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tv   60 Minutes  CBS  January 5, 2014 7:00pm-8:01pm PST

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captioning funded by cbs and ford >> stahl: it's called cleantech, and the new technologies that were developed in the energy sector were supposed to create jobs and help america break its reliance on fossil fuels. the government supported it and billions of tax dollars were spent. so how is the investnt going? solyndra went through over half a billion dollars before it failed. then, i'm going to give you a list of others failures-- abound energy, beacon power, fisker, v.p.g. i'm exhausted. >> as i told you in the beginning, the energy business is tough. >> simon: hollywood's always had its bad guys-- think the joker or darth vader. but its biggest villain is a man
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who calls himself kim dotcom. you won't see him on the big screen but, until recently, he ran a service that made it possible for you to see almost any movie you wanted to for next to nothing. >> i'm good at this whole business game. >> simon: you're just a plain businessman... a plain businessman who, when he was a teenager, hacked into the pentagon and nasa? come on. >> pelley: wow. that is astounding. ho, look at that. whoa. >> yeah! >> pelley: oh, my god. >> incredible. what a sight. you're looking right into the crater. >> pelley: there are 1,500 active volcanoes, and tonight, we want to tell you about three: one that caused the most recent mass disruption, another that's the biggest threat to a major city, and a third, in the united states, that could wreak havoc all around the world.
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>> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm leslie stahl. >> i'm morley safer. >> i'm bob are simon. >> i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60 minutes." this is the quicksilver cash back card from capital one.
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so let me ask you... with a smartphone from straight talk wireless. we replaced sue's smartphone she'll get the same great nationwide coverage for half the cost. let's see if she notices. you bet she did. she saved almost 950 dollars. enough to hire her own french pastry chef. straight talk wireless. only at walmart. >> stahl: about a decade ago, the smart people who funded the internet turned their attention to the energy sector, rallying tech engineers to invent ways to get us off fossil fuels, devise powerful solar panels, clean cars, and futuristic batteries.
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the idea got a catchy name-- "cleantech." silicon valley got washington excited about it. president bush was an early supporter, but the federal purse strings truly loosened under president obama. hoping to create innovation and jobs, he committed north of $100 billion dollars in loans, grants and tax breaks to cleantech. but instead of breakthroughs, the sector suffered a string of expensive, tax-funded flops. suddenly, "cleantech" was a dirty word. investor vinod khosla, known as the father of the cleantech revolution, has poured over a billion dollars of his own money into some 50 energy startups. he took us to one in columbus, mississippi. kior is a biofuel company that's replacing oil drilling with oil making. >> vinod khosla: nature takes a million years to produce our crude oil.
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kior can produce it in seconds. >> stahl: the company took over this old paper mill, where logs are picked up by a giant claw, dropped into a shredder and pulverized into wood chips. >> khosla: and we take that, add this magic catalyst... >> stahl: this is the secret sauce. >> khosla: yeah. >> stahl: you throw that on top of the chips... >> khosla: and then, out comes something that looks just like crude oil. >> stahl: the crude is created through a thermo-chemical reaction in seconds. and by using wood instead of corn, this biofuel doesn't raise food prices, which was a concern with ethanol. >> khosla: it smells like crude, it works like crude, except it's 100% renewable. >> stahl: then, it's distilled onsite into... clean gasoline? >> khosla: clean, green gasoline. >> stahl: this goes right into the tank, right? you don't have to build a new infrastructure? >> khosla: absolutely. >> stahl: you make it sound
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almost-- sorry-- too good to be true. there must be a downside. >> khosla: there is no downside. >> stahl: well, there is-- first off, his clean, green gasoline costs much more than what you pay at the pump. and despite hundreds of millions of dollars invested, including $165 million of khosla's own money, kior is still in the red, and the manufacturing is so complex, it is riddled with delays. all kinds of glitches. >> khosla: that always happens, but part of anything, whether you're building a refinery or a solar facility or a computer factory, you get exactly the same unanticipated glitches. >> stahl: he's downplaying the glitches. but the venture capital model is that, for every ten startups, nine go under. and he says he expects at least half of his energy companies will fail.
