PBS NewsHour full episode, Sept. 21, 2021
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff. On the "NewsHour" tonight: an era of uncertainty. President Biden addresses world leaders at the United Nations. We talk with Bill Gates about the threats of COVID and climate change. Then: a grim milestone. The United States surpasses the number of lives lost to the 1918 flu. We reflect on the different response to a pandemic today. And back to prison. How inmates sent to do their time at home during the pandemic now
face a return to jail. RUFUS ROCHELLE, Home Confinement Inmate: There's no way that you could practice social distancing when you got two men, and sometimes three men, inside of a cell, a room, stacked on top of one another. JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour." (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: President Biden today delivered his first speech to the United Nations as part of its annual General Assembly. Most world leaders are back in person this year,
after last year's largely virtual event. Mr. Biden touted diplomacy and the endurance of democracy, as he faces tensions with old allies and global challenges like COVID and climate change. Nick Schifrin is in New York tonight. NICK SCHIFRIN: In the largest international summit in two years, President Biden said he was launching a new era of American diplomacy. JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years, with the United States not at war.
As we look ahead, we will lead, on all the greatest challenges of our time, from COVID to climate, peace and security, human dignity and human rights. But we will not go it alone. NICK SCHIFRIN: And the president tried to reassure a skeptical world that American democracy was reliable. JOE BIDEN: The authoritarians of the world may seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they're wrong. The truth is, the democratic world is everywhere. Democracy remains the best tool we have to unleash our full human potential.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But, today, the decidedly undemocratic Taliban control Afghanistan, and many senior Western Europeans say the U.S. isn't listening to its allies over Afghanistan, COVID vaccine intellectual property, Trump era tariffs that are still in place, and last week's announcement the U.S. and U.K. would provide nuclear-propelled submarines to Australia. Yesterday, France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Biden's policy was no different than Trump's America first. JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN, French Foreign Minister (through translator): We thought unilateralism, unpredictability, brutality, and not respecting your partner was part of the past. But it
continues. And contrary to everything that is being said openly and in public, this is what is surprising and shocking. NICK SCHIFRIN: American officials believe the dispute will blow over. And, today, President Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to reassure Europe.
SCOTT MORRISON, Australian Prime Minister: We share so many like-minded interests. NICK SCHIFRIN: Those interests are increasingly focused on China. The U.S. sees China's military modernization, technological expansion, and predatory trade practices as the West's preeminent challenge.
Today, President Biden never mentioned China, but it was the speech's subtext. JOE BIDEN: We'll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones. But we're not seeking a new cold war or a world divided into rigid blocs. NICK SCHIFRIN: The U.S. seeks to collaborate with China over climate change. Today, President Biden doubled to $11 billion the U.S. contribution to developing countries
to become more resilient and develop green energy. But China has largely rebuffed U.S. efforts to collaborate. On Iran, the Islamic Republic has broken through many of the restrictions set by the Iran nuclear deal, and the U.K. says Iran has never been this close to having the ability to develop nuclear weapons. Today, President Biden reiterated the U.S.' willingness to drop sanctions if Iran comes back into compliance. But Iran's uninterested in resuming stalled talks in Geneva until
the U.S. takes unilateral moves, newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi said today via video. EBRAHIM RAISI, Iranian President (through translator): The United States has not yet discharged its obligation, which is lifting sanctions. It has encroached upon the agreement, withdrawn from it, and levied even more sanctions on our people. NICK SCHIFRIN: For much of the day, the theme was unity to fight COVID and climate. But
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns, the world is failing to unite. ANTONIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General: COVID and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities as societies and as a planet. Yet, instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris. Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction. JUDY WOODRUFF: And with me now from just outside the United Nations is our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin, along and our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.
She's at the North Lawn. So, Nick, as you point out, it wasn't just President Biden. There were dozens of world leaders who spoke today. Give us a sense of some of the broader themes that ran through
the day. NICK SCHIFRIN: Well, those themes really point to what you heard from Antonio Guterres there at the end, that the world wants, indeed, needs unity over COVID and climate. Without drastic change, global warming will become irreversible, what Guterres called today a hellscape. And only 4 percent of Africa is vaccinated. Now, Biden tailored to some of his speech to those worldwide concerns, especially that part of the speech when he gave that specific dollar amount that the U.S. would give to developing countries for climate adaptation.
Part of addressing climate, of course, is the U.S. and China working together. You saw the president not mentioning China by name. And Xi Jinping spoke as well and really pulled his punches that he usually throws against the U.S.
