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On whether writing a book of analysis makes her self-conscious while writing her own poetry

I'm very lucky in that I have one of the worst memories you'll ever meet. And therefore, I remember nothing I've said when I'm close-reading other people's poems. I don't have an internal checklist that I then bring to the writing of my own. My entire body, mind, heart when I'm writing a poem are simply inside that experience.

I do think that having spent, you know, something like 30 years now closely attending to other people's poems and to what I feel makes them as magnificent and mysterious as they are — that must affect my relationship to my own writing. But one thing happens in one room and the other happens in another.

On her poem 'Two Linen Handkerchiefs' and expressing grief in poetry

Two Linen Handkerchiefs

How can you have been dead twelve years

and these still

The poem is broken off in exactly the way a life is broken off, in exactly the way grief breaks off, takes us beyond any possible capacity for words to speak. And yet it also, short as it is, holds all of our bewilderment in the face of death. How is it that these inanimate handkerchiefs — which did belong to my father and are still in a drawer of mine, and which I did accidentally come across — how can they still be so pristinely ironed and clean and existent when the person who chose them and used them and wore them is gone? ...

Compassion, in a way, is one of the most important things poems do for me, and I trust do for other people. They allow us to feel how shared our fates are.

- Jane Hirshfield

I think compassion, in a way, is one of the most important things poems do for me, and I trust do for other people. They allow us to feel how shared our fates are. If a person reads this poem when they're inside their own most immediate loss, they immediately — I hope — feel themselves accompanied. Someone else has been here. Someone else has felt what I felt. And, you know, we know this in our minds, but that's very different from being accompanied by the words of a poem, which are not ideas but are experiences.

Read an excerpt of Ten Windows

Read an excerpt of The Beauty

This week, we've brought the show to New Orleans, where Troy Andrews — better known as Trombone Shorty — began playing music at age 4. He was touring with his brother's band by age 6, and went to the same performing arts academy as Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard and the Marsalis brothers. Now, just shy of 30, he's doing his part to spread New Orleans music around the world.

We've invited him to answer three questions about obscure musical instruments.

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And I think then what happened is that ... as an alternative [to asylums], people sought treatments. But the treatments turned out to be, in retrospect, pretty barbaric. And it's only really been in the last 50 years that psychiatry has established a scientific foundation for itself and developed treatments that truly work beyond a shadow of a doubt and are safe.

On Sigmund Freud's contributions to psychiatry and what he got wrong

Freud is undisputedly a towering figure and the most famous person in the history of psychiatry. And in the absence of any scientific theory of mental illness, he introduced concepts that were completely novel to civilization and endure today as valid and have really been given new life in the context of cognitive neuroscience. ...

I think his biggest mistake was that he was a very strict controller of how the theory was handled by his disciples. In other words, he permitted no deviation or modification of his theory or methods, and he didn't encourage any research to empirically validate his theory. So basically people that followed him and embraced this theory had to take it on faith.


In the 1940s, psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich touted his orgone energy accumulators, exhibited here in 1956 by the Food and Drug Administration, as a treatment for emotional disturbances. Eventually, the FDA ruled Reich's treatment to be a "fraud of the first magnitude." Henry Burroughs/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Henry Burroughs/AP

In the 1940s, psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich touted his orgone energy accumulators, exhibited here in 1956 by the Food and Drug Administration, as a treatment for emotional disturbances. Eventually, the FDA ruled Reich's treatment to be a "fraud of the first magnitude."

Henry Burroughs/AP

On psychiatrists going back and forth as to whether mental disorders are inherited

It's long been known that specific mental illnesses tend to run in families. But then, you know, the notion of this being kind of a Mendelian type of genetic condition was really not accurate. And if you looked at a family pedigree, you could see that schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, depression, autism often skipped generations in families or would occur in families that had no other biologic relative. So the mystery of the genetics of mental illness was really much more complicated than ever imagined and it's only recently started to be solved.

On whether the future of psychiatry is in the medicine chest

Not solely, no. And this is something that is commonly, I think, misunderstood. The cornerstone of the healing profession and the physician is the patient relationship. ... So medications were extraordinarily important — they were miraculous developments — but medications alone can't do it.

On why he wrote the book

In order for us to genuinely make a case for why psychiatry is a medical discipline that deserves sort of equal footing and respect as other medical specialties, we needed to fess up in terms of what the past was. And so in order to do so, we needed to tell the unvarnished history of the field and then describe why things may not have been helpful — and [in] some cases harmful — then [and] why that's different now. And nobody should avoid seeking treatment if they think they need it because of uncertainty or fear.

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Univision host Rodner Figueroa has been let go for offensive remarks about First Lady Michelle Obama.

It all started on Wednesday, when a picture of Obama flashed on the screen of the popular program El Gordo y La Flaca. Figueroa commented "Michelle Obama looks like she's part of the cast of Planet of the Apes."

Quickly, Figueroa was fired. Univision released this statement: "Yesterday during our entertainment program 'El Gordo y La Flaca' Rodner Figueroa made comments regarding First Lady Michelle Obama that were completely reprehensible and in no way reflect Univision's values or views. As a result, Mr. Figueroa was immediately terminated."

Figueroa released his own statement addressed to Obama: "I was verbally notified that because of a complaint from your office, my employment was being terminated." Figueroa claims his joke was a criticism of an artist's depiction of Obama.

The Washington Post reports Univision executives deny that the White House called to complain.

In his statement, the Venezuelan Figueroa, who was a fashion and entertainment commentator for the network, said he'd voted for Barack Obama twice. He also spoke about his own background, saying he comes from a biracial Latino family, and his own father is a black Latino. But he apologized, saying his comments where inexcusable, and that they "could be interpreted as offensive or disrespectful."

Figueroa's firing comes on the heels of another high-profile falling out over race and fashion. Recently on the popular E! show Fashion Police, host Giuliana Rancic was blasted for commenting on African-American actress Zendaya Coleman's dreadlocks. "I feel like she smells like pachouli oil," Rancic remarked "Or weed!" Rancic was accused of being racist, and a few days later co-host Kelly Osbourne quit the show. Shortly after Osbourne left, host Kathy Griffith stepped down, and released a statement on twitter, saying "Listen, I am no saint...But I do not want to use my comedy to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance towards difference. I want to help women, gay kids, people of color and anyone who feels underrepresented to have a voice and a LAUGH!"

This is hardly the first time Univision has gotten in trouble for racist remarks and humor. In 2010, when the World Cup was played in South Africa, the network aired a segment where the hosts wore Afro wigs and held small spears. Univision apologized.

NYU Professor Arlene Davila studies Latino media, and she says she's not surprised. "I think that anybody who watches Univision regularly ... will notice the white, white space that station historically has been." She says, "You're not going to see Indo-Latinos, you're not going to see Afro-Latinos." In fact, she says, the Univision landscape is often whiter than mainstream U.S. television.

Davila says Latino television largely echoes, imports and repackages Latin American programming, with all its pitfalls. "Already in Latin America, our very [media are] skewed and not a representation. But then you're talking about the U.S. Latino world., you would think that it would be a different world — a world that would not be tied to the traditional racist views of our countries, but that rather would try to imagine a pan-Latino universe."

What troubles Davila is an idea "that you can't apply the same standards of racism because we have our humor and we are not racists, because we are Latinos, and we can get away with that without getting regulated."

How to regulate is an ongoing issue. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, lawyer Francisco R. Montero wrote, "Once a sleepy backwater of the broadcasting world, Spanish media is now big business and there is barely a city or town in the country where you cannot find some type of Spanish broadcasting on TV or radio. So it was only matter of time before questions of indecency would arise ... we still don't know precisely what Spanish terms may be 'indecent' in the F.C.C.'s view."

Davila adds that Spanish language media have a captive audience. "You can't blame the people that watch it," she says, "because those are the people that don't have the power to change it, you know? And they're watching it because it's what's available, it's the lack of choices in Spanish language television."

I was in the house watching by myself when Duke played Kentucky in the Elite Eight in the 1992 NCAA basketball tournament. I was home from college for what must have been spring break, and for whatever reason, my parents were out. I was in the deepest part of the Duke basketball fandom that had taken off in my family when my sister started there a few years earlier. ("Why didn't you root for your own teams?" you ask. "I went to a midwestern liberal arts school," I reply. "My sister. Went. To DUKE.")

I kneeled on the carpet in the living room watching the TV, the better to pound on the floor when I was upset and leap into the air when anything good happened. The game had plenty of both.

That game ends with this play, which happened with 2.1 seconds left, with Duke (in white with blue, rather than blue with white, uniforms) down by one point.

They call it "The Shot." Now in my opinion, they should call it "The Pass," because The Shot, by Christian Laettner, is a turnaround jump shot from the top of the key that, sure, is a cool shot, and it's clutch, and it's hilarious that he puts it on the floor like LA LA NO HURRY — which I still remember from 1992 because I think I got my first gray hair from it. But it's a shot I've seen a million times from different guys. The pass from Grant Hill (whose number, 33, found its way into things like my old AIM handle), on the other hand, is a one-handed hurl from one end of the court that ends up exactly where it needs to be, right where Laettner — who's 6'11" — has to jump up to get it, which makes it hard to contest for the guys who are guarding him. (They decided to put two guys on him instead of guarding the inbounds pass, which: oh, Kentucky.) All he has to do is turn and shoot. (She said, like a person watching on television.)