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but khosla can take that gamble. he earned billions with two giant silicon valley winners, sun microsystems and juniper networks. it was successes like these that gave khosla and the other silicon valley money men the moxie to jump into energy. >> steven koonin: i think they saw it as a technical opportunity, thinking that the people in energy are just troglodytes and they don't understand what they're doing. >> stahl: former energy department undersecretary, physicist steven koonin, says there was a lot of arrogance. he says the venture capitalists and internet geniuses who rushed in were underestimating the challenges of the energy sector. like what? >> koonin: managing risks that have to do with market, with supply, with operation, with regulation. and in the end, hoping that you get returns on a 20- or 30-year time scale. >> stahl: yeah, but they must've known they weren't going to get a payoff for 20 or 30 years. >> koonin: i don't think they understood that. the average venture capitalist likes to get in and out in about three to five years. >> stahl: while other venture
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capitalists have withdrawn from the energy sector, khosla is staying in, but with a lot of help from taxpayers. over the years, the federal government has committed north of $100 million to his various cleantech ventures, and several states have pitched in hundreds of millions as well. but his critics say, he's in over his head. >> robert rapier: vinod khosla is very smart, but would you let him operate on your heart? >> stahl: ( laughs ) no. >> rapier: no, because that's not his area of expertise. >> stahl: robert rapier, a chemical engineer specializing in biofuels, says khosla and almost all the other venture capitalists in silicon valley got caught up in their own hype. >> rapier: he set up a system where he over-promised and under-delivered, and so the public and the politicians all developed unreasonable expectations. >> stahl: but hasn't technology advanced enough so that somebody like vinod khosla could think, "ah, we can do it more cheaply, faster."
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>> rapier: well, yeah, but in the field of advanced biofuels, he has not done very well. the companies that he's brought out are in trouble. their share prices are down 80%, 85%. >> stahl: what about this criticism that what it takes to be successful in silicon valley does not translate into the energy business? it's such a completely different field. >> khosla: that's fair criticism. but i am learning and i am trying. and they're sitting there doing nothing. they're being the nay-sayers, the pundits who say why it can't be done. but they won't try. now, sure, we've done lots of things that failed in energy. but every time, we learned, picked ourselves up and tried something new. >> rapier: he's getting up that learning curve, but taxpayers funded that. a billionaire came into the energy business... >> stahl: you're saying we paid him to learn is what... >> rapier: we paid him to learn the energy business. >> stahl: the federal government has allocated a total of $150 billion to cleantech through
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loans, grants and tax breaks, with little to show for it. the taxpayers have lost a lot of money in the general cleantech area. >> khosla: look, we have to take risks, and risks mean the risk of losing money. so let me ask you a question. we've been looking for a cure for cancer for a long time. how much money has the u.s. government spent? billions and billions of dollars. should we stop looking for a cure for cancer because we haven't found a cure? >> stahl: but under the obama stimulus act, the government wasn't just supporting research. with cleantech, it was shoveling money to build assembly lines, helping startups in the manufacturing phase. over half a billion dollars went to a solar-panel company named solyndra to build a factory. when solar was undercut by low prices in china, solyndra died. another half-billion in loan guarantees went to fisker, a clean car startup that promised
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to open a plant in delaware, but went bankrupt. and in other cases, production was ramped up before there was any demand, as with lg chem in michigan. >> barack obama: shovels will soon be moving earth and trucks will soon be pouring concrete where we are standing. >> stahl: the plant was built with $151 million from the stimulus to make batteries for electric cars that people never bought. so the plant went idle and workers were paid tax dollars to sit around and do nothing. these loans and grants were administered by the energy department. they wouldn't give us an interview, but steven koonin was actually the head scientist for the department, approving many of the stimulus projects. the government spent about $150 billion into these innovations-- taxpayer dollars. money well spent? >> koonin: i think there are significant developments that
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have come out of that spending that impact our energy system now. new technologies demonstrated. i think it was good value for the money. >> stahl: well, solyndra went through over half a billion dollars before it failed. then, i'm going to give you a list of other failures-- abound energy, beacon power, fisker, v.p.g., range fuels, ener-1, a-123, ecotality. i'm exhausted. >> koonin: as i told you in the beginning, the energy business is tough. >> stahl: what happened? >> koonin: oh, gosh, there are so many reasons. i put some of the major blame on the government, both the executive branch and congress, for an inability to set a thoughtful and consistent energy policy. >> stahl: let me interrupt you. you were the government. how many of the loans were you involved in? >> koonin: difficult to know the exact number, but i would say in the order of 30.
