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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, tonight joining us from Yale University in Connecticut.

    Gentlemen, welcome to the program.

    David, to you first. Has the Obama administration made a compelling case for going into Syria?

    DAVID BROOKS: Not public. But I do think they have a compelling case.

    You know, we have an international system here. We all profit from it. Trade profits from it. Peace. We can travel around the world because of it. And part of that system is certain ideas, the certain ideas you can't invade other countries for no reason. You can't commit genocide. You can't -- rogue regimes can't have nuclear weapons, and you can't gas your own people.

    And so if we ignore those basic standards, then our international system basically begins to erode. And I think what he's doing is probably the least bad options. They're all pretty terrible. But if we armed the militia, those -- the opposition, that might have been a good idea a couple of years ago, but they're too rabid now for us to be arming.

    If we have a no-fly zone, that would just invite -- look -- make us look weak. So, I think what the president is trying to do is basically, one, establish the norm that you can't gas your own people, two, try to change the cost-benefit analysis, make it more costly to gas your own people, and, finally, just to establish the idea that we will strike out and try to change your calculus.

    There are certainly dangers down the road, but I think the loss of the credibility, as we try to face Iran and other countries, would be more immediate and more realizable, and, therefore, he more or less has to do what he's doing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how do you see it? Has he made -- has the administration, has the president made the case?

    MARK SHIELDS: I don't think so, Judy.

    I think the president, and particularly the secretary of state, John Kerry, today made a very strong case about what has been done is abhorrent. It is unacceptable. It does -- it cannot go unnoted and unpunished. But, at the same time, I don't think there's a case been made as to what we will do, other than to punish in some way the Syrian regime for doing it, and to make ourselves feel better.

    I mean, I don't -- I don't see that -- there's no regime change. There's no U.S. troops or coalition troops. There's no coalition troops. It's to be short and over. And I think, as General Anthony Zinni said, you can't be a little bit pregnant. I mean, you can't -- one and done -- that is you, you go in and you send in the missiles and you feel better, and you have put some damage and some hurt upon the other side -- but it is not a long-term solution.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David, what about that, this argument that, yes, the United States can go in, make a point, punish Assad, the Assad regime, but not really change anything on the ground?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don't know if -- as awful as that regime is, I'm not sure we necessarily want to topple it, given the alternatives, which is anarchy.

    The second thing is, they're decision-makers, so you're trying to change their calculus. If you raise the cost of doing what they're doing, there's a chance they won't do it again. That does happen, and it has happened many times in world history, that you raise the cost, they don't do it again.

    Now, there is a chance that they will do it again, and then we will have to make another call. Do we want to escalate? And that's clearly a danger. But I do think the idea, if the U.S. says something about weapons of mass destruction, about whether it's in Iran or in Syria, and we do nothing, then the entire nonproliferation regime, which the U.S. has basically been leading for the past 70 or 80 years, that begins to fray badly, and the costs down the road are much worse.

    So raise the costs for Assad, and then see what happens.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Mark?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I'm just not sure, Judy, how the costs are being raised.

    I mean, by simply hitting him with missiles one time, twice -- what's been emphasized over and over again is how short this is going to be. It's not open-ended. It's very brief. I just don't understand. You know, we have gone through this. What the president is fighting is exactly what Prime Minister Cameron is fighting.

    And that is, it's the legacy, the poisoning of the well from Iraq. And it's only 11 years ago this very week that the vice president of the United States said, I can assure you they have weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein is going to use them against us, against our allies, and against our friends.

    So, I mean, there's a skepticism about the military effectiveness, about what happens, whether it can be limited, and what it does achieve. I don't think anybody could argue that Iraq and Afghanistan are substantially better off after all the American sacrifice, and all the American treasure, and I think you may be able to make the same case for Libya.

    So I think there is a big burden of proof for the president to make in this case.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David, is that the burden you see for the president? Is that what he's got to do in the next few days, or however long it is, before they do something?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, if people want to take a time machine back to 2003 and have those debates again, that's fine. But that's not what we're dealing with here.

    This is a pretty clear case, I think. Now -- now, having said that, I think the president and probably all Americans are chastened by how much good and how much we can possibly affect the Middle East. And, clearly, that's the story of the Afghan surge. That's the story of Iraq. We are keenly aware of how much good can be done, how much we can change a region which is devolving into a series of sectarian wars.

    And so we're not going to go in there and get in the middle of that. Nonetheless, I do think we can put some parameters on the wars by at least outlawing certain sorts of weapons. Now, he's going to be perfectly free to shoot as many people as he wants, I guess.

    But we can do that. The second thing we can do -- and I think this is even more crucial -- is put some walls around Syria. What is happening in Syria is spilling over into Iraq. It is spilling over into Lebanon. It's turning into a regional proxy war. And if we can tamp that down a little, we will have done some good.

    The probable reality is this thing is just going to have to burn itself out, and there's probably not much we can do about it. And we shouldn't get in the middle of it. But if we can try to put some limits on it, that's at least some positive, small good.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, on top of that, both the president and Secretary Kerry are saying it's in the U.S. national interest to do this, that the U.S. doesn't want chemical weapons turned around and used on us.

    MARK SHIELDS: We don't want chemical weapons in the world. We don't. I mean, since World War I, there has been a consensus on this.

    David can talk about 2003, but, Judy, the American people are not in support of this. They are not informed on it. It is the responsibility of leadership to make that case. Eighty percent of Americans in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll today said they want the president to go to the Congress on this. And so...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think that that's a mistake, not to go to Congress?

    MARK SHIELDS: I certainly do. I mean, the Congress is no day at the beach. Let's get that straight.

    From the 5th of August until the 1st of October, they will be in session nine days. At the very least, I thought -- I thought Speaker Boehner raised legitimate questions that former Speaker Pelosi endorsed in the -- in his letter to the president. But I think this is a debate, and I think they -- that Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid ought to call back, say, folks, this is the end of the town meetings. Let's come back.

    This is an important national decision, and it ought to be debated openly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how do you see the question of whether they should go to Congress and public opinion?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, we have been violating the Constitution on this for my entire adult life.

    The presidents of both parties have been pretty much violating the Constitution and going to war. Now, I guess the War Powers Act, as Eliot Engel said earlier in the program, gives you 60 days. But this has been trample ever since I have been covering politics. And that's for a practical reason, that if we really did rely on Congress for all these things, nothing would ever get done.

    And that would be the case in actions one supports and actions one doesn't support. So that's why we have fallen to this -- back to this ugly de facto program. I would say, also, that if we are in a period of permanent withdrawal from the Middle East, we will have what has happened over the last really year in the Middle East, which is the devolution from the Arab spring to the Arab winter.

    In retrospect -- and I wasn't a big champion of this at the time, but John McCain and Lindsey Graham had a point early on in this program -- or in this -- the progress of the civil war, that if we had been a little more interventionist back when the opposition was a little more moderate, a little bit more controllable, that would have been a good time to act.

    And so the idea that by not acting things are always going in our direction is refuted by the facts of the past couple years.


    MARK SHIELDS: I hate to say it. David's wrong.

    And I know David is young, but he was alive in 1991. If you wanted to see a consensus forged, if you wanted to see a debate held, George Herbert Walker Bush was president of the United States. Jim Baker was secretary of state. And they debated going into drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, where he had invaded, back to Baghdad.

    It won the support of 31 nations. It won the support of a Democratic Congress. It won the support of the United Nations, and it won support of the American people overwhelmingly. And that -- that is the way to do it. And just because presidents have tried to short-circuit it from Grenada to Iraq now to Syria since, if anything, that's a modern -- a model for failure, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Should -- I mean, David...

    DAVID BROOKS: I would say, I would be in favor of going to the Congress. I do agree with that.

    I have no problem with that, and I think this case is actually kind of similar to the Iraq war of 1991, in that it was a clear violation of international norms. I'm not sure I would want to wait for the whole process to play out before we did anything. And the War Powers Act allows for this, because that really does look like it delays our reaction so distantly from the atrocity.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But what about Mark's point about having a -- more of a coalition, having more countries?

    I mean, Great Britain is now not going to be on board. A number of other countries have said they won't join in. How much does it matter that there aren't going to be many allies, and certainly there won't be -- at least, apparently, there won't be a U.N. signing off on this?

    DAVID BROOKS: Militarily, it doesn't matter at all. I mean, you can find some British and French sailors and stick them on the thing, but they don't really add much. These are American forces that only have the capacity to do this.

    As for international legitimacy, listen, gassing your own people is not a close call, as far as I'm concerned. That demands a response. I thought that was pretty much settled since World War I. The fact that other countries don't want to sign on -- and, by the way, a lot do want to sign on, do support the idea -- that -- that doesn't seem morally problematic when you have got the atrocity in a case this clear.

    To me, the tough call -- and I agree with Mark on this -- the tough call is not whether something -- some gross violation of international law was done. The tough call is whether what we do, lobbing a few cruise missiles, will do any good. And I'm certainly persuadable that it will do no good and lead to harm.

    But the idea that we should do nothing, that it's not been -- international law has not been grossly violated, that to me is a debate that is pretty clear.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He's arguing that what happened is so horrible, that even if these measures don't change everything...


    MARK SHIELDS: What was done is abhorrent. It's unacceptable, Judy.

    My point is, is this the practical response? I mean, in other words, David appears to be saying there are other countries that want to hold our coat. There's none that want to get involved. We're with you, but don't tell anybody we're on your side, basically, or we're not going to go public with our support, because it's going to affect our own domestic population.

    No, Judy, I think it is -- it is -- it does cry to heaven for vengeance, but I want to do this in a way that does in fact make sense for the United States and makes sense for this position, because the position that chemical weapons are unacceptable and intolerable is not, I don't think, validated or vindicated by just a one and done, by going in and throwing some missiles at them, which are significant weaponry, but, at the same time, it's over, and if that ends up emboldening the regime, saying, look, we withstood the West, we have withstood the United States.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen.

    DAVID BROOKS: But, Mark, do you think we should do more?

    OK. Sorry.


    MARK SHIELDS: Do I think -- I think the president has a responsibility to make the case, David, on what he wants to -- what he intends to do, what his objective is, beyond just getting by this sense of we have to do something.

    And I don't -- I don't get that, at least from the debate thus far. And I really think the first step is to go to the Congress. And going, doing the War Powers Act, employing the War Powers Act, acting, and then going to Congress, I think, is the worst of all possible worlds.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear you both.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: Firefighters in California reported more progress today in the two-week battle against a huge wildfire near Yosemite National Park.

    A NewsHour team has been covering one of their top priorities: protecting an ancient grove of giant sequoias in the park.

    Kwame Holman narrates this report.

    MAN: Well, we're almost to the big tree.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Even as wildfires raged miles away on the other end of Yosemite, a steady stream of visitors this week hiked up a scenic trail to see one of the park's biggest attractions, the giant sequoias.

    These massive trees, which are unique to California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, are among the oldest living organisms on Earth. The grandest in Yosemite's Mariposa Grove is the so-called Grizzly Giant, estimated to be 1,800 years old, and it's no stranger to fire.

    Many sequoias here bear huge black scars from natural wildfires that have burned through these forests for thousands of years. But now an unprecedented fire, the largest in Sierra history, is threatening two of Yosemite's three giant sequoia groves.

    The Rim fire, which has consumed more than 300 square miles since it began on August 17, is burning near the Tuolumne and Merced groves on the western boundary of the park. More than 4,000 firefighters from around the country have been battling the intense blaze. Many work out of the incident command center near the fire's front lines just outside Yosemite.

    It's a sprawling temporary city where crews can get grub and rest between shifts. And this is where officials have been closely monitoring the fire's advance toward the sequoias.

    TOM MEDEMA, National Park Service: The fire is still about five miles away from the groves. It's getting a little bit closer every day.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Tom Medema speaks about the fire for the National Park Service, which has taken steps to try to protect the trees.

    TOM MEDEMA: We have done work there setting out sprinklers where we can moisten fuels, so that they are not as receptive to those -- the embers that are coming in. We have got firebreaks that are built in. And then there's also in the Merced grove a really important historic structure, one of the first ranger cabins in the park. And we have wrapped that in a fire-retardant material to protect that as well.

    KWAME HOLMAN: At the park's Mariposa Grove, a safe distance away from the fire, visitors expressed concern for the threatened trees.

    WOMAN: They have been here for so long. And they are just a part of the state and a part of America and who we are. To lose them would be just awful.

    DEAN SHENK, Yosemite National Park: What's amazing is that one of these can sprout from one of these. These are each sequoia seeds.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Dean Shenk has been a ranger in Yosemite for 40 years. He educates the public about the park's iconic giants. Since the Rim Fire began, Shenk has answered a lot of questions about how the sequoias cope with fire.

    DEAN SHENK: Fire is part of the natural balance of things. Like rain, you want to have a little bit of rain, but you don't want to have too much. This is too much fire.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Shenk says the mighty trees have their own defense mechanisms against fire, including a natural flame retardant in their thick bark, which do a pretty good job of defending them from most fires.

    DEAN SHENK: It's rare to find a large sequoia tree that doesn't have a major fire scar. At ground level, sequoia bark is two-feet thick, sometimes even a little thicker, but as you get up the tree a short distance, maybe 40 feet off the ground, the bark is surprisingly thin, just a few inches.

