Monday, March 02, 2015

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 2/27/2015

"Shields and Brooks on House GOP vs. Homeland Security, Netanyahu speech rift" PBS NewsHour 2/27/2015

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SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the biggest talking points at this year’s CPAC, an assessment of the Republicans’ fight over funding Homeland Security and the politics behind Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  We should take away, first of all, there’s a generational divide in that room, which Rand Paul reaches across to particularly younger voters.

But what I found most — I guess — and I thought Jeb Bush did a lot better in a question-and-answer than he did in a set speech last week.  I thought he was far more effective.

But, Judy, what’s coming out of that room — and it’s basically the first primary for Republicans — is exactly the kind of language of no consensus, no compromise, compromise is capitulation, compromise is surrender.  And it’s exactly the wrong message that was going to Capitol Hill this week, where Republicans collapsed in handling Homeland Security.

And I just think the atmosphere created by that room and by the people there is harmful to the party.  It could be crucial to the nominating process, but it’s an unelectable message.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But isn’t that the message — isn’t that message of no cooperation, David, what — that’s been the trademark for these conservatives, hasn’t it?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  Yes.  Well, this is CPAC, remember.  There’s conservatives, and then there’s conservatives, and then conservatives, and then way over on the other side of the room is CPAC.

And so you look at the people they have nominated over the years as their favorite speaker, it’s Ron Paul, Rand Paul’s father.  President Ron Paul has been elected, Gary Bauer, Christian conservative.  So this is like the hardest of the hard core.

MARK SHIELDS:  Mitt Romney three times.

DAVID BROOKS:  Mitt Romney did get it, but he packed the house.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS:  They all do pack the house.

But you learn a few things.  First, Jeb Bush did well.  And so that was important, that if he stumbled, then a little rhythm gets going that Jeb Bush can’t really campaign very well, and so he did well.  Scott Walker seems to do OK with Tea Party and with the establishment part.  So that’s good.

Marco Rubio, fine, but what was, I guess, interesting was the foreign policy split.  As we just heard, the hard-core interventionists were cheered.  Rand Paul was cheered on the other thing.  So, people are looking everything right now.

But I suspect the two main trends, so far, we see — I’m about to list three one, after saying two — one, pretty good candidates, better than last time, a lot of good candidates.  Two, the party doesn’t know where it stands on foreign policy, but it’s a little more interventionist than they seemed.  And, three — I’m not Rick Perry — I do remember — the social issues, abortion, a little less emphasized than in years past.

WAR ON ISIS - What They Gain Destroying Antiquities

ISIS, aka Satan's Army

"What Islamic State gains by destroying antiquities in Iraq" PBS NewsHour 2/27/2015

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SUMMARY:  In a violent rampage through a museum in Mosul, Islamic State militants knocked statues to the floor, using sledgehammers and even a jackhammer to reduce ancient artifacts and some replicas -- representing idols that past cultures worshiped -- to rubble.  Bernard Haykel of Princeton University and Michael Danti of Boston University join Jeffrey Brown to discuss the significance of the latest video.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  When it comes to the battle against the Islamic State, much of the world’s attention is focused, of course, on the murders and the mayhem it has wrought.  But there have also been a series of attacks on antiquities and cultural heritage.

And, today, there’s both condemnation and sadness over a video showing what happened this week in Northern Iraq.

Here’s Jeffrey Brown.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  In the video, Islamic State militants knock statues to the floor, take sledgehammers to centuries-old artifacts, even employ a jackhammer to reduce a work to rubble.  Released through social media Thursday, the five-minute video uses music and slow motion to dramatize the destruction at Northern Iraq’s Mosul Museum.

MAN (through translator):  To all Muslims, these statues are idols of the people in previous centuries which were worshiped other than God.  God almighty says:  “And we sent a messenger to you just to reveal that no God but I, so worship me.”

The prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The Mosul Museum reportedly housed more than 170 genuine antiquities.  Others were replicas, and it’s unclear how many original works were destroyed.
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JEFFREY BROWN:  And the packaging of a video, you’re putting in the category of public relations, of reaching out and saying, here’s what we can do?

