tv PBS News Hour PBS September 2, 2013 5:30pm-6:31pm PDT
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> brown: the obama administration today ratcheted up its campaign, pressing u.s. lawmakers to back a missile strike against syria. good evening. i'm jeffrey brown. on the newshour this labor day, we assess the military options as u.s. ships move into the red sea. plus, margaret warner-- on the ground in cairo-- gets reaction from the arab world. >> i did not hear anyone with
confidence that the united states could act effectively, and was doing it really with the region's interests at hearts. >> brown: then, ray suarez examines how the civil rights movement influenced drives for equal rights for women and gay americans. and it took 53 hours in the water and 35 years of trying. diana nyad became the first person to swim from cuba to florida without a cage. >> we should never, ever give up. >> brown: that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> bnsf railway. >> 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. >> brown: president obama worked through this labor day monday, seeking support for military strikes against syria. he called in a pair of his toughest senate critics, hoping they'll round up votes for a resolution authorizing the use of force. >> vote against that resolution by congress i think would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the united states of america and the president of the united states. none of us want that. >> from two hawkish republican senators, john mccain and lindsay graham, the president got backing for military action but complaints that he is doing too little, too late in syria. >> for two years the president has allowed this to become quite frankly a debacle and when it comes to selling the american people what we should do in
syria given the indifference and quite frablg contradictions it is going to be a tough pull but it is not too late. so mr. president, clear the air. be decisive be firm as why what it means to us as a nation to get it right. >> i think we work very hard, americans are skeptical. >> top americans of the security team lobbied for votes today in a conference call with house democrats. it was all set in motion saturday with the president announcing he's decided the u.s. should attack syria as punishment for attacks but he last said: >> i've long believed that our power is not just rooted in our military might but as an example of a government of the people by the people and for the people and that's why i've made a second decision. i will seek thorgz for the use of force for the american's people's representatives in congress.
>> john kerry hit the sunday talk shows, added to the evidence he laid out friday. >> we have learned through samples that were provided to the united states, that have now been tested, from first responders, in east damascus, and layer samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of serin. so this case is building and this case will build. >> that was followed by a high level sunday briefing for lawmakers but some in both parties sounded unconvinced. >> i feel terrible about the chemical weapons that have been used. however we know that chemical weapons have been used in other instances and we did not take military action. >> in my mind it's far from settled. it's not something that should be undertaken light. certainly, the mood, of the district i represent is do not do this.
and i honestly didn't hear anything that told me i ought to have a different position. >>brown: others said they are worried that the administration might be asking for a blank check. >> the draft resolution is very, very broad. i think one of the concerns in the past has been whether these types of resolutions were too broad. >> brown: the white house sent up that draft resolution on sun. it would authorize the president to use necessary and appropriate military force against syria in order to deter disrupt prevent and degrade the damascus regime's ability to use chemical weapons again. senators mccain and graham said today they heard the makings of a plan from the white house. >> we still have significant concerns. but we believe that there's in formulation a strategy to upgrade the capabilities of the free syrian army and to degrade the capabilities of bashar al- assad.
>> with the debate beginning in earnest, four ships deploying in the red sea. meanwhile syrian president bashar al-assad warned that more further aggression would risk a further all out war. preventing any aggression against it. assad drew support from moscow where the russian foreign minister said the u.s. evidence of chemical attack is, quote, absolutely unconvincing. back in washington president obama will try to dispel such doubts when he sends secretary kerry and defense secretary chuck haig >> brown: amid the focus on possible u.s. military action, there was word today that the syrian refugee problem has become even more desperate. the united nations reported some seven million syrians have fled to other countries, or been displaced within their own borders.
many are now appealing for outside military action. we have a report from martin geissler of independent television news. >> jordan's biggest refugee camp gets busier by the day. the streets here lined with people who have lost everything. forced to flee their homes and their country in a bloody civil war. they saw foreign intervention as their only hope. now they'll tell you the whole world has let them down. >> if no one stops assad he'll kill 5 million says akmed. he can't understand why the u.s. is backing away. assad has used chemicals 14 times at least. what is the matter with the world? are they drunk, are they on drugs? >> almost 150,000 syrian refugees now live in zatarie camp. none of them want to be here but there's a depressing sense of permanence about the camp.
