tv PBS News Hour PBS May 9, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm PDT
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> brown: the mississippi river approached its highest level ever today, forcing evacuations in memphis and dramatic steps to protect areas downstream. good evening. i'm jeffrey brown. >> suarez: and i'm ray suarez. on the newshour tonight, we get the latest on the surging flood waters from memphis mayor a.c. wharton and steve stockton of the army corps of engineers. >> brown: then we examine the growing tensions between the u.s. and pakistan after the killing of osama bin laden. >> suarez: special correspondent john tulenko reports on teacher layoffs in hartford, connecticut. should they be based on seniority or achievement? >> i want to be able to choose the faculty who work in this school not because they have ten years of service or maybe
six years of service but in fact they are the best fit for our children. >> brown: and margaret warner looks at massive protests in mexico, inspired by a poet who lost his son to drug violence. that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> in 1968, the first recordings of hump back songs were released. public reaction led to international bans. whale populations began to recover. at pacific life, the whale symbolizes what is possible if people stop and think about the future. help protect your future with pacific life-- the power to help you succeed. >> i want to know what the universe... >> looks like. >> feels like. >> from deep space. >> to a microbe. >> i can contribute to the world by pursuing my passion for science. >> it really is the key to the future. >> i want to design... >> a better solar cell.
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>> brown: the historic flooding of the mississippi river hit low-lying neighborhoods of memphis today, with the river now expected to crest as early as tonight. over the weekend forecasters had predicted the crest would happen tomorrow. with the river moving faster than expected the national weather service says it could hit 48 feet this evening in memphis, just shy of the 48.7- foot mark set in 1937. >> i've been in memphis for 62 years. never in my life have ever seen anything like this. >> brown: hundreds of memphis residents have been abandoning homes for days. many are residing in shelters. a repeat of hurricane katrina where televised evacuation warnings weren't enough to get everyone out in time, authorities spent the weekend knocking on doors telling people to leave. despite the extreme nature of the flooding, many residents
are unphased. >> well, you know, a certain amount of it is, if you're going to live along the river, you're going to take the risk of the river going up and down. so we were aware of that. >> brown: eleanor of npr affiliate wkno in memphis spoke this afternoon to the newshour's rundown blog. >> these people live along the mighty mississippi. a lot of people have lived here for a really long time, and there is a sense of acceptance. a lot of people i've talked to have said something like, you know, it's mother nature. you can't fight it. what are you going to do? you just have to wait it out. >> brown: concern over mother nature's toll, in fact, stretched from southern illinois to the gulf of mexico. downstream in louisiana, authorities have opened flood gates at drainage channels to take pressure off levees. the inmates were also being moved from the angola state penitentiary near baton rouge. some were removed. others shifted to less vulnerable buildings nearby.
with preparations underway, louisiana governor bobby jindal urged the public to use caution. >> in many parts of the state they're warning folks to stay away from the levees, to stay away from the operations, to fortify those levees. so i know there's a lot of curiosity. i know folks are attempted to drive their vehicles up to the levees. would strongly encourage our residents follow the guidance of your local law enforcement officials. just like we said during hurricanes hope for the best. prepare for the worst. >> brown: taken altogether events of the last days have brought back memories of the great flood of 1927. which left numerous areas along the mississippi devastated and killed hundreds of people. >> this is the second greatest flood in history. '27 would rank first. and then comes this. this is going to test the system. >> brown: last week flood worries prompted the u.s. government to blast a two-mile hole in a missouri levy in an effort to save the city of cairo illinois from disastrous
flooding. even after tonight's expected crest in memphis, flood waters are expected to linger for days. authorities say they will keep monitoring the mississippi's movement as high waters push downstream over the next week or two. this afternoon president obama signed a disaster declaration for tennessee, and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area. and we're joined now from memphis by that city's mayor, a.c. wharton. mayor wharton, thank you for joining us. what's the latest in the terms of the river cresting. do you have an update for us. >> the reading i received at 3:00 p.m. was 47.82, just under 48 feet which is the expected crest. that's the absolute latest we have had. >> brown: things are clearly moving faster than anticipated. have you been able to keep up in terms of alerting citizens? >> yes, we have. we were not waiting on the readings from the corps of engineers.