BERNARD HAYKEL, Princeton University:  Yes, and it’s propaganda.  It’s trying to appeal to — much of what they do is trying to appeal to young people to bring about recruits and saying that, we adhere very closely to the injunctions of Islamic law, one of which is to command good and forbid wrong, and these statues are considered idols.

Of course, Islamic law says that idols that are not worshiped need not be destroyed, and none of these statues were being worshiped.  So it is a gratuitous and barbaric act, frankly, but one that is intended to appeal to an audience that is looking for some sort of authenticity.

WEIGHTING THE COST - Of Extra Weight to Older Americans

"The extra costs of extra weight for older adults" PBS NewsHour 2/27/2015

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SUMMARY:  Lifelong obesity, now common in the U.S., is beginning to change how Americans age.  Along Alabama's Gulf Coast, one in three adults is obese, and many who have lived with the negative health effects of excess weight are entering their senior years.  Special correspondent Sarah Varney of Kaiser Health News reports on the added costs, disabilities and challenges for older obese patients.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Two major trends are on a collision course in the United States: the aging of the U.S. population and a decades-long surge in obesity.

The elderly population is projected to double to 80 million by 2050.  And, as that’s happening, obese individuals are far more likely to become sick or disabled as they age.

Special correspondent Sarah Varney has the story from Alabama, produced in collaboration with our partners at Kaiser Health News.

SARAH VARNEY, Kaiser Health News:  Bayou La Batre calls itself the seafood capital of Alabama.  Residents here depend on fishing and shrimping for their livelihood.  And when they sit down to eat, they like most things fried.

Former Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin has been trying to reverse the nation’s obesity epidemic one patient at a time at her Bayou clinic.

REGINA BENJAMIN, Former U.S. Surgeon General:  Bake, boil, and broil. Say that again.

GARI QUALLS:  Bake, boil, and broil.

REGINA BENJAMIN:  So no more fried shrimp.

SARAH VARNEY:  Gari Qualls is 69 years old and a retired crab picker.  She spent most of her life seriously overweight and was diagnosed with diabetes age 39.

As obesity became commonplace around the U.S., health care providers like Benjamin began seeing the impacts of the disease all around them.

SOCIAL SECURITY - Tricks and Tips (IMPORTANT)

"Tricks and tips for getting the most from Social Security" PBS NewsHour 2/26/2015

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SUMMARY:  The longer you wait before cashing in on Social Security benefits, the greater the financial reward.  But many don’t wait until age 70.  There’s a range of loopholes and “secrets” that can improve your benefits, a fact economics correspondent Paul Solman discovered during a tennis game with friend and Social Security expert Larry Kotlikoff.  Their new book, “Get What’s Yours,” shares that knowledge.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Most Americans depend on Social Security in retirement, and yet navigating the system is often complex and confusing.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has co-authored a new book on the ins and outs of the benefit system.  And, tonight, he shares some of what he’s learned.

It’s part of our ongoing reporting Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the “NewsHour.”

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  It’s often said that aging America faces a retirement crisis, and, according to the AARP, the main source of income for nearly half of Americans in older age is Social Security, a simple system established during the Great Depression to provide a safety net for the indigent in their old age.

Today, it’s become a mountain of rules, more than 2,000 of them, successfully climbed only by those who get good guidance from Social Security or from someone like economist Larry Kotlikoff.  A few years ago at this tennis court on a somewhat more hospitable day, he asked me a question.

LARRY KOTLIKOFF, Boston University:  What are you doing about Social Security?

PAUL SOLMAN:  And I said:

We have it all figured out, as I absolutely thought we did.  We’re going to wait until 70, and then we get the maximum benefit.

COMPUTERS - Play Atari Better Than Humans?

"Teaching computers how to play Atari better than humans" PBS NewsHour 2/25/2015

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SUMMARY:  Tom Clarke of Independent Television News reports on how an artificial intelligence business owned by Google has created software that can teaching itself to play classic Atari games better than a human.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Next, Playing video games might seem like child’s play.

But, as Tom Clarke of Independent Television News reports, it’s also at the frontier of artificial intelligence.

