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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: The Obama administration made a big move today on the question of school discipline policies around the country. It issued new guidelines to urge school administrators to ensure they are not being overly zealous with strict punishments for students that are sometimes called zero tolerance rules.

    The Departments of Education and Justice warned schools to make sure they are being fair and equitable and that they are complying with civil rights laws.

    Two years ago, the NewsHour's Tom Bearden looked into a story in Texas that was drawing international attention to the unintended consequences of such policies, often for minority students.

    TOM BEARDEN: Seventeen-year-old Diane Tran is still upset after spending 24 hours in jail for missing class. The 11th grade honor student in Willis, Texas, was locked up for contempt of court after being warned by a justice of the peace to stop skipping school.

    The judge who issued that warning in April sentenced her to jail last month when the absences continued.

    LANNY MORIARTY, judge: If you let one of them run loose, what are you going to do with the rest of them? Let them go too?

    TOM BEARDEN: But after Houston's KHOU reported her story, the international spotlight fell on Tran and Texas' school truancy laws, laws that were originally crafted in the mid-19th century to keep kids in class and prevent parents from pulling them out to work in the fields and then later in factories.

    But for students like Tran, life is more complicated than it used to be. She is a straight-A student who holds down two jobs in order to help support her younger sister and another sibling in college.

    DIANE TRAN, student at Willis High School: Well, the judge had warned me about missing too many days of school. But I just couldn't help it.

    TOM BEARDEN: Tran says that schedule led to more than 10 unexcused absences in six months, which under Texas law can warrant criminal Class C misdemeanor charges, fines up to $500 and potentially jail time.

    After the news spread, the judge ended up removing the citation from her record. But the case sparked a new debate about the merits of criminalizing student behavior.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The new guidance calls for clearer distinctions about the role of safety personnel and making sure school administrators handle routine discipline problems, instead of turning them over to law enforcement.

    Hari Sreenivasan, in our New York studio, explores the potential impact of the guidelines.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We get two views now.

    Sherrilyn Ifill is president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And Chester Finn is president of the Fordham Institute, which focuses on the reform of elementary and secondary education.

    So, Ms. Ifill, let me start with you.

    How big of a problem is this? What is the administration reacting to with these guidelines?

    SHERRILYN IFILL, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: Well, the administration today really took the important step of recognizing what is a widespread problem.

    What we saw in the clip is just the tip of the iceberg, not only in Texas, but in states throughout this country. We litigated a case in Bryan, Tex., where students can get a Class C misdemeanor ticket for using profanity in high school. And this essentially then leaves students with a record and puts students on that school-to-prison pipeline that we talk about.

    This whole idea of discipline, of changing what used to be infractions that got you sent to the vice principal's office and criminalizing them has essentially introduced the criminal justice system into our schools, to the detriment of our children. And so what the administration really did today was to acknowledge this widespread problem, to take responsibility for investigating the results of these problems, and really trying to provide a framework for schools to think about how they can find alternative means to deal with what are real issues, discipline problems in the schools, to train police -- to train school police, to train teachers, to train counselors to know how to deal with the problems that cause students to misbehave in school or, in the case of the student we saw, to miss school.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mr. Finn, what about this idea that there is this school-to-prison pipeline, and we are overcriminalizing disciplinary behavior which could have been dealt inside the school?

    CHESTER FINN, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute: A lot of it can be dealt win inside the school. There are also a lot of pipelines into prison, not just from schools. There's poverty. There's gangs. There's neighborhoods. There's bad parenting. There are any number of things that contribute to prison.

     

    And if all that the administration had done was to offer school guidelines on how to handle discipline better, this probably would be a positive step. But there's a huge iron fist inside this glove. And it's in the joint guidance from the Justice Department and the Education Department, saying if you punish some kids more than you punish other kids and cannot prove that you didn't intend to discriminate, we're going to come after you and ding you as schools or school systems.

    This is fundamentally a civil rights enforcement step, of the kind that is ultimately going to weaken discipline in our schools, at a very time when things like Newtown ought to have us seeking better order in our schools, rather than discouraging school systems from enforcing discipline.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ms. Ifill, are there two different types of violence that we should be targeting?

    (CROSSTALK)

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Absolutely.

    It's difficult to imagine how discipline in the schools would have changed what happened in Newtown. We're talking about out-of-school suspension for children who disrupt the class or who are using profanity or who are called insubordinate.

    In Maryland in the 2011-2012 school year, 675 kindergarten students were given out-of-school suspensions for infractions like using foul language or not respecting the teacher. This is what we're really talking about.

    The school shootings are absolute tragedies and absolutely have to be dealt with and addressed in terms of safety. But the issue we're talking about is discipline as it relates to student within the schools. And we shouldn't overreact or misguide our reaction to the tragedy that happened in Newtown by tightening the vice of discipline in the schools and criminalizing discipline in the schools.

    And that's why these guidelines are so welcome. It's absolutely true this is a civil rights enforcement issue. And it is an important issue, because the disproportionate burden of this harsh criminalization of discipline falls on minority students, falls on African-American students, falls on Latino students, and as we saw in the clip that you showed, falls on Asian-American students.

    So, some of what is suggested is in the guidelines and suggested by the Department of Justice today is the training for school personnel to even understand how they're doing what they do. They're not going to come in and sue the school districts. The first step they say explicitly in the guidelines is to work with schools to try and find a voluntary means of using alternative measures to deal with discipline problems.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mr. Finn, what about the notion that Secretary Duncan impressed upon everyone over and over again, that they're looking for locally developed approaches, that there isn't one blanket policy? Is it possible?

    CHESTER FINN: Well, what they have done is to discourage locally developed remedies by setting forth so many norms and requirements and documentation obligations and data gathering requirements, that the practical effect of this in our schools and school systems is going to be to deter school systems from developing workable discipline policies that ensure that the kids who do behave are going to be able to sit in orderly classrooms and listen to -- hear their teacher and do their homework.

    So I think Arne Duncan's words are exactly right. But I think that the effect of his and the attorney general's actions is going to be precisely the opposite.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ms. Ifill, what about this idea that we have heard from teachers saying, you know what, sometimes getting a student out of the class is the only way that I can try and retain any semblance of order in the class, that -- and really would prefer to outsource this, I'm not a security professional, I can't deal with all of this?

    SHERRILYN IFILL: You know, in cases of violence, no one is suggesting that you don't need school police. In fact, we're not suggesting you shouldn't have them.

    There is a difference between a student who is violent and a student who uses profanity or a student who can't sit in their seat or a student who doesn't show up for class. And, in fact, actually, the very opposite happened of what Mr. Finn said. In fact, Arne Duncan and the administration based a lot of their ideas for the guidelines today on the experience of what happened in Baltimore City, where organizations like OSI Baltimore and the Advancement Project worked with the school system to try and change the school discipline code to get rid of out-of-school suspensions.

    And a lot of the success is in Baltimore. That is the reason why they held the announcement there today, really impressed the administration. And that's why they have empathized the idea of local changes, because they were impressed with what happened in one American city that figured out how to bring down out-of-school suspensions by working with the school district.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Mr. Finn, what do you think could attack some of these intense disparities even between states or even within districts for why some schools and some students are suspended so much more often than others?

    CHESTER FINN: Well, what won't attack them is 20 pages of gotcha guidance from the Justice Department and the Education Department, which is part of what the administration released today.

    What will tackle them is both education of education personnel and school safety personnel -- there is no doubt about that -- and advice as to what a good discipline policy looks like, all of which is excellent. But at the end of the day, it's the people that run our 50,000-school -- sorry -- 50,000-student school district that have to come up with these policies.

    And it's the principals of schools with 800 or 1,800 kids in them that have to know how to enforce these. And fear of Uncle Sam is not going to make them do a better job. It is going to chill their ability to do any job at all in this realm.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Chester Finn and Sherrilyn Ifill, thanks so much for your time.

    SHERRILYN IFILL: Thank you.

    CHESTER FINN: Thank you.

     


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    GWEN IFILL: Today marks 50 years since the United States declared a war on poverty, but victory has not yet been declared.

    Kwame Holman has the backstory.

    KWAME HOLMAN: When President Lyndon Johnson took the stage for his first State of the Union address, the nation still was mourning the loss of President John Kennedy, assassinated just seven weeks earlier.

    PRESIDENT LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Let us carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right.

    (APPLAUSE)

    LYNDON B. JOHNSON: This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.

    (APPLAUSE)

    KWAME HOLMAN: At the time, one in five Americans were living in poverty, and many of them were concentrated in the south-central mountain towns of Appalachia.

    The president and his wife, Lady Bird, toured those impoverished communities. They met with families of unemployed sawmill operators in Kentucky and tobacco farmers in North Carolina, many living in shacks without plumbing or sanitation.

    Attorney Larry Levinson worked with President Johnson during the 1960s to create legislation for the Great Society reforms.

    LAWRENCE LEVINSON, former Deputy Counsel to President Lyndon B. Johnson: What was surprising was where poverty was in America and who were the poor.

    And the first thing we noted was that four-fifths of Americans that were poor were white Americans. And based on the data we had, we were able to go to Congress and convince a lot of the folks that were naysayers in the Congress that, look, you're not dealing necessarily with a racial issue.

    KWAME HOLMAN: President Johnson signed a $947.5 million anti-poverty bill into law in 1964.

    It included Head Start, which began as an eight-week-long summer project for some 500,000 preschool-aged children from low-income communities. It has since expanded to a year-round program serving 30 million children and their families.

    The law also created VISTA, the domestic version of the Peace Corps, along with other job training and education programs.

    LYNDON B. JOHNSON: There are those fearing the terrible darkness of despairing poverty, despite their long years of labor and expectations, who will now look up to see the light of hope and realization.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The following year, 1965, President Johnson enacted reforms to Social Security, and a guarantee of health insurance for the elderly and the poor through Medicare and Medicaid.

    The official poverty rate has dropped since Johnson's era. But still there are some 50 million Americans, 13 million of them children, living below the federal poverty line. That is set at less than $12,000 a year for an individual, just more than $23,000 for a family of four.

    GWEN IFILL: So, 50 years later, how effective was the war on poverty?

    Jeffrey Brown has more.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And for that, we're joined by historian Robert Dallek. Among his many books is "Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson 1961-1973." Angela Glover Blackwell, founder of CEO and PolicyLink, a poverty-focused research organization, and Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush and now dean of Columbia University's School of Business.

    And welcome to off you.

    Charles Dallek, I want to start with you -- Robert Dallek. Excuse me.

    I want to start with you to set the scene. What drove LBJ to undertake a war on poverty?

    ROBERT DALLEK, presidential historian: Well, he wasn't the first one to want a war on poverty.

    In fact, what I find so interesting is, Herbert Hoover in August 1928 said no country in the world was closer to abolishing poverty than the United States. And then, of course, we had the Great Depression. In 1962, a man named Michael Harrington, who was a socialist, part of the Democratic Catholic Worker's movement, published a book called "The Other America: Poverty in the United States."

