tv PBS News Hour PBS September 28, 2011 3:00pm-4:00pm PDT
from listeria, and dozens more illnesses. good evening. i'm gwen ifill. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. on the newshour tonight: we get the latest on the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade from thomas frieden of the centers for disease control. >> ifill: then, margaret warner gets an update from libya on rebel efforts to consolidate control over the country. >> woodruff: we have another of paul solman's reports on economic inequality in the united states. tonight: the connection between wealth and health. >> societies with big income differences between rich and poor do worse on a whole range of measures. they have worse health, they have more violence, they have more drug problems. >> ifill: will he or won't he? political editor david chalian assesses whether new jersey governor chris christie is planning to run for president. >> woodruff: ray suarez examines the politics and the economics of social security. >> ifill: and jeffrey brown talks to writer russell banks, whose new novel explores a dark
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moving our economy for 160 years. bnsf, the engine that connects us. and by the alfred p. sloan foundation. supporting science, technology, and improved economic performance and financial literacy in the 21st century. and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> ifill: the government has launched an investigation into the deadliest outbreak of foodborne disease in more than a decade. the centers for disease control and the food and drug administration say at least 13
people have died so far from listeria found in contaminated cantaloupes. three other deaths are reportedly under investigation, and 72 people have been sickened. scientists have determined the tainted fruit originated at jensen farms in eastern colorado. the melons were shipped to 18 states and some foreign countries. and the number of reported infections is expected to rise. for the latest on this story and what people need to know, we're joined by the director of the c.d.c., dr. thomas frieden. welcome, doctor. >> thank you. >> ifill: why has this outbreak been so deadly? >> listeria is rare but deadly, and as you say, this is the outbreak that has unfortunately caused the most deaths in the past decade. listeria affects particularly people who are elderly, pregnant women who may have a miscarriage or newborn infants, and people with weakened immune system, people with diabetes or transplant patients who are on long-term steroids or cancer
treatment. go ahead. >> ifill: sorry. i was going to ask, how does it spread. people think of cantaloupes as being pretty tough-skinned melons. how does the disease get into the cantaloupe, and how does it get into the human being? >> this is first time we've ever documented this particular bacteria, listeria, in cantaloupe, and the food and drug administration is currently doing an investigation at the farm to figure out why so we can prevent future cases of contamination, but the skin, the flesh of the cantaloupe is actually a good place for bacteria to grow. listeria is quite unusual as a bacteria for a couple of reasons. one is that once you eat it, it may be one to three weeks or even one or two months before you become ill, and that's the main reason we expect to see unfortunately case numbers rising in the coming weeks. and the second is that it's one of those rare bacteria that can actually grow even when it's fridgerated. so as you put it in your refrigerator, most food, even if
it's contaminated, you'll knock down that contamination, but with listeria, the bacteria can continue to grow in your refrigerator, and that's why we tell people to throw out anything from jensen farms, any cantaloupe from jensen farms. >> ifill: the source of the bacteria, this farm, was it farm equipment, farm animal, the soil itself? do we know? >> we don't know yet. what we do know is that we're getting better at detecting this type of outbreak. colorado is one of ten states that the centers for disease control and prevention supports to track food-borne illnesses in real-time. and the state of colorado did a terrific job. the cases were identified. they immediately investigated. they talked to people. it's not an easy investigation to do because it's a week or two or three since you've been exposed. an they quickly identified the source, were able to warn consumers, were able to work closely with us and the f.d.a. to get the product off the shelves quickly. >> ifill: that's an interesting point because when we've had previous outbreaks of
e. coli or salmonella, it seems like we spent weeks trying to find out what the source was. >> this was done quickly. it was a combination of what we call shoe leather epidemiology, doctors calling up, investigators calling up patients and asking, what did you eat, and then putting the pieces together to figure out what the source was. and this is one of the things that we need to do even better in the future as our food supply gets more complex. >> ifill: we saw that these cantaloupes went to so many locations around the country. how, if i have purchased a cantaloupe for my breakfast, how do i find out whether that cantaloupe is a problem? >> if the cantaloupe in your refrigerator has this label on it, that's the jensen farms label, throw it out. if it has another label from any other company, we think at this point there is no evidence of any problem. it's okay to eat. if it has no label on it, you can contact the supermarket or other place that you bought it and ask them if it came from jensen farms. when in doubt, throw it out. >> ifill: so if you call your
