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- 12/03/13--13:32: _TSA launches pre-sc...
- 12/03/13--13:38: _ United Nations sta...
- 12/03/13--13:41: _African migrants ri...
- 12/03/13--13:47: _Pensioners will fac...
- 12/03/13--15:48: _Report: Prison guar...
- 12/04/13--07:28: _It's No Bubble: Why...
- 12/04/13--08:01: _Women of Vision: 11...
- 12/04/13--09:00: _An intimate view of...
- 12/04/13--09:15: _Oldest known human ...
- 12/04/13--10:37: _Poll: Millennials f...
- 12/04/13--11:39: _Ten pilot whales de...
- 12/04/13--12:45: _NSA collects nearly...
- 12/04/13--13:01: _News Wrap: Biden vi...
- 12/04/13--13:07: _White House urges s...
- 12/04/13--13:08: _Astronauts hope to ...
- 12/04/13--13:10: _Lead negotiator: U....
- 12/04/13--13:17: _States and cities g...
- 12/04/13--13:28: _Lack of security ad...
- 12/04/13--13:33: _Nat Geo's female ph...
- 12/04/13--13:34: _Malnutrition, infec...
- 12/03/13--13:32: TSA launches pre-screening program
- 12/03/13--13:38: United Nations starts using drones for peacekeeping
- 12/03/13--15:48: Report: Prison guards not negligent in Ariel Castro suicide
- 12/04/13--07:28: It's No Bubble: Why We Should All Give Bitcoin a Chance
- 12/04/13--09:15: Oldest known human DNA reveals we're 'complete mongrels'
- 12/04/13--10:37: Poll: Millennials frustrated with health care law
- 12/04/13--12:45: NSA collects nearly 5 billion cellphone location records every day
- 12/04/13--13:01: News Wrap: Biden visits China amid tension over air defense zone
- 12/04/13--13:07: White House urges skeptical lawmakers to avoid new Iran sanctions
- 12/04/13--13:08: Astronauts hope to grow lettuce on the moon in 2015
- 12/04/13--13:28: Lack of security adds to Central African Republic crisis
Here's something that might make your upcoming holiday travels less stressful. What if you didn't have to take your shoes off or take your laptop out from its sleeve when you go through airport security?
Starting on Wednesday, Dec. 4, the Transportation Security Agency will accept applicants for its Pre✓™ program designed to make the screening process a lot faster and easier for travelers. Passengers can voluntarily go through this pre-screening process prior to their arrival at the airport checkpoint. If you're approved by the agency, your information will be embedded in the barcode of your boarding pass.
What this means in a nutshell, is that you no longer have to do the following:Take shoes off Take liquid bags from your carry-on Take laptop out of your bag Take your jacket off Take your belt off
However, it's important to note that all passengers are still subjected to security screening whether they are in the program or not.
The first enrollment center will open in Indianapolis Airport on Wednesday. By the end of the year, TSA expects to open more application centers at airports in major cities, such as New York City, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles.
TSA noted that in order to be eligible, applicants must be a U.S. citizen. They must visit an application center to provide biographic information and fingerprints.
VIDEO: UN launches its first ever surveillance drone in DR Congo http://t.co/dWWqc30g6I— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) December 3, 2013
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally: the choices ahead as Detroit moves forward with bankruptcy.
Today's ruling by a federal judge begins to clear the way for it to happen, and he said public pensions could be cut as part of other changes aimed at shedding billions in debt. Unions and pension funds had argued that Michigan's state Constitution protected those pensions.
Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television joins us again.
Christy, welcome back to the program.
Remind us why this judge's ruling was necessary. The city was pretty much already clearly going into bankruptcy, wasn't it?
CHRISTY MCDONALD, Detroit Public Television: It was.
But, Judy, he had to answer several legal questions before he could clear the way for Detroit's eligibility for Chapter 9. One of those is, is the city insolvent? And the judge found, yes, the city is insolvent. It can't pay its debts. And no one really argued that point there. There is an $18 billion debt.
The other question he had to answer was, did the city negotiate in good faith with its creditors before they even filed for bankruptcy? And while he chastised the city and said, you know what, the city really didn't negotiate in good faith, he moved to the next legal question was, did the city -- was it even possible for them to negotiate?
And he said it really wasn't, given the fact they had 100,000 creditors and an $18 billion debt. And then the other question he had to answer was, was it constitutional to file for bankruptcy? And, indeed, he said, yes, it was.
And, interestingly enough, the judge said that Detroit should have and could have filed for bankruptcy even years ago, given the financial situation it is in.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Christy, how did the pensions of city workers become a part of this?
CHRISTY MCDONALD: Well, once they started going into Chapter -- once they started going into Chapter 9, the creditors, and looking at the pensioners and the retirees, they wanted to make sure that that money wasn't going to be touched.
But what happened is, is they took a look at it and the judge said, you know what? In federal bankruptcy court, that is a contract. The pension is going to be termed as a contract that can be restructured in this process. So even though the pensions are protected under the Michigan Constitution, in federal bankruptcy court, it is going to be fair game.
But he did caution the city, once they start to go through their restructuring plan, that he said, tread lightly on this. He's not going to go with any kind of agreement that guts those pensions. And when you look at 21,000 retirees from the city of Detroit, you have got 10,000 current workers right now, those retirees, they worked their lives and they knew that they were going to get the pensions at the very end. And they could be losing some of that money that should be coming to them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is it possible to know at this point what percentage of their retirement money, their pension could be affected, reduced by this?
CHRISTY MCDONALD: No, we won't know. That is going to be part of the ongoing negotiations now that Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager of the city of Detroit, is going to now start to go through with the pensioners and then other creditors.
We won't see anything until probably the first or second week of January. They do have until March 1 to get that restructuring, that restructuring order in to the judge.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How is the -- tell us just briefly, how is that process going to work? Who makes these decisions, which, of course, the workers themselves, their unions are going to continue to push back on?
CHRISTY MCDONALD: They are going to continue to fight on that.
One union has already filed an appeal to today's ruling. And you can probably expect some more litigation in the days and the weeks to come. But, eventually, they are going to have to sit down and they're going to have to sit across the table from Kevyn Orr, who is the emergency manager, who is the one who is going to be negotiating this entire process.
And not only is he going to be negotiating with retirees. He is going to be negotiating with the lenders. He's going to be negotiating with other creditors, in trying to figure out how to pare down this massive debt.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Christy, tell us about the services. The city has lost so much in the way of services. I was reading today the average, for example, response time for the police is something like five times the national average. What is the city expecting in the way of seeing some of those services lost restored now?
CHRISTY MCDONALD: When we see the headline of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in Detroit, we see that massive headline.
But, really, what this is starting to make way for, when you start to erase the debt and what they say is come out with a clean slate, is you are going to be able to a take the tax revenue that comes into the city of Detroit and put it back into the services, like the police that you're talking about, shoring up the police department, like the fire department, making sure the fire rigs are working when they are called out to a fire, like picking up trash, like making sure that the lighting grid is back up and running and you have working streetlights in the neighborhoods in the city of Detroit.
So what that is going to do, when you bring down the debt and you bring it -- you erase it and you start with that clean slate, you are going to be able to infuse money back into the city of Detroit, back into the services, and really make Detroit a better place to live. And that is the bottom line in this story.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A big day in the life of your city, Detroit.
CHRISTY MCDONALD: Absolutely.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Christy McDonald, we thank you very much.
CHRISTY MCDONALD: Thanks, Judy.
Ariel Castro is led out of a Cleveland courtroom on Aug. 1 after being sentenced to life without parole for the kidnapping and rape of three women. A month later he was found dead in his prison cell. Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images
When convicted rapist Ariel Castro was found hanging by his bed sheets from his prison window on Sept. 3, he became the 10th Ohio inmate in 2013 to commit suicide. His high-profile death, coupled with the rising rate of suicides in the system, triggered prison officials to commission an independent report, the results of which were released Tuesday.
