Episode 796: The Basic Income Experiment

Euro bank notes lie on a table in counter of a bank in Dresden, Germany, Monday, June 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Matthias Rietschel)


The basic income is a hot topic of social policy. It’s a steady payout to citizens. Liberals argue it provides support to struggling citizens with dignity and freedom. Libertarians like that it can be dispensed without an expensive, and controlling, bureaucracy. The rest argue that it’s a giveaway that will inspire laziness.

In Finland, unemployment is 8.8 percent, and most of the time, citizens can’t collect unemployment if they’re making additional money, discouraging recipients from finding jobs. So the Finnish government has set up something unusual: a live experiment. A test to help settle the debate, or figure if it’s even worth having. A test group of 2,000 unemployed Finns receive 560 euros each month from the government. No strings attached. For unemployed researcher Sanna Leskinen, that meant being able to apply for part time jobs and plan for the future. Avery Trufelman went to Finland to see how the experiment was working.

This week on the show: how does the basic income work in practice? And could it work in the U.S.?

Today’s show is adapted from 99% Invisible, a podcast about the forces of design and architecture that shape our world.

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Puerto Rico's Weak Infrastructure Creates Big Challenges For Recovery

A resident faces the damage to her suburban San Juan property from Hurricane Maria. The lack of electricity and other key elements of infrastructure make recovery that much harder.

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Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Well before this year’s series of historically powerful hurricanes, Puerto Rico already had a notoriously fickle power supply and crushing debt — the power authority effectively declared bankruptcy in July. Power outages were routine, even in cities.

Then came Hurricane Maria, knocking out the entire power grid and more than 95 percent of the cellphone system on an island of more than 3 million people.

And Puerto Rico’s weak infrastructure will make it difficult to provide the aid that it desperately needs.

“Private and public infrastructure is just down,” William Villafane, an adviser and chief of staff to the governor of Puerto Rico, told NPR on Thursday. “We are without power, without water service. No hospital has power service. Our streets are all — you just can’t go through. When you go through and you have to literally take out the trees that are on the streets — it’s the worst hurricane ever.”

When you think infrastructure, you might think of bridges, pipelines, and fiber-topic networks. But some of the problems in Puerto Rico at the moment are more basic – and they have a way of piling up.

An aerial view shows the flooded neighborhood of Juana Matos in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Catano, Puerto Rico on Friday. The island could be without power for months, complicating relief efforts.

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Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

“We have fuel, but we don’t have the way to take the fuel to the hospitals. And many of the gas stations, for example, are just with great damages,” said Villafane. “We have 34 hospitals around the island, and many of them are operating with their own generators, but they will go out of gas promptly. We are making the adjustments to provide them with the oil and gas and to provide them the electricity as soon as possible.”

Garrett Ingoglia is the vice president of Emergency Response at Americares, a Connecticut-based relief organization that is working to provide medical supplies and assistance to Puerto Rico.

He said the obstacles in responding to Maria started immediately: Like other organizations, Americares hasn’t yet been able to get anyone onto Puerto Rico since the storm.

“We are sending an assessment team to Puerto Rico and are having trouble getting in. They’ve been on various commercial flights that have been canceled,” he told NPR. “Some of our partners think they can get us on a flight in from Fort Lauderdale tonight.”

When Florida was hit by Irma, Ingoglia said, workers from Americares were able to drive in to deliver supplies and aid. “But you know, you can’t do that with islands.”

After Hurricane Sandy, he says people in parts of New Jersey were without power for weeks, and his organization delivered blankets because it was getting cold. “But without power for months? I don’t know if we’ve faced that.”

Providing aid “in a place with as many people as Puerto Rico without power for weeks or months on end — that’s going to be very challenging,” he said.

Some medicines, like insulin, need to be kept at certain temperature. Ingoglia said if refrigeration isn’t possible, it’s going to be very difficult to provide people with the medicines they need.”