There was a time when I had watched the end of this game — on VHS — so many times that I could describe the sequence of shots. Not basketball shots; camera shots. Thomas Hill with his hands on the back of his head saying "Oh my God, oh my God," Tommy Amaker with his fists raised, Brian Davis and Bobby Hurley falling on the ground. I remember running down the steps to the basement and then back up to the living room, doing nothing except burning off energy. I don't remember calling my sister, but I must have, because I would have.

In this March 28, 1992, file photo, Duke's Christian Laettner takes the winning shot in overtime over Kentucky's Deron Feldhaus. Charles Arbogast/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Arbogast/AP

On Sunday, ESPN's fabulous 30 For 30 documentary series is premiering the film I Hate Christian Laettner, which documents a phenomenon I was largely unaware of at that time — or at least I was unaware of its vehemence and the way it wasn't like other sports feelings: people hated that kid, and they hated Duke. They still hate him, and they probably hate Duke even more now. But I didn't really think about it. There were no meetings where Duke fans gathered to decide to be imperialists or came up with a joint attitude to share with the world. I learned how to love this particular team with my little family — mom and dad and sister. Even still, when people tell me how disappointed they are that this is my team, it feels bizarre to me; how can anyone actually hold this against me, that I learned to root for the team where the sister I idolized went to college? How is that possible?

The great thing about sports, of course, is that Christian Laettner doesn't have to care. He went to four consecutive Final Fours and he won two national championships. You don't like him? So what? Sports is a binary in this way: in a basketball game, one team wins and the other team loses, and no matter how hard anyone argues for moral victories or blames the officials or makes excuses, losing is losing and it is terrible. Winning is winning and it rules. I know this as a fan, of course, because two years earlier in 1990, I had watched Duke take a 30-point pants-down spanking from UNLV in the national championship game. Watching a team you love lose, and especially watching it have an orderly, slow-motion collapse like an imploded building, is the worst. Oh, it is the worst.

I Hate Christian Laettner — and there are those on both sides who will not want to hear this — is not a 75-minute parade of people saying that they hate him, or gleefully high-fiving each other over the fact that he's an arrogant jerk who gave people plenty of reasons to hate his guts. Nor is it a sympathetic revisionist argument that haters are just jealous and he was targeted by a voracious and vicious sports culture that encourages people to reduce opponents to something both less and more than they are.

What it is, in fact, is an argument that he was an arrogant jerk who gave people plenty of reasons to hate his guts who was simultaneously being targeted by a voracious and vicious sports culture that encourages people to reduce opponents to something both less and more than they are. And while not all haters are jealous and not all jealous people are haters, if you don't want to be despised, going to four consecutive Final Fours doesn't help. In other words, this was a perfect storm of what came from him and what came from a lot more than just him.

Director Rory Karpf interviewed a lot of people for this film: Laettner himself; his coach Mike Krzyzewski; guys who played with him like Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and his best friend Brian Davis; guys who played on opposing teams, like Jalen Rose and Jimmy King from Michigan and Eric Montross from UNC; Laettner's parents and siblings; and two grown men who have tried to make themselves famous by hating Duke more and better than anyone else. And when you start to unravel all of this, there is a lot going on.

Karpf is unafraid of some of the trickiest parts of Laettner's identity and Duke's, and spends a good chunk of time interrogating how the perception that Duke is all rich white kids — and that Laettner was a rich white kid — affect the way the team was perceived. This comes through sometimes straightforwardly, and sometimes with the use of words like "entitlement," which one of the professional Duke haters, Andy Bagwell (whose primary credential seems to be that he's the author of Duke Sucks), hilariously uses as one of his real reasons for hating Laettner, and then uses it next to the slightly less persuasive argument that the guy had "floppy hair." Floppy hair and entitlement! Those are ... equivalent things?

Laettner himself feels obligated to explain his background and the fact that he was not born rich: he lived in Buffalo, his mother was a teacher, his dad was a printer at the newspaper. He was on financial aid and work-study in order to go to the prep school where he played.

I do think Karpf's thinking is a little bit limited at times in its approach to the very importance of these things in the first place: it's all well and good to challenge the idea that this particular kid was rich or that his parents weren't hard-working, but on what planet would it be okay to hate an 18-year-old because his parents were rich? There are times when the fetishizing of the idea of Laettner being "blue collar," or other people being "blue collar," or proving you're "blue collar," seems just as problematic as any misapprehension that he wasn't. I mean, when 20-year-olds are playing basketball, are any of them really "blue collar"? It reminds me of the film Breaking Away, in which Dennis Christopher, playing a guy about to go to college, insists to his father that he and his buddies proudly wear the mantel of their fathers' work cutting quarry stone. "I'm proud of being a cutter," he says. "You're not a cutter," his dad clarifies. "I'm a cutter." Kids are not entitled to the benefits — social or narrative or character-based — of their parents' work ethic.*

There's a lot in here about the way being tough is mixed up with being unpleasant, some of which comes from Krzyzewski, who calls Laettner "a little bit of a rebel" right after we've seen some of his most obnoxious high-school behavior. (An awfully generous notion of what "rebellion" is.) There's a lot about the way Laettner seemed to be playing out the bullying he got from his older brother with Bobby Hurley. There are a lot of pieces of tape of mischievously eye-twinkly fortysomething former teammates who, aside from Davis, you can watch and see whether you saw what I did: guys trying to figure out how to explain that they were all young, he was a great player, they hold no grudges, but are you kidding? No, they didn't like him a whole lot.

There's some dynamite material from Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, who talks about not just literal whiteness but the "variety and brand of whiteness with which Duke is associated." Dyson points out that Laettner was not just a white player, but a white player who, through some of the unapologetic attitude he adopted was "appropriating black styles of masculine projection, but onto white bodies." Now whether you think that holds water or not, that is a really interesting piece of thinking for any sports documentary, particularly one about a topic as seemingly straightforward as the hating of one of the most hated guys in basketball. And nobody's behavior here is above examination: what about the white dude who says he loved Michigan — a team of young black kids — because they fit right in with his discovery of hip-hop? That is, itself, not uncomplicated. A lot of people who hated Laettner for being a lousy sport responded with homophobia. Brian Davis recalls being called an "Uncle Tom" for playing for Duke. Also not great.

What the film is about, I think, is that the same binary that's a really useful way to think about basketball games — you win, you lose, you leave it all on the floor and for that period of time you are 1000 percent about yourself winning and someone else losing — is a terrible way to think about basketball players. It's a particularly terrible way to think about basketball players who, when they earn the loathing of opponents, are often 18 or 19 years old. (Particularly looking at old tape of Hurley, I thought, "Oh, my. That is someone's ... child.")

Speaking solely for myself, I always thought Laettner, though I was loyal to him as a player because he was ours, seemed like a jerk. In that same Kentucky game where we began — and the documentary covers this in detail — he stepped on the chest of a guy who was on the ground under the basket. The intent was to taunt, not injure, but it was dumb and petty and all it accomplished, really, was to scuff up the victory for the guys on the team and the fans. Sure, he was in college, but I get to still think he was a pill, right?

Good, because I still do. And in the light of my own adulthood, he looks even worse, to be honest. If he hadn't been on my team, I would have felt exactly the same way everybody else did. I would have considered his the most punchable face in sports, figuratively speaking. I can't be with you on that, but I don't blame you.

But what I like about the film is that it's completely comfortable with his having earned a lot of what he got, and it's completely comfortable with his not deserving some of what he got. It exists in that place where sports fans don't always do quite as well: ambiguity. There is always so much more in sports than just sports, and this film does an exceptional job of looking at the way things get very, very personal.

*Oh, man, go watch Breaking Away. That is such a good movie if you care about sports or class or humans.

In an expansive interview coinciding with the second anniversary of his unexpected election, Pope Francis said his time as the head of the Roman Catholic Church will be brief.

Francis said he misses the relative anonymity he had as a bishop. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, "He also said he doesn't mind being pope, but would like to go out in Rome unrecognized, for a pizza."

The pope's comments came in an interview with the Mexican broadcaster Televisa.

From Rome, Sylvia reports:

"Pope Francis said, 'I have a sensation that my pontificate will be short: four or five years, or two or three.'

"'I feel the Lord,' the pope added, 'has placed me here for a short time.'

"Francis also praised his predecessor's decision to resign as courageous. Benedict's decision, the pope said, opened the door to popes emeritus.

"Francis also focused on one of his favorite themes, denouncing what he called the injustice of wealth, saying it's a mortal sin to give someone an unjust salary or for the rich to take advantage of the poor.

"Later in the day, Francis announced a special jubilee year starting in December to focus the church on its main priority: mercy."

Remembering the week that he was named pope, Francis said he had packed only a small suitcase for his trip to the Vatican, and he had already written a homily to deliver on Palm Sunday, after returning to Argentina.

