Friday, April 24, 2015

EARTH DAY - Patent Potential, Changing the World

"He Holds the Patent that Could Destroy Monsanto and Change the World" by Jason, PRNFM 4/15/2015

If there’s anything you read – or share – let this be it.  The content of this article has potential to radically shift the world in a variety of positive ways.

And as Monsanto would love for this article to not go viral, all we can ask is that you share, share, share the information being presented so that it can reach as many people as possible.

In 2006, a patent was granted to a man named Paul Stamets.  Though Paul is the world’s leading mycologist, his patent has received very little attention and exposure.  Why is that?  Stated by executives in the pesticide industry, this patent represents “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed.”  And when the executives say disruptive, they are referring to it being disruptive to the chemical pesticides industry.

What has Paul discovered?  The mycologist has figured out how to use mother nature’s own creations to keep insects from destroying crops.  It’s what is being called SMART pesticides.  These pesticides provide safe & nearly permanent solution for controlling over 200,000 species of insects – and all thanks to the ‘magic’ of mushrooms.

Paul does this by taking entomopathogenic Fungi (fungi that destroys insects) and morphs it so it does not produce spores.  In turn, this actually attracts the insects who then eat and turn into fungi from the inside out!

This patent has potential to revolutionize the way humans grow crops – if it can be allowed to reach mass exposure.

Read more

EARTH DAY - An Apology to the Future

"Fox News & Sarah Palin Denounced In Stunning Earth Day Video" by Leslie Salzillo, Daily KOS 4/22/2015

In this visually beautiful and mesmerizing piece, 27 year-old Prince Ea apologies to future generations for what we are doing, and not doing, to the planet today.  The six-minute video contains so many great thought-provoking quotes, it's bound to be shared for many years.  So far, in less than 48 hours, his video has garnered over 35 million views on Facebook.

Here are some excerpts:

"Dear Future Generations, I think I speak for the rest of us when I say, 'Sorry.'  Sorry that we left you with a mess of a planet.  Sorry that we were so caught up in our own doings - to do something."

"Let me tell you, trees are amazing.  We literally breathe the air they are creating.  They clean up our pollution, our carbon, store and purify our water, give us medicine that cures our disease, food that feeds us…"

"I'm sorry that we put profits above people, greed above need, the rule of gold above the Golden Rule.  I'm sorry we used nature as a credit card with no spending limit…"

The majority of the video focuses on what we as a people are doing to hurt the environment and what we as a people can do differently.  Interestingly, Prince Ea chooses to zero in on the 'environmentally-challenged' Fox News and Sarah Palin, and he basically shames them.

"Hey Fox News, If you don't think climate change is a threat, I dare you to interview the thousands of homeless people in Bangladesh.  See while you were in your penthouse nestled, their homes were literally washed away beneath their feet due to the rising sea levels."

"And Sarah Palin.  You said you loved the smell of fossil fuels.  Well, I urge you to talk to the kids of Beijing who are forced to wear pollution masks just to go to school."

He goes on for a minute or two more apologizing to the future, stops the music, and then makes a incredibly proactive quote.

"Cut the beat."

"I'm not sorry.  This future, I do not accept it.  Because an error does not become a mistake, until you refuse to correct it."

Here is the video:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

BUYING ELECTIONS - Single Donor Super PACS

"Rapid Rise in Super PACs Dominated by Single Donors" by Robert Faturechi and Jonathan Stray, ProPublica 4/20/2015

Super PACs that get nearly all of their money from one donor quadrupled their share of overall fund-raising in 2014.

The wealthiest Americans can fly on their own jets, live in gated compounds and watch movies in their own theaters.

More of them also are walling off their political contributions from other big and small players.

A growing number of political committees known as Super PACs have become instruments of single donors, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal records.  During the 2014 election cycle, $113 million – 16 percent of money raised by all super PACs – went to committees dominated by one donor.  That was quadruple their 2012 share.

The rise of single-donor groups is a new example of how changes in campaign finance law are giving outsized influence to a handful of funders.

The trend may continue into 2016.  Last week, National Review reported that Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination would be boosted not by one anointed Super PAC but four, each controlled by a single donor or donor family.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling helped usher in the era of super PACs.  Unlike traditional political action committees, the independent groups can accept donations of any dollar size as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaign of any candidate.  Previously, much of the focus in big-money fundraising was on “bundlers” -- volunteers who tap friends and associates for maximum individual contributions of $5,400 to a candidate, then deliver big lump sums directly to the campaigns.  Former president George W. Bush awarded his most prolific bundlers special titles such as “Ranger” and “Pioneer.”

While bundling intensified the impact of wealthy donors on campaigns, the dollar limits and the need to join with others diluted the influence of any one person.  With a Super PAC, a donor can single-handedly push a narrower agenda.  Last year, National Journal profiled one such donor – a California vineyard owner who helped start the trend by launching his own Super PAC and becoming a power player in a Senate race across the country.

Beyond the single-donor groups, big donations are dominant across all kinds of Super PACs, according to the analysis.  Six-figure contributions from individuals or organizations accounted for almost 50 percent of all Super PAC money raised during the last two cycles.

“We are anointing an aristocracy that’s getting a stronger and stronger grip on democracy,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the influence of money on politics.

ProPublica’s analysis identified 59 Super PACs that received at least 80 percent of their funding from one individual during the 2014 cycle.  They raised a total of $113 million, compared with the $33 million raised by the 34 such groups that existed in 2012.

Donors who launch their own PACs are seeking more control over how their money is spent.  And many have complained about the commissions that fundraising consultants take off the top of their donations to outside groups.  But the move carries risks if the patron is new to the arena.

(see table at bottom)

In one cautionary tale, a reclusive 89-year-old Texas oilman with no political experience launched Vote2ReduceDebt, one of the nation’s highest-spending conservative Super PACs.  A ProPublica investigation found that much of the donor’s millions went to entities run by the group’s consultants or their close associates.  The Super PAC imploded as principals traded allegations including self-dealing, faked campaign events and a plot to siphon the PAC’s money to a reality TV show.

Bill Burton, a former Obama administration official who helped found Priorities USA, the juggernaut Super PAC affiliated with the president’s reelection campaign, said he expects donors to face more problems if they continue to go it alone.

“One of two things is going to happen,” he said.  “We will either see widespread flaunting of coordination rules or we will see some pretty spectacular failures to the tune of millions of dollars.”

The single-donor Super PACs identified by ProPublica span the political spectrum.  Among the top conservative donors were Richard Uihlein, a packaging supplies businessman, and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.  Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg spent heavily on both sides but leaned Democrat.  Hedge fund titan Tom Steyer dominated on the left.

In 2012 the largest single-donor Super PAC was former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Ricketts’ Ending Spending Action Fund, which raised over $14 million, 89 percent of which came from Ricketts.  It was the ninth-largest Super PAC by spending.  In 2014 Steyer’s Nextgen Climate Action was the largest Super PAC, raising almost $78 million, 85 percent from Steyer.  (Steyer’s wife, Kat Taylor, is a member of ProPublica’s board of directors, and the couple has donated to ProPublica.)

In addition to the Super PACs dominated by a single individual, dozens more received the great majority of their funding from one corporation, labor group or advocacy organization.  In 2014, those PACs represented 8.6 percent of super-PAC fundraising.

