PBS NewsHour full episode, Jan. 25, 2022

PBS NewsHour full episode, Jan. 25, 2022

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff. On the "NewsHour" tonight: a tense moment. The U.S. delivers more military aid to Ukraine, as fears of a Russian invasion remain high.

We discuss the tenuous situation with the Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S. Then: drawing the lines. The fight over reapportioning congressional districts grows more intense, amid lawsuits, vetoes, and widespread gerrymandering. And a painful choice.

Under Taliban rule, the lack of opportunity for Afghan girls forces one doctor to choose between her patients and her children. DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO, Gynecologist: My career and me are one person, but my kids are three, and they should have bright future. And, because of them, I can leave everything. JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour." (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: Ukraine's leaders tried today to reassure their population, despite more than 100,000 Russian troops deployed near the nation's northern and eastern borders, and despite new announcements of Russian training exercises.

The U.S. and Western countries consider an invasion as possibly imminent, and that fear is being felt on Ukraine's front lines. Nick Schifrin begins our coverage. NICK SCHIFRIN: On the front lines of an 8-year-old war, the defenses are centuries-old trenches.

And the target practice? The man who has this site in his targets. In Eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers skirmish daily with Russian-backed separatists. Since the spring of 2014, 14,000 soldiers and civilians have died. That toll leaves troops already fighting a generational conflict in fear of a new invasion.

OLEH SURHOV, Ukrainian Soldier (through translator): Russia is not interested in talks. They have their own plans and tasks to execute. They won't stop.

There's no negotiating with them. NICK SCHIFRIN: There's no sign of Russia stopping its buildup. Today, the Russian Defense Ministry released new video of soldiers training to fight near the Ukraine border, and deploying precision-guided medium-range Iskander missiles that could successfully target Ukrainian airfields and bases.

The U.S. is sending its own military messages. For the second day in a row, American ammunition arrived in Kiev. And the U.S. made sure to highlight it by organizing a press conference with the U.S.'

top diplomat in Kiev, Kristina Kvien. KRISTINA KVIEN, Charge D'affaires, U.S. Embassy in Ukraine: Let me underscore that Russian soldiers sent to Ukraine at the behest of the Kremlin will face fierce resistance.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In Parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned, a new Ukraine war would be as deadly as any in Europe since World War II. BORIS JOHNSON, British Prime Minister: Ukrainians have every moral and legal right to defend their country, and I believe their resistance would be dogged and tenacious, and the bloodshed comparable to the first war in Chechnya or Bosnia, Mr. Speaker, or any other conflict that Europe has endured since 1945.

NICK SCHIFRIN: But Ukraine's president says he does not believe invasion is imminent, and he released a video today urging the country to remain calm. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, Ukrainian President (through translator): Protect your body from viruses, your brain from lies, your brain from lies, your heart from panic. NICK SCHIFRIN: Ukrainian and Western officials diverge over to the threat and how best to deter Russia from launching war, especially over the timing of sanctions.

In Washington today, for the first time, President Biden endorsed sanctions targeted directly at Vladimir Putin. QUESTION: Would you ever see yourself personally sanctioning him if he did invade Ukraine? JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: Yes. QUESTION: You would? JOE BIDEN: I would see that. NICK SCHIFRIN: But there's no sign anything is leading Russia to de-escalate. It announced more military drills across the country today.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin. JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: Pfizer began a clinical trial of an updated COVID vaccine designed to ward off the highly contagious Omicron variant. Final results could take months to come in. But the company said the trial won't affect its pledge to produce four billion doses of vaccine this year. There is new evidence that the Omicron surge is slowing the world economy.

The International Monetary Fund today slashed its growth forecast, citing Omicron and other factors. It now estimates global growth of 4.4 percent this year. That is down half-a-point from the last forecast.

The so-called pandemic Partygate scandal in Britain has broadened. London's Metropolitan Police said today they will investigate gatherings held at the offices of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a COVID lockdown in 2020. In response, the prime minister told Parliament he is cooperating fully, and his office denied violating COVID curbs. BORIS JOHNSON, British Prime Minister: I welcome the Met's decision to conduct its own investigation, because I believe this will help to give the public the clarity it needs and help to draw a line under matters. JUDY WOODRUFF: Johnson is already facing calls to resign over the scandal.

Russia's crackdown on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his allies intensified today. Authorities added them to a list of terrorists and extremists, freezing their bank accounts. Navalny is already in prison for violating terms of a suspended sentence. North Korea has fired off more missiles for the fifth time this month. South Korea's military said they appeared to be two cruise missiles that landed in the sea off North Korea's east coast. The U.N. Security Council has banned North Korea from launching ballistic missiles, but

not the lower-flying cruise models. Major roads and highways reopened in Greece and Turkey today after severe winter storms dumped more than 30 inches of snow. Flights resumed at Istanbul Airport in Turkey's largest city, where hundreds of people had been stranded. In Athens, crews cleared fallen trees and freed people who had been stuck inside their cars overnight.