But the rift, Judy, is very real between the U.S. and France. And President Biden tonight still does not have confirmation that he will be able to speak to French President Emmanuel Macron. Finally, Judy, one last point. U.N. watchers say that this Assembly was actually relatively
normal. Delegations were able to interact and meet with each other. Now, where I am is New York City. There is a vaccine mandate. Over to my right, past those gates, is international territory. There is no vaccine mandate there. And we want to show you a photo. Jair Bolsonaro, proudly unvaccinated, spoke first this morning,
but because he is unvaccinated in New York City, he is not able to go into that restaurant to enjoy his New York slice of pizza. JUDY WOODRUFF: Ah, an interesting side note. And, Yamiche, to you, this was President Biden's first appearance at the U.N. after four years of former President Trump. How did President Biden, in a sense, try to usher in his own
world view, coming after his predecessor? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, President Biden in his first appearance before the U.N. as a president in this speech was really trying to turn the page away from the Trump era and toward his vision of the world. Now, Nick just mentioned that it's normal, it was seen as normal by U.N. watchers. That is not any way -- that any way that someone would describe the U.N.s that former President Trump had gone to.
Covering those over the years, you saw allies, as well as opponents of the U.S. really being angry at the fact that the president, former President Trump, would just say things that were outlandish. At one point, he was laughed at by the U.N. during his speech when he talked about the idea that he had accomplished more than any other administration in U.S. history. Today, what you saw was the president, President Biden, really doubling down on this idea of ending endless wars and really ushering in this idea of diplomacy. He said that there
should not be violence and instead there should be political negotiations. He also talked about the dignity of people and helping nations that are less than the United States. The complicating issue here, though, is that he faces a number of domestic and foreign challenges, including those that welcomed him right when he got back to the White House today, including the migrant situation on the border with the Haitian migrants.
There are a lot of people who are still trying to figure out what happened with those agents using horse reins against migrants. And at the White House tonight, there are a lot of officials who are talking about it and saying that the DHS is going to have an investigation into that. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Yamiche, we know something else President Biden did when he got back to the White House, and that was a meeting with the British prime minister, Boris Johnson.
What do we know about how that went? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Reporters were in that meeting very quickly. And the prime minister of the U.K. and President Biden, they essentially talked about trade, talked about the idea of the president really being into the idea of fighting climate change. So, it was a very, very friendly conversation. And you saw the two leaders really try to
usher in this idea that the U.K. and U.S. are on the same page. JUDY WOODRUFF: And back to you, Nick. We know it today is just the kickoff of a full week of meetings. Tell us -- give us a sense of what else to expect this week. NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, there are two meetings this week that administration officials say will prove American indispensable leadership. On Friday, President Biden hosts the Quad. That's Japan, U.S., India and -- the United
States -- for the first time in person at the White House. It is the example of what U.S. officials want to see in the future alliance to take on China, dynamic alliance that's mostly diplomatic, but also be used for soft power, including vaccine diplomacy.
And, tomorrow, there is a virtual COVID summit that the president will lead. I have obtained the draft goals for that summit. It is to vaccinate 70 percent of the world within one year. It requires an acceleration of production, delivery and a lot of money that doesn't exist
today. Also, ensuring oxygen supply, testing, therapeutics, PPE all over the world, and the creation of a global health fund for the next pandemic. Judy, it is these two meetings that will prove whether the rhetoric of global -- of global unity that you heard today gets translated into action. JUDY WOODRUFF: And the issues don't get any more important than these. Nick Schifrin, reporting from outside the United Nations, Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, thank you both. NICK SCHIFRIN: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: The Biden administration stepped up deportations of Haitian migrants who've gathered at Del Rio, Texas, on the border with Mexico. More flights from there left for Haiti today, with others set for tomorrow. Around 8,000 migrants remained at Del Rio, as President Biden promised to get things under control. But some fellow Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, condemned the deportations. SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Right now, I am told there are four flights scheduled to deport these asylum seekers back to a country that cannot receive them. Such a decision defies
common sense. It also defies common decency and what America is all about. JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, the head of the U.N. Refugee Agency warned the mass expulsions may violate international law. And Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott blamed President Biden's policies for encouraging the influx of migrants. Johnson & Johnson says a booster for its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine triggers a strong immune response. The company reported today on results of boosters given two months or six months
after the first shot. Separately, San Francisco ordered workers at its International Airport to get vaccinated. That is the first such mandate at a U.S. airport. The U.S. House of Representatives is set tonight to fund federal operations into December and
raise the debt ceiling. The vote would avert a partial government shutdown in nine days and a default on the national debt in October. But Democrats also need 60 votes in the 50/50 Senate, and Republicans oppose raising the debt limit.
