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A liquid ammonia leak at an industrial refrigeration unit in Shanghai has killed at least 15 people and left six others in critical condition.

NPR's Frank Langfitt says the leak occurred before noon on Saturday at a cold storage facility in the city's northern Baoshan district, which handles seafood.

Besides the six in critical condition, 20 others were injured, according to the Shanghai government.

The Associated Press reports that the government identified the plant as Weng's Cold Storage Industrial Co. Ltd., but gave no further details.

The cause of the leak was not immediately known, the AP said.

As of the end of last month, more than 27,000 people had been killed or had gone missing in workplace accidents in China, according to the government. Officials said that marked a drop of nearly 14 percent from a year ago.

An Indian teen has been sentenced to three years in juvenile detention for the gang-rape of 23-year-old woman who later died in the hospital, the first verdict in a case that has sparked international outrage over the brutal crime.

Police say the convicted 18-year-old was one of five men who lured the 23-year-old victim and her male friend onto a bus in the capital, New Delhi, where she was repeatedly raped and beaten in December.

"He has been convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to three years in a correctional home subject to review," Anil Sharma, the chief investigating officer in the case, said.

According to The Hindustan Times newspaper:

"The defendant, who was 17 at the time of the attack, has been sentenced to three years in a reform home, the maximum sentence he could have faced, his lawyer Rajesh Tewari said. Indian law forbids the publication of his name, though he has since turned 18."


President Obama's contemplation of a military strike in Syria over its suspected use of chemical weapons has roused at least 170 members of Congress to question the constitutionality of such action, and others to urge caution informed by the quagmire of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Few congressional voices, however, may be more resonant than those of the more than 100 military veterans in the House and Senate — particularly the 16 who served in the post-Sept. 11 conflicts in the Middle East, in both combat and non-combat roles.

If there's a single theme emanating from that mostly Republican class of members, it's one characterized by deep reticence — or flat out resistance — to the idea of military intervention without congressional authorization.

The potential that Syria possesses weapons of mass destruction "exists, and is certainly real," says Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), an aviation battalion commander in Iraq, "and that's something service members can understand.

"But the president is going to have to persuade me. We've already let the world know we're coming, leaked the method of delivery, and even though we're hoping for regime change, what are we doing?"

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq veteran who lost her legs in the war, said this Thursday during a trip to Thailand:

"There's a real reluctance among American leadership, and myself especially, in committing our troops to another endless war that we don't know when it's going to end."

Even the most hawkish among the Iraq and Afghanistan vets aren't urging anything resembling the deployment of ground troops.

Many of the recent vets — including Perry and Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a retired Army National Guard command sergeant major — fault the Obama administration for squandering what they consider to be something-short-of-war opportunities over the past three years. In their view, he has failed to build an international coalition, or figure out how to work with difficult but necessary partners like Russia and China to address known atrocities in Syria.

"There have been options missed, opportunities left on the table," Perry says. "No service member wants to be involved in any operation that is ad hoc, that has no plan for success."

Walz, who, like most of his colleagues, is back in his southern Minnesota-based district meeting with constituents during the congressional summer break, says this about the run-up to an imminent strike: "There very well may be a plan and an end game, but it wasn't conveyed to Congress, and it wasn't conveyed to the American people."

The president's fateful August 2012 reference to a "red line" that would be crossed if the Assad regime used chemical weapons has also come in for harsh scrutiny, particularly among Republicans.

"If you're in a crowded theater and the only way to empty that crowded theater is if you yell the word 'red line,' don't do it," Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan who is currently on military duty with the Air National Guard, said at a late June hearing. "Because it has a very powerful meaning if you're president of the United States."

"I think the president drew red lines in the sand, and I think he did it prematurely," said Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a combat pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan, and member of the Armed Services Committee, during a panel discussion this week. "The message he needs to understand is that his authorization to go to war does not come from the United Nations, it does not come from NATO, it does not come from any international organization. His authority comes from the United States Congress, and before we grant him that authority, he needs to define for us what our national security interests are, and so far he has not done that."

While the military will always carry out the commander-in-chief's mission, the veterans say, the point of the undertaking, and its end game, must be clear.

It isn't — not yet, they say, though they consider the administration's Thursday night conference call with congressional leaders a helpful development.

"I think the last 48 hours have been really productive," Walz, who served in Italy providing supply-line security during the Afghanistan War, said Friday morning. "There seems to be a slowing down, a thoughtfulness, a more deliberate attempt" to contemplate the road ahead.

"But I think the decision by the British House of Commons should alert people," he said, referring to the parliamentary vote Thursday against supporting the U.S. in military action in Syria.

"There was never a debate about the atrocious activities of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad," said Walz, who met Assad during a 2009 congressional trip to Syria. "This was about the constitutional way to go about it, so I know and so I can tell my constituents what we're doing."

Among Republicans, Obama faces an additional hurdle. The president's credibility with many recent veterans, explained Perry, the Pennsylvania congressman, is compromised by his past criticism of President George W. Bush's actions and rationale in going to war in Iraq.

"I do think this adds a dimension of hypocrisy," Perry said. "Quite honestly, I don't think the president has any moral high ground, based on his past rhetoric."

Back in 2007, when Obama was an Illinois senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and Bush was considering a military strike in Iran, Obama staked out this unequivocal position to The Boston Globe: "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation ... History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action."

Liberal members of Congress have joined their more conservative colleagues noting that both Obama, whose opposition to the Iraq war helped pave his way to the White House, and Vice President Joe Biden were strident in their assertions that the Constitution does not provide the president with authority to take military action without a direct threat to the nation.

"The president's powers are there for emergencies, when American lives are being threatened," says Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who was a combat surgeon in Iraq and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "A majority of Congress is not informed to the level they would like to be to make a decision. I certainly would want to truly verify that the president's red line had been crossed, especially since Assad is telling the world they've done no such thing."

How many lives will be jeopardized, he asked, how many relationships with allies will be undermined?

Walz, the Minnesota Democrat, described his qualms about the prospect of military strikes this way.

"I'm not sure that having served in the military brings you a special insight — we're all products of our past. But this is very visceral for members who have served. There's a very strong desire that the end game in this is well thought out. It can't be haphazard. The military will execute it, but the civilians better get the mission right."

His words came as the world waits for what are expected to be U.S. missile strikes on military targets inside Syria in coming days.

If a "thug and murderer" such as President Bashar Assad is allowed to do that without consequences, Kerry warned, there will be "no end to the test of our resolve. ... It matters if nothing is done."

In an appearance at the State Department, the secretary also said the death toll from that alleged chemical weapons attack was higher than has been reported. According to Kerry, U.S. intelligence has concluded that 1,429 people were killed. While he was speaking, the White House released some declassified details of what U.S. intelligence officials say they have learned about the attack.

Kerry indicated that a report about the attack from U.N. inspectors now in Syria won't affect the Obama administration's decision about how to hold Assad accountable. The U.N., he said, has stated that its investigators will only be able to determine whether chemical weapons were used — not who gave the order to fire them. What's more, Kerry said, "President Obama will ensure that the United States of American makes our own decisions ... on our own timelines based on our own values and interests."


Where U.S. Allies Stand On A Strike Against Syria

Here are some of the recent news stories that went viral in China that you may have missed:

The man who tried to smuggle his pet turtle onto a plane inside a hamburger box.

The zoo that tried to pass off a Tibetan mastiff as a lion.

And the 1 million cockroaches that escaped from a cockroach "nursery."

Foreign news coverage of China is often deadly serious, focusing on topics such as politics, corruption, pollution and food safety. But China — like the United States — also produces a steady stream of funny, bizarre and outrageous news stories.

And these days, you don't have to read Chinese to enjoy them. A growing number of websites are making these offbeat tales increasingly available to English-speaking audiences.

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As a U.S. military strike on Syria looks increasingly likely in the next few hours or days, various publications are weighing in on what such an attack would accomplish and what would happen next.

Here's a sampling of opinion:

The BBC's Tara McKelvey says

"The US military would most likely use Tomahawk cruise missiles for an attack on the Syrian government forces. These missiles are now stored on destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean.

The missiles would not be fired at places where chemical weapons might be stored, since poisonous gas could spread or chemical agents could fall into the wrong hands.

Instead, military facilities would be targeted - radio centres, command posts and missile launchers, says Douglas Ollivant, who served as an operations officer with the Army's Fifth Cavalry Regiment in Iraq.

The initial military operation would be fast."

Each Friday we round up the big conversations in tech and culture during the week that was. We also revisit the work that appeared on this blog and highlight what we're reading from our fellow technology writers and observers across the Internet.


