tv PBS News Hour PBS January 22, 2014 3:00pm-4:00pm PST
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> ifill: infighting and acrimony marked the first day of the syria talks, highlighting the hard road ahead to any peaceful end to the civil war. good evening, i'm gwen ifill. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. also ahead this wednesday, the drought emergency in california, declared on the heels of the state's driest year on record. >> ifill: plus, closing the skills gap in our jobs market by testing high school students for work-readiness instead of focusing on college prep. >> what does an "a" mean to an employer today? "i got an 'a' in math." what does that mean? nothing. >> ifill: those are just some of the stories we're covering on tonight's "pbs newshour."
>> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> there's a saying around here: you stand behind what you say. around here, we don't make excuses, we make commitments. and when you can't live up to them, you own up and make it right. some people think the kind of accountability that thrives on so many streets in this country has gone missing in the places where it's needed most. but i know you'll still find it, when you know where to look. >> supported by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information at macfound.org >> and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations.
and... >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> woodruff: much of the northeast endured a new cold wave today, on the heels of a winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in some places. the aftermath left states from kentucky to maine in cleanup mode. schools were closed in a number of major cities; airlines canceled another 1,400 flights, on top of 3,000 yesterday and millions of people faced a mess on the roads, trying to get to work. >> it's been pretty rough out here. the roads are real bad. it's been stacking up and we've got a couple of inches of snow that they've still got to get out of here. so it hasn't been fun. >> woodruff: and in the nation's
capital today, thousands of anti-abortion activists braved the bitter cold for the annual march for life. they rallied against "roe versus wade", the supreme court decision that legalized abortion in 1973. it was rough sledding today at the opening of the syrian peace talks in switzerland. for the first time, the syrian government and members of the opposition sat at the same table, along with dozens of diplomats from other countries. but after a day of fierce exchanges, the u.n. secretary general summed up, saying, "no one underestimated the difficulties." we get a full report, right after the news summary. in ukraine, the standoff between protesters and police turned bloody overnight. the clashes in kiev claimed two lives, but crisis talks later produced no resolution. matt frei, of "independent television news," is in kiev.
>> this is the sound of i country divided, bitterly and today tragically. every one is making a noise. no one is listening. >> the wolf of kiev is ready for battle. >> this is not a front line of this crisis, the mood is extremely tense. just about an hour ago two protectors were killed by the police using rubber bullets, here both sides are ready for a fight. first barrage of rocks from the demonstrators. >> the answer, a barrage of stun grenades from the riot police. and the guns, shotguns
firing. they're always heard, sometimes they even kill. the riot police advance like a fall angst of legionnaires shall moving like a millipede an when they catch a demonstrator,-- the police finally take the entire street in front of parliament but minutes later they walk away. the demonstrators flood back. this time armed with burning tires. the battle lines go back and forth and so do the country's leader. stalemate on the streets, paralysis in the palace. they met with leaders this afternoon. in the middle the figure of champion boxer turned politician. but the talks are freak and the government is digging in its heels.
>> woodruff: israel announced today it has stopped an al-qaeda plot to attack the u.s. embassy in tel aviv. the internal security agency shin bet said it arrested three palestinians who planned to supply explosives for bombing the embassy. it said they also planned to attack other sites. an apparent hoax has raised new concerns about security at next month's winter olympics in sochi. a number of european countries reported received e-mails and letters in russian threatening terror attacks and warning their delegations to stay home. later, olympic officials in hungary, said the threats were not serious. >> the sochi organizing committee actually made their official statement and officially declared after the analysis of the letter that this threat is not real, and this person actually has been sending all kinds of messages to many members of the olympic family. >> woodruff: officials in austria said someone in israel sent the e-mails, and has sent others over the last few years.
china held a six-hour, criminal trial today for one of its highest profile dissidents. xu zhiyong is accused of disrupting public order. the legal scholar started the new citizens movement to expose government corruption. xu refused to speak at the trial, in an act of protest. he could get five years in prison. chinese authorities are also investigating a major internet glitch. hundreds of millions of chinese were rerouted yesterday to the home page of a u.s.-based company that helps users evade censorship. the company is tied to falun gong, a spiritual group banned in china. there's word today of a virtual epidemic of sexual assaults in american colleges. the white house council on women and girls reported 20% of all female students say they've been raped. but, only a fraction ever tell police, because of the fear of stigma, among other factors. president obama called it an affront to basic decency
and humanity. >> it is estimated that one in five women on a college campus has been sexually assaulted during their time there. one in five. these young women worked so hard just to get into college, often their parents are doing everything they can to help them pay for it so when they finally make it there only to be assaulted, that is not just a nightmare for them and their families it's an affront to everything they have worked so hard to achieve. >> woodruff: the president gave a new task force 90 days to recommend ways of preventing assaults and letting the public know any given school's track record. a separate white house body wants election reform including expanded early voting and a guarantee that no one waits more than 30 minutes to cast a ballot. the presidential commission on election administration issued a 112-page report today. it was established after voters waited hours in line in november 2012.