what's striking about this swarming swelling mass of people is the fact that across the border in syria almost the same number of lives have been lost in a conflict almost two years old. these people say the regime they hate will be emboldened. if obama doesn't strike assad he'll look weak, says this man. he'll think it is okay to use chemical weapons. don't send us missiles, send us guns. we'll go fight assad. the world is playing a game with syrian blood. they all know more of that will be spilt before any of them can go home. >> brown: so where do things stand now? for that we turn to retired army general jack keane, vice chief of staff of the army from 1999 to 2003.
he was an influential advocate for the surge of troops in iraq. he now has his own consulting company. dov zakheim was the defense department's comptroller during the george w. bush administration. he's now a senior advisor at the center for strategic and international studies. and p.j. crowley was assistant secretary of state for public affairs during the first term of the obama administration. he's also a retired air force colonel welcome to all of you. general keene i want to ask you, because i understand you talked to senators mccain and graham after their meeting with the president. did they have a sense of some kind of plan on the table for what could be done militarily? >> yes i think they came away from that meeting a little more optimistic than they thought they would be. i believe they're encouraged by the fact that i think the plan is a little bit more robust and that degrades significantly assad's delivery systems to include air power. >>brown: what does that mean to degrade significantly? >> well the delivery system would be rockets, artilland also his air power.
those are the assistance he uses to deliver chemical weapons. and the command and control associated to it. there's a part 2 that they're encouraged by also and that is the commitment to upgrade more than what we are currently doing, the opposition forces would train assistants with money and with arms. it was under -- >> brown: arms? >> he's already made a decision to do arms but no arm of any kind has arrived yet. and while if not in open sources, the fact of the matter is those are largely small arms. it's unclear as a result of this meeting today if the arms are going to be the kind of weapon systems the opposition forces want which is any air -- antiaircraft and antitank system. >> brown: you've written against military action, why? >> well what are we going to do strike with tomahawks? we did in 1998. didn't stop the taliban from supporting al qaeda nine years later, it was a disaster.
sudan didn't make much difference there. if it's going to be anything like general keene is talking about that's not a one day shot. that's going to be multiple attacks. we're going ohave to see how much damage we have actually done, battle damage assessment. our record is spotty on that. will we get everything we're targeting? maybe not. a lot of the aircraft, in fact the aircraft that seem to be more effective, l-29 trainers, dumpy little things but they don't have to fly off air fields. but what if we hit the russians, then what happens? >> brown: p.j. crowley, will a limited strike be effective? >> sure. the immediate strike question up into strategy. our strategy is containment. as john kerry reiterated on friday, we will do what we can to help the opposition, but we're going to contain the civil war as much as possible, inside
the borders of syria, obviously as the previous report noted we need to do much more to help the humanitarian side, with the refugee flows into lebanon jordan and turkey. but much like we did in bosnia ultimately we have to wait for an opportunity where the fighting just works its way through, and then see if we can't solve this mill tailor. militarily. in the meantime the president has drawn an appropriate red line. in seeking to contain we need to be sure that these weapons that can kill far more than any other weapon in the battle field today that that is not a weapon that assad has at his disposal. but to dov's point at least what is to come out of this congressional debate is a strategy and aa policy that gives the president authority to do it more than once but
preparing for that... >> brown: you're suggesting going further as far as degrading his regime? >> i think the issue is how far are you going to go with a limited attack option? one of the things i've been advocating is, cruise missiles dropped out of airplanes that fly long distances to targets, they work best against fixed targets as opposed to things had a can move around the battle field. his air power is very vulnerable to this because you can take his infrastructure away, that is, his air fields, the logistics fracture command and control et cetera, plus his aircraft is vulnerable to that. assad in using these chemical weapons never thought in my view that he would lose his air power over the use of these weapons. so we still have a huge opportunity odegrade him not as
significantly here and to take down some other delivery means as well. >> brown: what do you see can is it -- sounds almost -- >> it sounds very, very easy but took us quite a wile in libya, in fact even in bosnia took 78 days. kosovo. >> kosovo where we were bombing away. what happens for example if the helicopters are moved and he's doing a lot of killing with hopts these trainers are moved and he keeps moving them, what happens then? what happens if we face much more sophisticated air defenses because the russians have given s-300 air defense systems which the if the syrian syrians are in in ex e.xtremis, we don't know what the limits are, we have never known what the limits are and once we cross the limits we get sucked in big time. >> brown: what do you think p.j.