The Syrian Electronic Army returned to the public consciousness after it was suspected of hacking the domain server of The New York Times, Huffington Post and Twitter. The Times was taken out for some users for upwards of 18 hours. We offered a primer on the group, and what their motivations are (read: political). As fast-food workers protested across the country, it reminded us of automated fast-food restaurants in places like Amsterdam. Our weekly innovation pick was the cuddle mattress. The design lets your arm fall in between slats so it doesn't go numb while cuddling your partner.

On the air, Steve Henn explained the #NSAPickupLines that are all the rage in the twitterverse, Laura Sydell explored whether streaming music can make real money, and I reported on bossless offices — a move in the tech industry toward flatter hierarchies and team-based management in order to facilitate faster innovation. It's especially timely now, as the reports about Microsoft's unappealing workplace culture seem the complete opposite from emerging tech companies, like Medium.

The Big Conversation(s)

The week led off with news that the digital divide persists. Results from the annual Pew Research Center study on broadband penetration reveals 30 percent of American adults still aren't connected to high-speed broadband, either because of choice — those above age 70 are least likely to be connected — or because of socioeconomic status. But smartphones are making inroads. Ten percent of Americans say they don't have broadband at home but access the Intenet via smartphone. Midweek, news that Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife were splitting, reportedly because of his relationship with a Google Glass marketing officer led to personality-based intrigue that spilled into larger business questions. That's because, as Quartz's Christopher Mims details, a top Google employee's "defection" to work for the "Apple of China" is entangled with Brin's love life.

What's Catching Our Eye

The Columbus Dispatch: DeWine Backs Use of Facial Recognition Software

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's having to review law enforcement's use of facial recognition software. The program matches suspects' photos with those in the Ohio driver's license photo database; civil liberties groups and some Ohioans are crying foul.

Salon: Will robots make us sexist?

Salon makes a case for how robots are confirming gender norms rather than challenging them.

CNNMoney: Facebook friends could change your credit score

Some lenders see social connections as a good indicator of a person's creditworthiness, but a credit expert says FICO scores are a better predictor of lending risk.

Most kids leave Santa cookies. My brother and I would try to bribe him with an extra treat: a couple leftover pierogi from our Christmas Eve dinner.

Instead of sugar plums, pierogi danced in my head. And while I never admitted it in my letter to Santa, I was an accomplished pierogi thief. While they were kept warm on the stove ahead of our guests' arrival, I could lift the cover to the pan that cradled them without making a sound, liberating one to scarf down before my Polish mother walked back into the kitchen. My lips gleamed with a mix of butter and Bonnie Bell lip gloss.

I don't pilfer pierogi ahead of dinner anymore. I recognize now that everyone should get an equal taste of this dumpling joy. And I now savor each bite, especially the bites where the edges have become perfectly crisp.

Like chef Marta Mirecki in Allison Aubrey's Morning Edition story (you can hear the story by clicking on the audio above), I am a first-generation Polish American. While I have adored pierogi since I can remember, my heightened appreciation didn't happen until I actually started to help my mom make them. My arms were sore for days after the first time.

It turns out a rolling pin and pierogi dough can rival any upper-arm workout. The dough needs to be rolled thin so it doesn't overpower the precious filling inside. There's nothing fast about the pierogi process. Once the dough is perfectly rolled out, it's time to grab a drinking glass, flip it over and use the rim to cut out circles. Those circles come to embrace the perfect kiss of filling — the possibilities are endless.

Sweetened farmer's cheese? Yes.

Mashed potatoes and cheese? Of course.


Director: Courtney Solomon

Genre: Action, Crime

Running Time: 90 minutes

Rated PG-13 for intense action, violence and mayhem throughout, some rude gestures, and language

With: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, Paul Freeman

The White House says President Obama will issue two new executive orders on guns — one to curb the import of military surplus weapons and another that closes a loophole allowing some felons to get around background checks.

The two actions — to be announced by Vice President Joe Biden at the swearing-in of Todd Jones, the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — will join 23 others that the president has issued in an effort to reduce gun violence.

They are part of a set of recommendations from the vice president unveiled in January.

"Even as Congress fails to act on common-sense proposals, like expanding criminal background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, the President and Vice President remain committed to using all the tools in their power to make progress toward reducing gun violence," the White House said in a statement on Thursday.

According to the statement, "felons, domestic abusers, and others prohibited from having guns" can skirt background checks by registering the weapon as a trust or corporation.

"The proposed rule requires individuals associated with trusts or corporations that acquire these types of weapons to undergo background checks, just as these individuals would if the weapons were registered to them individually," the statement says.

The second would halt a practice of special approvals to import U.S.-made military weapons from other countries. The White House says since 2005, the government has authorized the re-importation of more than 250,000 such firearms.

The new policy would "deny requests to bring military-grade firearms back into the United States to private entities, with only a few exceptions such as for museums," the statement says.

Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. issued a deeper explanation for the technical problems that halted trading for three hours last week.

As Reuters and Bloomberg explain it, Nasdaq's systems were overwhelmed when ARCA, the all-electronic exchange owned by the NYSE, deluged it with data. The vast amount of data exposed a "latent flaw" in the Nasdaq system that "receives all traffic on quotes and orders for stocks on the exchange."

Bloomberg adds:

"Today's report amplifies previous public statements by Nasdaq about what led it to freeze trading in about 3,300 stocks both on its own platform and others where equities change hands in America. The disruption underscored how quickly the integrity of the U.S. market, which has a value of about $20 trillion, can be subverted as orders to buy and sell shares are matched on more than 50 exchanges and alternative electronic venues.

"'Any piece of software, even if it's run for 100 percent for 10 years, there's still flaws in it.,' Nasdaq CEO Robert Greifeld said in an interview with Bloomberg News. 'Whatever you have, it's a question of what unique set of circumstances happen to reveal that.'"

There's no question that dealing with mortgages, car payments and other bills takes up time and energy. But having a tight budget may also zap our ability to think clearly, scientists report Thursday in the journal Science.

In a series of clever experiments involving farmers in India and shoppers in New Jersey, scientists found that people are worse at solving puzzles — similar to those on the IQ test — when they're first reminded of money problems.

"Financial constraints capture a lot of your attention," says Eldar Shafir, a psychologist at Princeton University, who helped lead the study. "Then there's less bandwidth left to solve problems. Your cognitive ability starts to slow down, just like a computer."

And the effect is big. After a quick reminder about money issues, people's performance on the puzzles drops down by at least a quarter — or approximately the same mental hit a person takes after staying up all night.

Shots - Health News

Teachers' Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform


For an introduction to India's cultural and culinary delights, you might hop a flight to Delhi or book a trip to Mumbai. But to meet the country sans passport free of airport indignities, you could just curl up with the crime novels of Tarquin Hall.

Vish Puri, Hall's opinionated private investigator, is a 50-something Punjabi super sleuth with a fondness for family and food. The mustachioed detective cracks open India's underbelly with a caseload that delves into forbidden love, corruption in Indian cricket and the deadly clash between science and superstition.

Kristen Johnson is no "lovely" magician's assistant. She's Lady Houdini, an escape artist who has successfully performed thousands of public feats and has broken Harry Houdini's record for most water escapes ever.

"Kristen Johnson is currently the only female anywhere in the world attempting the water torture cell," says her husband, magician Kevin Ridgeway, to an audience at the Western Idaho State Fair in Boise. "Additionally, she is the first person in history — male or female — to ever attempt this escape in full view."

Johnson calmly walks on stage, slips off her heels and climbs the ladder to the top of a clear cylinder.

The grandstands go quiet as Ridgeway shackles his wife's ankles and wrists. Two heavy metal chains crisscross her torso, locked in place with four padlocks. Lady Houdini puts her feet in the chilly water. She closes her eyes and begins to breathe deeply. And with a final breath, she plunges into the water.

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For an introduction to India's cultural and culinary delights, you might hop a flight to Delhi or book a trip to Mumbai. But to meet the country sans passport free of airport indignities, you could just curl up with the crime novels of Tarquin Hall.

Vish Puri, Hall's opinionated private investigator, is a 50-something Punjabi super sleuth with a fondness for family and food. The mustachioed detective cracks open India's underbelly with a caseload that delves into forbidden love, corruption in Indian cricket and the deadly clash between science and superstition.

On conversations with the subjects, decades after the experiment

"[Bill Menold] doesn't sound resentful. I'd say he sounds thoughtful and he has reflected a lot on the experiment and the impact that it's had on him and what it meant at the time. I did interview someone else who had been disobedient in the experiment but still very much resented 50 years later that he'd never been de-hoaxed at the time and he found that really unacceptable."

