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Stories: Reporter

Aired September 25, 2011 - 19:30   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president wants jobs, the Republicans want the White House, and shaping the fight on both sides are the economic ideas of a congressman from Wisconsin. How Paul Ryan became revered, reviled, and what he wants next.

The real Wire. A no-nonsense Baltimore police chief cracks down on violent crime, but here's the twist. He wants fewer arrests.

Driving while blind. At a University in the Virginia Hills, researchers see a miracle in the making.

And Simon says he can do it. What? That you'll have to see to believe.

Stories that make the headlines matter, all on STORIES: REPORTER.

Welcome, I'm Tom Foreman.

Here in Washington, where it sometimes seems like everyone is running for president, Congressman Paul Ryan made headlines for saying he will not. Ryan is the 41-year-old chairman of the House Budget committee. But he's better known as the man with the plan to cut the deficit and fix the economy. It is, as Gloria Borger says, "The Holy Grail for some Republicans, and the devil's work for many Democrats."


REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D), KENTUCKY: The Ryan road map is the way to the cliff, and then over the cliff.

JEFFREY SACHS, ECONOMIST: The Ryan proposal, obviously, would destroy our government.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I gave fear up for Lent this year.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (on camera): You're not joking.

RYAN: I should know. No, I gave up fear for Lent this year.

BORGER: You're not kidding me, right?


BORGER: How do you do that?

RYAN: Well, I'm working at it.

BORGER (voice-over): Until recently, Paul Ryan was a relatively unknown budget wonk. Now he's famous. As the face of a new brand of Republican economics that includes the most sweeping plan to cut government spending in decades.

RYAN: There's a big test for this country. And whether we ply our country's principles, you know, liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination, government by consent of govern -

BORGER (on camera): Right.

RYAN: All of these really core principles are being tested right now, and you can't have fear if you try to fix these problems. You know, there's sort of a shoot the messenger strategy these days. And you can't --

BORGER: You're the messenger?

RYAN: I'm the messenger, and you can't fear that.

BORGER: So who is Paul Ryan?

RYAN: I'm fifth generation from Jamesville.

BORGER (voice-over): The path from the union-heavy small town in Wisconsin led to a conservative pedigree. First as a Republican congressional staffer -

RYAN: I'm Paul Ryan, candidate for Congress.

BORGER: Then with a long shot bid for a House seat 13 years ago.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Paul Ryan is maybe a rare thing in Washington. He is what he seems.

BORGER: Bill Bennett is a conservative talk radio host and CNN contributor. He was one of Ryan's mentors, along with supply-side guru Jack Kemp in the early 1990s.

BENNETT: He is a guy without guile, without pretense. He likes to hang out with actuaries, for relaxation -

BORGER (on camera): Who doesn't?

BENNETT: Which is kind of a funny thing. He also hunts elk with a bow and arrow, so he's an interesting character.

RYAN: And it literally gets our economy -

BORGER (voice-over): He's had the deficit in his sights for years, but even republicans steered clear of some of his more controversial budget ideas. That is, until the Tea Party became the rage.

RYAN: I think it is because of the circumstances of what happened that the recession, the resulting vengeance spending that occurred after it, and then you know, passing entitlements like Obama care, and then the electoral reaction to that brought these ideas into the mainstream.

BORGER (on camera): Because it's not like you had an extreme makeover.

RYAN: No, no, I've been doing the same thing for a long time.

BORGER (voice-over): Ryan became popular by pushing the unpopular, things like killing his colleague's pork projects, or trying to revamp social security, and eventually change Medicare into a program of vouchers for private insurers.

(on camera): So that's not only touching the third rail of politics, as it's called, it's like grabbing on -

RYAN: I used to say, like a koala bear on the third rail. That's what I said.

BORGER: Right.

RYAN: So here's the problem, if you don't address these issues now, they're going to steamroll the country. And the issue is, the more you delay fixing these problems, the much uglier the solutions are going to have to be. Fifty one percent of Medicare right now is funded with borrowed money.

BORGER: Right.

RYAN: And so if we're going to keep that promise, you have to change it for our generation. You have to change it for those of us in the "X" generation.

PAUL KRUGMAN, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY ECONOMIST: It would be a little melodramatic. We thought it would kill people, no question.

BORGER (voice-over): His ideas infuriate liberals, like Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman.

KRUGMAN: The cuts in Medicare that he's proposing, the replacement of Medicare by a voucher system would, in the end, mean that tens of millions of older Americans would not be able to afford essential health care. So that counts as cruelty to me.

