Articles on this Page
- 01/16/14--06:10: _What Keynes Can Tea...
- 01/16/14--06:45: _In troubled countri...
- 01/16/14--09:30: _Justice Department ...
- 01/16/14--09:45: _Americans prefer pr...
- 01/16/14--10:00: _Britain grants asyl...
- 01/16/14--10:55: _Rafik Hariri assass...
- 01/16/14--11:18: _Sweltering temperat...
- 01/16/14--11:50: _POLL: What are your...
- 01/16/14--13:02: _News Wrap: Justice ...
- 01/16/14--13:07: _Some Iranians hopef...
- 01/16/14--13:13: _Syrian conflict pre...
- 01/16/14--13:17: _Is Air Force cheati...
- 01/16/14--13:27: _Goodwill tries tail...
- 01/16/14--13:35: _At Detroit Auto Sho...
- 01/16/14--13:38: _Big trucks lose wei...
- 01/16/14--13:45: _'12 Years a Slave' ...
- 01/17/14--04:30: _Obama to call for l...
- 01/17/14--06:27: _How Do We Fix the U...
- 01/17/14--09:20: _Pope Benedict defro...
- 01/17/14--10:40: _Oklahoma Sen. Cobur...
- 01/16/14--06:10: What Keynes Can Teach Middle Class Investors
- 01/16/14--06:45: In troubled countries, 'child-friendly spaces' offer some relief
- 01/16/14--09:30: Justice Department will revise its stance on racial profiling
- 01/16/14--09:45: Americans prefer print books over e-books
- 01/16/14--10:00: Britain grants asylum to Afghan atheist on grounds of his beliefs
- 01/16/14--10:55: Rafik Hariri assassination trial begins at The Hague
- 01/16/14--11:18: Sweltering temperatures halt play at Australian Open
- 01/16/14--11:50: POLL: What are your picks for the Academy Awards?
- 01/16/14--13:17: Is Air Force cheating scandal symptomatic of a bigger problem?
- 01/16/14--13:35: At Detroit Auto Show, carmakers unveil new high-performance models
- 01/17/14--04:30: Obama to call for limits on NSA data collection programs
- 01/17/14--06:27: How Do We Fix the Unequal Economy?
- 01/17/14--09:20: Pope Benedict defrocked nearly 400 priests for child abuse
- 01/17/14--10:40: Oklahoma Sen. Coburn announces early retirement
By John Wasik
John Maynard Keynes is often associated with government intervention, but his investment strategy reveals a die-hard capitalist, argues John Wasik. Photo courtesy of Tim Gidal/Picture Post/Getty Images.
The decline of upward mobility and increased inequality in America has been a frequent refrain on this page. But what if the middle class could boost their mobility in the 21st century with a little investment advice from an investor who didn't even survive to the second half of the 20th century? Like the eponymous adjective that describes much of his contribution to economics, John Maynard Keynes is often thought of as an economic theorist who invested on the side. Here to bring out of the shadows Keynes as an avid investor and die-hard capitalist is John Wasik, author of the new book "Keynes's Way to Wealth: Timeless Investment Lessons from the Great Economist," recently reviewed in The New York Times. Wasik is a columnist for Reuters and has written 14 other books.
John Wasik: As America contemplates with mixed feelings the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and the proposed extension of jobless insurance, there's been much hand-wringing on what could buoy the middle class and create more economic mobility.
Are Keynesian remedies to boost the economy still viable or will market forces eventually be the tide that lifts all boats? While Keynes's legacy is steeped in this passionate debate, I wanted to examine another, much lesser-known side of the Keynesian legacy: Keynesian investing.
Although John Maynard Keynes and his theories have been discussed in numerous biographies, journal articles and op-eds, almost no attention has been paid to how he invested money. He was quite successful at it -- he died wealthy -- and pioneered some investment concepts that are critical for the long-term financial betterment of middle class working people.MORE ABOUT KEYNES: Keynes and Money: A Man Obsessed?
Little did I know that I would find a wealth of investment wisdom in the writings and trades of Keynes, who is far better known for his economic theories. When I researched my book "Keynes's Way to Wealth," I knew that he was a professional investor of funds for King's College/Cambridge University and two British insurance companies and that he started proto-hedge funds. But I had no idea the extent to which he plunged into the markets, speculated, lost money and eventually, came out on top.
Keynes was clearly a rabid speculator and active trader. He loved markets and was able to adapt to some of the worst financial and historical calamities ever, such as two world wars and the Great Depression. Although he was a harsh critic of capitalism and markets, he kept investing -- and was eventually rewarded. His experience provides solid grounding for stock investors everywhere.
Sometime around the start of World War I, Keynes started speculating in currencies and commodities. Although he had been investing money from awards and birthdays since he was a youth, King's College began to enlist him in the management of its financial affairs in the first decade of the 20th century, a role he kept until he died in 1946. He later managed money for his friends, family and insurance companies in a time in which there was no such thing as formal training for institutional money managers.
For those who accuse Keynes of being a doting protector of government and socialistic virtues, when you look at how Keynes invested, it's clear that he was a die-hard capitalist.
During the time he was an adjunct adviser to the British government, he bought and sold stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities. His spectacular success showed not only his passion for making money, but his growing aversion to losing it. Having gained and lost three fortunes through his trading prowess and hubris, Keynes is a stellar example of how an investor can learn, fall flat more than once, and still come out ahead.
So why is Keynesian investing so important today? Keynes decided in the wretched 1930s that he really had no advantage over markets, which he declared roiled by irrational "animal spirits." This intellectual leap -- vexing to those who still believe that they have an edge over Wall Street -- later led to the formation of passive index fund investing, which Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle pioneered. When I interviewed Bogle for my book, he acknowledged a huge debt to Keynes. (Index funds are low-cost ways of buying wide swaths of the market.)
The animal spirits that create bubbles and busts also emanated from Keynes's thinking, leading to the founding of the "behavioral school" of economics, which includes Daniel Kahneman and Robert Shiller as its most influential researchers and proponents today.
Those who ignore Keynes's insights, from day traders to investors who buy last-year's returns from mutual fund managers, are destined to underperform the markets and come up short for retirement. For those middle-class investors who are saddled with inadequate 401(k)s -- and are at the core of the economic crisis facing two generations -- Keynes strikes the right notes: Don't try to time the market; Diversify and favor dividend-producing stocks. This advice is hardly controversial among fundamental investors, and it has a better chance of reducing poverty and ensuring a dignified retirement than the ideas about trying to beat the market endorsed by the conventional wisdom. Few succeed at beating the market.
Paul Solman: I would only add this often-told story about Keynes the investor from the Keynes biographer we interviewed in 2009 Robert Skidelsky, whose book of a few years ago is "Keynes: Return of the Master":
[Keynes] never quite renounced the joy of the chase, of gambling on borrowed money. As he wrote in the General Theory, "the game of professional investment is intolerably boring and over-exacting to anyone who is entirely exempt from the gambling instinct; whilst he who has it must pay this propensity the appropriate toll." Once, in 1936, he even had to take delivery of a month's supply of wheat from Argentina on a falling market. He planned to store it in the crypt of King's College Chapel, but found this was too small. Eventually, he worked out a scheme to object to its quality knowing that cleaning would take a month. Fortunately, by then the price had recovered and he was safe.
Children in Homs, Syria, play tug-of-war in a designated "child-friendly" space. Photo courtesy of UNICEF
Even in countries that are reeling from natural disasters or conflict, children desire the same thing: a place to congregate and play ... and sometimes party.
When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on Nov. 8, among the many resulting disasters was an oil spill in Iloilo province in the central part of the country. Residents had to move to temporary shelters to escape the contamination and noxious fumes. By Christmastime, they were still away from home.
To help lift their spirits, Save the Children, which had set up recreational areas for children at evacuation sites, organized little parties with singing, dancing and other performances.
One child named Brian, whose coastal home was destroyed when a ship washed ashore, told the supervisors how happy the party made him, said Katie Seaborne, Save the Children's communications and media manager in the Philippines, who had recently returned from Tacloban, another hard-hit area. "It really felt as if we had brought some happiness and hope to the families living there."
A child-friendly space in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Save the Children
International aid organizations such as Save the Children and UNICEF coordinate these "child-friendly spaces" in countries impacted by crises. The organizations provide the funding and training, and local grassroots groups and volunteers run the centers.