TOM CLARKE, Independent Television News:  It was the late 1970s, and for the first generation of video gamers, Atari was king.  By the standards of the day, the graphics were mind-blowing, the sound out of this world.

And the selection of games just went on and on and on.

Ah.

Compared to the video games of today, Atari looks pretty clunky, but the games are still quite difficult to play, especially if you haven’t picked one up for 30 years, like me.  But it’s that exact combination of simple graphics, but quite challenging game play, that has attracted the cutting edge of artificial intelligence researchers back to the 1970s.

This version of “Space Invaders” isn’t being played by a person, but a system of computer algorithms that is learning how to play it just by looking at the pixels on the screen.  It may not sound like it, but it’s something of a breakthrough, the work of one of the finest young minds in A.I. research, North Londoner Demis Hassabis.

POLITICS - Veto of Keystone Pipeline

"What President Obama’s veto means for Keystone’s future" PBS NewsHour 2/24/2015

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SUMMARY:  A bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline was the first order of business for the Republican-led Congress this year, and today that bill was vetoed by President Obama.  Gwen Ifill gets two views from Jeremy Symons of the Environmental Defense Fund and Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now to the political power struggle over legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which landed today on the president’s desk and was promptly vetoed.

The president chose to carry out the veto in private, out of the glare of cameras, a sharp contrast to House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to stage a very public bill signing at the Capitol only 11 days ago.

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN:  Senate Bill 1, as amended, is passed.

GWEN IFILL:  The Keystone bill was the first order of business after Republicans claimed majorities in both houses of Congress this year.  It’s been seven years since the 1,200-mile-long pipeline was first proposed.  Parts of it are already under construction, with the ultimate goal of carrying Canada’s tar sands oil to refineries along the Gulf Coast, a project many lawmakers say would create needed jobs.

But environmentalists and landowners in some of the states it would travel through argue it would cause more harm than good.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president’s veto is not about the merits of that argument, but about the review process.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:  It just merely says that the benefits and consequences of building that pipeline should be thoroughly evaluated by experts and through this administrative process that has existed for decades and has been used by previous presidents of both parties.

VETERANS - Special Courts

"Special courts take on criminal cases of veterans struggling with trauma" PBS NewsHour 2/24/2015

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SUMMARY:  Around the country, special courts are set up for former military members who have been charged with crimes after returning to civilian life, and who may be struggling with PTSD.  Judges, lawyers, probation officers and others work together to treat or punish each defendant.  Special correspondent Spencer Michels reports on how the new approach can offer troubled veterans a path forward.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, continues to grow. And as some get into trouble with the law, special veterans courts are finding different ways to deal with them.

NewsHour special correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

MAN:  Remain seated and come to order.  Deportment 4 is now in session.

SPENCER MICHELS (NewsHour):  Every Friday afternoon, Judge Jeffrey Ross turns his San Francisco courtroom into a veterans court, one of 220 such courts in the country that hear cases of former military members who have been arrested, often for drug offenses, sometimes for violence.

To signal how different his court is, he often brings a basket of fruit and candy for the defendants.

MAN:  Even me being in anger management, what good is that?   Because I snapped.

SPENCER MICHELS:  It’s what’s called a collaborative court, where the judge, the district attorney, the public defender, the probation officer, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs work together to treat, or to punish, each defendant.

POLITICS - More Diversity, What Does That Portend?

"As diversity increases, will U.S. be more or less politically divided?" PBS NewsHour 2/24/2015


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SUMMARY:  The United States is rapidly transforming into a more diverse, more educated and older nation.  Gwen Ifill talks to Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute and Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress about a special collaborative report that analyzes the implications of these changes and what they mean for American politics.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  America is in the midst of rapid change, politically and demographically, as the nation grows dramatically more diverse, more educated, and older.

Two research organizations with normally divergent views combined to produce a new study that shows the far-reaching implications of that shift.

Karlyn Bowman analyzes public opinion for the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute and Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.

I find this so interesting.  I just want to walk through some of your findings one at a time.

The big one I noticed was that majority minority states, that is, the number of states which have a minority population — a majority minority population, are going to increase.  I think it starts at — right now, we have four states which meet that, California, New Mexico, Texas, and Hawaii.

