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- 05/20/15--07:56: _New documents show ...
- 05/20/15--08:08: _Prisoners might get...
- 05/20/15--10:26: _More — not less — r...
- 05/20/15--10:36: _Spotify’s new platf...
- 05/20/15--11:32: _House panel approve...
- 05/20/15--12:47: _NOAA Report: Deepwa...
- 05/20/15--13:22: _In America, inequal...
- 05/20/15--15:15: _Morocco trains fema...
- 05/20/15--15:20: _What do struggling ...
- 05/20/15--15:25: _Will your job get o...
- 05/20/15--15:30: _New science shows G...
- 05/20/15--15:35: _Bin Laden bookshelf...
- 05/20/15--15:40: _Trove of bin Laden ...
- 05/20/15--15:45: _DOJ gets unpreceden...
- 05/20/15--15:50: _News Wrap: Indonesi...
- 05/21/15--06:30: _Paul commandeers Se...
- 05/21/15--08:11: _As they lay dying: ...
- 05/21/15--15:15: _Photographers chase...
- 05/21/15--15:16: _Study offers glimps...
- 05/21/15--15:20: _Ray Rice’s assault ...
- 05/20/15--07:56: New documents show Osama bin Laden determined to strike U.S.
- 05/20/15--10:36: Spotify’s new platform to include video and podcasts
- 05/20/15--13:22: In America, inequality begins in the womb
- 05/20/15--15:25: Will your job get outsourced to a robot?
- 05/20/15--15:30: New science shows Gulf spill is still killing dolphins
- 05/20/15--15:35: Bin Laden bookshelf shows scholarship of American policy
- 05/21/15--06:30: Paul commandeers Senate for nearly 11 hours to protest Patriot Act
- 05/21/15--15:15: Photographers chase Yosemite’s rare moonlight rainbows
- 05/21/15--15:20: Ray Rice’s assault charges were dropped. How unusual is that?
Newly declassified documents about slain al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden reveal his determination to keep the terrorist network focused on an attack on the United States.
“The focus should be on killing and fighting the American people and their representatives,” wrote bin Laden in one of the more than 100 documents unveiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Wednesday.
The documents were among the thousands U.S. Navy SEALs retrieved when they shot and killed bin Laden on May 2, 2011 at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The Agence France-Presse, which got early access to the papers, reported that bin Laden was intent on attacking the U.S. in a spectacular way in retaliation for drone strikes against al-Qaida leaders.
The documents show bin Laden thought the best tactic was to hit the United States at home. He urged militants to refrain from fighting the army and police in the Middle East, which he considered a distraction from the primary target — the U.S.
He also cautioned his fighters from gathering in large groups and worried about his wife’s clothing being bugged.
The 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act required the documents’ review and release. The ODNI is reviewing more documents for possible declassification if they don’t harm ongoing operations against al-Qaida.
The post New documents show Osama bin Laden determined to strike U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
The U.S. Department of Education is poised to announce a limited exemption to the federal ban on prisoners receiving Pell Grants to attend college while they are incarcerated.
Correctional education experts and other sources said they expect the department to issue a waiver under the experimental sites program, which allows the feds to lift certain rules that govern aid programs in the spirit of experimentation. If the project is successful, it would add to momentum for the U.S. Congress to consider overturning the ban it passed on the use of Pell for prisoners in 1994.
“The idea is under consideration,” a department spokesperson said.Sources said the Obama administration backs the experiment, and that it would be unveiled this summer.
A likely scenario would be for state and federal prison education programs from a handful of colleges to become eligible for Pell Grants. Various restrictions might apply, such as for participating students to be eligible only if they are scheduled for release within a specific number of years.
Even a limited experiment will provoke controversy. Spending government money on college programs for convicted criminals is an easy target for conservative pundits and for some lawmakers from both political parties.
For example, last year New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped his proposal to use state funds for prison education programs after the plan received immediate and fierce opposition.
Yet advocates for removing the federal ban point to evidence that supporting educational opportunities for prisoners pays off for students, for government coffers and for society on the whole.
“Our association will support the reauthorization of Pell Grants for inmates,” said Steve Steurer, executive director of the Correctional Education Association. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Steurer and many others who work on college programs for incarcerated students cite an influential 2013 study from the RAND Corporation. The research found that inmates who participated in correctional education — including remedial, vocational and postsecondary programs — were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years. Participants also were 13 percentage points less likely to commit another crime.
The RAND study found that every dollar states spend on prison education saves about five dollars in incarceration costs. That’s because prisoners who get a college education are more likely to land a job and to successfully reenter society after they are released.
“People go back as workers and parents,” said Steurer.
While the Education Department is certain to get some pushback if it goes forward with the experimental sites program, several experts said the timing is right.
Currently, 40 percent of the 700,000 men and women who are released from prison each year will be incarcerated again in three years. Most states face serious budget challenges, with Medicaid and pension obligations squeezing out other priorities. So there is more urgency to find a way to keep released prisoners from returning for another expensive stint behind bars.
Some Republican state lawmakers support prison education programs, experts said, because they like the clear return on investment.
“It is financially wise,” said John Dowdell, coeditor of The Journal of Correctional Education. “It’s time to get over the emotional bias and do what the data says.”
Lifting the Ban?
The Obama administration in December released new guidance for states and local agencies on how to better educate juvenile offenders. The release included clarification that students in juvenile correctional facilities would be eligible to receive Pell Grants.
The administration estimated that roughly 4,000 of the 60,000 incarcerated juvenile offenders would be eligible for federal aid. That investment makes sense, they said, given that it costs an average of $88,000 per year to lock up a juvenile offender. And inmates of all ages are half as likely to go back to jail if they take college courses.
“High-quality correctional education is thus one of the most effective crime-prevention tools we have,” wrote Arne Duncan, the education secretary, and Eric Holder, then the attorney general, in a letter to state officials. “High-quality correctional education — including postsecondary correctional education, which can be supported by federal Pell Grants — has been shown to measurably reduce reincarceration rates. Less crime means not only lower prison costs — it also means safer communities.”
The December announcement triggered few complaints, the department said. And the positive or at least muted response probably helped encourage the feds to get serious about an experimental sites program for adult prisoners.
Another factor, said several observers, is more attention to the large numbers of black men who are in prison. That issue has been elevated because of the painful national debate over police killings of unarmed black men. Efforts to help prisoners, particularly those who were locked up for nonviolent drug crimes, might be viewed more favorably in the wake of the recent protests in Baltimore, experts said.
The congressional ban passed during the Clinton administration severely crippled correctional education programs, even though federal spending on Pell Grants for prisoners at the time was only $35 million per year.
“Our programs were much, much bigger when there were Pell Grants,” said Dowdell, who directs correctional education programs at Ashland University, a private institution located in Ohio. “Higher education in prisons just about tanked.”
Several states continued their correctional education funding. Ohio, for example, has remained relatively supportive. However, even that state stopped funding degree programs for incarcerated students after Congress passed its ban. These days Ohio’s correctional education programs focus solely on employment-related certificates.
A broad, successful experimental sites program could pave the way for Congress to reverse a bad policy, said Dowdell. Some congressional Democrats support that idea, he said.
Dowdell supports the experimental sites approach. He likes that it would be controlled, focused and would generate research that could inform future policies.
“It should be done in a very grounded, experimental way,” he said.
If Congress did reverse the ban, finding new money for Pell Grants likely would be a challenge. But Steurer said it wouldn’t be too expensive. Only 40 percent of inmates have a high school degree or an equivalency like the GED, he said. So most prisoners would be ineligible. And even if all of those who were eligible receive Pell Grants, according to Steurer’s estimate, the total cost would be $5 billion per year. That’s manageable, he said, particularly considering how much it would save in future incarceration costs.
“My personal experience working in corrections for over 40 years tells me that education often has a transformative effect on inmates, the way they think, what they feel about themselves and how they view themselves as citizens and parents,” Steurer said in a written statement.
Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education.
PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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Watch a report on the imams’ training program in Rabat, Morocco.
The North African country of Morocco has a series of religious training programs aimed at countering Islamic radicalism. Now, it is working to expand these programs to regional and even global levels.
Government-funded institutes in the capital Rabat are educating imams — Muslim religious leaders — from countries such as Tunisia, Guinea, Ivory Coast and France to fight against extremist ideas in their communities. The two-year programs instruct these imams in Islamic subjects and religious thought as well as computer literacy so they can confront radicalism online.
The largest group of imams comes from Mali, located in West Africa. A 2012 civil war allowed extremist groups like Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine to get a foothold in the country’s desert north. An international military intervention pushed them back, but a permanent peace agreement still has not been reached. Peeling away supporters of the extremists’ ideas, as these imams aspire to do, is an important part of winning the war.
According to the program’s director, Abdesselam Lazaar, more, not less, religion is the answer to extremism. “When a Muslim experiences a lack of spirituality, they can be easily indoctrinated,” said Lazaar. “Our aim is to spread the real meaning of Islam that shows the Muslim how to live side by side with any other community in the world.”
These programs, which are collectively known as “spiritual security,” also benefit Morocco, by demonstrating to its major allies, the U.S. and France, that it is playing a role in the global terrorism fight, according to International Crisis Group North Africa Director Issandr El Amrani. “As much as there may be some valid security benefits, there are also political reasons,” said El Amrani. “It serves, I think, everyone’s purpose to have this government say, ‘We have a counter-extremism solution. And we have a model to export, about how to ground religion in traditional and moderate types of identities, against these new identities that we see come up, like transnational jihadism.’”
This article and video were produced through the GlobalBeat program at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Student journalists Thalia Beaty, Kristopher Brant and Maggy Donaldson, along with Siyi Chen, Kelsey Doyle, Madeline Gressel and Zoë Lake, worked with PBS NewsHour special correspondent Kira Kay. Kay’s report on the training of female spiritual guides in Morocco aired on Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour.
The post More — not less — religion needed to fight extremism, imam director says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Spotify announced today a new platform that will expand its music offering to include video, podcasts and interactive features. New video offerings will include clips from partners like Comedy Central, VICE News and The Nerdist, and the company displayed podcast playlists from American Public Media and BBC.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek also highlighted the company’s new activity-based playlists, curated to fit certain points in the day like waking up or a morning commute. The “morning commute” playlist that Spotify displayed included episodes from podcasts 99% Invisible and PRI’s The World.
People are searching less now for genre-based music and more for media that provides a soundtrack to their daily life, Ek told the audience at the event. “People don’t search for hip hop or country anymore, but rather they search around activities or a particular experience,” he said.
Several other new features mark Spotify’s move into interactive curation. One new feature will detect a runner’s speed and play music to that same tempo, selecting songs based on the person’s listening history. And six new tracks, which Spotify created specifically for this feature, will interact with the listener by matching their pace as it changes throughout a run, according to Spotify Chief Product Officer Gustav Söderström.
The new additions mark the latest chapter of competition between music streaming services for listeners. Spotify’s announcement came one day after its rival Deezer unveiled a new podcast offering to its music streaming service. Spotify’s new playlists bring the company’s business closer to Songza, whose hyper-curated playlists provide a soundtrack for activities as specific as “A Moonlight Swim in Canada.” Last year, Google acquired Songza, which is now valued at over $8 billion.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — A GOP-controlled House panel Wednesday approved a $51 billion measure providing the Justice Department and NASA with modest budget hikes, but the legislation falls well short of what’s needed to win President Barack Obama’s signature.
The measure cuts back Obama’s request for police body cameras and new community policing initiatives, drawing the ire of Democrats and the White House.
