PBS NewsHour full episode, Oct. 13, 2021

PBS NewsHour full episode, Oct. 13, 2021

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff. On the "NewsHour" tonight: bottlenecks and backlogs. Inflation hits record highs, as delays in shipments from overseas increase prices for everyday goods. We talk with the secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo.

Then: crime and punishment. The Supreme Court hears the Boston Marathon bomber case, after an appeals court found errors in the original trial. And critical shortage. COVID-19 exacerbates an already serious lack of nurses in American hospitals, especially in rural areas. MARY MAYHEW, President, Florida Hospital Association: Before the pandemic, we were facing a nursing work force shortage. The pandemic was like a gasoline can over the fire.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour." (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: Ships are sitting, goods aren't moving, and prices keep rising. That triple whammy topped President Biden's agenda today, as he promised new efforts to unsnarl the supply chain and tame inflation.

White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: It's a crisis of global proportions, from major bottlenecks at busy ports, to a lack of computer chips for auto manufacturers, and even a shortage of truck drivers to deliver all those goods. Today, President Biden met with major retailers, port executives, and union representatives to address some of the supply chain challenges triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: If federal support is needed, I will direct all appropriate action. And if the private sector doesn't step up, we're going to call them out and ask them to act, because our goal is not only to get through this immediate bottleneck, but to address the longstanding weaknesses in our transportation supply chain that this pandemic has exposed. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The bustling Port of Los Angeles will now pivot to operating 24/7.

The move aims to help ease the massive shipping backlog there. Last month, the Port of Long Beach, California, made that same shift. Together, those two ports account for roughly 40 percent of all shipping containers entering the U.S. GENE SEROKA, Executive Director, Port of Los Angeles: The quickest route from Asia to the United States and interior points is through Los Angeles. And that's what everyone is trying

to maximize at this point in time. But it's like taking 10 lanes of freeway traffic and squeezing them into five. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Major retailers like Walmart and Target, as well as shipping companies like UPS and FedEx, are also expanding their hours to help move more cargo off the docks. They hope this will get cargo ships to shore faster as the busy holiday shopping season rapidly approaches. Trucking companies are struggling to keep up with increased demand. Wilford Williams drives trucks throughout the Midwest.

WILFORD WILLIAMS, Truck Driver: I haven't had any real downtime or anything like that. I mean, as far as the company that I'm running with, they have been keeping me pretty busy. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Small businesses, like Ashley Collectibles in Omaha, Nebraska, are feeling the pinch. RANDY ASHLEY, Owner, Ashley Collectibles: In order to keep your shelves full, we have to order eight weeks in advance.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Tracie Jensen manages a toy shop in Kansas City, Missouri. She said it's been a logistical nightmare. TRACIE JENSEN, Store Manager, Brookside Toy & Science: There are certain things that are not coming, that will not be here. There's part shortages. There's wood shortages. There's problems with shipping, especially overseas. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And the shortages and bottlenecks also mean higher prices. In September, the cost to transport shipping containers from Asia to the U.S. shattered a record high.

According to the Freightos index, the median price to ship a standard metal container from China to the West Coast topped $20,000. That's nearly double what it cost in July. The skyrocketing costs have prompted major retailers to charter their own ships to transport goods. All that added cost is also pushing consumer prices higher. They rose nearly 5.5 percent

in September over the previous year, to match a 13-year high. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: Household heating bills are expected to soar this winter. A federal forecast says global inflation and supply shortages will boost energy costs as much as 54 percent over last year. This winter is also forecast to be slightly colder nationwide. The surge in inflation means that Social Security recipients will get their biggest cost-of-loving adjustment in 39 years. The increase announced today amounts to 5.9 percent, an average of $92 a month. Increases had averaged less than 2 percent a year for the last 10 years.

The nation's land borders will reopen to nonessential travel by foreigners after a pandemic era closure that lasted 19 months. The Biden administration says fully vaccinated visitors may enter from Canada or Mexico as of early November. In another development, the federal COVID coordinator, Jeff Zients, reported that vaccination rates are up 20 percentage points from mid-summer. JEFFREY ZIENTS, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator: Since late July, when the president first announced vaccination requirements and called on organizations to follow his lead, the number of eligible Americans who are unvaccinated has decreased by about one-third, from 97 million down to 66 million individuals.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Zients credited vaccine mandates with the increase. Meanwhile, Chicago's police union is urging officers to defy a city mandate. They have to report their vaccine status by Friday, or face unpaid leave. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today on the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two Boston Marathon bombers. He is fighting reinstatement of a death sentence, which a

lower court threw out. The 2013 bombing killed three people and wounded more than 260. We will take a closer look later in the program. Hurricane Pamela is moving inland tonight across Northwestern Mexico. It came ashore today north of Mazatlan on Mexico's Pacific Coast. The storm left flooded streets and

downed trees in its wake. Forecasters say remnants of Pamela will bring heavy rain to parts of Texas and Oklahoma by Thursday. A wind-blown wildfire in Southern California has threatened more than 100 homes for a second day. One is near the ranch that was once owned by President Reagan and known as the Western White House. The fire in Santa Barbara county ignited Monday, and high winds quickly spread it. By this afternoon, it was only 5 percent contained. The White House today kicked off a virtual summit on cybersecurity involving 30 nation.

