Transcript

497:

This Week
Transcript

Originally aired 06.14.2013

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/497

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Tuesday this week, on the West Side of Chicago, 80 third and fourth graders from the Polaris Charter Academy gathered in the school gymnasium before heading out on a camping trip. This school does a lot of field trips, but this is the one that the kids talk about all year.

Jenny Sime

Anybody excited for this overnight?

Children

Yeah!

Ira Glass

That's teacher Jenny Sime.

Jenny Sime

We're going to spend a couple minutes in here just going over some final things, making sure that we are absolutely 100% ready to be successful on this trip. So the first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to need a couple of actors to help us out.

Ira Glass

Sime picks volunteers to act out what to do and, perhaps more important, what not to do in six different scenarios they're likely to encounter on this trip, like, for example, what to do when you see a bug, what to do when you have to go to the bathroom, what to do when your things are heavy while you are carrying them to your campsite, and this one, what to do when somebody is upset. This one is acted out by Joseph and [? Jarry. ?]

Jenny Sime

OK, start scene.

Joseph

[CRYING]

Jarry

Are you OK? Are you OK?

Joseph

Yes. [CRYING]

Jarry

Are you OK? Are you OK?

Joseph

[CRYING] I'm fine. [CRYING]

Jarry

Why you say that?

Joseph

I had issues today.

Children

[LAUGHING]

Joseph

[CRYING]

Jarry

It's OK for issues to happen. That happens to me, too.

Joseph

OK.

Children

[LAUGHING] [CHEERING]

Ira Glass

Take that Neil Patrick Harris and the Tony telecast. The trip was a resounding success, despite early fears of bears, bugs, and issues.

In every week on our program here we try to find something different to document about the world. And this week we are documenting the week, the one that we just all had. This is really, I have to say, one of my favorite things we ever do on our program, because it opens things up to all kinds of interesting stories and moments that it would be hard to figure out how to get on the air any other way. This is our portrait of what it has been like here in our country these past seven days. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. We have some great stories from this week. Stay with us.

OK, so later in the show, you'll hear, we're going to tackle some of the big news stories of the week. But we also have these small, super quick stories. Like this one. Let's just start to show here. Folks up north near the Canadian border this week were cutting down trees and putting up wood for the winter months.

[WOOD SPLITTER RUNNING]

Tom Rukavina

Oh hell, there goes your finger

That's Tom Rukavina, and he is joking with his wife, Jean Cole, at the wood splitter. They had a meeting this week at City Hall in Berwick, Pennsylvania. That is a town has seen so much methamphetamine recently that people call it "Methylvania."

Greg Martin

First of all, thank you, everyone, for coming tonight.

Ira Glass

Detective Greg Martin told the crowd what they came to find out at this meeting, which is how can you tell if someone near you, a neighbor, relative, somebody you see, is cooking meth. And of course, they have a PowerPoint for this. The telltale ingredients are Coleman Camp Fuel, lithium batteries, coffee filters, tin foil, spoons, the main ingredient, of course, Sudafed, and one more--

Greg Martin

What you folks can look for is-- you may not see all those chemicals because you're not in everybody's house. However, you may be in a retail store where there's a 13-year-old kid, and they're buying a large quantity of ice packs. Why would a kid need to buy ice packs?

Ira Glass

Elsewhere, Saturday, this past weekend, a kid who I will just call Jorge made a very literal jump from childhood to adulthood. He was in juvenile detention in central California, and on Saturday he turned 18 years old. And so the night before, his last night as a 17-year-old, he was told that he couldn't sleep in his usual cell because after midnight he would officially be 18-- he would be a legal adult-- which means that he could not be with minors anymore.

So the state moved him to a room in an isolated wing, away from the other teenagers. And then the next morning, he was shackled and handcuffed, and got into the back of a transport van to be taken to an adult facility. It will be the county jail for about a week, and then San Quentin. Before the van pulled out, a staff nurse saw it, flagged it down, opened the door.

Got it?

[DOOR SLIDING OPEN]

Woman

Boohoo.

Jorge

Yeah right, boohoo.

Woman

Oh, honey, take care of yourself.

Jorge

Yeah, I will.

Woman

Try not to get caught up.

Jorge

All right. I'll try.

Woman

Be safe. Oh.

Jorge

[INAUDIBLE].

Woman

OK.

Jorge

All right.

Woman

We're thinking about you.

Jorge

All right. Me too.

Woman

All right. Did you get something good to eat this morning?

Jorge

No.

Woman

No? Well, oh well. Hugs and kisses. We love you.

Jorge

All right. You too.

Woman

Bye, guys.

Jorge

Bye.

[DOOR CLOSING]

Ira Glass

He still has nearly six years left of a seven year sentence for attempted murder and gang participation.

Here's one indicator of where things are in our country right now. Housing prices are rising. More homes are being listed for sale, which is a sign of health, of course. That is from a report issued this week from realtor.com. Cities like Houston and Sacramento have housing markets that are described as "red hot." The Quad Cities are improving. And in the Twin Cities, housing prices are up over 15% of where they were a year ago. There's enough demand that on Monday, real estate agent Sophia Thu Pham went from door to door in a suburb of Saint Paul, asking people if they would consider selling their homes.

[KNOCKING]

Sophia Thu Pham

I like to have a medium knock, as if I was knocking on a friend's house. I don't want to make it sound like I'm the cops at the door or anything like that.

Ira Glass

When a man answers the door, Sophia explains that she has a buyer who wants to purchase in the neighborhood, and she is looking for somebody who might want to sell. Like most people on Monday, this guy was very responsive.

Man

OK, we've considered moving to a house because we've got another baby on the way right now.

Sophia Thu Pham

Oh boy.

Man

So we have four now. We've got number five coming.

Kid

Stop. Stop!

Man

And so it's something we would think about, I guess, if we could actually agree to a reasonable price.

