Monday, January 19, 2015

STATE OF THE UNION - 2015 Full Speech



OPINION:

TAXES - President Obama's Middle Class Tax Plan

"Inside Obama’s middle class tax plan" PBS NewsHour 1/18/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  President Obama will reportedly unveil a plan to offer tax relief for the middle class during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.  The plan would be paid for by increasing taxes the rich pay on investments and inherited property.  For more, Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  President Obama reportedly will unveil a plan to offer tax relief for the middle class during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.  The plan would be paid for by increasing taxes the rich pay on investments and inherited property.

For more about the president’s proposal, its chances of success, and its political impact, we’re joined now from Washington by Carol Lee. She is White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

So, Carol, who does the administration say that this will help, and how?

CAROL LEE, The Wall Street Journal:  Their main target is the middle class.

And they — their argument is that it will help the middle class by taking — closing certain tax loopholes that they say benefit the top 1 percent of Americans and making different changes to the tax code, including raising the capital gains tax from 23.8 percent to 28 percent by, as you mentioned, taxing some of these investments and assets that people transfer to their children that currently are not taxed and a number of other things.

And what they do with that money, which is roughly several hundred billion dollars, is put it towards proposals such as tripling the child tax credit.  So, that would go from $1,000 to $3,000.  They’re proposing to create a new tax credit for households where both spouses work.

And they would — the president has unveiled a proposal to offer free community college for folks.  And that’s another thing that — that this would pay for.  And so it’s kind of — it’s basically the president’s opening bid on a number of tax issues that have been vexing Washington for a long time.

And, so far, it has not gotten a very warm reception from Republicans.  But the White House’s argument is that this would help the middle class, the Republicans say that they are now focused on the middle class, the economy is doing better, and so now is the time to do things — things — take steps like this.

And while conceding that they probably won’t get everything that they want, which is a very optimistic view of this package, given the response we have seen from Republicans, the hope is that this is an opening bid to what the White House hopes are broader negotiations on some of these individual tax code issues.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 1/16/2015

"Shields and Brooks on same-sex right to marry, Romney run resistance" PBS NewsHour 1/16/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the Supreme Court’s move to consider same-sex marriage, next steps for Republican congressional leaders, emerging GOP candidates for the next presidential race, plus thoughts on the NewsHour’s decision to not show the post-attack cover of Charlie Hebdo.

CLIMATE CHANGE - NASA Goddard Institute View

"Only a little bit hotter, but 2014’s record temperatures continue long-term trend" PBS NewsHour 1/16/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  2014 was the hottest year in recorded history, even despite below-average temperatures in the Eastern U.S.  Judy Woodruff speaks with Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies about the human impact on global warming.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Scientists report that 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history for the planet, and that dates back to 1880.  This was announced today by both NASA and NOAA, the Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.

Five months last year set temperature records.  The ocean surface was unusually warm around the world, except for Antarctica.  In the U.S., the Western part of the country baked under extreme heat, shown here in yellow, although the Eastern half of the country saw below-average temperatures, as seen in blue.  And there were temperature records set in several European countries.

Well, we get further insight and information on all of this from one of the lead scientists involved with the report.

Gavin Schmidt studies climate change at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

WYOMING - Reaction to EPA Plan to Cut Carbon Emissions

"How an EPA plan to cut carbon emissions is playing out in coal-rich Wyoming" PBS NewsHour 1/16/2015

COMMENT:  Again, the personal profit of a few before the welfare of our planet, and by extension, the welfare of our world's human beings.

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In Wyoming, people care about issues that affect their land and energy resources.  A recently announced EPA initiative to cut carbon emissions, the Clean Power Plan, aims to move American electricity generation away from coal -- the economic lifeblood for that state.  Special correspondent Leigh Paterson of Inside Energy looks at both sides of the fight.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The rise in greenhouse gases and temperatures are the reasons why the president has issued new restrictions on coal-fired power plants in this country.

But now that Republicans hold control of Congress, one issue high on their agenda, blocking or delaying the EPA’s plans.

We get a report on how that’s viewed in a key energy-producing state, Wyoming.

It comes from Leigh Paterson of Inside Energy.  That’s a public media collaboration on energy issues, working with the NewsHour.

LEIGH PATERSON, Inside Energy:  Caring for a few hundred cows during the Wyoming winter is hard work.  Subzero temperatures and hurricane-force winds are normal.

Rancher Dave Hamilton say it’s part of the disconnect between people who live off the land and those who regulate the environment.

DAVE HAMILTON, President, Natural Gas Processing Co.:  We seem to have people that have never, ever even set foot on — in the state of Wyoming, that don’t understand farming, don’t understand ranching pass rules that affect us all, when, in fact, we all want to keep our land together.  I can’t make a living if I destroy my land.

RIGHT TO DIE - In Belgium

"The right to die in Belgium:  An inside look at the world’s most liberal euthanasia law" PBS NewsHour 1/17/2015 (note, this was posted on the 1/15/2015 WEB page)

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Belgium has the world’s most liberal law on physician-assisted suicide, which is not just for the terminally ill.  Patients with psychiatric conditions – and now, even children – can request euthanasia.  Surveys in Belgium show overwhelming public support, and many doctors say it gives patients with constant and unbearable suffering a practical and humane way to die peacefully.  But even in a country with a far-reaching acceptance, controversy still exists.  NewsHour's Megan Thompson reports.

Editor’s note:  This broadcast segment contains footage that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

MEGAN THOMPSON (NewsHour):  As she opens the door to her home…this 34-year old Belgian woman known as “Eva” seems at ease.  But actually she’s chronically depressed.  More than once she’s tried to commit suicide.  And now she’s asking doctors to help her.  Help her die by euthanasia…all of it captured in a Belgian documentary.

EVA (voiceover):  It may seem strange but I am looking forward to the rest.  The choice has been made.  The decision has been made.  I am looking forward to the rest I have longed for, for so long.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  It may sound shocking, but in Belgium euthanasia is quite accepted.  And it’s not just for the terminally ill.  Chronically depressed patients like Eva can request it, too.  And so on a day and time she’s chosen…  Eva says goodbye to her family.

MARC VAN HOEY:  Eva, are you ready?

EVA:  Yes, I am ready, doctor.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  And then she lays down on her couch.

MARC VAN HOEY (voiced over):  Would you like to say something to your brother and sister-in-law?’

EVA (voiced over):  Bye.

BROTHER:  Sleep Well.

EVA (English):  Thank you.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  The man kneeling by her side, about to give her the lethal injection, is her doctor for the past two years.  Dr. Marc Van Hoey.

THE OSCARS - A White Boys Club 2015?

"How the Oscars’ lack of diversity reflects who runs Hollywood" PBS NewsHour 1/15/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  For the first time in 20 years, all of the Academy Award nominees for leading and supporting acting roles are white.  Gwen Ifill asks Mike Sargent of Pacifica Radio and Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post about the surprises and snubs of the 2015 Oscar nominations, and what it says about power and diversity in Hollywood.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  It took only minutes after this year’s Oscar nominations were announced this morning for the criticism to begin.

Much of the reaction centered on what was missing, namely, diversity among nominees for actor, actress, directing and screenwriting.  For the first time since 1995, all of the actors nominated for lead and supporting roles are white.  One prominent snub, the civil rights film “Selma,” which snagged a best picture nod, but nothing for its director, actors or writers.