state and local governments have struggled to find the funds and overcome partisan divisions to expedite the voting process. west virginia demanded more information today from a company involved in a chemical spill this month. environmental regulators ordered freedom industries to disclose everything that leaked from a storage tank, tainting the water supply for 300,000 people. the company initially said a chemical used to clean coal was involved. yesterday, it reported a second, less toxic chemical leaked as well. wall street failed to make much headway today... the dow jones industrial average lost 41 points to close at 16,373. the nasdaq rose 17 points to close at 4232. still to come on the "newshour"... a rocky start for the syria peace talks... the drought emergency in california... a test that could help close america's skills gap...
plus, corruption charges against a former rising star in the g.o.p. >> ifill: today, for the first time since the country's civil war began in 2011, the syrian government and the nation's opposition groups sat in the same room. but, as chief foreign affairs correspondent margaret warner reports, the parties stuck to their battle lines. >> reporter: lake geneva-- next to the montreux palace hotel-- was calm and serene this morning. but inside the hotel, the talks on how to bring peace to syria were anything but. when it came to syria's future and the role of the country's president bashar al-assad, secretary of state john kerry didn't back away from washington's longheld position that the aim of this conference was to carry out the so-called geneva 1 communique of 2012. >> bashar assad will not be part of that transition government.
there is no way... no way possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern. one man and those who have supported him can no longer hold an entire nation and a region hostage. >> reporter: and the head of the opposition syrian national council insisted all parties must accept that stance, or there's no point in talking. >> ( translated ): any talk of assad staying in power in any form will be a derailment of geneva 1 path, so we insist that we are not in any position to discuss anything in the negotiations before these issues are decided upon within a specific time frame. >> reporter: the saudi arabian foreign minister, whose government funnels money and arms to the rebels, was equally firm. >> ( translated ): it is common sense that bashar al-assad will have no role in a transitional government or any of those whose hands have been stained by blood.
>> reporter: but the rapid-fire demands for assad to go were just as quickly quashed by the syrian foreign minister, walid al-moualem. >> ( translated ): no one in the world, mr. kerry, no one in the world, has the right to give or take legitimacy to a president or government or constitution or law or anything in syria, except for the syrians themselves. >> reporter: the tense atmosphere was highlighted when- - alone among the 40 ministers assembled-- al moualem went well past his allotted time, and u.n. secretary general ban ki moon objected. >> i'll have to give equal time to the opposition groups. >> you live in new york, i live in syria. i have the right to give the the syrian version here in this forum. >> yes, of course...
>> this is my right... >> we have to have some constructive and harmonious dialogue. please refrain. >> you spoke 25 minutes, at least i need to speak 30 minutes. >> reporter: outside the meeting, syria's information minister insisted the world isn't being told the truth about events in syria. >> ( translated ): some foreign ministers today who spoke are taking part in misleading the world and international community and they are endorsing this misinformation. a big part of what was said today was either lies, or unjust accusations or lack of data and information. >> reporter: the syrian government also flatly rejected a report of graphic photos released yesterday alleging the systematic torture and killing of 11,000 detainees. there were renewed objections to the exclusion of iran from the peace talks from syria's ally russia. foreign minister sergei lavrov echoed the syrian government concerns about growing threat of terrorism there.
