, he and I disagreed on a number of things. We met together virtually every week. And we have to get back doing that with Sen. McConnell.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things the Senate was able to get done was comprehensive immigration reform, passed the Senate. Republicans came over, worked with Democrats. What do you think is going to happen in the House on that?

    HARRY REID: We need comprehensive immigration reform. This isn’t some wild idea on the Democrats. It’s something even President Bush was a cheerleader for when he was president, and he’s still doing it, and I appreciate that very much.

    Our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. And we can fix it. We did it over here. We took take of the borders. We made sure that employers and employees aren’t in a Catch-22 with the employer sanctions legislation. We made it – need to make sure there’s a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people. We have to take care of the 800[,000], 900,000 DREAMers, they want to serve in the military, they want to go to school.

    We’re not going to do it on a piecemeal basis, though. And that’s what we’re hearing in the House. There’s going to come a point -- you know, it’s not often you get the National Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO agreeing on a piece of legislation. They agree not a little bit but a lot. This is important. Why? Because it reduces the debt by a trillion dollars, comprehensive immigration reform.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So how confident are you that the House is going to pass comprehensive reform?

    HARRY REID: Oh, it -- I have -- I’m kind of a pessimist at heart, Judy, but my optimism is overcoming my pessimism because I have to do it. It’s important for the economy. It’s important for the-- that’s why Americans, all, Democrats, Republicans, independents, all agree it’s something we need to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a few brief questions, Senator. One is it’s been reported the president does not have a very good relationship with the Congress. How do you see that?

    HARRY REID: I’ve been here for 31 years. And every president, that’s what they throw at every president. Doesn’t matter if it’s Reagan, Bush, Carter-- it doesn’t matter who it is. The president doesn’t have good relations with Congress. I mean, the only thing the president has done is had the Republicans move into the White House. He takes them to dinner all the time.

    He has them down to the White House. Now, some of these meetings are not public in nature, but the president reaches out to Republicans a lot. In fact, he’s reached out to them so much that some of my Democrats are jealous.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressional elections next year. A number of democratic Senate seats are up. Political experts are out there saying the Senate is ripe for the Republicans to take back control.

    HARRY REID: I think realistically that’s not in the cards. We’d have to lose six seats, and that’s not going to happen. We have some really good candidates. We have a tremendous candidate who announced yesterday, Sam Nunn’s daughter in Georgia. We have the secretary of state in Kentucky who is now ahead of the Republican leader in Kentucky as we speak. We have-- all my incumbents are doing just fine, a couple of retirements we’re working on. But we’re going to be fine. The American people do not like the brand of the Republicans, let’s face it. They’ve offended Hispanics, African-Americans, women, gays.

    They’re going to have to do something to do a little better branding here. And so we have-- and that’s why all the polls, they really -- and I agree with them -- I don’t like the gridlock here in Congress. I think we should be doing more important things. But all the polls show pox on the Republicans. You know, they are just not willing to work with president. And, you know, The Wall Street Journal came out of the poll today. And that clearly says the Republicans have a lot of work to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, picking up on one thing you just said, the president made remarks last week in connection with the Trayvon Martin case about how African-Americans are perceived in this country. What did you think about what he said and what does it say that there’s not a single African-American Democratic member of the U.S. Senate?

    HARRY REID: Oh, just hold your breath; Cory Booker’s on his way from New Jersey. And that’ll happen in October. The president made his remarks extemporaneously. Only he could do-- say what he did. I agree with David Brooks, the Republican columnist for The New York Times.

    And I’m paraphrasing, but not very much. He said it was one of the most remarkable presentations he’s ever seen and thought it was one of the highlights of the president’s presidency. So I agree with him. I think this was really remarkable that he had the courage to come out and talk about what is going on in America. And he had some ability to relate to that as an individual.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, 2016, forgive me. In 2008, Senator, you were one of the first prominent figure in Washington to come out for then-Sen. Barack Obama for president, choosing him over Hillary Clinton. Of course, we know what happened. Should she run in 2016, and if she did, do you think she would win the election? What do you think her chances are?

    HARRY REID: Hillary Clinton may have a bigger fan than Harry Reid; I just don’t know who it would be. I think that what she did as a senator, what she did as secretary of state will go down in history books as a remarkable, remarkable job that she did. I, of course, have such admiration for the president. Remember, the last three or four years he was here we reduced the debt and created 22 million jobs – pretty good deal. And I think that they’re a pretty good team, but she’ll handle things probably even better than he did.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Oh, is that right? Even better?

    HARRY REID: Oh, yeah.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Would you like to see her run?

    HARRY REID: I don’t know what more I can say than -- to be a cheerleader for -- than what I’ve already said in this interview.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate. We thank you for talking with us.

    HARRY REID: You’re welcome.


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now we pick up on a key economic theme raised by the president today and many others in recent times: increasing inequality.

    Many factors are involved in determining the potential for upward mobility, but a new study has highlighted what turns out to be a hugely important one: geographical location. For instance, a child born in poverty in Atlanta or Charlotte has roughly a 4 percent chance of rising to the top fifth of income earners, while odds of a similar climb for a child born in Salt Lake City or San Francisco are over 11 percent.

    It also found that geography mattered less for well-off children than for middle-class or poor ones.

    One of the study's co-authors joins us now, Raj Chetty, professor of economics at Harvard University.

    Well, welcome to you.

    Let's begin with how you define economic mobility. What does that mean and how is it measured?  

    RAJ CHETTY, Harvard University: So, we define economic mobility as the odds that a child from a low-income family moves up in the income distribution.

    So, for instance, a child growing up in a family in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, what's the chance that that child reaches the top fifth, for instance?

    JEFFREY BROWN: And this -- so it's the American dream, so to speak, of upward mobility is what you're looking at?

    RAJ CHETTY: That's exactly right.

    The idea is to try to measure, is the American dream alive and how does it vary across areas of the U.S.?

    And what we're finding, basically, is that the classic question is America the land of opportunity might not actually be the right question to ask, because there are some places in America that are well-described as lands of opportunity, where children from low-income families have a high probability of succeeding.

    But there are other places that are better described as, unfortunately, lands of persistent inequality, where generation after generation, we see persistent poverty.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, were you surprised by the results of what you found? And explain how geography does come to work as a factor.

    RAJ CHETTY: Yes. I think we were quite surprised because we weren't expecting to find so much variation within the U.S.

    There's been a lot of talk in the media and in academic research about how the U.S. now has lower rates of mobility than other developed countries, such as European countries Denmark and Sweden and so forth.

    What we were quite surprised by is that there are places within the U.S. comparable with rates of mobility that are comparable to Denmark and Sweden, and then there are other places that have rates of upward mobility that are lower than any other rich country for which we have data today.

    And so you were giving some examples. Salt Lake City, San Jose, these are places that are at the very top in terms of upward mobility. Other cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, N.C., Atlanta, all generally quite vibrant economies, actually, in the U.S., nevertheless have relatively low rates of upward mobility.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so if they're all vibrant economic locations, as you say, what are the factors that make them different?

    RAJ CHETTY: Yes, that's a great question. So, that's something we're trying to investigate. We have a bunch of hypotheses for which we have some correlational evidence at this point.

    We don't know exactly what the key causal factors are, but some of the channels that appear to potentially be important are the levels of inequality within the area, so how much difference is there between the high -- higher incomes and lower incomes within a given city, picking up on a theme the president talked about earlier today.

    Also, what appeared to be fairly important is the amount of segregation in the area. So a city like Atlanta, for example, lower-income individuals are not living in neighborhoods with -- that are well-integrated with higher-income families. And that we found was a common characteristic of the cities that had lower rates of upward mobility.

    We also found correlations with -- perhaps not surprisingly -- the quality of local schools and also various factors that are related to family structure, so the fraction of two-parent families in an area, and measures of civic engagement and religiosity, the cohesiveness of the community, if you would like.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And within a given city, you do see differences in terms of upward mobility?

    RAJ CHETTY: So we're focusing on differences in upward mobility across cities.

    Our statistics don't allow us to study differences within a city. And so what we're doing is comparing 740 different regions of the U.S. We break up the U.S. into 740 subregions and we're comparing across those areas.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I'm curious, now, how did you come to focus on geography in the first place? What were the questions that you and your colleagues were asking?

    RAJ CHETTY: Yes.

    So the way we came at this, I think, is we wanted to get a better picture of what the determinants of equality of opportunity are in America. And our view was that potentially we could learn quite a bit if there was variation across places within America.

