New Jersey court strikes down murder conviction based on violent rap lyrics

Updated Story — published on PBS NewsHour on August 4, 2014

The New Jersey State Supreme Court on Monday overturned, by a vote of 6-0, the attempted murder conviction of an aspiring rapper and small-time drug dealer Vonte Skinner, arguing that the extensive reading of Skinner’s violent rap lyrics during his trial unfairly prejudiced the jury.

As the PBS NewsHour reported last month, rap lyrics are increasingly being used by prosecutors nationwide as evidence of motive or intent, or in some cases, treated as confessions to specific crimes. Some legal scholars alarmed by this trend argue that rap lyrics are largely fictional, artistic works, and introducing their sometimes violent and graphic content at trial unfairly taints juries….read more at PBS NewsHour.

‘Degenerate Art’ exhibit explores Nazi assault on modern art

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on June 28, 2014

A new exhibit at the Neue Galerie in New York juxtaposes the classical 19th century paintings and sculptures that Adolf Hitler loved, with the abstract art that he hated and labeled “degenerate.” The Nazis put on a show of so-called “degenerate art” in the 1930s in an attempt to shame artists and convince Germans of the art’s perverse nature.

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker
Camera:  Saskia de Melker and William Brangham
Editor: Saskia de Melker
Correspondent: Saskia de Melker



Carrie Mae Weems on using photography to peel back the image of power

 This segment aired on PBS NewsHour on May 9 2014.

Artist Carrie Mae Weems has used photography to explore national and personal history, using herself and her family as stand-ins to explore common narratives, and using the medium as a tool to challenge stereotypes. Chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown talks to the renowned artist about her career as a visual storyteller.

Producer: Saskia de Melker
Correspondent: Jeffrey Brown
Camera: Saskia de Melker, Meghan Thompson
Editor: Saskia de Melker, Judith Wolff

As Louisiana’s coastline shrinks, a political fight over responsibility grows

This report aired on PBS NewsHour on March 22, 2014.

The coast of Louisiana is crumbling into the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate, and the regional Flood Protection Authority says the oil and gas industry is partly to blame. A big political fight has broken out in the state legislature over who should pay to try and repair the damage.

Producers/Writers: William Brangham and Saskia de Melker
Camera:  William Brangham and Saskia de Melker
Editor: David Kreger
Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan


What can the Dutch teach the U.S. about selling pot?


As Colorado and Washington begin selling legal marijuana, questions remain about the practical process of changing drug policy. NewsHour travels to the Netherlands — the one nation that’s been openly selling pot for over 40 years — to see what might be in store for the United States. 

Producers/Writers: Saskia de Melker and William Brangham
Camera:  Saskia de Melker and William Brangham
Editor: David Kreger
Correspondent: William Brangham

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on March 22, 2014

Nuns, law enforcement mobilize to prevent sex trafficking around the Super Bowl

This story aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on February 1, 2014.

As millions of fans debate who will win the game and by how much on Super Bowl Sunday, others, including law enforcement, will be focused on preventing the exploitation and trafficking of young women that they say increases around large sporting events.

Producer: Saskia de Melker
Writer: Saskia de Melker
Camera:  Saskia de Melker, Stephen Fee, Mori Rothman
Editor: David Kreger

HARI SREENIVASAN: All this week there have been more than a few concerns on the minds of the Super Bowl Host Committee, including the selling of counterfeit tickets, and of course worries over what had been bitter cold weather.

BRONCOS FANS: “We’re just here to see the team, hopefully we’ll get up in front and I’m sorry my mouth is just so cold I can’t even talk.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: But in this church in Montclair, New Jersey only nine miles away from where the game will be played tomorrow, Sister Pat Daly has a very different concern about the Super Bowl: protecting young women she believes are being exploited by sex traffickers.

SISTER PAT DALY: People don’t really realize the underside of these celebrations. We see spikes of advertising for sex trafficking and prostitution in and around large sporting events.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  One so-called Super Bowl week special we found online this past week offered customers a chance to ‘get out of the freezing weather and get warm and cozy with me.”