In war-torn Syria, UNICEF has helped establish child-friendly spots in cities such as Homs, Damascus, Latakia, Daraa and Aleppo. Some are located on school grounds and are operational after school hours, while others are set up in tents or open spaces, supplied with sports equipment, toys and art materials, said Insaf Nizam, child protection manager for UNICEF in Syria.
"We want children to come out of the classroom, and take a break from the routine. It creates a group environment where children can mix with each other," he said.
Most of the children and their families have been displaced from the fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels. Battles erupt with little warning, causing families to scramble to other less violent areas, leaving most of their belongings behind. The upheaval can be especially jarring to children, so the organized play areas are designed to provide a safety zone where they can express their often distressed feelings through drawing or other activities, said Nizam.
The displaced families live in improvised shelters, including abandoned buildings and converted schools, he said. "They are crammed into them. Each family gets a portion of a classroom separated with plastic sheets and a couple of bags to keep their stuff."
The recreational opportunities give children an escape from that environment, and their parents benefit as well. Parents can use the child-free time to try to earn a living and repair their homes, not to mention have some alone time, said Seaborne from the Philippines. "In emergencies, we know that stress levels and cases of abuse increase. By providing a safe space for children, we allow a family to have some space and time for reflection -- mitigating these risks," she said.
Safety is a big consideration, not only for the children and families but for the staff running the child-friendly sites as well, said Nizam. To help deal with the dangers in Syria, UNICEF and its partner organizations are transitioning to mobile units, sending carloads of supplies for volunteers to conduct daytime activities and then packing up at night.
That mobility also helps when whole communities are uprooted due to fighting, he said. The residents might scatter, "but at least you can follow the majority of the community that has been displaced and support them."
The local groups also try to coordinate with local officials on finding safe places to set up, which indirectly might postpone or prevent conflict from escalating in that area, said Nizam. "Not that we are involved in conflict-resolution, but in areas where groups go sometimes there is less fighting. It's protection by presence."
The PBS NewsHour's Social Entrepreneurship page is starting a new series profiling people helping children. Give us your suggestions for more child-focused groups in the comments section below or tweet us.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss revising the Justice Department's stance on racial profiling. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
Under pressure from civil rights groups and Congressional Democrats, the Justice Department will revise its stance on racial profiling, reports The New York Times. That revision will restrict officials from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations.
The Justice Department has been working on the revision for several years. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder himself has spoken out about his intention to modify the Department's definition of racial profiling, including in a 2010 speech where he pledged to end racial profiling "once and for all."
"Racial profiling is wrong. It can leave a lasting scar on communities and individuals. And it is, quite simply, bad policing - whatever city, whatever state."
While the changes have not been made public, the New York Times made clear that Holder discussed his intentions with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Wednesday. De Blasio, the city's mayor of January 1, was elected partly on a platform of ending the stop-and-frisk policy. In August, a federal judge ruled that strategy unconstitutional, claiming that the tactic violates the constitutional rights of minorities. Last November, the attorney general filed a brief in the case against the policy, suggesting the need for federal monitoring.
Holder has not been alone in criticizing racial profiling. In early 2001, President George W. Bush condemned the practice and promised to see its end. Likewise, John Ashcroft, the attorney general under Bush, called racial profiling unconstitutional in 2002. But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, dozens of Muslim men with no ties to terrorism were arrested and detained and thousands were required to register their nationalities with authorities.
With the Justice Department facing increasing demands to address civil rights issues, Holder has stressed his commitment to civil liberties groups. In 2012, he expressed concern over Arizona's Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act and said that the department would "closely monitor" the impact of the law. Most recently, the Justice department investigated the death of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager widely assumed to have been killed by George Zimmerman because of racial motives.
Although more Americans own electronic readers, most prefer reading print books. Photo by Flickr user srharris
Despite an increase in electronic readers and tablets, most Americans still prefer flipping through the pages of a book.
A report released Thursday found that 70 percent of Americans read print books last year, but only four percent read exclusively e-books. According to the survey, conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International, the average adult read five books in 2013.
While Americans read both print and e-books, the survey also found that half of American adults now own an e-reader or tablet, which is a seven percent increase from 2012.
An Afghan atheist, who has been living in the United Kingdom since 2007, has been granted asylum in Great Britain this week. This is the first time the British Home Office has granted asylum for an atheist on grounds of his religion, or lack thereof.
"The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position," Sheona York told KentOnline. York supervised the Kent Law Clinic students, who filed the case on behalf of the unnamed Afghan man.
Had he returned to Afghanistan, the former Muslim feared persecution, even a possible death sentence under sharia law, if his beliefs were revealed.
Reuters reported the decision one month after a ruling by U.K.'s Supreme Court that recognized Scientology as a religion. In the decision for the case, the judges stated that a religion need not involve a belief in a god.
For more information about sharia law, you can watch the Council on Foreign Relations' How does sharia law view religious conversion?
A trial for the February 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri began Thursday. Photo by Flickr user Mary Madigan
Four members of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah movement are being tried in absentia for the car bomb that killed Hariri and 21 others on Beirut's downtown waterfront nearly 9 years ago.
Though efforts have been made to find the accused -- Salim Jamil Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra -- all four remain at large. If found guilty, the men could face life in prison.
At the beginning of the session, which saw Hariri's son, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other family members of other victims present, Judge David Re said all necessary steps had been taken to bring the men to court.
The prosecution started their case with powerful footage of the blast that nearly tipped Lebanon back into civil war. Prosecutors say the attack was an act of terror meant to spread fear through the country.
"The attackers killed innocent bystanders: a student, a hotel worker, a cousin, a father, a brother, a daughter, friends," said prosecutor Norman Farrell on Thursday, according to a Reuters report.
The bombing was the deadliest in a series of attacks against critics of Syria's military dominance in Lebanon at the time. Hariri was part of the March 14 anti-Syrian opposition that was fighting a plan to extend the tenure of then-president Emile Lahoud, a close Syrian ally.
Damascus denied any knowledge of the attack. Hezbollah also denied involvement, claiming that the United States and Israel were behind the bombing. The United Nations launched the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2009 to probe the attack.
A suicide blast in northern Lebanon coincided with the beginning of the much-anticipated hearing. Several were killed and more than two dozen were wounded.
Rafael Nadal competes in the vicious heat at the 2014 Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo Credit: Brett Marlow/Flickr
An "extreme heat policy" went into effect during the afternoon of the Australian Open tennis tournament on Thursday, stopping play for more than four hours as players were seriously shaken by the weather.
A suffering Australian heat wave caused the temperature to rise above 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Melbourne during the event's fourth day, reported CNN.
Several competitors this week have needed medical attention during and after their matches. Canada's Frank Dancevic fainted and China's Peng Shuai vomited while playing on Tuesday. Britain's Jamie Murray, brother of 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, collapsed after his doubles match victory Thursday and Varvara Lepchenko of the U.S. needed a medical timeout during her loss.
Even those who played under a roof in Melbourne, such as Poland's Agnieszka Radwańska, were affected:
"Today was really, really hard. Even indoors, it was ridiculous. Everybody is talking about it. We try to prepare for the weather, to do everything we can to survive, but it's tough. Sometimes you're lucky, sometimes you're not. You just have to fight with yourself and then with your opponent. The weather pushes you to do it."
Elsewhere in the country, the heat wave is creating electricity demands and wildfire danger, Bloomberg News reports.
This early-year temperature spike comes after 2013 was declared to be Australia's hottest year on record by the country's Bureau of Meteorology.
The 86th Academy Awards will be presented on March 2. Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images
Early Thursday morning when the Oscar nominations were announced in Los Angeles, Hollywood immediately flocked to Twitter ... well, almost all of Hollywood ...
Woke up early to be ready for the #OscarNoms! I've got my coffee and my bagel and my -- what do you mean it was at 4 in the morning?— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) January 16, 2014
Every year, before Hollywood can get dolled up and head to the Dolby Theater, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makes its big announcement of nominees.
And then ... the real buzz begins. Celebrations and congratulations....
From big-name stars like Leonardo DiCaprio:
To Mark Sanger, the man responsible for the editing in "Gravity," one of the films to beat this year, with a total of 10 nominations:
@originaljonone As long as you promise not to clash with my dress....— Mark Sanger (@Bluetrundle) January 16, 2014
And Khalid Abdalla, the producer for "The Square," a feature-length nominated documentary about the Egyptian revolution:
So @TheSquareFilm is now the first ever Egyptian film to be nominated for an Oscar. Time for the authorities to let it be seen in Egypt.— Khalid Abdalla (@khalidabdalla) January 16, 2014
Before we let the Academy decide anything, we at Art Beat want to hear from you. Tell us, what -- and who -- should win at the Academy Awards this year?
