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

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    RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight, the next in our series looking at the challenges of governing in America.

    In our first installment, we got some historical perspective. Yesterday, I talked with two authors who've written extensively about modern-day Washington.

    Mark Leibovich is author of "This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -- Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! -- in America's Gilded Capital." And Robert Draper is the author of "When the Tea Party Came to Town," a look it the 112th Congress.

    Now, gentlemen, if you go back to the earliest days of American political journalism and satire, it featured scathing contempt of Congress and a perception on the part of the people that not enough or sometimes not anything was getting done.

    What's different, Robert Draper, about now?

    ROBERT DRAPER, author: Well, you're right that, from the very outset, from the first federal Congress, there was gridlock.

    And, in fact, one guy that I wait about in my book from the first federal Congress, Fisher Ames, quit in disgust after four terms, saying, do not ask what good we do. That is not a fair question in these days of faction.

    But, back then, they managed to get the Bill of Rights passed. They managed to annex a couple of states. They stood up the executive branch, the judicial branch. They did a lot of stuff during their gridlock period.

    What's different at this point now is that I think it has not only become customary, but I think the public has become increasingly immunized to it. And as Mark has pointed out in his book, it has become a profitable endeavor to do nothing.

    RAY SUAREZ: A profitable endeavor.

    Mark Leibovich, the act of -- quote, unquote -- "going to Washington," whether you're an elected official, a civil servant, a journalist, a lawyer, whatever, has that changed, let's say just in the recent decades?

    MARK LEIBOVICH, author: Yes.

    First of all, Washington has become, in the words of Tom Coburn, the senator from Oklahoma, a permanent feudal class of insiders. These are people who are in office, people who are formerly in office, staffers, journalists, hangers-on.

    And you have this insider class that becomes self-perpetuating, and you have a Congress in which 42 percent of former members of Congress become lobbyists, 50 percent of former senators become lobbyists. That compares to 2 percent or 3 percent back in 1974. So, you have people coming here with no intention of going back to the farm, like George Washington would have.

    RAY SUAREZ: But is there any connection with actually -- achievement? If I'm going buy politicians, if I was going to be as cynical as to put it that way...

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Right.

    RAY SUAREZ: ... wouldn't I want to buy people who I know can really do things?

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Yes, I think theoretically you could.

    But I also think that when people are going to go through this revolving door, as it's called, you do wonder, when people are in office, when people are in power, who are they really working for? Are they in it to actually work to serve the public good, or are they in it for self-service?

    So, you have a situation now where the government, where the whole sort of maw of Washington has become a single entity, and if you're seen as an insider, that itself becomes marketable.

    RAY SUAREZ: Robert, there's something charming about looking at photos of Harry Truman taking his morning stroll surrounded by reporters popping questions at him and writing down his answers in their notepads.

    But one big change since then is in the media, a 24-hour atmosphere, multiple platforms, and media stars.

    ROBERT DRAPER: Yes.

    And if you're asking the question, essentially, does the media bear some culpability for the situation that we're in, the answer is I think inarguable. Absolutely. It's become almost axiomatic that the Washington press covers what goes on or what doesn't go on as if it were an Olympic competition or a horse race -- pick your metaphor, but it's something sporting.

    RAY SUAREZ: Yes, but part of the whole business has been traditionally pointing out dysfunction.

    ROBERT DRAPER: Right.

    RAY SUAREZ: How do they contribute to it?

    ROBERT DRAPER: Yes.

    Well, they contribute to the dysfunction because they encourage people to -- they view everything through a political lens, not through the grimy lens of policy-making. Everything is about who is up, who is down, who had the better week, whether or not this is abetting their 2016 presidential ambitions.

    The press has -- the press has always been viewed as a cynical institution, but now it's deeply so. It barely even makes a passing reference to policy-making in its coverage of political figures in Washington.

    RAY SUAREZ: Mark, you write about a celebritized culture, and not only from people who are on TV and make millions of dollars doing so.

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Right, like all of us, right.

    RAY SUAREZ: Right.

    (LAUGHTER)

    RAY SUAREZ: But people who work in public service and become kind of celebrities too. Is that new?

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Right.

    It's new in that new media is new. It's new in that Twitter is new. It's new in that Facebook is new. And I do think that, look, I think we are in a business now as journalists in which the gold standard has become punditry, as opposed to reporting.

    If you can be outrageous, if you can have a better shouting match on TV, if you can have a more attention-getting blog, you are probably in a better place. You're in a better place to succeed, to make money than other people. And, frankly, it's part of a larger phenomenon in politics today, in which Washington and the political class really does very, very well when nothing gets done.

    RAY SUAREZ: So, does that explain why -- and the three of us could probably make a list with 20 or 30 names on it of very well-known elected officials who have no singular legislative achievement...

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Right.

    RAY SUAREZ: ... no law that bears their name, no linchpin moment in history to which they contributed, but they're famous.

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Absolutely. Fame itself has become the defining imperative.

    I mean, look at the 2012 Republican race for president, for instance. You could argue that Michele Bachmann, for instance, to go back to sort of Robert's congressional space, is not exactly a pillar of great achievement in the House, but she became very, very famous as sort of a cable person, as a staple in the conversation.

    (CROSSTALK)

    ROBERT DRAPER: And the flip side, on the Democratic side, Anthony Weiner, who has been in the news a lot.

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Exactly. 

    ROBERT DRAPER: Anthony Weiner was known as a talking head during the health care debate and thereafter. But he had no legislative achievement to speak of, in fact, was basically an outcast in the Democratic Caucus, did very little to lift -- to help either showing up to committee meetings, crafting legislation.

    But he was known for being himself. He was known for being a talking head, being a...

    (CROSSTALK)

    RAY SUAREZ: Your most recent book talks about the Tea Party specifically. And in there and around there, sort of in orbit of the Tea Party, are a lot of public figures who point with pride to all the things that haven't been able to get done, thanks to me.

    ROBERT DRAPER: Yes.

    RAY SUAREZ: It's a new yardstick, isn't it?

    ROBERT DRAPER: Sure. Well, yes, because the unit of measurement, I think, that Democrats traditionally use is how many bills were passed.

    And for the freshman class of the 112th Congress, who are now in their -- sophomores, the ones who are still around, anyway, they say that's not the right way to measure things. Government has already regulated too much. It's already passing too many spending bills. The less, the better. So, their view is that obstructionism is precisely what they ought to be doing. Gridlock is a good thing.

    RAY SUAREZ: So, where does that leave us now? Can we run a big, complicated, continent-size country with a lot of needs using this cast of characters?

    MARK LEIBOVICH: This is the part of the conversation where I put on my "I'm just a reporter, I hold a mirror to the culture" hat.

    It's a little -- I need to shorten the name of...

    (CROSSTALK)

    ROBERT DRAPER: It's the part where I defer to Mark.

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Yes. No, I think...

    RAY SUAREZ: We will come up with an acronym.

    MARK LEIBOVICH: No.

    But, I mean, look, Robert and I, neither of us have chapters at the end of our books in which we lay out 10 bullet points on how we can make Washington work better, how we can make Congress work better.

    Ultimately, though, I think, clearly, there is a level of great dissatisfaction in the country with how business is and is not getting done in Washington. And it's in great disconnect with how good people in Washington seem to be feeling about themselves and how successful inside-the-Beltway people have become.

    RAY SUAREZ: Mark Leibovich, Robert Draper, thank you both.

    MARK LEIBOVICH: Thanks, Ray.

    ROBERT DRAPER: Pleasure.

    RAY SUAREZ: Next week, we will speak with people who have portrayed the nation's capital on the big screen, on television, and in novels to get their interpretation of governing in today's Washington.

     


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    Two years ago, I wrote this piece about looking back and looking forward. Now, because we love our landmarks, the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington has allowed us to focus once again on a pivotal national event that did so much to shape the way we view ourselves and our nation.

    Names have been lost in the popular retelling. Bayard Rustin was the organizer who somehow figured out a way to get a quarter of a million people to descend on the capital for a march that made some pretty radical demands. Walter Reuther and A. Philip Randolph were the labor organizers whose efforts ensured that the crowd was so racially diverse. Anna Arnold Hedgeman was the only woman on the organizing committee, and scolded the civil rights leaders who decided the day's speakers would all be male. She lost that fight.

    I'm embarrassed to say I've learned, or re-learned, a lot of this recently as I was preparing for the series of conversations we've been having on the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week leading up to the anniversary. It puts nearly everything we are watching unfold in Washington now in context -- from economic stress to power politics to personal security. And it helps us to look forward, too.

    (August 25, 2011) My daily commute takes me south along the Potomac River and past the neoclassical majesty of the Lincoln Memorial, a beautiful drive I try not to take for granted. But I had been living and working in the nation's capital for more than two decades before I retraced the steps I had taken as a schoolchild, up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

    It was steeper than I remembered. (It always is.) But when I reached the broad landing at the top, I glanced down, and to my surprise, discovered something there I had never noticed before -- a shiny disc embedded in the floor that marked the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what came to be known as the "I Have A Dream" speech.

    When I looked back up from the marble floor, I was able to gaze straight down the vista of the National Mall, which stretches past the reflecting pool and up to the U.S. Capitol. It's a view I never tire of, whether gazing down from a plane, zipping by in a car or strolling by on foot. But on this day, I was also able to marvel at how it must have looked to Dr. King to see a quarter million people dressed in their Sunday best, gathered for the March on Washington.

    Somewhere in that sea of optimistic humanity on August 28, 1963 was my father, who had boarded a bus with a group of other African American preachers to be there for the event. My mother, siblings and I stayed behind in Buffalo, New York, but the events of the day swiftly became ingrained in our family's collective conscience.

    This was the sort of thing my father, a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal church, loved to do. Where others heard only the humility and conciliation in Dr. King's speeches and writings, my Dad heard the call to action. So that's what his children heard too.

    For years, I scanned the footage of that day, searching for a glimpse of my father marching along in his clerical collar. It doesn't matter that I never saw him. The images still stick. They are invariably frozen in my mind in black and white. That may be appropriate, since so much of American history is defined by those opposites.

    Before Hurricane Irene postponed it, my old NBC colleague Brian Williams and I were going to emcee the dedication ceremony of the King Memorial in Washington this weekend. I am of an age where my memory of the march is rooted more in the news coverage of the event than in experience. Mahalia Jackson singing. Bayard Rustin - the day's organizer and overlooked hero - speaking. And, of course, Dr. King.

    Over the years, the "Dream" speech has become one of the most selectively remembered addresses in history. Perhaps only the schoolchildren taught to dutifully recite it every January ever bother to listen to the entire address any more. But it's worth a read.

    Dr. King, it should be noted, started off with a pretty harsh assessment of race relations 100 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. "One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free," he thundered. "One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination."

    "When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir," he continued. "This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned."

    But that's not the portion of the speech most hear anymore. What we hear is the part where King turns from recounting injustice to preaching optimism, riffing on a theme he had developed in an earlier speech.

    "I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice," he preached.

