Friday, April 18, 2014

MINIMUM WAGE - Look at Seattle-Tacoma Airport Deal

"SeaTac airport workers fight exclusion from $15 minimum wage" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  We move now to the Pacific Northwest and part one of a Paul Solman series on the debate over raising the minimum wage.

Tonight, he has the latest on a story he first brought to our attention last fall.

It part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  A lot was at stake last November in SeaTac, Washington, home of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, as local citizens decided the fate of a proposition to jack up the minimum wage there to $15 an hour, for thousands of workers, the promise of a huge pay hike, 63 percent if they were making the state minimum of $9.19 an hour, plus paid sick leave, which promised to be a benefit for the flying public as well.

WOMAN: Every employee that I work with comes to work sick because they have to put food on the table.

ABDIRAHMAN ABDULLAHI, Employee, Sea-Tac’s Hertz Car Rentals:  Imagine you’re flying on an airplane.  The worker who clean up the airplane before you fly, he was sick and he’s cleaning the airplane, imagine you eating on that table, you know?

TERRORIZM - Homegrown Extremism

"Counterterrorism adviser on understanding and responding to homegrown extremism" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2014

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GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Boston, Fort Hood, Kansas City, Oklahoma City.  What happens when random mass violence strikes home?  What do we call it, and how do we prosecute it?

This week, Lisa Monaco, the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser, spoke out on that topic in a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School.  And she joins me now.

Welcome to the NewsHour again.

LISA MONACO, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism:  Hi, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL:  Today, the attorney general, Eric Holder, gave a speech at the observances in Kansas City, in which he talked about this kind of domestic terror as an affront to the nation.

Is it terrorism?

LISA MONACO:  Well, Gwen, I think what I talked about in Cambridge on the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings just a few days ago was that violent extremism has been with us in many forms, unfortunately even 19 years ago this week in Oklahoma City.

So, it comes in many forms.  And what we need to do is bring community efforts together to counter it.

GWEN IFILL:  I do want to talk about what the solutions are.  But also I think what we call it matters too, right?  You used the term attack on the homeland to describe the Boston Marathon bombings.  You’re a Boston native.  Obviously, it hit close.

That is particularly vivid language, but still not the T-word.

LISA MONACO:  Right.

Well, I think we can get caught up in labels.  I think, as the attorney general spoke out quite movingly, as you indicated, today in Kansas — and our hearts go out to the people of Overland Park.  They are investigating that matter and looking at it as a hate crime.

DETROIT - Revisiting a Bankrupt City

"After threats of painful cuts, Detroit moves closer to deal to protect pensions" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2014

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JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Nine months after it became the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy, Detroit is drawing closer to a deal on how to protect current and former city workers from deep pension cuts.

Until recently, officials had been warning of painfully large pension reductions.  The shift was announced yesterday, and, today, leaders of the retired police and firefighters group voted in favor of it.  Pensions for those retirees had faced a pension cut of up to 14 percent.  Under the new deal, they wouldn’t take a cut.  Other civilian workers faced a reduction that could have been as high as 34 percent.  That’s been scaled back to 4.5 percent.  Any action on pensions is being watched by other cities that confront huge debt.

And Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television is here to fill in the picture.

Welcome back to the program.

Christy McDonald, am I right that there were these dire warnings up until just a day or so ago that pension cuts could be enormous?

CHRISTY MCDONALD, Detroit Public Television:  Absolutely, Judy.

And that’s probably part of the negotiation process.  You don’t come to the table first with your best deal.  You have to start the negotiation.  And those negotiations have been coming fast and furious ever since the city put its first plan of adjustment on the table about a month or so ago, which really is the road map of how Detroit is going to get itself out of bankruptcy.

And so there’s been a lot of back and forth, but there’s also been a lot of moving parts in different aspects to deal to try to offset those pension cuts.  And it’s something called the grand bargain is what we’re calling it here in the city of Detroit.

What it is, is about $815 million that would help protect art at the DIA from being liquidated and sold to offset those pension cuts.  Some of that money would come from foundations and also the Detroit Institute of Arts itself, but $350 million of that would also come from the state.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Now, what turned this around, because there was a serious concern that the retirees were going to take a big hit?  What broke the dam?

CHRISTY MCDONALD:  Well, when you take a look at this entire process, no one is going to be happy at the end of a bankruptcy process.  No one is really going to win.

You know that the banks are going to take a severe haircut, but really the most vulnerable people of all in this entire process are those retirees, the people who worked for the city of Detroit and were promised a pension at the end of it, and it was actually protected by the state constitution.

Well, the bankruptcy judge said in the beginning — this is federal bankruptcy court — those pensions are going to be allowed to be touched.  So, everyone knew and was looking at this pension issues and the retirees, knowing that some sort of special protection would have to come towards them.  And so I think that you have people working at the state level.

My answer, big money wants to buy the elections by shouting out the individual voter.  Big money corrupts our election process.

"Why outside groups are pouring record amounts of money into this year’s midterm elections" PBS NewsHour 4/16/2014

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JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Last night was the deadline for political candidates, parties and some outside groups to report how much money they have raised and spent in the first three months of this election year.  One thing is clear:  Organizations not officially linked to the candidates are spending at record levels.

Combined, these outside groups have poured in more than $57 million so far this cycle.  That outpaces any election in American history at this calendar date, except the 2012 presidential election, which came on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling prohibiting restrictions on spending.

Now, a quarter of all this year’s money has been spent in just six states, where some of the key Senate races are playing out.  Overall, more money has been spent already in this election than the entire 2000 presidential election, and the races have barely just begun.

And here to talk about what all this means is Sheila Krumholz.  She’s the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.  It’s a research group that tracks money in U.S. politics.  And David Keating, he’s the president of the Center for Competitive Politics.  It’s a nonprofit organization that promotes deregulation of campaign finance.

BABY BOOMERS - Learn From 'Golden Girls' TV Show

"Taking cues from ‘Golden Girls,’ more single baby boomers are building a future together" PBS NewsHour 4/16/2014

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GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  It’s not uncommon for young adults to live with roommates in order to offset the high cost of housing.  But with one out of every three baby boomers now single and approaching retirement, some of them are returning to the communal living of their youth to ease the burdens of their golden years.

Special correspondent Spencer Michels reports for our Taking Care series.

WOMAN:  I thought maybe we would use the plastic ones for them.

SPENCER MICHELS (NewsHour):  Karen Bush and Louise Machinist like to plan together, everything from dinner parties to the breakdown of chores at their new condo in Sarasota, Florida, to projects at the shown they share with Jean McQuillin in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

WOMAN:  I will be hope April 4. And I will probably be there most of that upcoming week, so if there are things that I need to do…

SPENCER MICHELS:  The longtime friends now in their 60s have been coordinating their lives like this for the past 10 years.  Before that, like a growing number of female baby boomers, all three were divorced, living alone and unsatisfied with the size of their savings accounts as they neared retirement.

WOMAN:  Let’s tell the real story.  She cooks.  I do the dishes.

SPENCER MICHELS:  Combining resources, they decided, would make life cheaper, easier, and more fun.  Their relationship was easy to describe from the start.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CLIMATE CHANGE - Can the U.S. Take Its Head Out of the Sand?

"As another report urges action, how can U.S. overcome obstacles to effective climate policy?" PBS NewsHour 4/15/2014

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JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This week’s latest U.N. report on climate change warns of the urgent need for global action in the next five to 15 years, if countries want to ward off the worst impacts of rising emissions.

It also lays out numerous scenarios of what could be done.  But those options come with different costs, and in the U.S., there’s been opposition in Congress and often reluctance among much of the public to some big changes.

We look at the economic and political challenges with Robert Stavins.  He’s a lead co-author of the report.  He’s an environmental economist at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  And Maura Cowley, she’s the executive director of the Energy Action Coalition, which includes 30 youth-led groups.

And we thank you both for being with us.

Robert Stavins, let me start with you.

This report stresses the urgency of doing something now, implementing new policies.  Give us an example of a policy that the United States needs to implement in the near term.

ROBERT STAVINS, Harvard Kennedy School of Government:  Well, Judy, what’s become clear is that, for this country, for the United States, the only approach that conceivably would achieve meaningful emissions reductions, such as those that are talked about in the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, would be an economy-wide carbon pricing system.

That might be a cap-and-trade system, as has been denigrated, and obviously passed the House, but not the Senate, or it could perhaps a revenue-neutral carbon tax, but something that would be pervasive throughout the economy and send the right price signals.

OREGON - The Intergenerational Community

This bringing back the old cultural idea of extended family living, grandparents and children living together.  In this case, seniors and young interacting which helps both groups.

"Foster families find and share support with elders at Oregon housing community" PBS NewsHour 4/15/2014

Excerpts

SUMMARY:  At a special housing development in Oregon, families who adopt foster children live side by side with seniors who volunteer their time in exchange for affordable rent.  The NewsHour's Cat Wise reports how members of the intergenerational community find support and connection together.
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DERENDA SCHUBERT, Executive Director, Bridge Meadows:  One of the beautiful features of Bridge Meadows is that there’s reciprocity among the generations, so the elders are providing love and support to the families, and the families are doing the same, and even the children are giving back to the elders.