We will tally up the results and then come March 2, check back to see how close your predictions are to the outcomes.
GWEN IFILL: The Justice Department is likely to place new limits on racial profiling by federal agents. The current ban only prohibits profiling by race. The New York Times reported today it may be expanded to include religion, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation. Civil rights groups have said authorities continue to target Muslims and Hispanic Americans unfairly.
There are conflicting new claims about the safety of information on healthcare.gov. At a House hearing today, Medicare's top cyber-security official said the federal Web site has passed full security testing. But at a separate hearing, the head of the security consulting firm TrustedSec LLC. warned the site is anything but secure. He cited more than 20 vulnerabilities.
Vatican officials got a grilling today over how they treat clergy who sexually abuse children. They appeared at a United Nations hearing in Geneva and answered claims that Roman Catholic Church leaders have protected pedophile priests at the expense of victims. The Vatican's former sex crimes prosecutor said, the Holy See gets it, but he insisted only local police have the jurisdiction to act in such cases.
ARCHBISHOP CHARLES SCICLUNA, former Vatican sex crimes prosecutor: There are certain things that need to be done differently. I would talk about cover-up, for example, because this is a very important concern. The states who are cognizant of obstruction of justice need to take action against citizens of the country who obstruct justice.
GWEN IFILL: Pope Francis has appointed a Vatican commission on ways to protect children from abuse and help victims heal.
The destruction of Syria's dangerous chemical weapons stockpile will be delayed again. The deadline had been the end of March, but the world's chemical weapons watchdog agency said today it's likely to slide to the end of June. It cited security problems and bad weather.
Separately, Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Syrian government of delaying humanitarian shipments.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: I talked yesterday with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Lavrov in an effort to push still harder for access to some areas where the regime played games with the convoys, taking them around a circuitous route, instead of directly, in the way that the opposition had arranged for and was willing to protect them in. It is important that there be no games played with this process.
GWEN IFILL: Kerry also pressed the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group to attend peace talks in Switzerland next week. The Syrian National Coalition meets tomorrow to make its decision.
Early results from Egypt's referendum on a draft constitution show more than 90 percent of voters favor the new charter. That's according to state media reports today. An Interior Ministry official estimates voter turnout topped 55 percent. Ballots are still being counted and final results are expected to be announced by Saturday.
In the Netherlands today, four men accused of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri went on trial in a U.N. court. Hariri and 22 others died in a Beirut bombing in 2005. The suspects, members of Hezbollah, were not in the courtroom today because they have never been arrested. The Shiite militant group condemns the trial as a U.S.- Israeli plot.
Hariri's son, Saad, was there and insisted the killing of his father must not go unpunished.
SAAD HARIRI, son of Rafik Hariri: We never seek vengeance. And, hopefully, by the end of this trial, we will find out the truth, and we will get the justice that we called for in Lebanon.
GWEN IFILL: Prosecutors are expected to call hundreds of witnesses, and the trial will likely last months.
A searing heat wave forced the Australian Open tennis tournament to suspend play for several hours today, as temperatures in Melbourne hit 111 degrees. The world's number three women's player, Maria Sharapova, won a three-and-a-half-hour marathon match during the height of the heat. She used an ice vest to try to cool down. Players complained the last two days about the intense heat. One player's water bottle even melted courtside.
The nominations for the 86th Academy Awards are in. The con artist sting movie "American Hustle" and space thriller "Gravity" led the pack with 10 nominations apiece, including best film and best director. Also recognized, the pre-civil war drama "12 Years a Slave," nominated nine times, including for screenwriter John Ridley. We will revisit our conversation with him later in the program.
The number of homes heading into foreclosure fell sharply last year. The listing firm RealtyTrac reports they dropped 33 percent to the lowest level since 2006.
Meanwhile, Wall Street struggled today after big banks turned in disappointing earnings reports. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 65 points to close at 16,417. The Nasdaq gained not quite four points to close at 4,218.
GWEN IFILL: Earlier this week, Iran and world powers moved one step closer toward a final agreement on the country's nuclear program.
Tonight, we have an inside look at how negotiations with the West are playing inside the Islamic state.
Hari Sreenivasan has more.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Correspondent William Brangham is in Iran this week on a reporting trip. We caught up with him earlier today.
So, this week, Iran and world powers worked out the technical details of the interim deal over its nuclear program. What has been the reaction on the streets of Tehran?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Well, Hari, the deal has been received relatively well so far this week.
In fact, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, who for weeks have been criticizing the negotiations and the deal, offered what was considered mild praise this week. So that was considered a bit of a step forward.
That said, President Obama set off a bit of a diplomatic tussle this week when he, in his statement on Sunday describing the deal, referred to it as -- quote -- "dismantling" some part of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, which is a charge the Iranians completely reject. The Foreign Ministry rejected that statement.
And earlier this week, President Rouhani felt compelled to give a speech where he said that the deal, in fact, represented a -- quote -- "surrender" of the Western powers to Iran's will. So there seems to be a good deal of domestic political posturing going on to put the best face on this deal.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, here in the U.S., President Obama seeking a little breathing room from lawmakers who are threatening new sanctions. What kind of pressure is on President Rouhani right now?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Well, there is a great deal of pressure on President Rouhani in these ongoing negotiations.
You have to remember there's a large percentage of the Iran Parliament that would very much like to see Rouhani fail. And so they are looking for any signs that he is capitulating or showing signs of weakness that they can then hold up and say, see, he's failing the country.
At the very same time, Iran's supreme leader, who thus far has given Rouhani a good deal of leeway in negotiating this deal, nonetheless last week gave again a very fiery speech where he referred to the United States as the great Satan and warned his negotiators that they cannot -- quote -- "trust the smiles of their enemy" -- so a lot of pressure on the president here.
HARI SREENIVASAN: How do most Iranians view these negotiations with world powers? Are they hopeful that this will improve their country's situation?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I do think there is a sense of hope among some Iranians about this deal.
It's important to remember that Rouhani was in no small part elected to do exactly this. He campaigned on a platform of reducing Iran's isolation in the world, of negotiating with the Western powers, of trying to reduce the sanctions and trying to improve the economy.
So you could argue that he is absolutely delivering on his promise. And so for the people who put him into office, yes, I think there's a genuine sense of hope that these negotiations will finally bear fruit and improve the economy. Ordinary Iranians we have spoken to in the last few days haven't seen those results yet, but they're certainly hoping that they are going to come.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So the U.S. administration credits these so-called crippling sanctions in bringing Iran to the negotiating table. You have been on the ground for a few days now. What is the economic situation like there? How severe are these sanctions to average Iranians?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As a first-time visitor to Iran, it's not immediately apparent how sanctions have impacted the city and this country.
Tehran is a bustling, thriving city. There's people out on the streets. The stores are full of produce and fresh food, household goods. But, in other ways, in ways that may be not quite so visible, it's clear the sanctions have bitten very hard into Iran's economy.
Unemployment is very high. Inflation is very high. And so at the very time that prices for goods have gone through the roof, the value of the local currency, the money, the rial, that people use here to buy those goods has plummeted. So it is very, very difficult for middle-class Iranians to buy the necessities of life.
A few days ago, we spoke with a shopkeeper who we just walked into his store, and we started talking with him. And he told us that he bought his business about two to three years ago, right at the time that the most recent set of sanctions had been implemented. And he said that the price of the goods that he needs to import to sell in his store had gone way up, at the very same time that his customers' ability to buy those goods had gone really far down.
And so there's really evidence everywhere in that sense that the sanctions have really hurt the Iranian economy. And they are in a large way what is driving the urge for these ongoing negotiations to try to reduce those sanctions.
HARI SREENIVASAN: William Brangham, NewsHour Weekend correspondent, thanks for joining us.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thanks very much, Hari.
GWEN IFILL: We will have more of William's reporting from Iran next week.
GWEN IFILL: The Syrian government today allowed relief aid into two areas at the front line of the civil war. It appeared to be a goodwill gesture ahead of international peace talks next week in Switzerland. But there was also a military attack today outside a refugee camp where young and old alike are starving.
Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News has this report on their plight.
A warning: This story contains some graphic images.
