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JIM LEHRER: Good evening. Among the important news stories today, Vice President Bush opened a NATO foreign ministers meeting with a new rhetorical blast at the Soviets. The U.S. confirmed officially its delivery of missiles and a tanker plane to the Saudis. The Supreme Court agreed to resolve a sticky one on draft registration, and a new deal with Japan was announced, the deal to make its currency, the yen, worth more. Robin?
ROBERT MacNEIL: The agreement on the Japanese yen is one of the stories we look at in depth tonight. A top Reagan Treasury official and one from the Carter days tells us what it means to American trade and jobs. Also tonight a medical researcher discusses a revolutionary theory about fighting tooth and gum decay by getting good germs to kill bad ones. From inside Nicaragua, a documentary look at the Sandinistas war with the contras. And a scientist tells us the significance of the solar eclipse affecting much of the U.S. tomorrow.
LEHRER: The United States secretary of state and his counterparts from 15 European allies opened their NATO foreign ministers meeting today in Washington, and the major agenda item, as always, was the Soviet Union. Vice President Blush, in his welcoming speech, denounced Soviet adventurism around the world, which he said was threatening the freedom of many nations.
Vice Pres. GEORGE BUSH: The trail of Soviet adventurism from Asia to Africa to Latin America poses a threat to the independence and to the territorial integrity of sovereign states. The nations of the West have a continuing responsibility to help the states of the Third World protect themselves. Likewise, we have a keen interest in extending the conditions of peace, freedom, stability, which we ourselves have enjoyed for so long.
LEHRER: French Foreign MinisterClaude Cheysson, the current NATO president, followed the same theme, critizing Soviet behavior in its dealings with NATO, and so did the NATO secretary general, Joseph Luns. He urged West European leaders to speak out against the pernicious notion that Washington and Moscow must somehow share equal blame for all the ills of the East-West relationship.
JOSEPH LUNS, NATO Secretary General: There is a deplorable tendency in some circles -- not the majority, a small minority, but very vociferous -- which equates the United States with the Soviet Union, which is most unfair, most unjust. In no way can the United States be compared to the Soviet Union, neither in its formal government, neither in its external polity, nor in the way it treats its citizens, nor in the way it treats its allies. It is completely different and I'm rather worried about that tendency.
LEHRER: Today's ceremonial opening sessions were held at the State Department, but tonight the ministers moved to a secluded Chesapeake Bay plantation on the eastern shore of Maryland for their serious private meetings tomorrow and Thursday. Robin?
MacNEIL: The Soviets had their own blasts today. Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko warned West Germany it would be safe from Soviet nuclear attack only if it got rid of U.S. nuclear missiles. Chernenko was replying to a letter from Petra Kelly of West Germany's Green Party. His reply said, "You ask how to preclude the possibility of the use of nuclear or chemical weapons against the Federal Republic of Germany? He who deploys on his territory first-strike weapons aimed at neighboring states places himself in advance under the threat of a return strike." Chernenko said West Germany would be insured against a return strike only if it got rid of weapons on its territory. In Moscow today Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko got angry when a visitor asked about dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov. The foreign minister of Australia, Bill Hayden, said he asked Gromyko for information about the health of the 63-year-old physicist who began a hunger strike on May 2nd. He said Gromyko said this was an internal affair and that Moscow will not be told how to deal with the Sakharovs by other countries.Gromyko added, "Conversation on the subject ends here." Jim?
LEHRER: There were no new developments in the Persian Gulf war today except the reports of new words, threatening words from Iran's president, Ali Khamenei, "let's make a deal" words to Iran from Saudi Arabia. The Iranian leader threatened to fight the United States if it intervenes in the Gulf war, and the Reuters news agency said Saudi leaders have offered to ask Iraq to call off its attack on Iran's major oil terminal at Kharg Island if Iran will agree to stop its retaliatory attacks against Saudi and other Arab shipping. Here in Washington the administration officially confirmed the Stinger deal, announcing delivery of 400 of the anti-aircraft missiles to the Saudis as well as a big tanker plane. State Department spokesman Alan Romberg made the announcement.
ALAN ROMBERG, State Department spokesman: Because the Stinger system can be deployed in the field shortly after delivery, its immediate transfer will quickly contribute to Saudi Arabian air defenses. By providing a deterrent against hostile actions this transfer lowers the risk of broader conflict. The President's determination reflects the United States' grave concern with the growing escalation in the Gulf and its implication for the security of our friends in the region.
LEHRER: President Reagan also talked today about the situation in the Persian Gulf. In an interview with Irish television, the President said the U.S. has no plans to intervene in the fighting there.
Pres. RONALD REAGAN: It seems to me the Gulf states have themselves said that this is their problem and they want to deal with it. Some have asked for some military assistance in the sense of weaponry, and this is why we are sending some weapons, some Stinger weapons to them and possibly augmenting our little squadron of tankers that are there. We have four there presently, we have had for quite some time. That could be expanded to six, but they have not asked us to intervene, and certainly --
LEHRER: Also in the Middle East part of the world today a U.S. spokesman in Beirut, Lebanon, said most U.S. Embassy personnel are being moved from Moslem-controlled West Beirut. He said U.S. intelligence uncovered a plot by 100 pro-Iranian militants for a mass kidnapping of U.S. diplomats and academics in West Beirut by the end of the month. Robin? Yen, Dollars & Jobs
MacNEIL: The United States and Japan today announced what's being called a watershed agreement to make the Japanese yen more of a world currency. The Reagan administration says it could have an important impact on American business, trade, jobs and consumers. By getting the yen more widely used in international currency transactions, thus creating more demand for the yen, the hope is its value will go up. That would make Japanese goods more expensive and American goods that compete with Japanese imports more competitive. That would help reduce the record U.S. trade deficit. Treasury Secretary Donald Regan offered this explanation at a news conference today.