They traded jibes today. SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): Traditionally, when you have to raise the debt ceiling, you have a bipartisan discussion and ways to get spending under control. Instead, the Democrats
are moving forward with an incredible spending bill, based on Bernie Sanders' socialist budget, and Republicans will not be a rubber stamp for this. SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): What we're talking about is:, are we going to pay the credit card bills that we have already racked up? Nothing would be more irresponsible at this critical moment than messing with the full faith and credit of the United States. JUDY WOODRUFF: The bill also includes money for disaster relief and Afghan evacuees. But
House Democratic leaders today dropped $1 billion for Israeli security, as party progressives had demanded. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will stay in power after Monday's parliamentary election. His Liberal Party won the most seats, but again fell short of a majority. Trudeau celebrated last night in Montreal. He said he'd been given a clear mandate, based on his handling of the COVID pandemic.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban named more members of the interim Cabinet, but none were women. Still, a spokesman insisted that women may yet have roles. He also promised action again on the education of girls. ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, Taliban Spokesman (through translator): We are trying to strengthen the Cabinet further, and, God willing, women will be appointed to certain positions. The Ministry of Education is also working hard to lay the groundwork for the education of high school girls sixth to 12th grade as soon as possible.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Currently, only elementary school-aged girls are allowed to attend classes. And back in this country, a Wall Street comeback from Monday's losses mostly fizzled. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 50 points to close below 33920. The Nasdaq rose 32 points, but the S&P 500 slipped three. Still to come on the "NewsHour": Bill Gates on how to combat the threats of COVID and climate change; how prisoners sent home from prison for COVID face a return to jail; Italy experiences a new reality of extreme weather due to climate change; and much more.
The death toll from the COVID pandemic has put the U.S. at another tragic milestone. We are averaging more than 2,000 deaths a day lately. And, yesterday, the U.S. marked more than 675,000 Americans overall who have now died of COVID.
William Brangham takes a wider look at this difficult period of our country's history. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Throughout this pandemic, it's been hard to keep perspective on the true scale of the losses caused by COVID-19. On the Washington Mall right now, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg has planted an ocean of white flags, one for each life lost to the virus. Another metric is a comparison to the past, and, this week, the U.S. matched the death toll from another terrible virus, the 1918 influenza pandemic.
For some perspective on then and now, I'm joined by Dr. Jeremy Brown. He wrote the book "Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History." And he is currently director of Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Brown, very good to see you again. We have now hit his awful bar in the U.S., where we have lost as many people to COVID
as we lost to the influenza pandemic. But there are meaningful differences between the two, right? DR. JEREMY BROWN, National Institutes of Health: Yes, indeed. It is indeed awful to be speaking at this terrible milestone, 675,000 deaths, the same number as the people who died in the U.S. in the 1918 pandemic.
But we must also recall that this pandemic is still far less deadly than that terrible one in 1918. The population in the U.S. in 1918 was around 100 million. Today, it's around 320 million. So, if we put these numbers into proportion, then those 675,000 deaths 103 years ago, relatively speaking, would be the equivalent of some two million deaths today. We are nowhere near that number, thankfully. But, still, today's numbers are still a reminder
of just how deadly COVID is. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And, of course, another main difference, perhaps maybe the largest difference, is, we now have a vaccine to fight this virus, whereas, back then, we did not. DR. JEREMY BROWN: That's right. Back then, not only was there no vaccine for influenza, but people didn't even know what it was that was killing them. This, I think, in many -- in many ways, was perhaps the most frightening aspect of the disease. Fast forward 100 years later. We knew what COVID was. We
knew its genetic makeup within about three or four weeks of the first cases. And then we developed this incredible series of vaccines in really record-breaking time. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Are there similarities, though, between then and now that have hit notes with you throughout this pandemic? DR. JEREMY BROWN: Yes, there are a number of similarities. And I think, first of all, if we think about the ways that we can combat the disease, the simple, basic ways, those haven't really changed over 100 years, the call to mask up, to cover your face, to isolate when you're feeling unwell. Together, we have seen some really
-- breakthroughs that were unthinkable a century ago. So, we have these very high-tech innovations. And we also have some very low-tech, but no less effective ways for the majority of us to stay healthy. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And some of those protective measures that you mentioned, masking, distancing, and mandates and things like that, have caused incredible political strife in this country. I mean, even the vaccines, which are seen by many as the golden ticket, are a menace in the eyes of some. Does that aspect of our pandemic response surprise you? DR. JEREMY BROWN: I think the virulence with which it occurred did surprise me.
But anybody who's looked at pandemics over the last couple of hundred years will realize that all of these responses are actually not new. There has been an opposition to government-mandated vaccines ever since the smallpox vaccine was around in the late 1780s, and there were some quite virulent anti-vaccine movements both in England and here in the United States. But there is nothing really new about these behaviors, although, as I said, I think the number of people who have joined them, I think, is surprising, though, certainly, we didn't see numbers like this, for example, with the movement against smallpox vaccines a couple of hundred years ago. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Another striking aspect, as I have been watching this, is who has actually died from this virus.