"He was not on any list of eligible candidates and neither had the thought entered his mind," according to the Vatican News agency. "In fact, in London bookies had ranked his name in 42nd and 46th place. Yet an acquaintance, as a joke, bet on him and did very well."

Discussing the idea that he would only remain pope for a short while, Francis said, "It is a somewhat vague sensation. Maybe it's like the psychology of the gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won't be disappointed, and if he wins, is happy. I do not know."

Pope Francis

President Barack Obama said he's "embarrassed" for the 47 Republican senators who tried to undercut nuclear talks with Iran by writing a letter directly to the Iranian leadership.

"For them to address a letter to the Ayatollah, who they claim is our mortal enemy, and their basic argument to them is, 'Don't deal with our president because you can't trust him to follow through on an agreement,' that's close to unprecedented," Obama said in an interview with Vice News.

The youth-oriented news outlet released an excerpt of the interview on Friday. The full conversation is to be released Monday.

The GOP letter was also fodder for Obama's late-night appearance Thursday on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! Kimmel joked that 47 senators had warned him not to make any deals with Obama, whom he joked was "the first Kenyan-born Muslim socialist" elected president.

Obama used the Kimmel appearance to also weigh in on Wednesday's shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Mo., saying while the pattern of racial discrimination in the St. Louis suburb was "worthy of protest," it was "no excuse for criminal acts."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the officers and their families," Obama said. "Thankfully, they're OK."

Kimmel quizzed the president about UFOs, daylight savings time, and the comedian's pet peeve of overly long receipts dispensed by CVS drugstores. Most of the interview focused on the smaller details of life at the White House.

Obama confessed that it's been some time since he cooked for himself. And he complained the Secret Service doesn't allow him to drive.

"Is that because you don't have a birth certificate?" Kimmel asked.

"In Kenya, we drive on the other side of the road," Obama joked.

The interview also tiptoed into the controversy over Hillary Clinton's reliance of a private email account during her time as secretary of state.

The president said he still uses a government-issued Blackberry for his email. And he declined to share Clinton's personal address.

"I don't think she'd want you to have it, frankly," Obama told Kimmel.

The president said he doesn't text and rarely Tweets. But he played along with Kimmel's regular "Mean Tweets" feature and read aloud several written about him, as R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" played softly in the background.

"Is there any way we could fly Obama to some golf course halfway around the world and just leave him there?" Obama read.

He quipped back, "Well, RW Surfer Girl, I think that's a great idea."

He seemed taken with this one: "How do you make Obama's eyes light up? Shine a flashlight in his ears." He laughed and said, "That's pretty good."

In the end, Obama told Kimmel the Tweets weren't all that mean. After all, he said, "You should see what the Senate says about me."

Jimmy Kimmel

President Barack Obama



Many are calling it the second battle over Waterloo — and this time, France won: A two-euro coin commemorating the bicentennial of Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat will not be widely released, after French objections over what it called a "negative symbol."

From Brussels, Teri Schultz reports for NPR:

"Belgian authorities say France complained to the European Union about plans to circulate a commemorative two-euro coin depicting the battlefield where Napoleon was defeated in 1815 by Britain and its allies, including the countries that are now Belgium and the Netherlands.

"The French wrote a letter saying such an image could hurt the coherence of the eurozone by offending French citizens."

"The National Union of Public Services, which is responsible for the coin, is angry. In a statement, it says it would be irresponsible to cancel the project when the Belgian Royal Mint has already manufactured 180,000 of the coins, with the project costing more than $2.5 million. And, the union says, France is selling its own coins commemorating Waterloo — so it doesn't want Belgium to admit defeat."

Like other members of the eurozone, Belgium designs and issues its own coins; only paper currency is under central control in the economic union. The proposed design features a lion, evoking the Lion's Mound monument at the historic battlefield that's south of Brussels.

"But Paris objected," reports French news site RFI, "saying that there would be an 'unfavourable reaction in France' and that 'the Battle of Waterloo has a particular resonance in the collective consciousness that goes beyond a simple military conflict.'"

Belgian website Flanders News spoke to several visitors to Waterloo, where reenactments are held each June to mark the battle's anniversary.

A British tourist tells the site he understands France's reaction — but he adds, "It's 200 years ago. They need to move on."

"As far as I'm concerned, they can issue 10 coins," a Dutch visitor says. "But I can imagine that that will not be beneficial for mutual understanding in Europe."

Instead of forcing the issue to be voted on by the European Council of Ministers, Belgian officials have decided that they'll issue the existing coins only as a commemorative items, aimed at collectors.

As for the official Belgian response, RFI quotes a statement from Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt, who said, "I am a bit surprised by all this agitation."




This week, Wisconsin became the nation's 25th right-to-work state. It passed a law saying workers cannot be forced to join labor unions, or pay union dues, to keep a job.

There's a concerted effort in many states to pass laws that would weaken the power of labor unions. But unions and their allies are also fighting back in many places.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker became a Republican political star by taking on his state's public employee unions. This week he went a step further, signing a bill that would weaken private-sector unions.

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Unions Have Pushed The $15 Minimum Wage, But Few Members Will Benefit

"Wisconsin now has the freedom to work," Walker said. "That is one more powerful tool as we help create not just jobs but career opportunities for many years to come."

Right-to-work laws have been on the wish list of business and industry groups for many years. But the political power of labor unions made them hard to pass outside the South and Mountain West. The recent sweeping Republican victories in statehouses across the country have extended such laws into the Rust Belt. Two years ago, Michigan and Indiana became right-to-work states.

"Since then we've seen a lot more activity on this issue in general, so we do think momentum is building and that Wisconsin is only going to add to that," said Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee.

This year, right-to-work laws were introduced in such diverse states as Maine, West Virginia, Missouri and New Mexico. Eric Hauser of the AFL-CIO says the effort to pass such laws has been fueled by outside conservative groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

"There is a purposeful, concentrated, raw political campaign underway by the right wing, with billions of dollars behind it, that is looking for any opportunity it can to attack workers," Hauser says.

The labor movement and its Democratic allies have managed to fend off the proposed laws in many places — at least so far this year. Right-to-work laws have been stalled in committee or left to die in places such as Missouri and West Virginia.

Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University, says unions still have the right to organize under federal law — even in right-to-work states. But if they can't require workers to pay dues, the benefits are diminished. And the unions will have less political power than they once did.

"A few years ago anyone running for public office, a governor for instance, would curry favor with the unions and ask for their endorsement," Chaison says. "Now they win their elections by opposing unions and fighting the unions."

He says the passage of right-to-work laws in state houses should be a warning sign for labor.

"They have a tremendous symbolic importance because right-to-work laws are usually passed in states where unions have minimum influence, and what we're seeing now is Wisconsin [and] Michigan are becoming states where unions have very little power," Chaison says.

Union leaders point out these defeats have been offset by victories elsewhere — like the passage of laws mandating paid sick leave and higher minimum wages. They say these wins suggest underlying public support for labor's goals.

But labor remains a lot weaker than it once was and in the wake of the recent electoral gains by Republicans, the opposition it faces has only grown more energized.

right to work




Forty-seven Senate Republicans signed a letter to Tehran's leaders Monday questioning the authority of any agreement Iran might sign with President Barack Obama that is not ratified by Congress. And it's becoming an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign with potential Republican candidates signing onto the letter.

Tom Cotton, the freshman Arkansas senator behind the letter, even Tweeted a Farsi translation directly to the Iranian president and foreign minister.

.@HassanRouhani also, in case you need a translation... http://t.co/NVWL4PSFi1 pic.twitter.com/Je1ZBu1Cfp

— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) March 9, 2015

The move has enraged Democrats. The hashtag #47traitors was trending on Twitter, and a petition to charge the senators as being in violation of the Logan Act has gotten more than the required 100,000 signatures for the White House to respond.

(By Thursday morning, it had more than 200,000 signatures. The White House, however, is likely to defer to the Department of Justice as it routinely does with petitions calling for legal action. See that Justin Bieber petition.)

The letter also comes a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress about his reservations on a potential nuclear deal with Iran.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a likely 2016 contender, co-sponsored the prime minister's invitation and signed onto the letter to Iran, though he later denied in an interview with NBC's Today that he was trying to undermine the president in negotiating with Iran. Instead, he said he was actually trying "to strengthen the president's hand."

Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, leading early Republican primary polls, also expressed support for the senators.

.@marcorubio PAC looks to raise money off Iran letter. "Marco was proud to be one of the first senators to sign." pic.twitter.com/3mxhprf085

— Alex Leary (@learyreports) March 11, 2015

"The Senators are reacting to reports of a bad deal that will likely enable Iran to become a nuclear state over time," Bush said in a statement. "They would not have been put in this position had the Administration consulted regularly with them rather than ignoring their input."

Wisconsin Gov. Walker stressed that the president should seek congressional authorization.

"Unless the White House is prepared to submit the Iran deal it negotiates for congressional approval, the next president should not be bound by it," Walker said in his statement.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — who got into a heated back and forth with Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday during a congressional hearing about Iran and fighting the so-called Islamic State – signed onto the letter. In a fundraising email, his PAC highlighted that he was "proud to be one of the first senators to sign."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed onto the letter after it was released.

