ALISON STEWART: I’m Alison Stewart.
JON MEACHAM: And I’m Jon Meacham. Here’s what you need to know.
ALISON STEWART:A big step towards changing the Internet as we know it…. The battle for access to your favorite web content.
JON MEACHAM: Trying to stop the gun violence on the tough streets of Chicago. We meet a group called Ceasefire.
VOICEOVER: We equate it to a public health issue because we’re trying to change behaviors, because what happens for so many years, people have been able to get away with their behaviors, it’s been acceptable.
ALISON STEWART: And…best selling author and columnist Carl Hiaasen. His newest book takes on the cult of celebrity… and we’ll join him for the wild ride:
JON MEACHAM: All that, and Andy Borowitz.
ALISON STEWART: Next on Need to Know.
Hello everyone. Thanks for joining us.
JON MEACHAM: This week, political score keepers tallied the winners and losers in some closely watched primary elections. Others debated the legitimacy of the 14th Amendment. And a lot of us chuckled over the disgruntled Jet Blue flight attendant who slid to notoriety on an escape chute.
ALISON STEWART: But in some parts of Chicago, there was another conversation. It was about children and guns and death. This week an eight-year-old girl was killed, and her seven-year-old cousin critically injured, when two young men riding bicycles began shooting. The girls were jumping rope in front of their own home, as other children played. Witnesses said the shooters weren’t aiming at the girls in particular. Police are investigating whether the shooting stemmed from a fight among a group of teenagers that had erupted earlier in the evening.
JON MEACHAM: There is an epidemic of gun violence in some parts of the city. It’s been going on for years. It’s not that the city, state, and private citizens aren’t trying to curb it. They are. But there are many factors working against them. Some of them are obvious…poverty, unemployment, drugs, lack of supervision. Other factors are harder to detect from the outside.
Need to Know heard about a program called Ceasefire that has been having some success at reducing gun violence. And because we want to report on solutions, as well as problems, we take you to the South Side of Chicago, including the neighborhood where the little girls were shot, to see how the ceasefire program works.
VOICEOVER: Daniel curtis, 14, Dearl Mitchell, 17, Nequiel Flower 12. These are just a few of the nearly 200 children’s names at this street-front memorial on the South Side of Chicago.
Over the past two and a half years, more than 500 young people under the age of 25 have been murdered in Chicago. The majority at the hands of their peers.
NAT: The losses are staggering…
VOICEOVER: Father’s Day weekend set a homicide record for this year, with 54 people shot, 10 killed. Among them, two 17-year-old boys.
We came to the South Side of Chicago to some of the poorest, most dangerous neighborhoods in the city to see what is being done on the ground to combat all this violence.
TIO HARDIMAN: The violence is — in Chicago is, is really bad because it’s reached epidemic levels right now. The leading cause of death for African-American youth between the ages of 15 and 24 is homicide. It’s really bad.
VOICEOVER: Tio Hardiman is a director of Ceasefire, a non-profit organization working to interrupt the cycle of violence with a unique approach: treating violence as an infectious disease.
TIO HARDIMAN: We equate it to a public health issue because we’re trying to change behaviors, because what happens for so many years, people have been able to get away with their behaviors, it’s been acceptable.
VOICEOVER: The idea of treating violence as a public health issue began as an initiative at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s School of Public Health.
Ceasefire’s mission is to cut off violence at the source, before it spreads like a virus from friend to friend, father to son, brother to brother.
Last month, at Ceasefire’s office in the Englewood neighborhood, we sat in on a weekly strategy meeting.
Ameena Matthews is a former gang member and drug dealer who knows the streets well.
AMEENA MATTHEWS: And I didn’t know, you know, because they were so afraid to go off that block, because they didn’t know…
VOICEOVER: Today she is what Ceasefire calls a violence interrupter… And it becomes immediately apparent just what the job entails.
AMEENA MATTHEWS: What happened?
VOICEOVER: The Ceasefire staff rushed out when someone from the community alerts them to a fight just outside. Violence interrupters try to intervene in violent situations before they become tragic; diffusing tensions, negotiating truces, and discouraging retaliation.
This man was beaten up by other young men in the neighborhood witnesses say, after he allegedly threatened he had a gun and intended to use it.
NAT: So you want to go to the emergency room?
VOICEOVER: The Ceasefire staff drives him to the hospital, but the conflict does not end there. The code on the street here is about respect and when a friend or family member is disrespected, that often leads to more violence. Within fifteen minutes, the young man’s sisters arrive on the scene–their young children are with them.
FEMALE: I’m going to knock your bitch ass out
VOICEOVER: Much like containing a disease from spreading, Ameena works to stop the violence from spreading. She convinces the young men to walk away from the sisters.
But as she leads the young men away, the sisters advance, wielding a rock … in the scuffle, a knife is also pulled.
Ceasefire mediated nearly 600 conflicts last year. This is the pattern they see week after week: violence, retaliation, and the entire incident often witnessed by children.
AMEENA MATTHEWS: This is an epidemic, this is a pandemic. They came and they fighting for their brother’s honor, obviously……I thought you was going to the shop…..
VOICEOVER: We were just on the edge of your district this afternoon, little altercation breaks out. And all of a sudden it just erupted. What is going on in the streets of Chicago?
EDDIE JOHNSON: Well, you know, it’s just people — a lotta folks just don’t have any hope. You know, nothing to do, no job opportunities, a lack of education.
Commander Eddie Johnson leads the SSuth side’s sixth district, one of the most violent in the city with over 30 homicides so far this year
Most of the violence in Chicago is concentrated on the south and west sides — the poorest areas of the city. And the Chicago police have a dismal record when it comes to solving homicides. In 2008 they solved just 35% compared with the national average of 60%. One reason, according to Johnsonn is the strong code of silence on the street.