LINDSEY HILSUM: They bombed Yarmouk today. The Syrian government is determined to force out the last rebels in southern Damascus. But there were 18,000 civilians in this area. A girl's been injured. Can they get her to hospital?
After the dust has settled, the destruction is plain for all to see. Most of the people scrambling over what remains of Yarmouk aren't even Syrians. They're Palestinian refugees who fled to Damascus for safety decades ago.
The people of Yarmouk are desperate, forced to pick dandelion leaves to eat. Yarmouk has been besieged since last July, as the regime tries to starve the rebels and seemingly the people into submission. These next images are very distressing to watch. Shortly after these pictures were taken, activists say Alaa Al-Masri died of starvation.
Adults are skeletal too. Hunger means they can't resist infections or underlying diseases. Such agony is no accident. It's the result of the siege of Yarmouk.
In the last few days, several children have reportedly died of hunger. Activists filmed the funerals. Fifty people are said to have died from starvation or lack of medical care in recent months. Aid agencies say the people of Yarmouk urgently need food and medicine. They are prisoners. No one can get in or out.
MAN (through interpreter): If they put a dog in a cage, at least they would give him food and water. But we have nothing. We're just waiting for a kind person to bring grass or wheat for the children.
LINDSEY HILSUM: He screams at the camera, "We have no money to pay for food. We have nothing to do with either side. We just want something to eat."
Desperation is driving people over the edge. On Monday, six UN vehicles set off for Yarmouk with polio vaccines and food supplies. They'd negotiated access with the government, but the aid never made it through.
CHRIS GUNNESS, United Nations Relief and Works Agency: the government told us we had to use the southern entry into Yarmouk, which has very much forced us to go through rebel territory, territory where extreme jihadist groups operate.
We could have used the northern entrance to Yarmouk, which the government controls, but they wouldn't allow us to do that, for their own reasons. So we took the southern route. When we got to the last government checkpoint, the bulldozer at the front of our convoy took a direct hit.
LINDSEY HILSUM: At dusk, the Palestinians of Yarmouk light fires. It's another form of protests, smoke signals to the outside world, which seems neither to watch or listen.
GWEN IFILL: Next week, chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner will report from Switzerland on the latest round of international peace talks on Syria.
And right now on our World page, you can read how organizations like Save the Children and UNICEF are setting up kid-friendly spaces in countries like Syria which are caught up in natural disaster and conflict.
GWEN IFILL: Now to this country's nuclear arsenal and new questions about those who sit at the controls of some of the world's deadliest weapons.
DEBORAH LEE JAMES, U.S. Air Force Secretary: This was a failure of some of our airmen. It wasn't a failure of the nuclear mission.
GWEN IFILL: It may be the biggest cheating scandal in Air Force history, detailed yesterday by Air Force Secretary Deborah lee James.
DEBORAH LEE JAMES: Thirty-four missile launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were involved in the compromise of answers to a launch officer proficiency test. Some officers did it. Others apparently knew about it, and it appears that they did nothing, or at least not enough, to stop it or to report it.
GWEN IFILL: The accused officers are among those entrusted with the nation's 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. Their alleged cheating came to light during a separate drug investigation at six Air Force bases.
Two of the 11 suspects in that probe are among the 34 nuclear officers now accused of cheating. It's all part of a series of stumbles in recent years involving the Air Force's nuclear wing. In 2007, the service was embarrassed when six nuclear warheads were accidentally flown across the country. Last spring, more than two dozen launch officers were decertified at a North Dakota base for poor performance and bad attitudes.
And, in October, the head of the nuclear force, Major General Michael Carey, was fired for heavy drinking and other misconduct during an official visit to Russia. This new scandal comes a week after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited a nuclear missile base in Wyoming in a bid to boost morale.
CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. Defense Secretary: I suspect you feel maybe that no one cares or no one's paying attention to you, but we are, and also to reemphasize how important your mission is, how important your work is, how we depend on your professionalism and how you do your work.
GWEN IFILL: The 34 officers implicated in the cheating episode have been pulled from their posts while the investigation continues. And the entire ICBM launch force is slated for retesting by close of business today.
I'm joined now by Robert Burns, national security reporter for the Associated Press, and Bruce Blair, a research scholar at Princeton University. He was once a intercontinental ballistic missile officer in the Air Force and has written extensively about nuclear weapons.
Robert Burns, describe how the Air Force discovered this latest breach.
ROBERT BURNS, Associated Press: Well, it began when they found there was a drug-use problem at several bases.
The first one they found it at apparently was one of the ICBM bases. And in the course of investigating that, they came upon this cheating, exam cheating scandal.
GWEN IFILL: So, it's one scandal leading to another leading to another?
ROBERT BURNS: And they're just getting started. They said that this is -- it's too early to tell exactly how extensive this is, because they have literally and -- quote -- "just getting started" with this investigation.
GWEN IFILL: So the 34 people that we heard about from the Pentagon, that is just, as far as we know, the beginning of this investigation?
ROBERT BURNS: That's right. They said that's all they know of at the moment. But this investigation is just beginning and more people will be talked to about it.
GWEN IFILL: Bruce Blair, you have done this job. Exactly who are these officers and what are they responsible for doing?
BRUCE BLAIR, Princeton University: They're responsible for fighting a nuclear war with -- primarily with Russia, which is an obsolete mission, and that's partly responsible for the distress that the force feels and the lack of -- declined morale and something of a decline of discipline.
But they sit out in 24-hour alerts in underground launch control capsules waiting for orders from higher authority to fire up to 50 of these very deadly weapons under their control. Say, if an order went down right now from the Pentagon to these crews to fire their forces without any advance warning, they could fire all 450 of these Minuteman missiles in less than two minutes, probably closer to 60 seconds.
GWEN IFILL: But how is that then an obsolete mission? It sounds kind of important.
BRUCE BLAIR: Well, the Cold War ended 20 years ago.
And if your primary mission is to fight a large-scale nuclear war with Russia, and that's no longer a very compelling scenario, then it's difficult to sustain a high degree of motivation and edge within this force, frankly.
I participated in a study with Senator Hagel, now Secretary of Defense Hagel, and with General Cartwright, former head of all nuclear forces, less than two years ago. And this was a study for Global Zero, of which I'm involved in. And it recommended that we look very seriously at eliminating this force completely, because the mission has basically disappeared. And the military utility of these weapons is very low.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Robert Burns about that.
Are these were -- in -- as they are investigating this problem, were nuclear weapons compromised? Was access to nuclear weapons?
ROBERT BURNS: Not as far as we know. In fact, the Air Force has emphasized that that is not the case.
But to make -- for the point on what Mr. Blair just said there, when the initial set of problems were first exposed by the AP last spring, the Air Force's initial response was, well, part of the problem is these fellows, these officer who do this job are very young and they have not taken it seriously enough.
GWEN IFILL: And they have a morale problem.
ROBERT BURNS: Well, that's associated with this morale problem.
On the other hand, that is somewhat putting the blame on these officers, the young officers. Other people will tell you that the real problem is weak leadership by the more senior people in the Air Force.
GWEN IFILL: Is that something you found in your investigation with Secretary and then Senator Hagel as well, Mr. Blair?
BRUCE BLAIR: Well, we didn't look into this dimension very thoroughly.
But I stay very close to the ground on these questions, in close contact with former and current launch control officers. And my view is that these men and women are every bit as capable and proficient, competent and dedicated as previous generations of launch officers, including my own generation.
I would like to make a point about the notion that this is a scandal of unprecedented proportions. That's the way it has been portrayed by the Air Force. But the truth of the matter is, is that a subculture within the Minuteman force has evolved over decades, in which cribbing is widespread. I have known hundreds of officers personally on active duty, and all of them cribbed at one time or another, to my experience.
GWEN IFILL: You say cribbed. In this case, it was actually texting the answers to people taking the proficiency test.
BRUCE BLAIR: Texting is something new.
Basically, one used to look over the shoulders of each other and help each other out. And the reason is because, although we were extremely proficient and professional, you couldn't miss a single question. If you did, you flunked and went through some punitive process that was extraordinary.
And so we kind of all banded together and helped each other out. So I don't -- you know, cheating has been -- of this sort has been going on extensively for a long, long time.
GWEN IFILL: Well, let me -- let me ask Robert Burns, who has done a lot of reporting on this, what your sense is of the scale of this, not only this particular scandal, but also all these other things which we delineated in the setup piece, all these other mistakes, all these other issues and questions and investigations under way within the Air Force.