On the problem that one of social psychology's most famous findings cannot be replicated

"I think it leaves social psychology in a difficult situation. ... it is such an iconic experiment. And I think it really leads to the question of why it is that we continue to refer to and believe in Milgram's results. I think the reason that Milgram's experiment is still so famous today is because in a way it's like a powerful parable. It's so widely known and so often quoted that it's taken on a life of its own. ... This experiment and this story about ourselves plays some role for us 50 years later."

All week, we've been talking about dumplings — from tortellini's sensual origins in Italy to kubbeh's tasty variations in Israel.

But perhaps no country has a longer history or greater variety of dumplings than China. Dumplings come in all shapes and with every imaginable filling. They are served at everything from a humble family meal to elaborate works of culinary art.

At the high end of the scale is the Defachang restaurant in northwest China's Xi'an city.

It is famous for serving up 318 varieties of dumplings — a world record.

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The threat of furloughs loomed large early in 2013, when mandatory budget cuts seemed certain to force federal workers to skip anywhere from 10 to 22 days of work without pay this year. A new tally by Federal News Radio shows that many agencies have taken fewer than half the days they had predicted.

"While some agencies anticipated many furlough days, the actual number turned out to be much smaller," writes Federal News Radio's Michael O'Connell. "Other agencies were able to find savings elsewhere and avoid furloughs altogether."

Update at 9:15 a.m. Aug. 27: Furloughs In The Courts

In addition to the agencies we first reported on, furloughs have had a large impact on workers in the federal judiciary, as readers' comments show.

One reader who works as a federal public defender wrote in to say he had just taken his tenth furlough day of 2013. He added a link to a report by the American Bar Association and the Government Accountability Office listing furloughs and other cuts that stemmed from sequestration this year; it shows that in some offices, employees are enduring weeks' worth of furloughs. But even that report is not exhaustive, as its authors note.

Gauging the effect of furloughs on federal employees is complicated by the size of the workforce and agencies in question, and by the seeming lack of a mechanism for furloughs to be reported, compiled, and listed at a central location.

Our original post continues:

As of last week, O'Connell reports, the agency that has taken the most furlough days is the Office of Management and Budget, with seven. The Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency have each taken six, he says.

Earlier this year, all three agencies had predicted double-digit furlough days — 22 for Defense, and 10 for the EPA and the OMB.

That's the information we glean from O'Connell's article, and the Federal News Radio's Furlough Tracker. The news agency's rundown of furlough days isn't an official tally, we should note; some agencies have been more forthcoming with their data than others. If you have better information than what we're presenting here, please share it in the comments section below.

When the Federal Aviation Administration embarked on its furlough schedule this summer — and reports of flight delays immediately rolled in — Congress acted quickly to give the agency more budget flexibility, allowing it to avoid the furloughs.

Some of the agencies that reportedly avoided furloughs altogether are the Department of Agriculture, the Education Department, the Customs and Border Protection agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the news service reports.

Many federal agencies reduced spending and expenses to reduce or eliminate the need to impose furloughs on their employees. Several agencies have canceled furlough days as the end of the current financial year on Sept. 30 approaches.

Furloughs have also had an effect on two lesser-known entities: the Merit Systems Protection Board, which has received more than 30,000 furlough appeals in 2013; and the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, which warns that it may no longer be able to give emergency loans to furloughed employees, after receiving 750 loan requests since May, Federal News reports.

It's been a good year for Tesla Motors, the luxury electric car maker, particularly in California, where it's selling more cars than Porsche, Jaguar, Lincoln, or Buick. In 2013, the company has sold 4,714 cars in the state, according to the California New Car Dealers Association.

Here's a rundown of the state's vehicle sales rankings:

Tesla: 4,714

Porsche: 4,586

Land Rover: 4,022

Volvo: 2,982

Lincoln: 2,230

In California, Tesla also sold more vehicles than Buick, Fiat, or Mitsubishi (in descending order). And it's within shouting distance of Cadillac, which has sold 6,805 vehicles in the state this year.

The car industry has seen strong results in California, where sales gains in the past year easily exceed those in America overall.

"New light vehicle registrations (including retail and fleet transactions) in California increased 12.5 percent during the first six months of this year versus a year earlier," the association reports, "higher than the 7.7 percent improvement in the U.S. market."

We first spotted this story over at CNBC, which also puts Tesla's strong showing in context — the Model S isn't about to challenge the Camry or Accord — or the Impala — for market dominance.

"Toyota Motor and Honda Motor are California's biggest seller this year, at 157,035 and 100,416, respectively," the site's Marty Steinberg reports.

The Tesla Model S's sticker price is around $63,000, including a federal tax credit of $7,500. As we reported last June, Tesla claims a combined mileage of 89 mpg for the car, which can reach 60 mph in under six seconds.

Last week, Tesla announced that in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash safety tests, its Model S "set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants," compared to other sedans, minivans, and SUVs.

Part of the credit, the company said, goes to a large front "crumple zone" — in this case, a storage space where most gasoline-powered cars keep an engine.

Losia Nyankale, 29, didn't mean to make a career in the restaurant business. But after Nyankale was in college for two years, her mom lost her job as a schoolteacher and could no longer pay tuition. Then, Nyankale's temp jobs in bookkeeping dried up in the recession. So she went back to her standby — restaurant work.

"I did some kitchen work. The pantries or the salad station," she says. "I've also managed, supervised, wash[ed] dishes."

These days, after her waitressing shift in a tony Washington, D.C., neighborhood, Nyankale picks up her 5-year-old son from school and her 4-year-old daughter from day care. Then it's an hourlong trek on the subway and bus to Nyankale's third-floor walk-up apartment. She and the children's father are separated, and he takes the kids on weekends.

Nyankale, who started out in fast food, joined such workers in a protest march in New York this past spring. The union-backed movement is asking for the right to organize and for a pay increase to $15 per hour.

Nyankale is actually luckier than many restaurant workers; with tips, she can sometimes make that much. But she has cut back her hours — to 25 a week — to allow time with her children. The only way she can make ends meet now, she says, is through food stamps and subsidies for rent and child care.

Traditionally, the food and restaurant industry has been an entry point for young people, who then move up. But today, according to government figures, the average such employee is 29 years old. And, like Nyankale, nearly a quarter of them are parents.

Juggling Jobs, Long Hours

Nyankale has tried working more. When the kids were very young, she juggled two part-time waitressing jobs, routinely getting off at 1 or 2 a.m. To find cheap child care at that hour, she went on Craigslist, but the women offering to watch kids in their homes were hit or miss.

"You'd show up at the door and they're not home," Nyankale says. "And then if you're trying to potty train [the children, the sitter's] not doing anything, or you pick up your child and your hand's soaked because their diaper hasn't been changed."

Nyankale tears up thinking about it. "You know, there were times where I just went to work just to pay for my babysitter," she says.

In fact, some restaurant workers say they pay more than one-third of their income for child care, says Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the worker advocacy group the Restaurant Opportunities Center.

She says most restaurant workers are part time, which means no paid time off. So when a child gets sick, "it creates a real crisis. Basically, lose your job and go get your child," Jayaraman says. "Or, scramble to try to find some informal care that might be able to go get your child for you."

Jayaraman supports a bill to raise the minimum wage to just over $10. So far, there's not enough congressional support to pass that, let alone the $15 per hour that fast-food workers are striking for.

The Case Against Higher Wages

Industry officials say a sharp increase in the minimum wage would kill jobs.

"Doubling the minimum wage is absolutely, positively going to reduce the number of jobs," says Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs at the National Restaurant Association. He says the industry is proud that one-third of all American adults got their start in restaurant jobs. Part-time work and flexible schedules are a big attraction for many, he says, and he points out that half of those making the minimum wage are teenagers.

Above all, DeFife says, the restaurant industry offers opportunity. "It's there for people who have had economic difficulties in the past, or who may not have finished four years of a college or university program," he says.

But some workers say they find it impossible to get ahead making the minimum wage.

Constantly Behind On Bills

"I been cooking all my life. My grandmother, at like 5 years old, threw me in the kitchen," says Christopher Drumgold of Detroit. The 32-year-old father of two is a kitchen worker at a McDonald's and makes $7.40 an hour, Michigan's minimum wage.

Drumgold wanted to make a career of cooking and spent six months at the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Las Vegas. But he worked as an overnight security guard to pay tuition and couldn't keep up with his classes. Nearly a decade of restaurant work later, Drumgold's pay has hovered between $6 and $9 an hour — hardly enough to support himself, he says, let alone his two children.

"The day care I send my kids to, they have an overnight stay," Drumgold says. "The monthly charge comes to near, like, $100" for each child, he says. He's constantly behind on bills and must sometimes decide between spending what he has on food or on rent.