The report, written by prison experts Lindsay Hayes and Fred Cohen, found that specialized housing units that experienced suicides, like solitary confinement, were staffed by officers untrained to handle the mental health issues specific to this type of incarceration. However, the assessment concludes that the suicides could not be blamed on staff negligence.
Cohen told the PBS NewsHour that while suicide is invariably linked to mental health issues, there's a greater relationship between prison suicide and conditions of extreme confinement.
"People do things in prison (that are) unimaginable to people on the outside because of conditions of confinement," Cohen said.
From 2009 to 2013, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction experienced 32 suicides, increasing to a rate of 19.8 suicides per 100,000 inmates in 2013, from a rate of 7.8 suicides per 100,000 inmates in 2009 to, according to the report.
Ohio DRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the department is moving to train guards to look for signs of suicidal tendencies and mental health issues as well as shifting from online training modules to face-to-face modules.
"We want to train our staff to recognize somebody who is potentially suicidal and train our staff overall on suicide prevention policies and practices," Smith said.
In the deaths of two high-profile inmates, Castro and death row inmate Billy Slagle, the report found that guards skipped routine checks and falsified logs on the days of both suicides.
To address this problem, Smith said that DRC director Gary Mohr issued supervisors to conduct random checks on guards several weeks ago to ensure they are doing their routine checks on prisoners. Despite staff missteps in those cases, the two experts did not find sufficient evidence of misconduct or negligence to conclude the two suicides "attributed to the failure of DRC staff."
The report also cites complaints of mistreatment by guards documented in Castro's diary. Castro wrote that guards ignored his request for clean linen, underwear and a mop to clean his toilet, and that they tampered with his food.
"I will not take this kind of treatment much longer if this place treats me this way," he wrote on Aug. 31, three days before he killed himself. "I can only imagine what things would be like at my parent institution. ... I feel as though I'm being pushed over the edge, one day at a time."
Smith said that there were no formal complaints filed with the facilities, and thus the allegations were never investigated. These accusations are only contained in Castro's personal writings.
Cohen said that Ohio had been the gold standard for prison mental health in 1995, but it has decreased mental health services and programs since then due to budget cuts.
"There are fewer and fewer resources devoted to mental health (in prisons)," Cohen said.
Read the the full report below:
By Larry Kotlikoff and Rob Shavell
Our Social Security columnist Larry Kotlikoff and Rob Shavell make an economic argument for Bitcoin. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Rene Walter.
Most Mondays on Making Sense, we turn to Larry Kotlikoff for Social Security advice. But besides penning a weekly Social Security Q+A for us, Larry occasionally opines on this page on other political and economic matters, delivering alternative policy prescriptions -- most recently on health care. Here, he and Rob Shavell, co-founder of Abine.com, wade into the debate over Bitcoin. (Check out Making Sense's exploration of the rise of Bitcoin at the bottom of this post.)
Larry Kotlikoff and Rob Shavell: Bitcoins have received a bad rap from many economists and journalists. Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times says that Bitcoin is, at best, a second-rate version of gold that only people from Mars and presumably other extraterrestrial abodes would take seriously. He also points to the proliferation of Bitcoin alternatives, asking if we can "imagine a world in which we all transact with dozens of different currencies every day with different rules?"
Students of monetary history can certainly imagine such a world. The U.S. "greenback" didn't make its appearance until the Civil War. Before that, all manor of currencies circulated on a routine basis in our young country.MORE FROM THE BUSINESS DESK: A Bitcoin Evangelist on the Virtues of Cryptocurrency
Prominent personages, for example, printed up their own currencies, called bills of exchange. These were I.O.U.s that promised to exchange a certain amount of gold when the bill was redeemed. Bills of exchange could be endorsed over to others and used in commerce. As long as they weren't redeemed, the original issuer was home free -- having printed pieces of paper, which he was able to use to acquire real goods and service. Bills of exchange were common in the early years of the republic. So were bank notes issued by banks and states, silver and gold coins, minted in Spain and other foreign countries, as well as U.S. government-minted Golden Eagles and other coins.
And the practice of rolling one's own currency continued into modern times. During the Great Depression, some 3,000 currencies were produced by various localities, some of which were printed on tree bark and some on pieces of car tires. California, the world's ninth largest economy, periodically gets close to going broke and when it does, it pays its employees in state-printed I.O.U.s, which then circulate, if not very well, as currency.
In large parts of Africa, cell phone minutes are used as currency. In the U.S., airplane miles and credit card points are, in some ways, a type of currency. So, yes, we can imagine a world in which we all transact with different currencies. After all, before the Euro, Europeans were routinely holding and transacting in multiple currencies.
But Bitcoin shouldn't lead one to consider a world with even more currencies, but rather a world in which we all transact in a single currency -- one whose supply is fixed by mathematics, not by the random discovery of gold or silver mines or the penchant of governments to print money. The media has predictably focused on the two sexiest storylines: Bitcoin as speculative investment and Bitcoin as anonymous currency used by the illegal underworld. However, the debate that should and apparently does interest global policymakers from Fed chairman Ben Bernanke to Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of China's central bank, is this: is the timeliness, need for and technological feasibility of a more efficient, more transparent, global currency close upon us?
The singular advantage of such a world is the inability of governments to surreptitiously tax their citizens via the printing press, buy real goods and services, and watch prices rise -- forcing those holding money, government bonds or other nominal securities to suffer a loss in real wealth and, thus, hold the bag.
Anyone familiar with current U.S. monetary policy might well wonder whether our country wouldn't be better served with bitcoins replacing the dollar. For the past six years, the Federal Reserve has printed vast sums of dollars to help pay Uncle Sam's bills, more than quadrupling the monetary base. This unprecedented reliance on the printing press to finance government expenditures has been dubbed quantitative easing. But what's really being eased is the obligation of Congress and President Barack Obama's administration to practice reasonable fiscal prudence.MORE FROM THE BUSINESS DESK: The Mathematician's Defense of Bitcoin: It's Just Another Option
Today, 29 cents of every dollar of federal spending is being printed out of thin air by the Federal Reserve. Yes, the Fed feels it can withdraw all this money from the private sector whenever it likes. But doing so will require getting the politicians to do something they don't like, namely raising taxes to pay for what they spend.
The great profusion of money creation is not limited to the U.S. The U.K., the Eurozone and Japan are all printing money like mad. They say this is meant to "stimulate their economies," but each of these governments or regions is thoroughly broke if one looks out beyond the nose of short-term budget horizons. That's why they are printing money and will continue to do so until inflation, if not hyperinflation, starts rearing its ugly head.
The use of bitcoins would hasten the day when the printing presses are turned off and prudent fiscal management is turned on.
Bitcoins could facilitate money laundering, but we don't ban the use of regular cash to prevent this activity. Bitcoins are simply electronic cash. Some countries might ban bitcoins because they wouldn't be able to make money by making money. But if enough global businesses were to start using bitcoins, it would be tough for any country to declare their use illegal.
Another economic knock on bitcoins is that they effectively produce a single currency. Hence, if prices and wages get out of line in one country, devaluation can't fix the problem. The U.S. has lived with what has essentially been a single currency for a long time. Somehow we've learned that adjusting prices and wages to remain competitive is part and parcel of doing business in a big country/region. The Eurozone members are slowly catching on to this proposition as well.
A final concern is that countries won't be able to print money to bail out their banks in the midst of a financial crisis. This seems all for the good because this ability to paper over our financial system's problems has prevented addressing the two key problems plaguing the system -- opacity and leverage. Having a global currency, whose supply is limited, fully transparent and independent of any government's control, could usher in real financial reform. Limited Purpose Banking, which transforms banks and other financial corporations into equity-financed mutual funds, whose holdings are disclosed on a real-time basis, is precisely what is needed.