DONALD REGAN, Secretary of the Treasury: The end result, we believe, will be to make the yen an international currency on the same footing as the dollar, the pound, the German D-mark, and to be held as a reserve currency, to be a currency that will be used in international transactions by both exporters and importers and the like. The result of that should be, over time, to strengthen the yen in relation to the dollar, which is the position we think the yen should look toward for the simple reason that since Japan is the second-largest of the trading nations in the world, its currency should also rank high up, if not number two. To the extent that the yen is strengthened, we'll be able to sell more to them in terms of our dollars than vice versa. so it will have a relationship on our trade with Japan as time goes on.
MacNEIL: Secretary Regan was vague about whether the value of the yen would rise soon, saying perhaps that guess will be right, perhaps it won't. But he said he was positive that there would be long-term gains. Jim?
LEHRER: There are those who do not believe today's deal is all that great a deal. Fred Bergsten, an economist and top trade and Treasury official in the Carter administration, is one of those. He now heads a Washington think tank, the Institute for International Economics, and he's here with a Reagan administration official who helped negotiate today's deal, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Monetary Affairs Beryl Sprinkel. Mr. Secretary, the word being used today was "milestone" to describe this deal. In what way is it a milestone?
BERYL SPRINKEL: Well, Jim, throughout the history of Japan they have had a very closed capital market. They had controlled interest rates within Japan. They limited the ability of foreign institutions -- U.S. banks, underwriters -- to compete within Japan, and they also closely controlled the use of their currency in the Euromarkets. Those restraints are now being eliminated and therefore we think it's a very important change that will redound not only to our benefit in the U.S., but also ultimately to the Japanese.
LEHRER: Well, that's my first question. Usually when a deal is so good for one country, as Secretary Regan described it's going to be for the United States, why in the world would Japan agree to it?
Sec. SPRINKEL: Well, there were several forces operating. One, when President Reagan visited Prime Minister Nakasone last November, there was then a political commitment made by the Japanese government to deregulate their financial markets and to internationalize the yen. I think Prime Minister Nakasone also believes that it's in their long-run interest. Prior to that, Secretary Regan and others, in discussion with the Ministry of Finance, had urged them to move in this direction. Finally, there were some internal developments that made it propitious timing. They have some maturing debt. That was initially 10-year maturity that will be maturing next year, and it had to be refunded, and clearly they would have to deregulate their market in order to attract the necessary investments. So they all converged at once and, finally, we at Treasury were indeed very persistent and very well-informed on the issue, and we succeeded in winning all our major points.
LEHRER: Is it not a good thing?
FRED BERGSTEN: Well, I'm afraid that Treasury has badly fumbled the ball on this one. When President Reagan visited Tokyo in November, I think he quite rightly focused on the exchange rate. The economic problems between the United States and Japan are very deep. The trade imbalance between the countries is deep, and exchange rate is the main source of the problem. The difficulty now though --
LEHRER: Exchange rate meaning that the yen had a lower value compared to the dollar, right?
Mr. BERGSTEN: The dollar is so strong and so expensive that it prices American goods out of world markets. The yen is so weak that it gives Japanese goods an extreme comparative advantage. The problem is that this arrangement does nothing to correct that situation, either in the short run or the long run, and it may even make it worse.
LEHRER: How would it make it worse?
Mr. BERGSTEN: Well, as the undersecretary said, the immediate thrust of the agreement is to liberalize the Japanese capital markets, to get rid of these controls, which he rightly says they have had for quite some time. The problem is that most of those controls related to the outflow of capital from Japan. This new agreement permits American firms and other foreigners to borrow heavily and, indeed, freely in Japan. But what that means is that there will be more outflow of capital from Japan, out of the yen into the dollar. That will strengthen the dollar even further, weaken the dollar even more, and make the trade problem worse.
LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, that's awful.
Sec. SPRINKEL: Fred, once again you're wrong, I'm sorry to say. In fact, opening up the Euroyen market will provide high quality estimates available to foreign investors that want to diversify their investments. It's been very difficult in the past for investors to acquire high quality estimates denominated in yen. Also, the opening up of domestic market will make it very easy for them to acquire additional Japanese assets. We firmly believe that the improvement in the competitive aspects of our institutions will create additional jobs --
LEHRER: Create additional jobs in this country?
Sec. SPRINKEL: In this country and some in Japan. Furthermore, we are convinced that the long-run effect is to raise the value of the yen, which means that our export industries will be in a better competitive position. They will hire additional people. So it means more jobs, more activity for the U.S.
LEHRER: More jobs, Mr. Bergsten?
Mr. BERGSTEN: Well, I'm afraid not. As one looks at the history of the international use of different currencies, the dollar, sterling, most recently the German mark, what one finds is that in the early phase of their development there is increased investment in them, as Mr. Sprinkel was saying, that will increase their value. However, once that big pot of holdings develops worldwide, it can rapidly be sold off and actually weaken the currency at different periods. What the history shows is that increased international use of a currency, which is now being promoted for the yen, increases the fluctuations of the currency over time, sometimes making it stronger, sometimes weaker, but over time it balances out. That's the history.