back in syria, state television broadcast the peace conference live, but when opponents of the assad regime had the floor, it showed a split screen with images of death and destruction on one side. the opposition released its own video that showed continued fighting, in aleppo and outside damascus today, even as the montreaux conference opened. the actual negotiations between the syrian government and opposition begin on friday at the u.n. headquarters in geneva. >> ifill: margaret is in montreux covering the talks. i spoke with her a short time ago. which saw that today was a pretty recognizey first day. what will the atmospheres behind all of that. >> warner: definitely, gwen. the hope had been that we've got these two parties face-to-face for the very first time and that would begin a dialogue. what you saw, what we saw and heard was a lot of anger, bitterness, confrontation
and vitriol directed at one another and that the government and the opposition as you can see laid out their max mallist positions, with the government saying this is all about terrorism. and the opposition saying it's all about changing the government and they can't include assad. now secretary kerry said he wasn't surprised he said opening positions are opening positions but my favorite comment came from the french foreign minister when one reporter said well, was this a conversation between the deaf and he said on one side was deaf. >> ifill: i imagine he thought the one side was the syrian foreign minister. did he end up hijacking the conference that was supposed to be a genteel diplomatic exchange? ness well, he certainly set the agenda. what was interesting about moualem was not some of the accusations but he really attack almost every party in the room. so he called the opposition words like that they were can balances, butchering human hearts. he said that the gulf states
were promoting this illegal brand of what habism, and terrorism. he called the western powers colonial powers who a hundred years ago carved up syria. so in that sense, he forced other speakers to respond, certainly on the terrorism charge, that the real problem was terrorism. and also the state department was sending out e-mail reputations of what moualem had to say was that it was aggressive inflammatory rhetoric won't solve the problems going on about the problems on the ground, the horrific conditions can only be changed by a change in the two sides there. so in that sense i would say he did set the agenda to some degree. >> ifill: so what was the goal of syria at this meeting in sending him to do these things. was it just to say we're not going anywhere? >> that is really the puzzling question, gwen. i've spoken, one thing about these conferences is you
actually get to speak to people, all the parties. so the syrian delegation which happens to be staying in our hotel, we have had a chance to talk to some of them. they say and some observers from damascus say that the syrians really thought that this terrorism, the specter of terrorism among the fight errs has finally brought the world together because they are so worried it will move on to europe or the u.s. and therefore that they really have expectations that the world will start to put pressure on turkey and jordan not to let theatre rests through their borders. on the gulf states, not to send money and weapons. maybe cynics say that assad is just trying to buy more time, time for his forces to try to take back more territory from the rebels and most of all let the rebels continue fighting amongst themselves. so it's really-- i say it is a very hard question to answer. >> ifill: well, meanwhile john kerry said today that, you know, we just have to deal with reality. and you wonder what is his idea, what does he mean when
he says reality? >> well, the context of that comment which he made a couple of different times was that the reality is under this geneva 1 communique which was 18 months ago and the security council signed off on it, it says that this new transition government must be done by mutual consent. and so as kerry said in that speech, that means no one can form a government if the other side objects. and he says so that means of course bash orr assad will to the get the consent of the syrian people who he has brutallized, he said, for three years. so that is the context. and it is a message to the entire world that he better have a plan b. so. >> after a day like today, does the u.s. or the u.n., do they think that syria may have been emboldened in this process rather than weakened? >> i don't foe about today, gwen. there is no doubt the administration mind that assad is a considerably stronger position than just
last july, i think was, when kerry and foreign minister lavrov really said let's set a dade date for this conference. and so they know he is no longer position. he also gave an interview to the press a couple of days ago where he talked about running for re-election. that the idea of taking in some exiled member of the opposition into government, power sharing was a quote good joke. so it didn't sound like a man who thinks his back is up against the wall. but it was interesting that moualem who was so inflammatory this morning, when he made comments later in the day softened his tone and his own u.n. a ambassador said, well, they were going to go to geneva now for the real face-to-face talks. so you know, there's speculations that the russians were leaning on them. but i think there is a lot of back story to this very public conference that we still have yet to learn. >> ifill: we'll be waiting to hear it all from you margaret waren our chief foreign affairs correspondent in month roe,
switzerland tonight. thank you. >> warner: thank you,m. >> ifill: given the lack of progress in switzerland so far, can anything positive come out of talks? if not, what other path exists to end a war that has claimed the lives of more than 115,000 people? i'm joined by joshua landis, director of the center for middle east studies at the university of oklahoma. and andrew tabler, a senior fellow in the program on arab politics at the washington institute. andrew tabler, you heard margaret talk about the anger, the bitterness and vitriol, what do you think assad wants out of had? >> it's very clear. he wants to frame the war in syria, the uprising in syria as a war against terrorism and one that as margaret said the rest of the world can bandwagon behind him. but actually what assad wants to do is force a solution in syria. he does not want this kind of negotiated solution as we've seen here in month roe. -- montreux. he wants to held for his
re-election for a third seven area term as president. he talked about that in a recent interview leading up to today's talks which actually with the precursor to moualem's comments today. >> ifill: what do you think about that joshua, landis, what is he is up to here. >> i think assad, you know, the americans want him to step aside. the syrian opposition want him to step aside. he's quite strong on the grouped. he's got a powerful military with an air force and tanks and artillery. the opposition cannot respond to that. they have taken the north of the country and the east, assad and for the last two years has been sitting in the south and the west. the country has been divided. now you know, the united states said that he had to step aside two years ago, obama did. and john kerry said he was going to make him change his calculation. but it's not clear how he is going to change his calculation. and if the united states is not willing to send f-167s