Another from someone calling herself a “new Barbie in town” and calling herself a “NFL Super Bowl Secret” promised “satisfaction is always guaranteed.”

Sister Pat says traffickers take advantage of the increased demand for prostitution by bringing in girls and some boys from across the region.

The effort to control trafficking at Super Bowls is actually nothing new. For the past three years, starting in Dallas in 2011 nuns and other activists have mobilized to raise awareness of sex trafficking around the game, especially of minors.

SISTER PAT DALY: Anyone who is involved who is 18 years and younger is going to be a victim of human trafficking. Certainly we’re not going after prostitutes – that’s not what we’re about. What we’re trying to do is focus on the people who are really being held captive, who feel trapped.

DANIELLE DOUGLAS: The fear and the coercion is really what holds someone back from doing what they want to do.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Danielle Douglas, who was profiled in a recent documentary about sex trafficking called tricked, claims she knows firsthand about the problem.

At the age of seventeen and about to start her freshman year of college in Boston, she says she was befriended by an older man, who, one day without warning, dumped her on the street without any belongings and demanded she prostitute herself. When she didn’t, she says he severely beat her.

DANIELLE DOUGLAS: The way that he treated me got progressively worse. He was very violent and he would beat me all the time. He would also verbally abuse me. He kept me on a very shot chain and made sure that I was always right next to him unless I was with a john and that’s part of their manipulation tactics is to keep you very, very close and not let you have any time to yourself. I had food deprivation, sleep deprivation.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  By her account she was held for two years and routinely forced to turn tricks at big sporting events.

DANIELLE DOUGLAS: I was forced to go to certain areas when there were large events Celtics playoffs, big games, big concerts, things like that to be in the area of those events where it was known for people to go after those events – bars restaurants, hotels.

DANIELLE DOUGLAS: There’s alcohol, there’s usually large groups of male people. It’s a form of entertainment. It’s a way that men feel like when they are not with their other half, their girlfriends or wives and are with their male friends they are looking for something else to go on to after the main event and this is what happens. And people know that. The pimps know that and they will direct the people under their control, men and women, girls or boys to those areas.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And that’s why, with the game fast approaching, sister pat and 400 volunteers who work with her from Connecticut to Philadelphia, have been reaching out to hotels – from small motels to big chains — asking their cooperation in blocking sex trafficking from their lodging. They’re asking hotels to post missing children’s fliers.

MARGOT AND PAT TALKING TO MOTEL MANAGER: We’re going around to all the hotels in the area and we’re asking them to at least keep this in their office so that they can look at images of the girls and then see if they recognize anyone.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  They’re also asking them to post the national hotline in hotel rooms and encouraging them to train staff to recognize the red flags of trafficking.

SISTER PAT DALY: We’re certainly asking people to be watchful of underage children. And then anyone who seems to be coerced. It’s really a sense of so many of the stories we’ve heard from people who are on staff at hotels who have said, ‘yeah we had this gut feeling.’ Well, now we’re trying to train that gut feeling so that the front desk knows what to do or the people in housekeeping – they certainly know what is going on in a hotel room.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Sister Pat’s anti-sex trafficking campaign is actually part of a larger effort. For more than 20 years, she’s been the executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment… which works alongside other faith-based institutional investors to promote corporate responsibility.

Their message about sex trafficking seems to be getting through.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents more than 50,000 hotels, motels, lodges and inns, recently developed a trafficking training program. The Association gave us a statement saying”

“All employees are expected to comply and are encouraged to alert the authorities if there is suspected trafficking in their hotel.”

While some dispute that sex trafficking actually spikes at sporting events like the super bowl, sister pat believes attention surrounding the game presents an opportunity to publicize the wider problem.

And it is enough of a concern that authorities in New York and New Jersey have focused attention on it.