LEHRER: You think this thing could be a disaster, in other words?
Mr. BERGSTEN: I don't think it could be a disaster. I think over time it is desirable to open up the Japanese capital markets, have market forces play a bigger role. But in terms of the immediate critical issue of getting a more accurate relationship between dollar and yen in terms of underlying competitive ability of the United States and Japan, I think it goes it the wrong way.
LEHRER: From a consumer standpoint, Mr. Secretary, I follow this that Japanese products are going to start costing more to the American consumer, right? Now, why is that a good thing?
Sec. SPRINKEL: Well, that per se is not. One of the big advantages that the American consumer has had is the strong dollar brought on by the proper economic policies in the U.S. such that everybody wants to acquire dollars. The mere fact that the Japanese will now be able to reflect greater strength in their currency means that consumers will pay a higher price for imports from Japan. However --
LEHRER: So that would mean, though, that their American competitor would also raise the price, right?
Sec. SPRINKEL: It might mean that, but it certainly will mean that the American competitor can enjoy more sales. He might be inclined to raise price, but he certainly could enjoy more sales and hence hire more people in the United States.
LEHRER: Does that make sense to you?
Mr. BERGSTEN: Well, if the dollar were to weaken, then Mr. Sprinkel is right. My point, however, is that this agreement won't make that change; therefore we're going to still have two or three million Americans out of work because of the $120-billion trade deficit we're running this year with no relief in sight.
LEHRER: Can I get you all to agree on one thing, as to when we will know which one of you may be right? I mean, are there anything for the average person to look back on this -- "Well, Sprinkel was right" because a week from today or a month from today or a year from today such and such happened, or to say, "No, Bergsten was right" because such and such has happened? Which one of you wants to go first, Mr. Secretary?
Sec. SPRINKEL: Well, we are not proposing this as a quick fix for the problems that existed in Japan. It will be a gradual affair. Over the next year or two I would certainly expect to see some important advantages.
LEHRER: Well, like what? Give us one thing that we could all understand that we would know that you guys made the right deal.
Sec. SPRINKEL: We would expect, for example, that the yen would rise in value such that, instead of 231 yen to the dollar it would be closer -- moving in the direction of 200 to the dollar, which means a higher yen and a lower dollar. We would also expect that the volume of activity by our commercial banks, by underwriters who now can be lead managers and previously could not, would be greatly increased, hence hiring people, increasing output.
LEHRER: Mr. Bergsten, what would you look for?
Mr. BERGSTEN: I don't think you're ever going to know which of us was right, because there are so many factors that affect these exchange rates.This particular element will probably get swamped. The big issue is, of course, continuing huge U.S. budget deficits, high interest rates here that suck money into the dollar and force it to a high level in the exchanges. Everything else equal, I think that this agreement won't help the situation, but unfortunately we'll probably never be able to tell for sure, because there are so many factors in the equation.
LEHRER: But if what the secretary says that over the next year or so the dollar's value or the yen's value goes up, that is a sign that something's working, right?
Mr. BERGSTEN: Well, we've known for three to four years that the dollar is overvalued, the yen is undervalued. At some point that is going to correct, hopefully in a constructive way as the U.S. gets its budget deficits and interest rates under control. But those are going to be the major elements, I think --
LEHRER: But if it happens what you're saying is you're not going to give Sprinkel and the deal credit no matter what?
Mr. BERGSTEN: That's it.
LEHRER: Okay. Gentlemen, thank you both very much. Robin?
MacNEIL: Speaking of interest rates, earlier today Treasury Secretary Regan said it was taking longer than than expected to stamp out fears of inflation and he therefore could not predict when interest rates would begin to come down again. He told reporters, "We can't put a time on it, obviously, because of the impreciseness of forecasts and when the recognition will be that we may be able to have a sustained and non-inflationary growth." Regan said that as inflation fears subsided the marketplace would be reassured and real interest rates should come down. Jim?
LEHRER: The U.S. Supreme Court issued a brace of decisions today. Among the most newsworthy was its agreeing to hear an appeal of a failure to register for the draft conviction. The appeal is by David Alan Wayte, who claims he was selected for prosecution because he had publicized his refusal to register. It was Justice Department policy in 1982 when Wayte was indicted to prosecute only those refusers who sought publicity. Also, the High Court today rejected the appeal of a gay British businessman denied U.S. citizenship. The Court's action let stand a law whch automatically denied citizenship to foreigners who admit they are homosexual. Robin? Fighting Cavities: Good Germs vs. Bad Germs
MacNEIL: Researchers in Connecticut have reported some preliminary success in a new way of combatting tooth decay. Their approach is based on the knowledge that tooth disease is caused by bacteria that attack the teeth. The new method is to find another form of bacteria that will fight the first one, like sending good germs to kill bad ones. The chief of the team of researchers is Dr. Jason Tanzer, a professor in the department of oral diagnosis at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. He joins us from public television station CPTV in Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. Tanzer, do you know, first of all, what kind of bacteria causes tooth decay?
JASON TANZER: Yes. Tooth decay is an infection caused primarily by a bacterium called streptococcus mutans, and it appears rather clear that most of us get this infection early in childhood after the first tooth has erupted into the mouth, that is, around six months of age or older, and that we get it from our mothers.
MacNEIL: And how does it then cause tooth decay?