Drumgold plans to join nationwide strike marches on Thursday, even if the fight for higher wages is a long one. He hopes his kids don't spend their working life in fast food. But if they have to, he says, they should be able to make a better living at it than he can.

NPR's Larry Abramson is traveling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is in Brunei's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Plus. Larry sent us this dispatch:

You cannot hear the drums of war here in Brunei, but you can hear the surf from the Brunei coast, or the sounds of splashing from the humungous pools here at the Empire Hotel and Country Club.

Did you know it takes 12,285,000 liters of water to fill up the pools? It says so right here in my Passport to the Empire, a guidebook to this very showy marble palace that is hosting the man who will help direct an attack on Syria, if and when it happens. It is a strange setting, a marble-lined showcase for this very oil-rich sultanate and its ruler, the supremely untweetable Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien.

This meeting will not address Syria, which is thousands of miles away. But the Middle East crisis has hijacked the headlines, making it difficult for the Pentagon to get out its message: that the U.S. is committed to its "rebalance" toward the Asia-Pacific despite budget difficulties and the fact that old conflicts keep demanding U.S. attention.

The Japanese defense minister tells Hagel he appreciates U.S. attendance here despite the news from Syria. This occurs during the many "bilats" the Pentagon holds. A "bilat" is a half hour or so conclave in a gilded room. A "pull-aside" is shorter. (Two "pull-asides" equal one "bilat," in case you're converting). But the slow process of diplomacy cannot compete with the anticipation of military conflict.

The military emphasizes that it spends more time avoiding war than preparing for it, and meetings such as this one are supposed to be a good example.

The U.S. is helping ASEAN develop a "code of conduct" that will help avert even small misunderstandings — such as collisions of ships at sea — that could lead to larger conflagrations. But of course the Pentagon is also here to announce military sales, such as a plan announced this week to deliver Apache helicopters to Indonesia, or to offer the training that local governments eagerly seek for their nascent military forces.

With great power comes great responsibility. Small countries with rising economies feel they need to back their wealth with the threat of force if they are to hold onto their gains. But once they acquire the toys of war, they may also feel the pressure to use them, something the U.S. military is feeling once again.

Even as Dr. Donald Berwick runs for governor of Massachusetts, he's got a firm foothold in his former life as an expert on health quality.

Berwick, most recently known as the acting chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, was the founder and longtime CEO of the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement. And it was more in the role of health care troubleshooter that British Prime Minister David Cameron asked Berwick for his recommendations for restoring confidence in the English health system after higher-than-expected death rates at one hospital rocked the country.

The result? Berwick's "Letter to the people of England" early this month, explaining his call for continuous learning without blame as the fastest route to improve quality within the National Health Service. Berwick spoke, by phone, to a group of reporters about his work in the U.K., the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and his candidacy in Massachusetts.

Here are edited highlights from the call.

How do you think this report relates to people in Massachusetts. What do they take away from it?

Well ... this report is not part of the campaign; I had agreed to do it prior to the announcement. But this is about large system change, I mean, here you have a system with 1.4 million employees. That's the size of the NHS spending 100 billion pounds [approx. $160 billion]. So it's a very relevant experience. I obviously was dealing with very senior leaders in a politicized environment, which of course as governor I would be doing constantly and helping build consensus.

You know that your work in the U.K. was thrown back at you as a critique in Washington. I wonder how you read the climate in Massachusetts for drawing lessons from work, like what you've done in this report?

Well, first the critique in Washington always felt to me, more or less hogwash. It was more demagogic than informed. I did work [his work goes back to the mid-90s, he was knighted in 2005] with the NHS, I'm proud to have done that, it's a good system with flaws. They brought me there because of their flaws and what they wanted is to continually improve. It is not the case that you can take a system from one country, or from one state, let alone the country, and just import it to another one, so that was pretty much fabricated, the idea that somehow I had a plot with the NHS. I'm proud of that work.

I think Massachusetts is a state that has a history of learning and growth and development and one of the ways you do that is by reaching out and learning what others are doing. We don't have a Mid Staffordshire problem of that exact type here in Massachusetts.

Was this a pro bono thing [the work for NHS], or did you get a substantial sum for it?

A: It was pro bono. I got no fee for this at all. I felt it was an honor to be able to do it, and this is a very valued system in that country and I was happy to be asked. Indeed, the whole committee worked pro bono, that's very important to know.

I'd love to get your take on the state of play of the Affordable Care Act now. On the one hand, you have predictions of disaster, on the other hand, you have the administration saying, "It's going to work, we're going to wait and see." And people will see once it's implemented. I'd like your critique.

It really is true that I do not have an inside wire to information from CMS or for that matter, the White House. In many cases, you know more than I do. But my feelings right now, two things: First is, the Affordable Care Act has already done very important things for millions and millions of Americans. People have prevention coverage they never would've had without this bill, people can get access to prescription drugs they couldn't have had, insurance companies are under more and proper surveillance, kids no longer have a pre-existing condition threat when getting insurance, and as of next year, that'll be true for anyone that wants insurance.

Massachusetts itself has gotten millions of dollars for prevention funds, for maternal and child care, for people to get access to better care. If the Republicans or anyone tried to take this law away, I think there'd be a sudden outpouring of rage as people realized what they were losing, what they've already gotten.

For the future, it's a complex endeavor, we're taking a $2.6 trillion system that serves the entire nation and trying to turn it into something that is universal, that is higher quality, that is more accountable, that is oriented toward outcomes not volume. That's a big deal, and of course there'll be adjustments.

As I watch – as an outsider now – the president make decisions about changes in timing, the delay of the employer mandates, for example, I don't – of course there'll be adjustments, they're making decisions about how to help a very complicated thing get done well, I can't second guess that.

I think this story is going to play out over time as a very important positive move for the country, and that the people who are trying to take the law away are not going to meet a happy public.

The administration's posture seems to be, "Well, we will let the people judge for themselves as it takes effect," and they don't seem to have done a very good sales job explaining how the benefits work, why you need a mandate if you're going to get rid of [insurance exemptions for] preexisting conditions, any of those tensions. Do you feel that they have sold this thing well?

I agree. I think there was, for reasons that are not clear to me, something that was missed in terms of explaining to the public, and helping the average person in the public understand how good this thing is, how much benefit this is going to bring to our nation, to our neighbors, to each individual. Why? I don't know. The story is a very important story.

When I was able to get out and about, when I traveled the country as CMS administrator, to town hall meetings and meetings with providers or beneficiaries, it took five minutes to bring them around and help them see what they were really getting because of this law. It's a very, very good piece of legislation despite the inevitable changes and tweaks that are going to be needed over time.

I think some opportunity was missed. I've seen in the efforts of [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius] over the past year, and the outreach now to get people enrolled, a really great story in terms of helping people understand what's possible. But if we could go back to square one, I think a different, better messaging effort would've taken off.

As President Obama weighs a possible limited military strike against Syria, he may want to consider the track record of his predecessors on this front. It's not encouraging.

The Obama administration and several before it have seen limited attacks as a way to send a tough message without drawing the U.S. into a larger conflict.

But critics say such strikes rarely, if ever, inflict serious damage or change the behavior of those targeted. And worse, limited U.S. military action has been followed by some of the deadliest attacks against American targets over the past three decades.

"If this is indeed the sort of attack on Syria that the president is contemplating, it is not likely to be very effective," writes Mark Katz, a professor at George Mason University and a frequent commentator on the Middle East. "Indeed, it may encourage [President Bashar Assad] to launch even more chemical weapons attacks due to the belief that while US retaliation may be annoying, it will not threaten the survival of his regime."

Here's a list of several limited U.S. strikes in recent decades:

Lebanon, 1983: U.S. warships in the Mediterranean shelled Beirut for several days in support of the Lebanese army, which was led by Christians fighting Muslim factions in the country's anarchic civil war. A month after the U.S. shelling, Shiite Muslim suicide bombers struck at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, killing 241 Marines. This remains the biggest loss of life of U.S. military personnel on a single day since World War II.

President Reagan subsequently ordered the Marines out of Lebanon in February 1984; the Lebanese civil war carried on for six more years. A military committee appointed by Reagan found that American commanders believed the U.S. shelling of Beirut led to the bombing of the Marine barracks.

Libya, 1986: Libya was implicated in the deadly bombing of a disco in Berlin frequented by U.S. servicemen. In response, Reagan ordered a one-night bombing raid on Libya, which targeted the compound of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The Libyan leader survived, and two years later, in December 1988, a Pan Am plane was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people on the plane and the ground. Many of the dead were Americans. After a protracted international legal fight, Libya acknowledged involvement and paid compensation of $1.5 billion in 2008. Gadhafi remained in power until 2011, when a more sustained NATO air campaign helped rebels drive him from power.