And by — let me see, let me get this right — it’s be 20 — in 2060, it’s going to account for two-thirds of the country’s population.  That’s 22 states we’re talking about.

Karlyn Bowman, that’s a big change.

KARLYN BOWMAN, American Enterprise Institute:  That’s one of the big takeaways from this work that we have been doing that really in particular has done with Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution.  And I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways from the survey.

GWEN IFILL:  What does it mean?  What’s the significance of that?

KARLYN BOWMAN:  Well, it has both political consequences, economic consequences, and consequences for the private market.  It will affect every aspect of society going forward.

EDUCATION - U.S. Students Struggling With Small Debts

"Why American students are struggling with – and defaulting on – small debts" PBS NewsHour 2/23/2015

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SUMMARY:  Student loan balances climbed to $1.2 trillion at the end of 2014, and delinquencies are rising even as they fall for most other types of debt.  In fact, students with the smallest balances are most likely to default.  Judy Woodruff learns more from Megan McClean of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and William Elliott of the University of Kansas.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Even as the U.S. economy is picking up steam, there’s new research finding student loan debt is growing, and its burden lingers even longer than we realized.

Data from the New York Federal Reserve shows student loan balances climbed to almost $1.2 trillion at the end of last year.  In fact, delinquencies are rising on student loans, even as they fall for most other types of debt, including mortgages and credit cards.

New research also finds that it is borrowers with the lowest balances, of $5,000 dollars or less, who are most likely to default.

Two experts join me now.

Megan McClean is director of public policy and advocacy at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.  And William Elliott is an associate professor at the University of Kansas, where he studies asset building and education.

And we welcome you both.

MEGAN MCCLEAN, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators:  Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, Megan McClean, first of all, why is this happening?

MEGAN MCCLEAN:  Thanks so much for having us this evening.

I think, generally speaking, what we’re seeing with the default situation is the aftermath of the economic downturn in 2008.  There are a couple of things there from a broad standpoint.  First and foremost, we always see more students going back to school during an economic downturn.  So the borrower pool to begin with is broader.

And then you’re seeing I think folks still struggling in a job market, which can also contribute to defaults, and certainly a very troubling problem.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

CLIMATE CHANGE - More Proof Man Made

"SCIENTISTS WATCH HUMAN-MADE CLIMATE CHANGE" from AP, San Diego Union-Tribune (Digital) 2/26/2015

Scientists have witnessed carbon dioxide trapping heat in the atmosphere above the United States, chronicling human-made climate change in action, live in the wild.

A new study in the journal Nature demonstrates in real-time field measurements what scientists already knew from basic physics, lab tests, numerous simulations, temperature records and dozens of other climatic indicators.  They say it confirms the science of climate change and the amount of heat-trapping previously blamed on carbon dioxide.

Researchers saw “the fingerprint of carbon dioxide” trapping heat, said study author Daniel Feldman of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.  He said no one before had quite looked in the atmosphere for this type of specific proof of climate change.

Feldman and colleagues used a decade of measurements from instruments in Alaska and Oklahoma that looked straight up into the sky and matched what they saw with the precise chemical composition and heat fingerprints of carbon dioxide trapping heat.  Scientists say carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas is the chief cause of global warming.

In doing so, the data show clouds, water vapor or changes in the sun’s radiation are not responsible for warming the air, as some who doubt mainstream climate science claim, Feldman said.  Nor could it be temperature data being tampered with, as some contrarians insist, Feldman said.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

INTERNET - Net Neutrality Rules Update

THE PEOPLE ARE WINNING!  To understand, see short video at bottom.

"F.C.C. Net Neutrality Rules Clear Hurdle as Republicans Concede to Obama" by JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times 2/24/2015

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Senior Republicans conceded on Tuesday that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet.  While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality.

“We’re not going to get a signed bill that doesn’t have Democrats’ support,” said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.  “This is an issue that needs to have bipartisan support.”

The new F.C.C. rules are still likely to be tied up in a protracted court fight with the cable companies and Internet service providers that oppose it, and they could be overturned in the future by a Republican-leaning commission.  But for now, Congress’s hands appear to be tied.

