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

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    GWEN IFILL: Next, we take a second look at a push to be smart about how we use and get electricity.

    Last summer, NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien traveled to one community in Texas, trying to be more efficient with its use of energy.

    MILES O'BRIEN: It's time to power up for another morning at the Fisher home in Austin, Texas. Grant, Ashley and Quinn (ph) start their day like most of us do. They pour some juice, make some breakfast, see what's on the tube.

    But under this roof, they don't take all the electrical magic for granted. Actually, the Fishers, both urban planners, think a lot about electricity, where it comes from, where it goes, and where it is headed. The Fishers have two solar photovoltaic power systems, sophisticated digital meters and state-of-the-art thermostats that allow them to fine-tune their indoor climate here or online when they're away.

    GRANT FISHER, homeowner: This is my e-gauge monitoring system.

    MILES O'BRIEN: They can also monitor what the solar panels produce and how much energy they're using.

    GRANT FISHER: So, right now, you see we're actually generating live 24 watt hours. And that's not a very lot, but that's for -- this is for our -- the southward-facing array only.

    MILES O'BRIEN: Right. And it's been a cloudy, rainy morning.

    GRANT FISHER: Cloudy, rainy morning, yes. And we're actually using right now 4,000 watts.

    MILES O'BRIEN: Grant offered me a quick demonstration, which shed a little light on how the power to track the use of power has changed the way they live.

    GRANT FISHER: We will turn off the light.

    MILES O'BRIEN: Ready? Go ahead and turn it off. Oh, just like that. Look at that. If nothing else, it makes you realize when you flip the switch, what that means.

    The Fisher house sits in a new neighborhood built on the site of the old Mueller Airport. It's the center of the Pecan Street project, a four-year-old nonprofit with a goal that is one tough nut to crack, figure out to deploy so-called smart grid technology. It is one of more than 130 smart grid projects in 34 states.

    The 300 homeowners in this project are still connected to the controversial grid, but are trying out some added features, sort of like the first families to get digital cable.

    BREWSTER MCCRACKEN, executive director, Pecan Street Project: This is real similar to a pharmaceutical clinical trial's effort, but it's on electricity and consumer electronics.

    Former Austin City Councilman Brewster McCracken runs the project with federal stimulus money, along with help from utilities, corporations and charitable foundations. Washington has invested $3.4 billion to help develop smart grid technologies nationwide. The private sector has ponied up an additional $4.7 billion.

    So when you say we're developing a smart grid, that implies what we have is a dumb grid. Is it dumb?

    BREWSTER MCCRACKEN: When you have a mechanical grid of mechanical devices that have to be individually read and something goes wrong, well, how do you find out about it?

    MILES O'BRIEN: And that was a big part of the problem at the end of June, when a swathe of powerful thunderstorms spawned so-called derecho windstorms that knocked down thousands of trees, leaving millions in the Mid-Atlantic states without power for many long hot days and nights.

    Utilities didn't have a precise handle on the scope of the blackout because the U.S. power distribution system has yet to join the digital data revolution.

    Oh my God. Look at this. It looks like mission control.

    Smart online meters like the Fishers have can give utilities real-time data on how their customers are using their product, or in the case of a derecho, not.

    BREWSTER MCCRACKEN: When you can measure and manage millions of meters at a single data center instantaneously, it makes it possible to do a lot faster outage restoration, because all of the time that is spent trying to figure out where the outage has happened is eliminated.

    ASHLEY FISHER, homeowner: Ready, Quinn?

    MILES O'BRIEN: The Fishers have lived here for four years and have yet to experience a single power outage. The power here is more reliable because, well, take a look around you. None of the power lines are above ground. They're all buried. Pretty typical for a new development like this one.

    But what about older neighborhoods where the lines are still on poles? Is it practical to think about burying them? Probably not on any sort of mass scale. But as it turns out, power grid reliability is much more than that.

    It's also about matching supply and demand when usage peaks, not easy for utilities now. And there is a huge new challenge on the horizon. You will find them in 59 garages here, electric cars, most of them Chevy Volts. It is the largest collection of plug-in cars in one U.S. neighborhood.

    Ashley Fisher is pretty charged up about that.

    So, how does it drive?

    ASHLEY FISHER: It's great. It's the nicest car I have ever driven.

    MILES O'BRIEN: And just like home, driving this electric car gives her much more insight on her energy usage.

    ASHLEY FISHER: I think more information is always going to make something more reliable and better able to be maintained and be more nimble, more able to change as things change.

    MILES O'BRIEN: And the Pecan project is generating a lot of information.

    Solar production and electrical consumption in the study homes are measured every 15 seconds. So far, they have gathered about six billion points of data. It is compiled and analyzed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

    Paul Navratil is the manager of the Scalable Vis Technologies Group.

    But we really haven't applied supercomputing technology into electrical distribution to this point, have we?

    PAUL NAVRATIL, Texas Advanced Computing Center: We're at a tipping point. We're getting there with smart grid technology that allows us to collect the data to start making these insights and then finding these discoveries.

    But that's really been the first wave. And then, once we're able to collect this data, we can more definitively say what solutions are the best ones for people to pursue.

    MILES O'BRIEN: One somewhat surprising finding? Solar panels that face west turn out to be more useful, because they generate more power at the end of the day, when the A.C.s are cranked and the electric cars are plugged in.

    But the real solution lies in finding a practical way for people to store the energy generated when the sun is at its peak so it can be used when demand is as well.

    Pecan's lab director, Scott Hinson, showed me one of the lithium ion batteries they will be testing in one solar-equipped home. Right now, electric utilities do not allow their customers to attach batteries to the grid or use their solar arrays to produce power in an outage for safety reasons.

    Here, they hope to prove it can be done.

    Ultimately, does this approach make the whole system more reliable or just more efficient? Or are those two the same thing?

    SCOTT HINSON, Pecan Street, Inc.: Those are very similar things.

    Any system, any engineering system that is used near its maximum become unreliable. That's just the way it is. A more efficient system will become more reliable.

    MILES O'BRIEN: Ask anyone in the Mid-Atlantic who got a weeklong taste of life in the 19th century what they think of our antique means of generating and distributing electricity. They will probably tell you it's for the birds. Maybe the storms are a reminder it's high time to put the power lines online.


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, we conclude our series on governing in a time of gridlock.

    Treasury secretary Jack Lew warned yesterday the federal government could hit the limit of its borrowing ability, known as the debt ceiling, by mid-October. That is sooner than anticipated. And it promises to add fuel to the running battle over government spending that has paralyzed Washington in the past.

    Boring news for many viewers, perhaps, but, as Jeffrey Brown explains, it's also fodder for fiction and drama.

    JEFFREY BROWN: From a novel of intrigue about Watergate to casting the right actor to play presidential nominee John McCain, or depicting a power-hungry politician who stops at nothing to get his way, our guests have had a hand in portraying Washington in books and on large and small screens, for better and worse.

    Beau Willimon is the co-creator and writer of the Netflix series "House of Cards." He also wrote the screenplay for the film "Ides of March." Jay Roach directed the comedy "The Campaign" and the television movies "Game Change" about the 2008 campaign and "Recount" about the 2000 election. Novelist and critic Thomas Mallon has written eight novels, including most recently "Watergate: A Novel" and a nonfiction book about President Kennedy's assassination.

    And welcome to all of you.

    I wanted to start with you, Beau Willimon.

    What makes Washington a great subject? Why did you want to take it on?

    BEAU WILLIMON, "House of Cards": Well, the subject of "House of Cards" is power. And there's really no better place to go than Washington, D.C., if you want to dramatize power. That is center stage for power in America, so that is where we set our show.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Jay Roach, what was your take? Why did you want to come to Washington -- take on Washington?

    JAY ROACH, Producer/Director: Yes, I think because I'm just worried about it. It -- there's so much dysfunction. And I think the audience is in the middle of a kind of perpetual anxiety dream about what goes on in Washington. So, I'm just fascinated by -- you know, it seems like it should work better, but it often doesn't.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: But -- so you really came to it thinking there was this dysfunction, and I'm going to, what, look at it or try to solve it or what?

    JAY ROACH: Well, mostly ask questions about it, explore the reasons for it, a lot of it just for my own personal therapy, but hoping that other people might want to know more and just be tempted to just keep asking questions about it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will come back to that.

    Let me bring in Thomas Mallon.

    You actually live here in Washington. So this in some sense is a local story for you.

    THOMAS MALLON, author: Well, all history here is both local national.

    And I think one of the things that has always attracted me to the city, writing about it, is that it provides a chance for ordinary people to get caught up in big, big dramas. And, in fact, a number of my books have been just about that, bystanders, in effect, who got swept into something, like the couple who went to the theater with the Lincolns on the night of the assassination.

    And this novel of mine, "Watergate," a lot of the people who are involved in the book are peripheral figures compared to the central ones.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Beau Willimon, that take is the peripheral figures. You are going right to the guts, right, the power struggle?

    BEAU WILLIMON: Yes, the guts behind the scenes or really under the skin.

    You know, I think Washington is filled with real human beings who have real wants and needs that are flawed, and sometimes in a terrifying way. And Francis Underwood is someone who is unapologetically self-interested. He wants power for power's sake. It is an extreme version of Washington. I think most people in Washington go there to serve their country, but there are people that want power above all else.

    And I think the question we ask is, if someone is actually getting something done, do the ends justify the means? It is an interesting question to ask right now, when Washington is paralyzed by gridlock.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, when you say it is an extreme version, though, did you look at -- you looked carefully at what goes on now and then sort of took it to another step?

    BEAU WILLIMON: Yes.

    I mean, look, you know, you have all sorts of models throughout the history of America, whether it's Lyndon Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, people who were masters of the political gamesmanship and also are willing to break the rules in order to properly lead.

    And it's a paradox that the people who are making the rules sometimes have to break them in order to move us forward. And, you know, we want our politicians to be perfect people, and yet at the same time we want them to lead our country, and that means sometimes playing outside the box. And it is an impossible position for any politician to be in.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, Jay Roach, how do you do that through -- and you have done it with comedy. You have done it with drama. How do you fictionalize what you see, you said you see as a kind of dysfunction?

    JAY ROACH: Well, what drew me to the two HBO films, "Recount" and "Game Change," is that it wasn't fiction. It almost seemed like it was. It would be hard to write sort of more Shakespearian or sort of classic drama, kind of bit of conflicts between people.

    But I just wanted to be in those rooms to see a little bit of what Beau was talking about, that people could come to these decisions, given all of the forces at play, you know, have someone like Sarah Palin, for example, in "Game Change," be chosen to be second in line for the presidency. It seemed like something you would want to figure out how that could happen.

    In the case of "The Campaign," it's the whole other thing of just wanting to just sort of have some fun at the expense of the dysfunction. But -- and the other thing I liked about both "Game Change" and "Recount" as stories, given that they were real-life stories, is at the center of them were people who were trying to do better, and I felt were capable of inspiring people to at least see them as what they were going through as a cautionary tale, so they could see how much is at stake, even though they were just sort of flawed individuals responsible for making those decisions.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Thomas Mallon, we keep -- this series has been looking at this through the lens of hyper-partisanship. Do you see that lens? And what do you bring to it? Do you bring your own politics to it? Do you set that aside and try to figure out what is going on when you write?

    THOMAS MALLON: Well, I mean, one's politics are part of one even when one is writing.

    But if I want to say anything about the state of civil society, I will write an essay. The responsibilities you feel as a novelist are literary ones, I think, not civic ones. And I think politicians are interesting to write about.

    Of all parties, they are interesting. I think they are a lot blander and, alas, less interesting than they were a few generations ago.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, now than in the past?

    THOMAS MALLON: Oh, they're very cautious.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    THOMAS MALLON: Verbally, they have got a thousand...

    JEFFREY BROWN: Don't tell Beau Willimon and Jay Roach, because they're...

    (LAUGHTER)

    THOMAS MALLON: Well, they have got a thousand iPhone cameras on them everyday. They -- they are not these big brawling personalities that you found, say, in the era of Lyndon Johnson and before.

    But they are still interesting. And I think that the worst form of naiveté can be extreme cynicism. If you think that nobody comes to Washington to do any good whatsoever, that is almost as bad as being starry-eyed and thinking that they are all here to advance democracy.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What about -- Beau Willimon, what about that word we just heard, responsibility? I wonder -- to the extent that a lot of people will think about and come to see Washington through fictionalized dramas like yours, do you feel any special responsibility?

    BEAU WILLIMON: The only responsibility, like a novelist, that I feel is telling a good story.

    You know, it's interesting the notion -- or the axis of cynicism vs. optimism. I am not a cynical person. I don't think "House of Cards" is at all cynical. I think Francis Underwood in his own mind is an optimist. But he has a world view that is different than a lot of ours. He thinks that ideology is a form of cowardice, that it makes your behavior intractable, and intractable, intransigent behavior prevents compromise.

    Actually, more often than not, he looks for situations where everyone wins. He is trying to move things towards the middle. He's trying to move people out of the quicksand of intransigence. That is an optimistic point of view. He is doing it for self-serving reasons, sure, but there's plenty of people who -- I mean, if we are really honest with ourselves, you know, we are self-serving a lot of the time.

    So I don't think that politicians are any different than the rest of us. They have their needs. They go after them. And sometimes they go after them ruthlessly.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Jay Roach, what is your answer to that question about the responsibility that you might feel in how you -- how -- I guess how close to the reality you get it?

    JAY ROACH: Well, it's different when you are doing something like "Game Change," when you're actually trying to make a somewhat historically-based film. It says it is a true story. The audience expects a true story.