supermarket or you go to your local farmers market and they don't know where it came from, you should just toss it? >> well, especially people who are elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems need to be particularly careful because listeria can be so dangerous and deadly for them. >> ifill: if you're not elderly, if you are in otherwise good health and you have no other kinds of immune system problems, does it just sicken you but it's less lukely -- likely to kill you? >> it's less likely to cause serious illness. it may give you a fever, diarrhea or other illness, but it's unlikely to make you deathly ill as it would someone a weakened immune system, unless you get a very high dose of it, unless you get a huge quantity, and because it can continue to grow in your refrigerator, that's something we are concerned about. >> ifill: are we beginning to see more and more multi-state outbreaks like this, or is this something which is unusual still? >> in 2011, to date we've
already comed 12 multi-state outbreaks of food-borne illness. this is partly a reflection of the increasing complexity of our food supply. it's also because we're doing a better job. we're tracking the genetic pattern of an increasing proportion of the food-born illnesses that a cur. we're working with states and localities to identify rapidly when there are contaminations so that we can stop them before they spread even further. early this year, for example, we identified a cluster of very serious e. coli 0157 infections from hazelnuts. we were able to stop that outbreak before it spread widely because it was picked up so rapidly. >> ifill: we know of 13 deaths so far and 72 illnesses. do we expect these numbers to go up? >> we know these numbers will continue to rise. listeria takes a while to be diagnosed. it takes a while to develop. but we do hope that people will check their refrigerator, and if they do have jensen farm
cantaloupe, get rid of it so we can reduce the numbers in the future. if you are someone who has a weakened immune system and do develop fever or flu-like symptom, by all means see your doctor because antibiotic treatment is important and effective for listeria. >> ifill: dr. thomas frieden from the centers for disease control, thank you so much. >> thank you. >> woodruff: still to come on the newshour: the rebel push to control libya; connections between economic inequality and health; the buzz over new jersey's governor; the politics of social security; and novelist russell banks. but first, the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan. >> reporter: factory workers at general motors overwhelmingly ratified a new four-year contract today. it does not include any pay raises, but 48,000 hourly employees will get a $5,000 signing bonus plus profit- sharing checks. the auto maker also agreed to add more than 5,000 u.s. factory jobs, and to increase starting pay for entry-level workers.
it is the first such contract since g.m. went through bankruptcy in 2009. wall street pulled back today, amid new concerns about global economic weakness. the sell-off put an end to three days of gains. the dow jones industrial average lost more than 179 points to close below 1111. the nasdaq fell 55 points to close at 2491. gunmen in southern afghanistan attacked and killed eight afghan policemen at a checkpoint today. it happened in the pre-dawn hours near lashkar gah in helmand province. afghan forces took over security in that area this past summer. also today, nato reported four of its troops had been killed in the last 24 hours. separately, the u.n. reported violent incidents in afghanistan have increased nearly 40% over last year. afghan and coalition troops destroyed more than $350 million worth of heroin and opium in a raid this week. a nato announcement today said it may be the largest seizure since the war began ten years ago. afghanistan produces 90% of the
world's opium. much of the revenue is believed to finance the taliban. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to judy. >> woodruff: and to the battle for libya. rebel forces pressed again for control of sirte, a city of 100,000 people on the main road between tripoli and benghazi, still held by moammar gadhafi's loyalists. one of the deposed leader's sons may be holed up there too. we begin with a report from neil connery of independent television news. >> reporter: on the western outskirts of sitre, the battle for colonel qaddafi's hometown grinds on. libya's revolutionary forces, determined to silence those still willing to fight for qaddafi and claim this prize as their own. on the front line with sitre in their sight, we watched their latest efforts. while the noose is tightening around pro-qaddafi fighters
inside sitre, the forces of libya's national transitional council are still hoping that they can take full control of colonel qaddafi's hometown, but trapped in the middle are tens of thousands of civilians. those families who risked all to flee sitre speak of the terror endured by its people. abraham tells me of his family's suffering. his daughter's face tells its own story. "they are really afraid. we had to escape from the city," he says. [rocket fire] they may have left this behind them, but so many remain, effectively held as prisoners this this last assistant against qaddafi loyalists. their position is about to be targeted by qaddafi's men. >> that's what we here, but we are not moving out of this place, even if they shoot us or bomb us. >> reporter: you will stay? >> of course. of course. we cannot leave our group in the
front. >> reporter: sitre will fall, but it's still not clear when. while the final chapter in this war can only be written once colonel qaddafi's fate is known, what happens here in the former leader's hometown will resonate across the new libya. >> woodruff: margaret warner talked with tara bahrampour of the washington post in tripoli a short time ago. >> reporter: tara bahrampour, thank you for joining us. explain to us, why is there such an important battle for sitre? why is it so important for revolutionary forces to take this city? >> well, besides having very deep symbolic importance for the country because it's qaddafi's hometown, it also has deep strategic importance because it lice on the coastal route between behghazi in the east and tripoli in the west, the two major cities. that's pretty much the main road in order to get between them. the only way at this point that people can do it is to fly.