PULITZER - Award for Journalism, The Washing Post and The Guardian

"Pulitzer Prize renews debate over controversial NSA surveillance reporting" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Today’s Pulitzer award to The Washington Post and The Guardian renewed debate over journalism’s role and responsibility in reporting on domestic surveillance and national security.  The coverage was based on a trove of documents leaked by national security contractor Edward Snowden, who now lives in Russia to escape prosecution.

U.S. officials say Snowden’s revelations did real damage, while his defenders say he performed a public service.

Geneva Overholser joins me now.  She’s an independent journalist in New York and a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication, Leadership and Policy.  She also served on the Pulitzer Prize Board for nine years, part of that as its chairman.

Geneva, is the Pulitzer board basically settling the argument today by saying that they’re going to award this coverage?

GENEVA OVERHOLSER, Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, USC:  Well, I would say, Gwen, that the argument will not be over, at least in terms of many people’s continued discomfort with this reporting.

But I do believe this is an extremely powerful affirmation of this important work.

MYANMAR - The Transition From Isolation Part-2

"Will development overshadow Myanmar’s rich cultural history?" PBS NewsHour 4/15/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now part two of Jeffrey Brown’s look at Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma.

After years of turmoil, the military government is moving toward political reform.  But, as the country begins to open up to the outside world, there’s a new concern: how development could overshadow its architectural and archaeological past.

That’s the subject of Jeff’s report tonight, which also marks the beginning of a new series, one we call Culture at Risk.  We will explore the impact of war, climate change, neglect and more on cultural artifacts around the world.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  The afternoon rush hour in Yangon, as workers board water taxis for the commute home.

On the streets, food vendors serve tea and noodles.  Buddhist monks in their maroon robes are everywhere.  And the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda, hundreds of temples, statues and stupas, remains the country’s most important shrine.

Yangon, the city once known as Rangoon, is often said to be frozen in time, the result of a military regime that kept this country largely isolated from the outside world for more than 50 years.  But that’s changing now, and quickly, and a key question here is how to preserve something of the past while moving into a 21st century future.

MYANMAR - The Transition From Isolation Part-1

"Inside Myanmar’s transition from isolation to openness" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  In 2007, the world got a horrific peek inside the closed world of Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, as the military regime brutally crushed the Saffron Revolution, led by monks and students demanding political freedom.

In recent years, however, the government has signaled a new openness, promising democratic reforms, and proposing peace treaties with numerous ethnic groups in the country that have been at war with the government, in some cases since the end of World War II.

Jeffrey Brown recently traveled to Myanmar for a look.

Here’s the first of his reports.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It is a land long shrouded in mystery, kept isolated from the world for more than 50 years.

Now, as Myanmar begins to open up, its wonders and beauties become clearer, but so do its complexities and huge difficulties.  One place to see it all is here in Karen State in the southeastern part of the country, where signs of the past are a reminder of the tenuous political situation.

Not long ago, this was an area of violence, home to what was called the world’s longest-running civil war, as ethnic Karen people battled the central government for independence.  But there’s a cease-fire in place now, offering the potential for peace and a possible model for this long-closed-off country.

For these young girls, their faces adorned with the traditional tree bark cream that women here use as sunblock, that means the possibility of coming to Pa-An, Karen’s capital city, to attend a government-accredited school.

These are the children of rebels who long battled that same government.  And these girls have spent their entire lives in an internationally sponsored refugee camp on the nearby border with Thailand.

Monday, April 14, 2014

TECHNOLOGY - Switzerland, Solar-Powered Plane

"Solar-powered plane revealed in Switzerland" PBS NewsHour 4/13/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Following 12 years of research and testing, designers and pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg debuted a huge solar-powered plane in Switzerland this week.  The plane, which boasts a wingspan wider than a 747's, is covered in more than 17,000 solar cells.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 4/11/2014

"Shields and Brooks on Sebelius’ legacy, the 1964 Civil Rights Act" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss this week’s news, including the resignation of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and the health care law that defined her tenure, the anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and potential candidates for the 2016 presidential election.

EDUCATION - A Step Backward, States Rejecting Common Core Education

As if having a common standard to measure K-12 educations is bad.  Note that Common Core is NOT mandatory, states DO NOT have to adopt it whole-hog, which means it is state controlled.

The thing that is WRONG with Common Core is the tests and the link to education funding.  The test have long been seen NOT to measure progress of a individual child's education.  And the test should have never been linked to education funding.

"Facing bipartisan backlash, Oklahoma reconsiders Common Core education standards" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This month, Oklahoma became the latest state to take a big step toward repealing the Common Core education standards.  The Oklahoma State Senate passed a bill just last week to do so, this as more than a dozen other states are considering repeal, and still others are reviewing how they use the standards when it comes to teaching and testing.

It’s a big shift from the broad and often bipartisan support that Common Core enjoyed just a few years ago.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Common Core was initiated in 2009 by the nation’s governors, seeking national standards for math and English literacy.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supported the move, spending $350 million to develop Common Core tests.

ARNE DUNCAN, Secretary of Education:  I believe this new generation of assessment is an absolute game-changer for American education.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In relatively short order, nearly every state agreed to create curricula based on the Common Core guidelines.

But more recently, a backlash has begun.  Last month, Indiana became the first state to drop the Common Core standards it had already adopted.

Governor Mike Pence explained the move in an Indianapolis radio interview.

GOV. MIKE PENCE, R, Ind.:  Hoosiers should be very proud and take every opportunity to be engaged in the fact that we’re the first state in the country that’s really going back to the principle that education is a state and local function.

WALL STREET - Has the 'Bull Market' Finally Hit a Wall?

"Has the market rally in biotech and Internet stocks hit a wall?" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Wall Street extended its decline today following a major sell-off Thursday that included the single worst day for the NASDAQ since 2011.

The technology-heavy index has dropped more than 8 percent from the high it reached after the dot-com bust of 2000.  Today, the NASDAQ fell another 54 points to close below 4,000 for only the second time this year.  The Dow Jones industrial average lost 143 points to close at 16,026. And the S&P was down 17 at 1,855 — at 1,815, its lowest level in two months.

There are questions now about whether the long market rally may have hit a wall.

Hari Sreenivasan picks up on that and the specific concerns in tech and biotech.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  I am joined now by Hugh Johnson.  He’s a market analyst and runs his own investment management firm.

So, Hugh, first off, what’s happening with these tech stocks and, maybe more specifically, the biotech ones?

HUGH JOHNSON, Hugh Johnson Advisors:  Well, if you take a look at market history, you know, what we have had more recently, as Judy suggested, is right on.

FORENSICS - Shake-Up Caused by "The Real CSI" Report

"Shake-Up Inside Forensic Credentialing Org" by Leah Bartos, ProPublica 4/11/2014

This story was co-published with Frontline ("The Real CSI" includes full 53:41 video)

There's been a major shake-up in one of the largest organizations that certifies forensic experts.

The group, the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI), quietly put up for sale its forensic accounting division — one of its most prominent programs — prompting the unanimous resignation of that division's entire advisory board.  The volunteer accounting board oversaw ACFEI's certification program for experts in financial investigations.

The upheaval at ACFEI comes in the wake of a series of reports that have raised questions about the credibility of the organization's certification programs, notably the FRONTLINE/ProPublica joint investigation, The Real CSI, which examined the organization's rigor in certifying forensic experts.

Three of the board members who resigned say their efforts to bolster their division's credibility were being stymied.

"I don't think we were getting the support that we needed to carry out our duties.  And from an ethical standpoint, the right thing to do is leave your position when you can't do what you're basically hired to do," said Michael Kessler, a past chair of the accounting board and member of ACFEI since 1994.  Kessler and two other board members said they were never consulted about the sale and were left with no other choice but to resign in protest.

In a statement, ACFEI said it planned to spin off the forensic accounting program for reasons "related to organizational efficiency" and pledged to only sell it to a buyer that would maintain rigorous credentialing standards.

"The company can only develop excellence in so many directions at the same time and is transferring ownership of the credential to accounting professionals to further strengthen it," the statement said.

ACFEI offers certification courses in various other aspects of forensics, including nursing, social work and criminal investigation, and the group has also established related associations offering coursework in other disciplines, including psychotherapy and integrative medicine.  One of the associations, the American Board for Certification in Homeland Security, has garnered support from the U.S. Navy in recent years, which has paid more than $12 million for more than 10,000 sailors to obtain certifications from the ACFEI-affiliate since 2008.

It appears that troubles between ACFEI and the accounting division had been building for some time.

Last year, board members say they were surprised to learn that ACFEI had lost the rights to use a longstanding aspect of its brand, the acronym "Cr.FA" — which signifies Certified Forensic Accountant — as the result of a trademark lawsuit.

According to documents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, ACFEI had failed to actively defend its ownership of the title, and essentially let it slip away.

