"Very Tough Love" wins Polk Award

Feb 20, 2012

Our episode "Very Tough Love" is among the winners of the George Polk Awards in Journalism announced today by Long Island University.

From the press release:

Ira Glass with the public radio show "This American Life" earned the George Polk Award for Radio Reporting for "Very Tough Love," an hour-long report that showed alarmingly severe punishments being meted out by a county drug court judge in Georgia. Drug courts were set up to emphasize rehabilitation instead of incarceration, but Glass’ investigation revealed that Judge Amanda Williams strayed far from the principles and philosophy by routinely piling on jail sentences for relapses. One 17-year-old girl, initially in trouble for forging two small checks on her father’s account, was facing more than 10 years in jail. Following the airing of "Very Tough Love," Georgia’s Judicial Qualifying Commission filed 14 ethical misconduct charges against Williams. Within weeks of the filing of charges, Williams stepped down from the bench and agreed never to seek other judicial offices.

The Polk Awards, which place a premium on investigative reporting, were established in 1949 by LIU in honor of George Polk, a CBS correspondent who was killed in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war.

Please take our listener survey

Feb 17, 2012

This American Life listener survey If you have a couple minutes to spare, it would be very helpful to us if you would take this listener survey. It will allow us to learn more about our audience, in order to reach new listeners and better serve you folks who are already listening. The survey was designed in collaboration with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It should take about five minutes to complete. Thank you!

NYC: Come Beat Ira in Poker

Feb 8, 2012

Ira writes:

Come beat me in poker this Saturday, Feb. 11th. It's a charity tournament for 826NYC, the literacy group. If you are reading this and wondering if you in fact can kick my ass at poker, I want to meet you at the felt, mano a mano. Let's see what you've got. For the kids. It's all for the kids.

David Cross is also in the event. If you're not in the NYC area, you can donate to one of the players who will be competing against Ira and David.

News Flash: The Real Inventor of "Self-Deportation"

Jan 31, 2012

On last week's show, we took up the subject of "self-deportation," the new, supposedly gentler anti-illegal immigration movement that’s been embraced by various Republican presidential hopefuls, including Mitt Romney. In our report we credited Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach with inventing “self-deportation.”

But we were reminded by a twitter feed that he was not the first person to come up with this idea.

In fact, the concept can be traced to the mid-1990's. That’s when a group called “Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover” (HALTO) started running tongue-in-cheek political ads in California, calling for the self-deportation of all illegal immigrants in the United States.

At the time, the founder of HALTO, a Mexican-American called Daniel D. Portado, came onto our very own radio show in November 1996 to promote this idea.

Daniel D. Portado: We feel that the immigrants are taking too many jobs, are bringing down the quality of life. They're not allowing our young American teenagers the character-building experiences of picking fruit and cleaning hotel beds.

Later Ira asks him:

Ira Glass: Daniel D. Portado, if you actually believe in deportation, what are you, yourself, still doing in California?

Daniel D. Portado: Well, I am here to help everyone get out. I hope to look forward to the day where I will stand at the border and say, will the last Mexican out of California please turn out the lights? That will be me.

Mr. Portado has been trying to set the record straight lately, in interviews like this, but to little avail.

Mr. Portado told Ira he got the idea for his self-deportation movement when he read about Mexican-Americans who were in favor of Propostion 187, a ballot initiative in California that prohibited illegal immigrants from using public health care, public education, and other social services in the state.

Coincidentally, Mr. Kobach told us that Proposition 187 is also what got him interested in immigration reform, which ultimately led to his idea of “attrition through enforcement,” aka self-deportation.

Luckily for Mr. Portado, his ads claim to have trademarked the term.

HALTO and Daniel D. Portado are reportedly the creations of political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz.

Help us get Mike Birbiglia's movie into theaters

Jan 28, 2012

Ira writes:

For two years, I've been working with Mike Birbiglia to turn the sleepwalking story from our "Fear of Sleep" episode into a feature film. On Monday, the movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and it's been a long time since I've had the feeling I have right now, a mix of excitement and curiosity about what's going to happen next. Audiences are telling us they love the film; it's on a few lists of must-see films at Sundance. Click here to watch a scene from Sleepwalk With Me, and for instructions on how to help it get to a theater near you.

1/28/12 UPDATE. Sleepwalk With Me won the Best of NEXT Audience Award at Sundance!

A response to the news from Apple

Jan 13, 2012

3/16/2012 UPDATE: This American Life has retracted the story referenced below because we learned that many of Mike Daisey's experiences in China were fabricated. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction.

Producer Brian Reed writes:

There's news from Apple today, relating to some of the issues discussed in our program last week “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.”

For the first time, Apple has released a list of companies that build its products around the world. In another first, the company also announced that it will allow an independent third party to check on working conditions at those factories, and to make its findings public.