In the days leading up to tomorrow’s game, New York City Police reported a jump in prostitution arrests — some following from fake sex ads posted by police. Authorities also cracked down on a sex ring that they say had been under surveillance for months. Authorities said they “decided to act now in the hopes of disrupting any parties that might have been in the works for the upcoming Super Bowl weekend.

INSPECTOR ANTHONY FAVALE, NYPD: While we will engage in operations that will apprehend persons for prostitution at every twist and turn of that process we going to campaign to see if there is the potential that this person is a victim of trafficking.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The issue of sex trafficking also came up at a recent security briefing for tomorrow’s game.

COL. RICK FUENTES, SUPERINTENDENT NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE: In this area, troopers, local police officers have been trained to recognize this activity. And of course of most importance is whether children are involved in this trafficking which is obviously a very grievous crime. So we are looking to interrupt this activity where and when it occurs and we are also not just looking to just make arrests although of the traffickers themselves but we’re also looking to rescue people who are trapped in this lifestyle.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Danielle believes the efforts of Sister Pat and others are starting to pay off because of heightened awareness among law enforcement officials and business leaders. But she fears the gains could easily be lost.

DANIELLE DOUGLAS: The moment we decide to stop causing awareness the pimps will most likely go right back to taking the people under their control back to the event.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  A thought echoed by Sister Pat, who is already looking ahead to next year’s game

SISTER PAT: We’re looking at a time today where human beings are treated like commodities so we’re going to continue to be working together long after the Super Bowl moves on to Arizona.

Germany continues to grapple with Nazi-era legacy


Nearly seventy years after the end of World War II, the German government is intensifying its efforts to educate young Germans about Nazi war crimes and continues to pursue prosecution for those who committed them.

Producers/Writers: Saskia de Melker and William Brangham
Camera:  Saskia de Melker and William Brangham
Editor: David Kreger
Correspondent: William Brangham

Will France ban childhood beauty pageants?

In January, France’s national legislature will vote whether to ban childhood beauty pageants. Critics contend that the pageants send the wrong message to young girls and only add to what they argue is an already over-sexualized environment for children today.

Producers: William Brangham and Saskia de Melker
Camera: William Brangham and Saskia de Melker
Editor: David Kreger
Correspondent: William Brangham

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In the public imagination, France is renowned for many things: its cuisine…its culture… as well as a very open embrace of female beauty.

You can’t walk a city block in Paris without seeing the scantily clad models showcasing France’s high fashion industry.  This is the nation that gave us Brigit Bardot And Catherine Deneuve, and welcomed former supermodel Carla Bruni as its first lady… this after her many years modeling with very little – or nothing at all — on.

Given all that, it’s maybe a bit surprising that a controversy has erupted in France over what some argue is the ‘hyper-sexualization” of young girls….  Girls like 9 year old Anais Agogue… Anais regularly competes in what are called “mini miss pageants”

MARTINE AGOGUE: (translated from French) This was her first pageant.


MARTINE AGOGUE: (translated from French) She was 6 and a half years old.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   Anais lives with her family in a suburb of Paris.  Her mom Martine showed me photos of Anais competing.

MARTINE AGOGUE:  When Anais comes out on stage people stand up and applaud her. I mean of course there is this feeling, this pride.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  In the pageants, the girls wear formal dresses –no heavy makeup, no high-heels. They walk on stage, say a few words, and a winner is picked for her overall poise and presentation.

Martine makes most of the dresses Anais wears.

MARTINE AGOGUE: (translated from French) This one is for Anais’s next competition

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  She loves that the pageants bring her closer to her daughter, and thinks the awards Anais has won gives her a sense of accomplishment.

ANAIS AGOGUE: (translated from French) We arrive in the afternoon, have lunch, talk with our friends.  My favorite part is when I’m on stage and when I put on my dress.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  But Anais’s favorite activity might be threatened because of what happened with another young French girl.  Back in 2010 this photo spread appeared in French Vogue magazine.   The model here is 10 years old.

At first, no one in France paid much attention… but women’s groups in the U.S. were outraged, and they took their case public.

ABC Reporter: When you see these pictures, what do you think?