we're preparing for even greater than 48 feet. we'll be prepared even if it goes beyond that. we've acted all along as if it were right at 49 or 50 feet. so we're notifying, we're doing what we call windshield surveys. we're doing tv, radio and actual door-to-door. so everybody will be notified. hopefully they'll be able to get out on their own from low- lying areas. if not we'll be prepared to give them assistance and get them to safety. >> brown: we mentioned in our piece the comparison and learning from katrina where too much emphasis was on, i think, tv notification, tv warning. you feel like you're learning from that some. >> oh, yes. you see, we took in a number of the evacuees from katrina. we learned from them firsthand and also from gupta everything that happens down that way, we're one of the first cities, the folks in which they seek
shelter. so we know that too often those of us in government assume everybody has a www-dot in their homes when in places like here we do have an unacceptably high level of poverty. folks don't have access to that. the bottom line to answer your question is, yes, we have learned firsthandedly that you have to use the old-fashioned way of getting to folks and getting them out of harm's way. we're doing that 24/7. >> brown: what areas are being affected now? i gather that the biggest problem isn't right on the mississippi river front but on all these tributaries in and around the cities where all the water is backed up. what areas are being hit and how populated are they? >> i'm glad you mentioned that. everybody is focusing on the mighty mississippi, and that's fine. but what we have in memphis, we have a flooding from west to east. ordinarily flooding occurs here when the tributaries, specifically with wolf river,
which is a major river, and the... another major river and then we have a creek almost like a river. now all of those run through very low-lying, heavily populated areas. they are not downtown. those are some of the areas where the greatest potential for harm is. that's what we're focusing on. down on the mississippi, yes, on the river right downtown there's some residential flooding possibilities. we're taking care of that. we're also taking care of those other areas so the mississippi is important. but we've got to watch the creek and the wolf and the other river. we're doing that. we're going to get everybody out of harm's way. i might add, i want everybody to hear this. memphis is open for business. we'll play the... the grizzlies will play oklahoma city sunday tonight. and by the way they'll win that game. we're open for business. main street is still ticking. downtown and hotels are open.
come on to memphis. the airport is still open. everything. i want everybody to know that. we are not closed. >> brown: you heard it here first. the basketball score for tonight, right? go ahead. >> this city, i might point out, is 345 square miles. it's much larger than most folks think. what happens is we have at most 25 square miles underwater. but when you take an aerial shot, those who don't know how large the city is, gee whiz, that city is covered up. that is simply not the case. memphis is wide open. the areas that are underwater, for the most part, are agricultural areas, industrial areas. so this city is wide open. >> brown: briefly, mayor, no matter what happens tonight, you're going to be dealing with this for, it sounds like, days and weeks. going to have a lot of high water around. >> that's the other thing. this idea that whenever the
crest is, whether it's at 11:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m. tomorrow morning that bells and whistles will blow and everything will be over. that simply is not the case. as a matter of fact, some of the most dangerous times are as the waters begin to recede, we may have roadways that might give way or something. so, no, we will not be out of danger simply because the river crests tonight or early tomorrow morning. whenever that point in time may be. some of the most dangerous times will be after the crest is reached so we'll be on alert for a long, long time. >> brown: mayor a.c.wharton of memphis, thanks very much and good luck to you and the city? >> thanks for letting me join you. >> brown: now >> brown: and now to some of the key decisions on dealing with the flooding, the waterways, and the levees. steve stockton is the "director of civil works" for the u.s. army corps of engineers. welcome to you. we just heard from the mayor. what is happening as far as you know with the levees in and around memphis?
>> well, let me start off by saying our number-one priority is protecting public lives. and we do that by managing the very large complex system not only downstream but with reservoirs upstream in the upper watershed to capture the flood flows. in memphis i think the mayor was exactly correct. we're getting backwater flooding into unprotected areas. but the main line levees and flood walls are being monitored very closely by local, state and federal flood emergency management officials. so it looks like the system is performing very well. >> brown: downstream a decision was made today to open a spill way north of new orleans to divert water away from city. tell us about what goes into that decision. why did you do it? >> everything we do is pre-scripted. basically the 1927 or excuse me 1928 flood control act authorized the mississippi river and tributary system. what that is is a complex
system of levees, flood ways, flood gates to really manage these historic flows that we're experiencing from the upper watershed. so in combination with managing the flows downstream, we also have reservoirs upstream where we store a lot of the flows in order to be able to store them and then release them after the crest was passed. >> brown: it's pre-scripted because it's interesting because this is historic. i mean i saw a quote from your mississippi valley division commander today saying it's testing the system like never before. so this is a system that's been in place for a long time but never quite faced anything like this. >> yes, i think the system is designed to withstand about six times the normal average precipitation in the upper basin. we've experienced over a two- week period about eight times what the average precipitation is. so this truly is an historic event. >> brown: but how confident are you, therefore, about the system being up to date, being