    KWAME HOLMAN: At a nearby stand of young sequoias, Shenk explained how a prescribed burn, a low-intensity fire set and controlled by park staff, standard practice in the park for 40 years, actually helps the trees reproduce.

    DEAN SHENK: We're looking at cluster of giant sequoias that are about 14 years old. And all of them owe their existence to a prescribed burn that we had here about 15 years ago.

    We burned this area five years ago with a prescribed burn and again about 15 years ago as well. The natural forest debris that was on top of the forest floor was burned away, recycling nutrients, allowing for lots of sunshine, to where the seeds that were dispersed shortly after the fire were able to take hold. And so we have a great rejuvenation pocket right here in the midst of the Mariposa Grove.

    KWAME HOLMAN: But while the giant sequoias in Yosemite Park have been enduring fire for centuries, even thriving because of it, those fighting the Rim fire say this blaze poses a threat to the trees. It's one of the hottest and fastest moving fires in recent times.

    TOM MEDEMA: In this type of fire and the fires that you see, the flames that you see in the news are these crowning flames that are going up into the tops or the crown of the tree and carrying from treetop to treetop.

    And it is much more devastating, because it is burning all the green growth, as opposed to just burning the dead stuff on the ground. And so we need to take measures to try and knock this down before it can get into the crowns of the giant sequoias.

    JOHN WALLACE, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: You can see here behind us here these trees, this brush was just totally consumed in the flames.

    KWAME HOLMAN: John Wallace is a forest fuels specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the intensity of the Rim fire is due, in part, to years of forest management policies, largely in land outside the park, which suppressed naturally occurring wildfires.

    JOHN WALLACE: Everything out here, when it falls on the ground, becomes a fuel. Now, years and years of suppression have let fuels build up to a level that's unnatural. And so in the last 15 years or so, the Department of Interior agencies have really gone in -- and the Forest Service -- have really started trying to manage those fuel loads and introduced prescribed fire back into the landscape to help get fuels down to a more natural level. And this is one of that areas that they haven't gotten to yet.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Wallace says that while the Rim fire is a particularly devastating wildfire, such mega-fires are becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

    JOHN WALLACE: These fires are just becoming more and more common now.

    I mean, since 2000, we have had all these 500,000-acre, 600,000-acre fires, these mega-fires. Before 2000, a 100,000-acre fire was huge. But things have been warming up, drying out. And then we have got these high fuel loads in a lot of places. And that's contributing to these bigger, more intense fires.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Officials say they are starting to get a handle on fire, which is about 30 percent contained, and they hope to have it fully contained by the end of September. Until then, crews stationed near the giant sequoias are standing by, ready to put up whatever fight they can, if needed, to save these national treasures.

    JEFFREY BROWN: On our Science page, you can read more about how a century of fire suppression has made fires worse for the legendary giant sequoias. And take a look at behind-the-scene photos from our reporting.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we wrap up our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

    First, longtime civil rights activist Linda Chapin of Orlando, Fla., recalls coming to the Capitol as a 22-year-old.

    LINDA CHAPIN, civil rights activist: It was, as much as anything -- for my group of friends who met up in Washington the day before, it was exciting. It was passionate. It was fun, all of those things.


    LINDA CHAPIN: And we didn't know that it would come together to be one of the largest protests in the history of the United States.

    And another thing that interests me greatly is that the organizers didn't all have the same goal. Some of them were there to support President Kennedy's Civil Rights Act. Some of them were going there to say, no, we don't support that; it's not strong enough. Some of them were there to say something different.

    And, yet, it all came together in this incredibly symbolic and historic event.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That was Linda Chapin of Orlando, Fla. You can find her story and other firsthand accounts at Memories of the March on the PBS Web site Black Culture Connection.

    And now Gwen Ifill has the final installment of her series of conversations on the march.

    GWEN IFILL: From James Madison's condemnation of slavery in 1813, to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in 1863, to Woodrow Wilson's endorsement of segregation in 1913, and to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s words at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, key moments in America's journey toward freedom have played out in what historian Taylor Branch describes as 50-year blinks.

    But 50 years after King talked about his dream, has America fulfilled the demands made by those who marched on Washington? A new documentary Web series The March @ 50 explores this question in five parts on the PBS Web site Black Culture Connection.

    Shukree Tilghman is the director of that series, and he joins us now, along with Taylor Branch, author of the new book "The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement."

    Welcome to you both.

    We're here to talk, I guess, about unfinished business 50 years after the march.

    You were born, Shukree, in 1979.

    SHUKREE TILGHMAN, director: That's right.

    GWEN IFILL: So this wasn't even part of your growing up.


    GWEN IFILL: But you did learn about the demands that were made that day. Do you think they were met?

    SHUKREE TILGHMAN: Fifty years later, we can look at the unemployment rate among African-Americans, which is stubborn, consistently twice that of their white counterparts.

    That's one demand we could argue that has not been met. Also, segregation in public schools, for example, we have gotten a trend now because of sort of lack of desegregation and overturning of desegregation plans in the '90s, we have got a place now where our in our public schools we're re-segregating along racial and ethnic lines, and also sort of along class lines.

    GWEN IFILL: Sixty years after Brown vs. Board of Education, which was supposed to ensure this integrated school system, has it failed?

    SHUKREE TILGHMAN: I think it would be tough to say that it failed.

    One of the experts we talked to, Gary Orfield from the Civil Rights Projects at UCLA, talks a lot about this in the series. We are at a place where around 80 percent of black and Latino students go to schools that are majority non-white. Around 15 percent of black and Latino students go to schools which Orfield calls apartheid schools. That means they are 98 percent or 99 percent all black or all Latino, non-white, only within a couple of percentage points away from if there was a law that made them be segregated by race and class.

    GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about mass incarceration, another of the topics.


    GWEN IFILL: One in nine African-Americans are in the prison system in some manner. Is that also a failure?


    GWEN IFILL: Or let's say an unkept promise.


    In some ways. You know, incarceration really started to increase in the early '70s. So this was well after the March on Washington. But when you think of notions, the second part of the march, freedom, it's hard to think about freedom when we have that many people who don't have their freedom who are locked up.

    GWEN IFILL: Taylor Branch, he was born in 1979. I won't ask when you were born. But you do write that you grew up fearfully oblivious to race, and yet you ended up dedicating so much of your career to writing about the civil rights movement. How did that come to be?

    TAYLOR BRANCH, author:  Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement": I think that it was an accident of my cohort.

    My formative years were all the civil rights movement. The Brown decision, I was in first grade. I was a senior in college when Martin Luther King was killed in the spring of '68. All in between, the movement was just relentless. And it ultimately changed direction of my life's interest, against my will. I grew up in a nonpolitical family, but by the time I was in college, I was just stupefied by this movement for what I called -- what Dr. King called equal souls and equal votes that went very deep.

    GWEN IFILL: Many people never heard a full Martin Luther King Jr. speech, other than that day at the Lincoln Memorial. But he never planned to talk about the dream in that speech, did he?

    TAYLOR BRANCH: Not a word of the "I Have a Dream" refrains that are familiar was in the carefully prepared speech that he really labored over.

    But he got toward the end of it. It was pretty stiff. It was labored. It was a speech of grievance. And he threw it away for his common refrains of a broader sense, a broader dream, with a lot of anguish in it. But it reached a larger audience.

    GWEN IFILL: And, as a result, did that redefine the way America viewed the civil rights movement and what the progress in fact of the movement was?

    TAYLOR BRANCH: I think that that was part of the great function of the March on Washington, was that it showed America that African-Americans could present grievances and that they could frame them in a way that everybody could relate to that was really even larger than race.

    They were centered in race, but they grew larger, which is why so many good things came out of the civil rights era that affected women and disabled and many, many other groups beyond strictly black and white.

    GWEN IFILL: Dr. King also wrote famously in the letter from a Birmingham jail about the need for African-Americans to be on tiptoe stance, especially leaders, especially leaders of the movement, and especially our first black president.

    Is he on tiptoe stance in comparison to the careful path that Martin Luther King Jr. had to tread as well?

    TAYLOR BRANCH: I'm afraid so.

    What Dr. King was saying is that, if you grow up black, you have to be on tiptoe stance because you never know in a white world how people are going to take things, but you have to watch out for that. And what he's saying is that we're a healthier society if everybody is looking out and wondering and reaching across lines to think how they're doing.

    I think we're still in a situation now where most white Americans expect the black president to be black on their terms and not talk about being black. So he has to stay on a tiptoe stance, and it's very controversial if he mentions his own experience.

    GWEN IFILL: So should he be talking more about race than he has so far?

    TAYLOR BRANCH: I think he should.

    I think he should because race has always been the key defining point in American freedom and what we mean by it. That's what I meant by the 50-year blinks from Madison forward.

    GWEN IFILL: In one of our earlier conversations about -- leading up to the march anniversary, I talked to Bakari Sellers, who is a state representative in South Carolina and the son of a famous civil rights activist in South Carolina, and he said he now takes the 50,000-foot view, where he

    looks in a more broad way at what black, white, race, accomplishment, equality, availability, accessibility -- all those things he looks -- he has the luxury to look at the big picture.

    As you look at the big picture, Shukree, are you optimistic or pessimistic about where we are 50 years after the march?

    SHUKREE TILGHMAN: Well, I'm naturally an optimist, so I'm going to say that I'm optimistic, of course.

    GWEN IFILL: You didn't sound optimistic.


    SHUKREE TILGHMAN: Even -- but that's the beauty of the thing, that even given all of the statistics and everything, there's been enormous progress.

    You're not a student of history if you don't recognize that we do not live in the same world that we lived in, in 1963. But the best way to honor those people who marched and the leaders of that march is to recognize the work that still has to be done.

    That's what we try to do with the series, and I think that's what people who care should try to do.

    GWEN IFILL: Taylor?

    TAYLOR BRANCH: I think that we have an imbalance.

    I think the 50-year blink, we have stupendous progress, for not only black people, for the white South, for women, for all kinds of groups, but that our politics has atrophied and we're paralyzed. We don't see that.

    We have this, in my view, race-based partisan gridlock that denies the possibilities that America can do what we proved that we could do in the '60s, which is tackle our toughest problem.

    GWEN IFILL: You think the partisan gridlock is race-based?

    TAYLOR BRANCH: Oh, absolutely. There's no question that, even by the numbers, it's race-based.

    The average Republican district has 50 percent more white people. The average Democratic district in the Congress has twice as many non-whites. Partisan gridlock is racial. The biggest unexamined question in American politics is why and what we're going to do about it. We just accept partisan gridlock as part of our cynical inheritance.

    But we shouldn't do that. We should say, is it racial, and if so, why, and how can we get around it? And I blame both sides. I think both sides don't -- our gridlock right now is basically saying the only solution is for the other side to drop dead. And that's not going to happen.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, I'm glad at least you two are talking and thinking about it.


    GWEN IFILL: Shukree Tilghman, Taylor Branch, thank you so much.

    TAYLOR BRANCH: Thank you.

    SHUKREE TILGHMAN: Thank you.


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, we remember the world-renowned poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. He died earlier today after a short illness in his native Ireland.

    Two years ago, I sat down with him in New York, as he looked back on his life and work. Here's an excerpt. It starts with Heaney reading a section from his poem "Album" about his parents.

    SEAMUS HEANEY, poet: "Now the oil-fired heating boiler comes to life abruptly, drowsily, like the time collapse of a sawn-down tree. I imagine them in summer season, as it must have been. And the place it dawns on me could have been Grove Hill before the oaks were cut, where I would often stand with them on airy Sundays, shin-deep in hilltop bluebells, looking out at Magherafelt's four spires in the distance. Too late, alas, now for the apt quotation about a love that's proved by steady gazing, not at each other, but in the same direction."

    JEFFREY BROWN: Heaney grew up in a rural family farmhouse called Mossbawn in Northern Ireland. He was the first of nine children who lived a life very grounded in the soil.

    His famous early poem titled "Digging" portrays his father working the earth with a spade and ends with an announcement to the world that he, the young poet, will use a different tool.

    "Between my finger and my thumb, the squat pen rests. I will dig with it."  

    In his Nobel address, he spoke of making a life journey into -- quote -- "the wideness of language."

    SEAMUS HEANEY: The first poetry a writer feels he can trust and come to a point that you think that is a poem, that is a life-changing experience.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Do you remember that?

    SEAMUS HEANEY: I do, yes.

    It was certainly when I wrote "Digging." You know, I felt -- when you're beginning, you're not sure. I mean, is this a poem? Or is it just a shot at a poem? Or is it kind of a dead thing?

    But when it comes alive in a way to feel that's your own utterance, then I think you're in business.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Seamus Heaney was 74 years old.

    And, online, you can find our complete profile of the poet, and you can watch him read one of his best-known works, "Death of a Naturalist."

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Remarkable talent.


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    By Vivek Wadhwa

    Steve Ballmer Talks Up Windows 8 Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer speaks at the launch event of Windows 8 in 2012. Photo courtesy of Lucas Jackson/REUTERS.