BORGER: Ryan scoffs at the idea, and his fellow Republicans have joined in, making the Ryan budget the coin of the realm. Just ask Newt Gingrich, who with once dared take it on.

NEWT GINGRICH: I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.

BORGER: Gingrich called Ryan to take it back.

RYAN: And basically said he just - he was wrong.

BORGER: And there are other ideas. Ryan wants to reform the tax code. As for new taxes, no way. Not even if a deal included $10 of spending cuts for every dollar of new taxes.

(on camera): The public wants compromise and wants a solution where Democrats and Republicans work together, and they see, OK, Republicans won't accept -

RYAN: Yes, see, the kind of compromise, all I hear about these days is we take the tax increases and they do a little less spending. What is the policy? See, this is ridiculous, talking about ratios. Where's Obama care? Where's Medicare reform, Medicaid reform?


BORGER (voice-over): And when the president proposed a plan to cut the deficit by taxing the wealthy, Ryan was the first to call it class warfare. And he's convinced the president is just wasting valuable time.

RYAN: We're in the middle of a lost decade.

BORGER: And Ryan is a man in a hurry. In Washington, he bunks in his congressional office. It's cheaper, near work, and closer to the House gym, which is good, since he's a fitness buff, who got some of his colleagues hooked on a grueling exercise routine called P-90x.

RYAN: It's just a great workout.

BORGER: In a way, he owes his devotion to fitness to his father. In particular, one day when the younger Ryan was still a teen. Your dad was 55 when he died and you were?

RYAN: 16.

BORGER (on camera): Sixteen years old. How did that affect you? You say you're more sensitive.

RYAN: You know, yes, I was a young kid working at McDonald's that summer and my mom was out visiting my sister, who got a job in Denver and went to wake him up in the morning and he wasn't alive.

BORGER: You found him.

RYAN: So I basically had to learn to sink or swim. My grandmother, who had Alzheimer's, moved in with us at the time. My mom and I took care of her. My mom went back to school to learn a skill and I did a lot of growing up, very fast. It made me very, I'd say, initiative prone. Live life to its fullest, because you never know how long it's going to last.

BORGER: But you had the opportunity to run for president at the age of 41. If you're in a hurry.

RYAN: Oh, yes, nice boomerang on that.

BORGER: And you said no.

RYAN: Sure, because I think there are other good people who can do this job, but there are other good people who can't raise my kids.

BORGER (voice-over): That didn't stop the push this past summer to try and draft Ryan to run. The argument is simple. He's proven he can take on the president.

OBAMA: Paul -

RYAN: It's just a difference of philosophy -

OBAMA: No, no -

RYAN: It is.

OBAMA: This is an important point.

BORGER: Bill Bennett says that Ryan really flashed on to the president's radar after some fiery exchanges at his health care summit last year.

BENNETT: You can tell Barack Obama took a notice. He went up, took the measure of him. Paul Ryan was in his brain a little bit.

BORGER: Actually, a lot. The White House seated Paul Ryan right up front at the president's budget speech in April, and then proceeded to denounce his plan.

OBAMA: It ends Medicare as we know it.

RYAN: What I was thinking going into that speech was, you know what, we're getting divided government to work. We're actually, you know, compromising, getting things done. So what I got out of that was, political mode, you know, demagoguery, trying to nullify the notion that there's an alternative path for this country.

BORGER: With neither side budging, Ryan has settled in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Paul Ryan is the right guy!

BORGER: As a hero to Republicans and a devil to the Democrats. And he's OK with that.

RYAN: Yes, they had an ad of me pushing some older woman off a cliff or something like that.

BORGER (on camera): It doesn't bother you?

RYAN: No, not really. Look, we have a normal life here in Jamesville. My wife and I have, we have three beautiful kids. We have soccer on Saturdays. W have Cub Scouts. We have a normal life like everybody else. I go to Washington four days a week, which I call the silly place. It's, you know, two different kind of worlds. And if we don't tackle these big problems, they going to tackle us.


FOREMAN: When we return, it's crime time. Police in Baltimore after years of failure have cracked the code for reducing violence, and you won't believe their secret or how incredibly well it is working. When "Stories: Reporter" continues.


FOREMAN: In Baltimore, like a lot of other big cities, police have been trying for years to reduce violent crime, with some success, some failure, but no profound changes. That is, until recently. Now it seems like everything is changing. Their recipe, take one hard-nosed old-fashioned police chief, add in some new relationships with federal agencies, and mix it all up with a swarming attack unlike anything criminals there have ever seen before.