EDDIE JOHNSON: When you go out there and look for witnesses that you know are out there, we’re finding people that don’t want to talk. And that really stifles the investigation because if the police don’t actually observe the crime then we have to rely on the community to give us that information.
SHOSHANA GUY: Not a lot of the young folks out there trust the police.
EDDIE JOHNSON: We realize that a lot of youth don’t particularly trust the police. Maybe it’s justified, maybe it isn’t, you know. I don’t know. But our way to get around that is to partner with other agencies in the community and let them be the lead in these situations.
VOICEOVER: Diane Latiker is one of those community leaders the police department partners with.
She has eight children of her own but has become mother to an entire community in Rosleand– a rough neighborhood on the South Side.
Seven years ago, Latiker became distraught over the violence and the bleak prospects young people saw when talking about their future.
DIANE LATIKER: They say, why even try? I’m not gonna live to see 25, you know, why would I even try? You know, I’m gonna be dead. And there’s nobody there to push ‘em and guide ‘em and say no, that’s not true, you can! You’re gonna live, you’re gonna be able to do things.
VOICEOVER: So Latiker opened her home to any child needing a safe haven from the city streets….offering mentoring, help finding a job…or simply a place to hang out. out of her living room, grew a program “kids off the block” which expanded to help 300 young people last year. 14-year old Maurice Gilcrest joined kids off the block a year ago.
SHOSHANA GUY: So you used to run the streets. Tell me what would you do?
MAURICE GILCREST: Jump people, try to rob them. Yeah, stuff like that.
SHOSHANA GUY:You just didn’t care, what going on inside of you
MAURICE GILCREST: I didn’t care it’s like.. it’s like nobody else didn’t care about me, so why should I care?
SHOSHANA GUY: Where’s your father?
MAURICE GILCREST: I don’t have one. I didn’t know him.
SHOSHANA GUY: And you have brothers and sisters?
MAURICE GILCREST: Yes. One of them is in jail. My brother is in jail. My sisters is somewhere, my other sister is somewhere. I don’t know.
SHOSHANA GUY: So it’s just you and your mom in the house?
MAURICE GILCREST:Yup, and my grandma.
SHOSHANA GUY: So you didn’t feel supported by them at all?
MAURICE GILCREST: I felt a little support by my grandma and my momma, but mostly it’s Miss Diane. Because she believed I can do it.
VOICEOVER: While Miss Diane has been able to create an island of safety on her block, even the kids in her program are not immune from the violence.
A month and a half ago, 20-year old Tonia Hughes was shot in the leg while hanging out on her friend’s porch .
TONIA HUGHES: All I knew I heard gunshots again. I was tryin’ to — I was stuck ’cause I ain’t know where it was comin’ from. I dragged myself in their house. And as I was draggin’ myself I seen blood, so that’s how I knew I got shot.
VOICEOVER: When we met her a week after the incident, the bullet was still lodged in her leg.
TONIA HUGHES: Every day I cry because I’m like it’s me that got shot. Like I have two kids to live for.
VOICEOVER: The police came to investigate the shooting but Tonia, like so many others in her community, refused to talk….even though she knows her shooters. They were friends of her brother Tony.
MAN 1: When it happened I was mad like —I was mad to a point where like I wanted to go there and do somethin’ to one of them/but —I had to think.
VOICEOVER: Tony and his friend James were in an ongoing argument with the shooters over a girl, Tonia was allegedly shot in retribution.
MAN 2: We all used to be cool but they got into it over this girl. That’s how it escalated. So they went from there.
SHOSANA GUY: Do you think it’s over?
MAN 1: I won’t say it’s over.
MAN 2: I won’t say it’s over either ’cause it’s like, if they just came and did that to us quite naturally they expectin’ us come do that to them.. So I won’t say it’s over. No, it ain’t over.
SHOSHANA GUY: I think that it’s very hard for a lot of the American public to understand that young people would shoot each other over such small things. I mean how do you explain it?
TIO HARDIMAN: It’s a subculture of violence. When you’ve been born into the game so to speak and when I say born into the game, born into the world of criminality, okay — people end up getting caught up because it’s right around them.
VOICEOVER: This culture of violence, Hardiman explains, is passed from one generation to another. It becomes so common… the community simply tolerates it.
TIO HARDIMAN: Hatred is taught, or it’s accepted. And that’s what they bein’, that’s what they bein’ taught, a form of hatred.
VOICEOVER: Derek Brown learned from the streets. Once known as “Shotgun,” Brown was a member of the infamous “Vice Lords” gang by the age of 12. And he says part of the problem is that the young kids look up to the gang members.
DEREK BROWN: Well what’s going on with that is they’re lookin’ up to their influence, and their influence and the person they lookin’ up to shoots the gun, you know, which I was somebody like that.
VOICEOVER: Brown knows what it is like to have the wrong role models his father was forced to flee the city after committing murder, abandoning him when he was only four.
DEREK BROWN: You know, home is somewhere you supposed to be comfortable. You, your family feeds you and supposed to teach you. Where I’m from, home is just somewhere to sleep. And I wasn’t gettin’ that attention in the house, so I’d go outside and make attention for myself
VOICEOVER: Brown, who served time, made the decision to leave the streets three years ago. Today he is a community leader and a violence interrupter for Ceasefire – a job for which he feels uniquely qualified.