so it's dividing the country in half. >> reporter: so is it really standing in the way of the new revolutionary... the interim government, standing in their way of uniting the country? >> it's not standing in the way physically so much as the fact that there are still holdout towns stopping the new government from being able to declare liberation. and there's a whole timetable celt once deliberation is declared, once all of these holdout towns fall, then there is a whole timetable of it takes... the t.n.c., the transitional national council, will then appoint a prime minister who will appoint his own cabinet to be approved by them. and then they've got this eight-month process in which they work toward electing a national assembly that will essentially replace them and become the parliamentary body and move things along for forming a constitution and moving towards further elections. >> reporter: now it's been over a month since they took the much larger capital, tripoli.
why is it proving so hard to take sitre? >> there are different theories as to that. there may be very important qaddafi family members in sitre and in baniwali, the other town being contested. also sitre is well-known as a very pro qaddafi town, as well as bonny walid, which has a tribe that has been traditionally quite pro qaddafi. there are people inside these places who may feel that they have no choice. they're a bit desperado. they worry if they do give up they may be executed and they really have nothing to lose by continuing to fight. >> reporter: tara, you had a very interesting piece in the "washington post" this morning talking about the fact that libyans, ordinary libyans are growing impatient with their leadership. what did you mean? explain that a little more. >> well, ordinary libyans are not hearing very much about the process of nation building that's going on right now. and part of the reason for this
is because there is some chaos within that process. libya is basically a country that was left without any institutions, unlike egypt and tunisia. libya has no real army to speak of. libya has no parliamentary body. many of its institutions are just in complete disarray. and so libyans are waiting for these institutions to start up again, and in order for that to happen, there has to be some sort of government that they can trust will still be in power a few weeks or a few months from now. and they're not hearing anything about what that process is going to be. they're not hearing anything about what where the funds are going and how they're being used. there's just not a lot of transparency right now. and libyans who fought so hard for this revolution want to hear more. >> reporter: and how much of an obstacle do the revolutionary forces think it is that qaddafi is still at large, and where are they looking for him? >> it depends on who you ask. there are people who say that we need to stop thinking about qaddafi. we need to move on.
we need to start building things. there are others who say, well, we really can't declare liberation until everything is liberated, and they're hoping within that liberation qaddafi will be found. now, there's no telling whether qaddafi is still in the country or not, but the governing council at the moment seems to feel that he andor a couple of his sons are still in some of these holdout towns. >> reporter: all right. well, tara bahrampour, thank you so much for joining us. >> thank you. >> ifill: now, to our continuing series on inequality. newshour economics correspondent paul solman has been exploring its effects, and tonight delves into the connection between wealth and health. it's part of his reporting making sense of financial news. >> reporter: the monthly meeting of e.n.g., the executive networking group, offering job search support for out-of-work chicago area managers. >> i come out of a construction
background. >> i'm a senior sales and marketing exec. >> i was in corporate real estate. >> i've been unemployed for over a year. >> i've been involuntarily retired for 18 months. >> i've been out of work for five and a half years. >> reporter: from six figure incomes, putting them in the top 10% of america's income distribution, to chronically unemployed, a dizzying fall that's one more instance of widening economic inequality. >> these are people slipping out of the middle class. >> reporter: karl buschmann, with a university of chicago m.b.a., now loads trucks part- time for u.p.s. >> i'm helping get the packages loaded up for delivery at 8:30 in the morning. >> reporter: most here had severance pay and savings to cushion the blow. but there's no denying the status drop. milt haynes helped run information technology at a major drug company. >> you kind of stick your chest out. "i'm an i.t. director at abbott
laboratories!" but now i'm just a nobody. i'm unemployed. i'm like a nobody. >> reporter: these guys used to experience inequality from the top, looking down. now, they're looking up. leonard lamkin once managed nonprofits. >> i've been out of work for over 30 months and one of my friends said, "you probably qualify for food stamps." you know if you stop to think about it, that's a scary thing from where i was three years ago. i was in that probably top 7% in terms of income. >> it's relative. >> reporter: peter sturdivant, a once-thriving construction manager, hasn't worked in more than three years. >> when there's any reduction it doesn't matter if you're here or up there, there's still the feeling of a reduction in status, the same feelings. we're still human. >> reporter: and if you lose status in the economy, that induces stress at every level no matter where you start. >> absolutely. >> reporter: a thousand miles away: someone you may remember.
>> so this one's fine, this one's fine. oh, what happened over here? and you feel like you stand out like a sore thumb. my house needs to be painted. the roof leaks. i feel ashamed because i feel like i'm bringing the value of their houses down, and that's very stressful. >> reporter: we've been following the story of this laid-off manager for quite a while. denise barrant: unemployed since 2008; no job prospects in sight; her foreclosed house, about to hit the auction block; and this spring, a diagnosis of breast cancer, and hospital stays for extreme hypertension. >> for stress. so my blood pressure was out of control and they had to hospitalize me twice. >> reporter: stress: an obvious product of losing your job, but a symptom, it seems, of something else as well: losing your status. >> health and disease are the good and bad effects of where you are in the hierarchy, mediated by the effects of chronic stress.
