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

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    Matt Neff from the Smithsonian's National Zoo holds a hellbender salamander that he caught in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Scientists hope to learn how healthy and viable the population is. Photo by Rebecca Jacobson

    It takes six scientists to catch one hellbender salamander: three to lift the rock, two to hold the fishing nets, and one to dive underwater and grab the creature. Then, holding on is its own challenge, because the animals ooze clear slime from their skin when threatened. "It's like grabbing an eel covered in Crisco," said Kim Terrell, a postdoctoral researcher from the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

    At the end of a long day snorkeling in the clear streams of southwestern Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, Terrell and her team assumed their positions. As three scientists lifted a flat, heavy rock, Terrell groped underneath the stone, let out a muffled cry through her snorkel mask and popped out of the water.

    "Where did it go? Did you see it?"

    The biologists checked their nets and scoured the water. Sarah Colletti from the Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center pointed at the slick rocks under the water. "Right there, he's looking right at you." One of the biologists lunged, secured a firm grasp, and triumphantly pulled it out: a nearly two-foot long hellbender.

    View Slide Show

    Slide show by Rebecca Jacobson.

    Hellbender salamanders are long, flat, slippery amphibians that live underwater in clear mountain streams, under rocks that can weigh up to 1,800 pounds. Their coloring is a mottled green-brown that blends into the river bottom; they have wide flat heads, beady eyes and stubby toes.

    While they've been around for 170 million years, scientists know little about them. There has never been a comprehensive national survey. Biologists surveyed areas in the past, but pinning down the exact size and territory of the population is tricky, said J.D. Kleopfer, a herpetologist from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, who is helping Terrell locate hellbender salamanders in the state. (He calls them "snot otters," affectionately.)

    Terrell and her partners across the country are leading an effort in hopes of changing that. They've been surveying the population across the eastern United States for the last three years to determine the health and viability of the population.

    And it's no easy task. Their work involves trudging up and down mountain streams and flipping enormous boulders. Unlike tracking a deer, there's no trail to follow. To narrow down the search, they have plans in the near future to use DNA sampling technology to search for traces of hellbender DNA in the streams.

    Once caught, getting the creature back to shore for study is like a salamander rodeo. Back at the Blue Ridge mountain streambed, Derek Wheaton, a natural resource specialist at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, starts a timer on his wristwatch. The hellbender thrashes, whipping its wide flat head around to its keeled tail. Wrapping the salamander in a wet towel, one team member holds it down while another -- Terrell -- draws a blood sample from its tail. The blood sample will allow to measure the animal's stress hormone levels and tell her if it's is fighting any infections. The team must get the sample quickly; the longer they wait, the higher the stress hormones from its capture could climb, leading to a false reading about its daily stress levels.

    Watch Video Watch a researcher release a hellbender into the water. Video by Brian Gratwicke/Smithsonian's National Zoo

    "Imagine if I burst into your office one day, tackled you, stuck a needle in your butt and then measured your stress levels," Terrell explained.

    They draw this sample in three minutes flat and then start taking measurements -- length, weight, sex. They inject a microchip into the hellbender's tail, the same kind of identification chip vets use on dogs and cats. When researchers capture the same animal in the future, this will allow them to identify it and track changes in its health.

    Hellbenders are a "canary in the coal mine" species, meaning their health is an indicator for the health of the water quality and environment around them, Terrell says. As a completely aquatic species, they breathe through their skin, which makes them highly susceptible to any pollutants in the water. Runoff from agriculture, mining and energy development sends silt and pollution into their streams, choking the salamanders and causing them to disappear from once populous habitats. The salamanders appear to have vanished from once-reported habitats in Ohio and Illinois, for example. Their numbers have reportedly dropped so low in the Ozarks that the Arkansas and Missouri subspecies was listed as endangered in 2011.

    Hellbenders may also be affected by climate change, something Terrell is studying in her lab research. Warmer water carries less oxygen, making it difficult for the salamanders to breathe, she explained. And water temperature also seems to affect their reproduction. In fact, she said, it's unclear if hellbenders will continue to breed in warmer waters.

    On the flipside, finding a hellbender in your stream is a good sign, said Mike Pinder, wildlife diversity manager for Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Hellbenders can live as long as 50 years -- that's ancient for an amphibian, he said. By studying the health of the hellbender population, scientists can draw conclusions about their habitat's quality and stability.

    "If you have hellbenders in your stream, that means you've had good water quality for a long time," he said.

    Humans pose a threat to the species. Pinder says some trout fishermen have been known to catch the salamanders and kill them, fearing that the giant amphibians are eating their fish. Killing hellbenders is illegal, but he still sees hellbenders with spikes driven through their heads or even tacked to trees.

    They are also highly valued in the black market pet trade, sold by poachers for hundreds of dollars.

    But removing even one adult from its river has serious consequences, Terrell said. Hellbenders can live to 30 years old in the wild, but they grow slowly and take years to reach sexual maturity. That means every breeding adult is essential for the population's survival.

    Securing the necessary funding to study this species has been difficult. Salamanders "don't have a voice," said Matt Neff, who cares for the animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo's reptile and amphibian house.

    "I often have to explain to people that a salamander is not a reptile," he said. "Frogs sing, turtles are cute, but people have a harder time connecting with salamanders."

    But they are surviving, even thriving, in unexpected places. Eric Chapman with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy said that he's been surprised by some of the places the amphibians have turned up. He recently found a large population of hellbenders living in parts of Pennsylvania's Clarion River, which was believed to be uninhabitable for the salamanders.

    "They're not a highly visible. They're not cute and cuddly," Chapman said. "But I just love them. Every time I touch one I think they're just spectacular."

    Learn more about the Smithsonian's National Zoo salamander research on their website.

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    List compiled by Rebecca Jacobson. Read our full Science Wednesday report.

    They have lungs, but they breathe completely through pores in their skin. Their name Cryptobranchus means "secret gill." They are the third largest species of salamanders in the world, growing to over two feet long and weighing over four pounds. Their closest relatives live in China and Japan, but hellbenders are the last of their genus. They can live into their 50s in captivity -- that's ancient for an amphibian. Unlike other salamanders, they can't regrow their limbs. Biologists "tagged" hellbender salamanders captured in the 1990s by clipping off one of the amphibian's toes. They are loyal to their rocks. An individual hellbender's range is less than half a square mile, and the salamanders have been found under the exact same rocks year after year. Males create and guard the nests but they also eat the eggs. Contrary to popular belief, they are not poisonous, but their teeth are still sharp enough to break human skin. They have an amazing sense of smell. Kim Terrell, a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, says a tiny drop of earthworm scent in a 40 gallon tank sends the hellbenders in her lab scrambling out from under their rocks looking for the food. They hunt like eels, lurking under heavy rocks and lunging at crayfish, worms, and small fish. And their gullet is enormous -- they can swallow fish almost as long as themselves. No one is sure how they got their name, but one theory is that fishermen named them hellbenders because they look "like they crawled out of hell and are bent on going back." They are also called "mud cats," "devil dogs" and "snot otters" -- named for the mucus they secrete through their skin when threatened. Fossil records date the existence of hellbender salamanders to more than 160 million years ago.

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    Egyptian protesters burn a U.S. flag during a demonstration outside the American embassy in Cairo on March 9, 2012 before clashes broke out with security forces. According to Pew, 16 percent of Egyptians have a favorable opinion of the U.S. and only 19 percent consider America more of a partner than an enemy. Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

    Pew Research recently released a massive international study of America's image around the globe. We've been keeping our eye on how much and which countries receive military aid from the U.S., so we wondered how various countries view America, narrowed down by those that received military aid in 2011.

    To be clear: we are not attempting to prove or disprove a causality (more military money translating into more 'likes' for America, so to speak) between money and attitudes. We wanted a smaller data set and considered narrowing the pool to countries who receive military aid as an interesting way to go.

    We decided to look at whether citizens of other countries had a favorable view of the United States or not, and plotted that against whether they thought the U.S. was more of a partner than an enemy.

    aid-enemy-promo.png Click the image to view the full interactive.

    Of countries on our list, we found there is a general correlation between the higher an opinion of the U.S. and a higher percentage considering the U.S. as more of a partner instead of an enemy.

    OK, seems rather obvious.

    But some interesting correlations emerged. African countries on our list seem to really like us: they have both a highly favorable opinion of the U.S. and see the U.S. as a partner. Europe and Asia run lukewarm to more favorable. The Middle East trends towards the negative (lower favorability and lower perception as the U.S. as partner), minus the exception of Israel. Of the countries on the list, Israel loo favorably the U.S. highest.

    Egyptians, on the other hand, have generally a low favorability of the U.S. and only about a fifth consider the U.S. more a partner than enemy.

    Some countries seemed to think of their relationship as more strategic. Germany, for example, has a middle-of-the-road favorability of the U.S.: 53 percent. But almost three quarters of Germans consider the U.S. as a partner. Britain and the Czech Republic show similar relationships.

    Poles, on the other hand, weren't very likely to think of the U.S. as a partner (only 40 percent), but 67 percent had a favorable view of the U.S.

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    GWEN IFILL: President Obama has called off next month's planned meeting with Russian President Putin. That announcement today underscored the damage done by the dispute over Edward Snowden.

     For the record, the statement posted on the White House Web site said U.S. officials could not justify a meeting of the presidents.

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki elaborated:

    JEN PSAKI, State Department: Major issues were not teed up to make significant progress on the level of a president-to-president summit. And that wasn't a constructive step to take at this point.

    GWEN IFILL: But it was clear the Edward Snowden affair was the driving force behind the decision to cancel the summit.

    Last week, the Kremlin granted asylum to the National Security Agency leaker, in spite of U.S. demands that he be handed over to face espionage charges.

    JAY LENO, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno: The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    GWEN IFILL: Last night, in an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, President Obama said that was the wrong decision.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I was disappointed.

    JAY LENO: Mm-hmm.

    BARACK OBAMA: Because, you know, even though we don't have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally, we have tried to respect if there's a lawbreaker or an alleged lawbreaker in their country. We evaluate it and we try to work with them.

    GWEN IFILL: And today's White House statement acknowledged the Snowden matter was indeed "also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship."

    In the Leno interview, the president gave the Russians credit for cooperation in the Boston bombing investigation and other areas, but, he said:

    BARACK OBAMA: There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality. And what I consistently say to them and what I say to President Putin is, that's the past. And, you know, we have got to think about the future. And there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to cooperate more effectively than we do.