But Russia was not invited. The focus is on ransomware attacks, and many of them originate in Russia. Still, at an energy conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said he expects better ties ahead.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through translator): In general, President Biden and I have rather stable working relations. I assume that fundamental interests of the two countries will definitely lead one way or another to our relations being repaired. JUDY WOODRUFF: The meeting will last two days.

The Biden administration hopes to see as many as seven wind farms built off the East and West Coasts of the U.S. and in the Gulf of Mexico. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said today that lease sales could be held by 2025. Federal officials estimate that the projects, if built, would generate enough electricity for 10 million homes. The FDA released voluntary guidelines today on cutting sodium levels in food. They cover everything from cereals to french fries to condiments. The goal is a 12 percent reduction in sodium intake to 3,000 milligrams a day. The FDA envisions that happening over two-and-a-half

years. On Wall Street, tech stocks advanced, but the rest of the market lagged. The Dow Jones industrial average lost half-a-point to close at 34377. The Nasdaq rose 105 points. The S&P 500 added 13.

And Star Trek's Captain Kirk, William Shatner, rocketed briefly into space today. He traveled courtesy of Blue Origin, the space tourism company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Shatner and three others lifted off from West Texas. The suborbital flight carried them

66 miles high, and touched down after 10 minutes. At 90, Shatner is the oldest person ever in space. Still to come on the "NewsHour": the Supreme Court hears the Boston Marathon bomber's case; world powers negotiate with the Taliban over providing Afghanistan with humanitarian aid; Georgia election workers are fired for shredding some 300 voter registration forms; plus much more. Now let's take a closer look at several economic issues, including our lead story, how the Biden administration plans to address the challenges around getting the goods Americans want delivered from overseas when they want them. And, for that, I'm joined by the secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo. Secretary Raimondo, welcome back to the "NewsHour." It's so good to you have.

We listened carefully to what the president had to say today. People are saying it is a step in the right direction. But he's also saying a lot depends on the private sector. How much difference is it going to make if you simply say the ports are going to be working 24/7? GINA RAIMONDO, U.S. Secretary of Commerce: Yes. Well, good evening. It's great to be with you. It will make a huge difference. What the president did today is significant in showing the leadership

necessary to have these two of America's largest ports open 24/7. But he also convened at the White House the private sector, like you said, Walmart, Samsung, the importers, and asking them to do their part, which is also commit to working weekends, commit to working evenings, commit to putting more people on staff, so we can unload the cargo and make space on the port. So this is -- this problem wasn't created overnight. It's not going to be fixed overnight. But this is a big step forward and I think we will start to see relief.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm asking because some people who are close to the -- what the ports do are already sounding skeptical. They're saying not all the terminals at these ports out on the West Coast are operating 24/7. They are pointing out truckers are still being required to return a certain kind of container in order to fill up another -- to fill it up with other goods. I mean, how much of that has been worked out? GINA RAIMONDO: We are working through all of those details. I will say this is, within the administration, a 24/7 effort on our end. You know, the ports

will go 24/7. We're at 24/7. It's incredibly complex. All of these supply chain issues we are grappling with are incredibly complex. So, as I say, there is no one fix. The ports have to be open 24/7. The private sector has to step up and do their part, hire more people, have nights and weekends. Logistics experts are coming in to help. Secretary Buttigieg and the White House and my team, we're going through the details to make sure that we unclog the bottleneck at every level.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And does that mean what people want in time for Christmas is going to make it? GINA RAIMONDO: Well, that is... JUDY WOODRUFF: What is the timetable you are looking at? GINA RAIMONDO: That is the big question. Consumers are struggling right now. I'm sure you see it yourself. You see it yourself. Things are more expensive. It's harder to get what you want as fast as you want it. And I think we all have to be a little bit patient. But we're still in October, so I'm

optimistic for a good Christmas. I think we're going to start to see progress over the next 30, 60 days because of the actions we're starting today. JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know this is not just a pandemic-related thing. It's e-commerce is the wave of the future. GINA RAIMONDO: That's exactly right. And a lot of what we are struggling with is, we had been primarily a services economy.