Dr. TANZER: It's quite clear that these bacteria, faced with the consumption of sugar by the host, that is, by the person, they make an adhesive polymer which glues them onto the teeth to form a rather specific bacterial plaque on the teeth, a bacterial accumulation. While they're glued there, they also consume that sugar to make acids, which dissolve the teeth.
MacNEIL: Now, how have you gone about finding ways to combat that?
Dr. TANZER: Well, what we did was to search for potentially competitive micro-organisms which would in many respects mimic the behavior of streptococcus mutans; that is, that they would stick to the teeth in the presence of sugar, that they would compete in the oral ecology, but that they would not be able to drill holes in the teeth. And, in fact, we've come up with a couple rather interesting candidate micro-organisms. It's of interest that the candidates of greatest interest were in fact isolated from human mouths in the past and that we've been able to do a couple of types of experiments using animal models of human tooth decay.
MacNEIL: Now, these were bacteria you found in the mouths of -- they exist in the mouths of some people?
Dr. TANZER: Yes.
MacNEIL: And did those people have tooth decay?
Dr. TANZER: They were isolated originally a long time ago, and unfortunately in the original descriptions of those isolations, the investigators didn't very clearly describe the decay experience --
MacNEIL: I see.
Dr. TANZER: -- of those individuals.
MacNEIL: Now, how have you used animals to test this?
Dr. TANZER: Okay. We have rather good animal models of human tooth decay. Rats play a prominent role here. If one infects rats with streptococcus mutans -- the bad guy, and feeds the rats a high sugar diet, then one rather quickly colonizes the teeth with streptococcus mutans and rather quickly demolishes the teeth by tooth decay. What we've done here is observe that these -- shall we call them potentially beneficial organisms -- will colonize the teeth of rats forming plaque on the teeth and will, if done first, pre-empt subsequent infection by streptococcus mutans without causing themselves -- without themselves causing decay. Rather surprisingly, we also found that these micro-organisms could displace streptococcus mutans, which had already colonized the teeth. And what's most exciting of all is that this either pre-emption of infection or displacement of infection was associated with the reduction, a substantial reduction of the decay experience of the rats.
MacNEIL: Now, when can you try it on people?
Dr. TANZER: Well, I think we're a long time from doing therapeutic trials on humans. One can, I think rather safely, look at preliminary questions such as, will these bacteria stick to the teeth of adult humans, who are well informed about what we propose to do and who well understand the risks. And we think the risks are very remote, but they, nonetheless, must be considered, and we now are at a stage of looking at simple-minded questions like, should we clean the teeth first before trying to implant these bacteria; should we grow them in one type of growth medium or another?
MacNEIL: If it all went well, how soon could dentists be trying to put this on people's teeth?
Dr. TANZER: That's very hard to speculate --
MacNEIL: I mean, are we about a year --
Dr. TANZER: I think that -- my disposition is to be extremely cautious and not to give any kind of undo quick-fix encouragement to anyone.
MacNEIL: I see. A matter of some years, perhaps, until then?
Dr. TANZER: I think that's reasonable and prudent.
MacNEIL: But not to undersell, on the other hand, what you've discovered. Is it fair to say that this is potentially a revolutionary way to treat tooth decay?
Dr. TANZER: Well, it surely is revolutionary with respect to tooth decay, but it is not revolutionary with respect to infectious diseases in general. We know that this is an ecological disease, as many diseases of the body cavities are, of the gut, of the throat, of the urogenital tract in females, and that foreign invaders are frequently repelled, that is, pathogenic invaders are repelled by the existence of a stable ecologically not disease-causing community of micro-organisms. And that's part of the body's defense.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you, Dr. Tanzer, for sharing your knowledge with this so far.
Dr. TANZER: A pleasure.
MacNEIL: Jim?
LEHRER: Still to come on our NewsHour tonight, a documentary look from inside Nicaragua at the war between the Sandinistas and the contras, and an in-person scientific look at what to look at tomorrow when the solar eclipse comes.
[Video postcard -- Belle Plaine, Kansas]
MacNEIL: President Reagan flew to Colorado Springs, Colorado, today to deliver the commencement address at the Air Force Academy tomorrow. Today the President visited the training center for the United States Olympic team in Colorado Springs, and used the occasion to denounce the boycott of the games by 11 communist countries. Here is part of what he said.
Pres. REAGAN: It's unfortunate that not all nations will be represented at the games. I hope you realize, however, that the success of the Olympics and your personal success in the games in no way depend on political machinations of powerbrokers in countries that are less than free. The games are moving forward and they'll be successful.
LEHRER: Meanwhile, the other guys went about the business today of putting together their own games. A sports official in Czechoslovakia said the Soviet Union, East Germany and Cuba will also host substitute Olympic events. Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia had already said they would do so.Handball, for instance, will be held in East Germany this summer; Cuba will host volleyball and so on. Thirteen nations have thus far announced they will not attend the Los Angeles games. Most are of the Soviet bloc and thus of the Soviet-led boycott. Robin? Inside Nicaragua
MacNEIL: The Nicaraguan government said today that its troops have mounted a major attack on the northern part of the country against rebels operating from bases in Honduras. A military source said about 200 of the insurgents had been killed. At the same time, the governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have formed a commission to investigate attacks back and forth across their common frontier on the southern flanks of Nicaragua. Nicaraguan rebels, called contras, operate from bases in Costa Rica in a campaign to overthrow the Marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua, and Costa Rica has accused the Nicaraguans of sending their troopsinto Costa Rica to attack the rebel bases. Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan government is trying to create a calm atmosphere for a general election next November, and the Costa Rican government is coming under domestic political pressure to suppress the Nicaraguan rebels on Costa Rican soil. Both governments say the raids should stop, but they go on. Recently there was heavy fighting on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua when the rebels captured and for two days held a fishing village called San Juan del Norte near a larger town called Bluefields. After that engagement, Bruce Garvey of the CBC visited both sides of the frontier and talked about the contras and the Sandinistas. Here is his report.