YANNIS KOTSIS, Athens Resident (through translator): It's unacceptable that so many were trapped for so many hours with no help. It's not enough that they became trapped. Aid came after dark.

It's unacceptable. NIKOS GOUVALIS Athens Resident (through translator): They could have at least managed the roads. They could have predicted it.

I have known for the last 10 days about this weather forecast. For 10 days now, we have known that the weather was going to be like this. JUDY WOODRUFF: It is the second year in a row that a severe winter storm has struck Athens.

The Greek capital rarely receives heavy snowfall. In Pakistan, for the first time, a woman has taken a seat on the country's Supreme Court; 55-year-old Ayesha Malik was sworn in Monday in Islamabad. It is an historic move in an Islamic nation where men dominate the judicial system.

Back in this country, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, announced that she will run for a 19th term in office. The San Francisco Democrat is 81 and is the first woman to serve as speaker. It is not clear if she would try to remain Democratic leader in the House if she is reelected. A second New York City policeman has died after being shot last Friday.

He and his partner were attacked by a gunman during a domestic disturbance call. Just yesterday, the city's new mayor, Eric Adams, outlined plans for ending gun violence in New York. The U.S. Commerce Department warned today that the nation's shortage of semiconductor

chips has reached alarming levels. It said companies are down to less than five days supply. The department's survey of producers suggested the shortage will last at least six more months. The SAT college entrance exam is going digital. The College Board administers the test.

It announced today that it will shift away from paper and pencil by 2024. Backers of the SAT are trying to keep it relevant, as more colleges make standardized testing optional for admissions. And on Wall Street, worries about inflation fueled another volatile day. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 66 points at the end, after dropping more than 800 earlier in the day. It closed at 34297. The Nasdaq fell 315 points.

That's more than 2 percent. The S&P 500 shed 53. Still to come on the "NewsHour": how hospitals continue to struggle with the nationwide influx of COVID patients; the fight over congressional districts grows more intense amid multiple lawsuits; California's largest utility company emerges from legal probation, after playing a role in deadly wildfires; and much more. We return now to the crisis over Ukraine. As we reported, Ukraine's leaders are urging their citizens to remain calm, even as Russia poses a massive threat to the U.S. ally. Nick Schifrin has more on the view of Ukraine's government.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Thank you, Judy. We turn now to Oksana Markarova, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States. Ambassador, welcome to the "NewsHour." Today, we heard President Zelensky say that Ukrainians should not be panicked. But from comments by President Biden last week, all the way to Prime Minister Johnson today, it is clear that the West thinks an invasion could be imminent. Are you downplaying the threat in order not to cause panic, or do you see the threat differently? OKSANA MARKAROVA, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States: Actually, we do see the threat exactly the same way our partners are seeing it.

So, Russia attacked us in 2014. We know what they are capable of. We know that they illegally already occupied Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk territories.

And we know that these 100,000 troops around our is not there just to be there. So, yes, Ukrainians are worried. But, as our president said, we should not panic. We should get ready to defend our country.

And this is what we are doing. So, in addition to the military offensive that Russia is planning and portraying, they also are doing a lot to destabilize situation in the country, so all the cyberattacks, disinformation, information attack. They want us to panic. And we will not panic. We will get prepared.

We will also do everything in order to continue to build our country, to reform our economy, and we are resolute to defend our country. NICK SCHIFRIN: Do you believe, as the U.S. does, that an invasion could be imminent? OKSANA MARKAROVA: Well, again, with a neighbor like Russia, this is a reality with which we live for the past 400 years. We know the threat is there. We know the threat is very high.

And the diplomats, together with all the government, with the president, and together with our international partners and allies, especially with the United States, we are working hard in order for the option A, as we say, the diplomatic solution, to be still possible. And we are working very hard to dissuade Russia from making this mistake. NICK SCHIFRIN: In terms of trying to persuade Russia not to make this mistake, as you put it, trying to prevent war, the Ukrainian government is calling on the U.S. government to impose sanctions now on Russia, while the administration says that they are waiting for sanctions in order to maintain sanctions' deterrent value. Why do you disagree with that? OKSANA MARKAROVA: We are trying to prevent Russia from further aggression and further invading -- invasion of Ukraine. And that calls for next level of sanctions.

And we are working very closely with our partners and allies here on what these sanctions could be. And, yes, Ukraine is advocating that these sanctions should be very strong. And we are very pleased to hear from the administration, from President Biden that the cost and the sanctions are going to be nothing that Russia ever saw. And, yes, there are also grounds for the sanctions to be applied now.

So, both as the deterrent, the future sanctions, and the sanctions for what Russia already did, until it changes in behavior, are well-supported by Ukraine. NICK SCHIFRIN: The Ukrainian government has also been asking for more weapons from the U.S. government, anti-ship weapons, surface-to-air weapons, even beyond what the U.S. has been providing this week. If -- do you think, if the U.S. provided more weapons, it would deter Russia? OKSANA MARKAROVA: Absolutely.