    And I think they can sense when you are faking it. So, as a storyteller, I feel like I have a responsibility to just sort of deliver on something that is as true as it can possibly be to just get it right. And I don't feel necessarily responsible for inspiring people, but I certainly try to -- I don't know -- get back to a little bit of what I remember having when I watched "All the President's Men" or a film like that, or some of "The West Wing," where you actually see all of the dysfunction and see a light shone on ridiculous behavior, petty behavior, but in there somewhere is something that makes you want to work a little harder, maybe inspires other people to work a little harder.

    I think that is something that I personally like to strive for.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Washington on the screen and on the page.

    Jay Roach, Beau Willimon, and Thomas Mallon, thank you, all three, very much.

    THOMAS MALLON: Thank you.

    JAY ROACH: Thank you.

    BEAU WILLIMON: Thank you.


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    Martin Luther King Jr.

    The Morning Line

    Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed the day's events would "go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation."

    King's dream and legacy are the central focus of a major ceremony Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will join President Barack Obama at a bell-ringing ceremony at 3 p.m. to mark the moment. It's the culmination of a days long recognition of the March on Washington at 50.

    And we're bringing you a special edition of the Morning Line and breaking the once-a-week recess schedule because at 6 p.m. Eastern we will air Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff's exclusive interview with President Obama. Don't miss their Instagram video announcing the news, another first for the NewsHour.

    The co-anchor duo will talk to the president in the Blue Room at the White House, soon after he delivers remarks at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

    The Associated Press previewed Wednesday's events and reported that the president believes now "is a good time to reflect on how far the country has come and how far it still has to go, particularly after the Trayvon Martin shooting trial in Florida."

    And from The Washington Post's look at the speech: "According to those he has spoken to, Obama will say that gay men and lesbians, women's rights advocates, immigration activists, and African Americans must come together as a coordinated political movement to defendrights in peril, particularly at the ballot box, and to secure new ones in such areas as marriage equality and criminal sentencing."

    In a radio interview Tuesday with Tom Joyner and Sybil Wilkes Mr. Obama said his aim is "just to celebrate the accomplishments of all of those folks whose shoulders we stand on and then remind people that the work is still out there for us to do." He said a way to honor King is to do "the day-to-day work to make sure this is a more equal and more just society."

    King "would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we've made," the president said.

    Mr. Obama added:

    What he would also say, though, is that the March on Washington was about jobs and justice. And that when it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we've made, and that it's not enough just to have a black President, it's not enough just to have a black syndicated radio show host.

    The question is, does the ordinary person, day-to-day, can they succeed. And we have not made as much progress as we need to on that, and that is something that I spend all my time thinking about, is how do we give opportunity to everybody so if they work hard they can make it in this country.

    Five decades ago, King stood at the Lincoln Memorial to outline his vision for how his dream could be achieved through nonviolent means.

    He declared: "We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

    Consider how Mr. Obama used the "fierce urgency of now" phrase to frame his presidential candidacy less than six years ago, in remarks at Democratic events in Iowa and across the country.

    From his speech to the Democratic National Committee in November 2007:

    I am not in this race to fulfill some long-held ambitions or because I believe it's somehow owed to me. I never expected to be here, I always knew this journey was improbable. I've never been on a journey that wasn't.

    I am running in this race because of what Dr. King called "the fierce urgency of now." Because I believe that there's such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost upon us.

    I don't want to wake up four years from now and find out that millions of Americans still lack health care because we couldn't take on the insurance industry. I don't want to see that the oceans have risen a few more inches. The planet has reached a point of no return because we couldn't find a way to stop buying oil from dictators. I don't want to see more American lives put at risk because no one had the judgment or the courage to stand up against a misguided war before we sent our troops into fight. I don't want to see homeless veterans on the streets. I don't want to send another generation of American children to failing schools.

    I don't want that future for my daughters. I don't want that future for your sons. I do not want that future for America.

    I'm in this race for the same reason that I fought for jobs for the jobless and hope for the hopeless on the streets of Chicago; for the same reason I fought for justice and equality as a civil rights lawyer; for the same reason that I fought for Illinois families for over a decade.

    Because I will never forget that the only reason that I'm standing here today is because somebody, somewhere stood up for me when it was risky. Stood up when it was hard. Stood up when it wasn't popular. And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world.

    That's why I'm running, Democrats - to give our children and grandchildren the same chances somebody gave me. That's why I'm running - to keep the American Dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity, who still thirst for equality. That's why I'm asking you to stand with me, that's why I'm asking you to vote for me, that's why I am asking you to stop settling for what the cynics say we have to accept. In this election - in this moment - let us reach for what we know is possible.

    A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.

    We quote from this speech in particular ahead of the president's remarks at the NewsHour interview today because Mr. Obama will speak about his vision for equality 50 years later. The president will share how far he thinks the nation has come, and the economic and social disparities that remain.

    The NewsHour has done a series of pieces tied to the 50-year anniversary, including Gwen's conversation with Rep. John Lewis, the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. That aired last night. Watch here or below.

    Watch Video

    Find our extensive and in-depth coverage of the March at 50 here, don't miss our live stream of Wednesday's 50th anniversary events, and tune in Wednesday at 6 p.m. eastern to watch our exclusive interview with the president.

    A LOOK AT GOVERNING

    During the slow August congressional recess, the NewsHour wanted to examine governing in Washington in an era of gridlock and hyperpartisanship. Jeffrey Brown started the discussion series by speaking with experts who could evaluate today's Washington through the lens of history. Ray Suarez turned to a study of the people and power structure in Washington with Robert Draper and Mark Leibovich.

    The series closed Tuesday night with a look at the people who make Washington the subject of fiction and drama. Jeff interviewed Beau Willimon, the co-creator and writer of the Netflix series "House of Cards" and the writer of the "Ides of March" screenplay, Jay Roach, who directed the comedy "The Campaign" and the television movies "Game Change" and "Recount," and novelist and critic Thomas Mallon.

    Willimon shared his insights about why he created Frances Underwood to be so ruthless, and Roach outlined why truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

    Watch the final discussion here or below:

    Watch Video

    LINE ITEMS

    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stressed repeatedly Tuesday the United States is not seeking "regime change" in Syria, and 33 Congressional Republicans signed a letter asking for the president to call them back into session to approve action.

    Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned Monday that the United States will need to raise the debt limit by mid-October, sooner than previously anticipated. Lew said Tuesday that Mr. Obama "will only accept a clean debt limit increase and won't entertain the idea of spending cuts equal to the debt limit increase, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has demanded -- or anything else," the Washington Post reports. For his part, Boehner said at a fundraiser he is preparing for a "whale of a fight" over the debt ceiling.

    Politico reports the debt ceiling clash is endangering chances for immigration reform measures in the House. Meanwhile, Organizing for Action is running radio ads targeting Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. And on her way out as Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano blamed Congress for a failure to pass a comprehensive plan.

    "The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing," the Associated Press reports.

    The AP has the latest on the fight over issuing gay marriage licenses in New Mexico, and BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner looks at the ongoing fight for same-sex couples seeking veterans benefits.

    Politico examines the 2014 Arkansas gubernatorial race.

    Jonathan Martin notices that longtime Clinton adviser Harold Ickes is back on the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws panel.

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a little fun with YouTube, tweaking Republicans.

    Former Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan died Monday at the age of 92. The Democrat is the father of Kathleen Sebelius.

    Yahoo News' Olivier Knox looks at politicians who lie, and the reporters who don't say so.

    BuzzFeed's presidential characters as Sesame Street characters falls down on the job, omits Rick Santorum.

    The Rosslyn garage where reporter Bob Woodward met the Watergate source "Deep Throat" will be demolished because of a redevelopment project.

    Christina talked about her favorite topic, #potuslovessports, on a Huffington Post Live segment Monday.

    More art from former President George W. Bush.

    Look at these pictures, and just try not to smile.

    NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

    NewsHour's Jenny Marder interviewed a chemistry adviser for the TV series "Breaking Bad."

    NewsHour Online Desk Assistant Lauren Ehler highlights the significance of the carousel on the National Mall and its relationship to the March on Washington in this story.

    Was King's dream achieved? And what dream do you have for yourself and the U.S.? Visit this post to share your thoughts.

    Here's a teaser trailer for NewsHour Weekend, launching Sept. 7.

    TOP TWEETS

    ICYMI: @JudyWoodruff and @gwenifill announce via Instagram that they'll be interviewing Obama tomorrow at the WH http://t.co/9eIJQI6qrH

    — NewsHour (@NewsHour) August 27, 2013

    Another lawmaker here 50 years ago was Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell; he was a Congressional intern then

    — Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) August 28, 2013

    Is MLK Jr's Dream still alive? http://t.co/IvIqIEvroz

    — Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) August 28, 2013

    Gilliam & @pbsgwen reflect on 1963 WashPost March coverage "We're losing diversity within media" http://t.co/5nXkfkb77c cc: @princeditor

    — HowardMortman (@HowardMortman) August 28, 2013

    JFK's ambassador to Japan said RFK was his most important channel to the President. attn: CBK

    — Jack Bohrer (@JRBoh) August 27, 2013

    Rep Paul Ryan proudly displays a degree, his "Doctorate of Hamburgerology" from McDonalds, in his Capitol Hill office pic.twitter.com/bC5dJxKLxg

    — Tim Mak (@timkmak) August 26, 2013

    Axis of Easel: http://t.co/latpbB3SIq

    — HuffPost Hill (@HuffPostHill) August 27, 2013

    Katelyn Polantz 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

    Support Your Local PBS Station

    //

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  • 08/28/13--08:14: What's Killing Americans?
  • Editor's Note: This article is part of a series in which the PBS NewsHour and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, explore how health care and health policy in OECD's 34 member countries compare with the United States. Below, Gaetan Lafortune, a senior OECD health economist, examines the top causes of death for Americans. Infographic by Matthias Rumpf and photo by Cristina Pedrazzini via Getty Images.

    Nearly 2.5 million people died in the United States in 2010.

    As in other OECD countries, the two main causes were cancer and cardiovascular diseases, including ischemic heart disease and stroke. Together, they accounted for more than 55 percent of all deaths in the U.S. that year.

    Deaths from respiratory diseases -- including pneumonia, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- and from accidents and external causes, including homicides, also accounted for a large number of deaths, representing 10 percent and 8 percent of all deaths.

    Taking into account the size and structure of the population, the mortality rates in the U.S. were close to the OECD average. But they were also more than 20 percent higher than in Japan, Australia and Switzerland.

    There have been large reductions in mortality rates among women and men in the U.S. over the past few decades, but these reductions have been more modest than in many other OECD countries. Hence, the gap with leading countries has been widening.

    For example, the life expectancy for U.S. men in 2010 was 4.2 years shorter than in Switzerland, up from less than three years in 1970; for U.S. women, it was 4.8 years shorter than in Japan -- a country where there was no gap in 1970.

    Higher GDP per capita and health spending per capita are generally associated with lower mortality rates and higher life expectancy, although this relationship diminishes in countries with the highest GDP and health spending per capita. Given its level of GDP and health spending, the United States has relatively high mortality rates and low life expectancy, although many other factors affect mortality beyond the overall economic development of a country and its health spending.

    Mortality rates in the U.S. are much greater among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and certain racial groups. For example, black women are more likely to give birth to low birth-weight infants. They also have an infant mortality rate more than double that for white women (11.6 vs. 5.2 in 2010).

    For a broader perspective on the top conditions that kill Americans -- and how those death rates compare with other OECD countries, check out the data visualization below. To expand, select "full screen."

    Click "next story" for a guided walk-through of the infographic, or hover your mouse over individual circles to see the death rates for particular conditions.

    In their 2013 report "U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health," the U.S. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine suggested a number of possible explanations to the slower progress in the United States in reducing mortality rates and increasing life expectancy compared with other OECD countries, including:

    The highly fragmented nature of the U.S. health system, with relatively few resources devoted to public health and primary care and a large share of the population uninsured Health-related behaviors, including higher calorie consumption per capita and obesity rates, higher consumption of prescription and illegal drugs, higher deaths from road traffic accidents and higher homicide rates And adverse socioeconomic conditions affecting a large segment of the U.S. population, with higher rates of poverty and income inequality than in most other OECD countries.

    Combined, those factors result in a unique climate for the following conditions.

    Cardiovascular diseases

    Cardiovascular diseases are the main cause of mortality in the United States, as in most other OECD countries, accounting for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all deaths in the U.S. in 2010. This covers a range of diseases related to the circulatory system, including ischemic heart disease (including AMI or heart attack) and cerebrovascular diseases such as stroke.

    Ischemic heart disease (IHD) alone was responsible for 15 percent of all deaths in the U.S. in 2010 (a greater share than the 12 percent average across OECD countries). Mortality rates from IHD are higher in the U.S. than in most other OECD countries.

    Cerebrovascular disease (including mainly stroke) was the underlying cause for 5 percent of all deaths in the United States in 2010 (a lower share than the 8 percent average across OECD countries). By contrast with IHD, mortality rates from cerebrovascular disease are lower in the United States than in most other OECD countries.

    Cancer

    Cancer accounted for nearly one-fourth of all deaths in the United States in 2010 (24 percent). However, the mortality rate from cancer is lower in the U.S. than in most other OECD countries, and it has come down at a more rapid pace over the past 20 years than the average across OECD countries.

    Cancer mortality rates are persistently higher for men than for women in the U.S., as in other OECD countries. This gender gap can be explained partly by the greater prevalence of risk factors among men, notably smoking rates.

    Lung cancer imposes the highest mortality burden, accounting for 27 percent of all cancer-related deaths in the U.S. in 2010 (28 percent among men and 25 percent among women).

    Accidents and External Causes

    Transport accidents

    In 2010, transport accidents in the U.S. accounted for 38,000 deaths, with more than two-thirds of these fatalities occurring among men. The United States had the third highest death rates from road accidents among OECD countries, after Mexico and Korea.