crowley, was there an upside of the president going to congress for getting congressional support for anything like this that might ham? >> there are some anomalies here. two years ago the president was involved in the six-month intervention in libya. the administration had a u.n. counsel resolution but he did not -- security council resolution. he called it for legal purposes not hostilities. in this case he's ostens support for a shot across the bow as he has called it. what the president's saying is i'm going to do whatever i have to do to take chemical weapons off the table. but again i'm not going ouse military -- to use military action to impose solution on the civil war.
that's an uncomfortable situation for us to be in but he's creating the boundaries that he needs to have as much flexibility within those boundaries to be able to do what he needs to do. and then militarily. and then the home run here is then to try to use the limited application of military force to try to unlock the geneva process and get this back on a military track. i think we'll have to face the fact that this could take years to resolve as it did in bosnia. >>brown: what about the potential general keene for the potential for more regional impact, blow back in many ways? >> if you didn't maintain the status quo, that regional spill overnight has begun. spillover has begun. that regionality, in terms of blow-back and i think nothing but hubris from the russians,
they don't have much military capability to be frank about it. syria is not going to attack israel, they lost every war they fought with them. that would be a huge mistake, the iranians are not going to conduct an attack, a conventional attack open israel and invite israel to take down nuclear systems. i think has been in their kit bag for a long time. hezbollah has been firing rockets on israel, something that could happen. something that enlarges the war i don't think so. >> brown: 30 second response to that if you would. >> i think if assad falls the question is who takes over? and if the islamists take over the most likely group is el nusra. they're not the biggest but the best organized. it wasn't in the russian revolution the biggest that won, it was the bolsheviks.
>> brown: i'll give you a last word. >> for the administration ultimately syria as horrible as it is is really of secondary importance compared to trying to resolve the situation of iran. >> brown: all right, p.j. crowley, dov zackheim, general jack keene thank you very much. >> thank you. >> brown: still to come on the newshour, margaret warner in egypt on reaction to the syria crisis; how the civil rights movement spurred other fights for freedom. but first, the other news of the day. here's kwame holman. >> holman: american diana nyad today became the first person to swim from cuba to florida without a shark cage. the 64-year-old arrived in key west 53 hours after she jumped into the water in havana on saturday. she swam 110 miles across the florida strait with a support team keeping her on course. nyad was sunburned and a bit dazed as fans welcomed her on the beach.
>> i have three messages. one is: we should never, ever, give up. [cheering and applause] >> you win, you never are too old to chase your dreams. >> that's right. it looks like a solitary sport. >> holman: this was nyad's fifth attempt to swim the strait. the others ran into boat trouble, storms, and jellyfish stings. the top nuclear regulator in japan raised concerns today over new leaks at the damaged fukushima power plant. the latest leak was found over the ekewe in a connecting pipe. there may also be leaks from three storage tanks where elevated radioactivity was detected. in addition, officials fear leaks also may be coming from as many as 300 other tanks. but japanese prime minister shinzo abe said again his
government will not just stand by. >> regarding the considering problem of contaminated water at the fukushima diichi plant, the government will come forward to implement necessary measures to deal with the issue. unlike pastimes, we must take supplemental measures. >> holman: the fukushima plant has been crippled since the march 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to the meltdown of three reactor cores. fire crews in california announced big gains today in controlling a huge wildfire that's burning partially in yosemite national park. as of this morning, the fire was 60% contained, up from 45% last night. but it also grew by about nine square miles overnight and now covers more than 357 square miles. firefighters estimate it will take about 20 more days to contain the blaze fully. in south africa, former president nelson mandela spent
his first full day at home in nearly three months. an ambulance returned him to his johannesburg residence sunday, after doctors discharged him. the government said he remains in critical and sometimes unstable condition. he'll continue receiving treatment at home. the 95-year-old mandela was admitted to the hospital in early june for a recurring lung infection. verizon has announced a $130 billion deal to make it sole owner of its wireless business. the company said today that british carrier vodafone has agreed to sell its 45% stake in verizon wireless. it's the second largest acquisition deal on record. if it wins approval, the deal is not expected to have much of an effect on verizon customers. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to jeff. >> brown: and we return to the middle east and reaction to president obama's decision to seek a congressional vote before launching a military strike against syria. our own margaret warner is in cairo, egypt. i spoke to her a short while ago.