“You can use generators, but those need diesel fuel, and that’s going to be in short supply as well,” he said. “These are some of the challenges when you have a grid that’s not that great.”

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An Accident On The Moon, Young Lawyers To The Rescue

An annual space law moot court competition imagines a future legal case set in space, where issues of liability and sovereignty can get extra complicated.

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When Alexia Boggs was applying to law school, she initially considered all the big specialties, but none of them seemed quite right.

“I was looking for a field of law where none of my family could ever seek my help,” she says, sarcastic but also not really joking.

She found what she was looking for in space law, and enrolled at the University of Mississippi School of Law, one of the two big space and aeronautical law programs in the U.S. One way the students there learn to think about applying legal principles in space is to compete in the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition.

“These competitions sort of imagine realistic problems that could happen in the future, and how liability is apportioned and decided and who’s responsible,” explains Boggs. “Here on earth, obviously, different countries have different laws about what happens if I crash into your car or if I ruin your fence,” she explains. “Well, what happens if I do that to you in space?”

Boggs and her two teammates are the North American finalists for this year’s competition, and next week they’ll go up against teams from South Africa, Greece and India for the big prize.

Each team argues both sides of a case set in the future, in space. This year’s case is, in the broadest terms, about a traffic accident on the moon.

In the case, “there are two countries, Perovsk and Titan,” says Boggs. “They’re bordering countries. They share a common language and a common history.”

Both have space programs — in fact, they helped each other get to space, developing complimentary expertise in much the same way Russia and the U.S. work together to put astronauts in orbit. But the two countries have very different reasons for being in space. Titan is doing science experiments on the moon, while Perovsk starts a mining operation on the lunar surface.

The surface of the Moon as seen during the Apollo 17 mission. This year’s international space law moot court competition case describes a hypothetical lunar legal dispute.


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Titan believes that Perovsk’s mining operation is releasing pollution and contaminating experiments, so they send a rover to investigate.

“They collide,” says Boggs. “Now everyone’s upset.”

Perovsk sues Titan over the damaged equipment in the International Court of Justice. Titan accuses Perovsk of breaking the law by polluting the moon. It’s unclear who should pay for what, and why. Rovers don’t carry insurance, and there’s a larger question about who has the right to use, or pollute, the moon in the first place.

Boggs says the case exemplifies one of her favorite things about space law: it’s ambiguous.

“It’s sort of hard not to say anything controversial in space law because everyone has a different opinion about what space law should do,” she explains. Space law is largely based on two treaties, the Outer Space Treatyand the moon Agreement, plus more general international law applied to space. But there’s tension within the treaties about what space should be used for.

“Should it help us here on earth with resources and so we should be very industrial about space?” says Boggs. “Or should we be more romantic about space? [As in] ‘we go and we share and we learn and we explore!’ “

While the moot court case is hypothetical, the issues are relevant now. Commercial spaceflight is already happening, more countries are launching satellites and the spaceflight company SpaceX says it hopes to send people around the moon next year. Many students who participate in the competition go on to work for aerospace companies or agencies like NASA and its international counterparts.

Because space law is largely built on international law, such programs also attract a good number of future diplomats. Boggs would like to work with the U.S. State Department, although she’s also interested in working on aerospace issues. Sharan Bhavnani, a member of India’s moot court team from the National Law School India University Bangalore, says he specifically chose to participate in the competition because he thought it would be relevant to diplomatic work.

“Eventually I want to become a career diplomat for India, and I’m hoping that I could possibly be part of the negotiations for a new [space] treaty or resolution in the future,” he says. “Space law has developed from the interaction of states.”

Bhavnani says he expects Asia to have a growing influence in space in the coming years, and he would like to help shape how that influence is felt around the world.

“The space for developing countries is growing,” he says. “There’s India, China, Japan — all these are upcoming, and over the next decade or so, we will be major space powers.”

Space law experts see an even more pressing need for updated laws governing commercial spaceflight. “I think there are going to be a lot more people traveling on private spacecraft than government spacecraft,” says Andrea Harrington, a space law and liability expert, professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law and coach of the school’s space law moot court team.