The bill establishes a $50 million fund to improve police-community relations through state grants to assess and improve their justice systems. The amount is about one-third of what Obama asked for in February. Some $15 million would go to help local police departments buy body cameras that would record interactions with the public, half of Obama’s request.
Funding for community policing has assumed a higher profile following violence sparked by the recent deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement in Baltimore, South Carolina and Ferguson, Missouri. The unrest has focused attention on police conduct and the distrust between minority communities and the officers in those areas.
“The … bill fails to adequately fund all the elements necessary to fully support law enforcement and improve relations between communities and the police,” said a White House letter sent to lawmakers on Tuesday.
The measure targets increases for exploring space and fighting cybercrime but cuts legal aid for the poor, the decennial census and weather satellites. It eliminates a grant program that helps local police departments hire new officers.
The bill is one of 12 annual spending measures advancing through Congress, but is sure to face a veto threat, as have its predecessors. Republicans are effectively breaking budget limits to funnel an almost $40 billion increase to the Pentagon, but Obama is vowing vetoes of virtually every bill until domestic programs get comparable treatment.
Wednesday’s voice vote sends the measure to the House floor for a vote next month.
Lawmakers in both parties are looking ahead to bipartisan talks later this year to increase spending for both domestic programs and the military, paid with cuts in future budgets. But no concrete steps toward such talks have been taken, and the Appropriations committees are moving ahead with bills that even Republicans acknowledged are basically opening volleys.
The White House weighed in Wednesday with a letter attacking the measure for failing to fund next-generation weather satellites for midrange forecasts, shortfalls in census funding that could cost taxpayers more in the long run and the cuts to Obama’s request for community policing.
“As the nation has observed in Baltimore and other communities, trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential,” said Tuesday’s letter from White House budget chief Shaun Donovan.
The measure advanced as the Appropriation Committee’s defense panel awarded initial approval to a $578.6 billion blueprint on Tuesday that funds a 2.3 percent pay raise for the military, supports the fight against terrorism and prevents the retirement of the A-10 aircraft that protects ground troops.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will get underway on Wednesday with legislation awarding an 8 percent increase to veterans programs and military construction projects and a bill for the Energy Department and Army Corps of Engineer water projects.
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The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster caused a fatal disease never seen before in dolphins living the in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new report from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The study finally gives verdict to whether or not petroleum exposure caused the biggest dolphin die-off ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico.
“No feasible alternatives remain that can reasonably explain the timing, location and nature of this increase in death,” co-author Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego said in a press conference announcing the study. This forensic investigation is part of NOAA’s long-term ecological analysis of the Deepwater incident that was started in 2013, known as the Natural Resource Damage Assessment.
BP* has always challenged the link between the current slate of dolphin deaths — more than 1,300 in five years — and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which leaked an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico between April and September 2010.
Unusual mortality events (UMEs) — where large numbers of dolphins and other members of cetacean family perish in a short timeframe — are common in nature. Between 1991 and 2010, at least 10 of these mortality events had happened in the Gulf, primarily due to marine outbreaks of dolphin-related viruses and bacteria. Plus in the three months immediately prior to the Deepwater accident, 25 dead dolphins washed up near the Louisiana and Mississippi border.
“It’s important to note that unfortunately these large die-offs of dolphins aren’t unusual,” BP wrote in a February statement in response to a NOAA study on the demographics of the die-off. “Over the past years there have been dolphin UMEs relating to dolphins all over the world, with no connection to oil spills.”
However, today’s study announces a firm connection between the petroleum exposure caused by the Deepwater accident and the ongoing UME — the biggest in the recorded history of the Gulf. Prior to the Deepwater incident, the longest recorded UME had lasted 17 months from 2005 to 2006, while the most fatal occurred in 1990 — claiming 344 bottlenose dolphins.
The ongoing die-off has claimed three times as many animals and lasted 60 months.
In the study published in PLOS ONE, NOAA examined the major organs of 46 dolphins that died along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama during June 2010 to December 2012. The researchers then compared these specimens to a control group of 106 dolphins that washed up either off the coastal Carolinas between 1996 to 2012 or off the Gulf Coast of Florida and Texas prior to the Deepwater oil spill.
The researchers argue that when the dolphins swam to the surface for air, oil fumes and liquid petroleum leaked through their blowhole into the lungs and caused disease. The mortal blow for most of these marine mammals came in the form of shrunken, thinner adrenal glands, which had never been previously observed in Gulf dolphins.
“Animals with untreated adrenal dysfunction can essentially be balancing precariously on a ledge, waiting for the right stressor to push them into an adrenal crisis,” Venn-Watson said.
Much like in humans, adrenal glands produce hormones that help the body cope with physical stress. For dolphins, this stress usually comes in the form of dealing with the cold ocean water, pregnancy and naturally occurring bacteria that float around them.
Without normal adrenal glands, the findings argue that the dolphins became susceptible to bacterial pneumonia — a condition that can damage the lungs to the point of suffocation or can completely impair the mammal’s immune system through septic shock.
“These dolphins had some of the most severe lung lesions that I had ever seen in wild dolphins from throughout the U.S.,” said University of Illinois’s Kathleen Colegrove, who is the lead veterinary pathologist on the study. “More than 1 in 5 had pneumonia that was severe and caused or contributed to death in those dolphins.”
In contrast, only one in 50 of the control animals from other parts of the Gulf had evidence of bacterial pneumonia.
“Aside from chemical exposure, conditions that can cause adrenal dysfunction are cancer, autoimmune disease and tuberculosis. We didn’t find any of these additional causes,” Colegrove said. Red tide toxins and infectious causes of past dolphin die-offs — morbillivirus and Brucella bacteria — were ruled out for the majority of these cases too.
The worst injuries were spotted in Barataria Bay, Louisiana — 40 miles due south of New Orleans. This location was hit hardest by the spill — with oil coating close to 25 miles of shoreline. NOAA previously found that sea turtles have died or have been displaced due to the oil spill.
In January, a federal judge lowered the maximum cap on BP’s fine to $13.7 billion from $18 billion. A Congressional report from April says that BP has volunteered another $14 billion for cleanup operations and proposed another $1 billion on early restoration projects.
“The results from our study paired with what’s been previously published indicate that dolphins were negatively impacted by exposure to petroleum compounds following the Deepwater oil spill. Exposure to these compounds has contributed to the increase in dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico,” Venn-Watson concluded.
*Editor’s Note: Following publication, Geoff Morrell — a senior vice president at BP America — contacted PBS NewsHour with the following statement: “This new paper fails to show that the illnesses observed in some dolphins were caused by exposure to Macondo oil…Even though the UME may have overlapped in some areas with the oil spill, correlation is not evidence of causation.”
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Editor’s note: In his last column for Making Sen$e, economist John Komlos laid out his argument for how income inequality begins at birth. In his latest piece, he broadens his explanation to include even more factors that determine a child’s future, like his mother’s zip code.
Komlos is the author of “What Every Economics Student Needs to Know and Doesn’t Get in the Usual Principles Text.”
The Nobel Prize winning economist, James Heckman reasoned in a recent book, “Giving Kids a Fair Chance,” that, “the accident of birth is the greatest source of inequality in America today. Children born into disadvantage are, by the time they start kindergarten, already at risk of dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, crime, and a lifetime of low-wage work. This is bad for all those born into disadvantage and bad for American society.” To be sure, but “bad” is probably an understatement; disastrous would be more like it, at a time when 38 percent of African American children and youth live in poverty. One should add that the injustice of inequality actually precedes birth as its corrosive effects are at work already in the womb.The womb is a miraculous tiny organ prior to pregnancy — not greater than a medium-size orange; its sole purpose is to nurture and protect the fetus until it is expelled into the world. Though small, its impact is gigantic: the nature of its environment during the short period between conception and birth has lifelong consequences on the fetus. For instance, babies born prior to the 37 weeks of gestation or weighing less than 5.5 pounds will be disadvantaged for the rest of their lives in just about everything including their lifetime earnings. Fetuses exposed to toxins or infections will be irreparably damaged. The elephant in the room that we’ve been ignoring for the most part is that inequality — the big social issue of our time — begins amazingly during those 37 weeks.
Sadly, zip codes of birth do matter in the U.S. and they matter more than we think. If the fetus happens to find itself in a womb at 10104 (sandwiched between 5th Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas between W. 51st and 52nd Streets) with an average annual income of an unbelievable $2.9 million, it’ll surely enjoy the best nutrition imaginable: no toxins, no infections, certainly no shortage of micronutrients, and a stupendous team of doctors will make sure that it sees the light of day with optimal weight under optimal circumstances. Those in zip-code 10112 (near Rockefeller Center), who have to make do with $700,000 less, would not be bad either. However, should the fetus have somehow used an inaccurate GPS and landed in the Melrose-Morrisania neighborhood of the South Bronx — a small mix-up measured in miles — where in some housing projects half the households have less than $9,000 (no, not per month but per year) the fetus’ environment surely would be like on another continent.
The kind of inhumane deprivation that exists in the dysfunctional low-income crime-ridden environment that is colloquially called a slum and which the federal government refers euphemistically as “targeted census tracts,” leads to stress, anxiety, abuse, poor nutrition, infrequent doctor visits or no visits at all until the time of delivery, because of lack of money and lack of health insurance. Inadequate micronutrients, insufficient vitamin B or infections lead to all sorts of complications and suboptimal outcomes including birth defects, stillbirths, pre-term delivery and low birthweight followed by high infant mortality. The emotional stress that invariably accompanies such poverty all too often makes things much worse and all too often means that the fetus has to contend with toxins such as lead , alcohol, nicotine and heroin. In other words, in the targeted census tracts, just getting into the world as a healthy baby is a major challenge in and of itself.
The data are stark and unmistakable: in every single metric that matters to long run health or earning capacity, African American babies are disadvantaged by the time they take their very first breath in the world. For instance, blacks have a much higher rate of preterm births than whites 20 percent vs. 12 percent. Low birth weight (LBW) is also a major setback: it is 8 percent among whites but 16 percent among blacks, a whopping four times as high as in Sweden or Finland. LBW, defined as a weight of less than 5.5 pounds, has harmful effects forever and is also a main cause of infant mortality. No wonder that the mortality rate among African American infants is 2.2 times that of whites.
Given that the U.S. has the most unequal income distribution in the developed world it should not surprise us that its newborn health is also the worst in the developed world. The U.S. stillbirth rate is 17th in the world tied with Greece and Croatia (whose gross national income per capita is less than half of that of the U.S.) and is 50 percent higher than in Finland. Its infant mortality rate is 34th and is twice the rate of the Scandinavian countries and Japan and just below that of Cuba. African American infant mortality rate, at 12.2 per 1000, is higher than that of 60 countries in the world in a league with Russia, Serbia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. (Actually, those of Russia and Serbia are slightly better.) Surely, such rankings are not something to be proud of. In fact, the Washington Post refers to it as a “national embarrassment.”
However, the benign neglect of extensive maternal deprivation in one of the wealthiest countries in the world is more than embarrassing: the society pays for it dearly. The Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen has been pointing out that the mother’s role as life-givers is uniquely important: “maternal deprivation in terms of nutrition and healthcare rebounds on the society as a whole in the form of ill-health of their offspring.” The rebound is in terms of lives: maternal mortality is high in the U.S., 1 in 1800 pregnancies, which is somewhat higher than in countries such as Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and about 6-7 times as high as in Western Europe where mothers have free medical care. How inefficient! Or take the case of premature babies: 12 out of 100 babies born in 2010 were premature (an increase of 30 percent since 1981). The first year of medical costs for a preterm baby is some $32,000 — ten times as much as for normal term infants — for a total cost of not less than $26 billion a year. In other words, neglecting the uterine environment during pregnancy has immense immediate financial consequences as well.