Woman in ABC report (Koa Beck, I see a young girl being sexualized.

WILLIAM  BRANGHAM (to Jouanno):  When you saw those photographs, what was your reaction?

SEN. CHANTAL JOUANNO:  Well, you always think of art.  So, you think this is only creation, this is artistic.  So, you don’t see the problem.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Chantal Jouanno is a senator in the French legislature and a member of the center-right ‘UDI’ party.  She says the fashion industry gets a lot of leeway in France, but the American reaction to these photos made her and others take a second look.

SEN. CHANTAL JOUANNO: But after, when you really look at the– the photo, the pictures, you say, “Yes, this is a problem.”  How can we use children just to sell products?  How can we use children as sexualized people?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  The Vogue controversy got so big in France that the Minister for Family Affairs asked Jjouanno to investigate whether there was a problem of French children becoming ‘hyper-sexualized,’ and if so, what to do about it.

SEN. CHANTAL JOUANNO: ( to French Parliament ) When our children are not with their parents, what do they see?  They see cartoons, TV shows, which are all based on hyper-sexualization.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Jouanno is a mother of three kids… and she was surprised to discover that millions of kids in France – just like in the U.S. – routinely see images that PBS  wouldn’t typically put on the  air…

RHIANNA: (music video) All I see is dollar signs…

WILLIAM BRANGHAM … images of young women portrayed in highly-sexual ways…  online, on TV, in music videos…

ROBIN THICKE: (music video) I know you want it

BRITNEY SPEARS: (music video)… at my derriere

ADVERTISEMENT: Bratz are back!

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jouanno found sexualized images infiltrating toys and cartoons aimed at younger kids.

SEN. CHANTAL JOUANNO: I was surprised by those things my own children could see.  And I was surprised to understand why hyper-sexualization could be a problem for them.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: At the end of her 6 month investigation, Jouanno issued this report:  it argued that the level of sexualized, unrealistic body images was so pervasive in French society that it amounted to “a form of violence” against kids… one that not only objectifies girls, but causes them to then judge themselves harshly.

For example, according to the World Health Organization, 27% of eleven year old European girls think they’re “too fat.”  That percentage rises to 40% for fifteen year olds.  About a quarter of those girls say they’re now dieting.

So Jouanno’s report came out and it contains 12 recommendations to protect kids.  It would prohibit companies from using children as their spokesmodels…  it would create a website to ‘name and shame’ companies that don’t go along.  It would create an educational program for parents…  And it proposed banning those childhood beauty pageants, saying they offer a “degraded or tarnished” image of girls.

Jouanno — who is not just a senator but is a 12-time karate champion and a former national minister for sports – says she’s not against competitions for kids, she just objects to ones that put a premium on their looks.

SEN. CHANTAL JOUANNO:  This was just one recommendation, to ban beauty pageants, so that the society will give a very clear message to medias, to companies, that our children are not object of beauty, and are not– object of seduction.  And that, we agree on any other kind of competitions based on talents, as singing, as dancing, but not only based on your physical appearance.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Nine-year-old Anais was not happy when she heard about Jouanno’s proposed ban.  She thinks the senator is confusing the pageants she does with the kind that happen in the U.S. — like those seen in TLC’s hit show ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’

ANAIS AGOGUE: (translated from French) There is this woman – I’m not sure what her name is – but she wants to forbid the Mini Miss pageants because she believes it’s just like in the U.S. and that we put on make-up and show our butts, show our mouth and teeth and breasts.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Her mother Martine agrees that kids are often exposed to too much, too soon…  she says she and her husband Phillipe work very hard to protect their kids from that…  but she doesn’t think pageants are part of the problem, and she’s furious at the senator’s suggestion that by letting Anais compete, she’s somehow harming her daughter.

MARTINE AGOGUE: (translated from French) I was angry for sure. Because essentially what she’s saying is we’re dumb and we can’t take care of our kids. We don’t let our kids wear anything indecent. She can come and have a look — I want her to come and see! Our daughters are not Barbies.

