In Kansas this week, a political icon returned home. Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole has been traveling the state, meeting with friends and supporters who embraced his long political career.
Dole is not running for office, but the 90-year-old has a tour schedule that could tire a politician half his age. He's made 10 public appearances over three days, including a stop at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Dole has touched on serious topics during the trip. When asked about the most critical issues facing the nation in the next decade, he says controlling the budget will be near the top of the list and among the more difficult.
"I know when we had legislation when I was there that affected Kansas, it was pretty hard to vote for it if it was taking something away from Kansas," he said.
There's still plenty of Dole's trademark wit sprinkled throughout his talks. At a facility bearing his name on the KU campus, he joked about his time at KU before going off to serve in World War II: "So we had a lot of farewell parties, but we didn't attend many classes."
Aldean Banker, from Dole's hometown of Russell, says she liked his ability to get things done in Washington.
"He was very able to get people to work together, and I think we need that in government right now," she says.
University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis says while many may remember Dole for getting things done, he was a tough-minded partisan and pretty conservative for his time.
"But in the end, he was working to make this a better place. At the end he compromised, and in the end he could see the other person's position," Loomis said.
Beside being a presidential candidate three times, Loomis says Dole's legacy may well be his work in the Senate helping pass key legislation like the Social Security overhaul and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Dole will continue his Kansas tour next month, with more than a dozen additional stops.
This week in Seattle, Bill and Melinda Gates are attending a meeting of the minds.
Five-hundred of the world's top innovators in global health have gathered for the Global Health Product Development Forum, an annual event in which scientists, engineers, policymakers and activists work to develop new tools for fighting diseases.
Since the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began in 2000, the nonprofit has invested a lot of money in education in the U.S. But even more money has gone toward ending diseases in developing countries. Last year, the foundation dedicated $1.8 billion to eradicate polio worldwide.
NPR's Morning Edition host David Greene recently spoke with Gates about why he and his wife have chosen to focus their efforts abroad and less here at home — and whether he thinks the world is still on track for eradicating polio by 2018.
We note that the Gates Foundation supports NPR programming. And the interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why have you chosen to invest billions of dollars on diseases that the U.S. eradicated decades ago?
Our view on health is that we have a lot of interventions where we're saving lives for less than $2,000 per life saved.
By making sure new vaccines are invented, making sure they get out to all the kids on the planet, we're taking diarrheal deaths, pneumonia deaths and bringing those down pretty dramatically.
Any country where we can save a life for a few thousand dollars, we'll do it. It turns out the place you can do that — really make dramatic reductions in the number of children who die — is the really poor countries.
One area the foundation focuses on is eradicating malaria. Why did you choose that disease?
I was stunned when I found out that malaria, when we got started [in 2000], was killing a million children a year, most of that's in Africa.
Way back in 2000, we gave a $30 million grant and we became one of the largest funders in the area. It was stunning to me that a problem of such magnitude wasn't getting huge focus. ...
For Africa to move forward, you've really got to get rid of malaria.
Noble Prizes have been given for work on malaria. Governments and foundations have spent a flood of money on it. But the disease has persisted. Why do you think this is the moment when you can make a difference with malaria?
Those Nobel Prizes were given a long time ago. The thing that's magical now is that we're able to look at the malaria genetics and understand how it's spreading. ...
It's fair to say that there have been failures in the past. The year I was born, 1955, the first big disease-eradication program in the world was declared for malaria. After about a decade of work, they realized that at least in the tropical areas, they did not have the tools to get it done.
We're going to have to be a lot smarter this time.
We're able to model the disease dynamics in way that wasn't possible before. We actually have a vaccine [now]. It's not a 100-percent-effective vaccine. But that looks like it will be a very helpful tool.
Do you think there will ever be moment when you might start thinking that maybe money would be better spent on something outside health or vaccines, such as infrastructure?
I don't think that's likely to happen. We want to be realistic. [But] people do care a lot about [malaria]. They see their children dying. They see the effects of cerebral malaria even on kids that survive.
So I don't think this is one where we'll run into much resistance, too much apathy. This is a big killer.
Development is a series of things. If you could only pick one thing, I think you would pick health because it's so catalytic.
But then education, good governance, infrastructure — all of those things are part of the magic things that have allowed countries like China, Brazil, Thailand, Mexico to become middle-income.
So now we can focus on the remaining countries, the low-income countries, and have a goal that within 20 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty could get close to zero.
[Polio eradication] is our top priority. And things are looking pretty good in Nigeria. We've had only one case this year, which is way down from last year.
We have an outbreak that started in Syria that has spread to some surrounding countries. We think we'll be able to deal with that outbreak.
In Pakistan, we still have an area that the Taliban is not letting in vaccinators. And in fact, violence against vaccinators continues there. ...
We're still very committed to the eradication, 2018 still seems achievable. But we're going to have to get a bit of political change in Pakistan and we're going to have to continue to do very good work in Nigeria.
At some schools, the admissions process itself can work against low-income students, according to Georgia Nugent, former president of Kenyon College and a senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges.
Nugent says during her tenure at Kenyon, there were low-income students at the bottom of the admissions list who sometimes weren't accepted so the school could make room for more affluent students.
"Approximately 90 percent of the class, we really did try to meet their full financial need," she says. "In order to do that, there was some segment of [the] class where we had to take into consideration, 'Do we have some students who can afford to pay?' "
Nugent spoke with Morning Edition host David Greene, and Maricela Oliva, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.
Georgia Nugent: There are only a very few number of colleges which now or ever have been truly need-blind. The Ivies are in that category... What most colleges today are, they are what is called "need sensitive." It means that many colleges who have some resources — not enormous resources, but they are not impoverished — they do try to accept the class they would like to have, not taking into consideration financial need. But then, as you get toward completing the acceptance of the class, and your dollars are running out, you have to begin to take into consideration need.