PACs dominated by one donor could run afoul of disclosure laws, according to Larry Noble, the former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission.  Under the rules, political ads must include disclosures about who funded them.  Noble said election law would require groups funded by one person to list that donor’s name, not just the name of the PAC – though he couldn’t recall the FEC addressing such a case.

Naming the Super PAC instead of the donor in the ad, Noble said, also allows the groups to delay disclosing where their money comes from until the next FEC filing date – potentially weeks after the ad runs.

“It defeats the purpose of the law to allow someone to hide behind a Super PAC if they are the only funder,” Noble said.

“They want to make it more authoritative, like there’s more support.  It looks better to say the ad is from Americans for Good Government than from John Smith…  That just makes a mockery of the law.”

Top Single-Donor PACs in 2014

Super PAC Largest Donor Contributions Lean $ raised from largest donor % raised from largest donor
NextGen Climate Action Committee Thomas Steyer Democrat $66,900,000 86%
Independence USA PAC Michael Bloomberg Democrat $17,431,931 100%
Vote 2 Reduce Debt (V2RD) Kenneth Davis Jr. Republican $2,892,526 97%
Values Are Vital Ronald Firman Republican $2,148,300 80%
CE Action Committee Thomas Steyer Democrat $1,825,000 92%
Liberty Principles PAC Inc* Richard Uihlein Republican $1,780,000 100%
Americans For Progressive Action Thomas Jordan Republican $1,700,000 100%
Americans For Common Sense (AFCS) Angelo Tsakopoulos Republican $1,347,000 98%
American Principles Fund Sean Fieler Republican $1,138,724 84%
CounterPAC Jim Greer Republican $852,123 91%
Americas PAC Richard Uihlein Republican $670,000 89%
New Hampshire Priorities Peter Taul Republican $562,000 88%
American Alliance Sheldon Adelson Republican $500,000 86%
Our America Fund Richard Uihlein Republican $500,000 97%
Character Counts Political Action Committee Gary Davis Republican $445,000 100%
Space PAC Martine Rothblatt Democrat $425,000 99%
Kansans For Responsible Government Willis Hartman Republican $285,100 97%
Protect The Harvest Political Action Committee Forrest Lucas Democrat $250,000 94%
US Jobs Council Robert Mercer Republican $200,000 91%
Spirit Of Democracy America Charles Munger Jr. Republican $149,375 82%

* Uihlein provided virtually all funding eligible for federal races during the 2014 cycle.  Liberty Principles received significant contributions from other donors for state and local races in Illinois, which was the group's focus.
Source:  ProPublica analysis

Monday, April 20, 2015

IN PICTURES - Humor and Beauty



UKRAINE - U.S. Trainers

Russia, "waaaaa, someone is playing in my sandbox."  Of course the world is supposed to ignore the Russian 'trainers' and Russian tanks, etc, now in Eastern Ukraine.

"U.S. troops are in Ukraine for training and the Kremlin isn’t happy about it" PBS NewsHour 4/19/2015

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Turning now to Europe:  About 300 American military trainers have arrived in Ukraine, prompting an angry response from the Kremlin.

For more about this, we are joined now via Skype from Moscow by Andrew Roth.

He has reported the story for The New York Times.

So, what are the American advisers doing on the ground?

ANDREW ROTH, The New York Times:  Hi, Hari.  The American advisers who came in, they’re from the 173rd Airborne, which is based in Italy.

And they have come to train Ukraine’s National Guard, about 1,000 members of the National Guard who were engaged in combat in the east of the country.  And they’re going to be working on what they said were sort of military training, as well as specifically focusing on the officer corps.

So, this is a very new unit in the National Guard, so their officers, a lot of them haven’t had much training yet at all.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, this is short of supplying any arms or weapons to Ukraine. The United States has refused to do that, right?

ANDREW ROTH:  So far, they have.  So, the United States has supplied some what is called nonlethal aid to Ukraine.

That involves — that includes promises to supply Humvees, both armored and unarmored, drones.

But they haven’t yet agreed to supply lethal aid, weapons, in particular anti-tank weapons that both people who are on the front lines, soldiers who are on the front lines…

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Right.

ANDREW ROTH:  … as well as officials in Kiev, desperately want.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  OK.  So what’s the reaction been in Moscow, where are you?

ANDREW ROTH:  The reaction in Moscow has been strong negative suggestions by President Putin’s spokesmen that this could destabilize the situation in the country.

We interpret that to mean new conflict or a new outbreak of violence in the southeast, although there have been a lot of terrorist acts in several cities in Ukraine as well.

But the Kremlin has really drawn a red line at supplying lethal aid.

So, I think that it’s not absolutely certain that the arrival of these military trainers is going to change the — the situation in the southeast.

What seems far more important to them is that countries like the United States and Europe and even Israel don’t supply weapons to Ukraine.  That seems to be their real red line.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Andrew Roth of The New York Times, joining us via Skype from Moscow, thanks so much.

ANDREW ROTH:  Thanks.

FBI - Overstated Evidence in '80s and '90s

COMMENT:  FBI personnel are human beings and 'to error' is human.  FBI testimony can be just as faulty as eye witness testimony when not backed by hard science.

"Report:  FBI investigators overstated evidence against criminal defendants" PBS NewsHour 4/19/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Justice Department and FBI formally acknowledged that FBI forensic investigators routinely gave flawed testimony overstating evidence against criminal defendants during the 1980s and 1990s.  In more than a dozen cases, defendants were later executed or died in prison.  Spencer Hsu of The Washington Post joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington to discuss.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  News from Washington tonight that, for nearly two decades, during the 1980s and ’90s, top FBI forensic investigators routinely gave flawed testimony, overstating the evidence they had against criminal defendants.

In more than a dozen cases, the defendants were later executed or died in prison.

Spencer Hsu broke the story in today’s Washington Post. He joins us now.

So, you said that this is a watershed moment in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals.  Break this down for us.

SPENCER HSU, The Washington Post:  What has been found has been, as you say, that, for more than two decades, nearly every examiner and nearly every criminal trial in which FBI experts gave testimony against criminal defendants, they overstated the strength or the significance of a match.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, you said that about a quarter of all the wrongful convictions, the people who have been exonerated later on, the testimony of hair examiners or bite mark comparisons have actually helped sway juries or judges.

SPENCER HSU:  That’s right.

Out of about 329 DNA exonerations, a quarter, more than a quarter have involved invalid forensic science.  One of the issues here is that, unlike DNA, which has a — was developed, you know, by scientists for scientists, a lot of the earlier pattern-based techniques, comparing hair, fiber, bite marks, even tracing bullets to — being fired from specific weapons, were developed in the lab by law enforcement.

INTERNET - Ransomware

"The hack attack that takes your computer hostage till you pay" PBS NewsHour 4/18/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Ransomware, a type of software that computer hackers use to hold individuals' data hostage by blocking access to files unless they agree to pay a ransom, is on the rise.  And because anyone with an internet connection is vulnerable, the problem highlights a growing threat that consumers face on both their personal computers and mobile devices.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Inna Simone is retired, a mother and grandmother from Russia who now lives outside of Boston.  Last November, her home computer started acting strangely.

INNA SIMONE:  My computer was working terribly.  It was not working, I mean, it was so slow.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  A few days later, while searching through her computer files, Inna saw dozens of these messages — they were all the same.   They read:  “Your files are encrypted.  To get the key to decrypt them, you have to pay $500 dollars.”  Her exact deadline — December 2nd at 12:48 pm – was just a few days away.