The long sweep of financial history tells us that many extremely valuable innovations were initially viewed with suspicion. But without them, we'd still be bartering. Bitcoins may well be one of the truly major financial innovations that brings the world together and forces long-needed fiscal and financial reform. Let's give it a chance.
“Women of Vision” features 11 award-winning female photojournalists who captured moments around the world from elephants fighting for water in Botswana to swimmers bobbing in the Jersey Shore waves. The exhibit is part of the National Geographic Society’s 125th anniversary celebration.
“Women of Vision” features 11 award-winning female photojournalists who captured moments around the world from elephants fighting for water in Botswana to swimmers bobbing in the Jersey Shore waves. The exhibit is part of the National Geographic Society’s 125th anniversary celebration.
Prostitutes display themselves on a Mumbai street. Photo: Jodi Cobb
A lieutenant in the elite female counter-terrorism unit patrols the women’s barracks. Photo: Stephanie Sinclair
A double rainbow arcs above the jagged cliffs and dense vegetation of Kalalau, the largest valley on Na Pali in Hawaii. Photo: Diane Cook
After working himself into a trance, a follower of Maria Lionza leaps through a flaming pyre in Venezuela. Photo: Kitra Cahana
A Sami in Sweden mourns the loss of two reindeer that starved after locking horns in a fight for dominance. Photo: Erika Larsen
Nestled in their bed in Miami, four young sisters nap on a Sunday afternoon after attending church. Photo: Maggie Steber
In a hunting game with her mother, a young leopard leaps through tall grass. Photo: Beverly Joubert
A bird flu patient in Hanoi, Vietnam lies comatose and on a ventilator. The patient was not expected to live, but eventually made a remarkable recovery. Photo: Lynn Johnson
Women, mostly comprised of widows, train for police force jobs at a firing range near Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Lynsey Addario
To guide their decision-making, the Kyrgyz often seek out shamans to read their fortune with cards. Photo: Carolyn Drake
Dresses festoon a clothesline in Utuado, a lush mountainous region in central Puerto Rico. Photo: Amy Toensing
Stephanie Sinclair photographed Nujood Ali, who stunned the world in 2008 by obtaining a divorce at age ten in Yemen, striking a blow against forced marriage.
Amy Toensing is a born storyteller. The photojournalist has traveled the world to find her subjects: from a cave dwelling tribe in Papua New Guinea to sunbathers on the Jersey shore. Her photos are revealing and honest, a testament to her skill. "Being intimate with your subjects ... bearing witness to their lives is everything for telling a powerful story," she told the NewsHour.
Toensing is one of 11 women whose work is on display at the National Geographic Society's "Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment." The exhibit showcases the work of female artists spanning generations as part of the Society's 125th anniversary celebration.
The subjects these women tackle are wide-ranging. From Prostitutes on a street in Mumbai to four sisters sleeping on a Sunday afternoon in Florida or a young leopard leaping through the grass, there seems to be nothing that these women shy away from.
Maggie Steber photographed her mother Madje Steber who suffered severe memory loss during her final years at a Florida facility.
Lynsey Addario, whose work is also on display in the exhibit, is in awe of her fellow female photographers. "They're incredible. There's a range of women -- some of the first women who ever shot for National Geographic, to the youngest photographer shooting now for National Geographic."
Addario, who often works in Muslim countries, said that being a woman gives her access to parts of society that are closed to men. "I do think that women offer a different perspective," she said. "I'm able to go into homes, family homes where there are women, and I can photograph them. That's something that we would not get if there were not women journalists on the front line or in these countries."
View a slideshow of some of the photographs from the 11 photographers in the "Women of Vision" exhibit:View Slide Show
"Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment" will be on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C. until March 9, 2014.
Artist's drawing of what the ancient humans found at Sima de los Huesos may have looked like. Courtesy: Javier Trueba/Madrid Scientific Films
By tracing ancient human DNA, scientists are learning that prehistoric humans may have immigrated and diversified earlier and more frequently -- and there were a lot more of them -- than we previously realized. An analysis of the oldest known human genetic material found that a new collection of 400,000-year-old hominins -- ancient humans -- may be a common ancestor to Neanderthals and Denisovans. The findings were published in the journal Nature this week and they give us new clues about the origins of modern humans.
Archaeologists crawl through caverns at Sima de los Huesos to uncover ancient human fossils. Video by Javier Trueba/Madrid Scientific Films. (No audio)
Archaeologists found 28 hominin skeletons in the "pit of bones" at Sima de los Huesos, an archaeological site in the Atapuerca mountains of Spain. Cavers had to crawl through tunnels to reach the fragile bones buried more than 100 feet below the surface. With no air circulation, the chilly cave hasn't changed in thousands of years, making it the perfect "refrigerator" to preserve fossils, said Matthias Meyer at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and lead author of the study.
Skeleton of a Homo heidelbergensis found at Sima de los Huesos in Northern Spain. Photo by Javier Trueba/Madrid Scientific Films
The skeletons were originally identified as Homo heidelbergensis, and looked a bit like Neanderthals, an ancient human relative that lived in Europe 200,000 to 28,000 years ago, but these bones were actually 200,000 years older. The Sima de los Huesos hominids were average height for the time and had rounder skulls than the Neanderthals, but they still had a prominent brow ridge, explained Juan Luis Arsuaga, professor of paleontology at the Complutense University of Madrid and co-author on the study. They had dense, heavy bones, and wide, stout torsos, so they must have been very muscular and incredibly strong, he said.
"They foreshadow some of the characteristics of Neanderthal morphology," Arsuaga said. "We thought they would be related."
But a genetic analysis of the bones told a different story. Meyer found traces of Denisovan DNA, a Neanderthal cousin that lived around 40,000 years ago in east Asia. Scientists don't know what they looked like; only two Denisovan teeth and a finger bone have ever been identified. Finding traces of their DNA in a Neanderthal-looking skeleton, thousands of miles and years from their known whereabouts, was surprising, Meyer said.
"To be quite honest, we were puzzled. We're still trying to figure it out," Meyer said. "It's kind of strange, this piece of DNA going around Europe and Asia, and it pops up at two different times and places."
This discovery has left archaeologists with more questions than answers, Meyer said. These bones may be a new species in human evolution, a common ancestor of Neanderthals and Denisovans, which will help us understand when these groups split from our ancestors, Homo heidelbergensis and Homo erectus, Arsuaga proposed.
But if that is the case, then the bones should show traces of Neanderthal DNA too, Meyer said, which they didn't. And if further study of these bones finds Neanderthal DNA, that means there must have been some interbreeding with other archaic people, he explained.
It's possible that these fossils are ancestors to all three groups, said Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. These bones are a first glimpse into the Middle Pleistocene era, a period where a lot happened in human evolution, but fewer well-preserved fossils survived, he said. Ultimately, this mixture of Denisovan DNA and Neanderthal features shows us that when it comes to evolution, "we're complete mongrels," he said. "Everybody was bonking everybody else."
And that inter-breeding may have given humans the traits they needed to survive.
"As we look at more groups of (ancient humans), we see more signs of hybridization. It may have been an adaptation strategy," he said. "When that happens, when the DNA mixes, trying to time the point where species separated gets complicated."
Scientists believe that modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans overlapped in history. There are several theories to explain why the Neanderthals and Denisovans died out: competition, changing climate, disease. But ancient DNA tells us that wherever our Homo sapien ancestors went, they bred with other human populations, said John Hawks, associate professor of anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"Every time we've looked at the DNA of (ancient humans) we've found something we didn't expect," Hawks said. "It's just not divergence and connecting ancestors as we go back in the past. We're connecting across populations and there are more populations than we thought there were."
We carry pieces of these extinct species with us today, Meyer said. The average person's DNA is 2 percent Neanderthal, and in aboriginal people of Australia and some Indonesians 4 to 6 percent of their genome is Denisovan.