I support the letter sent by @SenTomCotton & his colleagues to Iran warning them that Congress will have to approve any nuclear deal.

— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) March 10, 2015

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also said he "would be proud and honored to sign the letter." Perry linked to his video on Facebook about the nuclear threat Iran poses:

Jindal went a step further, saying anyone running for president "should sign on."

Post by Rick Perry.

"Every single person thinking about running for president, on both sides, should sign on to this letter to make clear to Iran that they are negotiating with a lame-duck president," Jindal said in a statement. "Make no mistake, any Iran deal that President Obama makes is not binding on a future president."

Of course, not every presidential contender agrees.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the letter Monday at the beginning of a news conference designed to put aside a controversy of her own about a different form of written communication.

"Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the Commander-In-Chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy," Clinton insisted. "Either answer does discredit to the letters' signatories."

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is likely to challenge Clinton, expressed his outrage on Facebook:

Vice President Biden, who's unlikely to run if Clinton does, is a longtime former member of the Senate, and called the letter "beneath the dignity of an institution I revere."

Post by Bernie Sanders.

The current officer holder, President Obama, hit back hard at Republicans Monday.

"It's somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran," Obama said of an open letter from Republicans who have questioned the prospect of a nuclear agreement. "It's an unusual coalition."

2016 Presidential Race

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Jeb Bush

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Some startup entrepreneurs are leaving the high tech hot spots of San Francisco, New York and the Silicon Valley for greener pastures in a place that actually has greener pastures: Lincoln, Neb.

In fact, one of the secrets to the economic success of Lincoln, a city with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, is a surprisingly strong tech startup community that is part of what some in the region are calling the Silicon Prairie.


Paul and Stephanie Jarrett are co-founders of the e-commerce platform Bulu Box, in Lincoln, Neb. David Schaper/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Schaper/NPR

Paul and Stephanie Jarrett are co-founders of the e-commerce platform Bulu Box, in Lincoln, Neb.

David Schaper/NPR

One of the, shall we say, middle-aged startups is an e-commerce platform called Bulu Box, started almost three years ago by Paul and Stephanie Jarrett.

It's a small company with nine full-time employees including the Jarretts, and a few interns.

"We are all about the open air office," says Paul Jarrett, as he shows off the cozy space on the second floor of an older downtown building.

And if the bright and vibrant office has a homey feel, there's a reason for that. "This is actually an apartment converted into an office space," he says.

There's a kitchen, laundry, showers, lockers, and a hangout room with couches, video games, board games, and adult beverages for those of legal drinking age.

But for Paul Jarrett, there's another reason his workspace feels like home.

"I actually grew up in a trailer park about four blocks from here," in downtown Lincoln, he says.


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While he dreamed of playing in the Nebraska Cornhuskers' football stadium, which is also just a few blocks from here, Jarrett earned a football scholarship to Iowa State and played there instead, starting at defensive nose guard.

He returned to Lincoln and then he and Stephanie moved away to New York for jobs in advertising and marketing, before going to work at tech startups in San Francisco.

"It's insane there," Jarrett says. "I couldn't get a cup of coffee without somebody telling me about their startup."

Nonetheless, Jarrett and his wife figured they'd need to stay in the Bay Area when they wanted to launch their own startup. But a friend told him about a network of technology investors back home, called Nebraska Angels.

He and Stephanie pulled all-nighters to put their plan together and made the long drive to Lincoln to make their pitch.

"Before we left town, we raised half a million dollars on our idea," he says.

So they loaded up a U-Haul and it was back to Lincoln they went, this time for good. And he immediately noticed a difference in the high tech business culture.

"In San Francisco and in big cities, people come up to you and they say, 'What do you do?' And they immediately start competing with you and they start sizing you up, and it's almost like they're saying, 'What can you do for me?' And in the Midwest, it is completely opposite. People say, 'How can I help you? What can I do for you?' "

For example, when Jarrett was setting up his office and needed Internet service, local providers told him it would be at least a couple of weeks. Then he ran into a friend on the street.

"And he's like, 'Oh, I know a guy.' He literally said, 'Follow me,' and he introduced me to these local guys that did Internet downtown and they're like, yeah, we could wire you up right now and they actually temporarily ran across the alley a cord just right into our office and within one hour we had Internet."


Bulu Box is a small startup based in Lincoln, Neb. The e-commerce company provides boxes of healthy snacks, drinks, vitamins, supplements and other premium health care products. It then compiles data on what consumers like and don't like about those products for the companies that make them. David Schaper/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Schaper/NPR

Bulu Box is a small startup based in Lincoln, Neb. The e-commerce company provides boxes of healthy snacks, drinks, vitamins, supplements and other premium health care products. It then compiles data on what consumers like and don't like about those products for the companies that make them.

David Schaper/NPR

In the growing community of high tech entrepreneurs in Lincoln, as well as in nearby Omaha, people pull for one another. They collaborate, commiserate, advise and mentor. Even though they may compete for investors, talent and ideas, Jarrett says, there's a belief that any one startup's success is good for everyone else, especially in the same building.

In the office next door are 25-year-old startup "veterans" Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic and their newest company, Opendorse.

"Adi and I started our first company when we were 20 years old, five years ago, and there's been a ton of support ever since," Lawrence says.

Lawrence and Kunalic came to the University of Nebraska to play football, and the ties between college athletics and many tech startups in Lincoln are tight. An early connection was a company called Hudl, which was started almost a decade ago by three students in at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. They worked with Nebraska's football coach at the time to develop digital tools for coaches and players to share and store video and data, so they can review game and practice footage on laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Hudl has been named the fastest growing company in Nebraska for two consecutive years and now employs more than 225 people around the country, with most in offices in Lincoln and Omaha.

CEO and co-founder David Graff says the company could have moved anywhere, and had offers to relocate, but it stayed in Lincoln because "we really like the access to the University." Hudl has 35 interns and most are from the Raikes School (named for Nebraska alum and former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes).

"We've had great support from the city," Graff adds. "A number of our investors come from the Lincoln area ... and we really like what's being built in Lincoln."

Graff points to the city's redevelopment of the Haymarket area, which is where Hudl is headquartered. Less than a decade ago, the area adjacent to downtown mostly consisted of neglected warehouses, dirty railroad tracks and the city's old rail depot.

The city and the university are also turning the old state fairgrounds into an innovation campus for high tech firms.

After starting and selling a social media company, Lawrence and Kunalic founded Opendorse, which uses data to help link athletes to marketers and the right endorsement opportunities.

Kunalic agrees the university provides access to "a lot of talent" and the small Midwestern locale helps keep a startup's costs down.

"I feel like [in] Lincoln, you can take a lot of risk and you can grow your team very fast and not have to pay ridiculous prices just to get your concept out the door," Kunalic says.

Lawrence, Kunalic, Jarrett and other entrepreneurs here admit lower salaries and Nebraska's sleepy reputation can make Lincoln a tough sell when going after top talent in places like Boston, New York, Seattle or San Francisco.

But Lincoln boosters say the low cost of living and high quality of life can be a draw. And a redevelopment of Lincoln's warehouse district downtown has dramatically increased the number of bars, restaurants and music venues, sparking a vibrant night life in this college town of nearly 300,000.

One of the latest to make the move is 30-year-old Matt Boyd, who arrived a few weeks ago from the Bay Area.

"I think there's a lot of people who in their mind, they think that innovation lives in San Francisco and hard work lives in San Francisco, especially for the startup scene and that's just not true," Boyd says. He says he's seeing "so many positive indicators of people who are super-duper innovators and are just churning and burning the midnight oil and almost a harder work ethic than I have seen anywhere."

Boyd and the other entrepreneurs note that access to capital can be a problem. There is some money available in the Midwest through Nebraska Angels and other similar investment groups, but Midwest investors tend to be a bit more conservative.

"That's why I keep my New York cell number," Bulu Box's Paul Jarrett quietly admits.

That way his calls are returned more often and more quickly. And after potential investors hear his business plan, they don't really care that he's not in the Silicon Valley, but on the Silicon Prairie in Lincoln, Neb.

silicon prairie

tech startup

tech entrepreneurs

lincoln, nebraska


Silicon Valley



Few dishes showcase Southern tradition more perfectly than a slice of pecan pie, with its dark custard filling and crunchy, nutty topping.

Sweet and buttery, the pecans that figure so prominently in that iconic pie are America's only major indigenous tree nut. They're native to the Deep South, where the long, warm growing season provides an optimal climate. And they're the third-most-popular nut in the U.S. behind peanuts and almonds, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.


Pecan flour from Oliver Farm in Georgia. Courtesy of Oliver Farm hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Oliver Farm

Pecan flour from Oliver Farm in Georgia.

Courtesy of Oliver Farm

With 10 million pecan trees producing over 200,000 tons of pecans in America today, the nut hardly needs bolstering. But recently, it has become the focus of experiments by Southern farmers, chefs and craft breweries. Inspired in part by the fast-growing farm-to-table movement, which sets a premium on local products, they are giving the pecan new opportunities to shine in the form of cold-pressed oil, gluten-free flour and even beer.

