Thursday, July 24, 2014

SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN - A Bug's Mind, What They Tell About Us

"How studying fruit flies and zebrafish might unlock secrets of the human brain" PBS NewsHour 7/23/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Next, trying to better understand what’s happening in the brain of a fruit fly, a dragonfly, or a zebra fish, all part of a larger puzzle to learn more about how our own brains work.

NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien has the first in our three-part series on the science of the brain.

MILES O’BRIEN (NewsHour):  Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the Basic Research Facility scientist consider nirvana.  You might see a Nobel Prize in the making or you might be subjected to this, the fruit fly version of a scary movie, the rapidly growing shadow of a predator homing in for the kill.

GWYNETH CARD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Janelia Farm Research Campus:  My lab is really interested in how flies make decisions.

MILES O’BRIEN:  Neuroscientist Gwyneth Card runs a laboratory at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Janelia Farm Research Campus near Washington, D.C.  She films fruit flies at 6,000 frames per second to better see what they do and eventually she hopes understand how their brains issue commands and their bodies turn that into lifesaving action.



Talk about ecofriendly campus:

Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Janelia Farm Research Campus

HEALTH CARE - Affordable Care Act Conflicts

"Will conflicting federal health care law rulings head to the Supreme Court?" PBS NewsHour 7/22/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now conflicting court rulings on the health care law.

The federal court of appeals based in Washington ruled today that the law doesn’t allow policy holders who get their insurance through the federal exchange to qualify for subsidies that would reduce the cost.  But a separate ruling, issued hours later by a federal appeals court in Richmond, said those getting policies through the federal exchanges do qualify for the subsidies.

The rulings come down to different interpretations of the same passage of the law.  Congress said if a state didn’t create its own insurance exchange, the federal government should.  But the law also reads that subsidies be provided by — quote — “an exchange established by the state.”

Just 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, created their own exchanges.  Five million enrollees now receive subsidies through the federal exchange.

So, what do these conflicting rulings mean for the future of the health care law?

For that, we turn to Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News and Tom Goldstein, founder of SCOTUSblog.com.

Let’s go back to the root of this challenge, Julie.  Why did this come up?

EDUCATION - Traditional Public Schools Under Same Roof With Charter Schools

"In Houston, traditional public school shares ideas and a roof with charter schools" PBS NewsHour 7/22/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Charter schools have often been seen as a threat to traditional schools, diverting resources and students to these publicly funded but privately run institutions.  In Houston, Texas, the superintendent of one school district has invited competing charter schools to set up shop alongside a regular middle school.  Special correspondent John Merrow reports on their evolving partnership.

MIAMI - Marine Stadium Second Life

"Graffiti art gives abandoned Miami stadium a second life" PBS NewsHour 7/21/2014

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It sits abandoned on a thin stretch of land called Virginia Key, overlooking a manmade basin between Miami’s South Channel and Biscayne Bay, a magnificent setting, downtown Miami in the near distance.

Today, the 6,500-seat Marine Stadium is littered with garbage, every reachable inch of it covered in graffiti, forgotten by many, but not those who remember its role as a cultural centerpiece for a rising city.  One of those is Miami’s own music star Gloria Estefan.

GLORIA ESTEFAN:  This is one of those things in the city that has history.  It’s almost 50 years old.

JEFFREY BROWN:  That’s — 50 years old is not that long, right?

GLORIA ESTEFAN:  In Miami, it is.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In fact, the stadium turned 50 years old just last December.  And Estefan has joined a grassroots effort not only to save it, but to give it renewed life.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Miami was still finding its identity as something more than a seasonal tourist destination.  When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, waves of Cubans began leaving for South Florida, seeking new lives and redefining the city’s culture.



"From painting overpasses to stadiums, a graffiti artist on his evolving art form" PBS NewsHour 7/18/2014

Excerpt

For more than 30 years, Los Angeles-based artist RISK has been creating colorful murals on everything from highway overpasses — known as “heavens” — to dilapidated buildings, walls, trains and buses.

“I like to evoke emotion with colors and not letters or imagery,” he said, “so I have to really look at the environment and see where I’m at and kind of work that into it.”

Recently that environment was South Florida, where he joined eight other graffiti artists to paint on the abandoned Miami Marine Stadium, part of an effort to raise attention and money for the stadium’s restoration.  Curated by New York-based stencil artist Logan Hicks, the project is called ART History and runs through 2014.

While reporting on the broader story of the Miami Marine Stadium, which was built in the 1960s and abandoned in the 1990s, Jeffrey Brown spoke with RISK about his project there, his body of work and the very temporary nature of his art form.

MH17 - Putin Changing Course?

"Will the MH17 disaster cause Putin to change course in Ukraine?" PBS NewsHour 7/21/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  When the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, the stakes in the fight for the future of Ukraine went up.  At the center of what has rapidly become a global flash point is the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Russia.  But what, if anything, can the U.S. or Russia do in the face of international grief, recrimination and derailed diplomacy?

Stephen Sestanovich was U.S. ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union during the Clinton administration.  He’s now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  And Eugene Rumer was the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia during the Obama administration from 2010 to 2014.  He’s now director of Russia and Eurasia Programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Stephen Sestanovich, how much — how much good can international pressure do?

STEPHEN SESTANOVICH, Council on Foreign Relations:  Well, there’s no doubt that Russia faces the most appalling public relations predicament that it’s been in, in decades.  And it is going to be responding to international pressure.

No government wants to have the kind of criminal reputation that the Russians are acquiring for their handling of this.  And the result is — you already see — is a kind of backing off of some of the positions that they have taken.  They supported a U.N. Security Council resolution today.  The separatists have been urged to release the bodies.  There is that kind of minimal level of cooperation that is meant to rescue their international position right now.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

INTERNET - The Impossible to Block Tracking Device

"Meet the Online Tracking Device That is Virtually Impossible to Block" by Julia Angwin, ProPublica 7/21/2014

Update: A YouPorn.com spokesperson said that the website was "completely unaware that AddThis contained a tracking software that had the potential to jeopardize the privacy of our users." After this article was published, YouPorn removed AddThis technology from its website.

A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com.

First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image.  Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it.

Like other tracking tools, canvas fingerprints are used to build profiles of users based on the websites they visit — profiles that shape which ads, news articles, or other types of content are displayed to them.

But fingerprints are unusually hard to block.  They can’t be prevented by using standard Web browser privacy settings or using anti-tracking tools such as AdBlock Plus.

The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code, primarily written by a company called AddThis, on 5 percent of the top 100,000 websites.  Most of the code was on websites that use AddThis’ social media sharing tools.  Other fingerprinters include the German digital marketer Ligatus and the Canadian dating site Plentyoffish. (A list of all the websites on which researchers found the code is here).

Rich Harris, chief executive of AddThis, said that the company began testing canvas fingerprinting earlier this year as a possible way to replace “cookies,” the traditional way that users are tracked, via text files installed on their computers.

“We’re looking for a cookie alternative,” Harris said in an interview.

Harris said the company considered the privacy implications of canvas fingerprinting before launching the test, but decided “this is well within the rules and regulations and laws and policies that we have.”

He added that the company has only used the data collected from canvas fingerprints for internal research and development.  The company won’t use the data for ad targeting or personalization if users install the AddThis opt-out cookie on their computers, he said.