Sophia Thu Pham

Sure.

Man

But this is actually a very nice unit, if you want to come in and take a look.

Sophia Thu Pham

I sure would.

Man

We've got four bedrooms in here--

Sophia Thu Pham

Wow.

Man

--and five bathrooms.

Sophia Thu Pham

Great. It's got nice finishes.

Man

So we have this bathroom here.

Woman

Don.

Man

Yes?

Ira Glass

At this point, the impromptu tour runs into the guy's pregnant wife, who was napping.

Man

Oh, I'm just letting someone take a look inside.

We're not selling. We just moved here.

Sophia Thu Pham

OK. Yeah, he was mentioning that maybe there was a thought about moving into a single family home, something larger.

Woman

Not that I know of. We just moved in.

Ira Glass

Phone numbers are exchanged, polite maybe-we'll-be-in-touches, and on to the next house. Commerce marches on.

Act One.

Ira Glass

So turning to our first big story, the fallout continued this week from the revelations about the National Security Agency collecting data of the phone numbers that we dial and how long we talk and the location of our cellphones, and how the NSA is also collecting and storing emails, file transfers, photos, videos, chats. You have probably heard all of that. Government officials, of course, are saying that there's nothing to be alarmed about, and nobody is listening to our phone calls. Emails they're reading are those of non-citizens outside the US.

And I think that lots of us, including me, have the feeling of, OK, I'm boring. I don't care if the government knows what phone calls I make or reads my stupid emails. But of course, people like me, and maybe you, have no idea what we're talking about when it comes to being monitored by the government. We have no idea of what that really means. So I thought it might be helpful to talk to some people who do. And there is a group of Americans who know, with reasonable certainty, that they are being spied on by their own government, and that is the lawyers for Guantanamo detainees.

For years now, it has been known that if you are talking to suspected terrorists, your communications are subject to surveillance. Talking to suspected terrorists is basically these lawyers' job description. And one of these attorneys, Candace Gorman, said that her phone start acting weird when she started taking Guantanamo cases in 2006. When she would miss a call, two numbers would appear on her phone instead of one.

Candace Gorman

And I could actually call back the other call that was missed, and it would be picked up by what was called the special operator. And I brought my phone to a service. I'm trying to think of what the guy was called. And the first thing he did when he looked at it was he said, do you have any reason to believe that your phone is being tapped?

Ira Glass

And so what has that done to your communications? What do you do differently because of that, if anything?

Candace Gorman

Well, I stopped taking cases back in 2007. Since I was being monitored, which I believed I was, and I believe I still am, I knew I couldn't give confidentiality to my clients, which is one of the main things attorneys have to promise their clients.

Ira Glass

Several lawyers told me very believable stories about being monitored while talking about their cases. In February, you may have read, a government official admitted that there are microphones hidden in the rooms at Guantanamo where lawyers have their supposedly confidential conversations with their clients. But, of course, monitoring may go way beyond that, David Nevin represents the man who's called the architect of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And he represents other detainees as well. He says that there's no way to really know the extent that private, non-work conversations are being listened in on. But still--

David Nevin

If you're being listened in on, how do you talk to people? How do you talk to the people who are closest to you? Do you say that silly, loving thing that you might have said.

Ira Glass

Well, you just keep certain private information off just because you just feel like, I don't want them to know that. That's not for them.

David Nevin

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Ira Glass

Can you think of a time when you did that, an example-- that isn't so personal that you can't say it on the radio. [LAUGHS] So I'm asking you to zero in on something that's too personal for government eavesdroppers, but not so personal you don't mind saying it to, like, 2 and 1/2 million people.

David Nevin

Right, exactly. No, nothing like that comes to mind.

Ramzi Kassem

I find myself being more reserved on the phone than I otherwise might be.

Ira Glass

Ramzi Kassem has been representing Guantanamo detainees since 2005. He says that his friends and family have definitely commented on his very reserved phone manner.

Ramzi Kassem

Everything from, I guess, gentle chiding to more pointed annoyance. My mother will often remark in passing that I just don't share much.

Candace Gorman

Well, I have children that are adult children now--

Ira Glass

Again, Candace Gorman.

Candace Gorman

--that I worry about some of the things that they're telling me in confidence, things that are going on in their lives, that I don't want the government to know about. And I remind them. The most bothersome to me is with the child who's far away, so most of our conversations are by text or by phone. And there's issues that I just think the government has no right to know.

Ira Glass

And is it just like the personal stuff? Which you don't think it'll get anybody in trouble or anything, but it's just personal. You just feel like, they shouldn't hear that.

Candace Gorman

Yeah, that's really what it's about. And it's too personal. It's stuff that you sometimes don't even want to tell good friends of yours. Yet the government probably is listening to this, some measly little spy.

Ira Glass

Is this conversation being recorded, do you think?

Candace Gorman

I believe so.

Ira Glass

And so do you feel self-conscious about this conversation, knowing that it's being recorded?

Candace Gorman

No.

Ira Glass

No, you're just used to it?

Candace Gorman

I'm used to it now, because it's going since 2006.

David Raimes

I try to live as though I'm not being monitored.

Ira Glass

This is David Raimes, who has represented two dozen detainees over the years. He told me that when it comes to his cases, he limits what he says on the telephone and internet to things that it wouldn't bother him to have known. But he says that when it comes to monitoring his personal life, it's just like when the government wants to look at his body with an airport scanner. He feels like, enjoy yourselves!

David Raimes

In general, I'd say that I have to live my life without thinking all the time about the possibility that I'm being monitored. I simply won't let that concern, govern, my life. I can't. I don't see how you can live a normal life if you are always looking over your shoulder.