DEREK BROWN: I don’t believe a pastor can do it, ’cause he has no idea of what’s goin’ on in the streets, ’cause they stay in they churches. I don’t think a politician can do it, ’cause they don’t care about nothin’ but money. I don’t think the police can do it, or any gun laws or anything else. It takes somebody like myself that’s in the community, that’s grounded, know where they come from and somebody who they respect
VOICEOVER: Ceasefire’s work doesn’t stop at violence interrupters. Keeping with its disease model, it’s also targeting high- risk youth with an outreach program to help them stay in school and find jobs.
And while it’s hard to measure violence prevention, a 2008 study funded by the Department of Justice examined selected neighborhoods where Ceasefire works and found that shootings went down 16 to 34 percent.
Ceasefire gets roughly eight million dollars a year from state and federal funding and private foundations. That covers their work in 16 Chicago communities but they are needed in far more.
As for the city, it received 60 million dollars in stimulus money this year to fight youth violence in and around the schools and it’s begun a program to train community members to patrol their own streets—still, these are small steps for a problem so deeply entrenched.
On a walk around Chicago’s west side, Tio Hardiman explains the issue is compounded by unemployment rates as high as 55% for young black men.
TIO HARDIMAN: Right now we’re in front of the Brachs Warehouse. This company used to hire about 5,000 people from within the community and this, this factory’s been shut down now for about 15 years.
VOICEOVER: Unemployment, he says, fuels the desperation.
TIO HARDIMAN: And all these things go into that whole pot and you begin to stir it up and you have chaos, you have violence and that’s what we have right now.
VOICEOVER: Lack of opportunity is the first thing young people on these streets talk about.
MAN: You ain’t got no jobs what else could you do? You go out here sell drugs to make you some money.
TIO HARDIMAN: I mean how do you feel about your community brother and what do you see when you leave out your house?
SECOND MAN: Thieves, drug dealers, everything. You know, everything. You was in the ‘hood. It’s the ‘hood.
SHOSHANA GUY: People might say, “Well, you know, everyone has to take personal responsibility. Take responsibility for your life, you know. You have a choice. Make, make the right choice.”
TIO HARDIMAN: That sounds good in theory. But in practice on, on the streets of Chicago I wish everybody could make the right choice. But if you don’t have the resources and you don’t have the, the backup from your parents or like your grandparents or somebody within your family, how you gonna make the right choice?
SHOSHANA GUY: Where are we failing these kids?
TIO HARDIMAN: You know, speaking as an African-American male professional working in the community you know I have to really out the blame on African-American parents. See we — it’s not incumbent upon the mayor, it’s not incumbent, you know, upon the superintendent to solve all the problems in the black community.
VOICEOVER: But Diane Latiker says when parents are absent, the community and the city’s institutions have a responsibility to provide a safety net.
DIANE LATIKER: We failed them in the education system, we failed ‘em in — in the juvenile justice system. We failed them by not carrying them when their families couldn’t carry them. We tossed them into the streets. We said, fend for yourself. And then when they fend for themselves through the drug dealing and the gang-banging, then we say, oh, you’re wrong. But we didn’t pick ‘em up.
VOICEOVER: Latiker is doing her part in her small corner of the city. After years of operating kids off the block from personal funds and neighborhood donations she is now receiving a little more than a hundred thousand dollars in state and federal funding. And a recent donation of a building beside her house means she has finally been able to expand. Change, she says, can happen one block at a time.
DIANE LATIKER: If everybody came out on their block and did somethin’, we could change the blocks and the young people on it —
JON MEACHAM: Joining me now to delve further into the challenge of reducing youth violence is Professor Harold Pollack of the University of Chicago. He is co-director of the University’s crime lab, which tests and evaluates pilot programs for reducing crime and violence.
According to a recent crime lab study, which Pollack coauthored, no Chicago youth is entirely safe from this problem today. And estimates indicate that one out of every five murdered Chicago school-aged youths was an innocent bystander. Thank you, Professor.
HAROLD POLLACK: Great to be here.
JON MEACHAM: So, the goal is curbing youth violence. What works?
HAROLD POLLACK: Well, I would say we know less about how to answer that question than we really should, given that we’ve been working on this problem for decades and spent hundreds of billions of dollars on it. But we do know that there are some programs that have been shown to be effective. One type of program that’s very effective are different kinds of therapies for kids—many of them go under the name “cognitive behavioral therapies”—that try to help young people deal more productively with other people and with conflict situations. And particularly in a tough environment like the streets of Chicago, it’s– it’s a tough gig for a kid to be a 17-year-old– in many of the neighborhoods in our– in our city. And they’re very realistic– issues that kids have– with their personal safety. With their need to be tough. And I think Geoffrey Canada here in New York City’s spoken very eloquently about a lot of those issues. Many young men, they– you know, that have a $60 jacket that their mom gave them. And Mom’s gonna tell them, “Look, if somebody can come and take that jacket, I can’t buy you another one. I don’t have the money.” So, if I’m walking home from school and some kid gets in my face, I really have to respond and be tough. And for me to go and tell that kid– “You can’t fight.” That’s totally unrealistic. And the kids will tell you– they’ve told me, you know, they– they just will ignore that kind of advice because it’s not real to them. But the problem is if that’s the only element in their toolkit, then the teacher gets in their face. And– in front of their peers, and they respond very aggressively. Or there’s a more ambiguous situation and the kids respond aggressively when they don’t have to. There’s a lot of evidence that– particularly kids that are prone to aggression are not particularly good at understanding the– the unspoken intentions of other people. And so– they will often view someone as more threatening than that person actually is. And so, there’s a number of interventions that can be done to help kids navigate these situations better. To help them understand other people. And– and self-regulate more effectively.
JON MEACHAM: To read social cues?