    The largest number of road transport accidents in the U.S., as in other OECD countries, occurs among the younger age groups, with the risk of dying due to a road accident peaking at ages 15-24.

    Homicides

    More than 16,000 people were killed in the U.S. in 2010, with more than three-quarters of these deaths among men. Death rates from homicides are much higher in the U.S. than in all other OECD countries with the exception of Mexico. In fact, the U.S. rate is a full two-and-a-half times greater than the OECD average, and nearly four times greater if Mexico is excluded.

    Related Content

    Health Costs: How the U.S. Compares With Other Countries

    How U.S. Obesity Compares With Other Countries

    How Growth of Elderly Population in U.S. Compares With Other Countries

    How Your Mental Health May Be Impacting Your Career

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    PBS NewsHour holds live Twitter chats each Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. EDT. Join us on Twitter @NewsHour using the hashtag #NewsHourChats. Photo by Larisa Epatko.

    Complaining about Washington gridlock is as much an American pastime as baseball. Poll after poll regularly shows Americans are unhappy Congress.

    Over the past two weeks PBS NewsHour has looked at governing in Washington from historical and cultural perspectives. On Thursday, Aug. 29, we will take the conversation on Washington gridlock to Twitter. During this week's Twitter chat we'll ask for your thoughts. We'll discuss whether Washington is more divided than in the past, who is the most to blame for the gridlock, what it will take to break the gridlock and if Washington is capable of solving the challenges the country faces today.

    Watch the chat below and join in on Twitter using the hashtag #NewsHourChats.

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    Watch the player above for a live stream of the events on Aug. 28 from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak around 2:45 p.m.

    President Obama will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with a highly anticipated speech Wednesday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

    President Obama will be joined by former presidents, civil rights leaders, musicians, politicians, and other celebrities at the "Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action." Journalist Soledad O'Brien and actor Hill Harper will emcee the event.

    Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will speak, as well as Oprah Winfrey and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the only living speaker from the original March on Washington. These speeches are set to begin at 2 p.m. EDT. Obama's speech is scheduled to start around 2:45 p.m.

    Other politicians delivering speeches include U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine; Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md.; and U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who is also the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

    New York Pastor A.R. Bernard performed the invocation at around 11 a.m., followed by a rousing speech from Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, who continued his push for voting representation for his constituents in U.S. Congress.

    Leaders from the NAACP, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the National Council of Negro Women, the Children's Defense Fund, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, and the National Urban League will also speak.

    Other notable speakers include: - Myrlie Evers Williams - Ban Ki-Moon (via video) - Bill Russell - LeAnn Rimes, who will perform "Amazing Grace" - Jamie Foxx - Rev. Al Sharpton - Julian Bond - Caroline Kennedy - Forest Whitaker

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    Madison, Wis., is one of the best large cities in the U.S. to age successfully, according to the Milken Institute. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Madison Guy.

    Great hospitals! Good public transportation! Booming economy! The best small city for seniors looking to age well is ... Sioux Falls, South Dakota?

    Forget the palm trees and warm sea breezes, the health care facilities in this small western city "specialize in geriatric services, hospice and rehabilitation, and the metro has recreation and an active lifestyle." It's enough, at least, to make Sioux Falls No. 1 of 259 small cities in a recent study by the Milken Institute, a non-partisan think tank.

    Looking for a more major metropolitan vibe? Set your gaze to Provo, Utah, where the pro-business environment, a focus on wellness and high community engagement make it No. 1 in the big cities list.

    Not a single town in Arizona or Florida cracked the top 100 in the major metropolitan category and only the inland city of Gainesville, Fla., made the cut in the small metro category. Why? Probably because the notion of moving someplace in the desert or by the beach with "a nine-hole golf course, a shuffleboard court, a rec room and cafeteria" is outdated, said Paul Irving, president of the Milken Institute.

    "That's not what people are looking for these days. People want a safe, affordable, engaging and connected community," he said. "They want to remain associated with former co-workers with and with their families. They want quality health care, active lifestyles, and access to education, transportation, employment, recreation and culture."

    Nearly 90 percent of Americans over the age of 65 say they would prefer to "age in place" in their own homes as long as possible, according to AARP. And four of five people in that age bracket believe their current home is where they will always live.

    But to do that successfully in the long run, most seniors need support from their communities -- especially easy access to health care and wellness programs, affordable living arrangements, convenient transportation options, and often, employment.

    On many of these fronts, cities throughout the U.S. just weren't cutting it, Irving said. That's why the Milken Institute decided to rank 359 of them on their performances in "promoting and enabling successful aging." Published every other year, the idea is not just to shed some light on what is -- and isn't -- being done, but to fire up some healthy rivalries.

    "Virtuous competition," Irving calls it, between mayors and city councils and civic leaders. "We really wanted to cause them to question whether the policies and practices they adopt in their own metro areas are as advanced as they should be," he said. "We also wanted them to consider whether they were taking full advantage and creating adequate opportunity to benefit from their aging populations."

    On Wednesday's PBS NewsHour broadcast, NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan reports from New York City -- ranked No. 5 on the "major metro" category of the Milken list -- on the little changes being implemented throughout the city to drastically improve the independence and mobility of the one million seniors who live there. In many parts of town, it's been as easy as adding some benches. Tune in.

    In the meantime, check out the top five cities in both the Large Metro and Small Metro categories from the think tank's "Best Cities for Successful Aging". The report was last published in July 2012, with an updated version expected in the summer of 2014. Read the full list and see how your city stacks up here.

    All slides courtesy of the Milken Institute. Click each photo to enlarge.

    Top 5 Large Metros for Successful Aging, According to the Milken Institute

    Provo-Orem, Utah

    Madison, Wis.

    Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb./Iowa

    Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H.

    New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.

    Top 5 Small Metros for Successful Aging, According to the Milken Institute

    Sioux Falls, S.D.

    Iowa City, Iowa

    Bismarck, N.D.

    Columbia, Mo.

    Rochester, Minn.

    Related Content

    Eight Things Your City Should Be Doing to Help You Age Well

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    There soon will be more people over the age of 60 in New York City than schoolchildren. The city is finally taking action. Photo by Chris Protopapas.

    It felt like a bad joke -- worse than the one about the chicken. Whenever Ed Aarons tried to cross the road in his New York City neighborhood, he never quite made it to the other side.

    As soon as the crosswalk signal said go, the 83-year-old moved quickly. "I trained myself to rush across, to give myself a certain allotted time to make it across," he said. "And I never did it." By the time he made it to the middle, the light would change, the cars would fly and there Aarons stood in the median, "trapped," he said.

    But that was several years ago, before New York -- a place famous for its youthful buzz -- paused momentarily to come to grips with the fact that it's growing older. Today, roughly 11 percent of the city's 8 million people are over the age of 60. By 2030, it will be closer to one in five.

    And it's not just a New York phenomenon. Pick a spot almost anywhere else in the world and the trend's much the same. The graying of the global population is "one of the most significant historic shifts in the history of the world," said Dr. Linda Fried, dean of the School of Public Health at Columbia University. "And we're not planning enough. In fact, we're barely planning."

    Barely, but there is progress. These days, the roughly 100 redesigned intersections mean that Ed Aarons has a few more seconds when he's trying to cross some of the city's streets. The initiative has spent millions on erecting new benches for resting and more buses for getting around. Even more recreation and education courses to help seniors exercise or learn a new skill, like how to use an iPad.

    It's thanks in large part to a group called Age-Friendly New York City, created in 2009 when the Office of the Mayor, the New York City Council and the New York Academy of Medicine realized that the city was vastly under-prepared for a future -- and a very near one, at that -- when there will be more elderly adults in the city than school-aged children.

    On Wednesday's PBS NewsHour broadcast, Hari Sreenivasan looks at the group's efforts to make the Big Apple not only more accessible for elderly New Yorkers but more aware of its vast and largely under-utilized potential as customers, volunteers, employees and students.

    Doing so, Fried said, would mean more opportunities for everyone. "The dirty little secret on this planet," she told Sreenivasan, "is that anything you design that will facilitate access, engagement, safety, enjoyment and participation by older people turns out to be good for all age groups. So you are not designing just for one age group, but you are ensuring the engagement and contributions of all age groups by doing that."

    In New York, organizers say much remains to be done. No. 1: Making the notoriously expensive city more affordable for seniors. "How expensive it is to be housed in New York is a challenge," according to Ruth Finkelstein, who leads the private sector efforts.

    Tune in Wednesday for the full NewsHour report.

    In the meantime, check out Age-Friendly New York City's checklist of steps every city should be taking to help its residents age with dignity, mobility and independence. Have something to add to the list? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

    8 Things Your City Should Be Doing to Help Seniors, According to Age-Friendly New York City

    1. Tap into the expertise of older adults.

    To build a successful age-friendly city, consultations with older adults are imperative. Older adults are the experts on their own needs, and remember that the talents and skills of older adults are assets for your city.

    2. Engage multiple sectors.

    Government cannot do it alone. Encourage public and private partners from multiple sectors to take part in the effort to be more inclusive of older adults, both as a business opportunity, and a moral imperative. Museums, theaters, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, churches and block associations can all be leaders in creating age-friendly cities.

    3. Recognize older adults as contributors to the economy.

    Older adults are consumers, workers and entrepreneurs. Educate businesses about older adult consumer needs. Support employers in recognizing the value of older employees and educate managers in how to create age-friendly work environments (check out the Age Smart Employer Compendium to see age-friendly work place practices). Enhance opportunities to better serve older entrepreneurs.

    4. Ensure that older adults know about existing opportunities and resources.

    Expand and more widely publicize college and university offerings for older adults to meet the high demand of older adults looking for job training, technology classes and lifelong learning opportunities. Work with public libraries and cultural institutions to create programming that is inclusive, affordable, and accessible.

    5. Adopt an "age-in-everything" approach to planning.

    Redesign street intersections with the safety of older adults in mind. Focus on areas near shops and services and on areas with high rates of pedestrian injuries. Add public seating on streets in accordance with location recommendations from older adults. In addition, ensure that all municipality emergency plans appropriately address the needs of older adults, who are often disproportionately affected.

    6. Advocate for improvements in public transportation.

    People over 65 make up 54 percent of the national average of those who use public transit. Focus on making transportation affordable, accessible and welcoming to older passengers. Good lighting, clear signage and courteous drivers can be just as important as having infrastructure in place.

    7. Increase accessibility to opportunities that promote health and socialization.

    Expand efforts to make parks, walking trails, swimming pools, beaches, recreation centers and public events accessible and welcoming to older adults. Offer fitness and recreational programming designed for and of interest to older people. Assure that disease prevention programs are culturally and geographically adapted to better include older people. Chronic disease prevention in older adults can improve health and reduce health care costs.

    8. Work toward affordable, supportive housing solutions.

    Age-friendly initiatives include offering tax incentives for new affordable senior or mixed-age housing developments, welcoming HUD Section 202 housing, introducing home share programs, implementing floor captains in high rise buildings, creating housing that supports grandparents raising grandchildren, and adding supportive services to existing housing with high concentrations of older adults. Consider bringing Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and Aging Improvement Districts to your neighborhood (check out Creating an Age-friendly NYC, One Neighborhood at a Time, a toolkit for creating age-friendly neighborhoods).

    For more information, visit www.agefriendlynyc.org.

    Related Content

    Top 10 U.S. Cities for Successful Aging

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    In this 1987 MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour report, Paul Solman reported on workers' attempt to buyout the General Dynamics shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, and spoke with Chris Mackin, a leader in the worker ownership movement.

    Paul Solman: Worker ownership: When I joined the labor force in 1970, it was the dream of many an "alternative" business, including ones I worked for. Egalitarianism. Justice. Capitalism for all. A Boston weekly newspaper of which I was the editor, "The Real Paper," was in fact entirely owned by its staff.

    Chris Mackin, of the consulting firm Ownership Associates, has been a key figure in the worker ownership movement for almost as long as I've been a journalist. He first showed up in a NewsHour story of mine in 1987. He was advising a worker buyout of a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, about which we were reporting.

    When I ran into him recently, I asked him to tell me what has happened to the worker ownership dream. Here's his report.

    Chris Mackin: In the classic 1967 film "The Graduate," Dustin Hoffman gets a single word of advice about the secrets of prosperity: "Plastics." Almost 50 years later, as economic inequality gallops, compounds and then gallops some more, we need a similarly pithy intervention to address matters of economic fairness.

    One candidate that may be equal to that task is a homely sounding economic noun that separates the wealthy from the rest of us. "Assets" are a seemingly magical set of resources that work for anyone who owns them. In conversations about economic fairness, "assets" are a resource that has largely remained outside the policy tent. President Obama has recently raised expectations about how economic policy might attack the problem of inequality. But he likely won't get that far unless he too is ready to step outside that tent.

    Accounting textbooks teach us that there are different categories of assets, both tangible (e.g., land, buildings, housing, corporate stock, minerals) and intangible (e.g., patents, goodwill, copyrights). Wealthy people own lots of these assets. So many that they often forgo that more pedestrian instrument that makes possible the accumulation of income, the paycheck.

    Unwealthy people own few, if any, assets. Theirs is wage-dependent, income based universe. They live from paycheck to paycheck. If assets are the key discriminant that sustains the wealthy, why is it that the most commonly invoked solutions to economic inequality tend to focus on income enhancing measures such as minimum wage campaigns, payroll tax credits and job training? That's not where the real money is. One could be forgiven for suspecting a plot. If the general problem of economic inequality could be likened to an overly deep bowl of soup that should be more fairly consumed, income-based solutions attack the challenge with forks. We need spoons, asset spoons. Let's examine a few.