    So the idea is, if we can find out what it is that places like Salt Lake City and San Jose and Boston have that are generating these high rates of upward mobility, maybe we can figure out the key factors that are going to increase rates of upward mobility in Atlanta and in Charlotte and in other places in the U.S. that aren't at the moment having high rates of upward mobility.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that leads to the next question, is how -- do we know how locked in a city is once it's in a certain place, whether for good or ill, whether it can move up?

    RAJ CHETTY: Yes. So, that's a fascinating question to think about going forward.

    My own view is that it's unlikely that any city is totally locked in. I'm optimistic that there are things one can do to change the level of mobility. We have some hypotheses about what these are. So, for instance, if we think it's something related to school quality, we have done some prior work in our research team, which I discussed earlier on the NewsHour, showing that the quality of teachers and the quality of schools can have very important long-term impacts.

    And that's an area in which we can make concrete strides to try to improve school quality in areas that don't have as good schools at the moment. And I think that's the type of thing one could do to try to increase rates of upward mobility throughout the U.S.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And does the data tell you now or is this something you look at whether the problem is getting worse? Does it point to this country as even more of a class society than we have thought of in the past?

    RAJ CHETTY: So our data at the moment basically provide a snapshot of children who were born in the 1980s and whom we're seeing at age 30 today.

    We don't have enough data at the moment to look at changes over time. But going forward, the great thing about having statistics like this to do research is that you have the prospect of understanding how things are changing and figuring out which cities are getting better and learning more about how we can make the other cities even better going forward.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Raj Chetty of Harvard University, thank you very much.

    RAJ CHETTY: Thank you. It's my pleasure.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the third story in our series on air and online about efforts to reduce gun violence -- tonight, a California program that gives violent offenders the tools to resolve conflicts inside and outside prison walls.

    Special correspondent Kate Olson reports. A version of this story aired on the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.

    KATE OLSON: For most of its 160-year history, San Quentin has been known as a tough place to do hard time. But, over the past two decades, this has begun to change.

    Although only a tiny portion of state funds goes toward rehabilitation, contributions from citizens support innovative programs aimed at reducing violence and recidivism. One program making a difference was started by Jacques Verduin.

    JACQUES VERDUIN, psychologist: There's a growing alienation and a lack of sense of belonging for most people in society. And it seemed that nowhere else stronger than in our prison system had we turned our backs on each other.

    KATE OLSON: A psychologist who has practiced meditation for many years, Verduin created a program called GRIP, Guiding Rage Into Power. The yearlong initiative seeks to help prisoners address the root causes of their violent behavior and make the journey of transformation from violent offender to peacemaker, from the inside out.

    JACQUES VERDUIN: Is home just four walls and a roof on the outside? Or is it a state of mind as well? Can you go home before you leave? Can you leave prison before you get out?

    ELIZABETH SIGGINS, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: The reality is that the parole board does not grant parole very easily. So for many of them they don't actually know when they will get out of prison.

    And I think what the GRIP program has done is offered them a way to not be trapped by that, to realize that they're living their lives now, that they're still part of a community. It's not the community outside the prison, but it's the community inside the prison.

    WOMAN: Hope.

    MAN: Solidarity

    KATE OLSON: Elizabeth Siggins, who visited San Quentin the day we were there, is a senior policy adviser in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for the state of California.

    ELIZABETH SIGGINS: When you work in a prison system, you don't think that you're going to go sit in a group of offenders and close your eyes. And when I was sitting there today I thought, I feel safe.

    KATE OLSON: Creating this safe environment is the responsibility of the prisoners, who understand that the program belongs to them.

    ROBIN GUILLEN, inmate: My name is Robin. I'm a peacemaker.

    KATE OLSON: Fellow inmates, like Robin Guillen, who are graduates of the program, guide the weekly sessions.

    ROBIN GUILLEN: See. And that's part of what we explore here and discover about ourselves on why we acted violently.

    KATE OLSON: Guillen has served 40 years in prison -- 20 of them here at San Quentin -- for a murder he committed at age 17. After witnessing a stabbing outside his cell, he made a decision to turn his life around beginning with facing his painful past.

    MAN: Can you go back to the very first time, the very first time that you witnessed trauma or pain in your life?

    ROBIN GUILLEN: My father and my cousin were in a fight in the living room. My father stabbed the cousin in the living room many times. And I'm sitting there, crying, blood-curdling cries. Well, this was sheer -- out of sheer fear, terror. That was the first experience of original pain.

    KATE OLSON: To help the new class of prisoners understand how pain and suffering from their past can trigger violent behavior, Robin prompted others to share their experience.

    ROBIN GUILLEN: How many suffered from trauma early on in life, as far back as you can remember, as an adolescent, as a little one?

    BYRON HIBBERT, inmate: Early on in my life, you know, everything you do, you get hit. It was just something to me that happened just normal. If you go to school late, you get a whipping. You know what I mean? If you come home late, you get a whipping. Those things taught me how to be aggressive and how to be hurtful towards another human being.

    JACQUES VERDUIN: See if you can connect the emotional feeling with some sensation in your body.

    KATE OLSON: Through a practice called sitting in the fire, the inmates learn to face painful emotions from their past.

    JACQUES VERDUIN: So, breathing in, I welcome this feeling. I feel this fear, this grief, this anxiety.

    In my experience in working in San Quentin, I saw that it was often difficult, strong emotion that propelled people in a life of crime and addiction and trying to medicate what you could otherwise process. Sitting in the fire, in essence, basically is a movement of responsibility, where you say, the causes and the origins of this feeling lie within me, so you can stop blaming.

    ROBIN GUILLEN: And see that's the whole peace is to be able to feel what's going on, to be able to really address, internally, what is this feeling? Where is it coming from, and how I'm going to respond vs. react.

    KATE OLSON: Making amends to families of their victims is also part of the journey in GRIP, and to the experience of inner freedom for Guillen.

    ROBIN GUILLEN: I have character defects, flaws, and I'm imperfect. But I have a walk and I have a commitment to honor and to honor those people that I've hurt. And I have something to give. And I could either give it in here, or I can give it out there.

    ELIZABETH SIGGINS: This is 52 weeks of very difficult self-exploration. Not only do the facilitators hold the men accountable. They do hold each other accountable. And, ultimately, the success of the program is whether or not, after they're done, they really do stick to that commitment of non-violence.

    JACQUES VERDUIN: I think that it's an enormous gift to a community to bring back groups of men that have been imprisoned and the gift is to say, these are safe men. Not only will they not create conflict and violence in your community; they can help resolve it and de-escalate it.

    MAN: So, I want to welcome you.

    KATE OLSON: This gift was evident in the testimonies at the graduation ceremony of last year's GRIP class.

    VAUGHAN MILES, inmate: My name is Vaughan. I've been incarcerated for 18 years for taking the life of Kneeck.

    And through all that hurt, and you accept that responsibility for that, they got a part in there where it's called sitting in the fire, OK? So you sit through all them emotions and I got to see all the ugly that I did. Also, what it helped me do is to look back and find my authentic self, to look back at that kid that was -- used to cry if his hamster died, and allow that person right there to come forth and shine and guide me.

    And if I can stop another Kneeck from being murdered and another Vaughan from murdering somebody, then I did my job.

    KATE OLSON: In a closing ritual, supporters welcomed the graduates into the community as peacemakers, ready to give back.


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And next to Brazil, the scene of the first international trip by Pope Francis as leader of the Catholic Church.

    Margaret Warner has the story.

    MARGARET WARNER: He held a solemn ceremony for thousands inside the ornate basilica in the small city of Aparecida, while, outside, tens of thousands braved the cold winter rain, awaiting a glimpse of Pope Francis and a few words in his native Spanish.

    POPE FRANCIS, leader of Catholic Church: Pray for me. Pray for me. I need it.

    MARGARET WARNER: The first Latin American pope and first Jesuit one, Francis came to Brazil to celebrate this weekend's World Youth Day, a triennial event to energize young Catholics.

    Brazil has the world's largest Catholic population, some 120 million. The church has lost ground to evangelical Protestants in recent years. Yet, at each stop, Francis has been greeted exuberantly. Arriving Monday in Rio, Francis dispensed with the customary bulletproof popemobile, and was mobbed by the crowds, sparking security concerns.

    There have also been some scattered protests.

    ANDRE RIBEIRO, student: The attention the government gave the pope's visit was $52.7 million. That's too much. You could invest in health or education.