    GWEN IFILL: Tensions in the Obama-Putin relationship were clearly evident at the G8 summit in Ireland last June, after they clashed over Syria.

    Today, Kremlin officials expressed their own disappointment at the U.S. decision to forego the summit. But they said President Putin's invitation stands. Mr. Obama still plans to attend the G20 gathering in St. Petersburg next month, but has added a side visit to Sweden instead.

    And Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their Russian counterparts in Washington on Friday.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, was the president right to cancel the meeting? And where does this leave U.S.-Russian relations?

    Stephen Sestanovich teaches international diplomacy at Columbia University. He served in the State Department during the Reagan and Clinton administrations. Dimitri Simes is president of the Center for the National Interest. He just returned from a trip to Russia, where he met with senior Russian officials.

    And welcome to both of you.

    Stephen Sestanovich, was it the Snowden asylum in the end that led to this, and do you think it was the right move?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH, Council on Foreign Relations: I think it was the key factor in the decision, but it wasn't the most important issue.

    What it did was force the administration to take careful stock of where the relationship stood. What's going on, they had to ask, and is this meeting going to be a loser? I think they were right to conclude it was going to be a loser, that it was going to be a waste of time, at best, and a humiliation, at worst.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Dimitri Simes, you told one of our producers earlier today you think President Obama mishandled the situation with Putin over Snowden. Explain what you mean by that. And is that how Russian officials that you have talked to felt?

    DIMITRI SIMES, Center for the National Interest: Well, Snowden came to Russia not at invitation of the Russian government.

    Actually, from what I was told -- and it was confirmed to me by U.S. officials -- that the U.S. government have informed the Russians about Snowden being on a plane from Hong Kong to Moscow only when the plane had already left Hong Kong. So, Snowden was traveling to Cuba. He was supposed to board a plane to Cuba, a Russian plane, next day.

    Then the U.S. government goes to the Cubans, and despite a rather difficult U.S.-Cuban relationship, the Cubans decided to talk with the United States and not allow Snowden to go via Cuba. So here is Snowden at the Russian airport. He's there for less than six hours, and the secretary of state already warns Putin about consequences.

    And the State Department already expresses strong concern. And Senator Schumer warns Putin about terrible implications for the relationship and says that Putin put the knife in the American back.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so to fast-forward to today's action, is this seen in Russia as a clear diplomatic slight?

    DIMITRI SIMES: I think that the way it is seen in Russia as a logical progression of this situation. They obviously are not happy that the summit was canceled.

    At the same time, I think everybody recognizes that under the circumstances, as Steve said, that was the right decision, including from the Russian standpoint, because if President Obama came to Moscow under current circumstances, with all this media criticism, pressure from the Hill, he would have to conduct himself in a way that serious negotiation would be impossible.

    JEFFREY BROWN: We hear the president on Jay Leno last night, and he's referring -- he's almost chiding, it sounds like, Russians for a Cold War mentality. What do you make of that? What does that tell you about the state of things?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: Well, I think Putin radiates a Cold War mentality, so a lot of other people have come to that conclusion.

    I'm not sure it's the best move to throw that in his face. There are many other factors producing this. But I think it's clearly the way the president reads the relationship right now and reads Putin's view of the relationship. He sees Putin and administration officials across the board see this as blocking any kind of real progress on a whole host of issues.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What kind of -- what are the other issues that are most important in this relationship?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: Well, there are two sets, in addition to Snowden. There are the bilateral geopolitical issues, Syria, Iran, missile defense, nuclear arms reductions.

    There are, in addition to that, the internal developments in Russia that make it embarrassing for an American president to be shoulder-to-shoulder with Putin without, as Dimitri says, having to duke it out with him about what has been going on.

    JEFFREY BROWN: From the Russian side or the Russian view, is something like this seen as a blow to Putin, in the sense that it denies him this big moment?

    DIMITRI SIMES: No.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Or does it in fact boost him because it looks like he stuck to his guns?

    DIMITRI SIMES: Well, a lot depends on what is going to happen in Saint Petersburg at G20.

    Assuming Obama goes -- and the White House said that he would go -- there will be an opportunity to have a meeting at the sidelines of the summit. The White House said that such a meeting wasn't planned. Well, of course it is not planned at this point.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But it's possible, you think?

    DIMITRI SIMES: I think that if discussions on Friday between U.S. and Russian senior officials are productive, I think it would be very difficult to avoid a discussion between Putin and Obama in Saint Petersburg. It's not a big deal.

    Let me add one thing to what Steve said. I agree with every specific point he made about problems in the U.S.-Russian relationship. But there's a more fundamental problem. And this is a problem that appears in foreign policy only with Russian, but in general.

    I think, after the end of the Cold War, we often developed a mind-set that we're not just the only superpower, but that we're master of the universe, and the other nations, including the other great powers, are expected to accommodate us. And once they don't do it, as in the case of the Snowden affair, we take it very, very personally. That is not helpful to our foreign policy effectiveness.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the puts it in a much grander scale, doesn't it?

    But what's your reaction to a statement like that?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: I don't think President Obama's foreign policy is a master of the universe foreign policy.

    And I don't think he has treated the Russian account that way. He's actually approached it in a pretty transactional way, trying to make progress on specific issues. And although it's clear there's no particular love lost between him and Putin, I think the view that the administration had when Putin came back was, well, let's see what we can do with this guy.

    And they built toward this meeting with the idea that, if you can make progress on serious issues, it will be worth having a meeting. But they have been stuffed -- stiffed, essentially, for the whole of this year.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So how would you characterize today the U.S.-Russia relationship?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: Pretty empty.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Empty?

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: Yes.

    The -- it has got a core of substance that could be there that is now missing, and very negative atmospherics relating to internal developments in Russia, and bad personal vibes. What more do you want?

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: How would you characterize it?

    DIMITRI SIMES: Empty, going down, at the expense of very important national security interests of the United States, with a potential threat to American life, as we have seen in the case of Boston Marathon, when an absence of adequate security dialogue with Russia led to a terrorist act which clearly was avoidable.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, very serious consequences, you think.

    DIMITRI SIMES: Serious consequences. And we should do better. But, under the circumstances, I'm glad that the summit was canceled.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Dimitri Simes, Stephen Sestanovich, thank you both very much.

    STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: Thanks.


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    KWAME HOLMAN: A military judge in Texas today temporarily halted the mass shooting court-martial of Army Major Nidal Hasan after just one day. Hasan is defending himself, but his standby attorney said he appears intent on getting sentenced to death. The lawyer asked that his own role be minimized.

    Hasan has admitted killing 13 people and wounding nearly three dozen in 2009. He says he acted because America is at war with Islam. The trial is expected to reconvene tomorrow.

    The deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has produced its first criminal charges. It was widely reported overnight that U.S. prosecutors have begun the process of bringing suspects to trial.

    Word of the charges comes almost a year after the attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. It's unclear how many people are included in the sealed complaint or what the charges are, but the reports named Ahmed Abu Khattala, the former commander of a Benghazi-based militia group.

    Khattala has denied involvement in the past, and did so again today. He insisted he's left the militia group and that he has not been questioned in the case. In Washington, the U.S. Justice Department refused to comment, except to say the investigation is ongoing.

    But Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California said anyone charged must be placed in U.S. custody without delay. Issa and other Republicans have accused the administration of neglecting security in Benghazi and misleading the public about what really happened.

    Authorities in Yemen said today they have foiled an al-Qaida plot to take over strategic port cities in the south. They claimed it's the same plot that led the U.S. to close embassies in 19 cities across the Muslim world. Meanwhile, another suspected U.S. drone strike today killed seven al-Qaida militants in southern Yemen's Shabwa province.

    In Egypt, the military-backed leaders declared foreign efforts to mediate the country's political crisis have failed. They blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Mohammed Morsi, the ousted president who remains in custody. Egypt's interim prime minister went on state TV to warn Islamist protesters that the decision to dismantle their camps in Cairo is irreversible.

    INTERIM PRIME MINSTER HAZEM EL-BEBLAWI, Egypt (through interpreter): We ask them once more to leave quickly and return to their homes and work without resistance. Those who do not have blood on their hands, the state promises to provide them with free transportation. The cabinet warns against the continuing dangerous escalation and incitement by those who are deceiving them from amongst the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood that threatens national security .

    KWAME HOLMAN: The Muslim Brotherhood rejected the warnings, and said protesters are not concerned about talk of clearing their sit-ins by force.

    A small fire got out of control today at Kenya's main airport in Nairobi, the busiest in East Africa. The extensive damage grounded international flights and roiled schedules across the continent. The entire airport was closed for a time, as firefighters battled the blaze. Inbound flights were rerouted to the coastal city of Mombasa. When the airport reopened later, it was only for domestic and cargo flights.

    Kenyan officials announced plans to convert a domestic flight area into an international terminal.

    CABINET SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT MICHAEL KAMAU, Kenya: From tomorrow, we will be preparing this unit, unit three, for -- as an international terminal for departure and arrival. We have started pitching tents on the air side for handling departing passengers.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The cause of the blaze was under investigation, but officials said there was no initial indication of terrorism.

    Tensions between the two Koreas eased somewhat today. Communist North Korea announced it is reopening an industrial park that is run jointly with South Korea. The park closed in mid-April amid threats by the North to retaliate against Washington and Seoul for international sanctions. Formal talks on future operations at the industrial site are scheduled to begin August 14.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained lost 48 points to close at 15,470. The NASDAQ fell 11 points to close at 3,654.

    Those are some of the day's major stories.


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    PBS NewsHour holds live Twitter chats each Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. EDT. Join us on Twitter @NewsHour using the hashtag #NewsHourChats. Photo by Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

    When Detroit filed for bankruptcy earlier this summer it seemed as if the move was a long-time coming. The city, as NewsHour blogger Larry Kotlikoff wrote, had been bankrupt for years, something that was already apparent to many residents. The news, though, raised questions about cities. Could other municipal governments follow Detroit? Do successful cities have certain attributes?