Ira Glass

I asked all four of these attorneys the thing that I have not been able to figure out all week, namely, should we be upset about these new revelations? After all, we are not being monitored the way that they are-- not even close. And we're being told safeguards are in place so that no emails are being read, no phones are being tapped of people who are not legitimately part of a real investigation. And remember, there is no proof that anybody has been spied on who should not be. So any abuses still seem very theoretical. Like, yes, this could happen in the future, maybe, but nobody has found anything yet. I put all this to Candace Gorman.

Ira Glass

Nothing bad has happened yet, right?

Candace Gorman

Well, that's if you believe your government. And if you believe your government, then back in March of 2013, when Director Clapper was asked, is the NSA collecting any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of people, and he said no.

Ira Glass

That was testimony that James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, gave in the Senate this march.

Candace Gorman

So now it's, of course, leaked that, yes, they're collecting information on every single person. So you have to start from the premise that I do, and that's that the government's not believable. And they're not going to fess up to anything unless they get caught red-handed.

Ira Glass

Ramzi Kassem said that it drives him crazy that people-- and by people I mean non-lawyers-- that he talks to around New York City, where he lives, seem so undisturbed by the recent revelations. He says that we have no idea still what the real guidelines are for whose emails are being read. And when it comes to the phone records that we now know that NSA is getting, which list all of our calls and their duration, he says it's like people don't really get what that means.

Ramzi Kassem

I think any one of us, if an FBI agent showed up at our doorstep and basically asked us, who did you call yesterday? Give me those numbers. Don't tell me what you said, but give me the numbers that you called, who started the call, how long the call lasted, how many text messages you sent. I don't care about the content of those calls or those text messages, but I just want to know who you called yesterday and what their numbers are and how long those calls lasted. I think most of us would be deeply offended by that, and we'd be very reluctant to turn over that sort of information.

Ira Glass

Maybe. Yeah, maybe. I heard that, and I thought, oh, that's right. That's really creepy. I don't like that. And then I played that quote for some other people around the office, and they were like, meh, what do I have to hide?

Act Two.

Ira Glass

Dateline Oklahoma-- this week, crews are still cleaning up in the wake of recent tornadoes around Oklahoma City. In fact, they've barely begun the cleanup. Just under 4,000 houses and buildings were damaged. The first step is actually demolishing the ones that need to come down. It's going to be months before the debris is cleared, and probably another two years before this area is back to where it was before. Annie Correal visited the place that was hit the hardest, the town of Moore.

Annie Correal

There are literally hundreds of millions to be made off the cleanup in Oklahoma. It's a little like a gold rush. People have come from all over the country trying to get a piece of it. The competition among demolition crews in particular is cutthroat-- really cutthroat.

On Saturday, driving around the streets of Moore with a demolition guy named Sol Saltzman. He spots a banner for a competing demolition company on the side of the road.

Sol Saltzman

Tip Top Demolition, huh? Heh, I'm going to tear that sign down later. I'll have to remember where that is.

Annie Correal

Today, Sol's working on getting a job from this big firm. I can't use their name, but let's call them Restoration Company A. Restoration Company A already has the contract to rip off the roof of a huge damaged warehouse. Sol wants them to hire his crew to do the work, so he's laying out his bid to one of the guys in the company.

Sol Saltzman

So I'll cover the crane in my bid, too.

Man

The crane.

Sol Saltzman

Crane, torching-- I'll scrap it all.

Man

Well, I'd like to recycle all the metal I can.

Annie Correal

Sol's pretty sure he's going to get the gig, because Restoration Company A owes him one. They were in town doing clean up after the first tornado came through in late May, but then they left, thinking the storms were over. But then another tornado touched down-- the largest tornado in history, 2.6 miles wide.

Sol Saltzman

And then they called me and said, oh my god, get the semi truck over there and make it look like you know what you're doing until we get back to town.

Annie Correal

Sol says he quickly got Restoration Company A's semi and rushed over to set up shop. The goal-- scare off the competition by making it look like Restoration Company A was already doing the job. While he was there, Sol says two other restoration companies showed up looking to score the contract.

Sol Saltzman

I brought my crew, and we just pretended we knew what we were doing. They had their shirts in their trailer, and we put them on, and it was good.

Annie Correal

Your crew put on the outfits of the restoration company and pretended that you guys were on the job already?

Sol Saltzman

Yeah, I pulled up with their semi truck. And we started setting out the fans to do the drying, and we were doing security and making sure the other restoration companies didn't steal it. So they owe me. I saved it for them.

Annie Correal

Sol's been doing cleanup work for more than a decade-- hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, ice storms. He was in Joplin, and spent three years in New Orleans after Katrina. His crews calls him the Wolf, like Harvey Keitel's character in Pulp Fiction, because he's the guy who comes in to clean things up. But he's not what you'd expect.

Sol's in his 30s, but he's boyish, kind of short, with shaggy hair like a skater. He's covered in scars, and he walks with a limp, because he used to be a stunt man in Hollywood. He crashed motorcycles, jumped from buildings. He doubled for Al Bundy's son Bud on Married with Children, too. He had to quite stunt work after one too many injuries.

These days, Sol mainly focuses on large commercial jobs. But if he needs the work, he'll tear down houses, too. The key to getting these residential demo gig is to be as non-threatening as possible, to appear local. So the first thing he does after a storm is get a new phone.

Sol Saltzman

Yeah, I get a phone at Walmart, so you have a local phone number, because people are more receptive to that.

Annie Correal

Did you do that on your way here?

Sol Saltzman

Yeah, I did it before we left. I already had the 405.

Annie Correal

405 is the local area code.

Sol Saltzman

Hey, this is Sal. I met you at Chili's.

Woman

Yes.

Sol Saltzman

Yeah, about doing some sales with the demolition stuff.

Woman

Yes, yes.

Annie Correal

On a day I spent with Sol, who sometimes calls himself Sal, he was trying to recruit a local Chili's waitress to go door to door pitching his services to homeowners.

Woman

OK, I'll call you back.

Sol Saltzman

OK, see ya.

Woman

All right.

