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The Rest of the Story, 2021

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Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi.


Erika Beras, good evening.

BERAS: Good evening. Do you have the stuff?

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: I'm going to answer you with a sound. Hold on a sec.


BERAS: All right, that doesn't sound like a rigatoni.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: You have a famously discerning ear when it comes to pasta cut.

BERAS: I don't think that's a macaroni.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: I have in my hands a box of Dan Pashman's pasta. And it says right on the top of the box, cascatelli.

BERAS: Cascatelli.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Which means waterfall in Italian.

BERAS: They do kind of look like waterfalls.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Sort of like frilly little horseshoes. We've been hearing about this pasta for what feels like years. And Dan, who hosts "The Sporkful" podcast, has actually told us on a couple of episodes about his quest to invent and sell a brand-new shape of pasta. And today, we're going to finally get to try it out. Are you ready to do this?

BERAS: I'm ready. All right.


HOROWITZ-GHAZI: I'm going to admit I really very rarely cook.


HOROWITZ-GHAZI: I may have just singed the microphone a little bit.


HOROWITZ-GHAZI: All right, I'm shaking my salt, for the audience at home.

BERAS: I probably need a spoon for this.


HOROWITZ-GHAZI: As we have all learned pretty well here on the show, the story is never actually finished when we finally hit the publish button. So we've come up with this tradition. A couple times a year, we gather up all of these loose story strings, and we check back in to hear what's happened in the meantime. We borrowed the name for the show from broadcast legend Paul Harvey. We call it "The Rest Of The Story."


PAUL HARVEY: The rest of the story.

BERAS: Hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Erika Beras.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: And I'm Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi. OK, so this pasta's going to take about 15 minutes or so to cook. So until then, crack open a nice bottle of wine, enjoy some hors d'oeuvres and some of our stories that have kept on going. We'll hear about time-traveling government bureaucrats, a quantum leap in French fry technology and the fate of a towering inflatable rat.

BERAS: OK, so the water's boiling.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: My timer's set.

BERAS: My box is here. It's open.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK. Three, two, one - cascatelli away.


HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK, so while our cascatelli is cooking, we're actually going to start the show with a story we did three whole years ago, kind of a lifetime ago. It's about a government program called...

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Public Service Loan Forgiveness, or PSLF.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: PSLF, for those in the know. NPR education correspondent Cory Turner.

TURNER: Alexi.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Welcome. Welcome back.

TURNER: Thank you.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: All right, this government program you're reporting on, it was supposed to reward people for going into public service jobs - right? - by getting rid of their student loans.

TURNER: Yeah, exactly. Basically, you work for 10 years as a nurse or police officer or a teacher. You make your student loan payments on time for those 10 years. And then at that point, the government promises to erase whatever's left.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Right. But when you brought us this story, the program, like, wasn't working at all. That was basically the kind of thrust of the episode, right? All these borrowers were trying to get the government to follow through on its promise, and something like 99% of them were being denied. Is that right?

TURNER: Yeah, yeah. It was a mess. And it was a mess for a few reasons. You know, it basically all went back to how Congress set the thing up in the first place back in 2007. There was a lot of fine print that lots of people didn't understand, including even the loan servicing companies who were in charge of implementing this thing and communicating with borrowers. So to be eligible, you had to have the right kind of loan, which most people didn't have. You had to be in the right repayment plan, which lots of people weren't in. And what ended up happening is many borrowers would call their loan servicer and say, hey, I'm a teacher, and I have loans. Do I qualify? And the answer they got was, yeah, you're good.

But they weren't good. And the problem is that many of these borrowers would go four, five, six years only to find out then that none of the payments that they had made actually qualify them for loan forgiveness.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK, Cory, but you're here for our annual "Rest Of The Story" episode, so presumably, something has changed. What's happened since you first told us this story?