Dan Lothian has that story.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Baltimore is known for the Ravens, the Orioles, blue crabs, and murder. It is perpetually listed among America's most violent cities. About every 40 hours, someone else is struck down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone just got shot outside.

LOTHIAN: Most often by gunfire.


LOTHIAN: The city's brutal legacy has been immortalized in TV shows such as HBO's "The Wire," where gritty, fictional killings are not terribly far from the reality on the streets.

FREDERICK BEALEFELD, POLICE COMMISSIONER, BALTIMORE POLICE DEPARTMENT: What keeps us up at night is that this violence blows up innocent people.

LOTHIAN: So it might surprise you to hear Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld made a proud confession. His department is arresting fewer people than ever before.

BEALEFELD: Listen, conventional police strategies - if you want to effect that, arrest more people. Just bring in more of these guys and you will drag the number down. It doesn't work. It just doesn't work that way.

LOTHIAN: So what does work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to go to 2410.

LOTHIAN: This. An early morning raid on a known violent criminal suspected of once again having illegal guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be a nine millimeter.

LOTHIAN: It is part of an ambitious and tough program called Exile, which focuses police and prosecutors on making quality, not quantity arrests, on nabbing serious, dangerous offenders, even if letting lower level drug dealers and thieves slip away. In other words, less is more.

(on camera): So you're saying that that mass arrest for all of these different small, petty crimes was, what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't affect our bottom line. You can't solve world hunger. We've been battling drugs in America for decades now. But I can get rid of these guys with guns. We can.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Exile depends on a number of key strategies. First, identify and tracking violent felons the police have mapped every square block, noting which felons live where, and they relentlessly follow their movements, monitor their friendships, watch everything they do.

MAYOR STEPHANIE ROWLINGS BLAKE, BALTIMORE, MD: We're mapping them. We're mapping gun offenders and violent offenders.

LOTHIAN: If it sounds like an infringement on privacy, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says, so be it.

RAWLINGS BLAKE: People have a right to know where these individuals are and the police need to know where these violent individuals are, because they are tasked with keeping our neighborhood safe.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): So you're saying privacy discussions shouldn't even be a part of this?

RAWLINGS BLAKE: I'm not saying that at all. If the community weighs in on the side of wanting safety and weighs that more than an offender's right to privacy.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're doing great. Good to see you.

Hi. How are you, ma'am?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you.

LOTHIAN: Second, Exile relies on communities for information about bad guys. The police know it is controversial to sometimes let lower level criminals elude them, but that more lenient attitude sometimes gets people who have been associated petty crimes talking in a community where snitching is frowned on.

BEALEFELD: They don't want you to fish with a net. They want my cops to come through this block with a spear, and when they see a shark on the street to be able to know, discern the difference and jam the spear right through the top of the shark's head. That's what they want you to be able to do.

LOTHIAN: And the spear, federal law enforcement clout. Exile relies on an unusually high level of cooperation between local, state, and federal police agencies. For example, several Baltimore street cops have been deputized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, allowing them access to computerized gun tracing files. What's more, the feds are quick to step in and the locals say their state laws can't bring enough pressure to bear on the accused.

ROB ROSENSTEIN, U.S. ATTORNEY: Our sentences are without probation and without parole. And so when we prosecute offenders in federal court, they know that they get a sentence of 10 years, they're actually going to serve a large portion of that 10 years, with the exception of potential time off for good behavior.

LOTHIAN: The result -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last year, 2010, the lowest homicide rate in Baltimore in 25 years.

LOTHIAN (on camera): While police have the momentum in this cat and mouse game with violent criminals, the overall score is still grim. Even as their murder numbers drop, Baltimore remains one of the five most violent cities in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we set a 25-year low for homicides, we didn't pop champagne cork and celebrate and tink our glasses together. What we did is wake up the next morning and started work all over again.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Officials know they have many years of hard work ahead. But they also know this. For the first time in almost anyone's memory, the police have the killers on the run.


FOREMAN: Coming up, dealing with the blind spots. How cars, robots, and visually impaired drivers are coming together in the Virginia countryside to create a minor miracle, cars that truly a blind man can drive, when "Stories: Reporter" continues.


FOREMAN: Modern technology is producing a steady stream of wonder for disabled people. Bionic legs and robotic hands. In the hills of Virginia a new invention is taking shape which could allow blind people to do something that has been considered frankly impossible. It could put them on the road driving, alone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Let's go for a drive. Here we go.