All her files were locked — tax returns, financial papers, letters — even the precious photos of her granddaughter Zoe.   Inna couldn’t open any of them.

INNA SIMONE:   It says, “If you won’t pay, within one week or whatever, your fine will double.  If you won’t pay by then, all your files will be deleted and you will lose them forever and never will get back."

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 4/17/2015

"Shields and Brooks on Pacific trade deal politics, Clinton and Rubio on the trail" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss this week’s news, including the potential domestic and global effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, defining the role of Congress in the Iran nuclear deal, Hillary Clinton’s campaign rollout and Sen. Marco Rubio’s potential in the Republican party.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  So, Mark, let’s talk about something not very exciting, but it’s really important.  It’s that Trans-Pacific Partnership that now we know the White House, the administration, a few Democrats, a lot of Republicans, have come together around, apparently.

Is this a good deal, based on what we know about it?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  Well, supporters of trade agreements, including the President, would argue, with logic, that elevated — these trade agreements have raised the standard of living across the globe.  They have lifted people out of poverty and led to greater economic activity.

They have been a disaster for American workers, a total disaster, beginning with NAFTA.  They have put all the power in the hands of the employer.  The employer threatens, if you don’t go along, if you don’t surrender your bargaining rights, if you don’t surrender your health and pension benefits, if you don’t surrender collective union membership, we will move your job overseas.

And as consequence of NAFTA some 22 years ago, documented by our own government, 755,000 jobs lost immediately…

JUDY WOODRUFF:  North American Trade Agreement.

MARK SHIELDS:  … five million fewer American — five million fewer American manufacturing jobs than there were.

And I just think the pattern, Judy, has been established in our society.  We see it where all — the trade agreements, the investor class capital is protected, whether it’s copyrights or whatever, intellectual property, their investments.  And they just pay lip service to workers’ rights.  And I just — I think it’s one more example.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And the President defended it again today, David, so that means he is siding the investor class?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  Yes, I don’t think so.

I agree with Mark’s first point.  The greatest reduction in human poverty — in human history of poverty has taken place because of this era of free trade.  And it’s been around the globe.  As for the domestic workers, it’s complicated.  It has hurt some people in some of the unions.  There’s no question about it.

The unions were dominant in the 1950s, when Europe was collapsed, when we had basically global dominance, 50 percent productivity gains.  And as the world has globalized, the unions have weakened.  And there have been some worker rights that have been sacrificed.  There’s no question about that.

It’s hurt people with fungible skills that can be replicated by those in China and India and elsewhere.  On the other hand, it has created many new jobs.  The vast field of research on this, on trade research, there are economists who are skeptics, who cite some of Mark’s numbers.

There are some, and I would say the majority are slightly pro-trade, are more pro-trade and think that, net-net, we have had a growth in jobs and there are certain industries devastated, but other industries created.

Finally, costs.  All of us rely and buy goods that come from Asia, from Africa, from Europe.  And those goods are much, much cheaper and our standard of living is much, much better because of these cheap goods that we benefit from and that people with lower incomes benefit from.

So, are there losers?  We are more acutely aware of the losers than we were.  And there are more losers than there were.  But are there winners?  There are a ton of winners.

MARK SHIELDS:  Median household income in the United States was lower in 2012 than it was in 1989.  I’m not saying solely because of this, but largely because of this.

Judy, if you want to see the dominance of capital that I think these trade agreements exemplify and embody, all you have to see is the 2008 crisis, economic crisis in this country.  Millions of ordinary Americans saw their futures, their savings, their homes wiped out.  And they got nothing in the way of relief.

Those who had caused it, who had brought the country to its knees, the big banks and the investment houses of Wall Street, were bailed out by people.  They were made whole.  So, you had a choice.  Who are you going to help and who you going to leave to make out for their own?

We have capitalism for the rich and we have free enterprise, high risk for workers.  And I just think this is what it exemplifies.  That’s what the resistance is about.  Will they defeat the President?  Probably not, because I think Republicans will be with him.  And I think the opposition has been weakened ever since NAFTA, over 22 years.

American workers have lost their clout politically.

DAVID BROOKS:  Global finance — the 2008 crash wasn’t a matter of trade.

MARK SHIELDS:  No.

DAVID BROOKS:  It was mostly a matter of the interlocking financial network, and which wasn’t about trading goods and services, sort of thing that’s involved in this.

And so I just — I don’t think that’s why the wages have been flat.  Secondly, on why the wages have been flat has not to do with trade.  It has to do with technology.  Trade is a small, small piece of this.  If we were closed in, and you were in a steel factory in Pittsburgh, and they invented all this new technology to forge steel with a fraction of the workers, it wouldn’t matter if we had global trade or not.  The technology was there and the technology was a lot cheaper.  So, technological advance is the lion’s share of why these wages have been flat.

MARK SHIELDS:  I’m not saying that 2008 was caused by trade.  I’m saying the template of the trade agreement of 1993, of — where capital was emphasized and deferred to, and workers were really basically left at the back of the bus, became the dominant model for our economy.

And it is to this day.  It is our politics.  And it was in 2008 on the bailouts.

IRAQ - Tikrit

"Liberated from Islamic State, Tikrit struggles with reconciliation" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Tikrit is the first major Sunni city retaken from the Islamic State militants, who were pushed out of that stronghold with the help of U.S. airstrikes and Shia fighters -- some of whom are backed and equipped by Iran.  But the struggle for national reconciliation is far from over, with accusations of looting and revenge attacks.  Special correspondent Jane Arraf reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And we turn now to an on-the-ground report from Iraq.

NewsHour special correspondent Jane Arraf brings us this story from Tikrit.

JANE ARRAF (NewsHour):  This courtyard in Tikrit has become a place of pilgrimage and a reason to fight.  The plaque commemorates what is believed to be one of the biggest massacres in modern Shia history.

Shortly after ISIS took over Mosul and Tikrit last June, it executed hundreds of young air force cadets and army recruits from nearby Camp Speicher.  At least 200 were believed to have been executed here, killed because they were military and they were Shia.

“We have offered our youth, the best of our youth to Iraq and the Iraqi people,” says a representative of one of Iraq’s most revered Shia clerics.  “We have achieved our liberty through the martyrs of Camp Speicher.”

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shia responded to a fatwa by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani calling on them to work with the Iraqi military to fight the Islamic State group.  His representative says they don’t need American help, just more Iraqi assistance.

CHINA - Another Land Grab

China just believes (mistakenly) anything bordering the 'South China Sea' belongs to them AND they do not care what the international community says.

"China expands claim on disputed islands by adding sand" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2015

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to growing tensions in Asia over who controls contested areas in the South China Sea.  China has recently tried to expand its claim by dumping tons of sand to build up small reefs into islands capable of holding military equipment.

MAN:  China would rather use its bullying force against a small country like the Philippines.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Tough words in Manila today, and protests outside China’s embassy, in what’s become a big dispute over a small chain of islands in the South China Sea.

They’re called the Spratlys, about 1,000 miles south of China’s Hainan province.  The archipelago is claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.  But in recent satellite images, it is China that appears to have built up one of the islands, known as the Fiery Cross Reef, constructing an airstrip there.  The island is reportedly large enough for a 9,500-foot runway, which could accommodate military aircraft.

Today in Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman defended the project.