HAROLD POLLACK: Reading social cues is a big part of that. And– one of the programs that I’m helping to evaluate is called Becoming a Man. And it– and it deals with some of these issues, I think, pretty well. And it also deals with a lot of the toxic notions of masculinity that are out there. That every 17-year-old boy in America is being marinated in. But that tends to have worse consequences for a lot of these kids. So– so, those are effective. Mentoring programs are effective. There’s a number of law enforcement strategies that have been shown to be effective– in– you know, using police resources imaginatively so that– many different layers to this.
JON MEACHAM: What’s the– what’s the infrastructure and the means by which some of these programs can make a difference? Is this a public education, public school question? Is it a house to house solution?
HAROLD POLLACK: Well, it’s– it’s all those things. The schools are a great opportunity, because you have the kids available, especially– the younger kids– to do these things. And the schools give you a way you can really– try different programs and really rigorously evaluate them and see whether they work. You– by itself, the school setting isn’t gonna be enough, part– partly because a lot of the kids won’t be in school. By the time they get to be 17 and 18 years old, a lot of the kids are– are not in school anymore. In fact, truancy is one of the major– violence reduction things you can do. Deal more effectively with that. But there’s a number of things we have to do so that kids have a safe and appealing place for them to go after school so that– community organizations are supported. I think it’s actually quite admirable that the Chicago Public Schools are embracing the violence problem. Because many of these young people who are shot– the– the incidents that led to the violence had nothing to do with their schooling. It didn’t happen in the school. So, the school could easily walk away from the problem. And say– these are kids who are not in the school, many of them are dropouts, at that point. And– and instead what the school system has done is it’s said– “We– you know, these are kids that we want to embrace. And we want– we feel accountable for every kid in Chicago.” And I think that’s something that makes me optimistic. That they’re– manning up to the problem and saying, “What can we do? What kinds of resources can we– deploy to be helpful?”
JON MEACHAM: One of the things we saw in the piece was– altercation outside a Ceasefire office. Little kids looking at it. What does the research show in terms of the socialization, the acculturizationof kids who are growing up around this much chaos?
HAROLD POLLACK: It– it’s very harmful to kids in many different ways. One is that– a lot of these kids have post-traumatic stress issues. They see the adults around them behaving in a way that is– that is modeling violence as the way that we solve problems. Their sense of personal safety is compromised. A lot of kids we have– just a whole variety of issues ranging from depression to attentional issues that– that can be traced back to the kind of trauma that they see, not only in the street, but often inside their home. And– and one of the most effective groups of people helping with the violence issue are actually pediatricians. Because they can talk to families about, you know, what is going on with this child? What is this child seeing? And how do we deal with this? One of the things we have to do which is partly a resource issue and is partly a community attitude and awareness issue is understand the mental health system can play a positive role. Many people– in some of the low income, minority communities in Chicago– you know, need better access to mental health services. And need to have– have a message, you know, it’s okay to use these when your child or when you have– have an issue that requires that.
JON MEACHAM: There’s an ancient debate between root causes and individual responsibility. As you look at those two extremes of– ideological or rhetorical spectrum, where do you think the current spate of youth violence fits?
HAROLD POLLACK: Well, you know, they’re both so important. We have one of the most segregated– cities in America. Where we– we have very serious problems with economic inequality. With– educational inequality. With– with race and ethnic segregation. And no doubt in my mind that those things matter a lot. If we didn’t have rampant unemployment among young people, if young people had a realistic route to upward mobility. There’s no doubt in my mind that– that we would have a fundamentally different situation with youth violence. So, I– I’m a firm believer that the root causes are very important. I do worry that if we focus on the root causes to the exclusion of other things, we can become– very pessimistic and passive and say, “Well, as long as we have these high levels of poverty, as long as we have all these social problems in the City of Chicago, we’re gonna see all these murders.” I don’t believe that’s true. There’s a lot we can do to reduce violence– even given that there are these serious social challenges. You know, our crime rates have been higher in the past than they are now. And they’ve been lower than– they are now. With the social conditions in– you know, being what they are today. So, there’s many things we can do to bring crime down, to bring violence down, to make people safer. And they’re actually– we can’t deal with some of the root causes until we bring the violence down.
JON MEACHAM: What are some specific solutions that would ameliorate the situation now?
HAROLD POLLACK: We need to address the– the gun violence problem more effectively. Many of the most promising efforts that are being done are not only around issues of traditional gun control, but also about how police can operate effectively to reduce the incentives to carry a gun, to have a gun, to use a gun when there’s violence. You know, if an 18-year-old has a gun, I’m not very happy about that, at all. But if he keeps it buried behind Grandma’s house, that’s a lot better than if he’s walking around with it in his pocket in the street. Because if he gets in a fist fight with some guy on the street, and– and that gun is in his pockets, one of those guys could end up dead. Secondly, there’s a lot we can do to help young people with their positive development. And– help them with conflict resolution. Help them deal with all the things that a 17-year-old kid– has to deal with. But we– we need to help young people develop into successful adults with a good toolkit to deal with the challenges that they face.
JON MEACHAM: Professor Harold Pollack, thank you.
HAROLD POLLACK: Thank you.
JON MEACHAM: This week online…Need to Know speaks with Eugene Hutz, the lead singer of the band Gogol Bordello, about why they’re using their music to promote immigrant rights.
Also, the United States now lags behind its international rivals in the number of students with college degrees, Need to Know’s online team focuses on the South, where this disturbing trend is especially prominent.
And we return to Chicago with Derek Brown, a former gang member, who now teaches young people to channel their aggression into boxing. All that and more, at the Need to Know site.