    MARGARET WARNER: That theme sparked massive protests last month against social inequality and the lavish spending to prepare for hosting next year's World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

    Welcoming the pope Monday evening, President Dilma Rousseff reflected those concerns.

    PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF, Brazil: We have before us a religious leader sensitive to the aspirations of young people, of our people, of social justice, opportunities for all, and a citizen's dignity. We struggle against a common enemy, inequality in all its forms.

    MARGARET WARNER: The pope, for his part, described his mission in Brazil this way.

    POPE FRANCIS: I have neither silver nor gold, but I bring with me the most precious thing given to me: Jesus Christ.

    POPE FRANCIS: I have come in his name, to feed the flame of fraternal love that burns in every heart.

    MARGARET WARNER: Tomorrow, Francis will visit one of Rio's largest and most violent favelas, or slums. He returns to Rome Sunday.

    To explore the pope's visit to Brazil, I'm joined by Marie Arana, a Peruvian-American author and journalist and a member of the Scholars Council at the Library of Congress. She's the author of "Bolivar: American Liberator."

    And, Marie Arana, thank you for coming.

    MARIE ARANA, author, "Bolivar: American Liberator": Thank you so much. Thank you for having me, Margaret.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, popes usually get enthusiastic welcomes overseas.

    MARIE ARANA:  Yes.

    MARGARET WARNER: But what explains the fervent outpouring we have seen for this pope in Brazil?

    MARIE ARANA:  Well, the fact that it's a Latin American pope, let's start with that.

    The Catholic Church has undergone a lot of changes in the past, say, 100 years. In 1910, 65 percent of all Catholics in the world were in Europe. Now 40 percent, which is actually majority, are in Latin America. And the growth of Catholics around the world has been in the Southern Hemisphere.

    So, especially for Latin America, this is a very big step for them, to be included and to have a world leader at the level of a pope to be one of them.

    MARGARET WARNER: Is there also something deeper, though, in the sort of -- in the philosophy and approach he's brought, not just to the papacy, but to his ministry throughout?

    MARIE ARANA:  Absolutely. Absolutely.

    The Latin American church, which began, let's say, with Bartholomew de Las Casas in the early 1500s, he turned the theology upside-down. He said, we are going to have a grassroots perspective here, and we are going to start with the poor and we are going to start with the people, and particularly with the indigenous.

    And that's something that this pope brings back, the concern for the poor, the concern for the socially marginalized. And he has really emphasized that in his pastoral work. And so it's very important to him.

    MARGARET WARNER: And he brings a kind of humble style. I mean, we have all read that he doesn't wear the red papal shoes, he doesn't live in the lavish apartments that the popes usually do. Does that have special resonance in Latin America even today?

    MARIE ARANA:  Yes, it does, and especially fact that he's taken the name Francis, which, of course, was St. Francis of Assisi.

    Now, there has been no other Francis. And St. Francis of Assisi to Latin Americans is a very big figure, a very worshipped figure. So that means a great deal to them as well. The fact that the pope has also expressed concern for women, because he is a very deep believer in the Virgin Mary.

    When he went today to visit the Aparecida, he was making a statement then. So that means a great deal to Latin Americans as well.

    MARGARET WARNER: What explains, though, that there has been this drop-off in the number of Brazilians who identify as Catholics?

    MARIE ARANA:  Well, I would say, for the past 50 years, the church has -- in Latin America -- has associated itself with the powerful and with the moneyed classes.

    And this has turned the tables on the church a bit. And so there has been great bleeding away of people from the Catholic Church. In Brazil, 90 percent -- almost 90 percent used to count themselves Catholics in 1980, and today it's almost, you know, barely close to 60 percent. So there has been a drop-off, not that Christianity has lost, because they have remained Christians. They have just gone to the other side, a lot of them.

    MARGARET WARNER: Protestant evangelicals, in fact.

    MARIE ARANA:  Exactly, exactly.

    MARGARET WARNER: So it isn't -- what you're saying is, in Latin America, it isn't that there's been this huge growth in secular -- secularization, as, say, in Europe, where people just don't go to church.

    MARIE ARANA:  Right.

    MARGARET WARNER: But they actually have switched to evangelical.

    MARIE ARANA:  Absolutely.

    So they haven't really left the faith, in a sense. They haven't left Christianity, but they have moved over to Protestantism, to Pentecostalism, evangelism, charismatics as well, so...

    MARGARET WARNER: So is this pope in a mission to revitalize the church in Latin America, other than being a symbolic figure?

    MARIE ARANA:  A lot of scholars think so.  

    I have spoken to quite a few who have said that this -- the feeling that -- the general feeling in Latin America, even for those who are not Catholics, the feeling that there is somebody in that position of power means that Latin Americans will be included more sort of at a higher level.

    Latin Americans for so long have been misrepresented and unrepresented and under-represented, that now they see a head of state -- because that's what a pontiff truly is -- representing them.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, he arrives, of course, at a time of tremendous social unrest in Brazil, as we saw from those demonstrations last month.

    How does his visit play into that? And can it help alleviate some of those tensions over social inequality, or might his message of social justice add fuel to the fire?

    MARIE ARANA:  Well, it was really interesting today in the clips that you just showed of the president sort of allying herself with the social justice that the pope so clearly represents and the concern for the poor.

    I think that the pope will have a calming influence, a sort of tranquilizing influence. It doesn't help that the state has managed to shell out $52 million for the state visit, but what they explain is that, in fact, it is an investment because it's brought a lot of tourism and a lot of sort of jobs and whatnot.

    But it's still for the people to judge.

    MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, is there a lot at stake for the Brazilian government in this visit?

    MARIE ARANA:  I think there is, because there is at this point -- it's such a tenuous, volatile situation, that they need all the help they can get in calming the population and sort of stabilizing things.

    And I think, if the pope says the right things, which he is likely to say -- address -- and, in fact, I think the cardinals have said he will address the protest issues. And I look forward to seeing what he says tomorrow, because that will tell the tale.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Marie Arana, thank you so much.

    MARIE ARANA:  Thank you.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, presidents who send troops into conflicts around the world, sidestepping Congress' role. That's the subject of a new book.

    Ray Suarez talked with its author.

    RAY SUAREZ: The Constitution establishes the president of the United States as the commander in chief of the nation's armed forces, but the power to make war is subject to the checks and balances found throughout the Constitution.

    The president asks Congress to declare war, and it's congressional approval that clears the way for a state of war. But declarations of war are rare, and American forces have seen plenty of combat without them on the orders of the president.

    Veteran journalist and teacher Marvin Kalb has taken a look at the evolving power of the president to commit the country to action around the world. His new book is called "The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed."

    It's great to have you here.

    MARVIN KALB, author, "The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed": Thank you, Ray.

    RAY SUAREZ: And, as I was thinking about it as I was reading the book, the United States has been actively militarily engaged in a lot of places in the last 60 years without a declaration of war.

    MARVIN KALB: Without a declaration, which has now become essentially an antique, a rare remembrance of former times.

    The last one was on Dec. 8, 1941, when Roosevelt went to the Congress after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the day before, and he said, "I need a declaration of war." And they gave it to him within a couple of days.

    There were four other times in American history when that happened. But at no time since 1941 has the president ever gone to Congress and asked for a declaration.

    RAY SUAREZ: And Vietnam is the centerpiece of your book. And you illustrate how successive presidents were able to escalate that conflict really on their own writ, without having to ask Congress much of anything.

    MARVIN KALB: Exactly.

    What was happening was that from Harry Truman right on to Richard Nixon, we were all living under the shadow of the Cold War. And the Cold War essentially set the terms under which a president functioned.

    So the president could ask for something, say, we're in the middle of the Cold War, the Soviet Union is just around the corner, so watch your step, and the Congress -- no one in Congress was going to stand up against a president.

    When the issue was war against communism and now the issue war against terrorism, and nobody in Congress is really standing up to the president.

    What I found in this book is that one president after another ever since World War II can lead the country into war relatively easily. No one is standing up. There are no checks and balances. The president does it on his own.

    RAY SUAREZ: But for all the questions about whether the request for a declaration of war would constrain a president, wouldn't it also give him cover, the kind of support that it is necessary to have when you're leading the country into this kind of venture?

    MARVIN KALB: Absolutely.

    But, at this particular point, the president doesn't feel that he needs cover. Jim Webb, the senator, retired senator from Virginia, did a recent article in which he said that the Congress has become irrelevant in the making and executing of American foreign policy.