After discovering the loss of the trademark six months after the fact, board members rushed to advise hundreds of forensic accountants around the country to remove the acronym from resumes and business cards.  ACFEI did not respond to FRONTLINE's repeated requests for comment on the trademark litigation.

As FRONTLINE and ProPublica reported in The Real CSI, there are no national standards for forensic experts.  Credentials such as the ones offered by ACFEI are voluntary, but they are often relied upon as a shortcut to assess the credibility of an expert witness at trial.

"It's up to the judge whether a witness is qualified as an expert — which is true —but when you take a look at the dockets, they're jammed," said Suzanne Hillman, a CPA who often testifies in financial fraud cases in the Washington, D.C. area.  "You see certification, it gives you a little bit of a feeling of comfort."

Hillman said she sought ACFEI's Certified Forensic Accountant credential because, "I knew I had a wealth of experience and was seeking to add the credential that would, in essence, summarize that quickly."  Hillman also joined ACFEI's forensic accounting board, but resigned at the end of 2013, similarly disillusioned with the organization.

Hillman has since removed Certified Forensic Accountant from her title.

She believes the lack of regulation on certifying experts damages the entire justice system.  "To the judges, jurors and lawyers, I don't think the message has totally gotten out to them that there's problems with some of these credentials," Hillman said.

Jeannette Koger, vice president of member specialization and credentialing for the American Institute of CPAs said the lax standards also make it harder for people to know the quality of the experts they are hiring, often at a high price.

"This causes confusion in the marketplace and can potentially cause consumers great harm," Koger said in an email.  "If they receive unqualified or poorly qualified representation their expert can be challenged in the courtroom, resulting in an adverse judgment."

FACT CHECK - Obama's First Quarter Numbers

"Obama’s Numbers (April 2014 Update)" FactCheck.org 4/11/2014

Excerpt

Our statistical indicators include record corporate profits and millions flocking to Obamacare, along with stagnant wages and a doubled debt.

Report graphic says it all (use link above for full report):


Friday, April 11, 2014

CIVIL RIGHTS ACT - 50th Anniversary

"50 years on, honoring the Southern Democrat who spearheaded the Civil Rights Act" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 4/10/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Half a century ago, Lyndon Johnson signed landmark legislation outlawing discrimination based on race, ethnicity and sex.  At a summit honoring this chapter of Johnson’s legacy, President Obama applauded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for opening doors of opportunity for himself and other Americans, while former Presidents Clinton and Carter cautioned that challenges remain.  Gwen Ifill reports.



"How the Civil Rights Act pioneered anti-discrimination laws in America" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 4/10/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law 50 years ago.  Gwen Ifill examines its legacy and unfinished business with President Johnson’s daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb, Shirley Franklin, the former mayor of Atlanta, Ranjana Natarajan of the University of Texas School of Law, and former House Republican aide Robert Kimball.

EDUCATION - 6 Year Public School, Students Get High School AND Community Collage

"Students stick around for two years of college at innovative Brooklyn high school" PBS NewsHour 4/10/2014

Excerpts

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Our second education story is about a Brooklyn high school that has not yet graduated its first class, but it’s being closely watched for its approach to providing lower-income students with college tuition and the special skills to get a job — one of its distinct features, a lot more time in the classroom.

President Obama sang its praises again this week and announced two more schools like it will be opened.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story as part of our American Graduate project, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  When it comes to high school, should six years be the new four?  It is a question that Cletus Andoh has times to think about every day as he rides New York City subway from his home in the Bronx to his school in Brooklyn, a journey that takes him an hour-and-a-half each way.

Cletus is a junior at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH. P-TECH is a six-year public school where students like Cletus are expected to leave with a high school diploma and a two-year associate of applied science degree, basically finishing community college for free.
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HARI SREENIVASAN:  Giving students from low-income families the chance at free college tuition was the brainchild of a public-private partnership developed by IBM, the New York City Education Department, and the City University of New York.
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HARI SREENIVASAN:  IBM’s Stanley Litow, a former deputy schools chancellor for New York City, helped starts Brooklyn’s P-TECH in 2011, and has since overseen the creation of seven similar schools in New York and Chicago.

Students have longer school days, attend classes year-round, and get hands-on training in job skills that companies like IBM say their entry-level employees often lack.

NEW MEXICO - Police Accused of Unjustified Force

"Justice Department accuses Albuquerque police of ‘unjustified force’" PBS NewsHour 4/10/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The U.S. Justice Department today released a scathing report finding what it calls a pattern of unjustified force in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, Police Department.

Jeffrey Brown has that story.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  The report cites incidents dating back to 2010, 37 people shot by police, 23 of them fatally.  The most recent occurred just last month and was caught on videotape: the fatal shooting of James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man with a history of mental illness.

That led to a violent street protest against alleged police brutality.

Gene Grant is host of “New Mexico in Focus” on New Mexico Public Television.  He has been covering this story and joins us tonight from Albuquerque.

POLITICS - In the Dark

"What Newly Released Docs Tell Us About the IRS and How It Handles Dark Money Groups" by Kim Barker and Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica 4/9/2014

A GOP-led House committee voted Wednesday to seek criminal charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner, who used to run the IRS division in charge of tax-exempt groups.  In a party-line vote, the committee accused Lerner of unfairly targeting the applications of conservative groups and misleading the Treasury inspector general, which was auditing the IRS based on allegations of bias against conservative groups.

Though the committee referred Lerner to the Justice Department for prosecution, it will likely have little practical effect, as the Justice Department is already investigating the Internal Revenue Service and Lerner.  But the documents released by the committee do shed some light on the inner workings of the IRS's Exempt Organizations division and how it approached applications of social welfare nonprofits, also known as dark money groups because they spend money on elections without reporting their donors.  The influence of such groups has skyrocketed since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.

Here are the top five takeaways ProPublica found from the documents:

  • The IRS planned to deny the application of Crossroads GPS.

Crossroads GPS spent more than $90 million from unknown donors to elect conservatives in the 2010 and 2012 elections, far more than any other dark money group.  By the beginning of 2013, the IRS was planning to deny the group's application, the documents show.

After applying to the IRS in September 2010, Crossroads started spending, and campaign-finance watchdogs started complaining.  An IRS panel considered taking a deeper look at Crossroads twice — in November 2010 and June 2011 — but rejected the idea both times.  One reviewer in November 2010 said that Crossroads was a "for-profit entity," a mistake Lerner later wrote that she found "most disturbing."

By June 2012, the IRS created a spreadsheet on Crossroads to analyze the group's TV ad costs and track whether the ads were political or issue advocacy.  A description of the group's website in an IRS spreadsheet said it "appears to be an anti-Obama Administration website; however there are educational materials on site."

In late 2012, Crossroads' application was released to ProPublica in response to a public-records request — even though it wasn't supposed to be made public.  The application showed that Crossroads told the IRS that its political spending "will be limited in amount."

The IRS received 25 referrals on Crossroads GPS between 2010 and 2012, the documents show — a referral is a complaint about a nonprofit, and can include a formal request for investigation or simply a news article.

On Jan. 2, 2013, an IRS spokeswoman, Michelle Eldridge, emailed Lerner and other IRS officials about questions from ProPublica over Crossroads' application.  "I recommend that we just let this one sit and wait out the deadline," she wrote.

In an email two days later, Lerner wrote that she had read through allegations from campaign finance watchdogs about Crossroads, adding that they "were really damning."

By Jan. 9, 2013, the IRS was drafting a denial letter to Crossroads, the documents show.  There was no more significant action until May 2, 2013, when a call was made to discuss the "draft denial letter."

Then on May 8, 2013, documents indicate that the IRS was also looking at "the draft denial of a similar case."

From May 13 until May 17, 2013, the IRS continued "working on draft of letter."  By May 30, 2013, the first working draft of the denial was finished and sent for review.

But by that point, the IRS had come under scrutiny for revelations that it had targeted Tea Party groups for extra review.  There's no proof that the letter to Crossroads was ever sent.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, Crossroads GPS President Steven Law said the group was still waiting to hear final action from the IRS on its application.  Like the House Ways and Means Committee, Law accused Lerner of improperly singling out Crossroads for extra review.

"Crossroads GPS submitted its application to the IRS for formal recognition of its non-profit status when the group was formed in 2010," Law said.  "It is now apparent that Ms. Lerner was directly and improperly involved in targeting our application, which may explain why we are still awaiting final action."

Meanwhile, Lerner's lawyer, William Taylor, said that Lerner had done nothing wrong.  "She did not interfere with the rights of any organization to a tax exemption," he said in a statement.

  • The IRS also planned to deny the applications of other conservative groups that had spent on elections after telling the IRS they wouldn't do so.

Crossroads GPS wasn't the only dark money group facing denial before the IRS controversy blew up.

In response to a public-records request in late 2012, the IRS had also sent ProPublica the pending applications for five other conservative social welfare nonprofits that had told the IRS that they wouldn't spend money on politics but then did so.  The groups were Americans for Responsible Leadership, Freedom Path, Rightchange.com II, America Is Not Stupid and A Better America Now.