Ancient DNA is drawing a new family tree for archaeologists, Hawks said, revealing new branches and connections between ancient human populations and ourselves. Five years ago, scientists believed only two species of human existed 400,000 years ago -- Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis. But discoveries like this and the "hobbit", another early human ancestor recently discovered in Indonesia, reveal that there have been numerous human populations around the world, and they crossed paths.
"There were always populations adapted to the edges, the unusual habitats, and they were always in danger, from changing climates and food scarcity and competition. And in the long run, they became extinct," Hawks said. "But they contributed something to modern populations."
Students have a discussion about the Affordable Care Act with a supporter of the law at an awareness event at Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, Calif. Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Young people enrolling in health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act is critical to the law's success, one reason the White House is encouraging uninsured millennials to sign up.
President Barack Obama spoke to young people Wednesday to urge them to join health insurance exchanges that will help keep costs down for everyone enrolled.
But a new poll from the Institute of Politics at Harvard suggests it is no easy sell.
The survey, conducted after the problem-ridden rollout on Oct. 1, showed most young adults ages 18 to 29 believe that the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," will bring them higher costs with a lower quality of care. It found over 50 percent disapproval of the law in general.
These could be devastating statistics for Mr. Obama's health care reform package. But IOP Director of Polling John Della Volpe pointed out in a call to reporters that 41 percent of uninsured millennials say they are split 50-50 at the moment on whether to enroll. That undecided group is the target audience for White House and Democratic campaigns meant to encourage young people to get covered.
For the last 13 years, Harvard's IOP has conducted the Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service. The 24th edition of the poll, conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 11, 2013, among 2,089 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, showed five trends in regards to health care, fiscal issues and changes in party affiliation and political approval. The results show a general disappointment in the government and shifts in the youth contingent of the Democratic base.
Aside from health care, fiscal issues remain supreme as a political concern for millennials, with student loan debt at the top of the list. A majority of those surveyed from the Republican, Democratic and Independent parties support the "Buffet Rule" -- having people who make over $1 million a year pay 30 percent of their income in taxes -- over the five other options to choose from to reduce the deficit.
They also support cutting foreign economic aid in half and reducing spending on the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Concern over the amount of student loan debt -- the highest it has ever been in history -- transcends political affiliation, with 58 percent saying they have student loan debt and 57 percent saying it is a major problem with very little deviance between the political parties.
When asked about their opinions on elected officials and politics in general, the numbers did not bode well for Mr. Obama, Congress and the Democrats. The youth vote was critical in Mr. Obama's election and reelection. After a hard year for the Obama administration, millennials are now trending like older adults, with 41 percent approval and 47 percent saying they would recall and replace the president if given the option.
Congress fared worse than the president, with 52 percent saying they would recall and replace all members of Congress. Approval ratings of both parties were low and approval ratings for the Republicans only get lower. But Democrats should not be too quick to celebrate. The poll also showed a trend that may raise some concern for that party.
The IOP's Della Volpe and his team broke the millennial generation into a first and second wave: the first wave being millennials from 25-29 and the second of millennials ages 18-24. While the first wave has kept trending more towards the Democratic side, 18-24 year old voters are leaning more towards the conservative side, following in the path of their older siblings, parents and grandparents.
Della Volpe said that they attributed this to the fact that most of the second wave age bracket was not yet of voting age when Mr. Obama was first elected, but instead saw the political gridlock that framed his reelection. While millennials have invested a lot of hope in this administration and its progressive outlook, dysfunction in government has led to a general sense of disappointment. It is a trend that could spell trouble for the Democrats, with cracks showing in what was their once very strong youth base.
Judy Woodruff will speak with Della Volpe about his findings on the NewsHour Wednesday night.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 51 pilot whales stranded themselves in the Florida Everglades Wednesday, 10 of which have died.
The whales have been swimming in around three feet of water while others beached themselves, though officials do not know how long the marine mammals have been trapped in the area. A group of rescue workers in boats have been attempting to nudge the whales to swim into deeper water, though Everglades National Park spokesperson Linda Friar said they are "not cooperating."
Four of the deceased whales were euthanized while six others had already died, said Blair Mase, who is the marine mammal stranding network coordinator for NOAA.
The NOAA Fish Southeast Twitter feed has been updating the progress of the rescue attempts, where they warn that "most mass whale strandings don't have happy endings, to spite best efforts success rates for survival are low."
Pilot whale stranding Florida Everglades - collaborative effort with NOAA, FWC, MMC, MARS. pic.twitter.com/aERRYmzU8H— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) December 4, 2013
Last pilot whale mass stranding in this area of Florida was 1995 Photo credit: NBC 6 Miami pic.twitter.com/FzC4AvqafO— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) December 4, 2013
Pilot whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act but are not endangered. Pic credit NBC 6 Miami pic.twitter.com/ZyGf6Y6dOB— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) December 4, 2013
25 people are part of a team responding to pod of pilot whales stranded near the Everglades - more to come from the scene as reports come in— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) December 4, 2013
Team in Florida Everglades performing necropsies (non-human autopsies) to determine cause death/stranded of pilot whales - 51whales, 10 dead— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) December 4, 2013
Latest from Everglades - most mass whale strandings don't have happy endings, to spite best efforts success rates for survival are low— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) December 4, 2013
Video by The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Post is reporting that the National Security Agency tracks the locations of nearly 5 billion cellphones every day overseas, including those belonging to Americans abroad.
The newspaper says the NSA inadvertently gathers the U.S. location records, along with the billions of other records it collects by tapping into worldwide mobile network cables.
The program is detailed in documents given to the Post by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden.
Such data means the NSA can track the movements of almost any cellphone around the world, in addition to tracking who that cell user is calling.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the report.
NSA officials have said no NSA program gathers data on U.S. cellphones inside the U.S.
Associated Press writer Kimberly Dozier wrote this report.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tensions in the East China Sea hovered over Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Beijing today. U.S. officials say he and Chinese President Xi Jinping traded arguments over China's new air defense zone around islands that Japan also claims.
Later, in a subdued session with reporters, neither man mentioned the issue. Instead, Xi emphasized that diplomacy is needed from both the U.S. and China to maintain regional peace.
PRESIDENT XI JINPING, China (through interpreter): Both the international situation and the regional landscape are undergoing profound and complex changes. Regional hot spot issues keep popping up. China and the United States shoulder important responsibilities for upholding world peace and stability and promoting human development and progress.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The state-run English newspaper China Daily was far less diplomatic. In a bluntly worded editorial, it accused the U.S. of casting a blind eye to Japanese provocations. The editorial went on to say -- quote -- "Despite trying to present the image of being an impartial mediator, Washington has obviously taken Japan's side."
The European Commission has imposed fines of $2.3 billion on major U.S. and European banks over rigging interest rates. Today's announcement named J.P. Morgan, Citigroup and HSBC, among others. They were accused of manipulating European and Japanese benchmark rates between 2005 and 2010. The rates affect everything from mortgages to credit card bills.
Here in the U.S., a bitter cold and snow front pushed across the Rocky Mountains today. Extremely low temperatures dotted the landscape and, with wind chills, could reach 30 degrees below zero in parts of Montana. The storm has spread snow across the region, causing treacherous driving conditions that were blamed for at least six deaths. Another storm is close on the heels of this one, expected later in the week.
The pace of enrollment on the healthcare.gov website is improving some. It was widely reported today that 29,000 people signed up Sunday and Monday, the first two days after the mistake-prone site was relaunched. That tops the total for the entire month of October.
President Obama talked up the law's benefits in Washington today, and brushed aside rising disapproval in public polls.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: More people without insurance have gained insurance, more than three million young Americans who've been able to stay on their parents' plan, the more than half-a-million Americans and counting who are poised to get coverage starting on January 1, some for the very first time.
And it is these numbers, not the ones in any poll, that will ultimately determine the fate of this law.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans said the new numbers on enrollment are cold comfort to millions who've had their coverage canceled or who face higher premiums.