    I have certainly found that to be the case. The congressmen and the senators are very good on issues like Benghazi, but when it comes to an issue like declaring war, they say, let the president do it. Why do I have to bear responsibility for that? It takes too much time away from fund-raising. I have to answer to my constituents.

    And right now, with the Congress out of the picture and the president having essentially his own army, like the European monarchs of old -- they had their own army -- the president can now go into a war without anybody saying anything. Maybe an editorial writer will say something, but that's about it.

    RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned that the Cold War and then the war on terror strengthened the president's hand when he wants to make war.

    MARVIN KALB: Yes. Yes.

    RAY SUAREZ: Permanently? Or is this a presidential power that, with events, may wax or wane in coming decades?

    MARVIN KALB: It's a very good question.

    And the only sense I have right now is that the evidence over the last 30, 40 years suggests that we're moving in that direction and are likely to continue to move in that direction.

    One of the reasons that this book, by the way, has been on my mind to write for 40 years now because of one overriding concern. And that is when too much power rests in the hands of the president, even the president, I think we're all in trouble.

    The whole idea, as you said at the very beginning, was checks and balances. And, increasingly, with the Congress abdicating its responsibility, with the president having his own army, in effect, and with the media more or less benignly going along with what's happening, you end up with the president having all of the power to do whatever he wants.

    If he, tomorrow morning, decides we're going to put -- we're going to go into an attack in Iran, who would stop him? No one. You would just learn about it and report it.

    RAY SUAREZ: And that's the thing. After Dec. 8, 1941, FDR had a united nation and a united government behind him as a result of that war declaration.

    MARVIN KALB: Yes.

    RAY SUAREZ: And look at the wars, the invasions, the various things that have happened in the recent decades, often leading presidents down very bad roads because they were going it alone.

    MARVIN KALB: Absolutely.

    And this is one of the things that's so terribly important. We are fighting totally different kinds of war. So if you put this proposition to the president now, who's a very intelligent man, and say, Mr. President, are you really comfortable with this arrangement, he'd say no. I'm positive he'd say no.

    But everything yields power to him. When you live in a world that is so unpredictable, so uncertain, with anything happening the next morning, you have to turn to somebody. And the American people at this point must turn to the president. There is no one else.

    The Congress has said goodbye, and the Army is there to do what the president wants as commander in chief. He is the boss. Zbig Brzezinski told me in the course of researching this -- he said, the president makes the key decision, and after that, it is the policy of the United States.

    RAY SUAREZ: The book is "The Road to War."

    Marvin Kalb, great to see you.

    MARVIN KALB: Thank you, sir.


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    Watch Video Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sat down for a newsmaker interview with Judy Woodruff. You can watch a version of this interview on the PBS NewsHour Wednesday.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Judy Woodruff Wednesday that the Senate had "a breakthrough" last week when they were able to cut a bipartisan agreement to allow votes on stalled executive nominees without resorting to the so-called "nuclear option."

    Reid expressed optimism that Republicans would be willing to work with Democrats moving forward: "There are still 60 percent of Republicans who want to do good things. And I am confident that some of the people who have tea party affiliation, even they're tired of the gridlock."

    Wednesday on the PBS NewsHour, the senator joins Woodruff to talk about the economy, partisan conflict, President Barack Obama's relationship with Congress and the 2014 presidential contest.

    Read a transcript of their full interview below.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, thank you very much for talking to us.

    SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: It's really my pleasure. I try to watch almost every night when I'm home in time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That's great to hear.

    President Obama is out on the road today trying to refocus Americans' attention on the economy, talking about job creation. Do you think he's going to be able to do that? And second of all, do you think that Congress is going to be able to do what it should do this year to improve the economy?

    SEN. REID: First of all, the president's speech is not a photo op. This is something he's been planning for a long time. I was at the White House recently and I-- just the two of us, and I was stunned about his optimism for doing good things. He's never backed off of-- what he wants to do is create jobs. He knows that's where the issue is.

    So this isn't one speech. He's going to give a series of them and, in effect, keep his eye on the prize. And the prize is to do something to help the middle class. So I support what he's doing.

    And the second question you asked me is what can we do about it here in Congress? I hope that what's taken place in the last week or so has set a better tone here in Washington. The American people are upset with Congress. If one of those pollsters had called me, I would agree with the 83 percent that thinks we can do a better job. They don't call me, but if they would I would tell them how I feel about Congress myself. But what we were able to do to defuse some of this, we were able to get some Republicans to break away from the pack and start working as we used to do, to compromise to get things done.

    So I hope that with the financial crisis that's facing us because of what's happened with the tea party-driven Republican leadership in Congress, that reasonable Republicans will break away from this, because we can't-- they're threatening to not pay the debts the country has already incurred.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Senator, are you saying -- first of all, are you saying you think Congress can do something about the economy to help the economy?

    SEN. REID: Well, sure. All we have to do is to work together. That's why, as we speak, Patty Murray is working with Susan Collins on an important transportation appropriations bill. We haven't done appropriations bills here for a long time. That's a job-creating measure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's talk about--

    SEN. REID: And I would say this: 19 Republicans joined with us to make sure we have a good debate on this bill. That's something that hasn't happened in a long time around here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But let's talk about that poll. You just cited 83 percent of Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing -- the lowest rate it's ever had. Are Americans right in their perception?

    SEN. REID: Yes, of course they're right. Gridlock. We have gridlock. We have a House of Representatives -- they're doing nothing. My friend the speaker was on television on one of the Sunday shows and he said, my job isn't to pass laws; it's to repeal them. Well, by that metric he's failed every place because he hasn't passed any laws and he damn sure hasn't repealed any. We have to start talking about things we work on together, and that is what's missing here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You said most of the blame lies with the Republicans, but don't, in fairness, the Democrats bear some of the responsibility?

    SEN. REID: Judy, you should tell me -- I'll take whatever blame is there, but we have people who work all the time trying to come up with issues. I talked about Patty Murray. She has really worked hard. We got a budget passed over here. The Republicans won't let us even go to conference on that. We have Barbara Mikulski who is so energetic on starting the appropriations process again. She has a wonderful relationship with Dick Shelby, who is a ranking member. And I could go through all my Democratic senators who are trying to work.

    But we have a situation here. Let's acknowledge it. The vast majority of the Republicans in the House are tea party members. Forty percent of the Republicans here in the Senate, tea party. They represent about 5 percent of the American people but they veto everything we do here. And that's why the last week there was a breakthrough. John McCain and others-- I called John and I said, John, we need to try to work something out on this, and he stepped forward with others and did that. When it came time to go to floor, I talked about John McCain more than I talk about Democrats.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So that did happen just last week, but today there is talk about potentially another filibuster on funding the president's health care reform, on "Obamacare." Could the fix that happened last week turn out to be just temporary?

    SEN. REID: Judy, if you look at what Mike Lee, the young man from Utah, is talking about -- read what he says. What he wants to do is shut down the government to get rid of "Obamacare," but in the process he wants to keep all the good things we have in "Obamacare" -- no pre-existing disability problems, no limits on how much insurance companies have to pay. They want to make sure that all the wellness for millions of seniors still exists. You can stay on your parents' insurance policy until you're age 26.

    He's living in a dreamland. So Republicans -- even Republicans won't agree with what he's trying to do. And he is representative of the tea party, and that shows how senseless and illogical it is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you think it's possible that what happened last week could turn out just to be temporary, that you could just end up right back at war with the --

    SEN. REID: I think it's possible, but I don't believe it's going to happen. I believe that Democrats and Republicans will recognize that we have to work together.

    Take, for example, student loans, student loans. We have-- student loans went from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent at the beginning of July, for students and their parents trying to get a college education. We can't let that happen, even though that's-- we don't have 3.4 percent; Democrats said, then we're not going to do anything, so we've worked together. Dick Durbin led the charge and we're working together with Lamar Alexander, a Democrat and a Republican, a liberal and a conservative, and now, we have written up-- approved this legislation, because it's a compromise. What it does is says the next five years, parents and children -- students, I should say -- are going to pay far less than 6.8 percent; that's pretty good.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But so you're saying you believe Republicans are ready to work now with Democrats, but you also are very critical of the tea party, so which is it?