Last year, the United States support, military assistance to Ukraine has been the highest since 2014, more than 650 million U.S. dollars. And during the past three days, we see on a daily basis how flights are coming in from the United States delivering their military assistance from the $200 million package that has been authorized by President Biden in December. So, again, it's a very much united front that the civilized world is putting together, helping us, because this is not a fight about Ukraine. It's a fight about values and principles.

So, anyone who treasures freedom and democracy and believes that those values and principles are worth to fight for are standing together with Ukraine these days. NICK SCHIFRIN: Do you acknowledge that there are weapons the Ukrainian government is requesting that the administration is refusing to provide? OKSANA MARKAROVA: Of course. I mean, if you ask me, do we need more Javelins or do we need more weapons, yes, we do. I mean, we are only rebuilding our capabilities after we started building institutions in our country after the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. But I think, already, we have large progress there, and our American friends and colleagues are the ones who we have to thank for it. NICK SCHIFRIN: The U.S., as I had mentioned before, believes the threat to your government

could be existential, including an encirclement of Kiev and regime change, as the British government said in its intelligence release this weekend. Given the level of threat, are you willing to consider any concessions to Moscow, from more autonomy for the regions under the control of separatists in the east, to your future in NATO, in order to try and avoid invasion? OKSANA MARKAROVA: There are principal issues which are very important for Ukraine, as I said, to be independent, to be sovereign, to decide our future by ourselves, to be part of the European Union and NATO, and to be whole again, to restore our territorial integrity. So, we are peaceful people.

We never planned any offensives and we never attacked anyone. But we are not ready to give up on our sovereignty, on our -- or on our principal values and beliefs. So we hope that, together with all of our partners and allies, we will send a very clear message to Moscow, and that Moscow will realize that Ukraine does not pose any military threat to Russia. And if they're afraid of us to be successful and democratic, then they can they can -- they can feel that, but it's not a reason, in the 21st century, to attack a sovereign country. And, no, we are not ready to give up because we know that, when we are giving up on something, like it happened in the previous century, the result for Ukraine is devastating. While we were occupied by the Soviet Union, Ukraine suffered from horrible tragedies, from Holodomor, the genocide that has been organized in 1932-1933, which cost us millions of lives.

And people were killed only because they were Ukrainians. We went through a series of wars. And so we can only be successful when we are independent and when Ukrainians decide, what do we want to do in Ukraine and how do we want to live? NICK SCHIFRIN: Ambassador Markarova, thank you very much.

OKSANA MARKAROVA: Thank you very much. JUDY WOODRUFF: All across the country, states are busy at work, with new 2020 census data in hand redrawing congressional lines that will help determine the balance of power in Washington for the next decade. To check in on the status of this reapportionment in some key states, I'm joined by an expert on the subject. He's David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report. Dave Wasserman, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

So, at this point in this process, which party has an advantage? DAVID WASSERMAN, The Cook Political Report: Well, it depends how you measure it. The redistricting process is going better for Democrats than initially expected, because Democrats did get favorable maps out of commission states, in California, New Jersey and Michigan. They also could benefit from the states where they got to redraw lines in Illinois and Oregon and New Mexico, whereas Republicans have drawn several defensive gerrymanders, where they have focused on shoring up their own incumbents in places like Texas.

But we're also watching a number of court battles unfolding. And this will be the determinate of who comes out ahead. And Democrats have been suing to overturn Republican-drawn maps on state constitutional grounds in Ohio and North Carolina, and they just received a favorable ruling on racial grounds in Alabama. JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a couple of basics.

What is this reapportionment supposed to accomplish? It's every 10 years after the new census numbers come out. What's it supposed to accomplish? And, in most cases, it's done by the legislature, but in some by an outside commission? DAVID WASSERMAN: That's right. And this really happens in two steps.

The first is reapportionment, which is, the census determines how many seats each state gets in Congress for the next 10 years. We found that back out in April. And Texas is picking up two seats, five other states picking up one seat each, seven states losing a seat, including California for the first time since gaining statehood. But the bigger impact is how the lines are then redrawn within every state to rebalance population according to the census data down to the block level. And Republicans have more control over the process than Democrats.

In states where legislatures, partisan legislatures, draw the lines Republicans hold 20 states, totaling 187 districts, whereas Democrats have the final say in eight states totaling 75 districts. There are 10 states have independent or bipartisan commissions. There are also six states where control is split between the parties and courts may need to step in. JUDY WOODRUFF: And let's talk about what it looks like so far. Of the states that have dealt with this and had their maps, their redrawn lines approved, I think 33 of the 50 states at this point have had their maps approved.

DAVID WASSERMAN: That's true. And some are pending litigation. But, for the most part, because geographic polarization is so high and straight-ticket voting is so high, how lines are drawn predetermines election outcomes. And so, if you have a district that's drawn that Trump would have won with 55 percent or that Biden won with at least 55 percent, you can be reasonably sure that that district is going to go blue or red. And so parties who are redrawing these lines, they have every incentive to draw safe seats, so they don't have to keep spending money on them.