ROBERT BURNS: Mm-hmm.
Well, it seems pretty clear that there is a problem, the root of which has not really been identified and addressed yet, apparently, by the Air Force. And they have said repeatedly over the course of several months when a number of problems have been exposed by our reporting that this is an isolated incident, we understand what the problem is, we're fixing it, and that sort of thing.
But the real big question seems to be, is this symptomatic of something more long-term and more permanent?
GWEN IFILL: That was my question, yes.
ROBERT BURNS: And the answer, I think it's still to be determined.
But I think even Secretary Hagel's spokesman said today that he leaves open the possibility that this could be symptomatic of a bigger problem. And, of course, Secretary Hagel has been in office about a year. A number of the top Air Force nuclear officers, commanders are actually fairly new in the job.
And I think people are not yet quite sure where to go with this.
GWEN IFILL: Bruce Blair, do you think it's symptomatic of a larger problem?
BRUCE BLAIR: Well, again, I think that the mission is obsolete.
These are young men and women who came of age after the end of the Cold War, never thinking Russia was an enemy. They were thinking Osama bin Laden is the enemy or North Korea, Kim Jong Il and others. And their mission has nothing to do with confronting North Korea and Iran.
It's to fight a war with Russia. So it's obsolete. It's time to come to grips with that. And, you know, these people are not -- they're not naive. And they see the writing on the wall. And they want to transfer out of nuclear. There's no future in it.
It's always been a backwater. You could never really have much prospect for promotion, and certainly not rise to the level of general, in an organization that is dominated by pilots. And so the only hope, the glimmer of hope for these crew members has been that they could transfer out into other more interesting and promising careers, including cyber and drones, space operations.
BRUCE BLAIR: But the Air Force has choked -- the Air Force has gone too far in choking off that set of options. It's very, very difficult now for a missileer to get into space operations, for example. The Air Force has to open this up.
GWEN IFILL: OK. Thank you so much. I'm sorry
Bruce Blair of Princeton University, Robert Burns of the Associated Press, thank you so much.
ROBERT BURNS: Thank you, Gwen.
BRUCE BLAIR: Thanks.
GWEN IFILL: Now the importance of improving access to college for lower-income students.
That was the subject of a White House summit today that attracted more than 100 colleges and universities. Research has shown high-achieving students from poorer families graduate from college at roughly the same levels as lower-achieving kids in that same economic bracket.
Today, the first lady said she understood from personal experience that too many students might not reach for top colleges.
FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: The truth is that if Princeton hadn't found my brother as a basketball recruit, and if I hadn't seen that he could succeed on a campus like that, it never would have occurred to me to apply to that school, never.
And I know that there are so many kids out there just like me, kids who have a world of potential, but maybe their parents never went to college, or maybe they have never been encouraged to believe they could succeed there. And so that means it's our job to find those kids.
GWEN IFILL: But some of those young people who never got their high school diplomas are now facing a difficult job market.
Tonight, we look at a program in Indiana that's trying to help some get the diploma they missed out on years ago.
The NewsHour's April Brown reports for our American Graduate project.
APRIL BROWN: Goodwill, it's a name that bargain hunters across the country know well. The charity sells donated clothes and used goods at its retail stores to fund career training and social programs for everyone from the disabled to ex-convicts.
But for some Indianapolis residents like Nichole Thomas, Goodwill has come to represent something else, a chance to confront a lingering regret.
NICHOLE THOMAS, student: I think the biggest thing to overcome is just swallowing your pride.
APRIL BROWN: Since 2010, Goodwill of Central Indiana has offered Thomas and other dropouts the opportunity to earn a high school diploma at its network of charter schools known as The Excel Center.
In 1995, Thomas became pregnant with her daughter Ashley (ph). She was just 15 and dropped out of high school before earning a single credit. But despite her lack of education, the young mother was able to find work for nearly 20 years.
NICHOLE THOMAS: I will admit that there's plenty of times I lied on applications and said I had my high school diploma and even some college education, and it was never even looked into. So I was able to get some really good jobs and get in and stay there without that education.
APRIL BROWN: But, a few years ago, as the recession tightened its grip on cities like Indianapolis, she was laid off. Without a diploma, she found it hard to even get an interview, where she could sell herself to future employers, and finally realized that she needed to go back to school.
NICHOLE THOMAS: You know, I wanted to do it right, and I wanted to further my education beyond that, and I felt I would have an easier time getting into colleges with a high school diploma.
APRIL BROWN: Today, Thomas is among more than 3,000 adults enrolled at the Excel Center's nine sites. The move into education marked an evolution for a nonprofit known for reselling donations.
James McClelland, CEO and president of Goodwill of Central Indiana, says his organization thought carefully before deciding to offer them a diploma over a GED.
JIM MCCLELLAND, Goodwill of Central Indiana: Some of the data that we saw as we started looking into this showed that if GED is the highest level of education that you attain, you don't make any more money than a high school dropout, and your rate of unemployment is no greater than that of a high school dropout.
APRIL BROWN: Goodwill didn't decide to branch out from retail to education all on its own. The city of Indianapolis actually approached the organization about doing it.
The Indianapolis mayor's office has the unusual ability to sponsor charter schools in the state. Jason Kloth, the deputy mayor of education for Indianapolis says there are about 150,000 dropouts in the city's metro area, and that offering them educational opportunities is an economic imperative.
JASON KLOTH, Deputy Mayor of Education - Indianapolis: There is a clear need with existing high school dropouts, people who may have made a mistake at one point or another in their life. And this is an opportunity for them to reenter, earn their high school diploma, and then go on to enter employment.
APRIL BROWN: McClelland says Goodwill has been working with and employing dropouts for decades. So the organization tailored a school that met their needs.
Free child care is provided, and weekend and night classes are offered year-round. Like any other public high school, the students' education is paid for by the state. But at The Excel Center, students also have the chance to earn college credits and move toward technical certifications, steps that could improve their chances of finding employment in Indianapolis' new economy, says Jason Kloth.
JASON KLOTH: Today, as our economy has shifted from an industrial economy to an information economy, having a high school diploma is the bare minimum that's going to be required to enter into that middle-class lifestyle that we aspire to here in our country.
APRIL BROWN: Because it's a relatively new and untraditional model, both Goodwill and the mayor's office are studying The Excel Center's success, which will determine future state funding. The school's students are judged by the same standards as all other high schoolers in Indiana, which is a good thing, according to algebra teacher Kandas Boozer.
She says it forces teachers to have high expectations for students in spite of difficult circumstances.
KANDAS BOOZER, The Excel Center: I expect them to always give 100 percent no matter what that looks like. Everybody is at a different level, so I just want to make sure they give me everything they have.
APRIL BROWN: Montaque Quentrel Koonce is one recent graduate who had his fair share of challenges. A former dropout, Koonce came to The Excel Center after being laid off from his job on a assembly line and struggling to find a place to live.
MONTAQUE QUENTREL KOONCE, student: There was two things I'm terrified of, you know, homeless -- I have never been homeless in my life -- or having to do math.
MONTAQUE QUENTREL KOONCE: So I had to confront both of those fears at the same time
APRIL BROWN: Koonce studied hard, graduated with a 3.2 GPA and later found a job at a packaging warehouse for Amazon. For a man who hadn't been in a classroom in more than 30 years, he found the teachers to be patient and encouraging, and felt he succeeded, in part, because he could pick up where he left off when he dropped out of high school at 16.
MONTAQUE QUENTREL KOONCE: I didn't have to go through high school from the beginning to end. It's just from exactly from when I walked out the door as to where I walked back in. And they test you, they figure out where you are at, and tell you what you need, and they help you get there.
APRIL BROWN: President and CEO Jim McClelland says his organization's educational effort is not only helping people like Koonce today.
JIM MCCLELLAND: We have a lot of students who tell us that they are doing this for their kids or so their kids won't have any excuse not to. That's pretty neat.
And while we know that by earning that diploma, it's going to have a positive impact on the mom or the dad, we think the greater impact is going to be with their children.
APRIL BROWN: As for Nichole Thomas, she will graduate from The Excel Center in May and has already begun earning college credit. She says she is anxious to rejoin the work force, but has only one job in mind.
NICHOLE THOMAS: The only job prospect that I'm interested in is coming back to one of The Excel Centers, so I want to come back as an instructor.
APRIL BROWN: Teachers will likely be in high demand for Goodwill of Central Indiana going forward. More than 2,900 students are on a waiting list to enroll.