TURNER: Yeah, so when I reported this, it was obviously during the Trump administration. And, you know, they didn't create this problem. They inherited it from the Obama administration. So basically, nothing happened. Then Biden gets elected, and a couple months ago, early October, he announces this fix. We actually broke this news at NPR. And the way the Biden administration does this is super crafty and a little controversial.

They basically dig up this law from 2003 that says in times of national emergency, the education secretary can waive the normal rules around federal student loans. And so what they're doing - even though PSLF, the problems with this program have nothing to do with the pandemic, they're basically using this pandemic authority to say, here we go. Let's try to fix this.

And the way they do it is super nerdy but fascinating. They basically create a time machine where the Ed Department and borrowers go back and look at all of these payments, or, really, payment periods, that were disqualified because people had the wrong loans or they were in the wrong repayment plans. And now the Ed Department is saying, as long as you weren't in forbearance or default, you get credit.

And so ultimately, we're seeing tens of thousands of borrowers finally getting their debts erased, and another half a million people are at least getting closer to forgiveness than they were before this fix was announced.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: So is this actually happening right now? Are people, like, actually getting their loans forgiven in real time?

TURNER: Absolutely. So I met one borrower. Her name is Mary Fried (ph). She's a little older than many of the borrowers you see applying for PSLF. She's on the verge of retirement as a special education teacher in Camden, N.J. She had a mountain of student debt - more than $80,000. And I first got in touch with her because after I did that PLANET MONEY episode three years ago, her son actually tracked me down, sent me a note saying, my mom is this program's problems personified. And so a few months ago, as soon as this policy fix started, I reached back out to them. And we hopped on a Zoom call, and we went online and we checked her loan balance.


TURNER: What was the number before?

MARY FRIED: Eighty-three thousand.

TURNER: And what is the number now, Mary?

FRIED: Zero. Oh, my god. Oh, I've been waiting for this day for so, so long. I really have. And I don't know what to say.


TURNER: Yeah. I mean, this is such a big deal for Mary because she wasn't sure how she was going to manage retirement or if she could retire. And now, like, not only are those debts erased, but because her forgiveness was actually backdated to several years ago, she's getting a refund check for nearly $8,000.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: So does this mean that this kind of broader problem is solved, then? Like, are people all over the place going to be checking their loan balances and finding out they're home-free now?

TURNER: Yes and no. There are an awful lot of people, thousands of borrowers for whom Mary's story is their story. It's happening. It's happening automatically, and it's happening fairly quickly. But that's because the Ed Department is essentially doing the easy cases first. There will be many borrowers who cannot get forgiveness automatically because they need to confirm their employment or submit some kind of paperwork. And it's all of that paperwork that's going to take time to work its way through this system. And that's frustrating borrowers already. But the difference is this time, at least, there is the promise of good news on the other side.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: All right, NPR education correspondent Cory Turner, thanks so much.

TURNER: Thanks for having me back, man.


BERAS: So our next update also has something to do with cooking. It's kind of about the future and present of fast food. Wailin Wong.


BERAS: Take us back to the future.

WONG: (Vocalizing) So back in 2019, we did a story about big leaps ahead in French fry technology. The story was about a company, Lamb Weston, that makes frozen potato products.

BERAS: Also known as French fries.

WONG: Exactly. And Lamb Weston sells their fries to both independent restaurants and major fast-food chains. And they had identified a major liability - food delivery. French fries are best right out of the oil. They get soggy kind of quickly. So with more people getting fries delivered instead of eating them in a restaurant, the company worried about people having a bad fry experience - no crisp, no crunch, cold, soggy.

BERAS: Yeah. The original episode was about how Lamb Weston developed a battered French fry called Crispy on Delivery.

WONG: And they had already started rolling them out when this story aired. But that future that Lamb Weston was preparing for where fast-food delivery is the norm - it came way faster than anyone was expecting, in March of 2020.

KIM CUPELLI: Man, we were two weeks in, and restaurants were really starting to feel the pain.