Sol Saltzman

Bye. She knows a ton of people, yeah, and go to door-- because then she can talk like, oh my--- because her house got messed up, and it's better.

Annie Correal

Sol says the most important factor in getting work-- get there first. He runs a pretty big operation-- 15 trucks, semis, and dump trucks, a bunch of excavators, Bobcats, dumpsters, and a couple of buses, which uses to haul workers. For a big storm, he says his convoy can be as long as two football fields. And when he's chasing a storm-- racing his convoy across the interstate to, say, Louisiana or North Dakota-- he doesn't want to bother with those weigh stations along the highway, where all the trucks are required to check in. That would take hours. So how does he get away with not stopping? Sol plasters his truck with FEMA signs.

Sol Saltzman

I got it from someone who had one for real. Then I just made tons of copies. I think you saw one today in my truck. And I put that all over the windows.

Annie Correal

What do they look like?

Sol Saltzman

Oh, it just says emergency vehicle and has the FEMA thing. It says, do not delay. So then I came up with-- you can buy old police cars really cheap. So I bought a police car and an ambulance, and then I turned the ambulance-- I gutted it out and made it just a box truck to hold tools and everything. And then I put those in the convoy with everything else. No one ever bothers us.

Annie Correal

I asked Sol if this was legal, and he said, pretty much. I said, pretty much? He said the normal rules are usually lifted in a disaster.

On a big storm, Sol can make up to $1 million net. That's on hurricanes and floods, where the big money's at, because they're so huge and effect so many people that the government takes over, and contracts go through the roof. Tornadoes, on the other hand, don't cause as much widespread damage. And since people are insured, you've got to get work one building at a time.

Sol says he'll be lucky just to break even on this storm. He has a huge overhead. It cost him $25,000 just to get here. He has a staff of around 30, plus the laborers he's got working across the city. Lots of people depend on Sol, and they all need to be paid. Sol's always competing against other seasoned crews like his.

But this time around, there's a new group to compete with-- good Samaritans-- church groups and relief organizations. There are so many volunteers in Moore, they are just wandering around looking for things to do. At one point, I was talking to some volunteers, and they tried to help some people who turned out to be other volunteers.

Man 1

Hi, guys. You thirsty? Hungry?

Man 2

We were going to ask you the same thing.

Man 1

[LAUGHS]

Annie Correal

Sol says there are more church groups than ever. Here, in Oklahoma, he's seeing something he's never seen before-- Samaritans with excavators.

Sol Saltzman

See, Samaritan's Purse Disaster Relief on a 312 CAT, brand new, from North Carolina.

Annie Correal

And they're actually doing demolition here?

Sol Saltzman

Yeah, I've never seen this before where they have equipment. Usually it's just handwork. So now they're really helping the insurance companies. Because all these people have insurance.

Annie Correal

So now you're getting competition not just from other demolition companies--

Sol Saltzman

Yeah, it's hard to compete with free. [SIGHS]

Annie Correal

Sol thinks he'll spend a month or two in Oklahoma, unless there's another storm somewhere else.

Ira Glass

Annie Correal in Moore, Oklahoma. Coming up, how to be one of the very best in the country at what you do, and still not make more money from your boss than you did a decade ago. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Three.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our show, of course, we choose a theme. Today's theme is this week. It's our portrait of what happened these last seven days all across our country.

Peter Lee

And let's see if I can actually-- so I've got a laptop briefcase with the zipper at one end. And so I'm going to try to just squeeze my hand closed, and it's actually holding pretty well.

[ZIPPING]

Peter Lee

Look at that. I can actually close the zipper.

Ira Glass

Thursday, in Thousand Oaks, a suburb of LA-- Peter Lee got a new arm. Peter had his arm amputated above the elbow because of cancer almost exactly three years ago. And on Thursday he was fitted with an I-Limb Ultra. A top of the line prosthetic, it uses sensors on his bicep and tricep to tell the new artificial hand how to move. It's really, actually, very cool.

One of our staffers, Phia Bennin, has a brother, Rio Bennin, who also has a prosthetic arm, the same brand, an I-Limb, but a much older model. And Rio obsessively follows what's going on with the latest models, and was curious to check out the one that Peter was getting. And so we decided to get them together over Skype, right in the middle of Peter's final fitting for the device, so they could do a video chat. And the two of them really geeked out over the technology.

Peter Lee

I'm having no trouble at all opening and closing this thing.

Rio Bennin

And can you pick things up?

Peter Lee

Yeah. I have a little water bottle in my hand, and I'm going to try to close my robot hand around it without crushing it too much. So here you go. So let me see if I can get the wrist going.

Rio Bennin

Like double contraction, contracting both the bicep--

Peter Lee

Yep. And so I switch from the hand to the wrist. And with the wrist, it spins around Exorcist-style, where it just spins on my hand, and I can just keep on letting it spin around and around.

Rio Bennin

You're two or three generations ahead of me. So I don't have removable wrists like you do, or at least not powered wrists.

Peter Lee

OK.

Rio Bennin

Now, I'm fascinated by how well you're dong with it. I think you could even pick an egg up with it.

Peter Lee

Yeah, that'll be interesting.

Rio Bennin

You should try that. I've seen people do it. I think you can do it, yeah. And you can deal with what's one of the more awkward situations, which is a cocktail party, you're holding a drink in your hand, you meet someone, they want to shake your hand, and you have to quickly scurry around the room looking for a table to put your drink down on so you can shake their hand. Have you caught a glimpse of yourself in a mirror yet?

Peter Lee

I haven't actually. All right, so it's pretty wild, because the prosthetic, it's mostly black, with a carbon fiber pattern on the forearm, and then this translucent white glove over a black robotic hand. And it really looks cyborg. I'm looking down at my two hands right now. It feels right. Obviously I understand that this is actually not my hand. But there must be a part of my brain that says, ah, yes, that's right. That's what it's supposed to look like. My girlfriend wanted to be here today for this, and so tonight I'm sure we're going to run around the house doing all manner of silly, stupid things and making videos.