GWEN IFILL: You can find more online about Goodwill's push into education as they move to duplicate the model around the country.
American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
GWEN IFILL: Five years ago, two of the largest auto manufacturers, GM and Chrysler, were on the brink. The Bush and Obama administrations offered them critical lifelines of cash, tens of billions of dollars, most of which has since been repaid.
In the wake of the crisis, carmakers said they would change the kinds of vehicles they were selling, reducing their size and increasing fuel-efficiency. And, to some extent, that is happening.
But, in Detroit this week, the industry also returned to some of its old high-powered old form.
Hari is back with that story.
MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the big nasty, the 2015 Corvette Z06.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Detroit puts its best new offerings on stage each year at the North American International Auto Show, previewing concept cars that may never be made, alongside those that car-lovers can expect to see in showrooms in the coming years.
Vice President Joe Biden was among the enthusiasts today as Chevrolet rolled out the new Corvette.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Now, you know, that old Corvette, that rear end, it wasn't what you would call stable, right?
JOE BIDEN: But they tell me this new one, man, can take the Porsche. I'm counting on it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And automakers seem to be counting on a new yearning for high-performance cars, after focusing more on smaller sedans and electric vehicles in recent years.
RAJ NAIR, Ford Group: There you have it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Trucks are also moving off dealers' lots. And at the auto show, manufacturers tried to spotlight redesigned models like Ford's F-150, which are lighter and more fuel-efficient.
RAJ NAIR: Overall, as much as 700 pounds of weight have been saved, helping the F-150 tow more, haul more, accelerate quicker, stop shorter, all with better gas mileage.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Ford and its competitors are racing to meet a surging demand for trucks, fueled partly by contractors buying more as them, as the housing industry picks up.
The new CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, unveiled her company's new midsize pickup, the GMC Canyon, on Sunday.
MARY BARRA, General Motors: At today's GM, our products are the result of putting the customer at the center of everything we do.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Overall, the industry racked up strong sales gains in 2013, with more than 15 million vehicles sold. It's hoping to build on that performance in 2014.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Some further thoughts about the state of the industry and what the auto show reflects about that.
Dan Neil is the auto columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He attended the show in Detroit earlier this week. And Karl Brauer is a senior director at Kelley Blue Book, a company widely known for its research and data about pricing and reviews.
So, Dan, let me start with you. What were your impressions from the floor?
DAN NEIL, The Wall Street Journal: Well, it would appear that Detroit is getting the band back together again.
The sort of the conditions of the mid-2000s bubble is there in force. There's a lot of focus on big trucks, big SUVs. The new Escalade was there, the new Cadillac Coupe. Cadillac has had a great year.
So, and a lot of the conditions are reoccurring. There is a lot of cheap money out there, a lot of incentives. And there's moderate fuel price pressures. And, most of all, you have got these manufacturing with these very intense volume-driven business plans that is sort of kicking this all over.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, do you detect a sort of confidence in the industry right now? I mean, this is one of the first years that the U.S. government is really out of Chrysler and GM.
DAN NEIL: Yes, you could call it confidence. You could call it pernicious amnesia.
You know, the -- it is a little eerie to walk through the show and see so much of the same film we saw six or seven years ago. And part of that is the nature of the automobile industry itself. It is based on growth. It's capital-intensive. You have to put, you know, factories in the ground.
So you're always a little bit out over your skies. And the other thing, it has to be said, the U.S. market is intensely competitive. It's one of the -- it's the most stable automobile market on the face of the planet. And so everybody wants to play.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Karl Brauer, I want to ask you, there was such a push a few years ago about these small vehicles, these more efficient vehicles. And here we are rolling out trucks. They might be lighter, but they're still big trucks.
KARL BRAUER, Kelley Blue Book: Yes.
Well, what has happened is we have got technology now that is making trucks and SUVs get the kind of mileage that economy cars used to get. I think that is one of the things that you have to keep in mind when you look at the horsepower numbers and the performance numbers these cars are getting.
They are doing it in spite of or in addition to meeting the government standards that are rapidly increasing the fuel efficiency that these cars have to acquire. We have to go up by about 10 MPG in the next 10 years to meet those standards on average. Every car has got to be about one MPG -- or 10 MPG better. And we did that last year.
The average car sold in this country was -- I think 24.8 was the average MPG, and it was 23.8 one year ago. So, even though we saw a lot of performance cars, like Dan said there, a lot of them are niche cars or even concept cars. The volume vehicles out there, they are getting better and better mileage because of the technology that's under the hoods of all these new vehicles.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Karl, staying with you for a second, what about the alternative fuel vehicles that we heard so much more about? Is the Chevy Volt or the Tesla the exception and not the rule?
KARL BRAUER: You know, it still basically is.
You know, we did see some growth in the hybrid market this year, largely because Ford put out models in the last 12 months that did quite well. But when you put all the alternative vehicles together, including the electric, the hybrid and the diesel, you are still less than 4 percent of the total market.
And it really was interesting to walk through the show and look through the show this year and see almost nothing talking about, you know, alternative super-high-fuel-efficiency technologies. It was really more about performance and capability.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Dan, I almost heard more about alternative fuels at the Consumer Electronics Show news than here.
What is it with all the sports cars that are being announced today, not just the Corvette, but Subaru, BMW? All these guys are putting out very high-performance vehicles now.
DAN NEIL: Yes, well, you know, people who buy sports cars are interested in bench-raising, which is comparing the numerical values in the owner's manual and bragging about them.
But let me offer a corrective here. The Ford F-150 is being built out of aluminum. This is a radical and risky step forward for the company that makes the most popular vehicle in America for 32 years running. I mean, they sold three-quarters-of-a-million of these trucks last year. They are going to make it out of aluminum. And it's going to save, on average, they estimate three miles per gallon.
Doesn't sound like a lot, but when you lay the big multiplier in of three-quarters-of-a-million vehicles and the hundreds of thousands of miles driven, the Ford F-150 will save more real-world gas than, certainly, you know, Tesla or the Volt, as admirable vehicles as they are.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Dan, also, it seemed like there were more models announced this year. It seemed like there is an option at every price point.
DAN NEIL: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And that is another thing. I mean, it is a year of interlopers.
Take, for example, German premium luxury manufacturers, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz. They're all going down-market, Mercedes C and CLA. BMW introduced the 2, which is a two-door, between the 1 and now the 4. So -- and you have this hyper-fractionizing of the segments.
Audi has the Q3, which is the cute SUV. Porsche is really bringing a very tiny SUV to market called the Porsche Macan. So the Germans are coming after the territory now occupied by Honda and Hyundai. And so that is a big change. And they're coloring in all the white space.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Karl, let's think a little bit about this on a kind of a macroeconomics picture.
With what Dan said, with money being cheap, with these long loans, are we getting into a possible trap here where people are maybe buying more than they can afford in terms of cars?
KARL BRAUER: Well, so far, the numbers are still looking pretty good in terms of, you know, the amount of loans that are out there, how high they are, how many are being defaulted on.
Right now, everything still looks fine in terms of the availability of credit. But what is really fabulous is that we're seeing an increase in transaction price across all these sales, all these new vehicle sales that are going on, and a decrease, relatively speaking, in incentives.
So when you have the manufacturers not cutting prices and also selling as many or more cars at higher prices, what you are left with is good profitability. And don't forget that when that restructuring occurred with the domestics a few years ago, the idea was to make them so they could be profitable, restructure their companies to be profitable at 10 million annual industry sales.
And we hit 15.6 last year. And we're going hit probably something like 16.3 this year. So, so far, at least, everything is really looking good in terms of profitability.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Karl Brauer from Kelley Blue Book and Dan Neil from The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.
DAN NEIL: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: A recently released movie about the peculiar institution known as slavery in America is drawing attention and praise for an emotional and brutal portrayal largely unseen in Hollywood.
"12 Years a Slave," directed by Steve McQueen, is based on an 1853 autobiography of free man turned slave Solomon Northup.
Jeffrey Brown has our conversation with one of the filmmakers.
JEFFREY BROWN: When we first meet Northup, he's a well-educated carpenter and musician living with his wife and children in Saratoga Springs, New York. The film follows as he's kidnapped and sold into slavery, experiencing all its brutality and forced to hide his identity and education, for fear of punishment or death.
In this scene, he encounters the wife of a cruel Louisiana plantation owner.