    Broad-Based Asset Sharing Strategies

    Since 1982 every citizen of the state of Alaska has enjoyed an annual dividend as a return on their share of oil revenues through the Alaska Permanent Fund. Bipartisan support, including from former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, has protected this asset sharing program for over 30 years. When legislators sought access to a share of Permanent Fund revenue to fund state deficits in 1999, they were rejected by 84 percent of voters. Annual dividend payments have ranged from $331 to $2,069 per Alaskan.

    Similar natural resource-based ideas have been proposed but not yet implemented. One would provide all citizens an annual clean air dividend derived from taxing polluters. The "Sky Trust" concept developed by West coast entrepreneur Peter Barnes has also attracted bipartisan support in part because, like the Alaska Permanent Fund, it circumvents government capture and directs revenue immediately to citizens. Sky Trust dividends would be an asset shared by all. Natural resource-based asset sharing concepts have decided advantages: They can help address complex problems such as pollution, and they're easily shared through the common status of citizenship.

    Inclusive Capitalism in the Workplace

    For all its appeal (and its apparently successful implementation in Alaska), resource-based asset sharing remains more or less pie-in-the-sky. But another form of asset sharing is already ubiquitous and therefore more immediately relevant to most Americans. It also challenges many contemporary assumptions about the nature of capitalism. That category is broad-based ownership of jobs and workplaces by employees, a trend with more statistical heft than is generally imagined. It also happens to be this author's lifelong professional specialty.

    Most people don't know it, but today there are over 19,000 companies that collectively employ over 25 million workers that fit under a broad definition of employee ownership. That figure comprises nearly 16 percent of the American workforce. A related statistic from the University of Chicago's General Social Survey reports that about 18 percent of those who work for companies in this country own stock in their companies. This is progress of sufficient measure to qualify for a compelling new label put forward by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Center for American Progress. In a recent policy paper called "Growing the Wealth," they refer to these trends as constituting "inclusive capitalism."

    There are two primary structures for inclusive capitalism and a number of other structures worthy of mention. Firms owned significantly by Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) comprise the first significant category. ESOPs are a specific form of legal trust that can borrow money while also serving as a retirement plan for employees. They are regulated by the federal government and are inclusive, covering all employees working in a company for more than 1,000 hours in a given year. They number over 11,000 companies, employing over 10 million employees. They exist primarily in small to medium size privately held firms with a median workforce of 125, though they also exist with companies as large as the Publix Supermarket chain, with 152,000 employees. Their governance practices vary widely but research indicates that ESOPs that make use of more inclusive, transparent and democratic practices enjoy decided performance advantages over their less democratic counterparts.

    The second largest cohort of inclusive capitalism companies makes use of "stock options." This category is a favorite of entrepreneurial start-ups, particularly in the tech sector. The motivational power of this method cannot be denied. Paul Solman demonstrated it on the NewsHour years ago. However, the act of "ownership" here is usually ephemeral, not unlike the love life of the praying mantis. Ownership "happens" at the moment the price of the stock rises above the option's "call" price, at which time option holders typically end the affair by cashing in, after which ownership ends up where it started -- with the venture capitalists or the public stock markets. More a form of compensation than of ownership with attendant corporate governance rights, stock option ownership does enjoy a large footprint. In 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 9 percent of private sector employees -- somewhere north of 11 million employees -- held one or more forms of stock options.

    Other forms of inclusive capitalism include partnerships in law, accounting, architecture and other professions. Partnerships have a venerable history but constraints on raising external capital and legal liability issues have lead to a decline in their implementation.

    Cooperatives are the most democratic and historically authentic inclusive capitalism structure reaching back to the 18th century. They exist in a variety of forms including consumer ownership, credit unions and ownership by franchisees pursuing common purchasing efforts. The most relevant segment to this conversation, worker cooperatives, dates back to the 19th century. Their footprint here is small, consisting of approximately 350 companies with collective employment of about 3,500 people. Challenged about whether their ideas can ever get to scale, enthusiasts frequently point overseas to the Basque country of Spain where the Mondragon group of industrial and service cooperatives employ over 80,000 people in over 200 companies. Unlike other forms of inclusive capitalism that generally rely on conversions of established and usually successful firms, cooperatives typically focus on start-ups -- a constraint the cooperative sector will need to confront.

    The Resistance

    For all the data and anecdotes that can be shared about inclusive capitalism, it would be a mistake to suggest that the more established model of exclusive capitalism in the American workplace is on the run. Status quo models that reinforce concentrated ownership are taught in our premier law and business schools and touted as superior models. In their modestly titled paper "The End of History for Corporate Law," Yale professor Henry Hanssman and Harvard professor Reinier Kraakman declared the conversation about alternative ownership forms over. According to the authors, other corporate constituencies (e.g., employees) "should have their interests protected by contractual and regulatory means rather than participation through corporate governance."

    Standing side by side with the business and law school skeptics who look askance at inclusive capitalism models are the investment theory scolds. Contrary to the legendary counsel of Andrew Carnegie that those who wish to build wealth should concentrate both their thoughts and their capital in very few places, these experts remain eager to pounce on any report of workers holding too much employer stock. Because workers are supposedly "invested" in their firm by virtue of their employment, buying stock in their employer would be the opposite of prudently hedging their bets. In practice, however, evidence published in Nov. 1, 2010's "Pension and Benefits Daily" shows that inclusive capitalism companies, particularly in the ESOP sector, are more likely to have diversified retirement designs (e.g., ESOPs and 401(k) or pension plans) than comparable companies.

    And yet, the "diversification" criticism exposes a disagreement about inclusive capitalism's purpose. Inclusive capitalism is not an investment proposition; it is an ownership sharing proposition. It is about creating a new "membership" relationship between employees and their place of work, a relationship that is not merely psychological, creating a "sense" of ownership, but about real ownership.

    Finally, how does an exclusive capitalism thesis comport with the existence of inclusive public stock markets open to all? Doesn't the existence of massive amounts of 401(k) stock owned by ordinary Americans refute the claim of exclusive ownership? Unfortunately, research by NYU economist Edward Wolff suggests not. Using 2010 data, he estimates that 80.8 percent of stocks and mutual funds and 91.5 percent of business equity are held by the top 10 percent of American society. So despite the populist marketing claims that Wall Street is owned by all of us, the evidence indicates otherwise. The public markets of Wall Street remain the preserve of exclusive capitalism.

    The Politics of Inclusive Capitalism

    Inclusive capitalism may not sell well with professors and pundits, but it appears to have some genuine appeal at the grass roots with "Main Street" business owners and across a surprisingly wide spectrum of political opinion. There are actually indications that these ideas can unite or at minimum enforce a practical truce among ideologically disparate people.

    Case in point: The federal government's two strongest champions of broad-based employee ownership through ESOPs also happen to be ideological outliers in Congress. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., believes in ESOPs to encourage broad-based property ownership in the private sector that, if successful, promotes conservative values by lessening dependence upon government. He has drafted his own far reaching legislation that would give preferences for broad based employee ownership companies in areas such as government procurement. In the other corner, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-described democratic socialist, looks at ESOPs and cooperatives and sees economic inclusion and justice. He's familiar with examples in his home state, including an ESOP company of roughly 200 employees, King Arthur Flour, whose roots predate the Revolutionary War.

    At a reception of ESOP companies not long ago, I mentioned this seemingly strange ideological commonality, namely the enthusiasm of Sen. Sanders, to its conservative champion, Rep. Rohrabacher. His reply to me... a short, stunned pause followed by a gradual smile. "Bernie served with me in the House before moving on to the Senate... we have our differences, but we also agreed on a lot of things. I think he is a patriot. So am I. So we agree on this issue. That's great!"

    The Rohrbacher-Sanders story suggests that the idea of inclusive capitalism enjoys a kind of ideological ambidextrousness that is promising. If enthusiasts of both the right and the left can refrain from insisting that participants enter the world of these ideas through their particular ideological doors, even more progress can be made.

    Conclusion

    Writing about the overall importance of ideas in the conclusion to his "General Theory," John Maynard Keynes famously claimed that "after a certain interval" the scribbling of economists and political philosophers is more powerful than is commonly understood. If an interval of a century and a half -- 165 years to be precise -- fits this definition, we may hope that the thoughts of one of Keynes' more prominent predecessors are now ready for fresh inspection. John Stuart Mill is widely considered one of the founders of the field of economics. In his 1848 book "Principles of Economics," Mill cast a wary eye toward the newly entrenched ownership structures of industrial capitalism he was then observing. He predicted a different future:

    "The form of association, however, which if mankind continue to improve, must be expected in the end to predominate, is not that which can exist between a capitalist as chief, and work-people without a voice in the management, but the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers elected and removable by themselves."

    Over the past decade, ample evidence has been collected to demonstrate that inclusive structures of capitalism at the workplace are fully competitive with more exclusive models. It appears that no concessions need be made at the altar of efficiency when structuring a more fair economy. This kind of evidence is useful on its own but perhaps its most important virtue is how it can affect the overall policy conversation. Because Americans still need to pay the bills, a focus on income related interventions and paychecks will remain important. However, if we are to bridge the economic divides that trouble us today, we also need to break out into new territory. We need to break down the exclusive club that capitalism has become. We need to share the machinery of capitalism.

    This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions. Follow @paulsolman

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    By Chris Mackin

    Watch Video

    In this 1987 MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour report, Paul Solman reported on workers' attempt to buyout the General Dynamics shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, and spoke with Chris Mackin, a leader in the worker ownership movement.

    Paul Solman: Worker ownership: When I joined the labor force in 1970, it was the dream of many an "alternative" business, including ones I worked for. Egalitarianism. Justice. Capitalism for all. A Boston weekly newspaper of which I was the editor, "The Real Paper," was in fact entirely owned by its staff.

    Chris Mackin, of the consulting firm Ownership Associates, has been a key figure in the worker ownership movement for almost as long as I've been a journalist. He first showed up in a NewsHour story of mine in 1987. He was advising a worker buyout of a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, about which we were reporting.

    When I ran into him recently, I asked him to tell me what has happened to the worker ownership dream. Here's his report.

    Chris Mackin: In the classic 1967 film "The Graduate," Dustin Hoffman gets a single word of advice about the secrets of prosperity: "Plastics." Almost 50 years later, as economic inequality gallops, compounds and then gallops some more, we need a similarly pithy intervention to address matters of economic fairness.

    One candidate that may be equal to that task is a homely sounding economic noun that separates the wealthy from the rest of us. "Assets" are a seemingly magical set of resources that work for anyone who owns them. In conversations about economic fairness, "assets" are a resource that has largely remained outside the policy tent. President Obama has recently raised expectations about how economic policy might attack the problem of inequality. But he likely won't get that far unless he too is ready to step outside that tent.

    Accounting textbooks teach us that there are different categories of assets, both tangible (e.g., land, buildings, housing, corporate stock, minerals) and intangible (e.g., patents, goodwill, copyrights). Wealthy people own lots of these assets. So many that they often forgo that more pedestrian instrument that makes possible the accumulation of income, the paycheck.

    Unwealthy people own few, if any, assets. Theirs is wage-dependent, income based universe. They live from paycheck to paycheck. If assets are the key discriminant that sustains the wealthy, why is it that the most commonly invoked solutions to economic inequality tend to focus on income enhancing measures such as minimum wage campaigns, payroll tax credits and job training? That's not where the real money is. One could be forgiven for suspecting a plot. If the general problem of economic inequality could be likened to an overly deep bowl of soup that should be more fairly consumed, income-based solutions attack the challenge with forks. We need spoons, asset spoons. Let's examine a few.

    Broad-Based Asset Sharing Strategies

    Since 1982 every citizen of the state of Alaska has enjoyed an annual dividend as a return on their share of oil revenues through the Alaska Permanent Fund. Bipartisan support, including from former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, has protected this asset sharing program for over 30 years. When legislators sought access to a share of Permanent Fund revenue to fund state deficits in 1999, they were rejected by 84 percent of voters. Annual dividend payments have ranged from $331 to $2,069 per Alaskan.

    Similar natural resource-based ideas have been proposed but not yet implemented. One would provide all citizens an annual clean air dividend derived from taxing polluters. The "Sky Trust" concept developed by West coast entrepreneur Peter Barnes has also attracted bipartisan support in part because, like the Alaska Permanent Fund, it circumvents government capture and directs revenue immediately to citizens. Sky Trust dividends would be an asset shared by all. Natural resource-based asset sharing concepts have decided advantages: They can help address complex problems such as pollution, and they're easily shared through the common status of citizenship.

    Inclusive Capitalism in the Workplace

    For all its appeal (and its apparently successful implementation in Alaska), resource-based asset sharing remains more or less pie-in-the-sky. But another form of asset sharing is already ubiquitous and therefore more immediately relevant to most Americans. It also challenges many contemporary assumptions about the nature of capitalism. That category is broad-based ownership of jobs and workplaces by employees, a trend with more statistical heft than is generally imagined. It also happens to be this author's lifelong professional specialty.

    Most people don't know it, but today there are over 19,000 companies that collectively employ over 25 million workers that fit under a broad definition of employee ownership. That figure comprises nearly 16 percent of the American workforce. A related statistic from the University of Chicago's General Social Survey reports that about 18 percent of those who work for companies in this country own stock in their companies. This is progress of sufficient measure to qualify for a compelling new label put forward by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Center for American Progress. In a recent policy paper called "Growing the Wealth," they refer to these trends as constituting "inclusive capitalism."

    More on Public Ownership Should You Own the Banks? Should the Public Own Everything?