Arvind Narayanan, the computer science professor who led the Princeton research team, countered that forcing users to take AddThis at its word about how their data will be used, is “not the best privacy assurance.”

Device fingerprints rely on the fact that every computer is slightly different: Each contains different fonts, different software, different clock settings and other distinctive features. Computers automatically broadcast some of their attributes when they connect to another computer over the Internet.

Tracking companies have long sought to use those differences to uniquely identify devices for online advertising purposes, particularly as Web users are increasingly using ad-blocking software and deleting cookies.

In May 2012, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, noticed that a Web programming feature called “canvas” could allow for a new type of fingerprint — by pulling in different attributes than a typical device fingerprint.

In June, the Tor Project added a feature to its privacy-protecting Web browser to notify users when a website attempts to use the canvas feature and sends a blank canvas image.  But other Web browsers did not add notifications for canvas fingerprinting.

A year later, Russian programmer Valentin Vasilyev noticed the study and added a canvas feature to freely available fingerprint code that he had posted on the Internet.  The code was immediately popular.

But Vasilyev said that the company he was working for at the time decided against using the fingerprint technology.  “We collected several million fingerprints but we decided against using them because accuracy was 90 percent,” he said, “and many of our customers were on mobile and the fingerprinting doesn’t work well on mobile.”

Vasilyev added that he wasn’t worried about the privacy concerns of fingerprinting.  “The fingerprint itself is a number which in no way is related to a personality,” he said.

AddThis improved upon Vasilyev’s code by adding new tests and using the canvas to draw a pangram “Cwm fjordbank glyphs vext quiz” — a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once.  This allows the company to capture slight variations in how each letter is displayed.

AddThis said it rolled out the feature to a small portion of the 13 million websites on which its technology appears, but is considering ending its test soon.  “It’s not uniquely identifying enough,” Harris said.

AddThis did not notify the websites on which the code was placed because “we conduct R&D projects in live environments to get the best results from testing,” according to a spokeswoman.

She added that the company does not use any of the data it collects — whether from canvas fingerprints or traditional cookie-based tracking — from government websites including WhiteHouse.gov for ad targeting or personalization.

The company offered no such assurances about data it routinely collects from visitors to other sites, such as YouPorn.com.  YouPorn.com did not respond to inquiries from ProPublica about whether it was aware of AddThis’ test of canvas fingerprinting on its website.

Monday, July 21, 2014

WASHINGTON D.C. - Decriminalizes Marijuana

"Washington D.C. becomes latest jurisdiction to decriminalize marijuana" PBS NewsHour 7/20/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  This week, the District of Columbia became the latest jurisdiction to decriminalize possession of marijuana.  It’s part of a growing national trend.  For the latest about all this, we’re joined by Melanie Eversley, a reporter for USA Today.

So, what’s the new rule specifically in D.C., you can’t just walk down the National Mall smoking marijuana now, right?

MELANIE EVERSLEY, USA Today:  Right, right.  Essentially, this law took effect on Thursday.  It basically decriminalizes possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.  So what that means is if you are caught with that on your person, instead of being subject to criminal penalties, what you would get is a $25 ticket, which is less than the cost of a parking ticket here in New York City.

It also changes a couple of other things.  If police smell marijuana while they’re on their beat or whatever, they can no longer search a person for it.  If they also find up to an ounce of marijuana on a person, they can no longer automatically search them, so it drastically changes things.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 7/18/2014

"Shields and Brooks on Israel’s incursion, challenging Russia" PBS NewsHour 7/18/2014

Excerpts

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss potential consequences of the attack on a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine and the ground invasion by Israel into Gaza.
----
JUDY WOODRUFF:  Does this mean, David, the idea of any sort of resolution is just so far off in the distance, you can’t even imagine it?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, yes.

We’re in sort of a parallel universe where it’s sort of a military operation we have not seen before.  So Hamas has had no success in inflicting any damage on the Israelis, in part because of the Iron Dome missile defense system and in part just because their rockets are not that great.

But they — when the cease-fire proposal went out there, they greeted that with a barrage of missiles nonetheless, not because they hoped to inflict any damage on the Israelis, but they hoped the Israelis would inflict damage on them and kill Palestinian civilians, which is one of the reasons they have decided to tell their civilians not to flee the areas that are afflicted.

So, it’s a rare moment in military history where a party rejects a cease-fire in order to get more of their own people killed.  But that’s part of the strategy, which is a global strategy, a propaganda strategy of eliciting this European response.

I think the U.S. has done a good job, John Kerry’s done a good job of rejecting this strategy of using human shields.  Bill Clinton has said things.  But this is the strategy they’re trying to enact, and it’s just this perverse military strategy of getting your own people killed.

UKRAINE - The Shooting Down of Passenger Plane MH17 (4 parts)

"MH17 crash in war zone poses security challenges, but may be aided by more ‘eyes’" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 7/18/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Leaders from around the world called for an investigation into who shot down the Malaysian passenger plane.  But how can that be done in the middle of a war zone?

Hari Sreenivasan has that.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  For that, we turn to New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti, and P.J. Crowley, who served as assistant secretary of state during the first Obama administration and is now a fellow at George Washington University.

Mark, I want to start with you.

From your sources in the intelligence community, is there any certainty on whether the surface-to-air missile was from Russia or from the rebels?

MARK MAZZETTI, The New York Times:  Not total certainty on that point.

You heard President Obama say — put the blame pretty squarely on Moscow today, saying either they did it themselves or they gave it to the rebels and they were doing this by proxy.  Either way, the president said, and as intelligence officials are sort of pointing out, it’s — Russia is escalating the conflict by introducing these surface-to-air missiles.

But you raise a good point.  Exactly how this happened, exactly how the missiles got there and when they got there is still an important point to — question to answer.



"Understanding the risks of flying in unfriendly skies" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 7/18/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  For a closer look at the challenges on the ground at the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane in Eastern Ukraine, Judy Woodruff talks to Matt Frei of Independent Television News from Donetsk.  Science correspondent Miles O’Brien (NewsHour) joins in to discuss why the jetliner was on a flight path over a conflict zone.



"Did Russia destroy key evidence from the MH17 crash site in Ukraine?" (Part-3) PBS NewsHour 7/19/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Ukraine accused Russia and pro-Russian separatists today of destroying evidence that could offer clues about the downing of the Malaysian Airlines plane that went down in Ukraine earlier this week.



"Kerry:  Evidence mounts pointing blame at pro-Russian separatists for MH17" (Part-4) PBS NewsHour 7/20/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Pro-Russian separatist leader Alexander Borodai said today that critical evidence has been recovered from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that is believed to have been shot down Thursday near the Ukrainian-Russian border.  Secretary of State John Kerry said there was overwhelming evidence that pro-Russian separatists shot down the plane.

WOMEN - 30th Anniversary of First Woman Nominated for Vice President

"How Geraldine Ferraro changed the political outlook for women" PBS NewsHour 7/17/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This Saturday marks the 30-year anniversary of the nomination of the first woman ever to run for vice president on a major party ticket.  She was New York Democratic Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro.

A documentary by her daughter titled “Geraldine Ferraro:  Paving the Way” tells the story of her mother’s trailblazing career and the effect she had on American politics and culture.