Nine-one-one phone calls from Sandy Hook Elementary School during last year's mass shooting were made public today. The seven recordings revealed police dispatchers in Newtown, Connecticut, urging callers to take cover, even as gunfire echoed. Twenty children and six educators were shot to death by 20-year-old Adam Lanza. A judge ordered the audio material released under the state's freedom of information law.
The suspected gunman in the deadly shooting at Los Angeles International Airport has made his first court appearance. Paul Ciancia entered no plea today to charges he killed an airport security officer and wounded three other people last month. He was denied bail. The 23-year-old suspect was wounded by police during the attack.
In economic news, a survey of leading corporate chief executives found they're more optimistic and plan to increase hiring. At the same time, growth at service sector companies last month was the weakest since June. The conflicting data left Wall Street looking for direction. The Dow Jones industrial average lost almost 25 points to close at 15,889. The Nasdaq rose a fraction of a point to close at 4,038.
There's word today that the great majority of American silent films are now gone forever. The Library of Congress reported that 70 percent of the 11,000 feature-length movies have been lost or destroyed. Only 14 percent still exist in their original format. That's due in part to the nitrate film stock, which was especially vulnerable to decay and fire.
GWEN IFILL: Now to an insider's look at the interim agreement over Iran's nuclear program and the uphill battle facing the Obama administration.
Ever since foreign ministers closed the nuclear deal with Iran 10 days ago, the Obama administration has been trying to win over a skeptical Congress and stave off new sanctions. Today, Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator in Geneva, held a closed-door briefing for members of the House.
Republican Trent Franks of Arizona is among the lawmakers who have called the agreement a bad deal.
REP. TRENT FRANKS, R-Ariz.: It seems like there's just a general notion that we're afraid to allow Iran to question our sincerity, when we should be questioning theirs.
Iran has given no concession of any kind for 30 years. And yet we are now taking some of our most powerful inducements off the table.
GWEN IFILL: Michigan Democrat Dan Kildee was milder in his criticism, but he said the U.S. has to proceed very carefully.
REP. DAN KILDEE, D-Mich.: We have to be very cautious with this state, and very skeptical, and realize that the reason that we're in the position we're in right now is that the sanctions are working, and the sanctions need to be not just seen only as a penalty, but as an inducement to better behavior.
GWEN IFILL: Under the agreement, a limited number of economic sanctions would be eased for six months. In exchange, Iran would agree to neutralize its stockpile of uranium, already enriched to 20 percent, a big step toward reaching weapons-grade, stop enriching any uranium beyond 5 percent purity, stop installing new centrifuges or building new facilities to enrich uranium, and grant new and greater access to international inspectors.
Iran also agreed to halt work at its Arak plutonium facility. But Democratic and Republican lawmakers were unmoved by the Iranian concessions, and want to toughen sanctions instead.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney argued against that approach yesterday.
JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: It would make more sense to hold our powder, or keep our powder dry, rather, until we see whether Iran violates the understanding we have reached, and act accordingly at that time.
If we pass sanctions now, even with a deferred trigger, which has been discussed, the Iranians and likely our international partners, will see us as having negotiated in bad faith, and this would have a bad -- this would have a bearing, rather, on our core sanctions architecture.
GWEN IFILL: Indeed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had made clear that his government wants to get rid of all economic punishment permanently.
PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI, Iran (through interpreter): The cruelty with which our people are treated must be lifted. This is our goal. We should dispose of the threats. We will resolve the threats. Our goal is to break the sanctions and take them out of the people's way.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel: This agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place.
GWEN IFILL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been highly and publicly critical of the deal reached in Geneva.
But some former Israeli security chiefs say that negotiations with Iran should be pursued. And former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused Netanyahu of -- quote -- "waging war" on the Obama administration. Negotiators are expected to meet with Iran in Vienna next week, just as the Senate returns to tackle the sanctions issue.
Mizuna lettuce growing on the International Space Station. Photo courtesy NASA
NASA hopes that by 2015 plants will take root in space, and astronauts can get a fresh salad on the moon. The LPX -- Lunar Plant Growth Habitat project -- is a "simple sealed growth chamber that can support germination over a 5-10 day period in a spacecraft on the Moon." NASA Ames Research Center in California is working on growing basil, lettuce, turnips and flowers in these systems.
Growing lettuce on the moon is more than giant leap for plantkind, according to the LPX website. Vegetation is key to establishing a sustainable space station, providing food and oxygen, even psychological comfort for space explorers. Plants will act as a "canary in the coal mine"; scientists can study the basil and lettuce for signs of radiation.
GWEN IFILL: For more on the nuclear deal with Iran, I'm joined by Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs. She was the lead negotiator of the agreement.
Welcome to the NewsHour again.
WENDY SHERMAN, U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs: Thank you. Good to be with you.
GWEN IFILL: This nuclear -- this nuclear deal that was cut in Geneva, will it hold?
WENDY SHERMAN: I think it will hold, because it's in Iran's interest for it to hold.
Iran is looking for some economic relief. There's very little in this agreement, but it is the first step to a comprehensive agreement which will give them the economic relief they're looking for.
GWEN IFILL: Could it have happened without this secret bilateral talks that were happening on the side? We heard about the public ones in Geneva. It turns out there were a lot of private ones too.
WENDY SHERMAN: There were private conversations.
And that helped to deepen the conversation. But all of the issues that arose in that private bilateral conversation also rose in the P5+1, and I think very effectively. The P5+1 used our bilateral channels and other bilateral discussions that were going on with other partners to get to this agreement.
GWEN IFILL: So you work out this very complicated, temporary first step agreement, and then you come home to Washington and find out -- a fair bit of resistance on Capitol Hill, which is where you spent part of your day today.
You are hoping to talk members of Congress out of imposing further sanctions. How is that going?
WENDY SHERMAN: Well, it's a tough road because, understandably, members of Congress have played a very critical role here.
It is, in fact, the sanctions regime that is supported internationally through U.N. Security Council resolutions, U.S. actions, both in the Congress and through the executive branch by the president, and by the European Union and other nations, that has brought Iran to the table, because they are looking for sanctions relief.
So I understand why the Congress believes that more sanctions can only be better. I agree up to a point, because that's what brought them to the table. But, in fact, sanctions were meant to change the strategic calculus of Iran to come to that negotiating table. Now we have to test that resolve to get to an agreement.
And any more sanctions at this moment by the U.S. Congress would undermine the agreement, which calls for a pause by everybody in that regard, and, in fact, might give them an excuse to depart from the agreement that's been made.
GWEN IFILL: But in lifting or easing those sanctions, even for six months, even for a temporary period, don't you lose some leverage? Isn't that the argument members of Congress are making?
WENDY SHERMAN: Well, they have made that argument, but, in fact, Gwen, the sanctions that we are suspending are quite limited, quite targeted and all reversible.
So we lose absolutely no leverage in this regard. And the fundamental architecture around banking and oil sanctions that we have, that the European Union has, all remain in place. So what Iran really wants isn't available to them unless we get to a comprehensive agreement that we can agree to.
GWEN IFILL: What Iran really wants in part is to continue enriching some -- for some fashion, whatever you believe, but using -- continuing nuclear enrichment. Does this deal stop that?
WENDY SHERMAN: Well, this deal doesn't stop it in the first step, because it is just a suspension.
But it does stop all of their enrichment over 5 percent. And that's very important, because the higher you get up on the scale, the more quickly you can get to weapons-grade uranium, which is needed for fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
So now they can't enrich over 5 percent, even in this first step. But the fact remains that we have also said in this agreement that when we get to a comprehensive agreement, we would consider a limited, modest enrichment program, if it is attached to real, practical needs and if, in fact, they agree to all the monitoring and all of the intrusive verification that is needed on limiting the scope, the capacity of the stockpiles and everything that they do.