ALISON STEWART: Something happened this week that could lead to a fundamental change in our ability to get information we want, anytime, online. So here’s what you Need to Know. On Monday a giant telecom company and a monster Internet company joined forces to release the Verizon Google Legislative Framework Proposal. It is a suggestion describing how these two companies think the Internet should work in the future. At the core of the proposal, the creation of a two tiered Internet…and the tier that costs more gets better service.
It won’t be consumers paying up… It will be those with deep pockets… like Fox News, NBC Universal, Amazon… companies who can pay to have their content more prominently placed, and presented at a higher quality. All week long business and tech blogs have exploded with debate about whether the proposal is a pact for good or for evil. At the heart of it is the big battle over net neutrality which has a lot of subtleties…to help us understand this all a little better is Need to Know contributor, Rick Karr.
ALISON STEWART: Hi, Rick.
RICK KARR: Hello.
ALISON STEWART: So, if you’ve read the paper or the blogs, everyone’s read about net neutrality, which is basically an open Internet to create, post, get any information we want. Now, that’s the theory. What does it mean in practice and how does this proposal affect it?
RICK KARR: What this proposal would do is it would say that if you created a new kind of web site– a new kind of service, Internet service providers could ask you, the creator of the site, to pay an additional fee, so that people like you and I, when we go to that site, could actually get the content. In other words, what it would do is it would turn an open Internet into an Internet that was a little bit more pay to play.
ALISON STEWART: Now, there is a distinction in this proposal between wire line and wireless. iPad, smart phones. Explain that difference and why it’s important.
RICK KARR: Well, the reason why it’s important is because we’re spending more and more time online on wireless devices. I mean, the explosion of smart phones. The advent of the iPad. And all the competitive devices to that that are gonna be coming out soon. So, what it would do is it would basically, according to Verizon and Google, it would take the wired Internet, as we have right now through DSL or cable in our homes, and it would, they say, lock it in place. It would not affect that. However, it would allow the wireless carriers, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobil, et cetera, to do whatever they want. In other words, to truly create tiers of service for different kinds of service providers. So, for instance, what could happen is one news organization could pay more to be the exclusive news service for your particular wireless carrier. Which means that if you tried to go to the website of another news service, it might take a lot longer to load or not look as good.
ALISON STEWART: What’s an example of something that might not have ever existed if this proposal had been in place ten years ago?
RICK KARR: Over the past ten or 15 years, as the Internet has really exploded, people have experimented with a lot of different ideas. I think a good example of this is if you look at the New York Times’s website. If you go there today, there’s a lot of video on the site, for example. You can go to some pages where there are podcasts and audio. There are interactive slideshows.
Take a look at it back in 1996. It was very rudimentary. There were probably only two stories, no video, no audio. Critics of this proposal say had this plan been in place 12-14 years ago, the New York Times’s website would look exactly the same way today as it did in 1996. Because The Times would have said, “Well, why should we pay to put video up? Why should we pay to put audio up? We’re just gonna stick with this simple text-based webpage.”
ALISON STEWART: Let me follow up on what the Internet might look like today if the proposal were to happen. Say, um– I get on my smart phone. And one company’s paid and one company hasn’t. Describe what the difference would be like?
RICK KARR: Well, the way it would work is that the news provider for your– wireless service would have video that loaded better, looked better. I mean, you’d be able to see, if you went to go, say, look at a major news event, you would see HD video. It would move smoothly. It would sound good, et cetera. Now, if you went to the– on the site of a news organization that hadn’t paid the premium for your wireless carrier, it might be degraded video. It might be jerky, moving jerkily– It might freeze up in the middle and you might have to wait for it to load.
ALISON STEWART: I’ll see that little spinning wheel that makes me so crazy?
RICK KARR: Exactly. Exactly. So, I mean– some people describe this to me as– it could turn into the difference between– if you remember what it was like when we had dial-up. And you tried to watch video on dial-up. It could be that big a difference. The fear is that what that does is it allows these big media companies and these big telecom companies to really decide for you, rather than letting you decide the way that you have been in the past.
ALISON STEWART: Not to be too self-referential, that doesn’t set– necessarily bode well for places like PBS or NPR.
RICK KARR: Well if you’re a small documentary filmmaker, you can’t find distribution for your film. You can put it up online and people can still see it. If you have an idea for a public radio show, and NPR doesn’t like it or PRI doesn’t like it, you can put it up as a podcast and it can become hugely successful. The fear is that what this is gonna do is it’s gonna put big media conglomerates back in the driver’s seat and eliminate that level playing field that the Internet’s given us over the years.
ALISON STEWART: Not too long ago, Google was very much for net neutrality. And now they have joined forces with Verizon. Why the switch? What’s going on in terms of the business model that these two are together?
RICK KARR: You have to think about the history of Google in this case. Google came into being and became the giant that it is today because of net neutrality. I mean, you think back to the late ’90s when Google came online, the big search engines were Lycos and Alta-Vista and things like that. Had this proposal been in place then, those search engines may have locked in their advantage and nobody would have known about Google. So, that’s why historically, Google’s been in favor of net neutrality. Now, however, what’s Google’s biggest new product? It’s one word, Android, it’s a mobile, smart device, operating system. They realized that the future in so many ways, in terms of the Internet, is in terms of mobile connection. And quite frankly, Verizon’s one of their biggest business partners. And it was kind of unseemly for these two companies to be seen on opposite sides of this big debate when they’re doing business together.
ALISON STEWART: On the subject of odd bedfellows, net neutrality has groups like Gun Owners of America and MoveOn.org on the same side. Can you explain why these particular organizations– or organizations like the Christian Coalition of– is for net neutrality. ACLU is for net neutrality. What do they have in common? What do they want?