to damascus, he isn't going to change his calculation. so he is standing firm and he's going to wait to negotiate over a cease-fire which would mine partitioning syria in some way. or at least temporarily. and having perhaps the rebels hold the north and he would hold the south. >> let me ask an draw tabler about that. the u.s. says they want him to step aside. every chance they get. the u.n. says the same thing. that is what this basic fight was about in montreux, what do they have to make that happen. >> the geneva communique which was the basis for the kmaun cases today. the reason why there should be this political transition, this process is because they don't believe that president assad can sit atop that regime which is, indeed, strong in the west and the south, and then reunit the different parts of the country. so if assad is able to go on with a force solution, i think the chances of putting the pieces of syria back together as one country are very slim. if there is a negotiated process here where members
of the current government as the geneva communique says and members of the opposition come together as part of this transition governing body, going forward, then there is a chance in the end without assad that you could put it all back together. but again this is the beginning of a process and one that will be very long. >> can that happen without iran at the table? >> no, it can't. even with iran it's one likely to happen. assad runs the syrian regime. anybody who stands up and says you should really step aside ends up dead or in prison. and that is what has happened for 40 years. and why people expect to today that his generals will stand up and ask him to leave is beyond me. he's to the going to do it. he's fought, he's killed many people in order not to do it. unless somebody is willing to force him to do it which they haven't so far, he's to the going to. and what we've seen, two years of stalemate. and how that balance of power is going to change is a mystery to everybody
today. now the opposition has asked that he go. and kerry has taken aside to get them to geneva but he has not told the world how will make that happen. until he does there's no reason to believe it will. >> that's a question, can he force a cease-fire john kerry, or anybody on that side to help the opposition. >> yeah, and it's a good question. until now cease-fires and provision of humanitarian aid a by the regime has meant, well, if the rebels evacuate rebel-controlled areas, armed rebels evacuate those areas then the regime will come in and then distribute aid, right, well, what they are pushing for now is the unconditional delivery of that aid, some limited cease-fire food to help that and exchange of prisoners. we'll have to wait and see how these discussions come out on the other end in geneva or friday between the syrian parties. >> ifill: you think those things are actually still on the table. >> i think they are. now i don't know, it is important to note that while the comments at the conference started out quite acrimonious, at the end of
it, the syrian con ting ghent was much more easy going, moualem, all president's men and women were more konsylia tory. i think they realized they were losing the public relations because of the remarks in exchange with ban ki-moon. >> ifill: let me ask you joshia landis that question, did you see it that way, that in the end the syrian government was tempering their remarks more than they had in the beginning of the day? >> i don't know what their strategy is. clearly they have come out shooting. and very dismissive. they are trading to state that they are there, that they are not going away. and now they're going to get down to see what sort of business can be done. this first day was a scene opener. and both sides came out with their maximum demands. the opposition said he has to go and the regime has to go. and he said we're to the going. and they're terrorists. so now we have to see, you know, what can be provided. there will be inducements, perhaps, from both russia and the united states to both sides to see if they
can move closer to some kind of cease-fire which would allow refugees to stop pouring out of syria, an perhaps the process of rebuilding to eventualitily move forward. >> ifill: well, we talked about the cease-fire, andrew tabler, what other kind of inducements are there for the opposition to help the opposition if that is what the u.s. or u.n. want to do? >> it's a really good question. what can the united states dop. the opposition at the table in geneva is not tremendously representative of the armed groups on the ground. but delivering humanitarian aid to different areas syrians are in desperate need of that, throughout the country. so some sort of agreement for the delivery of humanitarian aid without, you know, without evacuating areas, unconditionally on both the rebels and regime to both allow that, would be a victory. i think by achieving that, that would then strengthen the rebel's hands and the oppositions hands within the country. but beyond that, it's going to be just the beginning of a very long process. >> ifill: let me ask you
both briefly, are you optimistic, joshia landis or pessimistic about these talks? >> well, today i am pessimistic. this is a scene setter here. both sides still believe that they can win this battle. they're beginning to doubt it, i think. because it's been, you know, it's been years. and there are a third of the country as been displaced. so there is real pressure to come to some kind of agreement. but none of them, they're still fooling around to see whether they are backers, saudi arabia, whether iran are able to make a deal. and that will be ultimately, i think, iran, saudi arabia have to come to some agreement on how they can agree, on syria, before the forces on the ground will really begin to talk about the cease-fire. >> are you optimistic, pessimistic? >> i'm also optimistic. yeah, i think talks between the different regional parties are very important, they are the ones who are involved in supporting the different factions. but the one interesting thing is i think today the
hard line of the syrian regime and got backed up by the irannians i think was rebuffed. at the table it started something. now where at least there is something in the concrete, is really too hard to tell at the moment. >> andrew take letter-- tabler at the washington institute and university of oklahoma, thank you both so much. >> thank you, a pleasure. >> woodruff: it's well known that california has its share of disasters and troubles with extreme weather. but the severe drought that's hitting the state is having a deep and widespread impact. it's even bringing back bad memories of similar problems during the seventies. jeffrey brown has the story. >> brown: while the midwest and east face a fierce winter and heavy snowfall, there's an entirely different climate concern in california-- a record-breaking dry spell that's been building for three years. >> i'm declaring a drought emergency.