We could see the number of competitive districts decline by as much as a third this cycle. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as you mentioned, Dave Wasserman, the courts have gotten involved in a number of these states. One of these states, Alabama, you mentioned it a moment ago.

Tell us what's happening there. DAVID WASSERMAN: So, this is a surprising ruling, because the federal panel that issued this ruling blocking the Republican-drawn map, two out of the three judges are Trump appointees. And yet the federal court decided that the map was a racial gerrymander, because it failed to create a second Black opportunity or majority seat.

Keep in mind that both the current Republican-drawn plan and the one that Republicans in Alabama adopted for the next 10 years only drew one majority Black Seat out of seven, even though Black residents make up about 26 percent of the voting age population. So, this is a -- this could be a landmark case. It's going to be appealed to the Supreme Court directly by the state Republicans. And the outcome at the Supreme Court could have reverberations across the Deep South in situations where the Voting Rights Act is open to interpretation. JUDY WOODRUFF: All eyes are going to be watching this, as you said a minute ago, Democrats doing better in some cases. But we will see what happens in that particular instance.

And one other example I did want to ask you about, Dave Wasserman, was New York, where there was supposed to be a bipartisan commission drawing these lines. DAVID WASSERMAN: That's right. And in a number of states, there were reforms undertaken that resulted in an advisory commissions.

But, ultimately, the legislature has the final say. And this is a way for partisans to kind of get around the desire for reform. In New York, it's likely that Democrats, who already control 19 out of 27 congressional seats there, will end up drawing the map in Albany, and they could seize as many as 23 of the 26 seats that New York will receive for the next decade, if they're able to gerrymander the boundaries the way they'd like so. So, these decisions over maps in state capitals will have enormous implications in the race for control of Congress, not only in 2022, but for the entire next decade. JUDY WOODRUFF: Enormous complications. And, as we are saying, only, what, two-thirds of the states have their maps approved, so it's very much a live process still working its way through.

Dave Wasserman, we will be checking in with you again later this year. Thank you. DAVID WASSERMAN: Thanks, Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: The highly contagious Omicron variant has brought new daily COVID case numbers to record highs this month, and the magnitude of infections has left many hospitals once again under tremendous pressure and even on the brink. In Texas, where just 58 percent of the state is fully vaccinated, hospitalizations have risen dramatically. Amna Nawaz has our report.

AMNA NAWAZ: Judy, this month, the city of San Antonio is reporting the highest average of cases since the pandemic began. On Monday, health officials reported more than 7,000 new cases. The positivity rate has climbed to 38 percent.

And over the last two weeks, hospitalizations have increased 80 percent. Dr. Jason Bowling is an infectious disease specialist at University Health and an assistant professor of infectious disease at UT Health San Antonio. He joins us now.

Dr. Bowling, welcome to the "NewsHour." And thank you for making the time. You guys in San Antonio are now dealing with your fourth COVID surge.

Hospitalizations there have tripled since the start of January. What is it like for you to go into work every day? DR. JASON BOWLING, UT Health San Antonio: Well, it's incredibly busy, as you can imagine, with the numbers increasing so quickly. We're really seeing a lot of hospitalizations and a lot of business in our outpatient settings, in the clinics. With this most transmissible variant, the number of cases has gone really high. And even though it's relatively less severe than the Delta variant, given the high number of cases, that still leads to a lot of people ending up in the hospital setting.

AMNA NAWAZ: Tell me about your patients. Are they mostly breakthrough infections, vaccinated people who are also getting sick, as we know happens with Omicron, or mostly unvaccinated? DR. JASON BOWLING: So, the majority of the patients that we see in the hospital are unvaccinated.

We do see some breakthrough infections in the hospital setting. And those are often that people that have issues with their immune system or on medicines that can impact their immune system. But most of the people that are really ill and end up in the ICU are unvaccinated, and the majority of the patients hospitalized. More of our vaccinated patients may be seen in the clinic, in the urgent care clinic, or with their primary care doctor. AMNA NAWAZ: For the patients who are unvaccinated who you're treating, do you talk to them about getting the vaccine? DR. JASON BOWLING: I do.

I think most of the providers do. I talk with them about the vaccine. I think, at this point, trying to find a place where you're just providing information -- obviously, there's been a lot of information out for quite some time now about the vaccine. We're further along with our experience with that.

And so I'm happy to share my experience with people that have been vaccinated. The other thing that we see with people that are sick enough to be in the hospital is, actually, many of them are more amenable or more willing to listen to talk about the vaccines. There are still some people that don't want to talk about it. And they will usually tell you that right away.