    JEFFREY BROWN: It has had a great, great impact, huh?

    ROBERT DALLEK: Well, what really gave it a great impact was the fact that Dwight Macdonald, the critic, then published a discussion of it in "The New Yorker" called "Our Invisible Poor."

    And that created this sense that America has a problem. And John Kennedy when he was in West Virginia for the primary in his struggle to win the nomination for presidency, he got a firsthand glimpse of the suffering, the difficulties that people had in that state.

    And in 1963, he was talking about having a war on poverty in his second term. So, after he died, the Council -- the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Walter Heller, said to Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy was talking about a war on poverty. And Johnson said, that's my kind of program.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And what was the country that Johnson was when he -- when this started? How serious was the state of poverty?

    ROBERT DALLEK: It was serious.

    There was something like 22 percent of the population which was living under the poverty line, which, as I understand it at the time was something like $3,000 for a family of four. And Johnson, he wanted to -- typical of Johnson, there was a kind of overreach. He wanted to cure poverty and abolish it forever and anon.

    Now, he knew this was going to be quite a struggle, because how do you deal with 22 percent of the population that's under the poverty line? And so he gave that famous speech, State of the Union, part of the State of the Union, that he was declaring a war on poverty. And then the struggles began, how do you do it?

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well, let me bring in our other guests, Angela Blackwell, you first.

    From the perspective of 50 years, what was accomplished, do you think? And in what ways was it successful?

    ANGELA GLOVER BLACKWELL, PolicyLink: In many ways, the war on poverty was very successful.

    It really brought in programs like Head Start and food stamps and things that really kept a lot of people out of poverty who otherwise would have been in poverty. So our poverty level now actually represents the progress that we have paid by creating a platform that we are not supposed to let people fall under.

    We have made progress, but poverty continues to be a huge problem in this country. And part of the problem is that not only do we have people who are poor and unemployed. We have so many people who are employed and poor. The economy is failing America.

    And the suffering and the poverty that we're seeing now both reflects safety net programs that have been tattered and an economy that's not serving the American people well.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, and, Glenn Hubbard, from your 50-year perspective, you have another take on this, right?

    GLENN HUBBARD, Columbia University School of Business: Well, I think the war on poverty has had some success.

    Certainly, poverty among the elderly has declined sharply over this period. And, in fact, poverty would have been much worse without the programs of the war on poverty. You can, of course, look the other way and say that we're about where we were when we started in terms of the official poverty measure, but other research says we are doing a bit better.

    To me, the real issue is, could we have done better still? And I think the answer is an obvious yes, that we have done well on the safety net part, but not well be helping people achieve success in America. A better example of that are things like the Earned Income Tax Credit that reward work. To help provide jobs and rewarding work, that's really the best war on poverty.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so just to continue that with you, Glenn Hubbard, was that a failure of economic vision, of the theory of the war from the beginning? How do you see that?

    GLENN HUBBARD: I think it was incomplete.

    I think the war was strong on safety net. It did have programs like Head Start, like Upward Bound that were part of empowerment. But I think we need a much larger focus on education, on training, on skill development, and, yes, on things like the EITC that support people in the work force.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Angela Blackwell, do you want to come back in?

    ANGELA GLOVER BLACKWELL: I agree with everything that was just said. And we need to really focus on this problem of inequality.

    We have had growth in America. But it has only benefited one part of the population. We need to really focus on how to grow good jobs, increase the minimum wage, bring greater -- greater voice to workers. We need stronger unions. And we need to do the things that Glenn just talked about in terms of preparing young people for 21st century work, for the economy of the 21st century.

    And let's not forget, with the shifting demographics and people of color quickly becoming the majority in this country, we need to remove racial barriers, make sure people who have been incarcerated can get work. We need to deal with low-income communities that are holding people back.

    So many people are poor because they live in communities that aren't connecting them to work and opportunity. We need a big agenda that actually focuses on building an economy for the 21st century that includes everybody.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let me bring Robert Dallek back in.

    You wanted to jump in at something you heard, huh?

    ROBERT DALLEK: These were the same frustrations that Lyndon Johnson felt in 1968, as his presidency was coming to an end, because he said, he wanted the program to be a hand up, not a handout.

    And he was very frustrated by the fact that a central part of the program, it was called Community Action, CAP, Community Action Program. And it opened up all sorts of political battles between local officials, mayors, city council people, and people who were involved in the community.

    And Johnson was frustrated by the fact that there wasn't enough in the way of education, enough of providing skills to people. See, his model was the National Youth Administration, which he had been the head of in Texas, and Roosevelt's idea that you give people skills training so that they can find work and get out of that limitation of poverty.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It is striking.

    Let me bring you back in, Glenn Hubbard -- striking that of course a lot of these same issues are now very much still on the table and back on the table, right, questions of economic inequality, and raising the minimum wage. There are the kinds of debates that we have on this program where you and Angela Blackwell might disagree on some of the policies, but you are still agreeing that something more needs to be done.

    GLENN HUBBARD: These are huge issues. And something definitely needs to be done.

    I guess I wouldn't think the things like supporting higher minimum wages are the answer. I don't think that provides employment. We do need to support skills for people coming in. And we need to support their incomes, things like the Earned Income Tax Credit. If we as a society want to provide better opportunities for work, we need to pay for it. Neither side of the aisle is in my view bold enough on this.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But what -- what -- go ahead, Angela Blackwell.

    ANGELA GLOVER BLACKWELL: Yes.

    If we raise the minimum wage to $10, five million people will be bought out of poverty. People who work shouldn't be poor.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Hubbard?

    GLENN HUBBARD: I agree with that, but why use the minimum wage to do that, as opposed to the Earned Income Credit?

    This is something that -- as a society, if we want this, we should pay for it, not in terms of job loss for others, or higher prices, or lower profits. This is something we ought to pay for.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Robert Dallek, you listen this and you are saying these were debates that were -- that Johnson would have been familiar with. And they have gone through -- through time.

    ROBERT DALLEK: And he would have been pleased, I must say, to understand, to see that there is a debate again about this.

    JEFFREY BROWN: He would have been pleased?

    ROBERT DALLEK: He would have been pleased that there's -- now, he would have been unhappy that poverty wasn't abolished, but he would have been pleased that it has come back into focus, and that people are recalling his war on poverty 50 years later, because I think your other two guests are absolutely right. This is something that's front and center, and we need to deal with it in this country.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we on the program of course will continue all of these looks at all these issues and debates.

    Robert Dallek, Angela Blackwell and Glenn Hubbard, thank you, all three, very much.

    ROBERT DALLEK: Thank you.

    ANGELA GLOVER BLACKWELL: Thank you.

    GLENN HUBBARD: Thanks.

     

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a conversation about rebuilding the country's roads, bridges and other critical components, as seen through the lens of American competitiveness.

    Infrastructure investment rarely captures national attention, until there's a tragic failure or accident, such as the 160-foot chunk of Washington State's Skagit River Bridge that suddenly gave way in May, the deadly 2007 collapse of the 1-35 bridge spanning the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and the historic failure of New Orleans' levee system during 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

    But some experts say the problems are exacerbated by a lack of investment that can leave the nation's transportation, communications, and energy networks outdated and unreliable.

    Still, there's been more investment in the years since the recession began, the most prominent being President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as it was called, allocated $150 billion to a wide array of public works projects. While the stimulus fund has expired now, the president has continued to press Congress for more spending.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have still got too many roads that are in disrepair, too many bridges that aren't safe. We don't have to accept that for America. We can do better. We can build better.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But some lawmakers, like House Speaker John Boehner, resist spending more unless it's paid for.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It's easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all these things you want to give away, but, at some point, somebody's got to pay the bill.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a bipartisan advocacy group, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and now former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is pushing policy actions to address infrastructure needs.

    Among their recommendations: passing a long-term transportation bill; establishing a national infrastructure bank to fund freight and other industrial projects; and consideration of gas or mileage fees to fund building and maintenance.

    Still, the challenge ahead looms large.

    We look at the realities and real questions surrounding these projects with two people who are making the case for them. As we just heard, they are both with the group Building America's Future, former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican and longtime congressman who was just today named co-chair of the group.

    Welcome to you both.

    RAY LAHOOD, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation: Thank you, Judy.

    ED RENDELL, former Pennsylvania governor: Nice to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Governor Rendell, to you first.

    What mainly is the problem you want to fix?

    ED RENDELL: We want to revitalize the nation's infrastructure.

    We did a report two years ago that said falling behind, falling apart. Our infrastructure is literally falling part. You see it as bridges collapse, pipelines burst. It's old. It hasn't been revitalized in a long time. We need it for public safety, to stay economically competitive. And it's the best jobs program in America.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Help us understand, Secretary LaHood, why the American people should care about this.

    RAY LAHOOD: America has always been number one in infrastructure.

    When we built Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, the interstate system over 50 years, we put friends and neighbors to work. This is an opportunity to stimulate the economy, to get people back to work, and to continue to try to be number one.

    We're not number one in infrastructure anymore. We're number 16. We're way behind. And we could put a lot of people to work, improve our economy, and improve our infrastructure if we get behind a big, bold plan to fix up America's roads and bridges and other infrastructure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Governor Rendell, whose responsibility is it to fix all this? And how much -- what is the price tag?

    ED RENDELL: Well, it's all of our responsibility. It's the federal government, it's state government, it's local government, and it's the private sector.

    The sin of it, Judy, there's estimates -- Felix Rohatyn, the great financial wizard, estimates that there is almost $300 billion in European and Chinese money willing to come in and invest in rebuilding the American infrastructure, if we can create the right vehicle.

    It's a huge problem. The American Society of Civil Engineers says we have got to spend in the next eight years $3.6 trillion, and in the pipeline is $1.6 trillion. So we have a $2 trillion deficit. Where is the money going to come from? It's going to come from a lot of sources, including the private sector.

    We have to do something about the gas tax or a vehicle miles travel tax. And we have got to be realistic about that. We have got to create an infrastructure bank that can do credit enhancements that will allow more money to flow into the system. We have got to do it all.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Secretary LaHood, why can't the private sector and state and local governments do most of this? Why does the federal government have to have a big role?

    RAY LAHOOD: We need somebody to provide the lead. There is not enough money in the states or in any city to do what they have to do in terms of building roads, building bridges.

    These are costly projects. We have always been the leader at the national level, until more recently. You need somebody to take the lead to provide the kind of resources that then can attract private dollars, as Governor Rendell said, also state dollars, also local dollars.

    Somebody has to be the leader in this. And it has to be a national leader. At one time, we were a national leader, and now we're not.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Rendell, what about the -- you hear this argument all the time, that once the federal government gets involved in a big project, you see cost overruns, you see waste, you see things just that were supposed to go in an orderly way end up going off-track and taking a whole lot longer and costing a lot more.