There are immense additional costs such as the increased costs of the criminal justice system. Being the country with the highest incarceration rate in the developed world costs the U.S, according to one estimate, some $1 trillion annually. The cost to society of a single murder is about $9 million; so the 12,000 murders a year cost about $100 billion alone. The legal cost of executing someone like Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma for murder and rape is easily twice as much as seeking life imprisonment.
Clayton, born in a stereotypical slum, belongs in this essay precisely because his mother was a drug addict and hence his life was botched from the very moment of its inception. Society’s benign neglect meant that he was abandoned to his fate with miserable consequences and not only for him but also for his victims. The point is that society paid for it dearly. It would have been immensely smarter and cheaper to follow Heckman’s and Sen’s advice and not turn a blind eye to his miserable fate.
Although it is obvious, we should nonetheless stress that the fetus has no agency; it did not choose the womb in which it finds itself. Yet it will soon enter the world and have to bear the consequences and responsibility of its experience in the womb. The tremendous variation in its fate depending on the zip code of its conception cannot be considered “just.” Luck ought not be the basis of justice, as the political philosopher John Rawls taught us. Yet, society has a tremendous stake in the fate of that fetus, because the future of the country depends on the fate of such fetuses.
In the more humane societies of Western Europe the fetus that became Clayton would have had a significantly better shot at a normal life. Why? Because in these countries the community affirms that it has a major stake — both financial and moral — in the outcome of the pregnancy. Therefore, maternal protection is the law of the land and is strictly enforced. Maternity leave in U.S. is 84 days, the lowest in the developed world. In Sweden it is 240 days; in Norway it is 315 days. In Germany, expectant mothers cannot be laid off from the very beginning of the pregnancy until four months after the birth; moreover she is not allowed to work with toxic substances and she is not allowed to work overtime. The expenses are born by the taxpayers, i.e., the community but they also reap the rewards.
In addition, and most importantly, during the pregnancy the mother has the right and the obligation to visit a doctor free of charge on a regular basis. The results of all relevant medical information and all examinations are recorded in her maternity passport (in Germany since 1961) and she is expected to keep it with her at all times in case complications arise if she is not at home. If parents decide to take some time off after the birth they receive subsidy from the state that adds up to about $5 billion per annum. Moreover, the family receives a subsidy of $200 monthly for every child independently of income. In other words, the community takes an intensive interest in the well-being of the fetus and there is help for the family throughout the pregnancy and beyond. Instead of a “pro-life” political rhetoric, politicians actually do something for a “pro dignified life.”
Benign neglect is a no-win strategy. Pay later is inefficient, an immense waste of human and financial resources. At a time when some parents can afford to spend over a quarter million dollars on their children’s playhouses, it seems like we should be able to scrape enough money together to help avoid the nightmare of dysfunctional maternity. Warren Buffett said as much recently: “The American Dream has been very real for millions and millions of people over the years but there has been an American Nightmare that accompanied that, where people who equally tried to get educated and worked hard and had good habits and found themselves living a life that’s been on the edge throughout their entire lives and the same for their children; and America can do better than that.” What better opportunity to start “doing better than that” and break the vicious cycle of poverty and inequality than during that miraculous nine months in the womb that separates conception from birth.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: combating extremism. It’s a subject we have been exploring closely recently.
Tonight, we focus on Morocco, where NewsHour special correspondent Kira Kay got special access to a group of women on the front lines of an unusual effort to win over hearts and minds.
Her story is produced in partnership with the Bureau for International Reporting.
KIRA KAY: Nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, this school is the nerve center of an ambitious government program aimed at providing what is being called spiritual security.
Here, Morocco is training imams to lead prayers in the country’s many mosques, but sitting next to them, 100 women. They are not imams. That word is reserved for men. These students are studying to become Mourchidat, meaning spiritual guides.
They will deploy across the country with a twofold mission: to raise women’s status in Moroccan society and combat extremist thought.
FATIMA AIT SALEH (through interpreter): I always felt I was made for this work. It’s a dream come true.
KIRA KAY: Fatima Ait Saleh is a recent graduate of the Mourchidat program.
FATIMA AIT SALEH (through interpreter): As you know, religion can be a double-edged sword. That is why our mission as Mourchidat is to show a tolerant Islam, a moderate Islam that advocates dialogue and acceptance of others, and how to stay far away from extremism.
KIRA KAY: The Mourchidat students are an elite group. Only 10 percent of applicants are accepted. All must have already completed a bachelor’s degree. They study 30 hours a week for a year, topics ranging from fundamental Islamic texts to Moroccan civil law, to how to write a good research paper.
WOMAN (through interpreter): These issues that are connected to women, we need to approach them from the perspective of Islamic law.
KIRA KAY: Morocco takes special pride in the innovation of using women to spread religious messages when imams and even fathers can’t.
ABDESSELAM LAZAAR, Director, Dar Al-Hadith Al-Hassania (through interpreter): The risk of terrorism can begin within the family.
KIRA KAY: Abdesselam Lazaar is the school’s director.
ABDESSELAM LAZAAR (through interpreter): The Mourchidat is above all a woman, a mother, a sister. Her role within the family is very sacred. She has influence in her environment.
For her influence to work in the right way, she needs to be fully equipped and well-positioned. That’s why she learns the social sciences and also good skills of communicating with men and women.
KIRA KAY: Zohra Sebbtawi is from a city in the north of the country that has been a hotbed for extremist recruitment.
ZOHRA SEBBTAWI (through interpreter): The more we delve into it, the more we realize how sensitive our mission is, because we must correct misconceptions of Islam by people who pretend to know about it, but only put the religion in trouble.
KIRA KAY: Morocco, which is a strong U.S. ally, sits in North Africa, a region plagued by terrorist groups and failed states. Moroccan Islam is rooted in mystic Sufi traditions and is considered moderate.
Morocco’s king is revered as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, making him not just a monarch, but a spiritual leader. This promotes religious and political cohesion, but also gives the government power to sometimes muzzle dissent.
But terror has come here. The Casablanca bombings of 2003 killed 33 people and have been called Morocco’s 9/11; 17 people, mostly tourists, died in Marrakesh in 2011. An estimated 1,500 young men have joined the Islamic State.
The Moroccan government is fighting back by promoting a state-branded Islam.
Issandr El Amrani is with the International Crisis Group.
ISSANDR EL AMRANI, North Africa Director, International Crisis Group: More than probably any other Arab country, Morocco has invested in this and thought that this is something that will pay off in the long term, trying not just to control religious discourse, but using that control to prevent radicalization, to de-radicalize to some extent.
KIRA KAY: Recent graduate Fatima and her partner Hanane Dahi are two of the 500 Mourchidat already working in the field. They spend their days in mosques and other public spaces. Their speeches are a surprising blend of traditional religious sermon and feminist activism.
WOMAN (through interpreter): Perhaps in our history, women have faced some injustice because of a misunderstanding of Islam. But all women should be aware of their important status. They are entitled to buy, sell, mortgage, own everything.
WOMAN (through interpreter): The number of women going daily to the mosque is higher then the men. Women and kids are more faithful. We mourchidate are trying to take advantage of this presence.
KIRA KAY: Noufissa Rachidi has been attending these meetings for six years.
NOUFISSA RACHIDI (through interpreter): Previously, we women wasted our time in trivial conversations. Now we encourage each other to understand our religion. If women benefit from this program, then there is no doubt that all of society benefits, because mothers are our primary educators.
KIRA KAY: The Mourchidat also do outreach in the country’s public schools. Fatima particularly relishes her time working with young people. Today, she is sharing her favorite poem about the Prophet Mohammed and drawing real-world lessons from its text.
FATIMA AIT SALEH (through interpreter): Honesty leads to heaven. When we are honest in our life, Allah will recognize us as a trustworthy person.
Protecting the youth from extremism is a part of our mission. They are adolescent. It’s a crucial stage. The values we are teaching them might make it easier for them to avoid bad influences.
KIRA KAY: Fatima’s husband, Mohamed, sees his wife as something of a trailblazer.
MOHAMED ELATIFE (through interpreter): I’m proud of her work. She’s serving her country. I acknowledge that there are still some people who think a woman’s place is only within her home. But those old convictions are changing.
KIRA KAY: And now Morocco is expanding its spiritual security program beyond its borders, spending millions to bring in imams from other countries for study, most notably from Mali, which has been grappling with an Islamic insurgency.
This imam saw his home city of Timbuktu overtaken by radicals.
AHMED ISSA (through interpreter): This program is rescuing Muslims from the tight spot we are in. If Islam is truly understood, security will come, justice will come, peace of mind will come.
KIRA KAY: And upstairs from the Malians sits a first class of imams from France initiated before the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but now taking on new relevance. There is some political gain for Morocco as well, says analyst Issandr El Amrani.
ISSANDR EL AMRANI: Morocco is not a rich country. It is not particularly a militarily powerful country. It serves, I think, everyone’s purpose to have this government say, well, we have a counterextremism solution. We have a model to export. This is part and parcel of Moroccan diplomacy.
KIRA KAY: And he questions how effective these programs, even the Mourchidat, truly are, given the high level of Islamic State recruitment.
ISSANDR EL AMRANI: Would it be a lot more if there hadn’t been these programs? It’s a very hard thing to measure, I think. It’s also not clear, really, the extent to which that kind of state discourse is really that popular in those most problematic areas, where you find at least a tendency towards extremism. And I think that that’s especially the urban peripheries.
KIRA KAY: But back at the Mourchidat school, there is firm belief among current students that their mission is urgent.
MERIEM OUARDI (through interpreter): This training doesn’t just serve my nation. It has international importance. The West has a bad image of Islam, and we have a role in changing that. I swear I am losing sleep when I hear our professors say we are the guardians of this religion.
KIRA KAY: These 100 elite women will graduate in December and fan out across the country, perhaps hundreds of miles from their families. They say they are up to the challenge that awaits them.
For PBS NewsHour, this is Kira Kay in Rabat, Morocco.
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GWEN IFILL: It’s that time of year when students, their families and friends celebrate graduation, then immediately turn to worrying about their futures.
Some colleges and universities are worrying too.
Graduating students at South Carolina State University walked into the school’s stadium with all the usual pride and glee of commencement day. But mixed in with the pomp and the circumstance was a cloud of uncertainty about the future of South Carolina’s only public historically black university.
The commencement speaker, Sen. Tim Scott, didn’t hesitate to raise it.
SEN. TIM SCOTT, R-S.C.: Let me say first and foremost that, without any question, my prayers are with South Carolina State University for financial success.
GWEN IFILL: The school’s mounting financial troubles include a nearly $23 million deficit and, since 2007, a 40 percent drop in enrollment. Only months ago, state legislators briefly proposed closing the Orangeburg school for two years to balance the books.
South Carolina State is one of about 100 historically black colleges and universities in the nation, and among those struggling to survive. In Pennsylvania, Cheyney University is facing its own multimillion-dollar deficit. And Washington, D.C.’s Howard University shed 200 staff members last year and announced 84 more layoffs this spring.
Many of the schools have shed students as well, and operate without the cushion of the endowments and alumni donations that elite, predominantly white schools rely on.
State lawmakers last week turned to the worlds of finance and academia for a new interim board of trustees for South Carolina State.
Gilda Cobb-Hunter has represented Orangeburg in the Statehouse for 24 years.
GILDA COBB-HUNTER, (D) State Representative: We needed someone to recognize the importance of check and balances, accountability, transparency. There was a real systemic problem at South Carolina State, a problem that has gone on for 25 or 30 years.