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>> stahl: did you make mistakes? >> koonin: i think i didn't do as good a job as i could've. in retrospect, i would've done things a bit differently. >> stahl: part of this was supposed to be creating new jobs. everything i've read, there were not many jobs created. >> koonin: that's correct. >> stahl: so what went wrong there? >> koonin: i didn't say it would create jobs, other people did. >> stahl: so you never thought it was going to create... >> koonin: i didn't think it mattered as a job creation, no. >> stahl: so, is cleantech dead? >> koonin: there are parts of it that i would say are on life support right now. >> stahl: the stimulus investment wasn't a total bust. it helped create the successful electric car company tesla. a few other companies are starting to show promise, and loans are being repaid. but cleantech was dealt a hammer blow by this-- plentiful, inexpensive and relatively clean domestic natural gas. so by 2012, the money men of silicon valley were dropping
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energy from their portfolios, and soon struggling and bankrupt cleantech companies were on the auction block at fire sale prices. and guess who snatched them up. china! the most aggressive buyer is arguably this man. pin ni and his auto parts company wanxiang have made six big investments in american cleantech so far, including buying a-123, another electric- car battery startup that lost over 130 million tax dollars. a lot of the companies that you have bought in the cleantech area got a lot of federal subsidies. i have a list. >> pin ni: a-123 did, yes. >> stahl: well, ener1 did... >> ni: ener1 did, yeah. >> stahl: smith electric trucks. >> ni: i would think so, yeah. >> stahl: there's something that just doesn't feel right about a chinese company coming in and scooping it all up after the taxpayers put so much money into it. >> ni: my answer will be, do we like the capitalism or not?
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if we do, that is the capitalism. >> stahl: but do you think it's a good business? do you think cleantech is going well? >> ni: cleantech is not going well. >> stahl: but china is willing to make a long-term bet on the technology, and spend what it takes to develop the manufacturing. but here's where it gets complicated-- this is wanxiang's american subsidiary, with 27 plants in 13 states and some 6,000 american workers. pin ni says every third car made in the u.s. has wanxiang parts. you understand the suspicion around you, this company, that you're here just to take our high-tech... >> ni: sure, absolutely. >> stahl:, you know, and get it back to china as fast as you can. >> ni: but my simple question is, for what? i'm not the president of china. i'm the president of wanxiang
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america, right? so whatever we do has to benefit us. we are here to conduct business. we are here to make money. >> stahl: and so the irony-- that taxpayer money for cleantech and jobs ended up with a chinese company creating cleantech and jobs in america. american taxpayers have spent billions on cleantech. have we gotten our money's worth? >> ni: if you measure them by today's standard, i would say definitely not. you didn't see anything come out of it. but if you view this as a step stone to the future, when you get there, when you look back, i would say yes. >> stahl: but vinod khosla says if the u.s. government doesn't put more money into this technology, then when we get there, it will all be in china. he wants to open kior biofuel plants like this in every defunct paper mill in the country. now, some people call you a dreamer, and i don't think they mean it in a positive way.
