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- 06/16/15--16:30: _Obama’s envoy says ...
- 06/16/15--16:43: _News Wrap: Lawmaker...
- 06/16/15--17:30: _How a school is tra...
- 06/17/15--09:50: _Muslim political ca...
- 06/17/15--12:44: _American history ha...
- 06/17/15--13:13: _Will climate change...
- 06/17/15--13:49: _The Fixer’s Tour Gu...
- 06/17/15--13:54: _This rockstar scien...
- 06/17/15--15:59: _The problem with tr...
- 06/17/15--16:18: _How will the health...
- 06/17/15--17:09: _Is the world’s fres...
- 06/17/15--17:10: _Will better relatio...
- 06/17/15--17:16: _Migrant laborers wo...
- 06/17/15--17:20: _‘A curse from God’ ...
- 06/17/15--17:22: _Are ex-cons being u...
- 06/17/15--17:25: _More parity in the ...
- 06/17/15--17:30: _News Wrap: Congress...
- 06/18/15--11:48: _A lawyer and her cl...
- 06/18/15--11:57: _Supreme Court tackl...
- 06/18/15--12:40: _How a 9th-grader’s ...
- 06/16/15--16:43: News Wrap: Lawmakers reprimand Personnel Chief over data breach
- 06/17/15--09:50: Muslim political cartoonist fights oppression with pen
- 06/17/15--12:44: American history has seen some first lady stand-ins
- 06/17/15--13:49: The Fixer’s Tour Guide to Havana
- 06/17/15--15:59: The problem with trying to label Rachel Dolezal
- 06/17/15--17:09: Is the world’s fresh water supply running out?
- 06/17/15--17:16: Migrant laborers worked to death as Qatar builds for World Cup
- 06/17/15--17:20: ‘A curse from God’ — The stigma of mental illness in Pakistan
- 06/18/15--11:48: A lawyer and her client weigh in on the overtime scam
- 06/18/15--11:57: Supreme Court tackles free speech issues in dueling decisions
- 06/18/15--12:40: How a 9th-grader’s letter to Gwen Ifill inspired an entire school
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Islamic State group suffered a major defeat in the last 24 hours, losing a vital supply line to its self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa. The ISIS loss happened inside Syria, near the Turkish border, in a town called Tal Abyad. Kurdish fighters and members of the Free Syrian Army took control of the area after days of fighting. They were helped by three U.S. coalition airstrikes on Islamic State targets.
The development comes on the heels of the Obama administration’s announcement that it is sending an additional 450 trainers to Iraq to fight the Sunni militant group.
Helping coordinate efforts with allies against the Islamic State is retired Marine General John Allen, the president’s special envoy.
I spoke to him earlier today at the State Department, as part of our series No End in Sight.
General John Allen, thank you very much for talking with us.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN (RET.), International Coalition Coordinator: It’s always a pleasure, Judy. Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you have just come back from a trip to Iraq and a number of other countries. The news lately about ISIS has been pretty disappointing, in fact, discouraging. But there was some good news yesterday out of Syria and a battle right on the Turkish border. What you can tell us about that?
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: Well, the reporting is still coming, coming together on this, Judy.
It’s a long-term effort that’s been under way by some of the resistance elements in that region to ultimately cut off a border crossing called Tal Abyad. And it, we believe, is one of the principal sources for supply to Da’esh, or ISIL’s capital in Raqqa to the south.
So, we’re waiting to get more reporting on it. We will get more over the next few days and get a better and a clearer picture. But one thing that’s very important, I think, is, as these forces continue to operate, we’re going to continue to make the point with them that they have to protect the populations that they’re liberating. It’s essential, really, to the stabilization of the area. So we’re going to watch that as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as we were saying, overall, the news has been pretty discouraging, the fall of Ramadi, the last stronghold essentially of the Iraqi government in Anbar province, and, of course, the fact that ISIS has been able to not just take, but hold large swathes of territory in Syria.
In Iraq, we’re now a year out from ISIS taking over Mosul. I mean, what — who has the upper hand right now in this conflict?
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: Well, I think the momentum is growing, actually, on the part of the coalition and the Iraqis.
If you look at the battle space across Iraq, Tikrit was recently liberated, which is not an insignificant city, frankly. And very important activity is going on in Tikrit today in the province of Salahuddin, is that, starting yesterday, families began to return to Tikrit after it was liberated.
There has been the beginnings of the recovery of the Sunni Iraqi police of that province, which will be essential to securing and holding that population. It’s not just beating Da’esh. It’s ultimately moving the populations back into their home villages or, in this case, the city, and doing that in a way where we can secure the population through the recovered police and doing it in a way where we can provide stabilization to the population by the movement of funds created as a result of the coalition.
That’s a pretty important outcome. And that process is under way in a number of places in Iraq.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the president just announced at the end of last week that 450 more U.S. military advisers, trainers will be going to Iraq soon to beef up the U.S. presence there now to work in Anbar province.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How much difference is that going to make?
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: What you saw with the defeat in Ramadi — and we learned a lot about that — was that, in the end, while those defenders fought hard for a long period of time and ultimately withdrew, if you go up the river just a short distance to Al Asad, an operational platform where we have been for some period of time, the training of Iraqi security forces and the training of tribal forces has rendered a big segment of the Euphrates River completely empty of Da’esh.
There is the proof of the concept behind the strategy of ultimately empowering the indigenous forces to take control of their areas. What Al-Taqaddum is, is another operational platform that gives them the capacity to rally in one place, ultimately to be trained by Americans and Iraqis to give them the capacity to take back the eastern part of the province and to work closely with the other elements that are up the river towards Al Asad.
JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the views out there is that the U.S. should be doing much more than this, if it’s worth doing anything, it’s worth coming in with overwhelming support, that this is taking too long, that ISIS is get too long-lasting and deep a foothold, and the U.S. shouldn’t be making such a baby step, if you will.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: I think the U.S. is doing a great deal. And let’s just — let’s call it the coalition as well.
I think we’re doing a great deal. Beyond the clearance of Tikrit, which wouldn’t have happened, frankly, without coalition support to the Iraqi security forces, without our emphasis on recovery of the police and lining up coalition partners to help to train the police, without going after actively the development of a sustainability or a stabilization fund, without our constant training of Iraqi main force units and tribal elements, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
And so there’s a lot of activity that’s going on.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Another view is that this is just turning out to be too hard, it’s not going to work, and the U.S. should just basically pull back and let — leave the fight to the Kurds, the Iranians, anyone else in the region.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: Well, that’s not going to work.
I mean, it completely destabilizes the region if we permit Iraq ultimately to come apart. And the chances are very good that that would be the case without the support that we’re providing to the prime minister at this particular moment. It’s not going to occur in the short-term. It’s going to take some time. And we just need to recognize that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: General Allen, you have also been very focused on the flow, flood of foreign fighters into the region to work with, fight with ISIS. You were recently — you were not only in Iraq. You have made a trip to the Balkan countries, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, because of the concern about the source, foreign fighters there.
Talk a little bit about what your message was there and how serious this problem is.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: Every one of those countries is, in fact, a source country.
But we’re also a source country, and we’re looking very hard at how we get at the business of reducing the attractiveness of the caliphate, which is often — the so-called caliphate, which is the — often the point of legitimatization for the message of Da’esh. And so they’re bracing that hard. And we can learn a lot from what they’re trying to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In connection with that, there was a story in The Washington Post over the last few days essentially saying the U.S. is losing the battle in social media to win hearts and minds, that ISIS has been so effective in getting its message out there and making it seem so appealing, and that the U.S. and the coalition has had a much tougher time.
Where does that stand? And do you…
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: That’s a great question.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And why is it so hard?
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: Well, it’s hard for a variety of reasons.
First, I don’t agree with the broad characterization that we’re losing the conflict in that regard. It’s a great challenge, because Da’esh only has one message, and they only have a single entity, by and large, that’s putting that message out. So it’s easy to get a unity of purpose and a unity of effort in that message.
But I recall the words by one of our coalition’s leaders. And that’s King Abdullah II of Jordan, where he said: This is about recovering our faith. And to do this, we must have an Arab face and a Muslim voice.
And I have traveled a lot, Judy, across the coalition. I have been to 29 different capitals at this point. I have been to Southeast Asia. I have been to the Middle East. I have been in Europe. I have been in North America. So, with that much diversity across so many regions in the world, achieving the unity of purpose and the unity of message is really important. And that’s what we’re working to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: General John Allen, we thank you very much for talking with us.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN: It’s great to see you again, Judy. Thank you very much.
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Drive west from downtown Cincinnati, over the railroad tracks that snake beneath the 8th Street Viaduct, and you’ll find a little slice of Appalachia, nestled between the Ohio River and the steep slopes of Price Hill. When coal mining jobs in Kentucky and West Virginia declined after World War II, hundreds of families came to Cincinnati for factory work. Many eventually settled in a small neighborhood of brick row houses now known as Lower Price Hill.
I first visited the neighborhood on assignment for Marketplace, public radio’s daily business and economics program. I was reporting on Cincinnati’s efforts to close the achievement gap between poor children and more advantaged students by fighting the effects of poverty. Lower Price Hill’s Oyler School is part of a growing national movement to help poor children succeed by meeting their basic health, social, and nutritional needs at school.
From the moment I saw the stately 1930 brick and terra cotta building, against its backdrop of boarded-up buildings and vacant lots, I knew there was much more than I could tell in a four-minute radio piece. Today, Lower Price Hill is a diverse mix of white families, many with Appalachian roots, and growing numbers of African Americans and Latinos. Many of the factories in the area have long since closed, and half of families live below the federal poverty line. After a $21 million renovation, the new Oyler seemed like an oasis in a neighborhood devastated by neglect and crime.