>> brown: last week, governor jerry brown formally announced the state may be facing its worst drought since record- keeping began some 100 years ago. he returned to the subject today in his "state of the state" address. >> among all of our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic. we can't control it, we can only live with it. and now we have to live with a very serious drought of uncertain duration. >> brown: precipitation is below 20% of normal this winter, and as a result: river flows are low; snow packs are much smaller than normal and reservoirs are shrinking. >> water in l.a. is limited. every drop is precious. >> brown: the dry conditions are also feeding wildfires, as vegetation that typically re- hydrates during the winter, dries out instead. california's huge agriculture industry is likewise threatened, raising prices for produce and raising concerns among farmers. and the drought has raised new regional tensions. some in northern california
demand the drier south conserve more, while water suppliers insist they already are. >> there's been a huge amount of water conservation implemented in southern california. condition to stop restoration of the san juaquin river to let farmers tap water in the sacramento delta. they spoke in bakersfield. >> to the asking for anything more. we're just asking for the original contract of water, that is what allowed this valley to bloom. so if we would just get the water that we were allocated and that we have been promised by the government, all these people would be working. >> today governor brown >> brown: today governor brown called for everyone across the state to save water. >> we need everyone in every part of the state to conserve water. we need regulators to rebalance water rules and enable voluntary transfers of water and we must prepare for forest fires, as the
state water plan action lays out, water recycling, expanded storage and serious ground water management must all be part of the mix. >> brown: if the drought continues, brown warned, mandatory measures may be imposed. and, the lack of water will begin to affect surrounding states as well. and joining us now from california is the state's secretary of food and agriculture, karen ross. thank you for joining us. so how bad is the situation from where you sit? >> well, it is very serious. and we know that the statistics are telling us that it is at least as serious as 1977 which at that time was the most severe drought on record. as of today according to the u.s. drought monitor, about 62% of california is under extreme drought conditions. >> brown: so give us a sense more specifically in your area, in agriculture, what kind of impact are you seeing? >> well, we can't grow food and farm crops without water.
and about 65% of our crop land is irrigated. so it is very serious. it is not just isolated to one part of the state. as i said earlier, we have a number of our counties it that are under extreme drought conditions and what is teens is that we are already seeing farmers choose to fallow land that normally at this time of the year they would be preparing for springtime crop or summer crop. every drop that they do have will be diverted to the perm innocent crops, that is true nuts which we are significant supplier of nuts to the world, over 50% of the fresh produce comes from our fields and orchards. so it is a very serious problem. and we are all in this together. it could be very long-lasting. >> can you tell at this point the impact on consumers both now or potentially and i mean in california and beyond? >> well, because so much of our product is in high demand here and around the world we do have to anticipate that. and at this point it's too early to be able to quantify
it in a way that would translate immediately to the grocery store one of the things we do have to remember is that even though the surface water allocations have been dramatically reduced and could actually be zero, it will have an impact on ground water availability and how that is used to keep the crops going that normally would have as much water as they need. so it's a combination of understanding where there is surface water available and what can be done in the system. the governor referred to this this morning as how can we accelerate and streamline water transfers. at the same time, we are also having to provide notice to all of the water rights holders in this state that their access to water could be curtailed an we're already seeing severe ground water depletions in the state. so it's going to take a lot of researchers and good thinking to get through this. >> brown: that goes to part of what i was wondering. because i know california, you can explain this. california has a very complex and sophisticated
water system from the sierras down to the remembers reservoirs down to farms and cities. but how easy is it to move water from one place to where perhaps it's more needed? well, our biggest challenge right now is that there is so little surplus water in the system to move around. and that's something we have to keep in mind, is that this is about weather and climate and the fact that our reservoirs are at record lows. and so there is little water or flexibility to move it around. but there are certain steps that we can take between the department of water resources and state water resources control board on some of the temporary change as that they can make now, hoping that we will still get a couple of those significant storms that will save us this year but we're trying to do all we can now to save flexibility in this system for deliveries later this year. so where they can mack some adjustments, the proclamation that the