The F.C.C. plan would let the agency regulate Internet access as if it is a public good.  It would follow the concept known as net neutrality or an open Internet, banning so-called paid prioritization — or fast lanes — for willing Internet content providers.

In addition, it would ban the intentional slowing of the Internet for companies that refuse to pay broadband providers.   The plan would also give the F.C.C. the power to step in if unforeseen impediments are thrown up by the handful of giant companies that run many of the country’s broadband and wireless networks.

Republicans hoped to pre-empt the F.C.C. vote with legislation, but Senate Democrats insisted on waiting until after Thursday’s F.C.C. vote before even beginning to talk about legislation for an open Internet.  Even Mr. Thune, the architect of draft legislation to override the F.C.C., said Democrats had stalled what momentum he could muster.

And an avalanche of support for Mr. Wheeler’s plan — driven by Internet companies as varied as Netflix, Twitter, Mozilla and Etsy — has swamped Washington.

“We’ve been outspent, outlobbied.  We were going up against the second-biggest corporate lobby in D.C., and it looks like we’ve won,” said Dave Steer, director of advocacy for the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit technology foundation that runs Firefox, a popular Web browser, referring to the cable companies.  “A year ago today, we did not think we would be in this spot.”

The net neutrality movement pitted new media against old and may well have revolutionized notions of corporate social responsibility and activism.  Top-down decisions by executives investing in or divesting themselves of resources, paying lobbyists and buying advertisements were upended by the mobilization of Internet customers and users.

“We don’t have an army of lobbyists to deploy.  We don’t have financial resources to throw around,” said Liba Rubenstein, director of social impact and public policy at the social media company Tumblr, which is owned by Yahoo, the large Internet company, but operated independently on the issue.  “What we do have is access to an incredibly engaged, incredibly passionate user base, and we can give folks the tools to respond.”

Internet service providers say heavy-handed regulation of the Internet will diminish their profitability and crush investment to expand and speed up Internet access.  It could even open the web to taxation to pay for new regulators.

Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said the pro-net-neutrality advocates turned a complex and technical debate over how best to keep the Internet operating most efficiently into a matter of religion.  The forces for stronger regulation, he said, became viewed as for the Internet.  Those opposed to the regulation were viewed as against the Internet.

The Internet companies, he said, sometimes mislead their customers, and in some cases, are misled on the intricacies of the policy.

“Many of the things they have said just belie reality and common sense,” he said.

In April, a dozen New York-based Internet companies gathered at Tumblr’s headquarters in the Flatiron district to hear dire warnings that broadband providers were about to obtain the right to charge for the fastest speeds on the web.

The implication:  If they did not pony up, they would be stuck in the slow lane.

What followed was the longest, most sustained campaign of Internet activism in history.  A swarm of small players, like Tumblr, Etsy, BoingBoing and Reddit, overwhelmed the giants of the broadband world, Comcast, Verizon Communications and Time Warner Cable.  Two of the biggest players on the Internet, Amazon and Google, largely stayed in the background, while smaller participants — some household names like Twitter and Netflix, others far more obscure, like Chess.com and Urban Dictionary — mobilized a grass-roots crusade.

“Our community is the source of our power,” said Althea Erickson, director of public policy at Etsy, an online craft market, where users embroidered pillows and engraved spoons promoting net neutrality.

Monday, February 23, 2015

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 2/20/2015

"Shields and Brooks on fighting Islamic extremism, Giuliani on Obama" PBS NewsHour 2/20/2015

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SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the White House summit on fighting extremism, Jeb Bush’s foreign policy platform, Rudy Giuliani’s comments about President Obama’s upbringing and patriotism, as well as the Clintons’ foreign financial ties.
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MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  I think, Judy, that I think the President was right.

It is wrong to say that this is a religious movement as such.  David makes the point, I think validly so, that this is a splinter group from this religion.  Most of the victims of the Islamic State have been Muslims.  Most of the opponents are Muslims.

But it does have a theological component to it.  That’s its farm system.  That’s from whom it’s drawing.  It’s a battle of nomenclature.  I think there was a reluctance on the part of the administration to ever say it.  They have said it.  The President was very clear.