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Saying that there are "no plausible alternative scenarios," the U.K.'s Joint Intelligence Organisation released a statement Thursday to support the conclusion reached by U.S. and British officials that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is responsible for what's said to have been a chemical weapons attack last week near Damascus.

That attack, U.S. and British officials say, killed more than 300 people and may have injured several thousand more.

The statement — in the form of a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron — notes that "it is being claimed, including by the regime, that the attacks were either faked or undertaken by the Syrian Armed Opposition." But, it continues, "there is no credible intelligence or other evidence to substantiate the claims or the possession of [chemical weapons] by the opposition."

The language echoes that of the Obama administration.

According to the British report, Assad's regime has also used chemical weapons "on a smaller scale on at least 14 occasions in the past."

The statement's release was timed to precede a vote in Parliament over whether Britain should take part in any military strike on Syria.

As we noted earlier, The Associated Press is reporting that some U.S. intelligence officials are cautioning that the intelligence linking the regime to the attack is not a "slam dunk."

British Intelligence Statement on Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria

The New York Times' website isn't working for us, and many other users, again this morning. As All Tech Considered reported Tuesday evening, the Times appears to be the victim of another hacking by the Syrian Electronic Army — a pro-Assad organization that has previously taken over the websites of other U.S. news organizations, including NPR.

The Times has created an alternate website to display its stories. Click here to get there. Among the top stories there as of 7 a.m. ET:

— "Obama Weighs 'Limited' Strikes Against Syrian Forces."

— "Arab League Rejects Attack Against Syria."

— "Strike on Syria Would Lead to Retaliation on Israel, Iran Warns."

— "Merrill Lynch in Big Payout for Bias Case."

— "Times Site Is Disrupted in Attack by Hackers."

"Without the songs of the movement, personally I believe that there wouldn't have been a movement," says Rutha Mae Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers.

Fifty years ago, the Freedom Singers performed along with artists like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Mahalia Jackson at the March on Washington.

The group came together in Albany, Georgia in 1962. Their mission was to raise money and awareness for the civil rights movement. It's a journey that took them more than 50,000 miles, across over 40 states in less than a year.

Harris tells NPR's Michel Martin that the Freedom Singers were in California when they got a call to board a plane that Harry Belafonte had chartered.

"That's how we got to the March on Washington. We were on the plane with all these movie stars. And the five of us had our own room on the plane," she says. "We thought we were in high heaven."

Conan O'Brien has probably had the most unusual career trajectory of any current late-night host. When he joined NBC's Late Night in 1993, replacing David Letterman, he had virtually no on-air experience. He did, however, have comedy-writing chops: O'Brien edited the humor magazine The Harvard Lampoon as a student, then wrote for Saturday Night Live and was a writer and producer for The Simpsons.

Although it took him a while to get comfortable in front of the camera — many critics initially gave him bad reviews — he eventually did so well on Late Night that he became the host of The Tonight Show in 2009, after Jay Leno's ill-fated move to prime time. But that arrangement was short-lived: Leno's show was canceled, the host moved back to Tonight, and O'Brien eventually landed at TBS in the 11 p.m. slot.

O'Brien spoke with Fresh Air's Terry Gross in 2003, a few days before a special broadcast celebrating his 10th anniversary at Late Night.

In the flood of stories about Steve Ballmer's time at the helm of Microsoft, a troubling symbol of the company's office culture keeps emerging. It's called "stack ranking," a system that had corrosive effects on Microsoft employees by encouraging workers to play office politics at the expense of focusing on creative, substantive work. Kurt Eichenwald explained the system in a Vanity Fair feature last year:

"The system — also referred to as 'the performance model,' 'the bell curve,' or just 'the employee review' — has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor. ...

"For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings. ...

" 'The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,' one Microsoft engineer said. 'People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people's efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn't get ahead of me on the rankings.'

"Worse, because the reviews came every six months, employees and their supervisors — who were also ranked — focused on their short-term performance, rather than on longer efforts to innovate."

The College Kid

Rico Saccoccio is a junior at Fordham University in the Bronx. He's from a middle-class family in Connecticut and he spent the summer living at home with his parents, who cover about $15,000 a year in his college costs.

According to the U.S. government, Saccoccio is living in poverty. The $8,000 he earns doing odd jobs puts him well below the $11,945 poverty threshold for an individual. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that more than half of all college students who are living off campus and not at home are poor.

Saccoccio has lots of student loans and lives off campus in a Bronx apartment where the elevator, heat and hot water don't always work. Sometimes, he microwaves water in Tupperware to wash his hair.

Still, he says, "I really don't think of the 'poor college' kid as actually somebody who is in poverty. ... It's a temporary investment, and you don't have to live like you do in college after you leave school."

The Single Mom

Marion Matthew, a home health aide and single mom, also lives in the Bronx. She relies on a local food pantry and government benefits like food stamps and housing assistance to support herself and her 17-year-old son.

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Colorado's politics have become positively Californian lately. There are new restrictions on guns. Pot has become legal. The legislative agenda featured an expansion of alternative-energy use requirements for rural consumers. Gay couples can now enter into civil unions.

There's a reason for all this.

Lots of Californians have moved to Denver and its environs, bringing a progressive strain of politics with them and angering more conservative parts of the state — so much so that 10 northeastern counties are planning symbolic but serious votes on secession this fall.

They've discovered that living on the far side of the Rockies is no longer far enough to get away from the influence of West Coast liberals.

"California migration, to a degree, has altered Colorado politics," says Mike Krause, vice president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver. "I see California license plates in my neighborhood and on my commute all the time."

He's called state workers "corrupt." He's joked about blowing up a local newspaper office and used a rape-sans-Vaseline analogy to describe a Democratic legislator's actions.

In his most recent flap, Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage may or may not have accused President Obama of hating white people. Accounts vary.

Since his election three years ago, LePage, 64, has shown an uncanny knack for the crude comeback, the racially insensitive remark, the just plain old bluster-and-fume routine.

And it's catching up to him as he prepares for re-election in 2014.

He drew unflattering national attention last week for his Obama comment — a remark two Republican lawmakers alleged the governor made at a private GOP fundraiser. LePage initially denied saying it, but he subsequently apologized to his party for "any difficulty" caused by the "recently reported" remarks.

The governor's approval rating remains perilously low at 39 percent, compared with 56 percent who disapprove of his job performance, according to a new poll.

"He's hurting Maine's reputation, nationally and internationally," says Andrew Ian Dodge, a former Tea Party activist and unsuccessful independent candidate in the state's 2012 race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Hope In A Three-Way Race

Despite the eye-rolling and public scoldings that have followed LePage's more crude and incendiary pronouncements (he once compared the IRS to Nazi Germany's secret police and also once said Obama could "go to hell") and his low standing in the polls, there's reason for the governor's supporters to remain hopeful.

With two other declared candidates running, Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, it's a best-case scenario for the incumbent. His opponents are poised to divide the anti-LePage vote between them, enabling the governor to win with a plurality.

That's how LePage, one of only two Republican governors in the Northeast (the other is New Jersey's Chris Christie), won the first time. He captured 38.3 percent of the vote in 2010's three-person gubernatorial race.

But a poll released Tuesday by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shop showed LePage trailing Michaud, 39 percent to 35 percent. The Democrat has benefited from Cutler's declining support — from 26 percent in January to 18 percent.

Cutler, a lawyer seeking to become the state's third independent governor, finished a close second to LePage in 2010.

"Gov. LePage's [level of] popularity is holding constant, and that's really the remarkable thing," says Scott Moody, who heads the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative, free-market think tank.

One reason is the governor's compelling life story. The eldest of 18 children, born into poverty and raised in a home with an alcoholic, abusive father, he rose to mayor of Waterville, and then became Maine's first Franco-American governor.

Moody said he believes that LePage's problems with Maine voters are overstated by the media and pundits, particularly those from outside the state.

"If you travel the state, in the south, in Portland, you would think that the fact he's made these comments that it would be the end of the governor, for sure," Moody says. "You go to northern Maine, where most of the born-Mainers live, and you'll find they're appreciative of his remarks. They see him as standing up for the average Mainers."

Michaud, however, presents a special challenge: His congressional district encompasses most of the state, including all of its northern reaches and its most rural areas. He won his fifth term in 2010, defeating his Republican opponent by more than 10 points.

LePage's re-election path becomes significantly more difficult if Cutler drops out. Democrats privately are crossing their fingers that Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who served two terms as governor from 1995 to 2003, will persuade his friend, Cutler, to end his campaign.