WONG: Kim Cupelli is the vice president of marketing and innovation at Lamb Weston. She remembers calls pouring in from panicked restaurant owners needing to make this abrupt shift to delivery. Their fries could only hold up for five to seven minutes after leaving the deep fryer, and delivery times could be way longer than that.

CUPELLI: This really kind of was a French fry emergency because all the sudden, they had to deliver French fries, and they had to hold up for 30 minutes.

BERAS: This is like the perfect call to action for a French fry technology company.

WONG: Yeah, they totally sprang into action. Lamb Weston shifted more of its manufacturing over to their special crispy fries. And because water is a fry's arch nemesis, it even made videos for restaurant owners showing how they could properly ventilate takeout boxes by punching holes in them so moisture doesn't get trapped and make the fries soggy.

BERAS: I feel like I've actually done that - is, actually, I feel like I've done that myself to takeout food.

WONG: You're one step ahead of these restaurant owners.

BERAS: I guess so.

WONG: Lamb Weston says that in the first three months of 2021, demand for their Crispy on Delivery fries was four times what it was a year ago.

BERAS: So is it safe to say that we've all eaten those special crispy fries at this point?

WONG: Well, Lamb Weston won't talk about who uses their fries, but Kim told me that if you get delivery fries that are hot and crispy or even lukewarm and crispy, there is a high likelihood that these are fries with that special coating.

There is a prominent fast-food chain - I won't say their name, but I'll just say it rhymes with Shmendy's - that...


WONG: ...Just a couple months ago introduced fries they're literally calling hot and crispy.

CUPELLI: Yes. And every one of my friends and family have called me to ask me if I am aware that Wendy's has launched a new French fry.

WONG: Are you like the NSA, where your friends and family are like, are these your fries, and you're like, I can't say?

CUPELLI: Yeah, a little bit. Fries can be top-secret.


BERAS: Wailin, thank you for your counterespionage.

WONG: I was never here.

BERAS: All right. Bye.

After the break, we leave the table and head back to the farm, we hear the fate of a notorious union rat and hopefully get to try that cascatelli pasta.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK. Where is my strainer, colander? There it is. The pot is so hot.

BERAS: It is so hot. I think I'm lost in a plume of smoke, but it also feels wonderful, like a sauna, right now.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Yeah. Ooh, that's nice. I think I just lost a little skin.




BERAS: OK, so the next story is one we reported earlier this year. It was about these huge protests by farmers in India. Lauren Frayer, NPR's India correspondent, how's it going? How's later today?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Erika, yeah, good evening. Good morning to you. Ten-and-a-half-hour time difference.

BERAS: Got you. So the last time we talked to you was back in April. And at the time, India was having this massive COVID wave, and there were these huge protests. There were hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers just taking to the streets.

FRAYER: Yeah, there were tractor parades. The farmers blocked traffic for months. And they also paralyzed the political process. And it all morphed into really what became the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rule.

BERAS: And this was all about this new set of, like, agriculture laws, right?

FRAYER: Yeah. So basically, India's government has had this protectionist system for decades, and it guarantees prices for some crops. The government actually even, like, supervises the wholesale markets, the physical markets where crops get sold. So along comes Prime Minister Modi, and he steps on the third rail of Indian politics by trying to insert a little free market competition into this otherwise pretty closed system.

BERAS: Easier said than done, right? Yeah.

FRAYER: Totally. And he found that out the hard way because India has the biggest agriculture workforce in the world. Seven hundred million people is what we're talking about.

BERAS: So it's been eight months. What's happened since then?

FRAYER: So everything basically came to a head in November, almost a year, actually, to the day since these protests began. I was caught out at a winery in western India, a beautiful place. Didn't get my glass of wine because Modi goes on TV with this address to the nation.


PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: He's saying, "I apologize with a true and pure heart."