Then, when COVID came everybody stayed home and started buying things. And we haven't yet caught up. So, we just need a bit more time to get the supply chains moving again, so we can increase the supply. Prices will come down, and people will be able to access what they want and need.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask about another part of this supply and demand mismatch that we're dealing with right now, and a very big part of it. And that is semiconductors. You have been very focused on that piece of the problem. These are the tiny computer chips that power everything from cars to smartphones to every imaginable kind of appliance. How long are those bottlenecks going to be with us? GINA RAIMONDO: They could be with us for awhile. So, we are -- things are going to get a little bit better over the course of the next six, nine months. But to really solve that problem, Judy, we need to make more chips in America. It's very simple. We don't make enough here in our country.

So, right now, as part of the president's package that he's trying to get through Congress is an investment of billions of dollars to incentivize companies to make semiconductors in America again. We founded the semiconductor industry in America, and now we make none of the world's leading-edge chips in America. It is mostly all in Taiwan. JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

GINA RAIMONDO: So, I am extremely focused on this. We are working with suppliers to encourage more transparency, pushing them to the limit to increase production. But the real solution here is what President Biden is asking for, which is investments in American manufacturing. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, what people are asking is, how long is this going to take? You mentioned Taiwan. China is also a piece of this puzzle. We did hear the president say this afternoon: "We should never have to relay on one country for goods, especially when that one country does not share our values."

I mean, that sounds like he is in a hurry to get this done. GINA RAIMONDO: Yes, he is in a hurry. He needs to be in a hurry. He feels the pain of the American people, who are -- can't buy their cars, can't buy their trucks. Trucker -- trucking companies can't put the fleet -- can't buy what they need, because trucks and cars and medical equipment are all being held up, for want of semiconductors.

So he is in a hurry. We are in a hurry. But Congress needs to be in a hurry and go ahead and pass the Build Back Better legislation, so we can get back to work. JUDY WOODRUFF: Best-case scenario, when should Americans look for semiconductors to be made in any significant quantity? GINA RAIMONDO: Yes, I think you will start to see improvement next year. You know, this

-- the -- it will take years, really. But into 2022, we will start to see relief in the semiconductor supply chain. JUDY WOODRUFF: The broader economy. Inflation, everybody is talking about it now. New numbers out today, we see it is running much higher than the administration's experts, the Federal Reserve had been forecasting.

How long-term a problem do you believe it is? And how much concern do you have that whatever the concrete factors are, that higher prices get built into people's expectations, and then that begins to have a self-fulfilling effect on how much things cost? GINA RAIMONDO: So, this is a tough one, because we believe it's temporary, but that doesn't mean it is not real right now. So, if you're going to the grocery store or you're filling up your car with gas, prices are higher. And that is hard for Americans. That is a reality. That is today's reality. But we're working like crazy to make sure it's temporary. And the reason I believe it's temporary is, listen, we track this every day all day. It's still primarily related to COVID. So, car prices are high. Used car prices are high. That goes directly to the lack of semiconductors. Other prices are high. Our manufacturing sector

hasn't ramped up again post-COVID. So I'm hopeful, with a little bit of time, with the investments that Congress has to make in work force, in manufacturing, in infrastructure, we will be able to keep a lid on inflation. But I don't want to take anything away from the fact that, at the moment, if you are listening to me, you're saying, yes, but it's expensive. And so we have to work to make sure it's temporary. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I hear you saying it's short-term, but just a moment ago, you said it is going to take time, for example, to get the semiconductor issue worked through. So, it's hard for someone looking at this to see how these prices just quickly start to come down.

GINA RAIMONDO: Yes. Yes, again, I don't think there is a quick fix. I will say, though, if you look at say lumber, a few months ago, lumber prices were shooting through the roof. We have worked hard on that. We and the White House have convenings with the lumber industry. Those prices have come down, and they're coming down.

I think that steps we took today with ports, you're going to start to see things improve. So, it is more, I suppose, slow and steady. But when you asked me about inflation, for the long term, I am much more worried about the economy if we don't make the Build Back Better investments. Like, our long-term job creation and productivity depends on the investments

in infrastructure, ports, broadband job training, child care, eldercare that the president is calling on. That's what is going to make America able to compete in the long run. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, right now, that is a question mark, isn't it? GINA RAIMONDO: It is. We're working hard. We're still optimistic. The president is showing leadership. But Congress

needs to make it happen. JUDY WOODRUFF: The secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