GWEN IFILL: Interim president W. Franklin Evans hopes confidence in new leadership could lead to more state funding.
But he conceded that is not the only solution.
W. FRANKLIN EVANS, Interim President, South Carolina State University: We’re looking at right-sizing across the campus, even with our facilities, and making sure that we are maximizing the facilities’ use in our building and optimizing every bit that we can, so that we’re not wasting any money, wasting any resources.
GWEN IFILL: He’s also looking to build on the school’s strongest academic programs, like one in nuclear engineering.
Kenneth Lewis heads that program, the only one of its kind in South Carolina. He says it supports the kinds of students historically black universities have focused on.
KENNETH LEWIS, Dean, South Carolina State University: A lot of our kids are rural kids from small towns, rural towns in South Carolina, where they might not have calculus in high school, for example. We spend a lot of time with our kids developing them, encouraging them, and strengthening their background.
GWEN IFILL: Darian James graduated summa cum laude from the program this year. She is heading to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.
DARIAN JAMES, Nuclear Engineering Graduate: It taught me to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It pushed me. It challenged me. So going to any other school, I feel like I can make it.
GWEN IFILL: South Carolina State’s new trustees met for the first time today.
How can these schools rise to the challenges facing higher education today?
For that, we turn to Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
Thank you for joining us.
We just heard the president of South Carolina State talk about optimizing and right-sizing and words which it sounds like it comes from how to fix a school. But how does South Carolina State do so poorly, when other schools do so well? What’s the root problem?
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR., President, Thurgood Marshall College Fund: The root problem is about leadership.
And it’s not just the staff leadership, but it’s also governance, so the board leadership and the staff leadership. And, by the way, that happens to be the case at many of our institutions, not just HBCUs. But at its core, if we don’t fix the problem — and it’s a people problem — then we will continue to have — you can throw as much money as you want after institutions. If they have the wrong sort of governance and the wrong professional staff, then all of the dollars in the world won’t solve the problem.
GWEN IFILL: Are HBCUs uniquely at risk?
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: Yes, yes, largely because we acknowledge — we acknowledge that we were first historically underfunded. Check. Have that.
But then we continue to live — I don’t think we have had a real discussion about the appropriate new mission for HBCUS. What is their market? Who are they servicing?
GWEN IFILL: What is that? As you sit here and you set out on a mission to educate young black students, what should the mission be?
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: So, at its core, it is educating African-American students. I mean, that is the point of having a historically black college and university.
But we have got to identify majors and programs that are relevant to the market. You know, what are employers looking at hiring? If students are majoring in particular majors that are no longer relevant to the market, then they’re not doing their jobs. These kids are incurring significant amounts of student debt to get a degree. And if you go out and then that degree doesn’t pay off, then it fails.
And, therefore, the — there’s no incentive for other students to come to the university.
GWEN IFILL: Has the education landscape in general shifted as well? We used to say in the black community that if somebody else caught a cold, we caught pneumonia.
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: That’s right.
GWEN IFILL: Is that still the case as well for HBCUs, as the landscape changes?
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: Somewhat, but the entire — there’s been such disruption in higher education generally.
You have majority institutions that are going out of business and struggling as well.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: You have a school like Sweet Briar down in Virginia that has just announced its last graduating class. They have a $100 million endowment.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: The business of higher education has changed so significantly, that this is not unique to HBCUs.
Now, to be fair, we’re historically underfunded, and, therefore, to your point, the rest of the world gets a cold, we get pneumonia, because we have been historically underfunded. But that is just — that’s not unique to the HBCU space.
GWEN IFILL: Has also — and we have done a lot of reporting on this program about online education.
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: Has that also changed what the responsibilities, what the goals, what the structure should be for an underfunded university?
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: Everything has changed. There has been such disruption.
You think about it. Who would have thought 50 years ago that there would be a University of Phoenix, and all of the online for-profit education? And, by the way, many of the students now are attending reputable institutions with full online degrees.
So, yes, that has totally changed the game. I am on the board of an institution called the Cooper Union in New York, very well-known, highly selective institution, that this year for the first time ever had to start charging tuition.
GWEN IFILL: It used to have a reputation for everything being free.
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: That’s right.
So, if that is happening at a school that has a $700 million endowment, then you can only imagine what happens at the HBCUs, where I think, in the aggregate, many of our institutions don’t have a $700 million endowment.
GWEN IFILL: South Carolina State is a state university, a public university. Not all HBCUs are supported in that way by the government.
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: But do many of them rely on government funding? Does that have an effect as well?
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: Significantly. About 80 percent to 90 percent of all funding at public or private HBCUs ultimately emanate from the federal government through Pell Grant, certain loan programs to build infrastructure, grant programs from the various federal agencies.
So, yes, all of the institutions, even private institutions, rely pretty heavily on federal and state funding.
GWEN IFILL: So, where does it work and where doesn’t it work?
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: So, the schools that have figured it out, Claflin, it’s a classic example.
Claflin University sits right next door to South Carolina State in Orangeburg. So, it’s not a question of rural vs. city. It’s not a question of black vs. majority. It’s about leadership. At its core, our institutions have got to get the right boards of governors or boards of trustees, and those individuals have to select the right leaders, and those leaders have to execute their plan.
GWEN IFILL: What is the public interest in fixing HBCUs, and not just going and just letting — folding them into larger organization, mainstream organization?
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: That’s right.
Well, here’s the deal. Despite all that we hear about HBCUs, they represent just 3 percent of all higher educational institutions, but graduate 20 percent of all African-Americans with undergraduate degrees.
So, the point is what happens to America? Especially when the president’s North Star goal is to increase the number of college graduates, if those institutions went away, then America has a problem, not just black America.
GWEN IFILL: Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, thank you very much.
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR.: Thank you.
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GWEN IFILL: Have you ever worried you might lose your job to a robot? I have.
Hari Sreenivasan finds it could well happen with advances in artificial intelligence, or A.I., transforming the work force.
That’s the latest report in our series on invention and innovation, Breakthroughs.
MAN: Oh, all in?
HARI SREENIVASAN: In a closely watched brains vs. artificial intelligence poker match held in Pittsburgh earlier this month, humans pulled off a slim win over a computer program called Claudico.
MAN: All right. Good job.
MAN: Good game, guys. Good game.
MAN: Good game.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Tuomas Sandholm, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, created the algorithms that run Claudico’s A.I.
TUOMAS SANDHOLM, Carnegie Mellon University: Those algorithms figure out how you should act strategically, how do you avoid or deal with humans trying to deceive you, and how do you deceive humans?
HARI SREENIVASAN: Sandholm predicts Claudico will be able to beat its human opponents within one to five years, much to the chagrin of Bjorn Li, the leading poker player in this tournament.
BJORN LI: When that happens, poker will pretty much be dead.
HARI SREENIVASAN: But putting pro poker players out of work is not what Sandholm focuses all his time on. There are other things that Claudico can already do better than humans.
TUOMAS SANDHOLM: In my lab, we have developed an algorithm for solving the matching problem for the nationwide kidney exchange for 60 percent of the transplant centers in the U.S. And there, twice a week, our algorithms make the transplantation plan for the whole country without any manual intervention. When there is scarcity of organs, the A.I. is making those decisions in an optimal way.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Matching the right kidney to the right patient is one example of an algorithmic artificial intelligence. But there are much larger demonstrations hitting the road, quite literally.
Daimler has developed a prototype dubbed the Freightliner Inspiration Truck that’s being test-driven across Nevada. The hope is that computer-driven trucks can reduce the number of accidents. There are currently 5,000 fatalities a year involving trucks. Drivers would function more like pilots, overseeing computerized systems.
But it begs the question: What jobs will survive in a new economy driven by automation?
Remember Ken Jennings, the “Jeopardy” game show champion who lost to IBM’s Watson in 2011? He says the writing is on the wall. Here he is in a TEDx talk.
KEN JENNINGS: And I remember standing there behind the podium, as I could hear that little insectoid thumb. And you could hear that little tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
KEN JENNINGS: And I remember thinking, you know, this is it. I felt obsolete. I felt like a Detroit factory worker of the ’80s seeing a robot that could now do his job on the assembly line. And it was frigging demoralizing.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s not just quiz show contestants that are at risk. As more and more jobs are automated, Jennings’ experience could be a harbinger of things to come for American workers.
That’s the argument made in a new book, “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future,” by Martin Ford.
MARTIN FORD, Author, “Rise of the Robots”: Going forward, we may see automation kind of unfold in a top-heavy pattern, where a lot of the best jobs are the ones to get impacted. Lawyers, pharmacists, certain areas of medicine like pathology and radiology, any kind of white-collar job where you are sitting at a computer at a desk, well, the people who you might call office drones, those are going to be very susceptible to this.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And there could be major disruptions to the U.S. economy, says Daphne Koller. She’s an A.I. scientist, and also president of the massive online learning company Coursera.
DAPHNE KOLLER, Coursera: We are already starting to see jobs that were thought of as intelligent being outsourced to computers.
So, for example, a large part of a paralegal’s job, which is hunting down the relevant references for a particular problem, is something that you would have thought requires intelligence. And now there are pretty good software systems that do not 100 percent of a paralegal’s job, but 80 to 90 percent.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Will artificial intelligence software do to the paralegal what the tractor did to the farmer?
DAPHNE KOLLER: It is quite likely that that will happen. And I think that there will be entire job categories that will go away.
HARI SREENIVASAN: We humans have always been resilient. With each industrial revolution, we have adapted, creating new jobs with new technologies.
DAPHNE KOLLER: The optimistic perspective is that this will happen here, and that the jobs that will be created will by nature be higher and more cognitively interesting jobs that are beyond the spectrum of what an artificial intelligence program can do.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Leaving the less interesting jobs to robotic helpers like Botlr, an automated bellhop who cruises the halls of this Aloft Hotel. Is that such a bad thing?
Stuart Russell, who directs the A.I. lab at the University of California at Berkeley, doesn’t think so.
STUART RUSSELL, University of California, Berkeley: Some people think that, inevitably, every robot that does any task is a bad thing for the human race, because it could be taking a job away.
But that isn’t necessarily true. You can also think of the robot as making a person more productive and enabling people to do things that are currently economically infeasible. But a person plus a robot or a fleet of robots could do things that would be really useful.
HARI SREENIVASAN: A perhaps simple example, cleaning up graffiti.
STUART RUSSELL: In many, many cities, the graffiti is just left because it’s too expensive. But if I had a team of robots that I could take around the city with me and point them to what needed to be cleaned up, I could get 10 times as much done. And there will be positions for graffiti-cleaning supervisors, which didn’t exist before.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Graffiti-cleaning supervising robots might exist in the future, but our economy is already evolving. There are plenty of jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago that are now in high demand in fields like digital marketing and data analysis.
In fact, according to McKinsey & Company, the United States faces a shortage of data analysts. Almost 190,000 people are needed to analyze and understand big data. But will those jobs ultimately be filled by people or by deep learning machines?
Deep learning is a new type of A.I. that relies on neural networks. They’re computer programs modeled after the human brain and nervous system.
MAN: Hey, guys. How’s the training page looking?
HARI SREENIVASAN: At the Palo Alto office of MetaMind, engineers are using the technology to help computers see by quickly identifying images and placing them in categories.
The software can also understand nuance in the written word.
Richard Socher is co-founder and CTO. He says the technology will aid humans, not replace them.
RICHARD SOCHER, MetaMind: If you can bring the intelligence of the smartest people in a field, instill it in an algorithm with deep learning, you could really help a lot of people.
HARI SREENIVASAN: One example, he says, is in the field of medicine.