What, if anything, does any of this tell us about the Academy or about the films themselves?

For that, we turn to two film critics, Mike Sargent of Pacifica Radio and Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post.

Welcome to you both.

So, Ann Hornaday, what do today’s nominations tell us about the kinds of films that Hollywood is making and the kinds of films that Hollywood is awarding?

ANN HORNADAY, The Washington Post:  Well, at least for today, it looks like it’s kind of a boys show.

And even when you look at the best picture nominees — and, gratifyingly, “Selma” did make it into the best picture — to be nominated for best picture.  But so many of those are movies are journeys undertaken by men, either the great men of “The Theory of Everything” and “Imitation Game” or the young man of “Boyhood” or the actor of “Birdman.”

So it is a striking sort of tableaux of men and their stories being represented in that group.

AUTOS - The Coming of The Jetsons Era

"Drive the car of the future?  No, it drives you" PBS NewsHour 1/15/2015

(REF: The Jetsons)

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  A big sensation at the Consumer Electronic Show this year was a preview of the autonomous driving car, a vehicle equipped with a supercomputing chip and software that can recognize other vehicles and obstacles.  Special correspondent Steve Goldbloom takes the passenger seat in one of these connected cars.

STEVE GOLDBLOOM (NewsHour):  If this car looks like it’s from the future, that’s because it is.  It’s the Mercedes Luxury in Motion.  With inward-facing seats and gesture recognition technology, it was drawing a crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show this month in Las Vegas.

Some 20,000 tech products were launched at CES this year, from recreational drones to smart kitchen appliances.  But one of the most buzzed about showings was a preview of the driverless car.

JEN-HSUN HUANG, CEO, NVIDIA:  This is a pretty big deal for us.

STEVE GOLDBLOOM:  Jen-Hsun Huang is the CEO of Nvidia, a Silicon Valley-based technology company that unveiled the Tegra X1 superchip, a brand-new computing platform for cars.

JEN-HSUN HUANG:  One of the biggest revolutions going on right now is the building of and the creating of the autonomous driving car.


WARNING:  Hands-free cars connected to the "cloud" (aka Internet)?  So, right out of a sifi thriller, a assassin hacker takes over your car, waits until you doze-off at the wheel, and takes you over a cliff.

U.S. MILITARY - Best in the World?

"‘An era of defeat’ for the best soldiers in the world?" PBS NewsHour 1/15/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Journalist James Fallows says it's time to examine why the best funded, best trained and most professional military in the world hasn't achieved lasting victory in the post-9/11 era.  He joins chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner to discuss his provocative critique in The Atlantic magazine, and how the public should be more connected to American armed conflict.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to a critique of America’s war-fighting apparatus that’s making waves in defense circles and beyond.

Journalist and author James Fallows raises hard questions about this country’s defense establishment in a cover story “The Atlantic” magazine titled “Why Do the Best Soldiers in the World Keep Losing?:  The Tragic Decline of the American Military.”

Fallows’ thesis?  That it’s time to examine why the best-funded, trained and most professional military in the world hasn’t achieved lasting victories over insurgent forces in the post-9/11 era.

We will have more on the reaction to his piece.

But, first, we hear from Fallows himself.  He spoke a few days ago with our Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Jim Fallows, thank you for having us.

JAMES FALLOWS, The Atlantic :  Thank you, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER:  Now, you contend in this article that, after 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which we overthrew Saddam Hussein and the Taliban and drove most of the al-Qaida remnants at least underground, that we essentially lost those wars?

JAMES FALLOWS:  I’m saying that if you looked at this era from a strictly military strategic point of view, you would say there is one clear victory the United States had, which was killing Osama bin Laden.

But by having this last 12 or 13 years of open-ended war in Iraq and the surrounding countries, I argue that, from almost any perspective, that is of use of money, loss of life, taking of life, strategic changes in America’s image and reputation around the world, erosion of American values, this has been an era of defeat, rather than victory.



"Is the U.S. military faced with impossible missions?" PBS NewsHour 1/15/2015

Excerpts

SUMMARY:  A critique of the U.S. military establishment written by journalist James Fallows has made waves in defense circles and beyond.  Who is responsible for how America applies its military might?  Judy Woodruff gets reaction from former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and John Ullyot, a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Ambassador Jeffrey, to you first.

Is Jim Fallows right when he says, essentially, this has been an era of military defeat in this country, rather than victory, since 9/11?

JAMES JEFFREY, Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq:  It has been an era of lack of success in carrying out our strategic objectives in Iraq and in certainly Afghanistan, and, going back, Vietnam as well.

When we get engaged in these long-term conflicts, we have not done well as a nation.  The military, as Jim Fallows pointed out, do win the battles.  That’s what they are hired for, but they and all of us together under the leadership of the President have not come up with strategies that have led to the achievement of our objectives.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, John Ullyot, that and the biggest point that the country has lost more than it’s gained.

JOHN ULLYOT, Former U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence Officer:  Well, the ambassador is absolutely right that if you look battle by battle, that we never suffered a single tactical defeat on the battlefield.

So, while Jim Fallows himself is right that they have not been successful, it has not been because of military shortcomings.  What it has been is, it’s been the policy-makers have committed our military to wars and conflicts both in Iraq and Afghanistan that are essentially not solvable on a military level.


COMMENT:  My fellow Americans, are you listening?

YOSEMITE - Free-Climbers Top El Capitan

"Yosemite free climbers complete their gripping feat" PBS NewsHour 1/14/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Two climbers successfully scaled the near-vertical slab of El Capitan's Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park, using their fingers and feet without additional aids.  After 19 days, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson are the first to free climb the entire granite face.  Gwen Ifill talks to Chris Weidner of the Boulder Daily Camera about their pinnacle achievement.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Two rock climbers made history today in California’s Yosemite National Park, completing what’s being called the hardest climb in the world.

Thirty-year-old Kevin Jorgeson and 36-year-old Tommy Caldwell became the first to free-climb a 3,000-foot sheer slab of granite to reach the summit of El Capitan.  The two started their journey on December 27, and continued their half-mile trek up the Dawn Wall route to the peak.  They marked their progress through different pitches or sections of the route.  They used no climbing aids, other than safety ropes, to catch their falls.

Here’s Kevin Jorgeson on the Dawn Wall talking about the weather conditions they faced earlier in their trek.

KEVIN JORGESON, Climber:  We looked at the forecast and saw that there’s this crazy arctic wind storm happening today.  It’s getting pretty rowdy.  The portal edge, despite being latched down, is getting tossed around like a rag doll.

GWEN IFILL:  For more on this journey, I spoke earlier with Chris Weidner, a freelance writer for numerous publications and a climber himself.

Friday, January 16, 2015

CLIMATE CHANGE - 2014 Earth's Hottest Year

"UPDATE 5 - Last year was Earth's hottest on record, U.S. scientists say" by Irene Klotz, Reuters 1/17/2015

Last year was Earth's hottest on record in new evidence that people are disrupting the climate by burning fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the air, two U.S. government agencies said on Friday.

The White House said the studies, by the U.S. space agency NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), showed climate change was happening now and that action was needed to cut rising world greenhouse gas emissions.