We begin with an excerpt from that film, inside the Democratic National Convention hall in San Francisco where Ferraro was formally nominated by her running mate, Walter Mondale, on July 19, 1984.

WALTER MONDALE, Former Presidential Candidate:  I have had many people tell me it’s the best national convention we have ever had.  People were thrilled.  The crowds were building up outside the hall to be close to what was going on.

WOMAN:  I nominate Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York to be the next vice president of the United States of America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GERALDINE FERRARO, Former Vice Presidential Candidate:  It was as emotional as I had ever seen at a convention, thunderous, the response and emotion.  To talk about it, it was so spectacular.

WOMAN:  The floor of the convention was virtually all women, and women who had fought so hard for women’s rights.  And, oh, my God, it was such a wonderful moment.

COKIE ROBERTS, Journalist:  Standing up there all in white, looking like this tiny little figure, but looking beautiful and looking female.

CALIFORNIA - State Shuts Down Oil/Gas Injection Sites

"California Halts Injection of Fracking Waste, Warning it May Be Contaminating Aquifers" by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica 7/18/2014

State’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as California aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for oil industry.

California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state's drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.

The state's Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal "poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources."  The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells.

The action comes as California's agriculture industry copes with a drought crisis that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone.  The lack of water has forced farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to a study released this week by the University of California Davis.

The problem is that at least 100 of the state's aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to easily access.  Years ago, the state exempted them from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them.  But not all aquifers are exempted, and the system amounts to a patchwork of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground.  Now, according to the cease and desist orders issued by the state, it appears that at least seven injection wells are likely pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago.

"The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt," said Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation in an email.

A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law.  That investigation also disclosed a little-known program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from any sort of pollution protection at all, many of them in California.

Those are the aquifers at issue today.  The exempted aquifers, according to documents the state filed with the U.S. EPA in 1981 and obtained by ProPublica, were poorly defined and ambiguously outlined.  They were often identified by hand-drawn lines on a map, making it difficult to know today exactly which bodies of water were supposed to be protected, and by which aspects of the governing laws.  Those exemptions and documents were signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who also was governor in 1981.

State officials emphasized to ProPublica that they will now order water testing and monitoring at the injection well sites in question.  To date, they said, they have not yet found any of the more regulated aquifers to have been contaminated.

"We do not have any direct evidence any drinking water has been affected," wrote Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, in a statement to ProPublica.

Bohlen said his office was acting "out of an abundance of caution," and a spokesperson said that the state became aware of the problems through a review of facilities it was conducting according to California's fracking law passed late last year, which required the state to study fracking impacts and adopt regulations to address its risks, presumably including underground disposal.

California officials have long been under fire for their injection well practices, a waste disposal program that the state runs according to federal law and under a sort of license — called "primacy" — given to it by the EPA.

For one, experts say that aquifers the states and the EPA once thought would never be needed may soon become important sources of water as the climate changes and technology reduces the cost of pumping it from deep underground and treating it for consumption.  Indeed, towns in Wyoming and Texas — two states also suffering long-term droughts — are pumping, treating, then delivering drinking water to taps from aquifers which would be considered unusable under California state regulations governing the oil and gas industry.

In June 2011, the EPA conducted a review of other aspects of California's injection well program and found enforcement, testing and oversight problems so significant that the agency demanded California improve its regulations and warned that the state's authority could be revoked.

Among the issues, California and the federal government disagree about what type of water is worth protecting in the first place, with California law only protecting a fraction of the waters that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires.

The EPA's report, commissioned from outside consultants, also said that California regulators routinely failed to adequately examine the geology around an injection well to ensure that fluids pumped into it would not leak underground and contaminate drinking water aquifers.  The report found that state inspectors often allowed injection at pressures that exceeded the capabilities of the wells and thus risked cracking the surrounding rock and spreading contaminants.  Several accidents in recent years in California involved injected waste or injected steam leaking back out of abandoned wells, or blowing out of the ground and creating sinkholes, including one 2011 incident that killed an oil worker.

The exemptions and other failings, said Damon Nagami, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in an email, are "especially disturbing" in a state that has been keenly aware of severe water constraints for more than a century and is now suffering from a crippling drought.  "Our drinking water sources must be protected and preserved for the precious resources they are, not sacrificed as a garbage dump for the oil and gas industry."

Still, three years after the EPA's report, California has not yet completed its review of its underground injection program, according to state officials.  The scrutiny of the wells surrounding Bakersfield may be the start.

HUMOR - Lampooning 'Glorious Leader'

Thursday, July 17, 2014

CALIFORNIA - Mandatory Restrictions on Water Use

"California’s ‘water cop’ urges residents to take drought seriously with mandatory restrictions" PBS NewsHour 7/16/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  California officials are putting mandatory restrictions on water use in place as a result of that state’s ongoing drought.  Several Western states, including Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, have large regions suffering a severe to extreme drought.

But California’s problem has lasted longer than most, and now the state says it’s time to ramp up conservation.

Dried-up lakebeds and water shortages have become depressingly familiar sights across California, and state water regulators moved Tuesday to impose new conservation rules.

State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus:

FELICIA MARCUS, Chairwoman, State Water Resources Control Board:  We're focusing on outdoor irrigation because that’s a place where people tend to, even without realizing it, they over water.  It really behooves all of us to figure out how to use the water that we do have as wisely as we can.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Starting August 1, the new rules could mean daily fines of up to $500 for people who waste water on lawns and car washing.  California is now in the third year of its worst drought since the 1970s.

AMERICA - Peace Corps, Reaching a New Generation

"Facing declining applications, Peace Corps rethinks how to reach a new generation" PBS NewsHour 7/16/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Finally tonight, enticing a new generation to join the Peace Corps.

Fifty-three years ago, President Kennedy created the all-volunteer corps, which has since sent more than 200,000 U.S. citizens to 139 countries.  Today, there are about 7,000 volunteers serving in 65 countries, teaching, working in agriculture and economic development, and promoting nutrition and public health.

But the Peace Corps has been on the decline, as fewer people apply, and wait times for acceptance increase.

Yesterday, the Corps announced plans to reverse that trend.

Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet joins me now.

CDC - Centers for Disease Control Complancency and Lax Safety

COMMENT:  This is what can happen to any large bureaucracy over time, complacency.  It is a human condition.

"CDC under scrutiny for safety lapses" PBS NewsHour 7/16/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to a series of alarming safety lapses at the federal Centers for Disease Control.  No one’s been hurt, but they have raised serious questions.  And, today, the head of the CDC traveled to Capitol Hill to address them.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

REP. TIM MURPHY, R, Penn.:  What we have here is a pattern of reoccurring issues of complacency and a lax culture of safety.  This is not sound science, and this will not be tolerated.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Revelations of safety and security problems put Dr. Thomas Frieden under the microscope at a House hearing.  The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was called to account after more than 80 CDC lab workers were exposed to live strains of anthrax last month in Atlanta.

The agency has also acknowledged that it mistakenly shipped the avian flu virus to outside labs.  Separately, several 60-year-old vials of smallpox, some with still viable strains, were found at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

No one was sickened in the incidents, but Frieden conceded:

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:  The fact that it appears that no one was harmed and that there were no releases does not excuse what happened.  What happened was completely unacceptable.  It should never have happened.