HONG LEI, Spokesman, Foreign Ministry Spokesman, China (through interpreter):  The relevant construction is conducted within China’s sovereign territory.  It is reasonable, understandable and legal, and it is not targeting or affecting any other country.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The U.S. has weighed in on the dispute.  The commander of American forces in the Pacific spoke at a congressional hearing.

ADM. SAMUEL LOCKLEAR, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command:  The implications are, if this activity continues at pace, is that it — it would give them de facto control, I think, in peacetime, of much of the world’s most important waterways.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The U.S. has expressed concerns about China’s land reclamation, which has gotten so tense at points that Chinese ships have blocked vessels from other countries.


"Why the U.S. is worried about China’s land grab" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Tensions among some Asian nations are growing after satellite images showed that China has been building up small islands in a disputed area of the South China Sea.  Judy Woodruff talks to retired Adm. Dennis Blair, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, to learn more about the contested area and the U.S. response.

PEOPLE - Lies vs Truth

from wikiHow



22309 intro.jpg


Looking at facial expressions to determine whether a person is lying might just save you from being a victim of fraud.  Or it could help you to know it's safe to trust your heart and get involved with an attractive stranger.  Jury analysts use lie detection when helping to select a jury; the police do it during interrogation.  Even judges use lie detection to determine which side to rule in favor of.  To use these techniques, you'll need to learn how to read the little facial and body expressions that most people don't notice.  It takes a little practice but having this skill can be fascinating!  To get started, read on...

OKLAHOMA CITY - Bombing's 20th Anniversary

"‘There was no playbook’ for handling the Oklahoma City bombing" PBS NewsHour 4/16/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  At the 20th anniversary, we look back at the Oklahoma City bombing.  Public television station OETA shares reflections from survivors and victims’ families, and Judy Woodruff talks to former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, former Director of Homeland Security of Oklahoma Kerry Pettingill and Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for the district of Kansas, for lessons learned from the attack.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, a moment that shocked the nation and changed the way we think about threats at home.

Two minutes past 9:00 on the morning of April 19, 1995, downtown Oklahoma City is torn apart.

MAN:  I went under the table when the ceiling started falling in. And that’s what saved me, I guess.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  A Ryder truck loaded with a diesel fuel and fertilizer bomb blew up next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, cutting it in half; 168 people, including 19 children in its day care center, died.  More than 650 were injured.

On April 21, Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh and another former soldier, Terry Nichols, were arrested, and later formally charged with the bombing.

Two days later, then President Bill Clinton came to comfort the city and the country.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:  For we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.

(APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF:  McVeigh and Nichols, members of far right-wing anti-federal-government groups, timed the attack for the two-year anniversary of the fiery end to the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidians.  That breakaway religious sect, in Waco, Texas, had staged a 51-day standoff with law enforcement, which ended with an FBI-led assault on the heavily armed compound; 76 members of the group died that day.

In 1997, McVeigh was found guilty on 11 federal counts of murder and conspiracy.  He was sentenced to death and executed in 2001.  Nichols was later found guilty on federal charges of conspiracy and manslaughter and 161 state counts of first-degree murder.  He is serving multiple life sentences in a Colorado federal prison.

The anniversary will be recognized throughout the coming weekend in Oklahoma City, and there will be much attention on how survivors and families are faring.

Our colleagues at the PBS station OETA produced a documentary called “Resilience” and spoke with many of them.  It was done in conjunction with The Daily Oklahoman newspaper.  Here’s an edited excerpt.

AMERICA - Welfare to Work Stagnation

"Why it’s so hard to get off welfare" PBS NewsHour 4/16/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Since 1996, in order to get welfare in the U.S., you have to work.  The Clinton Welfare-to-Work program successfully got millions of families off the social safety net program.  But today's recipients face stagnant low wages and limited resources for job training, making it nearly impossible for many to gain economic mobility. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  There’s a growing push at the state level to crack down on welfare spending.  In some cases, it’s about how much is spent and for how long.  In other cases, it’s about making sure the money is spent well.

Kansas became the latest state today, when Governor Sam Brownback signed a law establishing stricter limits on eligibility and the use of benefits.  Nearly two dozen states have made some kind of change to their rules.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has been looking into welfare reform and how it’s been working before these latest moves.  It’s part of our ongoing reporting Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.

ASHLEY MURPHY:  The wait is crazy there, like almost three to four hours.

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  Three to four hours?

ASHLEY MURPHY:  Minimum to just go, like, into the office.

PAUL SOLMAN:  In Boston, 24-year-old Ashley Murphy, single mother of a boy, 4, and girl, 1.  She’s been on welfare since 2013, would do anything to get off.

ASHLEY MURPHY:  I feel like they kind of look down on you in a way.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Murphy is now in a privately funded career training class, hoping to get a job in nursing and off welfare, which she’s on because she quit her last job in retail.

IMHO:  The restrictions on welfare is a sub-conscience push to keep poor people 'in their place' and it is in keeping with Republican mindset of money before people (people are not worth spending money on).

Also the mistaken belief that these people are just lazy, 'no accounts.'  "Are there no workhouses?" - "A Christmas Carol" (1843) by Charles Dickens.

INTERNET - EU vs Google

"EU says Google favors its shopping service in user searches" PBS NewsHour 4/16/2015

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now a look at the antitrust action the European Union has filed against Google.

We start with a little background.

MARGRETHE VESTAGER, Competition Commissioner, European Union:  Today, we have adopted a statement of objection to Google.

GWEN IFILL:  After a five-year investigation, the European Union has charged Google with using its Internet search dominance to favor its own Google shopping engine.

E.U. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager:

MARGRETHE VESTAGER:  What we would like to see is that consumers are certain to see the best comparison shopping results, and they shouldn’t just be shown the Google shopping results.

GWEN IFILL:  The move could lead to billions of dollars in fines for Google, which handles more than 90 percent of Internet searches in E.U. countries.  Its U.S. share is around 70 percent.

Google responded to the accusations yesterday, insisting that its shopping results have not harmed the competition, adding, “Any economist would say that you typically do not see a ton of innovation in sectors dominated by one player.  Yet that is exactly what’s happening in our world.”

In a separate probe, the E.U. is looking into Google’s Android mobile system.  Officials say the company is illegally obstructing rival systems, applications and services.  Google has 10 weeks to respond.  The case is just the latest in Europe’s battles with major U.S. tech companies.  Microsoft was forced to pay more than $2 billion in fines during a decade-long antitrust fight.  And Apple, Facebook, and Amazon have also faced off with European regulators.


"Is Google’s search engine dominance hurting EU consumers?" PBS NewsHour 4/16/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In response to the EU’s charges that Google uses its search engine dominance to favor Google Shopping, the company said shopping results have not harmed the competition nor innovation.  Gwen Ifill talks to the European Union’s Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager about Google’s alleged offense and the EU’s crackdown on other tech companies.


FYI:  In reference to EU looking at the Android, the "Android is a mobile operating system (OS) based on the Linux kernel."

FAST FOOD WORKERS - Largest Strikes to Date

"Fast Food Workers in 236 Cities Pull Off Largest Strikes Yet as Other Low-wage Workers Join Fight" by David Moberg, In These Times 4/16/2015

A hand-lettered placard, reading “McDonald’s: Stop Fooling Around, $15 and a union,” caught the spirit of the crowd of at least 3,000 protestors in Chicago for a march to a McDonald’s restaurant in the downtown Loop area connected to the Chicago Board of Trade.  In 236 cities in the U.S. and roughly 100 more around the world from Sao Paulo to New Zealand and from Glasgow to Tokyo, according to protest spokespeople, fast food and other low-wage workers joined together to pressure employers like McDonald’s to raise their workers’ pay.

