America used to have a robust college education system for prison inmates. It was seen as a way to rehabilitate men and women behind bars by helping them go straight when they got out.
Those taxpayer-funded college classes were defunded in the 1990s. But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would like to bring them back in the state, prompting a fierce new debate over higher education in state prisons.
Things have become so heated that a reporter even evoked Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon, in a question to Cuomo this month in Buffalo, N.Y. "What do you say to a Yoko Ono if Mark David Chapman says, 'I want a college education?' " the reporter asked.
Cuomo, a Democrat, says reinstating taxpayer-funded college classes in New York's prisons is a common-sense plan that will reduce the number of inmates who commit new crimes.
"Forget nice; let's talk about self-interest," Cuomo responded. "You pay $60,000 for a prison cell for a year. You put a guy away for 10 years, that's 600 grand. Right now, chances are almost half, that once he's released, he's going to come right back."
Cuomo says helping inmates get a college education would cost about $5,000 a year per person — chump change, he argues, if it keeps that inmate from bouncing back into prison.
But even some members of the governor's own party hate this idea. State Assemblywoman Addie Russell, whose upstate district includes three state prisons, says taxpayers just won't stand for inmates getting a free college education, while middle-class families struggle to pay for their kids' tuition, housing and books.
"That is the vast majority of feedback that I'm also getting from my constituents," she says. "You know, 'Where is the relief for the rest of the law-abiding population?' "
If this argument sounds familiar, the fight here in New York is a carbon copy of the national debate over prison education programs 20 years ago.
In 1994, President Clinton pushed through a tough crime bill that dramatically expanded America's prison system, while also eliminating federal student aid programs for inmates.
"There must be no doubt about whose side we're on," Clinton argued. "People who commit crimes should be caught, convicted and punished. This bill puts government on the side of those who abide by the law, not those who break it."
It was a victory for the tough-on-crime movement, but many prison experts now say dismantling inmate education programs was misguided.
"I was very disappointed that the policy had been changed," says Gerald Gaes, who served as an expert on college programs for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the 1990s. He has since written extensively on the impact of higher education behind bars.
Gaes says research shows that college classes actually save taxpayers money over time, by reducing the number of inmates who break the law and wind up back in those expensive prison cells.
"It is cost-effective," he says. "Designing prisons that way will have a long-term benefit for New York state."
A 2013 joint study by the RAND Corporation and the Department of Justice also found that participants in prison education programs, including GED education, college courses and other types of training, were less likely to return to prison after their release.
Bipartisan critics in New York's Legislature have promised to kill Cuomo's proposal, with one lawmaker describing it as "Club Med" for inmates.
But the plan plays very differently with black and Hispanic lawmakers, who have pushed for prison reforms. Cuomo drew a standing ovation in February when he spoke to a largely black church congregation in Albany.
"Let's use common sense, the economic cost, the human cost — let's invest and rehabilitate people so they have a future," he told the crowd. "That's what works."
With New York's budget due next month, Cuomo says he hopes to fund college classes in 10 prisons as a trial program. He's had success in the past pushing controversial ideas that seemed dead on arrival, including same-sex marriage in 2011 and a strict gun control law last year.
Every year, Americans send millions of tons of food to the landfill. What if you could use all of those pizza crusts and rotten vegetables to heat your home? That's already happening in one unlikely laboratory: the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn.
The plant's longtime superintendent, Jimmy Pynn, shows off the plant's crown jewels: Eight huge, shiny, oval-shaped steel tanks known as digester eggs. Each one contains millions of gallons of black sludge that's roughly the consistency of pea soup. Pynn calls it "black gold."
"It has a pungent odor to it," Pynn says. "To most people it's like ugly, yucky, stuff."
Where others see foul and potentially hazardous sludge, Pynn sees a source of renewable energy, thanks to trillions of helpful bacteria inside the digester eggs.