    "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

    The totality of King's speech not only captures the times in which it was delivered. It also provides an eerie mirror image of the same debates that academics and pundits reargue today. When it comes to race relations, should we be pessimistic or optimistic? Is it more important to focus on how far we've come, or how far we have to go?

    Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to act as a judge for a video, art and essay contest sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial called "Kids for King," Schoolchildren were able to use their own voices to view King's life and work through the prisms of their own experiences. It was enlightening.

    Angie Miller of Sarasota, Florida, submitted artwork that depicted an explosion of flowers, along with the words "Life is Colorful."

    Courtney McDonald of Levittown, Pennsylvania, wrote of the dream more broadly. "I have been treated unfairly because I look different, I like different things and because I am a girl," she wrote. "Even though some people might be tall, short, skinny, fat, white, black, girl or boy, we are all still the same and we should be treated equally. His hope was to have everyone stop fighting, killing and treating each other poorly, just because people are different."

    Others celebrated the legacy through music and poetry. But, unlike their parents, who struggle through complicated arguments about whether America is now "post racial," or whether King's dream has been achieved, they focus on more straightforward lessons about equality and generosity.

    "With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope," Dr. King said, in words that will be etched in the new memorial. "With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."

    Reading those submissions and rereading Dr. King's words cheered me immensely. It reminded me that my father, a man of faith, raised children who could look back, and look forward, without getting confused.

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    Student at Regis University. Photo by Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images. Student at the Regis University Library. Photo by Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

    Things always look differently in hindsight than in the moment. It's almost as if you should have been able to predict what would happen if you signed up for that 8 a.m. class instead of the 10 a.m., if you sat at one table versus another in the dining hall, if you studied abroad somewhere a bit more exotic than Europe.

    This year's crop of college freshmen are in the middle of moving into school, so it seems only appropriate to ask: What advice do you wish you could give your college freshman self?

    It may be too late to change your experience, but hopefully your advice will help out a nervous college freshman, give high school students something to think about and give those us out of college something to remember fondly. And because it was only fair, we asked a few NewsHour staffers for their responses as well.

    Duke McAdow, Web Designer, Cal State Northridge, Class of 1991

    Trust your heart -- choose the course of study that interests and inspires you, and throw yourself into it. Don't choose a path merely because it satisfies the expectations of others, or because it seems prudent. You're a good kid ... take a chance on yourself.

    Andrew, Financial Analyst, University of Wisconsin Madison, Class of 1993

    Go to class! College isn't that hard if you actually, you know, show up!

    Rosalie Dech, Virginia Commonwealth University, Class of 2007

    "The fruits of my freshman year," graduation from VCU in 2007.

    Just worry about being who you are. Talk to and do what you need to do to feel happy, and comfortable in your new surroundings. Also doesn't hurt to go to your student union and speak to employees there, they are all students and have tales and helpful less overwhelming advice to give.

    Courtney Thanos, Stay at Home Mom, Kent State University, Class of 2002

    Pick a major with which you will be employable. If you want to learn about art history or English, make it a minor

    Ruth Ann Pilney, Retired, De Paul University, Class of 1970.

    Keep your faith and nourish your faith. Don't abandon your values. Do not look at college as preparation for a job, but rather as preparation for life. So, prepare yourself to be a good person. Be studious, but also take time for leisure and socializing. Also eat healthily. In other words, live a balanced life. Choose friends who share your basic values. Do you homework and finish your assignments on time.

    Gwen Ifill, Co-anchor PBS NewsHour, Simmons College, Class of 1977

    Relax a bit and enjoy the moment. Study hard, but also say yes to opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone. You never know where exploration will take you.

    Brian Buffett, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Berea College, Class of 2007

    Learn the importance of building and maintaining relationships with people. You never know when you will need to reach out to someone for help or if they will need you one day.

    Lee Robinson, Finance Associate, Pace University, Class of 2008

    Forget football. It will hold you back and cost you tons of money for years. Instead of going where you can play, go to the best school you can get into (Cornell) and get involved with the community.

    Judy Woodruff, NewsHour Co-Anchor, Duke University, Class of 1968

    Spend more time studying than you did in high school; get to know a few professors really well; pick campus activities that matter to you and get involved; go out of your way to make friends with classmates who are quiet, may be struggling; and leave time to have fun!

    Abraham Alaron, Assistant Principal in the Englewood Public Schools District, Rutgers University, Class of 1992

    Remember who and what helped me get to college because when the challenges come, and they will come you will need to draw from these for wisdom, strength, discipline, and endurance to excel and reach your goals. This is a time to explore, question, analyze and test while expanding upon the talents and skills you have. Be curious. Be imaginative. Ask lots of questions. Be patient with yourself and make lots of friends. Get involved in campus activities. Give back to your community through service. Learn your native language well. Being bilingual is a must in today's world and will make you marketable. Finally work hard and never give up.

    John Black, Manufacturing Project Management, Lewis University, Class of 1983

    Prioritize and focus on the studies. Fun can be addressed throughout your life. Education is now.

    Warren, Small Business Owner, State University of New York at Buffalo, Class of 1987

    Self portrait taken in my studio-The Digital Eye, LLC

    Don't attend as many keg parties, get involved in a church community, and get serious about my studies.

    Jason Kane, NewsHour Reporter Producer, George Washington University, Class of 2007

    Study abroad and do it somewhere other than Europe. I may not have done much studying, but the sixth months I spent at University of Cape Town was the most educational, enriching and action-packed part of my college career.

    Kirk Hazlette, Public Relations Teacher, University of Georgia , Class of 1968

    Kirk Hazlette.

    Pay attention to what your high school counselor told you about your field of study interest area. (Learned this one the hard way!)

    Jackie, Graduate Student, Purdue University, Class of 2005

    Allow yourself a tad bit of free time. Maybe you don't really need 3 minors, be the head of every club and take on all the extra projects.

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    PBS NewsHour will live stream events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Watch the player above for speeches and performances on Saturday, Aug. 24, and Wednesday, Aug. 28. Below are some of the details from various events throughout the week. Find the complete schedule of events here.

    Saturday, Aug. 24

    Realize the Dream March and Rally Organizer: National Action Network Place: The Lincoln Memorial Time: 8 a.m. Event Details: Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, the families of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till, Rep. John Lewis, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer will speak.

    Global Freedom Festival Organizer: The King Center and National Park Service Location: The National Mall Time: August 24, 2p.m. to August 27, 10 a.m. Event Details: "Global Freedom Festival will open on the mall, and will include four days of education, entertainment and activities that focus on advancing the three freedoms previously mentioned, provided by individuals and organizations from throughout the world."

    Monday, Aug. 26

    Republican National Committee Commemorative Event Organizer: Republican National Committee Location: Capitol Hill Club Time: 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Event Details: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Former Rep. Allen West will offer remarks.

    Tuesday, Aug. 27

    A Global Perspective Lecture Organizer/Location: The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Time: 6:30 p.m. Event Details: John W. Franklin, director of Partnerships and International Programs at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture, gives a lecture examining "the historic event based on his travels abroad and cover civil rights memorabilia collected by the museum."

    Panel Discussion With the Historical Society of Washington D.C. Organizer/ Location: The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Time: 7 p.m. Event Details: Krissah Thompson of The Washington Post will moderate a discussion between photographer and documentary producer Eric Kulberg; Jennifer Krafchik, library director of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.; and Derek Gray, D.C. community archivist of the Washingtoniana Division at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

    Wednesday, Aug. 28

    March for Jobs and Justice Organizer: The Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws Location: The National Mall Time: 8 a.m. Event Details: President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech 50 years ago.

    Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action Organizers: The King Center and The Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Freedom, National Council of Negro Women, SCLC, National Urban League, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, National Action Network, National Council of Churches, Children's Defense Fund Location: The Lincoln Memorial Time: 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Event Details: An interfaith service will kick off the event from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Tidal Basin, followed by the "Let Freedom Ring" Commemoration and Call to Action at the nearby Lincoln Memorial from 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., including a bell-ringing ceremony at 3:00 p.m.

    University of District of Columbia Jazz Ensemble Concert Organizer: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Time: 12 p.m. Event Details: Under the direction of Allyn Johnson, the University of the District of Columbia Small Jazz ensemble performs a concert in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

    Find Much More on the 50th Anniversary:

    In-depth Coverage: The March on WashingtonGwen's Take: Remembering and Reimagining Aug. 28, 1963The Radical Roots of the March on WashingtonThe March on Washington Broke the Notion 'That Mass Movements Couldn't Happen'

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    MARGARET WARNER: President Obama expressed heightened concern about the situation in Syria in his first extended remarks about the possible use of poison gas by the Syrian government. His comments came as the humanitarian crisis there hit what the U.N. called a shameful milestone.

    And a warning: Some viewers may find images in this story disturbing.

    The president said today that Wednesday's alleged chemical attack outside Damascus, which killed an estimated 500 to more than 1,000 men, women and children, was -- quote -- "a big event of grave concern."

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.

    MARGARET WARNER: But, in an interview with CNN, Mr. Obama also sounded notes of caution about the U.S. taking immediate military action against the Syrian regime.

    BARACK OBAMA: If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work? And, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.

    MARGARET WARNER: U.N. inspectors were already on the ground in Syria when Wednesday's rocket attack occurred, investigating allegations of previous chemical attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Today, Syria's key ally Russia joined an international chorus calling for Assad to grant those U.N. inspectors access to Wednesday's site. In South Korea, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for thorough, impartial and prompt investigation, and said that those determined responsible would be held accountable.

    BAN KI-MOON, United Nations: Any use of chemical weapons anywhere by anybody under any circumstances would violate international law. Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator.

    MARGARET WARNER: Back in the region, twin car bombs exploded outside two mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, near the Syria border, killing at least 27 and leaving hundreds more wounded.

    The Syrian conflict has reignited sectarian tensions in Lebanon, as well as strained the small country's resources as hundreds of thousands of Syrians seek safety within its borders. With more than 700,000 registered refugees, Lebanon is home to the most displaced Syrians.

    But both Jordan and Turkey have accepted about half-a-million refugees. And Egypt and Iraq are each hosting more than 100,000. With the completion of this pontoon bridge over the Tigris River, Iraq in particular has seen a dramatic influx in recent weeks. The U.N. says the total number of Syrian refugees from the more-than-two-year conflict is now approaching two million.

    Today, it announced that the number of Syrian children who've been forced to flee their country has reached a new milestone.

    YOKA BRANDT, UNICEF: Last year around this time, we had 70,000 Syrian refugee children. Today, we have reached one million. And that tells us something about the escalation of this crisis.

    MARGARET WARNER: At the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, home to 130,000 displaced Syrians, some of those children said they just want to go home.

    CHILD (through interpreter): All I wish is that Syria could become peaceful again. That's all I want, for the trouble to stop. This time next year, I hope everything goes back to normal, to the way it used to be.

    CHILD (through interpreter): I want to return to Syria, to live in peace and to go back to school. I want to be able to play with my old friends again, just like before. I want our country to be safe, safe enough to live in and for it to be prosperous again.