BRUCE GARVEY, CBC [voice-over]: Through the tall brush that can cut like a razor with the sun beating down at more than 100 degrees, a march down a booby-trapped jungle trail escorted by tense Costa Rican civil guardsmen, a march that will sneak us into Nicaragua -- "Free Nicaragua," as the rebels here like to call it. Down a steep embankment and then we meet the self-styled freedom fighters of RDA, the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance. They're suspicious and trigger-happy, but a symbolic handshake shows Costa Rica supporting this guerrilla war against the Marxist Sandinista government, the documents issued by RD's political headquarters in Costa Rica carefully checked and rechecked. Across a narrow creek and into a secret guerrilla base camp where nervous young peasants can pick up a CIA paycheck that's double the going rate for stoop labor in a jungle plantation. It's here they train with U.S.-supplied uniforms, automatic rifles and machine guns before they are smuggled north to skirmish with the Sandinista army and militia.
[on camera] It's from bases like this one they call Delta that the guerrilla war against the Sandinistas is being fought. This is Nicaraguan territory, but the contras control it. And as the action heats up along the border with Costa Rica, the Sandinistas are hitting back with frequent rocket attacks from the air. On the ground, on the river, however, this is very much contra-controlled territory. [voice-over] This is the second front against Nicaragua, much publicized in recent weeks following this action filmed by a contra combat cameraman. The guerrillas stormed and occupied an isolated border village called San Juan del Norte, a bloody battle that was costly to both sides. But it gave credibility to the contras even though the Sandinistas recaptured it within days. There were Sandinista prisoners and a military success for charismatic contra leader Eden Pastora. He's a mercenary traitor to the Sandinistas, but in Central America he's a legend. The U.S. media has portrayed Pastora as a democratic Che Guevara, a liberator. Now Pastora says publicly he plans to seize Bluefields, the administrative center of Nicaragua's huge Atlantic region. It's just a little tin shack town on the hot swampy plain the British used to call the Mosquito Coast when they ran it.
And Bluefields had become an important strategic garrison town.It's Bluefields that's the guerrillas' target. If they can take it, they'd control a big piece of Nicaragua's Atlantic seaboard and use this town to set up a provisional government to fight the Sandinistas in the rest of the country. At least, that's the plan. And it makes sense, for if the revolution is lukewarm and vulnerable anywhere in Nicaragua, it's here in Bluefields with its Mixmaster blend of Spanish, Indians and former West Indianslaves who still speak a Caribbeanaccented English. That's why the army's here.
The region's traditional alienation is becoming more acute as the economic squeeze tightens. The government has failed to increase production and more and more resources are being diverted to the military buildup. It's tough on everyone, even a resourceful guy such as Joaquin Malaspan, a cab driver who knows how to hustle a deal. The fact that Joaquin owns his own cab puts him solidly in Bluefield's middle class. There aren't too many other kids in town who get chauffeured to school every morning, and nobody's denying that school is one thing the Sandinistas have improved. They've done it the same way they've improved health care -- by bringing in Cuban advisers and textbooks and school supplies from both Havana and Moscow. But at home, a reminder of the old days, the Pepsi Cola fridge still runs, even if there's not much in it, and it's getting difficult to put a square meal on the table.
[interviewing] What about food?
JOAQUIN MALASPAN, cab driver: Well, food is a mixed thing now, very hard to get. We can't get beans, rice. When you get rice you have to pay a [unintelligible], you know, and I do hustle, you know, and have friend that loan me, and afterward I pay him when I get it.
GARVEY: But for a lot of people I guess they just can't get it.
Mr. MALASPAN: They can't get it. They have to eat beans.
GARVEY: How lond has it been like that?
Mr. MALASPAN: We have about two years now with that problem, two years.
GARVEY [voice-over]: For those two years the shelves and counters in Robert Ping's store on Bluefield's main street have been bare and empty -- no canned goods or packaged goods, no luxury items, nothing that's manufactured. If it's not grown in Bluefields, and not much is, then it's simply not available. These days Ping turns away more customers than he serves.
[interviewing] Now, what about toothpaste and things like that?
Mr. MALASPAN: Very hard. Very hard. We get one toothpaste for one whole family.
GARVEY: For how long?
Mr. MALASPAN: Fifteen years. Fifteen to 20 years.
GARVEY: What about drugs like -- I mean --
Mr. MALASPAN: Medicine?
GARVEY: Aspirin, things like that?
Mr. MALASPAN: Can't get them. We don't have them. Very hard to get.
GARVEY: Do you think maybe the government is to blame in a way?
Mr. MALASPAN: Supposed to -- the government's supposed to have the hand in this thing, you know, because for me this is communist, communist. Most of the people here in Bluefields don't like it, and they don't like all this thing going.
GARVEY: There's no big support for the revolution here in Bluefields?