GWEN IFILL: So some of that monitoring starts this weekend, but you believe, just as fact, that there is a plausible civilian use for nuclear enrichment by Iran?
WENDY SHERMAN: There may be.
But this is all part of the comprehensive agreement which we will begin to negotiate very quickly. And, indeed, if we cannot get the kinds of agreement we need, the kinds of limitations we need, then there will not be an agreement and we will revert to where we are with these sanctions, additional sanctions, and the U.N. Security Council resolutions which are quite critical and must be addressed before any final agreement is reached.
GWEN IFILL: How close would you say Iran is to being able to develop a nuclear weapon right now, if they weren't under this pause?
WENDY SHERMAN: Well, I think there are intelligence assessments which I can't share with the audience.
But, publicly, many analysts have said that if the supreme leader decided today -- and he is the only one who makes these decisions in the final analysis -- if they decided today, it would probably be at least a year away before they had a nuclear weapon. And, of course, they not on have to build the weapon, but a delivery system to carry it.
GWEN IFILL: Does this deal allow U.N. inspectors, international inspectors access to military bases, where they might have evidence to support this?
WENDY SHERMAN: Well, indeed, this is probably an extraordinary intrusive monitoring regime that was put in place even with this first step.
There will be daily inspectors at Fordow and Natanz, the two enrichment facilities. There will be at least monthly access to Iraq, the plutonium reactor that they are trying to build that we have halted any advance on with even this first step. There will be managed access to uranium mines and mills, to centrifuge production, things we have never, ever had before.
That will help us to make sure that they cannot divert things, they cannot have a covert program. And it will give us great insight into what they are doing. These are all firsts that we have never had before.
GWEN IFILL: Is it fair to say that, as difficult as it was getting to this first step, as you call it, that it will be 10 times as difficult getting to the next one?
WENDY SHERMAN: I think getting to a comprehensive agreement will be very, very difficult.
GWEN IFILL: Does that include dismantling, full dismantling?
WENDY SHERMAN: This includes a lot of dismantling of their infrastructure, because, quite frankly, we're not quite sure what you need a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor, which is what Arak is, for any civilian peaceful purpose.
And at the end of the day, what is critical here is that the international community and the United States of America must have full confidence that Iran truly has a peaceful program.
GWEN IFILL: And you know who doesn't have that confidence. That would be Israel.
WENDY SHERMAN: Indeed.
GWEN IFILL: And what are you saying to them in this interim? Are they also the subject of secret bilateral mollifications?
WENDY SHERMAN: It's not secret. We talk to the Israelis all of the time, as we do to all of our partners and allies, including in the Gulf, who also have a lot of interest in what is happening here because they care about what is happening in the region and about strategic geopolitical consequences regarding Iran.
But on the nuclear deal, Israel, the United States and all the Gulf states share the same objective: Iran will not, cannot, shouldn't have a nuclear weapon. The president has been very clear that he will stop that from happening. So we agree on the objective. Tactically, we may disagree from time to time.
GWEN IFILL: From time to time. Is part of that objective also normalization eventually with Iran, relationships with the U.S.?
WENDY SHERMAN: Oh, I think that we are a long way off from that.
I note a Wall Street Journal op-ed that was read -- written by Secretaries Kissinger and Shultz which laid out three objectives going to the future. One was a limited capacity in Iran for a civil nuclear program, with severe limits that could give confidence to the international community.
They also talked about where we might head with Iran in terms of a relationship with them going forward. But I think that's many years off.
GWEN IFILL: Far down the road.
WENDY SHERMAN: Far down the road.
GWEN IFILL: Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on that.
Wendy Sherman, undersecretary for political affairs and lead negotiator in the Iran talks, thank you so much for joining us.
WENDY SHERMAN: Thank you, Gwen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tuesday's decisions in Detroit and Illinois put a dramatic spotlight on public workers' pensions and why they're under increasing pressure in states and cities facing huge debt problems.
The fights are charged, with more skirmishes to come in court, but this week's action may be changing the landscape.
The battle over the public employee pension crunch in Illinois, the nation's worst, came to a head yesterday, as state lawmakers voted to eliminate a $100 billion unfunded liability. It passed with bipartisan support, although the votes were close, and some were more enthusiastic than others.
SEN. BILL BRADY, R-Ill.: I think it's a win-win. And the excuses I'm hearing of people who don't want to support it don't add up to me.
REP. ELAINE NEKRITZ, D-Ill.: This is hard for a lot of people in our state, and there's -- it's not something that I feel joy about.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The measure cuts cost-of-living increases for current and future retirees and raises the retirement age for those under 45. Many aren't happy about it.
MARIA PORTELA, Illinois: When you have been employed by the state for 20 years and you're counting on your benefits being X, and there is a possibility that that nest egg that you have been counting on is going to be reduced as a result of pension reform, it's a bit daunting.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, says he will sign the bill, but leaders of public employee unions say they will sue.
DAN MONTGOMERY, Illinois Federation of Teachers: We think this is the triumph of politics over the rule of law, and, therefore, we will be in court.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Illinois is following in the footsteps of Rhode Island, which overhauled its pension laws in 2011 to reduce benefits. And bankrupt cities are moving to curb pension plans as well. A federal judge cleared the way yesterday for Detroit's bankruptcy to go forward.
The city's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, promised a -- quote -- "thoughtful and measured approach."
KEVYN ORR, Detroit Emergency Financial Manager: Approximately 40 percent of every dollar that the city takes in the general fund goes to paying legacy debts, pension obligations, some of which are unfunded, or debt.
That's just not sustainable because, in the next three to four years, that number's going to go to almost 65 percent, almost two-thirds.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The ruling could have implications elsewhere, especially California. Stockton and San Bernardino may tackle pension costs as part of their bankruptcy proceedings.
We tackle the question now of whether these pension obligations should be targeted for cuts, and, if so, how they should be handled?
Steven Kreisberg is the director of collective bargaining and health care policy with AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union is appealing the judge's decision in Detroit. And Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He served as the principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration under George W. Bush.
Welcome to you both.
STEVEN KREISBERG, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Steven Kreisberg, to you first.
The basic question here, I think, is, should public employees who have done their time working for the government, are now retired, be subject to any kind of cuts when the city or the state they work for is facing terrible fiscal crisis and an underfunded pension fund?
STEVEN KREISBERG: Well, the underfunding of these pension funds has nothing to do with the workers. The workers, as you have said, have served their -- their city. They put in their time. They have done the services that they have been paid to provide.
The pension is a form of deferred compensation. So, typically, when people do the service, they get paid. You know, becoming a deadbeat on a pension, as the city of Detroit is proposing to do, is not consistent with the values, I think, of just about anybody in America.
So it's really not a case where the workers who are now retired are seeking something to which they are not entitled. The pension isn't provided as a gift. It's provided in compensation for service previously provided.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Andrew Biggs, what about this argument that these workers are entitled to this, they put their own money into it, and it's breaking faith, in effect, not to give them what they said they were going to get?
ANDREW G. BIGGS, American Enterprise Institute: I don't think you want to take an all-or-nothing approach.
I don't think -- I think it would be irresponsible, I think it would be unfair to treat retirees in a place like Detroit or California cities the same way you would treat bondholders who are all going to get pennies back on the dollar for their investments.
At the same time, though, the cities and states need flexibility to make changes. It shouldn't mean drastic cuts to current retirees, but it should mean the ability to change the way the benefits are earned going forward, so that you can get on top of these problems.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And let's just take a piece of that, Steven Kreisberg.
Basically, what he's saying is, we're not talking about completely dismantling these pensions, but we're talking about, I think you suggest, Andrew Biggs, reasonable adjustments, when the entire city or state is having a face cuts.
STEVEN KREISBERG: Well, I think what Andrew is talking about is adjustment on a going-forward basis.