ACTRESS: This is a list of goods and sundries. You will take it to be filled and return immediately. Take the tag. Tell Bartholomew to add it to our debt.
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR, actor: Yes, missus.
ACTRESS: Where you from?
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: I told you.
ACTRESS: Tell me again.
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: Washington.
ACTRESS: Who were your master?
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: Master name of Freeman.
ACTRESS: Was he a learned man?
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: I suppose so.
ACTRESS: He learn to you read?
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: A word here or there, but I have no understanding of the written text.
ACTRESS: Well, don't trouble yourself with it. Same as the rest, master brought you here to work. That's all. Any more will earn you a hundred lashes.
JEFFREY BROWN: John Ridley wrote the screenplay for "12 Years a Slave." He's also written for television, authored several novels, and directed two films of his own.
Well, welcome to you.
Tell us first about this person, Solomon Northup, and the book it is based on, and your own experience of encountering it for the first time.
JOHN RIDLEY, "12 Years a Slave": Solomon is a truly remarkable individual.
And one of the interesting things is, after he was freed from slavery for 12 years, his story, his memoir called "12 Years a Slave" was really quite well-known here in America. It sold nearly 30,000 copies. He toured. He talked about it. Many abolitionists credit his story with helping drive their movement.
And then it really -- it disappeared from the cultural consciousness. Steve McQueen and I, the director of the film, we sat down about four or five years ago and had breakfast, talked about many things. And in the course of this discussion, he stumbled upon the book. He gave it to me.
I read it and thought it was a really singular document in how evocative it was, how the clarity of how Solomon talked about his experience. And we both decided that this story in particular was worth telling and in a way that really introduced in some ways America to slavery, in the sense that it had not been excavated the way that Steve in particular wanted to do with this film and the story.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell us a little bit more about that, because what were you -- what were you after in telling the story, what kind of portrait that you felt needed to be told?
JOHN RIDLEY: I think two things.
For me, as a writer, there was an emotional honesty and emotional velocity with Solomon and his story. You have to understand, at that time, for a lot of people of color, particularly slaves, as you saw in that clip, to read and write was a death sentence. So, comparatively, there were very few first-person narratives of what it was like to live through and to survive slavery.
I think, for Steve as a filmmaker, he wanted to render these images, the beautiful ones, the difficult ones, with a level of authenticity that for a lot of people has not been seen in film or in television. For most people, their visual experiences with slavery were "Gone With the Wind,' things like that, or "Django," which may be an entertaining film, but went at slavery with a very -- a different mind-set.
For us, again, we wanted an emotional honesty. And that's what we tried to achieve in every step of the way in every department, with the look, with the performances, and certainly for me from the script.
JEFFREY BROWN: You mentioned something like "Gone With the Wind."
A lot of people have noted the -- there is a long history here and a tradition of looking at the Civil War and at slavery in particular. Were you consciously working for it again in some case or against that portrayal in others?
JOHN RIDLEY: For me, it was trying to be honest to the source material.
But since the film has started to roll out -- and we're just reaching a national density at this point -- one of the things that has really surprised me -- and this is not for any kind of person in particular or any race of people -- but I was shocked at how many people really didn't understand how brutal the system of slavery was, how pervasive it was in its indoctrination of all individuals.
And I think that's because, here in Hollywood, we have done a really poor job of representing the facts of slavery. So, yes, you go to big costume dramas like "Gone With the Wind' that over the decades has really reached a point that that is folks' reference force slavery. Slavery was not a bad day on the job. It was not your boss yelling at you. It was not hard work for little pay.
This was a full system of human subjugation. And to do that, you have to get everyone to be complicit. And, look, we're not prisoners to the past, but when you see where we are in 2013 and why some of our views about race are so calcified, you have to understand that the indoctrination of slavery in this country for such a long time, it's the reason we are, unfortunately, still where we are about race relations.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and having seen the film, I know that you do not spare the audience. You do not spare us much of the -- it's the daily violence, the whippings, the rape that were almost routine.
I wonder, were there discussions among you and Steve McQueen and others about how far to go? I mean, you're trying to be realistic, but you also -- it's a film that people are going to see.
JOHN RIDLEY: Yes, I think in some ways you have to compare where the language of cinema is.
We have just come out of a summer season -- and I don't say this in an overly disparaging way -- but where entire cities were torn down and people just shrugged because of the level of violence and the scale of destruction and within that language of cinema.
With this film, I think it's because you care about the people and because we take so much time to show these lives and show these individuals as humans that, on the occasion -- and, really, when you break down the film, there are three or four moments that are very difficult -- it means that much more because we see these individuals as people.
And we never wanted to flinch from these moments either, the beauty, the humanity, the family nature that is going on here, or things that are difficult, by the way, that aren't very barbaric in terms of the physicality. But when you see a mother being torn away from her children and somebody's response is, have a meal and you will forget about them, that hurts because we care.
And that was our objective at every moment, to humanize these very dehumanizing moments in the history of slavery.
JEFFREY BROWN: Just in our last 30 seconds here, but I am wondering, given the response to it, the very positive response, do you think this signals a new openness to looking at difficult parts of our history?
JOHN RIDLEY: I think it's an openness to looking at our history and looking at history at not just being African-American history or white American history. This is our history.
And to move forward in it, we have got to learn and we have got to grow. And I'm very gratified that people are willing to sit and learn.
JEFFREY BROWN: John Ridley is screenwriter of "12 Years a Slave."
Thanks so much.
JOHN RIDLEY: Thank you for having me.
Civil liberties activists hold a rally against surveillance of U.S. citizens as President Barack Obama is expected to announce NSA reforms Friday at the Justice Department. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama is expected to unveil new guidelines Friday limiting the National Security Agency's surveillance activities, a move that follows a months-long review of the country's intelligence-gathering operations in response to the public outcry over disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The high-profile leaks caused political headaches for the president at home, triggering outrage from civil liberties groups and calls from members of Congress to rein in the agency's activities. The revelations that the U.S. had been eavesdropping on the phone calls of foreign leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff also strained diplomatic relations with close allies.
Mr. Obama will outline his reforms during an 11 a.m. speech at the Justice Department.
The New York Times' Mark Landler previews the president's remarks:
President Obama will lay out plans on Friday morning to pull back the government's wide net of surveillance at home and abroad, in a speech that administration officials say will stake out a middle ground between the far-reaching proposals of his own advisers and the concerns of the nation's intelligence agencies.
Mr. Obama is expected to outline plans to put more limits on the bulk collection of telephone calls; tighten privacy safeguards for foreigners, particularly heads of state; and propose a new public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court.
But he will stop short of turning over the storage of phone data to a consortium of telecommunications companies, according to officials, and he will not require that a court grant permission for all so-called national security letters seeking business records.
The Washington Post's David Nakamura and Ellen Nakashima have more on the president's proposed changes to the NSA's collection of Americans' telephone metadata:
The president plans to say that the NSA's metadata program remains a critical tool for U.S. intelligence agencies to root out and prevent terrorist activities, said the administration official, who spoke in advance of the speech on condition of anonymity.
But Obama also will say that the United States should be able to "preserve those capabilities while addressing the privacy and civil liberties concerns" raised by recent disclosures in the media about the government control of the metadata.
The president has said he believes that "just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should do it," in response to questions about the government's surveillance operations. But he has also suggested the privacy concerns must be balanced with the administration's mission of protecting the country.
The Huffington Post's Matt Sledge and Sabrina Siddiqui write that for NSA reformers, Friday's speech by the president is not likely to go far enough to fulfill their demands.
Peter Baker, meanwhile, looks at the president's evolution from critic to overseer of the government's spying apparatus in the New York Times:
Aides said that even as a senator, Mr. Obama supported robust surveillance as long as it was legal and appropriate, and that as president he still shares the concerns about overreach he expressed years ago. But they said his views have been shaped to a striking degree by the reality of waking up every day in the White House responsible for heading off the myriad threats he finds in his daily intelligence briefings.
As the president seeks to strike a balance when it comes to the government's intelligence-gathering activities, he faces a public that is split on the issue. Polls show Americans are willing to accept some tradeoffs in privacy for national security, but remain skeptical of the bulk collection of personal data.
Friday's task for the president is convincing the American people that the reforms he is proposing will strike the right balance between those two concerns.
VOTING RIGHTS PROPOSAL OF 2014
A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a plan Thursday to revive the pieces of the Voting Rights Act that the U.S. Supreme Court had gutted in 2013.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and others in the House, would rewrite the guidelines for states and localities to fall under federal pre-clearance restrictions for elections.