    On Thursday, Aug. 8, from 1 to 2 p.m. EDT, PBS NewsHour in partnership with the Urban Institute will host a Twitter chat on the economic health of cities. Also joining us will be Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution. We hope you participate in our discussion and weigh in on the following questions:

    What fundamental changes can we expect American cities to undergo in the next generation? What makes a city a good (or bad) place to live? What is the biggest challenges cities face today? Does location play a role here? Should cities focus on economic growth? If so, how? How should we think about the role of population change in a city's future? What does the Detroit bankruptcy mean to you?

    You can follow the discussion below and participate on Twitter by following @NewsHour and @Urban Institute and using the #NewsHourChats.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama returned to the topic of housing today.

    Margaret Warner has that.

    MARGARET WARNER: The president today vowed to push Congress to pass broad housing reform by the end of the year, one of his key proposals, wind down the roles of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two massive mortgage finance companies taken over by the federal government in the depths of the housing crisis.

    In Phoenix yesterday, he endorsed a Senate proposal to -- quote -- "end Freddie and Fannie as we know them."

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Private capital should take a bigger role in the mortgage market. I believe that our housing system should operate where there's a limited government role, and private lending should be the backbone of the housing market.And that includes, by the way, community-based lenders who view their borrowers not just as a number, but as a neighbor.

    MARGARET WARNER: Freddie and Fannie have been in government receivership since failing nearly five years ago, costing the government $187 billion to bail them out. Now they are turning a profit and are on track to fully repay that amount by 2014. Two out of every three new home mortgages today are still guaranteed by Freddie and Fannie, 68 percent of the market.

    To explain how the president's proposal would change that landscape, we turn to Guy Cecala, publisher of "Inside Mortgage Finance," a housing industry research publication.

    And, welcome, Mr. Cecala. 

    Now, the president has been talking since taking office in 2009 about reviving the housing and mortgage market. Do you see these statements this week as significant?

    GUY CECALA,"Inside Mortgage Finance": Yes.

    It's the first time in several years that we have heard a position advanced by the White House, and somewhat significant in that he's talking about specifically changing the existing system we have of closing down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and coming up with something to replace them, but maintaining some sort of government presence in the housing market.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, how would that work? Because he's not proposing ending all government guarantees.Is that right?

    GUY CECALA: Yes.

    He's talking about a Senate proposal which is bipartisan, at least in the Senate, that talks about setting up a federal mortgage insurance corporation that would operate somewhat like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, in that it would collect money from lenders and in return give them a government guarantee.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, there would be fees paid?

    GUY CECALA: Exactly.

    MARGARET WARNER: Explicitly.

    So, what is the thinking behind this as to how this would prevent the kind of unscrupulous lending to unqualified borrowers that really precipitated the whole housing crises?

    GUY CECALA: Well, the legislation specifically says the only type of mortgages that can go into these new securities insured by the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation would be super-safe.

    They would have to be -- couldn't have any features that were considered predatory or anti-consumer.So they would be the safest mortgages that we would have.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, we're really talking about tighter regulation?

    GUY CECALA: It's tighter regulation, but it's modeled after the Dodd-Frank act, and it's pretty much a regulation that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has already finalized and put in place to take effect in early 2014.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, aren't -- haven't tighter standards already been put in place, just anecdotally? There are certainly many reports of how much harder it is to get a mortgage, how much more documentation is required.

    GUY CECALA: There's a combination of things.

    Certainly, the standards are tighter that would have been put in place by government agencies and to some extent regulators.

    MARGARET WARNER: And is that including Freddie and Fannie?

    (CROSSTALK)

    GUY CECALA: Yes, exactly.

    But the issue too is that lenders are imposing tougher standards on top of those. And that's because they're very concerned about the losses that they have been asked to compensate the government for Fannie and Freddie, it has required them to buy back mortgages. HUD and the FHA have asked them to indemnify them from losses.

    So, rather than take any chances going forward, they have said, let's make the mortgages as safe as possible. Instead of having a 650 credit score, let's ask for a 750 credit score, that type of thing.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, now, haven't there been people who have been arguing that's actually a good thing?

    GUY CECALA: It's a good thing if you want super-safe mortgage market environment, but you're also talking about a much smaller pool of Americans who are qualifying to buy a home.

    MARGARET WARNER: Even now? You're saying, even now?

    GUY CECALA: Yes, oh, exactly.

    You know, compared to 2005 or 2006, we're probably talking 30 to 40 percent less.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, are private banks, are commercial banks interested do you think in extending mortgage loans? And is that private market that currently interested -- is the private securities market interested in buying and selling mortgage-backed securities, like Fannie and Freddie do, without government guarantees?

    GUY CECALA: There is a -- what we call a non-agency mortgaged-back securities market that exist now, but it's a fraction of the size of the government mortgage securities market. And it's because it doesn't have a government guarantee and investors are very skittish since the subprime crises and everything else that if they buy these securities that there will be losses on them.

    MARGARET WARNER: And so are you saying that there's question out there just among the industry you cover about whether the private industry would step up to it?

    GUY CECALA: There certainly is.

    And that's why what Obama is endorsing essentially is maintaining a government guarantee, but having it as catastrophic insurance, effectively, and that private lenders would have to step up and pay a certain level of the first losses. But the security they would be selling would have a complete government guarantee.

    MARGARET WARNER: So what would this mean for consumers, would-be borrowers, would-be sellers?

    GUY CECALA: In theory, it means that interest rates are probably going to be higher than they normally would be.

    Fannie and Freddie maintained a huge mortgage securities market. They purchased them. They provided for a lot of liquidity. You certainly wouldn't have that, at least not initially, in that. So that would probably result in higher interest rates.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, would there also be higher fees actually from borrowing?

    GUY CECALA: Probably not, because right now borrowers don't realize it, but lenders pay a fee to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to guarantees mortgages, and that fee is always passed right on to borrowers.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, then what would be so different, I mean, if they're already paying these fees now?

    GUY CECALA: It would be the value of the securities themselves and how much that would effectively fetch in the securities market by other investors.

    MARGARET WARNER: Let me go back to something that the president said he wanted to preserve, and that is the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, which actually a lot of more people returned to after the housing level burst. What's the future of that under this new system?

    GUY CECALA: Well, that's one of the reasons why I think the president's supporting some role for the government, because it would be very hard to preserve the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, unless you could package it into a mortgage-backed security that had a government guarantee and that investors would want, because, let's face it. Interest rates are probably rising over the next few years.

    And most people, banks, don't want to hold a fixed-rate mortgage on their books. They would rather have an adjustable-rate mortgage.

    MARGARET WARNER: And very briefly, as a veteran of watching these legislative battles over Fannie and Freddie all these years, what do you -- how do you assess the prospects on the Hill?

    GUY CECALA: Slim. This is going to be controversial. The Republicans in the House have already staked out a position that they don't want any government involvement in the mortgage market going forward. They like the idea of winding down Fannie and Freddie, but they don't want anything to replace it.

    MARGARET WARNER: Guy Cecala, thank you.

    GUY CECALA: You're welcome.

     


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    GWEN IFILL: It's been 23 years since the Americans With Disabilities Act became law.

    Judy Woodruff reports on the advances and the setbacks in the continued fight to implement the landmark legislation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Five days a week, 54-year-old Ricardo Thornton can be found at Washington, D.C.'s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Born in the District of Columbia, he has worked here for more than three decades. And his full-time employment is just one of the accomplishments Thornton has used to rise above a label placed on him as a child.

    RICARDO THORNTON: I am a person with mental retardation. When you have that label, wherever you go: Oh, he has a disability. Oh, it's mental. Oh, come on. OK. You going to be with him? There was just that kind of trust wasn't there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Last year, Thornton moved into a two-bedroom house in Washington with his wife, Donna, of 29 years, who also has a developmental disability.

    While they still receive some support for daily living needs and light supervision from a not-for-profit agency, having a place of their own was a dream come true. They had lived in small apartments for more than 20 years, where they raised their son.

    So what does it mean now to have your own home, to be on your own?

    RICARDO THORNTON: It's beautiful. It means that I'm now part of a community that loves me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thornton had a much different living situation as a child and young adult, moving through various institutions for those with disabilities.

    RICARDO THORNTON: Some of them were treated just so bad and then some were treated good. But, you know, I felt that I'm doing time for a crime I never committed. And why?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That experience was common before the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law 23 years ago by President George H.W. Bush. The civil rights measure made it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities, including by unnecessarily forcing them to live in segregated settings in order to access government services.

    But the states, who have much of the responsibility to provide care for those with disabilities, moved slowly to comply. That's because of limited funds and what experts say is a lingering bias.

    Jennifer Mathis, director of programs at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington:

    JENNIFER MATHIS, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law: Change is hard because you have years and years of service systems that were premised on a different vision about the capabilities of people with disabilities, that didn't envision people with disabilities as living regular lives, the same kinds of lives that the rest of us, having families, having jobs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, even after the ADA became law, many people with disabilities were not being moved by the states out of large institutions and into homes and community-based programs.

    In response, in 1999, the Supreme Court handed down the Olmstead decision, reaffirming the ADA's integration mandate. It held that unjustified segregation constitutes discrimination. And it served to push states into compliance.

    Fourteen years later, the picture has improved. States have made progress nationally, and they have reduced the share of Medicaid spending for individuals with disabilities living in institutions like nursing homes and special hospitals.

    But, as Senator Tom Harkin, who co-authored the ADA, discovered through a new report he commissioned, most states are still not providing the home and community-based services people with disabilities need.

    SENATOR TOM HARKIN, D-Iowa: This is a civil rights issue, not a social welfare issue. And so states see it as a social welfare issue. They have the holdover bias toward institutionalization. And nursing homes have powerful lobbies, can I add that, in the states. So things just tend to go on like they have always been going on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The report Harkin commissioned found that hundreds of thousands of people remain on waiting lists for home and community-based services. People younger than 65 are being isolated in nursing homes, with wide disparities from state to state.

    And it's happening even though there's overwhelming evidence that finds home and community care costs less than institutional care. Harkin compares the situation facing those with disabilities to racial discrimination.

    TOM HARKIN: Think about it as segregation. People with disabilities are still segregated in our society. And it's wrong. It's wrong morally, but it's wrong -- and it's wrong economically, and it's wrong in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

    So, I think we need to have a federal determination that that person has that federally protected right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Diane Rowland studies Medicaid spending as the executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. She says most states have begun to move in the right direction, but often they find they are constrained by limited resources.