    Is Microsoft going the way of the Soviet Union? Vivek Wadhwa, vice president for academics and innovation at Singularity University, director of research at Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, and a fellow at Stanford Law School, thinks so. A good friend of the Making Sen$e Business Desk, Wadhwa takes another look at Microsoft's future -- an issue he explored earlier this week in his column on the Washington Post's Innovations blog.

    Vivek Wadhwa: When companies become too big, they usually lose their ability to innovate. There are a few notable exceptions, such as Apple, GE and Google, but most become complacent and focus increasingly on defending their existing turf rather than on creating new markets. Thus they begin their march into oblivion.

    That is the present state of Microsoft. It has become an old giant, obsessed with defending its ageing products. If Microsoft doesn't change course, it is likely to suffer the same fate as that old superpower, the former Soviet Union, whose obsession with preserving its bloated bureaucracy led to its destruction.

    Microsoft has lost ground in practically every emerging field, including mobile computing, music players, smartphones, search and social networking. Yes, it has had an odd success or two, such as the Xbox, but these are just flukes.

    MORE FROM VIVEK WADHWA: The Immigrant Brain Drain: How America Is Losing Its High-Tech Talent

    It isn't that Microsoft doesn't have talented people working for it. Quite to the contrary, it has an abundance of talent. For two decades, it was the tech industry's strongest talent magnet. It hired the best of the best. And most of these geniuses haven't left -- yet.

    My former students and friends who work at Microsoft tell me that they love the company, but are stifled by its bureaucracy, turf wars and central planning. Big ideas get quashed because they don't fit into the corporate vision; products with great potential are killed because they could threaten the company's core products. These employees believe that their talent is being wasted. They long for the days when Microsoft was a lean mean fighting machine.

    That's why I believe that the best path forward for Microsoft is to break itself up into a number of fighting machines -- smaller companies that compete with upstarts in Silicon Valley and with each other. These micro-Microsofts need to have the freedom to take risks and cannibalize the company's core products. That won't happen under its present structure.

    The Windows 8 fiasco illustrates the problems that Microsoft faces. Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 that was designed for tablet computers with touch screens, has a beautiful user interface and functionality. In many ways, it is better than Apple's iOS and Google's Android. But Microsoft was obsessed with protecting its Windows operating system and Office tools franchise. So it bundled a version of Microsoft Office into RT. To make the desktop version of Windows 8 consistent with RT, it added to it the same tiled user interface and removed the Start button.

    Most desktop computers and laptops, however, don't have touch screens. And Windows users aren't used to computers without Start buttons. So they hated Windows 8 desktop, and it was a commercial disaster.

    The inclusion of Microsoft Office on RT and Microsoft's desire to protect its operating system's pricing structure led it to charge re-sellers a price rumored to be about $85 (the re-seller price is a well-guarded secret). This is more than what lower-end tablets will soon cost, and competes directly with Android, which Google gives away. That's why RT, too, was a commercial disaster.

    The sensible thing for Microsoft to do would have been to provide a lighter version of RT -- for free. It would have competed head to head with Android and would likely have won because it has a superior user interface. Microsoft could have made money by charging for special features and apps such as Office. If Microsoft's RT division had had the freedom, it might also have done the unimaginable by bundling Google's Office apps and other competitive products into it.

    Tablet prices are dropping rapidly. I expect that next year, there will be several players selling devices that cost less than $100. Full-featured tablets that cost around $50 -- and less -- are also on the horizon. When these become available, the market for tablets will explode. There will be hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of such devices. Instead of running Microsoft's RT, they will likely run Android. Microsoft has lost its opportunity to sell additional products on these devices through its obsession with protecting its legacy software. Windows and Office will likely slip into oblivion like the five year plans and Politburo the Soviet Union clung to.

    But there is still hope for Microsoft. It has a wealth of great people and great technologies in its labs. They need to be untethered from the central bureaucracy and set free to compete and take big risks. I am not too optimistic, though, that this will happen. I worry that Microsoft will go the way of Kodak, RIM and Nokia -- or even the former Soviet Union -- all of which tanked because they were busy protecting old turf.

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

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  • 08/31/13--09:47: Obama Set to Discuss Syria
  • PBS NewsHour will live stream announcements and speeches as they relate to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Watch the player above for the latest.

    WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's top national security advisers gathered at the White House on Saturday, and Syrian television broadcast scenes of fighter jets, tanks and troops in training, flip sides of a countdown to a likely U.S. military strike meant to punish Bashar Assad's government for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

    After days of deliberations, Obama arranged to speak in the White House Rose Garden in early afternoon. Aides who had said for days he had not made a decision on whether to strike Syria refused to repeat those words.

    A White House official said Obama's remarks would not be about an imminent military operation in Syria, but rather would update the public about his decisions on how to proceed.

    U.N. inspectors arrived in Amsterdam after spending several days in Syria collecting soil samples and interviewing victims of an attack last week in the Damascus suburbs. Officials said it could me more than a week before their final report is complete.

    It seemed unlikely Obama would wait that long to order any strike, given the flotilla of U.S. warships equipped with cruise missiles and massed in the Mediterranean; Friday's release of a declassified U.S. intelligence assessment saying Assad's chemical weapons killed 1,429 civilians; and an intensifying round of briefings for lawmakers clamoring for information.

    The president said Friday that he was considering "limited and narrow" steps to punish Assad for the attack, adding that U.S. national security interests were at stake. He pledged no U.S. combat troops on the ground in Syria, where a civil war has claimed more than 100,000 civilian lives.

    With Obama struggling to gain international backing for a strike, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged him to reconsider his plans, saying he speaking to him not as a president but as the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize.

    "We have to remember what has happened in the last decades, how many times the United States has been the initiator of armed conflict in different regions of the world, said Putin, a strong ally of Assad. "Did this resolve even one problem?"

    Read more:

    Shields and Brooks on Need for National Consensus Over Syria

    Should Obama Seek Congressional and Public Approval Before Action on Syria?

    Kerry: 'History Would Judge Us' if U.S. Doesn't Act in Syria

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    WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama, seeking a congressional endorsement for U.S. military intervention in civil war-wracked Syria, is inviting two leading Capitol Hill foreign policy hawks to the White House in efforts to sell the idea to a nation deeply scarred by more than a decade of war.

    Having announced over the weekend that he'll seek congressional approval for military strikes against the Assad regime, the Obama administration is now trying to rally support among Americans and persuade members of Congress with an array of views on Syria.

    Sen. John McCain, Obama's White House opponent in 2008, will be joined for the talks later Monday by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who like McCain has argued that Obama must not only punish the Syrian regime with surgical missile strikes but must seek to change the course of the civil war and oust President Bashar Assad from power.

    Obama has said he wants limited military action to respond to an attack in the Damascus suburbs last month that the U.S. says included sarin gas and killed at least 1,429 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children.

    McCain and Graham, both Republicans, represent the most aggressive faction in Congress and have called on Obama to launch more comprehensive strikes with an aim of destroying President Bashar Assad's air power, his military command and control, Syria's ballistic missiles, and other military targets while at the same time increasing training and arming of opposition forces.

    On the other side of the spectrum, some Republican and Democratic lawmakers don't want to see military action at all.

    Members of the House Democratic caucus were to participate in an unclassified conference call Monday with Obama national security adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    The White House is engaging in what officials call a "flood the zone" persuasion strategy with Congress, arguing that failure to act against Assad would weaken any deterrence against the use of chemical weapons and could embolden not only Assad but also Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

    Obama's turnabout decision to seek congressional authority on Syria sets the stage for the biggest foreign policy vote in Congress since the Iraq war.

    On Sunday, Kerry said the U.S. received new physical evidence in the form of blood and hair samples that shows sarin gas was used in the Aug. 21 attack. Kerry said the U.S. must respond with its credibility on the line.

    "We know that the regime ordered this attack," he said. "We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards."

    On Capitol Hill Sunday, senior administration officials briefed lawmakers in private to explain why the U.S. was compelled to act against Assad. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also made calls to individual lawmakers.

    In addition to Monday's meetings and briefings, further sessions were planned for Tuesday and Wednesday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans a meeting Tuesday, according to its chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. The Senate Armed Service Committee will gather a day later, said Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the panel.

    "The American people deserve to hear more from the administration about why military action in Syria is necessary, what it will achieve and how it will be sufficiently limited to keep the U.S. from being drawn further into the Syrian conflict," said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, reflecting a more cautious approach to a military strike.

    McCain said Obama asked him to come to the White House specifically to discuss Syria.

    "It can't just be, in my view, pinprick cruise missiles," the Arizona Republican told CBS' "Face the Nation."

    In an interview with an Israeli television network, he said Obama has "encouraged our enemies" by effectively punting his decision to Congress. He and Graham have threatened to vote against Obama's authorization if the military plan doesn't seek to shift the momentum of the 2 ½ year civil war toward the rebels trying to oust Assad from power.

    Obama is trying to convince Americans and the world about the need for action.

    So far, he is finding few international partners willing to engage in a conflict that has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the past 2½ years and dragged in terrorist groups on both sides of the battlefield.

    Only France is firmly on board among the major military powers. Britain's Parliament rejected the use of force in a vote last week.

    Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Monday the information the U.S. showed Moscow to prove the Syrian regime was behind the chemical attack was "absolutely unconvincing."

    With Navy ships on standby in the eastern Mediterranean ready to launch missiles, Congress on Sunday began a series of meetings that are expected to continue over the next several days in preparation for a vote once lawmakers return from summer break, which is scheduled to end Sept. 9.

    Senior administration officials gave a two-hour classified briefing to dozens of members of Congress in the Capitol on Sunday.

    Lawmakers expressed a range of opinions coming out of the meeting, from outright opposition to strident support for Obama's request for the authorization to use force.

    Among Democrats, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan said he'd approve Obama's request and predicted it would pass. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said he was concerned the authorization might be "too broad." Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the administration still has "work to do with respect to shoring up the facts of what happened."

    Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington said she was concerned about what Congress was being asked to approve. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the war resolution needed tightening.

    "I don't think Congress is going to accept it as it is," Sessions said.


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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    You may receive several conflicting estimates of your future benefits from Social Security. Photo courtesy of Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

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

    Larry Kotlikoff: Depending on which Social Security source you use, you may receive very different answers to your request for an estimate of future benefits. Social Security has six different ways for us to come up with an estimate of our benefits. First, it provides a printed earnings statement with benefit estimates. Second, it has four online benefit calculators. Third, you can ask Social Security staff directly -- on the phone or in person -- for a benefit estimate. And in each case, you'll get a number, but the numbers may vary and you'll have no idea what they mean.

    Take the printed earnings statement, which presents your earnings history and lays out its assumptions about your future earnings. But in presenting the retirement benefits you can collect starting at different ages, the statement doesn't say whether the amounts are shown in today's dollars or in dollars of the years in which you'll start collecting. In other words, it doesn't say whether the inflation adjustment -- the consumer price index (CPI) cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) -- between now and the particular collection year is being included. Nor does it say whether the benefit estimate is taking into account projected real wage growth, which, if you are under age 60, will affect the degree of wage indexation of your past Social Security-covered earnings.

    Likewise, if you call or visit your Social Security office, they will give you benefit estimates but won't tell you what dollars they are quoting your benefits in or whether they are assuming economy-wide real wage growth. The staff may not even understand the nature of the system's wage indexation, so your question may sound as if it's coming from outer space. Moreover, they may quote your benefit net of Medicare's Part B premium payment since this is the check you actually get in the mail each month.

    What's riled me up about this issue? A conversation I just had with a financial planner, who was only operating on his client's printed earning history, using a Social Security optimization tool that just requests the full retirement benefit, or the primary insurance amount (PIA).

    MORE FROM LARRY KOTLIKOFF: Could Even Suze Orman's Social Security Advice Be Wrong?

    The PIA varies depending on the dollars in which the PIA is quoted and whether it really is the full retirement benefit versus the early or delayed retirement. (Is the individual subject to the delayed retirement credit, the windfall elimination provision or the government pension offset provision?) You also need to know whether it incorporate future real wage growth in the economy, whether it is gross or net of the Medicare Premium, and whether it incorporates future earnings. None of that can be calculated based only on knowledge of the PIA.

    His response to my efforts at explanation was, "Gotta go. Client's coming in in five minutes."

    This particular financial planner was an insurance agent, using an insurance software that collects commissions on every policy he sells. His focus is on selling annuities, not providing good Social Security advice.

    For example, the source for a husband's benefit could well be quite different from that for the wife. If so, the software this planner is working with, even if it's correct under the hood (which is far from an easy task), could be advising his clients to wait years too late to collect particular benefits or start benefits years too early. Or it can tell clients to take the benefits in the wrong order. Strategies to maximize your Social Security benefits can be extremely sensitive to what's entered into these programs, so choose carefully as you would when purchasing any other service or product.

    Cliff L. -- Honolulu, Hawaii: I just turned 61. My wife just turned 62. I would like to retire a year from now and start to take my Social Security benefit. I am the higher wage earner. My wife plans to work three more years. Lately, we read that we should wait until age 66 before taking any Social Security benefits. I also know someone who is taking a spousal benefit. Could you give us some advice as to how we should take our Social Security?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Your best strategy is, most likely, for you to both wait until 70 to collect your highest possible retirement benefits and for your wife to file and suspend for her retirement benefit when you hit 66, at which point you can apply to collect just your spousal benefit. And, because you will not be filing for a retirement benefit prior to age 70, the spousal benefit you'll get at 66 will be a full spousal benefit, equal to half of your wife's full retirement benefit, or primary insurance amount (PIA).