I know many people have been talking about this statistic of one in 500 Americans have died. But within that, racial minorities, Blacks and Latinos in America have suffered far worse. I mean, this has been a true tragedy in those communities as well. DR. JEREMY BROWN: Yes, I think one of the mantras that we heard at the beginning of the pandemic is that we're all in this together. But the truth of the matter is, the pandemic has struck us all in very different ways, depending on where we live, what we do for a living, what our family situation is, and also just which families we are born into. We know that COVID has dropped the average life expectancy here in the U.S. by about
a year-and-a-half. This is indeed awful. But for the African American community, life expectancy has actually dropped by almost three years, so, much higher than for the rest of the population. And this really shows us, again, that there are some tremendous disparities that we have, both in our -- the availability of medicines and treatment therapies, and also in the way that we need to reach out to different communities and invite them to be part of the vaccine relief program. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: When you look at 1918 America, compared to 2020 and 2021 America, is there something about the national psyches then and now that helps us understand how we have responded? DR. JEREMY BROWN: I think this is a key point.
A hundred years ago, we were at the end of the First World War. America was weary. There was still a war going on, and that coupled with the reality that pandemics were an everyday part of existence. People died from diphtheria and measles. People died from pneumonia. And I think we have forgotten just how lucky we are not to have these diseases. It's only really these tremendous advances that we have had both in the area of public health and on vaccines that have meant that we have the luxury of not waking up every morning and being afraid of polio, or being afraid of diphtheria. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I think it's fair to say that there's a real sense of despair in the country right now. I mean, for many people, they thought the vaccines were the light at the end of the tunnel, at least domestically, for this virus.
But now deaths are up, hospitals are overflowing, Delta is everywhere in the country. Do you think that there is something that we missed at the beginning of this year, when we all thought, we're coming to the end of this, and it's turned out not to be the case? DR. JEREMY BROWN: Well, I think what we have missed is nature's ability to surprise us. While we are indeed in the middle of a very bad run right now, there is no doubt that we have to bear in mind that all pandemics come to an end. This is true before antibiotics. This is true before there were vaccines. And this will be true of COVID as well. The question is, what can we as a society do to minimize the destruction and the deaths that is caused by COVID? So, whichever class or group of people you most identify with, I think there are very, very strong reasons for us now to turn to those last many millions of Americans out there and get vaccinated as quickly as possible. That is the one surefire way to make sure that we don't have another discussion in a few more months, you and I, about that death toll has risen to a new -- to a new terrible marker.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Dr. Jeremy Brown of the Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, good to see you. Thank you very much. DR. JEREMY BROWN: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: With world leaders visiting New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates is calling on the world's richest nations to take what he says are urgent steps needed to end the crisis phase of this pandemic. We spoke about those steps earlier this afternoon in a wide-ranging discussion. And we should note, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funder of the "NewsHour." Bill Gates, thank you very much for joining us. In the statement you put out today, you spoke about that this is a moment of opportunity, a time to look at this pandemic from -- almost from a new perspective. And yet it's also a somber milestone. You wrote, we are 18 months in. COVID is still
on a death march. What gives you hope? BILL GATES, Co-Chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Well, the vaccines are a miracle. And there's a great story about the scientists who invented those, and how quickly that production has been ramped up. Now, with the volumes increasing, we have a chance to be equitable. We haven't gotten much out to the poorer countries, and yet variants could come out of those countries, and they need to get their economies back on track. And so the U.S. stepping back in, instead of quitting the WHO, and not being willing
to get involved, now the U.S. stepping up and working with other countries, increasing their donations, this is a very positive moment, to remember that there are these deep inequities in health, and ending the pandemic should be top of the list for helping all countries. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I was struck by how you spoke about that. You said there has to be a common commitment to equity to understand that what happens in lower-income countries affects higher-income countries. We hear in the United States that we're sending a lot of vaccines around the world, but you're saying not enough is being done? BILL GATES: No, the need out there is billions. And, so far, we have gotten tens of millions out. And I -- now that supply is no longer
the limiting factor in most rich countries -- I mean, the U.S. hasn't gotten up to the level of any other rich countries, but that's not a supply issue. So there is the opportunity for the U.S. and others not only to solve the supply problem, but help these developing countries with the logistics of actually getting out to all of their citizens. And so, during 2020, Europe and the Gates Foundation were having lots of conversations about this. There weren't enough vaccines. They mostly went to the rich countries. The
U.S. chose not only not to be involved, but to actually quit the WHO. Now we see a turnaround in terms of vaccine supply, and the Biden administration wants to help the world, which, of course, will benefit the U.S. as well. JUDY WOODRUFF: And you also have President Biden saying the United States can both deliver boosters to many Americans at the same time the U.S. provides vaccines around the world. But there are public health experts who say that's just not true; you cannot do both. Who's right? How do you see this? BILL GATES: Well, between now and the end of the year, we are still somewhat supply-constrained.