Rio Bennin

I think you will be able to hug her.

Peter Lee

Yeah, it'll probably be one of the first things that she and I try.

Ira Glass

Peter Lee talking to Rio Bennin.

Act Four.

Ira Glass

Dateline Tuesday, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hearings resumed on Tuesday in preparation for the trial of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. Nashiri is accused of organizing the attack on the warship, the USS Cole, back in 2000. 17 sailors were killed in that attack. Nashiri is being tried by one of those Guantanamo military commissions. And just to review the situation at Guantanamo, there are still 166 detainees there. At this point, more than half of them, 86, have been cleared for transfer, meaning that the government has concluded that they are not dangerous, but is still holding them.

John Knefel has been covering Guantanamo for rollingstone.com. He's been there twice before. He went down again on Monday. And it's the first time that John, or any reporters, have been back to Guantanamo since President Obama gave that speech last month saying he was going to renew efforts to close the prison. One of the producers of our show, Sarah Koenig, called John to talk about what it was like to be down there this week.

Sarah Koenig

There are a couple ways you can watch court proceedings if you're a reporter at Guantanamo. You can be in the courtroom, and I use "in" in air quotes here. You see it in a gallery behind three panes of sound proof glass. Or you can watch from inside a media trailer equipped with a closed circuit feed. Either way, what you're hearing is a 40-second delay of the action in the courtroom.

John, who spoke to me from a phone in the media trailer while the Nashiri hearings were underway, says the setup gives you a great appreciation for how very long 40 seconds is.

John Knefel

So it feels like a bad movie dub.

Sarah Koenig

Can you just describe what you're looking at, like what it looks like? Is he in the courtroom?

John Knefel

Yeah, he is in the court room. He is wearing white prison-issue garb. He has short hair. He's listening to the proceedings on headphones. So it's being translated for him.

Sarah Koenig

Is this sound just turned down or off?

John Knefel

Yeah, I just have the sound down low right now.

Sarah Koenig

Do you mind just turning it up so we can hear it? Is that allowed?

John Knefel

No, I think that if I did that I would be on a plane out of here pretty quickly, unfortunately.

Sarah Koenig

Oh. Why? If it's in the reporters' trailer, then it's public, no?

John Knefel

There are signs everywhere that say no recording, and that's part of the guidelines.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, I see.

John Knefel

I believe.

Sarah Koenig

OK, right. OK.

John Knefel

Yeah, and then the other particularly interesting thing about the courtroom is that there's a red light next to the judge that either the judge or his assistant, who's called a court security officer, can hit if anyone begins talking about classified information. And so that's the point of this 40-second delay. The stated aim is to protect against accidental disclosures of classified information.

Sarah Koenig

Does it feel any different from the last time you were there, since Obama's speech?

John Knefel

I was sort of thinking that it might, but it really doesn't. I would say that it doesn't feel like anything here has changed. Now, there was testimony in court that there's funding for a fiber optic cable that's going to be laid from the mainland to here to improve internet capabilities. And that's just a small symbol of the inertia to keep Guantanamo open. And when you're here, it doesn't feel like anyone's moving out at all. There's no signs of not even its immediate closure, but even that its disclosure is imminent at some point in the future.

Sarah Koenig

John told me the Nashiri hearings this week were kind of weedy and technical. Tuesday, they argued at length about whether defense lawyers were allowed to bring spiral notebooks into the prison, since the wires binding them can be pulled out and used as weapons. They also argued about whether the government could use hearsay evidence against Nashiri, something that's rarely allowed in a civilian court. And on Friday, they held a closed session, meaning only lawyers and the judge, no press, not even Nashiri himself was allowed to be there, to discuss a motion that is so top secret it doesn't even have a name. It's referred to as Motion 92 because it's the 92nd court filing in the case.

John says he's got this continual feeling when he's down there that he's only ever seeing the tip of the iceberg, that with all this monitoring and layers of secrecy, it's impossible to know the whole story of these cases.

John Knefel

There is so much didn't hidden here. You are covering a trial-- it just happens to be a trial that contains a lot of evidence that no one can tell you.

Sarah Koenig

I'm wondering, because there's been so much criticism about the form and the structure of these trials and how they have all the architecture of real legal proceedings, but then things happen where, like, maybe somebody at the CIA pulls a plug, and suddenly there's no feed. Or the defense finds a hidden microphone in the interview cell. And so I wonder, does it feel all ridiculous, like it's just a show in a kangaroo-courty kind of way? Or does it feel like, no, they're really trying to sort this out and make it legitimate and make it feel as transparent as they can and make it feel legal?

John Knefel

I'm of two minds on this. Because on the one hand, there are points where it really feels like it's being made up as it goes. And on the other hand, it does feel like the judge is independent, that the defense is adversarial. And so it's not exactly as though you're being led down this predetermined path. It does feel like there can be some amount of deviance. But, again, the amount of deviance is, I think, within a somewhat narrow structure, especially because, at the end of the day, the government has always contended that there are two authorities for holding people at Guantanamo Bay. And in a lot ways, they don't have that much to do with each other.

So the one authority is for holding people as war criminals, for the violation of war. So that's what we're seeing in these trials, is whether or not people are guilty of war crimes. But then the other authority is to hold people as prisoners of war. And at the beginning of this week, I asked the lead prosecutor, General Mark Martins, if it was possible that Nashiri could be found not guilty and continue to be held. And he admitted that, yeah, it is possible. That hasn't happened, but it's possible. And because it's possible, there is a sense that not that what we're seeing is unimportant, but that the government has a monopoly on all the power, and the outcome of the trial doesn't necessarily mean what it would mean in a civilian court.