    DIANE ROWLAND, Kaiser Family Foundation: There was also an escape clause that was part of the Olmstead decision that said that budgetary pressures at the state level could be taken into account in developing the plans for moving forward.

    So you have always had this tension between what is right, what is a right of individuals, and whether the state has the fiscal capacity and implements it in the fullest form that it was intended.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yet another hurdle, a big chunk of the funding for those with disabilities comes from state Medicaid programs.

    DIANE ROWLAND: It leaves very serious variations across the states. And depending on where you live, your options may be very different, which is one of the harsh realities of the way the Medicaid program operates in the states. And it also leaves people with disabilities who want to leave an institution needing a strong advocate to help get them out.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite the slow progress, Jennifer Mathis of the Bazelon Center says the Department of Justice is stepping up its role in ensuring compliance.

    JENNIFER MATHIS: During this administration, the Justice Department really made this issue a priority. I think that states are starting to see the integration mandate in a different light then they did, say, seven years ago, where I think there wasn't a lot of law. There were many fewer lawsuits.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Harkin insists it will take more than lawsuits, possibly new legislation with stronger enforcement. But he says public attitudes about people with disabilities have to change, too.

    TOM HARKIN: We are one accident away, one illness away from being disabled. We -- those who are not disabled, we have to start thinking, would we want to be institutionalized if that accident happened to us? And I will tell you, you ask anybody that, and they say, no, no, they don't want that.

     Well, how about making sure we don't have it for people who are disabled right now?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: However long it takes, Ricardo Thornton says he will continue to advocate for change.

    RICARDO THORNTON: I feel that everyone should be given an opportunity. It's time for institutions to close. It's time for new things to happen. This house here is a blessing to us. I got a wife. I love her. And I have a son. And I'm seeing him grow in his family. And so I'm really enjoying life and want to see other people enjoy life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thornton says a big part of enjoying life is his work at the library, adding, he has no plans to retire any time soon.

     

     


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now: reading a thermostat to predict a violent climate.

    Ray Suarez has the story.

    RAY SUAREZ: Hot temperatures and changes in the climate are strongly linked to human violence. That's the conclusion of a new study recently published in the journal "Science." Researchers at Princeton and the University of California at Berkeley pored through data compiled in 60 studies from a variety of disciplines.

    They found that even modest increases in normal temperatures or changes in rainfall increased conflict on all levels, both in ancient times and our own, in wealthy societies and developing ones.

    Solomon Hsiang is the lead author of the study, and he joins me now.

    Professor, I think we have become accustomed in recent years to observing how weather changes natural systems, whether it's waterways or migratory bird patterns or insect activity. But how do you measure, how do you correlate human behavior to temperature?

    SOLOMON HSIANG, University of California, Berkeley: So, in recent years, a variety of research groups have assembled really useful data sets, where we have records of how many conflicts occurred in different locations.

    In some cases, we're just looking at things like the FBI files that record how many assaults or rapes or murders happen in a U.S. county on a given day. And then what we do is we link that kind of data to historical data on the climate, so temperature, rainfall. And we try to understand how a change in the environment can lead to human response on the ground.

    RAY SUAREZ: So, to see if I understand this correctly, you're measuring a lot of different kinds of human response. But is it just the temperature that could be forcing these changes? I mean, the temperature may have an effect on how much drinkable water there is around. Temperature may have an effect on how much food there is to eat in a given community.

    SOLOMON HSIANG: Absolutely.

    So there are in fact many hypotheses, many mechanisms that people think might help connect changes in the environment, changes in the temperature or extreme rainfall to the conflict outcomes that we observe. Sometimes, we think direct exposure to heat sometimes actually does change human psychology.

    We observe, even in a laboratory, if we put people in a room and raise the temperature, they actually change how they behave towards others. But, as you suggest, there's economic mechanisms as well that are incredibly important. So you can have crop failures when you have extremely high temperatures, and that leads to all sorts of changes.

    It changes people's incentives to participate in the formal labor market, in comparison to more violent activities. And it also changes how people migrate, food prices. And all of those things can have an influence on human conflict, which is a very complex phenomena and is affected by both how we...

    RAY SUAREZ: Is there a temperature or an amount of increase where you see the effects really intensify or start to take off? Is there a threshold where you really see your observable results more strongly?

    SOLOMON HSIANG: So it turns out that, when we look at temperature, it actually looks as though the relationship is pretty continuous.

    So, pretty much wherever you are in the modern world, we tend to observe that even increasing the temperature by a little bit leads to higher levels of conflict.

    But, if we look at rainfall data, there does tend to be these sort of threshold effects, where very extremely high levels of rainfall or extremely low levels of rainfall tend to be damaging. And that's consistent with the economic ideas you have been pointing out, particularly because extreme rainfall is very bad for agriculture.

    RAY SUAREZ: It's interesting that you tried to do this retrospectively.

    Is there reliable enough data both on human activity and on the natural world to look back into the past and say, aha, here's a time where rising temperatures can be correlated with increased human violence?

    SOLOMON HSIANG: Data quality is always an issue whenever you do any sort of retrospective study.

    We looked across 60 studies, and some of them go way back in time, thousands of years. But roughly half the studies come from the modern era. So, these are studies -- these are studies of data where the populations that are being observed are populations from 1980 to the present.

    And so, in those situations, we think the data is of very high quality. And we are able to actually observe strong associations like you suggest.

    RAY SUAREZ: Are there examples of the opposite, places that literally cool off when they cool off?

    SOLOMON HSIANG: So, yes.

    So, when we look at these sorts of relationships, what we're actually saying -- we -- is that higher temperatures tend to be worse, cooler temperatures tend to be better in the modern world. But if we go back far enough in time -- so, if you were to look in Europe during the Little Ice Age, for example, you would actually see that cold events, during these cold epochs in cold locations, also tended to lead to more conflict between populations.

    And that seems to be a general pattern through many studies that look back in time far enough. In the modern world, we're obviously not in that kind of ice age, and we tend to see that higher temperatures are worse.

    RAY SUAREZ: Conflict is a pretty big word. And I suspect a lot of things could live under that broad umbrella.

    What kind of effects were you looking for when you were looking for things to measure? What are the -- was it just the examples of assaults, of crimes, of murders? What exactly is conflict?

    SOLOMON HSIANG: So, when -- we were trying to look at all different types of human conflict. But to sort of organize it and help us understand better what are the general patterns, we broke conflict down into three type of conflicts.

    So, we look at interpersonal conflict -- that's sort of conflict between individuals, things like murder, assault, rape, domestic violence. Then, we also looked at intergroup conflict. So, that is conflict between groups of populations. Sometimes, those could be ethnic riots. Those could be things like political oppression or civil conflicts.

    Then there was actually a third and very extreme category that we looked at, which is really the collapse of civilizations and the breakdown of governing institutions. Now, very few of those events have occurred in modern times, but those scenarios are particularly interesting because they sort of represent extreme scenarios.

    We can think of things like the collapse of the Mayan empire or other empires around the world that coincided with extreme climate changes.

    RAY SUAREZ: Professor Solomon Hsiang, thanks for joining us.

    SOLOMON HSIANG: Thanks for having me.

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, a look back through history at the surprising influence of political cartoons.

    NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni has our book conversation.

    A picture is worth 1,000 words. That old adage of how drawings have for centuries shaped the conversation about government and its leaders is the subject of a new book, "The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power," by journalist Victor Navasky. He's the former editor and publisher of "The Nation" magazine and now teaches at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

    Thanks so much for being here. Very interesting book.

    VICTOR NAVASKY, author of "The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power": My pleasure.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Let's dive right in with a broad look. What role do you think political cartoons play in our society?

    VICTOR NAVASKY: It's very difficult to say because you could argue that Herblock's images of Richard Nixon is what stays with us to this day, or David Levine's picture of Lyndon Johnson showing his scar in the shape of Vietnam is going to be with us in history books in perpetuity.

    So they have a lot to do with it. But they seem to -- despite the fact that art critics don't take them -- many of them don't take them seriously, they seem to enrage people. The leading Palestinian cartoonist was murdered on the streets of London. Daumier was thrown into prison. They have a power that no one can fully understand.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: And, in fact, one of sort of man that you dubbed as the father of American political cartooning had Boss Tweed had put in jail.

    Tell us about Thomas Nast, who really had this big influence in the late 1800s.

    VICTOR NAVASKY: Thomas Nast, who gave us -- gave the Democratic Party its donkey and the Republicans their elephant and actually gave us the image of Santa Claus with his white beard and his rosy cheeks, did these cartoons of Boss Tweed.

    And Boss Tweed famously said: "I don't give a damn what they write about me. My constituents can't read. But get rid of those damned pictures. They can all see the damned pictures."

    So, that's -- and then, ironically, when he was under indictment, he was identified by someone in Spain who had seen Thomas Nast's cartoons of him.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: And so getting that to how the politicians themselves react, Richard Nixon, obviously this famed example, because he had such a distinctive face, got a lot of character.

    VICTOR NAVASKY: You know, they all react differently.

    And in some cases, they end up buying the cartoon at the other end, no matter how outraged they are. Hitler famously would go through the ceiling every time David Low, who was a well-known British cartoonist, would do a caricature of Hitler. He would call a meeting of his general staff.

    Everyone would go into a great frenzy, and the foreign secretary of England went to visit -- at the behest of the publisher of Low's paper, "The Evening Standard," went to visit Goebbels, the propaganda minister in Germany, to ask him how they could get the paper restored in Germany, because it was banned. He said, get rid of David Low's cartoons. That's how you can do it.

    And then Hitler tried to do the impossible thing. He wanted to -- he got so upset, he wanted to answer all of the cartoons with words, which it's very hard to answer cartoons with words.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: And, in fact, you get at that. You say you can't really write a cartoon to the editor if you're a reader getting provoked this visceral response to a cartoon. How important is the medium?

    VICTOR NAVASKY: I think it is critical, because I think one of the reasons that people get so enraged by cartoons is they're frustrated because if you don't like an article, you can write a letter to the editor even if it's only in your head.

    There not only is no such thing as a cartoon to the editor, but cartoons and caricatures are by definition unfair. They only tell one side of the story.

    They exaggerate it. And so you believe that you have been unfairly or someone you identify with has been unfairly accused, and you're powerless to respond to it.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Well, and you write about this very blunt cover of The New Yorker on July 21, 2008, provoked unprecedented emotional blowback. This is the image of then candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, dressed as terrorists doing a fist bump.