ProPublica wrote about the groups on Jan. 2, 2013. Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to the acting IRS commissioner at the time, forwarded the story to Lerner and two other IRS officials on the afternoon it was published in an email with the subject line, "latest article."

The same day, Lerner asked to set up a meeting to talk about the groups' applications.

The Ways and Means Committee found that four of the five groups had been subjected to heightened scrutiny, and three were audited, though it's not clear which ones.  The IRS recognized both America Is Not Stupid and A Better America Now last year.  Americans for Responsible Leadership was also recognized in October 2013 — despite spending almost $10 million on elections in 2012 and paying a record-breaking fine in California for violations of election laws.

In January 2013, Lerner also indicated more social welfare nonprofits would be denied.  On Jan. 31, she emailed the chief of the IRS office of appeals, saying that in the next few months her office believed appeals would "get a lot of business" regarding denials of social welfare applications.

"I told them (the appeals group) this is a place where we have worked very hard to be consistent and have all our cases worked by one group, and suggested they (sic) might want to do something similar," Lerner wrote, adding that her office was being audited because of allegations of political bias in these cases.  "If I were you, this is definitely something I'd want to be aware of and have a high level person overseeing and reporting regularly (sic) to me.  You were in TEGE (the Tax Exempt/Government Entities division) long enough to understand how dangerous what we do can be."

The documents included spreadsheets of the application status of various groups, including one providing aid in Pakistan and another trying to set up a medical marijuana dispensary as a charity.  One spreadsheet indicated that a Tea Party group could be approved as a social welfare nonprofit but not as a charity.

But of all the groups listed in a 2011 spreadsheet as being flagged for review, only Emerge America and its affiliates ended up being denied.  Those groups trained Democratic women to run for office.

  • The IRS really is not equipped to police elections — and knows it.

In the documents Wednesday, Lerner acknowledges how poorly the IRS monitors these groups, which are allowed to spend money on elections as long as they can justify they primarily work to benefit the community at large.

At one point, on Jan. 7, 2013, she wrote an email complaining that the IRS was not following up with groups that hadn't filed their tax returns, or Form 990s.  She wrote that if the IRS only opened audits on groups that filed tax returns, "that's a big hole in the system."

"Then you have newspapers telling us what the orgs (sic) are doing, but we never look," she wrote.  "If the org has been around log (sic) enough to owe us a 990 and they aren't filing to hide what they are alleged to have done, it should be our job to go out and get the 990 and then determine whether the allegations — that are very strong — are true."

"My level of confidence that we are equipped to do this work continues to be shaken," she wrote in another email.  "I don't even know what to recommend to make this better."

Officials from two campaign-finance watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, said Wednesday that they had met with Lerner and other IRS officials in early January 2013 over their allegations that several social welfare nonprofits, including a liberal group and a nonpartisan one, were overly political.  They said Lerner refused to talk about individual taxpayers.

"We left the meeting extremely frustrated because neither Ms. Lerner nor her colleagues revealed anything," said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center.  "I would use the word 'frustrated' in general in our attitude toward the IRS."  He later added, "The IRS hasn't done anything" to enforce restrictions on political spending with these groups.

  • Most new liberal groups don't apply to the IRS.

Social welfare nonprofits don't have to be recognized by the IRS, because donations to them are not tax-deductible.  They just have to incorporate as social welfare nonprofits in their state of choice.

Conservative groups typically have applied for recognition anyway, possibly because their donors want the IRS seal of approval.

One of the most active liberal dark money groups, Patriot Majority USA, has been recognized by the IRS.  But other liberal groups have taken advantage of the loophole.  Often, they incorporate, never apply to the IRS, spend money on elections and then fold after filing a tax return or two.

The newly released documents show that one of the most prominent liberal dark money groups, Priorities USA, never applied to the IRS for recognition.

Liberal dark money groups have been much less active in elections than conservative ones since the Citizens United decision.  About 85 percent of the anonymous money spent in 2010 and 2012 came from conservative groups.  Priorities USA, despite being run by top liberal operatives, reported spending nothing on federal elections in 2012.

  • Lerner may have considered applying to work at a leading liberal social welfare nonprofit.

On Jan. 24, 2013, she emailed two senior IRS officials, asking if Organizing for Action — the nonprofit formed from the leftovers of President Barack Obama's campaign organization — had applied for IRS recognition.

One of the officials, Holly Paz, told Lerner she wasn't sure.

Another IRS official, Sharon Light, said she thought it likely that OFA would follow Priorities USA's path and not apply.  "But maybe not," she added.  She noted that while OFA would be run from Chicago, it would also have a Washington office.

"Oh — maybe I can get the DC office job!"  Lerner emailed back.

It is unclear whether she was joking.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

AMERICA - Race Intolerance, Looking Back 75yrs

"Marian Anderson’s inspiring performance in the face of intolerance echoes 75 years later" PBS NewsHour 4/9/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Marian Anderson, the legendary African-American contralto, sang at the Lincoln Memorial exactly 75 years ago after she was refused a performance at Washington’s Constitution Hall.  On Wednesday, young people gathered to commemorate Anderson’s effort to strike out against racism through the power and beauty of her voice.  Jeffrey Brown reports.

ZOOLOGY - Rescuing Baby Animals From Their Mothers

"When baby animals must be rescued from their own mothers" by Rebecca Jacobson, PBS NewsHour 4/9/2014

Excerpt

Stacey Tabellario and Mindy Babitz are like many new mothers.  They are with the baby every second she’s awake.  They watch her on a monitor while she sleeps.  They prepare bottles, talk to her and carry her and get little sleep themselves.

But the baby is a sloth bear (think Baloo from “The Jungle Book”), the only one of its kind born in captivity in the United States this year.  And she is in Tabellario and Babitz’s care for a reason that’s simple and hard to dispute:  when she was born, her mother ate her siblings.

“Now we’re mom,” said Tabellario one of the six zookeepers caring for the cub.  “It’s an amazing experience, and we’re learning a lot, but there is still that bittersweet tone to it, because we all know that the first choice for any animal is to be raised by their mother.”

At first, zookeepers were thrilled when Khali, named for the Hindu goddess of destruction from the bears’ native India, gave birth to three cubs, an unusually large litter for a sloth bear.

But the first was stillborn.  She consumed that cub immediately.  A week later, she ate the second and began neglecting the third.

Tabellario says Khali’s reaction was normal, even healthy for a mother bear.

“It sounds very shocking, but it’s not something that shocks us as keepers.  That’s the natural history of carnivores.”

It sounds counterintuitive to evolution, but infanticide in the wild is well-documented, said Doug Mock, professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma and author of a book on the subject.  Animal parents have limited resources to dedicate to their offspring, he said, and if the baby is sick or weak, carnivores have been known to consume babies or abandon them.  Cannibalism gives the mother the calories she needs to raise her healthy babies or get pregnant again.

That may have been the case for Khali, Tabellario said.  A necropsy of her second cub revealed that the cub had a parasite in its intestines, which Khali may have sensed.  When the keepers pulled the surviving cub from the den, she was ill too.

Sometimes it’s the mother or father that kills; sometimes it’s the siblings.  Mock remembers watching a group of egret chicks peck their sibling to death, while their mother stood idly by, cleaning her feathers.

“It’s the most startling thing I’ve ever seen in the field,” he said.  “I literally sat and watched and thought, ‘Any second, the parents will step in and stop this.’”

When asked him how he felt witnessing this behavior:  “My soul died,” he said.

Mock has seen birds push their chicks from the nest, abandon them, even starve them.  In the animal kingdom, he says, infanticide is not about pathology.  It’s about ensuring that the strongest offspring survive.

“It’s one of the less pleasant aspects of nature, something humans don’t like to think about.  You want to think of nature as warm, cuddly and fuzzy,” he said.  “We assume that other species look at offspring the same way we look at offspring…  To us it seems as if (infanticide) must be some sick kind of thing, but it isn’t necessarily.”

Infanticide can be accidental, too, said Susan Margulis, associate professor of biology at Canisius College.

“The thing that people don’t realize is that most young animals die.  Most die when they’re in infancy.  Animals mostly raise two babies to adulthood.  It’s just more noticeable in zoos,” she said.

That’s because motherhood has a learning curve, she said, and it doesn’t come to all animals naturally the first time.  She worked with primates in zoos, and found that new mothers must learn how to nurse their young, and how to properly care for them.

“I’ve seen primate mothers that were good enough, but not great.  Sometimes good enough is okay,” she said.  “That first breeding attempt is a learning experience.  You almost have to assume it’s not going to go well.  In evolution, that very well could have been the case for humans ancestors as well.”  She added, “Even human mothers need to work out details of how to do this new job that they may not have any experience with.”