SERGIO RAMIREZ, Nicaraguan junta member [through interpreter]: There's a great willingness on the part of the Nicaraguan people to overcome these difficulties, to face with the Sandinistas the problems of the war. Here the most important thing is not the fact that there's little food or medicines, but that many families are willing to give something far more precious than that, which is the blood of their children, sacrificing blood for the defense of the country.We're not worried about the difficulties, the shortages, because this war is being waged in moral terms.
GARVEY [voice-over]: That's the government view in Managua, but try telling it to people waiting for hospital care in Bluefields. They are building a new hospital, but it'll still have the same problems -- bandages for war wounded that have to be used twice at least since there are no new ones; substitute drugs that have to do since the prescription the doctors really need just aren't available.
Dr. ERNESTO SEQUEIRA, Bluefields: Well, in this moment we have some difficults and, you know, a few antibiotics like cephalosporins, cephalotan and procaine, penicillin, genthmicin and a few kind of antiseptic soap for surgery and, in instrument, we have problem with surgery instruments.
GARVEY: So some surgery must be very difficult.
Dr. SEQUEIRA: Well, sometime we have a problem to resolve some kind of surgery, like stomach surgery and chest surgery.
GARVEY [voice-over]: But for some the spirit of the revolution is still a powerful drug in itself.This soldier was peppered with shrapnel, but he's still devoted.
SOLDIER [through interpreter]: We had to defeat the enemy because no Yankee will ever come here and give us orders, because our land will always be free. They can take away my finger, but they cannot take away my morale. We will fight to the end.
GARVEY: What did you think of the contras as fighters?
SOLDIER [through interpreter]: They don't have the fighting spirit because they've run away. They've come to fight, but they only come to die because they don't have the will and the capacity to fight which we have.
GARVEY [voice-over]: Alfonso Robelo, former Nicaraguan junta member, now the contras' political leader in exile in Costa Rica.
ALFONSO ROBELO, contra leader: One thing I can tell you is I think 1984 is a crucial year, is a critical year. If we are in a solid strong position at the end of this year, if we have been able to put the elections to a test and either abort them or make it clear to the world that they are a farce, and development of military and political action from now until the end of the year critical, I think by the end of the year we should know either if Managua -- if Nicaragua is a last case or if Nicaragua is going to be saved from Soviet expansionism.
GARVEY [voice-over]: In Bluefields, if they are waiting for the contras to come then nobody seems too worried about it. On sultry May nights they dance around a makeshift Maypole in a bizarre relic of some half-remembered folklore the British brought with them. And at a bingo hall they're still playing the numbers using beans for counters. It's the quickest way to make a buck in Bluefields, and no revolutionary government is about to put them out of business.
The war has come to Bluefields out across the bay. To navigate these deadly waters today you need a pilot with nerves of steel who can pick his way through the invisible minefield. This is where the ammunition ships used to tie up with crates from Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, but that was before the mines.
[on camera] We're sitting here in the middle of a minefield. This is the harbor of El Bluf, a strategic port on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast, one of several laid with mines by the CIA.The half-sunk fishing boat behind us was struck by one, and we've inched our way out here very slowly in order not to suffer the same fate. The Nicaraguans just don't have the means to sweep the harbor clean, and right now it's virtually closed to ocean-going vessels.
[voice-over] Perhaps more than anything this is the catalyst for criticism of the U.S. The shockwave when this old shrimpboat triggered a mine sent ripples around the world. Canada, Britain, France, the World Court all recoiled in horror. Today it sits there like some embarrassing sore on the body of U.S. foreign policy. At this sugar mill at Cucla Hill north of Bluefields, conveyor belts have ground to a halt, and the cane is piling up, production at a standstill. This kind of thing isn't new; in fact, Nicaragua's gross national product has been declining since the revolution. But suddenly the mining and U.S. economic sanctions have given the Sandinistas a ready scapegoat. At Cucla Hill there's a man they call the king of innovators. He's learned to make replacement parts out of almost anything.Ask him about it and he'll tell you why.
KING OF INNOVATORS [through interpreter]: Because we haven't been able to get spare parts that we used to get from abroad before. Because right now we're blockaded.
GARVEY [voice-over]: Perhaps the foreman of this work gang said it best. "We are simple peasants," he said, "why don't the Americans just leave us alone?" You find the other side of the argument here on this airstrip being carved out of the bush at Bluefields. Sure, the town needs something more than the present dirt runway, but those big Japanese graters don't come cheaply, and there's no way they're building this 10,000-meter runway for 727s loaded with tourists. Maybe, like the contras say, the Sandinistas do have MIG-25s waiting for delivery from Cuba. Who knows? Right now they just laugh and point to a few ancient hand-me-downs like this Israeli-built veteran that constitute Nicaragua's tiny air force beefed up with some rocket power that's effective in jungle warfare. They don't laugh when they load up their old Russian helicopters with supplies that include coffins -- Daily supply runs to the troops in the bush fighting contras while they wait for the gringo invasion.
MacNEIL: The Reagan administration has repeatedly denied that it plans any U.S. invasion in Nicaragua. As for future contra activity, that may well depend on the willingness of Congress to vote further clandestine aid. The House recently voted no, and another vote in the Senate is expected soon.