    And why was that so powerful?

    VICTOR NAVASKY: I think that was a case where the cartoon was misunderstood, and David Remnick, the editor of "The New Yorker," explained that this wasn't a parody, this was not a satire of Obama. It was -- and it wasn't intended to show him and Michelle as terrorists. It was a satire of right-wingers who thought of them as terrorists.

    So, different people read it in different ways. And the great cartoonist Art Spiegelman did a Hasid kissing a Caribbean woman. And when Tina Brown was running "The New Yorker," she put an explanation in the very issue in which the cover appeared, but it still caused cancellations and outrage.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: In the book, you seem to be as intrigued by the imagery behind a cartoon as you are by the message. How important is the art of it all?

    VICTOR NAVASKY: Well, I think it's critical.

    You know, we go back to the Old Testament, no graven images. The famous Danish cartoons of Mohammed, which caused hundreds of thousands of Muslims all over the world to demonstrate against it, resulted in injuries and deaths. The images themselves, however, ironically, in the case of the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, most of the people who demonstrated never saw the cartoons.

    It was the idea of the image, of the imagery that was upsetting. It was like a Ku Klux Klanner burning a cross on your lawn. You don't have to see there and be it to understand why it's a desecration.

    CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Very interesting.

    Thank you so much, Victor Navasky.

    VICTOR NAVASKY: Thank you for having me.


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    GWEN IFILL: Oscar Grant's name may never have been known if he had not been killed just hours into the new year of 2009.

    Now the story of the 22-year-old man who'd spent New Year's Eve celebrating with friends in San Francisco has become the subject of a critically acclaimed new film, Fruitvale Station.

    Grant, who was unarmed, was shot dead by a police officer on an Oakland rail platform. The fictionalized account follows him through his last day.

    ACTORS AND ACTRESSES: Five, four, three, two, one. Happy new year!

    ACTRESS: What is going on?

    ACTRESS: Hey, Oscar, how are you?

    ACTOR: I'm good. I'm good. Happy new year.

    ACTRESS: Happy new year.

    ACTOR: Oscar.

    ACTOR: Get off the train now! Put that phone away.

    ACTRESS: Where are you? Are you still on the train?

    ACTOR: We're still at Fruitvale.

    ACTRESS: Why can't you tell me what is going on? What is the problem? What are you doing?

    ACTRESS: Oh, my God.

    ACTOR: I'm good. I'm good. I'm going to be good. We're going to be good.

    Ryan Coogler wrote and directed Fruitvale Station. It is his first feature-length film. He joins us now from San Francisco.

    Thank you for joining us.

    You chose to tell us a very -- a polarizing story in a humanizing way about this individual, Oscar Grant. Why did you choose to tell his story this way?

    RYAN COOGLER, director: Oh. Well, for me, it was really important to tell a story from the perspective of the people that knew him the best.

    After the situation happened and Oscar lost his life, the event itself became very politicized. People kind of picked sides, people that didn't know who he was, in many ways made him to be whatever they wanted him to be for their political agendas. Some people wanted to make him out to be a saint and a martyr. He became a symbol for whatever political agenda they had.

    And people on the other side wanted to demonize him, to make him just the sum of every bad mistake that he had made in his life, look like he was just a criminal or just a felon, just a drug dealer that got what he deserved on that platform.

    For me, it was something that I wanted to get to the heart of who he was from the people that knew him the best before this situation. Every one of us, every human being has people that they mean the world to just doing their everyday lives. And for him, it was his mom and his girlfriend, his daughter.

    I was very interested in telling the story from the perspective of all his relationships.

    GWEN IFILL: You are yourself obviously an African-American young man, not yet 30 years old. And did this story resonate with you in a special way?

    RYAN COOGLER: Well, absolutely.

    I'm from the Bay Area, was born and raised here my whole life. And Oscar was the same age that I was at the time. He was 22. I was 22 at the time that he was killed. So, it definitely resonated with me in a really emotionally intense way.

    The first time I saw the footage, I couldn't help but to think how much he looked like me, how much his friends looked like my friends. And when I had that close proximity to that, just from the standpoint of being from the Bay Area, looking like the guy and moving through the same situation that he's been through, I really thought about it on a personal level.

    Like, what if that happened to me? What if I didn't make it home to the people that I loved most in my life? And it was from an unnecessary situation. So, it definitely affected me.

    GWEN IFILL: As a filmmaker, you have had pretty amazing success first time out of the box here at Sundance, at Cannes. And I wonder whether you expected this to resonate as it has with a larger audience.

    RYAN COOGLER: Oh, not at all. I'm the most surprised by how the film is being received and how it's been accepted by audiences domestically and abroad.

    For me, it was always about making something that was very personal to myself and very important. I knew it was a story that had resonance in the Bay Area here, where Oscar is from and where the event took place. And it was a goal for me and all the filmmakers involved to really tell the story as specific as we could, but really have it be about universal things.

    It's really a domestic drama about relationships. Everybody knows what it likes to be young. Everybody knows what it likes to be struggling with something in themselves that maybe has damaging effects on people that they love around them, which was the situation Oscar was going through. And everybody knows what it's like people that mean the world to you and want to have a positive effect on people's lives.

    GWEN IFILL: Ryan, I...

    (CROSSTALK)

    GWEN IFILL: Go ahead.

    RYAN COOGLER: No.

    And I think that really getting to the heart of that stuff is what we hoped would connect with people outside of that -- outside of Oscar's demographic. We hoped that those things would hopefully connect. We had no idea that they would, though.

    GWEN IFILL: You talk about Oscar's demographic.

    The weekend that I saw the movie was right after the Trayvon Martin verdict -- George Zimmerman verdict, and people everywhere in the theater where I was were sobbing, sobbing watching this film, even though they know how it ended at the beginning. How did -- I wondered what degree this Trayvon Martin movement that sprung around the country has affected the way people see this film?

    RYAN COOGLER: Well, I can't speak to that totally.

    As a filmmaker, it was really ironic that the verdict came down the weekend our film got released. Obviously, we were working on the film before Trayvon had -- was killed. And that tragedy, when it happened, deeply affected me back in February. And it affected a lot of people. And I think that the verdict had a similar effect on a lot of people that were tuned in to watching it.

    But it wasn't in our plan at all to have the film be coming out and to be released around that moment that the nation was watching that trial. In many ways, it was coincidence. I think that people can see parallels. And for me, it was always about -- Oscar's story was always about the loss of potential with this young man's life. And so many young African-American males lose their lives to violence, to senseless violence in this country every day.

    So, I think that because it was something that was in the media that was a situation involving a young African-American male losing his life, people definitely drew parallels there.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, I found the movie very affecting. And I thank you for making it. And good luck on your next project.

    Ryan Coogler, the director, the writer of Fruitvale Station, thank you for joining us.

    RYAN COOGLER: Oh, thank you so, so much for having me.I really appreciate it.

     


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    John Sears watches as an assistant from Beacon Hill Village replaces a window screen in his home, one of many services that help him "age in place." Photo by Gilberto Nobrega.

    A few years back, John Sears stumbled upon the kind of retirement option he had always hoped to find -- comfortable rooms, friendly neighbors, regular activities, and lots of help whenever he needed it.

    The key to it all, he said, was doing nothing. He didn't leave his home or the neighborhood he loved in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. With a few calls, it all came to him.

    Beacon Hill Village helps seniors like John "age in place" -- an idea that's growing in popularity as the rapidly graying United States looks for long-term care options that are more affordable and comfortable than traditional retirement homes. The nonprofit membership organization provides supportive, low-cost services to seniors like Sears who believe they'll stay healthy and happy longer if they stay put.

    These days, Sears relies on the group for basic things like transportation to doctors' appointments, help grocery shopping and social outings to dinners or the symphony.

    "The Village sent an architect down here one day and he looked around where an old codger like me might trip or fall." Assistants then fixed a list of mundane things that can make a big difference in the long-run -- like adding a bar to the bathtub, building a small step outside the kitchen door and changing hard-to-reach light bulbs so he won't stumble in the dark.

    It's made him appreciate his neighborhood even more, knowing that "there are a bunch of people who simply give a hoot about us old-timers around here," he said. "And that matters so much."

    On Thursday's PBS NewsHour broadcast, senior correspondent Ray Suarez travels to Boston to learn more about how Beacon Hill Village is funded and operated, who qualifies and how easily the concept can transfer to other U.S. cities. Tune in for the full report.

    In the meantime, here are seven 'life-hacks' -- simple tools and tips that some people find helpful as they "age in place" -- courtesy of Allyson Evelyn-Gustave. She's a senior occupational therapist at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and currently part of a team examining how relatively easy home repairs can make a big difference boosting independence for low-income seniors.

    Do you have your own life-hack tips to add to this list? Leave them in the comments section below and we'll combine the best into a future sharable graphic.

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    Seniors in Boston's Beacon Hill enjoy each other's company at a social organized by a nonprofit they created to help them remain in their homes longer into retirement. Photo by Gilberto Nobrega/PBS NewsHour

    Twelve years ago, a handful of older residents living in a tony section in Boston gathered to figure out a way they could "age in place" in the neighborhood they so dearly loved.

    After months of meetings and fundraising, they launched the Beacon Hill Village, a nonprofit membership organization that provides free or low-cost services to seniors who have chosen to live in their own homes.

    The services include social clubs, weekly exercise classes and lectures, transportation to doctors' offices and grocery stores and access to reduced-fee home medical care and home repair services.

    Beacon Hill Village now boasts 400 members and the concept has spread to other communities across the country. There are about 100 "villages" to date, with another 200 in development, according to the national organization that helps establish these networks. Each one is formed and governed locally, tailored to the specific needs of that community.

    Susan McWhinney-Morse was one of the original founders of Beacon Hill Village. She spoke to the NewsHour's Ray Suarez about why she thinks this may be the answer for millions of baby-boomers as they approach their 70s and 80s. Tune in to PBS NewsHour Thursday for the full report.

    Ray Suarez: Do you remember when it occurred to you that you wouldn't want didn't want to move from your house when you got older?

    Susan McWhinney-Morse: I very clearly remember a time, and I was quite young. I grew up in Denver, Colo., in a household that had been there for a very long time and my family had many, many friends who were close.