>> margaret welcome. tell us about the reaction you've been getting from people so far about a possible u.s. strike against syria. jeff i've only been here 24 hours and i'm surprised at the unanimity about the strike on syria. despite the fact that some people here believe assad probably did use chemical weapons. people here say it will just cause more instability in the region. they mention more refugees to strengthening jihadi forces inside the rebel forces in syria. and at the root of it there's really great distrust of the united states, both its past action he in the middle east and its motives for even considering this. >> brown: so you're saying they might well believe that the assad regime used chemical weapons but it's about the feelings first and foremost about the u.s? >> warner:: it really does jeff.
they said you got it wrong about iraq, there were weapons of mass destruction being made and there were not. there are many people here who even doubt the intelligence that the obama administration has presented with such kind of authority and confidence this time. so i say that's a larger group. but i spoke to a young man, last night, who actually believes bashar assad did it. nobody i have spoken to, there isn't anybody, trusts the united states and wants the united states to intervene once again in another arab country. they all point to the example of iraq in a second way which is the united states went in to rid - dictator and look what we got. look at this region, iraq in disarray, sectarian violence within iraq and now as we know
exporting jihadi influences, and extremists if with their own jihadi influence in the sinai. whether for practical reasons or the level of trust in the united states's motives, i didn't hear anyone who had confidence that the united states could act effectively and doing it with the region's best interests at heart. >> brown: what about the president's speech over the weekend, while he wants to do it, he will wait for congress, what reaction did you get to that? >>warner:: to the average man ton street that had barely penetrated, parliamentarians, people of that type i had spoke to, they were split. that really conveys a sort of weakness.
president obama may say it's because of the american democratic system and the reasons he gave. but here in some quarters it was seen as a sign of weakness but another person an activist, a proare democracy activist, when you have power show power not weakness. there is a little bit of a split on that but really, that's not the important prix through which people are -- prism through which people are looking at it. >>brown: particularly through the arab league where do things stand for that? >> not encouragingly for the obama administration, as you said the obama administration hoped as just with the action in libya they would be acting in concert not only with european partners but with the arab league. the arab league you know last week i think it was met, and
said, essentially, held assad, said assad should be held to account, was critical of assad stopped short of military action. this week starting yesterday they had an emergency meeting which they moved up from later in the week to reconsider the question. but what came out, the first readings looked like oh they're not really calling on the international community to do something. but when you look at the text and i spoke to people both in the egyptian government and in the arab league. they say the important thing about the today's announcement was, yes, we're calling on the united nations and the international community to take some sort of detrnt action or deterrent measures against the use of chemical weapons by the regime but the only legal basis for military action is under either the u.n. charter of self defense or by a vote of the security council which is one egyptian official admitted to me
in a practical sense that's not going to happen because of russia's opposition. so it is interesting on two points. one, egypt has long been an ally of the united states, is not acting in cernt with the u.s. here, egypt was the first that came out last week and said they were opposed to the use of force. and secondly, thatting madan washer who is the former foreign minister of jordan said to me yesterday, it's interesting that the only leaders calling for ambiguously tri action are the ones without elected parlaiments. that is the governments had a don't feel they having to responsive to their people and that is some of these gulf kingdoms and whether it's jordan or egypt and other states which do have aroused public works now and since the arab spring and even more activist public they
are not willing to go there. >> brown: all right, margaret warner in cairo, thank you so >> brown: there's much more online, where we continue our syria coverage, including, on our world page, a dispatch from margaret in cairo. >> we're representatives last week's anniversary celebration. for a century after the civil war the black struggle for equal rights reminded america of its unfinished business. tonight ray suarez examines whether that industrial struggle changes the way we think and talk of the rights of everyone. >> history at why university of california davis and author of the book world split open how
the modern women's movement, history of sexualities and the professor of history and american studies at yale university. professor rosen has this half-century changed the why we feel, what we talk about when we throw around human rights and civil rights? >> absolutely. the movement for justice and economic equality actually influenced two movements, one in the 19th century, the women's rights movements and the suffrage movement, and the 20th century, founded now, and when younger women who had been part of the civil rights movement founded the young women's civil rights movement. the movement has inspired twice