    MARGARET WARNER: It is believed another two million children have been displaced inside Syria.


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    MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the impact of the Syria conflict on the millions forced to flee, particularly the children, I'm joined by UNICEF spokesperson Sarah Crowe. She's been to the Syrian refugee camps, as well as other UNICEF-supported camps around the world.

    Sarah Crowe, thank you for joining us.

    One million kids, Syrian kids now refugees, put that in context for us. What percentage of Syrian children have been driven from their homes?

    SARAH CROWE, UNICEF: Well, it's a staggering number.

    Just imagine a city like Boston or Washington or Los Angeles without children, without its childhood population. Not only is this robbing Syria of a new generation. It's also becoming a burden, as you have heard in those pieces earlier, for the neighboring countries. It's engulfing -- this crisis is now engulfing an entire region.

    But this is not just about numbers. Each one of those children represent a child with dreams, a child who had an education, and is now facing a life, for at least a short term, a short-term existence, without schooling. What we have in many of the refugee areas and in Jordan, for instance, in Zaatari camp, and in the host communities, is we're providing temporary schooling.

    But it's not enough. There are thousands of other children who are just simply falling between the cracks. And many of the older children, it's much harder for them. All the boys are full of resentment and anger and aggressive. They want to go back and fight in many cases or, indeed, they're being recruited.

    And many of the teenaged girls face early marriage, as their families are now facing a life in poverty. They're now in a refugee camp. That's no life for any child. And they have seen things that no child should ever have to witness.

    MARGARET WARNER: Is there something particular or unusual -- I mean, war is always dreadful for children. Is there something unusual about the impact the Syria conflict has had on Syrian children, maybe the comparison of their life before, for example?

    SARAH CROWE: Well, what struck me in what you heard earlier in the clip that you played is that they're extremely articulate children and also very well-educated.

    Syria had about 85 percent of its primary school children were in a school, and now, if you look at one town like Aleppo in Syria, only 6 percent of those children are now in school. So this gives you -- this gives you a comparative feeling of what it was like then and what it is like now.

    And the longer this conflict goes on, the greater the chance of a lost generation. These children are losing out in so many levels, so many areas. What we're able to do is give basic -- basic needs are met, immunization campaigns, vaccination. Water and sanitation is trucked into these camps.

    And, of course, the host communities themselves need to be supported, and those children in those host communities are also vulnerable. So we need to look at immunizing those children, which we do together with the host governments and the host communities.

    MARGARET WARNER: What impact does this have over long term? I mean, some of these children -- I have been to some of these camps -- have been there a couple of years already. What is the impact on their health, and not just physical, but also psychological, that will linger during these formative years?

    SARAH CROWE: Well, the greatest wounds, of course, are the ones that you can't see, and that scar them in many ways for life.

    When they talk about what they have seen and when they draw pictures of what they have seen, you can see that there's a sense of bleakness in their eyes, in the way they express it. One of our child protection officers in Jordan said to me that it's like they have lost their sense of humanity, their sense that -- it's as if they have to have their souls sewn back on again.

    And this is something that is invisible, and the scars are invisible but will and could remain with them for a lifetime, especially if this goes on for too long. So it's a global shame. It's -- we're all -- we all should hang our heads in shame that this crisis has gone on now, now into its third year, and the biggest humanitarian crisis we have had to deal with.

     

    MARGARET WARNER: What do these children do all day in the camps? I mean, having seen some of them, some of these mothers have nine and 10 children, and there's no man there. What do the children do all day?

    SARAH CROWE: Well, exactly.

    You're seeing a disproportionate number of children and mothers and women, in the camps particularly, but also in host communities. Where there's good help and where there's help to be found, we're very actively pursuing, and we have temporary schooling, and indeed now much more structured schooling in the established camps, like in Zaatari camp in Jordan.

    And that gives them a real sense of routine, a sense of something familiar that they know, that they understand. They go to these schools, some schools in tents, but many are now in prefab classrooms, where they're able to get shelter from the very arid, hot, dry summer, and indeed, in the winter, which we're now approaching, a very cool, cold winter. At nighttime, it gets bitterly cold in that area.

    So they're getting -- they're getting regular -- for the lucky ones, they are getting regular schooling. And the good news is, when you find teachers in the community, particularly in Jordan, that has a much more similar curriculum, and, of course, amongst the refugee population, there are also Syrian teachers.

    So there are double shifts. There are shifts in the morning and shifts in the afternoon. So that's what happens when it works well.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, let me ask you this. In June, the U.N. announced that there was a $3 billion shortfall in money for Syrian aid between what had been pledged by various countries, the U.S., the Gulf, the Europeans, and what the U.N. felt it would need until the end of the year.

    Are you seeing that shortfall translated on the ground? In other words, is there a limit to what sort of food and medicine and schooling you can provide?

    SARAH CROWE: There's absolutely a limit.

    This is bigger than any one aid organization can cope with, any one government. This is a crisis for an entire region. Our funding -- our funding needs have only been 40 percent met, and so this is -- this is another -- another shame. What is needed, of course, is a political solution. We can't keep -- we can't keep up with the demands if the flow from Syria continues.

    UNICEF is inside Syria, and, as you said earlier, we have -- we're dealing with two million children inside Syria who are displaced. So you have got a crisis inside and a crisis outside. And this is -- this is now becoming -- this is now going beyond the -- beyond the bounds of any one agency.

    MARGARET WARNER: Wells, Sarah Crowe of UNICEF, thank you so much.  

    SARAH CROWE: Thank you.

     


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    KWAME HOLMAN: Supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi held scattered rallies in Egypt today, but turnout was low. Protesters chanted against the takeover by the military as they marched through Cairo, but they avoided areas barricaded by the authorities. Hundreds of members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested, making rallies harder to organize.

    Yesterday, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was released from prison and placed under house arrest. There also were small protests against his release.

    In India, a 22-year-old female photojournalist was raped by five men while on assignment in Mumbai. She was hospitalized in stable condition after last evening's attack. Her male colleague also was beaten. A suspect has been arrested. He reportedly identified four others. Hundreds of people, including many fellow journalists, held a silent protest in Mumbai today. Some carried signs decrying violence against women in India.

    GURBIR SINGH, BusinessWorld: The journalists have gathered together. We are protesting about it to basically ensure that there is safety and security for the residents, as well as the citizens and journalist professionals of this city.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Earlier this year, the Indian government adopted a sweeping law to protect women from sexual violence. It was triggered by the gang rape and death of a female student in New Delhi in December.

    A fast-moving wildfire in Central California raged out of control today and crossed into Yosemite National Park. The Rim fire has spread to more than 165 square miles and firefighters have it only 2 percent contained. About 4,500 residences are in the path of the expanding blaze. For now, the national park remains open, but one of its entrances has been shut.

    Sales of new homes in the U.S. plunged in July as mortgage rates moved higher. The Commerce Department reported sales dropped 13.4 percent last month, the slowest pace in nine months. Stocks on Wall Street stumbled in early trading on the housing news, but recovered late in the day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 46 points to close at 15010. The Nasdaq rose 19 points to close above 3657. For the week, the Dow lost half-a-percent; the Nasdaq rose 1.5 percent.

    The CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, announced today he will retire within the next year. Ballmer took the helm at Microsoft 13 years ago, after founder Bill Gates stepped down. During Ballmer's tenure, Microsoft's stock price fell nearly 40 percent, and the company struggled to keep pace with competitors Apple and Google. Microsoft didn't name a successor, but a search committee is in the works.

    The National Zoo in Washington is home to a new baby panda. The giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to the cub this evening. The zoo has been on a 24-hour watch for her to go into labor since August 7. The panda had another cub last year, but it died from a liver problem a few days after it was born.

    Those are some of the day's major stories

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the conviction of the Army private sentenced this week under the Espionage Act and gender issues related to that case.

    Ray Suarez has the story.

    RAY SUAREZ: Just days after Bradley Manning was handed 35 years in prison over the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history, the Army private is bringing another issue to the fore. The soldier, who long struggled with gender identity, announced on Thursday the preference to live as a woman named Chelsea.

    In a statement read on NBC's Today Show, Manning said: "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible."

    The announcement has raised legal questions over whether the Army provides that therapy. The soldier will serve time at Leavenworth maximum security prison in Kansas. The prison has 515 beds and no female prisoners. Manning's attorney says he plans to fight for his client once again.

    DAVID COOMBS, attorney for Bradley Manning: A Fort Leavenworth spokesperson said, we don't have certain treatment; that's not what we give.

    I'm going to change that.

    RAY SUAREZ: Manning's request has put a spotlight on an issue that's often overlooked and how the military handles it.

    Estimates vary, but one analysis from the Williams Institute at UCLA. Suggested as many as 700,000 Americans may be transgender, though many fewer may have taken hormones or surgery. Currently, most insurance plans will not cover treatments or surgeries involved with sex changes. There was an earlier gender reassignment involving a veteran. It first came to public attention after World War II.

    Christine Jorgensen, an American soldier who served as a man, returned from military service and became Christine. In Manning's case, the focus now lies on how the Army will proceed with the soldier's request and what that means for the private's future in prison.

    We invited a representative of the Army to join us, but none was available to appear tonight. The Army said in statements it doesn't provide hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery. "Inmates," the Army said, "are treated equally, regardless of race, rank, ethnicity or sexual orientation."

    As for his request for a name change, the Army said it won't be changed unless prisoner Manning completes the legal process to do so. However, some prisoners have taken this action, and the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks can provide guidance.

    For a perspective from the transgender community, we turn to Allyson Robinson, a former executive director of OutServe-SLDN, one of the largest LGBT advocacy organizations for military members and their families in the country. She now works as a private consultant on personnel issues for U.S. military and corporate clients. She is herself transgender.

    And I mentioned Christine Jorgensen, Allyson Robinson, to remind us that this isn't a brand-new issue, but it's probably not one that the Army has to deal with often, is it?

    ALLYSON ROBINSON, former executive director OutServe-SLDN: Well, that's very true, although our estimates would indicate there are anywhere from 6,000 to perhaps 10,000 transgender people who are serving in the military today.

    We have strong statistical evidence that shows that transgender people are twice as likely as their fellow citizens to join the military, to have served in the military. I'm just one example of thousands of transgender veterans and people who are actively serving today.

    RAY SUAREZ: But Private Manning is unusual that he's trying to make this transition while still under Army supervision, and, even more complicated, as a prisoner. What are the Army's obligations to Private Manning?

    ALLYSON ROBINSON: Well, it's worth considering what the Army's obligations are under the U.S. Constitution.

    The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens against cruel and unusual punishment. And there is a growing body of legal precedent that shows that transgender people who are incarcerated should be provided with these medically necessary procedures. In cases where they're not, it is considered a violation of those rights.

    RAY SUAREZ: The Army, in its policy statement that it released to us this afternoon, made it clear that it was willing to entertain a name change.