She says uncertainty about who is responsible for things that happen in, or on the way to, space could hold back the spaceflight business. “It’s hard to get investors to want to put their money into an activity when it’s unclear that that activity is still going to be legal, and is still going to be possible to license and partake in and move forward in the future,” she says.

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'You're Not Our Homey,' Howard University Protesters Tell Ex-FBI Director James Comey

PBS NewsHour viaYouTube

If James Comey was looking for a smooth landing in his new job after his rocky departure from the FBI, he may not have found it as a lecturer at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Comey, whose firing by President Trump in May set off a political firestorm, delivered the keynote address Friday at the historically black college’s opening convocation. Just as he took the podium to speak, protesters at the back of the auditorium stood up and, with fists raised high, began singing the civil rights song “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

They also chanted “no justice, no peace,” and “get out James Comey, you’re not our homey.”

Students used a Facebook page and a Twitter account, both titled HUResist, to help organize the protests against Comey and his new position at the university. Protesters accused him of working against black communities during his time as FBI director.

One example: Comey’s comments in 2015 about the so-called Ferguson effect, the intense scrutiny of police actions that some in the law enforcement world said followed the killing of a black man outside St. Louis, Mo., and the increasing use of video to capture interactions between police and black communities across the country. The scrutiny was causing police to be timid, according to some, which was fueling an increase in crime. That notion caused an uproar and President Obama’s White House disagreed with Comey’s assessment.

On Friday, Comey initially appealed to the Howard University protesters, saying: “I hope you’ll stay to listen to what I have to say. I just listened to you for five minutes.”

After waiting about 15 minutes for the chanting to subside, Comey decided to deliver his speech over the protesters.

“I love the enthusiasm of the young folks,” he said. “I just wish they would understand what a conversation is. A conversation is where you speak and I listen, and then you speak and I listen and we go back and forth and back and forth. And at the end of a conversation, we’re both smarter. I am here at Howard to try to get smarter, to try to be useful, to try and have healthy conversations.”

In his speech, he stressed what he called the importance of dialogue and listening to people who hold different opinions. He closed by addressing the incoming Class of 2021, telling them: “Welcome to Howard, I’m honored to be here with you and I look forward to adult conversations about what is right and what is true.”

Last month, the university announced Comey’s position as the school’s King Endowed Chair in Public Policy. The former FBI director is donating all of his $100,000 compensation for the position to a scholarship fund for students from foster homes.

Comey and his wife have acted as emergency foster parents for young children.

Comey’s new work with Howard appears to be connected to a relationship he has developed with the university’s president, Wayne A.I. Frederick, whom Comey invited to speak earlier this year to the bureau’s employees as part of an effort to diversify the FBI’s overwhelmingly white and male workforce.

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Study Suggests Neanderthals Enjoyed Long Childhoods

Skeleton of the Neanderthal boy recovered from the El Sidrón cave (Asturias, Spain).

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Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC

Nasty, brutish and short.

Until about the last decade or so, that’s how many of us were accustomed to thinking about Neanderthal life.

But a lot has changed since then, not least of which is the emergence of smoking-gun DNA evidence that Neanderthals are, in fact, family.

Now a new study runs counter to earlier thinking by suggesting that Neanderthals reached maturity at about the same rate as modern humans.

“Neandertals have long been seen as the James Deans of human evolution—they grew up fast, died young, and became legends,” Ann Gibbons writes in Science. “But now, a rare skeleton of a Neandertal child suggests that our closest cousins didn’t all lead such fast lives—and that our own long childhoods aren’t unique. The find may reveal how Neandertals, like humans, had enough energy to grow bigger brains.”

A leading theory says that big brains take longer to develop, so in humans, childhood lasts longer to allow our brains time to grow. Chimpanzees, with much smaller brains than modern humans, mature much faster.