WILLIAM  BRANGHAM: The parents who support the pageants argue that it’s not nearly as extreme as what we see in the United States – it’s not so much makeup, high heels, and they think of it as a harmless, simple competition.

SEN. CHANTAL JOUANNO: Yes, but the aim of this competition is still the same, with or without makeup.  The only way you can tell where– this is the winner, or this is not the winner, is to make a comparison between young girls, and between their physical appearance.  This is the same issue, indeed.  There is no difference, with makeup or no makeup.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Sociologist Michel Fize studies adolescent development. He says, yes, hyper-sexualization is real, and that it can rob kids of their childhood.  But he’s not convinced that pageants – at least as they’re practiced in France — are that harmful.  He thinks they’re simply young girls showing pride in their femininity.

MICHEL FIZE: (translated from French) For some people like Jouanno, the moment this femininity is exaggerated it’s a sign that we’re returning to male domination over females in society, with woman as ‘object’ in society.  But little girls don’t see themselves as objects. They don’t see themselves as unequal to boys. They are just proud to be feminine.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But Jouanno argues pageants are just the beginning of a process where young girls are objectified by society, and often turn that objectification inwards…

WILLIAM  BRANGHAM (to Jouanno):  You’re talking about something that is so broad in the culture– affecting everything from parents to education, to the media, to our values.  Do you think that going after pageants is the best approach to dealing with this enormous issue?

SEN. CHANTAL JOUANNO:  No.  The ban of beauty pageants was only one recommendation among 12 big recommendations. And that’s a shame that the only recommendation which has been nearly adopted today is a ban of beauty pageants.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Anais is continuing to compete in pageants… she just did another one last week weeks ago.  Jouanno’s proposed ban on those pageants will likely be voted on early next year….  Anais obviously hopes the measure fails.

ANAIS AGOGUE: It’s our passion so if she takes it away, we’re going to be really sad.

Do the Dutch have the pension problem solved?

As cities and states across the U.S. grapple with their pension programs, we travel to one country — the Netherlands — that seems to have its pension problem solved. Ninety percent of Dutch workers get pensions, and retirees can expect roughly 70 percent of their working income to be paid to them for the rest of their lives.

Producers/Writers: Saskia de Melker and William Brangham
Camera:  Saskia de Melker and William Brangham
Editor: David Kreger
Correspondent: William Brangham

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on November 10, 2013

Facing Bankruptcy Unknowns, Detroiters Take Revitalization Into Their Own Hands

This report aired on PBS NewsHour on August 9, 2013.

A lack of basic social services and abandoned blocks are just a few of the side effects Detroit citizens face due to their city’s financial woes. But in some neighborhoods, Motor City residents are taking revitalization efforts into their own hands. Hari Sreenivasan reports on the resilience of the people who call Detroit home.

Producer: Saskia de Melker
Writer: Saskia de Melker
Camera:  Saskia de Melker and Sam Weber
Editor: Judith Wolff
Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, from Detroit, the largest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy, a look at what life is like for citizens of a city that for decades has been withering around them and some recent efforts to reverse the decline.

Hari Sreenivasan reports.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Wow, this is bad. So all these yards are like this?

RICK PIORNACK: All these yards, we have probably four vacant homes all in this condition.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This is your neighborhood.

RICK PIORNACK: This is my neighborhood.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What happened to Rick Piornack’s neighborhood is just the most visual reminder of what’s happened to Detroit. But for Piornack, it’s one that hits close to home.

Compared to what it was like when you were a kid, this has got to be pretty sad to see.

RICK PIORNACK: Very sad, very sad.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Piornack spent more than 30 years fighting fires across this city. Now retired and on a fixed income, he and his wife, Brenda, are staying put in the home they have lived in for more than four decades despite the eroding houses around them.

RICK PIORNACK: This is our little bit of heaven.