in our society. >> professor chauncey. >> well spring of all great movements for social justice in the united states. it certainly had a profound impact on the lesbian and gay rights movement, back in the '60s when the march happened, the civil rights movement really pioneered the concept as a powerful political concept of minority rights and made it easier for gays to begin to depict themselves as a minority who deserve the same civil rights that other americans and other minorities did. and the civil rights movement, important to the gay movement women's movement latino movement and many others. given marches themselves, the march on washington in '63 was followed just two years later by the first gay civil rights pickets dwrowts white house and independence hall in
philadelphia and by the first national march on washington for lesbian and gay rights in 1979. >>suarez: professor rosen at this time, did this put the civil rights movement into the forefront? >> for the people of pro-choice to washington, but if you actually look at the women's movement itself, the real march that made the women's movement 00 household name took place in 1970 when 50,000 people marched downing washington avenue, that didn't end the women's movement or start it, it was in the middle. but what happened afterwards, the organizations, now, more like the naacp and its organizational style and the young women's movement, penetrated all organization he of the culture.
by the mid 1970s all the ethnic, racial, movement, striving to change women's rights at home and at the workplace. >> suarez: let's talk a little bit about the inside and the outside game. the public saw demonstrations, the public saw marches but at the same time there was an inside game in courts and in legislatures. filing briefs. this was a big part of the success of all these movements, wasn't it? the duality of the struggle. >> absolutely. and i would emphasize again, what professor rosen said, applies to the gay movement as well. it was, nowadays we're acuvmentd to gay rights being a -- accustomed to gay rights being an issue. but back in the 60s and 70s gays could only dream of getting that kind of national attention.
so organizing those very local as indeed the mostly organizing in the black civil rights movement was. >> and if you think about it what the gay and lesbian movement did and the women's movement did is we changed the terms of debate in american political culture. just about women, women got the right to have credit cards in their own names, to buy. to be on juries in certain states -- we got -- which we didn't have and custody of children. and then of course title 9, in the 1970s gave women the right to sports. but the most important two things that i would mention is the fact that women are safer today because domestic violence has been made into a felony and at work, women know that if someone preys upon them sexual harassment is illegal. and those two things alone, domestic violence and sexual
harassment were names that we gave hidden injuries that women experienced and they really didn't have a way to talk about them. by naming them we could debate them and as a culture we could decide whether we want to pass legislation and we did. and as a result, i think the women's lives are a lot better. at work and at home they are protected by things they didn't know how to discuss before. >> suarez: all of these movements if you asked people who participated in them, they would say we still have a long way to go but we'll have to reflect on how we talk about progress in another conversation. thank you very much for joining us. >> brown: next on this labor day, an encore report about america's aging work force. more than one in three workers expect to be on the job past age 65. and many middle-aged and older americans face unemployment and tough competition for jobs.
but the newshour's economics correspondent, paul solman, has the story of one company that's found a bright side to hiring senior citizens. it's all part of paul's ongoing reporting on making sense of financial news. >> you're doing something useful. you're not sitting vegetating. >> at age 101, rosa finnegan is punching in part time at small manufacturer. finn fan and those like her are extending their useful lives and their retirement income. but might they also be a boon to the economy? >> how much do you say? i'm not allowed to say am i? you're 100 years old, you request say whatever you want. >> the reason i asked this year the gap tweng u.s. spending and tax revenues is expected to be over $640 billion. threatening to widen the gap: 32 million americans reaching retirement age in the next 20
years slated to draw associates and medicare while paying zero taxes on income. >> so are you slowing down? yes. definitely. as long as i don't come to a screeching halt i'll be lucky. >> but what if americans worked as long as rosa finnegan who we interviewed in december? rosa is being coy but whatever she is making she is paying taxes, income and social security which by the needle matches. another older worker we interviewed reenlts, 66-year-old steve bingley, runs infinity boards, pays himself $60,000 a year. his tab, more than $18,000. then mike who became a business consultant who tried in vein getting a tech job, from the one he was laid off of at age 65.