    Private Manning himself, when addressing his supporters, asked that they send him letters under his old name, as he would consider it, because he's not sure necessarily that it would be delivered to him. Why is that an important issue?

    ALLYSON ROBINSON: Well, it highlights just how unprepared the U.S. Army and the U.S. military in general is to deal with the reality that transgender people have served, are serving, and will continue to serve.

    It's a very frightening thing for many of us to consider the experience that awaits Private Manning because they are so woefully unprepared. But it just highlights the way in which the U.S. military is so far behind the rest of our society.

    They have regulations that are based upon an obsolete, an outdated understanding of transgender people, one that's over 60 years old. And the rest of the country has moved on.

    RAY SUAREZ: They have made it clear that they offer to all servicemen the same level of care, of availability of psychologists, of medical care that they need. I guess this might hinge on whether or not something like gender reassignment would be considered medically necessary as a legal question.

    ALLYSON ROBINSON: I think you're right.

    What we do know is that it is already considered medically necessary by the voices that typically really matter in our society. The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association all hold to that position. And more and more often, insurance companies are as well.

    As you mentioned earlier, that is still frequently not the case. But, on the civilian side, more and more are covering these lifesaving procedures.

    RAY SUAREZ: Well, let's stay away from the Army for a minute.

    Is there -- are there differences when you go from state to state in regulation, both recognizing the changes, altering birth certificates so you can get documents like passports? Are transgender people facing a patchwork quilt of laws across the country?

    ALLYSON ROBINSON: Well, they absolutely are.

    And probably the worst of that is the fact that, in some states, a very small number of states, it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their gender identity, transgender identification. In the vast majority, it is perfectly legal.

    And so this, you know, highlights the experience that transgender people have in this country every day, not just in trying to get appropriate identity documents, so that they can be addressed in appropriate ways, but simply trying to work, to rent an apartment, to enjoy a public space like a park. These experiences can be very, very challenging.

    RAY SUAREZ: And does it take a long time once you finally come to the conviction that you're going to make this change, both getting the rest of the world to accept it and accepting it yourself? Is Private Manning in for perhaps more than he even realizes at this early stage of the game?

    ALLYSON ROBINSON: Well, it is certainly a process, as so many things in life are.

    If we know one thing from the transgender people who are currently serving -- I'm in contact with one group that counts almost 200 people in uniform today who identify as transgender -- it is a process that they have -- that many of them have begun, that many of them would very much like to complete, if they could do so without putting their years at risk.

    And, increasingly, they are coming out to their chains of command, to their military peers, and they're being accepted, because they do their jobs well.

    RAY SUAREZ: Did don't ask, don't tell and that change make coming out in that way less complicated?

    ALLYSON ROBINSON: Unfortunately, it didn't.

    The repeal of don't ask, don't tell didn't change things for transgender people in the military. What it has done, though, I think, is it has taught our military leaders that they don't need to be afraid of these issues. The implementation of don't ask, don't tell's repeal has gone very, very well.

    And, today, the gay and lesbian people are accepted. Their families are welcome in the units where they serve. This is not so for transgender people in any way. But, nevertheless, it could be. Our allies, Great Britain, Australia, Israel, some of the strongest militaries in the world, allow transgender people to serve openly and have experienced no ill effects from that.

    RAY SUAREZ: Allyson Robinson, thanks for joining us.

    ALLYSON ROBINSON: Thank you.

     


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    MARGARET WARNER: We turn to two Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole today for murdering 16 civilians in a solo nighttime rampage in Afghanistan last March. Most of his victims were women and children.

    Today's sentence was the toughest the six-member military jury could impose. The 40-year-old staff sergeant pleaded guilty in June, which spared him the death penalty.

    Adam Ashton has been covering this trial for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, and joins us now.

    Adam Ashton, welcome.

    What was this jury weighing in trying to decide what sentence to impose? Well, first of all, what were their options?

    ADAM ASHTON, The News Tribune: They only had two options.

    Murder has a mandatory minimum life sentence under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so Bales only had a choice -- option today of life with parole or life without parole. In the morning, we had closing arguments, and the prosecution hit him very hard, saying he was ruthless and cold-blooded and had no remorse.

    They showed graphic pictures of his victims, especially children, and they played a video showing Robert Bales leaving the second village he attacked and walking slowly through the fields. While they played that video, the prosecutor said, these are not the movements of someone who doesn't know what he was doing. They said he was clear-eyed and wanted to murder Afghans that night and that he had no remorse for it when he came back to his base and spoke to soldiers about the massacre.

    That was followed by defense arguments that painted Robert Bales as remorseful for the killings. They said he took responsibility for it in signing this plea agreement. And they pointed to an audience full of soldiers and family and friends who have stood by Robert Bales. And they said this was a person who was a good soldier and a good person before his fourth deployment, and he snapped under the pressure of the wars.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, the prosecution took the unusual step -- it happens rarely in these cases -- of actually flying in Afghan civilians who were either victims, but survived, or close witnesses.

    What sort of portrait did they paint of what happened that night?

    ADAM ASHTON: That was really remarkable to see Afghan villagers in an American military courtroom describing the attack that night. They painted a horrible scene, describing Sergeant Bales as entering their homes and corralling women and children in a room and shooting women and children in that room.

    They described themselves as devastated by the loss of their families. They were able to speak pretty candidly about their feelings today in court. They said they were -- after the hearing, rather, they said they were disappointed that he didn't get the death penalty.

    MARGARET WARNER: And then what portrait did the defense try to put forward? What kind of testimony, including from Bales himself, did they paint to try to change that or amend that portrait?

    ADAM ASHTON: So, Bales gave his first apology in court yesterday. He spoke for about 40 minutes.

    And, to me, he seemed very sincere, that he lost control of himself as he tried to cope with anger that he had been experiencing since his second Iraq tour. He never sought consistent help for that anger, and he just snapped, he said. He couldn't explain the killings. He said he was remorseful for them and he couldn't apologize enough.

    That picture was complemented by testimony from his brother and a childhood friend, who cast him as a social person growing up who took care of other people, including a disabled child.

    Then three soldiers testified and described that they thought highly of Bales. And these were very well-respected soldiers who had gone on to great careers in the Army. They had said that Bales performed well in combat and was a good soldier to have in their units.

    MARGARET WARNER: Did they offer any testimony that he had really suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or some kind of real psychological problem as a result of -- I think this was his fourth combat deployment?

    ADAM ASHTON: In the press, we absolutely were expecting that to come up, but it didn't come up in court this week.

    The defense chose not to pursue a mental health defense. The Army had a number of doctors ready to testify that would have countered any diagnosis that the defense presented about traumatic brain injuries or PTSD, so the defense chose just to let Bales speak for himself.

    Certainly, the behavior that Bales described would suggest PTSD. He said he was furious doing the dishes and sitting in traffic and he was ashamed to ask for help.

    MARGARET WARNER: Adam Ashton of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, thank you.

    ADAM ASHTON: Thanks for having me.

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Lowry. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review editor Rich Lowry. He also is a contributor to FOX News. David Brooks is off tonight.

    And, welcome, gentlemen.

    RICH LOWRY:  Hi there.

    MARK SHIELDS: Hey there, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So a lot of news to talk about, but let's start with Syria, Mark, this terrible chemical weapons attack very strongly linked in Damascus to the Assad regime.

    How much pressure does this put on the Obama administration to do something?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the pressure -- first of all, it's different kinds of pressure.

    There's very little political pressure in this country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean from the American people.

    MARK SHIELDS: From the American people. There is very little appetite.

    You can call it the Vietnam syndrome, call it the Iraqi syndrome, call it the Afghanistan syndrome. There is no appetite, no enthusiasm for Americans to go to war again in the Middle East to intervene. There really isn't, and surprisingly little reaction to the tragedy, the human tragedy of 100,000 people being killed and a million people being homeless.

    So, that is it. Political pressure, yes. There is some political pressure. But, absent the public pressure, I don't think it really pushes the president. The president is -- has some self-induced pressure, in the sense that he has -- his own statements on this have been quite strong in the past.

    I mean, Assad -- Bashar has to go was one of his statements. If they use these weapons, it would be a red line they would cross, and we certainly can't tolerate that.

    So, I mean, in that sense, I think there is a pressure and there's undoubtedly a personal pressure because he knows what's going on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Rich, we read the administration -- at least there is vigorous debate going on inside the administration.

    RICH LOWRY:  Right. Right.

    And I agree with Mark -- what Mark said. And I think the latter influence is ultimately going to be decisive, along with the international pressure, just because if this event goes without any reaction on the part of the United States, it will be a further erosion of this taboo since the end of World War I against the use of these kind of weapons and will really harm U.S. credibility, because the president has been so out there and so -- has such strongly worded red lines.

    So it wouldn't surprise me if there is some sort of punitive, basically symbolic strike against government buildings or against airfields or something of that nature with standoff airpower or cruise missiles.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that's the question. What are the options for the administration? What can they do? Because they have been looking at this for a long time, Mark.

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, intelligence, Judy, says that there -- it would require 60,000 troops on the ground to eliminate the 12 depots where their chemical weapons are stored, they being the Syrians.

    I don't see that. I don't see that happening. And I think that if there is military action -- Judy, there is no more serious decision that any nation makes than going to war. And we have done it twice with no debate in the past 11 years in this country, really no serious public debate.

    And I think this is the time. If we're going to do this, there is time for really a full debate, not simply in the White House or in the administration, but in the country. I think the Congress has a responsibility. I think the press has a responsibility.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But even if it's a sort of standoff action that Rich was just describing?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, we have found in the past that, generally speaking, these don't turn out well, that they involve eventually the spilling of more American blood and the spending of more American treasure, and a further erosion of the United States' position in the world.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you think that that's -- why do you think that's more of a possibility?

    RICH LOWRY:  I just think -- I analogize it a little bit to Bill Clinton and the Balkans, where public sentiment when Bosnian War was burning so hot, there was zero domestic political pressure, really, but just the embarrassment when you're the president of the United States and notionally the leader of the free world, when you're appearing completely feckless and you're saying things constantly and drawing red lines, and nothing is happening on the ground, and everyone ignores -- ignoring you, just the internal logic of that forces your hand eventually.

    Now, I don't think we are going to do anything on the scale ultimately of what Clinton did in Bosnia. I think, if we do something, it's going to be largely symbolic. And a huge limiting factor here is just nature of the opposition, because if you did more and really undermined the government, then you're indirectly helping an opposition that, as currently constituted, we don't have a lot of confidence in, to say the least.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey, was quoted a saying I guess in a letter this month to a member of Congress that the administration can't really support one of the opposition groups because they can't be guaranteed they will be with the U.S. afterwards.

    MARK SHIELDS: No. I mean, if you look at it, I mean, absent the human tragedy -- and you can't really look at it absent the human tragedy -- at least I hope not -- but this is the Battle of Stalingrad.

    This is Hitler against Stalin, in the sense of...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean neither side...