    There are two primary structures for inclusive capitalism and a number of other structures worthy of mention. Firms owned significantly by Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) comprise the first significant category. ESOPs are a specific form of legal trust that can borrow money while also serving as a retirement plan for employees. They are regulated by the federal government and are inclusive, covering all employees working in a company for more than 1,000 hours in a given year. They number over 11,000 companies, employing over 10 million employees. They exist primarily in small to medium size privately held firms with a median workforce of 125, though they also exist with companies as large as the Publix Supermarket chain, with 152,000 employees. Their governance practices vary widely but research indicates that ESOPs that make use of more inclusive, transparent and democratic practices enjoy decided performance advantages over their less democratic counterparts.

    The second largest cohort of inclusive capitalism companies makes use of "stock options." This category is a favorite of entrepreneurial start-ups, particularly in the tech sector. The motivational power of this method cannot be denied. Paul Solman demonstrated it on the NewsHour years ago. However, the act of "ownership" here is usually ephemeral, not unlike the love life of the praying mantis. Ownership "happens" at the moment the price of the stock rises above the option's "call" price, at which time option holders typically end the affair by cashing in, after which ownership ends up where it started -- with the venture capitalists or the public stock markets. More a form of compensation than of ownership with attendant corporate governance rights, stock option ownership does enjoy a large footprint. In 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 9 percent of private sector employees -- somewhere north of 11 million employees -- held one or more forms of stock options.

    Other forms of inclusive capitalism include partnerships in law, accounting, architecture and other professions. Partnerships have a venerable history but constraints on raising external capital and legal liability issues have lead to a decline in their implementation.

    Cooperatives are the most democratic and historically authentic inclusive capitalism structure reaching back to the 18th century. They exist in a variety of forms including consumer ownership, credit unions and ownership by franchisees pursuing common purchasing efforts. The most relevant segment to this conversation, worker cooperatives, dates back to the 19th century. Their footprint here is small, consisting of approximately 350 companies with collective employment of about 3,500 people. Challenged about whether their ideas can ever get to scale, enthusiasts frequently point overseas to the Basque country of Spain where the Mondragon group of industrial and service cooperatives employ over 80,000 people in over 200 companies. Unlike other forms of inclusive capitalism that generally rely on conversions of established and usually successful firms, cooperatives typically focus on start-ups -- a constraint the cooperative sector will need to confront.

    The Resistance

    For all the data and anecdotes that can be shared about inclusive capitalism, it would be a mistake to suggest that the more established model of exclusive capitalism in the American workplace is on the run. Status quo models that reinforce concentrated ownership are taught in our premier law and business schools and touted as superior models. In their modestly titled paper "The End of History for Corporate Law," Yale professor Henry Hanssman and Harvard professor Reinier Kraakman declared the conversation about alternative ownership forms over. According to the authors, other corporate constituencies (e.g., employees) "should have their interests protected by contractual and regulatory means rather than participation through corporate governance."

    Standing side by side with the business and law school skeptics who look askance at inclusive capitalism models are the investment theory scolds. Contrary to the legendary counsel of Andrew Carnegie that those who wish to build wealth should concentrate both their thoughts and their capital in very few places, these experts remain eager to pounce on any report of workers holding too much employer stock. Because workers are supposedly "invested" in their firm by virtue of their employment, buying stock in their employer would be the opposite of prudently hedging their bets. In practice, however, evidence published in Nov. 1, 2010's "Pension and Benefits Daily" shows that inclusive capitalism companies, particularly in the ESOP sector, are more likely to have diversified retirement designs (e.g., ESOPs and 401(k) or pension plans) than comparable companies.

    And yet, the "diversification" criticism exposes a disagreement about inclusive capitalism's purpose. Inclusive capitalism is not an investment proposition; it is an ownership sharing proposition. It is about creating a new "membership" relationship between employees and their place of work, a relationship that is not merely psychological, creating a "sense" of ownership, but about real ownership.

    Finally, how does an exclusive capitalism thesis comport with the existence of inclusive public stock markets open to all? Doesn't the existence of massive amounts of 401(k) stock owned by ordinary Americans refute the claim of exclusive ownership? Unfortunately, research by NYU economist Edward Wolff suggests not. Using 2010 data, he estimates that 80.8 percent of stocks and mutual funds and 91.5 percent of business equity are held by the top 10 percent of American society. So despite the populist marketing claims that Wall Street is owned by all of us, the evidence indicates otherwise. The public markets of Wall Street remain the preserve of exclusive capitalism.

    The Politics of Inclusive Capitalism

    Inclusive capitalism may not sell well with professors and pundits, but it appears to have some genuine appeal at the grass roots with "Main Street" business owners and across a surprisingly wide spectrum of political opinion. There are actually indications that these ideas can unite or at minimum enforce a practical truce among ideologically disparate people.

    Case in point: The federal government's two strongest champions of broad-based employee ownership through ESOPs also happen to be ideological outliers in Congress. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., believes in ESOPs to encourage broad-based property ownership in the private sector that, if successful, promotes conservative values by lessening dependence upon government. He has drafted his own far reaching legislation that would give preferences for broad based employee ownership companies in areas such as government procurement. In the other corner, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-described democratic socialist, looks at ESOPs and cooperatives and sees economic inclusion and justice. He's familiar with examples in his home state, including an ESOP company of roughly 200 employees, King Arthur Flour, whose roots predate the Revolutionary War.

    At a reception of ESOP companies not long ago, I mentioned this seemingly strange ideological commonality, namely the enthusiasm of Sen. Sanders, to its conservative champion, Rep. Rohrabacher. His reply to me... a short, stunned pause followed by a gradual smile. "Bernie served with me in the House before moving on to the Senate... we have our differences, but we also agreed on a lot of things. I think he is a patriot. So am I. So we agree on this issue. That's great!"

    The Rohrbacher-Sanders story suggests that the idea of inclusive capitalism enjoys a kind of ideological ambidextrousness that is promising. If enthusiasts of both the right and the left can refrain from insisting that participants enter the world of these ideas through their particular ideological doors, even more progress can be made.

    Conclusion

    Writing about the overall importance of ideas in the conclusion to his "General Theory," John Maynard Keynes famously claimed that "after a certain interval" the scribbling of economists and political philosophers is more powerful than is commonly understood. If an interval of a century and a half -- 165 years to be precise -- fits this definition, we may hope that the thoughts of one of Keynes' more prominent predecessors are now ready for fresh inspection. John Stuart Mill is widely considered one of the founders of the field of economics. In his 1848 book "Principles of Economics," Mill cast a wary eye toward the newly entrenched ownership structures of industrial capitalism he was then observing. He predicted a different future:

    "The form of association, however, which if mankind continue to improve, must be expected in the end to predominate, is not that which can exist between a capitalist as chief, and work-people without a voice in the management, but the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers elected and removable by themselves."

    Over the past decade, ample evidence has been collected to demonstrate that inclusive structures of capitalism at the workplace are fully competitive with more exclusive models. It appears that no concessions need be made at the altar of efficiency when structuring a more fair economy. This kind of evidence is useful on its own but perhaps its most important virtue is how it can affect the overall policy conversation. Because Americans still need to pay the bills, a focus on income related interventions and paychecks will remain important. However, if we are to bridge the economic divides that trouble us today, we also need to break out into new territory. We need to break down the exclusive club that capitalism has become. We need to share the machinery of capitalism.

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


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    Mei Xiang delivers a panda cub on August 23. Video by Smithsonian's National Zoo.

    On Friday afternoon, a live panda cam captured giant panda Mei Xiang at the moment her water broke, and two hours later, a healthy panda cub entered the world with a loud squawk. Mei Xiang immediately picked up her squealing 4.8 ounce cub and began cradling it.

    The zookeepers breathed a tremendous sigh of relief. They were devastated last year when another cub, a female, died unexpectedly six days after her birth due to liver damage caused by underdeveloped lungs.

    When it comes to reproduction, the odds are stacked against pandas. There is a narrow 36-hour window each year when the panda can conceive. The pandas prefer solitude, seeking others' company only during that breeding period. If the pandas fail to mate on their own, the zoo staff uses artificial insemination to increase their chances of getting a cub.

    Plus, panda pregnancies are notoriously difficult to monitor because the animals show spikes in hormones whether or not the pregnancy is viable. In September 2012, the NewsHour reported on the many challenges of panda pregnancies, from conception to birth.

    But in just a year, panda scientists have developed a new arsenal of tools to better detect and monitor panda pregnancy.

    "Our expansive panda team has worked tirelessly analyzing hormones and behavior since March, and as a result of their expertise and our collaboration with scientists from around the world, we are celebrating this birth," said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo in a statement on Friday.

    Mei Xiang has been under intense scrutiny since an artificial insemination procedure in March, said Pierre Comizzoli, reproductive physiologist at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Following the procedure, the staff watched the panda closely for signs of a potential pregnancy. And the signs were there. She built a nest, began cradling her toys and her appetite waned, all indications that she was preparing to give birth.

    But it's not that simple. After pandas mate, the fertilized egg doesn't implant itself in the uterine lining for weeks, even months, which means zookeepers never knew when to expect a cub.

    Chief veterinarian Suzan Murray examines newborn giant panda cub on Sunday. Photo by Courtney Janney/Smithsonian's National Zoo.

    "Panda watch" at the National Zoo began in early August, after Mei Xiang's progesterone showed a second spike, an indicator that the fertilized egg had implanted in the uterus -- though it also could have been signs of a pseudo pregnancy.

    But this year, the veterinarians at the zoo had one advantage over past years: a due date. Twice a week for about a month, zoo staff froze urine samples collected from Mei Xiang's den, and sent them to their partners at the Memphis Zoo. There, scientists analyzed the urine for prostaglandin, a lipid compound that promotes contractions during labor. By tracking the prostaglandin levels, scientists could better predict when Mei Xiang was getting ready to give birth, said Andrew Kouba, director of conservation and research at the Memphis Zoo.

    The test has been pretty accurate so far, give or take a day, he says. The prostaglandin assay predicted the July 15 birthdate for Zoo Atlanta's twin panda cubs "right on the nose," and estimated Mei Xiang's due date for August 24. (She delivered her cub on August 23.)

    "It's really telling us if something's going to happen, it's going to happen in those two or three days, which is kind of convenient," Comizzoli said. "It's one more element for the explanation of this complex pregnancy phenomenon of the panda."

    Having a due date gives the panda staff time to get ready, Kouba said. It gives the staff the time to bring in specialists to help monitor and prepare for the cub. And, he added, it focuses precious staff time and attention.

    "A lot of man hours go into watching pandas, waiting for them to give birth. If you have a better idea when it will happen, you may not have to have people watching around the clock for weeks on end," he said.

    But the prostaglandin peak will also occur in the case of a pseudopregnancy. Again, proof that nothing when it comes to panda reproduction is simple.

    Beth Roberts, research fellow at the Memphis Zoo, who developed the prostaglandin test and made the predictions about giant panda due dates at Zoo Atlanta and the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Photo by the Memphis Zoo.

    Also for the first time this year, panda scientists at the National Zoo inseminated Mei Xiang with semen from two males. In the coming weeks, a paternity test will determine whether Tian Tian, the National Zoo panda, or Gao Gao from the San Diego Zoo is the father. Another new technology emerging in the field is thermal imaging, which has allowed the San Diego Zoo to see twins, even triplets, in their panda Bai Yun's pregnancies. (The National Zoo has not yet adopted that technique.)

    The Memphis Zoo has also been in the process of developing what could be the first panda pregnancy test. Fetuses are invisible to ultrasounds until two or three weeks before birth, Kouba said.

    But Memphis Zoo researcher Erin Willis found that elevated levels of ceruloplasmin, a protein affected by inflammation, in the panda's urine could determine whether the animal was pregnant as soon as one week after conception. Using this test, Zoo Atlanta and Edinburgh Zoo found out they were expecting cubs this summer, Kouba said.

    Thermal imaging technology shows when two fetuses, shown here in red, may be present. Photo by the San Diego Zoo.

    But he cautions that the test can't predict a healthy cub. And for a few moments on Saturday night, the zoo staff feared that history was repeating itself when they saw a still, silent cub on the floor of Mei Xiang's den. The second stillborn cub, born 26 hours after the first, had horrible deformities, missing parts of its skull and brain.

    Comizzoli said the surviving cub appears healthy, but the next six months are still high risk for the newborn.

    "We are crossing our fingers and hoping for the best," he said.

    Related Links:

    Why Pandas Have Trouble Getting Pregnant

    Helping Nature Along: Breeding Giant Pandas

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    In this excerpt, President Barack Obama says he has not made his decision on U.S. action against Syria. For the full interview, watch the PBS NewsHour Wednesday.

    President Barack Obama said Wednesday he has not made a decision about action against Syria, and stressed he has "no interest" in "any kind of open-ended conflict" there.

    In an exclusive interview with PBS NewsHour co-anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, Mr. Obama said:

    So what I've said is that we have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place. And nobody disputes -- or hardly anybody disputes that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations.

    We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed nuclear weapons on -- or chemical weapons of that sort. We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences.

    So we are consulting with our allies. We're consulting with the international community. And you know, I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable.

    Asked why chemical weapons use has pushed the situation to the brink, given more than 100,000 killed and 2 million refugees, Mr. Obama said the situation has been "heartbreaking."

    "...[W]hen you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they're allied to known terrorist organizations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen," he said.

    The president also reflected on the historic day in Washington and the speech he'd just concluded at the Lincoln Memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech.

    "It is as important a day as any in our history," Mr. Obama said.

    The 27-minute interview touched on issues of economic equality, his second-term agenda and his hopes for what Congress will do following the Supreme Court's action on the Voting Rights Act.

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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    President Barack Obama said he had not yet made his decision regarding a U.S. strike on Syria during an interview with PBS NewsHour senior correspondents Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill. The president said that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime alleged use of chemical weapons would factor into his calculation and he warned that the Assad should be held accountable.

    Watch the PBS NewsHour full interview.