>> that was so great but at 65 you're not going to make any headway doing that and it was a mistake. let me go on a path that will be way more productive. >> with his new business up and running, last year gratola paid nearly $15,000 of taxes on income. finally, 71-year-old george mason writing professor don galier. >> it's the fuferred year i'm here. >> galier paid about $35,000 in taxes including his university social security contribution. he has no plans to retire. >> last semester i had five students come up to me and said it was the best class they had ever had. so apparently i'm still good for my students. >> overall, 80% of americans 65 or over are working and paying taxes, a figure that doesn't include state income taxes.
moreover, every extra percentage point of the workforce not retiring would mean at least another few billion dollars in revenues toward closing america's annual budget gap. >> it's good for the economy. >> university of southern california economist julie zisamopouis thinks, older americans working longer is simply good. why? >> how are we going to keep soarkts, how are we going to keep receiving the benefits that they have received in the past? in order to find these, we need workers, we need people paying taxes. >> it's a problem economists have worried about for decades. as the population has aged, the number of workers supporting retirees has dropped. a trent -- a trend we reported back in 1990.
when social security began paying benefits there were 159 american workers being taxed for every retiree. by the late 1940s we reported 23 years ago, 42 workers for every social security recipient. by 1970, only four workers. and looking at the numbers these days, for 2011, for example, there were just 2.9 workers for every beneficiary. social security now pays out more in benefits than it receives in tax revenue. but according to eugene sturley of the urban institute if instead of retiring more and more people 65 and older continue to work, the picture could change dramatically. rather than just drawing from benefit programs, they'd be contributing to them. >> it's not just social security taxes or medicare taxes, the kind of taxes we might think of
as necessary to support programs for the elderly, but among the biggest gains for government as a whole, i would expect income taxes, higher income taxes means it's easier to support government programs without increasing tax rates. >> sturley found that the social security taxes generated if the average american retired five years later than normal, would overcome thing shortfall. if you were to factor in income tax revenue the shortfall would be completely erased. boston college's alicia minell says, there is more of an economic benefit to working longer. >> you have more people out there working with their capital to produce more stuff so you get a bigger gdp and everyone is better off. >> not every economist agrees of course. larry kotlikoff thinks the pluses are working -- of work longer are way overblown.
>> only a certain percentage of people over 65 are going to work, regardless, to the macroeconomy or to our fiscal problem is not a big enough effect. >> so you don't think this is going to make that much of a difference? >> even if we had another 20% of people in their 60s continue to work through their 70s or 75 it just wouldn't add up to much. it's just not enough people earning enough money paying enough taxes to matter much. >> what a surprise, economists disagree. but it's certainly true that many who might want to stay in the workforce simply can't. due to poor health, a strenuous job, the need to care for a sick family member. so we just don't know how many will. but, says jean sturley, the portion of older people continuing to work has been growing for years.
>> the social security administration has consistently underestimated the extent to which older workers will work longer and constantly pushing up that projected, and as larger and larger shares of the population hit these older ages someone has to produce the goods and services. >> and, says minell, that would be a good thing for older workers. considering that 55- to 64-year- olds have an average of only $120,000 saved for retirement. >> $120,000 may sound like a lot. but when you think about taking that out over 20, 30 year retirement, you're talking about only a few hundred dollars per month. >> so you mean if you've saved as much as $120,000, in your late 50s, you are still facing relative poverty? >> people are not going to have very much money, if they retire at 64. so my view is the single most important thing they can do is work as long as they possibly
can. >> mark freedman the owner of encore.org, says the privilege is to work for themselves and the broader economy. >> it's an extraordinary opportunity for individuals to have another chance to do something important but really for a society which is discovering a continent of human resources that's really only comparable to the emergence of women in this new role 30, 40 years ago. now we wouldn't be able to contemplate being competitive globally without that talent pool. i think 20, 30 years from now we'll feel the same way about all these people in their 60s and 70s who are continuing to do important work. >> a nice thought for the nearly eight million of us who are still working past additional retirement age.