    Another option is for you to take retirement benefits at 65, permitting your wife to take a full spousal benefit starting at 66, and then you suspend your retirement benefit at 66 and start it up again at 70 (paying your Medicare Part B premiums out of pocket.

    Under this scenario, your wife will still wait till 70 to collect her retirement benefit. Which of these two options is best or whether a third option is even better -- there are literally tens of thousands to consider in your case -- requires running a commercially available software program.

    Beth H. -- Sussex, Wis.: My husband and I are both 64. At full retirement age, his benefit will be $2,336 and mine will be $2,082. Would our best Social Security strategy be for both of us to file and suspend and collect spousal benefits and then switch to our own benefits at age 70?

    Larry Kotlikoff: You can't file and suspend before reaching full retirement age, which is 66 in your cases. If you both file and suspend, you will both flip yourselves into the realm of excess spousal benefits as opposed to that of full spousal benefits. Once you file for a retirement benefit, even if you suspend it, your spousal benefit will then be calculated as an excess spousal benefit -- the excess (the difference) between half your spouse's full retirement benefit and 100 percent of your full retirement benefit. This excess could well be negative, in which case your excess spousal benefit will be set to zero.

    So if you both walk into the Social Security office at 66 and both file and suspend, you may both wipe out your spousal benefits right there on the spot. Let's not do this.

    Instead, let's have the higher earner file and suspend, while the other does not file and suspend, but rather simply files just for her or his spousal benefit, which will now be calculated as the full spousal benefit, namely half of the other spouse's full retirement benefit.

    Joe -- Melbourne, Fla.: I am almost 66 and my wife is 54. I make about five times what she makes. My plan is to start drawing Social Security at age 70. When my wife is 65 and eligible for Medicare she would take early retirement, then at full retirement age (FRA) draw a spousal benefit. Then assuming she outlives me, she would be able to draw my Social Security check. Is this the best arrangement?

    Larry Kotlikoff: No, Joe. You probably want to have your wife take Medicare at 65, but wait until 66 to collect her full spousal benefit. If she takes her retirement benefit at 65, she'll get her excess, not her full spousal benefit. And her excess spousal benefit could well be negative. She should collect just her full spousal benefit starting at 66 and then go for her own retirement benefit at 70. However, if at 70, her full spousal benefit exceeds her retirement benefit inclusive of the delayed retirement credit, her check won't go up at 70 because she'll get the larger of her full spousal benefit or her own augmented retirement benefit.

    However, Social Security will describe the check as her receiving her augmented retirement benefit plus an excess spousal benefit. In other words, they will redefine her full spousal benefit as her own retirement benefit (inclusive of the delayed retirement credits) plus an excess spousal benefit defined as her full spousal benefit less her own augmented retirement benefit.

    The above scenario assumes you have a high maximum age of life. If you expect, based on your own condition, to die before, say, 85, the advice may differ. It will also differ if you use a high discount rate in the valuation (see my discussion of valuing future Social Security benefits in the last part of this column.) If you are sure you will kick relatively young, it may behoove your wife to take her retirement benefit relatively early even if it wipes out her spousal benefit. Run yourself through a software program you trust to see what's really best.

    Eugene L. -- Sandy Hook, Conn.: I am 71 and have been receiving Social Security since 65. My wife is 69, a retired teacher who never paid into Social Security. Is she eligible for a death benefit from Social security should I die before her?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes and no. Her spousal as well as survivor benefits will be zapped by two-thirds of her teacher's pension via the Government Pension Offset provision. But if her pension is not adjusted for inflation, at some point, her spousal and survivor benefits, which will be rising thanks to Social Security's annual cost-of-living adjustment, may exceed two-thirds of her pension and then she'll get a Social Security benefit. It's possible that two-thirds of her pension is, even today, less than her Social Security spousal benefit (which equals half of your full retirement benefit). So it can't hurt for her right now to apply for a spousal benefit on your earnings record. Also, when you pass away, your wife will be eligible for a $255 lump-sum death benefit.

    Robin W. -- West Windsor Township, N.J.: I am 82. My late wife, Marian, who was two years older than I, died at 57. She had good earnings and her Social Security benefits have never been touched. I took early retirement at 62. Should I inquire about taking her benefits or maximize mine now? Or is it too late? I remarried three and half years later to Christine, who just turned 62. Can she apply for her spousal benefits now?

    Larry Kotlikoff: You need to have remarried after age 60 in order to qualify for survivor benefits on Marian's earnings record. Sounds like you remarried earlier, so no, you can't collect a survivor benefit on Marian's earnings record.

    Christine can collect spousal benefits starting at 62 on your work record, but they will be calculated as the excess spousal benefit (which may be zero); they will be reduced because she is taking her spousal benefit before full retirement; and collecting her spousal benefit before full retirement age will trigger Social Security's deeming provision, which will force Christine to take her own retirement benefit early.

    Given your age differences, it may still be best for Christine to do this. Once you pass away, she'll qualify for a survivor benefit on your work record. But depending on her past earnings, her own retirement benefit (especially if she waits until 70 to collect it) may exceed her survivor benefit. In this case, taking her retirement benefit early will probably be a mistake.

    Yours is a complicated case. There are probably 100,000 cases to consider to find the one that is best -- a good task for a software program you trust.

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

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    An Egyptian woman holds a crossed-out portrait of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a demonstration in Cairo against a possible U.S. attack on Syria in response to alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. Photo by Mohamed Abdelmeniem/AFP/Getty Images.

    CAIRO -- This city has endured pitched battles for two months since the army deposed President Mohamed Morsi -- bloody physical fights between Egyptian security and Morsi backers, and some passionate political ones over the rightness of his ouster.

    But after spending only a day in this steamy capital, I'm struck by how widely Cairo residents do seem to agree on one thing -- their opposition to the idea of a U.S. strike against Syria.

    Mohamed Abdul Hai, an Egyptian state information officer. Photo by Morgan Till/PBS NewsHour.

    "Most Egyptians oppose an American attack," state information officer Mohamed Abdul Hai told us at the airport. "It will make the region more unstable. For us in Egypt, the last three years have been unstable enough."

    We've heard all sorts of apprehensions from Egyptians of all ages, incomes and education, fears that if the U.S. stirs the boiling pot in Syria, it will spill over to every country in the region. Some talked of more refugee flows, others of violent counter-reactions from the likes of Hezbollah, Iran or Israel. And some suggested that a U.S. attack on the Assad regime will strengthen rebel forces dominated by Jihadi extremists, of the same ilk as the Jihadis the Egyptian military is now struggling to control in Sinai.

    It's not that Egyptians like Syrian president Bashar al Assad. But their distrust of the U.S. is more powerful. We found young security guard Mohamed Abo Zeid pulling night duty in a tiny sentry booth in front of a bank. He believes the Assad regime was indeed behind the august 21 chemical weapons attack that reportedly killed 1400 Syrians.

    Mohamed Abo Zeid, security guard in Egypt. Photo by Morgan Till/PBS NewsHour.

    "It's awful what he's doing, killing his own people, all those children, all those bodies on TV," he said. But he called the prospect of a punitive U.S. strike "horrible." "If Obama attacks Syria," he said, "I'm afraid Egypt will be next."

    Bookstore clerk Moustafa Kamal shared his distrust. "What's going on in Syria is an internal problem. It's not for outside powers to interfere," he said.

    Moustafa Kamal, Egyptian bookstore clerk. Photo by Morgan Till/PBS NewsHour.

    "If Obama strikes, it's because he wants to create more instability in the Middle East, to help him put his hands on the region and control it." To what end?, we asked. Kamal had a one-word answer: "oil."

    One of his bookstore shoppers, marketing manager May Khairy, was just as suspicious of president Obama's motives.

    May Khairy, Egyptian marketing manager. Photo by Morgan Till/PBS NewsHour.

    "I believe this would be the first step to attack the rest of the Middle East, as America did in Iraq, and Kuwait," she said, "another step to protect Israel."

    After decades of anti-U.S. vitriol in state media over American support for Israel, distrust of the United States and its power is not new in Egypt. But Khairy also embraced the latest conspiracy theory here, that the Obama administration had colluded with the Muslim Brotherhood, too eager to endorse Morsi's election, too reluctant to restrain his autocratic moves -- and too quick to criticize the Egyptian military for throwing him out. "Obama supported our first revolution (against Mubarak), but not our revolution against Morsi," she said. "We don't believe America was supporting democracy. We feel we've been used and misled."

    "You cannot believe the anti-Americanism here now. I've never seen it like this," said Mona Makram Ebeid, a professor and former parliamentarian. "It's a feeling of deep disappointment."

    Something President Obama might keep in mind as he ponders his next Syria move.

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    By Simone Pathe

    Charlotte Labor Day Parade; photo by Jared Soares for the PBS NewsHour A majority of Americans still supports labor unions, but a majority also believes they're likely to weaken. Photo of Charlotte Labor Day parade courtesy of Jared Soares for the PBS NewsHour.

    On this Labor Day, when fewer than one in five households can boast a labor union member, how do Americans feel about unions? What does the labor landscape look like? And what's the labor market likely to look like, going forward?

    In a Gallup poll released this weekend, a majority of Americans approve of labor unions, up slightly over the past few years. But perhaps more significantly, more than half also believe that labor unions are likely to grow weaker in the future.

    American approval of labor unions, as measured by Gallup, is up this year from 2012 but still well below the historical average.

    American labor union approval peaked at 72 percent during the Great Depression in 1936 -- the first year Gallup started tracking the issue. But today's approval rating, while up from its lowest point in 2009, still sits well below the historical average approval rating.

    The dire future many Americans predict for unions, Gallup speculates, could have something to do with Michigan's and Indiana's recent passage of right to work legislation, which makes it more difficult for unions to organize in those states. But of course, the long-term trend has been one of constant decline for organized labor.

    True, the the labor union participation rate among American households (19 percent) has held relatively steady, Gallup reports, since 2003 when it was 16 percent. But the share of the American workforce in labor unions has decreased markedly in the decades since the union boom that helped shape the Labor Day holiday that many more than just union workers celebrate today.

    The Gallup results make clear that labor unions are still a passionately partisan issue, with only 34 percent of Republicans but 75 percent of Democrats approving of them.

    In 2009, after President Obama had taken office, 42 percent of Americans wanted unions to exert less influence, up from 32 percent just one year before. Four years later, the number of those opposed to union power has dropped to 38 percent.

    When Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez spoke with our Ray Suarez recently, he sounded upbeat, though that may be as much a function of his position as his convictions.

    "What heartens me as much as anything," he told Ray, "is I think there's an acute recognition in the labor movement and among responsible employers that we can't fight yesterday's battles anymore. If we're going to bring jobs back, if we're going to build a robust economy, we've got to recognize that we're all in this together."

    The NewsHour's full interview with Perez is slated to air Tuesday.

    If Perez's view of the future is necessarily cloudy, his Bureau of Labor Statistics does have a few forecasts to make. One concerns the nature of jobs in the years ahead.

    We talk a lot on this page about the accuracy of the unemployment numbers from the BLS and spend a lot of time calculating the "U-7," our own more inclusive metric of unemployment, which will appear again here Friday. But it's not often that we examine in any detail which industries' changes are helping shape the monthly number of jobs added.

    So on Labor Day, we thought we'd reprint, from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, the 20 fastest-growing professions in America. These are the occupations with the highest percentage growth.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 20 professions experiencing the greatest percentage change in employment. Click on the image to go to the original.

    The occupational similarity of the two fastest-growing fields (personal care help and home health care aide) -- two professions whose workers can't simply take off on holidays, perhaps not even Labor Day -- is striking but demographically unsurprising. As we've chonicled in our New Adventures for Older Workers project, Americans are working and living longer, and with that the country is changing.

    The website 24/7 Wall Street generated a similar list of "The 10 Fastest-Growing Jobs in America" further analyzing BLS employment data. The site noted the same trend:

    Many occupations with significant job growth in the past few years owe at least part of that growth to changing demographics. As the baby boom ages, many more people need help planning for retirement. This has driven growth of personal financial advisers' jobs. Similarly, the need for personal care aides has grown for the obvious reason that more and more of us require hands-on help in our daily lives.

    The aging US population also has driven job growth in many occupations not directly related to retirement planning and care. According to BLS Chief Regional Economist Martin Kohli, "The aging of the population is one of the factors that is driving the demand for massage therapists." An aging population "is also a factor in the demand for coaches," Kohli said. Many coaches work as instructors for leisure sports that retirees enjoy.

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

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    PBS NewsHour will live stream statements and hearings on Syria as they become available, including Tuesday's hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Watch the player above for the latest. And at 6 p.m. EDT every weekday, this player will stream the NewsHour broadcast.

    President Barack Obama's request to Congress for limited military strikes against Syria left many Americans with one basic question: What exactly is happening with Syria? If you've been tuned out until now, here's a summary of the situation in 17 bullet points.