RICK KARR: Both the Christian Coalition and Move On are great examples. These are both organizations that have exploded because of the Internet. They’ve used the Internet to get their message out. They don’t think that reporters like you and I are gonna give them a fair shake. So, they go online in order to spread their message. It’s been very successful for them. They’re worried they’re gonna have to raise more money or lose the ability to get that message out to their supporters. So, they say, “We want the neutral Internet.”
ALISON STEWART: What seems to chafe people a lot is that what is essentially a business decision– decision by Google and Verizon seems at odds with sort of the core values of the Internet. Access to information. Is that a realistic concern, access to information?
RICK KARR: I think the bigger deal here is that the concern of critics of this proposal is that the Internet has become the equivalent of broadcasting. I mean, how many people watch our show online? How many people listen to public radio online? Get their news online? It’s becoming equivalent to broadcasting. It’s become the equivalent of the telephone.
Back in the day, we used to regulate both of those as public services. So, the question here is, should two big companies be able to sort of set the agenda for what’s gonna happen on the Internet? Or should government get involved and say, “We think this should be regulated in the public interest”?
ALISON STEWART: Well, where is the government on this? One of the things that’s interesting in this proposal is they sort of describe to the FCC, “This is going to be your role, FCC.” That almost seems like the tail wagging the dog.
RICK KARR: Yeah, it is an odd thing. But the FCC is in a really tough spot here. I mean, for the better part of the past ten years, the FCC’s been trying to come up with a way of solving this problem. At what level do you make the Internet neutral. And every time the FCC has tried to do it, this is going back through the Bush Administration into the Obama Administration. The courts have said, “No, FCC, you got it wrong. Go back to the drawing board.” Part of the problem might be that the law that sort of sets the framework within which the FCC can work was written in 1996. Now, you think about what the Internet looked like in 1996.
ALISON STEWART: Think about that New York Times cover!
RICK KARR: Exactly. It’s a very, very different place. Look, this is the issue. The case that the big communications companies like Verizon and AT&T and the big cable companies have made in the past is, “It’s all well and good to have a neutral Internet. And we don’t want to be censors. But with all of this video and audio flowing through the Internet, it’s clogging it up. It’s taking a lot of what’s called bandwidth. It’s eating up a lot of the power.” I mean, it’s like if everybody on your block puts a gigantic air conditioner in every room of their house, suddenly you’re gonna have a brown out on your block. And they say that’s why we need to regulate this.
ALISON STEWART: One of the arguments for a two-tiered system is it would make us more competitive worldwide. Can you explain to people how we compare, the United States, as opposed to Europe or Japan?
RICK KARR: This is the country that invented the Internet, basically. We’re way behind. We pay way more. And we get much poorer service. We are incredibly slow in our broadband connections for the most part, in comparison to most of Northern Europe. When you compare it to Korea or Japan, it is agonizingly slower. It really does feel like we’re using dial-up and they’re on broadband.
So, part of the issue here is getting the U.S. to catch up. This is a competitiveness issue. The Obama Administration’s recognized this. So, what you really have here is on one side the big telecommunications companies saying, “Well, if you want to catch up, you’ll have to let us do this. Because we can manage the network. We’ll make a little more money, which will let us build a better network.” On the other hand, you have critics of the proposal saying, “A) We don’t think that’s true. We think you’re gonna build the network anyway. And B) Do we really want to give up the stuff that’s made the Internet great? This openness? This level playing field?”
ALISON STEWART: This was a simple, two-page proposal. This is no policy. This is no law. Yet, it made the ground quake within business and technology. Can you explain quickly why and what’s next for this two-page proposal?
RICK KARR: It– it made the ground quake because nothing has happened on this front for ten years. This is the first time that we’ve seen some serious movement. And as you said earlier, we’ve seen it from two companies that used to be on opposite sides. And two companies that have a pretty substantial amount of clout in Washington, D.C. That’s why everybody’s kind of excited about this. Or upset about it.
The other thing about it is that– it’s the first time that we’ve had major corporations from both sides of the issue say, “Well, maybe we can reach some middle ground here.” And people on the pro-net-neutrality side saying, “There’s no middle ground in this. This is gonna turn it into a two-tiered Internet.” What happens next? We don’t know. I think we’re gonna be talking about this issue for at least a year if not longer.
JON MEACHAM: In April 1866, the Congress passed a Civil Rights Act declaring that people born in the United States were to be considered citizens.
The bill was designed to extend citizenship protections to freed slaves. President Andrew Johnson promptly vetoed the law—only to have the radical Republicans in congress override him in one of the first great showdowns that would end in Johnson’s impeachment. Worried that subsequent legislatures might take Johnson’s position, supporters of civil rights pushed ahead two years later with the 14th Amendment, which enshrined birthright citizenship in the constitution. The point: that no person born in the United States could ever be treated like Dred Scott, a slave who had sued for his freedom – and been informed by the Supreme Court he could never be a citizen. This history came to mind this week as the Republican party of the 21st century began to talk openly about repealing the 14th Amendment as part its campaign to curb illegal immigration. John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, John Boehner of Ohio—or Speaker Boehner, as he could become if the Republicans win the house this November—are mulling the issue of birthright citizenship.
Some Republicans say they simply want to explore the possibilities of ending birthright citizenship in congressional hearings. Fair enough, for hearings will reaffirm that the intent of the clause—the original intent— was to protect former slaves and, later, Chinese immigrants who were being discriminated against in the not-so-subtly entitled Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. By putting birthright citizenship in the Constitution, America offered perpetual protection to minorities who might not have the wherewithal to fend off attacks of the moment. Not a bad thing, that. Among the ironies at work now is the citizenship clause has the kind of pedigree that Republicans usually like, for it is rooted in English common law. Precedent, however, is not dispositive: if it were, then no progress would be possible. That is why recovering the spirit of a law is important. The spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and of the 14th Amendment was about inclusion and fair play—two things we could use more of in Washington.