able to go handle something of this nature? >> i feel very confident. we're monitoring it very closely. it's performing as designed. we're going through a... these pre-scripted missions of, you know, first opening the bird's point flood way to relieve the pressure there. that wasn't just to protect cairo. that was to protect the integrity of the system so we didn't have uncontrolled breeches at other points within the system. we will then go down, we're opening another spill way north of new orleans today. we're managing flows through the old river control complex, and then if needed if we have the right flow conditions or the certain trigger points, we will open additional flood ways into the river. >> brown: but each of these decisions involves an important trade-off, right? there were a lot of farmers after the first... last week that were very unhappy with this decision to protect cairo
and other areas. it has an impact on tens of thousands of acres of farmland. >> that's really part of the design of the system. by having the ability to open up that flood way and not lose control of the system, we have acquired easements for those, most of the lands within that flood way. we've allowed it to be productively used for the last 74 years. the last time this spill way at new mad rid was open was 1937. >> brown: you mean, so you're saying that the farmers there, they should know what's coming because they agreed to this? >> yes, i mean we have flowing easement over their properties and have had that in place since the 1930s and '40s. >> brown: what is the biggest worry right now as we sit here? >> the biggest worry is that we don't get additional precipitation. as we manage the flood crests as they move downstream we're monitoring gauge levels as well as flow levels very, very
closely. if it reaches certain trigger points, we may have to take additional measures to divert flows away from the mississippi into these other flood ways to constrain the flows in new orleans and vicinity to about 1.25 million cubic feet per second which is kind of the basically the top of the system. >> brown: finally after katrina, it was the aftermath, it wasn't the initial flooding but it was the leakage and the levees not holding. this is a slow-moving problem as well. right? is there a possibility, as i just asked the mayor, that is after the cresting where there's so much water pushing on those walls and levees? >> we're going to be monitoring the system not only during the event but as we release stored water from upstream, the river levels are going to remain high for weeks. we're going to monitor the system very, very closely. once the system comes down, we will be doing... coming in and evaluating levy performance,
system performance andy val yeah, you know, what went right, what damages were sustained by the system and what we need to do differently to modify it. >> brown: steve stockton of the u.s. army corps of engineers, thank you very much. >> thank you very much, jeff. >> suarez: still to come on the newshour, frayed ties between the u.s. and pakistan; teacher layoffs in hartford, connecticut; and mexicans protesting drug violence. but first, the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: security officials in egypt arrested 23 people today after weekend clashes between muslims and coptic christians left more than a dozen people dead and a church in ashes. the riots raged for hours saturday night, triggered by a rumor that christians had abducted a woman who converted to islam. security measures across cairo were stepped up today, with armored vehicles and riot police at the ready. still, about a thousand demonstrators gathered peacefully to protest the weekend clashes. the united nation's refugee agency today reported a ship
carrying some 600 migrants fleeing the violence in libya has sunk. witnesses said it broke apart soon after leaving a port near tripoli on friday. there was no immediate word on the death toll. in a separate incident, about 400 libyan migrants were safely brought ashore early sunday after their boat crashed into rocks near a tiny italian island. fresh raids across syria rounded up hundreds of antigovernment activists and demonstrators today. security officials took them into custody in house-to-house raids across four cities, as a crackdown to end seven weeks of uprising intensified. in washington, state department spokesman mark toner acknowledged getting clear information on the situation is difficult, but denounced the latest aggression. >> we obviously know that there are extreme cases of violence taking place in syria. we're obviously concerned these kinds of actions are reprehensible. we would just ask that the syrian government assist.
>> sreenivasan: human rights groups estimate the unrest has claimed the lives of at least 630 people. nato officials announced today all the attackers involved in a weekend battle in afghanistan have been captured or killed. the two-day battle erupted saturday in kandahar when taliban fighters attacked several government buildings and the kandahar hotel. at least 25 insurgents and two civilians were killed. there was heightened security across baghdad today after an attempted jail break this weekend left 17 people dead. it began when the man accused of masterminding a church siege last fall tried to escape, creating a melee inside the high-security prison. in all, six police officers and 11 detainees were killed before guards regained control. a new mass grave with more than 68 bodies has been uncovered in ivory coast. u.n. officials were investigating the scene, a soccer field in a suburb of the commercial capital, abidjan. witnesses said the victims were killed in the aftermath of a violent political standoff between former president laurent gbagbo and the new president,