MIDDLE EAST - Cease-Fire Fails, Latest in the Un-Ending War

"Hopes for Mideast cease-fire dashed as Israel resumes airstrikes on Gaza" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 7/15/2014

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Hopes of a potential stop to the violence gripping the Middle East were dashed today as aerial bombardment from both sides continued; 197 Palestinians have died during the eight days of violence.  The first Israeli casualty came today.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports on why Hamas rejected an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Israel resumed airstrikes on Gaza this afternoon after a lull of six hours.  It’s cabinet had originally accepted, and honored, an Egyptian cease-fire proposal.  But Hamas kept firing rockets, some again intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system.

With that, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the counteroffensive would resume with greater force.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel:  If Hamas rejects the Egyptian proposal and the rocket fire from Gaza doesn’t cease — and that appears to be the case now — we are prepared to continue and intensify our operation to protect our people.  And for this, we expect full support from the responsible members of the international community.

MARGARET WARNER:  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction controls the West Bank, urged Hamas to accept the truce.  In April, the two factions formed a unity government, but Hamas runs Gaza.

A spokesman for the militant group said it rejected the cease-fire because Hamas had not been consulted.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas Spokesman (through interpreter):  The idea of declaring cease-fire before meeting the terms of the resistance is unacceptable.  We will not stop fighting before reaching an agreement that includes all the terms of the Palestinian resistance.

MARGARET WARNER:  Those terms include releasing Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and reopening border crossings with Egypt.

In Vienna, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Arab states to bring their influence to bear.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  We ask all the members of the Arab community, as they did yesterday at the Arab League meeting in Cairo, to continue to press to try to get Hamas to do the right thing here, which is cease the violence, engage in a legitimate negotiation, and protect the lives of people that they seem all too willing to put to risk.

MARGARET WARNER:  Meanwhile, thousands of Israeli troops remain positioned near the Gaza border.  A food delivery man was killed by a mortar blast today, Israel’s first fatality since the fighting began.

At a Jerusalem news conference, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for an outright takeover of Gaza.

AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN, Foreign Minister, Israel (through interpreter):  The answer must be clear.  There is a need to lead.  There is a need to end this operation when the Israeli army is in control over the whole Gaza Strip.


"Why Hamas rejected an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 7/15/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel Tuesday, refusing Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner talks to writer Mark Perry about what it will take for Hamas to accept a ceasefire, the group’s growing popularity among Palestinians and if Egypt’s proposal still has potential.

GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE - Before eMail or Edward Snowden

"How an unlikely group changed the face of the FBI, retold in ‘The Burglary’" PBS NewsHour 7/15/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next, a look back at a different era of government surveillance, well before e-mail or Edward Snowden.

Jeffrey Brown has our book conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  On March 8, 1971, a group of burglars entered a small FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania.  In the files they took away, they found evidence of wide-scale surveillance of U.S. citizens, particularly of anti-war and black civil rights activists.

It opened a window on the FBI that eventually led to the downfall of its leader, J. Edgar Hoover, and to major reforms of the bureau.  The perpetrators were never caught, but their identities and story are now told in the new book “The Burglary.”

Author Betty Medsger was one of the original journalists to receive and publish the information that came from the stolen files and she joins us now.

And welcome to you.

WALL STREET - Citigroup's $7 Billion Fine, Enough?

"Citigroup to pay $7 billion for ‘egregious misconduct’ leading up to financial crisis" PBS NewsHour 7/14/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  “We should start praying.  I wouldn’t be surprised if half of these loans went down” — that’s what a trader at Citigroup wrote in an e-mail in 2007, after reviewing thousands of mortgages bought and sold by the bank.

Today, the Justice Department cited those very words as it announced a $7 billion settlement with the bank.  The government said Citi committed egregious misconduct in the lead-up to the financial crisis.  Of the $7 billion, Citigroup will pay $4 billion to the Justice Department.  More than $2.5 billion is set aside for what’s described as consumer relief.

Tony West is associate attorney general.  And he was the government’s lead negotiator in this case.

And we welcome you to the program.

TONY WEST, Associate Attorney General, Dept. of Justice:  Thank you so much.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So lay out for us, what was this egregious conduct and how many people at Citigroup were engaged in it?

MEDIA - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

"Comedian John Oliver makes fun of serious news" PBS NewsHour 7/14/2014

Excerpt

JOHN OLIVER, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”:  If we let cable companies offer two speeds of service, there won’t be Usain Bolt and Usain Bolt on a motorbike.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN OLIVER:  They will be Usain Bolt and Usain bolted to an anchor.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN:  The highly divisive debate over who controls Internet speed and access, so-called net neutrality, is hardly standard comic fare.

JOHN OLIVER:  The point is, the Internet in its current state is not broken, and the FCC is currently taking steps to fix that.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  But it’s just the kind of policy and political subject that John Oliver tackles, often in surprising depth, on his new HBO comedy program “Last Week Tonight.”

JOHN OLIVER:  We need you to channel that anger.

JEFFREY BROWN:  His admonition to viewers to write to the FCC even briefly shut down the agency’s comments section of the Web site.  Born in a suburb of Birmingham, England, Oliver studied English and joined a comedy troupe at Cambridge University.  He performed stand-up in festivals, pubs and clubs around England, before coming to this country and joining “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” in 2006, eventually sitting in as host while Stewart took time off.

The new program has probed, poked fun, and raised serious questions around a variety of news topics, from India’s elections to Supreme Court decisions.

HUMOR - The Wealth Gap

Truth in humor.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
Wealth Gap

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

ALABAMA - Huntsville Failed Legal Mandate to Integrate

"In Desegregation Case, Judge Blasts School Officials and Justice Department" by Nikole Hannah-Jones, ProPublica 7/15/2014

A federal judge in Alabama says local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.

A federal judge in Alabama has taken the rare step of ruling against a local school board in a desegregation case, rejecting the board's claims that it had done all it could to end segregation in its schools.

In a lengthy, at times scathing ruling issued last month, U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala said she could not "conclusively" determine that the Huntsville City Schools District wasn't still operating an unconstitutionally segregated system or that it had made a "good faith effort" to significantly integrate its schools.  As a result, Haikala refused to approve a student assignment plan that had been proposed by the Huntsville school board.

The Huntsville ruling is important, both because the district is racially diverse and because it is the largest in the state still under federal mandate to desegregate.

In May, ProPublica published a story showing the state of inaction and confusion surrounding scores of federal school desegregation orders, the once-powerful tool for compelling school districts across the country to provide equal educational opportunities to students of color.  Many of the orders had been allowed to sit dormant for decades, often with no one monitoring school officials to make sure they were complying with federal mandates to integrate.  And in many other instances, judges had routinely lifted existing orders even when those districts remained highly segregated.

For some parents and civil rights lawyers, the inaction and allegedly one-sided decisions amounted to an abdication of responsibility by the country's federal bench.

In Alabama, however, two federal judges, Judges Myron Thompson and William Harold Albritton III, had bucked the trend, refusing to see the decades-old orders as relics that should simply be brought to a close.  And now, it looks like those two judges may have company.