    MARK SHIELDS: There's neither side that you can -- you have got -- when you have got al-Qaida on one side, and even just as equally loathsome people on the other side, I think it's pretty tough to cheer and say, boy, there's no question where virtue lies.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you saw those pictures this week of those children, the victims, and then even the story Margaret -- Rich, the interview Margaret did a few minutes ago with the woman from UNICEF, talking about the number of children suffering and displaced.

    RICH LOWRY:  It's horrifying. It's just absolutely horrifying.

    The problem is, this is not even a case where the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It's the enemy of my enemy is my other enemy. And unless we can change the nature of the opposition -- and I think we should have as many intelligence assets in -- down there on the ground as we can, learning about them and hopefully maximally influencing them to try to go in a -- you know, in a direction that makes them more trustworthy -- it's -- we're really kind of stuck.

    And what I just outlined is, obviously, easier said than done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, let's bring it back here at home.

    We know the president went on a road trip yesterday visiting several states in the Northeast talking about ways to bring down the high cost of college. He's proposing changing, Mark, the way schools are rated that has to do with how much -- how many low-income students a college brings in and how much they help them to pay for the cost of education.

    Is this a set of proposals that is likely to get traction and go somewhere? What do you think?

    MARK SHIELDS: No. No, I don't think it is, Judy.

    I think it's a real problem. To be very frank, since 2001 in this country, the cost of a four-year college, a public university, room and board, tuition, has gone up 73 percent, 73 percent in 10 years, between 2001 and 2011.

    At the same time, the median household income in this country has dropped by $3,400. So, I mean, is it a problem? Is the cost of college a problem? We say that more -- we have to be competitive and an educated work force. Yes, it is.

    But I think the rating of colleges -- I mean, for example, just one little item, one of the factors is going to be not simply graduation rates, which I think would encourage colleges to accept children who are going to do better, come from more resources and more likely to finish, not take chances on kids who don't come from privileged backgrounds or better-off backgrounds, but, secondly, Judy, is income afterwards.

    So, you're telling me that a college that graduates the best teachers in the world or the best social workers in the world is going to be penalized in this equation because their people don't earn the same amount as a hedge fund manager. So, I mean, I think it's tricky. I don't see it getting great traction.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, to be fair, the president is talking about post -- other sorts of post-secondary education, technical education as well.

    What do you -- how do you see this?

    RICH LOWRY:  Yes. Well, I think it's a very important issue to take on, because it's a major problem. We have had this inflation at an extraordinary rate in tuition.

    And my fear about the -- grading the schools is a little bit the opposite of Mark's. I think if you say graduation rates is going to be a key thing in your grade, they are going to say, OK, you want us to graduate more kids, we can do that and just sort of pass them through.

    And the more fundamental problem -- and, politically, just very treacherous to take on -- is, I think the amount of student aid we have is funneled directly into these colleges and universities, and gives them every incentive just to capture that money and to progressively capture more of it by raising their tuition.

    So, I think you would have to fundamentally rethink how all this works.

    (CROSSTALK)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're saying it could make it worse? Is that what you're saying, the cost of college?

    RICH LOWRY:  I think if you're not taking that problem on, you're probably not dealing with it.

    And there's just so much of college I think needs to be rethought. And I give the president credit for mentioning some of these ideas, some of these innovations, like online learning and graduating kids quicker. But, if you look at the research, it shows students study less than they used to and teachers teach less than they used to at college. And these four-year institutions are only graduating, I think, about a third students in four years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Gosh, I thought all students...

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I guess these kids don't, not the way we did, Judy.

    (CROSSTALK)

    MARK SHIELDS: My earlier generation.

    The other problem the president did address is $1.2 trillion cumulative in student debt and the average graduate carrying a burden of $26,000 upon graduation that they owe. That is a serious, serious problem, economically and vocationally, as to what that young graduate can do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, something -- it's a big topic, but -- and we have got just a few minutes, but I want to get the take from the two of you.

    The Republican Party, Rich, a lot of discussion the last few weeks about whether there's a serious split in the party. On the one hand, you have the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, very much in the traditional mainstream part of the party. Then you have got the senator from Texas Ted Cruz. You have got Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky on one end, and then you have got Lamar Alexander from Tennessee.

    There just seems to be a lot more conversation than usual about whether the party is a big enough tent to hold all these different views.

    RICH LOWRY:  Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it?

    RICH LOWRY:  Well, I see it as basically a tension that goes back 50 years within the Republican Party, Taft-Eisenhower, Reagan-Ford, and on and on.

    And it's really -- if you boil it down, you have Chris Christie saying, we need power, which -- to effect our ideals and our principles, which, yes, you obviously do. And you have Rand Paul saying, we need principles, which, yes, of course you do.

    So, I think the debate, it tends to be simplified, but it's not an either/or one. It's a both.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're saying what, that the -- that...

    RICH LOWRY:  You obviously needs principles, because without them you're completely rudderless and passive as a party, but you also need to persuade people that your ideas are correct, such that you win elections, that you can effect your principles.

    So, if you're saying, oh, we're just going to have principles, nothing's ever going to happen, if you are saying, oh, we're just going to seek power without any ideals or principles behind that, you're not going to be very convincing to people and probably not gain power.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it?

    MARK SHIELDS: Judy, when you think of yourself as the national governing parties, the Republicans did, and they lose five of the six national elections the popular vote, then they immediately go into this terrible wrench of introspection, and they divide into two camps, uneven camps.

    There are the skins, who say, the reason we have lost is because we didn't stick to our core principles. People saw that we didn't really believe what we said. We have got to go back to them. And the shirts, on the other hand, including Chris Christie in this case, would say, no, no, the reason we lost is that we didn't move into the middle more. We weren't more practical. People didn't look at us and say, boy, that's where -- those are problem-solvers.

    So, that's the camp. The Democrats did the same thing when they were out of power.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're saying this is just one of those things...

    (CROSSTALK)

    MARK SHIELDS: I think it is.

    And I think that Chris Christie, whatever else one thinks of him, is the only political figure in the country who gets favorable ratings from Democratic voters, Republican voters and independent voters.

    RICH LOWRY:  But the skins will say, we nominated two shirts in a row.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: That's exactly...

    (CROSSTALK)

    RICH LOWRY:  That's McCain and Romney, and look where that got us.

    MARK SHIELDS: And for me to think of Mitt Romney as a...

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: ... middle-roader is kind of a reach after watching that campaign, when you write off 47 percent of the people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there's nothing -- it's not a reach to have the two of you on the program, Mark. I was reaching there.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: You made it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, Rich Lowry, thank you both.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

    RICH LOWRY:  Thank you very much.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

     


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And -- and, as I was saying, we turn now to a second court-martial in the news today.

    A military jury today unanimously convicted Army psychiatrist Major Major Nidal Hasan of premeditated murder for his shooting spree against unarmed soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas. The 42-year-old killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in the 2009 attack. He could now face the death penalty.

    Karen Brooks has been covering the court-martial for Reuters. And she joins us now.

    Karen, thank you for being with us.

    Was this outcome ever really in doubt, given the overwhelming evidence against Major Hasan?

    KAREN BROOKS, Reuters: Not really. It wasn't. He didn't put up any defense at all. And he didn't dispute the facts. And, in fact, he started the trial by saying that the evidence would clearly show he was a shooter. So, up or down wasn't really that much of a question, if any.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what was the jury -- what was duty of the jury as it went off to deliberate for several hours?

    KAREN BROOKS: Well, the duty of the jury -- the jury had 45 counts total to consider. So that's a lengthy list.

    You're also talking about high-ranking military officials. They're very precise. They want to be very efficient, but they want to get it right. So, what they had to do was go through each charge -- or each count, 13 premeditated murder, 32 attempted premeditated murder, and whatever lesser charges they had the options of, and decide on each one and be very meticulous about it.

    The big question was whether they were going to find the premeditated murder charges unanimously. And they did. And the reason the unanimous verdict was so interesting or important for prosecutors is that's what kicked in the possibility of the death penalty. Without a unanimous verdict on at least one of the premeditated murders, they wouldn't have been able to push for the death penalty, but they did get that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us about the reaction, what you know of the reaction in the courtroom on the part of the major and others there. I know there were victims who survived there, and there were family members of victims there.

    KAREN BROOKS: Yes. There was -- the judge was very careful about making sure everybody maintained decorum, stayed calm and dignified during the proceedings.

    Hasan, just like he did the whole time, showed very little emotion. He did look at the jury forewoman -- to -- or the jury foreman, the president of the jury panel, while she was reading the verdict, but then he would look back down at his desk, which is what he's typically been doing the whole time.

    The media are not allowed to hang around with the family members or the witnesses or victims before and after testimony, but the reaction inside the courtroom was very mild. We did see one person who seemed to be a family member kind of touch each other on the shoulder, give a little nod in approval. But, other than that, it was pretty emotionless in there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The testimony -- I have been reading about it the last few days -- has been prey tough. I'm sure it hasn't -- wasn't easy for these victims to go -- live through this experience again.

    KAREN BROOKS: It was very emotional for a lot of them. In fact, many of them broke into tears on the witness stand.

    A lot of them maintained composure, but then just got very emotional, even before the doors closed on them on the way out of the courtroom. It was -- it was hard for a lot of people to keep their emotions in check. It was -- the testimony was very graphic and very emotional.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Karen Brooks, the decision on the death penalty, tell us where -- who makes that decision. And when will we know?

    KAREN BROOKS: The punishment phase -- or the sentencing phase starts Monday with the prosecution's witnesses. They have 19 witnesses. Several of them are survivors. They expect to go a day or two.

    Then Hasan will have an opportunity to make his statement, if he chooses to do so, on his sentencing. And then the court-martial panel, which -- what we know in civilian trials as the jury, will decide the punishment. In order for it to be a death penalty, it has to be unanimous.

    If they return a death penalty, the judge has to accept it, but then it eventually has to be signed off by the commanding general of Fort Hood, since it's his court-martial. And then, eventually, for it to be carried out, it has to be signed off on the president -- by the president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we understand he will continue to represent himself.

    KAREN BROOKS: That's right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen Brooks with Reuters, we thank you very much.

    KAREN BROOKS: Thank you.

     


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    Richard Gowan, Research Director of New York University's Center on International Cooperation, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the administration's military options in Syria.

    Read Gowan's World Politics Review article "Diplomatic Fallout: Can the West Manage a Long War in Syria."

    Editor's note | Starting Sept. 7, the PBS NewsHour is expanding its family, adding a "PBS NewsHour Weekend" newscast on Saturdays and Sundays. The 30-minute show will be anchored by NewsHour senior correspondent Hari Sreenivasan. The above interview is a selection from NewsHour Weekend's rehearsal on Aug. 24, presented by New York PBS member station WNET and broadcast out of the Tisch WNET studios.

    You can subscribe to Hari on Facebook, Google Plus and on Twitter @Hari.

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    Marc Abrahams, editor of Annals of Improbable Research and Guardian columnist, joins Hari Sreenivasan to talk about graphene, the world's new wonder material. The substance, as thin as an atom, is 200 times stronger than steel.