“I could walk you outside the door, not even 15 steps away, and I could probably get just about any drug that I want,” then-principal Craig Hockenberry told me. “I could walk you another 15 feet down and there are our parents that are prostituting and hooked on heroin and crack cocaine.”
My initial story turned into a series for Marketplace, then a newly-completed documentary film, Oyler. The documentary follows long-serving principal Hockenberry and senior Raven Gribbins through a year of school, focusing on Hockenberry’s mission to transform the neighborhood and on Raven’s quest to be the first in her troubled family to finish high school. When Hockenberry’s job is threatened, it becomes clear it’s a make-or-break year for both.
The story was compelling to me because, as I learned, until about ten years ago, very few children from the neighborhood graduated from high school, let alone went to college. Oyler was an elementary and middle school. After 8th grade, most students eventually dropped out, rather than attend a high school outside the neighborhood.
Then, after an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s school finance system unconstitutional, Cincinnati received an influx of funding to rebuild its schools. City leaders not only decided to rebuild their rundown school buildings, but to transform them into “community learning centers” that would be neighborhood hubs, providing health and social services as well as traditional instruction.
When it came time to plan for Oyler’s renovation, organizers got an earful from parents and community members. Why bring in all of this money for a new building when what they really wanted was a high school?
So they got both. Today Oyler Community Learning Center serves children from 6 weeks old to 12th grade. Inside the school you’ll find a health clinic staffed by a nurse practitioner, a vision center where children can get free eye exams and glasses, a dental clinic, and mental health counselors. Kids can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at school, and bring home food for the weekends. Enrichment programs include college advising, after-school activities, and a large network of volunteer tutors and mentors. All these partnerships are self-sustaining. The school provides the space; the organizations tap their own budgets or bill Medicaid for their services.
Oyler’s results have been mixed. While performance on state tests climbed for six years, scores have lagged in the past two years. The school has been identified as a “priority school” by the state of Ohio, meaning it ranks in the bottom five percent of schools for its academic performance. Yet each year, 40 or 50 students graduate. Many go to college. Oyler has become a model for similar efforts around the country, including an initiative in New York City to create dozens of new community schools with health services and other resources.
According to an analysis by the Southern Education Foundation, more than half of children in U.S. public schools now qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. It’s an imperfect measure of poverty, in that it relies on families to apply for the federal program, but it reflects the deepening inequality in our country. Our schools are struggling to raise achievement against growing odds. Helping more children overcome the obstacles of poverty so they can learn and succeed has never been more urgent.
The post How a school is transforming not only its students, but its community appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih was lauded as “an artist of the revolution” during the Arab Spring, and now he’s pointing his pencil at other world events.
Based in Qatar, Albaih used social media to disseminate his cartoons about the fight for democracy in his native Sudan as well as other parts of the Arab world. Activists on the ground have stenciled his work on cement walls from Cairo to Damascus.
His Facebook page “Khartoon!” (a play on Sudan’s capital Khartoum) takes on other targets, including the recent FIFA corruption case and the continuing African migrant crisis.
Albaih’s work is on display in an exhibit called “It’s Not Funny” at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, until July 30. Art Beat interviewed him at Sankofa Video Books & Cafe in Washington, D.C., in May.
This has been edited for clarity and length.
What stages of your life or experiences influenced you to pursue political cartoons?
My family is very political. I had an uncle who was the head of the communist party. He arranged a military coup against the government — a failed coup — and was executed after that. Moving to Qatar, which is our place of refuge, myself and my generation were told to stay away from politics because you can eventually be killed for it.
For me, I really wanted to show my friends who were my age at that time that there is a way to talk about it. My father used to always bring Egyptian political cartoon-based magazines and from there, I started doing my own work.
That for me was the connection between politics and art. And it was amazing to discover it.
Why is social media your chosen platform for your cartoons?
The majority of the Arab world now is young and unemployed. The people that are in power, as you know, stay in power. I was going to newspapers with my work and saying, “Listen, I don’t even want money.”
So I started the Facebook page and posted my work on it and then the Arab Spring happened.
How was it having your art on public display during the Arab Spring, rather than exclusively online?
Well, living in a place you can’t be politically active, you know your limits. I wanted to stencil and do street art, but I couldn’t. It would be risking my life and my safety.
But that’s why a lot of my cartoons look like stencils because they are ready to be stenciled. The canvas for me was a wall. And people gravitated toward that and used it.
When I knew I was being stenciled by activists, I really felt like I was a part of the creative dissent. The Arab Spring connected creatives together to work toward a certain thing we all felt and suffered from. And the explosion of street art and cartoons came from the fact that we didn’t have anywhere to talk.
Social media and the street art was everywhere because we felt so oppressed that we needed to write on the walls to break that fear. It was one of those signs. I felt like I was a part of this and still do. There are people doing amazing things, risking their lives on the streets; I just draw cartoons.
What do you believe is your role as a political cartoonist?
It’s about education first. I want to tell people what’s going on. I read a lot and then hope to let people know what I think about what’s going on. The second thing is creating dialogue, asking questions.
Is this really happening? What do you think about? I’m not saying I’m right, but if I’m wrong, tell me so we can talk about it.
The great thing about social media is people talk to each other. People from different parties talk to one another. A person from the Muslim brotherhood will engage with a communist, and down the thread they become friends. They talk to each other. This is what we need in the region, people to talk to each other rather than to talk with guns.
It’s creating the feeling we can talk about our problems, accept the other opinion, and of course, push boundaries. I don’t know what the red line is so I keep pushing it to see what I can do.
Being a Muslim and living in a Muslim region, there are certain things you don’t talk about, but you find a way to do it a different way to be accepted. Because we are used to censorship, you have to talk about things indirectly.
Is there any amount of self-censorship before you deliver your message?
I don’t think there is anything that is strictly off limits. I think you can talk about anything you want to talk about, but it depends how you talk about it.
Do you think you’ve mastered that?
Well, I’m not dead yet.
In your Al Jazeera op-ed about the Charlie Hebdo attack, you mentioned the fear of upsetting the “wrong people.” What precautions do you take?
I use a pseudonym, which is a family name. No one knew I was being discreet about it because it is dangerous. Anywhere in the region anything can happen. I got arrested in Egypt.
Anything at any time could happen. This is what keeps me pushing. I know I may not be able to do it tomorrow so I want to do it today.
Which cartoonists do you look up to?
Naji al-Ali. He is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a cartoonist. Until this day, nobody knows who assassinated him. And that is the point. He died trying to say the truth and continuing to say the truth.
How is your art received in Sudan?
I say that I am from both Sudans because I grew up with one map and this is one of the only things we were proud of — being the biggest country in Africa — and now that’s taken.
Because I don’t live in Sudan, I try to visit as much I can. I use my time there as research not only in terms of cartooning but in terms of other projects with other artists.
The only thing people know about Sudan is Darfur. They don’t know facts like Sudan has the most pyramids in the world.
Also, for the young diaspora kids, I want to them to know our history, and to not overlook our country. Be proud.
What do you hope people take away from your exhibit?
I hope a lot of conversations happen. I want to meet people that I talk to online; exchange and make the relationship human again. The Internet makes you close to people but it’s not tangible.
Is that the reason behind the title of your exhibit?
When people meet me, they expect a joke sometimes or for me to be a funny person. The situation isn’t funny where I come from. I’m reflecting the situation, which is currently absolutely not funny.
What keeps you hopeful?
Political cartoonists are the only people that never run out of business. There are always politicians messing up, people that need to be held accountable, situations that need to be understood. We need to revisit the history and the reasons as to why these events are happening now. I’m narrating that day by day through my cartoons. I want to keep doing that so people can look back and see what has happened.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct an error. Khalid Albaih is Sudanese, but was not born in Sudan.
The post Muslim political cartoonist fights oppression with pen appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — When Republican Lindsey Graham suggested his sister “could play” first lady if his long-shot presidential bid proves successful, the life-long bachelor knew what he was talking about. Daughters, daughters-in-law, sisters and nieces all have subbed as first lady for America’s bachelor and widowed presidents.
James Buchanan, a Democrat who served one term just before the Civil War, never married. His niece, Harriet Lane, filled the first lady’s role.
Grover Cleveland, a Democrat who served two non-consecutive terms after the war, began his first term as a bachelor and ended it with a wife. His sister, Rose, was the hostess until Cleveland wed 21-year-old Frances Folsom a year into his term.
The scenario that Graham recently outlined “is not without precedent, but it sure has been a long time,” said Robert Watson, an American studies professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Not since Woodrow Wilson, in the early 1900s, has a president been without a first lady.
“It’s been a century, basically, since we’ve had this kind of a situation,” Watson said.
“I’ve got a sister. She could play that role if necessary,” Graham, 59, said in an interview with Daily Mail Online. His parents died when he was in college and he became guardian of his younger sister, Darline. “I’ve got a lot of friends. We’ll have a rotating first lady.”
After Buchanan took office, his niece, Harriet, carried out first lady obligations. Buchanan had become her guardian after she was orphaned at age 11, and he was her favorite uncle, according to a biography of Lane on the White House website.
The administration of Buchanan’s predecessor, Democrat Franklin Pierce, was marked by sadness. Pierce took office shortly after his 11-year-old son was killed in a train wreck. His wife, Jane, avoided social functions for much of her first two years as first lady.
So when Buchanan and his niece arrived on the scene, “the capital eagerly welcomed its new ‘Democratic Queen’ in 1857. Harriet Lane filled the White House with gaiety and flowers, and guided its social life with enthusiasm and discretion, winning national popularity,” her biography said.
Anita McBride, director of American University’s first ladies’ program, said Graham’s comment shows he understands the importance of first ladies.
No one in the White House is closer to the president than his wife, who becomes an important sounding board, McBride said.