And now we look at the limits to what President Biden can do about these supply and delivery issues and the effect it is having on the broader economy. David Lynch has covered this extensively for The Washington Post. And he joins me now. David Lynch, welcome back to the "NewsHour." I know you listened today to what President Biden had to say. You were listening just now to Secretary Raimondo. How much difference do you think these moves that the administration

is announcing to try to break up this bottleneck on the supply chain, how much difference is that going to make? DAVID LYNCH, The Washington Post: Well, I think it is a step in the right direction. At the margin, it may improve what has been a very difficult situation. But it is not entirely accurate to say that the Port of Long Beach has already gone 24/7. In fact, they have six container terminals at that port. Only one of the six has lengthened

its hours in a pilot program. And at that, that terminal is open 24 hours Monday through Thursday. So it is not quite 24/7. That leaves five other terminals out of it completely. At the Port of Los Angeles, which is the new initiative that was announced today, it is not clear yet how many of their terminals will go 24/7 and just what the operational details will be. So, we're still waiting to hear on that. The problem, I think, for the administration is that this is really a challenge that is not immediately amenable to federal power. The entire supply chain is composed of private sector companies, all independent, all operating sometimes in a very siloed way. And so the administration -- and I think they have acknowledged this -- recognizes that they can play a roll sort of convening and getting people together and jawboning them to cooperate and share data, but it is not as simple as cutting taxes or increasing spending.

This in many ways is beyond the government's immediate power. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we heard -- in fact, I read some of the reporting you have done on just what you were talking about. And I did ask Secretary Raimondo, what about the fact that ports may not be fully 24/7? She said, we're working on those details. So they say they're doing that. But we also heard her say that it is up to the private sector. And we heard President Biden say, we're going to call them out if they don't step up.

So what does that exactly mean? And does the private sector feel that kind of pressure from the president -- from a president? DAVID LYNCH: I think they do and they don't. I mean, it is a very fragmented system. So, even the people directing the ports, say, in Los Angeles and Long Beach, they can't order the terminals to stay open until 3:00 in the morning, because those ports operate really just as landlords. And so the terminals set their own hours. And in the past, when there have been these night and predawn hours available, truckers often won't show up, because, if you think about it, if you are a trucker, you can show up at 3:00 a.m. to collect a shipping container, but then where are you going to go with it?

The warehouse may be a half-an-hour away or 45 minutes away. They are not open at 3:00 a.m. So it really is essential -- and, obviously, the administration officials involved with it understand this, but getting one part of the operation to longer hours will help, but only if everybody is part of that process. And it's going to take some time to make that

happen, I think. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I'm asking you about these details because this problem, as we now know, is affecting so many Americans, and whether they are waiting to remodel their house or they're waiting for something that they ordered that hasn't arrived. And I'm still trying to get at this question of how much difference can the administration, I guess you can call it jawboning -- how much difference can that make, coupled with the moves that they say they have the ports make on their own? DAVID LYNCH: I mean, I think, at the margin, the administration can help, and I think they're trying to help. I think they're also trying to look as if they're engaged and trying to help, because this is a problem that is not just an economic problem. It is a political problem. And Secretary Raimondo acknowledged that. This is sort of the kind of Main Street economic

problems that can really cause a president problems. Every person I talked to in my neighborhood has got a story to tell about something they went out to buy at the store and couldn't find. I was waiting on a garden variety auto part that should have taken two days under normal circumstances. It took me three weeks. My wife constantly complains she can't find a specific type of cat food that our incredibly fussy cat prefers. Now, none of these problems, in and of themselves, are fatal or showstoppers. But as they accumulate, they become, along with inflation, the kind of economic problem that any White House is going to be really concerned about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just in a word, we heard Secretary Raimondo say people will see a difference by Christmas. Do you believe that? DAVID LYNCH: It's possible. I mean, these problems aren't going away by Christmas. Most of the people we spoke to for our recent project on the supply chain say we have got another year of disruption ahead of us. And one reason for that is, in its middle of next year, the big contract with the longshoremen union out on the West Coast expires. And so a lot of companies that have already been having trouble getting their goods are starting to place precautionary orders for next year, because they don't want to get caught short if there is some kind of labor action on the docks in the middle of 2022. JUDY WOODRUFF: David Lynch with The Washington Post, thank you very much.

With all nine justices back in the courtroom today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of the Boston Marathon bomber's death sentence, eight years after the attack. John Yang has our report. JOHN YANG: The April 2013 attack stunned the nation. MAN: Oh, God. Get out of the stands.

JOHN YANG: Two homemade bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators, one of them 8 years old. More than 260 were injured; 16 of them lost legs, including a 7-year-old girl. MAN: If you see these men, contact law enforcement. JOHN YANG: Before a five-day manhunt ended, Boston was locked down, and a college police officer and one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were dead.