Back in 2010, NPR’s Christopher Joyce reported on this “live fast, die young” hypothesis, which was bolstered by studies of Neanderthal skulls. As Chris wrote at the time: “Like the ‘slow food’ movement, ‘slow growth’ gave complex brains more time to ‘cook,’ so to speak, and then learn all those things a fancy brain could learn.”

That hypothesis was based largely on the study of Neanderthal’s teeth. Hominid teeth have telltale lines, similar to tree rings, that show their development from birth until the end of childhood.

But that single benchmark may not have been enough. Thanks to the discovery of a 49,000-year-old partial Neanderthal child’s skeleton at El Sidrón cave in northwest Spain, the latest research has benefited from looking at more than just teeth.

While the teeth did help put the age at death for ancient Neanderthal child at 7.7 years, the team of scientists led by Antonio Rosas also measured the maturation of the skull, spine, elbow, hand, wrist and knee of what is believed to have been a boy. In six key places that calcify during development, the Neanderthal boy appeared to have matured at the same rate as a child his age today.

Gibbons writes: “The team noted that the child’s brain had reached only about 87% of an average adult Neanderthal’s brain size, whereas modern human brains reach 90% of their adult size by age 5.”

In other words, Neanderthals may have matured even a little more slowly than modern humans.

Even so, it’s just one skeleton that might not be representative of an average Neanderthal child, scientists caution.

“Neandertal first molars typically grow at a faster rate than modern human molars … which makes this individual unusual,” paleoanthropologist Tanya Smith of Griffith University in Nathan, Australia, who studies Neanderthal tooth development, is quoted by Gibbons as saying.

“Also, the brains and bodies of adult Neandertals vary in size, and this individual might have grown up to be a relatively small-brained Neandertal,” [anthropologist Marcia] Ponce de León and [neurobiologist Christoph] Zollikofer [from the University of Zurich in Switzerland], write in an email quoted by Gibbons.

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10 Months After Election Day, Feds Tell States More About Russian Hacking

Voters in Athens, Ga. on Election Day last year. Russian-backed hackers targeted election systems in 21 states but federal officials had not told state election officials which states were targeted until now.

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One of the unanswered questions for the public over Russia’s attempts to break into election systems last year was which states were targeted. Today, states found out.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said earlier this year that it had evidence of Russian activity in 21 states but they failed to inform individual states whether they were among those targeted. Instead, DHS authorities say they told those who had “ownership” of the systems — which in some cases were private vendors or local election offices.

State election officials were finally contacted by federal authorities on Friday about whether their election systems were among those targeted for attack last year by Russian hackers.

State election officials have complained for months that the lack of information from the federal government was hampering their efforts to secure future elections.

“We heard that feedback,” says Bob Kolasky, acting deputy under secretary for DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate. “We recognize that it is important for senior state election officials to know what happens on their state systems.”

On Friday afternoon, DHS placed individual calls to the top election official in each state and six U.S. territories to fill them in on what information the agency has about election hacking attempts in their state last year. It will be up to the election officials to decide whether to share what they learn with the public.

Shortly after the call , Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman announced that her state’s election systems were among those that Russian hackers tried to break into last year, but that they had failed. “There was no successful intrusion and we immediately alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the activities,” she said in a statement.

Wyman says the state had security measures in place that detected the attempted intrusion.

The Connecticut Secretary of State’s office said that DHS confirmed Russian hackers tried to break into the state’s online voter registration system last year, but did not succeed. A spokesman for the office said their IT department detected and blocked the attempted intrusion, but did not know who was probing the system.

Election officials in Louisiana and North Carolina said that their states were not targeted by hackers.

Kolasky says no information was provided in the calls that had not already been shared with others in the state.

“The good news is that, for the most part, most of the things that we saw attempted in 2016 were just that, attempts,” he says. “There was nothing that impacted the voting tallies, as we said before, and for the most part these attempts were not successful in any intrusions into systems.”