First ladies often stand in for the president, and they use their position for the good of the country. Laura Bush promoted literacy, which fit with her husband’s education agenda. First ladies receive no salary.
Mrs. Bush also made 26 trips to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, McBride said, adding that no president could have visited that often because of job demands.
“You cannot imagine that position (of first lady) not being there to help the president do what he wants to do,” said McBride, who was Laura Bush’s chief of staff.
Wilson, a Democrat who served two terms from 1913-1921, was briefly without a spouse. His wife, Ellen Louise Axson, died in 1914. The following year, he met and married Edith Bolling Galt. As a widowed president, Wilson’s daughters served as White House hostesses, Watson said.
The daughter-in-law of President John Tyler, a member of the Whigs, assumed hostess duties for his ill wife, Letitia.
Should former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton win the presidential election next year, daughter Chelsea could be called upon to play the role her mother once did. That’s because it likely would be an unnatural fit for her father, former President Bill Clinton, to oversee the East Wing of the White House, where the first lady is based and helps plan social functions, after heading up the powerhouse West Wing.
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A new study in the journal PLOS ONE explores how climate change and warming temperatures could alter how many people visit U.S. national parks.
Roughly 80 percent of parks already are experiencing extremely warm conditions, says Nicholas Fisichelli, an ecologist for the National Parks Service’s climate adaptation team and the study’s lead author. These warming conditions often translate to extended seasons for the national parks. That means more people may want to see the parks, but it also could mean that the park trails, infrastructure and natural resources could face more wear and tear from increased visitor traffic.
For this study, Fisichelli and other researchers compiled 10 years of available visitation data from 340 national parks. That included at least 8,000 annual visits from 1979 to 2013.
After comparing these historical visitor rates with average monthly temperatures, the researchers then projected the number of potential future visits between 2041 and 2060 to see how projected rising temperatures might influence future attendance.
Some parks would likely see an increase in visitorship with rising temperatures — those locations lie primarily in the northern reaches of the United States, such as Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Acadia National Park in Maine and the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
But hotter weather in places that already are naturally warm, such as Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, would actually become so uncomfortable that visitorship would decrease, Fisichelli said. According to this study, the tipping point is when the average monthly temperature reaches about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The idea for the study surfaced last spring, after the researchers corresponded with park managers to discuss how climate change was impacting the parks and how best to respond.
“You may not be able to achieve your [attendance] goals the way you could in the old days with a changing climate,” said Gregor Schuurman, an ecologist on the NPS Climate Change Response program and one of the study’s authors. “If you’re going to have a productive visitors season, you can’t ignore a melting glacier or flooding access road.”
Combined, America’s national parks offer significant value, especially for neighboring towns. In 2013 alone, they attracted 273 million visits, sustained 238,000 jobs and brought $14.6 billion in tourist dollars to local communities, the study said.
Several parks already are trying out new infrastructure and staffing strategies in order to adapt to the demands of climate change.
Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland is one of them. Sitting at current sea level and with predictions of rising ocean waters and more powerful storm surges for years to come as a result of climate change, the park has little choice, says Bill Hulsander, the park’s chief of resources management.
“It’s something that’s in the forefront of our minds at Assateague almost on a daily basis,” Hulsander said.
After Hurricane Sandy struck the eastern U.S. coastline in October 2012, parking lot spaces on Assateague Island were swept into the ocean while four feet of sand buried other parts of the park, he said.
This fall, the park plans to launch mobile infrastructure, such as bathrooms and changing stations, as well as using crushed clamshells to create new parking space. That way, in the event of a hurricane, park staff can transport these items to the mainland, and don’t have to worry about parking lot asphalt drifting into the waters off Assateague Island.
“We need less of a place-based approach for infrastructure,” Huslander said. “We’re trying to allow this island to move as it wants to move or needs to move to keep pace with rising sea level.”
The post Will climate change stop people from visiting America’s national parks? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Behind every good reporting trip is a good fixer — the women and men who live and work in the country you’re visiting, speak the language, and know how to work the system to get you the people and footage you need.
“It’s not gonna be a problem!”
We must have heard that phrase 50 times in our seven days in Havana from Josue Lopez, our fixer, and he was usually right. Should we be at the Havana airport four hours before our flight, as the tickets instruct? Are we going to have issues getting our gear through customs? Is this building sound?
Cuba is a place where it helps to “know a guy,” and Josue seemed to know someone in just about every place we went. So on our last evening in Havana, I asked Josue to take me to some of his favorite spots in town. Here’s what he showed us:
Best way to view the Malecon
The Malecon is Havana’s oceanfront avenue, where each evening people walk, fish, swim and gaze out at the Gulf of Mexico.
A few floors up, near the eastern end of the strip, is Nazdarovie a Soviet-themed restaurant with a great balcony and stunning views of the water, the Morro Fortress and the colorful colonial buildings to the west. Its interior houses some interesting Soviet-era propaganda, including one of American icon Marilyn Monroe sporting a hammer and sickle on her sweater.
Best spot to hear live music
You can find great music all over Havana — in fact the bellhop at our hotel, the Habana Libre, turned out to be a singer with his own group, Rene y los Grandes del Tres. He told me to check out his artist page on iTunes; he’s pretty good.
So while you can find great live music all over Havana — in restaurants, hotels and street corners — near the National Capitol Building is the Miramar House of Music (Casa de la Musica), where musicians play every evening from 5 to 9 p.m.
Best Cuban cocktail that’s not a mojitoJosue took us to O’Reilly’s 304, a hip restaurant in Old Havana for lunch one day, and days later, when I asked him to take me to his favorite bar, we went back so that the bartender, Wilson Hernandez, could make me a Cuban variation on the bloody Mary, the Cubanito. The drink was great and so was the food.
Here’s Wilson’s recipe for a Cubanito:
*A pinch of celery salt on the rim and inside a 16 ounce glass filled with ice
*1.5 ounces lemon juice
*Worcestershire to taste
*One whole cachucha pepper
*One cilantro leaf
*5 ounces Clamato juice
*2 ounces dark rum (he prefers one aged three years)
*Garnish with a lemon wedge, celery stalk and ground pepper
Best club to hang with Havana’s hipsters
Opened last year, The Cuban Art Factory is a former cooking oil plant that’s been converted into a massive nightlife venue, with multiple art galleries, live music spaces, bars and a dance club. Just next door, in the smokestack, is a restaurant, The Cocinero, with a great open air lounge. Taken together, they’re a one-stop shop for food, music, art and drinks.
Best spot to watch the sunset
On the eastern end of the Malecon sits the Morro Castle, a fortress built the late 16th century to protect Havana from would-be invaders. And just behind its lighthouse, frame by rusted cannons, is a quiet spot to take in the sunset. It’s a great view of the Malecon at any time, but on the evening we visited, the departing storm made for a colorful end.
Best way to see an “authentic” side of Cuba
Now this is a real insider’s tip: Raul Moas of Roots of Hope, a Miami-based nonprofit, has a suggestion for where to connect with everyday Cubans and to hear about their lives. It’s at the corner of G Street and 23rd Avenue. Tell your taxi driver, and he’ll know where to go, and, well, we’ll let Moas tell you the rest:
If you have any questions for Josue, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the world of science, Harvard geneticist Pardis Sabeti is a rock star. She also fronts a guitar-heavy alternative rock band from Boston.
Dr. Sabeti uses computer science to crack the genome of deadly viruses like Ebola. Her team produced important research that included genetic proof that the Ebola virus had spread from a single patient. But the work took a personal toll, claiming the lives of colleagues and close friends in Sierra Leone. Several of the authors on that very paper have since died of Ebola Virus Disease.
So she wrote a song about her experience. Watch that song in the video above.
Miles O’Brien talked to Sabeti as part of his four-part series, Cracking Ebola’s Code, on the science and medicine behind the fight against the Ebola virus. The series tackles various aspects of that science: the search for an animal host, efforts to develop a better detection test, model the disease and test for an Ebola vaccine. Watch the series here below:
The post This rockstar scientist wrote a song about her friends who died from Ebola appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Rachel Dolezal — the woman who recently resigned from the NAACP after revelations that she was white and not black as many believed — told Matt Lauer Tuesday on “The Today Show,” “I identify as black.”
On NBC News, Dolezal told Savannah Guthrie, “Nothing about being white describes who I am.”
She’s also talked about how Caitlyn Jenner’s story has resonated with her, leading some to ask if Dolezal could be considered “transracial.”
Society is quick to seek out labels for people. And when an identity isn’t so clear-cut, perhaps because the facts aren’t all in place, further questions arise.
“On a personal level, we’re supposed to know who’s an ‘us’ and who’s a ‘them’,” Dalmage said.
But according to Gayle Wald, an American Studies professor at The George Washington University, speculation in this instance is a distraction from the larger conversation about race in America that emerged following events in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. These are discussions that have erupted over racial disparities between collective groups of people that are tied to ongoing tensions rooted in history.
Race has never been about individuals, Wald said. “Race is a collective assignment of people.”
“Race is a social construction that had to be invented. When we just focus on an individual, we lose the sense of how race has worked.”
In doing so, we deconstruct race to a definition tied only to a person’s skin.
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GWEN IFILL: Before the month is out, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision that could determine the fate of much of the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.
That case, King vs. Burwell, will determine whether subsidies the government provides to purchase health insurance are legal. Nearly three dozen states use the federal exchange, and the case is whether subsidies used in those states are valid.
To illustrate some of the concerns at stake, we spoke to three people now receiving Affordable Care Act coverage about how the Supreme Court decision might change their lives.
JULIE HAMILTON, Resident of Virginia: My name is Julie Hamilton. I live in Richmond, Virginia. And I’m currently receiving a subsidy through the Affordable Care Act.