His brother, Dzhokhar, was captured. After a month-long federal court trial, a jury convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on 30 counts and sentenced him to death. Last year, an appeals court threw out that penalty, though not the convictions, saying the trial judge made two mistakes. First, the appeals court said, the trial judge wouldn't let defense lawyers ask potential jurors if they had been influenced by pretrial publicity. MIRIAM CONRAD, Federal Public Defender: We felt very strongly that this case should not be tried in Boston. JOHN YANG: Federal public defender Miriam Conrad was on Tsarnaev's trial defense team, but is not involved in his appeal.

MIRIAM CONRAD: It wasn't just the media coverage, but it was the way the event permeated the entire city. Many people were exposed to false and inflammatory information during the time when the case was pending, and we felt it was absolutely crucial to find out what they had read or heard or seen, especially given the proliferation of social media. JOHN YANG: Second, the appeals court said the trial judge wrongly excluded evidence the defense said suggested that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was more responsible for the bombing. MIRIAM CONRAD: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar's older brother, had murdered three men in Waltham, Massachusetts, on September 11, 2011. The judge excluded the Waltham murders, explaining that it would be confusing and a waste of time.

If it had not been for Tamerlan, Dzhokhar never would have committed these crimes. If he was not the instigator, if he was not the planner, then he is less culpable. JOHN YANG: In today's oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito seemed to agree with the trial judge. SAMUEL ALITO, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice: At a trial, you don't have these

mini-trials. If a person's on trial for murder X, you don't have a trial about murder Y and murder Z. To what degree can a trial judge in -- at the penalty phase say, we're not going to do this? Because what would happen then is another trial within this trial about what happened at Waltham. JOHN YANG: But Justice Elena Kagan suggested to Deputy Solicitor General Edward (sic) Feigin that the jury should have had the chance to hear it. ELENA KAGAN, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice: Isn't this a classic case in which

the evidence, understood one way, is highly relevant to a mitigation defense, and the evidence understood in the way you just suggested just says, that's crazy, it didn't happen that way? But that's what a jury is supposed to do, isn't it? ERIC FEIGIN, U.S. Deputy Solicitor General: There was going to be no cross-examination here. The only people who might have known what happened in Waltham, both of them were dead. JOHN YANG: Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Feigin about President Biden's opposition to the federal death penalty. AMY CONEY BARRETT, Supreme Court Justice Nominee: But you're here defending his death sentences.

And if you win, presumably, that means that he is relegated to living under threat of a death sentence that the government doesn't plan to carry out. ERIC FEIGIN: What we are asking here is that the sound judgment of 12 of respondent's peers that he warrants capital punishment for his personal acts in murdering and maiming scores of innocents, and along with his brother, hundreds of innocents at the finish line of the Boston Marathon should be respected. JOHN YANG: Marcia Coyle is chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal." MARCIA COYLE, "The National Law Journal": I think the bottom line here is that the court may very well, in a divided opinion, reinstate the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

And I think the court is divided, in terms of the six conservatives being more sympathetic to the government's arguments that the federal appellate court here was wrong to set aside the death penalty for Tsarnaev, and also wrong on how the trial judge should've questioned jurors about the publicity they had experienced. JOHN YANG: The justices are expected to rule by next summer. But no matter what they say, Tsarnaev will die in prison, as the appeals court ruling did not affect his 11 life sentences. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's been two months since the Taliban took control of Kabul and solidified their grip on Afghanistan. Since then, living conditions have deteriorated. The banking system is said to be in freefall and the economy all but collapsing. Afghanistan needs help, and it needs it fast. That was the message from the head of one

of the largest humanitarian aid organizations operating in the country. He spoke with Nick Schifrin. NICK SCHIFRIN: For years, Afghanistan has been heavily dependent on international financial assistance and humanitarian aid.

One of the largest organizations that has been working in Afghanistan is the Norwegian Refugee Council, which provided help to hundreds of thousands of Afghans. But, with the Taliban takeover, the council's ability to help has been severely disrupted, as the weather is beginning to turn cold. Jan Egeland is the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He recently returned from a trip to Kabul. He joins me now. Jan Egeland, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

We have seen these scenes in Kabul, not only of the internally displaced, but of entire families selling all of their furniture simply to stay alive. How desperate is the situation there? JAN EGELAND, Secretary-General, Norwegian Refugee Council: It is beyond desperate, really. Listen, I have been to Afghanistan many times over recent years, always a crisis, violence, horrors, displacement. But, this time, you feel like the whole population is in, like, a freefall. The mothers and the children, the fathers I met in the camps around Kabul, these are people who have fled to Kabul over the years, including now very recently. They told me: We have no reserve. We have no income. There is no food. We will freeze

and starve to death this winter unless aid is able to flow and the public sector is able to resume services, including paying public servants. NICK SCHIFRIN: The U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said this week that the Taliban are cooperating and are allowing humanitarian aid workers to move in the country.