But at the same time, you want to make a distinction.  This is 26 percent of the world’s population.  And you just don’t want to give the impression, the misimpression, that this is a war against Islam.  It isn’t.  It’s a war against these people who come and call themselves the Islamic State and who do come from Islamic groups.  But I think you have to grant it is a perversion.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Mark has a point, doesn’t he?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  Well, no, I think it’s a perversion because they’re so inhumane.

What’s the Pascal phrase, they try to be higher than the angels, they end up lower than the beast.  And so that’s clearly what is happening to them.  They have turned themselves into monsters.  But there was lot of monstrosity in the wars of religion in the 15th century in Europe.  They were certainly religious wars.

And so I do think you have to take the religion seriously, that these people are — it’s not like they can’t get what we want.  They want something they think is higher than what we want.  Their souls are involved.  And I’m saying you have to conceive of them as moving, as acting in a religious way.

And you have to have religious alternatives.  And they are driven by an end times ideology.  They think there’s going to be some cataclysm battle and Mohammed will come down.  And if you ignore that part of it, write it off as sort of marginal, that they are being produced by economic dysfunction, I just think you’re missing the main deal.

POLICE - Force Not Always Black and White

"Police use of force not always black and white" PBS NewsHour 2/20/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In recent days, two incidents have added to national concern about excessive police force against minorities.  Police shot and killed a Hispanic man in Washington state, and in Alabama, an Indian man was partially paralyzed after an officer knocked him down.  Judy Woodruff talks to Suman Raghunathan of South Asian Americans Leading Together and David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The issue of how police use force is again making headlines, this time outside the lens of black and white.  The Hispanic and Indian-American communities are in the spotlight after separate encounters with police left one man dead and another partially paralyzed.

A warning:  This report contains graphic images.

The two confrontations making headlines happened in opposite corners of the country, Alabama and Washington State, first, Pasco, Washington, early last week.  This cell phone video captured 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes seeming to throw something at police and then run away, before turning around with open arms.  That’s when three officers shot and killed him.

The police involved say the man was throwing rocks.  The community in the majority Hispanic town quickly reacted with protests and a call for a federal investigation.  The officers involved are on paid leave.  In a news conference yesterday, local police said they want their officers to defuse community tension.

SGT. KEN LATTIN, Kennewick Police Department:  And regardless of what anybody might say to you, do the right thing and now, more than ever, show everybody who we are, and that we are — we can be fair, we can be just.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  From the Pacific Northwest to the Southeastern U.S. and Madison, Alabama, on February 6.  Police car video shows officers confronting 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel.  A neighbor had called 911 concerned about a — quote — “skinny black man” walking down the street.

Patel is from India, visiting his son and grandchild and doesn’t speak English.  Officers ask him not to move.  Video from a second police car shows a slight movement and then one officer forcefully knocks him to the ground.  That action injured Patel’s spine, leaving him partially paralyzed and in the hospital.  The family is suing the police department.

COMMENT:  Since when is it a crime to just walk down a street?  It's a crime in Alabama if you are NOT white.

WAR ON ISIS - Terror of Taking Hostages

"Freed but not free:  Yazidi girls who escaped Islamic State are trapped by trauma" PBS NewsHour 2/19/2015

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SUMMARY:  Last summer, militants from the Islamic State group attacked a small ethnic group called the Yazidis, executing men and taking thousands of women and girls as slaves.  Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports from Northern Iraq on the rape, violence, threats and harrowing escapes that some young women endured and their continuing struggles with psychological trauma and stigma.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  We return now to the Islamic State group and their brutal tactics.

Correspondent Marcia Biggs traveled to Northern Iraq for the NewsHour to report on a group of girls who managed to escape from the terrorist group.  But because of their psychological trauma and shame, they are still far from free.

A warning:  Her report contains graphic images and subject matter.

MARCIA BIGGS (NewsHour):  Refugee camps dot the countryside in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where almost two million people have been forced from their homes; 29,000 people are living in this camp alone.  Most of them are Yazidi, and almost all of them are missing family members.