The subsidy is very important to me, because, about a year ago, I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a very serious form of cancer and, in my case, affected my lungs. I had to see an expert at Duke University. And he prescribed treatment, which included chemotherapy and an operation to remove my left lung.
Since the treatment was prolonged, and I was sick during my chemotherapy, I was receiving short-term disability. But when that ran out, my company was forced to let me go. And I went on disability insurance.
I decided to keep my company’s insurance through COBRA, but I was having a hard time affording the premium. In November, I went to a workshop that explained the Affordable Care Act. And there were counselors there that helped me get signed up and choose a plan.
They also explained to me the subsidy that I qualified for. With my $498 subsidy, the premium comes down to $137 a month, which I can afford.
As I’m watching the Supreme Court as they’re making their decision, I’m feeling very anxious about losing my health care, because I will need follow-up care for the rest of my life.
MICHAEL KOLE, Resident of Detroit: My name is Michael Kole. I live here in Belleville, Michigan, which is a suburb of either Ann Arbor or Detroit, depending on how you look at it.
The ACA has affected me a negative way. My premiums have gone up from 300-some-odd dollars a month back in 2010, when the law was started, up to $850 a month now, for actually less insurance than I had previously. I had to make some tough decisions. And one of them was to close my office in Belleville here and move to my home office, saving about $4,000 or $5,000 in rent, insurance and utilities, so I could pay the additional premiums.
I don’t have the same choices of doctors that I used to have, can’t use the same labs for blood testing that I used to. I’m covered for things that I don’t need. And I’m paying almost $400 a month, or $5,000 a year.
The Supreme Court ruling that is coming out soon, what I’m hoping for that — out of that decision is that the Congress and the president actually sit down and negotiate a bipartisan fix for all of this.
VANITA JOHNSON, Resident of Michigan: My name is Vanita Johnson. I live in Highland Park, Michigan, along with my daughter, Candace Walker (ph). I’m a security officer at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan.
And I receive subsidies from the Affordable Health Care. I worked for Detroit Public Schools for 10 years. And I had Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which my employer paid for. I had very — I had full coverage. I had very good health care insurance, not only for myself, but also for my children.
And as of July the 30th, 2010, my employment was terminated, and I lost all my health care insurance, not only for myself, but for my children also. I couldn’t afford the COBRA. So I had to go without insurance for three years.
It was devastating. I couldn’t go to the doctor. I needed medication to control my high blood pressure, my allergies and my acid reflux. And I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor.
When Affordable Health Care started, I signed up right away. I called the number. And they walked me all the way through it. I was able to go to the doctor on a regular basis. I was able to get my medication. I was also — and my daughter was able to have her surgery. She had this — they discovered a lump on her breast.
So she was able to get that done. So it was liberating, you know? It took a weight off of me. As I look at this, the King vs. Burwell and how it will affect me and my child, if they decide to stop the subsidies, I won’t have insurance. I will be back at step one, like I was back in 2010.
GWEN IFILL: Now joining us for a broader view of the stakes for millions of Americans is Julie Rovner, who covers this for Kaiser Health News.
So, Julie, start by telling us what those voices we just listened to are basically telling us.
JULIE ROVNER, Kaiser Health News: Well, they are representative of a couple of things.
One is that there have been winners and losers with the Affordable Care Act, and that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the subsidies in the states that are using healthcare.gov, the federal exchange, there will be a different set of winners and losers. So it would definitely shake things up quite a lot.
GWEN IFILL: So we’re talking about three basic issues here, preexisting conditions, which, of course, is the part that the administration likes to talk about, subsidies, support for people who can’t otherwise afford to pay, and then the concern about the premiums, whether premiums are becoming too expensive.
JULIE ROVNER: That’s right.
I mean, this has always been sort of seen as a three-legged stool, as they say, that in order to allow people who have preexisting conditions to get coverage, you have to get a bigger pool. You have to get healthy people. In order to get healthy people, to be able to afford insurance, you have to give them the premium subsidies.
If you knock out any one of those, it makes the other two work not so well.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk — take a couple of additional questions those folks we just heard from. The first is Julie Hamilton. We just heard her talking about subsidies. Let’s hear her question.
JULIE HAMILTON: If the Supreme Court decides that subsidies can’t continue in states like Virginia, how soon will my subsidy end?
JULIE ROVNER: This is the source of a lot of debate. Generally, Supreme Court decisions take effect 25 days after they’re issued. That gives the losing party time to basically go back and ask them to reconsider.
There’s been a lot of talk about there has been a 90-day grace period for some people. But those are people with subsidies. So if you have a subsidy, then you get 90 days before they can end your insurance. In this case, though, these people won’t have subsidies anymore.
So most of them will only get whatever their state allows. That is normally 30 days. So, basically 30 days after you don’t pay your premium, which, for most people in this case would be August 1, then insurance companies would start to cancel policies. That would be September 1.
GWEN IFILL: We have an additional question from Michael Kole, the man who wasn’t so thrilled with the way this has been working.
MICHAEL KOLE: If the Supreme Court rules against the subsidies, when will the system balance out? Will it — will my premiums go down? Will somebody else’s premiums go up? Do you see an end to this, or will it create chaos?
JULIE ROVNER: Well, I think there’s pretty much a consensus that there would be chaos in the markets that would be affected by this. In the states that have their own exchanges, everything would pretty much go along as it is now.
But in states, including Mr. Kole’s state, there would be quite a mess. Most of the premiums would go up. I’m not sure anybody’s premiums would go down. What would happen is that people who could no longer afford insurance would mostly drop out. People who were sick and really need their insurance would stay in. So the group of people who are insured would be more expensive overall .
And so everybody who remains in that pool, their premiums would go up. It is hard to see whose premiums would go down in that situation. I think what people hope might happen is that Congress might get together with the president and work something out.
But even the Republicans by themselves haven’t been able to come to any consensus on what they should do if the Supreme Court acts for the challengers. The idea that they could get something they would agree on with President Obama, I think, everybody agrees may be a little farfetched.
GWEN IFILL: Vanita Johnson also had another question.
VANITA JOHNSON: Do the individual states have a plan if they decide to stop the subsidies?
JULIE ROVNER: Well, a couple of them do. But it’s not clear how quickly that could take effect.
There is a lot of uncertainty about whether states could just write a one-page letter to the federal government saying, we establish an exchange on paper, and we still want to use healthcare.gov and we will lease it. There are those who say that if states try to do that, that they will go back and sue and they will say, no, that’s not right.
So there is a lot of uncertainty, there’s, of course, uncertainty about what exactly the court will do, what they will say, which states in particular will be affected, but generally nobody has a very good contingency plan.
GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you. She asked about the states. I’m curious about the federal government. We have all had conversations with the secretary of health and human services, and the one question she stopped short of saying, what is their plan B?
Any better indication of that?
JULIE ROVNER: No. And she’s been asked several times, including at a congressional hearing last week. The administration’s official line is, we don’t think the Supreme Court will rule for the challengers, so we don’t have a contingency plan.
It’s not clear whether that’s really the case. But, certainly, there’s not very much they could do legally in this situation. The only — It would really be up to Congress to fix it. Congress could fix it with a one-line bill, but nobody thinks they’re going to. So the question is what Congress will then do.
But it will be, I think, more in Congress’ court than it will be in the administration and the states.
GWEN IFILL: Once again, how many people are we talking about affected by this outcome?
JULIE ROVNER: Well, we’re talking about 6.5 million people in those states that could be affected who have subsidies. The Urban Institute said that there is another million-and-a-half people or so who could be affected indirectly, because they have their own insurance in those states whose premiums could spike.
GWEN IFILL: Huge consequences at the end of the Supreme Court term, as always.
Julie Rovner, thank you for helping us explain it.
JULIE ROVNER: Thank you.
The post How will the healthcare subsidies decision affect everyday Americans? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Hundreds of millions of people around the world depend on the use of underground rock formations known as aquifers to get the clean water they need. But a pair of new studies show many of the largest aquifers are being depleted at alarming rates.
As seen on this map, of the 37 largest ones in the world, 21 are losing more water than is being replaced, with those areas in orange and red showing much more serious problems with depletion. These are located in countries like China, Russia and Australia, as well as India, where water resources are already a major problem.
The reports also identify declining levels for California’s Central Valley Aquifer.
Jay Famiglietti is a lead author on one of the reports from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And he joins me now.
Welcome, Mr. Famiglietti.
Remind us, what is an aquifer, and how does it produce the clean water?
JAY FAMIGLIETTI, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory: An aquifer is an underground soil or rock unit that contains — contains water in its pore spaces, and the way we get at that water is by drilling wells and pumping it up from the subsurface.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what did these two studies find?
JAY FAMIGLIETTI: We found that in the 37 world’s largest aquifers that we looked at, that over 21 of them are past sustainability tipping points, meaning that the rate of withdrawal exceeds the rate of replenishment. And of those, we found that 13 are in a pretty bad way and threatened to exceed a point at which they may not come back.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And why is this happening?
JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Well, we rely heavily on groundwater. But yet we don’t manage it very well.
Around the world, we use about — about two billion people rely on groundwater as the primary water source. And it provides about half of the water that we need to irrigate agriculture. So we rely on it heavily. But we don’t manage it very well. And that’s true in the United States as well as around the world.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is this depletion happening at a faster rate than it did historically?
JAY FAMIGLIETTI: In some places, yes.
It’s taken awhile for population in a particular region to develop, or it’s taken awhile for the infrastructure to come into place. For example, in Northwestern India, the green revolution is something that didn’t start until the 1960s and the 1970s. Prior to that, there wasn’t much groundwater depletion.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk for a minute about where this is happening. We mentioned on several continents. Where is the problem the worst?
JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Probably the worst in the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, and even the region above the Arabian Peninsula. Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran are regions that we have studied before.
Northwestern India, really across Northern India, into Bangladesh is in pretty rough shape. The North China Plain, the big aquifer system around Beijing — it is true it’s on every continent. The Pilbara mining region, which is the Canning Basin in Northwestern Australia. Several of the aquifers in Africa are in rough shape because there’s very little rainfall there in the Sahara Desert, so not very much replenishment.
And in Argentina, the Guarani aquifer, and then, of course, the aquifers of the United States, big ones being the Central Valley, and the High Plains, or the Ogallala Aquifer.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the one in California’s Central Valley? What shape is that in?
JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Well, that’s in pretty rough shape.
This study and other studies that we have done on the aquifer show that we have been losing about 5.5. trillion gallons of groundwater per year for the last four years during this drought. And that’s because in California right now, there’s no snow in the mountains, there’s no rainfall happening, there is very little water in our reservoirs. So, we have to rely on this groundwater, and it’s disappearing pretty rapidly.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a way of knowing when this water is going — how much more water there is, when it’s going to run out? And is there anything that can be done about this?
JAY FAMIGLIETTI: So, that’s an excellent question. That was really the topic of the second paper.
And so we tried to expose the fact that we really don’t know how much water we have in the world’s major aquifers. Again, it’s true in the United States and it’s true around the world. We know that we’re passed the sustainability tipping points and all kinds of ecological damage is occurring.
And we know that the water tables are falling and wells are running dry. So I think it’s very important that we think very carefully about exploring the world’s major aquifers to understand how much water is actually there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s a grim, grim set of findings that I know a lot of people are going to be paying close attention to.
Jay Famiglietti, we thank you for being with us.
JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Thank you very much.
GWEN IFILL: Now to Cuba.
Tonight, we look at the country’s poor access to the Internet, the prospects for improvement, and what it means for the state of free speech on the island.
It’s the next chapter in Jeffrey Brown’s series this week on the Cuban Evolution.
JEFFREY BROWN: Classic cars, colonial buildings, whiling away hours on Havana’s famous ocean stretch, the Malecon. For, decades Cuba has felt removed from the forward march of time, a sense that’s only grown more pronounced in the age of information.
In an ever more connected world, it’s a strange feeling to take a short flight from Miami and find that this, other than in a few spots, is essentially useless. It’s a sense of isolation that’s not lost on people we talk to here.
MAN (through translator): We’re missing out on everything, actually. It’s impossible to live without communicating, and I don’t know how we can continue like this.
JEFFREY BROWN: The Cuban government says that 25 percent of its citizens have Internet access. Watchdog groups like Freedom House put the number able to link to a free and open Internet far lower, at around 5 percent.
Either way, it’s one of the lowest rates in the Western Hemisphere.
WOMAN (through translator): When I first heard about this place, I was really surprised.
JEFFREY BROWN: This is perhaps Cuba’s only free Wi-Fi cafe, opened in a quiet Havana neighborhood earlier this year by Alexis Leiva Machado, a renowned Cuban artist better known as Kcho. He’s personally close to the Castro brothers.
Former President Fidel even made a rare public appearance last year to attend the opening of his cultural center. That might explain why Kcho’s allowed to offer this space as a kind of art project. It’s not clear how long it will continue, but young Cubans are packing the place while it lasts.
MAN (through translator): I’m here to get in touch with my girlfriend and get some school stuff worked out. I come here to get some information for that.
WOMAN (through translator): I come here to get online to know about my friends, get in touch with my family, and I would love if I could do this somewhere else too.
JEFFREY BROWN: Why doesn’t anyone have a Wi-Fi connection at home?
WOMAN (through translator): I don’t know. The state, maybe?
RAUL MOAS, Executive Director, Roots of Hope: The Internet in Cuba is very much a luxury for those who can afford it today, in 2015.
JEFFREY BROWN: Raul Moas is executive director of Roots of Hope, a Miami-based nonprofit with branches around the U.S., including in Washington, D.C., where he spoke to us.
His group has been working to increase Cubans’ access to technology, sending cell phones, laptops and thumb drives to Cuba since 2008, when Raul Castro began easing restrictions on these consumer devices.
RAUL MOAS: When Cuba legalized the use of cell phones in 2008, they really priced out the majority of the market. So one cell phone would cost around 100 CUC, $100. That’s five to six months’ wages for any average person on the island.
So, unless you had family in the diaspora that was able to send you a remittance for that amount, the average Cuban wasn’t able to buy that.
JEFFREY BROWN: After years of painfully slow dial up service via satellite, in 2013, underground fiberoptic cables laid to Venezuela were switched on, allowing Cuba broadband access.
Yet, today, that access is spotty at best, and far too expensive. Cubans can visit 150 or so state-owned telecom centers, where they can pay relatively little to send e-mail and access Cuba’s internal network, its intranet. They must pay much more to reach the global Internet, which they can also do at tourist hotels, where it’s even more expensive, around $10 an hour, in a country where the average Cuban earns between $14 and $22 a month.
MAN (through translator): I don’t have a budget to be paying for the Internet at the prices we have at any other place.
MAN (through translator): It should change soon, because we are talking to our new friends in the U.S., the Americans, and hopefully we’re going to get there soon and there’s going to be some progress on this.
JEFFREY BROWN: That’s the hope, anyway, that, with the new talks, there will be an easing of restrictions for U.S. telecoms doing business here, and new Wi-Fi spots will spring up.
Raul Moas of Roots of Hope says he thinks more of that will come, along with cheaper services, little by little.
RAUL MOAS: Raul Castro takes a very cautionary approach to the reforms he’s implemented, particularly around the economy and economic reforms around small businesses. So, you open up small businesses in some sectors to some extent with very high taxes, and then, once you see the train hasn’t derailed completely, and they’re still in power, you open up a little bit more.
And I think the same thing is happening with the Internet. They recognize the need for Cuba to be connected to the globalized economy, but they’re taking it piecemeal, day by day.
JEFFREY BROWN: But how much of an opening? The government still controls mass media, like television, radio and Granma, the official paper of the Communist Party.
JOSEPH GONZALEZ, Professor, Appalachian State University: My impression from talking to my Cuban friends is that they are more than just a little bit cynical. They continue to be cynical about what they read in the newspapers, and especially what they see on television.
JEFFREY BROWN: Joseph Gonzalez, a professor at Appalachian State University who’s been coming to Cuba for years, does see people speaking more freely here, including expressing open distrust of state media.
JOSEPH GONZALEZ: At the same time, I have also heard from some of my colleagues at the University of Havana who have official connections that political change is not on the horizon. This is about as far as it’s going to go. They want to see economic change, but they’re — the government as a whole, and the Communist Party in particular, is not interested in significant political change.
MANUEL MONS, Somos Mas (through translator): And for that reason, the government limits the arrival of the Internet in Cuba.
JEFFREY BROWN: Manuel Mons is a 26-year-old blogger and part of a Cuban reform movement called Somos Mas, We Are More.
MANUEL MONS (through translator): The government doesn’t want the Internet in Cuba. The government is afraid of having the Internet in Cuba. The government is afraid of the day that people will actually have true access to the Internet.
JEFFREY BROWN: He and other bloggers, like Yoani Sanchez of 14ymedio, touted as Cuba’s first independent digital news site, must send articles abroad via e-mail to be published.
Inside Cuba, their sites are blocked. To reach a Cuban audience, they deliver articles person to person on what’s known as the packet, external drives that contain articles, TV shows and movies, a kind of offline Netflix.
MANUEL MONS (through translator): I think the Internet is fundamental for this change to happen, and the quicker the Internet comes, the quicker the changes in Cuba will come.
The majority of young people want a change in Cuba. The majority of young people are against the government. But the majority of young people prefers to keep quiet out of fear.
JEFFREY BROWN: But you’re not afraid?
MANUEL MONS (through translator): No, not at all. I think the government is more afraid of me than I am of them.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mons says more young people must confront their fears and the state, demanding change.
Reporting from Havana and Washington, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”
GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey’s Cuba coverage continues tomorrow, with a look at the booming art market and how it reflects a changing attitude toward small business.
JEFFREY BROWN: Indeed, artists here are positively entrepreneurial. Adrian Fernandez and his partners were able to create this upscale studio after new laws made it possible to buy and sell property.
They now sell their work directly to consumers, mostly abroad, avoiding government-run galleries and reaping their own profits.
MAN: We deal directly with the people that reach us here. We connect directly.
GWEN IFILL: Behind every good reporting trip, especially abroad, is a good fixer.
These are the men and the women who live and work in the country who help reporters like Jeff gain access to the people you see in our stories. In Havana, that was Josue Lopez. Online, he gives us a guided tour of Havana from a local’s perspective. It’s a new series we’re calling The Fixer’s Guide, and you can find that on our home page.
The post Will better relations with U.S. mean an easing of censorship in Cuba? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Today in Switzerland, attorney general Michael Lauber announced that his investigation into FIFA — that is, as we said, the body that governs both the women’s and men’s World Cup — will include more than 50 cases of money laundering in connection with bidding by the 2018 and 2022 host countries.
Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup, and the country is already building the infrastructure required. Much of the — or many of the men doing that work are foreign nationals. And some of them work amid conditions that are increasingly costing them their lives.
John Irvine of Independent Television News has their story from Nepal.
JOHN IRVINE: Qatar Airways has three flights a day into Katmandu. Many passengers are Nepalese workers taking a break from World Cup-related construction jobs in Doha.
Outside arrivals, this woman waits for her husband, but for Mina Tomang, it will not be a joyous reunion. When he left for Qatar six months ago, she was his wife. Today, she is his widow, a sad sight the authorities didn’t want us to film, the husband’s coffin laid across two baggage trolleys; 27-year-old Shiva Tomang died in a building site accident on April the 19th.