allasane ouattara. it was unclear if the dead were gbagbo's forces or those loyal to ouattara. a japanese nuclear plant will close later this week so a seawall can be built to protect against tsunamis. the government asked the owners of the hamaoka plant to shut down three of the reactors while it beefs up anti-earthquake measures. the plant sits next to the sea, southwest of tokyo. about 80,000 people live within a six-mile radius of it. the plant's shutdown will likely mean more power shortages this summer. more than a third of japan's electricity comes from nuclear energy. one out of 38 children in south korea has an autism spectrum disorder, according to a new study released in the "american journal of psychiatry." in the u.s., estimates are much lower, at one in 110. they're based on education and medical records. this study cast a wider net by surveying 55,000 children in seoul, south korea, over five years. researchers stressed the study
did not show that autism is on the rise, just that incidents of the disorder may be undercounted. nevada has a new republican senator, dean heller. nevada governor brian sandoval appointed the congressman to fill out the rest of senator john ensign's second term in office. ensign resigned last month in the wake of an ethics investigation stemming from an extramarital affair. a general election for the seat will take place in november, 2012. stocks wall street closed higher today on a commodities rally. the dow jones industrial average gained 46 points to close at 12,684. the nasdaq rose 15 points to close at 2843. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to ray. >> suarez: and we go next to pakistan, where already fragile relations with the u.s. are strained further after osama bin laden was killed in a pakistan hideout. from abbottabad to the capital islamabad, anger is raised on
pakistan's streets over the u.s. reaction on pakistani soil. but today's pakistan's prime minister called the killing of bin laden justice done and rejected claims that pakistani authorities were incompetent in searching for bin laden or complicit in hiding him. >> pakistan alone cannot be held to account for flawed policies and blunders of others. pakistan is not the birth place of al qaeda. we did not invite osama bin laden to pakistan or even to afghanistan. >> suarez: pakistan's civilian government has faced mounting domestic criticism following the u.s. mission to kill bin laden. yesterday former foreign minister mahmoud said prime minister and the president and the chief of pakistan's military should all resign following the operation in abbottabad. meanwhile the general has argued that parliament should craft a national response to
security issues. officials in both pakistan and the united states have acknowledged the u.s. did not inform pakistan about the raid in advance for fear bin laden might be tipped off. but questions about just what pakistani officials knew about bin laden's whereabouts have fueled new tension in the already fragile u.s.-pakistan tie. strained by u.s. drone missile strikes and the killing of pakistanis by a c.i.a. contract employee. stirring tension further today a pakistani television station and a newspaper made public what they claim is the name of the c.i.a. station chief in islamabad. wire service reports say the name is incorrect. so far pakistan has denied us investigators full access to bin laden's compound and even president obama has weighed into the speculation of how much some pakistani officials knew of bin laden's whereabouts. yesterday in an interview with cbs news "60 minutes" president obama expressed
suspicion that bin laden had a support network inside pakistan. >> we don't know who or what that support network was. we don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government. that's something that we have to investigate and more importantly the pakistani government has to investigate. >> suarez: the president's national security advisor backed up that call for a more robust pakistani investigation. >> we've had differences with pakistan. the harboring... there was some support network in abbottabad pakistan that supported bin laden. we haven't seen evidence that the government knew about that but they need to investigate that. they need to provide us with intelligence by the way. >> suarez: some key congressional leaders warned the u.s. should deal cautiously with an important ally. >> as a matter of fact, packstan is a critical factor in the war against terror simply because there are a lot of
terrorists in pakistan. there are al qaeda still. there are many taliban. >> suarez: comments from the white house and congress followed the weekend release of five pentagon videos recovered in the raid, some showing bin laden wrapped in a blanket watching television coverage of himself. u.s. officials said they were part of a treasure trove of intelligence about the al qaeda organization. at the white house today, the spokesman echoed the comments of the prime minister, but the u.s.-pakistani tie remains strong. >> our relationship with pakistan remains very important to us. our need for cooperation remains very important. we will work with the prime minister and the president and other government leaders in pakistan to work through our differences and continue with the cooperation that we've had in the past that has led to so many successs in the fight against terrorism and terrorists. >> suarez: but the pakistan issue will be front and center this week especially when secretary of state clinton goes before key committees to face questioning.
late today a u.s. official said pakistan... to grant access to osama bin laden's wives, something the white house had requested. the three women were in the compound when bin laden was shot. two views now on how the united states should deal with pakistan. wendy chamberlin was the u.s. ambassador there in 2001 and 2002. she is now president of the middle east institute. lawrence wright is the author of "the looming tower," on the origins of al qaeda. his article, "the double game," on the u.s. and pakistan, appears in this week's "new yorker." ambassador, leaders in both countries today talked about how important it was to maintain this relationship. is that a sign that however flawed it is, they're kind of stuck with each other. >> we're stuck with each other. we need each other. it's very important to both of our national objectives that we maintain a good relationship. look, this has been a tough week. a lot of loose talk, a lot of dangerous talk on both sides.