>> we also mark labor day with a recent poll on unions. the future of organized labor. >> brown: finally, a second look at the high cost of mining for precious metals. a gold rush has brought new opportunities to the desperately poor nation of burkina faso in west africa. but along with riches have come perils, especially for the young children who work in the dangerous mines. photojournalist larry c. price, in collaboration with the pulitzer center on crisis reporting, recently visited several mining communities to document the conditions. our report is narrated by hari sreenivasan. >> reporter: this is theophile. he's tossing a bucket 150 feet .
his eyes are glassy and his movements are rote, trained by space, theophile's small body moves about more freely than an adult's would. >> i thought i was near the bottom, and then i realized there's another 40 or 50 feet to go. >> reporter: a fact photojournalist larry price found out for himself as he descended the shaft to meet the boy. >> this has really, really been hard to get down this far. this shaft is about four to five feet in diameter, and at its narrowest, it's probably less than 28 inches. >> reporter: above ground is the small mining village of kollo, one of the many boomtowns that's sprung up over the last few years in burkina faso. slightly larger than colorado in acreage-- and among the poorest countries in the world-- this landlocked nation of 18 million people is a relative newcomer to the gold trade. but the precious metal-- used in everything from jewelry to
electronics to the basis of currencies the world over-- has in short order overtaken cotton to become the country's top export commodity. a sizable chunk of that gold comes from small-scale, or artisanal, mines, like these. and much of that work is done by children. the u.n.'s international labor organization estimates that children account for 30% to 50% of the small-scale miners working in the african sahel region, which includes burkina faso and niger. but the issue is not restricted to the continent. >> it's a significant problem around the world. >> reporter: eric biel is acting associate deputy undersecretary for international affairs of the u.s. labor department, which tracks child labor violations across the globe. its latest report lists burkina faso among 19 countries engaged in the worst forms of child labor, and biel says the mines there present considerable challenges. >> it's a multi-faceted situation. you've got cross-border flows, you've got these boom towns that are being set up where both
children from burkina faso are leaving school and being employed there, but also children are being trafficked across borders. >> reporter: it's illegal to employ children under the age of 16 in burkina faso, and biel says its government has shown it wants to stop the practice. but with an estimated 200,000 artisanal miners working at some 200 sites, many in remote areas like these-- and with a strong economic pull-- enforcement has been difficult. the average worker in burkina faso earns less than $2 a day. meanwhile a family employed in artisanal mining can earn between $5 and $40 a day, depending on the mine. that's led to many parents pulling their own children from school to help in the mines. >> they say if gold is found somewhere, it's hard to calm the ardor of the gold diggers. >> reporter: ganno daouda is the general secretary to the mayor's office in the nearby town of tiebiele.
since 2011, he says he's watched the kollo mine steadily grow to employ around 1,000 people. but with this new economic opportunity, he says there have come many problems. >> the kids prefer quick cash, putting aside their future. it is a serious problem for us, because children are always on the site. >> reporter: karim sawadogo was once a goat herder at his home in the north, and came to this mine in the southwest with his uncle. barefoot, he cooks, fetches, water and climbs down in the mines. he thinks he's nine years old, but isn't sure. in general, young children like him carry out the more menial tasks at the sites, transporting water and heavy loads of ore, digging pits, and breaking up rocks with primitive hammers. the jobs down in the pits are typically reserved for teenagers. with only tree limbs to brace the mine walls, the risk to them is real.
>> the site does not respect any rule. oftentimes there are deadly collapses. >> reporter: the unregulated nature of this work makes reliable statistics hard to come by. but as uncertain as the pits are, the jobs in the processing areas, where the ore is pulverized, are possibly more dangerous. sputtering diesel engines power makeshift pulleys, grinding plates and belts used to crush the ore into a fine powder that's bagged to be treated later. along with the hazards of breathing this fine dust comes the potential for losing a finger or limb. children also help pan the powder with liquid mercury, which binds to gold. this amalgam in turn is burned to separate the gold, releasing dangerous vapors. >> it's a gamble. people are trading off the money they make now selling gold with potentially their health and their lives.