Only two state election security breaches last year have been made public so far. Hackers were able to gain access to the records of tens of thousands of voters in Illinois’ centralized registration database, but there’s no sign any records were deleted or changed. Russian hackers also gained access to the password and other credentials of a county elections worker in Arizona, again there’s no evidence records were altere.

Earlier this year, a leaked National Security Agency report also detailed attempts by Russian military intelligence to infiltrate an election software vendor’s computer, and to use that information to send emails containing malicious software to up to 122 local election offices. There’s no evidence any of those emails were opened.

The National Association of Secretaries of States, which represents most senior state election officials, says it’s relieved Friday’s calls were finally made.

“Most importantly, DHS acknowledged that they had contacted the wrong people at the state level and will rectify that going forward by communicating with each state’s chief election officials,” says spokesman Stephen Reed. “Finally finding out this information from DHS allows the chief elections officials to move forward on this matter.”

The calls are one sign of an improving relationship between election officials and DHS over how to deal with the cybersecurity threat.

State and local officials balked last year when Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he planned to designate elections as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, which meant additional security assistance from the federal government. Election officials feared the federal government would start telling states how to run their elections, which are traditionally under local control.

In recent months, DHS and election officials have been meeting regularly and just last week agreed to set up a 28-member coordinating council — to include three federal agency representatives and 25 state and local election officials — to share security information and assistance.

Also, top election officials in every state and U.S. territory are in the process of getting security clearances so they’ll be able to receive classified intelligence about potential threats. Kolasky says he expects the first security clearances to be approved next month.

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Ruling Finds Solar Panels From China Hurt U.S. Maker

U.S. regulators say cheap solar panels from China have hurt U.S. manufacturers. Here, the Manhattan skyline is seen beyond a rooftop covered with solar panels.

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Mark Lennihan/AP

Installing solar panels on your home could become more expensive, depending on how President Trump responds to a decision Friday by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The ITC found that low-cost, imported solar panels from China and other countries have hurt two domestic manufacturers. They are Georgia-based Suniva and Oregon-based SolarWorld.

Trump has focused his energy policy on fossil fuels, like coal, more than renewable energy and he campaigned on boosting domestic manufacturing. Much of the solar industry worries the president will choose to levy steep tariffs on imported solar panels to favor domestic manufacturers.

Suniva and SolarWorld praised the ITC decision saying it could help revive the solar panel manufacturing business in the U.S. As Will Stone of member station KJZZ reported in August, the companies argued that they can’t compete with foreign manufacturers.

In a statement after the ITC decision SolarWorld Americas President and CEO Juergen Stein said, “We welcome this important step toward securing relief from a surge of imports that has idled and shuttered dozens of factories, leaving thousands of workers without jobs.”

SolarWorld laid off much of its workforce and Suniva was forced into bankruptcy, even as U.S. solar panel installations grew dramatically in recent years. That growth was largely attributed to the cheaper panels from overseas.

Solar panel prices have fallen by more than 70 percent since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. For many homeowners installing solar panels has become more affordable, but now the industry’s main trade group worries that if prices go up the installation boom could come to a halt.

“Analysts say Suniva’s remedy proposal will double the price of solar, destroy two-thirds of demand, erode billions of dollars in investment and unnecessarily force 88,000 Americans to lose their jobs in 2018,” says Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO.

Hopper argues Suniva and SolarWorld are the victims of mismanagement and that the foreign-owned companies are using U.S. trade laws to bail out their bad investments. While the two companies are based in the U.S. Suniva’s majority owner is a Chinese firm and SolarWorld is a subsidiary of a German company.

SolarWorld’s Stein offered his hope after the ITC decision that the U.S. solar industry — including SEIA — might start working together. But the SEIA says that while it respects the ITC’s decision it will continue its opposition campaign during the next phase of the process.

The ITC is expected to hold a public hearing on October 3 as it considers potential remedies to help the manufacturers. Those remedies could include levying tariffs on panels imported from other countries. The commission will then forward those recommendations to Trump in November. He’ll have 60 days after that to decide what to do.

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