"Until the board achieves the goal" of eliminating "segregation to the extent practicable," Haikala wrote.  "The Court must continue to supervise the Board's efforts."

In April, ProPublica chronicled the fortunes of the school district in Tuscaloosa, Ala.  There, the city's schools, after years of successful integration, had effectively been re-segregated after the district had won its freedom from a longstanding court order.  ProPublica's reporting showed that the re-segregation that had happened in Tuscaloosa was happening in school districts throughout the nation.

Huntsville's schools had been under court order since 1965.  Though the district itself is racially balanced, most of the district's schools are either heavily white or heavily black.  A new zoning plan proposed by the board in 2013 would have increased segregation for many black students.

The U.S. Department of Justice, a party to the case, objected to the assignment plan and in February the dispute landed before Haikala, who'd been appointed to the bench by President Obama in 2012.

In the judge's 107-page ruling, she blasted school officials for failing to provide required reports on the district's integration progress for two decades.  She also criticized the Justice Department for failing to be "proactive" and to "keep an eye on" the marked disparities in schools serving mostly white children and those serving mostly black ones.

Huntsville officials, in response to an interview request, released a statement to ProPublica, stating, that as a result of the order, the district intended to work with the U.S. Department of Justice "to create a roadmap" to satisfy the judge's demands and ultimately gain "the return of control of Huntsville City Schools to local officials."

Justice Department officials did not respond to an interview request before publication.

Huntsville officials, as is common in these cases, argued that their schools had been fully desegregated for years.  Any enduring segregation or other inequities, they argued, had to do with housing patterns and other forces outside of their control.

These arguments, ProPublica's reporting shows, have often proved successful before federal judges.

But Haikala wasn't persuaded.

"The record in this case is not as clear as the Board suggests, and the fact that the district integrated the student bodies of many of its schools in the early 1970s does not automatically lead to the conclusion that the district does not currently operate a dual system," she wrote.  She pointed out that not only were many schools still segregated, but the opportunity to take advanced classes also appeared linked to race.

She noted testimony from a white mother who withdrew her child from a predominantly black high school because it offered fewer advanced academic courses than other schools.

"While private choices seem to have precipitated the existing racial polarization of the district's schools, it is not clear...that the district has not contributed to the situation," she wrote.  "There is a significant disparity between the educational programs in the district's predominately African-American secondary schools and the educational programs in the district's predominately white schools."

That disparity, she said, could even be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Huntsville schools had taken several steps to improve educational outcomes for black students, including adopting universal school breakfast programs and increasing pre-kindergarten classrooms.  But the judge's ruling seemed skeptical of whether the district would continue these efforts once court oversight ended.

"The Board submits that the district's conduct over the past 50 years demonstrates good faith.  Recent events, though, have hurt the board's record," she wrote.  She cataloged Huntsville's 20-year failure to file required reports, its track record of missing data and incomplete information, and its public criticism of a requirement in the order that the district allow students to transfer into schools where they are a racial minority.

Haikala set two magistrate judges to the task of gathering information and to work with the district and the Justice Department to come up with a plan to address any other issues needed to get the district in compliance with the order, and ultimately, to end it.

Huntsville's children, she wrote, "have no control over where they live now, but giving them a strong education is the surest way to ensure that they will have choices about where they will live in the future and what they will do when they become adults."

You can read Judge Haikala's entire order here (PDF).  You can search ProPublica's database to see whether your district is, or has ever been, under a school desegregation order and check school segregation in your hometown.

Monday, July 14, 2014

AMERICA - Copper Thefts Putting Public in Danger

"Costly copper:  scrap metal thieves put public in danger" PBS NewsHour 7/13/2014

Excerpt

RICK KARR (NewsHour):  Angela Day’s landline kept going dead in 2012.  She didn’t have a cell phone she could use instead because cell coverage is spotty in the Appalachian region of Ohio where she lives.  And at the house where she was living with her daughter and her parents, there’s no cell signal at all.  So whenever she had to be away from home, she worried.  Especially about her father.

ANGELA DAY:  He had a heart condition and he had had several open-heart surgeries.  He had triple-bypass surgery.

RICK KARR:  A few days after Christmas, he said he wasn’t feeling well.

ANGELA DAY:  He called over to talk to a nurse.  And he was having problems with the phone.

RICK KARR:  His condition deteriorated, and finally he said he needed an ambulance.  The family called 911, but the line was so bad that they finally gave up and Day’s brother rushed their father to doctors.  But it was too late.  He died that evening.

ANGELA DAY:  It was really frustrating close to the whole week afterwards we couldn’t even call out to plan the funeral.  We couldn’t even call and tell family that he had passed.  I had to go to my workplace to use the phone to even call the funeral home.

RICK KARR:  Angela Day’s phone didn’t work because thieves were stealing telephone wires all over the county.  It’s one of the poorest in Ohio, and the copper in the lines was valuable.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 7/11/2014

"Shields and Brooks on suing the president, LeBron’s hometown bounce" PBS NewsHour 7/11/2014

Excerpts

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including legal action by the U.S. House against President Obama, dwindling funds for the federal highway system, how to cope with the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border and the announcement that LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
----
JUDY WOODRUFF:  And I guess the biggest one, though, David, is the speaker, John Boehner, saying he’s going to sue the president of the United States because the president’s overstepped his line as president.

Is there merit in this suit?  Is it a good idea?  What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  There’s some merit, but I, of course, have sympathy for both sides.

So, basically, you normally pass a big piece of legislation like the ACA, the health care bill, and then you go back and fix it and the Congress and everybody cooperates to fix it.  But because we’re so dysfunctional, we can’t do that.

And so the president is left saying, well, we have got to really change the law to drop some things in the employer mandate to make it work, or at least delay it.  And so he goes ahead and does that, for probably some defensible reasons, some political reasons, but it is a pretty bold step for the president to do it just off the top of his head.

It does really delay and probably wipe out a pretty significant part of the law.  So when Boehner says I’m suing because the president just can’t change the law without congressional approval, technically, he’s right.  The president should not be allowed to do some of that stuff.

But it does grow out of the general dysfunction, where you don’t have two parties working together to make an already passed law function.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Is that what the president is doing?  Is he changing the law?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  Yes, he is, did change the Affordable Care Act.
----
JUDY WOODRUFF:  The lawsuit.

MARK SHIELDS:  The lawsuit.  It’s a base sweetener for the election of 2014.

It’s John Boehner being able to say — and I’m not arguing on the merits — but being able to say, look, we’re going after him.  We’re bringing it to court.  And, all of a sudden, John Boehner looks semi-moderate because John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, former Governor Palin, is leading an impeachment charge, supported by such esteemed groups as Sean Hannity and The Drudge Report.

So, the lawsuit, if anything, looks quite civil and grown-up.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, is that what this is?  It’s the speaker throwing a bone or a — whether it’s a bone that’s going to develop or not?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, the impeachment is obviously cloud cuckoo land.

But there’s a natural tussle between the legislature and the White House, and presidents, especially when everything is dysfunctional, want to expand their power.  The president has been quite unshy about that.  And the legislature’s job is to push back.

And so you’re going to — it’s a gray area.  The president is charged with executing the laws.  Congress passed it.  The president’s got it make it work, whatever party.  And so how much do you allow him to change the law to make it function?