"The digesters like to be fed like us: three times a day," he says. "They like to be kept warm, 98 degrees. And whether we want to admit it or not, we all make gas. And that's what we have these guys for: to make gas."
In this case, that gas is methane, which can be used to heat homes or make electricity. Right now, what these bacteria are digesting is mostly sewage sludge. But they're being introduced to a new diet: food scraps. The hope is that this plant will soon take in hundreds of tons of organic waste from houses and apartments.
"We could be taking all of Brooklyn's organics," says Ron Gonen, New York's deputy commissioner for recycling. "And rather than paying millions of dollars to send it to landfill, right here in Brooklyn, converting it into clean, renewable energy."
This is similar to what happens in your backyard compost heap — but here, the bacteria do their work without oxygen. It's called anaerobic digestion.
Anaerobic digestion isn't a brand new idea. What is new is the idea of adding food waste into the mix, at least in the U.S.
It's already being done in Europe, and a handful of cities in California and Canada are experimenting, as well as a famous theme park that creates a lot of food-related trash.
Paul Sellew heads Harvest Power in Waltham, Mass. It recently built a digester to handle the waste from the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and the local community.
"Cardboard packaging, past-prime produce, rotten tomatoes, fats, oils, greases from fryers, past-prime dairy products and loaves of bread — those are all great food-stuffs for an anaerobic digester," says Sellew. "My microorganisms love that. That's their five-course meal."
But the operation at Disney has nothing on the complexity of implementing a food waste system in New York City.
"Everything in New York City is like big scale when you're talking about quantities of waste," says Samantha MacBride, a former New York sanitation official who's now a professor at the City University of New York's Baruch College.
"Right now, it's all in its infancy," says MacBride. "And it's a huge question mark about whether it can grow."
One challenge is how to separate the organic material from the rest of the trash in a city as dense as New York. "When you're in an apartment building, to separate out food scraps — it requires a lot of dedication and attention," says MacBride. "It doesn't have to stink, and it doesn't have to be inconvenient. But it takes extra work."
New York restaurants are about to find out just how much extra work next year.
In 2015, they will be required to stop sending their organic waste to landfills. And it is not yet clear where all that organic waste will go. For example, the digester eggs at Newtown Creek are just starting to take food waste. And they can only handle a small fraction of what's coming.
"It's the first, what I'll call, the baby step," says Paul Sellew at Harvest Power. "Because ultimately in New York City, just the restaurants alone, you're talking well over a million tons a year," he says.
This fledgling industry is trying to build more compost plants and digesters to handle all that waste, says Sellew. The costliest part may be finding good locations in or around the nation's biggest cities.
As for the trillions of bacteria? They'll work for free — as long as you feed them.
Sometimes there just isn't enough time to get it all done. Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte has certainly felt that way. "I was working all the time and yet never very good at what I was doing," she tells NPR's David Greene. "... I felt all this pressure that I was a working mom and so I was always so guilty, and I didn't want to ruin their childhood. So I was up at 2:00 in the morning to bake cupcakes for the Valentine's party."
Schulte consulted a sociologist who studies how people use their time. "I will show you where your leisure is," he told her. So she tracked her activities for a week and he took out a yellow highlighter and found 27 hours of what he called "leisure time." Schulte didn't think of those 5 or 10 minute increments as leisure — she thought of that as scrap time. He insisted she needed to rethink her priorities.
In Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Schulte writes about what she learned about motherhood, time-management and her own marriage (to NPR correspondent Tom Bowman.)
"We had started off, I think like most people in our generation, wanting to have a true partnership, wanting to be equal partners," she says. " ... We had a very low moment where I thought, 'Wow, we have really gotten off track, what happened?'"
On one particularly bad Thanksgiving
We have 18 people coming over. The kitchen is covered with chopped vegetables and half-done side dishes, and flour spilled everywhere, and the floor's a mess, and we had three hours before people arrive, and the table's not set, and Tom comes over to the refrigerator, opens it up, and I think he's going to put the turkey in, which is huge, and raw, and you know, he's going to help out.