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    GWEN IFILL: Hello, Mr. President. Thank you so much for joining us.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Really appreciate it. Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And welcome to the NewsHour.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Great to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. President, you’ve just come from making a speech at – celebrating a nonviolent event, the March on Washington, Martin Luther King’s speech 50 years ago. We’re going to get to that in just a moment. But first, we want to ask you about a place where there’s been too much violence: Syria. How close are you to authorizing a military strike? And can you assure the American people that by doing so, given Iraq and Afghanistan, that the United States will not get bogged down in yet another war halfway around the world?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I’ve not made a decision. I have gotten options from our military, had extensive discussions with my national security team.

    So let me talk about what’s at stake here. I think we all understand terrible things have been happening in Syria for quite some time, that the Assad regime there has been killing its own people by the tens of thousands, that there are sectarian arguments that have spilled over into bloodshed and have escalated over the last couple of years. And although what’s happened there is tragic, and although I have called for Assad to leave and make sure that we got a transitional government that could be inclusive in Syria, what I’ve also concluded is that direct military engagement, involvement in the civil war in Syria, would not help the situation on the ground. And so we’ve been very restrained, although diplomatically, we’ve been very active; we’ve been providing a lot of humanitarian aid to people who’ve been displaced by the war.

    But what I also said was that if the Assad regime used chemical weapons on his own people, that that would change some of our calculations. And the reason has to do with not only international norms but also America’s core self-interest. We’ve got a situation in which you’ve got a well-established international norm against the use of chemical weapons. Syria has one of the largest stockpiles in the world of chemical weapons.

    This is a volatile country in a very volatile region. We’ve got allies bordering Syria. Turkey is a NATO ally, Jordan a close friend that we work with a lot. Israel is very close by. We’ve got bases throughout the region. We cannot see a breach of the nonproliferation norm that allows, potentially, chemical weapons to fall into the hands of all kinds of folks.

    So what I’ve said is that we have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place. And nobody disputes – or hardly anybody disputes that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations.

    We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed nuclear weapons on – or chemical weapons of that sort. We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences. 

    So we are consulting with our allies. We’re consulting with the international community. And you know, I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable. 

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But Mr. President, with all due respect, what does it accomplish? I mean, you’re – the signals the American people are getting is that this would be a limited strike or of limited duration. If it’s not going to do that much harm to the Assad regime, what have you accomplished? How – what – what’s changed?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Judy, again, I have not made a decision, but I think it’s important that if, in fact, we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war, trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again. And that doesn’t solve all the problems inside of Syria, and, you know, it doesn’t, obviously end the death of innocent civilians inside of Syria. 

    And we hope that, in fact, ultimately, a political transition can take place inside of Syria, and we’re prepared to work with anybody – the Russians and others – to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict, but we want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people – against women, against infants, against children, that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you’re also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected, and that needs to stop.

    GWEN IFILL: Mr. President, with all of the mayhem in the Middle East involving allies like Israel and Jordan and refugees on the border and potential action in Syria and the collapse of the government in Egypt, do you worry at all that your administration underestimated what the toll would be of an Arab Spring?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I don’t – I think we anticipated this would be a really difficult process. I mean, you’ve got a region that, for decades, has basically been under autocratic rule. And people have been suppressed, and there were no traditions of civil society. There were no traditions of political freedom. And then suddenly, folks are allowed to express themselves, but a lot of their organizing principles end up being around extremist agendas, in some cases; more moderate forces sometimes haven’t get got their act together. So we anticipated that this was going to be a very difficult path. We’re not surprised by that.

    The one thing, though, maybe implicit in your question, Gwen, is some suggestion that there was something we could do to prevent it –

    GWEN IFILL: That was implicit in my question. 

    PRESIDENT OBAMA:– and I think if the idea is that what we should have done is done more to shore up autocratic governments, that we should have stood by while governments that we had relationships with killed their own people – peaceful, innocent protesters – then I suspect you’d have a different set of questions for me.

    And so we don’t have good options, great options, for the region. But what I am clear about is that if the United States stands by its core values and its core interests; if we’re very clear about making sure that we’re stopping terrorist attacks against the United States; if we are very clear about our, you know, commitment to the safety and security of Israel; if we are clear about the free flow of energy throughout the region that affects the entire global economy; but also if we’re clear about our values and that we believe in inclusive governments, that we believe in the protection of minority rights, that we believe in women’s rights, that we believe that over time it’s better for governments to be representative of the will of their people, as opposed to being, you know, dictated to by authoritarian governments; if we are consistent in those principles, then eventually, I think, we’ll be better off. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have some very difficult problems in – in the meantime.

    GWEN IFILL: I do have one more brief question about Syria.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Sure. 

    GWEN IFILL: For the American people who look at this and say, why are we getting involved, how do you justify taking action? I know you talked about international norms because of chemical weapon use, but not because of the 100,000 people who were killed there in the past, and the 2 million refugees who fled across the border.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, what’s happened has been heartbreaking, but when you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they’re allied to known terrorist organizations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen. 

    There is a reason why there is an international norm against chemical weapons. There’s a reason why consistently, you know, the rules of war have suggested that the use of chemical weapons violates Geneva Protocols. So they’re different, and we want to make that they are not loose in a way that ultimately, could affect our security.

    And if, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about – but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term, and may have a positive impact on our national security over the long term and may have a positive impact in the sense that chemical weapons are not used again on innocent civilians.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s turn back to where you were earlier this afternoon, the Martin Luther King anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech, the anniversary of the – of the March on Washington. You have a reputation, Mr. President – Mr. President, for being pretty cool and detached. But standing there at the Lincoln Memorial, at the place where Dr. King stood, looking out over that big crowd, that had to be emotional. What were you thinking?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there were a couple of things I was thinking. Certainly leading up to the speech, I was thinking that you generally should not try to follow one of the two greatest speeches in American history – (chuckles) – because it puts a little pressure on you.

    But most of all, what I was thinking about was just what I talked about in the speech, all these ordinary folks who did extraordinary things. There aren’t that many examples in American history, maybe even world history, where you see maids and seamstresses and, you know, porters and laborers who are able to fundamentally transform the most powerful country on earth. And to do that with the kind of sacrifice and dignity and passion, but also discipline that they showed during the course of the movement is not just inspiring but gives you a sense of humility and a desire to do everything you can on behalf of the principles for which they fought.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why was it important to you to be there today, to be part of that?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I’ll be honest with you. I would have wanted to be there even if I wasn’t speaking just because I think that day is as important a day as any in our history. You know, we rightly celebrate the heroism of those who – who fought and died to protect us. We, you know, rightly celebrate things like the Moon landing that show the extraordinary creativity and innovation of America.

    But that day captures something that is special about this place. And that is the capacity for ordinary people, for citizens, to change structures of – of – of oppression that had been in place for – for decades and to do it peacefully. It – it not only gives you a sense of the power of – of individuals, but it also said something about the power of America to transform itself, and, you know, we’re all beneficiaries of it.

    GWEN IFILL: Mr. President, as we watch the way you take actions on these things that you – that you talk about – particularly legal means, legal actions, the attorney general suing the state of Texas over voter ID; he’s talking about rolling back mandatory minimum sentences – and at the same time the Supreme Court seems to be heading in the opposite direction, how do you get done what you say you want to get done and leveling that playing field?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I would distinguish between civil rights issues, voting rights issues – you know, some of the – the core legal protections that came about in 1964. You know, in those areas it’s true that we’ve had some opinions, the most prominent one being the case where the Roberts court struck down a key segment of the Voting Rights Act, where we just have to try a whole range of approaches to make up for those decisions. So I will be working with people like John Lewis in reaching out to both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to see if Congress is prepared to amend the Voting Rights Act to ensure that people are not being prevented from voting. 

    But Congress doesn’t move real quickly around here, and if we can go ahead and move administratively so that our attorney general can go ahead in jurisdictions that seem to be intent on preventing people from voting and that have a racial element to it, even though largely it’s probably for partisan reasons, then we need to go ahead and – and enforce the law. And the Voting rights Act has a number of tools. Section 4, which was struck down, was not the only tool available. So we’re going to do that.

    As I said in the speech, though, the broader set of issues, that have to do with the economy and economic opportunity and the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and the continuing barriers that African Americans and Hispanics and increasingly, you know, working-class whites have in terms of living out the American dream – being able to get a job that pays a decent wage, and having health care, and making sure that their kids can get the education they need to compete – and on those issues it would be very helpful if Congress moved, but once again, we’re not going to wait for Congress.          

    So I want to get early childhood education done because we know that’s the single most important thing we can do to increase upward mobility and opportunity for disadvantaged kids. And if Congress isn’t willing to pass a law, then, you know, I’ll start meeting with mayors, and we’ll start meeting with governors, and we’ll start meeting with, you know, non-for-profits and philanthropies. 

    GWEN IFILL: Including mayors who pass things like “stop and frisk”?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, the – just the fact that a mayor happened to have one policy I disagree with doesn’t mean that I can’t work with him on others. And so we’ll use the convening power of my office to try to move the ball down the field.

    You know, there are some things that we can do on our own. I strongly believe that we should be passing an increase in the minimum wage that hasn’t, as a practical matter, really gone up in a very long time when you factor in inflation. That would make a difference for millions of people around the country. I think that it is important for us to make sure that we’re rebuilding the infrastructure of this nation. We could be putting people back to work right now, increasing the growth of the economy, reducing unemployment. Those things, I need Congress to do.

    But there are other things – for example, we went ahead and are moving forward on something we call ConnectEd that makes sure that every classroom in America is connected to wireless Internet so that new technologies are accessible to every child in this country. And it turns out we can do that without congressional action. So where Congress is unwilling to move, we’ll move. Where it can’t, we can’t.

    But the goal of my speech today, I think, was to just remind all of us that for all the victories that we won over the last 50 years, what you now have is a situation in which all working people, all middle-class families are under strain. And we have increasing inequality in this society, and we’ve got to do something about that. And we can do something about it as long as we keep our eye on the ball.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And let me just pick up on that, because you did tie Dr. King’s vision to your own agenda, and you’ve been able to do – help the country in many ways. We didn’t go into the economic abyss after the financial collapse; Wall Street’s booming. Corporations are making great profits. But as you pointed out today, average wages – the gap between the wealthy and those who are not wealthy has never been bigger than it is today. The wages – especially of African-Americans – haven’t improved. Mr. President, how much does it weigh on you that your policies haven’t made more of a difference in those areas?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it certainly weighs on me. In my first term, essentially, my job was to make sure, as you said, that the economy didn’t just completely collapse. It collapsed, but it didn’t go into a deep depression. And the reason that had to be a top priority was because, if it did, the folks who would have been hurt even worse were those middle-class families and folks trying to get into the middle class, who would have lost even more than they did. And what we were also able to do, at least in my first two years, was to initiate expansions Pell Grant programs, or make sure that we were providing help to cities so that they could hire young people during the summers. But, you know, obviously, an agenda that puts more people back to work has met resistance from the Republicans in Congress, and I recognize that.

    But the – what is both troubling but also, I think, gives me a greater sense of urgency is the fact that this is a trend that’s actually been going on for a couple of decades now. As I mentioned in the speech, you’ve got technology that has reduced manufacturing jobs that used to be a foothold into the middle class, that has reduced things like bank tellers or travel agents that used to provide a good middle-class livelihood, and the new jobs that have been produced don’t pay as much. You’ve got global competition, jobs being shipped overseas.

    All these things reduce the leverage that workers have, and as a consequence, it’s a lot harder for every worker – black, white, Hispanic, Asian – to ask for a raise. And employers know that. And companies are making great profits, but they’re not reinvesting.

    So what we need to do is to go back to that principle that, if you look at our economic history, has always been the case. When we have broad-based growth, when the middle class does well, when people at the bottom have a shot, it turns out that’s good for everybody. It’s good for folks at the top. It’s good for businesses, because now they’ve got consumers who are spending more money.

    And you know, a lot of what I’m going to be talking about over the next several months is specific steps, whether it’s helping keep down the cost of college or helping to do more to spur on the recovery in the housing industry or, as I’ll be talking about probably in the next several weeks, specific tools that we know work, proven practices that we know work to get more ladders of opportunity for people who are poor to be able to succeed.

    GWEN IFILL: Final question, Mr. President. You said in your speech – you talked about the arc of the moral universe, quoting – a moral arc of the universe, quoting Dr. King, and you said it doesn’t bend on its own.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.

    GWEN IFILL: I interviewed Taylor Branch, the civil rights historian, for part of our series on the March on Washington yesterday, and one of the things he said was that you suffer – you are a victim of partisan racial gridlock. That’s the way he put it. And you talked a moment ago about that a little bit. I wonder whether you think that’s true, and if so, what, if anything, the first African-American president can do to break through that kind of motivated gridlock. 

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, I was on stage with President Clinton, and I remember him having a pretty hard time with the Republicans as well. There does be a habit sometimes of just Democratic presidents generally being – efforts being made to delegitimize them in some fashion. And that’s fine because, you know, politics is – is not – is not bean bag, as they used to say – it’s not a noncontact sport. And – and I don’t worry about it personally.

    I do think what – what you’ve seen – and I – I touched on this theme during the speech – I think it has less to do with my – my race, but there is an argument that was made in 1964, 1965 on through the ’80s and ’90s in which those who resisted any change in the status quo, particularly when it came to economic opportunity, made two big arguments. 

    Argument number one was, any efforts by government to help folks who were locked out of opportunity, whether it was minorities or the poor generally, unions, any effort by government to help those folks is bad for the economy. And that became a major argument. And if, in fact, people start thinking the government’s the problem instead of the solution, then what that leaves you is whatever the marketplace does on its own. And what we’ve seen is a marketplace that increasingly produces very unequal results. And it – so it – it disempowers our capacity for common action to do something about poverty, to do something to help middle-class families.