To compound his widow’s grief, it has taken six weeks to repatriate his body. As if a single coffin wasn’t bad enough, there were two others on the same flight. Again, the bodies were those of young men. One had died in a traffic accident, the other from a sudden heart attack. Cardiac arrest is the biggest killer of migrant workers in Qatar.
I put it to the Nepalese minister of labor that it amounted to being worked to death. But he disagreed, saying it was an orientation problem.
MAN: When they finish the job, they come back to their room. And then suddenly, they open the A.C., air conditioner. So that is why, in that case, they have a — like a heart attack, something like that.
JOHN IRVINE: He wouldn’t criticize the Qataris, because wages earned by Nepalese workers there and elsewhere abroad account for 30 percent of this country’s GDP.
The recent earthquake was a national calamity that the Nepalese must try to cope with every day, but every other day, a Nepalese family has to try to cope with the shock and personal tragedy that is the death of a male relative in Qatar. That was the average death rate there last year, one every 48 hours.
With no work available at home, these Nepalese men are queuing for permits to go to the Gulf countries, including Qatar. Without identifying himself, one worker who’s returning to Qatar described ill treatment during his previous stint there.
MAN (through translator): The food they give us is often rotten. People in my company keep getting poisoned. Three or four are dying every month. This is my first holiday in three years. My home was destroyed in the earthquake, but they only let me return here because I agreed to take responsibility for one of the dead and bring his body with me.
JOHN IRVINE: Last year, we were invited to Qatar to look at a new accommodation block housing migrant workers, but later, on our own, we found these older, squalid quarters cramped full of Nepalese laborers, sleeping 18 to a small room.
These are images Qatar doesn’t want the world to see. Recently, other British journalists seeking a similar glimpse were followed, arrested and interrogated. The Qataris claim that significant progress has been made in improving the lot of guest laborers, but Nandita Baruah disagrees. She lobbies on behalf of migrant workers.
WOMAN: We haven’t really seen any marked changes in the way that the migrant workers are faring in Qatar today, as against what their situation was five years earlier.
JOHN IRVINE: So, the World Cup has not been the catalyst for change that you would have hoped for?
WOMAN: Don’t think so, no.
JOHN IRVINE: OK.
The body of Shiva Tomang was taken from Kathmandu Airport to a Buddhist temple for the funeral ceremony and cremation. As monks performed the rituals, the young man’s widow passed out, and his mother wailed.
The Qatar World Cup is now under investigation. The FBI and the Swiss are counting the alleged cost in bribes. Nepal is counting the actual cost in lives.
The post Migrant laborers worked to death as Qatar builds for World Cup appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: Next to Pakistan.
We look at one effort to tackle a widespread public health problem that gets scant attention. It’s part of our Agents for Change series.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Karachi.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For decades, Pakistan has been in a state of post-traumatic stress, from the Afghan war, ethnic tension, religious violence, terrorism.
The economy, hindered by corruption, does little to reduce the poverty that drives so much of the turmoil. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.
And psychiatrist Saadia Quraishy, with the Pakistan-based Aman Foundation, says that’s exactly what it does to a lot of people.
DR. SAADIA QURAISHY, Psychiatrist: About 40 percent of the population suffers from common mental disorders.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Four-zero?
SAADIA QURAISHY: Yes. And some informal reports suggest even higher.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Fifty-seven-year-old shopkeeper Anwar Kaskeli presents a classic case
ANWR KASKELI, Pakistan (through translator): I wrote in the newspapers for years about why are the basic necessities of life not being provided to people here, like water, roads, schools, especially education?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Between those worries and a growing inability to make ends meet, he says he simply withdrew.
ANWAR KASKELI (through translator): For 10 years, I couldn’t sit for more than 10 minutes. My mood was just down. My joints would hurt. That made the depression worse. This went on for 10 years.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Throughout South Asia, mental illness goes unreported, undiagnosed, and untreated. It’s socially taboo, often viewed as a curse from God, not an illness.
Patients have often been restrained in chains and subjected to other humiliation, says Dr. Quraishy.
DR. SAADIA QURAISHY: It’s very difficult to express mental health symptoms to — not only to the clinicians or professionals, but even to yourself and to the families. There’s such a stigma related to that. But it’s much more acceptable to say you have a headache or a stomach ache or a backache, for which you can be taken out to get help.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not that much help is available. Very few Pakistani doctors are trained to diagnose psychiatric disorders, whether acute ones like schizophrenia or common ones like depression.
This is a country of 200 million people. For all of them, there are perhaps 500 practicing psychiatrists. In all likelihood, there are more psychiatrists of Pakistani origin working in the United States and great Britain than there are in all of Pakistan.
CHRIS UNDERHILL, Founder, BasicNeeds: Generally, in the developing world, in the poor world, you’re talking about 1.5 million people per psychiatrist.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What is it here in Britain or in the United States?
CHRIS UNDERHILL: Oh, it’s about one per 10,000.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Chris Underhill is the founder of a British-based aid group called BasicNeeds, which tries to deliver mental health care despite the challenges. Partnering with local nonprofits, it began running clinics here two years ago, no fancy couches here, just a temporary one-room, one-doc psychiatric ward.
DR. SALIM AHMED, Psychiatrist (through translator): Do you get angry a lot?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On this recent morning, Dr. Salim Ahmed swiftly dispatched patients, most in follow-up visits. Their prescriptions were refilled a few feet away. Some patients were sent to counseling behind the curtain in the corner.
DR. SALIM AHMED: The team, the community-based workers, they are making sure that they are taking their medications on a regular basis. If suppose they have some problems like some side effects of the drugs, those community-based workers, they communicate with us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The team he works with is mainly drawn from the local community.
With role playing and skits, ordinary citizens are trained as outreach workers to follow up on patients, to look for symptoms or side effects and to refer patients back when clinics are held.
Families dealing with mental illness are brought together. They get training in skills, like sewing, which may earn some income and reduce stress. In Pakistan, the program has already served 12,000 people. The holistic approach, generic drugs and community-based care, has a longer track record in other countries, Underhill says, and it’s inexpensive, about $20 to $30 per person for year.
CHRIS UNDERHILL: Not just the medication and all of that, but also the rest of our model, which includes an element of encouraging and training people back into livelihood.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Along with antidepressant meds, Anwar Kaskeli received a micro-loan from the BasicNeeds program to reopen his tiny store.
ANWAR KASKELI (through translator): All I want is enough for three meals a day. I don’t want any riches, anything.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Business isn’t great, and his recovery is still precarious. It might be a metaphor for mental health care in poor countries. It’s been a challenge to scale up, because it just doesn’t seem as pressing to governments as other issues, says Underhill, even though it exacts a huge toll.
CHRIS UNDERHILL: Literally, last year, $2.5 trillion came out of the global economy because of mental ill health. Now, bringing that down to the level of policy-makers in one country, Pakistan, isn’t easy.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He has a similar challenge with many Western donors, on whom BasicNeeds relies heavily for support.
CHRIS UNDERHILL: If you take one of the big cities in the United States, and you think about the number of people who have mental illness on the streets, I talk to them about the developing world, and they say, but it’s right on our streets.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the presence of mentally ill people on U.S. streets, Underhill says the harsh reality is that about three-fourths of the 450 million people with mental illness worldwide are in developing countries, and three-fourths of them are untreated.
In Pakistan’s Sindh Province, I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro for the “PBS NewsHour.”
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we turn to our occasional series on imprisonment and criminal justice in America.
Some Republicans and Democrats are uniting over reform ideas.
Tonight, in our Broken Justice series, William Brangham looks at a high-profile idea that centers around felons and their lives after prison.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The nation’s biggest city New York, just became the latest in a national movement to rewrite the hiring process and give convicted felons a better chance at landing a job.
Supporters gathered a few days ago as the New York City Council voted overwhelmingly to block employers from asking job applicants if they have a criminal history. The law is known as ban the box. It would do away with the question or box on job applications asking if a worker has served time in prison or had a record. The idea is spreading.
So far, 17 states across the country and more than 100 cities and counties have passed similar ban the box laws.
We get two different perspectives.
Daryl Atkinson is senior staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. And Elizabeth Milito is senior executive counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business.
Daryl Atkinson, I know this is not just a matter of public policy for you. This is very personal in your own particular story. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
DARYL ATKINSON, Senior Staff Attorney, Southern Coalition for Social Justice: Sure, William.
In 1996, I was convicted of a first-time nonviolent drug crime. I spent 40 months in prison in the Alabama Department of Corrections. I went into prison with a high school diploma. I came out with a high school diploma. Fortunately enough for me, I had a loving family that could provide me food, clothing and shelter.
And I have been able to achieve a certain degree of success. I have gotten my education. I’m licensed to practice law in Minnesota and North Carolina. I was honored at the White House as a Champion of Change in removing barriers for people with records.
But I don’t tell that story to highlight any exceptionable attributes about me. I believe that millions of people who cycle in and out of our criminal justice system can be successful as well if they have the necessary support.
So, we ban the box in both Durham City and Durham County in 2011 and in 2012. And we have seen the percentage of people hired who have criminal records go up every year without any increases in workplace theft or crime. None of these folks have been subsequently terminated because they committed a subsequent offense.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Beth Milito, what about this argument that, if you know someone has a criminal record, that the prejudice against that is just so great that, in fact, people who have done their time, served their sentence, that they should have a shot at getting a job, just like everybody else?
ELIZABETH MILITO, Senior Executive Counsel, National Federation of Independent Business: And, you know, these policies, there is a laudable goal behind them, but there is a cost.
And for small businesses, whom I represent at NFIB, the costs can be pretty steep. This is — as I say, it’s not a good policy in all businesses and all industries. And the one size fits all is very difficult.