    Editor's note | Starting Sept. 7, the PBS NewsHour is expanding its family, adding a "PBS NewsHour Weekend" newscast on Saturdays and Sundays. The 30-minute show will be anchored by NewsHour senior correspondent Hari Sreenivasan. The above interview is a selection from NewsHour Weekend's rehearsal on Aug. 24, presented by New York PBS member station WNET and broadcast out of the Tisch WNET studios.

    You can subscribe to Hari on Facebook, Google Plus and on Twitter @Hari.

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    PBS NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni joins NewsHour Weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan for a look at the week ahead in politics, including an upcoming meeting between President Obama and Senate Republicans. Bellantoni and Sreenivasan also discuss the tone of the speeches at Saturday's commemoration of the March on Washington.

    Editor's note | Starting Sept. 7, the PBS NewsHour is expanding its family, adding a "PBS NewsHour Weekend" newscast on Saturdays and Sundays. The 30-minute show will be anchored by NewsHour senior correspondent Hari Sreenivasan. The above interview is a selection from NewsHour Weekend's rehearsal on Aug. 25, presented by New York PBS member station WNET and broadcast out of the Tisch WNET studios.

    You can subscribe to Hari on Facebook, Google Plus and on Twitter @Hari.

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    House Speaker John Boehner conducts his weekly news conference August 1. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

    The Morning Line

    Lawmakers are headed for a clash of political will over funding the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    The government is funded through Sept. 30, which means there is little time to craft a new spending plan, and it seems the only agreement on the topic is that it's going to be an ugly fight.

    80 House Republicans have signed a letter to Speaker John Boehner demanding the funds for Obamacare be left out of the next continuing resolution to keep the government funded after Oct. 1.

    A measure like that is far from certain to pass, and certainly would not receive the president's signature. So, the result of the gamble could be a government shutdown, which is one reason Boehner and others are trying to stop the movement from growing.

    Boehner warned colleagues last week on a conference call that his recommendation will be to put forward a short-term spending measure that keeps funding at its current levels -- including funding for health care implementation and across-the-board sequester cuts.

    The speaker "pressed gingerly for a straight short-term extension of funds to avoid an immediate government shutdown in October, but faced immediate opposition from conservatives demanding that funds be stripped from the health care law," the New York Times' Jonathan Weisman reported last week. More from his story:

    One thought is to use a short-term spending bill to keep the government running into November, when Congress must raise the government's statutory borrowing limit. That way, with both a debt default and government shutdown looming, Republicans could apply maximum pressure on the White House to either agree to scuttle President Obama's health care law or accept significant changes in programs like Medicare and Social Security.

    Boehner's warnings have been echoed by senior GOP lawmakers who fear that a threatened or actual government shutdown will lead to political blowback and a headache the party doesn't need heading into the 2014 midterm elections.

    The fervor is the backdrop for a planned Thursday meeting at the White House. Several Senate Republicans attempting to negotiate a deal on fiscal issues are meeting with top aides. The president's schedule is clear, so don't be surprised if he pops in on that meeting.

    But any Senate Republicans willing to work with Mr. Obama on spending will have to face a small but fervent group from their own party. Several conservatives have spent the August recess drumming up support back home for zeroing out the health care implementation funding.

    At a town hall meeting with supporters last week, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told supporters that shutdown talk is "a false narrative based on an absolute lie that has been perpetuated by the political ruling class elite in Washington, D.C., that's been dutifully reported by an all-too-willing-to-comply media..."

    Lee insisted that he doesn't want a shutdown and isn't calling for one. "In fact, the whole reason I am bringing this forward is to avoid a shutdown," he said.

    Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sunday on CNN called for a "grass-roots tsunami" to back his push in the Senate chamber to end Obamacare funding, admitting he does not have enough votes.

    Cruz, making waves for declining to endorse his fellow Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, is touring early presidential voting states ahead of a possible 2016 bid.

    Sen. Marco Rubio outlined his opposition in the Pensacola News Journal Monday.

    Calling the health care law "threatening the future" of his constituents and their children and grandchildren, Rubio said every day he gets a new example of how the law is "hurting" working-class Americans. His op-ed didn't mention the shutdown threat.

    Rubio wrote:

    This September, Congress will have to debate and pass a short-term budget. We should not approve one that spends a single cent to implement Obamacare. We should not waste another taxpayer dollar to force this destructive plan on our seniors, employers and middle-class workers. It is unfortunate that the president and his allies would seemingly take our government to the brink in order to compel us to fund his disastrous health care law ...

    Defunding Obamacare in the short-term budget is the first step to rejecting the diminished future Obamacare guarantees, while restoring the free market principles that have made our economy the envy of the world and that offer the best way to reform our health care system.

    The tone he strikes in the piece is a sharp difference from how Rubio was out defending immigration reform earlier this year.

    As talk of the spending showdown increases, it's foreign affairs that has the White House most concerned. The administration is facing mounting pressure to take action in Syria after officials said there was clear evidence of a chemical weapons attack. Expect that to be a major focus this week. We'll explore it in detail on the NewsHour Monday.

    #potuslovessports

    And now, something light.

    Anyone paying attention for the last five years may have noticed the president enjoys sports. From the basketball courts to the links, Mr. Obama gets really into playing, and he's also the sports-fan-in-chief.

    Since taking office in January 2009, the president has honored 54 sports teams at the White House. President George W. Bush hosted 40 teams over eight years for similar events.

    The NewsHour put together a short report on the phenomenon. Watch here or below:

    Watch Video

    LINE ITEMS

    Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg talked to the New York Times, and called this court one of the "most activist" in history. She says she'll stay on the court until her health deteriorates, and was highly critical of the current Congress and, especially, the court's Voting Rights Act decision last term.

    The Associated Press reported on Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's comments that her colleagues are the opposite of tech-savvy. "She says emerging technologies pose a challenge for the court, and it can be difficult to understand whether a decision makes sense given the technology involved. She says the justices are often helped by younger clerks," the AP reported.

    Bob Filner is resigning as San Diego mayor in a deal forced by the City Council. The Democrat and former member of Congress is being sued and is under investigation for allegedly sexually harassing several women.

    There was a twist in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign last week when longtime Republican strategist Boyd Marcus endorsed Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. It's the first time Marcus has done such a thing, and it means the powerful Virginia Marcus & Allen consulting firm will dissolve over the split.

    USA Today details its survey findings: "Estimates from 19 states operating health insurance exchanges to help the uninsured find coverage show that at least 8.5 million will use the exchanges to buy insurance ... That would far outstrip the federal government's estimate of 7 million new customers for all 50 states under the 2010 health care law."

    NPR's Tamara Keith reports on the already nasty Senate race in Arkansas. Sen. Mark Pryor is among the top Democratic targets for Republicans attempting to win back the Senate.

    The New York Times rounds up the Republican challengers to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in next June's primary.

    Former Homeland Security assistant secretary Juliette Kayyem is eyeing a bid for governor in Massachusetts.

    Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post examines the natural-born citizen clause for the U.S. presidency.

    Ousted Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown will not run for governor. The Republican recently visited Iowa, and hasn't ruled out that type of political bid.

    The Advocate visits the George W. Bush Library, and finds its depiction of his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina inadequate.

    The Charlotte Observer checks in on Paula Broadwell's post-Petraeus-scandal life.

    Tuesday was Ron Paul's 78th birthday and here are 78 reasons to wish him a great one. The former Texas Congressman also did a Reddit Ask Me Anything last week. The Washington Post summarized the chat.

    Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is one of nine members of the House of Representatives who doesn't have a re-election website up and running.

    Foreign Policy magazine maps seven governments across the world the U.S. has overthrown, largely because of CIA efforts.

    The Washington Post launched a new project tracking policy and politics in the states.

    Salon's Brian Beutler opens up for the first time about being shot on the streets of Washington to make a point about race relations in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial.

    The First Family got a little bigger with the addition of a new puppy, a Portuguese water dog named Sunny!

    Cat lovers are not pleased that the president added a canine and not a feline to the White House pet family.

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, who played a cameo role in the "Dark Knight" series, is perfectly happy with Ben Affleck starring as Batman in Christopher Nolan's next "Man of Steel" film.

    BuzzFeed presents members of Congress, as Harry Potter characters.

    Budweiser, Steel Reserve, Colt 45, Bud Ice and Bud Light are the beers most frequently associated with emergency room visits, a new study found.

    It's full panda-monium at the National Zoo, after Mei Xiang gave birth Friday to a newborn cub. She later birthed a stillborn cub. The surviving baby panda seems to be doing well, though it is resisting zookeepers attempting an examination.

    NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

    The NewsHour has devoted hours to covering the anniversary of the March on Washington. Check it out here. The 50th anniversary also is the subject of this week's Gwen's Take. And don't miss the stories crafted by NewsHour Extra.

    Christina talked with NPR's Glen Weldon for an upcoming NewsHour segment about Superman, and wants to hear from you: Who is your favorite comic book super hero?

    Get excited ... we're really close to the Sept. 7 debut of NewsHour Weekend! As part of the new show's rehearsals, Hari and Christina did a debrief about the week ahead in politics over the weekend. Hari also hosted a discussion segment and a deeper look about the United States' options in Syria and had a conversation about a new material stronger than steel.

    Do you have questions about Obamacare? Let us know.

    Judy Woodruff defends metro newspaper coverage in Judy's Notebook this week.

    NewsHour's Jenny Marder shows how more than 1,000 waving people photobombed NASA in this "Lunch in the Lab" post.

    Sarah Stillman wrote for the New Yorker an enlightening piece on civil forfeiture, the practice of police departments seizing people's property even if they aren't convicted of a crime. She discussed the practice with correspondent Ray Suarez on the NewsHour.

    Ray brought us an update on the same-sex marriage fights that continue in the court system and in states following the Supreme Court's June rulings that dismantled the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowed California to license gay marriages. Ray spoke with John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, and James Esseks of the ACLU.

    The last batch of Richard Nixon's secret audio recordings from the Oval Office were released Wednesday. To the University of Virginia's Miller Center historian Ken Hughes, the tapes show "there are different Nixons for every occasion." He spoke with Judy Woodruff and journalist Marvin Kalb about three parts of the 1973 tapes, all recorded as Nixon tried to quell the Watergate chaos inside the White House and at the same time build a powerful relationship with China that could help the U.S. resolve the Vietnam War. Watch the segment here:

    TOP TWEETS

    Anthony Weiner involved in minor chain reaction car accident on FDR, completing his transformation into a metaphor: http://t.co/mf5peUN8aw

    — Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) August 26, 2013

    PLUS @mikememoli met five years ago today stalking @VP in his Delaware driveway. Simpler times. pic.twitter.com/6hpSkwkEcb

    — Jim Long (@newmediajim) August 23, 2013

    What is Bashar al Assad hiding? The world is demanding an independent investigation of Wednesday's apparent CW attack. Immediately.

    — Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) August 23, 2013

    Part of the #NSYNC generation? You should pay attention to how Obamacare will affect you: http://t.co/hzr79ksiz3

    — Heritage Foundation (@Heritage) August 26, 2013

    Happy 55th @benschilibowl! We might have to take a cue from @cbellantoni& get ourselves a Half Smoke to celebrate http://t.co/sMTP04kiGs

    — NewsHour (@NewsHour) August 22, 2013

    Glad I, uh, got my question in during today's WH briefing. pic.twitter.com/aunkoRiDvV

    — jennifer bendery (@jbendery) August 21, 2013

    Besties. pic.twitter.com/CoCbTVeWrx

    — FLOTUS (@FLOTUS) August 20, 2013

    A lady accidentally dumped jumbo bag of Cheetos on me during flight today. I did not look good in Cheetos orange. But I tasted delicious.

    — Mo Cowan (@mocowan) August 19, 2013

    May have to go here for a 5-lb. gummy bear, but grammatically opposed to its name: http://t.co/iAqRJ0MHuc

    — Katie Smith (@aunt_katie) August 19, 2013

    Katy Perry is a perfect avatar for everything wrong with American politics. Empty messaging packaged powerfully, convincingly.

    — Richard Lawson (@rilaws) August 26, 2013

    Former desk assistant Mallory Sofastaii contributed to this report.

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    Follow @cbellantoni

    Follow @burlijFollow @kpolantzFollow @elizsummersFollow @ljspbs

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  • 08/26/13--09:49: Breaking Down 'Breaking Bad'
  • Walter White demonstrates chemistry as "the study of change" in the pilot episode of AMC's Breaking Bad. Photo by AMC's Breaking Bad.

    With "Breaking Bad's" return to the airwaves and approaching series finale, we can't help but pause to take a closer look at the science its creators have woven into so many of its episodes. (Attention: Spoiler alert!) Of course, there's the unbridled pleasure we get from watching the latest Walter White-Hank Schrader showdown, Jesse Pinkman's seemingly psychotic break into philanthropy, and also, every single thing about Saul Goodman. But we'll especially be tuning in for Walt's final moments of chemistry cunning, flawed genius that he is.

    Because in "Breaking Bad," chemistry is king, and that's no accident. The show's creator, Vince Gilligan, has taken many pains to get the science right. For example, there's Donna Nelson, an organic chemist and University of Oklahoma chemistry professor, who serves as occasional adviser on the show. Nelson described to me her first meeting with Gilligan and his team of writers in Burbank, California:

    "There were storyboarding cards up on the wall and pegged to the blackboard," she recalled. "I went in and sat down and thought, 'Well, I'm going to talk to Vince,' and then all of the writers came in and sat around the table also. They all listened to me, watched the way that I spoke, talked with me for about an hour."

    She assumed they'd need to return to work after that meeting, but then an hour turned into lunch, which turned into another two hours, followed by regular discussions. They were observing her initially, she suspected, to better understand the mind and behavior of a chemist, she said. But her role grew over time.

    For the show's first season, she was asked to calculate the amount of methamphetamine that could be made from 30 gallons of methylamine. For season 2, she drew a diagram for one of Walt's classroom chemistry lessons on carbon, instructed the writers on the nomenclature of alkenes, compounds that contain carbon-carbon double bonds, and fixed mistakes in the script -- in places they'd mixed up alkenes with alkanes and alkynes, other families of compounds. (Her exact diagram made it onto Walt's classroom chalkboard.) Later in season 4's epic "Box Cutter" episode, she helped Walt challenge drug lord Gus Fring's henchman and meth cook Victor, using complex chemistry dialogue to expose Victor's scientific ignorance.

    Before that initial Burbank meeting, she was reluctant to become involved with a show about making methamphetamine, she told me. A professor, after all, would never encourage students -- or anyone -- to make illegal drugs. But then she watched the early episodes that had aired.

    "I thought, 'Well there's no way that this show is going to entice a student into the drug world,'" she said. "No one's going to watch Walt get shot up and beat up and dragged around in his underwear, and think, 'This is the lifestyle I want.'"

    Here at the NewsHour's science unit, we confess to a fierce allegiance to the show. Not long ago, our science correspondent Miles O'Brien and BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin, occasional NewsHour producer and on-air guest, dug into the Breaking Bad vault to create this terrific video on their personal Top 11 Chemistry Moments. (You can see Jardin's post on Boing Boing here.)

    Miles O'Brien and Xeni Jardin share their 11 favorite chemistry moments on Breaking Bad. Video edited by Joe Sabia.

    It's a reminder of the science you may have forgotten: the battery Walt built out of galvanized metals, brake pads and sponges soaked in potassium hydroxide while stranded with Jesse in the desert; the thermite he synthesized from aluminum powder rescued from several Etch-a-Sketches in order to bust through a lock; and of course, the hazards of using hydrofluoric acid to melt a body in a bathtub.

    Which brings us to the other side of the equation. The show may embrace science, but it doesn't always nail it.

    Enter "Mythbusters." When Gilligan opened Breaking Bad science to scrutiny by challenging the popular Discovery Channel program to take it on, its host Adam Savage stepped up mightily to the cause. Mythbusters tackled two of the show's most memorable science moments: Jesse's attempt to dissolve a body in acid, which resulted in liquified body parts raining from the ceiling.

    And that time that Walt made an explosive bomb out of fulminated mercury and used it to blow up badguy Tuco Salamanca's building.

    To recreate the science, the Mythbusters team constructs its own house to code and builds its own throwing robot to explode its own mercury fulminate. They also don hazmat suits to soak a dead pig with massive amounts of acid in the middle of a California desert. "It's like hell in a bathtub," Savage is heard saying as a plume of smoke rises furiously from the pig and an unidentifiable fluid leaks from its flesh.

    (Don't try this at home, kids. Seriously, don't try this at home.)

    But my favorite part of the "Mythbusters' Breaking Bad Special" is Savage's lesson in acid chemistry and halogens. He identifies halogens, explains how the atomic number of each corresponds with its reactivity and then he reveals why hydrofluoric acid is actually less powerful than its brethren.

    We won't give away the verdicts reached by these insanely awesome Mythbusters experiments. But let's just say, not every test goes exactly according to Gilligan's plan.

    And the Breaking Bad creator has two word for that: artistic license.

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    President Barack Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor to Army Spc. Ty Michael Carter in a ceremony Monday in the East Room of the White House.

    President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest combat valor award, to Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter on Monday for Carter's heroic actions during the Battle of Kamdesh at a combat outpost in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan.

    On Oct. 3, 2009, more than 300 anti-Afghan forces attempted to overtake Combat Outpost (COP) Keating, where Carter and the 52 other members of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment were stationed.

    Even as he was wounded, outgunned and outmanned, Carter reinforced troops along southern defense line with additional ammunition, prevented further the breach of COP Keating's southern flank, killed enemy troops, and treated and rescued wounded soldier Spc. Stephan L. Mace.

    Carter, along with other members of the B Troop, held the outpost until reinforcements arrived twelve hours after initial attacks.

    According to the U.S. Army narrative, the attack on COP Keating and a neighboring observation post was "a coordinated, complex attack the magnitude and intensity of which had not been seen in the Kamdesh since Coalition Forces toppled the Taliban eight years earlier."

    COP Keating had been ordered closed Oct. 1, only days before the attack. When the outpost came under fire by anti-Afghan forces, both inside and outside the compound, Carter's actions were critical to the defense of the southern side of the outpost.

    Eight soldiers were killed and 25 were injured on Oct. 3, but the Army notes, "the outcome might have been very different without the valor of Carter and Larson, who ... prevented a platoon-sized enemy element from penetrating the wire."

    Carter is the 12th soldier to receive the Medal of Honor since U.S. soldiers began engaging conflicts in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, in 2001.

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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    A man examines his Social Security paperwork. You can't collect just your spousal benefit before full retirement, explains Larry Kotlikoff. Photo courtesy of Jim McGuire via Getty Images.

    Larry Kotlikoff's Social Security original 34 "secrets", his additional secrets, his Social Security "mistakes" and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we now feature "Ask Larry" every Monday. We are determined to continue it until the queries stop or we run through the particular problems of all 78 million Baby Boomers, whichever comes first. Kotlikoff's state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its "basic" version.

    Larry Kotlikoff: I received an email with a question about taking spousal benefits early and retirement benefits later, which you can't do. The writer had seen Suze Orman's Aug. 24 show on CNBC (the full episode can be seen on iTunes.) Orman answers a question from a viewer named Kevin whose 65-year-old father-in-law and 63-year-old mother-in-law are moving in with him and his wife because they lost most of their savings in 2008. When asked how the in-laws can maximize what savings they have, Orman advises (around 8:25 into the segment):

    "If he (the father-in-law) is claiming Social Security right now, she (the mother-in-law) can claim a portion of his -- like 30, 35 percent of whatever he is claiming, and then when she gets to be full Social Security age, she can collect her own."

    The email I received read, "Now I am confused," and asked how the mother-in-law can take the spousal benefit of her 65-year-old husband, and when she reaches her full retirement age claim her own full benefit.

    If this is what Orman meant in advising Kevin, that's wrong. If the mother-in-law takes her spousal benefit early (her husband has to already have filed for his retirement benefit), she will be "deemed" to be filing for her retirement benefit early as well. (For more on Social Security's deeming provision, see the answer to Maureen's question below or to Margaret's question in this column.) So she won't be able to wait until 66, her full retirement age, to take her retirement benefit. She can only take her spousal benefit by itself after reaching full retirement age.

    Maureen V. -- Loomis, Calif.: I am almost 62, and my husband is 77. He is collecting his retirement benefits. It sounds as though I can apply for half of his benefits and begin collecting them at age 62. Is that right? What form do I request to do this?

    MORE FROM LARRY KOTLIKOFF: How Marriage and Divorce Affect Your Social Security Payments

    Larry Kotlikoff: No, this is not right. If you apply for your spousal benefit before full retirement age (66 in your case), you will be forced to file for your retirement benefit as well under Social Security's deeming provisions. In other words, Social Security "deems" you to be applying for both benefits if you are under full retirement age and apply for one of the two. Once you file for your retirement benefit or are deemed to have filed for your retirement benefit, your spousal benefit automatically is calculated as your excess spousal benefit. Your excess spousal benefit is half of your husband's full retirement benefit minus 100 percent of your full retirement benefit. If this difference is negative, your excess spousal benefit is set to zero.

    It could well be that your excess spousal benefit is zero, in which case applying for your spousal benefit at 62 would leave you with a reduced retirement benefit for the rest of your life. Even if you suspend your retirement benefit at 66 and start it up again at a higher value sometime before or at 70, your excess spousal benefit will still be calculated the same way.

    The only way to get a full spousal benefit equal to half of your husband's full retirement benefit, not half of what he's actually collecting now, (since he may not have started his own retirement benefit at his full retirement age) is to do nothing until you reach full retirement age and then apply just for your spousal benefit. As I mentioned, "deeming" stops when you reach full retirement age.

    Laura B. -- Elmore, Ala.: I am currently 45, receive disability benefits and have custody of a grandchild. I have no other source of income. Does my child qualify for child benefits?