FOREMAN (voice-over): On the campus of Virginia Tech -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll tell you, this is a very disconcerting experience - FOREMAN: In a parking lot near the stadium.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're driving like a pro.

FOREMAN: I don't think like a pro.

(Voice-over): You're watching a minor miracle. That is me driving. Yes, I am blindfolded. And, no, my passenger Dr. Dennis Hong is not worried. Because he and his students built this car to prove a point.

(on camera): You don't have any doubt in the world that blind people can drive.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Back up. What was that?

(on camera): Blind people can drive.

HONG: I believe so.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The connection that led to this conviction came when Dr. Hong's acclaimed robotics lab here hooked up with the National Federation for the Blind. At first he assumed what the federation wanted was a robot driven car but they said, no. A blind driver had to be in control.

HONG: Obviously, the driver (INAUDIBLE) for the driver. So for that we use these laser range finders.

FOREMAN: So his team installed laser range finders, cameras, GPS, a massive computer in the back of an SUV, and as they began testing, for everything from speed control to crash avoidance, he listened and listened to what the test drivers told him.

HONG: I think one of the biggest secrets to our success was that we work with the blind.

FOREMAN: The result? A car that electronically watches the road and feeds the driver a stream of information through a simple pair of buzzing gloves and a pad on the seat.

(on camera): So all of these signals are actually coming from the car itself?

HONG: Yes. The vibrations in your knuckle tells you how to steer the vehicle. The vibration that you feel from the seat and the patterns tell you how to - the speed of the vehicle you should operate in.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Testing is kept to about 25 miles an hour in controlled environments, for now. But Hong believes in just 15 years with many refinements, one of these vehicles could truly be ready for the open road. Taking blind drivers to the place where limitations end and limitless begins.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN: In just a moment, we will continue the theme with Simon says. One hundred miles. One very determined man. And one very big obstacle. When "Stories: Reporter" continues.


FOREMAN: Finally, you can hardly look at the internet these days without finding yet another report of someone doing something amazing. A person scaling unscaleable peak or swimming an unswimmable river. Yet when we heard what one man was attempting in great rhythm, we thought quite frankly that it just couldn't be done. So we sent Atika Shubert to see.


SIMON WHEATCROFT, RUNNER: I think a lot of people find what I'm doing really inspiring. When I first started which is (INAUDIBLE) -

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every day a few hours outside of London people see Simon Wheatcroft running. While he sees something like this. Yes. Wheatcroft is blind. Having lost his sight to eye disease in his teens. And, yes, he is running by himself.

WHEATCROFT: I wanted to do something that was really going to push me. So I chose to run far.

SHUBERT: Really far. About a year ago he decided to prepare for the (INAUDIBLE) 100-mile ultra marathon. Having lost a sight running partner and guide, he knew he would have to accomplish the relentless miles of training alone.

WHEATCROFT: I started in the fields over there running between goal posts. That really didn't work out.

SHUBERT: He did not like the tedium of treadmills, so he chose a three-mile stretch of sidewalk and memorized it. And he has gone back and forth ever since.

WHEATCROFT: It perhaps, looks, a lot scarier and more difficult than it is. Because that pavement is pretty much the perfect pavement. It runs smooth. There's no real big dips. This is nice. Anywhere else, it wouldn't really be possible to do on my own.

SHUBERT: Wheatcroft uses a running map on his iPhone to keep track of the distance. He uses a human guide in actual races. What he does not use is any kind of excuse. He is a runner. Pure and simple.

WHEATCROFT: Personally for me, I think I can compete. In the events I'm competing. I don't think I'm, like, an Olympic athlete or anything. In the events I'm competing in, I'm going to be as competitive if not more competitive than anybody else. It depends upon the day.

SHUBERT: So race day came. And Wheatcroft put his training to the test. Hour after hour, trudging through the English countryside. Against pouring rain. Aching muscles. Overwhelming fatigue. Until at mile 83, in tears, he stopped. Now, however, like all those miles and training, Wheatcroft is taking the setback in stride. After all, he did prove that his disability was not a problem. And next year, just like any other determined athlete, he can try again.

WHEATCROFT: Now we all get given this label of blind, disabled. And you feel you can only operate within that label. But what comes out of the person, you can do anything if you think you can.


FOREMAN: We wish Simon the best of luck. And with that, we have to run, too. I'm Tom Foreman. For all of us here at STORIES: REPORTER, thanks for watching.