The 10 warmest years since records began in the 19th century have all been since 1997, the data showed.  Last year was the warmest, ahead of 2010, undermining claims by some skeptics that global warming has stopped in recent years.

Record temperatures in 2014 were spread around the globe, including most of Europe stretching into northern Africa, the western United States, far eastern Russia into western Alaska, parts of interior South America, parts of eastern and western coastal Australia and elsewhere, NASA and NOAA said.

"While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York.

"The data shows quite clearly that it's the greenhouse gas trends that are responsible for the majority of the trends," he told reporters.  Emissions were still rising "so we may anticipate further record highs in the years to come."

U.N. studies show there already are more extremes of heat and rainfall and project ever more disruptions to food and water supplies. Sea levels are rising, threatening millions of people living near coasts, as ice melts from Greenland to Antarctica.

PARIS MEETING IN DECEMBER

Next December, about 200 governments will meet in Paris to try to reach a deal to limit global warming, shifting to renewable energies.  China and the United States, the top emitters of greenhouse gases, say they are cooperating more to achieve a U.N. accord.

The new data "is another reminder that climate change is not a problem for the future - it's happening here and now and we can't wait to take action," a White House official said in a statement.

Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Canadian crude oil across the United States said the new data made it all the more pressing to prevent the construction of the pipeline.

But U.S. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican who is the Senate's leading climate change skeptic, said the temperature difference between 2014 and 2010 was so insignificant as to prove there was no need for more stringent regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Human activity is clearly not the driving cause for global warming, and is not leading our planet to the brink of devastation that many alarmists want us to believe," he said.

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it is at least 95 percent probable that human activities, rather than natural variations in the climate caused by factors such as sunspots, are to blame for rising temperatures.

Still, a Paris deal will be hard to achieve since curbs on fossil fuel use are unpopular in many nations.  Low oil prices may also discourage a shift to cleaner wind and solar power.

"The political challenges of organizing countries to respond, particularly through the UN process, remain very high," Michael Levi, a fellow on energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, told Reuters.

Rowan Sutton, director of climate research at Britain's National Center for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, said a single year did not mean much because it might be a freak hot year.

"But the fact that now 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century shows just how clear global warming has become," he said.

Even so, temperatures have not risen as fast as they did in the 1980s or 1990s, taking an unusually warm 1998 as a starting point.  The IPCC has described it as a hiatus in warming.

NO EL NINO FACTOR

Since 1880, Earth's average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius), NASA said. The NASA and NOAA analyses showed that the world's oceans all warmed last year, offsetting somewhat more moderate temperatures over land.

The average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.24 degrees F (0.69 degree C) above the 20th century average, NOAA said.

The scientists noted that the record was set in a year that did not have the weather pattern known as El NiƱo, which can heat up the atmosphere and has been a factor in many past record-setting years, including 1998.

The United Nations says it is already clear that promises for emissions curbs at the Paris summit will be too weak to get on track for a U.N. goal of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) above pre-industrial times.  (Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner, Roberta Rampton, Caren Bohan, Valerie Volcovici and Alistair Bell in Washington; David Adams in Miami; Nina Chestney and Susanna Twidale in London; Writing by Will Dunham and Alister Doyle; Editing by Alden Bentley, Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)

OPINION - Awakening 'We the People'

"Awakening the 'We the People' Within" by Annabel Park, Huffington Post Blogs 1/16/2015

We had a simple question when Eric Byler and I began our journey around the country with Story of America:  Why have we become so divided as a nation and how can we become more united?

As I watched the video of our interview with James Morgan of Bakersville, NC, a mining town in the Appalachian Mountains, I finally recognized what really propelled this journey.  It wasn't some academic answer to my question; it was something deeply personal.

At the end of the video, when James catches himself being unfairly judgmental of people on welfare, when he realizes that he is not so different from the people he'd been judging, you can see the light bulb go on over his head.  It took me months longer, but a light bulb went on for me as well when I revisited this experience watching the video:  I'm not so different from James.

At some level, I'd been judging James and other white Christian conservatives, particularly in the South.  At the time of the interview, back in August 2013, I remember feeling a lot of compassion for James as he tried to figure out what to do about his personal dilemma, "Should I draw from SSI?  Do I need the help?"

James' personal need is in terrible conflict with his political beliefs, his sense of self, and a story about America, I'll call it the Confederate South story, that he had been using to make sense of life.  The basic story that I had been using, I'll call it the New America story, is different from his, but it operates in the same way in my life.

The basic story gives us a constant framework for understanding most of what happens in the public sphere and where the public and private intersect:  these are the good people; these are the bad people; these are our values; these are their values, etc.

His basic story of America had led him to think that "most people on welfare are lazy and don't deserve it."  My basic story of America had led me to think that James and his father are stuck in their regressive worldview, and their cognitive problem is making America stuck, zapping our hope for the future.

Looking back, it's amazing that James opened up to us about his dilemma and the details of his situation.  If he hadn't done that, I may not see him as a person with a unique personal story.  This conversation challenged the three of us to go outside of our basic story of America to understand each other.

The experience with James gives me hope for the possibility of greater unity in America.  And, it is this hope that I've been pursuing for several years, propelling our journey across the country.  To be honest, by the end of 2012 when we started our journey -- after several years of bitter acrimony between the two parties, after the Tea Party became a household name, and especially after the Sandy Hook Massacre -- I was just heartbroken about where we were as a country.  I felt cheated of a period of time that was supposed to be about hope and change.

There is another reason why I have more hope right now. It is because of something I'll call "Story Therapy."  Think of it this way:  What would happen if all of us critically examined our basic story of America and see if those stories cause us to make assumptions about people in our lives?  What would happen if people could meet each other and see unique individuals with unique stories rather than characters in a pre-existing, pre-scripted story?

What the Confederate South Story and the New America Story get wrong is this:  We are still using the framework we use to tell the story of the Civil War.  Half of the people with one set of moral beliefs and economic interests fights the other half.  However, the story of America today is really about a few people with concentrated power and wealth with the majority of people around the country living on the edge of poverty.  This has been a growing problem since 1979, and it became dramatically more pronounced because of the 2008 financial crisis.  The story of America today is about a growing plutocracy.

Because many of us are so attached to our basic stories and so certain we know who our enemies are, we are missing this big picture.  And even if we see the big picture, because we are a house divided, we as a people are weak and cannot seem to fight the growing plutocracy.

We will stay divided and grow even weaker if we don't talk to other people with different beliefs, ideas, experiences, and appearances.  We will continue to make assumptions about others, fear them in some cases, hate them at times, and allow politicians and oligarchs to exploit that division for political and financial gains.

If we are able to see each other as unique individuals with unique stories, I believe we will begin to awaken the "We the People" within us.  Like any therapy, however, Story Therapy requires us get out of our comfort zone and be vulnerable to each other in the way that James Morgan allowed himself to be.

In these partisan and divided times, "We the People" as a building block of our social identities has been laying dormant.  If we want to keep our democratic republic, we must awaken the We the People within us.

OPINION - Civil Asset Forfeiture

"AG Eric Holder Slashes Civil Asset Forfeiture" by Bill Piper, Huffington Post Blogs 1/16/2015

Eric Holder just issued a huge blow to the drug war.  This is big.