We're careful to respect those boundaries. But we definitely want to provide helpful information, let them know what's recommended, also that it's important, even when you're infected, to still get vaccinated, because you can't get reinfected. Natural immunity is not enough to keep you from getting sick again. AMNA NAWAZ: Can I ask you about some of the updated CDC guidelines for health care workers? Because we have been hearing a lot of headlines about that. Obviously, you have had staffing issues, like every hospital around the country.

The CDC says, if any health care worker has a potential exposure, they recommend testing before returning to work. But with the rates that you are seeing and managing in your hospital, is that even possible? DR. JASON BOWLING: Yes, that's a great question. So, we really have had to look for a way that we could balance the CDC recommendations with what's practical. One of the challenges with having cases so high here and a test positivity rate so high is that we see people that will have multiple high-risk exposures within a week.

So, early on, when we were trying to implement the testing before returning, we were finding people would need to be tested two or three times in a week. And that was a real challenge with the fact that we were trying to test all these symptomatic people that really need to be tested, so we can establish a diagnosis. So, we have kind of had to find a balance to find a practical approach.

We certainly want it to be safe when people come back to the work environment, so they're not infecting their co-workers, but also find a balance that we're using the tests as prudently as possible to keep it safe. AMNA NAWAZ: Tell me about your staff and what you're seeing among them right now because we have been hearing stories, especially now as we're well into year two of this, of health care workers around the country just saying they are burned out, and they feel like the shorter isolation periods and having to go back to work, sometimes even if they have tested positive, just because they need to fill those staffing shortages, it really, really adds to the burnout. There was actually one nurse I read in a report in The Washington Post in California. She said: "The more I give, the more you want.

I have nothing left to give." I wonder if you're seeing or hearing that sentiment among your staff. DR. JASON BOWLING: Well, we are certainly seeing that this has been a long road. It's been a long pandemic. People have given a lot of time.

And now what we're seeing with this most transmissible variant is that lots of health care workers in a unit may be out at the same time, and so that we're asking the ones that are left to cover more hours. And so it has been hard. I have realized now that, when you ask people, how are you doing, you're asking it with an intensity that you didn't ask before, because you're concerned about how people are doing and their well-being. But I have also been really impressed with the volunteerism, people stepping up to help cover for their colleagues that are out, people asking if they can come back in five days, so that they can come back and help, because they know people have been covering for them. So, certainly a whole mix of emotions. Definitely, we're seeing fatigue.

This has been a long time. But I have also been impressed with how people have stood up and risen to this challenge, despite it going on for much longer than anybody anticipated at the beginning. AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Bowling, you have been here before, in a sense, right, the staffing shortages, supply shortages, another surge in your area.

I wonder if you thought two years ago that you would be where you are today. DR. JASON BOWLING: So, I don't think that anybody can honestly state that they would think that this would go on for this long. I mean, people had predictions. So, no, I didn't anticipate that. Certainly, it does feel like we have been here.

And I think one of the words I think is known, Webster's dictionary, of Blursday holds a lot of meaning, because it does seem to be the same day over and over again. But I do see glimpses of progress, right? We have vaccines now. We have better strategies. We're trying different things.

I think we have made progress. There's been some impressive scientific advances throughout this. We just need to continue to embrace those, so we can get further past this, so that the days coming forward don't look exact same as the days that we have had in the past. AMNA NAWAZ: That is Dr. Jason Bowling from UT Health San Antonio joining us tonight.

Dr. Bowling, thank you so much to you and your team for everything you're doing. We appreciate it. DR. JASON BOWLING: Thank you very much. JUDY WOODRUFF: Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last year, the future of the country's women has been in peril.

Many girls are barred from receiving an education, and women are prevented from holding a number of kinds of jobs. Back in 2019, special correspondent Jane Ferguson met with a female doctor in Kabul, and she recently returned to find that same doctor now faced with a previously unimaginable choice. JANE FERGUSON: Long before the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, Dr. Najmussama Shefajo's expertise stood out. One of the country's top gynecologists, she offered a crucial service to thousands of women, advised the government, and, from the clinic she built in the capital, Kabul, pioneered advanced medical technology for expecting mothers.

DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO, Gynecologist: We reach to the diagnosis soon, and there is no need to go out of the country. JANE FERGUSON: So it saves lives? DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: Yes, of course.

This is the nose. This is the mouth. JANE FERGUSON: To Dr. Shefajo, interaction with her patients is important. DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: Here, the mother sees the baby, her own ultrasound. JANE FERGUSON: And how do they react? (LAUGHTER) DR.

NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: Yes. They are very happy. Right now, they know this is the head, this is the heart, this is the stomach, because I teach them. JANE FERGUSON: That was Dr. Shefajo in late 2019 speaking with us in her clinic. Her calling card? A passionate, collaborative physician.

She began her career delivering babies in secret on mud floors, when the Taliban was last in power in the mid-1990s. When we first spoke with her in 2019, that all seemed like a fading memory. When you were working underneath Taliban rule, did you ever imagine that, one day, you would have a clinic like this, equipment like this? (LAUGHTER) DR.

NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: I was -- I had hope. JANE FERGUSON: A hope faded overnight when the government of Afghanistan collapsed last year. On August 15, 2021, President Ashraf Ghani and his aides fled the country, and the Taliban overtook the capital city. Thousands of panicked Afghans, many who worked with U.S. and allied forces, rushed to the airport, as a chaotic American-led evacuation took place, among them, many professional Afghan women.

Not Dr. Shefajo. She was here at her clinic. DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: All the patients who came to me on that day, they were -- really, really needed people, needed women. They needed health care services.

And some people with very severe depression, even when they lay on the bed, they started to cry. It was really terrible. JANE FERGUSON: Fearful the country's medical care would collapse under Taliban rule, women begged her to induce labor right there. DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: So, most of the women, even their pregnancy period was not completed, they pushed me to do Cesarean and take the baby out from the womb. Otherwise, if the situation deteriorates, there will be no doctors, so, who will do this operation or delivery for us? JANE FERGUSON: They were asking you to push the delivery forward? DR.

NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: Yes, yes, by force of -- and -- the delivery. JANE FERGUSON: Because they were afraid of? DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: Not having the doctor, not having the services in the hospital.

That's why . JANE FERGUSON: When we first met Dr. Shefajo, the Trump administration was in talks with the Taliban about leaving the country. At the time, women like her were worried about what might happen if the insurgent group returned to power. DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: We want our right as a woman, as a doctor, as a mother, and as an Afghan, as a Muslim.

JANE FERGUSON: You have daughters. What do you hope for their future? How do you picture it? DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: For my elder daughter, I want her to be a pilot.

(LAUGHTER) DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: She is also interested to travel a lot. But, for the others, they are interested to be a doctor. JANE FERGUSON: Like their mom.

(LAUGHTER) JANE FERGUSON: We came back to Kabul several months into Taliban rule to find Dr. Shefajo changed, her spirit diminished, the futures she dreamed of for her daughters gone. After their takeover, the Taliban banned all girls from attending public school. A few months later, they relented, allowing those under age 12 to go for an education. Dr. Shefajo decided to send none of her girls, encouraging solidarity among the sisters. You're an educated woman working in an elite field with a 14-year-old daughter who's not allowed to go to school.

How does that feel? DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: My two kids are small. They are allowed to go to school. They are under the sixth class. But... JANE FERGUSON: Under sixth grade? DR.

NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: Yes, under sixth grade. But my eldest daughter is at eighth grade, so she is not allowed to go to school. That's why I do not allow the two youngest ones as well. She will feel that I am at home and not study, and these two, my sisters are going to the school. That's why she will be disappointed.

JANE FERGUSON: She pushes them to study independently at home, but knows an even more painful choice lies ahead. DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: Although I love my country, I love women, I love my patients, and I love my job a lot, and lot -- a lot like my kids, like my heart, my body, but, still, I have to go outside country because of my kids. JANE FERGUSON: Dr. Shefajo never feared the Taliban and chose to stay in Kabul to provide services to her patients.

But she fights two battles now, a mother's love for her children and a dedication to her patients. DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: I love both of them a lot. But, in comparison, my career and me are one person, but my kids are three, and they should have bright future. And, because of them, I can leave everything.

JANE FERGUSON: It's impossible to overstate what she leaves behind, as an Afghan, as a doctor, and as a self-made professional. DR. NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: It took 48 years to reach my goal, and I will not have this much life to start from zero until I reach my goal. So it will take so, so much time. One of my friend went to Canada, and she was very good, very famous and very professional doctor in Afghanistan. Over there, she is nothing.

But she went because of her kids. JANE FERGUSON: That is all too common for many here fleeing for Western countries, once top specialists in their field, now trying to get qualified for assistants' work. DR.

NAJMUSSAMA SHEFAJO: Right now, also, I am depressed, and I take medication for depression. My condition will deteriorate a lot and a lot. And I know, I know I will lose everything, because I invest a lot, invest all my money in my hospital.

I do not have anything in my hand. But, still, I am thinking about my kids. JANE FERGUSON: Dr. Shefajo doesn't know yet when or where she will go. Getting visas to move abroad is tough for Afghans, but she is resolute about getting her daughters out of here and into a classroom anywhere. The choice she is making, the sacrifice is one countless Afghan men and women will continue to make, as they flee for the sake of their children, surrendering their whole life's work, in hopes their sons and daughters will never have to make the choices they did.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jane Ferguson in Kabul, Afghanistan. JUDY WOODRUFF: As climate change's impact grows, so does the risk of ever larger and more frequent wildfires. No state knows that better than California.

But the Golden State is also grappling with the role of one of the country's largest utilities in all of this and whether the company will do what's needed to prevent or stop fires. Stephanie Sy has the story. STEPHANIE SY: It's been five years since the California utility PG&E was placed under criminal probation for its conviction in the explosion of a natural gas pipeline, which killed eight people in 2010. The probation ends today, but PG&E remains a continuing menace, wrote the supervising judge in a concluding report.