[Video postcard -- Great Smoky National Park, Tennessee] Sun in Shadow
MacNEIL: Tomorrow Americans will see one of those natural events that used to make people believe the world was coming to an end or the gods were angry with them -- a solar eclipse. At 20 minutes past noon Eastern time, it will grow dark in parts of the nation as the moon passes directly in front of the sun. It will block out as much as 99.8% of the light in some parts of the country. If the weather is clear, scientists say, the best viewing will be in the Southeast along a line from New Orleans through Atlanta to just south of Richmond, Virginia. Other parts of the country will get only a partial view of the eclipse. One of the highlights of tomorrow's eclipse will be an effect called Baily's Beads, sometimes kown as a diamond necklace in the sky. It occurs when a thin ring of light appears round the fringes of the moon as it passes in front of the sun. One of the many astronomers looking forward to watching this rare spectacle is Richard Berendzen. He's president of American University in Washington where he's also a professor of physics. Dr. Berendzen, first of all, what kind of an eclipse is this tomorrow?
RICHARD BERENDZEN: Well, this is an annular eclipse. It's a little different from some. At it's peak it will only be about 99.8% total, which will be pretty dramatic for the people who happen to be located to see that.
MacNEIL: But that means it's not a so-called total eclipse?
Dr. BERENDZEN: it's not a full 100% even there and even a few miles distant fromthat main line, and in fact you will see some of the sun, the reason being, very simply, that the earth and the moon are a little too far apart for it to be a total eclipse, and so what most people see will not be totality but a slight ring around the sun of light, which is called an annulus.
MacNEIL: And if the moon were closer to the earth and therefore bigger, from our point of view, it would hide more of the sun, is that --
Dr. BERENDZEN: Exactly, in which case then the spectacular solar atmosphere would bloom into view, called the corona, and this is always there, of course, but you just can't see it when the bright solar disk is in view.
MacNEIL: Now, what can scientists study in an annular eclipse, an eclipse like this one tomorrow?
Dr. BERENDZEN: Well, you still can learn a number of things. one thing is you can measure very precisely the diameter of the sun at different positions around the sun, and part of the point of that is to try to determine whether the sun is in fact spherical or if it's slightly obloid, and whether the diameter is changing over time. We used to think that we understood the sun rather well, and that's important because the nuclear processes taking place inside of the sun, we think, explain also the nuclear processes inside of other stars, and for that matter even our own hydrogen bombs here on earth, which are miniature replicas of what the sun does all the time.Then about 15 years or so ago we got some fairly disquieting data which indicated that maybe the sun's diameter was changing, in which case all of our theories would be wrong, or at least suspect. In the last few years --
MacNEIL: Changing for the smaller or?
Dr. BERENDZEN: Smaller, but then again appeared to expand. So the sun, instead of being exactly stable, seemed to be slightly pulsating. And one of the things which will be sought tomorrow will be a new confirmation of the real size. Another determination is one that's been going on since 1919, and that's to try to determine once and for all whether or not Einstein's theory of general relativity is correct. What Einstein basically said was that mass can act upon light. If this were a star and this were the earth, and a ray of light was coming to the earth and there was no matter there, it would be in a straight line. But Einstein said that if a massive object such as the sun was to come in the line of sight between the two, it would warp space, it would bend the ray of light, and so he predicted what the amount of bending would be. Sure enough, in 1919, a group of scientists in Africa were observing an eclipse and they saw that bending. Now it is minute. It has an angular size about equivalent to looking at a dime at a distance of a mile and a half. It's a tiny angle. But apparently it's been found.The difficulty is it's so small and the glare is so great that it's very easy to make an error. So once again we will have the opportunity to try to corroborate the general theory of relativity.
MacNEIL: And that's easier to see when the moon is in front of the sun?
Dr. BERENDZEN: Precisely.
MacNEIL: I see. And how rare is this kind of eclipse?
Dr. BERENDZEN: Well, this kid of eclipse can occur the order of every year or every few years. The fact of the matter is that the moon is in an elliptical orbit around the earth. The earth is in an elliptical orbit around the sun. The earth's orbit is tipped five degrees to the plane of the earth, and all of that means that the likelihood of actually getting a total eclipse or a good annular eclipse such as this, particularly in a part of the world where you might happen to live, is really quite rare. We won't see another eclipse as good as this one probably until the next century.
MacNEIL: I see. Now, for people who want to go out and look at it, I remember from years ago when I was a kid, there were a lot of dos and don'ts. How should you look at it, if you want to?
Dr. BERENDZEN: The main thing is don't. The best way to look at it, to be quite honest, is to watch it on television. If you're not satisfied with doing that, then take a cardboard or a piece of paper, poke a hole in it, hold it up, let the light from the sun pass through and project onto another screen, and you see it through projection. What you should not do is attempt the usual layman remedies of using a smoked piece of glass or a exposed piece of photographic plate. That simply won't work. Don't use a colored piece of glass or a Coca-cola bottle. All of those tricks in fact don't work. After the last solar eclipse there were about 140 reported cases in the United States of permanent eye damage. It is no joke. If you were to take a one-second glance out of the corner of your eye I suppose it'd be all right, but beyond that it'd be better to leave it to TV.
MacNEIL: Why is that? If the moon is in front of the sun and blocking most if it, why could you hurt your eyes?
Dr. BERENDZEN: Well, in part the reason was that your eye has an interesting response. Your usual defense mechanisms are slightly lowered at that time. Your eye will not blink as frequently as it would otherwise. You simply do not realize the intensity of the heat. You don't feel the heat building up, and what happens, apparently, is that people will get mesmerized. They stand there and watch it, and they watch too long.