And, in fact, in the city of Detroit, we agreed almost two years ago to such adjustments. We would earn less pension benefits going forward. But what Andrew didn't suggest and what the city of Detroit is doing and what the state of Illinois is doing is taking away benefits that have already been earned.
We don't allow that in the private sector. We have a law called ERISA, which is Retirement Income Security Act, and it protects employees. We have no such protections in the public sector, ironically, because we thought they would never be necessary.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, that this is -- this is something different that Detroit and the state of Illinois are looking at?
ANDREW G. BIGGS: Oh, sure, and this is completely different. Detroit is in bankruptcy because it cannot service its debts.
Some of the biggest obligations it has are to retirees through pensions or to retiree health benefits. So they need some way to make their finances viable.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And are you saying that is warranted in these cases?
ANDREW G. BIGGS: Well, the judge in the Detroit bankruptcy case said, yes, it is warranted, that these should be on the table. They are contractual obligation.
But bankruptcy is a time when contracts be changed to make the city more financially viable going forward. Steve is right that private pensions, you're not allowed to renege on past benefits. At the same time, though, if a company goes bankrupt, there are at least some reductions made to pension benefits.
So I think things need to again be seen not in an all-or-nothing approach, where you slash benefits, but modest adjustments and especially changes going forward, I think, are needed to get things back on a better track.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Steven Kreisberg, why aren't then moderate adjustments in situations like what we're talking about, in these -- in a city like Detroit, a state like Illinois and in other municipalities that are facing this, why isn't an adjustment that is moderate, reasonable something that employees can accept?
STEVEN KREISBERG: Well, I think, first of all, Detroit and Illinois are two very, very different circumstances.
Illinois is the state with the fifth highest GDP, gross domestic state product. It has very high levels of income. It is not an impoverished state at all, by any stretch of the imagination. Detroit is a troubled city. It's lost tremendous employment. It's been disproportionately affected by NAFTA and the decline of the auto industry. It's lost population.
And they are two radically different cases. But, still, to your question, which is, moderate adjustments, and the question of moderate adjustments of course are in the eye of the beholder. The average retiree in Detroit has a pension of $19,000 a year. Now, that's the average.
There are many with $12,000-a-year pensions. So if we're talking about moderate adjustments, are you saying $10? Are you saying $100 a month? Well, the emergency manager in Detroit is talking about 16 cents on the dollar. Is that a moderate adjustment? We say not. In the state of Illinois, it is a completely different circumstance.
This is a state that the very same day that it voted to take away retirees' pension benefits and to cut those benefits adopted a multimillion-dollar tax cut for a multinational corporation within that state. So the state is not impoverished. The state is choosing priorities that are different than the citizens have chosen by adopting the constitutional protection of pension benefits.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Andrew Biggs, what about that, and just what about the bigger picture here, that the blame -- that if there is going to be pain, the pain should be spread, that it shouldn't be -- it shouldn't be mainly or even in large part these people who have worked so hard for these cities, states...
ANDREW G. BIGGS: Well, I suspect, in the case of Detroit, it's not going to be mainly or in large part on the pensioners. It is going to be mostly on the bondholders, who are going to get hit much more.
I mean, Steve is right when he cites here the average benefits people receive from pensions. That includes a lot of people who spent a few years in public employment and are getting a very small benefit. If you are somebody who spent a full career working for the city of Detroit, you would retire with a benefit equal of around two-thirds your final salary. You would have a 401(k), on which the city guaranteed you 8 percent returns.
You would have your Social Security benefits on top of that. You would have people retiring at age 60 with a benefit equal to 100 percent or more of their final salary. Not many private sector workers get that. So I'm not saying the impoverished should be -- should be thrown out into the street, but we -- I think reasonable changes here to have some parity in terms of the treatment.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you respond?
STEVEN KREISBERG: Well, I think the facts are incorrect.
The average wage of the current work force is about $37,000 within the AFSCME-represented bargaining units. So even at a two-thirds replacement rate, we are talking about something far below what is adequate. In addition to that -- and that is the average current wage. So we have retirees who retired when their wages were maybe $23,000, $24,000 a year.
So we're seeing a replacement rate probably closer to 50 percent or 40 percent in a lot of cases as well. So the idea that there is a lot of short-timers distorting that average I guess is a mathematical number that we can debate, but the real question here is, what are our values? Is it morally right to cut people's pensions?
I mean, unlike corporations and banks, the retiree doesn't have the opportunity to restructure and reorganize their finances. They can't hire $800-an-hour lawyers to do that for them. So they are struggling to put food on the table, prescription medicines in their bodies to keep them alive. And these are tough choices for them now that their income is going to be cut by maybe a half or more.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tough to deal with in 20 seconds, but how do you respond to that?
ANDREW G. BIGGS: Well, again, it's going to depend.
And the judge in the bankruptcy case made very clear that it is going to depend on the specifics of what the city manager comes back with in Detroit. He says, you -- pensions are on the table. You're not going to get anything you necessarily ask for.
So I think they're going to have to come back with something that tries to address the concerns Steve has, but also says, how do we make these cities viable going forward? If -- Detroit is in explicit bankruptcy. Other cities around the country are facing increasing pressure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Andrew Biggs, Steven Kreisberg, we thank you both.
STEVEN KREISBERG: Thank you for having me.
ANDREW G. BIGGS: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: Tomorrow, the United Nations Security Council will vote on sending forces into the Central African Republic, where 12 more civilians were killed in fighting today. The French have already dispatched more than 600 soldiers to the troubled nation, with more on the way.
The CAR has fallen into chaos since rebels seized control of the capital last spring.
We have a report from Alex Thompson of Independent Television News.
A warning: Some images may be disturbing to some viewers.
ALEX THOMSON: Tomorrow, the United Nations votes for what they pray here will be a robust peacekeeping force more than urgently needed.
In the capital, Bangui, the existing French army presence is beefing up, but they will need a lot more transport planes. The country is the size of France and descending rapidly into violent chaos.
We flew west through Bouar this morning. It seemed wise. Seleka gunmen killed 15 people on the road route just yesterday. As we land, soldiers from the puny African U.N. force stand guard. It's near silent, tense.
These men say the Seleka engage them daily. Every plane needs security. Minutes later, sudden urgency, the Red Cross payload, 16 people with gunshot wounds, mostly women and children, like 3-year-old Petenu. The casualties are taken to what passes for the hospital in Bouar.
And we learn more about little Petenu, shot through the buttocks in a firefight between the Seleka gunmen and opposing militia. Petenu's dad, Maturio Combo, describes how his three other children were killed and his wife. "Petenu," he says, "is all I have left."
On the bed next door, another unsmiling traumatized child casualty. What does life hold in the Central African Republic for a little girl whose right arm has been shot off? For Leslie, everything about life has now changed.
And you do not have to go far to see where the violence is happening. The village of Vakap, or what is left of it, is just a few miles north of Bouar, cooking in a burned-out shell. Seleka gunman heard a rumor that this was an opposition village. They came, looted, shot the place up, and burned much of it to the ground.
Hundreds are still out there in the bush, they say, too terrified to come home.
So what security do you have here now? Who can protect you?
BADENGA FIDELE, village leader (through interpreter): We don't have any security here.
ALEX THOMSON: No police, no army?
BADENGA FIDELE: There's no police, no army, only Seleka people that come here.
ALEX THOMSON: Every week, more and more villages like this are appearing across this country. And the United Nations is already speaking of the potential for genocide here.
If nothing is done, it seems pretty plain this country will become another disaster zone like Congo, like Sudan or like Somalia. But, on this occasion, for once, just possibly, the world has the chance to intervene if it takes decisive action and takes it fast.
This week could mark the beginning of that decisive action, but how long until anyone on the ground here really feels any safer?
JUDY WOODRUFF: What is it like and what does it take to capture the world with a camera?
Jeffrey Brown has our look at a group of women of vision.