FRAYER: It's not often you hear a politician saying something like that, right? Basically, he's backing down. Modi announces he's withdrawing the farm laws. And this is huge, and it's so out of character. Modi has an absolute majority in Parliament. Like, he can pretty much do whatever he wants. He's also kind of authoritarian. I think that's fair to say. He's not a guy that backs down very often.

BERAS: OK, so then why did he back down, right? Like, why did he do this?

FRAYER: Well, his explanation is that he failed to convince farmers of the merits of his farm laws. But also, elections are coming in a couple big states where farmer votes really matter. And Modi wants those votes. He's afraid of getting trounced at the polls. It would be a major embarrassment for his party.

BERAS: So how did the protesting farmers react?

FRAYER: Jubilation.


FRAYER: And I went out to one of the protest encampments, this huge tent city sprawling across highway overpasses that run around the outer edge of Delhi. And I asked a farmer there to describe where we were. This is Pardeep Hooda (ph).

PARDEEP HOODA: This is a highway, but half of highway stopped by farmers because we are establishing our village here for protesting.

FRAYER: It's become a village.

HOODA: Yeah.

FRAYER: It was a highway, now a village.

HOODA: Yeah, it's become a village now.

FRAYER: They built cafeteria tents, a child care tent, laundry stations. And all of that is being disassembled now. The farmers are leaving Delhi. They're going back home to their fields. But they're going home with this feeling that they made history. Like, they call this a victory for nonviolent protest, what Mahatma Gandhi was all about. And people are thinking a lot about that now because India turns 75 next year. It's the world's biggest democracy. And this is an example of, like, people power, of the little guys checking the power of a government.

BERAS: So I like democracy. I'm a fan. I have the T-shirt.

FRAYER: Me too.

BERAS: But your original episode was about how India was going through a big economic shift. What does all this mean for that shift?

FRAYER: Yeah. So it feels kind of unpopular to say, as people are celebrating this grassroots movement, but No. 1, the protests were dominated by northern rice and wheat growers, so not all farmers were out there in the streets. And also, like, there are still really big structural problems in Indian agriculture.

SEEMA BATHLA: I mean, democracy has won. That is clear that people have won on democratic grounds. But for agriculture sector, it's a big defeat. It's a very big defeat.

FRAYER: That's Seema Bathla. She's an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. And she's frustrated. Like, she was excited for this reform. She feels like it got politicized and became this referendum on whether you like Modi or not, even though the reform was long overdue.

And she also repeated something that one of the analysts in our episode said, which is India has too many farmers. It has failed to shift workers up the development ladder, like out of agrarian work and into manufacturing. Most farmers are small-scale subsistence farmers. They're stuck in these horrible cycles of debt. Their incomes have not risen. So many of them say they are desperate for reform, just not in the way Modi proposed.

BERAS: Thank you so much, Lauren Frayer.

FRAYER: Thank you, Erika.

BERAS: Have a good evening or good day or whatever.

FRAYER: Good morning, good evening and good night, PLANET MONEY.

BERAS: (Laughter) Yup.


HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Our next update also has to do with labor protests, but this time here in the U.S. Union organizing has been a huge story this year, with some winners and some losers. This story concerns the fate of a symbol of union dissatisfaction, a giant inflatable rodent, which means it's time to welcome Amanda Aronczyk to the studio. Amanda, welcome.

AMANDA ARONCZYK, BYLINE: Why does that mean this is the time to welcome me to the studio?

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Because you did an episode for us last year.

ARONCZYK: Yes, that is true. I did an episode about Scabby the rat. If you don't remember, Scabby is this large inflatable balloon. It's got red, glowing eyes, kind of this menacing zombie rat thing going on.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Very charming.

ARONCZYK: Yes. Unions will put one of these Scabbies up in front of a store or a worksite, and it's there to show that they are fighting with the owner. And it's usually because the owner or the business is hiring nonunion workers.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: It's like a public shaming tactic.