He takes out a six-pack of beer and he says, "OK, well, I'm going to go over to a friend's house and help him smoke his turkey." And my eyes just almost bugged out of my head, and I said, "Smoke a turkey? You're basically going to sit on the patio and watch the turkey get smoked and drink beer all afternoon while I'm doing all this work?"
And he sort of shrugged and walked out the door, and at that moment I was filled with fury and rage, and it felt so unfair, but it was also really sad. It took a while, but I realized that we had both fallen into very traditional roles without even realizing it, particularly when our first child was born.
On what many women are juggling
One of the main differences is women are still doing so much of the housework and the child care. ... There's physical labor that goes along with that, but there's also mental labor. You're keeping track of everything, you know? You've got all this stuff going on in your mind: The to-do lists, and "Did I remember the carpool?" and "Oh my goodness, I gotta fill out the Girl Scout forms," ... all this stuff that kind of gets crowded in there along with all the stuff you've got to do at work. Men generally don't have that. They have one sphere, which is work.
On workplace expectations being out of sync with reality
We're on such a cutting edge of changing gender roles, [but] our workplaces really haven't changed, and haven't caught up with that reality. So workplaces, you know, if you look at surveys from around the globe, they think the best workers are the ones that come in early, that leave late, that are available 24/7, and our workplaces are becoming even more and more demanding. And we demand that most of men.
... [There is] fascinating emerging social science that shows that men are more punished in the workplace if they try to be more involved at home. They're seen as weird, and wimps, and weaklings, because we have this notion that to be an ideal worker — to be a good man, a provider for your family — you've got to work these crazy hours.
On how she's reassessed her priorities
I'm still a work in progress. You know, there's a lot that I've learned. We have made great progress in terms of who does what and what's fair at home, and that's made a huge difference. I don't feel the same mental clutter that I did before. And when it comes to leisure time, I do my to-do list differently now. I make time to step outside of what I'm doing. I make time for reflection, not as much as I'd like, but I'd never done that before.
On putting everything in perspective
I was just with my father who's had a stroke, and sitting in a hospital room really makes you remember: ... We don't have that much time, what do you want to make of your life here on this Earth? And so, my to-do list is really: What are my priorities? What is most important to me? And then everything else, everything my to-do list used to be, I call the other five percent — it shouldn't take more than five percent of my time or energy. There's a lot of stuff that I used to do that I don't do anymore.
On what this Thanksgiving was like
This year for Thanksgiving was completely different. Tom had his jobs, I had mine, and at the end of the day we all did the dishes and we all went to bed at the same time, and it was a lovely, lovely day.
Call the cable company, and an automated voice wants to ask you about the experience. Buy a taco at a fast-food chain, and the receipt says there's a chance to win $500 if you answer a few questions.
Customer surveys seem to be everywhere — something Judith Martin addressed in her Miss Manners column in January: "They are violating the first rule of business: Don't annoy the customer."
"It is a little bit like having someone around whom you may really like, but the person says, 'Do you really like me? Do you like me? Are you sure you like me? Really? Do you like me?' " Martin says. "And after a while you want to say, 'No! Go away!' "
But sometimes even customers who prefer to click "no" will choose "yes" if something is important to them.
You can count Heather Williams of Penfield, N.Y., in this crowd. Williams says ordinarily she does not respond to surveys because she doesn't think companies are really listening to her. But her daughter recently applied to Brigham Young University through the school's website, and they received a survey request through email afterward.
"It was nice to have someone ask my opinion on the process, which can be very daunting," Williams says. "And I will admit, it was nice to be able to get a free sweatshirt."
Businesses have a powerful incentive to keep the customer surveys popping up. While demographic and purchase data tell a company who, what, when and where, surveys can tell a business "why" — and that's valuable information.
"You're always going to want to understand the consumer psychology: why are people doing what they're doing," says Eric Bradlow, professor of marketing, statistics and education at the Wharton School.