governor issued last week will allow that to happen, but the most important thing here is that every californian can help with conservation. farmlands being fallowed, we already have cities that have put in voluntary and some are getting ready to do mandatory conservation measures. every californian can also make a contribution to saving water so that we have water in the system to move to places that don't have it. >> brown: you mention the the governor's declaration of a state of emergency. what kind of impact can that have for farmers and others? >> well it is limited but it does help raise the disability-- visibility of the issue so that first and foremost all californians are aware of the role that they can play with conservation. it also provides us an opportunity to work with our federal partners to see what kind of flexibility is within the federal system. it also highlights the importance of being able to pass a farm bill because some of the programs that
are normally available to farmers currently have not been reauthorized so we desperately do need to have the farm bill-passed. secretary bill df-- of the united states department of agriculture has already declared a secretarial disaster so that the programs that are in place without the farm bill can kick in, some of that deals with water conservation measures, some emergency loan programs that are available at low cost. but we're also looking at as a state tax force talking a look at food assistance that we know will be needed for many of the farm workers that will go without seasonal employment thiser ca, rental assistance, you tillity assistance. this has a severe impact on some of our rural communities in the central valley. >> brown: and just very briefly, if you could in 30 seconds, the governor said that you can't really tell what this is caused by, how much of it is climate change. but are people in fact worried or thinking in terms of a new reality there now, going forward? well it does call into
question whether it is the new normal and climate change is something that many people talk about and really and truly droughts come and go but the severity of this one and what it means for us will certainly raise the topic of climate change in the conversation. >> brown: karen ross, secretary of the california department of food and agriculturement thanks so much. >> bye-bye. >> ifill: next, the challenge of getting students ready for the working world. while most high schools focus on preparing students for college, businesses in one community outside chicago are rallying around a different approach, preparing students for work. special correspondent john tulenko from learning matters has our report. >> reporter: from the outside hoffer plastics in elgin, illinois looks about the same as it did when it was founded back in 1953. inside, it's a different story. bill hoffer is the c.e.o.
>> we've got job after job that 20 years ago would be a full- time operator, now it's a robot. >> reporter: there are fewer workers, but they're required to do more. >> they need to be able to read blueprints, they need to follow procedures, document what they're doing and that's all very important. >> reporter: right now, finding employees who can do all that is a challenge for hoffer plastics and for 40% of u.s. companies. the result: a revolving door of workers that cost businesses billions. >> why do we keep spending money to solve the same problem, over and over and over again? >> reporter: pat hayes is founder of another local company, fabric images, a textile printer. filling 150 positions here the usual way-- relying on diplomas and g.p.a.s-- left hayes frustrated. >> what does an "a" mean to an employer today? "i got an 'a' in math." what does that mean? nothing. where did you go to school? what level of course? was it accelerated? was it a college prep course?
i don't know. >> reporter: to get a better read on an applicant's skill level, both fabric images and hoffer plastics turned to a job readiness test called "workkeys." >> workkeys-- it's an assessment. what you've accomplished in math, in reading and locating for information. those three characteristics are in about 98% of the jobs at some level. >> reporter: more specifically, workkeys, developed by act, the nonprofit behind the college entrance exam, uses actual workplace scenarios to measure how well individuals can decipher charts, graphs and other visual information; convert ratios, measurements, and make calculations across a variety of situations and effectively comprehend memos, instructions and other authentic workplace documents. there are also tests of visual observation and listening comprehension. >> in our company, we can
profile every job that we have based on these core skills. for the first time i saw a commonality of what an individual had and what i needed and i could start putting the two things together. >> reporter: more than a thousand companies use workkeys. though it hasn't been evaluated by independent researches, company testimonials describe shard declines in employee turnover and training costs. and businesses may not be the only winners. recent high school graduate sarah rohrsen was accepted at a four-year college, but she found the tuition beyond her reach and decided instead to look for a job. >> it was kind of a disappointment. the only options really were was fast food or if you're lucky, seasonal work. >> reporter: sarah wound up behind the counter at a wendy's restaurant and kept looking. nine months later she applied for a job at hoffer plastics, which requires applicants to take workkeys.