>> reporter: we first interviewed british medical researcher michael marmot on this program years ago. >> we see it for heart disease; we see it for some cancers; we see it for gastrointestinal disease; we see it for violent deaths. >> reporter: according to marmot and colleagues, the stress of low status explains some otherwise puzzling statistics. the u.s. leads the world in health care spending, for example. yet in infant mortality we rank 47th, below malta, slovenia, cuba. in life expectancy america is 50th, six years less than macau. in what do we lead the world? obesity. and given our incomes, we're well up there in economic inequality. richard wilkinson suspects there's a connection. >> on lots of different measures of health, more unequal societies seem to do worse. >> reporter: also a british
epidemiologist, wilkinson is the co-author of "the spirit level," which reports a strong correlation between inequality and poor health society-wide. >> societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor do worse on a whole range of measures. they have worse health. they have more violence. they have more drug problems. standards of child wellbeing are worse. >> reporter: and not just a little bit worse, says wilkinson-- sometimes way worse. >> perhaps two or three times the level of mental illness as the more equal countries, because in a more unequal society there is more status competition. we judge each other more by status and we feel more judged. >> i'm from this poor area. i'm from, like, where all the criminals are. >> reporter: at nakiesha fullington's highly selective exam school in boston, her classmates were a lot better off. >> i knew i was as smart as them
but i felt like my family, where i come from wasn't as good as, like, where they came from, basically. >> reporter: did it make you feel bad to be considered lower on the ladder? >> really bad. like, i don't know how to explain. it's like a horrible feeling. you feel like you're less than other people. >> reporter: and the harder you try to keep up, the more stress there is-- physical, mental, and economic. >> since i went to, like, a mostly white school, it's like their clothing was simple but it cost more than, like, something that i can afford. but it's like you come to the black community, and, like,, they'll spend like their whole paycheck just to have that one thing that... let's say like polo, like the ralph lauren polo has become a really, really popular trend for a lot of blacks. >> but you know there's a deeper meaning of why the people wear those shirts. >> reporter: daiquan bradford also went to a mainly white school, lives in the inner city. >> it's like you want to buy all these items to, you know, fill
this insatiable hunger of trying to be something you cannot be. >> money becomes more important because it says what you're worth. so people in more unequal societies work longer hours, much longer hours, are more likely to get into debt. they save less of their income. they spend more. and all those issues to do with how you express what you're worth and the status, insecurities, and so on. >> reporter: doctors wilkinson, marmot, and others point to data that all this status seeking takes its toll. in hypertension, for instance: blacks worldwide have rates of high blood pressure similar to whites, but in the u.s., 41% of blacks have high blood pressure, as compared to 27% of whites. at least some of that might be due to inequality. and as inequality grows, it
arguably exacts a price from those higher up the ladder as well, who become more and more stressed about clinging to the top rungs. m.i.t. economist frank levy. >> as the economy looks more and more unequal, then you know upper-middle-class parents are going berserk trying to get their kids into a position to get the brass ring, putting more and more time into kind of pumping up their kids-- extra courses, extra activities, and so on and so forth. and lower-income families just don't have the resources to do that. >> reporter: but is inequality really bad for all of us? or might it perhaps provide some benefits in the long run, even for the have nots? daiquan bradford grew up near the bottom. >> we couldn't pay the gas and light bill so it was in a situation where we had to use candles, and you know it was kind of dark, but it was wintertime so it was kind of cold too. so what we had to do was we had to kind of huddle as a family. >> reporter: but rather than make him feel bad, he says the
disparity he experienced going to school in an upscale boston suburb fueled his ambition. >> i was eavesdropping on a conversation about, you know, their families owning businesses, how they live in this nice mansion, and then i thought in a strange sense, it was a mixed feeling of admiration and envy. so with that i took on a role of, "this is why i had to succeed; this is why i have to work hard, because they have something that i don't have, so i need to work harder to actually get to that level." >> inequality in the future can be a great incentivizer. >> reporter: university of chicago economist harald uhlig, originally from the much more equal economy of germany. >> imagine two people, you know. one is working hard and one is just lazy and goofing off. if both get the same thing down the road, i mean, wouldn't the hardworking person say, "why am i doing that?", right? so inequality motivates people to be inventive, to work hard, to pursue a career, to pursue education.