Today the Justice Department limited the circumstances in which local and state police can use a federal program to seize a person's property without evidence of a crime.

That might sound odd, since you would assume that it was already illegal in America for police to take your property without due process -- but you would be wrong.  Originally pushed in the 1980s as a way to combat illegal drugs, civil asset forfeiture has become common throughout the country.

Today people all over America who are simply suspected of drug law violations can have their assets seized without any ability to defend themselves in a court of law.  Even if they are never convicted, or even charged with a crime they can have their property, bank accounts, cars, and assets taken from them forever.

Civil asset forfeiture is another ugly aspect of the drug war, and we are making it a top issue in 2015.

Today's actions by Eric Holder are a good first step to ending the unjust enforcement of this program once and for all.  But now Congress needs to pass legislation to make this change permanent.  #NoMoreDrugWar!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

GAY MARRIAGE - Michigan Judge's Ruling

"Judge:  Michigan must recognize 300-plus gay marriages" by JEFF KAROUB (AP), Seattle Pi 1/15/2015

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Michigan must recognize hundreds of same-sex marriages performed during a brief window last year.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote that the unions are valid, but stayed the decision for 21 days pending any appeal by the state.

A different federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban on March 21.  More than 300 same-sex couples in four counties got married the next day, before an appeals court suspended the decision and blocked additional marriages.

Michigan has refused to recognize those marriages, which affects health insurance and the ability of same-sex couples to jointly adopt children.  Goldsmith said those who married "acquired a status that state officials may not ignore absent some compelling interest."

"In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder," Goldsmith wrote.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement that his office is reviewing the ruling, and added that "the sooner the United States Supreme Court makes a decision on this issue the better it will be for Michigan and America."

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide Friday whether it will put Michigan's same-sex marriage case on its calendar in time to be argued and decided by late June.  Until now, the court has managed both to avoid settling the issue for the nation as a whole.  In the meantime, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of states that allow same-sex couples to marry.  Last week, Florida became the 36th state to issue licenses for same-sex unions.

The Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight couples, said the ruling is "a victory for marriage equality."

CUBA - Friday Opening of Travel, Trade, and More

"New trade, travel rules with Cuba start Friday, opening island to US phones, TV's and computers" Fox News 1/15/2015

Starting Friday, the Obama administration will significantly loosen restrictions on American trade and investment with Cuba allowing U.S. companies to export mobile phones, televisions and computers while easing travel restrictions opening the communist island to more American travelers.

The new rules will put a large dent in the U.S. embargo against Cuba and will even allow U.S. citizens to start bringing home small amounts of Cuban cigars after more than a half-century ban.

As of Friday, U.S. companies will also be able to export mobile memory devices, recording devices, and software to a country with notoriously poor Internet and telecommunications infrastructure.  The goal is to "contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people within Cuba, in the United States, and the rest of the world," according to a Treasury Department fact sheet.  Internet-based communications will fall under a general license.

Americans permitted to travel to Cuba for family visits, official U.S. government business, journalism, research, education, religious activity and other reasons fall under a U.S. general license and don't need to apply for a separate license.  A limit on remittance payments to family members in Cuba will be raised to $8,000 per year, from $2,000 per year.  Americans visiting Cuba will be allowed to bring home $100 in alcohol and tobacco products, and $400 in total goods.

Other changes include:

—No more limits on how much money Americans spend in Cuba each day or what they spend it on.

—Remittances allowed to be sent to Cuban nationals has increased from $500 to $2,000 per quarter

—Permissible use of U.S. credit and debit cards.

—Travel agents and airlines can fly to Cuba without a special license.

—Insurance companies can provide coverage for health, life and travel insurance policies for individuals residing in or visiting Cuba.

—Financial institutions may open accounts at Cuban banks to facilitate authorized transactions.

—Investments can be made in some small businesses and agricultural operations.

—Companies may ship building materials and equipment to private Cuban companies to renovate private buildings.

—Certain micro-financing project and entrepreneurial and business training is now authorized.

Thursday's announcement of new Treasury and Commerce Department regulations are the next step in President Barack Obama's ambitious goal of re-establishing diplomatic relations with the government of Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother.  They come three days after U.S. officials confirmed the release of 53 political prisoners Cuba had promised to free.

Only Congress can end the five-decade embargo.  But the measures give permission for Americans to use credit cards in Cuba and U.S. companies to export telephone, computer and Internet technologies.  Investments in some small business are permitted.  General tourist travel is still prohibited, but Americans authorized to visit Cuba need no longer apply for special licenses.

Obama vowed to soften the embargo last month and begin restoring diplomatic ties with Havana, saying "these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked."  The deal was the product of 18 months of secret talks that culminated in the exchange of imprisoned spies and release of Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years.

The sudden rapprochement between Cold War foes has divided U.S. lawmakers across party lines and interests.  Among Republicans and Democrats in Congress, Cuban-Americans such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey have been particularly vocal in opposition.

But some pro-business types have welcomed the opportunity to open up a new export market in a country so close to American shores.  The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, said Wednesday it was better for the U.S. to sell computers, smartphones and cars to Cuba than to cede such business to countries like Russia and China.  Still, the embargo as a whole appears unlikely to fall anytime soon.

The U.S. and Cuba are scheduled to hold migration talks in Havana next week, the next step in their normalization process.  Leading the American delegation is Roberta Jacobson, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America.  Her visit marks the highest-level trip to Cuba by a U.S. official since 1980.

Further down the road, Washington envisions reopening the U.S. Embassy in Havana and carrying out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments.  Secretary of State John Kerry could travel to the island later this year.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

OHIO - Capitol Hill Terror Suspect's Father

"Father of Ohio terror suspect defends 'mama's boy'" by Kimball Perry, Patrick Brennan, and John Bacon; USA TODAY 1/15/2015

The father of an Ohio man accused of plotting an attack on the U.S. Capitol is a "mama's boy who never left the house," his father says.

Christopher Lee Cornell, 20, who used the Twitter alias Raheel Mahrus Ubayda, was arrested outside a Cincinnati gun store Wednesday after purchasing two automatic weapons and 600 rounds of ammunition.

Authorities say he planned to set off pipe bombs outside the Capitol, then shoot lawmakers and staff as they fled to safety.

Cornell's father, John, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that his son had converted to Islam in recent years and had found "peace in the religion."

John Cornell, who said his son is not a violent man, said Christopher frequently endured abuse due to his religious beliefs.  He said Christopher lived in his parents' apartment and worked occasional part-time jobs.

"Everything you're hearing in the media right now, they've already painted him as some kind of terrorist," John Cornell told the Enquirer.  "They've painted him as some kind of jihadist. ... (Christopher) is one of the most peace-loving people I know."

The elder Cornell told CNN he believes much of the blame falls on the informant who led the FBI to Christopher Cornell.  "I believe he was really vulnerable and I believe he was coerced in a lot of ways," John Cornell said.

He said he and his wife are heartbroken and love their son more than ever.

"He may be facing life in prison," John Cornell told CNN.  "Do you know how devastating that is?"

FBI Special Agent T.A. Staderman described some details of the alleged plan in the seven-page complaint supporting charges of attempting to kill a U.S. government officer and possession of a firearm.

Federal authorities said the public was never in any danger because investigators were closely monitoring the activities of the suspect during the inquiry.