    ED RENDELL: Well, it doesn't have to happen.

    First of all, MAP-21, the recent transportation bill, did change some of the regulations and speed up some of the regulatory framework. That's a plus. But, secondly, if you look at stimulus, stimulus got a bad name in general. But the infrastructure part of stimulus worked very, very well.

    Pennsylvania got a billion dollars for its roads and highways. We created 24,600-plus jobs with that billion dollars. We repaired bridges and roads. Thanks to stimulus and money that I put in, state money I put in, we went from having 6,600 structurally deficient bridges to 4,500.

    But think of that. That's huge progress, but we still have 4,500 structurally deficient bridges, any one of which can collapse.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You hear these numbers, and taking what you're saying in good faith, still, Secretary LaHood, I was reading today some critics are saying, well, a lot of this is hyped. And they were going back and pointing to examples that both your organization, Building America's Future, has used, other organizations have used, and they're saying it's not really as bad as they say it is.

    RAY LAHOOD: Judy, America is one big pothole.

    We went from number one to number 16 in infrastructure and improving infrastructure. Anybody who lives in a city or a state knows their roads are crumbling. There are potholes. There are deficient bridges. And in the country, people get this, and have passed referendums time and time again to fix up their roads and bridges.

    We need some of that vision here in Washington to say, we need to do the same thing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How much are you asking for from the federal government, Governor Rendell?

    And also how can you ask the Congress -- expect the Congress to appropriate this kind of money, when they are already looking at significant requests for extending unemployment benefits, doing something about food stamps, for example, doing something about I think you could say essential needs like that? How can you then turn around and say, well, we really need to put the money into highways?

    ED RENDELL: Well, Judy, this is essential.

    It's essential for public safety. How many more bridges do we have to have collapse on us? It's essential for the economy. Tell me any other venture where we can produce literally hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs that are middle-class jobs, $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 a year?

    I will give you an example of what the secretary was talking about. There are -- as you know, the Panama Canal is being deepened and these supertankers are coming through. When they unload, they create longshoreman jobs and trucker jobs that are, again, well-paying jobs.

    But only two of America's 12 Eastern Shore -- Eastern Shore ports are ready to receive them because we haven't done proper dredging. So those ships are going to go to Canada. And the jobs are going to be produced in Canada, not the U.S.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about -- Secretary LaHood, we heard Speaker Boehner say this is all well and good, but we have got to find a way to pay for it. Where is the money going to come from?

    RAY LAHOOD: We need to raise the gas tax, Judy, which has been the pot of money that has been the stimulus to help states and cities do these big projects.

    It hasn't been raised since 1993. We need to raise it. I say raise it 10 cents a gallon, index it, so that we have the kind of resources here that can be matched with private, state and local dollars.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you think the American people are ready to support something like that?

    ED RENDELL: Well, it's interesting.

    They vote consistently to approve referendums on money for a bridge, money for revitalizing the port. The difference here is, they don't have confidence in the government. But the government has got to spell out how many jobs will be created, where the major projects are going to be and what the upside is.

    If they do that, look, no business in this country has grown successful without investing in its own growth. Same goes for us.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, the organization is Building America's Future, bipartisan, with us, Republican former Secretary Ray LaHood, former Governor Ed Rendell.

    We thank you.

    RAY LAHOOD: Thank you, Judy.

     


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    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly (L) stand at the scene of a September 12 boardwalk fire in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Photo by Phil Stilton/Getty Images

    The revelations Wednesday that the September 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge not only appeared to be part of a political vendetta, but that a top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie played a role in the incident, has thrown the potential 2016 GOP contender's political future into jeopardy.

    The details of the email and text message exchanges between Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and two appointees to the Port Authority, show that access roads from Fort Lee, N.J., to the bridge were shut down in retaliation for the town's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, declining to endorse the Republican's re-election bid last year. That contradicted claims by the Christie administration that the decision was part of a traffic study ordered by the Port Authority.

    The Morning Line

    The Bergen Record's Shawn Boburg broke the story Wednesday. He wrote:

    The explosive e-mails and text messages, obtained and first reported by The Record, sparked a political firestorm that extended far beyond New Jersey and Fort Lee -- which was gridlocked for days as a result of the closures -- and appeared destined to stretch into the foreseeable future. They also pushed Christie to expand on his previous claims that his office had no involvement in the closures and forced him to join the chorus of outraged officials at all levels of government condemning the messages exchanged between one of his deputy aides and his two executives at the Port Authority.

    Christie's office announced that he will hold an 11 a.m. news conference Thursday in Trenton, where he will take questions from reporters. On Wednesday, Christie canceled a public appearance, and instead released a pointed statement denying any knowledge of the scheme.

    "What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable," Christie said. "I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge."

    Christie added: "This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."

    During a mid-December news conference, as questions about the road closures mounted, Christie denied any involvement by him or his staff. "Yeah, I have absolutely no reason to believe that," Christie said. "I've made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it and they've all assured me that they don't."

    But the documents made public Wednesday told a different tale.

    In one exchange, Kelly wrote to Port Authority official David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein replied: "Got it."

    Another series of text messages dealt with apparent complaints by Sokolich that school buses were being delayed by the lane closures. "I feel bad about the kids," an unidentified person wrote to Wildstein. "They are the children of Buono voters," Wildstein responded, referring to Christie's Democratic opponent in last year's gubernatorial campaign.

    Wildstein and Christie's top appointee to the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, resigned in December amid the growing controversy.

    Adding to Christie's troubles, the Record's Linh Tat reported Wednesday that emergency vehicles were delayed in responding to four medical situations -- including an unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died -- because of the traffic caused by the lane closures.

    Christie's overwhelming re-election victory, in which he received support from a large number of independents and Democrats, helped boost his 2016 presidential stock by demonstrating that his brash, straight-talking demeanor could appeal beyond Republican voters.

    The New York Times' Michael Barbaro writes the episode is likely to damage Christie's image as a no-nonsense politician:

    The episode is tricky for Mr. Christie and his aides. His cantankerous manner and independent streak are essential to his White House ambitions; advisers view them as an asset in early primary states like New Hampshire that have a history of embracing blunt-talking politicians.

    Now there is a new worry: that what once seemed like a refreshing forcefulness may come off as misguided bullying.

    "We like mavericks here," said Thomas D. Rath, a longtime political strategist in New Hampshire. "But there is a line."

    Politico's Elizabeth Titus and Maggie Haberman also pick up on that theme:

    The longer -- and higher -- the scandal goes, the bigger a problem it could be for Christie's national ambitions. The emails underscore the reputation Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has in New Jersey as a bully who lashes out at enemies over slights -- real or perceived.

    The Christie situation also raises doubts about whether the brusque candidate could wipe away dysfunction in the Republican Party, writes Alex MacGillis in the New Republic: "Christie's problem all along has not been that he would be seen as too Giuliani, but that he would be seen as too Nixon--a Republican whose curious ideological mix of moderation and conservatism is overshadowed by a toxic combination of insecurity and power-hungriness that leads to a politics of spite and retribution." While this may not be the end of Christie's 2016 prospects, his standing has weakened, Macgillis says.

    Of course, the reports landed at a moment when the national press is already itching to ramp up the 2016 election conversation. Politico's scoop on Hillary Clinton's preparations for a presidential campaign dropped Sunday night, not even a week into the 2014 midterm election year.

    LINE ITEMS

    House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door session Wednesday that they intend to pursue an overhaul of the country's immigration system in 2014. The Wall Street Journal's Kristina Peterson reports that Boehner told members "he expected to release a set of GOP principles in the coming weeks."

    The New York Times' Jeremy Peters notes the push by some Republican lawmakers to address poverty.

    Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is one of those Republicans. In a speech delivered from the Johnson room of the Capitol Wednesday, Rubio laid out his own anti-poverty agenda. "Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American Dream," he said.

    Reps. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., and Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that they would not be seeking re-election this year, dealing a blow to Democratic efforts to reclaim the House.

    Utah says it won't recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in the state last year, in the two and a half weeks between when a judge struck down Utah's ban on gay marriage and an injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court putting that ruling on hold.

    Quietly battling a recurrence of prostate cancer for the last several months, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., may have surgery next month that could sideline him from Senate action, Politico reports. "Dr. No," as he's known for his conservative opposition to bills, plans to serve out his term to 2017 but says he'll resign if he can't work.

    At a speech at the Brookings Institute, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., praised former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to expand school choice and attacked Mayor Bill de Blasio for wanting to charge some charter schools rent. In an email, De Blasio responded that the GOP wasn't addressing the inequities of public school students.

    More Americans identify as independents than ever before, according to a recent Gallup Poll. 42 percent of Americans see themselves as independents, the highest number in the 25 years that Gallup has conducted the poll.

    Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., accused Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of giving a false testimony to Congress regarding Healthcare.gov. The House Oversight Committee chairman said he would allow Sebelius to clarify her remarks before conducting an investigation.

    Roll Call's David Hawkings gives the other Reed the award for biggest out-of-the-shadows move by a Democrat. Having played an important role in getting the Senate to debate the extension of unemployment benefits, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., is an important ally for the White House, especially on defense issues.

    Alaska could become the third state to legalize marijuana for recreational use -- as soon as August.

    Former Rep. Gabby Giffords went skydiving on the third anniversary of the Tucson shooting that wounded her. The Today Show was there to watch her jump.

    Virginia lawmaker and former gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds returned to the Virginia statehouse Wednesday, almost two months after his son had stabbed the senator with a knife, then shot and killed himself.

    Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, gave Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a drone for his 51st birthday. Paul showed it off in the Fox News newsroom.

    NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

    NewsHour's Jeffrey Brown and Kwame Holman look back 50 years to the start of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and ask how effective the program was. Jeff spoke with presidential historian Robert Dallek, Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink, a poverty-focused research organization, and Glenn Hubbard, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush and now dean of Columbia University's School of Business.

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    By Shawn Fremstad

    Although President Lyndon Johnson, seen here signing the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964, is often identified with the War on Poverty, many of its programs were bipartisan initiatives. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia via LBJ Library.

    2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and a mid-term election year. "Poverty," as Jeremy Peters writes in The New York Times, "is suddenly the subject of bipartisan embrace."

    President Barack Obama will speak Thursday about efforts to close the income gap and designate "promise zones" in communities across the country that will be targeted with federal funding and private sector programming. He'll highlight the issue again in his upcoming State of the Union address, underscoring the populist message Democrats are carrying into this year's congressional elections.

    Republicans are speaking about poverty, too. In a speech from President Lyndon Johnson's old office in the Capitol Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., set out his own anti-poverty agenda. "Raising the minimum wage may poll well, " he said, "but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream." He proposed uniting the federal government's existing anti-poverty programs into one agency that would administer funding to states and replacing the earned income tax credit. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has also made poverty an issue in his public appearances, criticizing a "failed" social safety net.