And so that’s sort of a gray area.  I think the president and on some occasions has gone quite aggressively to changing laws to make them work.  But how do you draw that line?  We will see.

I agree with Mark, though.  The lawsuit is not going anywhere.  But I do think it’s a substantive matter that’s built into our Constitution.
----
MARK SHIELDS:  But it’s one more problem (immigration) for, quite frankly — and I say this as a liberal.  It’s one more problem for Democrats, I mean, because it erodes further the confidence of government to act effectively and to execute the law and to control the borders of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Why do you say that’s a problem for Democrats?  Why isn’t that a problem…

MARK SHIELDS:  Well, because Democrats are the party of government.

I mean, the president can rail against Washington and all the rest of it, and I’m happy to be out of Washington.  The Democrats believe that government is an instrument of social justice, an engine of economic progress.  Republicans don’t.  Republicans are the anti-government party.  And for that reason, it doesn’t erode confidence in them the same way.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But, David, you think there’s a way to find out — that enough of these children can be sent back and have a secure place to go?

DAVID BROOKS:  That’s why governing is hard.  This is why it’s boring through hard boards, because how do you investigate where these kids — they can’t tell you.

It’s just this problem from hell.  How do you find out who can go back safely, who you can’t?  How do you set up a process for that?  And yet somehow we just can’t continue the way we’re going, because the horror that the kids are going through to try to get here is horrible enough.

MARK SHIELDS:  Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Right.

DAVID BROOKS:  And so it’s typical governance.  And that’s why it’s so easy to be a pundit.  You’re faced with cruelty on either side of this issue.

HEALTH - Setback, 'Cured Child' HIV Returns

"HIV rebound in young child is ‘another step’ in long process of AIDS research" PBS NewsHour 7/11/2014

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It was in March of last year that doctors thought they might have made a breakthrough in the goal of finding a cure for AIDS, treating a baby girl in Mississippi with early and unusually aggressive drug therapy.

The mother had HIV and had not been treated during pregnancy.  But the girl was treated within 30 hours of her birth and was free of the virus for two years.  Doctors allowed her to stay off therapy and, still, there were no signs of HIV returning.

But, yesterday, officials announced that the girl, now almost 4, had tested positive for HIV during a follow-up visit last week.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases joins me now.

And welcome back to you.

This is something that you and I talked about when the news came out last year.  So, remind us first why this seemed so hopeful, how this early and aggressive treatment promised such a difference.

POLITICS - Congressional Roadblock Threatens U.S. Transportation Infrastructure

Hay, the U.S. economy is still weak, now this Congressional (read Republican) roadblock will make it worst.

Hint to Congress (Democrats AND Republicans), this is worth whatever the cost.  Not paying for it will shortchange the economy.

"Construction companies relying on federal Highway Trust Fund face Congressional roadblock" PBS NewsHour 7/11/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The Federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for the building and fixing of many of the roads and bridges in this country, is running out of money.  Congress has only a few weeks to figure out how to keep it going.  And if it doesn’t, it could cost thousands of jobs.

The NewsHour’s Quinn Bowman traveled to West Virginia, where he looked in on one project dependent on the funds, and he talked to West Virginians who could be affected.

GARY TAYLOR, President, Bizzack Construction:  We’re in Logan, West Virginia.  This construction project is part of the Route 10 relocation.  It allows the traveling public to go from Man to Logan.  Ten millions cubic yards of excavation and, contract-wise, it’s about $75 million.

QUINN BOWMAN (NewsHour):  Gary Taylor’s company, Bizzack Construction, is part of the team turning this winding two-lane road into a new one double in size.  Much of the money for this and projects like it nationwide comes from the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

It was created in 1956 to finance and maintain the federal highway system, and relies on a gasoline tax, now pegged at 18.4 cents a gallon.  The revenue goes to reimburse states, which, in turn, pay companies like Bizzack for construction and maintenance.  But the fund has been spending more than it takes in for years, as inflation eats away at the value of the tax and increased fuel-efficiency reduces gasoline usage.

The money will start to dry up in August, but Congress is deadlocked over what to do.  Democrat Nick Rahall has represented West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District for 38 years.

THE SPY GAME - Germany vs United States

"Is Germany overreacting to allegations of U.S. espionage?" PBS NewsHour 7/10/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Germany announced today that it is kicking America’s top spy out of the country after new allegations of U.S. espionage.  Local media there have reported that a German Defense Ministry worker who dealt with international security issues was also being investigated because of his close contacts to U.S. spies.

And last week, a 31-year-old intelligence employee was arrested on suspicion of spying for foreign powers, reportedly the CIA, since 2012.  The allegations come on the heels of last fall’s revelation that the U.S. was intercepting the Internet traffic of millions of German citizens, and tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

Before the expulsion request was made public today, the chancellor told reporters that Germany and the U.S. have — quote — “very different approaches to intelligence.”

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter):  Spying on allies is a waste of energy in the end.  We have so many problems, and I think we should focus on the important things.  Just look at the challenges posed in Syria regarding ISIS.  If you look at the fight against terrorism, there are huge problems.  That is of the highest priority, from my point of view, and not spying among allies.

EDUCATION - Testing Students Using Real-Life Situations to Evaluate Schools

"Exam asks students to apply critical thinking skills to real-life situations" PBS NewsHour 7/10/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  A new report finds that U.S. students’ financial literacy is only average compared to students worldwide.  American students also don’t do any better on other international tests which assess math, reading and science skills.

What can be done to improve the performance of our schools?

Education correspondent John Merrow has our report.

JOHN MERROW (NewsHour):  It’s testing day for at Baltimore City College High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Students won’t arrive for another hour, but the adults in charge are already here, including Jill Morgan of CTB/McGraw Hill, the company that administers and scores the tests.

JILL MORGAN, CTB/McGraw Hill:  The test is math, science and reading.  It’s a continuous test and it’s approximately two hours’ times, and then it’s followed by a 35-minute questionnaire.

JOHN MERROW:  At first glance, it looks like a typical multiple choice exam, the kind that federal law requires every third through eight grader and 10th grader to take in math and reading.

It’s a test Jack Dale, former superintendent of Fairfax County, Virginia, Public Schools is very familiar with.

JACK DALE, Former Superintendent, Fairfax County Public Schools:  Typically, in our Virginia Standards of Learning test or the Maryland, it tends to focus more on what we call giving back information, regurgitation of facts and figures.

JOHN MERROW:  American students are already the most tested in the world.  Do schools really need another one?

PETER KANNAM, America Achieves:  The value of this is 15-year-olds across the globe can take this, and so you can take it and see how your school is doing against Singapore, Finland, and Spain.

IMMIGRATION - Current Border Crisis and Republican Stonewalling

Gee, there is an Immigration Reform bill in Congress being held up by Republicans and it's President Obama's fault?  NOT!

President Obama IS trying to follow CURRENT law.

"Amid border crisis, immigration judges push for more resources" PBS NewsHour 7/10/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  President Obama has asked Congress for almost $4 billion to deal with the recent influx of unaccompanied children from Central America.  But Republicans in Congress have showed no signs of quickly giving the administration what it wants.