Tom Willingham, president and CEO of Point Blank Range & Gun Shop in Cincinnati, said he was approached by FBI agents and asked him to help them arrest someone they suspected of wanting to commit a terrorist act on U.S. soil.  "Nobody knew enough to be scared," Willingham told the Enquirer.

After the gun store employees ran Christopher Cornell's name through the national background check system to ensure he had no criminal record — "Not anyone can come in and buy a gun and walk out," Willingham said — Cornell bought the rifles and ammunition.  He was arrested by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in the parking lot.

Cornell is accused of using cyberspace to plot to assassinate congressional employees and attack the U.S. Capitol for his personal jihad.  He was charged with attempted killing of U.S. government officers and possession of firearms in furtherance of an attempted crime of violence.

Christopher Cornell was a wrestler at Cincinnati's Oak Hills High School, graduating in 2012.  Principal John Stoddard issued a statement describing Cornell as a "typical student" who was not a discipline problem.

"His teachers were shocked at the news of his involvement in this situation," the statement said.  "Teachers ... remember Christopher as a quiet, but not overly reserved, student who would participate in class and did not withdraw from his class work."

Schoolmate Jake Flick told NBC News that Cornell began to change during his senior year

"He would say the weirdest stuff about the government," Flick told NBC, adding that Cornell was very interested in "anarchy."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

HEALTH - Widespread Flu in 46 States

"Facing widespread flu, health officials encourage antiviral drug use" PBS NewsHour 1/13/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  This year’s flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years.  Judy Woodruff talks to Dr. Tom Friedan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about this year’s influenza strain and the benefits and limitations of using antiviral drugs for patients sick with flu.  The CDC director also gives an update on the Ebola outbreak response in West Africa.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  No doubt about it, we’re in the middle of flu season, and this one is shaping up to be a particularly tough slog, possibly the worst since 2008.

The Centers for Disease Control report that flu activity is widespread in 46 states.  In fact, the only places where flu activity was limited to local pockets were Arizona, California, Alaska, Hawaii, and here in Washington, D.C.

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Friedan is here to discuss that, as well as what he thinks people should do, and why some in the field are questioning some of those recommendations.

POLITICS - The Ohio Voters' View

"What do Ohio voters want?  More political cooperation despite clashing views" PBS NewsHour 1/13/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  What do Americans think about Washington politics and productivity over the last two years?  Across the political spectrum, one thing that many seem to agree on is that both parties share blame for dysfunction and stasis.  Judy Woodruff talks to voters in Columbus, Ohio, about their hopes for the new Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Well, now that the President and congressional leaders are getting down to business, we thought it was a good time to check in with voters about what they expect from Washington right now.

We picked a Midwestern state you hear a lot about in presidential election years.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, (R) Ohio:  I, John Richard Kasich…

JUDY WOODRUFF:  We showed in Ohio on the same day Republican Governor John Kasich was being inaugurated for a second term and, for football fans, arguably an even bigger event, as Ohio State University’s beloved Buckeyes were about to face Oregon in the college playoff championship.

Despite this, we still found people across the political spectrum who were willing to talk to us.

INDIA - Police Inaction on Human Trafficking

"Police inaction hampers human trafficking crackdown in India" PBS NewsHour 1/12/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In India, outrage over a fatal gang rape of a college student two years ago has helped bring about some protections for women who are the victims of sex trafficking, but getting police to enforce the law is still a challenge.  In the first report in a two-part series, special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro follows a human rights group that’s working to crack down on human trafficking and find victims.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (NewsHour):  There was an unusual demonstration recently in this small town near India’s border of India, Nepal, unusual because these women, most with backgrounds in prostitution, are rarely seen in public.  They protested social evils, from gender bias to the caste system, India’s age-old social ladder in which they’re at the very bottom.

RUCHIRA GUPTA, Apne Aap Women Worldwide:  In Bombay, in Delhi, in Calcutta, whichever red light area you go to, the girls and women are all low caste.  Prostitution is passed on from mother to daughter and pimping from father to son.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  Ruchira Gupta is a former journalist who started a group called Apne Aap, or On Our Own, which organized the rally.  The group has rescued many of these women, found them new work in crafts and micro-enterprises, and put their daughters in school.

Apne Aap was also part of a protest movement that followed the fatal gang rape of a Delhi college student two years ago, a campaign that got lawmakers to act against what many called a culture of rape and misogyny.

WOMAN:  I am not going to allow this incident to become another statistic.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  The law was changed to penalize traffickers, instead of the women they traffic, recognizing the women as victims.

AUTOS - Response to Low Gas Prices

"How automakers and car buyers are responding to low gas prices" PBS NewsHour 1/12/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Since last year’s Detroit Auto Show, gas prices have dropped by nearly a third.  With the new lower prices, demand has gone up for big new SUVs and sedans, but automakers have also switched gears to develop more fuel-efficient cars.  Gwen Ifill speaks with John Toll of The Wall Street Journal about the tension between the two trends and convincing car buyers to think long-term.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  One year ago, when automakers held their big show in Detroit, a gallon of gas went for an average of $3.31.  Now, as the auto show gets under way again, it’s dropped by a third, all the way down to $2.13 a gallon.

And that presents some intriguing challenges this year.  On one hand, manufacturers like GM are creating more fuel-efficient cars, like the Volt, a new electric-powered concept car which is designed to get 200 miles from a single charge.

But on the other end of the spectrum, big new SUVs and sedans are rolling off production lines for buyers now less worried about gas prices.

John Toll is the global auto editor for The Wall Street Journal, and he joins me from Detroit.

After all the bright, shiny things at the auto show, John, what are the trends you’re seeing?

JOHN TOLL, The Wall Street Journal:  Well, the trend is definitely back toward big trucks and SUVs, in terms of the conversation right now that we’re having about the immediate environment.

The economy is doing well.  Gas prices, as you mentioned, are down to $2 a gallon or less, and there is a lot of what a lot of automakers think is a natural progression toward the SUV and truck body style in most of America.  So they’re catering to that right now.

At the same time, you have this tension.  While dealers want more and more trucks and SUVs, regulators want more vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt or the Nissan Leaf, or the Tesla Model S, vehicles that can run on electricity or batteries and — or can get significantly better fuel economy.

CAUTION:  Gas prices are NOT going to stay low.

FRANCE - Jewish Community

"French Jewish community ‘shocked but not surprised’ by attacks on kosher market" PBS NewsHour 1/12/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Even before last week's attack in Paris, attacks on the Jewish community in France have been on the rise, prompting many to flee the country.  Gwen Ifill talks to the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg about the growing threats facing Jews in France.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  As we reported earlier, thousands of French police were dispatched today to secure Jewish sites throughout France.

Friday’s attack on the kosher grocery came as a shock to many around the world.  But many French Jews were less surprised.  Anti-Semitic attacks in the country, often violent, were on the rise in 2014.  They included beatings, improvised grenade attacks and even rape.

The number of Jews fleeing France to make a new home in Israel more than doubled last year, growing from 3,400 in 2013 to 7,000.

The Atlantic's” Jeffrey Goldberg is just back from a reporting trip to Paris, where he has been reporting on the growing threats to the country’s Jewish community.

Jeffrey, welcome.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, “The Atlantic”:  Thank you.