So the ideal would be, if the rich countries made their booster strategies reasonably targeted, that is, people 60 or 65 and older who have medical conditions, that would mean that the diversion in the rich countries would stay quite modest. Ideally, the rich countries, if they are going to do widespread boosters, would wait and do those early next year, where a variety of new vaccines will ramp up their production, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and then the booster programs won't compete with getting doses out to low-income countries. JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying it's a mistake to do it now? BILL GATES: In a broad way. If you want to target people who have immune deficiency or people above a certain age, the numbers aren't that gigantic. And so very targeted booster programs are going to be OK. It's disappointing where you have a few countries doing super broad booster programs,
because we still don't have the supply that we'd like to have. And so, I agree with WHO. We have to balance these needs for the next four to six months. JUDY WOODRUFF: And have you told President Biden that? BILL GATES: Well, the foundation is in contact with all the key people. Obviously, there are some people who the booster is helpful to. The broader evidence for most
people is actually still pretty weak. And so I -- it was good that they didn't, FDA didn't choose to go for all people over 12. JUDY WOODRUFF: I just want to ask you something. You talked about supply. We need to fix the supply problem, make it more transparent. There needs to be more global cooperation. A lot of people look at this and they think, we thought that was already being done. But you're saying it's not. Can you just explain,
in layman's terms, in a nutshell, what needs to be done? BILL GATES: Well, the -- during the key year, 2020, the U.S. not only didn't get involved. They withdrew from the main health organization that the world has. They withdrew from the WHO. And then, when the Congress did allocate money to buy vaccines, the Trump administration said, no, we're going to block that money from being spent. And so, this year, as the Biden administration came in, they unblocked that money. They did want to make sure the
U.S. wasn't supply-constrained. So, you can argue, should this have been done three or four months ago? But now we see all the rich countries having gotten up to quite high levels. And so, yes, it's a bit late, but the benefits are still there and incredible. JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the other issues you're working on right now, of course, is climate change. It's before the world leaders right now. Countries are being pressed to come up with commitments
that they're going to cut their use of carbon energy. And yet I want to ask you about the current situation right here in this country. The president is trying to push legislation that would include a lot of money to address these environmental questions.
But you have, not just Republicans, but Democrats, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, saying, no, we need to cut back on efforts to move to cleaner energy. How do you see what's going on politically? BILL GATES: The infrastructure bill has some really great money to advance green technologies, to fund projects. And the reconciliation bill has a lot of key tax credits to drive the demand for green technology. So, if both of those pass, the U.S. will accelerate in a very dramatic way its contribution, not only reducing its emissions, but innovating to drive the price down. Senator Manchin has spoken about the overall price tag and the incentives in the electricity generation sector, and how he might want to see those be different. The key thing, the ideal thing is, even if these bills, if they're some modest reductions, that they get passed.
If we don't get either of these bills, the U.S. will really be absent in driving the cost of green technologies down, which, in terms of creating new industries and the jobs in those industries, would be a huge missed opportunity for both the U.S. and the world. JUDY WOODRUFF: And are you sharing your view with members of Congress as they face some of these votes in the weeks to come? BILL GATES: Absolutely. I have actually got two topics that I have been in lots of discussions with members of Congress on. One is funding work to avoid having another pandemic. What is the research and things we need to do there? And the president's science adviser, Eric Lander, put forward a plan that we worked with them on that's very good there. But it needs to be funded. And then these climate issues, which now is the time to get serious about those things and tap into U.S. innovation power.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I also want to ask you, Bill Gates, about the future of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. You announced earlier this year, from a private -- a private announcement, that you and your wife, Melinda, were going to be ending your marriage. But, at the same time, the foundation announced that it was going to use this moment to restructure. What is that going to look like? How is the mission going to change? I'm asking because this is the biggest foundation in the world, by far. Your assets are in the tens of billions.
People have a lot of interest in what the foundation does. BILL GATES: Yes, so the announcement relative to the foundation was, we'd be adding some people at the governance level. I'm incredibly proud of the foundation, the work it does on vaccines for malaria, for reproductive health. And the overall priorities of the foundation are not changing.