    But poverty, and the federal programs approved to tackle it, was a bipartisan issue 50 years ago. Conservatives played an instrumental role in implementing the War on Poverty's key programs, writes Center for Economic and Policy Research senior research associate Shawn Fremstad. He's the co-author of Half in Ten's recent report on poverty in the United States: "Resetting the Poverty Debate: Renewing Our Commitment to Shared Prosperity". He adapts for the Business Desk a CEPR essay in which he argues that the bipartisan investment in the War on Poverty has made America stronger.

    Shawn Fremstad: Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and put forward a legislative agenda encompassing a host of measures to boost employment, increase educational attainment and reduce economic hardship. Discussions of the War on Poverty in the media typically jump immediately to the question of whether the War was a success or failure. But before getting to that question, we need to have a solid understanding of what it actually was and wasn't.

    Two things are particularly notable. First, the War on Poverty went far beyond means-tested assistance to low-income people. In fact, it focused mostly on health, education and employment, but also included seemingly unrelated measures like tax cuts. Second, while Johnson proposed and implemented the War on Poverty, it wasn't just a liberal, Democratic initiative. President Richard Nixon largely built on and institutionalized the War on Poverty, and most of the major initiatives of the War passed with solid bipartisan support.

    MORE ABOUT THE WAR ON POVERTY: Who Counts as Poor in America?

    On that first point, in a new book from the Russell Sage Foundation, Martha Bailey and Sheldon Danziger remind us that the full legislative agenda associated with the War on Poverty included the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, the expansion of minimum wage coverage, an unprecedented effort to increase access to post-secondary education, increased federal support for elementary and secondary education, and many other initiatives to boost skills and employment.

    And, although few liberals or conservatives mention it today, Johnson also viewed tax cuts as part of the War on Poverty. As he put it, tax cuts were needed "above all ... to create new jobs and new markets in every area of this land." Just over a month after Johnson declared war on poverty, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1964, which cut individual tax rates across the board. The top marginal rate, for example, was reduced from 91 percent to 70 percent, a major cut at the time, but still a far cry from today's top marginal rate of 39.6 percent.

    On the second point -- bipartisan support, before Ronald Reagan rhetorically established himself in opposition to the War on Poverty, Richard Nixon and other congressional conservatives largely embraced it as a practical matter. For example, in 1969, Nixon called for adding an automatic cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to Social Security as well as an across-the-board benefit increase. He signed both into law in 1972.

    Similarly, Nixon and other conservatives played a leading role in the establishment of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), then known as food stamps, and other nutrition assistance initiatives. SNAP was expanded from a pilot program to a permanent one in 1964. But only about 1.5 percent of Americans were receiving benefits the month after Johnson left office in 1969, and the decision to operate a food stamp program as well as the eligibility standards were still left to local areas.

    In May 1969, Nixon told Congress that "the moment is at hand to put an end to hunger in America itself" and called for expanding SNAP. It was the legislation adopted pursuant to this call that made food stamps a truly national program with uniform eligibility standards and availability nationwide and established the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program. By October 1974, about 7 percent of Americans were receiving food assistance. Today, 15 percent of us receive food stamps, or nearly 47 million people.

    Additional programs include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provides basic income support to the elderly and people with disabilities, and the earned income tax credit (EITC), designed to allow low to moderate earners to keep more of what they earn. Established in 1972, Supplemental Security replaced state programs for the elderly and disabled with a federal program that applied uniform eligibility criteria throughout the nation. And the EITC was first established in the Tax Reduction Act of 1975, signed by President Gerald Ford. Both SSI and the EITC had their beginnings in Congressional debates in the early 1970s over Nixon's otherwise ill-fated Family Assistance Plan proposal, an extension of the original War.

    So, getting back to the question of whether the War on Poverty was a success or failure, it was a failure if one thinks that Medicare is a failure, or the student financial aid system largely created in 1965 is a failure, or the strengthening of Social Security is a failure, or the extension of the minimum wage to millions of previously uncovered workers was a failure, or ... well, you get the point.

    The bottom line is that the bipartisan investments and initiatives begun during the Johnson and Nixon years made America a stronger, better-educated, healthier and harder-working nation. Without the initiatives enacted during this decade, like Medicare and Medicaid, a stronger Social Security system, Pell Grants, Head Start and nutrition assistance, America would be a poorer and less just place.

    That said, there was a weak spot in the War on Poverty. As American Prospect co-editor Paul Starr has noted, "the idea of a war on poverty without strengthening the hand of labor was a great mistake." Partly as a result, other policies put in place during this period, particularly in the 1980s and in the 2000s leading up to the Great Recession, have worked at cross-purposes. For example, the mostly sensible tax cuts of the 1960s gave way to the more recent excessive tax cuts for the wealthy; the minimum wage was allowed to decline in real terms; workers' ability to join unions without retaliation was weakened.

    Looking forward, to eliminate poverty within the next 50 years, we will need a multi-faceted effort to rein in inequality and increase the economic security of middle and working class families.

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


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    Video by NASA

    People in Colorado and Illinois may be able to catch a glimpse of the ethereal and elusive Northern Lights Thursday evening. A solar flare is expected to shake up Earth's magnetic field and expand the viewing field of the aurora borealis, casting shimmering waves of light low on the horizon in places that are typically too far south to see them.

    According to NASA, a giant cloud of solar particles, called a coronal mass ejection, exploded from the sun on Tuesday at 1:32 p.m EST. This first major solar flare of 2014 sent billions of electrons, ions and atoms into space.

    The materials were anticipated to reach the Earth Thursday morning and could disturb the atmosphere. Radio signals that pass through the layer in Earth's atmosphere where GPS and communication signals travel could be disrupted and airlines could be forced to reroute some flights.

    The solar flare has already postponed the launch of a private cargo ship to the International Space Station. The commercial company Orbital Sciences was hoping to launch an Antares rocket and robotic Cygnus spacecraft carrying almost 3,000 pounds of gear for the International Space Station on Wednesday. Included on board is a space ant colony, 33 small Cube Sat satellites and 23 experiments designed by students from across the country. Orbital officials have rescheduled the launch for Thursday.

    H/T Jordan Vesey

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    Hours before Iranian and EU officials were expected to meet in Geneva, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered harsh criticism of the U.S. and the EU partners meeting with representatives of his country.

    Iran and the group, known as the P5+1, including US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, gather in Geneva for two days of talks, in order to hash out the future of Iran's nuclear program. Under the agreement for talks, the P5+1 provided some relief to international sanctions and agreed not to impose further measures that would negatively affect the Iranian economy. In return, Iran halted parts of its nuclear push for six months.

    Despite previously backing the deal, Reuters reported Khamenei had changed his tone by Thursday. "The nuclear talks showed the enmity of America against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims," the Supreme Leader said. "We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan (the United States) to deter its evil."

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    Frigid temperatures led to a rise in natural gas prices, exposing a weakness in the infrastructure. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    As the U.S. thaws out from the deep freeze that gripped much of the nation this week, the Northeast region is also recovering from a spike in natural gas prices.

    However, as Reuters' Julie Edwards reports, the dramatic price increase was a result of "critical weaknesses in the natural gas system" that supplies the Northeast.

    Edwards wrote that the frigid temperatures placed an intense demand on natural gas pipelines to supply homes and power plants with energy. However, the construction of pipelines to deliver natural gas has not kept pace with the natural gas supply. According to Edwards, while natural gas drilling has increased, "a lack of pipelines has left some areas vulnerable to shortages this year and potentially for years to come."

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    Updated Jan. 9: One week after Snapchat's database was hacked, the company released an apology to their users, and a security update. The update gives users the chance to opt-out of linking their phone number with their user name.

    4.6 million of the photo messaging application's users' phone numbers and names were leaked to an online database last Wednesday.

    The company allegedly behind the hack, SnapchatDB, told The Verge that they did so to raise public awareness about Snapchat's security -- or lack thereof -- protections.

    The breach came a week after Gibson Security explained how the app could be hacked to expose users' personal information. Snapchat's response said the company had recently created "additional counter-measures" for the app as a safeguard against vulnerability.

    SnapchatDB wasn't satisfied with Snapchat's response. Their hacking was meant to prove a point about the company's need for better safety measures.

    Related:

    When you're the target of a credit card theft, arm yourself with these tips

    H/T Colleen Shalby

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    "Mein Kampf" was first published in 1925.

    "Mein Kampf," Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic manifesto, has climbed up several electronic book bestsellers lists on Amazon and iTunes.

    Two different digital versions of the ideological screed, selling for $0.99 and $2.99 respectively, ranked 12th and 15th in the Politics & Current section of Apple's iTunes book store. The Kindle version ranked No. 1 in the Propaganda & Political psychology section.

    While more than 100 print and audio variations of 'Mein Kampf' are for sale on Amazon, it's the six e-book versions of the book that are among the 10 best-selling versions overall.

    Following a trend seen with '50 Shades of Grey' and other erotic romance novels, author Chris Faraone explains in an article on the website Vocativ that sales of the book have jumped due to people's ability to read 'Mein Kampf' privately on their mobile devices. People might not have wanted to buy the controversial book at Borders or have it displayed on their living room bookshelf, let alone get spotted reading it on a subway, but judging by hundreds of customer comments online, readers like that digital copies can be quietly perused and dropped into a folder or deleted.

    "I think I waited 45 years to read Hitler's words," writes one reviewer.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: There was talk of a Senate compromise today on resuming benefits for the long- term unemployed. But it came to naught. Democrats proposed funding the program into late fall. They said they'd pay the $18 billion cost with cuts elsewhere, as Republicans demanded.

    Ohio Senator Rob Portman and other Republicans said they also want various reforms in the program.

    SEN. ROB PORTMAN, R-Ohio: Let's sit down and talk. We're adults. You know, we have been elected by millions of people to represent them, and it's our responsibility, indeed our commitment to them, that we would sit down across the aisle and work these things out, as you would in any other relationship, in your marriage, in your business, with your neighbors.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid rejected that appeal. He said it's one more example of Republican stalling.

    SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: Nothing is ever quite good enough. They always want more amendments. They always want amendments. But the issue is here before us. Is this body going to vote to extend unemployment benefits paid for and with structural changes, or are they going to turn their back on people who are desperate?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: By day's end, the two sides remained deadlocked.

    Also today, the Labor Department said first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week.

    And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average lost about 18 points to close at 16,444. The Nasdaq fell nine points to close at 4,156.

    New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie apologized today in a brewing political scandal. He said he'd had no knowledge that part of the traffic on a major bridge apparently was closed in order to punish a Democratic mayor. He also said he's fired a top aide for lying about it. Christie is a potential presidential candidate for 2016. We will take a closer look at the scandal after the news summary.

    The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has ordered the release of 72 prisoners over U.S. objection. He said today there's not enough evidence to hold them. American officials say the prisoners had killed or wounded dozens of coalition troops. U.S. senators have warned that releasing the prisoners will hurt U.S.-Afghan relations.