    SEN. REID: It's not a-- it's not [an] either/or. The tea party makes up 40 percent, I repeat, of the Republican caucus in the Senate. They control the House of Representatives. But there are people in the Senate who are breaking from that. Now, that was proven last week and you know, there's still 60 percent of the Republicans who want to do good things, and I'm confident that some of the people who are-- have tea party affiliation, I think even they're tired of the gridlock.

    The American people are sick of gridlock. We're not doing important things. So we should all work together, even the tea party.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, despite what you say, there was a low moment very recently when your counterpart, the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said you were on the verge of becoming the worst majority leader the Senate had ever seen. What was your reaction?

    SEN. REID: Well, Mitch was upset because I was doing, he thought that that was the wrong thing to do, and he was frustrated, but he's, of course, changed his tune on that.

    Sticks and stones will hurt my bones, but names will never hurt me. I am very happy. I've been the majority leader longer than anyone in the history of this country except for Mike Mansfield, and I'm proud of the work I've done, and so is my Democratic caucus.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what's your relationship right now with Sen. McConnell?

    SEN. REID: I think it's-- I think because of what happened last week, it's going to be better. We've never been enemies, hated each other. It's just been a little difficult to work together, and I think things will get better. That's one of the things his Republican Congress-- I was going to say ask, but told him, he's going to have to start working, and I accept that. We're going to have to start meeting on a regular basis. We haven't been doing that. Bill Frist, who was his Republican predecessor, led the Senate for a number of years for the Republicans, he and I disagreed on a number of things. We met together virtually every week. And we have to get back doing that with Sen. McConnell.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things the Senate was able to get done was comprehensive immigration reform, passed the Senate. Republicans came over, worked with Democrats. What do you think is going to happen in the House on that?

    SEN. REID: We need comprehensive immigration reform. This isn't some wild idea on the Democrats. It's something even President Bush was a cheerleader for when he was president, and he's still doing it, and I appreciate that very much.

    Our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. And we can fix it. We did it over here. We took take of the borders. We made sure that employers and employees aren't in a Catch-22 with the employer sanctions legislation. We made it - need to make sure there's a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people. We have to take care of the 800[,000], 900,000 DREAMers, they want to serve in the military, they want to go to school.

    We're not going to do it on a piecemeal basis, though. And that's what we're hearing in the House. There's going to come a point-- you know, it's not often you get the National Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO agreeing on a piece of legislation. They agree not a little bit but a lot. This is important. Why? Because it reduces the debt by a trillion dollars, comprehensive immigration reform.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So how confident are you that the House is going to pass comprehensive reform?

    SEN. REID: Oh, it-- I have-- I'm kind of a pessimist at heart, Judy, but my optimism is overcoming my pessimism because I have to do it. It's important for the economy. It's important for the-- that's why Americans, all, Democrats, Republicans, independents, all agree it's something we need to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a few brief questions, Senator. One is it's been reported the president does not have a very good relationship with the Congress. How do you see that?

    SEN. REID: I've been here for 31 years. And every president, that's what they throw at every president. Doesn't matter if it's Reagan, Bush, Carter-- it doesn't matter who it is. The president doesn't have good relations with Congress. I mean, the only thing the president has done is had the Republicans move into the White House. He takes them to dinner all the time. He has them down to the White House. Now, some of these meetings are not public in nature, but the president reaches out to Republicans a lot. In fact, he's reached out to them so much that some of my Democrats are jealous.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressional elections next year. A number of democratic Senate seats are up. Political experts are out there saying the Senate is ripe for the Republicans to take back control.

    SEN. REID: I think realistically that's not in the cards. We'd have to lose six seats, and that's not going to happen. We have some really good candidates. We have a tremendous candidate who announced yesterday, Sam Nunn's daughter in Georgia. We have the secretary of state in Kentucky who is now ahead of the Republican leader in Kentucky as we speak. We have-- all my incumbents are doing just fine, a couple of retirements we're working on. But we're going to be fine. The American people do not like the brand of the Republicans, let's face it. They've offended Hispanics, African-Americans, women, gays.

    They're going to have to do something to do a little better branding here. And so we have-- and that's why all the polls, they really -- and I agree with them -- I don't like the gridlock here in Congress. I think we should be doing more important things. But all the polls show pox on the Republicans. You know, they are just not willing to work with president. And, you know, The Wall Street Journal came out of the poll today. And that clearly says the Republicans have a lot of work to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, picking up on one thing you just said, the president made remarks last week in connection with the Trayvon Martin case about how African-Americans are perceived in this country. What did you think about what he said and what does it say that there's not a single African-American Democratic member of the U.S. Senate?

    SEN. REID: Oh, just hold your breath; Cory Booker's on his way from New Jersey. And that'll happen in October. The president made his remarks extemporaneously. Only he could do-- say what he did. I agree with David Brooks, the Republican columnist for The New York Times. And I'm paraphrasing, but not very much.

    He said it was one of the most remarkable presentations he's ever seen and thought it was one of the highlights of the president's presidency. So I agree with him. I think this was really remarkable that he had the courage to come out and talk about what is going on in America. And he had some ability to relate to that as an individual.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, 2016, forgive me. In 2008, Senator, you were one of the first prominent figure in Washington to come out for then-Sen. Barack Obama for president, choosing him over Hillary Clinton. Of course, we know what happened. Should she run in 2016, and if she did, do you think she would win the election? What do you think her chances are?

    SEN. REID: Hillary Clinton may have a bigger fan than Harry Reid; I just don't know who it would be. I think that what she did as a senator, what she did as secretary of state will go down in history books as a remarkable, remarkable job that she did. I, of course, have such admiration for the president. Remember, the last three or four years he was here we reduced the debt and created 22 million jobs - pretty good deal. And I think that they're a pretty good team, but she'll handle things probably even better than he did.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Oh, is that right? Even better?

    SEN. REID: Oh, yeah.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Would you like to see her run?

    SEN. REID: I don't know what more I can say than -- to be a cheerleader for -- than what I've already said in this interview.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate. We thank you for talking with us.

    SEN. REID: You're welcome.

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    Bring up the topic of guns and there's likely to be no shortage of opinions. Mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; and Newtown, Conn., have continued to prompt national conversations on ways to reduce gun violence. This week PBS NewsHour explored three such initiatives in California.

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    By Vivek Wadhwa

    Diversity boosts high-tech innovation in America, argues Vivek Wadhwa. Photo courtesy of John Moore/Getty Images.

    Paul Solman: There aren't enough IT jobs to meet demand? Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University and a fellow at Stanford Law School, questions that claim. He responds to Wednesday's post on the Making Sen$e Business Desk from Hal Salzman, B. Lindsay Lowell and Daniel Kuehn, in which they argued that competition from high-tech guest workers is keeping domestic workers' wages low and making it harder for native STEM graduates to find jobs in their fields.

    Wadhwa, the author of "The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent," takes issue with much of their reasoning and shows that the demand for STEM workers in this country is still higher than the supply. "Data may say it's a sunny day, but you need to open the window to make sure that it isn't actually raining," Wadhwa says, confronting Salzman's work.

    In earlier Making Sen$e posts, Wadhwa broke through conventional wisdom to argue that innovation comes from experience, and that twice as many entrepreneurs are over age 50 than are under 25. Now, read Wadhwa's attempt to open the window onto another kind of Silicon Valley diversity.

    Vivek Wadhwa: Early in my academic career, at Duke University, I researched the graduation rates of engineers in India and China. Based on the numbers, I concluded that India's IT industry would perish, China would rule the world in innovation, and the U.S. was doing just fine.

    I also read papers by academics who analyzed U.S. science and engineering graduation data. They said that the U.S. was graduating three times as many engineers and scientists as it needed and that the excess graduates were moving into other professions. They also claimed that U.S. student performance on mathematics, science and reading tests had improved relative to other countries -- and that U.S. enrollment in math and science courses was increasing. The concerns that parents, academics, businesses and policymakers have about U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education were therefore, the papers claimed, unfounded.

    I believed them and wrote about this in a BusinessWeek article titled "The Science Education Myth."

    MORE FROM VIVEK WADHWA: The Truth About Entrepreneurs: Twice As Many Are Over 50 as Are Under 25

    Then I learned an important lesson: numbers never tell the complete story and some academics spend too much time in ivory towers. Data may say it's a sunny day, but you need to open the window to make sure that it isn't actually raining.

    The graduation data were indeed misleading. Subsequent research that I performed by traveling to India, China and Silicon Valley revealed that India's IT industry was booming, China's graduates could not innovate and U.S. tech centers were starved for engineering talent.