    The Country

    Syria is a nation of about 21 million people -- roughly 2 million more than the population of New York state. It sits on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Middle East.

    The nation is about the same size as Washington state and slightly larger than North Dakota.

    Syria is run by the minority sect known as Alawites, which make up 11.8 percent of the population.

    Major cities:

    Aleppo 2.985 million (slightly smaller than San Diego metro area) Damascus (capital) 2.527 million (slightly smaller than Denver metro area) Hims 1.276 million (slightly larger than Oklahoma City metro area) Hamah 854,000 (2009) (slightly smaller than New Haven, Conn. metro area)

    What's It Like There?

    Before the civil war, Syria's economy was diverse, including agriculture (22 percent of the economy), industry and excavation (25 percent), retail (23 percent) and tourism (12 percent).

    But two years of war have quintupled unemployment, reduced the Syrian currency to one-sixth of its prewar value, cost the public sector $15 billion in losses and damage to public buildings, slashed personal savings and shrunk the economy 35 percent, according to the New York Times.

    "More than 50 percent of the Syrian health care system's infrastructure has been destroyed," one man told Der Spiegel. The German news agency also reported that "of the 75 state-run hospitals, just 30 remain in operation. In the embattled city of Homs, just one of 20 hospitals remains open. The Al-Kindi Hospital in Aleppo, once the largest and most modern medical facility in the country, is now a pile of ash."

    Why the Civil War?

    A series of peaceful protests during the Arab Spring in 2011 triggered an increasingly violent backlash from the government of Bashar al-Assad that in turn led to a full-fledged civil war.

    The current death toll, according to UNHCR's Peter Kessler, now stands at more than 100,000 people. The number of people who have lost their homes or been forced to flee has reached 6.2 million.

    The group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 40,146 civilians have been killed, including more than 4,000 women and more than 5,800 children.

    Why the Sudden Heightened Tensions?

    A preliminary U.S. government assessment has determined that the Syrian government killed 1,429 people in a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21, including at least 426 children.

    Three days after the attack, the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders reported that three hospitals it supports in Damascus treated about 3,600 patients with "neurotoxic symptoms" the day of the attack.

    What's the World Going to Do?

    President Obama on Aug. 31 called the chemical attack "an assault on human dignity" that "presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons."

    Though Mr. Obama said he had the authority to order a limited strike on Syria to punish the Assad regime, he decided to seek approval from Congress. "I know the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective," he said.

    United Nations backing for the strike is unlikely due to gridlock in the Security Council, especially from Syria's allies, Russia and China.

    At the moment, only France and the Arab League openly support action against Syria. British Prime Minister David Cameron's motion to take military action lost in the parliament by a vote of only 285 to 272.

    As President Obama tries to convince Congress to act, five U.S. destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles are positioned in the Mediterranean Sea, poised and ready to strike.

    PBS NewsHour has been covering Syria's civil war since 2011. View our Syria page for the latest developments.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama worked through this Labor Day Monday seeking support for military strikes against Syria. He called in a pair of his toughest Senate critics, hoping they will round up votes for a resolution authorizing the use of force.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: A vote against that resolution by Congress, I think would be catastrophic, because it would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the president of the United States. None of us want that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: From two hawkish Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the president got backing for military action, but also complaints that he is in danger of doing too little too late in Syria.

    SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: For two years, the president has allowed this to become, quite frankly, a debacle. And when it comes to selling the American people what we should do in Syria, given the indifference and, quite frankly, contradictions, it is going to be a tough sell. But it is not too late.

    So, Mr. President, clear the air. Be decisive. Be firm about why it matters to us as a nation to get Syria right.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I think they're going to have to work very hard. Americans are skeptical.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Top members of the president's national security team also lobbied for votes today in a conference call with House Democrats. It was all set in motion Saturday, with the president announcing he's decided the U.S. should attack Syria as punishment for chemical attacks, but, he said:

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have long believed that our power is not just rooted in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

    And that's why I have made a second decision. I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American's people's representatives in Congress.

    JEFFREY BROWN: With that, Secretary of State John Kerry hit the Sunday talk shows. On NBC, he pressed the case for military force and added to the evidence he laid out Friday.

    SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: We have learned through samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first-responders in East Damascus, and hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin. So this case is building and this case will build.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That was followed by a high-level Sunday briefing for lawmakers, but some in both parties sounded unconvinced.

    REP. JANICE HAHN, D-Calif.: I feel terrible about the chemical weapons that have been used. However, we know that chemical weapons have been used in other instances, and we didn't take military action.

    REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, R-Tex.: In my mind, it's far from settled. It's not something that should be undertaken light. Certainly, the mood at the district I represent is, do not do this. And I honestly didn't hear anything that told me I ought to have a different position.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Others said they are worried that the administration might be asking for a blank check.

    REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, D-Md.: The draft resolution is very, very broad.

    I think one of the concerns in the past has been whether these types of resolutions were too broad.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The White House sent up that draft resolution on Sunday. It would authorize the president to use "necessary and appropriate military force against Syria in order to deter, disrupt, prevent, and degrade the Damascus regime's ability to use chemical weapons again."

    Senators McCain and Graham said today that they heard the makings of a plan from the White House.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: We still have significant concerns. But we believe that there is in formulation a strategy to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army and to degrade the capabilities of Bashar Assad.

    JEFFREY BROWN: With the debate in Washington beginning in earnest, the U.S. military moved more weapons into position, with the aircraft carrier Nimitz and four other ships deploying in the Red Sea.

    Meanwhile Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that any Western strike would risk a wider regional war. His also asked the U.N. Security Council to prevent -- quote -- "any aggression against it."

    Assad drew support from Moscow, where the Russian foreign minister said the U.S. evidence of chemical attack is -- quote -- "absolutely unconvincing."

    Back in Washington, President Obama will try to dispel such doubts when he sends Secretary Kerry and Defense Secretary Hagel to testify at a Senate hearing tomorrow.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And we look at some of the military and other options now under debate and soon to be before Congress.

    Retired Army General Jack Keane was vice chief of staff of the Army from 1999 to 2003. He was an influential advocate for the surge of troops in Iraq and now has his own consulting company. Dov Zakheim was the Defense Department's comptroller during the George W. Bush administration. He's now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And P.J. Crowley was assistant secretary of state for public affairs during the first term of the Obama administration. He's also a retired Air Force colonel.

    And welcome to all of you.

    General Keane, I want to ask you because I understand you talked to Senators McCain and Graham after their meeting with the president. Do they have a sense of some kind of plan on the table for what could be done militarily?

    GEN. JACK KEANE, retired U.S. Army: Yes, I think they came away from that meeting a little bit more optimistic than they had thought they would be.

    I believe they were encouraged by the fact that I think the plan is a little bit more robust and that degrades significantly Assad's delivery systems, to include airpower.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What does that mean, to degrade significantly?

    JACK KEANE: Well the delivery systems would be rockets, artillery, and also his airpower. Those are the systems he uses to deliver chemical weapons.

    And then the command-and-control is associated to that. But there's a part two to it that they were encouraged by also. And that is the commitment to upgrade more than what we are currently doing the opposition forces with training assistance, with money, and with arms. It was underfunded.

    JEFFREY BROWN: With arms?

    JACK KEANE: Well, he's already made a decision to do arms, but no arm of any kind has arrived yet.


    JACK KEANE: And while it's not in open sources, the fact of the matter is, those are largely small-arms. It's unclear as a result of this meeting today if the arms are going to be the kind of weapon systems the opposition forces want, which is any anti-aircraft and also anti-tank systems.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Dov Zakheim, you have written against military action. Why?

    DOV ZAKHEIM, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Well, what are we going to do, strike with some Tomahawks? We did that in 1998. It didn't stop the Taliban from supporting al-Qaida three years later.

    As we know, 9/11 was a disaster. We also hit Sudan. Didn't make much difference then. So, what exactly are we going to be doing? If it's going to be anything like General Keane is talking about, that's not a one-day shot. That's going to be multiple attacks. We're going to have to see how much damage we have actually done. That's called battle damage assessment.

    Our record is spotty on that. Will we get everything we're targeting? Maybe not. A lot of their aircraft -- in fact, the aircraft that seem to be more effective are called L-29 trainers, dumpy little things, but they don't have to fly off airfields. And suppose we hit some Russians, because the Russians may be there helping their air defenses. Then what happens?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, P.J. Crowley, do you think a limited strike is possible and can be effective?

    P.J. CROWLEY, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs: Well, sure.

    Our policy -- let's lift the immediate strike question up into strategy. Our strategy is containment. As John Kerry has reiterated on Friday, we will do what we can to help the opposition, but we're going to contain the civil war as much as possible inside the borders of Syria. Obviously, as the previous report noted, we need to do much more to help on the humanitarian side with the refugee flows into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey.

    But much like we did in Bosnia, ultimately, we have to wait for an opportunity where the fighting just works its way through, and then see if we can't solve this militarily. But I think in the meantime, I think the president has drawn an appropriate red line.

    In seeking to contain, we need to be sure that these weapons that can kill far more than any other weapon on the battlefield today, that that is not a weapon that Assad has at his disposal. But to Dov's point, I think what needs to come out of this congressional debate is a strategy and a policy that gives the president the authority, not only to do it once, but should Assad continue to use chemical weapons, I think we have to be prepared for that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But you're suggesting going further now, right, in terms of degrading his regime?

    JACK KEANE: No, I think the issue has always been, how far are you going to go with a limited attack option?

    And one of the things I have been advocating is, listen, cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions that are dropped out of airplanes that fly long distances to targets, they work best against fixed targets, as opposed to things that can move around the battlefield.

    Well, his airpower is very vulnerable to this because you can take his infrastructure away, that is, his airfields, the logistics infrastructure -- that is fuel and munitions that support aircraft, command-and-control, et cetera. That is very vulnerable. Plus, his aircraft are also vulnerable to that.

    Assad, in using these chemical weapons, never thought for a minute, in my view, that he would lose his airpower over the use of these weapons. So we still have a huge opportunity to degrade him rather significantly here and to take down some other delivery means as well.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What do you see? Is it -- do you see -- it sounds almost easy.

    DOV ZAKHEIM: It sounds very, very easy, but it took us quite a while in Libya. In fact, even in Bosnia, it took 78 days.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Kosovo.

    DOV ZAKHEIM: Kosovo -- excuse me -- where we were bombing away.

    What happens, for example, if the helicopters are moved -- and he's doing a lot of killing with helicopters -- these trainers are moved, and he keeps flying them, what happens then? What happens when we face much more sophisticated air defenses because the Russians have given S-300 air defense systems to the Syrians, which the Israelis are absolutely opposed to, by the way?

    But if the Syrians are in extremis, do you think the Russians are going to sit by? They're moving ships to the Eastern Mediterranean. They're not doing that to go on tour. So, you have to look at consequences. The idea of a limited strike, we don't know what the limits are. We have never known what the limits are. And once we cross those limits, we get sucked in big time.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think, P.J. Crowley, about the -- was there an upside for the president going to Congress in terms of getting public support for and congressional support for anything like this that might happen?

    P.J. CROWLEY: Well, there are some anomalies here.

    Two years ago, the president was involved in the six-month intervention in Libya. The administration had a U.N. Security Council resolution, but he didn't seek congressional authority for what was a war, even though the administration called it for legal purposes not hostilities.

    In this case, he's ostensibly going to Congress for support for a shot across the bow, as he has called it. But, as Jack said, the key is, is what the president's saying is, I'm going to do whatever I have to do to take chemical weapons off the table, but, again, I'm not going to use military action by the United States to impose a solution on the civil war.

    Now, that's an uncomfortable strategy for us to be in, but I think he's creating the boundaries that -- but he needs to have as much flexibility within those boundaries to be able to do what he needs to do, and then -- militarily. But then the home run here is then to try to use the limited application of military force to try to unlock the Geneva process and get this back on a political track.

    I think that will ultimately be successful, but we have to face the fact that this could take years to evolve, as it did in Bosnia.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And what about the other point on the table, General Keane, about the potential for regional -- more regional impact, blowback in many different ways?

    JACK KEANE: Well, I think if you maintained the status quo now and didn't do anything in terms of military intervention based on the chemical attacks, that regional spillover has begun.

    So that reality will increase, as will the displaced people and the refugees, et cetera. In terms of blowback, I think nothing but hubris from the Russians. They don't have much military capability, to be frank about it. Certainly, Syria is not going to attack Israel. They have lost every war they have fought with them on. And they certainly would not bring Israel into this war. That would be a huge mistake.

    The Iranians are not going to conduct an attack, a conventional attack on Israel and invite Israel to take down their nuclear systems. I think state-sponsored terrorism is something that has been in their kit bag for a long time. Hezbollah may be firing rockets on Israel, certainly something that could happen. But in terms of a huge blowback in the region that enlarges the war, I don't think so.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, just 30-second response to that, if you would.

    DOV ZAKHEIM: I think that if Assad falls, the question is, who takes over? And if the Islamists take over, the most likely group is Al-Nusra.

    You know, they're the best-organized. They're not the biggest, but they're the best-organized. In the Russian Revolution, it wasn't the biggest group that won. It was the best-organized. They were called the Bolsheviks. They were around for 70 years, something to think about.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And I will give you a few seconds for a last word here.