    A suicide bomber in Iraq blew himself up at a military recruiting center in Baghdad today. At least 21 people were killed in the attack. It appeared to be retaliation for the military's push to retake two cities seized by al-Qaida fighters last week. One of the cities, Fallujah, saw a lull in fighting today, and some people claimed things are returning to normal.

    MAN (through interpreter): I call upon residents of Fallujah to come back home. The security situation is now stable. State offices and banks have opened their doors. Offices have started giving salaries to civil servants and policemen have started working as usual.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the speaker of the U.S. House, John Boehner, said the U.S. needs to do more to secure Iraq, with equipment and other aid. But he said there's no reason to consider sending U.S. troops back in, at least for now.

    In Egypt, courts convicted 113 Muslim Brotherhood supporters on charges stemming from protests last year. They had been accused of attacking police and rioting after the military deposed President Mohammed Morsi in July; 63 of the defendants were given three-year prison terms. It's the largest mass sentencing yet in an ongoing crackdown against the Brotherhood.

    The U.S. nuclear force suffered a new blow today. Defense officials said two missile launch officers been implicated in an illegal drug investigation at an Air Force base in Montana. That follows a series of security problems in nuclear ranks. The news came as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appeared at a missile base in Wyoming.

    Sixteen leading U.S. food companies have in the past several years cut the calorie counts in their products by about 78 calories a person, per day, if spread across the entire population. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported today that's four times the reduction they had promised by 2015. The savings are roughly equivalent to an average cookie or a medium-sized apple. It's part of an effort to reduce obesity nationwide.

    Poet, author and playwright Amiri Baraka died today at a Newark, N.J., hospital. He began as a beat generation poet in the 1950s. In the years that followed, he evolved into a leading black militant voice and a provocative cultural force. His work influenced a generation of artists and anticipated rap and hip-hop. Amiri Baraka was 79 years old.

     


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    GWEN IFILL: Now, the traffic jam that's jammed up a governor and possible presidential candidate in New Jersey.

    Republican Chris Christie spent nearly two hours today responding to allegations that his closest aides have been punishing his political foes.

    NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

    GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Governor Christie started with a mea culpa that the scandal happened on his watch, while insisting he was blindsided.

    CHRIS CHRISTIE: I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution. And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The issue unfolded in September at the George Washington Bridge, one of the busiest in the world. It connects Fort Lee, N.J., to New York City.

    Without warning, several vehicle lanes were shut down for four consecutive days, triggering backups that stretched for miles. The governor says he was told the closures were for a traffic study. But newly revealed e-mails and text messages suggest it was aimed at punishing Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Republican Christie's reelection.

    In one message, the governor's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, wrote to a Port Authority executive: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Several weeks later, that executive, David Wildstein, ordered the closures.

    Christie at first had denied it was an act of political vengeance. this morning, he fired Kelly, saying she lied to him.

    CHRIS CHRISTIE: I have had a tight-knit group of people who I trust implicitly. I had no reason to believe they weren't telling me the truth. It is heartbreaking to me that I wasn't told the truth.

    KWAME HOLMAN: New Jersey's state legislature has been investigating the traffic tie-ups since allegations of political wrongdoing first surfaced four months ago. And, today, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey opened a separate inquiry to determine whether the bridge lane closures violated any federal laws.

    Wildstein, who resigned in December, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination today, refusing to answer questions at a legislative hearing.

    As for the alleged target of the closings, the Fort Lee mayor, the governor said, he's mystified.

    CHRIS CHRISTIE: Mayor Sokolich was never on my radar screen. He was never mentioned to me as somebody whose endorsement we were even pursuing.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Sokolich had his own take a few hours later in Fort Lee.

    MAYOR MARK SOKOLICH, D-Fort Lee, N.J.: This is a complete disruption of our lives, politically, professionally, personally. It's been a rather trying period. I never knew that I could possibly garner this much attention, especially for something I didn't do, as opposed to something I did do.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The mayor said he found it all appalling, but he welcomed what he called Christie's decisive action.

    Later, Christie visited Fort Lee and apologized in person to Sokolich. The governor brushed aside any talk of a possible presidential bid in 2016 or how the scandal might affect his chances.

     


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    GWEN IFILL: So, who knew a traffic scandal could attract this kind of national attention?

    For a look at how Chris Christie became the country's most closely watched governor, we turn to Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call, and Michael Scherer, Washington bureau chief for TIME magazine. He wrote the magazine's November cover story on Christie.

    So was this two-hour tour de force today, Michael, vintage Chris Christie?

    MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME: It was. I think he did very well. He did what he had to do, which was to come out, to be contrite, to take responsibility, but also to distance himself from what is clearly horrific acts of public service that took place.

    The question now is whether the facts as they continue to come out -- we don't know the full story now -- match what Christie told the people of New Jersey and the people of the Republican Party who will be deciding the 2016 nominee. And if they don't, if there continue to be drips and drips of information that come out, Christie is going to continue to have a big problem.

    GWEN IFILL: What do you think, Stu? Is this -- what -- what do his performance today and this whole -- the whole unraveling of the unraveling of this scandal tell about his governing skills?

    STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: Yes.

    Well, I think his performance was quite good. He was trite. And when was the last time you...

    GWEN IFILL: You mean contrite.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Contrite. Contrite.

    (LAUGHTER)

    STUART ROTHENBERG: And when was the last time you associated the governor with being embarrassed and humiliated?

    I mean, that's something for him to say that. This is a guy we think of as -- as sometimes a bully even. But he was humiliated and embarrassed and contrite.

    You know, I think exactly -- what Mike said is exactly right. Today was a very good performance. I think the governor seemed sympathetic. I think he seemed like he was shocked and saddened. He said that repeatedly, he was saddened. The question is what happens tomorrow.

    Democrats are not going to let this sit. I'm already getting e-mails from Democratic members of the assembly and from Democratic talking heads, saying, oh, the governor needs to come clean.

    GWEN IFILL: But here's the thing that seemed to be missing in that press conference, which I couldn't take my eyes off of either, and that is that, even though he was contrite and sorry, he was sorry that he was being lied to by his staff that he trusted, not necessarily for the underlying actions.

    And so the question remains, do the people who work for him work for a man who they had reason to believe would approve of such a thing?

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Well, there are two storylines about Chris Christie now.

    And assuming he continues to move towards running in 2016, we are going to hear a lot more about both of them. For Chris Christie, he is a straight-talking, no-nonsense, non-blow-dried, tell-it-like-it-is guy.

    (CROSSTALK)

    GWEN IFILL: He almost said that word for word today.

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Yes, he says it all the time.

    For the Democrats, he's a bully. And that is the story they want to get out there. Now, it is clear from the governor's record that there are plenty of times as governor where his office has exacted retribution on people who haven't -- in government, people who haven't voted along with the governor. That happens a lot in government. Most people in government do that. There are ways of punishing people.

    The difference in this scandal is the retribution was exacted not on an official, but on the people of the city of Fort Lee, people getting on a road. It's a big difference to delay someone's judicial nominee, between doing that and actually stopping people from their daily commute.

    GWEN IFILL: And everybody gets bad traffic.

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Yes.

    And so I think the question is whether, you know, these two competing narratives, which develops, and, really, the facts will tell us. I mean, Chris Christie is still very much an unvetted candidate on the presidential level. And there's a lot more to come. And how he weathers it -- I mean, I think he did very well today, but he is sort of at the mercy of the fact pattern that develops.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: This is not a one-day story or one-week story or a one-month story. This is going to go on for an extended period of time.

    GWEN IFILL: Take us back.

    Explain, Stu, why Chris Christie is considered to be such a formidable 2016 candidate.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I think some people consider him to be more formidable than I do, actually.

    I have written that I think that -- I'm not -- well, I think he would be a great general election candidate. I'm just not sure he can get there. I think there are parts of the country who will --Republicans around the country, particularly the South and parts of the West, who will -- the more they see him, the less they will like.

    But, look, he just was elected and reelected easily in a Democratic state. He has a reputation as somebody who is not your typical politician. That is a wonderful image to have these days. And when you look at the early polls, he's very well-known. So, shockingly, he tends to be at the front, top of the polls. So all those things make him a very interesting figure.

    And just personally, he is an interesting guy. And I think that gets him a lot of attention.

    GWEN IFILL: But is he the kind of candidate who the conservative Republicans don't like because he seems a little bit too blue state to them and that the Democrats don't like because they fear his electoral capability?

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Well, part...

    (CROSSTALK)

    GWEN IFILL: Enemies on all sides.

    (CROSSTALK)

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Partisan Democrats don't like him, but he actually won a significant share of Democratic voters in New Jersey in his reelection.

    So he has a proven ability to get Democratic, independent votes, at least in New Jersey. Conservative Republicans don't like him, but it's also worth saying that those are sort of ideological purist Republicans who are ascendant right now in the party. But it's also true that if you look at most of the recent cycles, the eventual nominee of the Republican Party has significant problems with the ideological core base.

    I mean, Mitt Romney wasn't a purist. John McCain wasn't a purist. And so there is a path for Christie. It's going to be a messy...

    (CROSSTALK)

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, but they campaigned to some extent as purists. Certainly, Mitt Romney went out of his way to emphasize his conservative credentials.

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Yes.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Now, the purists didn't always believe that.

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Right.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: They distrusted him. The question is, will Chris Christie -- I will use a controversial word -- will he pander to them?

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Right.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: And if so, doesn't that undercut his entire...

    (CROSSTALK)

    MICHAEL SCHERER: And, actually, I think that's the key to Christie in the next days, weeks, months, years. He has to be able to maintain his greatest asset now, which is this idea that he just is who he is.

    And he said in the press conference today, I am who I am. I am not a bully. The first part, he said lots of times before. But, "I'm not a bully," I can see that showing up in attack ads.

    GWEN IFILL: Is he a pragmatist or a visionary, though, in this kind of -- he is the kind of guy who didn't really -- said, I don't know what a traffic study is, which goes way down in the weeds of this story.

    On the other hand, he doesn't seem like someone who has an overarching view of how the world should be.

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Right.

    He doesn't -- he doesn't market himself as an ideologue or a visionary. He markets himself as a pragmatist who gets stuff done. And he is going to say to the American people, we have a lot of problems now. You are really upset with how things are going in this country. I have proven in New Jersey I can get stuff done. I'm going to get stuff done for you.

    That is his message.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: And this is why, as a governor, he has an advantage, possibly, is he doesn't get caught in the Washington, D.C., ideological weeds.

    He can say, it's about delivering it. It's about getting -- getting my -- from point A to point B. Now, they had a problem from getting it from point A to point B, so he has got to deal with the. But it's about the nuts and bolts of government.

    GWEN IFILL: So, he recovers after this, unless what?

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, unless more things come out that suggest he didn't tell the truth, he knew things that he suggests he didn't, that somehow he was part of the plan of this, any of those kinds of things.

