tv PBS News Hour PBS October 23, 2013 7:00pm-8:00pm EDT
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> sreenivasan: congress ramps up a new fight, amid mounting criticism of the problems plaguing healthcare.gov, the website for the federal insurance marketplace. good evening. i'm hari sreenivasan. gwen ifill and judy woodruff are off. also ahead this wednesday, as the bankruptcy trial begins in detroit. jeffrey brown continues his travels with poet laureate natasha trethewey. >> poetry lives on your doorstep, like a baby in a basket waiting for a new family. >> sreenivasan: and visits a motor city school where poetry lives. >> this poetry really gets them truly motivated and excited. and i'm talking about my football players, my athletes, my basketball players want
poetry. >> sreenivasan: and from the pacific northwest, a report on how climate change could be making the local shellfish toxic. >> they just were so violently ill. i just knew it had to be the mussels. >> sreenivasan: those are just some of the stories we're covering on tonight's "pbs newshour." >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> supported by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information at macfound.org >> 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.
>> sreenivasan: our lead story tonight: the problems implementing the new health care law were front and center in washington. both sides scrambled to address the failures and the possible fixes. "newshour" congressional correspondent kwame holman begins our coverage. >> the rollout of obamacare is nothing short of a debacle, and the american people are now fearful of their healthcare. >> reporter: the house returned to work for the first time since the government shutdown ended, and republicans quickly turned to the balky website where uninsured americans are supposed to enroll for health insurance. g.o.p. leaders posted this video reenactment of a new jersey man's experience with the site. >> you have no way to assist those who ask for help? don't run with scissors. >> why is there even a chat option on the page if you can't
look up an application and assist? >> reporter: majority leader eric cantor said the problems are so bad, the administration should delay the penalty for those who don't get insurance. >> with so many unanswered questions and the problems arising around this rollout, it doesn't make any sense to impose this 1% mandate tax on the american people. >> reporter: speaker john boehner promised there will be investigations with one hearing already set for tomorrow. >> i think the biggest part of congress' job is to provide proper oversight of the executive branch of government, and whether it's obamacare or issues over at the department of defense, it's our job to hold them accountable. >> reporter: on the other hand, democrats including minority leader nancy pelosi said the priority should be getting the system up and running. >> well, there certainly is accountability internally in terms of what decisions were made when on all of this. but i think that our focus and energy should be used to fix it because the american people are depending on it. >> reporter: while party leaders
here at the capitol jousted over the obama administration ramped up efforts to fix it. on c.n.n. last night, secretary kathleen sebelius said president obama was unaware of the extent of the problems before the website premiered. >> no one could be more frustrated than i am and the president that this isn't smooth. people are signing up every day, >> the president did say that he was angry about this. i mean do you know when he first knew that there was a problem? >> well, i think it became clear fairly early on. the first couple of days, that... >> so not before that, though? not before october 1st? >> no, sir. >> reporter: the administration also has launched a kind of "fix-it" surge to be overseen by jeffrey zients, former head of the office of management and budget. and, officials have set up call centers, as a substitute for the website. in the meantime, the president is urging supporters not to despair. >> we've got people working overtime in a tech surge to boost capacity and address the problems. >> reporter: also today, "the washington post" reported some
of the non-profit health insurance co-ops created to foster competition are struggling to survive. and starting tomorrow, the department of health and human services begins a new effort to try to address problems quickly by giving daily briefings on their activities. >> sreenivasan: we'll have more on this, after the news summary. german chancellor angela merkel complained directly to president obama today, over reports of u.s. spying on her conversations. she telephoned the president after learning the national security agency may have monitored her cell phone. a spokesman called it completely unacceptable. at the white house, press secretary jay carney did not directly deny that the u.s. captured merkel's calls in the past. instead, he said: >> i can tell you that the president assured the chancellor that the united states is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor. the united states greatly values our close cooperation with germany on a broad range of shared security challenges. merkel is the latest in a string of foreign leaders to complain
about n.s.a. intercepts of phone calls and e-mails. the president also spoke today with the prime minister of pakistan in person, at the white house. it was the latest effort to improve strained relations. chief foreign affairs correspondent margaret warner has that story. >> we are very glad to be able to partner with the people of pakistan and the pakistani government >> reporter: in the oval office today, president obama and prime minister nawaz sharif took pains to emphasize their desire to turn around the rocky relationship of recent years. >> the united states considers pakistan to be a very important strategic partner. we believe that if pakistan is secure and peaceful and prosperous, that's not onlied any for pakistan, it's good for the region, and it's good for the world. >> we also discussed a common vision to build a robust, bilateral cooperation, a broad-based stable and enduring
partnership founded on the principles of mutual respect. >> reporter: but there is a long way to go. relations between the two countries hit a nadir two and a half years ago. in early 2011, pakistani protesters took to the streets after a c.i.a. operative shot and killed two men in lahore. then, in may, u.s. navy seals stormed a compound in abbottabad, killing osama bin laden. also that year, u.s. troops in afghanistan mistakenly killed pakistani soldiers in a border incident. for a time, pakistan halted nato supply convoys through the khyber pass. now, the pentagon hopes to use those routes in withdrawing from afghanistan next year. it's against that backdrop that newly elected prime minister sharif, who's held that post twice before, returned to the white house for the first time in 14 years. both countries have an incentive to restore relations. the u.s. wants pakistan's help