RICHARD SOCHER: If the best doctors in the world train an algorithm to find various different problems in C.T. scans or in X-rays, mammograms, for instance, you could build an algorithm that is almost as good as the best doctors in the world.
A human can only look at so many mammograms in their lifetime. An algorithm could look at millions and millions, and eventually find subtle things that may have not even been that obvious to the human eye.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how will society adapt to a computer intelligence that can do work which, until now, only humans could?
DAPHNE KOLLER: What people have going for them that computers as of yet don’t is the incredible adaptability of the human mind, the ability to learn new skills, the ability to really adapt to unexpected situations.
And so what we really need to do is to help people become even better at that.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Just like in a poker game, we don’t know what the outcome will be. We humans are raising the stakes as we continue to drive advances in A.I. technology. So, it will be up to us to stay at the table.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can watch more stories from our Thinking Machines series on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: the lasting impact of America’s biggest offshore oil spill.
It comes as officials are grappling with a new spill along the coast of Southern California near Santa Barbara. It began yesterday when an onshore pipeline ruptured. Slicks are now spanning a total of nine miles and the line was operating at full capacity when it broke.
Today, a new study by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at why dolphins died in such large numbers after the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010. It was the strongest link yet to the spill and to the deaths of bottlenose dolphins. More than 1,000 dolphins have died in the Gulf since 2010.
The spill lasted nearly three months, spewing millions of gallons of oil and chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico.
We get the latest from William Brangham, who weekend viewers will recognize, and he is now here with us as our newest NewsHour correspondent.
And we welcome you to the team, William.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thanks, Judy. Great to be here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let’s talk about this, what researchers are saying. What do they say these new studies show?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What they’re saying is that this has been the first definitive link where they can directly connect the death, this massive die-off of dolphins — as you mentioned, over 1,300 — I think it’s 1,200, 1,300 dolphins — linking those deaths directly with the oil spill.
I mean, scientists have been studying these dolphins for several years, ever since the spill occurred. This is the first time they have said, we now know why they died and in such large numbers, and it’s because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, BP is pushing back, of course. They are saying there’s no proof that there’s a connection to the oil that came out of the Deepwater Horizon rig. What do scientists say about that?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s true.
This has been BP’s argument all along, and in fact they have also pointed out that there were die-offs of dolphins that happened all the time on the Gulf, and that actually some of these dolphins had died off before the spill even occurred.
But scientists went to great lengths today to say that they looked at all the other factors that have caused die-offs in the past, and that this particular spill, the impact the oil has had on marine mammals, they can directly connect it to the dolphins that they have seen. And, in fact, the research that they did showed in the areas where there was more oil in the water, more dolphins died, areas where there was less oil, less dolphins died.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, are the bottlenose dolphins still dying off, or was this a one-time phenomenon?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The deaths have occurred ever since the spill began all the way to the present day. The current study only looked at a couple of years after the spill.
And what they did is, they examined 46 particular dolphins that died, and they were quickly able to catch them on the beaches of the Gulf. And they analyzed their tissues and found lung and adrenal gland problems. So this is — they think this may be an ongoing problem, but this study just looked at this particular period.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And do they offer an explanation for why they’re seeing this with the bottlenose dolphins, but not with other animal species, crab, fish, shrimp, and so forth?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The impact on those other species may occur. They just haven’t found the data on them yet.
The reason that dolphins, the scientist says, are the — are particularly acute sort of ways to understand this is that, if you think about how a dolphin lives, they’re mammals. They breathe air. So during the spill, they come to the surface to breathe the — to breathe. They enter the area of the water where the oil is sitting, and so they take a huge, deep breath with their blowhole, suck oil and chemicals into that.
Then they take a deep dive and hold that breath for a very long period of time. So, they’re particularly able to, in essence, suck in the oil and cause great deals of problems. Also, the scientists were able, to all throughout the spill, find these dolphins. They were able to go out and find them. They’re very large mammals swimming around in the water.
So, they can observe them, they can capture them, they can do tests on them while they’re alive. And when the dolphins die, they wash up on the beaches, unlike a lot of other animals, that just might die and fall to the ocean floor. A dolphin washes up on a beach, people pay attention. They call local officials, and scientists can quickly go in and examine them before the tissue deteriorates.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know people are going to listen to this, and one of the things they’re going to ask is, what about other — what about those other animals? Are they saying that nothing is going to happen down the line to them, and particularly what about the potential seafood in the Gulf?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That, of course, is always a concern of consumers all over the country.
There are current research projects going on under sea turtles to see the impacts on them and several other Gulf species. As far as the food that we eat, the shrimp and the crab that we’re used to, the FDA and all of the national government scientists that look at this have declared that those animals, at least the impacts that we would experience by eating them, those seem to be fine and we have been given the green light to eat Gulf seafood again.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But their research is ongoing, meantime.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Correct.
JUDY WOODRUFF: William Brangham, thank you.
And, again, welcome to the NewsHour team.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thank you so much. Great to be here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have a note to add.
Late today, a $211 million settlement was announced between Transocean, which is the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and businesses and individuals claiming damages from that 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
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GWEN IFILL: For more on what was contained in the bin Laden documents, we turn to Brian Fishman, a research fellow at both the New America Foundation and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, and Greg Miller, who covers national security matters for The Washington Post.
Greg Miller, you spent the day poring through all of these documents. What did you see, after having covered this issue for so long, that surprised and enlightened you?
GREG MILLER, The Washington Post: Well, actually, there was one document in there that really jumped out at me, and it was sort of something just I stumbled through just reading through.
And it was — it’s a document — it’s a letter, basically, bin Laden sends to one of his wives who had been hiding in Iran. In it, he is making plans or trying to make arrangements for him to join him in Pakistan, in Abbottabad, and he reveals that the isolation there has gotten so bad and the security worries so bad that he had thought about moving, thought about leaving that compound. And this was just months before that U.S. raid.
And it just sort of shows that, you know, if that — if he had followed through on that — and it’s not clear that he had taken any additional measures to do so — the post-9/11 history that we’re all so familiar with now might have gone very differently.
GWEN IFILL: Brian Fishman, you have spent a lot of time reading various previous tranches of these documents, or similar documents that have been released.
Some of the letters that are contained in there are mundane. Some of them are chilling. Some of them reveal paranoia.
BRIAN FISHMAN, New America Foundation: Yes, absolutely.
I think the mundane letters, the sort of banality of the process of organizing a terrorist group like al-Qaida, actually is something that we have seen over and over and over again. After — after we invaded Afghanistan in 2001, we found similar documents with application processes, and saw the same thing, actually, in al-Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006 and 2007 with their foreign fighters.
The thing that really jumped out to me about these documents is that Osama bin Laden was clearly engaged in the process of managing his network, up until, you know, just a few months before he was killed. We saw a lot of letters primarily to a man named Atiyah Abd al-Rahman in 2010 and even 2011.
And it’s interesting that, even as Osama bin Laden became more isolated in that safe house in Pakistan — and, as Greg said, he had concerns about that process — but jihadis and members of the al-Qaida network clearly still saw him as the sort of final arbiter of disputes.
And that’s a really interesting dynamic, because only Osama bin Laden sort of had the authority within the movement to play that kind of role. And when we think about his successor after he was killed, Ayman al-Zawahri, it’s not clear that he has the same kind of authority in the movement to project that kind of leadership, even though he isn’t heard from very often.
GWEN IFILL: Greg Miller, there have been these questions, as we reported, raised about the circumstances of bin Laden’s death, and whether the United States — the way the United States has told the story is accurate, but these documents don’t really speak to that.
GREG MILLER: I mean, to the extent that they — that these are — that these are messages from bin Laden in which he makes no reference to being detained by Pakistani authorities or under their thumb in any way or even concerned about Pakistani agencies like the ISI, I mean, it’s — he’s communicating with his followers, as Brian said.
He’s active until the very — until shortly before the very end. He is trying to run this terror network. He’s making plans, expressing ambitions, not behaving like somebody who has been in the custody of the ISI for four or five years.
GWEN IFILL: And, Greg Miller, why — tell us a little bit about the process here. Why are we just declassifying these documents now?
GREG MILLER: Well, the U.S. officials said today that this was in the works for some time. And, in fact, this is the second or third time that the U.S. has declassified documents from that compound.
I mean, we saw, right after the raid, there was a good deal of information released. And then, in the years since, even more material has come out. But, I mean, the DNI said today that this is part of an ongoing process and we’re going to see additional tranches like this over time.
GWEN IFILL: Brian Fishman, his view was to focus on the United States, but not so much on what we have seen happen since his death, which is the rise of ISIS and of different groups actually succeeding and eclipsing al-Qaida in the places where he used to control.
BRIAN FISHMAN: Yes, I mean, I think Osama bin Laden had concerns about trying to establish states, whether it was in Iraq, whether it was in North Africa, in Somalia. He was worried that his affiliate organizations and his followers would get bogged down in sort of the banalities of administration and having to worry about fund-raising and doing those sorts of things, and those would detract from the larger mission, which he saw as getting the United States, forcing the United States to lose its will to support Muslim governments in what he considers the Islamic world.
And so, you know — because what bin Laden believes is that you have to take the United States out of the — or believed — is that you have to take the United States out of the picture before you can topple those governments and then stand up new states and societies.
And he worried that his followers were sort of jumping the gun and trying to establish political hierarchies before the time was right.
GWEN IFILL: And, Greg Miller, let’s talk about those books on his bookshelf that we heard about today. What do they tell us about him? Did he have enough of a grasp of English, for instance, to be able to actually have read those books?
GREG MILLER: Well, that was one question I had. And U.S. officials I talked to said that they believe he did have the ability to understand and read English at a basic level.
We didn’t mention it, but he was clearly a fan of Brian’s. He had a number of the center at West Point’s reports in his trove. He had — most of these books, obviously, are nonfiction. A lot of them are about U.S. institutions and critiques of U.S. policy, and he’s basically a student of U.S. foreign policy.
And it looks like, when you look through these titles, he’s trying to search for vulnerabilities, vulnerabilities in everything from the Federal Reserve, to U.S. balloting fraud, to U.S. military strategies, and just sort of messaging vulnerabilities of the United States.
GWEN IFILL: Greg Miller of The Washington Post and Brian Fishman at the New America Foundation and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, thank you both very much.
GREG MILLER: Thank you.
BRIAN FISHMAN: Thank you.
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GWEN IFILL: Today, we found out a bit more about al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, including what he wrote, what he looked for in recruits and what was on his bookshelf.
The information was revealed in a stack of documents released this morning by the director of national intelligence.
Osama bin Laden remained fixed on attacking the United States until his death, and he urged al-Qaida’s affiliates to put aside rivalries in service of the larger fight. Those insights can be gleaned from the material made public today, as mandated by Congress.
The director of national intelligence says it was seized after the terror leader was shot dead by Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011. Within the trove, a list of what the SEALs found on what they called bin Laden’s bookshelf, including “Imperial Hubris,” authored by the CIA officer who headed the search for bin Laden, and “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward.
The release follows a recent article published in The London Review of Books by longtime investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Our president did authorize the raid. The SEALs carried it out. They did kill bin Laden. They got in and out successfully. And the rest of it is sort of hogwash.
GWEN IFILL: Hersh says that, contrary to the official U.S. account, Pakistan knew about and kept bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad, that the U.S. coordinated the raid in his compound with Pakistan, and that, in fact, very little useful intelligence was seized.
The White House has flatly denied those claims.
JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The story is riddled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods. The former deputy director of the CIA, Mike Morell, has said that every sentence was wrong.