    MICHAEL SCHERER: I think the issue is this idea that he's a bully, that he goes beyond what is acceptable to get his way.

    And even on this issue, on this traffic sure, but if there are other scandals that come out in which there's documentation of him exacting retribution that people see as beyond the pale...

    GWEN IFILL: That's what people will be watching for.

    MICHAEL SCHERER: ... it will be a big problem.

    GWEN IFILL: Michael Scherer of "TIME" magazine, Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report, thank you both.

    MICHAEL SCHERER: Thank you.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Thank you.

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A governor broke with tradition yesterday and devoted his entire state of the state address to drug addiction.

    Peter Shumlin, the governor of Vermont, urged residents to open their eyes to the growing problem in their front yards, rather than leaving it only to law enforcement, medical personnel and addiction treatment providers. Shumlin argued the facts speak for themselves.

    In Vermont, since 2000, there has been a 770 percent increase in treatment for all opiates. He stated: "What started as an OxyContin and prescription drug addiction problem in this state has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis" and -- quote -- "Last year, we had nearly double the number of deaths in Vermont from heroin overdose as the previous year."

    It turns out Vermont is not the only state facing this crisis. According to the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, the number of deaths involving heroin surged 45 percent between 1999 and 2010.

    For more on this, I'm joined by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Huffington Post Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim. He's also the author of the book "This Is Your Country on Drugs."

    And, gentlemen, we thank you both for being us.

    Governor, I'm going to start with you.

    A full-blown heroin crisis, how serious is it?

    GOV. PETER SHUMLIN, D-Vt.: Serious.

    I mean, obviously, it's no more serious than the other states around us. I think, I hope that the difference is that I'm willing to confront it and, as governor, take it on head on. And, listen, here's the challenge. We have lost the war on drugs. The notion that we can arrest our way out of this problem is yesterday's theory.

    And, you know, the one thing Vermonters cherish is our quality of life, our safety, the fact that we're a state where we take care of each other, and that we know that our communities are safe and that we have a good quality of life.

    And this compromises it. So, as far as I'm concerned, this is one of the real battles that we're facing that we have got to win. And we have got to do that by changing the discussion and changing the policy, so that we say that what heroin addicts and folks that are addicted to opiates are facing is a public health issue, not a crime issue. And we have got to be willing to fight it from that vantage point.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And why did you decide to devote the entire, virtually the entire speech to this?

    PETER SHUMLIN: Well, because I feel that strongly about it.

    You know, really, this is the issue that nobody wants to talk about. Nobody. Governors don't like talking about it because we're afraid that when we move our policy from law enforcement, and the belief and the fantasy that you can beat this just with law enforcement, and, in fact, have to treat it with treatment and with services that will help folks move from addiction to recovery, that something will go wrong, and that therefore we don't dare take any risk.

    So I say the risk for Vermont, frankly, the risk for the other states around the country is, we have got more people dying from opiate addiction and from drug addiction than is killing us in automobiles...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    PETER SHUMLIN: ... killing us with guns, killing us with all of the other things that we keep talking about.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well...

    PETER SHUMLIN: So let's start facing this as the health crisis that it is and change our policies, so that we can start actually making progress and moving people from addiction to recovery.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Ryan Grim, as we heard the governor say, this is not just a problem in Vermont, not just in the Northeastern U.S. It is all over the country.

    What -- how much worse has it grown across the country?

    RYAN GRIM, The Huffington Post: It's gotten bad.

    And you have two main things going on here, and they're both going in the wrong directions, supply and demand. So, on the supply side, as a result of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, you have seen a surge in poppy production. And that heroin is going to go somewhere. It's going to find a market. There is no question about it here.

    It's moved into Mexico and, up through Mexico, it's come here. We have seen since 2008 even a fourfold increase in seizures at the Mexican border. On the demand side, there has been this intense decade-long crackdown on what they call pill mills, which has also targeted regular doctors and pharmacies who no longer want to do any business in dispensing narcotics to people who might legitimately need it.

    That drives more business, legitimate business to these pill mills, which makes them get bigger. The feds then knock those down. And so then these people go out looking for something that they need. Whether these were legitimate addicts or what to begin with, they're now addicts. They go out and find heroin, they are inexperienced users, and it is a terrible combination.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You're talking about people who originally were looking for -- many of them, not all of them -- were looking for pain medication, not able to get it, turned to the illegal...

    (CROSSTALK)

    RYAN GRIM: Sure.

    Many, many people who have had some type of injury, elderly people to people who are 18 years old and were hurt on the football field, they will get a prescription. Some of those people will become addicted. And if you don't allow them access to these opiates, some of them, not all of them, a small percentage, are going to -- they are going to turn to heroin, as it is cheaper and more available.

    (CROSSTALK)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Shumlin, is there a profile -- go ahead. What were you going to -- I was going to ask if there is a profile of the person using.

    PETER SHUMLIN: Well, just quickly answer that question. The answer is everybody.

    We tend to live under the fantasy that we're talking about folks who are only growing up in poverty and have no opportunity and no hope. Now, listen, that's a problem. It definitely afflicts folks who have no opportunity and no hope.

    But it also afflicts people who have huge opportunity and who are wealthy. So it crosses all economic lines. And what Ryan just said about the economics of this challenge, listen, right now, here's how the economic works in Vermont. A bag of heroin can be bought for $6, $7 bucks, New York, Philadelphia, south -- big cities south of us.

    In Vermont, it sells for $20 or $30 a bag. So you can do the math. A short drive up the interstate, and you are going to see a huge profit. So the challenge we're facing is that, as this did begin as an OxyContin and prescription drug crisis, now heroin is cheaper than OxyContin on the streets, and it's frankly more available.

    So that's the challenge that I'm facing as a governor. Now, the question is, how do you deal with it? And the answer for me is, I have got people who are ready for treatment. The biggest challenge with opiate addicts, an opiate addict, a drug addict, they're the best liars and the best deniers you're ever going to meet.

    But there is a window of opportunity, all the research suggests, where you can convince them that treatment is the best option. And it tends to be when they're busted, when the blue lights are flashing and when you have an opportunity. Now, the problem with my judicial system and probably everyone in the country is that there is a huge gap between that moment of opportunity to talk them into treatment and the court process that it takes weeks or months to wind your way through.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me...

    PETER SHUMLIN: So I'm changing the judicial process that I give my prosecutors and my judges a third-party independent assessment to go right in, right upon the bust and figure out, you know, who we should be mad at, disappointed in, and who we should be afraid of.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And let me bring Ryan back in here to ask you, Ryan, what is happening around the country in terms of -- you just heard the governor say it can't just be law enforcement. That's part of it. It has to be prevention and treatment.

    RYAN GRIM: Well, unfortunately, not a ton is happening.

    I mean, there are a lot -- there are some grassroots efforts going on. For instance, you know, Kentucky is starting to treat this in a much more humane way, because they're seeing a similar problem as in Vermont. What you are seeing is in areas, poor, rural areas particularly, where Oxy was a big problem, that's where you're seeing this heroin surge, more than other places.

    You're also seeing it in some of the urban areas in this country. But it's more of a rural problem. But, overwhelmingly, the rhetoric around the war on drugs is still very militaristic. And there is an attitude...

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just that we're at war.

    RYAN GRIM: That if we can -- right, exactly, if we can -- we're going to stop this at the border, we're' going to lock people up, we're going to shut down these cartels.

    And we have been doing this for close to a century now, and it just hasn't worked.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Governor, I hear you saying that the treatment side, getting these people into treatment, preventing it in the first place has to become a huge focus.

    PETER SHUMLIN: We have got to change our thinking about this disease. It is no different than cancer. It is no different than kidney disease.

    When you're sick and you want treatment, you have got to have it available to you. And that's what I am going to make possible. And you then need a judicial system that moves you into that treatment right away, monitors your progress and, if you succeed, keeps you out of the criminal justice system altogether.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we would like to end on as positive a note as we can, but it is a tough story.

    Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, thank you.

    Ryan Grim, we thank you very much.

    RYAN GRIM: Thank you.

     


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    GWEN IFILL: This has been an important week for pro football. On the one hand, more people are watching than ever. Wild card matchups drew record ratings, averaging 34 million viewers. One game, between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, attracted 47 million viewers.

    But the NFL is also trying to deal with the impact of concussions and head injuries. This week, the league went to federal court to file the details of a $760 million settlement to retirees with head trauma. But is even that whopping amount enough?

    Hari Sreenivasan in our New York studio explores that question.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I'm joined now by Mike Pesca from National Public Radio. He's their sports correspondent. And he brings us up to speed.

    So if people haven't been paying attention, what were the details of this NFL settlement between players that was just announced a couple days ago?

    MIKE PESCA, National Public Radio: Right.

    So, in August, they said that there was this settlement, big dollar value was attached to it, but who would get what, so that is what this next step details. Mostly, what they have done is they have taken ailments that could occur from head trauma and assigned a dollar value to it.

    There are a few moving parts of this. One is, what is the ailment? So, ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, if you are a player who played in the league for four, five years, you're under -- you're 45 years of age or under and you have ALS, you get $5 million. Then there are sort of lower grades.

    So if you had type two dementia, you would get less money. I think it's $3.5 million. Also, if you are an older person, you get less money, the idea being the payment is made in one lump sum. So, over the course of your life, you will need less money. I think the smallest amount is if someone, an NFL player who played the requisite number of years, is 80 years or older and has some very low-level dementia, that would be $25,000.

    There's all these gradations in between.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And is there a distinction between age, say, for example, a player like Junior Seau...

    MIKE PESCA: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: ... who might have killed himself because of this, or it has been proven that he had this, vs. somebody else at a different age that might have done this to themselves?

    MIKE PESCA: Well, yes, there is.

    And one of the parts of the settlement is that the -- a deceased player, if they can show that they had CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- encephalopathy, then their family would get millions of dollars.

    The age of the player, that actually is affected, and the number of years they play also affects the payout. But it's important to note that they, the players, their families do not have to prove a causation. And that was really important. If you could just show that CTE was present, this settlement will pay you those millions of dollars. You don't have to show that there was a connection from football, which in a sense is a relief to the players and the family, but also it's what the NFL wanted, because they kind of don't want to have anyone to prove that there was a definitive connection.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, now, players, the retired players don't have to take this. They can take their chances.

    MIKE PESCA: Right.

    So part of the settlement is that they're allowed to opt out. And then there is a judge, and what she has to do is she has to decide if she is going to certify the settlement and allow it to go forward. But if a number of players opt out, she might say, there are too many players that are against this, and you guys have to go back to the drawing board.

    And there has been some rumblings. Players aren't very happy. There are two big reasons. One, they say the NFL is a $10 billion industry and this is a settlement worth less than a billion dollars, you know, $900 million, if you include the attorneys fees. The players themselves will be getting around, you know, $800 million if all is paid. And, as a fraction of what the NFL earns, they think that is a small amount.