    And I think the second element to that argument that has been made, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly, is that government has hurt middle-class families or hurt white working-class families, because, you know, pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington are just trying to help out minorities or trying to give them something free. 

    And you know, there’s a line that’s drawn between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. And you know, that, I think, has been a fairly explicit politics in this country for some time. And it’s directed at Bill Clinton or Nancy Pelosi just as much as it’s directed at me. I – I think it – it doesn’t have to do with my race in particular; it has to do with an effort to make sure people who might otherwise challenge the existing ways that things work are divided. 

    And so part of what Dr. King talked about, part of what I think we have to get back to is the recognition that, you know the – the working man in Arkansas who happens to be white and the white woman in Philadelphia who wants to work, but is having a tough time finding a job, that they’ve got things in common that, in fact, they can work together. And if they both got kids, we want to make sure both of the – those kids are able to get the training they need and go to college and succeed in this – in this economy.

    And there are certain things that only government can do to get there, like rebuilding our roads and our bridges and putting people back to work, you know, creating the kind of energy that will allow our economy to succeed in the future. And so I’m less concerned about the short-term politics and tactics that you kind of see and get debated a lot on cable television, and I’m much more interested in figuring out how do we create common cause for the overwhelming majority of Americans who are decent, hardworking, I think just want to do right by their kids and their families and their communities. They’ve lost trust in the capacity of government to help them even though they’re hurting. Are there things we can do to bring about that kind of coalition of – of conscience, as I said? And I think there are. I’m an eternal optimist.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you, Mr. President. It’s good to have you with us on the NewsHour.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: It was wonderful to be here.

    GWEN IFILL: Thank you, Mr. President.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.


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    GWEN IFILL: Now to the highlights of a remarkable day in Washington.

    Ray Suarez has that story.

    RAY SUAREZ: It was August 28, 1963, and more than 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall and listened raptly to Dr. Martin Luther King's historic appeal.

    MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., civil rights leader: Because I have a dream today.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    RAY SUAREZ: Today, thousands gathered again at the Lincoln Memorial, standing for hours through a light rain to commemorate the anniversary. The atmosphere and music were at times festive and at times solemn, as with a rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind" that included the parents of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

    (MUSIC)

    RAY SUAREZ: Scores of speakers honored King's legacy and sought to expand it to new groups and new times.

    Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas said Latinos, too, look to the struggles of black Americans as a model.

    REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO, D-Tex.: As somebody of a younger generation of Americans, I want to promise you that all of the struggles and all of the fights and all of the work and all of the years that you put in to making our country a better place, to helping our leaders understand that freedom and democracy are prerequisites to opportunity, I want you to know that this generation of Americans will not let that dream go.

    RAY SUAREZ: Women played a key role in organizing the original march, though none were featured speakers. Today's program included a number of women. Activist and journalist Myrlie Evers-Williams, the wife of assassinated civil rights activist Medgar Evers emphasized unity of purpose.

    MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS, civil rights leader: The movement can no longer afford an individual approach to justice. Ours is an interconnected struggle, black, white, male, female, young, old, everyone. We are all entitled to and protected by this country that we call home.

    RAY SUAREZ: President John F. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, called for today's Americans to build on their parents achievements. Her father was president at the time of the 1963 march.

    CAROLINE KENNEDY, daughter of President John F. Kennedy: Fifty years ago, our parents and grandparents marched for jobs and freedom. We have suffered and sacrificed too much to let their dream become a memory.

    RAY SUAREZ: Dr. King's daughter, the Reverend Bernice King, was an infant in 1963. Today, she spoke as head of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

    REV. BERNICE KING, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.: For there's a remnant from 1963, Congressman Lewis, Ambassador Young, that still remains, who has come to bequeath that message of freedom to a new generation of people who must now carry that message in their time, in their communities, amongst their tribes, and amongst their nations of the world.

    RAY SUAREZ: Georgia Congressman John Lewis was the youngest person to address the crowd in 1963. He's now 73 years old and the only living speaker from that day. He reflected on the changes he's seen.

    REP. JOHN LEWIS, D-Ga.: Fifty years later, we can ride anywhere we want to ride. We can stay where we want to stay. Those signs that said white and colored are gone.

    But there are still invisible signs, barriers in the hearts of humankind that form a gulf between us. Too many of us still believe our differences define us, instead of the divine spark that runs through all of human creation.

    RAY SUAREZ: Another Georgian, former President Jimmy Carter, warned of new barriers in the forms of assaults on voting rights.

    JIMMY CARTER, former president of the United States: I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to new the I.D. requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African-Americans.

    I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the voters rights act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress.

    RAY SUAREZ: Former President Bill Clinton urged Americans to put aside political and racial divisions as they look to the future.

    BILL CLINTON, former President of the United States: The choice remains as it was on that distant summer day 50 years ago, cooperate and thrive, or fight with each other and fall behind.

    We should all thank God for Dr. King and John Lewis and all those who gave us a dream to guide us, a dream they paid for, like our founders, with their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor. And we thank them for reminding us that America is always becoming, always on a journey. And we all, every single citizen among us, have to run our lap.

    RAY SUAREZ: A third former president, George W. Bush, was unable to attend today, as he recovers from a recent heart procedure. Instead, he issued a statement saying: "There's still a need for every American to help hasten the day when Dr. King's vision is made real in every community, when what truly matters is not the color of a person's skin, but the content of their character."

    The moment that Dr. King delivered his famous address 50 years ago, with the appeal to let freedom ring, was marked by a bell-ringing ceremony. That set the stage for the first African-American president, who said the struggle for economic opportunity remains the nation's great unfinished business, but he voiced hope.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There's a reason why so many who marched that day and in the days to come were young, for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is.

    They dared to dream differently, to imagine something better. And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose stirs in this generation. We might not face the same dangers of 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains. We may never duplicate the swelling crowds and dazzling procession of that day so long ago. No one can match King's brilliance, but the same flame that lit the heart of all who are willing to take a first step for justice, I know that flame remains.

    RAY SUAREZ: The president called for Americans of all backgrounds to take up that flame, instead of waiting for the national government to lead the way.

    BARACK OBAMA: Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day, that change does not come from Washington, but to Washington, that change has always been built on our willingness, we, the people, to take on the mantle of citizenship, you are marching.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    BARACK OBAMA: And that's the lesson of our past. That's the promise of tomorrow, that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

    And when millions of Americans of every race and every region, every faith and every station can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low and those rough places will be made plain, and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much, and live up to the true meaning of our creed, as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    RAY SUAREZ: The sound of bells reached far beyond Washington as well today. Nationwide, there were ceremonies at more than 300 churches, schools and historical sites. Commemorations were also held around the world.

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to the question of Syria.

    Jeffrey Brown leads a discussion over options for the Obama administration.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The question: How should the U.S. respond to Syria's alleged chemical weapons attack? We discuss that with Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya news channel. And John Mearsheimer is a professor at the University of Chicago and has written extensively on strategic issues.

    Welcome to all of you.

    Ivo Daalder, I will start with you.

    Given the options being discussed now, what do you think the U.S. should do?

    IVO DAALDER, Chicago Council on Global Affairs: Well, I think the president sort of laid it out in the interview that we just saw.

    We clearly have a case in which chemical weapons were used. I think the evidence that the administration has collected and needs to present to the American public and indeed to the world demonstrating that this was a use of chemical weapons by the regime suggests that standing still and not doing anything really isn't an option.

    I think we need to respond with a punitive strike to send a message to the regime that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Clearly, a fundamental norm in which the use of chemical weapons effectively has been band by the Geneva protocol since 1925.

    Syria is a signatory to this protocol. That norm needs to be reestablished by demonstrating that this is not acceptable behavior and also warning the regime not to do this again.

    JEFFREY BROWN: John Mearsheimer, a limited, punitive strike?

    JOHN MEARSHEIMER, University of Chicago: No, I disagree almost completely with what Ivo said.

    I think that the United States has no strategic interest in this particular case. Our core strategic interests are not at stake. There's no compelling moral case for intervening in Syria. And, very importantly, it's not clear that using military force is going to do any good.

    When President Obama was asked what this strike is likely to accomplish, he basically had no good answer to that question. So my bottom line is that the United States should work diplomatically to try and settle this war, but it should stay out militarily, to include a limited strike with cruise missiles.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Hisham Melhem, you have argued that a limited strike might not be enough.

    HISHAM MELHEM, Al-Arabiya Television: A limited strike, a punitive strike that will keep Bashar al-Assad in government, maybe teetering a little bit, a strike without a broader strategy for the region, might embolden him, might embolden Iran and the other states in the region who are not friendly with the United States.

    It will demoralize the opposition, the pro-American opposition. It will please the Iranians. So, essentially, the president is saying this is designed to punish, deter, not to bring a change of government in Syria. At the same time, he's telling him there will be Geneva, too. So, in that sense, the administration is reassuring him that this is going to be a slap, but it's not going to be deadly.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, you think more than a slap is required at this point?

    HISHAM MELHEM: The problem is, I see a huge downside to just a punitive action, without a longer, you know, broader strategy, because this is not going to solve anything.

    And this will prolong the conflict. And I do believe that there are humanitarian reasons to intervene. But if you want to put the humanitarian reasons aside, if you are not interested in 23 million Syrians and if you say correctly that there are no strategic interests for the United States in Syria, there are definitely strategic interests for the United States in the stability of the five states around Syria that are very crucial for the United States.

    Four of them have been historically friends of the United States, Turkey, a NATO ally, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. Lebanon is the most brittle one among them. Iraq historically is not friendly, but Iraq in the last ten years, we spent a huge amount of blood and treasure. And all of these countries are being affected negatively. And you don't want Syria to turn into another Afghanistan on the Eastern Mediterranean.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, so, Ivo Daalder, a number of issues on the table, especially when it comes to a limited strike, the legality, the effectiveness and the interests for the U.S.

    IVO DAALDER: Well, in terms of the legality, the U.N. Security Council will discuss a resolution that Britain has put on the table. I expect that Russia will again veto that resolution.

    When it comes to the use of force in these kinds of circumstances, when it is about the internal behavior of states, there is such a thing as the responsibility that sovereign states have. They have a responsibility to behave in certain ways. And when they fail to do so, and particularly when there are strategic consequences, like the use of weapons of mass destruction and the regional implications that Hisham talked about, then if a coalition of states, a large coalition of states...

    (CROSSTALK)

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, define -- that's what I want to -- define that, because if the Arab League doesn't give the go-ahead, if the Russians...

    IVO DAALDER: Oh, the Arab -- so let's take the Arab League.

    Interestingly enough, they did meet -- a large, very diverse group of countries -- condemned thoroughly the use of chemical weapons, didn't say that there shouldn't be any intervention, left that up to others.

    NATO has just issued a very strong statement by the secretary-general that this kind of behavior cannot be -- go unanswered. And I think the international community writ large, large numbers of nations, are standing up and saying this is the kind of behavior that, while everything else that has gone on has been unacceptable, when it comes to the use of chemical weapons, when people are being gassed in this way, which we haven't seen in over a quarter-of-a-century, something needs to be done, and a strike like this is the appropriate response.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, John Mearsheimer, why isn't that enough, if you have nations of the world coming together to say this isn't right, that chemical weapons are somehow different, as we heard the president say?

    JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, first of all, you don't have nations of the world coming together.

    The Arab League has not sanctioned an attack. You can't get Security Council approval. The Russians and the Chinese will veto it. And, in fact, if we do go to war, it will not be a legal war. This is why President Obama talked about norms ad nauseam in his comments and didn't talk about international law, because he knows he can't do this legally.

    But the fact is that the United States has no vested interest in what is going on in Syria. This is not a strategically important country. It's deeply regrettable that people are being killed. It's deeply regrettable that's there's a civil war going on, but it's not the United States' responsibility to get into the middle of it, because every time we do this, we end up in a situation like Afghanistan, a situation like Iraq.

    We take a situation that's bad and we just make it worse. The idea that we have some magic formula that can fix these problems is simply not the case. And the historical record is very clear on this. So my bottom line is, stay out militarily, and do everything that we can to shut it down diplomatically.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Hisham?

    HISHAM MELHEM: We left Afghanistan after the Soviet Union left, right, and we left it to its own devices, and then what happened? The Taliban took over.

    And then you had a refuge place for al-Qaida. And then al-Qaida visited us in New York.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, that's how you define the U.S. responsibility to do something?

    HISHAM MELHEM: Absolutely. Absolutely. You don't know want Syria to become the place where, in the case -- when you have something similar to a soft partition, when these jihadi Islamists establish themselves in the Eastern Mediterranean, close to Southern Europe.

    They have almost a million refugees. Lebanon could snap at any moment. Turkey, a NATO ally, is having serious problems. And then you have Iraq under tremendous pressure from Iran to allow volunteers to go and fight there. So, Syria is going to be the Spain of the Arab world. From 1936 to 1939, all European countries fought on Spanish soil.

    Now what you're having here is a civil war. And the president talks about a civil war in the context of a growing Sunni-Shia divide. And I know we cannot solve this, but there are strategic interests for the United States in the Eastern Mediterranean, and they are going to be negatively affected.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Ivo Daalder, it goes to Gwen's question to the president of the preparation for -- or the awareness of the consequences of the Arab spring. Where -- what's the scenario now, or even a worst-case scenario, given what's happening in Syria?

    IVO DAALDER: Well, I mean, clearly, we do have strategic interests in what happens.

    The question is, are those large enough for to us have a major military intervention of the kind that we had in Iraq and Afghanistan? And I think the president rightly has concluded that our engagement in this way is not necessarily going to help the situation on the ground, and we shouldn't be engaged in that kind of turmoil.