    I also researched the secret of Silicon Valley's success. I learned that diversity and openness gave it a global advantage. I was surprised to find that immigrants were dominating the Valley's entrepreneurial ecosystem and fueling U.S. innovation and job growth. My research team documented that from 1995 to 2005, immigrants founded 52 percent of Silicon Valley's technology companies and contributed disproportionately to the patents filed by leading tech companies such as Qualcomm (72 percent) and Cisco (60 percent).

    I realized that flawed data analysis and protectionist demands by nativists are causing our political leaders to advocate immigration policies that are choking U.S. innovation and economic growth.

    Because there are not enough permanent-resident visas for the skilled foreign workers who are already in the U.S. on temporary visas, immigrant entrepreneurship has stalled. Tight limits on temporary guest worker visas, known as H-1B visas, are preventing technology companies from bringing in new foreign workers, so these companies are being forced to grow their operations abroad.

    This means that we are limiting the benefits that come from domestic innovation and reducing the numbers of U.S.-based service, construction and administrative jobs. In trying to protect the jobs of the few, we are hurting the many.

    I learned of the dire need that the tech industry has for skilled workers by speaking to the founders of technology companies and observing the bidding wars for talent. Things are so bad in Silicon Valley that, as NPR's "All Tech Considered" reported, big companies are buying hot startups -- not for their products, but for their people. They call these "acqui-hires." They are paying ridiculously high prices for top talent.

    It seems that my friend Hal Salzman of Rutgers University still hasn't opened his window. Salzman was the author of the misleading report that I had cited in my BusinessWeek column in 2007. Not only has he not revised his research based on the reality of the technology industry, but he is now blaming his foreign students for discouraging American students from completing their science and engineering degrees.

    He claims that there is a vast conspiracy by the technology industry to hire foreigners because they are cheaper, and he argues that immigration policies are industry "giveaways." He likens immigration to "industry intervention."

    This is probably because Salzman is doing Big Labor's bidding. Some trade unions are trying to close the doors to immigrants, whom they conveniently call "guest workers," to send the mean-spirited message that foreigners are not welcome permanently in America. Some labor unions have realized that their future depends on economic growth and immigration. But others are working behind the scenes to limit all immigration, skilled and unskilled.

    In a new report, published recently by the trade-union-dominated think tank Economic Policy Institute, Salzman cites the same questionable data as he did in 2007. But now he justifies Big Labor's protectionist demands by citing surveys that were supposedly conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and through his own fieldwork. These form the scientific basis for his assertion that "guest workers are discouraging natives from studying STEM." But I'm not aware of any such NCES surveys.

    That's not all. With one claim after another, Salzman and his co-authors distort reality to reach conclusions fundamentally opposed to actual facts. They say there are too many STEM graduates, whereas everyone knows that STEM, especially computer knowledge, is in high demand and that many job openings are hard to fill, as a recent Brookings analysis showed.

    They say that STEM workers have falling wages, whereas, in fact, they are among the highest-paid workers in the economy, and salaries of professionals with up-to-date skills have been consistently increasing.

    They say that these STEM workers contribute little to innovation, but the tech sector and its workforce are driving innovation.

    Salzman et al. claim that we are graduating more students than there are jobs for computer workers. This is ridiculous. Let's look at the data. According to the National Science Foundation, only 37,000 Americans graduate each year with a bachelor's degree in computer science and another 10,000 with a master's degree. So how many job openings are there for computer workers? Six hundred thousand at any time, according to the Conference Board.

    Moreover, the Conference Board calculates that there are roughly four job openings for every unemployed computer worker, in comparison with an average of 0.4 job openings per worker in all fields. In other words, there aren't nearly enough job seekers with the right skills or new graduates to fill demand for computer workers.

    They also claim that wages are falling or flat for computer workers, but the data source they cite (the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey) actually shows the opposite. Wages of computer and math workers, as well as of those in other STEM occupations, have increased and soared relative to most workers, even though computer and STEM workers are already among the highest-paid. Their analysis tries to recreate a time series that doesn't exist by combining outdated occupational definitions with new ones.

    Meanwhile, it is a completely uncontroversial fact that STEM graduates are earning higher wages than graduates in any other field of study and are more likely to find an occupation in their field than are graduates from other degree programs. Here are Census Bureau reports that show that STEM majors dominate other majors in terms of economic outcomes.Yet Salzman and his co-authors somehow reach the opposite conclusion.

    This Census Bureau report shows that students following Salzman's advice -- and not majoring in computer science or engineering or working in those fields -- would leave hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.

    They oddly cite Tony Carnevale from Georgetown suggesting that STEM graduates would be better off going into other fields. Sure, a few math geeks make a killing at hedge funds, but this is a tiny number of jobs, and guess what: hedge funds, too, look to hire foreign-born workers with STEM skills.

    In fact, Carnevale's work could not have been clearer in showing that the wage and job opportunities for STEM graduates are better than for graduates in any other field of study. He writes, "We show that STEM majors typically offer the best opportunities for employment and earnings, while unemployment is higher for graduates with non-technical degrees."

    Rob Atkinson of The Information Technology Innovation Foundation also analyzed the Salzman data and claims. He debunked its many myths in a paper titled "The Real Story on Guestworkers in the High-skill U.S. Labor Market." The report refutes each substantive claim, showing that American students are dropping out of STEM majors at high rates; those who complete their majors are finding abundant work opportunities in their fields; and the wages of most in IT occupations are growing.

    So if we're going to debate immigration, let's open the window and look at the reality before trying to manipulate data. America is the great country it is because wave after wave of immigrants beat a path to its shores and made the generations of immigrants before them work harder, think smarter and, yes, compete for their jobs. Competition is healthy for our economy; protectionism will cause economic decline.

    Most importantly, we need to realize that immigration is not an "industry giveaway" or "government intervention." Today's Americans are the descendants of "guest workers" -- people who came to toil away and make America what it is today.

    Watch Video

    Vivek Wadhwa appeared on the NewsHour in May to explain how H-1B visas boost domestic innovation and growth.

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

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    The PBS NewsHour holds live Twitter chats on Thursdays. This week: stopping gun violence. Join us @newshour. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Bring up the topic of guns and there's likely to be no shortage of opinions. Mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; and Newtown, Conn., have continued to prompt national conversations on ways to reduce gun violence. This week PBS NewsHour explored three such initiatives in California.

    In Summer Night Lights, Correspondent Ray Surez examined how summer block parties are making Los Angeles safer by bringing gang members, police officers and other neighbors together. In Reclaiming Guns, Correspondent Spencer Michels looked at the mixed response to California's Armed and Prohibited Persons program. The initiative confiscates legally purchased guns from those that later become barred from owning them. In Prison Peacemakers, Correspondent Kathryn Olson reports on "GRIP -- Guiding Rage into Power," a program attempting to reduce recidivism by addressing the root causes of violent behavior.

    And online, NewsHour examined "straw purchases," which is when someone knowingly buys a gun on behalf of someone who is prohibited from owning one. We also examined the number illegal firearms California has confiscated since 2007.

    NewsHour hosted a live Twitter chat to discuss these and other issues related to reducing gun violence on Thursday, July 25. You can review the discussion below. We will be hosting live chats regularly on Thursdays. Follow @NewsHour for details and use the hashtag #NewsHourChats.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama administration today challenged voting laws it says discriminate on the basis of race.

    Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement in Philadelphia before a meeting of the National Urban League, pledging to focus first on Texas.

    ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: We cannot allow the slow unraveling of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve.

     JUDY WOODRUFF: The attorney general's declaration signaled the Justice Department's first move to protect minority voters since the Supreme Court invalidated part of the landmark Voting Rights Act last month. In its 5-4 decision, the court in effect removed a critical provision requiring states with a long history of voter discrimination to get federal approval prior to any changes in voting practices.

     But, today, Eric Holder said his department would rely on surviving portions of the act.

    ERIC HOLDER: We plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law's remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected. My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against discrimination wherever it is found.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And with respect to Texas, he said the state's recent history could still make it subject to federal pre-approval.

    ERIC HOLDER: Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented just last year in the redistricting case of Texas v. Holder, we believe that the state of Texas should be required to go through a pre-clearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, Holder pressed Congress to take bipartisan action to reinstate pre-clearance requirements.