Federal Judge William Alsup says PG&E has failed to rehabilitate itself, and says Californians remain -- quote -- "trapped in a tragic era of PG&E wildfires because, for decades, it neglected its duties." By the judge's accounting, while on probation, PG&E has set off 31 wildfires, killing 113 Californians, burning nearly 1.5 million acres, and destroying almost 24,000 structures. The utility is blamed for some of the biggest fires in the state's history, including last summer's Dixie Fire in Northern California, which burned more than 963,000 acres and destroyed 1,300 structures. The utility is also charged in the Zogg Fire in 2020 that killed four people. The company pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly Camp Fire of 2018, which destroyed the town of Paradise.

TIM MONIZ, Paradise Resident: My house, and all my things that I have been saving and collecting from family members that are passed away, and pictures are all gone. And that kind of hurts the most. It really does. But, otherwise, what do you do? DEANNA ISENHOWER, Paradise Resident It's kind of surreal. It's hard to believe that this was once a beautiful place, and I lived here and loved it, and now it looks like a war zone. STEPHANIE SY: The judge wrote that systemic problems at PG&E remain entrenched.

The company has failed to inspect and maintain outdated transmission lines. The judge deemed inadequate its reliance on outside contractors to clear vegetation around its power lines. Judge Alsup has recommended that the company be split into two separate utilities.

PG&E spokesperson James Noonan said in a statement that "We acknowledge that we have more work to do," but added that they have become a fundamentally safer company over the course of probation. The majority of the survivors, the judge noted, are still waiting to be compensated, and some remain in mobile homes. Only $7 million of a $13.5 billion fire trust fund have been disbursed to date. Joining us to talk about PG&E's troubled history is Brandon Rittiman.

He is an investigative reporter with ABC10 in Sacramento who has covered extensively PG&E's role in California's wildfires. Brandon Rittiman, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour." Your reporting has really focused on the power of PG&E politically in California, so I want to start there. As we talk about what wasn't done in this probation period, according to this scathing final report from this judge, how does that power play into the lack of change we have seen in improving safety when it comes to California's wildfires and this company? BRANDON RITTIMAN, Investigative Reporter, ABC10: Well, thanks for having me, and thanks for the question. The power of the company is really difficult to overstate.

It has a natural monopoly over electricity to 40 percent OF the state of California. It's one out of every 20 Americans. And because they own the infrastructure, they have this monopoly certificate from the state.

And that's really not been challenged in any meaningful way. In fact, the state government has really much -- taken very much the opposite approach and helped prop up the company's books in response to these calamities, which happen to be criminal. And that's sort of where the rubber meets the road. This is criminal behavior, criminally negligent behavior, by this massive company that 16 million people have no choice but to buy their product. STEPHANIE SY: You know, the judge really has a long rap sheet of not only what they did before the probation period, but during the probation period. So I guess one question is, why isn't the probation period being extended? If any individual criminal was to reoffend during their probation period in the ways this judge describes in this report, they'd stay locked up.

BRANDON RITTIMAN: Yes, that's absolutely true. I mean, legal experts I have talked to say that, if PG&E was a person, it might be looking at a death sentence by now, if not a life sentence. But prison isn't an option for a corporate entity. So, even though we have corporate personhood baked into our laws, this idea that a corporate entity can be held accountable for crimes, just like a person can, the fact is, on the punishment side of that, there are no prison bars, there are no handcuffs.

If the corporate entity is the one found guilty or pleads guilty -- PG&E has done both -- it's gone through jury trials and pleaded guilty. STEPHANIE SY: We should say that PG&E has said that it will allow state regulators to continue to monitor its practices for five years. One of the other things that the judge said in this report is that there seems to be an ingrained culture of keeping meters turning, even during those power shutoffs that it has done in the last few years in an effort to prevent wildfires from being sparked. Does that suggest to you, as you read the report, that this is a company that is putting profits ahead of safety, and that California's regulators are allowing it to do so? BRANDON RITTIMAN: Well, what really suggests that, to me, is that they stood in a courtroom and pleaded guilty to 85 felonies and said they were going to stop putting profits over safety.

Now what you have is a federal judge saying they haven't really done that. They haven't lived up to those commitments that they made. And that's what I think is really troubling to everyone.

STEPHANIE SY: Now, PG&E often says that climate change is really to blame. And there is evidence, of course, that climate change changes the behavior of wildfires. Does PG&E get any allowance, given the impact of the changing climate on California? And does the judge address that in his concluding remarks? BRANDON RITTIMAN: Absolutely, the fires are worse because of climate change, and also because of overgrown conditions out in the wildland. We have suppressed wildfire for more than 100 years in the West.