Sarah Koenig

Because he's officially there only to cover the Nashira hearings, John isn't allowed to tour the part of the island where the prisoners are held, and he can't see any sign of them. Meanwhile, Guantanamo officials say 104 detainees are on hunger strike right now, and 43 of them are being force fed Ensure or some other nutrition drink, usually twice a day, to keep them alive, though others are taking the Ensure voluntarily under threat of force feeding. This hunger strike started in February. And John says lawyers for the detainees tell him their clients aren't despondent or suicidal. They're protesting-- protesting their conditions, and the fact that so little is being done to get them out of there.

Sarah Koenig

How much do you know about what the force feeding actually entails physically?

John Knefel

My understanding is that hunger strikers, if they don't go voluntarily, that there's a team that goes in and extracts them and straps them to a chair, and then they're moved into the room where they're force fed, and then the tube is shoved up their nose and down their throat. Lawyers, really across the board, describe it as an excruciating process.

Sarah Koenig

You were saying that you had spoken to the lawyer of somebody who was being force fed. Can you talk about that?

John Knefel

Yeah, so one of the detainees, a man named [? Ahmed Delbaca, ?] who is Algerian, described a nurse who he says is maybe 40 years old. And he says that she fed him for the first day, and her hands were shaking as she did it. So he says, I asked her, is this your first time force feeding someone? And the nurse said, yes, it is. And then the detainee told his attorney, quote, "Some guards tell me, I could never take what you are going through."

Sarah Koenig

John says when you're a reporter at Guantanamo, your day is so orderly, so tightly regimented, that it's easy to fall into the comfort of that, to get lost in the day to day details-- the number of hunger strikers, how many are being force fed today, what's happening with this or that court motion. And over time you start to think it's all kind of normal. And he has to remind himself it's not normal. Every day he says, quote, "I try to remember what an aberration all this is."

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig with John Knefel. He's with rollingstone.com, and he co-hosts the internet radio show Radio Dispatch.

Act Five.

Ira Glass

Dateline Wednesday, lunchtime at a hotel near the Pentagon.

Man

So if I may ask Mr. Justin-- Jason Pittman, excuse me. I was looking at the wrong line. Jason Pittman is our elementary and middle school teacher of the year. Jason, I'm glad to have you here.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

His award was for Aerospace Educator of the Year for the DW Steele chapter of the Air Force Association. It was given to a science teacher from Alexandria, Virginia, right near DC. This teacher teaches preschool through sixth grade. His name is Jason Pittman.

Ira Glass

Congratulations on your award.

Jason Pittman

Thank you very much. That was neat. It was a really big honor. And I was really honored to get to meet the chief of staff of the Air Force, and he said some really touching things to me, so it was really meaningful.

Ira Glass

And so what did he say?

Jason Pittman

He took me aside, and he says, thanks for serving your country in this way, and thanks for making the choice to teach.

Ira Glass

So he says this to you, and you know that this is also your last week of teaching, right?

Jason Pittman

That's correct.

Ira Glass

And so what did you say to him?

Jason Pittman

Well, that gave me a big lump in my throat. I shook his hand and said thank you very much. I couldn't bring myself to say that this was going to be my last week of teaching.

Ira Glass

In fact, Friday was his last class after 10 years, winning national awards, one for the National Science Teacher Association, one for leadership and innovation in earth science education. There was a commendation from the Virginia State Senate. He has his students building robots. He was selected to be the teacher on an expedition with Dr. Robert Ballard, the guy who found the Titanic. Michelle Obama has visited the 13,000 square foot garden where he teaches the science of gardening and health.

Jason Pittman

That's right, yeah. She came to my class, and we did lessons together. And actually, we've gone and visited the White House quite a few times.

Ira Glass

OK, right, so if it's going so great, why quit teaching? The answer-- money. The funding that pays for his position in the Fairfax County schools has been rocky for years.

Jason Pittman

So I work in this program that provides science education for lower income schools. But that program was cut completely from the county's budget five years ago.

Ira Glass

Fortunately, the community around the school really wanted him to stay in his job, so they started a nonprofit to raise money to keep him in that job.

Jason Pittman

But what it means is we're trying to get local businesses interested and get folks to fund us to keep this thing in place every year. So really, every year I don't even know if I have a job. it's always a lot of leg work. I've got to be down at the school board meetings and making speeches.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait, wait. So if I understand right-- so you basically have to raise the money for your own position?

Jason Pittman

That's correct. Yeah, it feels like a roller coaster. Every year we're fund-raising to try and keep this position in place. And it's too many jobs.

Ira Glass

Do you feel like you're doing a good job and you feel like you have to grovel?

Jason Pittman

[LAUGHS]

Ira Glass

Is that too strong? Is that word too strong?

Jason Pittman

No, that's exactly what it feels like. And we are not allowed to say that. We're not allowed to say that we feel like that.

Ira Glass

Because you're supposed to be saints or something.

Jason Pittman

We're just supposed to be all-sacrificing, ever serving, ever humble. Making this move to leave, I feel incredibly selfish. Teachers aren't supposed to be selfish. We're supposed to do this job for more than money.

Ira Glass

OK, so maybe this is relevant information about Jason's attitude. Before he did this job, he founded his own tech company, until he realized that he was always trying to finish his business meetings early so that he could get back to his volunteer teaching job. And then he switched careers, went to grad school and switched careers. He started 10 years ago as a teacher at $57,000 a year. After a few raises and then some school budget cuts, he's still basically making the same thing now. He's making about $58,000 a year, with no real change coming anytime soon. He's 38 years old, still paying off his student loans. Back in 2008, he bought a townhouse expecting that his salary was going to rise. It didn't, and so he sold it off in 2011.

Ira Glass

And so my understanding is you don't really want to quit. You're kind of dreading it. Is that right?

Jason Pittman

Yeah. Yeah, I mean-- I'm sorry. It gets me a little choked up. I want to be here, and I want to do this. I want to be here. I want to do this job. I'm at a point where I want to be able to pay a mortgage and have a car payment.