>> this is the argument that to make the rich work harder you need to pay them more; to make the poor work harder you need to pay them less. >> reporter: again, dr. wilkinson. >> if you actually look at how people do in different societies, the chances of moving up socially for poor children are much higher in the more equal countries. in the u.s., the chances are particularly low. we sometimes say, if you want to live the american dream, you should move to finland or denmark, which have much higher social mobility. >> reporter: meanwhile, for these jobless executives west of chicago, the dream is to regain lost income and status. >> so i just keep going, keep going. >> reporter: south of boston, denise barrant's dream is to keep from losing it all. >> words can't even describe how stressful it is, and you know, you feel like, where is the light at the end of the tunnel? >> reporter: denise barrant simply doesn't know... and neither, as it turns out, does
anyone else. >> woodruff: next, to the 2012 campaign trail, and the yearning among some republicans for new jersey governor chris christie to throw his hat into the ring. chris christie is not yet running for president, and he may never take the plunge. the new jersey governor sounded like a candidate last night. at the reagan library in simi valley, california, as he roundly criticized president obama. >> still we continue to wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the oval office. we hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things that are so obvious to all americans and to a watching and anxious world. >>
>> reporter: then during a question and answer session, christie found himself the target of appeals to enter the 2012 fray. >> i really implore you, as a citizen of this country to, please, sir, to reconsider. don't even say anything tonight. of course you wouldn't. go home and really think about it. please. [laughter and applause] do it pi my daughter. do it for our grandchildren. do it for our son. please, sir, don't... we need you. your country needs you to run for president. [cheering and applause] >> reporter: christie said he was flattered, but he gave no indication he would change his mind about running. >> i hear exactly what you're saying, and i feel the passion with which you say it, and it touches me, but by the same token, that heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. that reason has to reside inside me. >> reporter: the give's
reputation as a blunt-talking budget cutter has made him a rising star in the republican party. less than two years after taking office. but he's repeatedly found colorful ways to knock down the idea of running for president, including this one in washington last february. >> listen, i threatened to commit suicide. i did. i said, what do i have to do short of suicide to convince people i'm not running? apparently i actually have to commit suicide. [laughter] to convince people i'm not running. >> reporter: ultimately, though, if christie is going to answer the presidential call, he will need to do so soon as key filing deadlines are drawing near. for more now we are joined by our news hour political editor david chalian. hello, david. >> hello, judy. >> woodruff: so is governor christie seriously considering the decision about whether to run? >> there is no doubt he's in a different place now when -- than
where he was when he made the remarks about committing suicide. i spoke to someone very familiar with christie's thinking about this today. he's not anywhere closer to get into the race. he still may not end up getting in the raise, but he is in a phase of reconsideration. he is taking to heart the phone calls he's receiving, the entryities he's receiving, and he's doing what candidates who do assess a possible campaign do. he's looking at a potential path to the nomination. it is viable for him? would it be a successful endeavor? there's no indication that he's anywhere closer to deciding to do this, but he is very much listening to these calls for him to get in the race. >> woodruff: and thinking about it. >> and without a doubt thinking about it. >> woodruff: so how do we read, david, the decision he made to make this speech at the reagan library last night criticizing president obama, laying out his own political philosophy? what are we to think about that? >> well, it's important to note that speech was scheduled long
before this round of speculation about governor christie. his team certainly concedes that since rick perry's widely panned debate performance last week, in the last week to ten days the pressure has intensified on him, the phone calls have increased, but this speech was one that was on his schedule, and you have to remember he's a national republican figure. that's vice chairman of the republican governors' association. he's seen as a rising star in the party, and senator marco rubio of florida was at the reagan library giving a speech laying out his vision a few weeks ago and nobody thinks he's running for president. this is a venue that national republicans go to to give sort of their remarks. that being said, governor christie was well aware that this particular speech was going to get a ton more attention because of the phase he's in. >> woodruff: and by the way, governor of a republican -- a republican governor of a blue state with some positions that may or may not go over well. >> all these candidates know their very best day on the campaign trail is the day before the day they get into the race.