    One of those, one couple went to Arizona one winter and they never came back again. And I remember saying to my mother, "I don't get it. Why did they move to Arizona and not come back? They left everybody they knew and everybody they cared about just to be warm?" I was probably 10 or 12, and I found that just absolutely nonsensical.

    Ray Suarez: So you made up your mind early, that that sort of gypsy life didn't appeal to you. But a lot of people move, not because they want to as much as because they have to. They can't afford their old housing, or their needs have changed. How do you make it work to remain in place?

    Susan McWhinney-Morse: I think there's multiple options now. Probably up until the turn of the last century, there appeared to be very few options because our houses were too big. It was too hard to take care of them. But now I think people are beginning to understand that they can move to a smaller apartment in their own community. This house was way too big for my husband and me, but we turned it into apartments. So we downsized in our own house. If one begins to look at the options one has to stay at home, then one can be very creative and find the resources that they need, the support they need to keep their roots.

    Ray Suarez: When did you realize that there were a lot of other people who felt the same way?

    Susan McWhinney-Morse: When we initially started Beacon Hill Village, there were 11 of us who got together one cold November day with this abstract determination that we're not going anywhere. But we wanted to be responsible by not going anywhere. We didn't want to have to depend upon our children who might live in the next community, or might live across the country. And so after two years we formed this organization that seemed to fit our needs. And it was at that point we began to understand that maybe we had tapped into a whole movement and that we weren't the only people -- that it was becoming perhaps even a worldwide idea that one could stay in one's community.

    Ray Suarez: So how do you design a way of life, a response to 21st century realities that both allows you to stay in your home but also recognizes that your needs change as you enter the later decades of your life?

    Susan McWhinney-Morse: That's assuming that there's a line when that begins to happen and there isn't a line. We grow old slowly, some of us -- most of us -- and in different ways with different needs. Certainly I have less energy than I once had. But that's been a very slow progression. I don't hike anymore, but I walk a lot. So have I recognized that I'm really old? I'm almost 80. I don't think I qualify for being that old-fashioned label as "old."

    Ray Suarez: But when you look at a group, a randomly selected group of 80-year-olds, there's a lot of range.

    Susan McWhinney-Morse: There's a huge variation. And I think that's perhaps one of the geniuses in the way the village movement has been set up because it takes into account that we are all aging in different ways with different needs at different times. Early on, people said, "You cannot retire on Beacon Hill -- it just won't work. You have bricks to fall on, stairs to climb and that's not appropriate for older people." And my answer to that is that if I stop climbing stairs, I won't be able to climb stairs. I think it's very important to keep moving.

    Ray Suarez: Is the village model something that would work outside of communities of people with resources and with means -- upper-middle-class people?

    Susan McWhinney-Morse: Yes, absolutely. The challenge to creating a village is obtaining the start-up money. Because this is a serious ongoing business that must be accountable, it must be stable. So the issues of how to obtain the financial support is important. We're 10, 12 years old, this whole venture. There are 110 villages across the country. There are 200 villages in the works. We've created what we call "Village to Village Network" which is a web-based support system in which anyone who wishes to start a village can get information from any other village. There's a lot of communication, a lot of sharing of the basic facts. How do you get your 501(c)(3)? How do you create a business plan? How do you vet your providers? So we're all connected and it helps, it helps spread the whole movement.

    One of the things that I really think is that this model is a terrific answer particularly for people who are low to moderate income and middle class, who simply have no other options. Who can't move to retirement communities. Who don't have the resources to go to Sun City. I think it's very realistic that it could become the norm in many areas.

    Ray Suarez: Susan McWhinney-Morse, thanks very much for talking with us.

    Susan McWhinney-Morse: Thank you.

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    By Paul Solman

    Merle Hazard performs "The Great Unwind," his latest economics music video, produced by Nashville Public Television.

    Wednesday, we debuted a country and western music video that is rocketing to the top of the NewsHour charts: Merle Hazard's "The Great Unwind."

    In his latest song, Merle, aka Nashville money manager Jon Shayne, addresses the problem the Federal Reserve Bank faces with the more than $2 trillion it has created since the Crash of '08. Remove the money from the banking system and risk another mega-contraction? Let it circulate and risk inflation? Find out how Jon developed the idea for Merle's latest hit, and check out the lyrics below:

    MORE FROM MERLE HAZARD: Merle Hazard Hurtles Over the Fiscal Cliff

    When the crisis hit us in '08, the Fed's what got us through, Buyin' assets by the trillion. What else could they do? Though they bailed out banks and brokerages, at the time, I didn't mind. But now I'm worryin' about...The Great Unwind.

    Our Fed's the central bank to a deeply troubled nation. If they sell off bonds, the markets tank. If not, some day, inflation. Now, the money has been flyin', but could the Fed be flyin' blind? That's why I'm worryin' about...The Great Unwind.

    Some say the Fed can manage this without sellin' off its bonds; That they'll pay high interest on reserves, and bankers will respond. But payin' bankers not to lend ain't how the system was designed, So I'm still worryin' about...The Great Unwind

    Will the Fed thread the needle? Or are they going to blow it? Are we on the mend, or near the end of fiat money as we know it? I would never wish to be a man who's cruel, or unkind, But I am worryin' about The Great Unwind

    Yes I'm worryin' about...The Great Unwind

    We asked a number of our economist friends to respond, and Thursday, we present three of them: John Taylor, Simon Johnson and Art Laffer. Friday, we'll hear from Jamie Galbraith, Ken Rogoff, Justin Wolfers and Greg Mankiw.

    The first is John Taylor, known for his so-called "Taylor Rule" of Fed monetary policy, which he and we explained in some detail a while ago. John, who has long taught economics at Stanford, was George W. Bush's undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs. Here is his reaction to Merle's latest:

    I've been writing about the costs of unwinding unconventional monetary policy since the Fed started its massive bond buying four years ago. Now, just in time for the actual unwinding, we have the online debut of Merle Hazard's funny and informative "The Great Unwind," a country and western song about the Fed's current predicament. Like Merle's earlier numbers -- such as "Inflation or Deflation" and "Bailout" -- his new song tells you a lot about monetary policy. Full disclosure: I'm a real fan of Merle Hazard as I said in this promotional video Merle Hazard Meets John Taylor for "Inflation or Deflation."

    Economists use the word "great" too much, but it's quite fitting for Merle to use it here. We had the Great Moderation; good monetary policy played a big role in that. Then we had the Great Recession; a deviation from good monetary policy (I call it the Great Deviation) helped cause that. Now we have the inevitable Great Unwind of the Great Deviation. In a nutshell, the Great Deviation killed the Great Moderation, gave birth to the Great Recession and the Not-So-Great-Recovery and has left a troublesome legacy to undo -- the Great Unwind -- as Merle explains.

    The second is Simon Johnson, economics professor at MIT, fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. Here is his reaction to "The Great Unwind":

    Mr. Hazard starts out well -- making the point that the Federal Reserve's reaction to the crisis in 2008 was dramatic and largely appropriate. Faced with a precipitous decline in the availability of credit, Ben Bernanke's Fed bought up assets in an effort to keep interest rates below what they would otherwise have been. Rather than just determining short-term interest rates -- which is the way monetary policy usually works -- the Fed has had greater than usual impact on longer-term rates, including what people pay for mortgages and other consumer loans. (For more basics, I recommend this interview with Joseph Gagnon, one of my colleagues at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.)

    "The Great Unwind" refers to how the Fed will exit from these assets holdings because, presumably, at some point the economy will recover enough so the Fed would like to end this phase of extraordinary policy.

    Mr. Hazard is also correct that if the Fed were to sell its bond holdings precipitately, the prices of those bonds would fall -- and interest rates on those bonds would increase (bond prices and interest rates move inversely). The effects on the stock market and the broader economy could also be negative -- primarily because the recovery is still so weak.

    The sleight of hand here is when Mr. Hazard mentions his concerns about inflation, at the 50 second mark. But how do we get inflation when the economy remains soft -- and unemployment relatively high? The idea that bond buying would destabilize inflation expectations has been proved completely incorrect. And repeated predictions that the economy would bounce back so fast that it would instantly overheat have also proved substantially off-target.

    There is no sign that the Fed has lost control over monetary policy or that it would be unwilling to recognize signs of accelerating inflation, should those materialize. I'm also puzzled that Mr. Hazard does not mention what should be his bigger worry -- the rise of moral hazard as we move through the credit cycle (even if inflation stays low -- as it did in the run-up to 2007-08). The Fed and the rest of us can see inflation coming. But who is willing to address the messed up incentives that result from some financial institutions being "too big to fail" (or jail)? Financial regulation -- and the lack of progress on this dimension -- remains our Achilles' heel.

    It is fine to pay attention to the "Great Unwind" and this video makes a constructive point in an entertaining manner. But you (and Mr. Hazard) should worry more about what happens when bank executives backed by open-ended implicit government guarantees are paid to take excessive risk: they get the upside and the rest of us face the downside risk (mass unemployment), again.

    Third is Arthur Laffer, whose "Laffer Curve" inspired the tax-cutting policy of the 1980s (and beyond) known as Reaganomics. He recently wrote about his theory's application to state income tax policy on the Business Desk. Here's what he had to say about Merle:

    Merle Hazard has outdone himself with "The Great Unwind." Humorous, catchy and infinitely entertaining and yet truly serious. "The Great Unwind" is the toxic legacy of "W," Obama and Bernanke.

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


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    Congress is considering building hundreds of miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of immigration reform. During the last big fence-building push, the fight that centered on the fence's potential effects on San Diego's fragile border ecosystems. Video by Katie Euphrat/KPBS.

    It's a clear, breezy morning on the scrubby hills overlooking California's Tijuana River Valley.

    U.S. Border Patrol jeeps cruise the dirt roads that switchback up and down the hills along the border fence. One drags a contraption made of tires that combs the road, so agents can later detect fresh footprints.

    Mike McCoy, a 71-year old veterinarian and long-time San Diego resident, looks out toward the coastline a few miles to the west. McCoy has spent more than half his life working to protect the estuary formed where the Tijuana River's fresh water meets the salty Pacific Ocean.

    "We're going down toward Smuggler's Gulch," he said, walking west along the border fence. "This was probably the most difficult cut for them, and the most problematic cut for us."