Organizers claimed that it was the largest protest by low-wage workers in U.S. history.  And it may very well rank as one of the broadest global worker protests ever undertaken against multinational corporations—one reinforced by recent investigations and lawsuits in Europe against the company for violations of labor, health, safety, tax and other laws.

With its intense public relations campaign, the campaign amplifies the actions of fast food workers—some of whom walk off their assigned shifts as in a traditional strike.  For brand-sensitive consumer product companies, many organizers believe, such bad publicity can cost companies greatly—and potentially open up new organizing possibilities.

These protests have also changed the political climate, both locally and nationally.  Seattle and Sea-Tac in Washington and San Francisco have raised their minimum to $15 an hour.  The same change may be possible sometime soon in both Los Angeles and the District of Columbia.  In Chicago, politically embattled Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed under political pressure to raise the minimum to $13 over several years—far above what he would have contemplated a short while ago.  The movement is likely to keep pressure over the coming year on Democratic candidates, even presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton, to advocate the higher pay levels.

Some established unions have played key roles in building this movement over the past two and a half years, most notably the Service Employees International Union—which has largely staffed and bankrolled the Fight for $15, but also by unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers, the initiator of OURWalmart, and in Chicago, the small but militant United Electrical Workers, who founded Warehouse Workers for Justice.  WWJ members—including some from a warehouse/assembly plant in the Chicago suburbs that makes paper cups for McDonald’s—joined in the April 15 rally.

The ranks of the April 15 rally expanded with the participation of workers from many industries beyond fast foods, such as home care and day care workers, student and college campus workers, airport workers and many more (many of them existing or potential SEIU members).  Raising the minimum to $15 an hour would help nearly all of them.  But conditions for workers in many of these low-wage industries are also worsened by management practices, such as employing many part-time workers, some of whom have erratic schedules and income.

For example, full-time UPS workers typically start at around $18 an hour, but part-timers usually make only around $11 an hour, even though they all belong to the Teamsters union.  Indeed, as the Fight for $15 movement expands, it is picking up support from many workers who have low-wages despite having union contracts.  Even starting assembly workers or parts plant workers in a traditionally high-wage and unionized industry such as automobile manufacturing would benefit from setting a $15 benchmark for pay.

Darrel Tucker, 52, started work part-time for UPS at $8 an hour in New York when he was recruited by a temp agency from his temporary home in a shelter.  Now he has advanced to a full-time slot at close to $19 an hour.  “One of the reasons I’m involved is I understand what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet,” he says, although he still relies on publicly subsidized housing in high-rent New York.

Indeed, one of the reasons that the demonstration was called on “Tax Day” was to emphasize how much low-wage workers rely on public services provided by taxpayers as a result of employers, such as McDonald’s, not paying adequately, as a recent report from the University of California at Berkeley revealed.

Work should pay enough for a decent life, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry said at an early morning protest in the San Francisco bay area, and protesting workers found allies joining them in mutual support from religious groups, community organizations, and social justice movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter.

Tim Sylvester, president of Tucker’s Local 804 of the Teamsters and a candidate for the international union presidency, says he encouraged his members to participate on April 15 because “member-to-member mobilization is the best way to show corporations we have the power.”

Fight for $15 is still largely a movement of workers without a formal and legally recognized union structure.  But they are a union in deed if not name by virtue of their direct, collective actions and their ideas.  Indeed, their daring act of setting what seemed an implausible goal of virtually doubling most of the country’s base wage in one giant leap, not with timid incremental steps, inspired workers around the country.

The worst-paid workers in America have been the mainly silent and most extreme victims of the rising inequality and wage stagnation for the past 40 years in America.  Their occupations have also been—and are projected to be—the fastest growing part of the workforce.  According to recent research by the National Employment Law Project, around 42 percent of all workers earn less than $15 an hour.

Disproportionately young, female and people of color, they are both the least unionized workers in the country and typically the most sympathetic to the idea of forming a union, even if they have little direct experience with organized labor.  They have also long been seen as a fluid, unstable workforce that would be extremely difficult to organize.

But many have shown that they are willing to act, even if they don’t have a majority with them, and through those actions win support not only from co-workers but also from the general public.  They are putting the passion and impulsiveness of youth behind a moral project that has inspired widespread recognition of the legitimacy of their demands.

They have had to overcome the skepticism of many and the inaccurate dismissal of their work as simply temporary, unskilled, and teenager, entry-level work that didn’t deserve decent wages.  For example, one ex-military colleague of Tucker’s said that McDonald’s workers should not be paid wages that would be higher than many more experienced and skilled workers, especially since many of them couldn’t even take his order correctly.

But don’t tell that to Nancy Salgado, 28, single mother and college student studying psychology, and a long-time McDonald’s worker in Chicago.  She witnessed how “year after year the corporation makes lots of money but workers don’t.  So you don’t notice it when you’re living in your own little world.  But seeing other workers and understanding their struggle is my strength.  After all, $15 an hour is not a rich life, just a way to pay the rent and bills.”

For many years, there has been a widespread sentiment that fast-food and other low-wage service workers would be impossible to organize.  SEIU, later AFSCME, and a few other unions have made progress, especially with those whose pay comes from government sources (such as home health care givers).  Serendipitously, on April 15, Good Jobs Nation was also formally demanding that Congress act on the federal government’s shameful record as the largest direct or indirect employer of low-wage workers in the country, as huge numbers of its contractors pay minimum wage.

The question is still open for debate in the private sector.  For example, the Communications Workers have started a drive to organize bank workers, whose jobs are unstable and poorly paid in the U.S., but unionized, more skilled and much better paid relative to national standards throughout most of the world.  Yet it is unquestionably difficult in the U.S. as the long-running campaign of the UFCW to organize Walmart has found.

Organizers are by necessity wildly hopeful and prepared for the worst at the same time.  One continuing question arises about campaigns such as Fight for $15:  Can the labor movement make the conversion from a populist movement to a self-sustaining workplace organization?  Is there an “endgame” to the very effective but also very expensive campaign, an endgame that results in unionization?  That, after all, is the oft-forgotten half of the Fight for $15—and a Union (without management interference).

“A union is very important,” Salgado says.  “We’re not only fighting for $15 an hour but also to form a union without retaliation.  Having money without a union means we’re still not protected, because we don’t have any security.”  She expects McDonald’s to fight back, but says the recent raise won’t fool many workers.  “They’re just trying to calm us down.”

Salgado is not easily calmed partly because she recognizes that even after she graduates from college, she might still have difficulty finding a job in her chosen field and may have to rely on jobs like those at McDonald’s.  And the mutual support she found in the movement helps to give her greater understanding of the importance of what she and others are doing.

“We’re all leaders in this fight,” she says.  “We are all committed to change our lives.”

ALZHEIMER'S - Another Breakthrough

"Researchers at Duke have made breakthrough on Alzheimer's treatment" Daily KOS 4/16/2015

Duke University scientists have potentially discovered new avenues for Alzheimer's and dementia treatments.

They observed that in Alzheimer’s, immune cells that normally protect the brain instead begin to consume a vital nutrient called arginine.

By blocking this process with a drug, they were able to prevent the formation of ‘plaques’ in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, and also halted memory loss in the mice.