GWEN IFILL: In all, officials made 103 bin Laden papers and videos public today. They said the timing wasn’t connected to the Hersh story.
In video released by the U.S., one handwritten letter, a missive to one of his wives, translated by the U.S. government, is titled “My Will,” and says: “If I get killed, and you want to return to your family, then that is OK. But you have to raise my children properly.”
Another letter turns out to be a job application to join al-Qaida. Would-be jihadis are instructed to write clearly and legibly. And they are asked, “Who should we contact in case you become a martyr?”
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Big banks and their behavior are again at the heart of a new criminal case brought by the Department of Justice and other authorities today. Five major institutions pled guilty to rigging currencies and manipulating the foreign exchange market.
The banks also agreed to pay more than $5 billion combined in new penalties. The fines were some of the biggest brought to date by the federal government. The banks were accused of manipulating the world’s largest and least regulated trading market, where trillions of dollars change hands. Among those pleading guilty, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS.
At a press conference in Washington, Attorney General Loretta Lynch spelled out how the rigging worked.
LORETTA LYNCH, Attorney General: Starting as early as 2007, currency traders at several multinational banks formed a group that they dubbed the Cartel.
It’s perhaps fitting that they chose that name, as it aptly describes the brazenly illegal behavior that they were engaged in on a near five-year basis. Almost every day for more than five years, traders in this cartel used a private electronic chat room to manipulate the spot market’s exchange rate between euros and dollars, using coded language to conceal their collusion.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s learn more about how this worked and punishment that is and is not being handed down.
Keri Geiger is covering the story for Bloomberg News and she joins me now.
Welcome again to the NewsHour.
You were saying this is an historic first, what happened today. How so?
KERI GEIGER, Bloomberg News: Well, it really is a fascinating case.
I mean, to put it into perspective, one year ago, we had no banks on Wall Street that had ever pleaded guilty to criminal charges. And, today, we have eight banks in total. We have had two banks last year, Deutsche Bank earlier this year, and now today specifically we have five more banks.
So it really shows a shift in how the Department of Justice is doing enforcement actions and policing Wall Street. They’re taking much harsher penalties for criminal activity that maybe a year or two ago would not have warranted a guilty plea.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us a little bit more about what was going on. We heard just a little bit of it from the attorney general and how they used the term — they called themselves the Cartel. But how did this work?
KERI GEIGER: So you have a handful of traders at each of these five banks, as Loretta Lynch said, participate in these chat rooms.
And, basically, what they do is, they coordinate really large multimillion-dollar currency exchange orders for their clients on when they’re going to execute those orders. So, there, they get a — all at the same time, they’re going to buy and sell large orders of the same amounts of currency.
And what that did is, it drove the price of that currency either up or down right before the end of the closing day. So they were actually able to manipulate the currency markets. This is actually an antitrust case. So, these banks are guilty of colluding to manipulate the foreign exchange market.
And it’s very rare that you see a financial institution that actually has to plead guilty to any charges, much less an antitrust charge.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So it sounds as if there’s no question the people involved knew what they were doing was wrong, was illegal. What about higher-ups, Keri Geiger? Did they know what was going on? And if they didn’t, why not?
KERI GEIGER: Well, I mean, this — this calls into the question of basically how banks’ compliance works.
And banks — these Wall Street banks are huge, giant operations, and it looks like that the senior executives at these bank addition did not know this activity was going on. I’m sure, if they did, it would have been stopped, because they, obviously don’t want illegal activity happening in their banks.
But the larger problem is that it’s become virtually impossible, as we have seen over the last couple of years with all these enforcement actions against Wall Street, to police every individual that’s working in these banks. And so you have the result of today, where you have five banks pleading guilty to very serious criminal charges, you know, without the knowledge of senior — you know, senior executives don’t have the knowledge that this is going on.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But they knew big money was being made in these departments, in these divisions.
KERI GEIGER: Right. It’s very difficult to tell how much the banks actually profited off these trades.
It looks like these trades were basically done for the individual trader’s benefit, as opposed to larger profits for the banks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Why — Keri Geiger, why no individual charged? We know there are some names named in what the government said today, but this is a fine on the institution. Why aren’t they going after the individuals involved?
KERI GEIGER: We fully expect that there will be charges against the individuals. Those cases take a little bit longer to develop. They require cooperation from both the banks, as well as individuals involved in this. So we absolutely do expect the Department of Justice to come down with some individual charges in this case.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the penalties? Over $5 billion. You add that to what they were fined, I guess it was last November. It’s about $9 billion altogether.
What — how much of a hit is that on the bank account — on the accounts of these banks?
KERI GEIGER: I mean, surprisingly, while the numbers are very big and the banks obviously don’t want to be shelling out this much money for fines, they are very small. They have been provisioned, quarter after quarter.
Basically, what the banks do is, they set aside this money each quarter with the expectations that they’re going to have to pay it out. They have been under investigation for a long time. So they have been preparing for these fines for a long time. And it doesn’t really hurt the bottom lines. And typically on the days these big settlements are announced — and we have seen this with other settlements with other banks — the share prices go up or they stay flat.
So, it typically doesn’t hurt the share prices either. So it’s difficult to tell that if these large fines coupled with guilty pleas actually do deter bad behavior at these banks, even though they’re necessary to prosecute for these crimes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly does raise that question.
Keri Geiger with Bloomberg News, we thank you.
KERI GEIGER: Thank you.
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GWEN IFILL: The crisis of migrants stranded at sea in Southeast Asia took a dramatic turn today. Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to accept thousands of the refugees. Many, like more than 400 rescued today, are Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Malaysia’s foreign minister announced they will no longer be denied entry.
ANIFAH AMAN, Foreign Minister, Malaysia: Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea. We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter, provided that the settlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community.
GWEN IFILL: In Washington, the State Department said the United States is willing to take more of the refugees and help other governments with their own resettlement efforts.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Islamic State militants seized an ancient city in central Syria today, raising fears they will destroy Roman ruins. The target was Palmyra, which is famed for its 2,000-year-old temple, theater and colonnades.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, government troops said they fought off an attack near Ramadi, as ISIS tries to consolidate gains there.
GWEN IFILL: Iran’s supreme leader has laid down a new red line in nuclear talks with world powers. Ayatollah Khamenei spoke at a military academy today, and insisted inspectors will never interview Iran’s nuclear scientists.
AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, Supreme Leader, Iran (through interpreter): No wise person in the world would allow that. They hide their scientists and even keep their names confidential. The rude and shameless enemy expects us to make the way open for them to come here and talk and negotiate with our scientists. Such permission will, under no circumstances, be given.
GWEN IFILL: Khamenei also rejected giving inspectors access to military sites. The nuclear talks are under way in Vienna, with a deadline of June 30.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In another development, Iran moved to avert a confrontation at sea with Saudi Arabia. The Tehran government said that it will not try to send a shipload of humanitarian aid directly to Yemen. Instead, the ship will go to Djibouti for a U.N. inspection. From there, it would sail to a Yemeni port controlled by Shiite rebels. The Saudis have warned against any effort to send arms to the rebels.
GWEN IFILL: An estimated six million Germans faced tough commutes today, after drivers of passenger trains walked off the job. At stations around the country, signs and displays alerted travelers to the strike, while drivers demonstrated for higher wages outside. It’s the ninth such walkout in 10 months.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, the National Security Agency will have to curtail its bulk collection of phone records starting Friday. The Justice Department issued that warning today, with parts of the Patriot Act set to expire June 1. It came as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, tied up the Senate, speaking against the Patriot Act.
GWEN IFILL: President Obama is calling climate change a threat to the nation’s ability to defend itself. He addressed graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, today, and he cited everything from crop losses that feed conflict, to rising sea levels that swamp Naval bases.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act, and we need to act now.
GWEN IFILL: The president said those who deny a human role in climate change are placing the country at risk.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The state of Nebraska is on its way to abolishing the death penalty, after lawmakers voted to repeal it today. In a new twist, conservatives supported the measure, citing the costs of injection drugs and legal appeals. Maryland in 2013 was the last state to end capital punishment.
GWEN IFILL: A crackdown on prescription drug abuse swept across the Deep South today. Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration raided clinics, pharmacies and other sites in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It’s part of a nearly year-long operation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials lost 27 points to close back below 18,300. The Nasdaq gained less than two, and the S&P 500 slipped 2.
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WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul commandeered the Senate floor Wednesday to deliver a nearly 11 hours-long protest against renewal of the Patriot Act, calling the post-Sept. 11 law government intrusion on Americans’ privacy.
Congress faces a June 1 deadline for the law’s expiration, and Paul’s speech underscored the deep divisions over the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, which was revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” the Kentucky senator said at 1:18 p.m. EDT when he took to the Senate floor. “That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”
He finished at 11:49 p.m., having not sat for more than 10 hours.
The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to end the bulk collection and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the Senate will act on the issue before beginning a Memorial Day recess scheduled for week’s end.
But McConnell, along with presidential hopefuls Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., favors extending the law and final congressional approval of the bill before the deadline is no certainty.
Paul plunged into a lengthy speech declaring the Patriot Act unconstitutional and opposing renewal of the program. With a hefty binder at his desk, he spelled out his objections, occasionally allowing Republican and Democratic senators to pose questions and getting support from a handful of House members seated at the back of the chamber.
“I don’t think we’re any safer looking at every American’s records,” Paul said.
Paul’s campaign sent out a fundraising appeal while his longstanding opposition to bulk collection, a pillar of his campaign, stirred social media.
Throughout the night, several Democratic senators and a few Republicans gave his voice occasional breaks by speaking several minutes to ostensibly ask him questions. Paul kept control by yielding for questions without “yielding the floor,” and by not sitting.
The surveillance issue has divided Republicans and Democrats, cutting across party lines and pitting civil libertarians concerned about privacy against more hawkish lawmakers fearful about losing tools to combat terrorism.
As Paul made his case, a Justice Department memo circulated on Capitol Hill warning lawmakers that the NSA will have to begin winding down its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by the end of the week if Congress fails to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
“After May 22, 2015, the National Security Agency will need to begin taking steps to wind down the bulk telephone metadata program in anticipation of a possible sunset in order to ensure that it does not engage in any unauthorized collection or use of the metadata,” the department said.
If Congress fails to act, several key provisions of the law would expire, including the bulk collection; a provision allowing so-called roving wiretaps, which the FBI uses for criminals who frequently switch cellphones; and a third that makes it easier to obtain a warrant to target a “lone wolf” terror suspect who has no provable links to a terrorist organization.
Last week, the House backed the USA Freedom Act, which would replace bulk collection with a system to search the data held by telephone companies on a case-by-case basis. The vote was 338-88, and House Republican and Democratic leaders have insisted the Senate act on their bill.
But McConnell and several other top Republicans prefer to simply reauthorize the post-Sept. 11 law. McConnell has agreed to allow a vote on the House bill, but has indicated there may not be enough votes to pass it in the Senate.
The Justice Department also said that if Congress allows the law to expire and then passes legislation to reauthorize it when lawmakers return to Washington the week of June 1, it would “be effective in making the authorities operative again, but may expose the government to some litigation risk in the event of legal challenge.”
The White House backs the House bill and has pressed for the Senate to approve the legislation and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The House bill is the result of outrage among Republicans and Democrats after Snowden’s revelations about the NSA program.
Although Paul called his action a filibuster, it technically fell short of Senate rules since the bill the Senate was considering was trade, not the Patriot Act.
Associated Press writers Charles Babington and Erica Werner contributed to this report.
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Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on health and retirement, is here to provide the Medicare answers you need in “Ask Phil, the Medicare Maven.” Send your questions to Phil.