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>> khosla: in fact, you need dreamers to stretch. i probably have failed more times in my life than almost anybody i know. but that's because i've tried more things. and i'm not afraid to fail because the consequences of avoiding failure are doing nothing. >> cbs money watch update sponsored by lincoln financial. calling all chief life officers. >> good evening. the senate votes tomorrow on janet yellen's nomination to lead the federal reserve. the consumer electronic show starts tuesday in las vegas with wearable technology a big focus. and boeing's new union deal will keep their manufacturing in washington state through 2024. i'm jeff glor. cbs news. ♪
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>> simon: hollywood's always had its bad guys-- think the joker or darth vader. but its biggest villain is a man who calls himself kim dotcom. you won't see him on the big screen but, until recently, he ran a service that made it possible for you to see almost any movie you wanted to for next to nothing. before his web site, megaupload, was shut down, federal authorities say, it allowed people to access not only copyrighted films, but copyrighted music, books and video games. they claim he cost the entertainment industry more than $500 million in lost revenue. hollywood considered him one of the worst pirates ever. the u.s. has filed an indictment against kim dotcom for copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering, and has
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requested his extradition from new zealand, where he lives. that was two years ago, but kim dotcom hasn't gone anywhere. kim dotcom was once master of the internet, but these days, his domain is 60 acres of rolling hillside near auckland, new zealand. nice place. the only problem is this larger- than-life character can't leave new zealand. when he's not touring his grounds on a souped-up golf cart, kim is fighting the entertainment industry and extradition to the united states. he is hollywood's super-villain, which is, in many ways, a role he always wanted to play. >> kim dotcom: i was inspired by the james bond movies, you know, where, you know, some characters had private islands and super tankers converted into yachts and space stations and underwater homes. so, you know, i... i got inspired by that. >> simon: but you're not playing
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james bond, you're playing dr. no. >> dotcom: ( laughs ) that's what everybody says. >> simon: kim dotcom changed his name from kim schmitz in 2005 when he started a file-sharing service. ♪ ♪ it was called megaupload, and as this ad shows, it boasted the endorsement of celebrities like kanye west, will i. am and kim kardashian. >> i love megaupload. >> simon: here's how it worked. if you wanted to send a friend a file that was too large to email-- a wedding video, for example-- you could just upload it onto megaupload's servers and your friends could click a link to download it. it was a virtual warehouse where people stored and shared digital files. by selling advertisements and premium subscriptions, megaupload brought in an estimated $175 million. it became one of the most frequented sites on the
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internet. how did it get so popular and profitable? according to federal authorities, by also allowing users to illegally share the hottest new movies, or hit songs, or tv programs, including some cbs shows. >> shawn henry: megaupload knowingly created and facilitated the distribution of stolen property. >> simon: shawn henry is former executive assistant director of the f.b.i. he was responsible for the megaupload investigation. >> henry: no different than if somebody has a warehouse where stolen property is being dropped off. if you created the environment that facilitated it, and you encouraged it, and you incentivized people by paying them to drop off stolen property, i think that you are complicit. >> simon: in its indictment, the justice department calls megaupload a "mega conspiracy," a "worldwide criminal
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organization whose members engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale." but kim argues that he is not legally responsible for what users chose to do on his site. >> dotcom: am i the one who's at fault if users upload that kind of stuff and up... re-upload it again? do i have to go to jail for that? because i didn't do it. i didn't upload these things to megaupload. >> simon: the indictment called you a pirate. they weren't just charging you with copyright infringement. it was a whole list of crimes-- racketeering, money laundering. where do these charges come from? >> dotcom: well, they are all derived from the copyright infringement allegation. and the racketeering was added on top because, in new zealand, you cannot be extradited for copyright infringement. >> simon: yet federal authorities allege kim's whole business was built on piracy, offering cash incentives to
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users who uploaded popular content like movies and music. that copyright infringement allegedly cost the entertainment industry more than $500 million in lost revenue. kim was getting rich, they say, but every dollar he made was a dollar taken away from the people who actually produced the material. >> eriq gardner: this was the number one pirate, in their eyes. >> simon: eriq gardner is a senior editor at the "hollywood reporter" who's covered the megaupload case extensively. >> gardner: this was a guy who was fostering infringements on a massive scale. >> simon: any idea how many users there were? >> gardner: there were reported to be about 50 million users on a daily basis. >> simon: to me, i mean, 50 million sounds virtually incomprehensible. >> gardner: to the entertainment industry, those are 50 million people who are not paying $12 for a dvd, those are people who are not paying $15 for a movie ticket.