on our part people threatening to cut off aid. i think it's a mistake. on their part, equally angry words about expelling military trainers and liaisons and intelligence. also very dangerous. i think the prime minister's speech today is an effort to try to walk it back. i'm sure he had full consultation with his senior military advisors. they met midweek. commanders meeting. i'm sure they had a lot to say at that meeting and advice on how to get back to a more normal relationship with the united states. >> suarez: lawrence wrig, despite the difficulties, are these two countries tied to each other? >> well, we do have a serious relationship. but we have real relationship problems too. over the years since the cold war we've given billions and billions of dollars to pakistan with the goal of creating a reliable, stable
american ally. but it's the behaviors we've seen in pakistan in the last several years are those of an ally, we have to reredefine the term. >> suarez: what should the posture of the united states be toward pakistan given the revelation that osama bin laden may have been living in that house for years? >> i've thought for some time before even this revelation, we should scale back on our military contribution to pakistan. i think that we have overendowed that institution and capsized the civil society. there are a lot of pakistanis that agree. they feel that they want trade not aid. i was suggesting the solution to this problem, i would say give them the textile tax credits they've been seeking and drastically cut back on military aid. >> suarez: ambassador, how do you respond to that case to cut back on the military side of the relationship? >> let me disagree wholeheartedly with larry's point about increasing
civilian aid. i think that's what the obama administration has tried to do with the kerry-lugar-berman fund. an effort to give substantial contribution to the civilian developmental aid. there's been talk about cutting that back. it would be a huge mistake. it would just feed the anti-american narrative that is out there that goes something like, "we use pakistan. as soon as we get what we want, we leave them. we abandon them." they used the example of our introducing the sanctions in the early '90s after they claim they helped us evict the soviets. we introduced the sanctions because they were developing nuclear weapons program. but i think civilian aid is very important. can i just say one more thing? let's understand what civilian aid can do and what it cannot do. it cannot buy us hearts and minds in a nation as complicated and as large as pakistan. you don't buy friends.
it's not transactional. what you do with assistance is you build prosperous, educated, healthy people. you support a middle class, the technocrats, because they then provide the security that we need in that region. >> suarez: quickly, ambassador, on the military side, lawrence wright has maintained in his writing that we've kind of distorted the pakistani state by creating a robust military and a weak state overall with the emphasis on the military. >> again, i would agree on certain elements of what he said. i think our military aid has been important to us in working with pakistan, in fighting the counterterrorism effort. they've certainly made a major effort. they've lost 5,000 soldiers doing it. but on the other hand, we've also enabled some behavior in the military that is not in our interest. we haven't been tough enough in our dialogue, in drilling
down and telling them what we'll accept and not accept. example: the military still supports a group of the taliban. they cross the border from pakistan into afghanistan and attack nato troops. there is certainly a relationship with a local internal terrorist group that from pun jab that attacked m buy. that's a relationship that the military has long had that we cannot accept. and shouldn't. >> suarez: lawrence wright, there have been allegations on both sides about bad dealing in this relationship. does public pressure from the united states, threats to cut off aid, run the risk of making things worse? >> we're at a mortal moment in our relationship with pakistan. either way we go, we're going to change our relationship. the question is, what is a
healthy relationship for us? if we look back in the history of the billions of dollars that we've provided the military, they use that money to... they misappropriated that money to arm themselves against our ally, india. they use that money to develop their nuclear weapons which materials they went off and sold to our worst enemies in the world, to iran, to north korea and to libya. they even opened up negotiations with al qaeda. now we have to figure out a different way of being in a relationship with this. we can't continue to fund that. american tax payers are funding the military which seems to be funding, using that american tax payor money to fund the taliban and this kind of thing cannot go on. i don't think american tax payers are going to stand for it very much longer.
there are 180 million people in pakistan, fewer than two million of them are tax payers. at some point pakistan is going to have to step forward and take responsibility for being a real state and not a failed one. >> suarez: you heard the ambassador talk about the really rogue links inside the government with terrorist groups both in pakistan and other places in the world. are there civil institutions, are there leaders that the united states can actually talk to and have relationship that goes forward that addresses some of the weaknesses inside pakistan? >> i think that if we begin to address the civilian portion of the pakistani society, we'll find those people. but right now our only relationship and for years our only relationship with pakistan has been through the military. we haven't even really sought out those kinds of relationships. that's why i think that our
posture towards pakistan has to change. >> suarez: ambassador, what do you think? >> i think that's largely true. i think we've had very close ties with the military and with the educated elites that get elected to parliament. but there is an emerging third wave or class in pakistan that we've neglected. and that's the middle class. the pakistanis that don't have their suitcases packed to go to their apartments in dubai if it goes up. that don't get to send their kids to school in the u.s. and in britain. we need to work with this middle class. hey, that was the lesson of the arab spring. but we need to do much more to reach out to them. >> suarez: is there, as lawrence wright suggests, possibilities on the civilian side right now? there have been a lot of critics inside the united states of the current prime minister and current president. >> well, i would do some of the things that i think larry suggested.