Zoos can’t always wait for mothers to figure it out.  That was the case for Ally, a cheetah at the National Zoo.  This winter she gave birth to a litter of four cubs.  At first, keepers breathed a sigh of relief, said Copper Aitken-Palmer, chief veterinarian at the National Zoo.  The new cheetah mom was nursing and grooming her cubs normally.  But three weeks later, zookeepers noticed that Ally was carrying her cubs in and out of the den more than normal.  The cubs became lethargic, but Ally continued to pace with them.

Adrienne Crosier, who manages the cheetah breeding program at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, says the keepers typically leave cubs with their mothers for as long as possible, but something was clearly wrong.

“She was carrying them because she was nervous and agitated, and we do see a lot of very nervous behavior in first-time cheetah moms,” she said.  “It was kind of a difficult situation because every time we tried to treat them it made Ally more agitated, which then made her want to carry them more, which then exasperated the injuries.”

Ally had bitten down on the scruffs of their necks too roughly, causing deep wounds which had become infected, Aitken-Palmer said.  She estimates the zoo had a few hours to save the cheetah cubs.  On Christmas Day, keepers made the decision to take the cubs away from Ally.

“She went from a nervous mom to inadvertently doing mortal damage to these cubs,” Aitken-Palmer said.  “We pretty quickly figured out that these cubs weren’t going back to their mom.  And they may not make it at all.  They were septic with very low glucose, which is blood sugar.  The female actually came in seizuring, her blood sugar was so low.  Frankly, I’ve not turned around a lot of neonates that were in that condition.”

One of the cubs died.  The other three underwent three major surgeries each and hundreds of stitches over the following weeks.  The cubs weren’t weaned, so they still needed milk and multiple feedings every day.

When animal mothers neglect or try to kill their own young in captivity, hand-rearing is one option, Margulis said, one that zoos utilize less than they did 30 years ago.  Though in some cases, animal parents are so notoriously neglectful or the species is so rare, hand-raising becomes the first option.

MEDICARE - Newly Released Data Raises Concern on Doctor Payouts

"Medicare data raises fresh questions about concentrated payout for few doctors" PBS NewsHour 4/9/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  An unprecedented release of data today is putting a new spotlight on what doctors are paid in the long-running battle over how to trim the nation’s health care spending.  The data, the first of its kind released by Medicare, offers a rare look at how $77 billion was paid by the government to 880,000 providers in 2012.

Among the key findings, just 3 percent of doctors and medical providers received at least one-quarter of all those payments.  News analyses also showed Medicare paid nearly 4,000 doctors and providers more than $1 million apiece that year.  The release of the data has long been the subject of an argument among consumer groups, watchdogs and doctors’ trade groups.

We look closer now at what the initial analyses showed with Shannon Pettypiece.  She reports for Bloomberg News.  And Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, she’s the president of the American Medical Association, which had long opposed the release of this data.

SECURITY - Heartbleed Hacks WEB Security Servers

Heartbleed hacks into the SSL protocol that protects HTTPS sites.

"Security bug Heartbleed could have provided key that unlocks personal online data" PBS NewsHour 4/9/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  You may have heard headlines today about a major lapse in Internet security and the possibility that millions of passwords, credit card numbers, bank information, and commonly used Web sites could have been exposed.

It involves a bug or security leak called Heartbleed, which can be used to read encrypted information.

Hari Sreenivasan gets a breakdown on what you need to know.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Essentially, Heartbleed can be used to read the memory of computer servers, the places behind a Web site that store your information, including the lock and key system which protects your usernames and passwords.

You probably see this encryption in the form of a green lock when you conduct a transaction and exchange information.  The breach was revealed this week, but apparently has existed for a long time.

Russell Brandom of The Verge, an online site covering tech news, is here to help explain.

BROOKLYN - Righting an Injustice

"Brooklyn DA Moves to Free Man after Long-Buried Evidence Surfaces" by Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica 4/7/2014

Jonathan Fleming has served more than 24 years in prison for a 1989 murder.  Now it has emerged that law enforcement had evidence all along showing he was in Florida at the time of the shooting.

At a hearing tomorrow in Brooklyn Supreme Court, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson is expected to consent to the release of Jonathan Fleming, who has served more than 24 years in prison for a murder that an emerging pile of evidence suggests he did not commit.

The dramatic turn reverses years of steadfast opposition from the District Attorney's Office, which vigorously fought Fleming's appeals for two decades.

Even after extensive exculpatory evidence surfaced during a joint review by former District Attorney Charles "Joe" Hynes' Conviction Integrity Unit and Fleming's attorney, Anthony Mayol, efforts to free Fleming appeared to have stalled.

"It's an amazing feeling for everyone involved," Mayol said of Fleming's sudden impending release.  "We spoke to [Fleming] before it was officially confirmed, and to the extent he believes it's going to happen he is elated, overjoyed, and relieved.  He is beside himself with happiness."

A spokesperson for the Brooklyn District Attorney's office confirmed that Fleming, 51, would likely be released tomorrow, but declined further comment.

That will effectively bring the case against Fleming to a close.  According to a source in law enforcement, Thompson intends to dismiss charges against Fleming "in the interest of justice."

Fleming's quest to prove his innocence got a boost from Taylor Koss, the former deputy chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit, who agreed to help with Fleming's exoneration effort late last year.  Koss was also a central figure in Hynes' decision to release David Ranta, an unemployed printmaker wrongly convicted of killing a Brooklyn rabbi in 1990.

Over the last year, investigators for Fleming and the unit discovered a range of evidence casting doubt on Fleming's guilt and supporting his long-held assertion that he was in Orlando, Fla., visiting Disneyworld with his family when 22-year-old Darryl "Black" Rush was shot to death on August 15, 1989.

Investigators found a receipt showing that Fleming had paid a phone bill at a hotel in Florida just hours before the murder took place; an Orlando police report confirmed that several hotel employees remembered Fleming being there.

The team also found evidence supporting the claim that a key witness had only agreed to testify against Fleming to avoid criminal prosecution, unearthing a command log from the 90th Police Precinct showing the witness had been arrested prior to Fleming's trial.

None of that material was turned over by prosecutors at Fleming's original trial in the summer of 1990.  Asked about the phone receipt, a detective testified that he had "no recollection" of it.

In an interview with ProPublica, Koss said he was "disgusted" when he learned that prosecutors hadn't turned over the phone bill receipt, especially given that Fleming's defense attorney had specifically asked for it.

The push to free Fleming appeared to gain crucial momentum last November, when a member of Hynes' conviction integrity unit traveled to South Carolina with Fleming's private investigators to speak with a man suspected of being the getaway driver.  Not only did he tell them that Fleming wasn't involved in the shooting, he also implicated another man.

"It was an amazing day," said Kim Anklin, a private investigator for Fleming.

But that very night, Hynes lost his bid for re-election, raising concerns that he wouldn't make a decision on what to do with the new evidence before leaving office.  The next month, the head of the Conviction Integrity Unit resigned, telling Fleming's attorneys that the decision on whether to release Fleming had would rest with Hynes.  Hynes never acted, however, effectively punting the decision to Thompson.

As months passed in silence, Fleming's attorneys grew frustrated with Thompson, complaining that he had not communicated how the District Attorney's office would proceed.  On Monday, Mayol said his annoyance with the process had given way to joy.

"The disappointment in the delay goes out the window when you know that your client is going to be vindicated and set free," Mayol said.  "He's waited a long time for this and the paramount focus for me is him getting out."

Fleming has acknowledged that at the time of the shooting he was a drug dealer in Williamsburg.  He had a criminal record, but he always maintained he had nothing to do with Rush's murder.

At Fleming's original trial, the prosecution's case was based primarily on testimony from a single witness who said she had seen the crime and fingered Fleming as the shooter.

Fleming's defense attorney countered with several pieces of evidence to argue that Fleming was in Florida at the time, including plane tickets and video footage of his client enjoying time with his family there.  Several relatives who accompanied Fleming on the trip testified on his behalf.  Fleming's uncle said he picked him up from the airport when he returned on August 16, 1989.  The murder took place at approximately 2:15 a.m. on August 15.

But the assistant district attorney who handled the case, James Leeper, pointed out that there was no footage of Fleming in Florida on August 15, and it was possible that Fleming could have flown to New York, shot the victim, and then flown back to Florida.  Fleming's defense attorney stipulated to that being a possibility, even though Leeper had no evidence proving it.

Not long after Fleming was convicted in July 1990, the eyewitness recanted, saying she only testified because she was threatened with jail time if she didn't cooperate.  Judge Albert Koch, who presided over the trial and the initial appeal, didn't believe the recantation, however, and affirmed Fleming's conviction.

Fleming has filed numerous appeals since then, but each was defeated by the District Attorney's office.

Last week, in preparation for a hearing later this month, Mayol and Koss sent a letter to the New York State Board of Parole that laid out all of the exculpatory evidence, including sworn statements from new witnesses implicating another shooter.

In the last three years, the parole board has granted parole to at least two other Brooklyn men based on newly discovered evidence.

That won't be necessary for Fleming.