JEFFREY BROWN: Two boys chasing a kite through the rubble of an anti-government stronghold near Yemen's border, a herder in Norway chanting while tending his reindeer, a full moon hanging above the highway to Mount St. Helen's, three of the 100 photographs depicting cultures far-flung and close to home in an exhibition titled "Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment," part of the Society's 125th anniversary celebration.
It showcases 11 women, from veterans of the magazine to several who've completed just a few projects. One of the best known is 39-year-old Lynsey Addario, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent who's covered conflicts from Iraq and Afghanistan to Darfur and the Congo for "National Geographic" and The New York Times.
LYNSEY ADDARIO, photojournalist: I go in because I think that the story has to be told. Like any journalist who dedicates their life to covering conflict, I feel very strongly that these stories need to be seen by the American public.
JEFFREY BROWN: Part of that coverage, capturing the daily life that somehow goes on amid violence.
LYNSEY ADDARIO: That fascinates me. As sort of someone who is in the middle of the place, I want to bring a different perspective to the person outside and let them see, yes, there are daily car bombs, there are people dying, but, at the same time, there is peace going on and there is daily life continuing.
JEFFREY BROWN: And is there always a moment when you know you have got it somehow?
LYNSEY ADDARIO: There's an initial moment where I'm in sheer panic, where I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to tell a story. And then, as I become more familiar with it, I understand what I think the poignant moments are and what the most important moments are.
And, generally, I get to a point where I feel comfortable. And I'm never satisfied, but I at least feel like I have a good grasp on how to tell that story.
JEFFREY BROWN: In her 14 assignments for "National Geographic," 43-year-old Amy ton-sing has focused on individuals and small communities around the globe, Puerto Rico, the Jersey Shore, Australia's aborigines.
AMY TOENSING, photojournalist: My job is to tell stories about humanity. And in order to tell stories, you have to know your subject. And everything goes back to honoring my subject.
JEFFREY BROWN: Toensing researches her subjects through current events and history, but also through novels.
AMY TOENSING: Because novels speak on a very visceral level. They speak on a more sort of emotional, lyrical level. And I think that's how photography works as well. So when I'm about to go in the field someplace, I love to read novels about a place. That can really help kind of get my mind going about what's going to work for the visual translation of telling the story.
JEFFREY BROWN: In 2008, she was assigned to look at the impact of climate change and drought at the Murray-Darling Basin in Southeastern Australia, her way in, find a local farm family and look through their eyes.
AMY TOENSING: I slept in a room in their house for probably about a week. And, in this picture, I'm along for the ride. And so I'm like, all right, chasing pigs, I'm with you.
AMY TOENSING: And then there's a picture. And, really, that picture is -- obviously, it's not about pigs, but it's...
JEFFREY BROWN: And it's not necessarily about drought either, right, I mean, if I just look at the photograph.
AMY TOENSING: No. It's not about drought. It's about people.
JEFFREY BROWN: At 26, Kitra Cahana is the youngest of the photographers in this exhibition. Her first feature assignment for the magazine was about the teenage brain and behavior. In an Austin, Texas, high school, she found a girl's face reflected in the mirror of her parents' truck, girls getting their tongues pierced, boys taking video of a boxing match to post on Facebook.
At the time, Cahana was just 4 years older than some of subjects she spent months getting to know.
Were you talking photos all the way through? When do you start?
KITRA CAHANA, photojournalist: You start as soon as you develop a relationship with someone and they let you in, into their lives. Slowly, over the course of the assignment, I didn't have to go to classes anymore or sit in the lunchroom, because someone would text me and say, we're skipping school today. Do you want to come? Or, we're going to this party. Do you want to come?
And it was really about having the time to slowly uncover, not the secret lives, but the personal lives of teenagers.
JEFFREY BROWN: I asked Cahana, amid this exhibition of women photographers, how being a woman impacts her work.
KITRA CAHANA: I'm seen less of a threat. And they will think, oh, that's -- that's the face of sort of a quiet, kind person, not the face of "National Geographic," like, the media.
JEFFREY BROWN: Lynsey Addario told us she's had an advantage as a woman working in the segregated society of the Muslim world, where she could see and capture a home life largely off-limits to her male counterparts.
Addario was kidnapped in 2004 in Iraq, and then again in 2011 in Libya, where she and three male colleagues at The New York Times were held captive by pro-Gadhafi forces for six days before being released. Some Times readers were outraged at the paper.
How could The New York Times -- I'm quoting what you were reading.
LYNSEY ADDARIO: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: How could The New York Times let a woman go to a war zone? And you wrote that you found that grossly offensive.
LYNSEY ADDARIO: I did find it really offensive. I still find it offensive today, because I think that this is my life. And I have very set reasons for doing what I do.
And I think that if I want to dedicate my life to covering war, that's my prerogative. Why should my gender affect what I do? If I'm capable of doing the same job as a man, why should it matter if I'm a woman?
JEFFREY BROWN: This showcase of women photographers is in Washington through March, and then at venues across the country for the next three years.
People in the Central African Republic take shelter next to a cathedral in Bossangoa, north of the capital Bangui. Photo by Matthieu Alexandre/AFP/Getty Images
An escalation of violence in the Central African Republic is causing thousands to flee their homes into the wilderness, posing a humanitarian challenge in a country that has suffered from destabilization for years.
"We are really concerned about the displacement of the population to the bush. They are completely hidden. They don't have any shelter, food. They are exposed to violence and they have no access to any health care system," said Albert Carames, a humanitarian affairs officer with Doctors Without Borders who is based in Bangui, the capital of CAR.
An estimated one in three people in the country of about 5 million need food, protection, health care, water sanitation and shelter, said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on Nov. 25.
The United Nations estimates about 400,000 people have left their homes since the spring and are seeking refuge in crowded dirty camps. Doctors Without Borders has been dispatching mobile units to help those who can't reach their clinics.
"We see many cases of malnutrition, especially women and children," said Carames. The people in hiding are exposed to infections and malaria, which continues to pose a risk even beyond its peak season of July through September.
The current troubles started late last year when several rebel groups created a coalition called Seleka. In March, they overthrew President Francois Bozize and installed their own leader Michel Djotodia as interim president. But according to reports, Djotodia has been unable to control renegade fighters who are mostly Muslim and are attacking the perceived Christian supporters of the ousted president. Christian self-defense militias have sprung up and are launching retaliatory attacks, sometimes against Muslim civilians.
The clashes have intensified in recent weeks particularly in the north near the border with Chad, raising worries of possible genocide. The latest skirmish left 12 dead and wounded at least 30, according to the United Nations.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that CAR was "on the verge of genocide." "It's total disorder," he told France 2 television.
Human Rights Watch described how at least one town -- Camp Bangui -- was destroyed after fighting broke out between Seleka rebels and a local armed group. The group said it was a test of how serious President Djotodia wants to clamp down on lawlessness. "Unless the government takes steps to investigate and prosecute those responsible, these types of attacks will keep happening," said Daniel Bekele, HWR's Africa director.
"The CAR is becoming a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups in a region that is already suffering from conflict and instability. If this situation is left to fester, it may degenerate into a religious and ethnic conflict with longstanding consequences, a relentless civil war that could easily spill over into neighboring countries," said the United Nations' Eliasson.
The diamond- and timber-exporting CAR is surrounded by Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Eliasson has proposed turning the African Union-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA) into a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force. The U.N. Security Council is meeting Thursday to consider how to address the deteriorating situation.
France reportedly is circulating a draft resolution to authorize the African-led force to restore order and to allow the temporary deployment of French troops to the former French colony. France already has sent 200 communications and logistics personnel and is expected to send at least 500 more. The Congo Republic also has deployed 500 troops.
Doctors Without Borders' Carames said although more attention is given to CAR these days in response to the recent violence, the international community is still "doing much less than what the civilian population needs. For years we have denounced the neglect of this country."
We'll have more about the Central African Republic on Wednesday's PBS NewsHour. View all of our World coverage.