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>> simon: in 2010, the motion picture association of america, which represents the film industry, referred the case to the justice department. the u.s. then enlisted the help of the new zealand government, and on the morning of january 20, 2012, after months of planning, their top anti-terror unit took action. >> simon: as you can see in these videos taken that day, they descended on kim's compound as if it were an al qaeda stronghold. they were working closely with officials from the u.s. department of justice and the f.b.i., who were in auckland helping oversee the raid. it was a scene straight out of a summer blockbuster. >> wayne tempero: there was a serious group of individuals here. >> simon: wayne tempero is kim's head of security. the morning of the raid, he says he found himself facing down two officers with automatic weapons.
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what kind of weapons? >> tempero: mp-5s. everybody had side arms on. there were shotguns. i saw people walking around with sledgehammers, everything. >> simon: tempero was tied up and held in the mansion's courtyard. the rest of kim's staff, his three children and pregnant wife were rounded up, as well. >> tempero: so this is the staircase up to the boss's private area of the house. >> simon: kim had been lying on his bed working at his computer when he heard the ruckus outside. >> tempero: he walked over here and grabbed this. this is a panic button. he pressed that. >> simon: and that goes through to you? >> tempero: straight to me, a text message to me. >> simon: police were working their sledgehammers, but couldn't find kim anywhere. >> tempero: and they were... they'd done this damage here thinking that he was in the dumb waiter. >> simon: tempero says he was forced to show them where kim was. it's a closet? >> tempero: it's a closet.
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but if you push the back of the door... okay, so this is the red room-- as you can see, only because of the color of the carpet, nothing sinister. >> simon: the police found kim sitting behind a pillar, not far from a locker that stored a shotgun. to this day, kim believes the operation was excessive. >> dotcom: this is an overreach of epic proportions. >> simon: but there was a gun in the room? >> dotcom: yeah, there was a gun in the room. but, you know, i mean, you in the u.s., everyone has a gun in the room, right? that's not the reason why you go and invade the home with anti- terrorist forces. >> simon: the police weren't finished. they seized his computers, carried away kim's fleet of luxury cars, froze his assets, and pulled the plug on megaupload. kim dotcom was arrested, along with three of his associates, and thrown in jail for a month. it was a global operation that sent shockwaves across the internet. was the megaupload bust designed to send a message? >> henry: i... i think that the judicial process is about deterrence. it's about people understanding
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that there are consequences for crime. this... we didn't... the f.b.i. didn't investigate this case specifically to send a message, but certainly, that's a result. >> simon: kim had always skated on the edge of legality. before his foray into the entertainment business, he was a hacker and claims to have broken into computers at nasa and the pentagon. he turned those skills into a successful business, advising major corporations on how to protect themselves from hackers just like him. >> dotcom: i'm good at this whole business game. >> simon: you're just a plain businessman. >> dotcom: i'm a businessman, yeah. >> simon: a plain businessman who, when he was a teenager, hacked into the pentagon and nasa? come on. >> dotcom: well, i... i have to say that i love being a businessman much more than being a hacker. >> simon: kim has had his hands in many businesses; some of them met with disapproval. in the '90s, he was arrested for using computers to hack