We don’t know that our show inspired these moves from Apple, but both of the changes are things that Mike Daisey called for in Act Two of our episode.

Apple announced these changes today when it released its latest Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, which the company has published every year since 2007. In the past, the reports have typically come out in February.

The organization that will oversee independent audits of Apple’s assemblers is a nonprofit called the Fair Labor Association, which already checks on suppliers for other American companies, including Nike, New Balance, and Adidas. Apple is the first technology company to work with the FLA. Apple says it will "open its supply chain" to the FLA, who will do unannounced factory visits. It will do these without coordinating with Apple, and will then post the results on its website.

“It’s a level of transparency and independent oversight that is unmatched in our industry,” Apple wrote in its progress report.

That said, this isn’t actually what Mike was asking for at the end of our show. While Apple is listing the names of its suppliers, it still does not identify which facilities it found to have work standard violations.

It doesn’t appear that Apple’s partnership with the FLA will increase transparency in this regard either. The FLA will audit 5% of the factories that make Apple products, but like Apple, it will not name which ones it checks or where it finds violations. The president and CEO of the FLA, Auret van Heerden, wasn’t available to talk to me today about why this is, though it's standard practice for the FLA with all the companies it investigates.

I ran all this by Mike Daisey, and here’s what he had to say:

Apple has released a list of its suppliers, but it still hides the companies it audited with anonymity. This makes it impossible to learn anything new about what is going on in Apple's supply chain, to verify anything, or hold anyone responsible. The FLA will audit a tiny percentage of Apple's factories, and also won’t make public which factories they audit.

If Apple would spend less energy finessing its public image, and instead apply its efforts to real transparency and accountability, it could be a true leader for the electronics industry. Apple today is still saying what it said yesterday: trust us, we know best, there's nothing to worry about. They have not earned the trust they are asking for.

Some people are saying that what Apple is doing is still a big move. Keith Wagstaff, who covers tech for Time, writes that at least now reporters can do their own investigations on factories that make Apple products.

“It’s almost certain that Apple will face increased scrutiny if stories of worker suicides and other labor issues start surfacing about other factories where Apple parts are made,” he writes.

Although the Fair Labor Association will not name the suppliers it assesses, its reports on the 5% of Apple facilities that it will audit will provide independent verification for the first time of Apple's claims about its supply chain. The audits posted by the FLA on its website are impressive and revealing, citing dangerous working conditions, attempts by suppliers to quash unions, unfairness in wages and hiring and much more. Go to its tracking charts page, pick a company like Adidas or Eddie Bauer or Nike and you find what seem like frank and detailed assessments.

Following up on a few other things we reported last week:

Apple conducted nearly twice as many audits in 2011 as they did in 2010.

They found fewer instances of child labor than in 2010: It was 91 cases in 2010 vs. 19 in 2011.

In our show last week we noted that in 2010, Apple found that only 32% of the suppliers it audited followed its rules about excessive working hours. According to the new report, in 2011 things did not get much better – 38% of facilities followed the rules. 37 facilities lacked basic systems to make sure that workers took off at least one day out of seven. In the report, Apple says that the problem of excessive working hours “has been a challenge throughout the history of our program. While this problem is not unique to Apple, we continue to fight it.”

The report goes on to say that “reducing excessive overtime is a top priority for our supplier responsibility program in 2012.” But again, Apple doesn’t say which facilities were in violation of these rules.

Like they did when we invited them on last week’s show, Apple declined to talk us on the record about this news, or to respond to Mike Daisey.

Apple Responsibility Reports

Email that Apple CEO sent to employees about the news

Fair Labor Organization press release

New York Times coverage

Business Week coverage

NYC: want to play poker with Ira and David Cross?

Jan 12, 2012

If you're in or near NYC and interested in playing poker with Ira Glass and David Cross to support a good cause, well, you're in luck. On Saturday, February 11th, the literacy nonprofit 826NYC will host Poker With Jokers... you can raise money to play with Ira and David, donate to one of their pools, or support another player who has entered. All the cash goes to support 826's efforts to teach writing to kids.

From the vault: "Somewhere in the Arabian Sea"

Jan 12, 2012

Producer Nancy Updike writes:

If you never heard the show we did in 2002 about life aboard an aircraft carrier, “Somewhere in the Arabian Sea,” you might want to check it out. The ship that Ira Glass, Alex Blumberg and Wendy Dorr spent time on is called the USS John C. Stennis, and it’s been in the news a lot lately, after Iran warned the US to keep the Stennis out of the Persian Gulf. And then a few days later the Stennis was involved in rescuing a group of Iranians who were being held hostage by Somali pirates.