Toasting or roasting brings nut oils to the surface, and pecans are practically overflowing: 75 percent of the nut is pure oil. Compare that with the peanut, which is 50 percent oil, and the almond, which is around 45 percent oil. As with all nuts, roasting not only intensifies the pecan's flavor but also it adds to its richness.

At Oliver Farm, an award-winning producer of artisan oils in Cordele, Ga., Clay Oliver uses an old-fashioned screw press to produce several thousand bottles of delicate pecan oil a year. He sells to Southern chefs, specialty stores around Georgia and online. "Pecans have that mysterious extra-something and an unforgettable flavor that renders the oil and flour delicious," says Oliver.

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Native Georgia chef Steven Satterfield, a James Beard Foundation Award finalist in 2013 and 2014, uses Oliver Farm's oil for everything from frying food to crafting pecan pesto vinaigrette at his Miller Union restaurant in Atlanta. "I love traditional Southern food," he says, "but I want to experiment just enough to keep it fresh and interesting and new."

Oliver Farm's defatted, gluten-free flour has earned such a big following of Southern bakers that it quickly sells out. Dede Wilson's Bakepedia, a baking and dessert recipe website, offers a recipe for pecan flour buttermilk pancakes with an added drizzle of pecan oil. Georgia chef Jennifer Booker, author of Field Peas to Foie Gras: Southern Recipes with a French Accent, uses the pecan oil in traditional southern shrimp and grits, and for sauteing collard greens.


Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan Brown Ale is produced in Kiln, Miss. Courtesy of Lazy Magnolia hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Lazy Magnolia

Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan Brown Ale is produced in Kiln, Miss.

Courtesy of Lazy Magnolia

But perhaps the most surprising new venue for the pecan is a craft beer called Southern Pecan Brown Ale, produced by Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Miss. Founded by husband-and-wife team Mark and Leslie Henderson, it's the state's first brewery since the Prohibition.

"Our pecan ale is our flagship beer and the first one in the world made with whole roasted pecans," says Leslie Henderson. The beer won a Bronze Medal in the 2006 World Beer Cup and is now available in 17 southern states. "We were initially worried the oils would kill the foam on our beer," says Henderson. "But the pecans ferment just like a grain and provide nuttiness and flavor unmatched in other beers. There's still a lot of hops and malt, but the nutty flavor shines through."

What inspired the beer in the first place? "Comfort foods like pecan pie and pecan pralines give us that old, charming, Deep South romance," Henderson says. "We wanted to hearken back to that hospitality yet create something new. Our beer is complex but really approachable."

Pecan pancakes and beer for breakfast, anyone?

Jill Neimark is an Atlanta-based writer whose work has been featured in Discover, Scientific American, Science, Nautilus, Aeon, Psychology Today and The New York Times.

After spending nearly six months on the International Space Station, an astronaut and two cosmonauts have landed safely back on Earth. While in orbit, they traveled almost 71 million miles, NASA says.

Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA and flight engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) touched down in Kazakhstan Thursday morning, local time.

The astronauts began their trip home by undocking a Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft from the space station and undergoing a 4-minute, 41-second deorbit burn, NASA says. A parachute later eased the Soyuz craft down to the recovery area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

In the 167 days they were aboard the space station, the crew of Expedition 42 researched "the effects of microgravity on cells, Earth observation, physical science and biological and molecular science," NASA says.

The space agency adds that the space station now has an Electromagnetic Levitator, which will let scientists "observe fundamental physical processes as liquid metals cool," possibly leading to the production of "lighter, higher-performing" alloys.

The space station now has a three-person crew; a new trio will launch to join them in late March.

In other NASA news, the agency successfully tested what it calls the "largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built" Wednesday, producing some 3.6 million pounds of thrust during a two-minute burn at a test site in Utah. Temperatures inside the booster reached more than 5,600 degrees, NASA says.

The agency says the booster rocket is being developed "to help propel NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars."


Expedition 42 Cosmonauts Elena Serova, left, and Alexander Samokutyaev, center, sit in chairs along with NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore, minutes after they landed back on Earth. Bill Ingalls/NASA hide caption

itoggle caption Bill Ingalls/NASA

Expedition 42 Cosmonauts Elena Serova, left, and Alexander Samokutyaev, center, sit in chairs along with NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore, minutes after they landed back on Earth.

Bill Ingalls/NASA


The Discreet Hero is set in two Peruvian cities, the provincial desert town of Piura and the metropolis of Lima, and tells of two aging businessmen, each of whom we meet on the verge of life-changing situations.

A transportation company owner from Piura, Felicito Yanaque, has spent most of his adult years in a bloodless marriage. He has two sons, a young mistress, and has recently become the apparent target of an extortion threat against his transit enterprise, a threat that, he vows heroically, to fight against, with or without the help of the police.

The other businessman, Ismael Carrera, is a Lima insurance executive and a widower ready to retire and travel a bit. He has a new love, but when his two playboy sons hear of it, Ishmael finds himself in the middle of a war with his spoiled and rather nasty offspring. As we go back and forth between Piura and Lima, and between these two men, each struggling to seize his own destiny and live out a peaceful second half of life, the plot builds with a tension usually reserved for novels about war and politics.

Felicito takes his initial threat — a note signed with the drawing of a spider — to the Piura police, but they give him little satisfaction. In the arms of his mistress, the attractive and ultimately duplicitous Mabel, he finds some pleasure. But the threats continue. When someone sets fire to his office and posts another threat on the door of Mabel's hideaway Felicito goes into higher gear, pushing the police ever harder to catch his extortionists.

Felicito's story comes to the reader directly by means of a third person narrative. The Lima strand, the story of Ismael Carrera, comes filtered through the experiences of a colleague at his insurance company. Don Rigoberto is a dear friend and deep thinker edging toward retirement who serves as witness to Ishmael's personal trials and family turmoil. When his friend and colleague fights back against his sons, Don Rigoberto himself becomes entangled in the war of the younger generation against the older.

Felicito to Ismael, then back to Felicito, from hot dusty Piura to damp and foggy ocean-side Lima, the story continues until finally building to the high point where the two men intersect. In anyone else's hands this material might seem drab, but I can't think of another novel in recent years that has given readers these kinds of thrills alongside and old-fashioned kind of high novelistic narrative.

As he considers how he's become caught up in his boss's struggle, Don Rigoberto puts it this way: "My God, what stories ordinary life devised; not masterpieces to be sure, they were doubtless closer to...soap operas than to Cervantes and Tolstoy...but then again not so far from... Dumas... Zola... Dickens, or...Galdos..."

Somewhere between soap opera and Dickens, Zola and Galdos, is not a bad place to be. By plucking his heroes from the world of business rather than government or the military, Vargas Llosa calls our attention to the strengths of people we don't normally think of as noble characters. It makes for a peerless novel about middle-class people wrestling with the nature of fate, happiness, the nature of success, and the struggle to lead an ethical life — a tale of two men, two families, two cities, two crises, two scandals.

And in his use of the double hero Vargas Llosa demonstrates yet again his broad reach — not one major figure but two, who, taken together, reveal a great deal about the national character and the geographical particularities of the writer's native country. After setting three of his last four novels in places other than Peru, this return home is a welcome one, allowing him to reassert his old and enduring allegiances to the Nineteenth Novel (Flaubert's to be specific) even as he exercises his modernist prowess. Let me say just a little indiscreetly this big book about ordinary people living out big modern themes is the best new novel I've read in quite a while.

Iraqi troops and militia fighters are reportedly inside the city of Tikrit, the city that has been held by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, since last June. Officials and witnesses say the Iraqis now control part of northern Tikrit.

Tikrit is the capital of Salahuddin province, between Baghdad and ISIS-controlled Mosul. Citing state-run television, The Associated Press quotes Salahuddin police Brig. Kheyon Rasheed as saying Wednesday, "The terrorists are seizing the cars of civilians trying to leave the city and they are trying to make a getaway."

The push to retake Tikrit began nine days ago, with thousands of Iraq's military troops bolstered by Kurdish fighters and both Sunni and Shiite militia groups. Despite the apparent progress in the city's northern district of Qadisiyya, troops have been slowed by sniper fire and hidden bombs.

Reuters reports: "The army and militia fighters raised the national flag above a military hospital in the section of Qadisiyya they had retaken from the militants, security officials said."

Word of the advance comes after the Iraqi force pushed ISIS fighters out of the town of al-Alam, on the northern outskirts of Tikrit, on Tuesday.



On a hillside on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, about 50 red-haired refugees are learning how to be orangutans once again. The country's booming palm oil industry has encroached on their habitats, leaving many of them homeless and orphaned.

Palm oil is hard to avoid. It's in cookies, soap, doughnuts and lipstick. It's so common that it's found in about half of all the items in an ordinary supermarket. As a result, it's in high demand, and environmentalists blame it for deforestation, climate change, social conflict and animal extinction in Indonesia.

Sumatra's orangutans are among the victims.