i would... enter prize funds, we should be encouraging entrepreneurship to help some of these young educated and quite savvy english-speaking middle class youth develop their own economy. there's a lot we can do. >> suarez: ambassador, lawrence wright, thank you both very much. >> a pleasure, thank you. >> thank you. >> brown: as the end of the school year approaches, thousands of teachers across the country are facing the prospect of being laid off. and that's prompting questions about the role of seniority in determining which teachers stay and who is let go. newshour special correspondent john tulenko reports from hartford, connecticut. >> you have to take it piece by piece, remember. >> reporter: last summer when elaine a richy was looking for a teaching job in hartford connecticut she got a call from principal gerald martin
inviting her to an interview late a friday afternoon. >> i need a fifth grade teacher. she kind of pressed for it. she said i can come monday. i said, okay, monday? she said, you know what? i can come today. >> reporter: she was hired. and she hasn't disappointed. >> she on the first round of testing the highest number of increases of anyone in grades 3, 4 and 5. >> reporter: but recently budget cuts forced martin to eliminate two positions. he knew right away who would have to go. >> i said, oh, my god. i've just hired her. i finally got someone who is working out really well. >> reporter: yet she's the one who has to go. >> she has to go. that breaks my professional heart. >> reporter: martin has no choice because in hartford, as in most places, lay-offs are based entirely on seniority. it's last-in, first-out. and richy was last in.
but now with yet another round of teacher lay-offs coming at hartford and across the country, opposition to seniority is growing. >> i don't care how long someone has been teaching. i want results. >> reporter: the critics include steve perry, principal of capital prep, one of hartford's most successful high schools. >> i want to be able to choose the fact you'lly that work in this school not because they have ten years of service or maybe just six years of service but in fact that they are the best fit for our children. >> reporter: the way it works now has led to some strange decisions. for instance, it's often happened that two teachers started on the same day but one has to go. >> his social security number ends in a one. her social security number ends in a zero. she has the lower social security number. she gets to keep the job. >> reporter: you're kidding me. you're not kidding me?
>> it is an embarrassment to all that we do in education when it comes down to that. >> i would suggest we could we can do better than that. we have an obligation to our children to do better than that. >> reporter: for more than two years hartford superintendent steven adamowski has been pushing to change seniority in the teachers' contract. >> every student has a right to the most qualified teacher available and not the most senior teacher. i think that there is a growing realization that this is the emerging civil rights issue of our time. >> we talked about this before. >> reporter: but seniority has defenders. >> experience has to count for something. >> reporter: andrea johnson heads the hartford federation of teachers. >> if you were going to have an operation, i'm sure you would want the doctor with the most experience and the most time in the surgery to be your doctor. that's the way we look at teachers. >> and i need to ask you about your latest grievance.
>> reporter: johnson's union has rejected appeals from the district to base staffing decisions in part on teacher performance. >> children come to us as they come to us. we're just part of an equation. you have teachers. you have children. you have families. you have poverty. you have very disruptive situations within our country. it all mixes together. >> reporter: when the result is failure, hartford has moved aggressively to close those low-performing schools. but that creates another problem. what to do with all those teachers whose jobs are protected by union contracts. >> well, those faculty and from those schools will now be dispersed throughout the district. >> reporter: could they come here? >> for sure. >> reporter: why? you're already full. >> i know. because they could bump into our school. >> reporter: to fully grasp what's going on in hartford you have to know what is meant by bumping. when a teacher loses their job, they have the right under the contract to take a position from another teacher with less
experience. anywhere in the district. bumping is at the center of the controversy in hartford because it's seen as a threat to the district's five-year multi-million dollar effort that replaced 19 failing schools with new schools. >> all of them have... operate very differently than the schools they replace. they have a different ethos. they have different methods. they have different training requirements. >> reporter: hartford's new schools include a nursing academy and an academy for green technology. there are schools for language studies and for finance and insurance. in all these places, excess teachers could bump their way in. >> they don't even want to be there in the first place because they don't agree with the ethos. they're not trained. the school just takes a step backwards. >> i moved from hartford public high school to a school of technology. i was quite successful there. it wasn't disruptive at all.