    P.J. CROWLEY: I think the president will want to keep this limited, because, for the administration, ultimately, Syria, as horrible as it is, is really of secondary importance compared to trying to resolve the situation in Iran.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, P.J. Crowley, Dov Zakheim, General Jack Keane, thank you, all three, very much.

    DOV ZAKHEIM: Thank you.

    P.J. CROWLEY: Thank you.

    JACK KEANE: Yes, glad to be here.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: Amid the focus on possible U.S. military action, there was word today that the Syrian refugee problem has become even more desperate. The United Nations reported some seven million Syrians have fled to other countries or been displaced within their own borders. Many are now appealing for outside military action.

    We have a report from Martin Geissler of Independent Television News.

    MARTIN GEISSLER: Jordan's biggest refugee camp gets busier by the day, the streets here lined with people who have lost everything, forced to flee their homes and their country in a bloody civil war.

    They saw foreign intervention as their only hope. Now they will tell you the whole world has let them down.

    "If no one stops Assad, he will kill five million," says Ahmed. He can't understand why the West is backing away.

    MAN (through interpreter): Assad has used chemicals 14 times at least. What is the matter with the world? Are they sleeping? Are they drunk? Are they on drugs?

    MARTIN GEISSLER: Almost 150,000 Syrian refugees now live in Zaatari camp. None of them want to be here, but there's a depressing sense of permanence about the place.

    This is now the second biggest refugee camp on Earth. What's striking about this swarming, swelling mass of people is the fact that across the border in Syria almost the same number of lives have been lost in a conflict that is just two years old.

    With the airstrikes now delayed, at least, these people say the regime they hate will be emboldened.

    "If Obama doesn't strike Assad, he will look weak," says this man. "The world will think it is acceptable to use chemical weapons."

    "If you won't send missiles, just send us guns," he says. "We will go and fight Assad."

    The people here keep telling you the world is playing a game with Syrian blood. They all know more of that will be spilt before any of them can go home.

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    KWAME HOLMAN: American Diana Nyad today became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. The 64-year-old arrived in Key West 53 hours after she jumped into the water in Havana on Saturday. She swam 110 miles across the Florida Strait with a support team keeping her on course. Nyad was sunburned and a bit dazed as fans welcomed her on the beach.

    DIANA NYAD: I got three messages.

    One is, we should never, ever give up.


    DIANA NYAD: Two is, you never are too old to chase your dreams.

    MAN: That's right.


    DIANA NYAD: Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it's a team.

    KWAME HOLMAN: This was Nyad's fifth attempt to swim the strait. The others ran into boat trouble, storms, and jellyfish stings.

    The top nuclear regulator in Japan raised concerns today over new leaks at the damaged Fukushima power plant. The latest leak was found over the weekend in a connecting pipe. There may also be leaks from three storage tanks where elevated radioactivity was detected.

    In addition, officials fear leaks also may be coming from as many as 300 other tanks. But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said again his government will not just stand by.

    PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE, Japan (through interpreter): Regarding the continuing problem of contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, instead of relying solely on TEPCO, the government will come to the forefront and implement necessary measures to deal with the issue. Unlike past times where things were dealt with as issues arose, we must take fundamental measures.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The Fukushima plant has been crippled since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to the meltdown of three reactor cores.

    Fire crews in California reported big gains today in controlling a huge wildfire that's burning partially in Yosemite National Park. As of this morning, the fire was 60 percent contained, up from 45 percent last night. But it also grew by about nine square miles overnight and now covers more than 357 square miles. Firefighters estimate it will take about 20 more days to contain the blaze fully.

    In South Africa, former President Nelson Mandela spent his first full day at home in nearly three months. An ambulance returned him to his Johannesburg residence Sunday, after doctors discharged him. The government said he remains in critical and sometimes unstable condition. He will continue receiving treatment at home. The 95-year-old Mandela was admitted to the hospital in early June for a recurring lung infection.

    Verizon has announced a $130 billion deal to make it sole owner of its wireless business. The company said today that British carrier Vodafone has agreed to sell its 45 percent stake in Verizon wireless. It's the second largest acquisition deal on record. If it wins approval, the deal is not expected to have much of an effect on Verizon customers.

    Those are some of the day's major stories.

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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now another take on the question of military intervention in Syria. It comes from our own Margaret Warner, who is in Cairo tonight, getting reaction from there and around the Mideast.

    I spoke to her a short time ago.

    Margaret, welcome.

    So, tell us about the reaction you have been getting from people there so far about a possible U.S. strike against Syria.

    MARGARET WARNER: Jeff, I have only been here 24 hours, and I have to say, I have been surprised at the unanimity with which people here are opposed to the idea of a U.S. military strike on Syria, despite the fact that some people here believe Assad probably did use chemical weapons.

    People here say it will just cause more instability in the region. And they mention everything from more refugees to strengthening jihadi forces inside the rebel forces in Syria. And there's really -- at the root of it, there's really great distrust of the United States, both its past actions in the Middle East and its motives for even considering this.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So you're saying they might well believe that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, but this really comes down to their feelings first and foremost about the U.S.?

    MARGARET WARNER: It really does, Jeff.

    Some people said to me, you got it wrong -- the United States got it wrong about Iraq. You told the world there were weapons of mass destruction being made, and they were not. So, there are many people here who even doubt the intelligence that the Obama administration has presented with such kind of authority and confidence this time.

    So I would say that's a larger group. But I spoke to a young man last night who actually believes Bashar Assad did it. He said, we saw all those bodies on television. But, still, he does not -- nobody here that I have spoken to -- I don't mean there isn't anybody -- trusts the United States and wants the United States to intervene once again in another Arab country.

    They all point to the example of Iraq in a second way, which is the United States went in to rid Iraq of a dictator, and look what we got. Look what this region got, which is Iraq in disarray, sectarian violence within Iraq, and now, as we know, exporting jihadi elements back into Syria, Sunni extremists.

    And Egypt is dealing with their own jihadi elements in the Sinai. So, whether it's for practical reasons or on the level of trust in the United States' motives, I just didn't hear anyone who had confidence that the United States could act effectively and was doing it really with the region's interests at heart.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And what about, Margaret, the president's announcement this weekend that, while he wants to do it, he would go to Congress, which will delay things for a bit? What kind of reaction, if any, you did get on that?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, on that, it really -- to the average man on the street, that had barely penetrated.

    To people, former parliamentarians, people who are political activists -- I'm thinking of three different people of that sort I spoke to -- they were split. One person said to me, you know, that really conveys a certain weakness. Obama may -- President Obama may say it's because of the American democratic system. And we know the reasons he gave.

    But here, in some quarters, it was seen as a sign of weakness, but another person, an activist, a pro-democracy activist, said, well, actually I think it -- to restrain yourself when you say you have the power and believe you have the power shows strength, not weakness.

    There is a little bit of a split on that, but, really, that's not the important prism through which people here are looking at it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The president of course is hoping for support from that part of the world, particularly through the Arab League. Where do things stand for that?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, not encouragingly for the Obama administration, because, as you said, the Obama administration hoped that, just as just with the action in Libya, they would be acting in concert not only with some European partners, but with the Arab League.

    The Arab League last week I think it was met and said, essentially, held Assad, said Assad should be held to account, and was critical of Assad, stopped short of military action. This week, starting yesterday, they had an emergency meeting which they moved up from later in the week to reconsider the question.

    But what came out, the first readings looked like, oh, they're now really calling on the international community to do something. But when you look at the text -- and I spoke to people both in the Egyptian government and in the Arab League -- they say the important thing about the today's announcement was, yes, we're calling on the United Nations and the international community to take some sort of deterrent action or deterrent measures against the use of chemical weapons by the regime, but -- but the only basis, the only legal basis for military action is under either the U.N. charter of self-defense or by a vote of the Security Council, which, as one Egyptian official admitted to me, for practical -- in a practical sense, that's not going to happen because of Russia's opposition.

    And so it is interesting that -- on two points. One, Egypt has long been an ally of the United States, is not acting in concert with the U.S. here. Egypt was the first to came out last week and say they were opposed to the use of force. And, secondly, that Marwan Muasher, who is the former foreign minister of Jordan, said to me today, it's interesting that the only Arab leaders in the full-throated way calling for U.S. military action are the ones without elected parliaments.

    That is, they are the governments that don't feel they have to be responsive to their people, and that is some of these Gulf kingdoms, and that whether it's Jordan or Egypt and other states which do have aroused publics now, and since the Arab spring, an even more activist public, they are not willing to go there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Margaret Warner in Cairo for us tonight, thanks so much.

    MARGARET WARNER: My pleasure, Jeff.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And there's much more online, where we continue our Syria coverage, including on our World page a dispatch from Margaret in Cairo.


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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now we turn to the legacy of the March on Washington, 50 years later, as seen by scholars of other civil rights movements who were broadly represented at last week's anniversary celebration.

    For a century after the Civil War, the black struggle for equal rights reminded America of its unfinished business. 

    Tonight Ray Suarez examines whether that struggle changed the way we think and talk about rights for everyone.

    RAY SUAREZ: For that, we get two different perspectives.

    Ruth Rosen is a professor emerita of history at the University of California, Davis, and author of the book "The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America." And George Chauncey is co-director of the Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities and a professor of history and American studies at Yale University.

    Professor Rosen, has this half-century changed what we mean, even who we're talking about, when we throw around the terms human rights and civil rights?

    RUTH ROSEN, University of California: Absolutely.

    The civil rights movement for justice and for economic equality actually influenced two women's movement, one in the 19th century, when the abolitionist movement inspired a women's right movement and suffrage movement, and then again in the 20th century, when women who had been member of the civil rights movement, the union movement founded NOW, and when younger women who had been part of the civil rights movement founded the Younger Women's Liberation Movement.

    So the civil rights movement has absolutely inspired twice in our history a fight for women's equality.

    RAY SUAREZ: Professor Chauncey, same question.

    GEORGE CHAUNCEY, Yale University: The African-American civil rights movement was really the wellspring of all great movements for social justice and equality in the United States.

    It certainly had a profound impact on the lesbian and gay rights movement. Back, in the '60s, at the time when the march happened, gays were regarded as mentally ill or people addicted to immoral behavior. And the civil rights movement really pioneered the concept as a powerful political concept of minority rights and made it easier for gays to begin to depict themselves as a minority who deserved the same civil rights that other Americans and other minorities did.

    And the civil rights movement pioneered many of the organizational forms and political strategies that are important to the gay movement, women's movement, the Latino movement, and many others. Even the marches themselves, the March on Washington in '63 was followed just two years later by the first gay civil rights pickets outside the White House and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and by the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979.

    RAY SUAREZ: Professor Rosen, did this time put Washington, the national government, at the center of being a guarantor of these rights in a way it hadn't been before?

    RUTH ROSEN: It did for the civil rights movement and for the gay movement and for people who were pro-choice who went to Washington to demand their rights that Roe v. Wade be upheld.

    But if you actually look at the women's movement itself, the real march that made the women's movement a household name took place in 1970, when 50,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue. That march then appeared on the front pages of every newspaper in the country.

    Now, that didn't end the women's movement, nor did it start it. It was in the middle of it. But what happened afterwards, of course, is all the organizations, NOW, which is more like the NAACP in its organizational style, and the Younger Women's Liberation Movement, penetrated every aspect of American culture, so that by the mid-'70s, every ethnic, every racial group of women, all the unions had women's caucuses, women's activities that were striving to change women's rights at home and at the workplace.

    RAY SUAREZ: Let's talk a little bit about the inside and outside game. The public saw demonstrations. The public saw marches, but at the same time, there was an inside game in courts, in legislatures, filing briefs.

    This was a big part of the success of all these movements, wasn't it, the duality of the struggle?

    GEORGE CHAUNCEY: Absolutely.

    And I would emphasize again what Professor Rosen said applies to the gay movement as well. It was -- nowadays, we're accustomed to gay rights being a national issue. Every presidential candidate has to talk about his or her stand on marriage equality and so forth. But back in the '60s and '70s, gays could only dream of getting that kind of national attention.

     So the organizing was very local, as indeed the -- most of the organizing in the black civil rights movement was.

    RUTH ROSEN: And if you think about it, what the gay and lesbian movement did and the women's movement did is, we changed the terms of debate in American political culture.

     If you look at the legislation that was passed just about women, women got the right to have credit cards in their own names, to buy mortgages, to be on juries in certain states. We got the right to actually own our own property in the 19th century, which we didn't have, have custody of children.

    And then, of course, Title IX in the 1970s gave women the right to sports. But the most important two things that I would mention is the fact that women are safer today because domestic violence has been made into a felony. And, at work, women know that if someone preys upon them, sexual harassment is illegal.

    And those two things alone, domestic violence and sexual harassment, were names that we gave hidden injuries that women experienced, and they really didn't have a way to talk about them. By naming them, we could debate them, and as a culture we could decide whether we wanted to pass legislation. And we did.

    And, as a result, I think that women's lives are a lot better, because at work and at home, they are protected from things that they really didn't know how to discuss before.

    RAY SUAREZ: All these movements, I think if you asked people who participate in them, they would say, we still have a long way to go, but it's...