>> reporter: joe amon directs the health and human rights program at human rights watch, which recently studied this same issue in neighboring mali. >> children sometimes have exposure to both directly to touching the mercury, and then also to the vapors. and that can be if they're working on the gold itself, or if they're simply around the family compound where the gold is being isolated with the mercury, or if they're strapped on to their mother's back while she's working on mercury. >> reporter: amon says the effects of mercury poisoning are both difficult to diagnose and very serious. they include neurological damage, impaired vision, respiratory conditions, kidney failure, long-term mental disabilities, and even death. meanwhile, the constant dust around the mines can settle inside the lungs of these children, causing permanent damage. >> there are a lot of health- related problems. our nurses here are overwhelmed by cases of lung disease caused by dust, as these people do not have good protection.
>> reporter: water is scarce in the drought-stricken country, especially in rural areas, so children use the contaminated cooling water from the machinery to wash their faces and brush their teeth. after 12- to 14-hour shifts, they try to sleep near the deafening roar of nearby machines or over an open mine pit. it's a rare occasion-- perhaps a game of foosball-- when they act like the children they are. mining wasn't always so popular in burkina faso. in 1985 the country suffered a prolonged drought, and the resulting famine pushed many families off their subsistence farms and down into the mines for work. gold fetched $300 an ounce in 1985. today it is more than $1,200 an ounce, fueling such rudimentary forms of mining in burkina faso and elsewhere. while it's clear there's gold leaving these boomtowns, it is much harder to say where the gold may ultimately end up.
burkina faso's porous borders and large network of middle men mean a nugget from these mines can be easily combined with other sources. the u.s. labor department says this makes tracing and stopping the trade of child-mined gold extremely difficult. >> it's not something where it's as easy to say, well, if we stop the demand for gold, we can trace that back to what's happening on the ground in burkina faso. so this is one where we really have to start with the supply, with the circumstance on the ground, and try to get at, as i mentioned, the root causes. >> reporter: to that end, in december the u.s. department of labor announced a $5 million grant over four years to combat child labor in burkina faso. >> well, we can't, as the u.s. government, solve the problem. >> reporter: biel admits that relatively minor sum won't end the practice, but he says it's part of a broader effort. >> so there's no ability through one grant, whether it's $5
million or something else, to address the whole problem. but you can begin to get at some of the root causes and-- through awareness raising and so forth-- hopefully begin to make a difference. so it's not going to disappear overnight. >> reporter: joe amon, of human rights watch, agrees, and says education can go a long way towards limiting children's exposure to the worst risks. >> well, many of the families that we talked to had never heard that mercury was the problem, that it had any impact at all. and so, at the very fundamental level, there needs to be some education that's done. >> reporter: back at this mining camp in the southwest, an interpreter asks karim sawadogo what he wants to do with his life. karim says he came here to make money, and that his dream is to make enough so that he never has to go down into the narrow mines again. >> brown: again, the major developments of the day. the obama administration ratcheted up its campaign,
pressing u.s. lawmakers to back a military strike against syria. the top nuclear regulator in japan raised concerns over new leaks at the damaged fukushima power plant. and american diana nyad became the first person to swim from cuba to florida without a shark cage. she made it on her fifth try, at the age of 64. online we take a closer look at diana nyad's historic swim and past attempts. kwame holman has more. >> holman: get more video of nyad reaching shore, plus a 2012 interview with her about a difficult previous attempt, and a look at the jellyfish who thwarted her before. all that and more is on our web site, newshour.pbs.org. jeff? >> brown: and that's the newshour fotonight. on tuesday, we'll look at the first congressional hearings on president obama's plan for a military strike on syria. i'm jeffrey brown. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening. thanks for joining us. good night.
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>> this is the journal coming to you from berlin. >> our headlines for you at this hour. syria warns the west of regional war if it is attacked. france says it will not go it alone. >> did it make a difference? german chancellor angela merkel goes head to head in a team debate. >> and mega money for gareth bale. it will cost the club a cool 100 million euros. million euros.