Moody agrees that a Cutler-less race would be problematic for the incumbent governor.

"If it's a two-way race between Mike Michaud and the governor, I think it would be very, very hard for him," Moody says. "Between now and 2014, a lot can happen."

Disillusioned Liberty Voters

Part of LePage's problem is that he's facing an attack on a new front, from a cadre of the libertarian and Tea Party Republicans who helped him eke out his 2010 win.

"People had a lot of high hopes," says Mark Willis, a former Republican National Committee member from Maine, who recently resigned from the party amid a dispute over its direction.

"Something has changed," Willis said. "We do not like the direction we're going; it's not the direction we expected from the governor and his administration."

Willis says his beef centers on what he describes as "liberty" issues the governor has not embraced.

LePage vetoed a bill that would have banned law enforcement from using drones without a search warrant — legislation championed by libertarian Republicans. He also vetoed a bill that would have allowed the unlicensed sale of raw milk and rejected legislation calling for an Internet sales tax study, arguing that the issue should be settled at the federal level.

The governor's endorsement of Common Core federal educational standards, a cause which libertarians have taken up against, has also angered former allies.

"This all gives people the opportunity to point fingers at him," says Sam Canders, who joined Willis in leaving the Republican Party to join the state's majority of registered voters who aren't enrolled in any party.

Canders, a member of the state delegation to the 2012 Republican National Convention (and, like Willis, a Ron Paul delegate), said he himself has thought about running for governor.

"I think it's wide open," he said.

Moody warns that Republicans "need to keep the big picture in mind" — and that doesn't mean committing party fratricide over raw milk or the Internet tax debate.

"The governor's stable popularity is a testament to his policies, which have been popular. That's why the attacks are on him personally," he says. "Tax reductions, pension reform, health care reform, charter school legislation — policywise, he's doing everything he said he'd do when he campaigned."

Moody says his organization's plan to phase out the state income tax has the governor's support; Democrats have described it as another GOP "race to the bottom" idea that will ultimately hurt the state's less fortunate.

As the governor's race continues to take shape amid a debate over whether LePage is Maine's embarrassment or asset, both parties are sorting through clues from a Democratic win in a state Senate contest that took place Tuesday.

The victor, Eloise Vitelli, won the special election with 49.6 percent of the vote in a three-way contest. Republican Paula Benoit, a former legislator portrayed by Vitelli as a LePage loyalist, got 46.57 percent. The Green Independent candidate received 3.83 percent of the vote.

Vitelli's win keeps the Democrats' Senate majority at 19, with 15 Republicans and one independent. Democrats control the state House by a wide margin.

LePage's critics have suggested that the well-funded race would send a strong message about how the governor will play in politically competitive districts in a state where Democrats have won both legislative chambers in the past two election cycles.

Republicans dismissed the notion that there are broader lessons to be learned from the outcome.

Bronwen Tudor, Democratic Party chairwoman in Sagadahoc County — where the special election took place — says it may be a bit of both.

"I don't think it was ever a proxy race," she said Tuesday morning. "But everyone was aware that the press, and whoever won, would try to make it a referendum on the governor."

In Maine, she cautioned, "I don't think that a legislative race is ever a referendum on somebody else. We just meet so many voters face to face."

That doesn't mean, however, that Democrats weren't euphoric after Tuesday's victory, she said, or that some voters weren't motivated by unhappiness with the governor.

"It would have been very discouraging to have lost," Tudor said. "We're energized now, but we certainly can't take anything for granted."

The Maine Heritage Policy Center's Moody says that no matter the outcome of the state Senate race, LePage is destined to "have a big, national target on him."

A transcript of President Obama's remarks on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, as released by the White House:

To the King family, who have sacrificed and inspired so much; to President Clinton; President Carter; Vice President Biden and Jill; fellow Americans.

Five decades ago today, Americans came to this honored place to lay claim to a promise made at our founding: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

In 1963, almost 200 years after those words were set to paper, a full century after a great war was fought and emancipation proclaimed, that promise — those truths — remained unmet. And so they came by the thousands from every corner of our country, men and women, young and old, blacks who longed for freedom and whites who could no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of others.

Across the land, congregations sent them off with food and with prayer. In the middle of the night, entire blocks of Harlem came out to wish them well. With the few dollars they scrimped from their labor, some bought tickets and boarded buses, even if they couldn't always sit where they wanted to sit. Those with less money hitchhiked or walked. They were seamstresses and steelworkers, students and teachers, maids and Pullman porters. They shared simple meals and bunked together on floors. And then, on a hot summer day, they assembled here, in our nation's capital, under the shadow of the Great Emancipator — to offer testimony of injustice, to petition their government for redress, and to awaken America's long-slumbering conscience.

We rightly and best remember Dr. King's soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions; how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.

But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV. Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters. They lived in towns where they couldn't vote and cities where their votes didn't matter. They were couples in love who couldn't marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate.

And yet they chose a different path. In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in, with the moral force of nonviolence. Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us. They had learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglass once taught — that freedom is not given, it must be won, through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.

That was the spirit they brought here that day. That was the spirit young people like John Lewis brought to that day. That was the spirit that they carried with them, like a torch, back to their cities and their neighborhoods. That steady flame of conscience and courage that would sustain them through the campaigns to come — through boycotts and voter registration drives and smaller marches far from the spotlight; through the loss of four little girls in Birmingham, and the carnage of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the agony of Dallas and California and Memphis. Through setbacks and heartbreaks and gnawing doubt, that flame of justice flickered; it never died.

And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else's laundry or shining somebody else's shoes. (Applause.) Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed. (Applause.)

Because they marched, America became more free and more fair — not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability. America changed for you and for me. and the entire world drew strength from that example, whether the young people who watched from the other side of an Iron Curtain and would eventually tear down that wall, or the young people inside South Africa who would eventually end the scourge of apartheid. (Applause.)

Those are the victories they won, with iron wills and hope in their hearts. That is the transformation that they wrought, with each step of their well-worn shoes. That's the debt that I and millions of Americans owe those maids, those laborers, those porters, those secretaries; folks who could have run a company maybe if they had ever had a chance; those white students who put themselves in harm's way, even though they didn't have; those Japanese Americans who recalled their own internment; those Jewish Americans who had survived the Holocaust; people who could have given up and given in, but kept on keeping on, knowing that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." (Applause.)

On the battlefield of justice, men and women without rank or wealth or title or fame would liberate us all in ways that our children now take for granted, as people of all colors and creeds live together and learn together and walk together, and fight alongside one another, and love one another, and judge one another by the content of our character in this greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)

To dismiss the magnitude of this progress — to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed — that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years. (Applause.) Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King Jr. — they did not die in vain. (Applause.) Their victory was great.

But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete. The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn't bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency. Whether by challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote, or ensuring that the scales of justice work equally for all, and the criminal justice system is not simply a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, it requires vigilance. (Applause.)

And we'll suffer the occasional setback. But we will win these fights. This country has changed too much. (Applause.) People of goodwill, regardless of party, are too plentiful for those with ill will to change history's currents. (Applause.)

In some ways, though, the securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination — the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the March. For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract ideal. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice — (applause) — not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. (Applause.)

For what does it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can't afford the meal? This idea — that one's liberty is linked to one's livelihood; that the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work, the skills to find work, decent pay, some measure of material security — this idea was not new. Lincoln himself understood the Declaration of Independence in such terms — as a promise that in due time, "the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance."

And Dr. King explained that the goals of African Americans were identical to working people of all races: "Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community.

What King was describing has been the dream of every American. It's what's lured for centuries new arrivals to our shores. And it's along this second dimension — of economic opportunity, the chance through honest toil to advance one's station in life — where the goals of 50 years ago have fallen most short.

Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half century ago. But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white unemployment, Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it's grown. And as President Clinton indicated, the position of all working Americans, regardless of color, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described even more elusive.

For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes. Inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder. In too many communities across this country, in cities and suburbs and rural hamlets, the shadow of poverty casts a pall over our youth, their lives a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence.

And so as we mark this anniversary, we must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks could join the ranks of millionaires. It was whether this country would admit all people who are willing to work hard regardless of race into the ranks of a middle-class life. (Applause.)

The test was not, and never has been, whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many — for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call — this remains our great unfinished business.

We shouldn't fool ourselves. The task will not be easy. Since 1963, the economy has changed. The twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class — reduced the bargaining power of American workers. And our politics has suffered. Entrenched interests, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, resisted any government efforts to give working families a fair deal — marshaling an army of lobbyists and opinion makers to argue that minimum wage increases or stronger labor laws or taxes on the wealthy who could afford it just to fund crumbling schools, that all these things violated sound economic principles. We'd be told that growing inequality was a price for a growing economy, a measure of this free market; that greed was good and compassion ineffective, and those without jobs or health care had only themselves to blame.