    By "us" he means the environmentalists and local land managers who vigorously fought against the massive earth-moving project that filled in the deep gulch in 2009 and built a road across it -- in the name of border security.

    "Before it was going down these switchbacks," McCoy said. "And that took a long time. This way they just fly right through."

    Mike McCoy, a long-time member of the advisory committee for the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, worried that sedimentation from border fence construction would silt up the Tijuana River estuary. The estuarine reserve is one of 28 in the country set aside for conservation and research. Photo by Jill Replogle/Fronteras.

    By "they" McCoy means Border Patrol agents scouting the area for illegal smuggling.

    Starting in the 1990s, this place became ground zero in the battle over how to secure the border against illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

    Back then, hundreds of illegal crossers swarmed down the hills nightly from Tijuana. Then 9/11 happened, and concerns mounted about terrorists coming in through porous borders.

    As a result, Congress ordered a fence built across 700 miles of the southern border -- in addition to San Diego's fortified triple fence that was already planned.

    Opponents of the fence here had slowed construction down for years through public outcry and lawsuits.

    In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, giving the Department of Homeland Security the right to waive all legal requirements in order to expedite construction. f "And that removed a major tool of environmentalists and others opposed to the construction," said Paul Ganster, director of the Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias at San Diego State University.

    I just think that we could've done better with another approach, biologically and ecologically, than what we did with [Smuggler's Gulch]. --Mike McCoy

    "It really removed a lot of the requirements for an open process, for public hearings, things that citizens and communities and environmentalists fought for, really from the '70s," Ganster said.

    "Deer and jaguar and Sonoran pronghorn," McCoy said. Fences can block genetic exchange among these big animals, weakening the species. Since then, Homeland Security has waived close to 40 federal laws, and countless state laws, to build new sections of fence all across the U.S.-Mexico border -- some of it across federally protected areas and habitat for endangered and threatened species.

    The immigration reform bill that passed in June in the Senate orders 700 new miles of fence to be built along the southern border.

    Four years after Smuggler's Gulch was filled in, local land managers say sedimentation hasn't been as bad as originally feared. But they still mourn the loss of habitat in the gulch. Photo by Katie Euphrat/KPBS.

    Border Patrol refused to grant an interview for this story. But Shawn Moran, vice president of the Border Patrol agents union, said, in general, fencing is just a speed bump.

    "The fence hasn't really cut down on human smuggling because if you build a 20-foot fence, the smuggling organizations, they just build a 21-foot ladder and they get the people over it," Moran said.

    But Moran said the contentious San Diego fence was needed. Illegal traffic here has slowed to a trickle -- it's moved to Arizona and Texas.

    Moran said adding hundreds of miles to the U.S.-Mexico border fence would probably help agents by funneling illegal traffic into areas they can control.

    "It's not the answer to border security, but it is a primary tool that the Border Patrol has to slow down things," he said.

    Walking along San Diego's border fence, Mike McCoy admits the impact hasn't been all bad. Illegal crossers used to tromp through sensitive areas here.

    And he said he understands the need for a secure border.

    "I just think that we could've done better with another approach, biologically and ecologically, than what we did with this approach," McCoy said.

    What really rankles McCoy is the supreme trump card held by one federal agency -- the Department of Homeland Security.

    "It's kinda my-way-or-the-highway type thing," McCoy said. "And that's not the way America worked to me. We all had a say in what went forward."

    As this year's debate over immigration and border security gets louder, environmental concerns are barely a whisper.

    This story was reported by the Fronteras: Changing Americas Desk, a multimedia collaboration among seven public radio stations. It is led by KJZZ in Phoenix and KPBS in San Diego and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of its Local Journalism Center initiative.

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    Members of the local government and nuclear experts inspect a coastal observation well in Fukushima, Japan. Photo by the Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images.

    New revelations that the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan is leaking more radioactive groundwater than previously thought have prompted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to say Wednesday that the government will step in and "take firm measures" to help solve the problem.

    On Thursday's PBS NewsHour, we'll explore the scope of the problem with Arjun Makhijani, an electrical and nuclear engineer who is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland.

    In the meantime, he gave us some numbers to consider about the plant:

    300 tons

    The new amount of radioactive groundwater the Japanese government estimates has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean each day since soon after the nuclear plant's meltdown, following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

    700,000 liters

    Daily volume of cooling water, plus the water entering into building basements due to rain and from groundwater, that must be managed at the site.

    100 degrees Celsius (or 212 degrees Fahrenheit)

    Temperature at which Tokyo Electric Power Co. cools the three damaged reactors, using a water injection system, to keep them stabilized.

    33,000 becquerels/liter (Bq/L)

    The amount of Cesium-134 and Cesium-137 in the contaminated groundwater reported at the site in July. (U.S. drinking water maximum contaminant level: about 4 Bq/L; Japan's emergency limit is 60 Bq/L for Cesium-134 and 90 Bq/L for Cesium-137)

    A satellite image of the Fukushima nuclear plant shows its position on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Photo by DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d via Getty Images.

    136 miles

    Distance between the Fukushima nuclear power plant and Japan's capital Tokyo. PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien reported in March 2012 about grocery stores in Tokyo posting cesium levels next to produce grown in Fukushima to try to calm customers' concerns.

    $300-$400 million

    Estimated cost of building a new containment system that the Japanese government is considering -- a frozen underground wall to block water from escaping, reported the Associated Press.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: A badly damaged nuclear plant in Japan loomed over budget talks today in Tokyo. Officials are working on ways to stop contaminated runoff at the site from poisoning the surrounding sea.

    The radioactive water is escaping from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean at a rate of 300 tons a day. That's enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than a week. And it began soon after the earthquake and tsunami shattered the plant on March 11, 2011.

    Three of the nuclear reactors went into meltdown. None of that was known until TEPCO, the plant's commercial operator, discovered radiation spikes in water samples last May and began creating a chemical barrier underground. The company made the problem public in late July. That spurred the Japanese government to act.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now pledging to become more involved.

    PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE, Japan (through interpreter): As a nation, we ourselves will take firm measures against the issue, and will not leave it entirely in the hands of TEPCO.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The measures could include an effort to build a new barrier by freezing the ground so the water can't get out.

    CHIEF CABINET SECRETRY YOSHIHIDE SUGA, Japan (through interpreter): Building such a large-scale water barrier by freezing the ground is unprecedented anywhere in the world. We believe it is necessary that the country steps forward in supporting its construction.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, a University of Tokyo research team has found multiple radioactive hot spots on the sea bottom, near the Fukushima plant.

    BLAIR THORNTON, University of Tokyo (through interpreter): We have detected over 20 spots around with levels of radiation five to 10 times higher than the surrounding areas, with diameters ranging from tens to hundreds of meters.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The news dealt a further blow to the region's already struggling fishing industry.

    MAN (through interpreter): Just when I thought people had started to want to eat fish again, this news is going to hit our reputation as fishermen once more. It's once again just typical TEPCO.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For now, TEPCO is going ahead with its planned 40-year, $11 billion cleanup of the plant. For its part, the government could end up spending $400 million in the effort.

     


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    And we're joined by Arjun Makhijani, an engineer -- engineer specializing in nuclear fusion. He's the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. And Kenji Kushida, research associate in Japanese studies at Stanford University.

    Well, Arjun Makhijani, let me start with you. Translate for us first to bring us up to date. What exactly is the problem now and how serious is it?

    ARJUN MAKHIJANI, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research: So there are a couple of different problems. One of the problems is what they have found in the groundwater and what actually is there.

    So, so far, we have been concerned about an element called cesium, cesium 137 and 134, which is radioactive. But now they have found strontium-90, which is much more dangerous, at levels that are 30 times more than cesium. So to give you an idea of the level of contamination, if somebody drank that water for a year, they would almost certainly get cancer. So it's very contaminated.

    So that's one problem. The other is the defenses to hold back this water from the sea seem to be overcome. So now the contaminated waters, 70,000, 80,000 gallons is flowing into the sea every day.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And do we know how far out to sea this contaminated water is going and what happens to it when it goes into the sea?

    ARJUN MAKHIJANI: Well, when it goes into the sea, of course, some of it will disperse and dilute. Some of it goes into the sediment and some of it is taken up by the life in the sea.

    And the unfortunate thing about strontium especially is that it bioaccumulates in algae, it bioaccumulates in fish. It targets the bone, because it's like calcium. And so this is a problem. We don't have measurements far out to sea. The Woods Hole Institute has done some surveys. And they were surprised by how much continuing radioactivity they found, but no clear explanation yet.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    Well, Kenji Kushida, how has this news been received in Japan and what is the level of trust at this point in both the company and the government?

    KENJI KUSHIDA, Stanford University: Well, clearly, trust in the company has gone down quite seriously, even from a low point after the accident.

    And the government does need to -- basically, they don't have to call an election for about three years, so the government is trying to shore up its decision to support restarting nuclear reactors by showing some kind of commitment to preventing this disaster from getting too much worse.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what kind of steps is it taking and how much has it -- we just heard the clips in the setup talking about action. What kinds of things are they proposing and how energized, how seriously are they taking this?

    KENJI KUSHIDA: Well, it seems to be fairly serious, because the budget that they're asking for is for the following year, for the fiscal year of 2014, to help shore up the defenses against this.

    And TEPCO itself, it's been de facto nationalized. So, in essence, it's basically the government's problem. The buck stops with the government. So how to deal with this 400 tons a day of water pouring from the underground passageways into the reactor buildings, that's a problem that the government has to deal with.

    And about 50 percent of the population in a recent poll was against restarting nuclear reactors after certifying their safety, and about 40 percent were supporting the restarting. And the government, as a strong supporter of restarting reactors, do feel it's quite a bit of their responsibility to deal with it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well, I want to come back to that subject, but first, Arjun Makhijani, what about these measures that they're taking to try to stop the contamination, the leaking water, building tanks, walls, freezing the ground?

    ARJUN MAKHIJANI: Yes.

    Well, you know, they already built this chemical-reinforced wall, and what happened, of course, it's like a dam, so you have water coming in from upstream, above the plant. And then at a certain point, it's going to get -- overtop the dam. It's like constant rain coming into a reservoir.

    And so that has been the problem, is those defenses have been breached because there's too much water and not enough wall. And at a certain point that's always going to be the case. It seems to me that there's a risk the same thing will happen with this new wall, because they already had a wall and it didn't work. So, building a new and longer wall would work for some time.