WOMAN: Yes. We sit here and watch the sun go down.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But Piornack is feeling Detroit’s financial woes in other ways, too. He’s just one of nearly 30,000 current and retired city workers who expect to see cuts to their pensions and health care benefits as the city tries to dig itself out of financial ruin. Detroit can’t pay its bills, and is looking to cut an estimated $18 billion of debt, according to city officials.

RICK PIORNACK: I feel very let down. My father was a police officer in the city. I have been a fireman in the city. My son is a fireman in the city. I feel like I have really been let down.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Just weeks ago, Detroit became the largest municipality ever to file for bankruptcy. There are many unknowns as the city attempts a restructuring plan.

Stephen Henderson, editorial editor at the Detroit Free Press, grew up here and is intimately aware of the city’s fighting spirit, but says bankruptcy may be the city’s toughest challenge yet.

STEPHEN HENDERSON, Detroit Free Press: There’s not much difference between most places in Detroit and post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s not as shocking because it happened over a long period of time, but it’s just as devastating.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Detroit’s decline from an industrial powerhouse into a financial ruin has been slow and long. At its height in the 1950s, Detroit boasted more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Now that number is less than 30,000.

That 90 percent decrease has left huge holes, like the ones in Piornack’s neighborhood, all across the city. There are at least 60,000 parcels of vacant land. Blighted houses are a frequent reminder of just how deep Detroit’s problems are. The city’s population peaked at 1.8 million, but now is down to about 700,000. That means a much smaller tax base for a city that is trying to provide all the same services.

Forty percent of the city’s streetlights don’t work for lack of repair crews. The average response time for the Detroit Police Department to a 911 call is 58 minutes. And buses are constantly late if they come at all, making it hard for residents like Ivory Drake to make it to work and keep his job.

IVORY DRAKE: It used to be I could get on the bus and be anywhere, and be — have to sit and wait an hour before I could start work. But now, if you don’t get out early enough, or two hours before you have to be to work, you’re late.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The city has promised that reinvestment in these key services will be the silver lining of the bankruptcy. The city’s recently appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, says they hope to reinvest $1.25 billion in service upgrades and infrastructure.

Here’s Orr in a conversation with NewsHour’s Ray Suarez in July.

KEVYN ORR, Detroit Emergency Financial Manager: What Detroiters should expect is that services are going to get better. We’re already focusing on lighting, blight, police services, health, safety and welfare concerns.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But Detroiters like Kim and Ivory Drake are still skeptical about whether the bankruptcy process means the city can improve their East Detroit neighborhood.

KIM DRAKE: I bet if you come back…

IVORY DRAKE: Next year.

KIM DRAKE: … next year…

IVORY DRAKE: My lights will still be out.

KIM DRAKE: It will probably still be looking the same. You will probably still have them houses over there that’s vacant, the one right next to me, the one right down the corner. It’s not going to help at all.

STEPHEN HENDERSON: I think the legitimate cynicism people have is that bankruptcy will just be about making a bare-bones, bare minimum city financially solvent, with spartan services, and not that many people.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Some communities are beyond waiting for the city to turn things around. They have taken matters into their own hands.

Every day, residents in this northwest corner of Detroit are rolling up their sleeves and using whatever tools they can get their hands on, even pickup trucks, to tear down vacant houses. They’re transforming urban wastelands into gardens and boarded-up storefronts into murals. We dropped by a busy meeting in the community of Brightmoor, where residents like Jody Scarlett discuss neighborhood needs and then delegate the resources necessary to tackle them.

JODY SCARLETT: If you ask the city for something, it’s just bureaucracy, just wait — it’s like a hurry up and wait and wait and wait, and nothing ever gets done. The community group helps us to get things done that the city just doesn’t provide.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Community action has been fueled by private and nonprofit investment. Just weeks ago, these 14 blocks in Brightmoor were full of 84 tons of debris, overgrown weeds, and rotting trash. Now the land has been cleared. It’s a $500,000 privately funded project that local nonprofits hope to see replicated around the city.