"Thank goodness we don't have to go to the parole board," Koss said.  "To me this was never about getting him paroled, this was about getting a consent to release, this was about getting the indictment dismissed, not 'you are a convicted felon out on parole, but you are an innocent man.'"

BANKING - Tougher Regulations on Limiting Risks

Gee... what a 'unique' idea.  Banks taking less risk with OUR money.  Lets not forget where banks get their money.

"Banks Ordered to Add Capital to Limit Risks" by PETER EAVIS, New York Times 4/8/2014

Excerpt

Federal regulators on Tuesday approved a simple rule that could do more to rein in Wall Street than most other parts of a sweeping overhaul that has descended on the biggest banks since the financial crisis.

The rule increases to 5 percent, from roughly 3 percent, a threshold called the leverage ratio, which measures the amount of capital that a bank holds against its assets.  The requirement — more stringent than that for Wall Street’s rivals in Europe and Asia — could force the eight biggest banks in the United States to find as much as an additional $68 billion to put their operations on firmer financial footing, according to regulators’ estimates.

Faced with that potentially onerous bill, Wall Street titans are expected to pare back some of their riskiest activities, including trading in credit-default swaps, the financial instruments that destabilized the system during the financial crisis.

In that respect, some regulators and advocates for tougher financial regulation said, the new rule is a more straightforward tool that will be harder to evade and easier to enforce than many of the new regulations covering the sprawling, complex businesses of banking.  Capital is important to banks because it acts as a buffer for potential losses that might otherwise sink an institution.

“It’s real, it’s tangible, it makes a difference, and improves the banks’ loss absorbing capacity,” said Sheila C. Bair of the Pew Charitable Trusts and a former chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a bank regulator.  “Many of the other rules are about controlling behavior, but there is only so much behavior you can control.”

The banks and the shareholders have had time to brace for the rule, which was originally proposed in July.  It is also scheduled to take effect at the start of 2018, giving the banks considerable time to adapt and raise capital.

The F.D.I.C., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve wrote the rule.  But tensions among the agencies increased when William C. Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, raised the concern that the new rule could complicate the Fed’s efforts to conduct monetary policy.  In the final rule, however, regulators said that they expected the impact on monetary policy to be limited.

“Banks with stronger capital positions are in a better position to lend, to compete favorably in any market and to achieve satisfactory results for investors,” Thomas M. Hoenig, vice chairman of the F.D.I.C., and a firm proponent of the rule, said in a statement.  “Without sufficient capital, the opposite is true.”

As regulators approved the rule, they also proposed a crucial adjustment that would most likely make the rule tougher for firms with large Wall Street businesses.  The regulators said that they expected that adjustment to be part of the rule by 2018, but banks are certain to lobby against it, as they did with the main rule.  The financial industry contended that it was blunt and, in many ways, unnecessary.

HEALTH - More Tools to Pick Your Doctor

"Beyond Ratings: More Tools Coming to Pick Your Doctor" by Charles Ornstein, ProPublica 4/8/2014

For years, patients have had few ways to compare doctors beyond their reputations. With a huge Medicare data release this week, that may soon change.

This story was co-published with Los Angeles Times.

This week, the federal government is planning to release a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, plans to post on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid.

This new trove of data, which covers 880,000 health professionals, adds to a growing body of information available to patients who don't want to leave picking a doctor to chance.  But to put that information to good use, consumers need to be aware of what is available, what's missing and how to interpret it.

So, what's out there?

As it stands, patients can go to websites such as Yelp or Healthgrades to read reviews of their doctors submitted by other patients.  They can go to the websites of state medical boards to find out whether a doctor has faced disciplinary action.  If they're really adventurous, they can seek out lawsuit filings.

At its website, ProPublica maintains a database (Dollars for Docs, link below) on which patients can check whether their doctors have received payments or gifts from any of more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies.  Another ProPublica database (Prescriber Checkup, link below) allows patients to look at which medications a doctor has prescribed to patients in Medicare's prescription drug program.  The data enables patients to compare doctors with their peers, seeing if they have unusual practices or conflicts of interest.

This fall, under a little-debated part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will release data on personal, promotional and research payments to doctors from all pharmaceutical and medical device companies.  Armed with this information, patients will be able to at least ask whether their doctors have prescribed a drug because it is the best one for their patients — or because of a financial relationship.

It's important to remember, though, that data can sometimes be misleading.  There's a big difference between, say, a hospice doctor giving almost every patient a narcotic and a podiatrist doing the same thing.

As my colleagues and I at ProPublica learned, seeming anomalies are sometimes easily explained.  One Alaska nurse practitioner, for example, appeared to write an excessive number of orders for antipsychotics.  But when we reached her to ask why, she told us that she wrote prescriptions for only a few days at a time to monitor patients' responses.  Her explanation was borne out in the data.

These new tools all have limits.  They won't tell you whether one doctor's patients are sicker than another's and need different therapies.  They won't tell you about a doctor's bedside manner or willingness to return a phone call at 3 a.m.  They won't tell you about a doctor's surgical skill.

It's also far from certain whether patients will embrace the tools.  Currently, an array of information is available about hospitals and nursing homes, but it's unclear that it has made much of a difference in where patients seek care.  Some people would simply prefer to make decisions the old-fashioned way, relying on community networks rather than data.

Still, our experience in making data available suggests lots of people are eager to use this information to drive healthcare choices.  Millions have visited our Prescriber Checkup and Dollars for Docs news applications.

Moreover, despite grumbling from the American Medical Association and others in the medical establishment, the healthcare system has not collapsed because patients are learning more about their providers.

We're still a ways off from having enough information to do an overall comparison of the quality of care from one physician to another.  But Medicare should be applauded for its new release of data, and it should continue to do more.  It should also encourage private insurers and other public programs to follow suit.

Access to information is crucial if patients are to have any hope of answering that most basic of questions:  How does my doctor practice medicine?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

EPIDEMIC - West Africa, Deadly Ebola is Back

"Unprecedented Ebola outbreak crosses borders in West Africa" PBS NewsHour 4/8/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Several countries in West Africa are now coping with the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in years.  The World Health Organization describes it as one of the most challenging episodes of the disease it’s ever faced.  More than 100 people have died so far.

Ebola, which is spread by a virus initially transmitted from wild animals, has a high fatality rate.

Jeffrey Brown has more on the struggle to contain it.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  One of the concerns is that Ebola has crossed borders.  Guinea is where the outbreak began and was first made public in March.  More than 100 deaths and 150 cases have been reported there.

Another troubling aspect:  The disease has turned up in a wide area, from tropical forests to the capital of Conakry to the Liberian border.   In Liberia, investigators believe there are at least 10 deaths.  Health officials are now investigating possible cases in both in Mali and Ghana.

And more than 60 percent of infected people so far have died.

Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations has tracked outbreaks in the past as a journalist and author of several books on global health and disease.  She joins us now.

SPORTS - Should Student Athletes be Treated Like Pros?

"How should colleges address conflicts between academics, athletics and money?" PBS NewsHour 4/8/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  More than 21 million viewers tuned into last night’s NCAA men’s championship basketball game, a heady moment for the University of Connecticut fans, but also coming at a point when schools are facing new pressures about how they balance competing interests among athletics, academics and money.

Jeff is back with that story.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  March Madness spilling over into April, a time when millions enjoy the thrills of college sports.

Last night, confetti filled the air of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, after the University of Connecticut beat Kentucky for the men’s basketball championship.  Tonight, the UConn women have their turn at a title tonight against Notre Dame, in a first-ever battle of unbeatens.

But amid the on-court excitement, a national debate grows over big-time college sports and the status and role of what are called student athletes.  One potentially ground-shifting decision came last month, when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players have the right to unionize.

The team’s former quarterback Kain Colter led the push.  He told the Aspen Institute last week that most college athletes, who don’t go pro, need protection.

AFGHANISTAN - Critical Elections 2014

"Lack of election violence, high voter turnout in Afghanistan is ‘fantastic slap’ to Taliban" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 4/7/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Despite the escalation of deadly strikes in the lead up to the election in Afghanistan, long lines formed at polling places in Kabul and ballots came by the truckload from far reaches of the country.  As officials continue their hand-count of votes, chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner reports on the three frontrunners who may be named the next president.



"Why Afghans felt their vote for president mattered in 2014" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 4/7/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner joins Gwen Ifill for a closer look at the historic 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan, including the role of Afghan security forces in keeping polling safe, rumors of voting fraud, whether the United States favors a candidate, as well as what distinguished this election for average citizens.

ECONOMY - Switzerland's Better Idea, Guaranteed Basic Income

"Idea of paying citizens a yearly stipend is gaining support in Switzerland" PBS NewsHour 4/7/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Republicans and Democrats are likely to spend much of this midterm election year debating the virtues of the federal government, particularly when it comes to addressing income inequality.  But it turns out that one big idea for changing how the government provides financial assistance may have appeal to some on the left and the right.