>> reporter: gary lowtrack has taught english in hartford for 22 years and sees no problem with bumping. >> i've seen people bumped in. i haven't seen anything but people working hard to become part of the school and they do. >> reporter: but the hartford school district hasn't seen it that way. two years ago asked the state to intervene in the teachers' contract. to change bumping and give principals more power to make staffing decisions on their own. do you trust principals to stick to education reason? >> no. that's where seniority comes in. there has to be something there for everybody, and i feel that that is the one. otherwise we get favoritism or nepotism. that's very frightening. >> i don't think there's any evidence to support that assertion. i'm a principal. i have to think twice about hiring someone i like versus someone that has a track record of raising results
because ultimately i will suffer for that kind of behavior. >> reporter: teachers also worry that without seniority firing decisions could be influenced by money. >> i make more money than a person that has been working only five years in the system. i wouldn't want to lose my job because of that. >> reporter: the financial pressures are real. hartford is looking for ways to close a $17 million budget shortfall. and it's already let go of 150 teachers in the last three years. those lay-offs were based on seniority and plenty of teachers were bumped. you'd expect it might hurt student performance, but listen to this superintendent. >> we've had three consecutive years of the highest gains of any school districts in connecticut. we're the most improved city in the state. quite a difference for a district that was dead last and was really the poster child for the achievement gap. >> reporter: well, how come you were able to achieve such... make such big strides
in achievement while all this bumping was going on? >> we're struggling with this. i don't want to say that, you know, it's impossible to make strides in achievement. but the point is that this is destabilizing for the schools. >> reporter: but the state which had been asked to intervene in the teachers' contract didn't think so. recently an arbitration panel found no evidence of harm and left bumping and seniority in place. >> i don't believe seniority is a problem. you know, unfortunately, folks don't like to talk about anything but... let's just talk about that teacher. because somebody has got to be to blame. >> this seniority issue will be determined in a different venue. >> there's also legislative solution here. it will change. it's a question of when. in every state. >> reporter: in the last year, several states passed laws to get rid of last-in/first-out and other seniority provisions in teachers' contracts. superintendent adamowski is hoping connecticut's
legislature will follow suit. >> suarez: finally tonight, the ever more deadly war against the drug cartels in mexico took a new turn this weekend, as mexicans went to the streets to protest the violence. margaret warner has that story. >> warner: the protests began last thursday when a few hundred people set out on the march from the resort city south of mexico city. they were led by revered poet javier siclia whose 24-year-old son and six others were slain there in march in an altercation with drug cartel gunmen. >> we are heading to mexico city. to demand that the authorities take a close look at this country. or it is going to go to hell. >> warner: as the crowd marched the 60 miles north to the capital they were joined by thousands more. until tens of thousands
swarmed mexico city's main square yesterday. some wore shirts saying, "enough bloodshed." others held signs declaring no more bullets. >> i think the people will react to the march, slowly the people will become conscious of what is going on. and in cities all over the country there will be reaction. >> warner: the protestors were decrying the violence that has claimed more than 34,000 lives since mexican president felipe calderon launched a military offensive against the drug cartels in 2006. the latest shock came two weeks ago when authorities uncovered mass graves, holding slain victims of the cartel, some of them apparently pulled off buses and brutalized. 183 bodies were found in the north eastern state just south of texas. at least 168 others were unearthed in the state of drank owe. but calderon says he'll keep
up the pressure. in a speech last wednesday he declared that backing off from the fight is not an option. if we retreat we are going to allow gangs of criminals to roam the streets of mexico attacking people with no one to stop them. later that week the government deployed hundreds of soldiers and federal police to northern mexico after cartel fighters attacked an army convoy outside of monterey. just yesterday mexican marines battled gunman in a gang camp on a lake bordering texas. one marine and 12 gang members died. for more, we turn to angela kocherga, the mexico bureau chief for belo television. based in el paso, texas, she reports from the border region and throughout mexico. angela, thanks for joining us. these protestors yesterday in mexico city, who were they demonstrating against? was it the gangs that are doing the violence or was it the way the government is handling it?
>> really both, margaret. they're fed up with the bloodshed that has claimed so many lives. so it was dubbed a peace march. justice for the victims is clearly part of their strategy and their effort. they're not necessarily telling the government don't fight the drug sgangs. don't crack down on the cartels because they know that they need to restore law and order in some of these regions terrorized by the cartels but these people the demonstrators and many in mexico want the government, felipe calderon's administration, the president, to review the current strategy-- a strategy they say has failed to make the streets any safer and has really turned parts of mexico into a battle ground. >> warner: you're saying they don't have actually a specific alternative strategy to suggest. >> no. it's not like they came up with a three-part plan. one demand was they wanted the current secretary of public safety to resign. that's unlikely to happen. but they really want the government to rethink how they're fighting this war,
sending, you know, troops to places like the border city just across here from el paso which has born the brunt of the drug war violence but it's not made anything any safer. we've actually seen the body count rise. people want to see the government do something more to make the streets safer. it doesn't mean back down or stop fighting the cartels. and president calderon said he cannot back down because it would embolden these criminals. he says he welcomes civil society. the significance of this march is rather than suffering on the side lines silently people are taking to the streets. it's really as you noted people not just, you know, people who are part of a drug gang in the early days of the drug war the government vad most of the victims were criminals. clearly that's not the case anymore. >> warner: what was the catalyst for this huge demonstration now? how much of a factor were those mass graves that were discovered? >> that really was a turning point, margaret. but it's one more horror story on toop of many others in mexico. i mean, those people the vast
majority we understand were migrant workers. we went to the central mexican state where many had boarded those buses heading to the u.s. to both work and visit relatives. people are now terrified. they were very angry that no one had warneded them about this. the bus company and possibly police knew about these drug check points and that people were pulled off the buses and there was mass murder and only later did some of these bus routes reroute the buses to more safer areas. that shockd mexico. but you have to recall just last august there was another discovery, another mass murder and piles of bodies in that same region. it took eight months for the government to finally catch a suspect. >> warner: has anyone been able to figure out why people or ordinary migrant workers would be pulped off buses and killed, and in some cases men and women in very brutal ways? >> very brutal ways. there's a lot of speculation about what happened. we don't have a clear idea.