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telephone lines and credit card numbers. then, he pled guilty to insider trading; later, was found guilty of embezzlement. white collar crimes. but in videos he circulated online, he loved portraying himself as a cartoonish action hero. he used the internet the way hollywood's giants have always used the big screen, creating an extravagant persona. there he was on yachts or private planes, and here he is with his wife showing off one of his luxury cars. check out the license plate. his narcissism had no limits and he was never far from a photographer. when he finally settled down, it was in this modern-day xanadu, a mansion only he, or orson welles, could have imagined. were all these extravagant things here when you bought it? >> dotcom: what do you mean? >> simon: i mean, that's quite a
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chandelier. >> dotcom: oh, no, i bought that. i like black and white-- as you can see, that's a theme throughout the house. >> simon: when kim moved to new zealand from hong kong three years ago, megaupload was a worldwide sensation. by the time you came here, you were already a very wealthy man. >> dotcom: yeah, i made good money. >> simon: right. can you say how much at the time? what were you worth when you left hong kong? >> dotcom: well, we just did a valuation for the company because we wanted to do an i.p.o., and it was around $2.5 billion. >> simon: two and a half billion? >> dotcom: yes. >> simon: the government says this empire was built, quite simply, on stolen goods. but kim insists he complied with the law, went to great lengths to remove infringing material from the site. so why does he think the government's going after him? >> dotcom: because of my flamboyant lifestyle, because of me being german. the way i am, i'm the easiest person to sell as a villain. >> simon: you really think that that's what did it? you don't think there was anything about megaupload that
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led them to say and think, "this guy's gone too far"? >> dotcom: i'm the perfect target. and that's why they picked megaupload. >> simon: kim dotcom says he's convinced that he was chosen because he looks like a villain. >> henry: people sometimes tell me i look like a villain, right? people aren't... aren't investigated because of the way they look, or the type of car they drive. they're investigated because there's an allegation that they're involved in illegal activity, that they're committing a crime. >> simon: but if federal authorities hoped kim would be in u.s. custody by now, they are surely disappointed. first, a judge in new zealand ruled the warrants the police used were illegal. then, new zealand officials admitted to eavesdropping on kim's communications. that was illegal, too. two years after his arrest, the battle over kim dotcom's extradition continues. >> dotcom: i was illegally spied on by the g.c.s.b. >> simon: megaupload might not exist anymore, but kim's seized
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on the controversy to reinvent himself. always a master of marketing, he's become the darling of the media in new zealand and a self- styled privacy activist. he's announced plans to form a political party, and early last year, on the anniversary of that raid, he launched a brand new file sharing service. he is, as always, the star of his own movie. but this time, he didn't write the script. >> dotcom: stop this madness. let's all be friends. >> simon: we asked the f.b.i. to talk to us about the >> simon: we asked the department of justice and the f.b.i. to talk to us about the case. they declined. so did the motion picture association of america, but they sent us a statement saying, in part, "no industry can compete with theft." [ female announcer ] hands were made for playing.
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you stand behind what you say. ethere's a saying around here, around here you don't make excuses. you make commitments. and when you can't live up to them, you own up, and make it right. some people think the kind of accountability that thrives on so many streets in this country has gone missing in the places where it's needed most. but i know you'll still find it when you know where to look.