To get a sense of the radio episode, here’s a transcript of a great scene aboard the Stennis. Ira is being escorted around by a public affairs officer named Lieutenant Gorrell, who steers Ira away from a talkative group of sailors, over to a serious-looking young man named Kevin. This move turned out to be a huge mistake on Lieutenant Gorrell’s part, as you’ll see from this exchange between Kevin and Ira:

Kevin I'm just ready to go home.

Ira How come you chose the service?

Kevin A court order.

Ira Really, court-ordered?

Kevin Yeah, that's how they do it in Texas. Instead of you going to jail, they send you to the armed service. So that's how--

Ira They gave you the choice of jail or the Navy?

Kevin Yeah, or the armed service, any armed service.

Ira You don't have to tell me the answer to this, but what kind of trouble were you in?

Kevin Drugs.

Ira Drugs?

Kevin Yeah.

Ira How much jail would you have had to do?

Kevin Seven years.

Ira So how do you like it?

Kevin It sucks. It's like a prison on water. That's what it is. I don't really like it.

Ira (in script) This was not, of course, what Lieutenant Gorell was hoping for from young Kevin. I asked, hoping to turn things to a more positive area, if Kevin is changing. If people grow when the courts send them out here.

Kevin No, because people get flown off the ship almost every month for doing drugs and all kinds of stuff. So no, it's whatever you got inside of you. That's what's going to change you. If you don't want to be changed, you ain't going to be changed.

Ira (in script) I could practically hear the acid eating away at Lieutenant Gorell's stomach at this answer. I wracked my brain for the most completely neutral question I can ask.

Ira So what do you do on your job? Like what is there to do?

Kevin You just walk around all day. For eight hours you walk around and check spaces.

Ira And what are you looking for?

Kevin Just people having sex, fights, anybody drinking, doing stuff they ain't supposed to do on the boat. Hopefully we'll get to see, but I haven't seen anything yet.

Ira You haven't seen anything yet?

Kevin No. I've been looking, though.

Ira (in script) I glance over and catch the expression on the lieutenant's face.

Ira It's actually like people are pretty well behaved on this boat.

Kevin No, that's not true. That's not true. I don't know who told you that, but this boat is like a love boat right now.

Jeff Gorell All right, you're done. If anyone ever asks you to do an interview again, say no.

Mass suicide threat at Foxconn

Jan 11, 2012

3/16/2012 UPDATE: This American Life has retracted the episode referenced below because we learned that many of Mike Daisey's experiences in China were fabricated. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction.

Producer Brian Reed writes:

After our episode "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory" aired this weekend, reports started coming out about a worker standoff at a Foxconn factory in Wuhan, China. Foxconn manufactures products for Apple and many other electronics brands, and in our episode Mike Daisey tells stories he heard from the workers he talked to outside the gates of a different Foxconn plant, in Shenzhen.

According to news accounts, last week about 150 workers in Wuhan went to the roof of the Foxconn building for two days and threatened to commit mass suicide. Some reports put the number of employees at 300.They were upset because the company had moved them to a different production line.

"We were put to work without any training, and paid piecemeal," UK paper The Telegraph quotes one worker as saying, anonymously. "The assembly line ran very fast and after just one morning we all had blisters and the skin on our hand was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and no one could bear it."

According to the Telegraph report, the employees were being moved to a new line manufacturing computer cases for Acer. The article goes on:

"Because we could not cope, we went on strike," said the worker. "It was not about the money but because we felt we had no options. At first, the managers said anyone who wanted to quit could have one month's pay as compensation, but then they withdrew that offer. So we went to the roof and threatened a mass suicide."

Foxconn has a history of workers jumping off its buildings. When Mike Daisey was in China in 2010, Foxconn made international news over the course of several months as about a dozen workers jumped off the Shenzhen plant individually and killed themselves. One of Foxconn's responses was to put up large nets around its buildings.

We reached out to Foxconn about the suicide threat last week, and the company said that early in the morning on January 4th, about 150 employees staged a "workplace incident" at the Wuhan plant after Foxconn told them they would be transferred from one production unit to another. Foxconn sent us the following statement:

The incident was successfully and peacefully resolved later that morning after discussions between the workers, local Foxconn officials and representatives from the local government, including the labor department. As part of the agreement between Foxconn and the employees in question, 45 of those employees chose to resign from the company under the terms of a voluntary resignation agreement and the remaining employees chose to remain as Foxconn employees. The welfare of our employees is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and that their rights are fully protected. The operational changes that were the basis for this incident are being carried out in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations.

This is actually the first time Foxconn has responded to us. We asked the company repeatedly to comment on Mike Daisey's findings, both on and off the record, and each time they either declined or didn't get back to us.


More photos of the protest here, which are fascinating (though a warning: one of the photo sites requires login and the other has some mildly NSFW ads).

"When Patents Attack" Infographic

Jan 11, 2012

The website FrugalDad posted this infographic inspired by our episode "When Patents Attack." It was designed by Cut Media.

patents infographic