What's more is that they were researching with a drug that has already begun human trials for cancer treatments—possibly paving the way for clinical trials in the near future.

While no technique that is tested in an animal can be guaranteed to work the same way in humans, the findings are particularly encouraging because, until now, the exact role of the immune system and arginine in Alzheimer’s was completely unknown.

The drug that was used to block the body’s immune response to arginine – known as difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) – is already being investigated in drug trials for certain types of cancer and may be suitable for testing as a potential Alzheimer’s therapy.

This follows on the heels of other recent breakthroughs in possible "plaque fighting" techniques for Alzheimer's patients.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "The Road to Character"

"Why character, not career success, is key to a life of consequence" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  What do Dwight Eisenhower, George Eliot and Dorothy Day all have in common?  Besides achieving career success, all overcame a personality weakness -- such as a bad temper or big ego -- that led to internal transformation.  Judy Woodruff sits down with David Brooks to discuss his new book, “The Road to Character,” and rethinking our personal priorities.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now: our newest addition to the NewsHour Bookshelf.

In “The Road to Character,” our own David Brooks urges us all to rethink our priorities.

I talked with him late last week at Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and bookstore chain in and around Washington.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  David Brooks, thank you for talking to us about this.

DAVID BROOKS, Author, “The Road to Character”:  Good to see you in a strange setting.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, the people who see you every week on the NewsHour analyzing the news or read you in The New York Times may not realize that you have a lot of interest in things that go beyond politics and policy.

And they may be asking, is this the same David Brooks I see on television who wrote this book?

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes.  I wasn’t born with a tie or with Mark Shields stapled to my left hip.  I have another life.

And that’s sort of the balance of what this book is about.  The idea is based on the idea that we have two separate sets of virtues, which I call the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  And the resume virtues are the ones we bring to the marketplace.  Are we good at being journalists or teachers or accountants?

And the eulogy virtues are the things they say about you after you’re dead.  And they’re deeper?  Were you honest, were you caring, were you courageous, were you capable of deep love?

And we live in a culture and I have lived a life that’s spent a lot more time thinking about the resume virtues than the eulogy ones, but we all know the eulogy ones are more important.  And so this book is about people who developed those deeper virtues and how they did it.

SCIENCE - Mapping Dark Matter

"Mapping dark matter may help solve a cosmic mystery" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  We can't see dark matter, but scientists have made the largest map yet of the invisible material that helps make up the universe.  Researchers used a dark energy camera and a large telescope to create a color-coded chart of just a small part of the cosmos.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology about how they did it and why it matters.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Scientists have announced the creation of the largest map yet of the invisible material that helps make up the universe, what’s known as dark matter.

Jeffrey Brown explores some of the very cosmic questions around this story.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  That’s worth saying again:  We can’t see it, but we can apparently map it.  What’s called dark matter is, in fact, everywhere, and it’s believed to play a crucial role in forming and holding together galaxies with its gravitational pull.

In findings announced Monday, researchers used a dark energy camera and a large telescope in Northern Chile to create this color-coded map, showing a small piece of the visible sky.  Orange and red areas represent denser concentrations of dark matter. Blue areas are less dense.

And Sean Carroll joins us now to tell us about it.  He’s a cosmologist and theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology.

U.S. CONGRESS - Iran Oversight

"Senators reach bipartisan agreement on Iran oversight bill" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2015

"JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now, a bipartisan breakthrough to let Congress vote on a final nuclear deal with Iran.  A compromise bill won committee approval today 19-0, and a presidential veto threat evaporated.

News of the compromise came as senators entered a briefing by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Tennessee Republican Bob Corker chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) Tennessee:  I believe Congress should play a role in ensuring that all the details that need to be in place are there, and that, on behalf of the American people, before the congressionally- mandated sanctions are lifted, that we on their behalf ensure that this is something that holds Iran accountable, is enforceable, and certainly is very transparent.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  That was echoed by Corker’s opposite number on the committee, ranking Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland.

SEN. BEN CARDIN, (D) Maryland:  I think this is the right way for Congress to be — to take up this issue.  I think this is congressional prerogative and we’re the ones who imposed the sanctions.  We’re the ones who are going to have to take it up for permanent changes.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Under the compromise, Congress will have 30 days to review a final nuclear deal with Iran.  If it disapproves the deal, the President gets 12 days to veto that action.  Then, Congress has 10 days to try to override any veto.

But the congressional review period reverts to 60 days if a final agreement with Iran comes after July 9.  That’s nine days past the negotiators’ deadline.  Senate supporters have been working to make sure the measure would garner a veto-proof majority of 67 votes.

But the White House suggested today a veto is no longer in the cards.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:  We have gone from a piece of legislation that the president would veto to a piece of legislation that’s undergone — that’s undergone substantial revision, such that it is now in a form of a compromise that the president would be willing to sign.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  That set the stage for this afternoon’s unanimous vote in the Foreign Relations Committee, while, in Madrid, Spain:

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, Foreign Minister, Iran:  I think we are, in fact, close to an agreement.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Iran’s foreign minister announced talks on the final deal will begin April 21.  But he insisted again on lifting economic sanctions all at once, something the U.S. has rejected.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF:  Whatever happens inside the U.S. and however they want to spin it, all the sanctions, economic and financial sanctions that have been imposed on Iran by the U.N., by the E.U. and by the United States must go in the first stage.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  All of which suggests negotiators still have a way to go before there’s any agreement for Congress to review.


"Despite skepticism of Iran, ‘no good alternatives’ to making a deal, says Sen. Flake" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reached an agreement to spell out the role of Congress in the event of an Iran nuclear agreement.  How did they do it?  Judy Woodruff gets insight and reaction from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plus analysis from chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner and political editor Lisa Desjardins.

TECHNOLOGY - Water Pipe Generators

"How drinking water pipes can also deliver electric power" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2015

Excerpts
SUMMARY:  Hydroelectricity -- using the flow of water to generate power -- has long been a small but key source of renewable energy.  How can cities around the country better harness that potential?  A startup in Portland, Oregon, has developed a system that gets energy from gravity-fed drinking water pipes to produce electricity without any environmental impact.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Industrial engineer Susan Priddy takes advantage of rare sunny days in Portland to ride her Harley to work.  And in her job as director of operations for Lucid Energy, she takes advantage of the regions’s abundant water supply.  This small start-up has developed a new technology.

SUSAN PRIDDY, Lucid Energy:  How’s it going today?

MAN:  Very well.

SUSAN PRIDDY:  What is our energy coming out today?

MAN:  Right now, we’re running about 40 kilowatts.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Priddy and Lucid engineers were monitoring the energy generated by drinking water as it flows through turbines integrated into these pipes.  Lucid has designed the first hydroelectric system designed to harness the energy in gravity-fed drinking water pipes found throughout Portland and in many municipalities around the country.
-----
GREGG SEMLER, Lucid Energy:  The advantage of the Lucid pipe system is that we produce electricity all the time, around the clock, without any environmental impact.  So, it’s very unusual to find sources of energy that you can produce electricity without any environmental impact in today’s world.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And how does it compare to the renewable energy sources that most of us are familiar with today, solar and wind?

GREGG SEMLER:  When you compare the cost of the Lucid pipe power system with other traditional sources of renewables, like wind and solar, to generate the same amount of energy that Lucid is generating would cost three of four times more for the same amount of energy.