The court struck down similar guidelines that worked with another part of the voting rights law to determine which areas in the U.S. had histories of discriminatory voting practices dating back to the 1960s. The court called those guidelines outdated.
A new formula would place states, i.e. Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, back under the pre-clearance conditions. Those states would have to ask the U.S. Department of Justice for approval before changing any voting conditions such as district lines or polling places. The new bill also outlines a "bail-in" process, meaning how the Justice Department would place additional areas under those same conditions if they disenfranchise racial or language minorities in the future.
But Ari Berman of the Nation notes:
The new Section 4 proposal is far from perfect. It does not apply to states with an extensive record of voting discrimination, like Alabama (where civil rights protests in Selma gave birth to the VRA), Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, which were previously subject to Section 5. Nor does it apply to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that have enacted new voting restrictions in the past few years.
Civil rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice applauded the proposal.
"Given the bipartisan history of the Voting Rights Act, it is encouraging that the process for restoring the law after last year's Supreme Court decision is bipartisan, too," a DOJ spokesman said in a statement to the NewsHour. "The Department will work with Congress in the weeks ahead to ensure any legislative proposal includes all the reforms necessary to fully protect Americans' access to the franchise."
Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a phone interview with the NewsHour she was "pleased" with the proposal.
"For all of this to happen the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and right before the big federal holiday says a lot," she said.
Arnwine criticized, however, the way that the proposal carves out an exception for states that institute photo ID regulations. While supporters of the regulations say they prevent voter fraud, others allege the ID restrictions make it more difficult for the poor, elderly and minorities to vote.
The Lawyers' Committee and other civil rights groups hope the legislation, or a tweaked version of it, could pass by the end of summer 2014. That would allow the regulations to take effect before the mid-term elections later this year.
Of course, the bill will have to pass congressional muster. And even if it does, it could still face tests in the court system.
Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, which worked on the legal challenge to the preclearance clause last year, told the NewsHour he believes this bill would be unconstitutional. He wrote in an email to NewsHour:
"It is the latest attempt by some in Congress to bring under federal supervision a handful of states for actions that have little to do with racial discrimination in voting, but more to do with achieving racial proportionality in legislative bodies. The Supreme Court recognized last year that supervision of elections is a local matter. The proposed legislation is an attempt to end run the Constitution. It is unlikely the representatives from Texas, Georgia and the other affected states will concur that their states need election oversight from the staff of the Department of Justice."
Before the Supreme Court weighed in last year with its 5-4 decision, Congress had last reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006.
The PBS NewsHour collected in-depth coverage of the Voting Rights Act while it was tested before the court. Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and James Burling, director of litigation for the Pacific Legal Foundation, explained the practical effects of the court's ruling last year. And dozens of NewsHour viewers remembered how the Voting Rights Act changed their lives in 1965 with this audio collection.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will leave office at the end of the current session of Congress, two years before his term is set to expire. The two-term lawmaker has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer, but he said his decision was not influenced by his health. "As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere," Coburn said in a statement released Thursday. "In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong."
GOP Rep. Buck McKeon, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, announced Thursday that he would not run for a 12th term in November.
The Senate approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill Thursday on a 72 to 26 vote.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie officially launched his Senate campaign against Virginia Democrat Mark Warner in a YouTube video posted Thursday. "I'm running for Senate because the American Dream is being undermined by policies that move us away from constitutional principles of limited government and personal liberty," Gillespie says in the clip.
Utah residents are now split 48 percent for and 48 percent against allowing the state to issue same-sex marriage licenses, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune. In 2004, 66 percent of Utahns approved an amendment limiting marriage to a man and woman and barring the state from recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships.
WNYC's Andrea Bernstein reports on how New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's team has used the Port Authority as a "political piggy bank."
In New Jersey Thursday, 20 subpoenas were issued to 17 people and three organizations regarding the ongoing bridge scandal.
As lawmakers including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., attempt to bring climate change to the forefront, National Journal's Jack Fitzpatrick also points out that the Sunday talk shows have only interviewed two climate scientists in the past five years.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday he's changed his mind when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana. "I think we need to take a real close look at this," Reid told the Las Vegas Sun. "I think that there's some medical reasons for marijuana." The Senate Majority Leader said his support did not extend to recreational marijuana.
We've all heard of the brand name Super PACs, but here are 10 lesser-known Super PACs that could have a big impact on 2014. The extent of their power will become more clear after the Jan. 31 filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission.
It's pretty apparent Barbara Bush does not want her son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to run for president. The former first lady told C-SPAN, "[T]here's no question in my mind that Jeb is the best-qualified person to run for president, but I hope he won't ... There are other families. I refuse to accept that this great country isn't raising other wonderful people." Last April she responded to a question about a potential Jeb Bush run by saying, "We've had enough Bushes."
First Lady Michelle Obama celebrates her 50th birthday on Saturday. The Times' Jennifer Steinhauer examines "the conflicting diptych of glamorous mystery woman and regular PTA mother" that has characterized the first lady during her five years in Washington.
Where do you wait? The Washington City Paper collected images of Washington's bus stops over the course of a year, capturing one of the few universal experiences in the city.
The Morning Line will be off Monday Jan. 20 in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. We know you'll miss it in your inbox, but never fear -- we'll return Jan. 21.
Scene in the Senate: Lawmakers literally running through the halls post-omnibus vote. Airplanes to catch!— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) January 16, 2014
Simone Pathe and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.
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By Paul Solman
The solution to economic inequality depends on what you think the cause is. Photo of the Central Park United Methodist Church weekly food pantry in Reading, Penn., by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.
Paul Solman answers questions from the NewsHour audience on business and economic news on his Making Sense page. Recently, it seems, readers have had inequality on the brain, and Friday's questions are an attempt to address some of those concerns, many of which Making Sense has explored before. Find an overview of our inequality coverage here.
Florence Bird -- Spring Green: How do we fix the unequal economy?
Paul Solman: If you're a liberal: Raise the minimum wage. Strengthen the bargaining power of unions. Make a massive public education investment in the human capital of those at the lower end of the economy, like the 70 percent of Americans who never get a four-year college degree (see Harvard psychologist Jerry Kagan's grim assessment of the current state of affairs in a very popular Making Sen$e Business Desk post last year.) Hire unemployed Americans to work in child and elder care. Raise taxes on the wealthy.
If you're a skeptic of government and proponent of freer-market solutions: Dismantle the welfare state and thereby provide a really strong incentive for people to work harder and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
Anna Lee -- Atlanta, Ga.: How much is inequality fueled by the U.S. running a trade deficit that has been huge for decades?
Paul Solman: I don't know. I don't imagine anyone does. Is your premise that if we spent more at home than we do abroad, thus running less of a deficit or even a surplus, our increased domestic demand would raise wages for lower-income Americans?
The answer to that question doesn't seem to be an obvious "yes." Wouldn't it depend on what we spend the money on and whom would benefit from the increased domestic spending? For those who think the two main drivers of increased inequality may be labor-replacing technology and the increasing political power of those with wealth, the trade deficit seems pretty irrelevant.
Kyle Allen -- Marietta, Ga.: Sir, the workforce is impacted by new robots replacing workers. This is occurring at a rapid rate. No one ever discusses this. Why?
Paul Solman: We certainly do discuss this and have -- for years. You might check out this story on the "jobless recovery" from more than a decade ago.
And, of course, our 2012 report on "Man Versus Machine," which you can watch below.
BREAKING: Document obtained by AP shows pope defrocked nearly 400 priests in 2 years for molesting kids.— The Associated Press (@AP) January 17, 2014
Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests for molesting children over the course of two years, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.
This is the first time the Vatican has offered details on the number of priests who have been stripped of their privileges in relation to allegations of child abuse.
In Feb. 2013, Pope Benedict announced his resignation due to age and health problems.
Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., announced he will retire from office at the end of the 113th Congress. Screen grab by NewsHour
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., announced late Thursday that he will retire from the Senate at the end of 113th Congress in January 2015.
The 65-year-old junior senator was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November and has had two previous bouts with the disease, but said his decision to retire was not due to his health. "This decision isn't about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires," the senator said in a statement. "My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms."
However, Coburn is retiring nearly two years before his second term is set to expire. Unlike most states where the governor is allowed to appoint an interim senator in the event of a vacant seat, the governor of Oklahoma is required to call a special election