    RAY SUAREZ: We will have to reflect on how we talk about progress in another conversation.

    Thank you very much for joining us.

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    Diana Nyad has reached Key West on the coast of Florida. You can watch the final leg of her swim here.

    Update: 6:30 p.m. ET

    Shortly before 2 p.m. ET, a sunburned and visibly exhausted 64-year-old Diana Nyad reached the shore of Key West, Fla., surrounded by thousands of beachgoers, making history as the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

    She left Havana nearly 53 hours and 110 miles earlier. This was her fifth attempt at the ultra-athletic feat -- her first was in 1978.

    As she walked onto Smathers Beach, supported by assistants and looking dazed and unsteady, she raised a finger and said, through slurred speech:

    "I have three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you never are too old to chase your dreams. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport but it's a team."

    Indeed, that team was made up of 35 members and five boats and included support assistants, shark hunters, a doctor, a navigator and a jellyfish expert.

    Just three hours earlier Monday morning, despite severe exhaustion, a swollen tongue and lips, and bad abrasions from her jellyfish mask, Nyad paused to tread water for several minutes to thank her crew.

    Two miles from the shore, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad stops to thank her team. Photo by Nyad Xtreme Dream.

    A "Doctor's Report" on her blog posted at 9 a.m. showed that she had "gotten very cold" and become disoriented overnight in the dark and appeared to be "really hurting," according to one of her handlers. She also did the swim without fins or a wet suit.

    Last year's August 2012 attempt at the swim was thwarted by storms, strong currents and jellyfish stings that she said caused "intense, ripping pain." Soon after, Margaret Warner talked to her from her return boat home. You can see the interview here:

    Watch Video

    In August 2012, Nyad spoke with NewsHour correspondent Margaret Warner about her fourth attempt at swimming the distance between Cuba and Florida.

    But this time, favorable weather conditions and far fewer jellyfish were among the factors that helped her achieve what she couldn't in years past.

    We've covered Diana Nyad's past attempts, along with the strains such an effort can place on the human body: extreme exhaustion, dangerous jellyfish stings, sunburn, hypothermia, storms and strained muscles, to name just a few.

    And here's more on the throngs of jellyfish she's encountered along the way in past years and the extensive efforts by her team to protect against them.

    This tweet came through at 11:45 a.m. ET.

    #DianaNyad couldn't wait to speak! "I am about to swim my last two miles in the ocean." #XtremeDream#FearlessNyadhttp://t.co/wmNwknlkJB

    — Diana Nyad (@diananyad) September 2, 2013

    And soon after, she stepped onto sand, this:

    Congratulations to @DianaNyad. Never give up on your dreams.

    — Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 2, 2013

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    GWEN IFILL: Now the last in our occasional series on America's aging work force.

    NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has reported on a factory where the average age is 74, on the graying of academia, on senior entrepreneurship, and on age discrimination.

    Tonight, he considers how working longer could help the economy.

    It's all part of Paul's ongoing reporting “Making Sen$e of Financial News.”

    ROSA FINNEGAN, 101 Years Old: Well, you're doing something useful. You're not just sitting, vegetating.

    PAUL SOLMAN: At age 101 Rosa Finnegan is still punching in part-time at small manufacturer Vita Needle.

    ROSA FINNEGAN: I'm in.

    PAUL SOLMAN: By working into old age, Finnegan and those like her are extending their useful lives and their retirement income. But might they also be a boon to the economy?

    How much are you paid?

    ROSA FINNEGAN: I don't think I'm allowed to say, am I?

    PAUL SOLMAN: You're 100 years old. You can say whatever you want.

    The reason I asked: This year, the gap between U.S. government spending and tax revenues is expected to be over $640 billion dollars. Threatening to widen the gap, 32 million Americans reaching retirement age in the next 20 years slated to draw Social Security and Medicare while paying zero taxes on income.

    So, are you slowing down?

    ROSA FINNEGAN: Yes, definitely.

    As long as I don't come to a screeching halt, I will be lucky.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But what if Americans worked as long as Rosa Finnegan, whom we interviewed in December? Finnegan was coy about her pay, but whatever she's making, she's paying taxes, federal and state income, Medicare and Social Security, which Vita Needle matches.

    STEVE BOEHNE, Infinity Surfboards: I made my first surfboard in 1960, when I was about 12 years old.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Another older worker we interviewed recently, 66-year-old Steve Boehne, runs Infinity Boards, pays himself about $60,000 dollars a year. His yearly tax tab, more than $18,000 dollars.

    And then there was Mike Grottola, 69, who became a business consultant after trying in vain to get a tech executive job, like the one from which he was laid off at 65.

    MICHAEL GROTTOLA, MGG Consulting: That big six-figure salary, that was so great, da-da-da. But, at 65, you're not going to make any headway doing that. And it was a mistake. Let me go on a path that will be way more productive.

    PAUL SOLMAN: With his new business up and running, last year, Grottola paid close to $15,000 dollars in total taxes on income.

    Finally, 71-year-old George Mason Writing professor Don Gallehr.

    DON GALLEHR, George Mason University: I think this is my 47th year that I'm here.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Don Gallehr paid about $35,000 dollars in taxes, including his university's Social Security contribution. He has no plans to retire.

    DON GALLEHR: Last semester, I had five students come up to me and say it was the best class they ever had, so, apparently, I'm still good for my students.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Overall, 18 percent of Americans 65 and older are now working and paying taxes, at least $120 billion dollars a year, we figure, on average, a figure that doesn't include state income taxes.

    Moreover, every extra percentage point of the work force not retiring would mean at least another few billion dollars in revenues toward closing America's annual budget gap.

    JULIE ZISSIMOPOULOS, University of Southern California: It's good for the economy.

    PAUL SOLMAN: University of Southern California economist Julie Zissimopoulos thinks older people working longer is an unambiguous good. Why?

    JULIE ZISSIMOPOULOS: For the simple reason that it grows the labor force. How are we going to keep Social Security solvent? How are we going to keep Medicare beneficiaries receiving the benefits that they have received in the past? In order to fund these, we need workers. We need people paying taxes.

    PAUL SOLMAN: It's a problem economists have worried about for decades. As the population has aged, the number of workers supporting retirees has dropped, a trend we reported on back in 1990.

    When Social Security began paying benefits, there were 159 American workers being taxed for every retiree. By the late 1940s, we reported 23 years ago, 42 workers for every Social Security recipient, by 1970, only four workers. And looking at the numbers these days, for 2011, for example, there were just 2.9 workers for every beneficiary.

    Social Security now pays out more in benefits than it receives in tax revenue. But according to Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, if, instead of retiring, more and more people 65 and older continue to work, the picture could change dramatically. Rather than just drawing from benefit programs, they'd be contributing to them.

    EUGENE STEUERLE, Urban Institute: It's not just Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes, the types of taxes we might think of as necessary to support programs for the elderly, but among the biggest gains for the government as a whole are with respect to income taxes. Higher income taxes mean that it's easier to support government programs without increasing tax rates.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Steuerle found that the Social Security taxes generated if the average American were to retire five years later than normal would make up better than half of the program's shortfall come 2045. If you were to factor in income tax revenue, the shortfall would be completely erased.

    Boston College's Alicia Munnell says there's an even more direct economic benefit to working longer.

    ALICIA MUNNELL, Boston College: It makes the pie bigger. You have more people out there working with their capital to produce more stuff. So you get a bigger GDP and everyone is better off.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Not every economist agrees, of course, Boston University's Larry Kotlikoff, who thinks the pluses of working longer are way overblown.

    LARRY KOTLIKOFF, Boston University: Only a very small share of people over 65 are going to continue to work under the best of circumstances, so it really can't matter much to the macroeconomy or to our fiscal problems. It's just not a big enough effect.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So you don't think that this is going to make that much of a difference?

    LARRY KOTLIKOFF: Even if we had another 20 percent of people in their 60s continue to work through their 70s or 75, it just wouldn't add up to much. It's just not enough people earning enough money, paying enough taxes to matter much.

    PAUL SOLMAN: What a surprise. Economists disagree. But it's certainly true that many who want to stay in the work force simply can't, due to poor health, a strenuous job, the need to care for a sick family member. So we just don't know how many will.

    But, says Gene Steuerle, the portion of older people continuing to work has been growing for years.

    EUGENE STEUERLE: The Social Security Administration has consistently underestimated the extent to which older workers will work longer and constantly pushing up that projection. And, as larger and larger shares of the population hit these older ages, someone has to produce the goods and services.    

    PAUL SOLMAN: And, says Munnell, that would be a good thing for the older workers, considering that 55-to-64-year-olds have an average of only $120,000 dollars saved for retirement.

    ALICIA MUNNELL: One hundred and twenty thousand dollars may sound like a lot, but when you think about taking that out over a 20-30 year retirement, you're talking about only a few hundred dollars per month.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So you mean if you have saved as much as $120,000 dollars in your late 50s, you're still facing relative poverty?

    ALICIA MUNNELL: People are not going to have very much money if they retire at 64. So my view is the single most important thing they can do is to work as long as they possibly can.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Marc freedman, the founder of Encore.org, says there are major benefits to working longer for the workers themselves and for the broader economy.

    MARC FREEDMAN, Founder, Encore.org: It's an extraordinary opportunity for individuals to have another chance to do something important, but really for a society which is discovering a continent of human resources, that's really only comparable to the emergence of women into new roles 30, 40 years ago.

    Now we wouldn't be able to contemplate being competitive globally without that talent pool. And I think 20, 30 years from now, we will feel the same way about all these people in their 60s and 70s who are continuing to do important work.

    PAUL SOLMAN: A nice thought for the nearly eight million of us who are still working past traditional retirement age.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Our reporting on longer work lives continues online on a brand new site we're calling “New Adventures for Older Workers.”

    Again, Paul Solman explains.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Our working longer website is designed to be an adventure in itself. You can see how you compare to your peers, whether you're planning to retire or work forever. See if you have saved enough for retirement, whether you're 22 or 72.

    We have got new data, new analysis, and not-so-new people, some of whom NewsHour viewers have met, like 101-year-old manufacturing worker Rosa Finnegan, or Mannequin Madness entrepreneur Judicial Townsend, 55. And you will meet others, like Mike Kemp, whose health may force him to quit before he'd planned to -- at times, scary, at others, inspiring, often interactive, more often, surprising. It's all on our website.

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    GWEN IFILL: Next, the high cost of mining for precious metals.

    A gold rush has brought new opportunities to the desperately poor nation of Burkina Faso in West Africa.But along with riches have come perils, especially for the young children who work in the dangerous mines.

    Photojournalist Larry C. Price, in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, recently visited several mining communities to document the conditions.

    Our report is narrated by Hari Sreenivasan.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This is Theophile. He's tossing shards of ore into a bucket 150 feet below ground. His eyes are glassy and his movements are rote, trained by repetition and circumstance. Down in this cramped, humid space, Theophile's small body moves about more freely than an adult's would.

    LARRY C. PRICE, Photojournalist: I thought I was near the bottom, and then I realized there's another 40 or 50 feet to go.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: A fact photojournalist Larry Price found out for himself as he descended the shaft to meet the boy.

    LARRY C. PRICE: This shaft is about four to five feet in diameter, and at its narrowest, it's probably less than 28 inches.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Above ground is the small mining village of Kollo, one of the many boomtowns that's sprung up over the last few years in Burkina Faso.

    Slightly larger than Colorado in acreage and among the poorest countries in the world, this landlocked nation of 18 million people is a relative newcomer to the gold trade.But the precious metal used in everything from jewelry to electronics to the basis of currencies the world over has in short order overtaken cotton to become the country's top export commodity.

    A sizable chunk of that gold comes from small-scale, or artisanal, mines, like these. And much of that work is done by children. The U.N.'s international labor organization estimates that children account for 30 percent to 50 percent of the small-scale miners working in the African Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso and Niger.But the issue is not restricted to the continent.

    ERIC BIEL, U.S. Labor Department: It's a significant problem around the world.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Eric Biel is acting associate deputy undersecretary for international affairs of the U.S. Labor Department, which tracks child labor violations across the globe.Its latest report lists Burkina Faso among 19 countries engaged in the worst forms of child labor, and Biel says the mines there present considerable challenges.

    ERIC BIEL: It's a multifaceted situation. You have got these boom-towns that are being set up where both children from Burkina Faso are leaving school and being employed there, but also children are being trafficked across borders.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It's illegal to employ children under the age of 16 in Burkina Faso, and Biel says the government has shown it wants to stop the practice.But with an estimated 200,000 mining sites, many in remote areas like these, and a strong economic pull, enforcement has been difficult.

    The average worker in Burkina Faso earns less than $2 a day. Meanwhile, a family employed in artisanal gold mining can earn between $5 and $40 a day, depending on the mine.That's led to many parents pulling their own children from school to help in the mines.

    GANNO DAOUDA, General Secretary to Mayor's Cffice, Tiebele (through translator): They say, if gold is found somewhere, it's hard to calm the ardor of the gold diggers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ganno Daouda is the general secretary to the mayor's office in the nearby town of Tiebele. Since 2011, he says he's watched the Kollo mine steadily grow to employ around 1,000 people. But with this new economic opportunity, he says there have come many problems.