You know, we picked up $1.8 billion of grants focused on the pandemic. But that doesn't mean -- we're still finishing the polio eradication. So we will have some additional advisers at the board level. But the priorities we set going back all the way to 2000 that Melinda
and I believe in, global health and education, that will still be where our work is done. So the only shift in strategy has been to add the pandemic, and now use our expertise to help governments fund the tools, so that we don't end up with another pandemic like this one. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, mainly the same -- the same focus. I also want to ask you about something else in the public arena. It was reported at that
time that you had a number of meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, who, when you met him 10 years ago, he was convicted of soliciting prostitution from minors. What did you know about him when you were meeting with him, as you have said yourself, in the hopes of raising money? BILL GATES: You know, I had dinners with him. I regret doing that. He had relationships with people he said would give to global health, which is an interest I have. Not nearly enough philanthropy goes in that direction. Those meetings were a mistake. They didn't result in what he purported. And I cut them
off. That goes back a long time ago now. There's -- so there's nothing new on that. JUDY WOODRUFF: It was reported that you continued to meet with him over several years, and that -- in other words, a number of meetings. What did you do when you found out about his background? BILL GATES: Well, I have said I regretted having those dinners. And there's nothing, absolutely nothing new on that. JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a lesson for you, for anyone else looking at this? BILL GATES: Well, he's dead.
So, in general, you always have to be careful. And the -- I'm very proud of what we have done in philanthropy, be very proud of the work of the foundation. That's what I get up every day and focus on. JUDY WOODRUFF: And so for people watching who wonder about the future of the Gates Foundation, what's your message? BILL GATES: Well, I'm extremely lucky that, with the help of Melinda and the incredible generosity of Warren Buffett, we're able to take these important causes and bring innovation to bear. We were funding mRNA vaccines when it was still viewed as something that would never work. And now that's turned into a source of some of the very best vaccines. We have
great hopes to use that technology for an HIV vaccine. Our work has reduced childhood death rates quite dramatically over the last 20 years. So, this is my second career. We have hired great people. We have made some progress.
The visibility of the inequity here isn't as high as it should be. And maybe one small benefit of the pandemic is, people will realize how weak these health systems are and how diseases like malaria and polio are still out there, and incredible tragedies. So, I'm very lucky to be involved in this work. It's gone way better than I expected. This will be the focus for the rest of my life. JUDY WOODRUFF: Bill Gates, we thank you very much for talking with us. BILL GATES: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Justice Department has released more than 30,000 nonviolent inmates to home confinement to try to limit the virus' spread in prison. But, as John Yang reports, some of these men and women could be forced to return to prison once the pandemic ends. It is part of our ongoing series Searching For Justice. JOHN YANG: In Micanopy, Florida, Rufus Rochelle has had his own room for the first time in more than three decades.
RUFUS ROCHELLE, Home Confinement Inmate: I always was optimistic that freedom was going to come, but I didn't realize it would be 32 years, almost 32 years, before it came. JOHN YANG: He was in prison serving a 40-year sentence for a 1988 conviction for conspiracy to sell crack cocaine and obstruction of justice. But that changed on April 24, 2020, when he was moved to home confinement. RUFUS ROCHELLE: It was one of the best days of my life. And it was a sad day, too, because
I was leaving so many others behind. JOHN YANG: Rochelle, now almost 70, was released under a provision of the CARES Act, which made more prisoners eligible for home detention, in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons. Studies in the early months of the pandemic found federal and state inmates were more than five times as likely than the general public to contract COVID-19. The virus has claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 inmates. RUFUS ROCHELLE: There's no way that you could practice social distancing when you got two men, and sometimes three men, inside of a cell, a room, stacked on top of one another.
JOHN YANG: But almost a year-and-a-half after his release, Rochelle and about 4,000 others like him face the possibility of having to return to prison once the pandemic ends. That's because a Trump era Justice Department legal opinion concluded that these men and women would have to finish their remaining sentences in prison once the pandemic recedes. Biden administration officials agreed with that reading of the law. ALISON GUERNSEY, University of Iowa College of Law: I know of no instance in modern history where we have re-incarcerated such a large number of people after they have been effectively released from a custodial setting.
JOHN YANG: Alison Guernsey runs the Federal Criminal Defense Clinic at the University of Iowa Law School. She represents some inmates who were released to home confinement. ALISON GUERNSEY: I'm telling my clients, look, you need to be prepared for this. Here are the options. Here are things that could happen. But if we don't succeed, you may end up back in prison. JOHN YANG: In a statement, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said it will have discretion to keep inmates on home confinement after the pandemic if they're close to the end of their sentences. And administration officials say President Biden is considering clemency requests for nonviolent drug offenders who have less than four years to serve.
That could include Rochelle. Because of good behavior, he's set to be released next July. For now, he says he still feels like very much a prisoner. RUFUS ROCHELLE: Yes, this is Rufus Rochelle. I wanted to let you know we are getting ready to go to the church center.