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>> pelley: if you think we're living in an unstable world, just listen to this. only 1% of our earth is solid rock. most of the other 99% is an oozing mass, churning beneath our feet like road tar at temperatures between 2,000 and 10,000 degrees. the earth's crust is only 20 miles thick. when that cracks, one of the greatest forces in nature erupts. there are 1,500 active volcanoes, and tonight we want to tell you about three; one that caused the most recent mass disruption; another that's the biggest threat to a major city; and a third, in the united
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states, that could wreak havoc all around the world. the first, the disruptive volcano, has a name as long and as hard as the trouble it caused-- eyjafjallajokull means "island mountain glacier" in the inscrutable language of iceland. when it blew in 2010, we started shooting this story, and we came to the right place. over the last 500 years, iceland's 30 volcanoes have released one third of all the lava on earth. we put together an expedition to be the first to reach the summit after the eruption. the volcanic landscape covered in ice isn't hospitable to life, or convoys, for that matter. the man in front of the truck is
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pointing out cracks in the glacier that would swallow us whole. we covered miles of forbidding terrain at walking speed. when the trucks could go no further, we hiked with our guide, one of the worlds leading authorities on volcanoes, haraldur sigurdsson. >> pelley: wow. that is astounding. ho, look at that. whoa. ( laughs ) >> haraldur sigurdsson: yeah! >> pelley: oh, my god. >> sigurdsson: incredible. what a sight. you're looking right into the crater. >> pelley: scientists rate volcanic eruptions on a scale of zero to eight. this is a four, which they call "cataclysmic." tell me what you're seeing. >> sigurdsson: its an explosive eruption, and the explosions are producing big clouds of ash that are moving up straight up into the atmosphere at the velocity of a few hundred feet per second.
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and throwing out huge rocks. >> pelley: how big are these pieces that we see flying? >> sigurdsson: some of these are the size of cars. >> pelley: and how high are they going up? must be a thousand feet. >> sigurdsson: at least a thousand feet. but they're still red hot, maybe 2,000 degrees fahrenheit. >> pelley: what's causing these stupendous explosions that we're hearing? >> sigurdsson: well, the big booms that we're hearing are huge gas bubbles in the magma that are popping open. they may be 100 feet in diameter. and when they get closer to the surface, the pressure inside these gas bubbles is so great that they blow off the magma that is ahead of them, and then they release the gas. and that's a big sonic boom. >> pelley: look at the earth just erupting up into the sky. unbelievable. this is a great place to explain exactly where volcanoes happen on the earth. the crust of the earth, of course, is fractured like a broken mirror. and it's fractured into about 15 major plates called tectonic
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plates. volcanoes happen all around the edges where the earth's crust is fractured. and here in iceland, a major line runs right through the middle of the island, and the two plates are breaking apart. and that's exactly what you see behind me now. >> no, no you don't see... >> pelley: or not. what ruined our view was steam-- it was exploding everywhere that the lava hit the ice. the ancient glacier was melting in a flash flood, carving canyons into the mountain. the thermal shock also lofted a fine black ash that covered farms for miles. they call it ash, but it really feels like sand. in iceland, volunteers come out from the cities to help farmers dig out. these were bankers who brought their shovels from the capital,
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reykjavik. it was this ash that made eyjafjallajokull the most disruptive eruption in years. the ash billowed up nearly 33,000 feet and drifted 1,000 miles over europe. 100,000 flights were cancelled, ten million people were stranded for a week. still, volcanologist haraldur sigurdsson told us that kind of trouble is nothing compared to eruptions elsewhere in the recent past. >> sigurdsson: and the best example of that occurred in 1815, when there was an eruption in tambora volcano in indonesia. and a big, explosive eruption sent out an ash cloud up to about 30 miles. and it dispersed very widely. and also, a lot of sulfur came out of this volcano, and that led to global cooling, and produced what is known as the year without a summer in new england, in north america. >> pelley: the year without a summer? >> sigurdsson: year without a summer, in 1816.