we do know for a fact both from investigators and from the migrants themselves we talked to that the criminal gangs that control that area, they're drug cartel smuggling routes now it's no longer migrants making their way up to the border with paid guides. all of those routes are controlled 100% by drug cartels. in that case very brutal. often if the migrants are not being smuggled by them and they're brought by rifle groups they'll kill those migrants. they're viewed as human cargo. or they could try to keep people from working for a rifle cartel. at this point we're not clear what happened there. >> warner: when you say migrants, do you mean people who plan to sneak into the u.s.? >> not all are sneaking in. are... we went there and found many people have documents to work in the u.s. they're simply taking a bus up to the border. that's the preferred route of transportation for a lot of people who don't have money to get on a plane. not everybody is sneaking up.
many possibly are. that's where the drug cartels move in and try and take advantage of these migrants and extort and kidnap them and in this case murder them. >> warner: next year is a presidential election. president calderon himself can't run again. but how is this issue which the public seems so exercised' playing out? what do public opinion polls tell you? >> well, there's a brand new poll released just today by the leading newspaper in mexico that shows that public safety, public security, is "the" top issue even ahead of the economy which tends to be the number one issue for mexicans around this time of presidential elections. clearly any candidate who hopes to win that office is going to have to make it a priority. and the people polled said they want the government to make this the number-one priority. securing the streets and making their highways safer and helping people get about their normal daily lives without living in fear and being terrorized by drug
traffickers. >> warner: does the public say why they think after investing all these resources in the military offensive that it hasn't been successful? what makes them so skeptical? obviously the evidence makes them skeptical. is it corruption? what do they think is at the nub of this? >> it's a variety of issues. you have everything from corruption within the forces. some people say this is a war within mexico's government that, you know, at the local level certainly state level and possibly in some federal forces you do have krupg. you also have a different type of war. sending troops through the streets when you're dealing with groups that can, you know, it's urban warfare. it can clearly disappear quickly and know these regions well into communities and into neighborhoods. it's very, very difficult. it's not that the people who marched have any strategy. they just really think the government policy makers need to come up with a better plan. >> warner: very briefly just a sentence or two. president obama is coming to el paso tomorrow is he
expected to address this? >> he's coming to the border, to this stretch of border to jump-start the stalled immigration reform efforts. he's expected to talk about that. the need to once again revis it that issue but he's clearly going to point out that now is the time because the u.s. government has poured all these resources into securing the border and doubling the border patrol so he says now is the time the border is secure and the president is going to ask congress to once again begin immigration reform talks. >> warner: thank you so much. >> thank you, margaret. >> warner: again, the major developments of the day. residents of memphis, tennessee, braced for the mississippi river to crest at near-record levels. on the newshour tonight, mayor a.c. wharton said his city is prepared. the danger will last for weeks after the river crests. and the prime minister of pakistan rejected allegations his country's military and intelligence services were incompetent or complicit in hiding osama bin laden.
and to hari sreenivasan, for what's on the newshour online. hari? >> sreenivasan: our coverage continues on the rising mississippi river. watch our full interview with a reporter eleanor boudreau from wkno in memphis and read a q&a with flood historian john barry. health correspondent betty ann bowser reports on a new study of autism, showing its prevalence in south korea may be much higher than previously thought. and we're still taking questions for our live interview with the crew of the space shuttle "endeavour," a collaboration with google and youtube. miles o'brien has the details on our science page. all that and more is on our web site, newshour.pbs.org. ray? >> suarez: and that's the newshour for tonight. on tuesday, we'll look at the u.s.-china talks on currency, debt, and human rights. i'm ray suarez. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening. thank you, and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
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