WOMAN: May sure you will be back by 2:30. RUFUS ROCHELLE: I mean 2:30, OK. Mm-hmm. JOHN YANG: He wears an ankle monitor and must check in daily with his case manager, and whenever he leaves his sister's house, where he lives. RUFUS ROCHELLE: Being on home confinement under the CARES Act is a sense of freedom, but I'm not free. I can't just go out there and say I'm going to walk or drive to the store. JOHN YANG: He needs advance permission to do that or to go to volunteer at his church's food pantry.
RUFUS ROCHELLE: How many of these they get? MAN: One. RUFUS ROCHELLE: One? OK. JOHN YANG: Or to visit family, including his 32-year-old daughter, Antoinette (ph), who was born after he was incarcerated.
RUFUS ROCHELLE: I never spent one day with her outside of the prison. Not one single day. JOHN YANG: His sister, Cheryl Bolen, gets emotional at the thought of him going back to prison.
CHERYL BOLEN, Sister of Rufus Rochelle: He done did all his time. He's still doing time. Every night, he wondering whether he got to get up in the morning or go back up. It's just wear and tear on all of us.
JOHN YANG: Rochelle, on the other hand, is philosophical. What do you think now that there's a possibility you may have to go back to the real prison? What does that -- how does that make you feel? RUFUS ROCHELLE: It saddens me. But I realize everything that happens now is for a purpose. JOHN YANG: Right now, that purpose is advocating for clemency for those like him. RUFUS ROCHELLE: Hello. My name is Rufus Rochelle. JOHN YANG: On most nights, he's on Facebook Live spreading the word. RUFUS ROCHELLE: So, why would you want to send individuals back to prison? Diana Marquez is a prime example. She has 30 years, 30 years -- imagine that -- for marijuana, conspiracy.
JOHN YANG: He's talking about 65-year-old Diana Marquez, who is also on COVID home confinement after about 15 years in prison for conspiracy to sell marijuana. She was released in May 2020, and now lives with her daughter in El Paso, Texas. DIANA MARQUEZ, Home Confinement Inmate: Hello, hello, hello, Mr. Rufus. How are you?
RUFUS ROCHELLE: All right, how you doing? How you doing? JOHN YANG: She often reaches out to Rochelle for advice. RUFUS ROCHELLE: You must explain your situation. You want to get your message out there loud and clear.
JOHN YANG: Home confinement has given Marquez a chance not only to be with her daughter Yesenia. DIANA MARQUEZ: How many times four give you eight? STUDENT: Two. DIANA MARQUEZ: What is the number? Two.
JOHN YANG: But also with two of her grandchildren, and for them to be with her. YESENIA MARQUEZ, Daughter of Diana Marquez: I am getting to know my mom again, because I was only 15 when she was incarcerated. So, it's as if we're getting to know each other again. My children have their grandmother. They're getting to know each other. It's been nice. It's been nice. JOHN YANG: But Marquez can't bring herself to tell her grandchildren the truth about that monitoring device on her leg.
DIANA MARQUEZ: They're so innocent. I really don't want to inform what is the reason that I have an ankle bracelet on my ankle. JOHN YANG: And she says she's constantly worried about going back to prison.
DIANA MARQUEZ: Knowing that they want to send us back to prison has been devastating me, especially myself, losing my hair, having heart palpitations. And it would be devastating for my daughter, the one that I'm living with, because I help her a lot to take care of my grandchildren. JOHN YANG: While Marquez still has 10 years left on her sentence, she's hopeful the nature of her conviction, involving marijuana, which is now decriminalized in 27 states, will improve her chances for presidential clemency. RUFUS ROCHELLE: No, this house was being built almost 32 years ago. JOHN YANG: In Florida, Rufus Rochelle says he also remains hopeful.
RUFUS ROCHELLE: I'm not bitter. But there are so many Rufus Rochelles incarcerated that deserve their freedom. And they truly deserve a second chance. JOHN YANG: A second chance that has come about from an otherwise devastating pandemic. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in Micanopy, Florida.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Climate change experts in Sicily are warning that rising sea waters are threatening some of the island's most crucial heavy industrial plants. They also predict food shortages, as crops wilt in withering heat. The island has endured record temperatures this summer. From Sicily, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.
MALCOLM BRABANT: It's been a long, hot, sweltering day in Sicily, and there's plenty of heat left in the sun as dusk approaches. This is an avocado plantation in the foothills of Etna, Sicily's active volcano. Avocados have been grown here for decades. One of the attractions for farmers like Andrea Passanisi is that it is a tropical fruit, and should be able to withstand high temperatures.