So, if there's a big bonfire up there, everything is drier and warmer. And we have more days when it can burn. All of that is true. All of that is the reason why criminal negligence has to be snuffed out, so that we don't have a fire spark that is utterly preventable and lose more lives for no reason. STEPHANIE SY: And finally, Brandon, where do payments stand for the many victims of these wildfires? And why has it taken so long for them to get relief? BRANDON RITTIMAN: Yes, so the -- most, but not all of PG&E's wildfires were rolled into its bankruptcy, which it emerged from back in 2020, around the time when it pleaded guilty to the Camp Fire. And the victims -- the scheme that was proposed to the victims, they got a yes-or-no vote, there weren't other choices -- was, take your settlement half in cash, half in stock to be held by a trust, which would then sell the PG&E stock and use the money from the sale to pay you.

So, you have the people who have lost their livelihoods, loved ones, homes in PG&E disasters essentially being put in the position of owning a big chunk of the company that burned them out. It's never been worth the amount that they were told. Some of them have gotten their first payments, but none of them have been paid in full. And they may not be for years. STEPHANIE SY: And the judge writes that, meanwhile, PG&E management pays itself handsome salaries and bonuses.

Brandon Rittiman, investigative reporter at ABC10 in Sacramento, all of his reports can be found at firepowermoney.com. Thanks so much for joining the "NewsHour." BRANDON RITTIMAN: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As students across the country continue to experience the many changes the pandemic has brought, some are struggling to adjust. Student Reporting Labs, our network of youth media programs, has been exploring this issue as part of a special program, "Our New Normal," that premieres online tonight. As a part of that special coverage, student reporter Teri Bell spoke with school counselor Edith Porter at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, Delaware, on her predictions for students' mental health in 2022 and what schools can do to help. TERI BELL: Hi, Ms. Porter.

Thank you for speaking with me today. EDITH PORTER, School Counselor, Caesar Rodney High School: Hi, Teri. Thank you for having me. TERI BELL: Last year, Student Reporting Labs interviewed you about teen mental health during the pandemic and your predictions for this school year.

Let's take a listen to part of that interview. EDITH PORTER: There will be more check-ins. I'm predicting that parents will be more open to resources, that we can have open conversations about race, about gender, about the pandemic, about mental health. I predict that, when we come together, we have learned something.

We have learned how to treat each other a little bit better. TERI BELL: So, what have you seen this school year, and are those things still happening? EDITH PORTER: Yes, so, this school year, I have seen more students referring themselves to mental health therapy, teachers e-mailing, more parents coming into the school looking for help for their children. I have seen a lot of children bring their peers down.

I'm finding that the conversations about grief have increased, because, as you know, Teri, the pandemic, there was a lot of loss. A lot of the students have lost family members. They haven't been able to grieve properly, and they haven't had any grief counseling. TERI BELL: What mental health issues are you seeing students struggle with this year, and is it the same as last year, or are new issues becoming more common? EDITH PORTER: A lot of kids are struggling with how to stay organized, making classes, how to balance work-life, being introduced back into having friends and socializing with a mask on in the school.

Some kids have struggled over COVID with substance issues, you know, smoking, vaping, drinking, things like that. And parents have contacted me to sort of give resources and help those kids. TERI BELL: What do you think students need most right now to improve their mental health? EDITH PORTER: One of my favorite things is, people need to be held, heard, and understood. So, a lot of times, we need to ask young people like yourself, what do you need? How are you doing? How does that feel? And not be afraid of what the answer is, because sometimes you guys can say some interesting things to us. And, as an adult, my job is not to judge you in mental health.

It's to hear you and to understand what's going on, and allow you to say it, and express yourself, and know that you're OK. Because of the Internet, everybody's already diagnosed themselves. (LAUGHTER) EDITH PORTER: So, sometimes, I have to kind of stray them away from that and just focus on yourself and what's happening with you. If you're anxious about this, let's figure out a solution-focused therapy. So, what's the problem that we can handle right now? Can't handle what will happen in five months, right? Let's get you focused on, let's get back to class.

I have a test. I'm anxious. OK, let's breathe.

Let's focus. Let's see if we can get you back 30 minutes into that. And we're going to do one thing at a time. So, it's teaching them how to be present.

TERI BELL: So, I'm a senior. What advice would you give seniors that are getting ready to leave high school, but missed such a critical part in their social development due to the pandemic? EDITH PORTER: Involve yourself in clubs, introduce yourself to more people, less social media. Sorry. (LAUGHTER) EDITH PORTER: But more face-to-face engagements as possible, because, when you go to college, there is going to be a lot of interaction with new people, and you want to feel confident about that. TERI BELL: If you could give one piece of advice to schools around the country to help their students with mental health, what would it be? EDITH PORTER: Mental health therapists in the building, licensed mental health therapists, knowledgeable people that can provide resources in and out of school, able to train the staff in the importance of mental health. And understand that this is something that's not going away, that it's something that we need to continue on for years to come.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to hear more about how students are adjusting to life during the pandemic, tune into the Student Reporting Labs special, "Our New Normal." You can find that right now on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour. 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.

2022-01-26 22:02

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