Is the Norwegian Refugee Council able to do what it needs to do? JAN EGELAND: Yes, we are. We have been negotiating access now province by province, not only through the meetings that I and others had with the top Taliban leadership in Kabul. The most important thing has to happen with the leaders, the commanders, the men with the guns locally. They have allowed us unimpeded access, with male and female staff, in one province after the other. I think it's sinking in with them now that the population that they now control are in a desperate situation, and they need our help to help people.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And what are the greatest needs? What are you delivering for that help? JAN EGELAND: No, I mean, now we're in lifesaving modus really. They do not have heating. They do not have shelter. They do not have food at the moment. There's been a collapse in the economy. There is no banking system functioning. We cannot

transfer money to our aid workers. This has to restart again in Afghanistan if we are to save lives. NICK SCHIFRIN: The international community is concerned about supporting the Taliban, about giving the Taliban any kind of recognition. Do you believe aid can be delivered without the Taliban benefiting from it? JAN EGELAND: Yes, it can.

We are in situations all over the world where the rulers, those in control, are not to the liking of our donors. We, as humanitarians, are impartial, neutral, independent. But we can, as international actors, do the direct relief. We can help millions through the U.N. system, the international NGOs there, and the Red Cross, Red Crescent system. But, on top of that, we need to get the public services up

and running again. There are 300,000 publicly funded and paid-for teachers. They were on the payroll of the World Bank, up until now, the health sector as well. Unless there are trust funds held by the U.N. directly funding these teachers and nurses and doctors and water engineers, with the World Bank money which is sitting in Washington, we will fail, because we, as humanitarians, cannot do it all. NICK SCHIFRIN: Well, let's talk about that money sitting in Washington. Senior U.S. officials tell me they're in no rush to unfreeze billions of dollars that have been frozen since the Taliban took over.

Are you saying that the U.S. must unfreeze billions of dollars that are currently being held in order to prevent or at least confront this humanitarian crisis? JAN EGELAND: Yes. Listen, I understand that nobody wants to help their previous enemy, but this money is not for the Taliban. These are the civilian population that were left behind. It's the same women and children who were there before. The urgency has to be given now to the decision-makers. I was not that impressed when I saw that the G20 countries on one hand agreed with me that it is urgent, and then didn't come up with a formula that can be put into practice now.

We don't have -- we don't have weeks. We have days to fix this. NICK SCHIFRIN: And what you're saying is, is what's important, not only to unfreeze the assets, but also banks in Kabul need to be allowed to function again, right? JAN EGELAND: The U.S. needs to take the lead in unfreezing the assets of these banks, so that they will function, so that we can do aid work. They need to unfreeze the funding that needs to go to the public sector. But the two things have to happen in the next days. We have no time to wait, because people

will perish this winter. NICK SCHIFRIN: When you met the Taliban, you told them that they must respect human rights, they must respect women's rights, which is one of the key requirements that the international community says the Taliban have to live up to in order for money to flow. Today, in Northern Afghanistan, we see some girls going to school, but many in Kabul are not. Do you believe the Taliban are respecting human rights? JAN EGELAND: In many places, not.

But in more and more places, we are able now to negotiate what is important, free, unimpeded access to all minorities, religious, ethnic, et cetera for male and female staff. Boys and girls education, also yes. But it's mixed. It has always been mixed. But we are doing a tremendous disservice with the women and children that we are so concerned with if we are sitting now doing a sort of a hands-off exercise, sitting on the fence, and seeing how this moves.

If we wait for the last girls education corner in Afghanistan, we will wait for years. It would be the ultimate insult to these girls that we do not provide food for them because we're still negotiating secondary or tertiary education. NICK SCHIFRIN: Jan Egeland, thank you very much. JAN EGELAND: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Early voting started in the state of Georgia this week, ahead of next month's municipal elections. But almost a year after the 2020 election, some Republicans, including former President Trump, continue to push a false narrative, that there was widespread voter fraud. Today, a superior court judge dismissed a Georgia lawsuit seeking a review of nearly 150,000 absentee ballots from last year. Lisa Desjardins starts with one key county.

LISA DESJARDINS: Judy, many headlines have centered on Fulton County, the most populous in the Peachtree State, home to Atlanta. President Biden won there with more than 70 percent of the vote. This week, as early voting kicked off, two county election workers were fired for shredding about 300 voter registration forms. Those removals were announced by Richard Barron,

the nonpartisan director of elections in Fulton County. And he joins me now. Thank you very much, sir.

Now, Fulton County has been in headlines for years with election problems even before you joined the staff there. But what do you say to people looking at this incident now, conservatives especially, who say, to them, this indicates the system is tainted? How do you respond? RICHARD BARRON, Elections Director, Fulton County, Georgia: Well, I think that it shows that we have employees in place and checks and balances in place that are able to catch something like this. When we became aware of it on -- two employees became suspicious of it on Thursday evening.