JON MEACHAM: On the next edition of Need to Know: Dr. Emily Senay reports on the growing movement in the medical community to limit the use of blood transfusions.
Male Voice: We know now that transfusion of blood lowers the host’s immune response and ability to fight infection, so it predisposes sick people to get infections.
JON MEACHAM: Rethinking a conventional medical practice on the next Need to Know.
ALISON STEWART: After 15 novels and 25 years as a columnist for the Miami Herald, Carl Hiaasen has earned a reputation for writing funny fiction and fierce commentary. Now he has taken on celebrity culture with a new book, “Star Island,” which debuted last week at number two on the New York Times Bestseller list. The novel is about a minimally talented pop star named Cherry Pye and the people in the circus around her. The book gave Hiaasen a chance to aim his laser like wit at the making of tabloid fodder, but the research for the book was an excruciating task even for this former investigative reporter.
CARL HIAASEN: Night after night I would watch these shows they all blend to get together: Entertainment Tonight, Inside Hollywood, Access Hollywood, inside, access, outside Hollywood and the same Botox cretins sitting there telling you what’s happening in the rest of the world…the same faces, it’s, I mean it was a terrific malaise and depression set in on me.
ALISON STEWART: Fame and fortune have been around as long Hedda Hopper and tabloids so why is it now that you want to concentrate on dim-witted starlets and their hanger-oners?
CARL HIAASEN: I just – I think we’re inundated with information about them now. I think in the old days you picked up the Hollywood Reporter or something and you read about – whether it was Garbo or Carol Lombard – whoever it—you know ancient times and now information is available so quickly – you know, the Kardashians, whoever they might be, today or Twittering at an alarming rate. Everything they do. Every time they buy a pair of shoes, we get to hear about it. The amount of information is absurd. The triviality of the information is absurd. The insignificance of the individuals themselves is some what absurd.
ALISON STEWART: Did you have a moment? Was there one day when you saw – Lindsay Lohan triumph Lindsey Graham in the paper and you thought this is just ridiculous?
CARL HIAASEN: Every day there’s a new train wreck. So I knew it was going to be topical when I started “Star Island.” But I think coming from a news background I thought we’re all doomed. And I actually think it started for me years ago during the OJ Simpson trial when I saw all those hundreds of satellite trucks from local affiliates all over the country parked in the parking lot of the LA County Court House.
But all the resources that were spent when those reporters and those trucks could have been in someone’s home town covering the city commission or covering crime or covering something local but we decided that — really something that is basically a domestic homicide in Brentwood California was more important than what was going on in your hometown and I think it just snowballed from there.
VOICEOVER: It is the absurdities of life that fill Hiaasen’s novels, almost all of which are set in his native Florida. He satirizes what he sees around him from disgraceful politicians to over zealous developers paving over the coastline. In fact, environmental themes reoccur in most of his fiction.
ALISON STEWART: Many of your bad guys are real estate developers…or people who don’t have respect for the environment.
CARL HIAASEN: More that- yeah–
ALISON STEWART: For people who don’t have respect for the environment do you think they would see themselves in your book? Or are they so far gone?
CARL HIAASEN: They’re so far gone. Let me say this. I have good friends who are in the real estate business who are good guys and good women who care about, truly care about – it’s quality of life and then I know some who completely couldn’t care less. They would pour concrete over anything if they thought they could sell it as ocean front. For those people, I don’t ever think they see themselves. And I know this from going to events and book signings and things where someone will come up to me and tell me now that was hilarious what you did to that guy and I wanted to say to them you know that’s you, you know, you dumb ass. That’s you. But they don’t – they don’t get it.
VOICEOVER: Hiaasen’s fictionalized version of those slimy sorts who don’t get it, often find themselves experiencing some unconventional and often uncomfortable comeuppance. In his latest book, a developer is attacked by an eco-avenger and finds himself … quote “in severe pain because a spiny sea urchin had been snugly trussed to his scrotal region.”
ALISON STEWART: Your bad guys in these books often reach some sort of humiliating end or torture….. Besides the chuckle you get from this why do you go to such a preposterous end for some of these people?
CARL HIAASEN: Well, I’m not sure if it’s preposterous—poetic. I prefer the word poetic. Because your reader has an investment. One thing they want out of a novel is what they don’t often get in real life which is justice, which is an ending you can live with. I think it’s got to be satisfying…it’s got to be a pay off for me, because I’ve lived with this dirt bag for, you know, hundreds of pages of manuscript and I want to get rid of him just as bad as the readers do.
VOICEOVER: A sampling of his fans at a recent book signing, suggests his readers expect the salty language and the off-the-wall revenge scenes. It seems the stranger the better!
MALE: He’s just twisted. He’s not trying to be a politically correct. He’s the most politically incorrect writer that there is.
FEMALE:I love his funkiness and his oddness and his sense of satire.
MALE: There’s always an edge to his book – he takes something a little edgy and different anyway and throws his own style on it.
FEMALE: I think it addresses the anger that a lot of people have regarding the circumstances but cloaked in comedy.
VOICEOVER: Hiaasen is currently on a cross country book tour that also includes six different cities in his home state which he readily acknowledges is a character in his books.
ALISON STEWART: On page 251 of this book, you write Florida was a callous uncultured place, it brought out the worst in people.