On merit aid
Georgia Nugent: What I call "so-called merit aid." And here's what it means. Let's say that your full tuition at your college is $20,000. So you could take $15,000 of your financial aid and offer it to one quite needy student. Or, you could take your same amount of resources and you could offer $5,000 in financial aid to three affluent students. So, in terms of the college's revenue, offering the large package to the single student nets $5,000 for the college. Offering the small sweetener to the affluent student nets the college $45,000.
On the paradigm shift in higher education
Maricela Oliva: We've really moved from a position where people are interested in helping really capable students by supporting them through financial aid to a position that says, "If you want to go to college, it's a personal as opposed to a societal benefit, so you need to bear, increasingly, the cost yourself." It's a very different situation, but we've created it ourselves because we are dis-investing from higher education.
On the difficult position of universities
Georgia Nugent: In some ways, I think it's defensible. They've got institutions where their resource base is declining. They have to somehow find a way to pay their bills to offer the education they want to offer and consequently, they need to increase that net revenue.
One year ago Thursday, an eight-story factory building in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers. The disaster at Rana Plaza brought new attention to safety conditions in the country's booming garment industry.
In the year since then, some of the world's biggest retailers have begun inspecting Bangladesh's factories more aggressively. But in other ways efforts to reform the industry have fallen short.
When sewing machine operator Aklima Khanam arrived at Rana Plaza on April 24, 2013, some of her coworkers were milling around outside. A visible crack had formed in the building and people were afraid to go inside. But her boss warned that anyone who didn't get to work wouldn't get paid. So she reluctantly went upstairs.
"A half hour after we started work the electricity went out and they started the backup generator," she says. "When they did this the building collapsed. The roof fell onto a machine and the machine fell onto me. I was trapped there with three or four coworkers for 12 hours. A man right near me was killed by a falling beam."
One year later, she still suffers from injuries to her chest and head — and hasn't been back to work. For Bangladeshis like her, the collapse at Rana Plaza was a watershed moment.
"The world changed on April 24th, it really did," says Ian Spaulding, senior adviser to the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. "The garment industry here, the government, the stakeholders, the trade union community and the foreign buyers ultimately recognized that the previous model didn't work."
The clothes made at Rana Plaza were sold to major brands like Benetton and Zara. After the disaster, many of these retailers signed an accord promising to inspect the factories they use for safety violations and pay for necessary repairs. They have found many fire code violations and in some buildings structural problems.
"They have sent many, many inspectors, engineers out because of the realization that if another big event occurs that gets the international press, they know they're going to have to pull out of Bangladesh," says Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, an associate professor of economics at Yale.
But most big U.S. retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target, refused to sign the accord. Instead they are carrying out their own inspections. So, today two separate and competing teams inspect conditions in thousands of Bangladeshi factories.
In some ways, working conditions have improved in the garment sector. In December the minimum wage was increased. But labor organizer Aleya Akter says only about half of factories are paying it.
"Some factories are disregarding the law and if we put pressure on them to increase the wage they say that they cannot pay the higher wage and they will shut the factory down if we continue to demand it," she says.
Akter says after the Rana Plaza collapse many families were left without their primary breadwinners. Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, says a $40 million compensation fund was set up by the government, the industry and some retailers. But he says it's less than half full.
"There were 1,137 workers who lost their lives and still to this date most of the families have not received substantial compensation," Nova says. "And the biggest problem has been the failure of certain key brands and retailers that produced at Rana Plaza to make meaningful contributions to the fund."
The list of companies that have not contributed is long and includes JC Penney and Benetton. The bad publicity generated by Rana Plaza left many people in the garment sector worried that big retailers would flee the country. There's no evidence that's happened.
Still, Akter, the labor organizer, says the disaster has taken an emotional toll on the people who work in the industry.
"Now when factory workers see a small crack or hear that something is wrong they run into the street because they are afraid there will be another disaster," she says. After Rana Plaza there is always a fear in workers' minds.
Today people still come to stare at the Rana Plaza site, even though the rubble has been cleared away and only a big hole remains. There's talk about setting up a memorial one day but it hasn't yet gotten off the drawing board.
Damon Albarn's credits are legion. He's the frontman of Blur, the British band who created a giant catalog of forward-thinking guitar pop and one enduring, stadium-rattling jock jam. He's the vocalist and principal songwriter of Gorillaz, the animated supergroup who managed to give the iPod a little street cred. He led Bobby Womack out of long career stall and into 21st century cool, co-producing the soul legend's left-field comeback album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, in 2012. He has scored film, theater and opera, collaborated with Malian blues stars — and next week, he'll release his first proper solo album, Everyday Robots.
One credit, however, still seems to trump them all. Along with his bandmates in Blur, Albarn is often credited with helping usher in Britpop: a sound that surfaced in the UK in the 1990s, as British rock bands sought to redefine and distinguish themselves from the American rock of the time. Albarn says that for him, the phenomenon dates back to 1992, when he spent two months traveling in the U.S. He came back to what he now calls "a dysfunctional home": an England on the verge of becoming very American.
"I've come back from America, and I sort of foresee a very powerful American cultural wave — not just music, but everything," Albarn recalls. "You know, you had shopping malls decades before us. Everything had a lot more sugar, a lot more salt. We had four TV channels; I'd come over to America, and there'd be hundreds already."
Albarn spoke with NPR's David Greene about how resistance to America's influence created a fresh but insular scene in English rock — and what happened when the Britpop bubble burst. Hear more of their conversation, as well as music from Everyday Robots, at the audio link.