Jeffrey Brown has our report.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Minority Leader:  What he appears to be asking for is a blank check, one that would allow him to sustain his current failed policy.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House:  We’re not giving the president a blank check.  Beyond that, we will await further discussions with our members before we make any final decisions.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  As the day began, Republican leaders were in lockstep against President Obama’s emergency request for $3.7 billion.  It’s aimed at stemming the flow of unaccompanied migrant children across the Mexican border, some 57,000 since October, mostly from Central America.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans insisted the president’s underlying immigration policy is the real problem and his budget request, by itself, is not the answer.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:  But we want to make sure we actually get the right tools to fix the problem.  And that’s not what we have seen so far from the president.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The White House shot back that there’s a clear and urgent need for funding to add more immigration judges, detention facilities and other programs.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson made the case at a Senate hearing this afternoon.

JEH JOHNSON, Secretary of Homeland Security:  The request that we have made for a $3.7 billion supplemental is indeed a lot of money for the taxpayer.  From my perspective, this request has the right focus on deterrence, added detention and removal.

HUMOR - Such a Life



----

Tricks are not just for dogs....


Thursday, July 10, 2014

UKRAINE - Russia Toned Down Rhetoric?

"Why has Russia toned down its rhetoric on Ukraine?" PBS NewsHour 7/9/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And Margaret joins me now.

So, Margaret, you have been talking to people in both governments, the U.S. and Ukraine.  You have been talking to people on the ground.  Is the Ukrainian military finally on a roll?

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  The picture, actually, privately, they admit both sides, that it’s not as rosy as portrayed.

That is, yes, they finally after really months of laying siege to Slavyansk managed to provoke a panicked retreat by the rebels.  And the national security adviser of Ukraine gave a briefing talking about that.  They left behind a lot of heavy equipment and weapons.  That was clearly a panicked escape.

But even he admitted that the rebels had succeeded by using the locals as human shields for months.  He said Donetsk is a whole ‘nother order with all of these people, and he said, it makes it very complicated for us.  He also admitted that even though they have sealed the road crossings from Russia, there is all this unprotected — I have been out to that border.

There is all this unprotected forest, he said, fields, rivers in which Russians are still trying to get men and material in.

VATICAN - Pope Francis Shaking Up the Bank

"Pope Francis reforms scandal-ridden Vatican Bank in hopes of making it ‘boringly successful’" PBS NewsHour 7/9/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Vatican officials announced today that the pope will replace top management of what’s often referred to as the Vatican Bank.  It’s more formally known as the Institute for the Works of Religion and is reported to manage nearly $8 billion in assets.

It’s been plagued for years by several scandals that include charges of corruption, money laundering and mismanagement.  That change was one of several announced today that impact the Vatican’s financial and property units.  It came two days after Pope Francis met in Vatican City with six victims of sexual abuse by clergy.  He apologized and asked for forgiveness from them during a homily and private mass.

The pope’s response to the sexual abuse scandals has been criticized by a number of victims.

John Allen covers the Vatican and global Catholicism for The Boston Globe.  He joins me from Denver.

So, let’s talk a little bit about the shuffle at the bank.  Why is this particular bank so significant?

EDUCATION - Play As an Official Teaching Tool?

"California school integrates play with learning" PBS NewsHour 7/9/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  When it comes to school, keeping students engaged is a challenge virtually all teachers face at one time or another.  Using technology as a tool is one of the new ways of doing it.

But one school in California is taking game play to an entirely different level.

The NewsHour’s April Brown has our latest report for American Graduate.  It’s a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

APRIL BROWN (NewsHour):  It’s not often you hear kids talk about school like this.

STUDENT:  I really like school now.  Like, I’m actually psyched to come.

STUDENT:  It just makes me feel good.

STUDENT:  I wake up every morning and I’m just like, yes.

APRIL BROWN:  These students have been taking part in a new experiment in educational innovation known as the PlayMaker School.  PlayMaker is, thus far, only for sixth graders who attend the private K-12 New Roads school in Santa Monica, California.  You won’t find desks, seating charts or even a normal grading system in their classroom.

Lessons often end up looking like this one, which, believe it or not, is an introduction to physics.

Nolan Windham and his classmates are playing a video game called Aero, wearing homemade wings which use repurposed controllers from a Nintendo Wii.

MIDDLE EAST - The Never Ending War, Rocket Attacks

COMMENT:  The worst mistake was the creation the Gaza strip.  Having two hostile populations on each side (border) of Israel is a blunder.  The population of Gaza should be in Palestine (aka West Bank), and what is now Gaza should be an integral part of Israel.  Unfortunately it's too late.

"Israeli forces launch airstrikes at Gaza to counter Hamas rocket attacks" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 7/8/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  In the Middle East, tensions are running even higher, as fighting between Israel and Hamas intensified again today.  Militant rockets reached Israel’s two largest cities, while Israeli airstrikes killed at least 25 people inside Gaza.

There was chaos in the streets of Gaza, as Palestinians ran for shelter, while Israeli forces blasted the coastal enclave.  Airstrikes and naval gunfire sent plumes of smoke billowing into the skies, reducing homes and buildings to piles of rubble.  The Israeli military called It Operation Protective Edge and released aerial video showing the results.  It said the targets included homes of Hamas militants who fire rockets into Southern Israel, plus concealed launch sites.

President Shimon Peres said his nation was left with no choice.

PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES, Israel:  They are shooting at our children, at our mothers, at our civilians.  What for?  We cannot compromise with death.  We cannot compromise with rockets.  We cannot compromise with this sort of behavior.  And we shall stop them.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The Israelis said more than 130 rockets were fired from Gaza in the last 24 hours.  Some were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, including two rockets that targeted Tel Aviv, the deepest strike so far.

Later, air raid sirens also sounded in Jerusalem, but the military said there were no casualties.  The government urged citizens living near Gaza to stay close to bomb shelters.

President Obama appealed for peace in a guest column for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.  He wrote:  “All parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution.”

But Hamas warned there would be no letup.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Spokesman, Hamas (through interpreter):  The resistance is defending the Palestinian people.  The occupation threats and crimes will not break our will.  We will continue to defend our people against these crimes.  We warn the occupation not to continue its crime against our people.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In turn, Israeli officials warned their offensive will go on until the rockets stop.  They also left open the possibility of a ground invasion.  Tanks and artillery have already massed along the Gaza border, and the Israeli government has authorized calling up 40,000 reservists.


"With no sign of cease-fire, current Mideast conflict could become long campaign" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 7/8/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  More rocket attacks and airstrikes ratcheted up tensions between Israel and Palestinians.  One militant rocket reached as far as Tel Aviv, while Israeli air force strikes killed at least 25 people inside Gaza.  Judy Woodruff talks to Josef Federman of The Associated Press from Jerusalem about the capabilities and motives of both sides, as well as the sense of fear gripping the region.

CHICAGO - The Most Violent Weekend

"Chicago grapples with how to curb gun violence after deadly weekend" PBS NewsHour 7/8/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Chicago is once again in the national spotlight for a level of gun-related violence that has pushed its homicide rate beyond New York and Los Angeles.  The city has made some progress in cutting down the number of murders, but dozens of shootings during the long Fourth of July weekend have raised fresh questions about the city’s efforts to stem the bloodshed.