And by Friday morning, the three employees had reported this to their supervisors. And from there, we terminated those two staff members. So we took care of it as soon as we knew. LISA DESJARDINS: Did you know if this was intentional, then, by those employees, shredding those documents? RICHARD BARRON: We have no idea of the motivation right now. I mean, that -- what we have done is, we reported it to the district attorney's office as -- almost as soon as we found out, and then we made the call on Monday morning to the secretary of state's office to report it and ask their Office of Investigations to investigate it as well. LISA DESJARDINS: You know that Secretary of State, the Republican, Brad Raffensperger, did make a serious charge about your county this week.

In a statement he wrote: "The Department of Justice needs to take a long look at what Fulton County is doing and how their leadership disenfranchises Fulton voters through incompetence and malfeasance." How do you respond to that, and has the Justice Department reached out? RICHARD BARRON: The Justice Department hasn't reached out. And I'm not surprised. I mean, he's in a tight primary race for next year. And I think his

press release is meant to play to his base. And it's politics. You can't take politics out of this. And that's where we're at with his press release. And it's usually he has set Fulton County up to be his foil. And he likes the relationship

to be adversarial because it benefits him. LISA DESJARDINS: I want to talk about that idea of politics some more. As we reported, this is the largest Democratic-leaning county in the state. The state government

is run by Republicans. And they have made your county the first one for this new sort of controversial way of reviewing elections. And you are currently under a review process in which the state could take over your election board. I'm wondering, are you concerned about any sort of political power play there, or no? RICHARD BARRON: They actually took the time to choose three really good people for this performance review panel. So I'm confident that the process will play out and that the state will find no reason to take over the elections board. LISA DESJARDINS: President Trump continues to criticize your state, even as judges, including one just today, have dismissed lawsuits about fraud.

I want to ask you in a more bigger picture way, what do you think is needed to help Americans trust their own election process more? RICHARD BARRON: Well, I think that there are basically right now a group of elected officials that are scared of their base, and they aren't being honest with people. They aren't leading. They're following their base, rather than leading them and telling them the truth. And I think that's the situation that we have here in Georgia and across the country. I mean, we have seen judges all over the country throw these cases out. The secretary of state's

office provided the judge today with a lot of testimony that showed that they looked at these ballots that -- where there were charges that they were counterfeit. And the judge made his decision partially based on what the secretary of state's investigators already found. And so I think what it did was just affirm the fact that there has been no fraud in this election, and that we need to move forward, rather than continuing to look back, and that the elections in this country are run well, and that they -- that we need to become the model, because, if we keep questioning the system, then we become no better than any Third World country with election issues. LISA DESJARDINS: From the front line there, what's your personal thinking or concern about the state of our democracy right now? RICHARD BARRON: I think it's on shaky ground.

I mean, we need leaders to step up and start speaking the truth to people about the elections. The people that were reelected last year are not questioning the results of their own election. So, there's some hypocrisy there. Be brave enough to speak to their constituents about how the elections are run.

LISA DESJARDINS: Richard Barron, director of elections for Fulton County, Georgia, thank you so much. RICHARD BARRON: You're welcome. Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: Last night, we reported on heightened interest in careers in the medical field, including moves to train more nurses. Tonight, we look at how the shortage of nurses is affecting health care workers and hospitals. In just the past few days, nurses and other workers in Southern California and Oregon authorized a potential strike against Kaiser Permanente, and understaffing is part of those disputes. John Yang is back with a report from South Florida on how shortages are affecting hospitals there.

DAKOTA REDD, Chief Nursing Officer, Hendry Regional Medical Center: And then, tomorrow, we're down midshift again. JOHN YANG: Every morning, chief nursing officer Dakota Redd sits at his desk and plugs holes, moving nurses around on the schedule for the next several days to meet his hospital's daily needs. DAKOTA REDD: If you move Bret to -- back to 11:11, at least you're covered until 11:00, and then we can try to see what we can do at 11:00 to get you some help. JOHN YANG: It's a constant struggle for Redd at Hendry Regional Medical Center. The public hospital serves the largely rural agricultural population around Clewiston, Florida, a small city on the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee, nicknamed America's Sweetest Town for its location in the heart of Florida's sugar industry. The medical center is a major employer in Clewiston and, with 25 beds, the biggest hospital for more than 20 miles.

DAKOTA REDD: We provide primary health care for this community. And so, if we can't provide that care, that means that you may have to travel an additional 30 to 45 minutes to get that care, to seek that care, which is why it's so important that we manage better for rural hospitals, so that we don't lose that. JOHN YANG: Many hospitals serving rural communities like this one were already facing a shortage of nurses before the pandemic. But the past 18 months have put this problem into sharp relief. Mary Mayhew is president of the Florida Hospital Association.