CARL HIAASEN: It absolutely does. We are a magnet. We are a magnet for sleaze. We are…we welcome sleaze from everywhere. People who are on the run have been coming to Florida since after the Civil War. I’ve never been accused of working for the Chamber of Commerce. They’re not terribly fond of me. The place itself, the essence of it, is something I’ll always fight for.
VOICEOVER: The 57-year-old grandfather fights for Florida every week in his Miami Herald column. Despite selling millions of books and having two novels made into major movies, he remains committed to his work as a journalist–hammering away at Medicare fraud and the shifty sands of the local political landscape. He has been called “the conscience of the Sunshine State.”
ALISON STEWART: Your columns can leave a lasting impression like a tattoo, perhaps. You wrote of one of the men that are running for Governor McCollum – McCollum’s biggest problem is McCollum. He is epically dull and he just can’t help it. Watching him speak has pretty much the same effect as 20 milligrams of Ambien.
CARL HIAASEN: I was going to go with 40 but 40 can be medically challenging. I think yeah the guy is.. yeah. That’s one of the nicer ones by the way. That’s one of the kinder things.
ALISON STEWART: Epically dull? To describe someone as epically dull… You can’t get away from that once you’ve written that.
CARL HIAASEN: Yeah- I hope not. You’re running for the most powerful job in Florida. If you can’t take it, then don’t run for it. I said plenty of things about Jeb Bush that he didn’t like. I’ve said things about Charlie Christ and…I’ve pissed off about everybody. This is my job. This is what columnists do. You have to be an equal opportunity SOB whether they’re Democrat or Republican, whatever they are. And it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a state that I care about and, you know, if you’re acting like a clown, you’re going to get treated like a clown in my columns.
ALISON STEWART: Have you ever written anything in your column you regretted?
CARL HIAASEN: I’ve regretted not being tough enough sometimes. No I’ve never written anything where I said afterwards it’s too tough. These are big boys and girls and I’m the least of their worries. And secondly, you know, I did a column and I called a guy a pernicious little ferret one time. And he was a pernicious little ferret and he went to jail and he should have stayed longer then he did and he’ll be a pernicious little ferret until they screw him into the ground. And when he’s dead. He knows it. Probably has no problems with it. Somebody who has that much responsibility has the public trust. They’ve been voted into office. They have people’s lives and welfare in their hands. And when they steel, they rob or take advantage of it or worse, they’re just completely negligent, they’re is nothing you can do. If you know if you’re a private citizen, you know I’m not going to write about anybody like that. But for someone who has run for office proudly and is now abusing that office, you’re going to be a big target for me and I’m going to say whatever needs to be said about it. And my reaction is – what I want for them, in the morning and they’re sitting there with their cereal reading the column I want them to gag and keel over from what they just read. That’s what they deserve. They deserve no less than that. By the time I get to them I promise you, I don’t have any regrets.
ALISON STEWART: So clearly, Carl Hiaasen has been causing Florida politicians to spit take their Sanka for the last two decades. But here at Need to Know, we can do Carl one better, by applying biting reporting and shrewd analysis to the events that haven’t even happened yet.
JON MEACHAM: Here for our weekly look into the future is our own Andrew Borowitz with Next Week’s News. Andy?
ANDY BOROWITZ: Thank you, Alison and Jon. Workplace stress. It’s all around us. You know the symptoms: impatience, short temper, a little voice telling you to grab two beers and cuss out everyone on the plane. For years, experts have tried to solve the problem of stress on the job, and now, at last, that solution is at hand. Starting next week, every workplace in the U.S. will be required by law to be fitted with an inflatable slide. According to the Department of Labor, the inflatable slide will improve workers’ outlook by enabling them to quit as quickly and dramatically as possible. The inflatable slide could be the greatest innovation in quitting since the phrase, “spending more time with my family.” It’s just too bad that nobody thought of it sooner. Then we wouldn’t have been subjected to so many excruciating resignation speeches this summer. Take the president’s economic advisors, Peter Orszag and Christina Romer, or LeBron James, or BP CEO Tony Hayward.,
Now, at the beginning of this segment, I said that workplace stress was all around us. That’s true even here at PBS. You probably think Alison, Jon and I spend all day holding hands, eating flax seed and watching old Peter, Paul & Mary concerts. Nothing could be further from the truth. This place is a freaking pressure cooker. Anyone who works at PBS could go off at any moment. The guy on “Antiques Roadshow” who appraises the clocks – Ken Burns’ banjo player – Cookie Monster – they’re all ticking time-bombs. And yes, even me. Even Andy Borowitz. You don’t know the toll it’s taken on me to try to squeeze a week’s worth of predictions into a two-minute segment. Week in, week out — I’m not going to sugarcoat it, folks: it’s been hell. There’s only one way to respond to that kind of stress.
JON MEACHAM: Hopefully we can convince him to come back next week.
ALISON STEWART: One update before we go: this week the Texas State Attorney General filed civil charges against BP, for polluting the air with hundreds of thousands of pounds of chemical pollutants at its Texas City, Texas refinery. Last month, we interviewed ProPublica’s managing editor Steve Engelberg about that leak and BP’s general safety record…if you missed it you’ll find it on the Need to Know web site, along with more on the lawsuit.
JON MEACHAM: You’ll find lots of other stories you need to know about on the web site, as well as podcasts, blogs and videos. I, personally, am still reeling from the news that there was no such thing as a triceratops. It was in an illusion-shattering post about grade school science myths we were all taught.
ALISON STEWART: I think you’ll get over it.
JON MEACHAM: I’ll struggle forward, yes…
ALISON STEWART: Have a great week. We hope you’ll join us next time.