    And turmoil, there will be, and there will be in this region for a whole variety of regions -- reasons. But when one regime uses chemical weapons, the kinds of weapons that weren't used in World War II because of the horror of their use in World War I, then -- and we can punish -- through punishing strikes, do something about that, in order also to send the message don't do it again, then I think it is incumbent on the president and those who support him, as NATO has done -- by the way, NATO as a -- Turkey is a NATO ally, a neighboring part of the alliance.

    The Arab League didn't say, don't do it. They condemned the use of chemical weapons. Then, having a punishing strike of the kind that the president talked about is the right thing to do at this point in time.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, John Mearsheimer, is there any scenario in which either in Syria or a larger eruption in the region as we're talking about in which you could see a stronger U.S. responsibility, a stronger interest?

    JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Not at this point in time.

    But I would like to point out that all of this discourse about chemical weapons being so special is, I think, wrong. I think it's, again, regrettable that chemical weapons have been used. But chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction, like nuclear weapons are. The reason that chemical weapons were not used in World War II wasn't because someone like Adolf Hitler was above using them for moral reasons.

    They weren't used because they have very little military utility. Anybody who has been in the Army knows that chemical weapons just don't buy you much on the battlefield. And, in fact, the United States used nuclear weapons in World War II. So the norms could not have been very powerful in that war.

    And what we have here in Syria is a case where it appears that about 1,000 people were killed by chemical weapons. But I would estimate that roughly 40,000 people have been killed by conventional weapons before these thousand people were regrettably killed by chemical weapons.

    I ask you, what's the difference between killing somebody with shrapnel or bullets vs. killing them with chemical weapons? I don't see any meaningful difference. If we're so concerned about the fact that people have been killed, we should have intervened a long time ago in Syria. And, of course, we didn't because we don't want to get in the middle of this situation because we have no way to fix it.

    And the idea that chemical weapons have suddenly changed the nature of the game and therefore we should get involved now, I think, is a specious argument.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we're going to have to leave that question. And this debate will, of course, continue.

    John Mearsheimer, Ivo Daalder, Hisham Melhem, thank you, all three.

     


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    In an interview with the PBS NewsHour, President Barack Obama said he will act to ensure voting rights in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to invalidate key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

    President Barack Obama said while he intends to work with Congress to amend the Voting Rights Act, he intends to take steps within his administration to ensure voting rights for all Americans, if lawmakers don't move quickly.

    The president spoke with PBS NewsHour senior correspondents Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill in the Blue Room at the White House, after delivering the final speech at the 50th anniversary celebration for the March on Washington.

    "I will be working with people like John Lewis in reaching out to both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to see if Congress is prepared to amend the Voting Rights Act to ensure that people are not being prevented from voting," the president said.

    "But Congress doesn't move real quickly around here, and if we can go ahead and move administratively so that our attorney general can go ahead in jurisdictions that seem to be intent on preventing people from voting and that have a racial element to it, even though largely it's probably for partisan reasons, then we need to go ahead and - and enforce the law. And the Voting rights Act has a number of tools. Section 4, which was struck down, was not the only tool available."

    Find the transcript of the entire interview with President Barack Obama here.

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    KWAME HOLMAN: A military jury at Fort Hood, Tex., today sentenced Army Major Nidal Hasan to death for killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 in a 2009 attack. He could become the first American soldier to be executed since 1961.

    The American-born Muslim has said he acted to protect Islamic insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. He represented himself at his court-martial, but offered no defense.

    The New York City Police Department is facing new questions about its surveillance of Muslims. The Associated Press reported today that, since 9/11, the department has labeled at least a dozen mosques as terrorist organizations. The tactic allowed officers to spy on imams, investigate worshipers, and plant undercover officers in those organizations, often without direct evidence of wrongdoing.

    In Iraq, coordinated car bombings in Baghdad killed at least 70 people and wounded some 200. The charred wreckage of cars and buildings littered streets. The Iraqi capital and other cities have suffered a surge of attacks since April, with more than 500 people killed this month alone.

    Iran has boosted its ability to enrich weapons-grade uranium, but delayed starting up a new nuclear reactor. The International Atomic Energy Agency detailed those findings today. Its quarterly report said Iran now has 1,008 centrifuges that can spin uranium gas into high-grade nuclear material for reactors or warheads. At the same time, Iran said a new reactor will not be ready to begin operating in early 2014 after all.

    More moisture in the air helped firefighters in California today in their battle against a huge wildfire on the edge of Yosemite National Park. The blaze has consumed nearly 300 square miles of densely forested terrain in the Sierra Nevada mountain range almost two -- for over almost two weeks. Crews now have managed to extend containment lines around about one-quarter of the fire's perimeter.

    Brokerage giant Merrill Lynch has agreed to the largest settlement ever in a racial discrimination case. Lawyers for some 1,200 black financial advisers said today the payout would be $160 million. They have alleged a pattern of bias that resulted in their clients earning less money than white employees. The company declined to confirm any details.

    Wall Street made up a little of this week's losses today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 40 points to close at 14,824. The Nasdaq rose nearly 15 points to close at 3,593.

    Those are some of the day's major stories.


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    President Barack Obama sat down with Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff Wednesday at the White House. On the subject of Syria, the president stressed he has "no interest" in "any kind of open-ended conflict" there, but he said that countries that use chemical weapons must be held accountable. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

    The Morning Line

    President Barack Obama may not have made a decision on how to respond to Syria's use of chemical weapons, but he clearly is outlining a case for action.

    The president told the PBS NewsHour in an exclusive 27-minute interview Wednesday that there is a need for "international consequences" if everything officials suspect about what has happened in Syria under the Assad regime is true.

    Speaking with Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff in the Blue Room, Mr. Obama got at the heart of why the United States is accelerating its push for action:

    ...[W]hen you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they're allied to known terrorist organizations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen.

    As the interview concluded, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent the president a letter urging him to clearly define a mission in Syria. As Politico notes, that request could be the opening salvo in "what's sure to be a turf battle between Congress and the White House over military intervention in the country."

    Gwen and Judy spoke with Mr. Obama just after he concluded a speech at the Lincoln Memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In addition to talking about tensions with Syria and his administration's broader approach to the region, the president reflected on economic equality and how race may have affected his ability to implement his agenda.

    Gwen presented the president with a recent assessment civil rights historian Taylor Branch made in his own interview with the NewsHour. Branch said Mr. Obama is a victim of partisan racial gridlock.

    But the president disagreed, saying the gridlock is connected to longstanding political views that helping those Americans who lack opportunities is bad for the economy. He added that he doesn't take it personally.

    "There's a line that's drawn between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. And you know, that, I think, has been a fairly explicit politics in this country for some time."

    Mr. Obama used the question to talk about his drive for infrastructure improvements that can help boost low-income and middle-class Americans. From his response:

    I do think what, what you've seen, and I, I touched on this theme during the speech, I think it has less to do with ... my race, but there is an argument that was made in 1964, 1965 on through the '80s and '90s in which those who resisted any change in the status quo, particularly when it came to economic opportunity, made two big arguments.

    Argument number one was, any efforts by government to help folks who were locked out of opportunity, whether it was minorities or the poor generally, unions, any effort by government to help those folks is bad for the economy. And that became a major argument. And if, in fact, people start thinking the government's the problem instead of the solution, then what that leaves you is whatever the marketplace does on its own. And what we've seen is a marketplace that increasingly produces very unequal results. And it ... disempowers our capacity for common action to do something about poverty, to do something to help middle-class families.

    And I think the second element to that argument that has been made, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly, is that government has hurt middle-class families or hurt white working-class families, because, you know, pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington are just trying to help out minorities or trying to give them something free.

    And you know, there's a line that's drawn between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. And you know, that, I think, has been a fairly explicit politics in this country for some time. And it's directed at Bill Clinton or Nancy Pelosi just as much as it's directed at me. I -- I think it -- it doesn't have to do with my race in particular; it has to do with an effort to make sure people who might otherwise challenge the existing ways that things work are divided.

    And so part of what Dr. King talked about, part of what I think we have to get back to is the recognition that, you know the -- the working man in Arkansas who happens to be white and the white woman in Philadelphia who wants to work, but is having a tough time finding a job, that they've got things in common that, in fact, they can work together. And if they both got kids, we want to make sure both of the -- those kids are able to get the training they need and go to college and succeed in this -- in this economy.

    Watch the interview in full here or below:

    Watch Video

    Or read the transcript.

    Earlier at the Lincoln Memorial, Mr. Obama delivered a fiery speech to outline how he has seen King's dream both realized and become "even more elusive." Economic opportunity is the key to a better future for everyone.

    "[A]s we mark this anniversary, we must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched fifty years ago was not merely how many blacks could join the ranks of millionaires," he said. "It was whether this country would admit all people who were willing to work hard, regardless of race, into the ranks of a middle-class life. The test was not and never has been whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many -- the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran."

    "To win that battle, to answer that call -- this remains our great unfinished business."

    As we noted Wednesday, the president has long been using King's "fierce urgency of now" phrase to make political points. He did that Wednesday before the massive crowd in drizzly Washington.

    Mr. Obama said marchers 50 years ago "dared to dream differently, to imagine something better."

    "And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose, stirs in this generation. We might not face the same dangers of 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains," he said. "We may never duplicate the swelling crowds and dazzling procession of that day so long ago -- but the same flame can light the heart of all who are willing to take a first step towards justice."

    Watch the president's speech here or below:

    See other speeches from the Let Freedom Ring ceremony here, and check out our full menu of March on Washington coverage.

    Editor's note: The Morning Line will be back Tuesday, Sept. 3. Until Congress returns, we're only publishing once a week. Visit our home page for news and show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

    LINE ITEMS

    The New York Times details what may happen as a handful of Senate Republicans head to the White House Thursday to talk about a bigger fix for the nation's fiscal woes.

    The Washington Post explains why "[n]ot a single Republican elected official stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday with activists, actors, lawmakers and former presidents." Organizers invited "top Republicans" but they all declined for scheduling or health reasons.

    Sandhya Somashekhar ticks off the Republican-led states "at the forefront of the campaign to undermine" the president's health care law, and moves that could impede his signature domestic accomplishment.

    San Diego residents will vote Nov. 19 for a new mayor.

    The Washington Post's Ben Pershing examined Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli's legal career.

    Ezra Klein wonders about racial progress, and uses some charts to respond to the president's March on Washington speech.

    The president's impending decision about a new chairman of the Fed spotlights the number of high-level women serving in his administration.

    Politico compiled a slideshow of historic photographs from the March on Washington

    Newark Mayor and New Jersey Democratic Senate nominee Cory Booker told the Washington Post he doesn't mind when people wonder if he's gay, because "so what does it matter" if he is. His GOP rival, Steve Lonegan, called the remarks "strange" and declared, "As a guy, I personally like being a guy."

    And Lonegan gets a New York Times profile.

    Nathan Gonzales takes a look at misbehaving political spouses.

    Non-voting D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is totally into ultimate frisbee.

    Christina is guest-hosting for Kojo Nnamdi on WAMU 88.5 Thursday. Tune in from noon-2 p.m.

    NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

    Join us on Twitter Thursday for a chat about our governing series. Is Washington capable of solving the nation's challenges?

    If you plan on getting old, do it in one of these 10 cities.

    Rebecca Jacobson demystifies panda pregnancies for Science Wednesday.

    We fielded a debate between Hisham Melham of Al Arabiya, Ivo Daalder of Chicago Council on Global Affairs and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago about whether military action in Syria is a good idea. Watch:

    Watch Video

    TOP TWEETS

    Colorado recall elections becoming referendum on guns as Bloomberg, NRA pour in big bucks -- http://t.co/NYqMi1f29z

    — Reid Wilson (@PostReid) August 28, 2013

    FLASHBACK: 8 years ago today, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast--worst natural disaster in US history.

    — PETER MAER (@petermaercbs) August 29, 2013

    Happy Birthday to my fabulous husband @SenJohnMcCain. Enjoy your day!!

    — Cindy McCain (@cindymccain) August 29, 2013

    Kudos to @judyWoodruff@GwenIfill@NewsHour smart and timely interview with Obama tonight makes lot of news

    — Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) August 29, 2013

    Obama says "politics is not beanbag." I've heard that 1,000 times and I still don't know what that means.

    — Rick Klein (@rickklein) August 28, 2013

    This was the official program for the March on Washington. pic.twitter.com/TDh9i00D1V

    — Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) August 28, 2013

    In FBI file on my Dad, a WaPo reporter, after he wrote critically of its MLK wiretaps: "The director noted: 'Harwood is certainly a rat.' "

    — John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) August 28, 2013

    Pope Francis poses for a 'selfie' at the Vatican: http://t.co/dti4bMzhOa

    — TODAY (@todayshow) August 29, 2013

    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

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    Firing Back A Free Syrian Army fighter fires at a Syrian Army base in Damascus on Feb. 3, 2013. Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters.

    Syrian government forces and rebels have been locked in battle since March 2011. By the end of August 2013, more than 100,000 people had died in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

    A reported chemical attack in the Damascus area in August -- just days after U.N. inspectors arrived -- outraged the international community. The White House is weighing military action and conferring with its Western allies on a coordinated response.

    View the latest developments in Reuters' live-blog:

    Related Resources

    Aug. 28: President Obama: Countries that Use Chemical Weapons Must be Held Accountable

    Aug. 26: U.S. Action on Syria Might Send Message to Other Nations, Reinforce Taboo

    Aug. 23: Children Made Refugees by the Syrian War at Risk of Becoming 'Lost Generation'

    Timeline: Arab Spring analysis from the PBS NewsHour

    View all of our Syria coverage in the above YouTube playlist.

    Follow @NewsHourWorld

    Support Your Local PBS Station


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