"The definition of a refugee is someone whose homeland is no longer available to them, and that's exactly the case with these orangutans," says Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program. "These are the survivors of this annihilation of the forest, and everything that lives in it."

Environmental groups' publicity about the plight of orangutans has helped to increase public pressure on the palm oil industry to stop destroying forests. But the primates are already endangered, with fewer than 7,000 believed to be surviving in the Sumatran wilds.


A truck passes the barren land of a former palm oil plantation that is to be replaced by forest in Aceh Tamiang, an area inside Sumatra's Leuser Ecosystem. The 6.5 million-acre area is an important part of the orangutans' habitat. But it is threatened by palm oil plantations, mining and logging. Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

A truck passes the barren land of a former palm oil plantation that is to be replaced by forest in Aceh Tamiang, an area inside Sumatra's Leuser Ecosystem. The 6.5 million-acre area is an important part of the orangutans' habitat. But it is threatened by palm oil plantations, mining and logging.

Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

The orangutan project, located about an hour's drive outside Medan, the capital of Indonesia's North Sumatra province, is set among lush foliage in the only forest land in the area that's not palm oil plantation.

Singleton's program rescues orangutans displaced by palm oil plantations, or whose families were killed so humans could keep them as illegal pets. Most of the orangutans are released back into the wild, but not all.

Take Leuser, a large adult male who cannot return to the forest because he is blind. He was rescued, taken to the center and then released back into the forest.

Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, also campaigns to stop the illegal clearing of forests for palm oil, which continues despite a moratorium on destroying primary forests and peat land. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Anthony Kuhn/NPR

Then, he wandered too close to a village.

"Three farmers there carrying air rifles to shoot squirrels and monkeys found him and decided to take potshots at him as well," Singleton says. "They put 62 air rifle pellets into him, including his eyes. He's still got 48 inside him. But otherwise, he's perfectly healthy and fit."

A female named Tila plays nearby. Singleton, a former zookeeper in Britain, says she's one of the saddest cases so far.

"She came here as a youngster, tested positive for ... human hepatitis B, which means we can't release her to the forest because there's always a risk she'll infect wild primates," he says.

How did she contract the human disease? Almost certainly by biting the people who captured her, Singleton says.

The animals who make it to the conservation project are the lucky ones — and the tough ones.

"The orangutans that make it this far are the real survivors. Everybody else is dead," he says. "The ones that get here are the ones that are hard to kill."

An adult orangutan in a cage at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program. It's one of four that remain at the program, either because they are disabled or because they pose a risk to people and animals outside the program. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Anthony Kuhn/NPR

When they first arrive, the orangutans are quarantined for 30 days and given thorough health checks. After they're confirmed to be healthy, and before they're released back into the wild, the orangutans spend time in "socialization" cages.

"This is where they really learn how to be an orangutan again," Singleton explains, as young orangutans swing on ropes and open coconuts nearby. "They need to know how to protect their food, and fend off attack, and you find out who are the bullies and who are the wimps, so they've really got to figure out their place in orangutan society, and that happens here."

Out in the wild, if an orangutan puckers up, kiss-like? It's a sign of annoyance, he says, signaling unease.

Singleton is planning to build a haven for Leuser and Tila and other apes who can't return to the wild. The haven will serve as an educational facility for visitors, including many Indonesians, who have never seen orangutans and know little about them.

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Besides caring for these primates, Singleton also campaigns to stop illegal clearing of forests for palm oil. He's fighting to protect an important part of the orangutans' habitat, a 6.5 million acre swathe of Sumatra called the Leuser Ecosystem.

"It's probably the biggest single contiguous forest bloc in the whole of Southeast Asia now," he says. "And it's the only place in the world where you get Sumatran orangutans, tigers and rhinos living together."

On the positive side, in 2011, Indonesia's president declared a moratorium on destroying primary forests and peat land.

But local officials in Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra have drafted a development plan that will dole out large swathes of the Leuser Ecosystem for mining, logging and palm oil plantations in violation of that moratorium. The matter is now before Indonesia's Supreme Court.

Recently, major palm oil companies, under pressure from environmental groups and consumers, have issued pledges not to destroy forests in the making of their products.

But as permits to legally clear forest for palm oil become scarce, Singleton says, an unregulated layer of middlemen and local elites continues to do it illegally.

"Middle-class, well-connected people — the cousin of the police or the nephew of the governor — are just going into areas and clearing forests for palm oil without any permits, totally against the law," he says.

For now, Sumatra still has enough forests into which Singleton can release his orangutan refugees. But if illegal deforestation continues, that could change.

"Where do you put them?" Singleton wonders. "You keep them alive, but at what cost?"

palm oil








The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it is prepared to reopen all 144-thousand insurance claims that resulted from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The move comes after months of questions over whether insurance companies contracted by the National Flood Insurance Program fraudulently altered engineering reports.

After thousands of homeowners said their insurance claims were systematically lowballed, FEMA began negotiations in an attempt to regain the trust of policy holders. While no agreement has yet been signed. FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre says, "There will be a process set up so that everyone who filed a claim will have an opportunity to go back and have their case reviewed if they feel they did not get every dollar they are legitimately owed."

FEMA also says the head of the flood program, David Miller, has resigned.

Under the health law, large employers that don't offer their full-time workers comprehensive, affordable health insurance face a fine. But some employers are taking it a step further and requiring workers to buy the company insurance, whether they want it or not.

Many workers may have no choice but to comply.

Some workers are upset. One disgruntled reader wrote to Kaiser Health News: "My employer is requiring me to purchase health insurance and is automatically taking the premium out of my paycheck even though I don't want to sign up for health insurance. Is this legal?"

The short answer is yes. Under the federal health law, employers with 100 or more full-time workers can enroll them in company coverage without their say as long as the plan is deemed affordable and adequate. That means the employee contribution is no more than 9.5 percent of the federal poverty guideline and the plan pays for at least 60 percent of covered medical expenses, on average.

"If you offer an employee minimum essential coverage that provides minimum value and is affordable, you need not provide an opt out," says Seth Perretta, a partner at Groom Law Group, a Washington, D.C., firm specializing in employee benefits.

If a plan doesn't meet those standards, however, employees must be given the opportunity to decline those company plans, under the health law. They can shop for coverage on the health insurance marketplaces and may qualify for premium tax credits if their income is between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

Those premium subsidies aren't available to workers whose employer offers good coverage that meets the law's standards.

Not that many employers are expected to strong arm their workers into buying health insurance. Those that do may be confused about their responsibilities under the health law, mistakenly believing that in order to avoid penalties they have to enroll their workers in coverage.

"That is just dead wrong," says Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who's an expert on the health law.

"Nothing in the Affordable Care Act directs employers to make their coverage mandatory for employees," says a Treasury Department spokesperson. The law requires large employers "to either offer coverage or pay a fee if their full-time workers access tax credits to get coverage on their own in the marketplace."

Employer penalties for not offering insurance that meets the health law's standards can run up to $3,000 per employee.

For employers, forcing coverage on their workers could be counterproductive. "Do you really want to limit employees' ability to select whether they get this coverage?" says Amy Bergner, managing director at human resources consultant PwC. "What impact does that have from talent management perspective?"

employer coverage

Affordable Care Act

Health Insurance

I first encountered cumin in suburban New Jersey around 1988. Indian food was just starting to penetrate the suburbs, and a trip to the new Indian restaurant in the next town had, literally, the whiff of adventure about it.

As I took in the many new tastes and aromas from curries and kormas, one stood out: what I deemed the "the sweaty shirt spice," or cumin.

Cumin is essential not just to India cooking but to cooks everywhere from Cuba, where it features in a garlicky sauce called mojo, to the Middle East, to China, where it flavors the grilled meats of the country's Muslim minority.

Here in the U.S. you'll find cumin in an impressively diverse selection of products from chili powder and black bean soup to croutons and kale slaw, as a recent Food and Drug Administration recall of cumin products revealed. Some of our most popular restaurant chains rely on it heavily, too: Cumin is in nine of the 23 items on Chipotle's menu.

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"Once it has been introduced into a new land and culture, cumin has a way of insinuating itself deeply into the local cuisine, which is why it has become one of the most commonly used spices in the world," writes Gary Nabhan, author and social science researcher at the University of Arizona Southwest Center, in his recent book, Cumin, Camels, and Caravans.

Nabhan's book is really a much broader look at the spice trade and its relationship to history and culture. But cumin earned a spot in the title "because it is so demonstrative of culinary globalization," Nabhan writes.

Cumin has also literally been popular since the dawn of written history.

In English, at least, cumin has a singular distinction – it is the only word that can be traced directly back to Sumerian, the first written language. So when we talk about cumin, we are harkening back to the Sumerian word gamun, first written in the cuneiform script more than 4,000 years ago.

Cumin's popularity in ancient Mesopotamia is also evident in the world's oldest recipe collection, the so-called Yale Culinary Tablets, which date to about 1750 BC. Written in what is now southern Iraq, the tablets attest to the Mesopotamians' taste for highly spiced food with lots of onions, garlic and kamnu, as cumin was called in Akkadian, the Semitic language the recipes were written in.