    Other players who are unsatisfied with it want the truth to come out. So part of this settlement is, the NFL will not be opening its books. It will not be revealing what they knew and when they knew it. So some players are more interested in the truth coming out than money.

    On the other side of that, you have players who are really suffering right now. And they don't want this to drag out any longer. And they even acknowledge, maybe we could have gotten more money out of them, but now, me an my family, we're going have $4 million. We're going have $3 million dollars, and we're not going to have to wait for years and years and years maybe to never get it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And this is a settlement that was reached relatively quickly, when you talk about NFL not having to open its books. The NFL really wants to get this behind them as fast as possible. Right?

    MIKE PESCA: Yes, they announced it a couple -- really a week or two before the season started.

    They wanted to, exactly what you said, get this behind them. They don't want the cloud hanging over the NFL. And it still will be, but if it's less of a story in newspapers, if they could show a bunch of players who benefited from it, that will make their business -- they feel that will strengthen their business.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And you know what? Finally, the current players, we're still seeing incredible hits in a very dangerous way in the NFL in even these playoff games.

    MIKE PESCA: Yes. 

    Yes, it's important to note this settlement doesn't cover current players. And there is a good rationale for that. I think the NFL is saying that these players should know what is going on now. And also we have introduced concussion protocols. And you see players getting head trauma, getting concussions, arguing their way back into games.

    It's human nature. It's the warrior mentality. It isn't maybe clearly these are good guys and these are bad guys, these are victims and these are perpetrators. It is a little -- a little complex.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Mike Pesca from National Public Radio, thanks so much.

    MIKE PESCA: You're welcome.

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Jeffrey Brown continues his series with U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey called "Where Poetry Lives," taking us to places where poetry and literature connect to everyday life.

    In past stories, they visited a program for Alzheimer's patients in New York, and one in Detroit that encourages young students to write about themselves and their city.

    Tonight, a different kind of connection, through the practice of medicine and healing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Outside Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital on a recent frigid morning, Natasha Trethewey met up with a former poetry student of hers from Emory University.

    Do you remember her as a teacher?

    SAMYUKTA MULLANGI, student at Harvard Medical School: Of course I do.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: And Natasha remembers Sam, Samyukta Mullangi, fondly as well.

    Now you get to see her as a budding doctor-to-be.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY, U.S. poet laureate: Yes, and she looks like the best, too. Seeing her talk about not only the work of being a physician, but also how poetry and language has a role in that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Sam is a fourth-year student at Harvard Medical School, but poetry is still a big part of her life, now with a new mentor who believes poetry can benefit every doctor's education and work, Rafael Campo.

    DR. RAFAEL CAMPO, Harvard Medical School: I agree, Sam, totally clear.

    JEFFREY BROWN:  Doctor, professor and a highly regarded poet. His sixth volume, just published, is titled "Alternative Medicine."

    RAFAEL CAMPO: "Someone is dying alone in the night. The hospital hums like a consciousness. I see their faces where others see blight. The doctors make their rounds like satellites, impossible to fathom distances. Someone is dying alone under lights."

    Poetry is in every encounter with my patients. I think healing really in a very profound way is about poetry, And If we do anything when we're with our patients, we're really, I think, immersing ourselves in their stories, really hearing their voices in a profound way. And, certainly, that's what a poem, I think, does.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Campo worries that something important has been lost in medicine and medical education today, a humanity that he finds in poetry.

    To that end, he leads a weekly reading and writing workshop for medical students and residents. And on the night we joined, the group explored one of Campo's central themes, the occasional disconnect between medical facts and human truths.

    RAFAEL CAMPO: Sometimes facts become all-consuming in our work as docs and we may risk losing sight of some of the truths of the experience of illness, particularly from the perspective of our patients.

    WOMAN: It's interesting to think about how there's a roomful of surgeons who perceive one truth from this case and the family wanted everything done, everything done. And they were living with a different truth, right, which is that this is their family member. They want any day extra possible with this person.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Campo thinks medical training focuses too much on distancing the doctor from his or her patients, and poems like one he brought for his students to read, Marilyn Hacker's "Cancer Winter," can help close that gap.

    WOMAN: "The hovering swarm has nothing to forgive. Your voice petitions the indifferent night, I don't know how to die yet. Let me live."

    RAFAEL CAMPO: There's confrontation really with mortality. How does the poem make that happen?

    WOMAN: We have this universal experience with mortality, and the speaker sort of invites us to grapple with it.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: The way she shows us the landscape transformed through the lens of a diagnosis. To know this now means you see ruin.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Third-year resident Andrea Schwartz (ph) was one of the workshop regulars who read her own poetry.

    WOMAN: "The whiteness of her mother's knuckles while we told her we couldn't promise a cure. After the call, I imagined the translator hanging up his receiver into the silence of his office, unable to break beyond his role to offer condolence or hope."

    JEFFREY BROWN: The next day, Natasha and her former student compared notes.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: One of the things we also talk about is the way that poetry connects us to the experience of other human beings. And we saw -- I thought I saw that in wonderful detail in some of the poems that we read in the workshop last night.

    SAMYUKTA MULLANGI: I was thinking about this yesterday as well, and it's that, outside of writing itself, I think there's no other profession other than medicine that produces as many writers as it does.

    And I think because there's just so much power, I think, in physicians and patients interacting when patients are at their most vulnerable and at their most human.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Natasha and I, of course, are typically in that patient role when we meet doctors, and this was a rare look behind the medical curtain.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: When I heard that Dr. Campo talking yesterday about taking histories from patients and what's necessary to hear, I thought about language and the way that we use language in poetry and to try to get to something precise, to try to find a way to describe what is happening inside the body through the kind of precise language.

    It's not just the scale of pain that they keep talking about, but also using metaphor to be as precise as possible about what we are feeling as patients. If I could describe the pain metaphorically like, you know, being hit by a truck or having a knife go into my abdomen.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Right. You're hearing them talk about different ways of using language. That's like poetry.

    NATASHA TRETHEWEY: That's what poets do.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Not everyone's convinced that's what doctors should do, though.

    I saw in an essay you wrote where you said it was hard for you to admit to other doctors that you were a poet.

    RAFAEL CAMPO: That's right. Yes, I sort of had to come out as a poet.

    (LAUGHTER)

    RAFAEL CAMPO: It was difficult.

    I was afraid of how people might judge me, actually, and how my colleagues might perceive me. Another ethos in the medical profession, as many people know, is the sense that medicine is all-consuming and that we must always put the clinical emergency first.

    (CROSSTALK)

    JEFFREY BROWN: You are not going to write a sonnet at that moment.

    RAFAEL CAMPO: I'm not writing a sonnet at that moment.

    But, you know, that -- often, that kind of an intervention or that kind of an interaction results, if it's happening in the hospital, very regrettably, sadly, results in a bad outcome. The family is sitting by the bedside. The patient hasn't survived the arrhythmia. Don't we still have a role as healers there?

    "Obesity writ large no more, Alzheimer's forgotten. We could live carefree again."

    JEFFREY BROWN: In a poem titled "Health," Campo writes of the desire to live forever in a world made painless by our incurable joy.

    He says he will continue mentoring students, helping patients and writing poems, his own brand of alternative medicine.

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It's been just over a week since some Americans first started getting health insurance coverage through the new marketplaces.

    The federal website and the government's enrollment efforts seem to be working substantially better, but there are still a fair share of questions and complications, including for some people eligible for Medicaid going online at HealthCare.gov. And there have been troubles for some of the state-created exchanges.

    Sarah Kliff is following all this for The Washington Post.

    And it's good to you have back with us.

    SARAH KLIFF, The Washington Post: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Sarah, let's stipulate that things, as we said, do seem to be generally going better for the sign-up process. That's your understanding?

    SARAH KLIFF: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But let's talk about, for example, people who are eligible for Medicaid, going on the federal Web site and some of them are having problems. Tell us about that.

    SARAH KLIFF: The problem that they're having is their information isn't getting transmitted to the state. So they go on to HealthCare.gov, they find out they are eligible for Medicaid, they think they enrolled, but that information never makes its way to the state Medicaid office.

    And this is due to some technology they had hoped would be ready not being ready in time. So what's happening instead is these state Medicaid offices making phone calls and telling people actually the fastest way to go get signed up is go to your state Medicaid office, that healthcare.gov isn't actually the best path to getting signed up right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that what they are doing to try to rectify this?

    SARAH KLIFF: Right. They are really trying to reach these people.

    And we should mention it is a smaller subset of the Medicaid-eligible. We know that about 3.9 million have been found eligible for Medicaid. And we think this universe of people is about 100,000 people. So it's a subset, but they're trying to reach these people by phone calls and by letters to tell them go to your state office.

    (CROSSTALK)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me. Are they having success doing that?

    SARAH KLIFF: We're still seeing that right now. They're still right in the middle of that outreach.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So let me ask you about the state exchanges. Some of the states have apparently had a smooth process, but then there are some states, Maryland, Oregon, among others, where there have been real problems. What are you learning about that?

    SARAH KLIFF: We're seeing that some states that really wanted the Affordable Care Act to work, especially Maryland and Oregon, are two that you mentioned that have really had the most severe problems, who volunteered to build these exchanges, and just really couldn't get them off the ground.

    So you're seeing a lot of work-arounds in those states. Oregon has really relied on paper applications. They have processed about 20,000 enrollments into private insurance largely on pen and paper. Maryland is looking at some emergency legislation to let people who tried to sign up, but ran into technical issues, still get those policies in January.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So it's -- essentially, it's a different story in every state?

    SARAH KLIFF: It is, yes. You have seen one state, and it's nothing like other states. Washington next to Oregon, for example, is having a great experience and signing lots of people up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Sarah, the other thing you were telling us is, is that now some people are signed up and are starting to actually take advantage of this coverage, you're turning your attention to what their experience is. Tell us about that.

    SARAH KLIFF: Right.

    So now that you have got about an estimated six million people signed up, the thing we want to know is, is that going well for them? Are they liking the coverage and the doctors and the co-pays that they're experiencing for the first time?

    So, for the past three months, this has been a story about enrollment and technical glitches and getting signed up. Going forward, there will still be some of that, but it will also be a story about health care and doctors, and are people liking the products that they're buying through HealthCare.gov?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that is what you are just now able to start looking at?

    SARAH KLIFF: Right. We are just getting a trickle of anecdotes right now. It will be a little while, about a year, until we learn the larger impact. We're starting to hear some stories of how it is going.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, everybody is impatient about how it is going.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The last thing I want to ask you about, though, is what the Republicans are doing. And, of course, they have been trying repeatedly to overturn the law completely, but they're also trying other methods.

    One of their -- the things they have rolled out this week is an effort to look at how secure the federal website is. Tell -- explain what they're trying to do.

    SARAH KLIFF: Right.

    They're definitely trying to put a spotlight on HealthCare.gov, and in light of all the technical issues that have raised concerns about the security of the site, since you do have people entering information like their address and their Social Security number.