    The other problem is, of course, you need a massive amount of water to freeze that much soil. It would be a mile-long, apparently. If you have a power failure, another major earthquake -- they had a power failure a few months ago when a rat ate through a wire -- and that would then be very, very problematic, because now you have got so much water behind.

    We actually sent a proposal to Japan two years ago, some colleagues of mine and I, saying you should park a supertanker or a large tanker offshore, and put the water in it, and send it off someplace else so that the water treatment and the water management is not such a huge, constant issue. But...

    JEFFREY BROWN: It sounds like still an ongoing experiment.

    ARJUN MAKHIJANI: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Kenji Kushida, come back to this question you were raising about the politics of this and the culture of nuclear power there.

    There are still a lot of people that want to -- that feel it's necessary for Japan. Right? So, where does all that stand?

    KENJI KUSHIDA: Well, the funny thing about the recent Japanese politics is that the nuclear issue didn't -- wasn't part of the main issues that were debated.

    It was mostly about the economy. And there was partly a reason for that. As I just mentioned, the public is pretty deeply divided over this. But, interestingly, in Tokyo, the local candidate from Tokyo metropolitan area was running on an anti-nuclear power platform, and he got elected pretty safely.

    So what we see here is the anti-nuclear power public, I mean, this is reinforces all their worst fears. You have the operator that doesn't seem to be in control, the government that says it's going to back it up, but the technological hurdles are just very high to doing that.

    And, on the other hand, you have a fairly silent majority -- minority of about 40 percent who do think that some of the other reactors are necessary for maintaining Japan's economic competitiveness, because Japan doesn't have any natural resources. So, in the absence of nuclear power, they have to import very large amounts of liquid natural gas to basically generate the power that they need.

    So there's this economic constraint that they see. And that's sort of where the public stands in its divisions.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And very briefly...

    (CROSSTALK)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, I'm sorry.

    I was going to ask very briefly, Arjun Makhijani, is -- those kinds of debates, is what happened still rattling the whole industry worldwide?

    ARJUN MAKHIJANI: Well, I think it is different in different places. It rattled Germany, and they decided to shut down. I don't think it's rattled the U.S. industry very much.

    The French are somewhere in between. They, of course, get 75 percent of their power from nuclear, and they have decided or at least the president has said that they will decrease their nuclear to 50 percent. They're having a big energy debate, much more serious than we have had.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Arjun Makhijani and Kenji Kushida, thank you both very much.

    KENJI KUSHIDA: Thank you.

     


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    KWAME HOLMAN: A thousand firefighters raced today to save half-a-dozen small communities in Southern California from a rapidly growing wildfire. The blaze erupted yesterday in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains, 90 miles east of Los Angeles. Overnight, it ballooned to more than 15 square miles and burned out of control today. So far, at least 15 buildings have burned, and some 1,500 residents have been ordered to leave their homes.

    In the Midwest, the problem is water, in the form of flash floods. Up to 10 inches of rain hit parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Tennessee early today. Water surged into homes and offices and poured through streets. Emergency workers rescued at least one baby, but two people were killed. It was the latest in a series of storms across the Midwest that began Sunday.

    Thousands of Egyptians took part in rival rallies in Cairo today, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Opponents of ousted President Mohammed Morsi held a prayer service in Tahrir Square. Elsewhere, Morsi's supporters held their own gathering, highlighted by a surprise appearance from his wife. She had not been seen since the military forced her husband out July 3.

    Rebels in Syria marked the end of Ramadan with an attempted direct attack on President Bashar Assad. Two groups claimed they fired rockets and mortar rounds that struck his motorcade in Damascus. In turn, state television aired video of Assad unharmed at a prayer service.

    His information minister portrayed the claims of the rebels as wishful thinking.

    OMRAN AL-ZOUBI, Syrian Information Minister (through interpreter): Regarding what was said on the Saudi channel al-Arabiya, I confirm to you that, of course, the news is completely untrue. This news just shows the false hopes of some media outlets and the governments who are behind them.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Opposition groups nonetheless said today's attack rattled the regime.

    Thirty people died today in Pakistan when a suicide bomber attacked a policeman's funeral in the western city of Quetta. It left burned vehicles from the explosive coupled with ball bearings. Emergency workers rushed to help the wounded. Hundreds were at the funeral inside a police compound; 20 of the dead were policemen, including five senior officers.

    A military judge at Fort Hood, Texas, refused to let defense lawyers take over today from Army Major Nidal Hasan. He's accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 nearly four years ago. Hasan is acting as his own attorney, but his standby lawyers say he's trying to get himself executed. Today, the judge agreed to let Hasan continue defending himself, and ordered the lawyers to continue advising him.

    On Wall Street today, stocks rose a bit after a three-day skid. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 27 points to close at 15,498. The NASDAQ rose 15 points to close at 3,669.

    Those are some of the day's major stories.


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    GWEN IFILL: Now: the living legacy of one woman's DNA.

    Margaret Warner has the story.

    MARGARET WARNER: In 1951, a poor African-American woman in Maryland became an early and unwitting donor to medical science.

    Henrietta Lacks died at age 31 of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Then doctors discovered that tumor cells they'd removed from her body earlier continued to thrive in the lab, a medical first. Before long, her cells, dubbed HeLa cells, were being used for research around the world, contributing to major advances in everything from cancer treatments to vaccines.

    But Henrietta Lacks never gave permission for that research, nor had her family, until now, in an agreement announced yesterday with the National Institutes of Health, which grants the family a limited say over some of the research.

    Dr. Francis Collins is the director of the NIH and spearheaded the talks with the family.

    And, Dr. Collins, welcome back.

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, National Institutes of Health:It's nice to be here.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, Henrietta Lacks' cells, as we know, are the most widely used cells for research in the world today.

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Yes.

    MARGARET WARNER: Her family never had a say in this. Why did the NIH decide to seek its buy-in now?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, what happened now this year is different.

    HeLa cells, yes, have been all over the world used in almost every laboratory studying human biology, including my own. But now what we have had happen is to read out the complete DNA instruction book, the genome of HeLa cells, laying out all kinds of details about why those cells grow so rapidly, but also revealing something about Henrietta's original DNA instruction book, which, of course, has implications for the family.

    And her blood relatives raised concerns, rightly so, that this information being freely available on the Internet might be placing them at risk for people learning things about their medical risks for the future that they would like to keep private.

    MARGARET WARNER: And so this agreement you negotiated with the family, what does it grant them? What does it give them?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, over three long meetings in the evening in Baltimore with the family -- and I give them a huge amount of credit for rallying together and dealing with some pretty complicated scientific facts -- ultimately, they are very much in favor of research going forward.

    They are wonderfully positive about the legacy of Henrietta, for all of the things it's done for medicine. They don't that want to stop, but they did want to have some say over who had access to this DNA information because of its implications for them.

    And so we set up a plan where any researcher who would like to have that complete DNA information can put in a rather quick and brief application explaining what they want to do, agreeing that they will not pass the data on to other people, that they will report as to what they have found, and that they won't try to contact the family members directly.

    If that is actually considered appropriate -- and two of the Lacks family members will sit on the group that reviews those applications -- then the data is made available.

    MARGARET WARNER: But two quick questions. They can -- the researchers can publish the data -- publish the results?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Absolutely.

    MARGARET WARNER: And the family will still receive no financial benefit here?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: They will not.

    And they are basically not asking for that. They did think it was fair to have a seat at table when it is their medical circumstances that might also be involved here, and we thought they were right about that.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, explain a little more what makes Henrietta Lacks' cells so special? Is it that they can live indefinitely in the lab?Is that unique?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: They are immortal.

    And there are other cell lines, but this was the first one, derived in 1951. After many failed efforts to get human cells to grow in a petri dish, these cells, HeLa cells, grew and grew and grew and got sent to laboratories all over the world. My own lab works on these cells as well.

    MARGARET WARNER: But, now, if you take sequencing the genome, genetic research, aren't there living people now who are having their genome sequenced? Why couldn't you just use their -- why couldn't researchers use their DNA?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, HeLa cells, because they're cancer cells, have been used also to learn a lot about cancer.

    But a cancer cell has a lot of things that are driving it to grow when it's not supposed to.And to be able to interpret all those decades of experiments on HeLa cells, it really helps to know what the DNA sequence was.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, her cells still remain unique even for this fairly new field?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: They do, indeed.

    And all the people who will be working on these cells going forward are going to benefit by knowing a bit more than we have known before about what's driving these cells to keep growing and growing and growing. Turns out, these cells have a copy of the human papilloma virus inserted in the most vulnerable place you could imagine, on chromosome eight, activating a particular cancer gene. This is now probably why we know at last why these cells grow so rapidly.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, how -- I don't want to say well-grounded, but how serious is the risk to the privacy of descendants when you get to the level of grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Very important question.

    It is certainly the case that my children have my DNA, but they also have their mother's. And it gets diluted as you move further and further away from the individual, but there is still some connection there. And I think her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren therefore have an interest in making sure that this is handled respectfully.

    And respect for persons is one of those really fundamental bioethical principles that we can't brush aside easily, even if it's inconvenient. And so it seemed very appropriate to listen carefully to their concerns and then to incorporate them into the decision, which I think has turned out really well.

    MARGARET WARNER: And so that raises the question of the broader policy implications of this. I mean, does there need to be an accepted policy for dealing with all such cases, even if you don't have cells like hers that are unique?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Yes, I think that's a very appropriate question. Basically, Henrietta Lacks, who has given us a legacy of medical research, is also now giving us a new legacy of policy, about how we should handle biological specimens from people. And, basically, the bottom line is, going forward, we ought to ask consent for anybody who is having a tissue sample obtained that might be used for this kind of analysis.

    Ask them, is it OK? And if they say yes, then you're on much firmer ground. And if they say no, that means no.

    MARGARET WARNER: But, briefly, today, if one -- if you sign an agreement to have a biopsy, are you signing away those rights, or is there something new and specific that would have to be added?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: The consent will need to be more precise than it is in most surgical procedures today to make it clear what it is that you're being asked to agree to.

    The Obama administration is working hard on a new way to approach this so that that is not so ambiguous, so that science can flourish, but people have the opportunity to be participants, and not just subjects.

    MARGARET WARNER: Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, thank you.

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Nice to be with you.

     


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