in negotiating an end to the afghan conflict. the pakistanis need aid. but the u.s. is frustrated that taliban-affiliated groups still use western pakistan as a base to hit u.s. and afghan forces in afghanistan. just yesterday, human rights groups reported u.s. drone strikes in that region have killed dozens of civilians. and sharif denounced the u.s. drone attacks. >> i useless brought up the issue of drones in our meeting, emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes. >> reporter: before today's visit, u.s. officials signaled they would unfreeze $1.6 billion in military and economic assistance aid to pakistan, suspended two years ago. >> sreenivasan: in iraq, at least 16 people died in a new wave of bombings and shootings in and around baghdad today. dozens more were wounded. that followed overnight attacks
on police in anbar province that killed 19 iraqis. the violence has surged since april, with at least 450 people killed this month alone. pope francis has temporarily banished a german bishop from his roman catholic diocese for spending $43 million on a new residence. the vatican said today that bishop franz-peter tebartz-van elst of limburg was ordered to leave, pending an investigation. the bishop has defended the expenditures, but they've provoked an outcry in germany. the future monarch of britain-- prince george-- was christened today. the royal family marked the occasion at a small ceremony in london. we have a report from tim ewart of "independent television news." >> reporter: he was briefly in the background but not for long. george alexander louis, prince of cambridge and third in line to the throne is now three months old and clearly growing fast. there was a little help from his father with the royal wave but
as he arrived for his christening, it is apparent there is now another royal the cameras will love. this was the start of what will be a very public life. it was in fact a very private service. the queen and prince philip were driven into st. james palace, the briefest glimpse of royalty for people who'd gathered outside, a few camping overnight. the queen and the duke of edinburgh headed a small royal contingent with charles and camilla and prince harry, low- key was the order of the day. this christening is another sign of the way things are changing within the royal family. william and kate are quite happy to break with tradition and to do things their way. there were just 22 guests for a service conducted by the archbishop of canterbury and the bishop of london. of the seven godparents only one was from the royal family,
princess anne's daughter zara, herself expecting a baby. prince george of course is blissfully unaware of the relentless attention from which his parents hope to shield him. christening over, it was time for tea. >> sreenivasan: there's word that fewer people died from tuberculosis in 2012. the world health organization reported 1.3 million deaths, down 100,000 from the year before. but, the w.h.o. warned there's a growing risk from drug-resistant strains of t.b., and from people not getting adequate treatment. of all infectious diseases, only h.i.v. kills more people than t.b. the city of detroit began presenting evidence in court today to prove it is actually bankrupt. detroit filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy protection this summer, but unions and pension funds said the city acted prematurely. they want a federal bankruptcy court to reject the filing. we'll hear more on today's arguments, later in the program. on wall street today, the dow jones industrial average lost 54
points to close at 15,413. the nasdaq fell 22 points to close at 3,907. energy stocks were hard hit as oil prices slid below $97 a barrel, the lowest in four months. still ahead on the "newshour": challenges of fixing healthcare.gov; the soaring cost of higher education; the fight over detroit's bankruptcy goes to court; kids in the motor city find a voice through poetry; toxic shellfish in some northwest coastal areas and psalms fit for a president. >> sreenivasan: now, a technology focused take on the troubled launch of the health insurance exchanges. the obama administration conceded today it did not adequately test the website beforehand. it announced new tests are underway. white house officials also said other changes are being made to the site's basic architecture. we look at those possible fixes and what has gone wrong with,
two software experts who have been looking at the problem. john engates, chief technology officer at rackspace, a cloud computer service company. and bill curtis of cast software. thanks for joining us. bill, i want to start with you. you've seen a little bit of what the administration says they're doing. in plain english, is this the right direction? will it be enough? >> it's the right direction, and they've got an awful lot of money to fix things but there's an awful lot of fixes ahead of them. it's going to take quite a lot of time to fix the entire system. it's not just a web interface problem. there are a lot of problems we're seeing behind the web. >> early on there was this analysis that it should be easy to compare government insurance plans as going online and comparing prices for airline tickets and i think critics seized on that. what's the difference between this web site and what we're used to seeing and doing online? >> what the difference is that when you go online to a web site
like amazon or your airline, the data behind those web sites is completely under the control of that one company or that's entity. in this case, you have a massive integration project that spans across numerous states. there are 30-plus states, plus multiple federal agencies, and, therefore, you've got data spread all over the place. and you have to pull all that data together to actually execute one of these transactions to get somebody signed up. >> sreenivasan: bill curtis, there is a leak of congressional testimony planned for tomorrow and you already see the basis of finger pointing from one contractor to another. what is the challenges of pulling together 55 different contractors and was the h.h.s is in a good position to lead them and pull them all together? >> the challenges are enormous, all the coordination. they didn't have enough time to make it all exphap get it tested adequately. they basically let the american people do the testing. they didn't have the time to pull off a system this big and
complex. it's wrong to say it's a system. it's a sufficiency systems. we're trying to integrate an awful lot of systems, as you just heard, from a number of different sources and it's a huge implementation problem. in many cases the government doesn't have people used to managing that level of complexity. >> sreenivasan: bill curtis, staying with you for a second, if the users-- that is all the american public that has tried to log on-- have been the user testers have, they broken everything that could be broken and is it that mean the worst is over and we could have more information to fix it? >> no, they've just broken the problems at the web interface. any time there is a system this big, once you fix some problems it oppose up a whole new wave the problems that sit behind it. we'll see more problems with data integration, coordination problems among all these different systems and we're just now starting to get into that part system. >> sreenivasan: jawrng how much of this is trying put software development into a political timeline? there's an october 1 deadline.