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>> pelley: because of this one volcanic eruption? >> sigurdsson: on the other side of the earth, yeah. and that type of event will occur again. that eruption also led to big migrations out of central europe into russia and great disturbances worldwide. >> pelley: which volcano on earth would you say is most dangerous to people? >> sigurdsson: the volcano that... where there is a very large population adjacent to it and on it, and that's vesuvius, in italy. >> pelley: vesuvius is our second stop. and you might think, if anyone knew better than to live by a volcano, it would be the people around the most infamous mountain of all time. but today, in southern italy, a metropolis spreads within striking distance of vesuvius. >> mike sheridan: nobody wants to believe that the area that they live in could kill them. >> pelley: we went for a look, up close with american volcanologist mike sheridan. we flew over the cinder cone on the helicopters of the guardia
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di finanza, a police force that helps keep watch over the mountain. vesuvius is sheridan's life's work, and he has warned the government it can't count on evacuating the number of people in harm's way. and what is that number? >> sheridan: well, it depends on the type of explosion. if there's one like the last big eruption that occurred in 1631, there would be about 600,000 people. but if it is an eruption like the 2,000-year-ago eruption that destroyed pompeii, the number could be up to 3.5 million. >> pelley: pompeii, as it was august 24, 79 a.d., the moment it was preserved under more than ten feet of ash and rock. the boulevards, the homes, the mosaics are the volcano's contribution to history. around here, they do a lively business in the dead. citizens of pompeii are frozen
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in timeless agony. about 16,000 were killed, sculpted where they fell. scientists have a good idea of what these people saw after studying the evidence of what remains. witnesses described the mountain rumbling for days before it launched a column of ash and rock 12 miles high, which fell back as hell on earth. the wind came shooting down the sides of the mountain at more than 200 miles an hour. the air temperature was about 900 degrees, and the ash that fell throughout the region left this part of italy uninhabitable for 300 years. today, from this control room, volcanologist giuseppe mastrolorenzo monitors the instruments that will provide italy's early warning. he showed us those three and a half million people that all crowd around the cinder cone. one day, it may be up to him to
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sound the alarm. how much time will you have? >> giuseppe mastrolorenzo: probably just a few days. we can just hope that we will have weeks or months, but we cannot make a contract with a volcano. >> pelley: so your friends say, "look, it hasn't erupted in hundreds of years." and you must say, "that's the problem." >> mastrolorenzo: that's the problem. yeah. i'm trying to convince the people that this quiet mountain can be a killer. >> pelley: at the base of the "quiet mountain," the peaceful piazza of torre del greco is wiped out, on average, about once every 100 years, give or take. the bell tower survived the eruption of 1794. and today, old men rest their feet on rock solid evidence of what's coming next. michael sheridan told us that vesuvius has a very long life ahead of it. >> sheridan: it has different
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personalities, and the last personality was rather benign, but it's got some mean personalities down there that we don't want to experience in our lifetime. >> pelley: there are bigger personalities among volcanoes which scientists call super- volcanoes. remember our eruption in iceland was a four on a scale of eight? well, an eight would change life on earth. haraldur sigurdsson told us there is a name for one of the places where that is likely to happen. it's called yellowstone national park, our third volcano. old faithful's here for a reason. in the northwest corner of wyoming, the caldera is about 50 miles wide, so big you that can't see it from the ground.
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below is what science calls a hotspot, where a vast plume of magma has pushed into the crust. >> sigurdsson: the floor of the volcano is breathing like an animal. it's rising, and moving up and down. because of magma inside the volcano. >> pelley: what's the history of eruption of the hotspot in yellowstone? >> sigurdsson: the last eruption was about 400,000 years ago, the last big one. that was a devastating, explosive eruption. the yellowstone-size eruption will occur. of course, we have no idea when. it's being monitored very, very closely. so there is no chance of it occurring without any warning. but it's a devastating event. >> pelley: devastating to aviation, communications and agriculture, volcanoes can change the course of history. never before have so many people lived within striking distance-- 200 million worldwide. science is good at warning of eruptions that are weeks away,
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>> stahl: now, an update on a story we called "crackdown in russia," about president vladimir putin's increased repression of political dissent. members of the punk protest band pussy riot were arrested following a lewd anti-putin performance in moscow's largest
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orthodox cathedral. two of the young feminists received particularly harsh sentences-- two years in a labor camp. just before christmas, president putin freed nadezhda tolokonnikova and maria alyokhina, part of a new year's amnesty. it comes just ahead of russia hosting the winter olympics in sochi, a january thaw to help warm the putin image at the winter games. i'm lesley stahl. we'll be back next week with another edition of "60 minutes." aflac!
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