that's no different for governor christie. he may be fantastic debater. he's shown in the new jersey gubernatorial race to be very good on the stump, but you're right. he has taken some positions that are not in concert with conservatives inside the republican party who dominate a lot of the early nominating contests. >> woodruff: so who is it, david, who is urging him to get in? >> mostly wall street money men. that's first category of folks who have really been calling on him. a lot of these big donors from new york who are not... they don't align twhems the tea party wing of the party. they're more moderate, centrist republicans, they have donated to george bush over the years. they are holding on the sidelines. some of the mccain donors have not jumped in with anyone yet. they see him as their type of guy. also some of his fellow republican governors, some politicians around the country, but right now he's getting a lot of calls from folks with the big money. >> woodruff: aren't those the very same republicans who mitt romney is appealing to in >> they are. there's no doubt about that. and mitt romney has strong ties to wall street and those money
folks, too, that fuel campaigns. i will say i think that this christie rumor mill of speculation is a big flashing warning sign for mitt romney. we've seen it before. a lot of people wooed haley barbour or mitch daniels into the race, then wooing rick perry into the race, now wooing governor christie into the race. that means that they're not coalescing around mitt romney. that may be a big trouble sign around him. >> woodruff: you wering the me this also has an interesting effect on governor perry, who had his difficulties last week. >> right. he is now out of the spotlight, and he could pretty much send a nice thank you card to governor christie for taking the heat off of him because he's been trying the clean up this mess he left behind in orlando with that debate and doing that outside of the spotlight is much easier for him so they are all too happy in the perry world that all this attention is on chris christie. >> woodruff: so we will see whether the field is set or not. >> right. he doesn't have that much longer to decide. we'll no sooner rather than
later. >> woodruff: david chalian, thank you. >> thank you. >> ifill: next, the politics of social security separating the rhetoric from the reality. ray suarez has that. >> suarez: the checks go out on wednesdays to more than 52 million americans, and those social security payments and the viability of the program have recently taken center stage in the race for the republican presidential nomination. it's been a major point of debate between two of the early frontrunners: rick perry and mitt romney. >> i call it a ponzi scheme. i call it a monstrous lie for our kids. >> i don't think everything that comes out of democrats is good, but this one came out of f.d.r. i think this one's pretty darn good. and i'm going to make sure, like ronald reagan, we keep it. >> suarez: social security began in the midst of the depression, signed into law in 1935 by president franklin roosevelt. when social security payments started, the average life
expectancy was 64 years old. but an average american now lives to 78, and spends 20 of those years in retirement. those demographics are part of the reason why the trust fund itself would be exhausted in 25 years, and taxable income would pay for 77% of scheduled benefits in 2036. in a book published last year, texas governor rick perry outlined his idea to shift the program to the states. he was criticized for that in the most recent republican debate. >> we never said that we were going to move this back to the states. what we said was we ought to have as one of the options, the state employees and the state retirees, they being able to go off of the current system onto one that the states would operate themselves. >> there's a rick perry out there that's saying that it... almost to quote, it says that... that the federal government shouldn't be in the pension business, that it's unconstitutional-- unconstitutional, and it should be returned to the states.
so you'd better find that rick perry and get him to stop saying that. >> suarez: for his part, former massachusetts governor mitt romney advocates raising the retirement age, and slowing the growth rate of benefits for wealthy retirees. he's called on president obama to explain how he would fix its finances. >> after three years in office he has proposed no solutions. can you imagine being president of the united states and offering no ideas at all for how you would ensure coming generations a strong and stable social security? i find it extraordinary. >> suarez: president obama has said he's open to finding ways to fix the program's problems. but he said in the white house rose garden last week that any changes to social security should be separate and distinct from the current deficit reduction efforts. >> i've said before, social security is not the primary cause of our deficits, but it does face long-term challenges as our country grows older. and both parties are going to need to work together on a separate track to strengthen social security for our children
and our grandchildren. >> suarez: polls frequently show many americans remain wary of, or opposed to, adjustments to benefit levels or eligibility age. we go beyond some of the politics now to look at the economics of social security with two longtime watchers of the program. david john, of the heritage foundation, has served on expert panels and testified before congress on the subject many times. and henry aaron is with the brookings institution. he formerly served as chairman of the advisory council on social security, a government appointed board tasked to review the program. gentlemen, if we begin from the agreement that there is a problem, given the number of future retirees and the future revenue stream that's projected for them to collect from, how would you describe its size and extent? david john? >> i'd say that it's serious but not critical. we have a number of... well, the
baby boomers are going to be retiring fairly soon, and more baby boomers that retire, the worse the program is going to be. it's already running cash flow deficits at the moment. it will continue to run cash flow deficits according to the social security administration for the next 75 years at least. >> reporter: henry aaron? >> i would describe the situation as one where the system is fundamentally sound but has modest long-term problems that should be addressed as soon as a political agreement can be reached between the two parties to address both an increase in revenues and if necessary a modification in the benefits, as well. but it's not a crisis. there's in great urgency to do so given the other problems that the nation faces today -- unemployment and a budget deficit stretching into the future. i think the president was quite right to say that this should be on a separate track to be
addressed when and as we are successful in addressing those first two more important problems. >> reporter: a moment ago you said "soon" and then you said "no great urgency." you heard governor romney suggest that the president has been biding his time. is there a cost to waiting? >> the system can pay its benefits, every penny of benefits promised under current law. even if we did nothing whatsoever for next quarter century, that means that there is time to address what i think both david and i would agree is a projected long-term deficit in the program. measured against the other problems that we face today, it is really quite modest in size, and in the future rather than now. contrary to what david said, the system is actually running a surplus still, adding to reserves every year, and it's projected to do so for several years into the future. through a combination of payroll
taxes, income taxes and interest earnings on its own reserves. >> reporter: david john, your response? >> the interest earnings comes from general revenue money, as would repaying the trust fund and the like. >> reporter: so the pool of taxpayers collections? >> exactly. the must be we would normally use for schools, defense and other things like that, but up until this point, up until about two years ago, social security financed itself and ran a considerable deficit just from its payroll taxes and similar revenues alone. it didn't have to dip into the interest on the trust fund. and that's all, as i say, money that we'd normally use for other purposes. that's only going to grow. right now it's at $40 billion. in a fairly short period of time, not counting inflation, it will be $100 billion. five years after that it's $200 billion. five years after this $300 billion. and then it settles down at $300 to $350 billion. >> reporter: you heard governor perry describe the plan as a ponzi scheme, and he's called it a monstrous lie.