Almost a millennium later in the 9th century BC, the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II threw a huge feast to celebrate the construction of his new capital, Nimrud, in what is now northern Iraq. Boasting about it in a royal inscription erected in his new palace, Ashurnasirpal lists the massive quantities of food he served to guests from all over his empire, including lots of cumin. It was probably used as a table condiment as it still is throughout the Middle East.


More Americans became familiar with the flavor of cumin in the 1960s as restaurants like Taco Bell gained popularity. Here, beef short ribs are seasoned with ground coriander, cumin garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and brown sugar. Bob Rudis/Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Bob Rudis/Flickr

More Americans became familiar with the flavor of cumin in the 1960s as restaurants like Taco Bell gained popularity. Here, beef short ribs are seasoned with ground coriander, cumin garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and brown sugar.

Bob Rudis/Flickr

The cuisines of the classical world also made use of cumin both as a flavoring and a drug. The Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of Greek medical texts mostly dating to late 5th and early 4th centuries BC, lists cumin as one of the ingredients in a prescription said to stop a woman's uterus from moving around her abdomen and causing "hysteria." Its association with women's reproductive health is also noted by the 1st century CE Roman author Pliny the Elder in his Natural History. He writes that if a woman smells cumin during sex she is more likely to conceive.

Besides its supposed medicinal properties, the ubiquity of cumin on the Roman table can be seen in the novel Satyricon, from around the 1st century BC. In it, the pompous Trimalchio is throwing a lavish dinner party and is shocked to find that his cook has forgotten to prepare the pig. Trimalchio, in a rage, complains that the cook is not taking the situation seriously enough, saying that he is acting as if he has only forgotten to add a pinch of pepper and cumin to a dish. Cumin was so important that in a Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius, dating the late 4th or early 5th century AD, it's listed among the "pantry essentials" that every well stocked home must have.

Cumin spread throughout Europe with the Roman Empire and its culinary and (alleged) medicinal qualities continued to be valued throughout the Middle Ages. In 13th-century England, rents were often paid in cumin, and the household of King Henry III would buy it in quantities of 20 pounds at a time. By the end of the 15th century, when Europeans began looking for new trade routes to obtain even more exotic spices, cumin was being widely cultivated in the warmer parts of the continent.

After 1492, the "Columbian Exchange" brought about a massive new trade in products between Europe and the Americas that would influence eating habits in ways large and small. While foods like chilies and chocolate were being introduced to Old World kitchens, the ancient culinary traditions of the Americas were being introduced to cumin.

When Spanish settlers first planted cumin in the Americas, one of the last legs of cumin's journey began. By about 1600, cumin was being grown in what is now New Mexico; quickly it became an integral part of the regional cuisine. Anglo-American settlers first tasted the heady mix of cumin and chilies, which we now think of as central to Mexican and Southwestern food, when they began moving west in the 19th century.

These settlers and their descendants began incorporating this style of cooking into their own culinary repertoires, which helped to spread cumin's popularity. This could even be seen in the White House where Lady Bird Johnson, wife of the first president from Texas, had her own recipe for "Pedernales River Chili," which called for a teaspoon of comino seed (the Spanish word for cumin).

To the east, cumin traveled down the Persian Gulf where it was spread to India by traders from the Arabian Peninsula and from there throughout South Asia. The overland route linking Europe to Asia, usually referred to as the Silk Road, also helped to spread cumin's popularity and it was in this way that cumin reached China. In the Middle East, where cumin's use was first recorded, the spiced has remained popular in cuisines throughout the region and is often found in small bowls on tables right next to the salt.

More Americans became familiar with the flavor of cumin in the 1960s as restaurants like Taco Bell gained popularity. The second half of the 20th century also saw significant immigration from South Asia bringing dishes that had been redolent of cumin for millennia to the U.S.

Whether it's foul for breakfast in Syria, chana masala for lunch in India or mole for dinner in Mexico, cumin is always on the table somewhere in the world. When we eat it we are part of a tradition going back to the very beginning of recorded history.

Adam Maskevich is an archaeologist who has worked extensively throughout the Middle East. He has also taught classes on the history of food and cooking in antiquity and the politics of archaeology.


food history

Iraqi troops and militia fighters are reportedly inside the city of Tikrit, the city that's been held by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, since last June. Officials and witnesses say the Iraqis now control part of northern Tikrit.

Tikrit is the capital of Salahuddin province, between Baghdad and ISIS-controlled Mosul. Citing state-run television, The Associated Press quotes Salahuddin police Brig. Kheyon Rasheed as saying Wednesday, "The terrorists are seizing the cars of civilians trying to leave the city and they are trying to make a getaway."

The push to retake Tikrit began nine days ago, with thousands of Iraq's military troops bolstered by Kurdish fighters and both Sunni and Shiite militia groups. Despite the apparent progress in the city's northern district of Qadisiyya, troops have been slowed by sniper fire and hidden bombs.

Reuters reports: "The army and militia fighters raised the national flag above a military hospital in the section of Qadisiyya they had retaken from the militants, security officials said."

Word of the advance comes after after the Iraqi force pushed ISIS fighters out of the town of al-Alam, on the northern outskirts of Tikrit, on Tuesday.




Just because a meal is vegetarian doesn't mean it can't be "meaty." One trick to heighten the depth of flavors in plant-based dishes? Use ingredients that offer a pop of umami, say Bridget Lancaster and Jack Bishop of America's Test Kitchen, who have released the new cookbook The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

Umami (which means "delicious" or "yummy" in Japanese) is the name of the savory flavor in meat and fish — and it's recognized as one of the five tastes, along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami "incites our taste receptors on our tongue to kind of pick up that savory note from foods," Lancaster, the executive food editor of the Test Kitchen, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

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And umami isn't limited to meat. Mushrooms, tomatoes and soy sauce are foods that are high in glutamates, which are the natural compounds that stimulate our umami receptors.

"As a whole, a lot of vegetarian foods, especially a while back, were kind of one-dimensional," Lancaster asserts. "They were a little bit sweet or a little bit bitter. Especially our main courses in this cookbook really satisfy a lot of the flavors on our palate."

Bishop, the editorial director of the Test Kitchen, says a favorite recipe of his in the book is the mushroom Bolognese.

It's the soy sauce, he says, that makes the flavor snap.

"You would think, 'Soy sauce in an Italian recipe?'" he says. "It doesn't read as soy sauce in the final dish. But again, it's adding more depth than if you were to just add an equivalent amount of salt. ... If you add soy sauce, you get salt and you get the glutamates."

Interview Highlights

On using tomato paste to add structure to a vegetarian dish

Jack Bishop: I think a great example is an Indian curry. So [people tend to] think if there are no chunks of tomatoes, then there are no tomatoes in it. But often we'll add, after we've browned onions and garlic and if it's a curry, we've added some ginger — we might add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste and brown that briefly to bring out its flavor. ... Then you go ahead and you add the water, you can add the coconut milk, and there are no chunks of tomatoes, per se. I'm thinking of a recipe in the book with potatoes and cauliflower and peas and it's not a tomato curry ... but there is a tablespoon of tomato paste in there that's providing backbone, structure to the dish, and really, depth. And you probably wouldn't identify it in the finished dish, but leave it out and you would notice the difference.

More From America's Test Kitchen

The Salt

'Test Kitchen': How To Buy The Safest Meat And Make The Juiciest Steaks


'America's Test Kitchen' On Grilling Peaches, Tofu And Burgers

On soy sauce

Bridget Lancaster: Soy sauce is one of those ingredients that is also umami-packed. It has lots of those glutamates in it. It's kind of a power ingredient when you're talking about vegetarian cooking, very similar to mushrooms: You add a little bit and it's going to give that meaty, savory flavor. The surprising thing is that you don't have to just use it for stir-fry or other types of Asian dishes. We use it as a seasoning, so you can use it [in a] soup. ... We use it to season [vegetarian] meatballs, all sorts of things.

On Parmesan

Lancaster: My very favorite cheese for cooking is Parmesan, for a few different reasons. And I'm talking about the real Parmesan that actually has a rind attached, not the green can attached. The really good Parmesan Reggiano has that crystalline texture. I think you get a lot of punch with a very little amount, so even though it's incredibly expensive, you actually don't have to use a lot to kind of make its presence known. But the best part of it is the rind — I have a whole bag of them in my freezer that I keep. I cut them up into one- or two-inch pieces ... and then any time I'm making a soup, whether it's vegetarian, like a bean soup, or not, I will throw in a Parmesan-cheese rind. If I'm making stock ... and it adds this meaty flavor to dishes itself and it gives a more satisfying feel to the soups. Then [I] fish it out before serving.


Ultimate Veggie Burger Daniel J. Van Ackere/Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen hide caption

itoggle caption Daniel J. Van Ackere/Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

Ultimate Veggie Burger

Daniel J. Van Ackere/Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

On veggie burgers

Bishop: The store-bought ones are not an advertisement for eating or making vegetarian burgers. They're just very sad. ... We developed about a half-dozen [veggie] burger recipes. My favorite contains pinto beans, beets and bulgur and it's got such great flavor. And what I really love is the texture. So bulgur is a type of wheat, it cooks really, really quickly and it gives it kind of that nubby [texture], whether it's a turkey burger or a beef burger. ... The shredded raw beets, they add a little bit of creaminess to it; they add some sweetness to it; they add some nice flavor. ... There's a little bit of ground walnuts, which again, adds some savory notes. ... And then the best part is you serve them with sriracha mayonnaise.