In many instances, a small business returning a small contracting company, running a small convenience store needs to be able to abort the hiring process sooner rather than later. It is the business owner who is culling through the applications, setting up the interviews, bringing the individuals in
And in certain instances, either by law, federal or state laws, they can’t hire individuals with certain convictions.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Daryl, as you have gone around the country and talking to employers, how do you convince them? When they might say to you, look, if I’m hiring people for some kind of sensitive work, I might be putting people into people’s homes, that I have a duty to know whether or not I can trust this person’s actions, what do you say to those employers?
DARYL ATKINSON: So, I’m a dad. I have a 3-year-old. I drop my 3-year-old off at day care every single day.
Would I want to know or would I be concerned as a parent if one of her day care teachers had a past history of child abuse? I would. That would be concerning to me.
So, that particular position may not be suitable for someone with that criminal record history. What we’re encouraging employers to do, both large and small, are to do these individualized assessments, and not treat all crimes the same, because some crimes may not have any relevance to whether someone is suitable for a given position.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Well, Beth Milito, what about that point?
Would small businesses be OK with the idea that you don’t ask people about their criminal background check right away? You vet the candidates and then if you are about ready to make an offer, then you can check and see if it is relevant, as Daryl was saying? Would you guys support that idea?
ELIZABETH MILITO: I support vetting candidates, most certainly.
But the employer needs to have the information about criminal history during the interview. The fact that they didn’t raise that during the interview, whether there was a gap that maybe now a business owner is afraid to discuss because they can’t talk about criminal history until after they have made a conditional offer, is just kind of ludicrous for a small business owner.
And then some of the proposals too — and the New York City is one of them too — the business owner then actually has to provide, you know, a written reason as to why it is they didn’t hire somebody because of criminal conviction. That is just going to send people off to an attorney.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: OK, we have got to leave it there.
Daryl Atkinson, Beth Milito, thank you both very much.
DARYL ATKINSON: Thank you.
ELIZABETH MILITO: Thank you.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. women’s soccer team has advanced to the next round of play with a win last night against Nigeria. Veteran player Abby Wambach scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
Nancy Armour is covering the Cup for USA Today, and she brings us up to date on the challenges the U.S. team faces. She was in the stadium in Vancouver last night, and she joins me now.
Nancy Armour, welcome.
How big a surprise and how big a deal was this win last night?
NANCY ARMOUR, USA Today: The win last night was huge, for a couple of different reasons. Number one is the confidence factor.
You want to get out of your group with a win. You want to get out on top. You want to be considered one of the teams that is doing the best. But there is a logistical aspect to this, too. Had the U.S. finished second, they would have been looking at playing clear across the country to Moncton, which is in New Brunswick, to play Brazil, which is one of the other contenders for the title.
Instead, they will play here in Edmonton. And they get an extra day of rest. Their game is not until Tuesday, whereas, if they had played in Moncton, they would have had to play Monday. So it was a very significant win for them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you mentioned — we mentioned the only — the goal was scored by Abby Wambach. There’s a lot of talk going around about her, particularly about her age, at the ripe old age of 35.
And yet you wrote today she’s the greatest goal scorer to play the game.
NANCY ARMOUR: Well, she has more goals than anybody else in the game, male or female.
And it always seems, you know, when the U.S. absolutely, positively needs a goal, she delivers. She did it in the World Cup four years ago, and she did it last night. She also had a couple other chances at scoring too, so I think we’re kind of starting to see her come out of, if you wanted to call it a funk or a slump — I think we’re starting to see her come out of that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What challenges lie ahead for this U.S. team?
NANCY ARMOUR: Well, the biggest thing is that the game has — the parity in the game has gotten — has just grown incredibly.
You’re seeing teams like Colombia, Cameroon, not the traditional powerhouses, that are doing well in this World Cup. And for the U.S., it is no longer about the fact that they have the better athletes, that they have more depth than anybody else. They have to play better. And there are no gimme games in this tournament anymore.
And that’s the one thing. They are aware of it, but have got to really play like that, especially starting now, because once the knockout rounds start, you lose, you go home.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So what — who and what should fans be looking out for?
NANCY ARMOUR: Well, they will have the round of 16 game, which will probably be Colombia, next week, and then a semifinal — or quarterfinal game.
They probably won’t get their biggest test until the semifinals, but that could be a big one. That could be Germany, which is considered the other favorite for the title.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s also been talk about another player on the U.S. team, Hope Solo. How much of a controversy is that and how much bearing on how this team is doing?
NANCY ARMOUR: The team says that it’s not affecting them at all, that this is something that they dealt with months ago, that they are not concerned about it.
But there is a lot of public sentiment, people wanting to know why she is on the team and why U.S. soccer didn’t do anything about it. And as the Americans continue to advance, I think there are going to be more people who are going to be asking that same question and wondering, why she is still on the field. Why does the NFL have a set of rules and other teams, other leagues don’t have the same kind of — aren’t taking it with the same kind of seriousness?
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should say there was an accusation of domestic abuse, and that remains to be resolved.
Nancy Armour, at this point, how much are the FIFA scandals looming over this women’s World Cup?
NANCY ARMOUR: Well, it’s kind of ironic, because FIFA has always very dismissively treated the women’s game. They’re making the women play on turf during this World Cup, which would never happen for the men.
And yet — so this is the first big tournament since the FIFA scandals broke. And it’s the one chance that FIFA has to kind of improve its reputation and or improve its image with a great tournament. So, like I said, it’s a little bit ironic that it is coming from the women that FIFA has basically brushed aside for decades, saying, oh, you know, we don’t take you as seriously as we do the men.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know you are watching, and we will be too.
Nancy Armour with USA Today, we thank you.
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Editor’s Note: In his 2015 State of the Union, President Obama briefly addressed overtime pay, noting, “We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned.”
The president hopes to make good on his promise as early as this month.
Overtime, the focus of Making Sen$e’s segment this evening, has long been a major labor issue in the United States. While the Fair Labor Standards Act ensures that salaried workers making less than $23,600 a year must be paid time and a half for for every hour they work over 40 hours a week, it offers no such protections for workers making more than that.
Since 1975, when the threshold salary to receive overtime pay was established, it’s been increased only once, in 2004, but never adjusted for inflation. Had it been adjusted for inflation, that minimum salary would be about $50,000 today.
Business leaders are wary of the proposed revamping. Many have argued that raising the threshold salary would force them to pay workers hourly wages in order to cut costs. Such changes, they say, could hurt job growth and those employees currently in salaried positions.
Labor advocates, on the other hand, argue that salaried employees are being forced to work long hours for no extra pay. In their opinion, it’s time for the law to be revamped. Economics correspondent Paul Solman sat down to speak with Gassan Marzuq, a former Dunkin’ Donuts manager and his lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan about overtime work. Riordan argues that Marzuq should have received overtime and has sued his former employer, which runs 50 Dunkin’ Donuts shops in Massachusetts.
The text of Gassan Marzuq and Riordan’s conversation with Paul has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. Tune in tonight to hear more on the subject of overtime from business leaders and labor advocates.
— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor
Paul Solman: Explain the case to us. What’s the case, and where is it?
Shannon Liss-Riordan: Mr. Marzuq was a manager at a Dunkin’ Donuts, he was working extremely long hours, often 70 or more hours a week, and he was paid a little over $40,000. We brought a case that he should’ve been paid overtime. He was on salary, so they could work him as many hours as they wanted, and it was free labor, because anyone else they would have to pay more money to.
Paul Solman: Gassan, how much were you making?
Gassan Marzuq: I was making roughly $900 a week, about $20 an hour. With all the hours that I worked, it was roughly 75 hours on average, if not more. If you calculate that, I’m making less than the regular employees, who work there side by side with me.
Paul Solman: You were working 75 hours, but you weren’t being paid for those hours?
Gassan Marzuq: That’s correct, because I was salaried. If I worked 40 hours, or if I worked 100 hours, it’s the same pay.
Paul Solman: How much were you making per hour?
Gassan Marzuq: I was making $20 an hour. But that’s on a 40 hour work. But if I’m working 75 hours a week or 80 hours a week, I’m making only $9 or $10 an hour, which is less, even lower than what the regular employees are making. And you’ve got the title to be a manager, without authority.
Paul Solman: Could they just tell you to keep working?
Gassan Marzuq: Absolutely. Because they gave you the title, you are a manager. You are on salary, you have to cover all of those shifts and the holes that go through the day.
Paul Solman: You mean, if somebody didn’t come in, then you would have to fill in for them?
Gassan Marzuq: Absolutely. Because, say, somebody called in [and they can’t make their] early evening shift. Who are they going to call? They’re going to call the manager. Who is the manager going to call? The owner? Or the supervisors higher up than him? You try to call other employees, but the other employees are not interested, because they have a life to live, too.
Paul Solman: And they’re only making $9 or $10 an hour.
Gassan Marzuq: That’s correct. You’re going to go in and cover that person who called in.
Paul Solman: So you’re coming in to do the shift of somebody who’s just serving, for example, at Dunkin’ Donuts. But since you’re called a ‘manager,’ you weren’t paid at all?
Gassan Marzuq: That’s absolutely true. You’re serving customers, you’re pouring coffee, you’re cleaning. You’re doing a whole lot more than the other employees. And the title does not mean anything. The title is only a name, without any authorities.
Paul Solman: Did you know that when you took the job?
Gassan Marzuq: I did not know that. I mean, when you say manager, you think manager with authority. But when you sign contract, you find the reality is different than what the contract is, and all of the benefit goes to the franchisees not to the employees. They are taking advantage of that to cover the operation of the store. And that’s all it is.
Paul Solman: Shannon, is this common practice in America?