there's a december 15 deadline. a march 15 deadline, that are very important for the american public but that's not necessarily how software development works. >> right. software development is a complicated process. it's hard to accelerate that process by throwing bodies at the problem. oftentimes, that can actually slow things down. so it's a difficult challenge to meet somebody else's timeline, especially if you have changing requirements along the way. and i understand that some of those requirements were changing. in fact, one of the requirements changed right up near the launch, which is basically changing from allowing users to browse the choices without actually going through the transaction process, to actually requiring them to go through that sign-up process first, before they are able to browse. and i think that one change right there could have actually saved a great deal of load and strain on the system, and if that changed really soon, right before the launch, that could have been a major challenge for
the contractors involved to really meet that requirement in that short time frame. >> sreenivasan: "th so bill curtis, what about being held off until an election, the right kind requirements not coming into play but having the end goal still being the same point, regardless, and all the software engineers having to perform that task? >> well, just as you just heard, you're not going to get a-- you're not going to get a baby in one month using 9 women. it's going to take a full nine months. and that's the problem. they tried to do it too fast. my guess is they were well aware of many of these technical problems. they were hearing about them from the g.a.o. and the insurance industry, and this was a political plil decision to keep driving against this line to get something in place so they had a fait accompli. it's there. people were using it. it's hard to back up. and they're willing to pay the cost, ask it's going to be exorbitant to get all of this fixed and working over the next
some period of months. we don't know how long it will take to get it pulled together glart administration has assigned a point person, calling in from the silicon valley. there's a software principle called brook's law that stays adding more people doesn't necessarily make things faster. are they likely to complicate themselves or can we actually meet these december 15 and march 15 deadlines? >> well, you know, there is that saying about too many cooks in the kitchen, and i think you have potential for that here. so what probably needs to happen is the original contractors need to sort of take a backseat and let the new folks in on the system. the only challenge there is the new folks don't have really the history with the system. so it's very challenging to, at the last minute or under pressure, bring in a different team and have that team get up to speed very quickly. you know, most of the time what you want to do is sort of put-- put awe stop to the bleeding to some extent, go back to the
drawing board in some way, and you know really take a breather and figure out what the right approach is. it's hard to do that under extreme pressure and i'm sure they're feeling the pressure today displar bill curtis do you think the government is being transplant enough in what their plans are, what they're doing, and maybe what they've done so far? >> probably not. it's hard under these circumstances to open the full kimona, you see this in government and industry. it's hard to admit all the problems you want to solve. you want to give people hope and you want to hide some of the problems behind the scenes. we've analyzed some of the code, and seen while there were some fixes we've created new problems, some of which involved security. this is a long process. and as you just heard, there are going to be some rearchitecting that has to happen to make all of this hook together. >> sreenivasan: john engates, are you optimistic we will see awe solution or just a series of problems emerge?
>> i think eventually twill get fixed. i think the challenge is in what time frame. there's no certainty around that time frame. >> and don't know if they even have all of the information at this point that they need to make that determination. i think it would be a real challenge to put a time table on a fix at this point. >> sreenivasan: all right, john engates and bill curtis thanks so much for joining us. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> sreenivasan: we turn now to one of the more vexing economic issues for many u.s. households- - the rising costs of college. a new report from the college board-- the group that owns the s.a.t. test-- finds costs at four-year public schools posted the smallest increase in more than 30 years: up 2.9%. the bad news: federal aid for undergraduates declined by 9% over a two-year period. ray suarez takes it from here. >> suarez: jeff selingo watches all of this closely.