sarah's top notch scores landed her a well paying, full-time job with benefits, as an inspector. >> i was not happy working at wendy's and to come in here thanks to workkeys and to be able to know each week my paycheck is going to have 80 hours on it, since we're paid biweekly. it's pretty awesome. >> reporter: conventional wisdom has held the answer to closing the skills gap is to send more people to college. but sarah rohrsen's experience points to a different solution: expanding the talent pool to include some 36 million americans who got into college but never finished. >> are they to be thrown away? why can't we understand where they are? why can't we get them to some level and utilize them? >> reporter: how does workkeys help those folks? >> it defines where they are. i have something that says i achieved this level. >> reporter: based on their scores, test takers can earn a workforce readiness certificate. in elgin, more than 100 local businesses have gotten behind the certificate-- called a "n.c.r.c." for short-- putting
signs like this one on their doors. and the businesses lobbied the schools, so high school students would have a chance to test for the certificate, too. >> the reason that we have workkeys is because i listened to the community, to the business community. >> reporter: in 2010, local school superintendent jose torres made earning n.c.r.c. certificates a crucial part of his five-year plan. >> our goal in our district is to have 75% of our kids about at gold, which is almost the highest level. >> reporter: so we went to elgin high school, a predominantly low-income school where administrators say half the students go directly into the workforce to see how they were doing. raise your hand if you've heard of something called an n.c.r.c. certificate. no hands, okay. it was like this in virtually every classroom we visited and this was four years after the district adopted the 75% goal. where are you today? >> we're at 22%.
>> reporter: why are so many students missing the mark for workforce readiness? it comes down to priorities. >> i'm not told to have them job ready, i'm told to have them college ready. >> reporter: like math teachers everywhere, laurie nehf follows a curriculum designed to prepare students for college level calculus. >> i'm focusing on linear functions, quadratic functions, polynomial functions-- higher- level types of questions from workkeys. >> reporter: workkeys doesn't go there because it's math most students are unlikely to use on the job. surveys indicate 90% of all jobs, including many that are well-paying, do not require this kind of math. advanced math is used in most science and technology jobs but even with expected growth, they'll make up just 5% of the nation's workforce. >> is it important that they know that a negative under a square root creates an imaginary number? no, that's not really that important.
>> reporter: the impact that math has on many students is important. how often is it that teachers will help you see how what you're learning in class is applicable outside of school? >> i don't think very often. a lot of school subjects you don't use and a lot of people believe that. a lot of people don't try in math because they don't think they're ever going to use it. >> reporter: to others, that's a misunderstanding. >> i'm no math expert, but algebra, what it does is it helps you to think; think critically, think logically. and that is exactly what people need in the workplace, they need to be able to think critically and logically. >> reporter: trouble is those lessons aren't getting through. across the country 75% of 12th graders scored below proficient in math. at elgin high school, it's not much better. last year in math, 60% of students missed the mark. a number of teachers here told us it's not uncommon they find students in their classes who have yet to learn the math taught in middle school.
regardless, these students are placed in algebra and geometry. >> they just shutdown, they get very frustrated. we won't accept meeting kids where they're at and helping them where they're at. i would love to spend all my time working on percentages, fractions-- all that stuff with number sense. that number sense skills is what matters in the real world. >> reporter: but right now, providing alternatives to the traditional high school math could be risky. historically, this math has been a gatekeeper. it's what's tested on college entrance exams. the s.a.t. and ironically, the a.c.t., made by the developers of workkeys.
>> woodruff: finally tonight, the latest twist in a political scandal involving virginia's former republican governor and his wife. >> i come before you this evening as someone who has been falsely and wrongfully accused and his public service has been wrongfully attacked. >> woodruff: for former virginia governor bob mcdonnell, tuesday's indictment on federal corruption charges marked a spectacular fall for a once promising republican star. the government alleges that mcdonnell and his wife maureen received tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, from loans to money for a daughter's wedding, all from jonnie williams, a wealthy campaign donor and owner of a dietary supplement company. mcdonnell pledged last night to fight the charges, while insisting he did not break any virginia law.