The Yazidis are a small community of less than a million people, found primarily in Northern Iraq.  A private and conservative community, they practice an ancient religion.  Last August, members of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, attacked the Yazidis, whom they consider heretics.

These pictures of Yazidis trapped on Sinjar Mountain stunned the world.  Hundreds of thousands fled for their lives after I.S. fighters executed many of the men and took thousands of women and girls as slaves.  This 13-year-old girl was taken and later escaped.



"What’s the price of paying for hostages?  The economics behind funding and fighting terrorism" PBS NewsHour 2/19/2015

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SUMMARY:  Hostage-taking has become an important moneymaker for terror groups including the Islamic State.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at the larger price of paying ransom and cost-effective ways of fighting terror.

UKRAINE - The New Cold War, Update

"Ukraine loses key town to separatists despite cease-fire" PBS NewsHour 2/18/2015

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SUMMARY:  The cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia seemed in danger of unraveling after Russian-backed separatists forced thousands of Ukrainian troops to withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve.  Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appealed to international community to respond.  Alex Thomson of Independent Television News reports from Ukraine.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  As we reported earlier, thousands of Ukrainian troops withdrew today from Debaltseve in Eastern Ukraine after a relentless assault by Russian-backed separatists.

Alex Thomson of Independent Television News reports from near the key transit hub, as the three-day-old cease-fire appeared to be unraveling.

ALEX THOMSON, Independent TV News:  The rebel flag hoisted over Debaltseve today, and across the day, hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been leaving town, telling stories that speak of just one word, defeat.

MAN (through interpreter):  It was very heavy.  We couldn’t even go to take food or water.  Yes, we were urinating in a can, all the time we were sitting in the bunker very, very heavy shelling.  We were praying all the time and said goodbye to our lives a hundred times.  They had really good and heavy artillery.

ALEX THOMSON:  Kiev says it is a tactical withdrawal with heavy weapons.  But its president is begging the world to act.



"What the defeat at Debaltseve means for Ukraine" PBS NewsHour 2/18/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The loss of the key hub town Debaltseve to Russian-backed separatists is a significant strategic and morale setback for Ukraine.  Chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner joins Gwen Ifill to discuss potential response to the latest military action.

WOMEN - Hot Flashes For 10 Years+

"Women can suffer menopause hot flashes for more than a decade, study finds" PBS NewsHour 2/17/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Four out of five middle-aged women cope with hot flashes, night sweats and other uncomfortable consequences of menopause.  Now, the largest study of its kind has shown that those symptoms can last much longer than previously thought, and are worse for some women of color.  Judy Woodruff learns more from Dr. Nancy Avis of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  It’s well known that four out of every five middle-aged women deal with hot flashes, night sweats and other difficult symptoms of menopause.  New research finds those symptoms often last a great deal longer than conventional wisdom had it.

It comes from the largest study of its kind done so far of more than 3,300 women.  It concluded that the median duration for hot flashes lasted 7 years, and that in some cases symptoms can last as long as 14 years.  Moreover, the problems were worse for some women of color.

The median duration was 10 years for African-American women and almost nine years for Latinas.

Nancy Avis is the lead researcher of the study.  She’s a professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Professor Avis, thank you for joining us.

What is different that was learned in this study that wasn’t previously understood?

DR. NANCY AVIS, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center:  I think one of the things that was different is that we were able to follow women for a longer period of time.  So we did learn that there are women who experience hot flashes for at least seven — 14 years, that up to 40 percent of our sample was still experiencing hot flashes, night sweats after 14 years.

GREECE - Financial Bailout Falters

"Greek bailout talks falter amid threat of default" PBS NewsHour 2/17/2015

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The escalating standoff between Greece and other members of the European Union showed little sign of abating today, prompting more questions about whether the country might soon run out of money, whether it would agree to continuing austerity cuts, or possibly leave the Eurozone altogether.

The demand from the E.U. to Greece:  Agree to an extension of a quarter-trillion-dollar bailout program by Friday, or risk losing assistance altogether.

That is not something many Greek citizens want to hear.