he's the author of "college unbound, the future of higher education and what it means for students." and he's a contributing editor to the chronicle of higher education. jeff, just to be a bundantly clear, it didn't get cheaper to go to public college and university in the united states. it just got more expensive more slowly. right? >> exactly. i mean, this is a smallest increase we've seen in a couple of decadees, but of course that's on a larger base. so the percentages seem small but we're still talking about several hundred dollars on the average public college tuition in the united states. >> suarez: prices in the economy went up 1.7% last year. college went up 2.9%. what's been driving the much faster increases in the cost of buying a college education versus the cost of everything else we buy? >> colleges, first of all, are, very personnel heavy. so it requires a lot of people to teach at clnlz, and unlike most other pieces of the
economy, where technology has reduced the number of people you need to produce a widget today compared to 1980, you still need one professor to teach 20 students, just like you did in 1980. and the other thing is that college costs so much because it can cost so much. we tend to have a belief in this country it's more something costs -- just like a luxury car it's better it must be. >> suarez: a-ha, because it can cost so much. are we reaching a ceiling in college costs because of other pressures in want economy-- wages not rising that quickly. savings stagnant in many families, and so on? >> i think the wage piece say big piece. we know that salaries and income in the united states has basically been flat or declining over the last couple of years. back in 2001, it took the average family less than 25% of their paycheck to go to college. today it takes 40% of their paycheck to go to college. at some point families are going to say what am i buying for what i'm spending on college education? it doesn't mean that they won't go. it just means they're going to
look for more valuable alternatives and cheaper alternatives. >> suarez: does that mean that parents and family and students, as individuals, have a little bit more bargaining power on their side of the table? can they, by resisting these prices, steering themselveses to cheaper places to be educated, temper some of these price increases? >> they could. it depends on where they're going. at the top schools, probably not. most of the top schools have 10 times as many qualified applicants as they have spots. but at other schools-- and we see this, this small with a number of middle-tier schools did not have enough students to fill their seats. at those institutions students have a lot more bargaining power than they did even a couple of years ago. a student in a seat is better than no student in one of those seats. >> suarez: the high school graduation rates with going up. this is a pretty big generational cohort. there are still a lot of kids looking for seats in colleges, aren't there? >> there are still a lot. but it depends where you live.
there are a lot of colleges in the mid-at lant and i can northeast, where high school graduation rates are falling because of demographics. and there are not as many colleges in the west and south where those increasing. >> suarez: after all these years of tuition increases that way outstrip the rate of inflation are we opening up a national conversation to look at radically different ways of paying for schools, reducing some of the pressure on parents who are also, at the same time, trying to save up for their own retirement. >> i think we are. president obama put a lot of money in his first term into higher education, and nothing changed in terms of college prices. as you mentioned, they kept going up. back in august, he took the bus tour through new york and pennsylvania, and he basically said federal aid can't keep chasing increasing college prices. we have to do something different. i think where you're going to see this is on the cost side of things. we always talk about the price but not the cost of delivering
education. we're going to look at other ways of delivering the courses, and i think on the other side you're going to see income-based contingent loans where students can pay a piece of their income after college toward their loans. so i think on both sides, both the cost side and the price side, you're going to see changes in want future because i think the federal government particularly is saying we can no longer keep up with the rising prices of colleges. >> suarez: there are even some suggestions that it not be four years anymore, aren't there? >> there are. and there are ways of doing this. we base learning on how much times somebody spends in a seat. there's nothing magical about four years of college and 120 credits for a bachelor's degree. we have no idea if somebody spends 40 years in college if they learn something while there. there is a move towards competency-based education, which is basically what do you know? if you know it, you move on, and in some cases you can finish college in less than four years. >> suarez: at the same time as this country's news has been dominated by the troubles with the opening of the health care extinction, a lot of
college-aged students look towing apply have found they're having problems with the common app that was designed to make things easier. that's going on. >> this is the application where you could apply to multiple schools with one application, some schools add a few things on to that. it makes applying to college much easier. it's why many students now apply to 10 colleges. when i went to college it was like you didn't want to go more than two applications because it was a lot of work. now what's happening, is just like the health care extinction, people are running into big technology problems because of changes, the common app made this year and a number of schools have had to push back their deadlines for early application as a result. >> suarez: any sign this will be solved by the time we reach the late part of this year, the early part of next year? >> yes. they're working on this. the schools are really frustrated. there are alternatives, of course, where students can still apply kind of the old-fashioned way. but this has been definitely a black eye on the part of the common app.
and if i'm a family applying for health care and applying for college at the same time, i think i probably would want to throw my computer out the window at this point. >> suarez: jeff selingo, "college unbound: the future of higher education and what it means to stiewntsd." thanks a lot. >> great to be here. >> sreenivasan: next, a pair of dispatches from detroit at an important moment, starting with a key trial over the city's bankruptcy filing. detroit's leaders say the city is $18 billion in debt, forcing a move to chapter 9. but they also must persuade a judge the city has met all of the requirements to do so and opponents say that's not the case. jeffrey brown has more. >> brown: the trial began today in federal court in detroit. matthew dolan of the wall street journal was there and joins me now to explain what the arguments are about. matthew, before we get to the specifics, this trial is really to see if the city is even entitled to go through with the bankruptcy and who's bringing the case?