    ERIC HOLDER: It's incumbent upon congressional leaders from both parties to guarantee that every eligible American will always have equal access to the polls, to ensure that we will never turn our back on the hard-won progress of the last hundred years, and to consider new solutions that are equal to the challenges of the 21st century.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, criticized the DOJ's move.

    His statement said -- quote -- "Once again, the Obama administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country's system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state's commonsense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process."

    Officials in other Southern states once subject to pre-clearance are watching the Justice Department's actions closely. Many, like North Carolina, have enacted or fast-tracked new voting eligibility rules in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision.

    For more on the implications of today's news, we turn to Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The group is leading the legal challenge to some redistricting plans in Texas. And Hans Von Spakovsky, he is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and he testified recently at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Voting Rights Act.

    Welcome to both of you to the NewsHour.

    So, Nina Perales, to you first. What do you make of the attorney general's announcement today? How significant is this?

    NINA PERALES, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund: Well, we very much appreciate the announcement and the effort of DOJ to support our request in the Texas court that Texas be put under continuing supervision under the Voting Rights Act.

    It's sorely needed. Texas is the poster child for why we continue to need the protections of the Voting Rights Act. And I hope that DOJ's effort is just the beginning of continued involvement enforcing voting rights in Texas.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sorely needed, she's saying. What's your reaction?

    HANS VON SPAKOVSKY, former federal election commissioner: Well, I'm not sure that that's true.

    But the point of this today is that it shows the critics of the Supreme Court's decision that knocked out Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acts are wrong. This shows that there are still very powerful tools in the Voting Rights Act that the attorney general can use.

    And, in fact, this is the right way to do it. Rather than having just blanket coverage of a number of states based on 40-year-old data, the Justice Department is going to have to go to court, convince a court and produce evidence that Texas has engaged in discriminatory conduct, and should be put under supervision based upon current conditions. And that's the way it should be.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you're suggesting that's a harder pull, a harder argument to make than it was before the Supreme Court ruling?

    HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, yes, but because the Texas was covered under Section 5 before the Supreme Court ruling based on data that was 40 years old. It was based on turnout information from the 1964, 1968, and 1972 presidential elections, whereas now, Justice will have to bring current evidence that they're discriminating, and that they will continue to discriminate unless they're put under court supervision.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Nina Perales, explain what the challenge is in Texas that the Justice Department is saying it's going to support.

    NINA PERALES:  Well, the challenge has largely been litigated. We filed suit against Texas.

    And by we, I mean various civil rights organizations in Texas sued the state over their 2011 redistricting plans. We have been able to secure relief so far, and, at this point, the really important question in the case is whether Texas is going to be put under the continuing supervision of the Voting Rights Act.

    I have to respond to Hans in saying that -- in pointing out that Texas has not made it through a single redistricting round since the 1960s without one or more of its redistricting plans for the state being struck down as discriminatory, racially discriminatory against minorities. And that was certainly the case in this round as well, where two courts found racial discrimination problems with the state's redistricting plan.

    So we think that Texas is perfect for the kind of pre-clearance obligation that was removed in the Shelby decision by the Supreme Court, but which can be restored by our federal court here in Texas if it finds that the coverage is warranted.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So she's saying Texas' situation is perfect for the Justice Department to continue -- for the federal government to continue to be involved under the surviving language in the Voting Rights Act.

    HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, it will be if they can prove intentional discrimination.

    I mean, one of the problems with Section 5 was that it had an effects test. In other words...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And when we're talking about Section 5, just so the audience understands, what are we talking about?

    HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Yes.

     Section 5 was a special provision of the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, it was only supposed to last five years, that said that a small number of covered jurisdictions could not make any changes in their voting laws without getting the pre-approval of the federal government, either Department of Justice or a federal court.

    And the coverage was based on having less than 50 percent turnout in these federal elections back in '64, '68, '72. And the problem with the statute -- one of the problems was that they never updated that formula, even though today blacks vote at higher rates in many of the covered states, and the other problem was it has an effects test.

    In other words, there can be no intent to discriminate, no purposeful discrimination, and yet, if it supposedly has a disparate impact, then it violates the law.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, bottom line here, Nina Perales, is -- does the Justice Department action make it more -- make it easier for you and others who are challenging redistricting, future redistricting decisions in the state of Texas, does it make it more likely that you will be successful?

    NINA PERALES: Well, I think it's always helpful when the Justice Department comes in and supports the position of voting rights advocates.

    And I would also like to point out that I think it could be really critical in additional cases that are bound to be brought in Texas. We still are struggling with discrimination not just at the state level, but at the local level. DOJ recently denied pre-clearance, before the Supreme Court decision, to a redistricting plan in the area of Corpus Christi, Texas.

    We have ongoing voting rights litigation in Houston. I was just meeting with somebody today over the Dallas City Council's recent redistricting plan. So, it's my hope that the Department of Justice doesn't simply support our effort to get continuing coverage in Texas statewide, but also that they come in and help us address these discrimination issues that are popping up on the local level.

     JUDY WOODRUFF: Is what the Justice Department is doing healthy? You said a minute ago it's better for them to do it under this provision than the one the court knocked down. But is this -- is this healthy for American democracy? Is it -- is it healthy for the federal government to be involved in potential voter discrimination?

     HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, of course.

     Look, if there's actual discrimination going on, then, yes, the Justice Department should be there trying to stop it and to remedy it. The problem is this law has been abused in many instances in the past, parts of the Voting Rights Act. A good example is the fact that they objected to South Carolina's voter I.D. law, and it was really a frivolous objection.

     South Carolina had to spend $3.5 million in court to fight them, and they were successful, and they beat the Justice Department.

     JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you saying this Texas move is frivolous?

    HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: I don't know. I haven't seen the evidence that they would fall within Section 3.

    One thing to keep in mind is that Section 3 requires you to show that the state has violated the 14th and 15th Amendment rights of Texas residents. I haven't seen the evidence yet that that has occurred.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you respond to that, Nina Perales?

    NINA PERALES: We do have substantial evidence of racially discriminatory intent in the 2011 redistricting plans, and, in fact, a federal government in Washington, D.C., last year, pursuant to the pre-clearance provision, found that Texas had intentionally discriminated against minority voters in its state Senate plan, as well as the congressional plan, and found that the state had slid backwards in the state House plan.

    Now, that decision was subsequently vacated by the Supreme Court following its decision in Shelby because of the changes now that the court has declared in the coverage provisions. But we have absolute confidence that the federal court in San Antonio, Texas, where we're trying our case, is going to look at that evidence and come to the same conclusion as the court in Washington, D.C.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Final quick word from both of you.

    Nina Perales, does what the attorney general announced today support you and what you're doing in Texas?

    NINA PERALES: Yes.

    The attorney general's announcement supports us, not just in the short term, in terms of some of the relief that we're trying to get in Texas redistricting, but in the long term, we look forward to the support of the Justice Department in remedying all of the local violations that we fight here in Texas.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And how do you see that?

    HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, I hope she does get help, but I should point out that, for example, for the last five years, the Obama administration has only filed one lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to try to stop voting discrimination. So they haven't been very effective in enforcing other parts of the Voting Rights Act.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we going to leave it there.

    Hans Von Spakovsky, Nina Perales, thank you.

    HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Thank you.

    NINA PERALES: Thank you.


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    KWAME HOLMAN: Federal prosecutors indicted four Russian nationals and a Ukrainian for hacking corporate computers to steal millions in cash and goods.They're charged with stealing some 160 million credit and debit card numbers, then creating and selling their own cards in the largest such case in U.S. history.The operation targeted 17 American and international corporations, including J.C. Penney, 7/Eleven and Nasdaq, resulting in losses of more than $300 million.

     U.S. attorney Paul Fishman said two of the alleged hackers are in custody.

    PAUL FISHMAN, U.S. attorney, district of New Jersey:The individuals charged and arrested in this case are the ones at the top, the ones who steal the data that they sell to the folks who cash out.By arresting two of the key players and identifying three of the others, we believe we have taken a major step toward dismantling this organization.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Prosecutors said the other three suspects in the case remained at large.Police in Northwest Spain are questioning the driver of a train that derailed catastrophically after apparently traveling at an excessive speed.

    At least 80 people on board died and nearly 100 were injured.The crash happened last night outside Santiago de Compostela, as the city's annual Catholic festival was getting under way.

    We have a report narrated by Lewis Vaughan Jones of Independent Television News.

    LEWIS VAUGHAN JONES: From just above the wreckage, the man filming here is repeating the words "What horror."Hundreds of people were in these carriages.