But this summer's extreme heat burned the leaves of the avocado trees and damaged the fruit. ANDREA PASSANISI, Farmer (through translator): When there is excessive heat, like in July and August, when we had 120, 122 degrees, it's not just humans that feel it. Avocado and mango plants suffer, too. The plants are susceptible to excessive heat.
What happens is, the plant gets stressed, and in order to protect itself, it expels the hanging fruits. MALCOLM BRABANT: This has been the hottest ever summer in Europe. Today, here in Syracuse in Sicily, the temperature is a relatively mild 92 degrees Fahrenheit. On August the
11, the thermometer shot up 30 degrees more, to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, unprecedented in Europe. This summer's temperatures made it difficult to breathe in Sicily. The island is now a touchstone for the rest of Europe when it comes to climate change.
Christian Mulder is a professor of ecology at the University of Catania. CHRISTIAN MULDER, University of Catania: The really high temperatures will repeat more often in the next years because the carbon dioxide reached levels that are really unprecedented. MALCOLM BRABANT: Excessively high temperatures and drought are dual concerns for citrus growers Marco Frasson and his partner, Emanuela. They have a large farm in Central Sicily. It yields between 3,000 to 4,000 tons of oranges each year, with a net value approaching $10 million. The soil here is drying out from lack of rain and shrinking underwater reserves. Harvest starts in early winter, but this could be a bad year.
EMANUELA GUGGINO, Farmer (through translator): These extreme temperatures are a serious challenge for reforestation. We can say categorically that everything that is green suffers. We feel as though we are in Africa, instead of Italy. MALCOLM BRABANT: As with avocados, citrus leaves are indicators of stress suffered by the trees. They should be green and lush. But they have been scorched.
MARCO FRASSON, Farmer (through translator): This leaf is the result of the 122 degrees Fahrenheit we reached in the middle of August. MALCOLM BRABANT: As he drives along dusty trails, Frasson worries that without rain, their yields and profits will be badly hit. MARCO FRASSON (through translator): The great concern is that, if our region of Sicily is unable to provide enough public water, we will be in enormous trouble, as will all the workers who work for our company.
MALCOLM BRABANT: In the past, the partners relied on local authorities for their water supply. But following numerous droughts, they constructed their own reservoir. EMANUELA GUGGINO (through translator): If the reservoir doesn't fill up this year, it won't be able to supply the water we need. We will be autonomous only until July next year. Then we won't be able to continue cultivation and meet the needs of our citrus groves.
MALCOLM BRABANT: The evidence of climate change is stacking up for Gino Catania, a regional leader of the Italian Agriculture Confederation. He's warning of food shortages in the not-too-distant future. GINO CATANIA, Italian Confederation of Agriculture (through translator): We are genuinely concerned about the future of agriculture if it continues like this. It hasn't rained for over five months.
Access to crops will be at risk. Essentially, less production means less food. Farmers are concerned that they won't be able to satisfy the ever-increasing demand for food, not only in Italy, but also abroad. MALCOLM BRABANT: If record temperatures aren't enough, low-lying areas of Sicily are also threatened by rising sea water. Sicily's east coast is stacked with heavy industry. One of the biggest refineries in
Southern Europe stands right next to the sea. Professor Giovanni Scicchitano is urging the owners of these multibillion dollar plants to relocate inland as soon as possible. GIOVANNI SCICCHITANO, Bari University (through translator): The sea level rise could rise by as much as three feet. This could also be amplified by geological phenomena, such as the subsidence of coastal plains. Industrial structures in Southeastern Sicily, such as this loading dock for refineries, would certainly have serious problems. Some of the plants located in this area could be
submerged within the next few decades. MALCOLM BRABANT: It isn't just industry that needs to move. Augusta is one of many cities around the world that are imperiled by melting glaciers and icecaps. This hospital will be among the first casualties. Geology professor Carmelo Monaco is pessimistic about the chances of saving cities like Augusta. CARMELO MONACO, Catania University (through translator): Even by blocking CO2 or methane emissions, this process is now irreversible.
Perhaps it will take hundreds of years before the trend changes a bit. Among other things, international climate change agreements, such as the Paris and Kyoto protocols, have not been respected, so there is no real change in the behavior of many countries. MALCOLM BRABANT: That grim view is not shared, however, by Professor Christian Mulder. CHRISTIAN MULDER: We all have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and it has been demonstrated that it is possible to keep the same gross domestic product even with much lower industrial emissions. MALCOLM BRABANT: Italy has boosted investment in renewable energy sources, but it's been slow going. The government wants to speed up the installation of cleaner energy and to end reliance on fossil fuels.
But, without a worldwide effort, Italy alone cannot save its coastline from vanishing beneath the waves. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Sicily. JUDY WOODRUFF: A reminder of how climate change is literally everywhere.
And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.