GWEN IFILL:  Are these specific new threats or is this something that’s just been continuing?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:  No, the French-Jewish community has been living a certain reality for quite a long time already.  Two years ago, there was a horrific attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse.  Three children murdered by a returning Syrian jihadist.

So, there is nothing — this is in the category of shocking, but not surprising, to I think much of the French Jewish community.  The rest of France is sort of coming on board to the realization of what’s going on.

HUMOR - Notice From Daffy Duck


Monday, January 12, 2015

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 1/9/2015

"Shields and Brooks on Paris terrorism and tolerance, GOP takeover in Congress" PBS NewsHour 1/9/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss this week’s news, including the geopolitical and social consequences of the terrorist attacks in France, as well as what to expect from the new Republican-controlled Congress.

DEVIL'S CULT - Muslim Extremism

"What’s driving European Muslims to extremism?" PBS NewsHour 1/8/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The brothers who attacked satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo had a secular Muslim upbringing before their apparent radicalization.  What's leading young European Muslims to embrace extremism?  Peter Neumann of King's College London says it’s a conflict of identity and acceptance.  Neumann talks to Judy Woodruff about increasing polarization and what governments can do prevent attacks.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The New York Times reported late today that one of the brothers being hunted for the Paris attack received training at an al-Qaida training camp in Yemen. This is according to a senior American official.

The brothers, who were born and raised in France, had a secular Muslim upbringing before their apparent radicalization.  There have, of course, been other attacks on the continent, and thousands of European Muslim extremists have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight.

To find out more about what’s leading to the radicalization of many of these young men, I spoke earlier this afternoon to Peter Neumann, director of The International Center for the Study of Radicalization.  He’s at King’s College.

Peter Neumann, thank you for talking with us.

First of all, what do you think is most important for us to know about this attack, about these two brothers in terms of understanding what went into this, what was behind it?

PETER NEUMANN, King’s College, London:  I think the two brothers are interesting because they had a long history of extremism.

At least one of them has been active in jihadist circles for over 10 years.  So these were not inexperienced people.  These were not people who were the typical lone wolves who were radicalized over the Internet.  These were experienced operators.

The second important thing is the change of modus operandi that we are witnessing.  Really, over the past 10, 15 years, we have been lucky, because the jihadists have been trying to emulate 9/11, very complicated, complex, big attacks.  Now they are trying to do less complicated attacks, which they realize can inflict as much horror and terror and polarization on society, but which are much more difficult to detect.

I would expect to see more things like that to happen in 2015.



"Why resentment is growing between Christians and Muslims in Marseille" PBS NewsHour 1/8/2015

COMMENT:  The article title begs a "DUH?"

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo puts a spotlight on the growing tensions between France's Muslim and immigrant communities and a large portion of French society, which is traditionally Catholic.  The NewsHour’s Megan Thompson recently visited Marseille, one of the country’s most diverse cities, to report on the root of the conflict and the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in France.

FRANCE - Satirical Newspaper Attacks

"French police hunt for two brothers, teenager who killed 12 at satirical newspaper – Part 1" PBS NewsHour 1/7/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In Paris, three men stormed satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo with assault rifles, killing the editor, prominent political cartoonists, a guard and others before firing at a police car and gunning down another officer.  The gunmen -- identified as two French brothers and a teenager -- escaped, prompting a manhunt as France raised its terror alert to the highest level.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The nation of France is reeling tonight.  Heavily armed gunmen shouting Islamist slogans stormed the office of a Paris publication today.  They left a dozen dead and 11 wounded, four of them critically.  Police later identified the gunmen, who vanished into a stunned French capital.

Hari Sreenivasan begins our coverage.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Shock and disbelief gripped Parisians moments after the military-style attack.  Three hooded men with assault rifles forced their way into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper.

Within minutes, they killed the editor, nine others, including two prominent political cartoonists, and a police guard.  Back outside, they riddled a police car with bullets and gunned down another officer.

WOMAN (through interpreter):  I was on my balcony, and I heard a loud noise and then I saw an injured policeman.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Amateur video captured a gunman who approached the wounded officer, and killed him with a shot to the head.  Before driving away, the attackers shouted in Arabic “Allahu akbar,” “God is great,” and in French, “We avenged the Prophet Mohammed.  We killed Charlie Hebdo.”

The left-leaning newspaper had repeatedly been threatened over satirical commentary and cartoons on Islam and other religions.  In 2011, a firebombing gutted its headquarters after editors used an image of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover.  No one was hurt in that attack.



"Parisians protest attack on Charlie Hebdo and free speech – Part 2" PBS NewsHour 1/7/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Mark Austin of Independent Television News talks to Judy Woodruff from Paris about the French security response to the mass killing at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and how Parisians see the attack as an affront to cherished freedoms.



"Understanding the threat of Islamic extremism in Europe – Part 3" PBS NewsHour 1/7/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Charlie Hebdo, the publication whose staff was attacked by three gunmen in Paris, has been threatened and firebombed in the past over provocative commentary and cartoons on Islam.  Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and Bertrand Vannier of Radio France join Judy Woodruff to discuss the newspaper’s reputation and who might be behind the violence.



"Death of cartoonists in Paris draws out passionate defense of free expression" PBS NewsHour 1/8/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Pens -- weapon of choice of the murdered cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo -- were raised in their honor at vigils around the world.  Jeffrey Brown talks to two editorial cartoonists, Tom Toles of the Washington Post and Ted Rall of the Los Angeles Times, about the role of satirical cartoonists in society and their declining number in the U.S.

JOURNALISM - The Increased Threat

"Why journalists face greater harm in an age of abundant and accessible media" PBS NewsHour 1/7/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Life today is defined by the accessibility and consumption of constant information.  Yet journalists, the people who long had a monopoly on that information, are more vulnerable than ever.  Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, examines the causes behind the growing dangers in his new book, "The New Censorship."  He joins Jeffrey Brown for a conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  On the one hand, information is everywhere and more people around the world have access to it.  On the other, for journalists, those who have traditionally gathered and disseminated so much of that information, the times are more dangerous than ever.

JOEL SIMON, Committee to Protect Journalists:  Absolutely.  That’s the paradox.  We live in an age defined by information.  And yet the people who bring us this information are dying, being imprisoned, being killed in record numbers.  If you look at the data, it is shocking, but press freedom, freedom of expression is actually in decline around the world.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In his role as executive director of the advocacy group the Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon watches all of this unfold on a daily basis.

In a new book, “The New Censorship,” he’s looked at case studies and some of the causes behind growing dangers for journalists.

We talked yesterday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

JOEL SIMON:  One of the fundamental things that has happened is, the relationship between journalists and the people they cover, the power relationship, has changed.

Journalists were — once had a sort of information monopoly.  If you wanted to talk to the public, the global public, you needed to go through the media.  That is no longer the case.  So the value of individual journalists, whether they’re professional journalists or citizen journalists, is diminished.  And they are more vulnerable as a result.

EDUCATION - New GED, Improvement or Not?

"Is the new GED test an educational improvement or setback?" PBS NewsHour 1/6/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  An overhaul of the GED to meet Common Core standards has made the high school equivalency test more rigorous and more expensive.  As a result, fewer people are taking and passing it.  Gwen Ifill gets debate from Randy Trask of the GED Testing Service and Lecester Johnson of Academy of Hope about what the changes mean.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The GED, or General Educational Development diploma, has long been an important high school equivalency credential for those hoping to make up for lost time and lost opportunity.