It’s a minimum level of government payments known as guaranteed basic income.  And while it’s not exactly in the mainstream yet, the idea is gaining traction, as our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, found out, part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  In Switzerland last fall, activists dumped eight million coins outside Parliament, one for each Swiss citizen.  Their cause?  A guarantee that every citizen get a yearly income of 30,000 Swiss francs, about $34,000, whether they work or not.


ALSO SEE:

"Will a guaranteed income ever come to America?" by Felix Oberholzer-Gee, PBS NewsHour 4/7/2014

Monday, April 07, 2014

AMERICA - Quality Jobs Gained

"What’s the quality of the jobs gained in March?" PBS NewsHour 4/6/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  NewsHour takes another look tonight at the latest unemployment report.  Bloomberg Senior Economist Nela Richardson speaks with Hari Sreenivasan about whether the the jobs counted as recovered of the same quality as those lost in the Great Recession.  Richardson says BLS analysis shows that nine of ten jobs gained in March paid less that the of $44,000 per year.

SATURN - The Moon Enceladus Has Water

"New report shows water on Saturn’s moon" PBS NewsHour 4/6/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  A report published this week in Science magazine offered new remarkable details about the presence of water on one of Saturn’s moons.  It once again stirred talk about the possibility of life elsewhere in our solar system.  For more, we are joined from Los Angeles by David Stevenson of the California Institute of Technology.  He co-authored the article.

So tell us about this moon, Enceladus.  You knew about it, quite a bit about it before.  Tell us what you found and how did you find it?

DAVID STEVENSON, California Institute of Technology:  So we knew already that Enceladus has geysers.  Water coming out of cracks near the south pole.  But we didn’t know what was beneath the surface.  What we’ve now done by tracking the Cassini spacecraft, which is in orbit around Saturn, is figure out that there must be excess mass underneath the ice at the south pole.  And water will do that because water is more dense than ice.  This is an ocean that is about the size of Lake Superior, perhaps even larger and it is about 10 kilometers thick.  So it’s a lot of water.

AFGHANISTAN - Election Update

"Voters head to the polls in Afghanistan" PBS NewsHour 4/5/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  For more about today’s voting in Afghanistan we’re joined now from Kabul by Kevin Sieff; he’s the Washington Post’s bureau chief there.  So you were out at the polls today, what were the scenes like?

KEVIN SIEFF, Washington Post:  You know I think it depends where you were in Afghanistan today.  In Kabul the lines were very long, lots of men and women voting.  In some places they actually ran out of ballots there were so many people who wanted to vote.  But where I spent most of the day, in Wardak Province about 70 miles south of Kabul, there were very few voters, quite a bit of sort of small scale Taliban violence and people worried about the insurgence potentially punishing voters after casting their ballots.  So I think it really varied across the country pretty wildly.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 4/4/2014

"Shields and Brooks on the power of campaign donors, baseball vs. baby" PBS NewsHour 4/4/2014

Excerpts

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including a Supreme Court ruling that lifts campaign donation limits, as well as public commentary for a pro-baseball player’s paternity leave.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: (on Supreme Court decision) .....(according) to the chief justice, there is nothing more basic to our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.  And I wish they felt the same way about voting rights, which they didn’t, that somehow this giving — and that these people, these five majority justices must be hermetically sealed.

They are unaware of the fact that big money buys access in Washington, and access purchases influence.  It is as simple as that.  And they have basically given a green light, a further green light, after Citizens United, to the biggest money to have the bigger voice in our politics, and to sound out and drown out the voice of just ordinary citizens.

WALL STREET - Book 'Flash Boys' and High-Frequency Trading

"High-frequency trading" = high-frequency gambling.  It is also predatory activity that hurts our economy.

"Flash Boys’ investigates how high-frequency traders anticipate Wall Street’s next move faster" PBS NewsHour 4/4/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Often, when we discuss the financial markets, we show these pictures, shots of traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, but the trading world changed several years ago.

Much of it now is done with computer servers, hundreds of millions of orders done through what is known as high-frequency trading.  This week, there is a lot of buzz about a provocative new book focusing on how it has changed and how one-thousandth-of-a-second can make a big difference.

The book is titled “Flash Boys.”  The author the Michael Lewis, who also wrote “Moneyball,” “Liar’s Poker,” and “The Big Short.”

And Michael Lewis joins us now.  Welcome back to the NewsHour.

MICHAEL LEWIS, Author, “Flash Boys”:  Thanks for having me, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, you focus much of the story on this New York financial trader who starts out thinking the markets are all about one thing, discovers that there’s something wrong, and basically goes about trying to change everything.

MICHAEL LEWIS:  Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Why did you focus on him?

MICHAEL LEWIS:  Because I was working on something else and I needed to learn what high-frequency trading was.  This is a term of art that really didn’t even exist until three or four years ago.

JOURNALISM - AP Remembers Its Own

"Remembering AP photojournalist Niedringhaus, who found grace in the face of war" PBS NewsHour 4/4/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Veteran AP journalists Anja Niedringhaus and Kathy Gannon were traveling with election workers, soldiers and police in Khost province in Afghanistan when a police commander approached and shot them.  Niedringhaus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, was killed and Gannon was hospitalized.  Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of The Associated Press, remembers Niedringhaus with Hari Sreenivasan.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The shooting happened this morning in Khost Province.  Photographer Anja Niedringhaus and reporter Kathy Gannon were traveling with election workers and under the protection of Afghan soldiers and police, when one of the police officers approached the car and fired several shots.

Niedringhaus was reportedly killed instantly.  Gannon is in stable condition at an Afghan hospital.

We are joined by the Associated Press’ senior vice president and executive editor, Kathleen Carroll.

Ms. Carroll, first of all, do you have any update on the health of Kathy Gannon?

KATHLEEN CARROLL, Executive Editor, Associated Press:  Well, she’s had some surgeries, and we are optimistic about her recovery, but she’s still being treated, and that will be true for some time.

POLITICS - The Misleading Anti-ACA Ad Campaign

"Misleading Anti-Obamacare Ad in Michigan" by Eugene Kiely, FactCheck.org 3/31/2014

Americans for Prosperity’s latest anecdotal TV ad attacking the Affordable Care Act features a Michigan mom who says her family’s “new plan is not affordable at all” and that the law is “destroying the middle class.”  In fact, her case is an example of how middle-class families can benefit from the law — if they choose to do so.

The ad, which features Shannon Wendt of Michigan, leaves the false impression that the family obtained its costly new insurance plan through the federal exchange set up by the new law.  But that’s not the case.  The family’s “new plan” is a temporary plan that does not meet the ACA requirements.  Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offered the plan to customers who had their old policies canceled but did not want to purchase insurance on the exchange.  It turns out that Wendt found a cheaper, subsidized plan on the exchange, but declined to accept it because she did not want her children on the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

That’s her right, of course, but the ad is misleading because it fails to disclose that the Wendt family opted to pay more for insurance rather than accept the conditions that came with obtaining a cheaper, subsidized health plan on the exchange.

Meet the Wendt Family

The ad, called “Shannon’s Story,” is the latest in a series of anti-ACA ads by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group founded by billionaire businessman David Koch.  In it, Shannon Wendt — the married mom of five young children — criticizes the health care law and Rep. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who voted for it.  Peters is the likely Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate and is expected to face Republican Terri Lynn Land in November for retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin’s seat. AFP has spent $5 million so far in Michigan — a key state if the Republicans hope to win control of the Senate.

Shannon Wendt, and her husband, Zach, are Republicans.  They were elected precinct delegates for Tallmadge Township, a section of Grand Rapids, Mich., in Ottawa County, in the August 2012 primary.  She sells Etsy products and operates a website called Organic Mama’s Shop.  He is a real estate agent.  Neither has insurance through an employer.  As she explained in prior interviews, she had a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan plan that she obtained on the individual market, but it was canceled because it did not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

In the ad, which began airing March 25, Wendt says her “new plan is not affordable at all.”  She is shown with her five children, ages 3 to 10, and husband, Zach, who she said is “working a lot more hours” to pay for the insurance increases.  But left out of the ad is why the new plan costs more and the family’s personal decision to opt for a more expensive plan.

Shannon Wendt told Fox Business in an article published Jan. 7 that she and her husband were eligible to buy a subsidized health insurance plan, but she said she was surprised and frustrated to learn that her family would be eligible for subsides on the exchange only if they enrolled their children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  CHIP, as it is known, is a joint federal-state health care program that provides insurance at little or no cost for children of moderate-income families who are not eligible for Medicaid.

Fox News, Jan. 7:  She found that because she and her husband are small-business owners — Zach is a real estate agent — and they take certain business deductions, they fall right under 200% of the federal poverty line.  This makes them subsidy eligible, and their children Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) eligible.

“If we want our children on our family plan — whether its two or 10 people — we lose the subsidy,” Wendt says.  “It’s amazing that they are forcing families onto government health-care.  It almost feels like an attack on small business owners.  This revelation is more frustrating than the initial glitch.”