Moeller is a research fellow at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College and co-
author of “How to Live to 100.” He wrote his latest book, “How to Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” with Making Sen$e’s Paul Solman and Larry Kotlikoff. He is now working on a companion book about Medicare. Follow him on Twitter @PhilMoeller or e¬mail him at email@example.com.
In the pantheon of dreaded diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) stands at the top. It attacks and kills motor neurons that control just about everything that makes our bodies and minds work. As the neurons die, so do the muscles and related functions they control. About 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. Most are dead within a few years.
Small motor skills tend to go first, and then larger muscle groups stop working. Some forms of ALS first attack the hands, arms, and legs. Others target speech and breathing. Some PALS – People with ALS – die quickly, while others survive for years and even decades. Near the end, people often lose the ability to do anything on their own and become trapped in their motionless bodies, unable to speak or eat or breathe without mechanical assistance.
I have written about ALS for several years. The PALS I have met are never without a communications device, be it a laptop computer or, increasingly, a smart phone slung around their necks.
New York Yankee Lou Gehrig died from ALS nearly 75 years ago. He is remembered for his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939, but not for the images of what he was like when he died nearly two years later in June 1941. Scientist Stephen Hawking miraculously has survived with ALS for more than 50 years, permitting the world to see what the disease can do and allowing us all to marvel at how he has persevered, and how technology has allowed him to continue his work and life.
GOT MEDICARE QUESTIONS?
Hawking’s synthesized voice has become famous in its own right, most recently in the hit biopic “The Theory of Everything.”
In the United States, Steve Gleason has become a prominent face of ALS. Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints’ football player, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Today, ALS has taken away literally all his body’s capabilities. He retains voluntary control of his eyes and, by using a computer and sophisticated software, he is able to communicate by turning his eye movements into text and synthesized speech. He and his foundation are working with vendors — particularly Microsoft — to develop better and cheaper communications solutions for people who no longer can write or speak for themselves.
Now, imagine if Stephen Hawking had no voice and that he was unable to communicate at all with the outside world. Imagine if Steve Gleason’s eye-gaze technology was taken away from him. In early 2014, Medicare changed some of its rules and effectively took away the ability of many to communicate at a time in their lives when this often is the only link they have to the outside world.
The Medicare policy switch involves speech generating devices, also known as SGDs. The changes were harmful and, from a vantage point of more than a year removed, appear incredibly insensitive if not cruel on humanitarian grounds. The numbers of people affected are relatively small and the amount of annual claims involved, advocates say, is on the order of $20 million. In the big picture of an agency that spends roughly $600 billion every year, SGDs are a financial afterthought. But they are an enormously big deal to the ALS community.
I wrote about this situation last year. So did other journalists. Exposing this problem would lead to its quick solution, I thought. And when last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $100 million for ALS research, I again thought that all these resources would help overturn or at least negate Medicare’s actions. I was wrong.
After an extended campaign to boost awareness, including massive letter-writing efforts to U.S. senators and representatives, a solution to these issues finally appears at hand. But it’s not here yet. And during the 18 to 24 months that it may take to resolve these issues, hundreds of PALS and thousands of their family members and friends have been and are being denied the opportunity to communicate, often very near the end of their lives.
The changes began early last year with what Medicare officials describe as a routine mandated review of existing Medicare rules. This is not an uncommon process. In the case of SGDs, the review included revisiting the terms of what is called a National Coverage Directive, or NCD. There are many, many NCDs affecting the things that Medicare will and won’t cover and the often technical definitions of what constitutes a covered claim eligible for payment under Medicare.
Going back to 2001, he recalled in an interview, Medicare paid the full share of SGDs when they were delivered, at which time they became the property of the recipient. The devices were shipped in what is called “unlocked” form, meaning that recipients could use them not only for their approved communication purpose but also as computing devices, to access the Internet, send emails and browse websites for information, news and entertainment. Medicare never paid for any of these additional uses, and it was understood by the ALS community that such auxiliary uses were out-of-pocket expenses not covered by Medicare.
In its 2014 NCD review, Medicare decided it had been misinterpreting the earlier NCD all along. In an updated communication called a “coverage reminder,” it said the earlier rule clearly intended to exclude the approval of SGDs that could be used as computing and communications devices outside the scope of the person’s narrowly defined medical need for the device. The actual NCD did not change, just the agency’s interpretation of the document’s intent.
“Medicare policy said before, and I think it still says now, that you can do what you want with the device,” Golinker maintains. But that’s not the way it’s worked out. “The policy change in February (of 2014) says they can never be unlocked,” he says. “The manufacturer of the device was told by Medicare that if you unlock the device, we won’t pay for it.”
At about the same time, and for reasons it has never fully explained, Medicare moved SGDs from a category of items that were purchased by recipients to a regulatory category called “capped rental.” In this rental program, Medicare would cover rental of an approved SGD for 13 months, at which time it would become the property of the recipient.
This may seem like a benign bureaucratic change but it is not. Placing SGDs in this new billing category has forced manufacturers to continue locking all SGDs that are shipped, preventing their recipients from using the devices to access the Internet and for remote communications, even though they are willing to pay for these expanded capabilities themselves.
SGD claims are administered by four companies that oversee geographic service regions for processing Medicare claims involving durable medical equipment (DME), a category that includes SGDs. In addition to regular SGDs, some severely disabled people such as Steve Gleason need SGDs that include what is called eye gaze tracking technology.
At about the same time that Medicare changed its interpretation of the NCD for SGDs and moved them into the capped-rental category, three of the four DME contractors dramatically increased their rejections of claims for eye gaze SGDs, often on the basis that the units were not covered under Medicare rules.
The largest U.S. maker of such units is called Tobii Dynavox. Tara Rudnicki, president of its North American operations, says the company has never been told why Medicare changed its approval policies. The company has documented subsequent claim approvals and rejections and found significantly higher rejection rates among three of the four DME contractors. The behavior of the fourth vendor did not change at all, she notes. Efforts to get comments from the DME contractors were unsuccessful.
“This has been, to be honest, a little bit baffling,” says Patrick Wildman, vice president of public policy for the ALS Association, the disease’s primary advocacy and fund-raising group. “You had these three different issues that came out at about the same time, for reasons that were never really explained.” Further, the three issues interacted in ways that worsened the impact of the changes.
The rented SGDs now being shipped only as locked units still could perform at least basic communications services to caregivers and family members in the same room as the patient in the home where he or she lived. But if the patient needed to go into a hospital, nursing home or, as it often turns out, a hospice program, the capped-rental program no longer pays for the device.
“Technically, Medicare will stop paying the rent on your device because under the rules, the facility that you go to is supposed to get a bundled payment from Medicare that should cover everything you need in the facility,” explained Kathleen Holt, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.
Tobii Dynavox and other SGD vendors are caught in the middle of these regulatory changes. “The way CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) did this was awful,” Rudnicki says. “All along, we have been trying to get them to understand what the devices do and what they deliver to the customer.”The combined effect of the three policy changes “has been devastating,” she says. “I don’t think they really understood; they did not actually understand the impact of these decisions on the person.”
She says the company feels forced to ship only locked SGDs. “We have to do that” but “we have tried in every case not to do that because this is not in the interest of the patient.” The company has appealed rejections of eye gaze claims, which has the effect of allowing the patient to keep the unit while the appeal is being heard. To date, Rudnick says, the company has units worth nearly $2 million in patients’ possession for which it has not yet been paid.
The ALS Association has a “loaner” program in its local chapter offices around the country, but its meager supplies of SGDs was overwhelmed by demand. Although the organization was in the enviable position last year of receiving a bonanza from the Ice Bucket Challenge, these funds were contributed to support research into ALS treatment and cures, not to buy SGDs.
That emergency role has fallen to the charitable foundation set up by Steve Gleason. When word got out that SGDs were no longer being provided with Internet capabilities and that Medicare contractors were rejecting claims for eye gaze technology, people started turning to what’s known as Team Gleason for help.
“We’re a very small grass-roots organization,” says Clare Durrett, the associate executive director at the Gleason Initiative Foundation. “We’ve really been maxed out on this.”
Normally, the foundation might spend $30,000 or so every three months helping out people with communications emergencies. Durrett estimates it has spent $1.5 million during the past six months buying SGDs – often at prices above what Medicare would pay. “We’ve bought nearly 100 devices in the last six months and have 12 on order right now,” she says.
After the ALS community began lobbying individual members of Congress to look into the situation, Medicare said it would suspend the effective date of the revised NCD and look into redrafting the rules. This apparently led some officials to believe the problem was over, but the withdrawal had nothing to do with the capped-rental rule or the stepped-up rejections of claims for eye gaze devices. Tobii Dynavox has continued to ship only locked units.
In January, Gleason went to Washington as a guest at the State of the Union Address. He also attended a meeting with legislators, ALS advocates and two key health care officials, Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and CMS Medicare director Sean Cavanaugh.
Holt attended the meeting and says she was struck by the clear sense that the government officials didn’t really understand the hardships experienced by PALS because of their altered policies.
“We said to them, ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you taking away the capabilities that you’ve let people have for the past 13 years?’ It’s so mean-spirited. It just felt like an assault.”
The government officials in the meeting mistakenly thought that withdrawing the revised NCD had restored the manufacturers’ ability to once again ship unlocked devices. “We communicated this to Medicare,” Holt said. “I think they didn’t understand how urgent this is.”
Durrett, also at the meeting, recalled that “Cavanaugh told us they were mandated to go back and take a look at all of their rules, and they were not following the letter of the law” in their earlier interpretation of the NCD. Secretary Burwell, Durrett recalled, said that legislation might resolve the issues more quickly than further regulatory action.
“She seemed completely receptive, and disheartened about the situation,” Durrett said, adding that Burwell’s father-in-law died of ALS and that she had been active in an ALS Association chapter in the Seattle area.
Less than 10 days after the meeting, the Steve Gleason Act was introduced in Congress. It would end rentals of SGDs and rejections of claims for eye gaze technology. Assuming that Medicare went ahead with its plans to revise the disputed NCD, the problems finally would be addressed.
On April 22, the Senate passed the Steve Gleason Act. It is scheduled for House action next month. The measure’s effective date is July.
On April 29, Medicare issued a revised NCD for SGDs that also could take effect in July. It included an expanded definition of allowable communications technologies that acceptable SGDs may employ. The revised NCD is similar to the policy Medicare followed from 2001 to early 2014.
CMS declined to answer specific questions submitted to it about SGD regulatory actions other than to say that the agency is committed to helping beneficiaries. A spokesman pointed to the revised NCD as evidence that the agency is being responsive to changing technology and understands the need to allow beneficiaries broader access to new communications technologies.
Despite the rosy sunset taking shape, SGDs are still locked today. And the impact of the capped-rental policy is still being felt.
Rick is 58 and was an assistant manager at a Kroger’s in London, Kentucky, before being diagnosed with ALS in 2012. His legs went first and then his hands and, more recently his vocal chords. “It started taking over his speech at the end of 2014,” says his wife, Judy, who asked that their last name not be used because she didn’t want to upset anyone at Medicare.
“I can barely hear him, and I have to get really close to do that,” she says. “He can’t hold a magazine. He can’t read a book. He can’t do anything.”
Judy says she heard about eye gaze technology and that Rick was approved for a device by Medicare. Even though the device would be locked, being able to communicate with her husband at home was enormously important. After months of paperwork and approvals, the couple was ready to take delivery of a machine last February, with specialized training to follow.
The day before the device was scheduled to arrive, Judy recalls, she spoke with a Tobii Dynavox sales representative and told him that Rick’s condition had worsened to the point that he would be starting a hospice program later in the week. Even though he would be staying in his home, entering hospice triggered provisions of the capped-rental program, she said.