>> that's right. well, what happened was the city filed for bankruptcy protection back in july. but now they're at the stage of the trial where they actually need to prove to a judge that the conditions were right, that they should have bankruptcy protection. some of those conditions would include whether or not the city is truly insolve enter. it also would include whether or not the city had state authorization when it filed for bankruptcy nejuly. and it also has to prove whether or not it tried to argue in good faith with its many creditors before they actually filed for bankruptcy. so all of those issues are coming to a head before judge steven rhodes today in detroit federal bankruptcy court. >> brown: tell us who is bringing the case, who is making these arguments against the city? >> that's right. well, the case is, of course, brought by the city itself. and it's actually under the control of an emergency manager who was appointed in march by the governor of the state who had said that the city's finances were too shaky to be run on its own.
those opposing the city's eligibility for bankruptcy include municipal unions, pension funds, and a group of retirees, represented by a committee appointed through the judge. >> brown: you mentioned some of the issues at stake here. one is whether the city is in fact, insolvent. explain that for us. we certainly have heard about the debt that it has. >> that's right. it seems like sort of an unusual test for a city that's filed for bankruptcy. they've said that they've got some $18 billion in long-term liabilitys. what we heard from arguments will today on both sides is that there may be some question about whether or not that number is truly indeed the number. and so the unions and pension funds are beginning to look at the city's balance sheet and asking some critical questions. for example, is the hole that appears to be in detroit's balance sheet for its pension obligations truly as deepals the city says it is? so both sides will be presenting evidence this week, and sort of a back-and-forth about whether
or not the city's finances are really as dire as the city originally said it was. >> brown: and you mentioned pensions a few times. another issue, i gather, is whether these pensions are in fact protected under the state's constitution. >> that's right going to be a critical question for the judge to decide. and he may not decide it right away. the unions and the pension funds are saying that the city should have never been eligible to file for bankruptcy because their plans all along were to cut the pensions, which are protect bide the state constitution, they say. the city says that once they filed for bankruptcy protection in federal government, it is the federal constitution that would supercede the protections under state constitution. so this is a case that's being watched not only in detroit but nationwide as many cities and states are struggling with huge pension obligations and wondering can they cut those pension obligation as the some point in the future or are there protections in place that would prevent them from doing so. >> brown: then of course there's the issue of the emergency manager, kevin orr,
whether his appoint is constitutional, i gather, is one issue. or once when he was in power, whether he negotiated in good faith. >> those are both critical issues and will come to light during the next couple days and weeks as this trial continues. the emergency manager law in michigan has sort of a tortured history. it originally was on the books as a way for the governor, as sort of a last resort, to appoint a financial oversear over a fisk fiscally troubled cities. but voters actually, through a referendum process, decided they want to repeal that law. the state legislature came back and passed another version of that law, which would be protected from any kind of referendum recall. so that law is now on the bookses. but nn unions and others, including some of the civil rights community have said this law disenfranchises voters in dispaez gives the state too much power to decide what should be local issues. so this is certainly going to be discussed throughout this case.
and the emergency manager law is not only something that affects detroit. it affects several cities and school districts throughout michigan. >> brown: let me ask you briefly, finally, you've mentionwant governor-- we just talked about kevin orr. we're expecting to hear from both of them in this trial, i gather. >> that's right. it's very unusual but both kevin orr, and the governor of michigan are expected to testify. they earlier gave depositions in which they described their roles which they say were lawful and they followed the emergency manager law and the sweeping powers that it has. the governor has always said he's gone into this process reluctantly, he was hoping through a series of consent agreements and other measures he had hoped to keep detroit out of bankruptcy court. he and his staff are pushing full steam ahead saying this was the last resort, but it's certainly a lawful one. >> brown: matthew dolan of the "wall street journal" thanks so much. >> it's been my pleasure.
i was in detroit recently reporting on rebuilding efforts there. i also recorded another chapter in the series i'm doing with poet laureate natasha trethewey that we call "where poetry lives". our goal: to explore poetry and literature in various corners of american life, seeking to connect these trips to aspects of natasha's personal experience. here's what we found in detroit. >> poetry is your wife or husband, going with you everywhere you go, sleeping with you even. >> poetry lives on your doorstep like a baby in a basket waiting for a new family. >> brown: middle school students at the marcus garvey academy in detroit, reciting the work they'd just written. teacher and poet peter markus often prompts the students with a question. today, he worked off our theme, asking: where does poetry live? >> poems live in stars, waiting to be wished on. >> brown: it's part of an 18- year-old program called "inside/out" that sends professional writers into detroit's schools-- this year
some 25 writers into 27 schools. when natasha trethewey and i arrived at marcus garvey recently, she recalled her own introduction to poetry in the third grade. >> i was writing poetry. and the librarian in my school took a group of my poems and bound them and put them in the library. >> brown: ah, a published poet? >> at third grade. ( laughs ) >> these questions that i ask you, is there only one right answer? >> no. >> brown: inside/out also turns its students into published poets, part of creating a sense of authorship and voice that peter markus says the program aims for. >> number one, i want to build confidence with a pencil in the hand, more than anything else. a lot of times i'll come into a classroom and i can just tell that early on a child doesn't like to write. or feels, oh, i don't, i'm not a good writer, or i don't know what a poem is. and then as soon as i can, i want to sort of disable them from that kind of thinking and saying, sure you can.