ARONCZYK: Yes, that is right. It is very bad PR. Picture a 15-foot balloon rat and people outside with bullhorns. This is from a protest in downtown New York last year.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Hey, it's good to see Scabby out here today, right? It's good to see Scabby. And what does Scabby say? Union busting is disgusting.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK, so in your episode from last year, you got into Scabby's origin story, but there was also this big legal question hanging over the rat, right?

ARONCZYK: Yes, Scabby had some legal woes because a bunch of businesses had filed complaints saying that Scabby was intimidating or coercive. And it's essentially because unions were not always putting the rat up in front of the main business. They were, like, putting it up sometimes at, like, a branch of the main business.

Now, the National Labor Relations Board has gotten complaints about Scabby for years, usually just dismisses them. But under the last administration, it started to take them seriously, and Scabby's future was in jeopardy. Then, this past July, Scabby beat the case.

TAMIR ROSENBLUM: It's certainly good for unions. And, you know, I'll be a little political here. I think it's good for workers.

ARONCZYK: This is Tamir Rosenblum. He's a lawyer who represents a union of construction laborers in New York. And he says it was a 3-1 decision by the NLRB that reaffirmed Scabby's right to fester and breed like a rat.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: In the name of workers' rights.

ARONCZYK: Yes, in the name of workers' rights.

ROSENBLUM: I think it's mad-crazy that, you know, a balloon is a problem in terms of First Amendment rights. That's just bananas.

ARONCZYK: So Tamir has fought for the rat's legal rights more than 50 times. But the even mad-crazier thing is that he thinks maybe it is time for Scabby to go. Scabby's been around for, like, over 30 years now. Maybe it's losing its shock value, which was its main reason for being.

ROSENBLUM: I think it's funny when sometimes I hear like, oh, you know, we put it up in front of a department store, and all the tourists were coming by and wanted to take a picture next to the rat. OK, but, like, now we're attracting people to the department store. Was that the point? Like, you know, what I would really love to see is that people come up with new ideas, right? Like, it's a great symbol, but, like, we all got to be imaginative and reinvent ourselves and, you know, truth be told, annoy employers in a new way.

ARONCZYK: All right. So, Alexi, instead of an inflatable, what about actual fat cats dressed up in suits?

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Oh, that's way too cute. I would definitely patronize that business more.

ARONCZYK: Right. What if all the steel workers dress up and sing, working "9 To 5"?

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: God. That's so fun.

ARONCZYK: I know. That would be fun. Maybe that's too fun - too fun.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Dangerously fun, yeah. What about they make, like, a viral TikTok account where they shame businesses with, like, catchy, redonkulous (ph) dances?

ARONCZYK: Yes. I feel like there's some labor unions that would be really good at that.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Oh, this is like an actual idea.

ARONCZYK: I'd watch that.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Amanda Aronczyk, thank you very much.

ARONCZYK: Thank you.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK. I guess now it's time to plate it. Scoop into the bowl.


HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Pour a little bit of wine.



BERAS: Dinner.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: I guess it's time. Are you ready?

BERAS: I'm ready. I'm going to take a small bite of this 'cause I'm not sure - I'm going to try half of a waterfall.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: All right, here goes nothing.

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, that slaps.

BERAS: It's awesome.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Yeah, that is - that's hitting. All right, I need to slow down. OK, going to put my plate down.

All right, so the last time we had Dan Pashman, host of "The Sporkful," on the show, his new pasta shape had just come out. And if I remember right, it had almost sold out immediately - right? - after its first batch.

BERAS: Right. And then basically, after the story ran, Dan hit the dreaded pandemic supply chain bingo.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Dun dun dun.

BERAS: Yep - issues getting cardboard for the boxes, the price of semolina flour went up, then the labor shortage.


BERAS: Sfoglini, the pasta maker, couldn't find enough workers. And then they wanted to invest in more machinery, except...

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: They wanted to take a break, too.