Terrance Gore lives in this cluster of blocks. Gore started out just picking up trash. Now he works full-time driving a tractor to combat the blight that surrounds him in Brightmoor. He used to call the neighborhood the Moor, because he could not see anything bright about it.

TERRANCE GORE: You’re talking about just every day smell — it stinks from the trash people dump. And now just to wake up, you can smell fresh air. You can look, and it’s like, it’s — I’m amazed. It’s a good feeling. It’s like I can’t really explain how that feels every day just to wake up to a cleaner neighborhood.

HARI SREENIVASAN: He is hopeful that the bankruptcy is a chance to reset the deck for the whole city and that it will only bolster his neighborhood’s efforts.

TERRANCE GORE: I’m just seeing this as just a start. If we can get this done while going through bankruptcy, what can we get done when we’re financially stable? A whole lot more than this.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It won’t be easy; 40 percent of Brightmoor’s families live below the poverty line, and in a single decade the neighborhood’s population dropped by 35 percent. Even those who are working to better this community are cautiously optimistic.

JODY SCARLETT: I’m hopeful that it will get better, but at times, I just want to just get out. At times, I just want to leave my house behind and go.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Reviving neighborhoods is critical, but so are jobs. And that’s where new industries closer to the city center might make a difference. Many are high-tech startups, but Shinola is bringing manufacturing back to the Motor City. It’s making craft bicycles, watches, and fine leather goods.

Business has taken off. And in terms of the city’s bankruptcy filing, CEO Steve Bock says the company knew what it was getting into.

STEVE BOCK, Shinola: We knew that when we came to Detroit several years ago that there were financial challenges, that there were challenges in the city. Had we made a decision today after the bankruptcy had been declared, we would have made exactly the same decision.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Shinola assembly line leader Willie Holley has even more ambitions for the future.

So what’s your best-case scenario two years from now, five years from now? What do you see happening?

WILLIE HOLLEY, Shinola: I see us expanding, especially, like, on our other wing, trying to make leather goods and journals and things of that nature, and just having like a huge work force, sort of, that can compete even with the big three. So, I mean, I want — it would be nice if Shinola was in lights next to GM near the Renaissance building or something like that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right now, that seems like a far-off dream. But other investments and young people coming to the city may make that dream possible.

STEPHEN HENDERSON: I think, in general, Detroiters are so used to bad news, and they are so used to things not really breaking our way, and they’re used to getting up the next morning and going, well, I can’t stop. I have got to keep going. I have got to keep — keep trying.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That resilience might turn out to be the city’s greatest asset that not even a bankruptcy can liquidate.

JEFFREY BROWN: Online, will other cities follow in Detroit’s footsteps? You can take a second look at our health of cities conversation. That’s on our home page.

Trouble in the Water: Coral Reefs and Shellfish Battle Acidifying Oceans

Coral Reefs and Shellfish Battle Acidifying Oceans | PBS NewsHour | Dec. 5, 2012 | PBSThis story was broadcast in two parts and was published as a single multimedia story online on PBS NewsHour in December 2012 as part of the Coping with Climate Change series.

Slip beneath the water’s surface and you’ll find a world teeming with life. Schools of yellowtail fish dart through colorful coral reefs. Spiny lobsters emerge from the crevices of ocean rocks searching for a tasty meal. And sea anemones nestle in the nooks of oyster beds.

But there is trouble in the world’s ocean.

Scientists are learning more about how carbon dioxide is dramatically changing the makeup of the oceans and the communities that depend on them.

“Over the last 200 years, 550 billion tons of carbon dioxide have been absorbed by the oceans,” said Richard Feely, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s enough carbon dioxide to fill enough train cars to wrap around the world seven times each year.

Feely, one of the world’s leading researchers on ocean acidification, has been studying this uptake of carbon dioxide for the last 30-some years. Feely and other scientists once saw an upside to the ocean acting as a carbon dioxide sink: it kept the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere. But over the last two decades, they’ve discovered that it’s having an unprecedented effect on the chemistry of the oceans.