MARY MAYHEW, President, Florida Hospital Association: And, certainly, before the pandemic, we were facing a nursing work force shortage. The pandemic was like a gasoline can over the fire. JOHN YANG: A recent study commissioned by the group found that, before the latest Delta surge, the state had an 11 percent vacancy rate for registered nurses, roughly the same as the national rate. It also found that a quarter of Florida's registered nurses and a third of critical care nurses left positions in the last year, citing job dissatisfaction, burnout, or other opportunities in health care. And it projected that, if current trends remain the same, by 2035, there would be a shortage of nearly 60,000 nurses. MARY MAYHEW: We have nurses that are retiring at younger ages. We have nurses who have left

the intense 24/7 environment of the hospital for other opportunities in the community. And then, certainly, we have nurses that have pursued opportunities with staffing agencies around the country. JOHN YANG: After his morning huddle, Dakota Redd makes his rounds, checking in on his staff to see how they're doing and what they need. DAKOTA REDD: We do have a backup plan, all right? WOMAN: OK.

DAKOTA REDD: Any questions about that? JOHN YANG: The worst of the Delta spike here came over six weeks from August to September. At one point, the 10-bed emergency department had seven patients on ventilators. The day we visited was the first since July without a hospitalized COVID patient.

But Redd says his staff is emotionally and physically drained, and with eight vacancies in the emergency department, about half what he needs, stretched very thin. DAKOTA REDD: The overriding concern is always, do I -- am I giving them enough tools to do their job? Am I providing them with what they need to do what we're ask -- what the ask is? BRITTNEY JOHNSTON, Registered Nurse: I would describe nursing at this time almost like we're going to war. JOHN YANG: For registered nurse Brittney Johnston, a Clewiston native, caring for people she grew up with is one of the joys of working here. But during the Delta surge, it became a source of sadness. BRITTNEY JOHNSTON: In 12 years of my nursing career, I have never -- in this hospital, I have never, never, never seen seven, eight ventilators going on in my emergency department.

This past Friday, I had a classmate of mine. I'm 37 years old. We went to kindergarten together all the way to graduation. And I -- he passed away of COVID. And I was in the room. And I was working. We did a code for over two hours. And the physician just said:

"Can just one person just make it? Can't just want one make it?" JOHN YANG: To deal with short staffing, nurses work extra shifts, and alongside nurses hired on short-term contracts. Right now, these so-called travel nurses are about 40 percent of Hendry's emergency department. High demand for travel nurses during the pandemic means higher salaries than for staff nurses, sometimes leading to resentment and to bigger budget holes for hospitals. But it's an attractive option for staff nurses who feel underpaid, like Tamika Cade. She left Hendry's emergency department after eight years for a nearby travel nurse job.

TAMIKA CADE, Registered Nurse: I'm stressed. I'm burnt out. I'm tired. I'm exhausted. Well, these circumstances are going to be the same anywhere I decide to work. Why not go 55 miles up the road and do the same thing for double the pay? JOHN YANG: In September, she returned to a new position in Hendry's I.T. department, working with nurses on the computer systems they use. She says she's happy to be back, but never would have returned for full-time patient care. TAMIKA CADE: You know what? I needed a break from it for a while, because it took a toll on me. It took a lot out of me. And I just needed a moment, like a minute, to just do

something different besides that, right, because it's a little traumatizing. Let me -- I can't -- there's no other way to put it. WOMAN: How many days have you have COVID? JOHN YANG: But as the Delta surge ebbs, Hendry's nurses fear the trauma of their work is only bound to intensify again.

WOMAN: Yes. And have you had the vaccine? WOMAN: No. WOMAN: No. OK.

JOHN YANG: Especially in an area that's less than 50 percent fully vaccinated. BRITTNEY JOHNSTON: We're just waiting for the next strand to come through and then making sure that we're prepared mentally and physically and emotionally. JOHN YANG: To address the long-term shortages, Mary Mayhew of the Florida Hospital Association says changes can't wait. MARY MAYHEW: Right now, urgently, we need to make sure that our nursing programs in our community colleges and our university system are able to open the gates a little bit wider to add to the number of slots.

We know that there is still great interest, in terms of the number of applications that our nursing schools are receiving. But we have got to expand the capacity to meet that. JOHN YANG: Because, even if COVID eventually does recede, the need for qualified nurses never will. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in Clewiston, Florida.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So concerning. Thank you, John, for that report. And with the flu season coming, many people have wondered about getting the flu shot at the same time as a COVID vaccine or booster shot. You can find answers to some of your COVID questions on our Instagram page. That's @NewsHour. And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening.

For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.

2021-10-16 09:44

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