BERAS: Supply chain issues again. I called Dan Pashman up to ask him about all these problems meeting in one pasta bowl.

DAN PASHMAN: It's kind of - it's amazing that a food that only has two ingredients (laughter) is still impacted by so many different external factors.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: But Dan did manage to find some workarounds. He was able to get the pasta into some small stores.

BERAS: And even one grocery chain, The Fresh Market. That's where I got mine. And getting a new item into a store, Dan told me, is not easy.

PASHMAN: If you're a really huge company - you know, Coca-Cola or Barilla comes out with a new product - they have ways to get into the store faster and get better display because they're so big and powerful. In the case of a company like Sfoglini, it's hard to get a store to go first. The stores want to see sales data from other stores.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: So stores basically want to make sure that Dan's pasta is selling like a rigatoni or a penne or a linguine before they give it that valuable shelf real estate.

BERAS: Exactly. And so getting into Fresh Market was a big deal, and it helped him get a second deal. Dan's pasta, cascatelli, is going to be in Trader Joe's next year.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK, now you're speaking my language. I've never heard of Fresh Market, but Trader Joe's is a lifestyle.

BERAS: This is the fun part. Dan doesn't actually own the Sfoglini version of his cascatelli pasta. He owns a patent on the shape and a trademark on the name. And he's going to be licensing the name to Trader Joe's.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK, so they're going to make, like, a generic, store-brand version of cascatelli, like a Shasta pasta.

BERAS: Yeah, exactly. And it'll also probably be cheaper. The box I bought the other week was $7. And at Trader Joe's, when I've gone and bought pasta there, it is like a dollar - literally a dollar. So there's price points there.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: OK, so has Dan Pashman become, like, a pasta mogul by now?

BERAS: So I think it's fair to say yes, maybe. I mean, he wouldn't tell me how much he's made, but, you know, he originally invested 9,000 of his own dollars, and his goal was just to get 5,000 pounds made.

PASHMAN: So at this point, we've sold over 300,000 pounds of pasta, which is a lot and very kind of mind-boggling. Definitely, I've made my money back, have turned a profit, have put a nice chunk of change in the kids' college savings.

BERAS: So as Dan put it - these are his words, not mine - this is all super-duper exciting. Time magazine named it one of the best inventions of the year of 2021. To put that into some context, you know what else was on that list? The COVID vaccine.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Wow. OK, the COVID vaccine is a bold comparison to make. Does that mean there's also a huge anti-cascatelli faction?

BERAS: Actually, Alexi, there is.


BERAS: So I've heard that cascatelli made it to Italy. What have you heard from the Italians?

PASHMAN: They're skeptical. A lot of my friends keep saying to me, oh, like, maybe Barilla will come and, like, buy your pasta shape. Barilla has not called me. And a lot of people in the pasta industry who I've talked to have said, yeah, the Italian pasta companies aren't going to call you because, No. 1, they're not likely to take an idea from outside their own company, but they're especially never going to take an idea from an American.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Don't go chasing waterfalls, Dan.

BERAS: Yeah, stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Is that the next line?

BERAS: It is.


BERAS: That's the rest of the story. Got a new story idea? Email us at Also, we're on all the social media sites - @planetmoney.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Today's show was produced by James Sneed with engineering help from Gilly Moon. It was edited by Molly Messick and Jess Jiang. Alex Goldmark is our executive producer.

BERAS: Before we go, if you heard our episode last week about naming the economic indicator of 2021, well, the votes are in. Our colleagues over on The Indicator will be announcing the winner tomorrow. Will it be the supply chain, inflation, the word trillion, or will defending champion Mary Childs reign supreme with her pick, the labor market? Listen to The Indicator this Thursday to find out.

I'm Erika Beras.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: I'm Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi.

BERAS: This is NPR. Thanks for listening.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Happy new year, everybody.


HOROWITZ-GHAZI: I might have seconds.


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