    One thing they will be voting on is an effort for more reporting about breaches to the Web site with the -- which the Obama administration said today they oppose this legislation, they think there is more than enough reporting. The White House does say they believe the site is secure, that there have been no breaches to speak of so far, and that they think it stands up to the security tests that they have put it through.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there any sense of how successful the Republicans are going to be? I mean, we know numbers are different in the House than in the Senate, but what is your sense of that?

    SARAH KLIFF: Right.

    It probably has better odds in the House than in the Senate, like most of the attacks on the Affordable Care Act. They tend to pass the -- pass through the House, but in the Senate run into difficulties. And the -- interestingly, the White House has said they oppose this legislation, but they didn't issue a veto threat, which would be the more aggressive step to take.

    So, that was one interesting nuance in how the White House is reacting to this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know will you keep watching it, and we will too.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sarah Kliff, thank you.

    SARAH KLIFF: Thank you.


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: What's become of the Arab spring? In 2011, there was great hope that democracy would replace authoritarian regimes in a number of countries in the Middle East, but that's not exactly what happened.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner explains why.

    MARGARET WARNER: As the fourth year of the Arab spring begins, the Middle East is seeing fresh waves of violence of widening scope.

    In Syria, Sunni-led rebels long fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces are now battling jihadi extremist units as well. In Iraq, where Sunnis are protesting the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Maliki, militants linked to al-Qaida have seized key western cities. And in Lebanon, spillover from the Syria conflict has triggered car bomb assassinations of top Sunni figures and bombings of Shiite neighborhoods in Southern Beirut.

    Marwan Muasher, former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan, takes a long view of all this in his new book, "The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism."

    We sat down for a conversation about it at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    Marwan Muasher, thank you for joining us.

    What you call the second Arab awakening has so far seemed to have unleashed, basically, chaos and violence in Syria and in Libya, and new forms of undemocratic rule in Egypt, even Tunisia. Why is that?

    MARWAN MUASHER, former Jordanian official: There is no transformational process in history that occurred the course of a short three years. The Arab world is no different.

    The Arab world was living under a state of artificially induced stability for a long time, non-democratic governments, an Islamic opposition which promised the moon and did not -- was not put to the test to deliver on any of its promises.

    Now that the lid has been taken off, all kinds of issues are coming out. So I think while it was simplistic to call it an Arab spring right after it occurred, expecting, you know, autocracies to evolve into democracies overnight, it is equally simplistic to think that this is an Arab winter, and that this is necessarily how the process will end.

    MARGARET WARNER: So, do you think that this region will move to some sort of stable, but also open and democratic rule?

    MARWAN MUASHER: I think what we have already seen is the bankruptcy of both the secular regimes and forces that are attempting to rule without a system of checks and balances and of a religious opposition which is promising the moon, but has not delivered on results.

    That vacuum, if you will, that bankruptcy of both the secular and the religious forces has not been filled yet. Obviously, radical forces, al-Qaida types in Syria and other places, are attempting to make use of that to their own advantage.

    So far, what we have not seen are third forces which are, you know, for democracy, for pluralism, assert themselves in this new transformation, and to present themselves as credible alternatives, both to the religious opposition that is there in the Arab world and to the secular, both regimes and forces who are also behaving in an exclusionist manner, and not really putting in place institutions that would assure a democratic and pluralistic culture.

    MARGARET WARNER: Do you think there's anything in the sort of Arab culture or cultural DNA of this region that makes whoever gets in power embrace a kind of zero sum game, exclusive form of governing?

    MARWAN MUASHER: Absolutely not.

    What we are witnessing is a direct result of an era in the Arab world where democracy was not practiced nor encouraged, an educational system which basically taught people just to blindly follow leaders without critical thinking, without asking questions.

    So, obviously, when this is disturbed, both the religious and secular forces are behaving in nondemocratic ways. It's so far a winner-take-all strategy. And as I say always, a zero sum game has meant that the sum is zero so far.

     

    Until both forces realize that this is not a battle between secular and religious elements, until that becomes a battle for pluralism, where everybody assures the right not only of themselves, but of others, to operate in the political sphere, this second Arab awakening will not be successful.

    MARGARET WARNER: But how do you foresee this battle taking shape? I mean, for instance, in Egypt, the young people, the middle-class people who came out to Tahrir Square demanding that Mubarak go said this is what they wanted, and yet they proved incapable of doing the hard work of building parties, and went -- and they lost the election.

    MARWAN MUASHER: This is a natural process that will, I think, take its course in Egypt, maybe 14, 15 years before we see stability come again and before people realize that pluralism needs to be the underlying foundation, the operating system for everything that can be done.

    MARGARET WARNER: The other split, of course, we're seeing -- and it seems to be growing wider and wider -- has been between Sunni and Shia. Who's going to resolve that? How will that get resolved?

    MARWAN MUASHER: Again, this is, I think, a result of -- a direct result of the lack of pluralism, because the Sunni-Shiite divide in the Arab world is not just a religious divide. It's all -- also a political divide.

    MARGARET WARNER: It's about power.

    MARWAN MUASHER: It's -- well, yes, and groups, particularly Shiite groups in the Arab world have lived as second-class citizens for a long time. They were not given equal rights.

    In my view, if all the ethnic, religious, political groups in Arab world are treated as equal citizens, a lot of these problems would just disappear. But this is not going to be automatic or immediate. This is going to take decades of work, in which you have to do things to the educational system, the value system that exists in the Arab world. In other words, there are no shortcuts to democracy.

    MARGARET WARNER: But, in the meantime as you pointed out, extremist elements, violent jihadi elements are taking advantage of this vacuum.

    The U.S. has made clear it's not going to intervene in the classic military sense. What will -- I mean, other than hoping that pluralistic forces get their act together, what will bring this region to some sort of stability?

    MARWAN MUASHER: I think the jihadi sort of phenomenon is transient in the Arab world.

    The radical elements in Syria now are being fought by the moderate Islamists themselves. This is a fight that needs to go on. But the overwhelming majority of the Arab world do not subscribe to al-Qaida types, do not subscribe to this jihadi radical thinking.

    In the end, the street in the Arab world, just as the street in any other place in the world, who cares about job, about improving their lot -- they don't care about ideology and radical forces.

    MARGARET WARNER: And overcoming that has to be done by the people on the ground, not by outside powers.

    MARWAN MUASHER: Absolutely. This is a responsibility of Arabs themselves, no one else.

    MARGARET WARNER: Marwan Muasher, thank you.

     


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    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shakes hands with residents Thursday in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    During his marathon mea culpa Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shed his usual swagger for contrition, admitting he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by the revelations that one of his top aides allegedly played a role in orchestrating lane closures last September that snarled traffic in an apparent act of political retribution.

    The Morning Line

    "I'm heartbroken about it, and I'm incredibly disappointed," Christie told reporters during the nearly two-hour news conference in Trenton. "I don't think I've gotten to the angry stage yet, but I'm sure I'll get there."

    The appearance by Christie followed the disclosure of documents on Wednesday showing that Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had emailed Port Authority official David Wildstein, calling for access roads from Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge to be closed. The exchange suggested the move was in retaliation for the town's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, declining to endorse Christie's re-election bid last year.

    "It's time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote. "Got it," Wildstein replied.

    Wildstein and another Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, stepped down in December amid mounting questions over the decision to close the lanes. Christie announced Thursday that Kelly had been dismissed.

    The disclosure of emails also prompted Christie to break ties with his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who documents showed mocking Fort Lee residents for the traffic problems caused by the road closures. Christie said that Stepien had been instructed to withdraw as a candidate for Republican Party chairman in New Jersey, and end his consulting work with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie now chairs.

    "What he told me at the time is not contradicted by the emails, but the emails and the coloring character of the emails ... have led me to conclude that I don't have confidence in his judgment any longer," Christie said.

    The Washington Post's Matea Gold and Robert Costa look at the signal Christie was sending with the staff shakeup:

    Christie's decision to oust Stepien and another top adviser implicated in the burgeoning scandal over George Washington Bridge lane closures demonstrated the blunt force that Christie is willing to use to contain a crisis, even if it means exiling members of his innermost circle.

    It also showed how personal politics is for the governor. Christie expressed far more anger Thursday about his aides lying to him than about how they abused their power to cause days of traffic jams.

    The removal of Stepien, in particular, stunned some New Jersey political insiders, who said the strategist has provided important counsel to Christie on both politics and policy.

    During Thursday's news conference, Christie suggested the quick response on his part was proof he took the episode seriously.

    "I think that's pretty swift action given that I really yesterday was blindsided by this. I'm not happy I was blindsided. I'm not proud I was blindsided," he said.

    At the same time, Christie also declared that he had no involvement with the ordering of the road closures, and brushed aside a question about whether he thought about stepping down as governor.

    "That's a crazy question, man. I mean, I'm telling you: I had nothing to do with this. And so, you know, no. I never gave any thought to doing that at all, nor would I," Christie said. "I work hard at this job, and it's incredibly disappointing to have people let you down this way. I'm incredibly loyal to my people and I expect in return their honesty and their candor and their loyalty, and I didn't get it."

    Christie's willingness to stand and face the barrage of questions should manage to help him get past the initial uproar over the bridge controversy, but it also means that more intense scrutiny will follow, as he continues to moves toward a potential GOP presidential bid in 2016.

    The governor referred to the presidential chatter at this point as "hysteria," and told reporters that he was not focused on the White House. "I am not preoccupied with that job; I'm preoccupied with this one. And as you can tell, I have plenty to do, so it's not like I got some spare time to spend."

    If Christie is to remain a top contender for the Republican Party's nomination in 2016, the path to recovery will certainly start at home.

    Kwame Holman reported on the New Jersey governor's response to the controversy on Thursday's NewsHour.


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    Tyson Foods sent animal welfare guidelines to its 3,000 independent suppliers, requiring better treatment of hogs owned by the company.

    Tyson Foods announced Thursday it will require its suppliers to ensure more humane treatment of hogs.The nation's second largest pork producer wants video monitoring to increase oversight of the operations, a ban on the use of blunt force to kill sick piglets, and requires farmers to farmers to end the use of small stalls, known as gestation crates.

    The humane treatment guidelines were sent in a letter to Tyson Foods' 3,000 independent suppliers. The company asked hog producers to implement the improved "quality and quantity of space" standards in any newly built or redesigned gestation barns beginning in 2014. However, many of the new rules are only required for hog operations that have pigs owned by Tyson Foods which is less than 5 percent of the company's annual hog supply in North America, according to a company spokesman.

    Critics of Tyson's practices think the changes are a step in the right direction, but not yet enough. "Unfortunately, Tyson's letter does not mandate anything of its suppliers with regard to sow housing, nor does it outline any timeline by which alternative housing systems must be in place," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States said.

    HT:

    H/T Bridget Shirvell

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