    GANNO DAOUDA (through translator): The kids prefer quick cash, putting aside their future. It is a serious problem for us because children are always on the site.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Karim Sawadogo was once a goat herder at his home in the north and came to this mine in the southwest with his uncle.Barefoot, he cooks, fetches water and climbs down in the mines.He thinks he's 9 years old, but isn't sure.

    In general, young children like Karim carry out the more menial tasks at the sites, transporting water and heavy loads of ore, digging pits and breaking up rocks with primitive hammers.The jobs down in the pits are typically reserved for teenagers, with only tree limbs to brace the mine walls.The risk to them is real.

    GANNO DAOUDA (through translator):The site doesn't respect any rule.Oftentimes, there are deadly collapses.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The unregulated nature of this work makes reliable statistics hard to come by.But, as uncertain as the pits are, the jobs in the processing areas, where the ore is pulverized, are possibly more dangerous.

    Sputtering diesel engines power makeshift pulleys, grinding plates and belts used to crush the ore into a fine powder that's bagged to be treated later.Along with the hazards of breathing this fine dust comes the potential for losing a finger or limb.

    Children also help pan the powder with liquid mercury, which binds to gold.This amalgam in turn is burned to separate the gold, releasing dangerous vapors.

    JOE AMON, Human Rights Watch: It's a gamble. People are trading off the money that they can make now selling gold with potentially their health and their lives.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joe Amon directs the Health and Human Rights program at Human Rights Watch, which recently studied this same issue in neighboring Mali.

    JOE AMON: Children sometimes have exposure to both directly, to touching the mercury, and then also to the vapors.And that can be if they're working on the gold itself or if they're simply around the family compound where the gold is being isolated with mercury.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Amon says the effects of mercury poisoning are both difficult to diagnose and very serious. They include neurological damage, impaired vision, respiratory conditions, kidney failure, long-term mental disabilities and even death.

    Meanwhile, the constant dust around the mines can settle inside the lungs of these children, causing permanent damage.

    GANNO DAOUDA (through translator): There are a lot of health-related problems. Our nurses here are overwhelmed by cases of lung disease caused by dust, as these people do not have good protection.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Water is scarce in this drought-stricken country, especially in rural areas, so children use the contaminated cooling water from the machinery to wash their faces and brush their teeth.

    After 12- to 14-hour shifts, they try to sleep near the deafening roar of nearby machines or over an open mine pit. It's a rare occasion, perhaps a game of foosball, when they act like the children they are. Artisanal mining wasn't always so popular in Burkina Faso. In 1985, the country suffered a prolonged drought and the resulting famine pushed many families off their small farms and down into the mines for work.

    Gold fetched $300 an ounce in 1985. Today, it is more than $1,200 an ounce, fueling such rudimentary forms of mining in Burkina Faso and elsewhere.

    While it's clear there's gold leaving these boomtowns, it is much harder to say where that gold may ultimately end up.Burkina Faso's porous borders and large network of middlemen mean a nugget from these mines can be easily combined with other sources.

    The U.S. Labor Department says this makes tracing and stopping the trade of child-mined gold extremely difficult.

    ERIC BIEL: It's not something where it's as easy to say, well, if we stop the demand for gold, we can trace that back to what's happening on the ground in Burkina Faso. So this is one where we really have to start with the supply, with the circumstance on the ground, and try to get at the root causes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: To that end, in December, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a $5 million grant over four years to combat child labor in Burkina Faso.

    ERIC BIEL: We can't, as the U.S. government, solve the problem.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Biel admits that relatively minor sum won't end the practice, but he says it's part of a broader effort.

    ERIC BIEL: There's no ability through one grant, whether it's $5 million or something else, to address the whole problem.But you can begin to get at some of the root causes and through awareness-raising and so forth hopefully begin to make a difference.

    JOE AMON: It's not going to disappear overnight.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joe Amon of Human Rights Watch agrees, and says education can go a long way towards limiting children's exposure to the worst risks.

    JOE AMON: Many of the families that we talked to had never heard that mercury was the problem, that it had any impact at all. And so at the very fundamental level, there needs to be some education that's done.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Back at this mining camp in the southwest, an interpreter asks Karim Sawadogo what he wants to do with his life. Karim says he came here to make money, and that his dream is to make enough so that he never has to go down into the narrow mines again.

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    President Obama meets in the Situation Room August 31 with his national security advisors to discuss strategy in Syria. (Photo by Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images)

    The Morning Line

    President Barack Obama and members of his administration on Tuesday will ramp up a critical lobbying campaign to convince Congress to authorize use of military force against Syria. In a dual push, the commander in chief and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to host lawmakers at the White House, while Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel press the case on Capitol Hill.

    The morning session at the White House will include the leaders of the Senate's Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, and their counterparts in the House. Kerry and Hagel will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later in the day. They also will field questions from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

    The push comes a day after the president met with two of Capitol Hill's strongest advocates for military action, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

    "A rejection, a vote against that resolution by Congress, I think would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States and the president," McCain told reporters after the gathering.

    Graham suggested that Mr. Obama gave the Republican duo assurances that the administration would expand its assistances to the rebels in Syria. "There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition, to get other regional players involved," Graham said.

    Other lawmakers have made clear they intend to rework the draft resolution to incorporate specific goals and limits with respect to U.S. involvement in Syria. Politico's Josh Bresnahan details some of the changes being made to the plan:

    Some of the options being considered for the revised Authorization for the Use of Military Force include a 60-day period for Obama to launch "narrow, limited" strikes against Assad's regime with the potential for a 30-day extension of that deadline.

    Language barring the insertion of U.S. ground troops -- but crafted to allow special forces operations or the rescue of a downed American flier, for instance -- is also being considered, the sources said.

    And Obama would be prohibited from making the toppling of Assad's government the goal of any U.S. military effort in Syria, as some hawkish lawmakers have supported.

    The revisions are designed to win broad bipartisan backing from senators who are on the fence over whether to back a Syria campaign, GOP and Democratic sources said.

    Top officials, including Kerry, briefed lawmakers Monday about the case for force and to discuss the resolution Mr. Obama presented over the weekend.

    There were 127 House members tuning in, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seemed to make clear she supports using force against Assad. Democrats will count the votes as lawmakers decide, but will not officially "whip" the resolution and pressure them either way, she said.

    Members of Republican leadership have not given a clear signal about how much they will lobby members to vote for or against the resolution, and aides point to a weekend statement from House leadership noting they are "glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised."

    The New York Times' Jonathan Martin, meanwhile, writes that the upcoming debate over Syria could signal "which wing of the Republican Party -- the traditional hawks, or a growing bloc of noninterventionists -- has the advantage in the fierce internal debates over foreign policy that have been taking place all year."

    The Washington Post has a handy guide for seeing where members of Congress stand so far on the resolution. With Congress still officially on recess until Monday, a vote on the measure in both the House and Senate is expected next week.

    As The Atlantic detailed, Congress has declared war just 11 times in history.

    The administration's push for action ramped up Friday, when Kerry made the case outlining all the evidence of Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons. Kerry stressed the administration was making an effort to be transparent, releasing a report based on "thousands" of sources to the public. Read that document here.

    The NewsHour fielded a debate Friday night between Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, before the president announced he would seek authorization from Congress.

    And Jeffrey Brown tackled the developments Monday on the show, outlining the day's activities and going over the United States' military options with retired Gen. John Keane, former Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley and former Defense Department official Dov Zakheim.

    Watch here or below:

    Watch Video

    Margaret Warner reported from Egypt about the international reaction to the president's move. "Some people said to me, you got it wrong -- the United States got it wrong about Iraq. You told the world there were weapons of mass destruction being made, and they were not," Margaret told Jeff. "So, there are many people here who even doubt the intelligence that the Obama administration has presented with such kind of authority and confidence this time.

    Watch here or below:

    Watch Video

    McCain and Graham spoke to the press at the White House for more than 20 minutes on Monday. Watch:

    Watch Video

    And you can watch the president's weekend statement in full here or below:

    Watch Video

    Editor's note: The Morning Line will be back to five days per week Monday, Sept. 9. Visit our home page for news and show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


    Russia may deploy lobbyists to make the case against striking Syria.

    NSA leaker Edward Snowden has provided more documents to the Washington Post. Tuesday the paper detailed documents showing U.S. skepticism about Pakistan, and last week the paper reported on the "black budget" that funds spy programs.

    The Hill has details on what's next for immigration reform advocates.

    The Associated Press looks at gay rights activists who are turning to immigrant civil rights groups for inspiration as they retool their efforts.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Supreme Court justice to officiate a same-sex marriage. (And one of the grooms happened to be named John Roberts.) The Washington Post has a photo.

    Pelosi's office told reporters Friday that a quote in the National Journal incorrectly made it sound like she doesn't want to be speaker once more. Her office issued this statement: "Leader Pelosi is working hard to win back a Democratic Majority and has long answered press questions by saying what's important is Democrats winning the House back. Her answer to National Journal did not deviate from her standard answer. The Leader fully intends to be a Member of a Democratic Majority in the 114th Congress. The rest is up to her colleagues, as the Leader has long stated publicly."

    The Cheney sisters disagree on same-sex marriage.

    CNN political reporter Peter Hamby wrote a detailed paper for his Shorenstein Center fellowship at Harvard University, taking his fellow journalists to task for tweeting too much, among other grievances with campaign coverage. David Carr has more here.

    Daniel Strauss writes for Talking Points Memo an explainer about how Sen. John Cornyn managed to tick off the tea party.

    BuzzFeed's Max Seddon has the scoop that the president will meet Thursday with four Russian non-governmental organizations that work on human rights and rights for gays and lesbians. The move comes as Mr. Obama has scrapped a one-on-one with President Vladimir Putin and with tensions in the country high over what have been dubbed anti-gay laws.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's re-election campaign launches Women for Team Mitch in an effort to attract female voters in Kentucky and to highlight how the senator serves women's causes. He's running against Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

    The Justice Department will not challenge Colorado's 2012 ballot measure allowing for recreational marijuana.

    Christina was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show over the weekend, discussing Syria and polls showing the American people have war fatigue.

    Pieces of Plymouth Rock, locks of hair and splinters of wood are among the odd souvenirs on display now at the Smithsonian. Christina held a discussion about the exhibit last week while guest-hosting the Kojo Nnamdi show.

    Chris Cillizza confesses he hates "House of Cards."

    Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington are the Hollywood stars with the highest favorability ratings among voters, and Sean Connery is still America's favorite James Bond, according to an (actual) survey by Public Policy Polling.

    Washington on Tuesday mourned the loss of Josh Burdette, the 35-year-old club manager of the 9:30 Club.

    Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is working on the Hokies vote.

    A new study found that men feel bad about themselves when their female significant other experiences career success.

    And now, a story on Tooth Fairy inflation. Children are getting an average of $3.70 per tooth, a 23 percent jump according to the Associated Press.

    NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

    Team NewsHour put together this handy cheat sheet to the Syrian conflict.

    Margaret filed a dispatch from Egypt detailing the response there to the United States' likely attack on Syria.

    In this week's Gwen's Take, Gwen opens up about the challenges of interviewing the president, and the process for selecting questions.

    Ray Suarez begins his book tour this week for "Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped the Nation." The companion documentary airs on PBS Sept. 17.

    Shields and Brooks sharply disagreed Friday over the president's wishes in Syria.

    Making Sen$e asked, "Who's working on Labor Day?" to explore the fastest-growing professions in America and examined a recent Gallup poll on approval of labor unions. And we previewed an interview airing Tuesday with Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

    Ray looked at whether the black struggle in the 1960s era paved the way for other rights groups.


    Underrated political scene: Ren McCormack lobbying the town council to allow dancing. #Footloose

    — Ben Pershing (@benpershing) August 31, 2013

    Don't get 2 do this every day! MT "@robcamacho: @GavinNewsom This is how you cut a ceremonial chain. #BayBridgepic.twitter.com/mnCvnXArZ8"

    — Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 3, 2013

    As Wal-Mart's Restivo reminds reporters, the 10-day clock starts today for mayor Gray and the living wage bill.

    — Patrick Madden (@Patrick_Madden) September 3, 2013

    Hey @AP Trent Reznor wrote Hurt and Cash covered it, not vice versa. http://t.co/Ux8nt08qKh

    — Amanda Becker (@AmandaBecker) September 2, 2013

    Pope Francis and the first 'Papal selfie' via @Telegraphhttp://t.co/OtECpUeKrV

    — Katie Harbath (@katieharbath) September 3, 2013

    there's a newspaper called the Impartial Reporter and it just redesigned its website (h/t @joshgreenman) http://t.co/a4we1Wepu2

    — E McMorris-Santoro (@EvanMcSan) September 2, 2013

    #pubmedia superhero of the day: @cbellantoni@NewsHour POTUS interview one day, @kojoshow host the next. AND she brought homemade cookies!

    — Tayla Burney (@taylakaye) August 29, 2013

    Once, Josh Burdette @930club stopped me at the door. 'Just picking up the girls' coats.' He let me go, then said, 'Awesome dadding, dude.'

    — Joseph Curl (@josephcurl) September 2, 2013

    Katelyn Polantz, Jordan Vesey and Simone Pathe 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:

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