He says surveys, especially those delivered electronically, also help companies identify mistakes quickly so they can correct them. A survey could help a business identify a defect in a new product or a particular cashier who is rude.
They can even be a form of advertising because of a psychological phenomenon called the mere-measurement effect. "If I ask you, 'When's the last time you bought a taco at Taco Bell?'... you're more likely to buy a taco at Taco Bell after asking you the survey," Bradlow says.
And for all of these potential benefits, surveys are relatively cheap. The Internet makes getting a survey to customers as simple as a pop-up when you visit a company's website, and essentially, firms are putting their customers to work gathering information that could help the company's bottom line.
So even if the surveys are annoying enough to actually turn customers away, they may be worth the risk, Bradlow says.
The solution he suggests? More data. If someone always click "no" on survey requests, a business could measure that and stop asking.
Now that you know why there are so many surveys out there these days, we want to know whether you found this story informative. Would you mind filling out a survey?
In 2025, the Internet will enhance our awareness of the world and ourselves while diminishing privacy and allowing abusers to "make life miserable for others," according to a new report by the Pew Research Center and Elon University.
But more than anything, experts say, it will become ubiquitous and embedded in our lives — the same way electricity is today.
"The Internet will shift from the place we find cat videos to a background capability that will be a seamless part of how we live our everyday lives," says Joe Touch, director at Information Sciences Institute of the University of Southern California. "We won't think about 'going online' or 'looking on the Internet' for something. We'll just be online, and just look."
The report follows a survey last month on how the Internet has affected our lives in the 25 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee released a paper proposing the World Wide Web. By 1989, the Internet had already been around for nearly two decades, but it wasn't widely accessible. Berners-Lee's ideas became the foundation of the way we access the Internet today.
So the Pew report asked: What do you expect to be the most significant overall impacts of our uses of the Internet on humanity between now and 2025? Here are some of the 1,800 respondents' predictions.
The Internet will allow us to collect information on every aspect of our lives and become more aware of our behavior — at the peril of privacy.
"We'll have a picture of how someone has spent their time, the depth of their commitment to their hobbies, causes, friends, and family. This will change how we think about people, how we establish trust, how we negotiate change, failure, and success," says Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard University. Other experts predict that this can also effectively personalize health care and disease prevention.
But the conveniences come with tradeoffs. Llewellyn Kriel, head of a media services company in South Africa, has a far less rosy view. "Everything will be available online with price tags attached. Cyber-terrorism will become commonplace. Privacy and confidentiality of any and all personal will become a thing of the past," he says.
Some predict that privacy in 2025 will be a luxury reserved for the upper class.
The Internet's pervasiveness will spread both education and ignorance.
"The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China," says Hal Varian, chief economist for Google. "Enabling that person — and the millions like him or her — will have a profound impact on the development of the human race."
The downside? Group-think, mob mentality and manipulation. "The Internet will be used as the most effective force of mind control the planet has ever seen, leaving the Madison Avenue revolution as a piddling, small thing by comparison," says Mikey O'Connor, an elected representative to ICANN's GNSO Council, representing the ISP and Connectivity Provider Constituency.
We can't fully understand its effects yet.
"The greatest impact of the Internet is what we are already witnessing, but it is going to accelerate," says Nishant Shah, director of research at the Centre for Internet and Society in India.
It might not even do as much as we think, as Dell engineer Anoop Ghanwani predicts: "Regulation will always stand in the way of anything significant happening."
Jeff Jarvis, entrepreneurial journalism professor at the City University of New York, compares the Internet to the printing press: Its significance could not have been predicted. "The impact of the book on society was not fully realized until 100 years after the invention of the press. ... In the development of the net and its impact on society, we are at 1472 in Gutenberg years," Jarvis says. "Consider the change brought by the web its first 20 years and now you ask us to predict the next dozen? Sorry."