In a typical year, about half-a-million people pass the exam.  But the GED test is changing to meet new academic standards known as Common Core.  As a result, fewer people are taking and passing a test that has become more rigorous and expensive.  In states like Wisconsin and Rhode Island, the number of those who passed dropped more than 90 percent.  In Florida, the number of test takers fell about half.

Is this an improvement or a setback?

We look at that with Randy Trask, president and CEO of the GED Testing Service, and Lecester Johnson, CEO of Academy of Hope, an adult charter school in Washington, D.C.

Randy Trask, is it that the GED test has gotten harder?

RANDY TRASK, GED Testing Service:  Well, first off, thank you for having me.

It absolutely is more difficult, but, really, I think your introduction staged it all.  It’s a high school equivalency test.  And our last test series was tested on high school graduates of 2001.  And to the extent that high school graduates have learned a lot in the last 13 years, and they absolutely have, this test is undoubtedly higher — harder.

PAINKILLERS - How Should We Regulate Them

"How should U.S. regulate powerful painkillers?" PBS NewsHour 1/6/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Forty-six people die every day in the U.S. after overdosing on prescription painkillers, causing some states to crack down.  Are tighter laws creating new problems?  Judy Woodruff gets views from Bob Twillman of the American Academy of Pain Management and Dr. Andrew Kolodny of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Each day, 46 people die in this country after overdosing on prescription painkillers.   In 2012 alone, the CDC says 259 million prescriptions were written for painkillers, enough to supply every American adult with a bottle of pills.

Now many states are pushing back, including New York, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, and Washington State.   Three of those states now require doctors to check a patient database before writing a prescription.   This year, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and Texas are also considering tighter laws.

But some physicians and patient advocates say this crackdown is creating new problems.

We get two views now.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny is the director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.  He’s also chief medical officer for the Phoenix House Foundation.  It’s a national nonprofit addiction agency.  Bob Twillman is the executive director of the American Academy of Pain Management and also a clinical psychologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center.  Mr. Twillman was caught in a traffic jam tonight.  He couldn’t make it to the studio, so he joins us by telephone.

EUROPE - The Falling Euro

"Eyes on Greek instability as Euro plunges to nine-year low – Part 1" PBS NewsHour 1/5/2015

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The value of the Euro plunged to a nine-year low against the dollar today, renewing fears in some quarters that the economic stability of Europe could be at risk.

Jeffrey Brown has our look at that.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  One reason for the Euro’s recent fall, all eyes are once again on economic and political instability in Greece.

Just weeks before the January 25 national election, Greece’s left-wing Syriza Party is ahead in the polls, and its leaders want to change the terms of a bailout deal, one that imposes extreme austerity, forged as a result of the country’s economic crisis.

But that move would likely anger the rest of the Euro group, leading to a possible split.

MAN (through interpreter):  Greece has to remain in the Euro and has to keep its promises and the signature that Greece has done.  So the Europeans, I think they are right.  Greece shouldn’t distance itself from Europe and shouldn’t get out of the euro.

MAN (through interpreter): I don’t believe our leaving the Euro would be that much of a problem. I think we’d be in the same mess. We’re at zero. It can’t get worse. We will try to work and make things better.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Will Greece go so far as to leave the German currency?

The German magazine “Der Spiegel” reported that, for her part, Chancellor Angela Merkel is — quote — “no longer afraid that a Greek exit could result in the collapse of the entire Eurozone.”

But, today, a government spokesman insisted that Germany’s stance has remained the same.

STEFFEN SEIBERT, German Government Spokesman (through interpreter):  Since the beginning, it has been the policy of the federal government and its European partners to stabilize and strengthen the Eurozone, meaning the Eurozone with all its members, certainly also including Greece.  This has not changed at all.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In the meantime, another reason for the euro’s fall, as Europe’s economy continues to struggle, the European Central Bank is widely expect to take new action to stimulate growth, along the lines of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing of recent years.


"Will falling euro end up boosting Europe’s economy? – Part 2" PBS NewsHour 1/5/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  One reason for the euro’s drop in value is the anticipation that the European Central Bank is going to enact some stimulus effort, along the lines of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing.  Jeffrey Brown learns more from Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard University.

Friday, January 09, 2015

LIE FACTORY - National Review Gets a San Diego School Wrong

"Fact Check:  Lincoln High’s Bad Rap" by Mario Koran, Voice of San Diego 1/7/2015

Statement:  “At one San Diego public charter school, assaults on campus involving mostly black and Hispanic students occur almost daily,” wrote Vicki E. Alger, an education researcher, in a story for the National Review (titled "Obama’s Two-Front War on Kids" to show where they lean).

Rating:  False

Analysis:  Lincoln High School’s reputation might be its worst enemy.

Since it reopened with a new campus in 2007, Lincoln has struggled to “rise like a phoenix,” as a former principal once put it, from a disappointing past.  The school has turned over leadership and hemorrhaged students.  Students struggled to raise their test scores higher than the district’s bottom rung.  Lincoln has been portrayed as a place that is simply unsafe to send kids.

A lot of those are valid concerns.  Numbers bear out the students who’ve struggled academically and those who have left the school.  But some of what’s attributed to the school simply isn’t accurate.

Last month, National Review published a story arguing that softening school discipline policies will likely result in more dangerous schools – places where black and brown students aren’t held accountable for bad behavior and assaults occur on a near-daily basis.

The article’s author, Vicki E. Alger, is a fellow with the Independent Institute, a non-partisan education think tank, and author of a forthcoming book on the history of the U.S Department of Education.

The thrust of her piece was that by focusing on racial disparities in school discipline rates, the federal government is implicitly discouraging schools from punishing black and Hispanic students.  Eventually schools give these students a pass for bad behavior, she argues, thus making them even more dangerous.

Here’s a section from the piece:

“Several California school districts that adopted similar quota-based discipline “remedies” are coping with increased violence.  At one San Diego public charter school, assaults on campus involving mostly black and Hispanic students occur almost daily.  Similar tales of chaos and violence are playing out in school districts from Los Angeles to Oakland, where minority students know they now have free reign to threaten and hurt others.  The worst consequence they may have to face is a meeting with a “restorative justice” counselor.”

In the story, Alger doesn’t name the San Diego charter school, but told me through an Independent Institute spokesman she was referring to Lincoln High School.

First, Lincoln isn’t a charter school – it’s a traditional public school.  So that’s a strike.

But putting that error aside, Alger passed along a few articles to support her claim that assaults occur at Lincoln on a near-daily basis.

One of those was a story from KPBS about rising crime at San Diego schools.  A former principal was quoted as saying that drugs, violence and gang activity were constant threats at Lincoln High.  That story, however, was published in 2010.

An editorial from Investor’s Business Daily claimed that Minnesota was adopting race-based discipline policies that looked a lot like state-sanctioned reverse racism.  Here’s how Lincoln was depicted in that story:

Take San Diego.  Just weeks after adopting similar racial discipline quotas, San Diego public schools have witnessed an explosion of violent assaults.