you just wrote a poem. >> brown: markus is unafraid to bring in sophisticated works by major poets-- on our visit, for example, he used a poem by w.s. merwin. >> we know that our pencils are more than our pencils. there are words hiding inside of them. remember that poem? what are the words doing in merwin's poem? >> they're waiting to be written. >> brown: the program, of course, can't be separated from the city-- the very troubled city-- in which it operates. the shrinking of detroit's population and its financial crisis have led to the closing of more than 100 schools. and while there are some signs of growth and building in detroit these days, areas of tremendous blight and poverty remain, including in the area around marcus garvey. james hearn is the school's principal. >> the neighborhood is a high poverty environment, single
parent homes, really a lot of crime, low socio-economic area. >> brown: so what's the school become then? >> it becomes the haven. it becomes an oasis in the desert. >> brown: one thing principal hearn never imagined as part of all this was poetry. he says he was flabbergasted when inside/out first came to him. >> it was unbelievable. we have so many needs for our kids and to have poetry as an alternative-- i thought to myself, "wait a minute, work with poetry!" >> brown: did you know much about poetry yourself? >> no, not at all. very little about it. but when i saw the kids produce a book at the end of this particular experience and they could take it home and the pride those kids have, that's outstanding. you know, that really won me over. >> brown: what do you see them getting out of it? >> love of writing, that's this poetry really gets them truly motivated and excited. and i'm talking about my football players, my athletes, my basketball players want poetry. >> brown: really? >> really. >> brown: i mean, you're saying that smiling.
you're surprised. >> i'm surprised. >> brown: natasha and i had the chance to talk to three of the children after their class: 12 year olds eddie stewart and quintin pope and 11-year-old ricki porter. >> so it sounds like you're writing from memories, you're also writing about your experiences. what kinds of things have you written about? >> the things i've written about was when i was in kindergarten, about when it was my birthday and i cried on my birthday. i wrote about embarrassing times, i wrote about funny times, i wrote about a lot of things that happened. >> i don't really think it's hard to write poems like this. really you just let your imagination run free and you just write. >> brown: it just comes out? >> yes, that's my way of saying it. i didn't like to write before this class. what i learned that it's okay to experience personal stuff when you, when you write. so that's why i started to like poetry and i like this class
because i don't usually write and this gives me a lot of time to do what i like to do. and i love to write. >> brown: quintin told us he wanted to make sure each line is a deep thought. >> the deep, deep thoughts that i put in my poems are not about me, it's about what affects everybody else, not just me. >> brown: what kinds of things? >> like i would say "my poem is i would say, "my poem is a monster scaring you till the lights are on." so when i been scared or had a nightmare and turned the lights on, till someone was there for me. >> brown: that ever happen to you? >> yeah. >> brown: afterwards, i asked natasha what had struck her most. >> it was a sense of power that they have from being able to imagine, to create, to name themselves, to speak for themselves-- as the creed says, it did remind me of being in my school and learning the work of poets, african-american poets,
that i've carried with me since then. and i carried it with me later on, particularly when i was bussed later on into a white school in eight grade. one of the poems that particularly struck me was langston hughes' "i too sing america." and going to that school, where people didn't want us, i could be armed with that poem, "i too sing america", and it was like a force field around me. >> brown: you saw a little of that here today. >> i saw a lot of that today. >> brown: terry blackhawk, a writer and former teacher who founded inside/out, says evaluations of the program have documented improved writing skills by participants. she also sees a large civic role. >> we're trying to revive our city, not just in the cultural centers, but neighborhood by neighborhood. and i think that every school needs a poet, because this poet can help the school and the children give voice to their lives. and you can also build connections in the community at large. so we have parent writing workshops. we have ways of bringing the
community into the school. >> "welcome to my city beauty isn't obvious but angers beats at our front doors like police giving a last warning..." >> brown: that night, inside/out held a public reading that featured several of its alumni, including justin rogers, now a student at wayne state. his poem, "small town city", was a portrait in words of the plight of his hometown. >> "i am one of the faithful citizens rooted like flag poles writing love poems to my city no matter how many dark alleys we tread through or potholes we swim in." i was trying to touch on really specific situations that people encounter on a regular basis. i looked at what my city is now and realized i enjoy what i have here, more than what my fantasy city is. and that these negative things, they are there, but there are so many other positive things. i'm going to enjoy what i have here. >> brown: it was a positive moment in a city that can use them, led by poetry bringing, as
young quintin pope had put it, "the deep thoughts from the inside, out." >> sreenivasan: online we have much more, including a poet's notebook from natasha trethaway, and video of inside-out alumni reciting their work. >> sreenivasan: next, to the west coast where algae has been poisoning shellfish and subsequently people. in recent years, toxic algal blooms have been more potent and lasted longer. that has scientists trying to understand whether climate change could be contributing to the problem. our report comes from special correspondent katie campbell of kcts seattle. she works for the environmental public media project, earthfix. >> reporter: every family has its legends. for john and jacki williford and their children, its the story of a miserable camping trip on the olympic peninsula in the summer of 2011. it all started when the
willifords did what many families in the northwest do on coastal camping trips. they harvested some shellfish and cooked them up with some garlic and oregano. >> oh, they were amazing. i was like, "wow, these are pretty much the best mussels i've ever eaten. >> they were the best mussels in the whole wide world. >> reporter: two-year-old jessica and five-year-old jaycee were the first to get sick. next john got sick. >> they just were so violently ill i just knew it had to be the mussels. so that next week i called the health dept and said i think we got shellfish poisoning or something from the shellfish. and that's when all the calls started to come in. >> reporter: it turned out that willifords were the first confirmed case in the united states of people getting diarrhetic shellfish poisoning. d.s.p. comes from eating shellfish contaminated by a toxin produced by a type of algae called dinophysis.