    Larry Kotlikoff: For your child to collect on a grandparent's earnings record, she must be adopted by the grandparent or both of her parents must be deceased or disabled. Furthermore, there is a maximum family benefit, so even if you meet one of these conditions, there may not be much money, if there is any at all, to be received. But please, if you meet one of these conditions, check with your local Social Security office as to what your grandchild could receive.

    Mary R. -- San Antonio, Texas: I filed a claim for spousal benefits but was advised by the representative that that my spousal benefit would be fully wiped out by the Government Pension Offset Provision. I receive a Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) annuity and a small Social Security check on my own work record. My husband currently receives a Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) annuity and will start receiving his Social Security retirement benefit at age 62 effective October 2013. I am a year older than my husband. I have decided to withdraw my spousal claim until I reach full retirement age or age 70 to see if I can receive a spousal benefit at that time. What, if any, are the consequences if I withdraw my spousal claim now?

    Larry Kotlikoff: To begin, your husband needs to have filed and, thus, be entitled to his retirement benefit in order for you to be entitled to collect a spousal benefit. So, you must, within recent weeks, have filed an advance claim for spousal benefits when your husband applied. Since your entitlement date for a spousal benefit can't be earlier than your husband's entitlement date for this retirement benefit -- October 2013, you have until October 2014 to request withdrawal of your spousal benefit.

    But it's not clear that withdrawing your spousal benefit will matter. Right now, your spousal benefit, actually your excess spousal benefit, is being reduced to zero by the subtraction from it of two-thirds of your Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) annuity. Since this annuity is, I presume, going to rise over time based on the same cost of living adjustment that your excess spousal benefit receives, I think your CSRS annuity will always wipe out your spousal benefit.

    However, it may not wipe out your survivor benefit were your husband to pass away since the survivor benefit may exceed two-thirds of your CSRS annuity. However, there is a small chance, as you seem to have figured out, that by delaying taking your spousal benefit and waiting to collect until full retirement age, two-thirds of your CSRS will be less than your excess spousal benefit with no reduction applied. Waiting beyond full retirement age to take your spousal benefit won't help because it won't grow. No credits are applied to either spousal or survivor benefits for waiting to collect them.

    Now, if you started your own retirement benefit within the past year, the best thing to do is probably to withdraw both your application for your retirement benefit and your spousal benefit in order to start over. You'll need to pay back every cent they sent you (but not, as with someone over 65, your Medicare Part B premiums, because you are too young to be on Medicare). Once you've done this, the best thing to do is likely to wait until 66, apply just for your full spousal benefit, which may exceed two-thirds of your CSRS annuity, and then, at age 70, take your own retirement benefit at its largest possible value. Commercially available software can be used to see exactly what you will or won't get down the road from withdrawing both benefits or just the survivor benefit or neither.

    Charles P. -- Plant City, Fla.: I am 60 years old and still working. My wife is 80. Can she receive a spousal benefit?

    Larry Kotlikoff: She cannot receive a spousal benefit until you reach age 62 and file for your own retirement benefit. But if you do this, you'll get a reduced retirement benefit that will be 75 percent of your full retirement benefit. At full retirement age (66 in your case), you can suspend your retirement benefit (without affecting your wife's spousal benefit) and restart it at a 32 percent higher value, say, at age 70. But it will always be lower than had you waited until 70 to start to collect. Yours is an unusual situation, so you should run it through commercially available software.

    Laura L. -- Concord, Mass.: I am 66 and have not started collecting Social Security. My income is minimal, so I may not be able to wait until I'm 70 to collect, but I don't know. My question is about divorce benefits: I have been divorced twice; each marriage was longer than 10 years and each was more than five years ago. Can I file for divorce benefits from each ex? My first husband is 66; my second is 61. I have no idea if either is collecting Social Security. I assume that my first husband is the largest earner.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You can collect a full spousal benefit based on your first husband's work record starting now, provided you don't apply for your own retirement benefit. Once you do so, your spousal benefit will be calculated as your excess spousal benefit, which may be zero. A year from now, when your second ex is 62, you can collect the larger of the two spousal benefits based on your two exes' earnings histories.

    I think it's best to try to wait until 70 to collect your own retirement benefit, but apply for the full spousal benefit on your first husband's earning record now, and then in a year, check with Social Security to see if your full spousal benefit based on your second ex's work record is higher.

    But bear in mind that If you remarry, you'll lose your spousal benefit based on your ex's work record. However, you won't lose your survivor benefit based on the higher of your two past husbands' work records because you will have remarried after age 60.

    Larry B. -- Oroville, Calif.: I am 63 and am trying to wait until 64 before I sign up for Social Security. I understand if I work and make over a certain amount that I need to pay that back. My question is if I have several short jobs, say maybe 10 or 12 jobs before I turn 66, can I keep signing back up for Social Security if my earnings exceed the limit I can make? Or do I lose Social Security if I keep signing back up after finishing these short jobs?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Once you apply for your retirement benefit, you can't suspend it until you reach full retirement age (66 in your case). If you lose benefits via the earnings test, don't worry about it because when you reach full retirement age you'll get more than full credit for those lost benefits via what's called an "adjustment of the reduction factor" under which Social Security will permanently raise your benefit level to compensate for your lost benefits.

    Losing benefits via the earnings test should not be your worry right now. Were you to not work at all, you'd end up with permanently reduced retirement benefits because you took them early. If you wait until 70 to collect, your benefits will start at close to a 46 percent higher value. So any benefits you do collect before full retirement age will be with you at their reduced level forever and those benefits could be roughly 46 percent larger starting at 70 were you to wait.

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


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    Stan and Donna Hunter knew they had a special carousel on their hands. They just didn’t know how special.

    “It is by divine intervention that this carousel has been saved for all these years and is now in the midst of the National Mall,” said Donna Hunter, who has owned and operated the Washington, D.C., tourist attraction with her husband Stan for 25 years.

    “We knew we had something special,” said her husband, Stan. “It brings tears.”

    On Aug. 28, 1963 -- the very same day the March on Washington was making history -- the carousel was playing its own cameo role in the civil rights movement at an amusement park just 40 miles northeast of Washington.

    Gwynn Oak Amusement Park had always been a whites-only park, until that summer day 50 years ago. After almost a decade of protests, the amusement park, outside of Baltimore, opened its gates to white and black children alike. And on that day, when Martin Luther King Jr. was delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, eleven-month old Sharon Langley was the first African-American child to take a spin on the carousel alongside two white riding partners.

    “It seemed to provide an example of the harmony that Dr. King spoke about that very same day,” said Amy Nathan, author of “Round & Round Together: Taking A Ride Into Civil Rights History,” “in which he said that he hoped that one day little black kids and little white kids would regard each other as brothers and sisters.”

    In time, the merry-go-round would make its serendipitous arrival on the National Mall, just steps from where King created a defining moment in American history. But somewhere between Baltimore and the Beltway, the story behind the carousel was lost -- until Nathan rediscovered the rich history, and published her book in 2011.

    Sharon Langley was the first African-American to ride the carousel at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. Fifty years later, the carousel now sits on the National Mall, where Langley visited it this summer.

    Pictured with her father in 1963, Sharon Langley was the first African-American to ride the carousel at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. Fifty years later, the carousel now sits on the National Mall, where Langley visited it this summer. Photos by The Baltimore Sun and James Singewald

    A Remarkable Coincidence

    Nestled among a grove of trees, the merry-go-round sits near the middle of the National Mall, among the hustle of tourists whizzing by on Segways and staffers tossing a pigskin after work.

    From under the yellow and green striped canopy wafts the sounds of a whimsical melody and tiny squeals of delight. For a few dollars, visitors can take a spin on any one of the 60 fancifully painted ponies the merry-go-round boasts, providing a thrill for the young and the young at heart.

    “People come from all over the world to the carousel in the nation’s capital and they say it’s one of their favorites. It’s classic Americana,” said Donna Hunter. “And no one knew the history!”

    The Hunters credit Nathan’s research for bringing the remarkable story to them. They all agree that the current setting seems fitting for such a monument.

    “When you look at this beautiful merry-go-round it really is hard to imagine that there could have been a time when little children would have been denied the right to ride because of the color of their skin,” said Nathan. “When you go to take your kid for a ride on a merry-go-round, you’re not expecting to get a lesson in segregation and civil rights history.”

    A few years after Gwynn Oak lifted its color barrier, the amusement park closed. In 1981, the carousel was purchased by a Smithsonian concessionaire, seemingly unaware of its rich history, and placed on the National Mall where it still sits today. The Hunters purchased it in 1988.

    “It’s just a very moving coincidence, a very remarkable coincidence,” Nathan said.

    A New Generation of Freedom Riders

    Although this is a recent discovery, that hasn’t stopped the Hunters from finding ways to commemorate the carousel’s past. This summer they erected a plaque to share the story.

    Since the carousel sits on land owned by the National Park Service, the agency, too, has made efforts to incorporate the carousel and its story into educational programming throughout the district.

    The Hunters even went so far as to find the exact horse that made history 50 years ago and decorated it with a “Freedom Riders” theme, complete with names of civil rights heroes and a brass plaque with the name of the carousel’s original freedom rider -- Sharon Langley.

    Little Sharon Langley is now 50 years old and works as a school administrator in California. She recently returned to the carousel to take a spin on her own small but significant part of civil rights history.

    “I hope for a new generation of freedom riders,” said Langley, “Everyone has a contribution to make their community and society better. No act is too small.”

     

    Archive photo reprinted with permission of The Baltimore Sun Media Group. All Rights reserved.


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    WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry declared Monday that there was "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria, toughening the Obama administration's criticism of Bashar Assad's regime and outlining a justification for possible U.S. military action.

    Kerry, speaking to reporters at the State Department, said last week's attack was a "moral obscenity" that "should shock the conscience" of the world.

    "The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable and - despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured - it is undeniable," said Kerry, the highest-ranking U.S. official to confirm the attack in the Damascus suburbs that activists say killed hundreds of people.

    "This international norm cannot be violated without consequences," he said.

    Officials said President Barack Obama has not decided how to respond to the use of deadly gases, a move the White House said last year would cross a "red line." But the U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria's civil war began more than two years ago.

    The U.S. and its allies appear to be considering a response that would punish Assad for deploying deadly gases, not sweeping actions aimed at ousting Assad or strengthening rebel forces. The focus of the internal debate underscores the scant international appetite for a large-scale deployment of forces in Syria and the limited number of other options that could significantly change the trajectory of the conflict.

    The international community was moving ahead even as a United Nations team already on the ground in Syria collected evidence from last week's attack. The U.S. said Syria's delay in giving the inspectors access rendered their investigation meaningless and officials said the administration had its own intelligence confirming chemical weapons use.

    "What is before us today is real and it is compelling," Kerry said. "Our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts."

    The U.S. assessment is based in part on the number of reported victims, the symptoms of those injured or killed and witness accounts. Kerry said the administration also had additional intelligence and would make its findings public soon.

    Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied launching a chemical attack.

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