Carbon dioxide decreases the pH of the water. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity. Oceans have acidified by 30 percent from pre-industrial levels, and scientists expect that number will climb to 100 percent by the end of this century.

“Ocean life had not seen a significant change in pH for 800,000 years or more, said Sarah Cooley, a chemical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.“So marine life has been accustomed to conditions being consistent, and what we’re doing is we’re changing the game significantly.”

Slight changes in pH levels can have dramatic effects. Consider this: the pH of the blood running through your arteries is between 7.35 and 7.45. A drop of .2 pH units can cause seizures, heart arrhythmia or even send a person into a coma.

“That change in direction toward more acidic conditions is very important to your biological systems,” Feeley said. “It’s the same thing for many marine organisms.”

Watch the video report on how acidifying waters are impacting the U.S. shellfish industry

Producer/Writer: Katie Campbell and Saskia de Melker, Camera: Katie Campbell and Saskia de Melker Editor: Saskia de Melker  Narrator: Hari Sreenivasan

We can already see ocean acidification at work in the oceans. In recent years, oyster larvae on the northwest coast have been dying off by the billions. The seawater is so corrosive that it eats away at the young oyster shells before they can form.

Renee Carlton of NOAA’s Coral Health and Monitoring Program, compared the effect that acidification has on marine mammals to osteoporosis, which causes brittle bones in humans. As acidity increases, animals like scallops, oysters, and clams have a harder time extracting the calcium carbonate they need to build their essential shells. Shells become thinner, growth slows down, and death rates rise.

For coral reefs, the challenges presented by increased carbon dioxide are even greater.

Watch the video report of how Florida’s coral reefs are impacted by ocean acidification.

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker, Camera: Saskia de Melker, Underwater camera: Frazier Nivens, Editor: Saskia de Melker, Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan

Reefs are extremely sensitive to both warming and acidification.  High water temperature causes corals to ‘bleach’ or expel the colorful algae that live in their tissue, exposing their skeletons. When pH dips, they have a harder time generating sturdy skeletons, and evidence shows that it’s harder for corals to reproduce when the ocean acidifies.

“If a coral dies, there is less likelihood that a baby coral is going to be able to replace it in the future,” said Chris Langdon, a coral biologist at the University of Miami. He has been conducting lab experiments to see how corals will cope with future conditions and found that the one-two punch of carbon dioxide and warmer waters aggravate their effects on the reefs. “That means that the corals can show signs of bleaching at a lower temperature than they would have before the increased carbon dioxide,” Langdon said.

This leaves the animals more vulnerable to disease, pollution, and predators. And that has cascading effects for the rest of the ecosystem, all the way up to human communities, said Paul McElhany of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center studies the effects of acidification on marine species.

Shellfish and corals are the foundation of marine ecosystems. Reefs provide habitat for thousands of other animals, and more than a quarter of all fish live in coral reefs at some point in their lives. And many shellfish are at the bottom of the marine food chain and are eaten by fish and other animals.

“We’ve seen that these increases in acidification can really reorganize these food webs, both directly and indirectly,” McElhany said, adding “What happens in the marine environment is likely to affect you.”

Reporting contributed by Heather Goldstone of WGBH and Katie Campbell of KCTS9.


Two Texas Towns Run Out of Water


This report was aired/published on PBS NewsHour in March 2012 as part of the Coping with Climate Change series.

 Mark Twain said that ‘Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting’ – that adage is becoming increasingly true in Texas as demand continues to outweigh supply and scrambles for water intensify.

As drought and record temperatures across the Southwest put an unprecedented strain on water resources in Texas, we went to the state to see how residents of two dry towns were coping. In Robert Lee, we showed how residents were trying to cope with a dramatically reduced reservoir by building a $1.2 million pipeline to a neighboring town. In Spicewood, where the wells have run dry, we showed how people now depend on water brought in on trucks.


Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker
Camera: Dieter Kaupp and Saskia de Melker
Editor: Saskia de Melker
Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan


Two Texas Towns Run Out of Water | PBS NewsHour | March 20, 2012 | PBS