dinophysis has been found around it's been found in northwest waters for decades, but not at levels considered toxic. >> it's unfortunate to discover that you have a new toxin present by people getting ill. >> reporter: neil harrington is an environmental biologist for the jamestown sklallam tribe in sequim, wash. every week he collects water and shellfish samples from the same bay where the willifords harvested mussels two summers ago. he tests for dinophysis and other naturally occurring toxins in shellfish. >> shellfish are filter feeders so they are filtering liters and liters of water every day, if they are filtering phytoplanton that is a little bit toxic, when we eat the shellfish, we're eating essentially that toxin that's been concentrated over time by the shellfish. >> reporter: a number of factors can increase the size and severity of harmful algal blooms. as more land is developed, more fertilizers and nutrients get washed into waterways. it's a problem that has hit
florida and the gulf of mexico as well. >> the more nutrients you add to a water body, the more algae there is and the more chance that some of those algae could be harmful. >> reporter: but on top the local problem of nutrient runoff is the larger issue of global warming. scientists believe the increase in prevalence and toxicity of dinophysis is linked to changing ocean chemistry and warming waters. >> there's a whole lot of changes that are occurring in puget sound and they're not occurring in isolation and that's the challenge for scientists and people doing >> reporter: stephanie moore is a biological oceanographer for the national oceanic and atmospheric administration. she studies puget sounds harmful algae. most algal blooms here occur during warmer weather. because climate change is expected to raise temperatures in the coming decades, moore says that could directly affect when and where harmful algal blooms occur.
>> we're going to have to look for these blooms in places and during times of the year when traditionally we haven't had to worry about them. their impacts could then span a much larger time of the year and that could cost a lot more money in terms of the effort that needs to go into monitoring and protecting the public from the toxins that they produce. washington has one of the most advanced and comprehensive algae monitoring and shellfish testing systems in the country. it's in part because of the state's 800 miles of shore and multimillion dollar shellfish industry. today moore is testing a new piece of equipment that has the potential to raise the bar even higher. this environmental sample processor, or e.s.p., automatically collects water from a nearby shellfish bed, analyzes the samples and sends moore a photograph of the results. so this is a huge advancement in our ability to keep tabs on what's going on. and in near real time.
>> reporter: moore says she hopes that next year the esp will be equipped to monitor for dinophysis-- the toxin that caused the williford family to get sick. in the meantime, jacki williford says she'll continue to be extremely wary of eating shellfish. >> i think it's scary because you just don't know what you're getting anymore in foods. >> reporter: as for the rest of the family-- well, not everyone has sworn off mussels. >> it doesn't change a thing for me. >> for him. ( laughs ) >> sreenivasan: j.c. might keep eating mussels, but the high levels of toxins have forced the washington state department of health to shutdown shellfish beds in six counties around the puget sound. >> sreenivasan: finally tonight: the spiritual nourishing of the president. that's the focus of the new book by the man "time" magazine dubbed the "pastor in chief."
joshua dubois, the former head of the white house office of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships has penned "the president's devotional: the daily readings that inspired president obama". gwen ifill spoke with dubois recently, and has our book conversation. >> joshua dubois you write that god still surprise. how much of a surprise was it that you ended up at the white house? >> i was hugely sprieded. i was a political campaigner. one day i got a sentence of my spirit. he has policy advisers and political supports and even secret service protection, but who's looking after his soul? so i decided to take a big risk and sent him an e-mail to his blackberry-- i didn't know if i was going to get fired when i did that-- but i shot him a note about the 23rd psalm, and how to find restoration and rest in the middle of trouble.