     On top of the bank, train seats are scattered on the ground, and one whole carriage landed here.People are trying to rescue passengers inside.Down on the track, other attempts to help seem futile.These are the moments just before the crash.

    We have stopped the picture, but, as the train rounds the corner, the carriages tip and smash into the bank.The crash happened around 8:40 last night.This is one of Europe's worst-ever train crashes, just two miles from Santiago de Compostela station.This morning, the work of clearing through the destruction -- here, people's suitcases are being taken away.

    The huge scale of all this visible in the smallest facial expression.The Spanish prime minister has declared three days of official mourning across the country.

    He said, "Today, we have lived through a terrible, dramatic accident which I fear will stay in our memories for a long time."

    The carriages have been winched away.Questions now about how this could have happened.And, with speed a factor, one of the train drivers is being investigated.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The State Department confirmed one of those killed in last night's crash was an American.Five Americans were among the injured.

    A new wave of bombing and shooting attacks swept across Iraq today, killing at least 42 people.The deadliest blast happened inside a busy cafe north of Baghdad; 16 Iraqis died.The recent increase in violence has claimed the lives of more than 550 people so far this month.

    Chinese officials have charged ousted politician Bo Xilai with bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.Bo ran the metropolis Chongqing for five years and was a rising star in the Communist Party.But early last year, he was caught up in a scandal involving his wife and the murder of a British businessman.The 64-year-old Bo hasn't been seen in public for 17 months.His trial is expected begin within weeks.

    The death toll in the two-and-a-half-year-long Syrian conflict has now surpassed 100,000.That's according to an estimate out today from the United Nations.The grim milestone came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with leaders of Syria's opposition at the U.N.He urged them to seek a political solution to end the civil war.

    The Labor Department today reported the number of Americans applying for jobless benefits rose slightly last week.Still, stocks managed modest gains on Wall Street.The Dow Jones industrial average gained 13 points to close above 15,555.The NASDAQ rose 25 points to close at 3,605.

    Pioneering sex researcher Virginia Johnson has died.Johnson transformed the study of human sexuality in the 1960s along with her husband, the late William Masters, and penned two bestselling books.They also conducted critical research on the diagnosis and treatment of sexual disorders and dysfunctions.Virginia Johnson was 88 years old.

    Those are some of the day's major stories.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to new allegations from the U.S. government of unprecedented insider trading by one of Wall Street's most successful hedge funds.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: SAC Capital has long been known for posting some of the best returns in the industry. Its founder, Steven A. Cohen, has been seen as an exceptional trader on Wall Street. Cohen himself wasn't indicted today. But federal prosecutors announced criminal charges against the firm, saying portfolio managers, supervisors and analysts had engaged in securities fraud for at least a decade by using inside information on at least 20 public companies.

     Cohen was blamed in part for the larger culture at the fund, once worth $15 billion. Five former employees have admitted to insider trading at SAC. At a press conference today, U.S. attorney Preet Bharara said it was a magnet for market cheaters with rampant insider trading.

    PREET BHARARA, U.S. attorney, Southern District of New York: When so many people from a single hedge fund have engaged in insider trading, it is not a coincidence. It is, instead, the predictable product of substantial and pervasive institutional failure. As alleged, SAC trafficked in inside information on a scale without any known precedent in the history of hedge funds.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Sheelah Kolhatkar covers this industry for Bloomberg Businessweek  and was at the press conference today.

    So, Sheelah, it's 41 pages long. What are the highlights? What are they alleged to have done?

    SHEELAH KOLHATKAR, Bloomberg Businessweek: Well, they're basically charging SAC Capital, the company, with being responsible for years and years of illegal trading on the parts of a handful of portfolio managers.

    They're basically saying that the hedge fund owner, who is not named, sort of intriguingly, in the documents, but we all know it is Steven Cohen, they are saying he hired people knowing that they had contacts at public companies who could leak non-public information, that that was sort of a priority in his hiring, that he didn't do anything to enforce compliance and adherence to securities regulations, that he compensated these people, he paid them bonuses in exchange for their sharing of this kind of information and bringing in profits into the firm.

     And, basically, the language is so strong in this charging document, it makes it sound like the entire operation was completely rotten, if you believe what Bharara said today. It was ...

     HARI SREENIVASAN: There was a quote from FBI saying SAC not only tolerated cheating; it encouraged it. So, when you say these bonuses, were they given bonuses for cheating or just having that mystery edge?

    SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: Of course the word edge pops up intriguingly throughout this.

    And it used to be used very commonly on Wall Street as a sort of euphemism for your advantage, your information advantage in the market. What's the little thing that you know that other people don't know that can allow to you make money? And, of course, often, edge in that sense is illegal, because you are not supposed to trade on information that other people don't have.

    So, the bonuses and other compensation at the firm was often based on how profitable the traders' ideas were, and they were often encouraged to bring their best and most profitable ideas to Cohen himself. The complaint alleges that they didn't talk about inside information, but there were sort of euphemisms to describe it, a conviction rating.

    So, you could say, well, I have a conviction rating of 10 out of 10 on this. Well, Cohen might think, OK, that means you know something. So, therefore, that is going be a profitable trade. If it turns out to work out well for the firm, he's going to pay you very handsomely for it, and this is part of the culture of the company.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We have heard in the past of inside trading charges against individuals, but why go after the firm? What is significant about that today?

    SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: Well, it's a very interesting move because it doesn't happen very often, especially not with a company of this size. It has 1,000 employees, and had $15 billion in assets at the beginning of the year.

    I think, from covering this for a number of months, that they would have liked to charge Cohen himself, and there's been a lot of effort and resources devoted to trying to build a case against Steve Cohen himself for engaging in insider trading.

    This move today on the part of the U.S. government signals that they were not able, least at this stage, to make a case against him. They didn't have any witnesses saying that he participated in insider trading. They didn't have any wiretaps that would have brought them across the line.

    So, instead, they have taken this approach of just indicting the whole company and saying it fostered this culture of lawbreaking sort of behavior.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is this a matter of going after the firm because they couldn't get him and try and essentially dry the firm up, destroy its business?

    SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: Well, I'm sure they thought very long and hard about how it would impact the firm's business, because, of course, you know, it's not good. It could lead to job losses. It will sort of send ripples throughout Wall Street.

    But, yes, I think at some point they decided this operation was dirty on some level. And, of course, Cohen, and his firm have argued throughout this process that they haven't done anything wrong. So, you know, this is the moment where the government has to really show its hand and they're going to have to prove that this is actually true and, you know, that all this energy that has been spent trying to take this company down has actually brought them somewhere.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what's the impact on the firm so far? Has business gone away? Have dollars walked away from investments at SAC?

    SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: Well, that's a good question.

    I mean, because this has been going on for so long, a lot of damage has already been done. The firm had about $15 billion at the beginning of this year. Only $6 billion of that was outside investor money. And over the course of this year, as one SAC employee or former employee after another has been charged or linked to insider trading, there has been all this terrible press and publicity, the SEC has charged the firm, so a lot of investors have already pulled out their money.

    They only have around $1 billion in outside investor money left. So in that respect, even if the end result of all this is that Cohen himself get banned from the securities industry, all that means is that he cannot trade outside investor money. He cannot serve as an investment adviser. And he's almost effectively at that point now. Most of the capital that remains in the fund is his own personal wealth.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: As you mentioned, he faces no criminal charges. But what's the impact to the rest of the street? Does this send a strong enough message? This is a huge firm that they're going after and this is a culture that they're kind of laying open.

    SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: Yes, well, I think Preet made that pretty clear. He's trying to discourage greed. At least that's what he says. He's trying to discourage cheating.

    This is a firm that sort of had achieved legendary status on Wall Street. It was the biggest and most successful for the most number of years among a peer group of very large, successful hedge funds, and a lot of traders on Wall Street sort of inspired to work there. Stevie Cohen was this legendary figure. He was this amazing tape reader. He always made money. I mean, 2008 is the only year that his firm did not have sort of a very impressive performance.

    So I think it is going to shake people. There had been some fatigue, I think, over the last few years on Wall Street over some of these insider trading cases. People were getting a little weary.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

    SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: But this case today was so strong and so sort of dramatic, I think people are going to really pay attention. And I think it has already sent a message about cheating and aggressive behavior and the use of information.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Sheelah Kolhatkar from Bloomberg Businessweek, thanks so much. SHEELAH KOLHATKAR: Thanks.

     


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