given that it is promising certain things to beneficiaries that it can't satisfy all the way out into the future, does it outwardley resemble one? it is one? >> new york it's not a ponzi scheme. there are certain superficial similarities, as you pointed out. it's paying out current benefits from the revenues of current workers at this point, and a ponzi scheme pays out the earnings, supposedly investment earnings to early investors from later investors, but that's very superficial. >> reporter: henry aaron, what do you think? >> i agree completely with what david just said. using the term "ponzi scheme" would be about as sensible as if i said, "ray, your father is just like bernie madoff, they're both men." wow would respond, that's nuts. what's important is my father was honest and madoff is a convicted criminal. in this case, social security is an upfront program carefully
analyzed involving an intergenerational compact between workers who earn rights through their employment to future benefits that future workers will pay taxes to support. this is a long-term contract, and under any long-term commitment of this kind, circumstances are going to change and adjustments are going to have to be made. >> reporter: i heard governor romney talk about the possibility of means testing, of phasing in raises in benefits over a slower schedule, raising the retirement age. would these help secure the program into the future? >> there's a gap projected for the future between revenues and expenditures. either you have to raise revenues or you have to cut benefits. the political debate today is about the mix between the two. that's part of the debate in any event. my own view is that the benefits currently are relatively modest
in size. they're lower relative to earnings than they have been in the past and are scheduled under current law to go down, and they are very modest compared to the benefits paid in other developed nations. so i think the bulk of the adjustment should occur through increases in revenues, but i want to acknowledge this is a political debate. it's going to require compromise, and i think the most important thing over the long haul when a good deal can be struck is to restore balance so that americans can be confident as they should be today that they are going to receive social security benefits. >> reporter: david john, quick response. same question. >> well, i think that actually what governor romney is proposing is actually probably the way to go. the fact is we're living longer than we have in the past. we have a situation where lower-income workers get benefits that are too low, and frankly upper-income workers don't really need their benefits, and i don't see a need to necessarily put that in.
i'd rather go into a social insurance system that is heavily weighted on the insurance where we can guarantee all americans don't live in poverty in retirement. >> reporter: with us living a lot longer, there's some appeal in the simplicity of just raising the retirement age. >> sure. >> reporter: but aren't the lowest-paid workers, those the most likely to be spent by 65 and working until 70 is not only a hardship but in many cases impossible. >> absolutely. and what we need to do is to look at the disability system so that workers who cannot physically work longer are taken care of through the disability system until their retirement benefits kick in. >> a quick add, henry aaron? >> i think it's important to recognize that the increase in life expectancy has occurred is overwhelmingly concentrated among high earners. low and moderate earnings have not experienced the increase in life expectancy that is the average for the whole nation. so i think we need to be
extremely careful in undertaking measures such as the benefit cuts that are really what an increase in the retirement age represents. we have to be very careful that those don't result in a large collection of moderate earners ending up living their retirement years in poverty. that's why i think we need to be very careful about any cuts in benefits at the present time. >> reporter: henry aaron and david john, gentlemen, thank you both. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> woodruff: finally tonight, a novelist looks into a dark corner of contemporary culture. jeffrey brown has our book conversation. >> reporter: in a squalid encampment under a causeway under an american city that sounds very much like miami lifers a group of outcasts, men convicted of sex crimes, restricted to staying at least 2,500 feet away from anyone under 18.