Ira Glass

So it's your last week of teaching. What's that like?

Jason Pittman

It's heartbreaking, actually. It's really, really hard executing some really great lessons and having kids get really, really excited. There was a little kid who left my classroom and said, Mr. Pittman, this is the greatest day of my life. I love science. And granted, he's only four years old, so I don't have that many days to compete with.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS]

Jason Pittman

But that was the worst day, to know that I have all these kids that love science, and I know that they love my class, and that they're really getting something out of it, and I'm going to leave. And I'm really going to miss that.

Ira Glass

Jason Pittman. Knowing that I was going to put this interview on the radio, he told me that he is finally going to tell his principal the news that he's quiting and looking for a new job.

Jason Pittman

I feel like I've got the skill set. And every year I get a couple of decent offers. So I ought to be able to pick something up pretty quick. And [CHUCKLES] it's horrible, but if I have to fall back on something, there's always teaching.

Ira Glass

So if you have to fall back on something, there's always your dream job.

Jason Pittman

Right. [LAUGHS]

Ira Glass

At which you're incredibly successful. That'll be your fallback.

Jason Pittman

I don't know. I'm just having a really tough week.

Act Six.

Ira Glass

Dateline Florida, Wednesday night. At 7:24, a man named William Van Poyck was executed by lethal injection. Van Poyck was convicted of killing a prison guard in 1987. Over the years since his trial, two people came forward saying that his accomplice in the crime was the one who pulled the trigger. Two jurors have said that this would have changed their vote for the death penalty. The Florida Supreme Court split twice, four to three, on this case. Van Poyck became a writer in prison. He wrote three books, two crime novels and a memoir. He also kept a blog.

Last month he wrote, "When your death warrant gets signed, so many things suddenly become trivial. I've already thrown or given away 95% of my personal property, the stuff that for years seemed so important-- all those great books I'll never get to read, reams and reams of legal work I've been dragging around and studying for two decades, and which has suddenly lost its relevance.

Does it really matter to me now what's happening in the Middle East, or on Wall Street, or how my Miami Dolphins are looking for the upcoming new season? What's the point? Ditto TV. The other day I caught myself reaching for my daily vitamin. Really, I wondered. Now every decision about how to spend the next hour reminds me of Elaine in that Seinfeld episode where she had to constantly evaluate whether her boyfriends were really sponge-worthy."

In Florida, there are now 405 people on death row, and the number that they're actually putting to death is rising. There was a period of one or two executions a year, or no executions at all, but in the last three months, Florida Governor Rick Scott has signed six new death warrants. Van Poyck's execution is the third of those to be carried out. And Emily Bazelon, a legal affairs editor at Slate, says they want to go even faster.

Emily Bazelon

The Florida legislature recently became the first in the country to pass a bill requiring the pace of executions to speed up. It's called the Timely Justice Act. It sets a deadline of 30 days for the governor to sign a death warrant. That's after an inmate's appeals become final, meaning after at least one round of state and federal appeals, and after a review by the governor for clemency. Once the governor signs the death warrant, the Timely Justice Act says the execution has to occur within 180 days.

In Florida, this is a troubling plan. Here is why-- Florida has the highest rate of error in the country in death penalty cases. Since the mid 1970s, it's 77 people executed for 24 exonerated. So in other words, for every three inmates executed, one has been set free.

OK, so a couple of questions might have just popped into your head. Why would Florida want to speed up executions? And why is the state convicting so many innocent people in the first place?

I'm going to start with the second question. Florida is the only state in the country where it just takes a simple majority of the jury, a vote of seven to five, to send someone to death. Every other state requires a unanimous jury vote, except for Alabama, where they were require 10 votes. And another huge problem in Florida is the low quality of defense counsel, especially at trial. There's a Supreme Court justice in Florida named Raoul Cantero who has said that, quote, "some of the worst lawyering he has ever seen has been in death penalty cases," where some counsel have, quote, "little or no experience."

In 2006, the American Bar Association reviewed Florida's whole death penalty system, and they questioned its fairness and accuracy, and came up with 11 recommendations for reform. The Florida Supreme Court and the Florida Bar have also urged comprehensive review, but none of that has happened.

So now let's go back to your first question-- why would Florida look at this set of disturbing exoneration numbers and a disgraceful report from the Bar Association and say, hey, I know, let's make this go faster, especially at a moment when, nationally, the number of executions is falling? California and North Carolina haven't executed anyone in years. In Illinois and Connecticut and in Maryland, they've repealed the death penalty. And even in Texas, which is the nation's leader in executions, they've been slowing it down.

I called Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who is the house sponsor of the Timely Justice Act, to ask him about the bill, but he didn't return my calls. The same thing happened with the state senate sponsor of the Timely Justice Act, Joe Negron, which I mention only because I think it's lame. But another state senator who backed the bill, Rob Bradley, agreed to go on tape, which I appreciated. He's a lawyer, and he says having people sit on death row for 10, or 20, or 30 years, it's just too long.

Rob Bradley

And so that erodes the public's confidence. And it leaves the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the system is broken and doesn't work, and why are we doing this?

Emily Bazelon

I'd argue that having the highest rate of exonerations in the country might also erode public confidence, which is kind of what I did argue.

Emily Bazelon

What I'm having trouble with is the fact that Florida has really had such a high error rate. And so I wonder if you're at all nervous that it's possible this new law will make it more likely that the state could execute an innocent person.

Rob Bradley

This law is not aimed at making it easier to execute someone who is innocent.

Emily Bazelon

Right, but in some cases, my understanding is that the idea of having a 30 day period, and then 180 day period, is that that will cut off some of the later appeals. I just don't see how that could not be the case.

Rob Bradley

What it does is it puts the condemned and his or her lawyers on notice that they, if they have claims of innocence, need to gather them and present them to a competent court of law, and do so in a timely manner.