Recipe: Mushroom Bolognese


Jack Bishop says it's the soy sauce in the Mushroom Bolognese that really makes it pop. Joe Keller/Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Keller/Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

Jack Bishop says it's the soy sauce in the Mushroom Bolognese that really makes it pop.

Joe Keller/Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works: We wanted to create a vegetarian pasta sauce that mimicked the rich, long-cooked flavor and hearty texture of Bolognese. Traditional Bolognese sauce gets its rich flavor from a combination of several types of meat, so we turned to two types of mushrooms to replicate that complexity: Dried porcini delivered depth of flavor, while 2 pounds of fresh cremini gave the sauce a satisfying, substantial texture. To further round out the sauce's savory flavor, we added two umami-rich ingredients: soy sauce and tomato paste. To make prep easy, we used the food processor both to chop the cremini roughly and then to finely chop the onion and carrot. Pulsing whole canned tomatoes in the food processor allowed us to get just the right texture. We also used red wine to lend richness and depth and a little sugar for some balancing sweetness. A dash of heavy cream at the end rounded out the sauce and gave it a decadent silkiness. Cremini mushrooms are also known as baby bella ­mushrooms.

(Serves 4 to 6)

2 pounds cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup dry red wine

cup vegetable broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 pound fettuccine or linguine

Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Working in batches, pulse cremini mushrooms in food processor until pieces are no larger than 1/2 inch, 5 to 7 pulses; transfer to large bowl. Pulse carrot and onion in now-empty processor until chopped fine, 5 to 7 pulses; transfer to bowl with mushrooms. Pulse tomatoes and their juice in now-empty processor until chopped fine, 6 to 8 pulses; set aside separately.

2. Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add processed vegetables and porcini mushrooms, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until liquid has evaporated and vegetables begin to brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

3. Stir in garlic and sugar and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine and simmer until nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in processed tomatoes, vegetable broth, soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce has thickened but is still moist, 8 to 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in cream.

5. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add sauce and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and adjust consistency with reserved cooking water as needed. Serve with Parmesan.

Recipe: Potato Vindaloo

Why This Recipe Works: Vindaloo is a complex, spicy dish that blends Portuguese and Indian cuisines into a potent braise featuring warm spices, chiles, wine vinegar, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and mustard seeds. We set out to translate its comfort food appeal into a hearty vegetarian version. Centering our dish around potatoes seemed right, as it required low and slow cooking to develop complex flavors, and a combination of red and sweet potatoes elevated our stew's flavor even further. However, after 45 minutes of simmering, the potatoes still weren't fully cooked. A second look at our ingredients showed us why: The acidic environment created by the ­tomatoes and vinegar was preventing our potatoes from becoming tender. To test our theory, we whipped up another batch, this time leaving out the tomatoes and vinegar until the end, cooking them just enough to mellow their flavors. Sure enough, after just 15 minutes, our potatoes were perfectly tender. To give our vindaloo exceptionally deep flavor, we used a mix of Indian spices plus bay leaves and mustard seed, and simmered them with the potatoes, which soaked up the flavors as they cooked. Serve over rice with a dollop of yogurt.

(Serves 6)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped fine

1 pound red potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Salt and pepper

10 garlic cloves, minced

4 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 1/2 cups water

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and potatoes begin to soften at edges, 10 to 12 minutes.

2. Stir in garlic, paprika, cumin, cardamom, cayenne and cloves and cook until fragrant and vegetables are well coated, about 2 minutes. Gradually stir in water, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in bay leaves, mustard seeds, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Stir in tomatoes and their juice and vinegar and continue to simmer, uncovered, until flavors are blended and sauce has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves, stir in cilantro, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Recipes excerpted from America's Test Kitchen: The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. Excerpted by permission of America's Test Kitchen.



flavor science


Congressional Republicans who don't like the deal President Obama is trying to negotiate to end Iran's nuclear program are now trying a new tactic: telling Iranians that they won't honor it after Obama leaves office.

The letter was authored by freshman Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and co-signed by 46 of his GOP colleagues, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Obama, at a White House photo opportunity Monday, said he is proceeding with negotiations. "I think it's somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran," he said. "It's an unusual coalition."

The missive is addressed "to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran" and starts out by explaining how the Constitution works, how Congress ratifies international treaties, and how while the president serves a four-year term, members of the Senate serve six.

"As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades," the letter reads. "What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."

Senate Democrats howled that the letter shreds the long-standing tradition that politics end "at the water's edge," and that the U.S. president is always given deference in foreign policy matters.

"It's unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States," Minority leader Harry Reid said. "Do you so dislike President Obama that you would take this extraordinary step? Obviously so."

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, meanwhile, said in a press release that the letter "has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy."

Many Americans believe that Saudi Arabia has links to Islamist militants, but the Saudis say they are victims of terrorism, too.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has recruited more than 2,000 young Saudi men, despite government programs to stop them.

Now, the Saudi government shares the fears of the U.S. and Europe: that these violent young men will come home and carrying out attacks. There are signs that's already happening. As a result, the Saudis are ramping up training for counterterrorism missions.

One place that's happening is in a secretive, tightly guarded training center for the elite special operations forces. It's a sprawling campus, on the outskirts of the capital, Riyadh, where Saudi security officers drill on scenarios taken from actual attacks, with cameras rolling for feedback and sensors to measure reaction time in seconds.


Trainees can watch playbacks of their drills. Here, a "shooter" can see where he hit his "targets" during an exercise. Deborah Amos/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Deborah Amos/NPR

Trainees can watch playbacks of their drills. Here, a "shooter" can see where he hit his "targets" during an exercise.

Deborah Amos/NPR

In one drill, 10 fully armed men clad in black move from room to room. The goal of the live-fire exercise is to clear a militant hideout in less than two minutes. The walls are covered with heavy foam to absorb the bullets.

This month, much of the training has moved to Saudi Arabia's northern border. For the first time, all seven of the kingdom's security units are training together near the Iraqi frontier, which is also a first, says Gen. Monsour al-Turki, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.

The exercise comes after suicide attackers from Iraq crossed Saudi Arabia's northern border in January and killed a Saudi general and a border guard.

"We want to make sure that this coordination is upgraded and this integration will take place when they have to face terrorists trying to cross the border of Saudi Arabia," Turki says.

Saudi Arabia's new King Salman recently inherited the throne at a time of regional turmoil and lower oil prices. Salman quickly named his new team, including his youngest son, who was appointed minister of defense.

A rising star in the new government is another close relative, Mohammed bin Nayef, who is the new interior minister. The U.S.-educated 55-year-old now oversees all internal and external security. His first move has been to streamline command of the security services.

Academic Paul Pillar, a former U.S. intelligence officer for the Middle East, says the king's appointments are based on royal politics.


These pop-up targets are part of an advanced drill, named "friend or foe," that tests shooter reaction times. Some targets have a camera, and others, like these pictured, have a gun. The shooter must decide within seconds whether to shoot. Deborah Amos/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Deborah Amos/NPR

These pop-up targets are part of an advanced drill, named "friend or foe," that tests shooter reaction times. Some targets have a camera, and others, like these pictured, have a gun. The shooter must decide within seconds whether to shoot.

Deborah Amos/NPR

"Clearly the moves he's made have been in the direction of concentrating more power in parts of the family that are more closely associated with him," Pillar says. "The intra-royal family politics is also going to be a large part of it."

But in this case, he says, the new power lineup also addresses a rising security threat: terrorism from inside the country, rather than an external army rolling across the border. Pillar says it's why the special operation forces are taking the lead.

"Intense, elite and small is what they need right now, rather than large and cumbersome," he says. "When the Saudis have decided to place high priority and intense resources in a particular effort, they have done very well."

Back at the training center, another drill is under way. It's taking place in a room with a floor that's unsteady by design. Pop-up figures move quickly in a drill called "friend or foe" that tests reaction times.

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A figure with a camera? Friend. One with a gun? Foe. The participants have to be able to tell immediately which is which — and whether to shoot.

The room where this exercise is taking place can be dimmed for a night-time drill. Trainers can add distractions such has heat or noise, or drill after a 10-mile run, says Maj. Ahmed Hikimi.

"It's not only training to shoot, but put him under pressure and test his ability to shoot," Hikimi says.

Saudi Arabia is under pressure, too, says Turki, the spokesman for the interior ministry.

In addition to January's attack in the north, their was a cross border raid last summer on the southern frontier of the kingdom. All together, seven policemen and nine militants have been killed in the two attacks.

"Terrorism is surrounding us," he says. "Their intention is to be able to cross the Saudi borders and carrying out attacks in Saudi Arabia."

All the attackers were Saudi recruits to ISIS, Turki says, adding that it's a message from ISIS that Saudi Arabia is a target.

Islamic State


Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

Saudi Arabia

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