that's the unusual and charged setting for a few novel "lost memory of skin" which explores some deep issues of american life rarely raised and rarely seen by most of us. the author is russell banks, a much-honored writer with 17 works of fiction including "continental drift," "the sweet hereafter" and "cloud splitter." welcome. >> thank you. >> let's start by acknowledging the difficult terrain. what drew you to this story? >> i think the trigger that kind of got me rolling on this was the fact that i spent a good deal of time in miami and on miami beach side in an apartment that looks out over miami mainland and looks out over the julia tuttle causeway. about four years ago pieces started appearing in the "miami herald" about this colony of men, of convicted sex offenders who were dropped off after they had served their time and were living, were homeless and living there because of the fact that
they were prohibited from living within 2,500 feet of anywhere children gather. >> reporter: this is based on real life? this is what you saw? >> that started it. i could see that causeway from my terrace, and i just started imagining what it must be like to be under there and to have this group of people clustered together. i mean, it intrigued me more lots of reasons, one of the ones being is an ongoing theme in a lot of my work is the unintended consequences of good intentions and the irony of that and the absurdity of that and the cruelty of that. >> reporter: here you went right into taboo subject matter. >> i didn't know that's where i was going at first. i just wanted to find out more. and i began the realize slowly that there were serial rapists and psychopaths alongside men who were confused or stumbled into some kind of a sexual offense, a 22-year-old kid who
had sex with his high school girlfriend or something who was under 18. that's a sex offense. they had broken the laws alike, but they were very different types of people, an they were lumped together both in our imagination and also legally. and socially in the same group of pariahs. >> reporter: in fact, so the main character is called "the kid." he's 22 years old, a lost soul. technically guilty of a sex crime. >> right. >> reporter: but, in fact, never had a girlfriend... >> he's a virgin ironically. >> reporter: so he's an innocent who was sort of caught up in an online life, a world that is not a real world. >> yeah, well, one thing kind of led to another. just the fact of this encampment led me then to start investigating and thinking about and trying to understand the psychological and social, you know causes and consequences of
these kinds of crimes, and that led me to internet addiction and to pornography addiction and these various pieces starred locking together for me. >> that led you to a kind of dehumanizing aspect of american life, especially online. >> right, right. and the digitalization of the erotic life in particular. and for so many. especially younger people perhaps. and that's where the title starts to come in, lost memory of skin. that really is also what led me to the novel. i mean, i didn't set out the write a novel about this and go looking for the material. the material kind of came to me, and then it got locked together until i had a mass of material. i said i think the only way i can get at this and understand this is to try to imagine a character who is guilty, who is a sex offender, but who is also sympathetic, somebody that i can feel profound affection for and
compassion for, and that's where the kid starts to evolve in my mind. >> reporter: as you said, though, this is often in your work. you're looking at outcasts, at people on the other side of the tracks, so to speak, that don't often make it into the reality for most of us. >> i guess so. i think for me, writing fiction, the process of it, the discipline and the rigor of it and the requirements of it which require basically that i be more intelligent and more honest and more exact than i am in my everyday life when i'm not all this smart and i'm not all that honest an i'm only approximate, but the process of writing fiction is really the only way i can penetrate things that are truly mysterious to me, and what's truly mysterious to me are people who are in the like me, who aren't privileged in the same ways that i am, and who are therefore likely to be marginalized and outcasts or people who we tend to generalize
as stereotype, generalize about in stereotypes. i think that's what has led me is really a belief in the process, the use of the process for understanding for myself and then in turn eventually one hopes that you can produce work that will provide the same kind of understanding and affection in a reader. >> reporter: i want to ask you briefly, to the extent that you're looking at technology and how it changes and dehumanizes american culture, there's a lot of worry about what technology does to literature, your field. >> uh-huh. >> reporter: you know, the future of the book, are people going the read, do they go online. are you worried at all? >> not really, not as much as if i was a publisher of books. i'm a storyteller. human beings require story. we have since the caves and we probably required story even before that just to know who we are. so i think we'll always have stories. the delivery systems will change
and evolve and they have over time, and we're in the process right now of a radical revolutionary process of shifting delivery systems from print to digitalized version, but the story will remain the same. it will affect how we tell stories, as it always has, but not necessarily in a negative way. just a different way. >> reporter: all right. we're going to continue this conversation online, and i hope that our viewers will join us there, but for now the new novel is "lost memory of skin." russell banks, thanks so much. >> thank you. >> ifill: again, the major developments of the day. federal health officials warned an outbreak of deadly listeria in cantaloupes is far from over. cases have been reported across the country, and at least 13 people have died. and wall street pulled back after a three-day rally. the dow jones industrials lost nearly 180 points. at the online newshour, we follow up on the stories we've
all been covering on the air. hari sreenivasan explains. hari? >> reporter: on our politics page, read judy's blog post examining how calls for new jersey governor christie to join the 2012 field echo elections past. our health unit updates the rebuilding of galveston, texas, after hurricane ike, and looks back at another powerful storm that hit in 1900. art beat explores the mural we showed you in joplin, missouri. it illustrated life before and after last may's tornado. plus, as jeff just said, his conversation with russell banks continues with more on the art of storytelling. all that and more is on our web site, newshour.pbs.org. gwen? >> ifill: and that's the newshour for tonight. on thursday, we'll talk with republican presidential hopeful, and former house speaker, newt gingrich. i'm gwen ifill. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening. thank you and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
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