>> i have apologized for my poor judgment, and i accept full responsibility for accepting these legal gifts and loans. however, i repeat again emphatically that i did nothing illegal for mr. williams in exchange for what i believed was his personal friendship and his generosity. >> woodruff: mcdonnell first gained national attention for his 18-point victory in virginia's 2009 gubernatorial campaign. months later he delivered the republican response to the president's state of the union address. >> today, the federal government is simply trying to do too much. >> woodruff: his political stock rose even higher in 2012 when he found himself on mitt romney's short list for a vice presidential running mate. now mcdonnell's focus is solely on his legal battle with an arraignment scheduled for friday. we take a closer look at the charges against mcdonnell with
rosalind helderman. she's been covering the story for the "washington post." thank you for joining us. r organize s helderman, tell us exactly what are the kinds of charges the government has leveled against the former governor and his wife. >> it's a very extensive indictment. it's 14 counts in all against both the governor and his wife. there are things like bank fraud, an obstruction charge for the first lady. there is wire fraud, these are basically federal corruption statutes. and what it boils down to is a quid pro quo, exchanging the promise of official action by the state of virginia on behalf of a wealthy businessman's company in exchange for gifts and loans. >> and some of the details are pretty remarkable. the e-mail exchanges between miss mcdonald and the governor's staff about the what she called unconscionable amount of credit-card debt they had,
the shopping trip that she went on with the businessman johnny williams. tell us about some of that. >> yeah, what emerged from the indictment is a picture of a couple, experiencing life in extremes. on the one hand they were experiencing some obvious but not known to the public financial distress. they had invested heavily in real estate during the financial boom and were having trouble making payments. they want to this man, mr. williams to help them out of a bind when they were having trouble making payments on homes that they had purchased. but on the other hand there was a real desire for luxury items. the first lady bought all kinds of things on a new york city shopping spree, louis vuitton shoe, oscar de la renta dresses. the governor and his sons went golfing at exclusive golf clubs in the richmond area charging thousands of dollars to mr. williams. so you really see two sides of this couple. >> woodruff: and when the indictment talks about official actions taken in is behalf, what are they
talking about? what are they saying the former governor did? >> they outline a number of things the governor did. the governor and first lady hosted an event at the governor's mansion, a sort of launch party for a new dietary supplement that was being introduced to market by mr. williams company. the governor set up meetings for mr. williams where top state officials. and the governor also appeared to show some interest in encouraging public universities to conduct clinical studies of a chemical found in the supplement. he insisted emphatically that that doesn't sort of constitute an official action of the kind that is usually used in corruption statutes. it's just sort of helping out an interested constituent with a business. >> and there are references to the mcdoneels lying to investigators? >> that's a charge leveled at the first lady who was interviewed by investigators in february. and the authorities say
during that interview she said, for instance, that her husband had met mr. williams years ago when the two worked together. in fact, they had only met in 2009 when he was running for governor. she also said that they were making periodic payments on a loan that mr. williams had made to them, that wasn't true. they had made no payments to mr. williams until after we had started writing stories about this. and the governor paid back all the money in july. >> now we know rosalind helderman virginia is known to have relatively lax ethic laws compared to other states around the country. and when the governor made his statement yesterday, he insisted, he has apologized and said he made mistakes. but he said he didn't violate virginia law. so is there, are there technical loopholes in the law that he could explain some how explain this away. >> so under virginia law you are allowed to accept as an elected official gifts of
any size including money as long as you disclose those were at least worth $50. there has been a state investigation into whether the governor properly disclosed gifts,nd also stockholders he had in mr. william's company. and that investigation has not come forward with any results thus far. but the federal officials are actually conditioned with federal law, not with state law. they believe that there are federal violations here regardless of disclosure requirements having to do with this issue of quid pro quo and a legal exchange with this man. >> ros helderman, we know that not only the former governor bob mcdonnell, he has attorneys, his wife has an attorney or more. we know jonnie williams, the businessman, the company star scientific, where does this go from here? >> now we enter a classic criminal trial phase. the governor is set to be arraigned on friday. there was a thought that that might be pushed off it looks like that will prb
leigh go ahead on friday. we would expect him to enter a plea of not guilty given everything he has said publicly. and you know, there is going to be some fighting in court and eventually we'll probably see a very messy and probably unpleasant trial. >> and just quickly, a sense of how this happened to be announced right now, just days after he left office. >> well, it's very interesting question. we had reported in december that he had been informed by the u.s. attorney in virginia that the u.s. attorney intended to seek criminal charges. but the governor and first lady's lawyers went to top officials at the department of justice in washington and asked them to hold off. they told him take another look at the case. but one of the arguments they made was that they shouldn't do it in december, just a couple of weeks before governor terry mcauliffe took office t would be not in the interest of the public for the sort of smooth transition of power to be disrupted. and whether that argument was persuasive or something else, they did hold off.
so the charges didn't come until now. >> woodruff: rosalind helderman with the "washington post", really fine reporting over the many months, thank you. >> thank you very much shall appreciate it. >> ifill: again, the major developments of the day: cold in the teens and single digits kept much of the northeast in the deep freeze, a day after a storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in some places. and the syrian peace talks officially opened, amid sharp divisions over the future of president bashar al-assad. >> woodruff: on the "newshour" online right now, we take a look inside a m.i.t. lab where glowing worms could potentially help scientists understand how humans can fight deadly bacteria. that's on our science page. all that and more is on our website newshour.pbs.org. >> ifill: and that's the "newshour" for tonight. on thursday, iran's president courts international investment at the world economic forum in davos.
i'm gwen ifill. >> woodruff: and i'm judy woodruff. we'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening. for all of us here at the "pbs newshour," thank you and good night. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: ♪ ♪ moving our economy for 160 years. bnsf, the engine that connects us.
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