MacNEIL: Okay. Well, Dr. Berendzen, thank you very much indeed.
Dr. BERENDZEN: Good to be with you.
MacNEIL: Jim?
LEHRER: Again the major stories of this last Tuesday in May.The foreign ministers of the 16 NATO countries opened their meeting in Washington and heard criticism from U.S. and other colleagues of Soviet conduct. The delivery of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and a tanker airplane to the Saudis for use in the Persian Gulf was confirmed by the State Department. The Supreme Court said it will decide whether it was right for the government to prosecute only those draft registration resisters who made a big public issue of it. And the administration announced a new currency deal with the Japanese.
Finally, some recent and unusual Q & A from the Democratic presidential campaign trail from one of the participants, that well-known public television journalist, Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Charlayne?
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The candidates didn't have a debate this weekend, Jim, because they couldn't figure out how to be all at the same place at the same time. Instead, on successive nights each candidate appeared separately for an hour of questions on public station WNET. What was unusual was that the questions came not from journalists -- I didn't have much to do with it -- but from the voters themselves. Over the three nights close to 1,500 calls came in to WNET's New Jersey studios, mostly from New Jersey, but from as far away as Texas and California, which will be holding its primary on June 5th, the same day as New Jersey. It's still a wide open question as to who will win the 107 delegates up for election in the New Jersey primary, but they've become crucial since no candidate has yet enough votes to lock up the nomination. Right now New Jersey is considered anybody's horse race.
CALLER: Good evening, Senator Hart.
Sen. GARY HART, Democratic presidential candidate: Good evening.
CALLER: My name's Alexa Malloy.
HUNTER-GAULT [voice-over]: The questions that were phoned in were similar in many ways to those raised by journalists during the presidential debates, but on each night over the weekend there was at least one question that departed from the usual journalistic inquiry. A few of these even seemed to catch the candidates by surprise, actually causing them to think a little harder than usual before they answered. On Saturday night, for example, Jesse Jackson got this one from New York City.
CALLER: Will you please mention three books which interest you most?
HUNTER-GAULT: Three books which interest you most.
Rev. JESSE JACKSON, Democratic presidential candidate: Well, I would suppose Where Do We Go From Here? by Dr. King was a very pivotal book. Love, Power and Justice by Paul Tillich was a very critical book. And I suppose the base book in my life has been the Bible, for in our development it was the capacity of heros and heroines to put their hands in God's hand against great odds and to overcome. And my sense of struggle, my sense of perserverance, my basic frame of reference really is the Bible, but beyond the Bible, the books that have impressed me perhaps the most as an adult, I mean, beyond books like With Head and Heart by Dr. Howard Thurman, I suppose Dr. King's Where Do We Go From Here? and Love, Power and Justice by Paul Tillich and maybe Nature and the Destiny of Man by Reinhold Niebuhr were very pivotal books for me.
HUNTER-GAULT [voice-over]: On Monday night a viewer asked Gary Hart this question.
CALLER: I'd like to ask you who are your three favorite philosophers?
Sen. HART: Well, that's a tough question, for this reason. I was a philosophy major in college and I did some graduate work in philosophy and religion before going into law. The field's pretty broad. I was trained in college in classical philosophy, so I guess I'd have to begin with Plato. There is a modern philosopher, a fairly current contemporary philosopher, Kirkegaard, a Dane, who, as you know, was instrumental in founding what is called the existential movement and had great influence on my own religious thinking, both personally and academically. And there's also a very great French philosopher, not very well known, named Marcel, who I was also, among others, I was also interested in.
HUNTER-GAULT [voice-over]: On Sunday night, Walter Mondale drew this question.
CALLER: My question is, what leader in the world today do you respect the most and why?
WALTER MONDALE, Democratic presidential candidate: I had a quick answer and then I had to pass for a moment. Perhaps the most impressive leader I've met in my life is President Sadat -- he's gone now -- Because I worked with him and I worked with Prime Minister Begin in the Camp David accords. I am certain that Sadat was pretty sure that he was going to be assassinated for what he did, but he had the capacity to rise above history, rise above his own past, and see that there would never be peace and the people of Egypt would never have a chance for a decent life unless he accepted a permanent and secure Jewish state of Israel.
CALLER: I was hoping you'd give me a leader who is living today. Do you have an answer for that?
Mr. MONDALE: Well, let me think a minute here. I don't think of one that I would put in the word of high admiration right now. I've worked with many, many of them, but none that quite rank, as president Sadat ranks, among the superb and magnificent seers of history and leaders of our time.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin.
MacNEIL: Good night, Jim. That's our NewsHour tonight. We will be back tomorrow night. I'm Robert MacNeil. Good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
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Episode Description
This episode's headline: Yen, Dollars & Jobs; Fighting Cavities: Good Germs vs. Bad Germs; Inside Nicaragua; Sun in Shadow. The guests include In Washington: BERYL SPRINKEL, Undersecretary of the Treasury; FRED BERGSTEN, Director, Institute for International Economics; RICHARD BERENDZEN, American University; In Hartford, Connecticut: Dr. JASON TANZER, University of Connecticut. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNEIL, Executive Editor; CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, Correspondent; In Washington: JIM LEHRER, Associate Editor; Reports from NewsHour Correspondents: BRUCE GARVEY (CBC), in Bluefields, Nicaragua
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Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1984-05-29, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 24, 2024,
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