TECHNOLOGY - Cement CO2 Sponge?

"This cement alternative absorbs CO2 like a sponge" PBS NewsHour 4/13/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Cement has been called the foundation of modern civilization, the stuff of highways, bridges, sidewalks and buildings of all sizes.  But its production comes with a huge carbon footprint.  Environmental chemist David Stone was seeking a way to keep iron from rusting when he stumbled upon a possible substitute that requires significantly less energy.  Special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Climate change has prompted scientists to search for new ways to reduce greenhouse gases in all kinds of fields.

Now an Arizona inventor has discovered an alternative to the unlikely cause of fully 5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Special correspondent Kathleen McCleery has the story, part of our Breakthroughs series on invention and innovation.

DAVID STONE, Inventor:  I have here the last surviving bit of an experiment that went wrong.

KATHLEEN MCCLEERY (NewsHour):  Thirteen years ago, David Stone was a Ph.D. student studying environmental chemistry.

DAVID STONE:  It was the corner lab right up here.

KATHLEEN MCCLEERY:  In a lab at the University of Arizona in Tucson, he hunted for a way to keep iron from rusting and hardening up.

DAVID STONE:  It got hot.  It started to steam.  It was bubbling and spitting.  And I thought, well, that — that didn’t work.  The next day, when I came in and I found it and rescued it from the garbage, I realized, this just didn’t get hard.  It got very hard, glassy hard.

This one was cast by hand.

KATHLEEN MCCLEERY:  Stone — that’s his real name — began to think his discarded rock just might be a substitute for a very common product, cement.

IRS - Budget Cuts Hamstringing Functions

"Are budget cuts and Obamacare confusion causing IRS bottleneck?" PBS NewsHour 4/13/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Bad news for taxpayers this year:  If you have questions for the Internal Revenue Service, getting through is going to take longer.  If you're waiting for a refund, you may face a delay.  The IRS attributes this to five years of federal budget cuts, which have led to a hiring freeze and a lack of resources.  Judy Woodruff interviews Commissioner John Koskinen about these problems and oversight of the IRS.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  As Tax Day approaches, the Internal Revenue Service has an unusual warnings for taxpayers:  Not everyone who calls the IRS help center will be able to reach an agent, which could result in refund delays this year.

The agency blames budget cuts.  But critics say the IRS should blame itself.

Judy Woodruff sat down recently for this conversation with the IRS commissioner.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And we are joined by the man in charge, Commissioner John Koskinen of the Internal Revenue Service.

Welcome to the NewsHour.

JOHN Koskinen, Commissioner, IRS:  Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, let me just start this interview by citing a couple of numbers we have on taxpayers’ experiences with the IRS this year.

We know that, last year, 70 percent of the people who tried to get through with a question were successful.  This year, that’s down to fewer than 40 percent.  The average wait time for taxpayers trying to get through to the IRS with questions shot up from 10 minutes last year to 24 minutes this year.

What has happened?

JOHN KOSKINEN:  The short answer is that Congress cut our budget and we have fewer people available to answer the phone.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Flesh that out for us.  How much of a budget cut?  What does that mean and how many…

JOHN KOSKINEN:  Well, over the last five years, our budget has been cut by $1.2 billion.

In December of this year, the last $350 million of that cut was provided.  We only had nine months left in the year, so we had to take difficult choices across the board.  One of them was, 70 percent or more of our budget is personnel.  So, had to immediately say we wouldn’t hire any new personnel.

We also had to not hire for as long a period of time as many seasonal workers that we bring in during the tax season, because that’s the busiest time of the year.  And we didn’t hire our couple thousand temporary employees we normally would hire.

And those are all decisions we knew would have a negative impact on taxpayer services.  We had warned the Congress about it, but we had no choice.

SPORTS - A New Golf Rivalry?

"Is Jordan Spieth’s Masters win the start of a great golf rivalry?" PBS NewsHour 4/13/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Twenty-one-year-old Jordan Spieth made golf history this weekend as the second-youngest golfer to win the Masters Tournament -- just a few months older than Tiger Woods was when he won his first green jacket.  He also set several records, including one for making the most birdies at a Masters.  Jeffrey Brown looks at Spieth’s career and accomplishment with John Feinstein of The Washington Post.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Jordan Spieth led the tournament from start to finish, the first time that’s happened in 39 years, as he beat back challenges from some of the game’s biggest names.

Along the way, he set several records, for lowest score after 36 holes and after 54 holes and for making the most birdies at one Masters.  After four days, he got to don the traditional green jacket of the Masters winner, having tied the 72-hole record of Tiger Woods.

Spieth spoke about that moment immediately afterwards.

JORDAN SPIETH, 2015 Masters Tournament Champion:  To put on this jacket is incredible.  This feels great.  I plan on not taking it off for quite a while.

(LAUGHTER)

JORDAN SPIETH:  Probably sleep in it for the next few nights.  But this is — it was a test.  There is a reason I have a hairline like this right now.  And that’s because it’s stressful, what we do, on a daily basis.

And to be able to come to the world’s greatest and to come out on top, it puts a lot of confidence in me.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Some perspective now from John Feinstein, a columnist for The Washington Post and the author of several books about golf, including “A Good Walk Spoiled.”  He was in Augusta this weekend.

John, what was the most interesting aspect to this?  Is it his age or the manner of his victory?  What was it?

JOHN FEINSTEIN, Washington Post:  I think it was the manner of his victory.

To sleep on the lead, as they say in golf, for three straight nights…

CYBERSECURITY - Big Business, No Incentive For Greater Security

Greed Files post

"Data breaches may cost less than the security to prevent them" by Michael Kassner, TechRepublic 4/9/2015

Companies have little incentive to invest in cybersecurity, says Benjamin Dean.  The security expert says the reason why may be moral hazard.

When it comes to data breaches, 2014 was a banner year.  However, if Benjamin Dean, Fellow for Internet Governance and Cyber-security, School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, did his math right, 2015 will be more of the same.

In a March 2015 column on The Conversation, Dean provided a hard to disagree with defense of why things security-wise "ain't gonna change" soon.  "When we examine the evidence, though, the actual expenses from the recent breaches at Sony, Target and Home Depot amount to less than 1% of each company's annual revenues," wrote Dean.  "After reimbursement from insurance and minus tax deductions, the losses are even less."

Dean then administered the knockout punch:  "This indicates that the financial incentives for companies to invest in greater information security are low and suggests that government intervention might be needed."

The costs of the Target, Home Depot, and Sony data breaches

Target's data breach in late 2013 involving 40 million credit- and debit-card records, plus 70 million customer records (including addresses and phone numbers), came under Dean's microscope.  A Target financial statement revealed the data breach cost Target $252 million.  "When we subtract insurance reimbursement, the losses fall to $162 million," explained Dean.  "If we subtract tax deductions (yes, breach-related expenses are deductible), the net losses tally $105 million."

Dean pointed out that this sum equaled 0.1% of Target's 2014 sales.

Home Depot suffered a data breach in 2014 where attackers stole 56 million credit- and debit-card numbers plus 53 million email addresses.  According to Dean after an insurance reimbursement of $15 million, the data breach cost Home Depot $28 million or .01% of its sales in 2014.

Dean also looked at Sony's data breach that occurred near the end of 2014.  Sony at first suggested losses exceeded $100 million.  However, Dean found some equally-interesting numbers in Sony's third-quarter financial statement, "$15 million in 'investigation and remediation costs' and that it [Sony] doesn't expect to suffer any long-term consequences."