And then, there were those elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth — that government was somehow itself to blame for their growing economic insecurity; that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.

And then, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us claiming to push for change lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots. Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways, as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support — as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.

All of that history is how progress stalled. That's how hope was diverted. It's how our country remained divided. But the good news is, just as was true in 1963, we now have a choice. We can continue down our current path, in which the gears of this great democracy grind to a halt and our children accept a life of lower expectations; where politics is a zero-sum game where a few do very well while struggling families of every race fight over a shrinking economic pie — that's one path. Or we can have the courage to change.

The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We'll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.

And I believe that spirit is there, that truth force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It's there when the native-born recognizing that striving spirit of the new immigrant; when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who are discriminated against and understands it as their own.

That's where courage comes from — when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That's where courage comes from. (Applause.)

And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on Earth for every person. (Applause.) With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit, and prepares them for the world that awaits them. (Applause.)

With that courage, we can feed the hungry, and house the homeless, and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.

America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we'll get back up. That's how a movement happens. That's how history bends. That's how when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we're marching. (Applause.)

There's a reason why so many who marched that day, and in the days to come, were young — for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream differently, to imagine something better. And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose stirs in this generation.

We might not face the same dangers of 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains. We may never duplicate the swelling crowds and dazzling procession of that day so long ago — no one can match King's brilliance — but the same flame that lit the heart of all who are willing to take a first step for justice, I know that flame remains. (Applause.)

That tireless teacher who gets to class early and stays late and dips into her own pocket to buy supplies because she believes that every child is her charge — she's marching. (Applause.)

That successful businessman who doesn't have to but pays his workers a fair wage and then offers a shot to a man, maybe an ex-con who is down on his luck — he's marching. (Applause.)

The mother who pours her love into her daughter so that she grows up with the confidence to walk through the same door as anybody's son — she's marching. (Applause.)

The father who realizes the most important job he'll ever have is raising his boy right, even if he didn't have a father — especially if he didn't have a father at home — he's marching. (Applause.)

The battle-scarred veterans who devote themselves not only to helping their fellow warriors stand again, and walk again, and run again, but to keep serving their country when they come home — they are marching. (Applause.)

Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day — that change does not come from Washington, but to Washington; that change has always been built on our willingness, We The People, to take on the mantle of citizenship — you are marching. (Applause.)

And that's the lesson of our past. That's the promise of tomorrow — that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. That when millions of Americans of every race and every region, every faith and every station, can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low, and those rough places will be made plain, and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much and live up to the true meaning of our creed, as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. (Applause.)

The most fluid mayor's race that New York City has seen in decades may finally be firming up. The city's public advocate, Bill de Blasio, has surged to a commanding lead in the latest poll of Democratic primary voters.

De Blasio's timing couldn't be better. In less than two weeks, those voters will begin choosing the successor to independent Michael Bloomberg.

All year, the big question in New York City politics has been which Democrat could cobble together enough votes to win the party's nomination for mayor.

"Where the bouncing ball will come to rest, God only knows," says Maurice Carroll, who directs the Quinnipiac Poll.

The poll has had four front-runners in as many months, including early favorite Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. In the latest poll, released Wednesday, De Blasio holds a commanding 15-point lead over his nearest rival.

De Blasio has positioned himself as the anti-Bloomberg: an old-school liberal who's not afraid to talk about inequality, as he did at a recent debate.

"In New York City right now, we are living a tale of two cities," he said. "Almost half our people — 46 percent — at or near the poverty level and our middle class is disappearing. We need a real break from the Bloomberg years."

A month ago, de Blasio was a distant fourth in the crowded Democratic field. His rise in the polls began with the implosion of Weiner's campaign following new sexting allegations against the former congressman last month.

But that's not the only explanation. De Blasio's message of raising taxes on the rich to pay for early childhood education seems to be connecting with liberal primary voters.

And he's been helped by a much-discussed campaign ad starring his multiracial son, Dante, who wears his hair in a 1970s-style Afro. The 15-year-old tells voters that his father is "the only one who will end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color."

Fifty years ago this week, when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators came from across the country to take part in the 1963 March on Washington, the city was not yet the cosmopolitan capital that it arguably is today.

But it was a mecca for African-Americans, says historian Marya McQuirter.

"Washington was definitely a different city 50 years ago," she says, "for a number of reasons. By 1957, it had become the largest majority black city in the country."

That was, in part, because of "white flight," she says, but also because D.C. was "an attractive place for African-Americans migrating from the South."

As well as from the North.

Ella Kelly came to Washington from New York's Harlem, first to study at Howard University, then to live.

"It was Southern, and you learned that very quickly," she says. "I don't mean that in a negative way. There were things such as you'd stand at the corner, waiting to take the bus, and little ladies would say, 'Good morning.' That kind of thing."

Kelly, a retired public school teacher and government worker, remembers Washington then as a beautiful city. But she remembers ugliness, too, like the time she and her husband looked at an apartment for rent.

"The manager of the building was an African-American woman," Kelly says. "There was a sign outside that said, 'Apartment available.' We knocked on the front door. She came to the door, and she said, 'We don't rent to colored.' She was a person of color. My husband and I looked at each other ... 'OK, whatever,' and we left."

That kind of segregation was not uncommon in Washington.

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What The March On Washington Called For, And What We Got

Based on what we know now, President Obama is as likely to be impeached as he is to be a lottery pick in next year's NBA draft.

Yet it's equally unlikely that calls for his impeachment will end anytime soon. Adding fuel to the fire recently was Obama's old friend from his Senate days, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who suggested Obama had come "perilously close" to meeting the impeachment threshold.

Freshman Rep. Kent Bentivolio, R-Mich., fanned the flames by saying an Obama impeachment would be a "dream come true," though the lawyers he consulted on the matter told him to keep dreaming.

The congressional summer recess also found Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, telling his constituents that Republicans "could probably get the votes" in the House to impeach Obama.

Of course, as Garrett Epps, a University of Baltimore Law School professor, points out in "American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution," nothing can stop a House bent on impeachment from seizing on any reason to do so "whether for illicit sex, jaywalking, or drinking Pinot Noir with fish."

It's kind of like the old saw about the ease with which a prosecutor can persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. But getting the House to vote for impeachment, however, is a far simpler task than getting a conviction in the Senate.

Still, so long as the U.S. has political parties, there will be people calling for the impeachment of the president of an opposing party. Or even threatening impeachment against presidents of their own party.

Only three of 44 presidents have had to endure actual impeachment proceedings. House charges against John Tyler were dropped; Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted.

But name a modern non-impeached president and someone probably imagined him being impeached. A Republican congressman from Michigan wanted Franklin Roosevelt impeached, and he wasn't alone.

Perhaps more fancifully, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a poem titled "Tentative Description of a Dinner Given To Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower." Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, especially, all inspired more or less serious calls for their impeachment.

Many of those calls came from one lawmaker, the late Democratic Rep. Henry Gonzalez. The Texas congressman went after so many Republican presidents that journalist John Nichols, in his book The Genius of Impeachment, says he was jokingly referred to by his House colleagues as "Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Impeachment)."

None of Gonzalez's targets, of course, were impeached. And, again, Obama isn't likely to be either.

No less a Republican leader than Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, no friend to Obama, is trying to stamp out the impeachment sparks.

On NBC's Meet the Press recently, he said:

"Look, I reject that kind of talk. The reality is I didn't like it when the left spent eight years trying to delegitimize President Bush, calling to question his election.

"I don't think we should be doing that to President Obama. The reality is, one of the great things about this country is we do have a peaceful transfer of power. I disagree with this president's policy. And stop talking about impeachment."

Obama White House aides couldn't agree more. Responding to an online petition with more than 49,000 signers calling for the president's impeachment, someone in the White House operation wrote a response headlined: "The Short Answer Is No, But Keep Reading."

After refuting several of the charges made by the president's opponents, the post said:

"So the short answer is that we won't be calling for the President's impeachment — and given the fact that you made your appeal to the White House itself, we doubt you were holding your breath waiting for our support.

"Here's the important thing, though. Even though this request isn't going to happen, we want you to walk away from this process with knowledge that we're doing our best to listen — even to our harshest critics."

Fifty years ago Wednesday, John Lewis was the youngest speaker to address the estimated quarter-million people at the March on Washington.

"Those who have said be patient and wait — we must say that we cannot be patient," the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) said that day. "We do not want our freedom gradually. But we want to be free now."