At its premier charter school, Lincoln High, students report daily fights now, mostly involving black kids.  In the past month, there have been several arrests, including one involving a butcher knife, according to local reports.  Victims have been hauled off by ambulance.

Again with the charter school claim.

Alger shared one more story, an Oct. 4 piece from Channel 10:   “Student:  Daily fights at Lincoln High School have created atmosphere of fear.”

The claim that assaults happen every day was attributed to one Lincoln sophomore, identified only by first name, whose face wasn’t shown on camera.

None of the three stories Alger shared with me to defend her claim included any actual statistics about assaults or fights happening daily at Lincoln High.  Anecdotes are one thing, but for Alger’s claim about near daily assaults to be true, the numbers should support it.

I asked the school district for data on assaults recorded at Lincoln so far this school year.  As of Dec. 17, there were 16 batteries and no assaults, the two categories the district generally uses for fights.

Sixteen cases of battery is a concern and worthy of exploration, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the claim that assaults occur on a near daily basis.  Alger’s story was published Dec. 3.  By then, there had been about 60 days of school, meaning that, at most, fights at Lincoln happen roughly every four days.

Even if you allow for fights Lincoln staff might have not been heard about or ones that happened off campus, the official number isn’t close enough to back Alger’s claim.

In this case, a national outlet seized on a narrative about a troubled school, and Lincoln was held out as a cautionary tale of what could go wrong when a district tries to recalibrate its approach to discipline.

The problem was, Alger’s facts weren’t sound.  She claimed assaults happened “almost daily” at a school later determined to be Lincoln High.  They don’t.  That makes her claim false.

Monday, January 05, 2015

OPINION - Shields and Gerson 1/2/2015

"Shields and Gerson on 2015’s foreign policy issues, Mario Cuomo’s legacy" PBS NewsHour 1/2/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss 2015’s most pressing foreign and domestic policy issues and the political legacy former New York Governor Mario Cuomo leaves behind.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  I wait and hope that we will have a debate on this subject (wars).

I mean, the Congress, both parties, has not forced the issue. I mean, this should be national policy.  What it has been in the sense is a delegation to the President.  You can delegate authority, but you can’t delegate responsibility.  And the responsibility under the Constitution is with the Congress.  It’s with the people.  We should have a national debate exactly on what we are willing to do.

We have had ouchless, painless wars, with tax cuts, for the past 15 years, and coffin after coffin has come back, and congressman after congressman and President after President has not gone to the funerals.  And Gold Star mothers are not comforted, except by letters and an occasional phone call.

And this is not a broadly shared sacrifice.  It’s a violation of the great American principle of the universality of shared sacrifice.  And that has been totally missing.  And we do need a debate on this.  And it’s been — it’s been dereliction of duty on the part of our leadership and on us, as a people, in not demanding it.

HUMAN SMUGGLING - Abandoned at Sea, Who's Responsible

"Who is responsible when a ship is abandoned at sea?" PBS NewsHour 1/2/2015

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SUMMARY:  A ship filled with refugees heading toward Italy was abandoned by its crew before making it to shore, the most recent case in an uptick in human smuggling.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International about why human smuggling has become such a lucrative business option and who is responsible when hundreds of migrants are left at sea.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  For more on this, I’m joined by Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International.  She has interviewed migrants who have made this dangerous journey.

So, why is it that they’re abandoning these migrants in the ships on the middle of these dangerous routes?

DARYL GRISGRABER, Refugees International:  It’s an easy way to make money, frankly.

People can be charged for the smuggling rates.  You get on the ship, you can take them out into the water.  And then, instead of having to risk getting them all the way to shore or being caught by a coast guard and being prosecuted, you can just leave and have the ship there.  And whatever happens happens, right, because of the idea that these people are victims and civilians, and so maybe things won’t be so bad for them.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, so and you said paid.  How much are people paying to get on these ships?

DARYL GRISGRABER:  It depends where you’re going from, but we have heard anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 U.S. dollars, depending on the length of the trip.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And that’s a lot money in that part of the world.

DARYL GRISGRABER:  It’s quite a lot of money, yes.

CANCER - Just Bad Luck?

"Luck, not lifestyle, may be to blame for more cancers than previously thought" PBS NewsHour 1/2/2015

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SUMMARY:  A combination of luck, hereditary and lifestyle choices have all been linked to cause cancer.  But a new study finds that luck, or random DNA mutation during cell division, is the primary factor behind more cancers than previously thought.  Jeffrey Brown speaks with Cristian Tomasetti of Johns Hopkins University about why this news supports healthy lifestyle choices more than ever, and how doctors and patients can use the study to protect against cancer.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  According to a new study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine published today in the journal “Science,” more cases of cancer than have commonly been thought can be primarily explained by random DNA mutations that occur during cell division, rather than by heredity, lifestyle choices, or environmental influences.

The study looked at 31 types of cancer, including leukemia, bone, testicular, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers.  Breast and prostate cancers were not included in the study.

Cristian Tomasetti is one of the authors of the report and a biomathematician at Johns Hopkins.  He joins me now from Baltimore.

Well, thank you for joining us.

It seems important, first, perhaps, to explain what you were looking at.  What does bad luck or chance mean when it comes to getting cancer?

CRISTIAN TOMASETTI, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:  Yes, what it means is that every time a cell, in particular a stem cell, the lonely stem cells, every time it divides, a random mutation can occur and can hit the DNA of this cell.

And if that mutation happens to be in a gene that is the key regulator and known to be associated with cancer, so let’s say a bad mutation, that may lead us to cancer.  So that’s what we meant for bad luck.

TRANSITIONS - That Was 2014 and What's to Come 2015

"What does 2014 promise for the year to come?" PBS NewsHour 12/31/2014

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SUMMARY:  What will history say about 2014?  As the year comes to a close, Hari Sreenivasan gets insight from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, Helena Andrews of The Washington Post, and Evan McMorris-Santoro of BuzzFeed, who take stock of 2014 and make predictions for next year.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Well, the fireworks and the champagne corks are already popping in other parts of the world, as 2014 leaves and 2015 arrives.  So what should we be expecting during the next 12 months?

We thought we’d ask.

Hari is back with the questions.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Every December 31, the world arrives at a time of reflection.  T.S. Eliot said next year’s words await another voice, though writer Robert Clark said that the new year is exactly the same as the old year just colder.

To find 2015′s voice and discuss if it will be really any different than 2014, we brought together Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent with “The Atlantic,” Helena Andrews of The Washington Post’s Reliable Source, and Evan McMorris-Santoro, White House correspondent for BuzzFeed.

So, let’s start with something we don’t talk about too much on the program, which is entertainment and really the consequences of the Sony hack.  We were talking about it a little bit off camera.  What do you think is going to be the sort of giant repercussion?  On the one side, we saw really how Sony executives think and talk about their actors behind closed doors.  And on the other side, we launched a movie without having 3,000 theaters, and it didn’t do so bad.



"What 2014 global conflicts and challenges will carry over into the new year?" PBS NewsHour 1/1/2015

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SUMMARY:  In 2014, ISIS, Boko Haram and Crimea became household names and Ebola re-entered the scene as a medical crisis.  Gwen Ifill speaks with Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, and David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee about this past year’s biggest global challenges, and what conflicts to expect in the coming year.