Shannon Liss-Riordan: This is common practice in America, the fast food restaurants in particular. Because they’re trying to keep their costs down, and because they put their managers on salary, they can work their managers as many hours as they want. And it saves them money from having to hire other employees or from paying overtime to the non-exempt employees. That’s why we’re trying to show in Gassan’s case, that most of what he was doing was not managerial work. He was pouring coffee, ringing up the register, cleaning up the bathroom, cleaning the parking lot, and for that, he should’ve been paid overtime for working 75 hours a week, missing out on his family life, giving everything he could to this employer and not getting paid appropriately for it.
Paul Solman: This is a competitive industry, so are they just doing what the other fast food restaurants do?
Shannon Liss-Riordan: Other fast food restaurants have been doing the same thing. They’ve been getting away with calling their managers, who are not making the kind of money that you think of when you hear of executive.
Paul Solman: This isn’t CEO pay, right?
Shannon Liss-Riordan: No, the federal law, the Fair Labor Standards Act has an exemption from overtime for bona fide executives. So these companies are claiming that Gassan was an executive. He wasn’t an executive. He was cleaning the bathroom, he was pouring coffee in the store. The way the law is right now, there’s a lot of confusion about who is qualified for this exemption from overtime, and it really doesn’t make a lot of sense that we lawyers have to spend so much time figuring that out, and fighting about that in the courts, when someone who’s making $42,000 a year and working 75 hours a week isn’t being paid overtime?
Shannon Liss-Riordan: The new regulations that are being talked about and that we’re all hoping will be coming out soon, will revise the regulations to determine who is eligible for the executive exemption, under the federal overtime law. Right now, if you make less than $455 a week, you’re automatically entitled to overtime. If you make more than that, there’s this complicated legal fight about what your primary duty is, and there are all these multiple legal factors that you have to look at. What we, in the labor community, would like to see, is simplifying those rules. We’re hoping to see that number go up substantially to at least $1000 a week. $455 a week is about $23,000 a year. So under the current state of the law, you can be making $25,000 a year and a court might find you to be a ‘bona fide executive.’ That needs to change.
Paul Solman: That is sort of amazing, actually.
Shannon Liss-Riordan: It is. So managers of fast food restaurants, like Gassan here making about $42,000 a year, working extremely long hours—75 hours a week—are not getting paid anything extra for all of those long hours.
Paul Solman: He wasn’t getting paid for any hour over 40?
Shannon Liss-Riordan: Well, he was paid on a salary, so his employer only had to worry about paying him his $900 a week, and they could work him as many hours as they wanted to for that salary.
Paul Solman: Let me ask a question to Gassan. Suppose you’d said ‘no, I’m only going to work 40 hours, I’m sorry, but you’re not paying me for that.’
Gassan Marzuq: I’d be terminated.
Paul Solman: Really, that simple?
Gassan Marzuq: Simple as that. Because, you are only a number. And you gonna fill in this number. If you don’t like it, you’ll leave. But, you are a family person, you have a wife, you have kids, you have a house to support, so what are you going to do? Quit and start from the bottom again? You’re going to swallow it, until you find something else. And it’s hard to find something here, especially for a person like me. I’m not educated person, I don’t have a degree. But I have the experience.
Paul Solman: When did you start to realize that you were. When did you start to feel you were being taken advantage of?
Gassan Marzuq: I felt that when my kids began to go to college. I said, my goodness to myself, my kids grew up so fast. I never had the time to enjoy my kids’ childhoods to be with them, to share their activities. I never went to their games, I always worked for Dunkin’ Donuts. I always got that phone call. They graduated from high school, and I did not enjoy that day. The majority of the employees are teenagers so they all graduated on the same day. Now, are you going to be with your son, or are you going to be at the store? You have two choices. You be with your son, the store it will close, and you will lose your job.
Paul Solman: So on your son’s high school graduation day, you were working?
Gassan Marzuq: At Dunkin’ Donuts store to cover shifts.
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WASHINGTON — In dueling decisions Thursday about free speech, the Supreme Court upheld Texas’ refusal to issue a license plate bearing the Confederate battle flag and struck down an Arizona town’s restrictions on temporary signs put up by a small church.
The court unanimously said the town of Gilbert, Arizona, ran afoul of the First Amendment by setting tougher rules for signs placed in the right of way along public streets to direct people to Sunday church services than for signs for political candidates and real estate agents.
But in Texas, where the state venerates the Confederacy and allows some 450 different messages on license plates as part of a lucrative specialty-plate program, the court said officials can limit the content of license plates because the plates are state property, and not the equivalent of bumper stickers.
The 5-4 decision upheld a ruling that denied the Sons of Confederate Veterans a plate with its Confederate battle flag logo out of concern that it remains a racially charged symbol of repression to some — even as it also is a potent image of heritage to others.
The differing outcomes were, at first glance, hard to reconcile, several scholars said. “If you put these cases side by side, the results look very strange,” said University of Chicago law professor David Strauss.
One possible difference is that the court imposes strict rules about when the government can forbid something, like the placement and size of signs, and offers governments more leeway when they refuse to support or subsidize speech, Strauss said.
“Support the Confederacy all you want, but you just can’t use our license plates for that speech,” he said. “When the government is withholding support, rather than threatening punishment, the rules are very murky.”
The Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued over the state’s decision not to authorize its proposed license plate with its logo bearing the battle flag, similar to plates issued by eight other states that were part of the Confederacy and by the state of Maryland.
A panel of federal appeals court judges ruled that the board’s decision violated the group’s First Amendment rights. “We understand that some members of the public find the Confederate flag offensive. But that fact does not justify the board’s decision,” wrote Judge Edward Prado of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Justice Stephen Breyer, though, said that when a message appears on license plates it becomes the government’s statement, and not that of private individuals. He said the First Amendment applies when governments try to regulate the speech of others, but not when governments are doing the talking.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that states can’t force drivers to display license plates that contain messages with which the drivers disagree, Breyer said. “And just as Texas cannot require SCV (the Sons of Confederate Veterans) to convey ‘the state’s ideological message’,” Breyer said, quoting from that earlier ruling, “SCV cannot force Texas to include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates.” Breyer wrote for the unusual lineup of his three liberal colleagues and conservative Justice Clarence Thomas.
Justice Samuel Alito said in dissent that the decision “threatens private speech that the government finds displeasing.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia also dissented.
In the Arizona case, the only disagreement among the justices was over why the law violated the rights of the small, cash-strapped Good News Community Church and its pastor, Clyde Reed.
The church complained that the law limited the church to smaller signs than those allowed for political candidates, real estate agents and others. The church’s signs also could be in place only for shorter periods of time.
Lower federal courts had upheld the town’s sign ordinance, saying the distinction it drew between different kinds of temporary signs was not based on what a sign said.
Thomas rejected that argument in his majority opinion for six of the nine justices. Thomas said political signs are “given more favorable treatment than messages announcing an assembly of like-minded individuals. That is a paradigmatic example of content-based discrimination.”
Under the rigorous review the court gives to laws that treat speakers differently because of content, the law must fall, Thomas said.
Justice Elena Kagan said she fears that all sign ordinances now will have to face the same strict review and many “are now in jeopardy” because of Thursday’s decision.
There was a narrower way to decide the case in the church’s favor, Kagan said. The town’s defense of its sign ordinance was marked by the “absence of any sensible basis” for distinguishing among signs and did not pass “even the laugh test,” she said, with agreement from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breyer.
Thomas said the decision would not prevent cities and towns from regulating signs to take account of safety and aesthetic concerns.
The ruling could boost challenges to other local ordinances limiting speech, including restrictions on panhandling, said Kevin Martin, a former Scalia law clerk who is handling some of those cases.
The sign ordinance struck down Thursday allowed directional signs, like the ones put up by the church inviting people to Sunday worship, to be no larger than 6 square feet. They had to be placed in public areas no more than 12 hours before an event and removed within an hour of its end.
Signs for political candidates, by contrast, can be up to 32 square feet and stay in place for several months.
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This April, Gwen Ifill received a letter that began: “Dear Ms. Ifill, I hope you remember me, but if you do not, my name is Sophie Sabin.” That letter became a catalyst to an inspirational moment for hundreds of middle school students in Newark, New Jersey, today.
Sophie admired Ifill for years as a middle school student at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark. “She was a role model for who I wanted to be,” she said.
Sophie first “met” Ifill in April 2014 in a Skype interview for PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs while she was an eighth-grade student participating in the program at Philip’s Academy. One of her first questions for Ifill: why would she take the time to give an interview to a middle school student? Ifill said: “It’s because I once was you.”
That line stuck with Sophie, and that summer Student Reporting Labs selected her as a Student Reporting Lab All-Star, giving her the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., and meet Ifill face-to-face.
After completing her first year in high school, Sophie wanted to give back to the middle school that had supported her. She wrote to Ifill to ask her to speak at her old middle school’s graduation ceremony. “Just as you inspired me with your words, I want my former classmates to have this same chance,” she wrote.
Ifill accepted the invitation and delivered the commencement speech today at Philip’s Academy, where the two met in person once more.
Sophie said that Ifill had helped her reflect on her goals for the future — a process that she wanted to share with others.
“I wanted the students at my previous school to be able to get the same experience that I got, to be able to get the same opportunity to ask themselves: where do I want to be in 20 years? What path do I want to set for myself? What kind of people do I want to imitate? Those are the questions I started asking myself,” she said.
Sara Mosle, Sabin’s teacher at Philip’s Academy, said it was inspiring to see Sabin grow through her experience with Student Reporting Labs and connection with Ifill. “It’s the very reason you go into teaching,” she said.
Watch Gwen’s commencement address to the graduating middle school students at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark, New Jersey, in the video above.
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