A senior general manager at Sony later said the figure would be closer to $35 million for the fiscal year ending March 31.  Dean offered some perspective about the losses:  "To give some scale to these losses, they represent from 0.9% to 2% of Sony's total projected sales for 2014 and a fraction of the initial estimates."

As to the question of Sony's reputation, Dean provided the following numbers on the movie "The Interview":

  • It cost $44 million to make the film; and
  • it has grossed $46.7 million in online sales and cinemas worldwide.

"If anything, the free publicity for a new movie on cable news, across social networks and daily newspapers, at Christmas to boot, represents a net financial benefit to Sony," mentioned Dean.  "There's no such thing as bad press, after all."

The moral hazard response

Dean then introduced a concept I had not heard of: moral hazard.  There are several versions of the definition, but this one from Wikipedia is relevant to this discussion:

"In economics, moral hazard occurs when one person takes more risks because someone else bears the burden of those risks."

Dean applied the concept of moral hazard to Target, Home Depot, and Sony.  "These companies are able to invest less in information security," said Dean in an email exchange with me.  "Because, in the event of a breach, other parties (banks, customers, etc) bear the lion's share of the costs of the breach."

In the case of Home Depot, Dean said credit- and debit-card providers plus Home Depot customers caught the brunt of the fallout.  "Credit unions claim to have spent $60 million in September 2014 alone replacing compromised cards," Dean added.  "Each customer whose card had to be replaced also incurred a cost in terms of inconvenience."

Dean then concluded it does not make economic sense for companies like Target, Home Depot, and Sony to invest heavily in information security, especially when insurance payments and tax deductions cut the financial outlay to where it is less than what it would cost to improve information security.

What is the answer?

Removing the moral hazard seems to be the logical answer.  But how would that come about -- government intervention?  "It's important to make sure the intervention doesn't make the problem of moral hazard worse," cautioned Dean.  "This is a huge problem because as we plough billions of dollars into intelligence agencies, supposedly to keep us all safe from 'cyber-attacks', it has the effect of further weakening the already low incentives for companies to invest in information security themselves."

"Unintended consequences of policies, even in instances where the case for government intervention is strong, can be worse than the consequences of doing nothing at all," further cautions Dean.  "I'm not saying that we do nothing at all -- just that we need verifiable and reliable data on which to begin making these complex policy decisions."

Monday, April 13, 2015

SOLAR ENERGY - Power Provider Gridlock

"Gridlocked by the power grid:  Why Hawaii’s solar energy industry is at a crossroads" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In some parts of Hawaii, where many homeowners have installed rooftop panels to capitalize on federal and state tax credits for using solar energy, the local utility company has slowed down approvals of new solar systems, saying that abundant users may threaten the safety and reliability of the power grid.  As the popularity of rooftop solar spreads, many Americans could soon enter the same gridlock.  NewsHour special correspondent Mike Taibbi reports.

MIKE TAIBBI (NewsHour):  They’re everywhere on Oahu; on the roofs of businesses, libraries, and one house after another.

The amount of rooftop solar now accounts for 12 percent of the electric utility’s users.  That’s more than 20 times the national average.  It’s by far the highest penetration of individual rooftop solar in the country.

But in this tropical state, where the combination of sky-high energy prices, abundant sunshine, and federal and state tax credits makes going solar a no-brainer, the very popularity of these panels has become a problem.

MIKE TAIBBI:  So we drive up and you have these lovely solar panels on your roof. How’s that workin' out for you?

CARLTON HO:  It’s not!

MIKE TAIBBI:  Not working out because by the time aircraft mechanic Carlton Ho joined the rooftop solar parade in September 2013, there were so many people in his area that had installed panels that the local utility company told him ‘don’t turn on that switch yet.’

HIV - Getting to Zero?

"How San Francisco plans to ‘get to zero’ new infections of HIV" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  An ambitious new plan in San Francisco aims to completely end the transmission of HIV, which infects about 50,000 people every year nationwide.  In a city where huge strides have already been made in battling the epidemic, public health officials, doctors and activists are increasing their efforts to bring the number of new HIV infections down to zero.  NewsHour's John Carlos Frey reports.

JOHN CARLOS FREY (NewsHour):  At Ward 86, a bustling outpatient HIV clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, nurse Diane Jones drops everything when this pager goes off.

It means that someone in the city just tested HIV positive.

DIANE JONES:  So, I’m going to make him an appointment.

Jones is following a protocol called ‘RAPID’ which is designed to get new HIV positive individuals into treatment immediately.

DIANE JONES:  Just got diagnosed today, last negative was June.

JOHN CARLOS FREY:  Jones scrambles to make plans for the new patient who is seen just hours later.

It’s part of an ambitious plan in San Francisco to completely end new HIV infections.

Each year about 50,000 people in the United States are infected with HIV.  And while the disease has moved off the front pages as treatment has made infection more of a manageable chronic condition, an estimated 13,700 people still die from AIDS in the U.S. each year.

Globally, an estimated 1.5 million people are killed.  It’s the 6th leading cause of death.

In San Francisco there are relatively few new HIV infections — 359 in 2013 and overwhelmingly found in gay men.  It’s a number that has been falling over the past eight years.  But new infections haven’t gone away.

Today, public health officials, doctors, and activists are increasing their efforts to bring that number all the way down to zero.

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 4/10/2015

"Brooks and Marcus on recording the police, Clinton’s campaign launch" PBS NewsHour 4/10/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including whether cops should wear body cameras in the wake of the video of a police shooting in South Carolina, what challenges Hillary Clinton will face after her expected campaign announcement this weekend and Sen. Rand Paul’s place on the Republican spectrum.

POLICING - Witnesses to Brutality, the Need Better Videos

"Teaching citizens how to shoot better video when they witness brutality" PBS NewsHour 4/10/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Video that captures violent abuse by police or a government can send shockwaves through a society, but even if it goes viral, it may not stand up in a courtroom as evidence.  Hari Sreenivasan reports on how one organization is training citizens around the world to shoot better video when they witness crime, while protecting themselves from becoming targets.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This week has brought questions about police violence front and center once again, and demonstrated the power of what’s captured on video, frequently by citizens — the latest case, an arrest in San Bernardino, California, that appeared to involve excessive force.

Today, 10 deputies were placed on paid leave following the release of news video showing the violent arrest of a man who fled on horseback.  It comes nearly a week after Walter Scott was shot in the back and killed by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina.  His funeral is this weekend.

Hari Sreenivasan has a report on efforts to use video to document violence abroad and in the U.S.

And a warning:  It contains images that are disturbing, including the shooting of Walter Scott.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Everyone is shooting everything with camera phones.  The shooting of Walter Scott proves that sometimes video can be used as evidence against police wrongdoing.

KELLY MATHESON, Senior Attorney and Program Manager, WITNESS:  I think that cameras in everyone’s hands means that there will be more transparency and more accountability.  The camera is the new DNA technology.

The DNA is only available to specialists.  It’s only available to scientists.  The camera is available to everyone worldwide.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The Video as Evidence program of WITNESS, an organization founded by musician and humanitarian activist Peter Gabriel, trains citizens around the world to safely and effectively document abuse, so that video is as effective in the courtroom as it is on the Web.



How a bystander’s video revealed the truth about a police shooting in South Carolina