Emily Bazelon

There are a couple of problems with this argument. One is that evidence of innocence can surface at any time. Courts move slowly on these cases for a reason. Death is different, as the United States Supreme Court has said many times.

Take the case of Juan Melendez. He was on Florida's death row for 16 years before a defense investigator discovered a tape in the case files. It was a tape of another man confessing to the murder, and no one had presented it to the jury. Before the tape came out, the Florida Supreme Court rejected his appeals three times. If the Timely Justice Act had been in effect at the time, Juan Melendez might easily have been executed. I found four more people like that when I looked up the records of all of Florida's 24 exonerees. These were men who spent between 13 and 21 years on death row. It took time, and a lot of work, to undo the mistakes that initially doomed them.

And those mistakes were often made by their own lawyers. For example, the trial lawyer for William Van Poyck, the man who was executed on Wednesday. That lawyer did no investigation beforehand to give the jury a reason to spare his client's life. Or Van Poyck's lawyer on his first appeal, a cocaine addict who'd previously been disbarred, and never spoken to Van Poyck or answered any of his letters.

In theory, the Timely Justice Act would fix this problem by funding defense lawyers. But then you read the bill, and you find only about $400,000 to reopen one office for defense lawyers in the northern part of the state. And that office won't handle trials, or even the first appeal. The lawyers will only get involved in the last stage. Governor Rick Scott has until next week to decided if he'll sign the Timely Justice Act into law. If he does, defense lawyers say it will require him to sign 13 new death warrants in the 30 days that follow.

Ira Glass

Emily Bazelon. A quick update-- Friday afternoon, after Emily recorded that story that you just heard, Governor Rick Scott announced that he signed the Timely Justice Act into law. He said, quote, "The bill does not increase the risk of execution of persons who did not commit murder."

Act Seven.

Ira Glass

Dateline Philadelphia.

Ira Glass

So what happened this week?

Marryellen Bowman

This week we were preparing for the shower for my daughter. She's 22. She was having her first baby. And it was just fun to be able to share this with my daughter. Because a year ago, I was preparing a funeral, not knowing when she would die, but if she did die, how I would do this. And here I'm now preparing for the birth of my first grandson.

Ira Glass

Last year, MaryEllen Bowman's daughter, Rachel, was addicted to heroin. It was a pretty horrible year.

Ira Glass

How were you preparing for a funeral? What was going on?

Marryellen Bowman

I planned that I was going to have her cremated.

Ira Glass

You mean you started calling around places?

Marryellen Bowman

Yeah, to see what's the procedure, and when I get the ashes, where would I put them? And I found out that where my brother's buried, there was extra room for her to be put there.

Ira Glass

What kind of state was she in that you were thinking about her dying. What was she like at home?

Marryellen Bowman

She was very, very thin. She had no veins in her one arm. They were collapsed. And her eyes were sunk in. She looked like-- they watch those stupid zombie movies. That's what she looked like. I have pictures of it.

Ira Glass

How was she treating you? What was she like?

Marryellen Bowman

Horrible. Stealing from me. Cursing at me. Abusing me. I couldn't trust her. So it was a vicious year of trying to get help but getting nowhere. I finally resorted to praying. I know it sounds crazy, but every night at 8 o'clock, I would sit at my sofa, and I was praying for the world and anybody addicted to heroin. And then I had a healing prayer for my daughter Rachel. And it sort of went briefly, Heavenly Father, you created Rachel. You can recreate her. Please make her free of addiction. I printed this prayer.

I gave it to anybody that would take it-- not friends, but people in church, old people, because they have nothing else to do but pray usually. They're lonely. And then I went, and I also gave it to parents that had young kids, because I was taught that God hears the prayers of children.

About nine months ago, my daughter came to me and said that she wanted me to help her rehab. And I witnessed something I had never seen before-- a person withdrawing from heroin. It's horrible, but she did it. About the third week, she started to have horrible vomiting periods in the morning and at night. Finally, I took her to the ER, and we found out that she was pregnant. She was having morning sickness, but didn't know it.

Ira Glass

And then, can I just ask you, so on Sunday, during the games and the presents opening, did you find yourself flashing back to a year ago?

Marryellen Bowman

No, I completely forgot. For that day, for that moment, to see the difference is completely different. And I cannot believe, for that whole day, never once did I think about it. And now I look at the crib sometimes-- it's in the living room now after the shower-- and I am scared. And I'll always be scared. But I'm Catholic, and God says, if you ask Me, I will be there. So guess what? I guess I'll be praying even more.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by our senior producer, Julie Snyder, and Sarah Koenig, with Phia Bennin, Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Lisa Pollak, Brian Reed, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our administrative assistant. Music help from Damien Graef and Rob [? Getis. ?] Special newsy theme music for today's program by Cassettes Won't Listen.

Special thanks today to everybody who gathered tape and reported for this week's show, including our WBEZ colleague Linda Lutton, Minnesota Public Radio's business reporter Annie Baxter, and Jill Wolfson in Santa Cruz, California. Thanks also to Robert Pollie, Sara Ryan, Bonnie Dankert, Jeremy Duda, Grover Norquist, Robert Naiman, Krissy Clark at Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty desk, Rick Allison, Stephen K Harper, Alexandra Schmidt, Kevin Ferguson, Elizabeth Fiedler, Emily Berman, Elliott Francis, Tammy Hala, and Aaron Wiener. Research for today's show by Michelle Harris and Julie Beer. Annie Correal's reporting is part of a series that she's doing on disaster migrants with support from the French American Foundation Immigration Journalism Fellowship.

Our website, this americanlife.org. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr Torey Malatia. He is always telling me keep my hands away from the radio station's transmission gear.

[WOOD SPLITTER RUNNING]

Tom Rukavina

Oh hell, there goes your finger.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.