and i was waiting fair response, and in a few minutes he wrote back and said it was exactly what he needed. i just kind of jumped out there. >> ifill: there are 365 devotionals in this book, one for every day of the year. one of the things you write about at some point is how the president would call you and say, "i need a piece of scripture for such and such." >> that's right. >> ifill: and you would have to just come up with one. >> that's right. the first time that happened i was caught off guard a bit. he was giving a speech on the genocide in darfur, and i got a call from a number i didn't recognize and had to come up with some scripture. over time i learned to be ready, both in the positive moments and also some trying times as well, like the scripture he uses to comfort a nation after a tragedy. it was really great working with him on those things. >> ifill: you know, the president doesn't talk that much about his faith, at least not in front of public audiences, and i wonder if that's a balance you have to strike. >> i would rather have a leader who livesave sermon instead of
preaches one, and i i believe he seeks to live out his faith in a lot of different ways-- the way he's a father and husband and the quiet way he seeks to maintain his integrity and character put he reads devotionals and praise with pastors in the oval office. he does a prayer call every year on his birthday. >> ifill: every now and then you had to be in a position, especially when you worked in the white house, of being there for the bad news, too, even during the campaign with his past oreverend wright, it emerged he had said some very harsh things from the pulpit in chicago, and had to come up way solution or a way to speak to that. >> i talk about this in the book. it was a very, very difficult moment. but it was also a time i was able to see the president's integrity. i thought he addressed some really tough issues of race head on in his speech in philadelphia. and tried to get the country to think about some things we
actually haven't talked about in a full way, in a very long time. so it was a tough issue. i sort of walk through in the book what that was like. we eventually made it to the other side. >> ifill: on the other hand, the white house is also a political environment. you would run head up against some political imperatives, for instance, the conscience clause in the affordable care act. you felt very strongly that churches all the to not have to pay into a system they they didn't believe in. but you lost that fight. >> i did, but, you know, the illuminating thing about that whole issue-- it's something i walk through in an essay in the book was not the policy disagreement-- yes i had a disagreement with some colleagues about the policy-- but i approached the relational aspect of that issue in a wrong-head way. i started demonizing my opponents and questioning their motives. what i walk through in the work sibegan to unpack that and realize people can have sincere disdis agreements with me but still good people that god
loves. >> ifill: even if ultimately the person you disagree with is the president? >> i'm not sure i disagreed him. i think there was a lot of complexity to the various solutions throughout and i think the white house ended up in the right place, balancing the rights of women with the rights of religious organizations. if there was some disagreement, i know it's not on me to question others' motive motivesd that's not place i was in at first. >> ifill: tell us what happened when you went to newtown, connecticut, with the president. that was certainly a stressful time when one would think you had to rely on your faith to get through it looking at the faces of those parents. >> it was absolutely devastating. i got the call on saturday that the president wanted me to go with him to newtown to visit with the families after the the horribleidate friday before. i was just in these classrooms m with hundreds of peems-- mothers and fathers and little brothers and sisters who just a few days before had sent their little ones off to first grade or second grade, expecting them to come home, and they never did. and to see the president give
each individual full measure of support and care, and have to look fathers in the eyes holding up the picture of their daughter or son, talking to little and brother and sisters who would never see their big brother or sister again was devastating. but it was also a moment i saw the president become a pastor in some ways. >> ifill: this is one of these situation where's we know in life you're not supposed to mix religion and politics and yet upper in a position where you kind of had to do both. >> i could not help in those moments, just going in those rooms, and praying over those folks and speaking words of the scripteddure of my faith in those spaces, and that's not to impose it on anyone else, but that's what i relied on in those moments. >> ifill: how did you get permission to publish this? those were private moments. >> i had been sending them to the president for years. i had thousandses of them for over six years now every day, and i just talked with him, and he agreed that if these had been
useful to him in starting his day on the right point and learning how to love god better and begin each day with joy maybe they would be useful to other folks. he had no problem with it at all displiefl it's not all biblical. you invoke johnny case, and you name it. i would like to end by having you read just this one interesting passage. >> yeah, this is from april 23, and it's called "outward." a prayer for perspective. dear god, let me lift my head off my own chest, and focus on the other. my family, my loved ones, my friends, my neighbors, my enemies, those loosely connected to me halfway across the world. these eyes of mine are so frequently focused inward. dear lord, today, turn them out and she give me vision to see the needs of others, other than my pone. amen. >> ifill: amen. joshua dubois, author of "the president's devotional." thank you so much. >> it's a pleasure thank you.
>> sreenivasan: again, the major developments of the day: republicans pressed for investigation amid the troubles health care web site. and german chancellor angela merkel telephoned president obama to complain about alleged u.s. intercepts of her cell phone calls. a white house spokesman denied such spying is currently under way. a federal jury in new york convicted. online, what's in a name? in theoretical physics, nomenclature, while somewhat arbitrary, can be key to launching an obscure idea into popular culture. it might even make a big bang. read more on our science page. and join us tomorrow for our weekly twitter chat. we're asking: "what's your definition of the american dream? we start at 1:00 p.m. eastern time, using the #newshourchats. details are on our homepage. all that and more is on our website newshour.pbs.org.
and that's the "newshour" for tonight. on thursday, the contractors behind healthcare.gov face tough questions on capitol hill. plus, judy woodruff sits down with the new head of the e.p.a., gina mccarthy i'm hari sreenivasan. we'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening. for all of us here at the "pbs newshour," thank you and good night. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: ♪ ♪ moving our economy for 160 years. bnsf, the engine that connects us.
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