Aug. 28, 1963, also was the day the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, and few are as thoughtful about the significance of the day as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia and civil rights icon.

That summer, the nation had seen black children attacked by dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham, Ala., as well as the murder of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers.

In his 1963 speech, Lewis thundered: "Where is the political party that would make it unnecessary to march on Washington?"

Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, says Lewis originally planned to give a much angrier speech.

The most fluid mayor's race that New York City has seen in decades may finally be firming up. The city's public advocate, Bill de Blasio, has surged to a commanding lead in the latest poll of Democratic primary voters.

De Blasio's timing couldn't be better. In less than two weeks, those voters will begin choosing the successor to independent Michael Bloomberg.

All year, the big question in New York City politics has been which Democrat could cobble together enough votes to win the party's nomination for mayor.

"Where the bouncing ball will come to rest, God only knows," says Maurice Carroll, who directs the Quinnipiac Poll.

The poll has had four front-runners in as many months, including early favorite Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. In the latest poll, released Wednesday, De Blasio holds a commanding 15-point lead over his nearest rival.

De Blasio has positioned himself as the anti-Bloomberg: an old-school liberal who's not afraid to talk about inequality, as he did at a recent debate.

"In New York City right now, we are living a tale of two cities," he said. "Almost half our people — 46 percent — at or near the poverty level and our middle class is disappearing. We need a real break from the Bloomberg years."

A month ago, de Blasio was a distant fourth in the crowded Democratic field. His rise in the polls began with the implosion of Weiner's campaign following new sexting allegations against the former congressman last month.

But that's not the only explanation. De Blasio's message of raising taxes on the rich to pay for early childhood education seems to be connecting with liberal primary voters.

And he's been helped by a much-discussed campaign ad starring his multiracial son, Dante, who wears his hair in a 1970s-style Afro. The 15-year-old tells voters that his father is "the only one who will end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color."


A week without water can easily kill the average person.

But a garden that goes unwatered for months may produce sweeter, more flavorful fruits than anything available in most mainstream supermarkets—even in the scorching heat of a California summer. Commercial growers call it "dry farming," and throughout the state, this unconventional technique seems to be catching on among small producers of tomatoes, apples, grapes, melons, and potatoes.

At Happy Boy Farms, near Santa Cruz, sales director Jen Lynne believes dry farming could be an important agricultural practice in the future, when water will likely be a less abundant resource.

But the taste of her dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes is the main reason chefs, wholesalers and individuals around the country are increasingly calling to place orders. She notes that many calls come from places where rains falls through the summer, making dry farming impossible.

"Once you taste a dry-farmed tomato, you'll never want anything else," she says, adding that she could be selling hundreds of 14-pound cases per day if her 10-acre tomato field could meet the demand.

At Whole Foods Market in Sebastopol, about 50 miles north of San Francisco, dry-farmed tomatoes have become a shopper attraction, according to produce buyer Allan Timpe.

"People definitely come here to get them," he says. "Once someone tastes a dry-farmed tomato, you've got a customer for life."

Timpe also carries locally grown, dry-farmed potatoes, which he says "are dense and really flavorful."

The idea behind dry farming is that by restricting a plant's water intake, its fruits wind up with less water content and a greater density of sugar and other flavor compounds. But the practice isn't as simple as just cutting off the water. First, dry farming in sandy soil, through which water drains easily, doesn't work. Just as importantly, the plants, or trees, must be dry-farmed from the time they're planted.

"We get the plants going with a little water, then cut it off after a few weeks," says Kevin McEnnis, who dry farms Early Girl tomatoes at Quetzal Farm in Santa Rosa.

Then, he explains, as the young but quickly growing vines become thirsty, they send their roots deeper underground than they otherwise would to find moisture, which can remain in the soil all year.

A technique that also helps dry farmers lock water underground is frequently tilling the top foot of soil into a fluffy dust layer. Underground moisture that creeps upward through the earth cannot break through this layer, and it remains below the surface.

But farming without irrigation has a major drawback: dramatically reduced yields.

Stan Devoto, a farmer in Northern California, says his dry-farmed trees produce 12 to 15 tons of apples per acre per year. Irrigated trees, on the other hand, may bear 40 or 50 tons. And McEnnis says he harvests about four tons of tomatoes off his acre of vines each summer and fall, whereas conventional growers may reap 40 tons per acre.

Indeed, in most areas of conventional agriculture, dry farming is unprofitable and unusual. Exceptions include most European wine grapes — which local winemaking laws actually require be grown without irrigation — and much of America's grain production.

Paul Vossen, a University of California farm adviser in Sonoma County, says many people who dry farm do so only because they have no water with which to irrigate their land. "They do it because they have to, and so they'll make it part of their marketing strategy," he says.

But winemaker Will Bucklin, of Old Hill Ranch in the Sonoma Valley, has an underground water supply. Still, he dry farms 15 acres of old-vine Syrah, Zinfandel and other varieties — one of just a few California winemakers currently dry farming. His grapes are smaller, and yields at harvest time slightly lower, than on irrigated vineyards.

"But the small size of the berries means there is a lower juice-to-skin ratio," Bucklin says.

Since grape skins contain flavor-making tannins and polyphenols, dry farming can — at least in theory — produce richer, more intense wines. Bucklin concedes that he isn't certain that a novice taster, or even an expert one, could tell a dry-farmed wine from a conventional one in a blind tasting.

But in a highly populated state where water tables are dropping and rivers dwindling to trickles, Bucklin is confident, at least, of one thing:

"I'm using a lot less water than my neighbor."

Across the High Plains, many farmers depend on underground stores of water, and they worry about wells going dry. A new scientific study of western Kansas lays out a predicted timeline for those fears to become reality. But it also shows an alternative path for farming in Kansas: The moment of reckoning can be delayed, and the impact softened, if farmers start conserving water now.

David Steward, a water expert at Kansas State University, says that he and his colleagues started this research project with a specific kind of person in mind: "The family farmer who's trying to see into the future, and trying to pass on his or her land to their grandchildren."

Farmers in western Kansas have good reason to worry about the future. They know that big irrigated fields of corn in this part of the country are taking water out of underground aquifers much faster than rain or snow can fill those natural reservoirs back up.

Steward decided to come up with better estimates for how soon the aquifers will go dry and how that will affect farmers. He got together with experts on growing corn and raising livestock. "We were trying to provide a little bit better glimpse into the future, so that people would have a better idea how to plan," he says.

According to their calculations, if Kansas farmers keep pumping water out of the High Plains aquifer as they have in the past, the amount of water they're able to extract will start to fall in just 10 years or so. They'll still be able to continue harvesting more corn for another generation, though, because technology — better irrigation systems and genetically improved corn — will let them use that water more efficiently.

But after that, even the latest technology won't save the corn fields. Irrigated fields will start to disappear, followed by cattle feedlots. The long expansion of agricultural production in western Kansas will end.

Yet Steward and his colleagues also lay out some alternative paths that the farmers of Kansas could take. For instance, if farmers reduced their water use by 20 percent right now, it would take a big bite out of their corn production, but production then would resume growing. It wouldn't peak until 2070, and then it would decline much more gradually. "If we're able to save as much water as possible now, the more we save, the more corn we'll be able to grow into the future," Steward says.

These predictions appear in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The exact numbers are new, but the issue of water conservation is a familiar one in western Kansas. Thirty years ago, local governments in several parts of the region set up groundwater management districts — essentially, committees for discussing ways to attack the problem.

Mark Rude, executive director of the groundwater management district for southwest Kansas, says that discussion can turn emotional "because there's nothing more fundamental to the local family farm than the water supply."

At the same time, he says, the families on those farms are worried about the future. They want their grandchildren to have plenty of water, too.

Rude says, in his district, they've discussed lots of alternatives for how to reduce water use: cuts in irrigated acres; cuts in the amount of water used on each acre. But it's mostly talk so far, rather than action, for a very practical reason. His agency may not have the legal authority to force farmers to cut back on their water use.

Those farmers own rights to water the way they own land. Any rule that tries to restrict that right could be challenged in court. "The last thing people really want to see is simply a whole lot of court cases," Rude says.

The groundwater management districts have been trying to avoid that outcome by coming up with plans everyone can support.

There's a model for this. In one small area in northwestern Kansas, farmers have agreed to use 20 percent less water for the next five years. "It's an experiment, and a lot of people are watching that," Rude says. "And of course, that figures prominently in the conversations about, 'If we were going to do it, how would we do it?' "

If they can't come up with a plan for cutting water use, of course, eventually the natural laws of hydrology will step in. Farmers will use less water when the wells go dry.

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