“I told him they were putting him on hospice later that week,” she said. “He told me we wouldn’t be able to use the machine and said, ‘You’ll have to send it back.’” The machine sat unused in their home for four weeks until it was picked up and shipped back to Tobii. During this time, Judy had sought help from Team Gleason.
Rudnicki, the Tobii executive, has trouble believing that Medicare actually did what it did. “People are literally dying without voices out there,” she says, “while everybody sits here and argues.”
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a look at some of the wonders of the country’s first wilderness preserve.
Special correspondent Sandra Hughes reports from the Western Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
SANDRA HUGHES: In its 125th year as a national park, Yosemite remains as beautiful as it is popular. On most weekends, just getting inside the park takes patience.
But the 1,100-square-mile natural wonder in Northern California is worth the wait for the 4 million visitors who travel here every year from all over the world.
GARY HART, Photographer: I think it’s the most beautiful place in the world. This time of year in particular is kind of — I call it — spring kind of the postcard Yosemite.
SANDRA HUGHES: Gary Hart understands Yosemite’s draw. A nature photographer who has shot every corner of this park…
GARY HART: I got it.
SANDRA HUGHES: … Hart leads photography expeditions for students out to capture Yosemite’s famous and lesser known wonders.
GARY HART: Have you checked your polarizer, because it’s — it actually is making a significance difference, especially when you go that sheen on the rocks there.
MAN: Oh, yes.
SANDRA HUGHES: Over a four-day journey through the park, Hart reveals his secret spots for amazing shots, capturing iconic landscapes, beautiful waterfalls, and lining up Yosemite Valley to perfectly frame the rising moon.
MAN: Oh, this is awesome.
SANDRA HUGHES: As a photographer, what’s it like when you capture that just perfect picture here in Yosemite?
GARY HART: No, it’s euphoria. It’s great.
For me, it’s trying to come with something that I have never seen, which isn’t really easy. It’s one of the most photographed locations in the world.
SANDRA HUGHES: On this expedition, Hart and his students are chasing a photo of a fleeting natural phenomenon, which can occur on a clear night only a couple of times each year.
When the full moon hits a misty spray from Yosemite Falls at just the right angle, it creates a moonbow, a nighttime rainbow visible only through a camera lens. It’s a shot that Hart has gotten before. But, this year, a moonbow sighting is uncertain.
KARI COBB, Ranger, Yosemite National Park: It’s a pretty phenomenal event. Things definitely have to be in line for it to happen.
SANDRA HUGHES: Right, right.
KARI COBB: So, sometimes, it doesn’t happen. Sometimes, it happens multiple times throughout the year. It just really depends on the moon and the water.
SANDRA HUGHES: This stick measures the height of the Merced River, which runs through the middle of Yosemite. An average snowfall would raise the river level to about 12 feet. But after four years of drought, as you can see, the river is below three feet.
That means that Yosemite Falls, which normally flows until August, will be dry this year by June.
KARI COBB: You need waterfalls, and most of the time, you need big waterfalls. So what the drought means for the moonbow is that there may not be enough water in Yosemite Falls to create that mist, and to create that moonbow.
SANDRA HUGHES: Though Hart hopes to give his students some moonbow experience tonight, he knows that, this year, it’s a long shot.
GARY HART: We’re kind of in uncharted waters in terms of the spring flow. It’s just — as far as I know, it’s never been this low this time of year.
SANDRA HUGHES: At dusk, a bright full moon rises in just the right position under a cloudless, clear sky. Hart and his students make the nighttime hike to the base of Yosemite Falls, knowing it still may not be enough.
So, it’s not looking good right now?
GARY HART: It really — it really — it really isn’t.
SANDRA HUGHES: As the moon moves in and then slowly out of position, the mist at the base of the falls is too low to catch the light. Mother Nature may have spoiled the moonbow.
GARY HART: I’m not ready to toss in the towel yet. I’m going to give a little bit of time and see if we can get a little bit more light on the base of the fall. And I would really like to get my people a little bit of color.
SANDRA HUGHES: Or will she?
GARY WADE, Photography Student: The other Gary has an image.
GARY HART: Spectacular.
GARY WADE: Oh, wow, that is better than I had seen.
MAN: That is a moonbow.
GARY HART: That is a moonbow.
GARY WADE: I have seen these pictures of the full great bows. But when we have a drought like we have right now, this is spectacular. Love it.
GARY HART: It’s pretty cool, a rainbow caused by moonlight.
SANDRA HUGHES: With a fraction of its water flow, Yosemite Falls creates just enough spray to do its part with the moon and sky to create the amazing effect, before disappearing.
Soon, Yosemite Falls will follow suit, and this magical moment will be all dried up for another year.
I’m Sandra Hughes for the PBS NewsHour in Yosemite National Park.
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With some of the world’s largest aging populations, Italians and Germans may have advice for Americans about caring for older adults.
Today, 13 percent of Americans are age 65 or older, far less than Germany and Italy thanks to higher birth and immigration rates, says Juliana Horowitz, associate director of research at Pew Research Center. By 2050, one out of five Americans are expected to be at least 65-years-old, levels currently seen in Italy and Germany.
In a report published today, Horowitz analyzed responses people gave during nationally representative telephone interviews in late 2014 to compare their attitudes about long-term care and aging in the United States, Italy and Germany.
“Aging has been happening at a much slower rate here than in those two countries,” she said. “This allows us to have a glimpse into the future.”
And what did she see?
In all three countries, most adult children who provide needed financial assistance to an older parent see that act as a responsibility, the study found. Nearly nine out of 10 Italians and three-quarters of Americans who fit this profile said they felt this way. Among Germans, about six out of 10 said they felt it was a responsibility.
Government distribution of aid can help explain these attitudes to some extent, Horowitz said.
In Germany and Italy, for example, more than two-thirds of income for older adults comes in the form of government assistance, she said, while in the United States, it’s 38 percent. Also, more older Americans tend to remain in the labor force longer than in Europe.
“Western Europeans, much more than Americans, see a bigger role for government, whereas Americans see an individual approach,” Horowitz said.
When it comes to retirement savings apart from social security, most Germans and Americans say they are setting money aside, while only 23 percent of Italians said they are saving money.
Among younger Germans, Italians and Americans alike, there remains skepticism about whether or not they will benefit from social security once they are ready to retire, the study showed. Fully, 41 percent of respondents in both Germany and the United States and 53 percent of Italians said they expected no such benefits.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the current and projected numbers for the percent of Americans age 65 or older.
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GWEN IFILL: Now to the case of former NFL running back Ray Rice.
The former Baltimore Ravens player was charged with aggravated assault after he knocked his then fiancee unconscious. The league suspended him indefinitely, a decision an arbitrator later lifted. Today, all charges against him were dropped.
Hari Sreenivasan picks up the story from there in our New York studios.
HARI SREENIVASAN: A New Jersey judge dismissed the charges after Rice completed a one-year program known as a pretrial intervention. Anger management counseling is said to be part of that program, but few other details have been released. The prosecutor agreed to let Rice participate in that program last year.
There’s been discussion again today over whether Rice was offered a routine or unusual deal, given the assault.
We break this down with Debbie Hines, a former prosecutor familiar with domestic violence cases. She now practices in Washington, D.C. And Christine Brennan, USA Today national sports columnist and ABC news commentator.
Debbie, I want to start with you.
How unusual is it to have the charges dropped in an aggravated assault case, which usually carries a maximum of up to five years?
DEBBIE HINES, Former Prosecutor: Hari, it is so unusual, I don’t know even know how to describe it.
In most of the cases where there’s an aggravated assault, you generally are not even allowed to participate in the pretrial intervention program. It’s called different things in other states, but usually when it’s a violent crime, whether it’s domestic violence or it’s just an aggravated assault not involving domestic violence, you are not allowed to even participate in the cases.
So, what it means in New Jersey, I understand, is that in roughly about less than 1 percent of all domestic violence, aggravated assault-type cases ends up in this program.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what’s a typical path for an average somebody, not a Ray Rice, if they get an aggravated assault charge vs. a lesser charge?
DEBBIE HINES: The same thing that happened originally to Ray Rice, is that he was originally offered a plea bargain. Once his case had been indicted on the aggravated assault, he was offered a plea bargain, which he chose not to accept.
What he chose to do is to basically plead not guilty and then go through this program. The average person would have been offered the plea bargain and they would have had the option of either accepting a plea bargain that was offered — and I can tell you it wouldn’t have been for any pretrial intervention program — or they would have able to proceed to trial on the case.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Christine Brennan, how much of this is because he is a high-profile NFL player?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Well, I’m sure a lot.
What Debbie is saying is riveting and incredibly frustrating. But I wonder if, what would have been the case, Hari, if they had done the right thing in Atlantic City, if they had thrown the book at Ray Rice? The NFL would have taken its lead from that, from the decision of the authorities, and you wouldn’t have had the two-game suspension by Roger Goodell, I am sure. I’m sure they would have given him a much tougher suspension even back then. Obviously, it would turn from two games into indefinite suspension, and Ray Rice had not played football again.
But you think about how the course of sports history and, frankly, cultural history would have changed if the authorities in Atlantic City had done the right thing, instead of letting Ray Rice get off basically with a slap on the wrist.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Christine, there also seems to be a disconnect between how we’re reacting to the NFL vs. the prosecutor’s office.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Absolutely.
I mean, I have been as critical of Roger Goodell and the National Football League as one, but I have also noted that they have made a lot of changes and are doing now more, Hari, than anyone in sports, maybe even in business, maybe even worldwide — I know that’s quite a statement — on the issue of domestic violence.
No one is doing enough, but the NFL has really learned its lesson from September 8. That was the day we saw that Ray Rice elevator video. So, when you think of that, you think of the pummeling that Roger Goodell and the NFL have taken, much of it self-induced, but a lot of it not, and you compare it to where’s the outrage about the authorities in Atlantic City, I find that striking, as a journalist, the way that the NFL has really borne the brunt of this, when, of course, the authorities could have obviously changed history and changed this in a big way if they had done something different.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, Debbie Hines, a prosecutor might say, listen, I took into consideration what his then fiancee, now wife, also says and feels about the situation. Should that count in the sentencing or dropping the charges?
DEBBIE HINES: In this case, it should count for just a very minimum amount, because what you have to understand is that there was a video.
And so they didn’t even need the testimony of Ray Rice’s — who became his wife, and so she would have had spousal immunity. But they had the video showing that he knocked her out unconscious. So, yes, they would take into account her feelings, just as they would in any particular victim’s case.
But in this case, the prosecutor could have proceeded without even her testimony, if she chose to invoke her spousal immunity, because of the video.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Christine Brennan, there’s also the question of whether or not — whether or not Ray Rice will play again. There were articles today on a handful of teams that could use a running back like him. There were other articles saying perhaps he’s past his prime.
Will we see him back on the football field?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It’s doubtful.
I think there’s a chance if a team needs — has an injury during training camp. I don’t think we will see much action, Hari, until training camps open in the summer. There’s a chance, but Ray Rice is radioactive. And because of the video, which, of course, the authorities in Atlantic City had as well, everyone knows him from that video.
And I think not only basically football-wise, he’s 28, which is kind of old for a running back, and he had his worst year in 2013, and then of course didn’t play last year. So, it’s damaged goods, I think, in many ways on the field, and then the public relations nightmare that would occur if you do sign him, I think that’s another issue that a lot of teams are going to be dealing with.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Christine Brennan, Debbie Hines, thanks so much for joining us.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Thank you.
DEBBIE HINES: Thank you.
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