Wendt is right.  As HealthCare.gov explains, a family cannot receive subsidies to help buy insurance on the exchange if the children in the family are CHIP-eligible and they do not sign up.  But if the children do go on CHIP, then other members of the family, i.e., the parents, may be eligible for subsidized insurance on the exchange — which would have been the case with the Wendt family.

Since the Wendt family’s adjusted household income falls “right under 200% of the federal poverty line,” as Fox wrote, then that means the couple has a modified adjusted gross income of no more than $72,060, based on the 2014 federal poverty guidelines for a family of seven.  That also means their children are eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Michigan, as Wendt said, since families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for Michigan CHIP.

Shannon Wendt has her reasons for not wanting her children to be on CHIP — reasons she explained in a March 31 op-ed she wrote for the Washington Times.  In it, she acknowledges she and her husband “would be eligible” for subsidies and “would be paying less” for insurance but do not feel CHIP would provide adequate health care coverage for their children.

Wendt, Washington Times op-ed, March 31:  What about the subsidies?  My husband and I would be eligible, but only if we put our children on MIChild, a taxpayer-funded state health insurance program run through Medicaid.  My husband and I would be paying less, but we’d also have to leave the family doctor I’ve been with since I was 6 years old.

That’s a path we would never take.  We’d be sacrificing our children’s health for the sake of our wallets.

She goes on to say that her children were briefly on the Michigan CHIP plan several years ago and had a bad experience with one of the doctors who “failed to give my daughter the right immunizations.”

The 30-year-old mom has every right, as we said, to make that decision.  We don’t take issue with Wendt’s decision, but rather her assertion that the Affordable Care Act is “destroying the middle class,” when other families faced with the same choices may have made a different decision that could save them thousands of dollars a year.

Let’s consider what would happen if a family with a similar profile to the Wendts decided to enroll their kids in CHIP and accept the federal subsidies for an exchange plan.

Subsidized Insurance Plans

We took the information publicly known about the Wendt family and plugged the values into the Kaiser Family Foundation subsidy calculator and the HealthCare.gov website to obtain subsidy and premium estimates for a family that fits the Wendt profile.

On the KFF site, we provided this information: state (Michigan), zip code (49534), county (Ottawa), adjusted annual household income ($69,000, which is 194 percent of the FPL), employer coverage (none), number of people in family (7), number of adults enrolling in the exchange (2), ages (30 and 34), tobacco use (no), number of children enrolling in the exchange (none).

We don’t know the Wendts’ exact adjusted household income, but $69,000 is “right under” 200 percent of FPL.  We also don’t know if either smokes, but for this exercise we assumed the couple does not.

KFF says children in the household might be eligible for CHIP depending on the state (actually the Wendt children would be eligible for CHIP in Michigan, as we know) and the adults would be eligible for subsidized insurance on the exchange.

There are two kinds of subsidies available to those who purchase insurance on the exchange: an advanced premium tax credit, which is used to lower premiums; and the cost-sharing reduction, which lowers out-of-pocket expenses for people who purchase a silver plan.  (There are four levels of plans available for people 30 and over, from cheapest to most expensive: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Silver covers 70 percent of health care costs.)

The KFF subsidy calculator said a Michigan family of seven with an adjusted income of $69,000 could expect to receive $121.75 per month in premium tax credits.  KFF said the couple could purchase, with subsidies, a bronze plan for $220 per month and a silver plan for $345.75 per month — plus the couple’s out-of-pocket maximum would be limited to no more than $4,500 if they go with the silver plan.  KFF did not provide information on the family’s annual deductible, which would depend on what kind of silver plan the family chooses.

We went to HealthCare.gov to get more specific information about the plans that are available to such a family.  Again, we plugged in all the same values: a family of seven in Ottawa County, Mich., with an adjusted household income of $69,000, seeking coverage for two adults ages 30 and 34. HealthCare.gov says that the two adults are eligible for a $121 per month tax credit — the same amount KFF gave — and a reduced out-of-pocket maximum (OOPM) for the silver plans.

HealthCare.gov also says there are 33 plans offered by three insurance companies in Ottawa County: eight bronze, 14 silver and 11 gold. Bronze plans cover 60 percent of health care costs, silver 70 percent and gold 80 percent.

A sample of the exchange plans, including subsidies, that were listed on HealthCare.gov for a family that fits the Wendt profile:

  • Blue Cross Select Bronze HMO, $221 per month/$11,900 deductible/$12,700 OOPM per family
  • Blue Cross Premier Bronze PPO, $292 per month/$12,700 deductible/$12,700 OOPM per family
  • Blue Cross Silver Select HMO, $322 per month/$900 deductible/$2,900 OOPM per family
  • Blue Cross Premier Silver PPO, $421 per month/$600 deductible/$2,800 OOPM per family
  • Blue Cross Select Gold HMO, $454 per month/$500 deductible/$10,200 OOPM per family
  • Blue Cross Premier Gold PPO, $534 per month/$300 deductible/$10,200 OOPM per family

In her op-ed in the Washington Times, Wendt said that last year she paid $221 per month for coverage that included a family deductible of $5,000, 20 percent coinsurance, and a $10,000 out-of-pocket maximum.  This year, she has a policy that costs $381 per month, with a $10,000 deductible, 30 percent coinsurance, and a $17,000 out-of pocket maximum.  That’s a premium increase of $160 per month ($1,920 per year) for a policy that has a higher deductible and out-of-pocket maximum.

Based on the Kaiser Family Foundation and HealthCare.gov results, a Michigan family of seven with the same profile could get a silver plan with the same coinsurance as the Wendt’s current plan, a monthly premium that would be roughly the same (somewhat less for the HMO and somewhat more for the PPO) and far less than the $10,000 annual deductible.  Plus, such a family would be eligible for subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket expenses to around $3,000 — which could represent a significant savings since Shannon Wendt told MLive.com, a Michigan news website, that her family paid $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses last year.

Of course, the silver plan also provides more benefits because it provides “essential benefits” and meets other requirements that Wendt’s old and current plan do not meet.

In explaining her frustration with the new law, Shannon Wendt told Fox News that she was happy with her old plan because the family prefers paying low monthly premiums and high deductibles.  “We feel it makes financial sense for us to have a higher deductible plan and just pay these little things out of pocket and then the money we’ve been able to save every month on our premium we’ve been putting away for years and years in the event that something comes up where we would need our deductible, where we would have significant medical needs,” she said.

In that case, the HealthCare.gov website shows that a family fitting the Wendt profile could get a bronze plan, which covers only 60 percent of health care costs.  A bronze plan would have a low monthly premium ($221 for the HMO and $292 for the PPO) but a high deductible ($11,900 for the HMO and $12,700 for the PPO).

Either way, the bronze or silver plans would provide better benefits at less cost than the plan Shannon Wendt currently has.

Blue Cross and Rate Shock

There’s one other thing that we know about Wendt’s insurance coverage that is important.  She was covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — the state’s largest writer of individual health plans — and the insurer caused a stir in the market when it canceled all of its non-compliant plans except one called “Keep Fit.”  That plan was grandfathered in because, the company said in a November 2013 press release, it was “the only plan in Blue Cross’ individual portfolio to have a 2013 ‘plan year.’ ”

When Obama, the Michigan governor and state insurance commissioner all said that insurance companies could re-issue non-compliant plans, Blue Cross declined to do so — in part because it said it hadn’t raised premiums in the individual market since 2011 in anticipation of phasing them out.  The company said in the November press release that to extend all of its non-compliant individual plans would result in a “rate shock.”  The company said, “Keeping the plans open in 2014 would require a ‘catch-up’ premium rate increase of 30 percent or more.”  They did allow people like the Wendts to transition into the “Keep Fit” plan – but only through 2014.

This is what Wendt means when she writes in her op-ed that she now has “a ‘grandfathered’ plan that will be canceled at the end of 2014.”

Despite the company’s stated desire to prevent “rate shock,” Blue Cross members complained that that is exactly what happened.  Wendt wasn’t the only one complaining about high rates.  A Detroit Free Press story told a similar story about the Mulder family in Wixom, Mich.

Detroit Free Press, Nov. 15, 2013:  The Mulder family in Wixom, for instance, received notice last month that their bare-bones Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan policy — costing $291 a month and carrying a $5,000 deductible — would end Dec. 31.  Given the choice of it and his other options — one with a $930 monthly premium and another with a cheaper premium but a $17,000 annual deductible.  Josh Mulder said he’d rather continue his current policy.

Tiffany Jones, a spokeswoman for BCBSM, told us in an email that 140,000 of its members moved from the canceled plans to either the non-compliant Keep Fit plans or ACA-compliant exchange plans.  She could not provide us with the average rate change — increase or decrease — for those who selected Keep Fit or for those who went on the exchange.  In November, BCBSM spokesman Andy Hertzel told Crain’s Detroit Business that about 50 percent of its customers who had non-compliant individual policies were eligible for subsidies.

“Many people could receive better benefits at lower prices” on HealthCare.gov, Hertzel told Crain’s.

Shannon and Zach Wendt could have been among those people if they went on the exchange — but they decided against it.