It was the most violent weekend the nation’s third largest city has seen all year.  Police say at least 11 people died and 58 people were injured in 50 shootings over roughly three days.  News organizations, using different times for the start of the weekend, say the number is significantly higher, at least 14 dead, more than 80 wounded.

ANNETTE HOLT:  Supposed to be Independence Day, but it’s not independence for parents who lost their children to gun violence or any other citizen in the city of Chicago who lost their life to gun violence this weekend.

GWEN IFILL:  Yesterday, community leaders and residents joined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at an anti-violence vigil.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, Chicago:  A lot of people will say, where were the police, what are the police doing?  And that’s a fair question, but not the only question.  Where are the parents?  Where is the community?  Where are the gun laws?  Where are the national leaders?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

MIDDLE EAST - The Never-Ending War, Major Escalation

"Mideast tensions escalate in cycle of retribution for teen killings" PBS NewsHour 7/7/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to the Middle East, where there has been a major escalation of tensions just in the last few hours.  It follows days of unrest sparked by the deaths of three Israeli teens and a Palestinian teenager.  Three Israeli suspects in the killing of the Palestinian teen confessed to the crime today.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned the teen’s father and vowed the killers would be brought to justice.  Tonight, Hamas fired dozens of rockets into Israel, claiming revenge for Israeli airstrikes overnight which they say killed six of its members.

A short time ago, I spoke to Josef Federman, whose story covering — who has been covering a story for the Associated Press.

Josef, thank you for talking with us.

Bring us up to date on what is going on.  What is each side doing?

JOSEF FEDERMAN, The Associated Press:  Well, it’s been a pretty busy day here.

Things are heating up in Southern Israel along the Gaza border.  Gaza militants have fired about 100 rockets today into Israel or at Israel.  Israel has responded with some limited airstrikes earlier in the day.  Now, the rocket fire heated up, really intensified this evening.  There was a barrage of nearly 50 rockets after nightfall.

Some of them flew — or they set off alarms deep inside of Israel, about 50 miles away from the border, reaching almost the outskirts of Tel Aviv.  So this is seen as a bit of an escalation.  Israel hasn’t responded yet to this latest barrage, but we’re expecting a pretty long night.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  How is this different from what normally has been taking place there?

JOSEF FEDERMAN:  Well, most of the time, the rocket fire is pretty limited to — when there are attacks — and there are periods when it’s quiet altogether — but usually it’s limited to one or two or a handful of rockets that are fired at very short distances into open areas.

Now we are seeing just an intensity that we haven’t seen for several years, where it’s dozens and dozens each day.  The distance that they’re flying is a lot further and many of them are reaching populated areas.

EDUCATION - 2008 G.I. Bill, For-Profit Schools Ripping Off Veterans and Taxpayers

"Is GI Bill benefiting for-profit colleges instead of helping veterans?" PBS NewsHour 7/7/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next; how funds from the federal G.I. Bill are flowing to for-profit schools, even though, all too frequently, veterans’ prospects are not appreciably better after attending them.

The for-profit college sector is under the microscope.  The U.S. Department of Education is expected to cut federal aid to schools with high default rates.  The federal government and state attorneys general also are investigating marketing and lending practices of some schools.  More than $10 billion was spent on the G.I. Bill for veterans’ education last year.

Until now, for-profits have netted a growing amount of money from a new generation of vets.  In California, nearly two of every three G.I. Bill dollars is spent on for-profit schools.

Aaron Glantz has the story from our partners at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

AARON GLANTZ, The Center for Investigative Reporting:  The World War II G.I. Bill, it’s one of the most cherished programs in American history.  It paid the full cost of an education at any four-year college or university.

MAN:  You mean, he can get any kind of education he wants?  Now you’re getting the idea.

AARON GLANTZ:  The G.I. Bill was weakened in the decades after World War II, until Congress passed a new law in 2008 to help veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

And so, for the first time since World War II, veterans can receive the full cost of a college education, paid for by taxpayers, up to $19,000 a year.  But G.I. Bill money is not going where Congress expected.  For-profit schools like the University of Phoenix and Ashford University are among the largest recipients.

IMMIGRATION - What's Driving Migrant Children Across Our Borders


"Is hope of citizenship or endemic violence driving migrant children to cross the border?" PBS NewsHour 7/7/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  For more on what’s causing today’s circumstances, and possible remedies, we turn to Marshall Fitz.  He’s director of immigration policy with the Center for American progress.  It’s a left-leaning think tank in Washington.  And Jessica Vaughan, she’s the director for policy studies at the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies.

And we welcome you both to the program.

Marshall Fitz, let me start with you.  I want to ask you both this question.  What’s your understanding of why we are seeing this big influx of children, especially from Central America?

MARSHALL FITZ, Center for American Progress:  Well, it’s clear that the major drivers behind this recent influx are the conditions in the sending countries.

We know this for a fact because they are dispersing throughout the region.  It’s a regional crisis.  There’s a 712 percent increase in asylum applications in Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica.  So, the immigrants are leaving those three countries because of the endemic violence, the weak institutional government, and lack of protections for the civil society there.

And it’s happening now because that violence is escalating.  Honduras is the murder capital of the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And in fact, we have a — I think we have a graphic to show our audience, what is it, 90 — the highest number of deaths per 100,000 people, followed — the third country in that list is El Salvador — or, rather, the fourth is El Salvador and the fifth being Guatemala.

NSA - Intercepted Data and Who's Targeted

"In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are" by Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani; Washington Post 7/5/2014

Excerpt

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Many of them were Americans.  Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.  NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S. residents.

The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public.  There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.

Among the most valuable contents — which The Post will not describe in detail, to avoid interfering with ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks.

Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali.  At the request of CIA officials, The Post is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations.

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality.  They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.  The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are cataloged and recorded nevertheless.

In order to allow time for analysis and outside reporting, neither Snowden nor The Post has disclosed until now that he obtained and shared the content of intercepted communications.  The cache Snowden provided came from domestic NSA operations under the broad authority granted by Congress in 2008 with amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  FISA content is generally stored in closely controlled data repositories, and for more than a year, senior government officials have depicted it as beyond Snowden’s reach.

The Post reviewed roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.

The material spans President Obama’s first term, from 2009 to 2012, a period of exponential growth for the NSA’s domestic collection.

Taken together, the files offer an unprecedented vantage point on the changes wrought by Section 702 of the FISA amendments, which enabled the NSA to make freer use of methods that for 30 years had required probable cause and a warrant from a judge.  One program, code-named PRISM, extracts content stored in user accounts at Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and five other leading Internet companies.  Another, known inside the NSA as Upstream, intercepts data on the move as it crosses the U.S. junctions of global voice and data networks.

No government oversight body, including the Justice Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence committees in Congress or the president’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, has delved into a comparably large sample of what the NSA actually collects — not only from its targets but also from people who may cross a target’s path.

Among the latter are medical records sent from one family member to another, résumés from job hunters and academic transcripts of schoolchildren.  In one photo, a young girl in religious dress beams at a camera outside a mosque.

Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers.  In some photos, men show off their physiques.  In others, women model lingerie, leaning suggestively into a webcam or striking risque poses in shorts and bikini tops.

“None of the hits that were received were relevant,” two Navy cryptologic technicians write in one of many summaries of nonproductive surveillance.