COSTAS SKLIROPOULOUS, Greece (through interpreter):  I am angry with the logic of the European Union.  Perhaps we should consider from now on how this country will acquire a different policy, one that could possibly be outside the frame of the European Union.

GWEN IFILL:  Still, some have called on the popular new left-wing government to rein in its resistance to what they have termed an ultimatum.

GEORGE AVGERINOS, Greece (through interpreter):  I would have liked them to be more serious from the very beginning.  When you’re asking with your hand stretched out, you can’t have this attitude.

GWEN IFILL:  European nations have propped up Greek’s unsteady finances since 2010, in exchange for deep spending cuts.  But with unemployment topping 25 percent and shrinking bank deposits, many who voted for the new government blame the austerity itself for the country’s economic ills.

In Brussels today, the Greek finance minister, who campaigned on a promise to scrap the bailout, denounced a plan to extend it as absurd.  But he didn’t rule out a deal.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS, Finance Minister, Greece (through interpreter):  Well, the next step is the responsible step.  Europe will continue to deliberate in order to enhance the chances of, and actually achieve, a very good outcome for the average European

GWEN IFILL:  His German counterpart, speaking on behalf of the Eurozone, said Athens’ goal remains unclear.

WOLFGANG SCHAEUBLE, Finance Minister, Germany (through interpreter):  Greece needs to decide whether they want the program or not.  Nobody understands what Greece wants and if Greece knows what it wants.


"After an election built on promises, what can Greece’s new leadership deliver?" PBS NewsHour 2/17/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  As bailout talks continue between Greece and other EU members without clear progress, the new Greek government’s election promises seem at odds with economic reality.  Gwen Ifill talks to Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and journalist John Psaropoulos about the potential for a rude awakening for Greece and its new leaders.

LOCKED UP - More Behind Bars Because of Poverty and Mental Illness

"How poverty and mental illness are putting more people behind bars" PBS NewsHour 2/16/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  More Americans than ever before are spending time in jail despite a drop in the crime rate in the past two decades.  That's according to a new report that also found that a disproportionate number of people in jail suffer from mental illness.  Judy Woodruff discusses the findings with Nicholas Turner of the Vera Institute of Justice and Margo Schlanger of the University of Michigan.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  A new report finds that more Americans than ever are spending time in jail.  The Vera Institute of Justice showed that, in the past two decades, despite a drop in the crime rate, the number of people going to jail has increased dramatically.

In addition, those behind bars are staying longer.  Some 62 percent of them have not yet been convicted of a crime, and three-quarters of those jailed now are brought in for nonviolent offenses.  The report also finds that a disproportionate number of those in jail suffer from mental illness.

Joining us are Nicholas Turner.  He’s president and director of the Vera Institute.  And Margo Schlanger of the University of Michigan.

Nick Turner, to you first.

Why are the jails and prisons of the United States so full today?

NICHOLAS TURNER, President and Director, Vera Institute of Justice:  Well, you have to go back, really, almost four decades.  We have, since the early 1970s, been on what some people describe as a binge in this country, a reliance on incarceration and on confinement as the primary strategy to keep people safe.  That’s been the argument.

And so, for the past 40 years, the number of people in jail and in prison in this country has gone up almost 400 percent.  When you look at jails now, there are additional other reasons as to why we have so many people in jail.  In the past few decades, we have increasingly arrested more and more people, not only for felonies or serious charges, but also for misdemeanors.

And we are also seeing more people who are being arrested being put in jail, so there is a general reflex within the criminal justice system still to rely on confinement.

SECRET SINS - Jehovah’s Witnesses' Cover Up

"Did leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child sex abuse?" PBS NewsHour 2/16/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In San Francisco, a woman is suing the Jehovah's Witnesses for failing to protect her from a known child abuser when she was a child.  The Center for Investigative Reporting has shed light on accusations that religious leaders led a cover-up of child sex abuse.  Special correspondent Trey Bundy of the CIR’s Reveal reports on how the organization is using the first amendment to fight these charges.

Editor’s Note: The graphic appearing in the introduction of this report mistakenly contains an image of a cross.  Jehovah’s Witnesses do not use the image of a cross as a symbol for Christianity.  We regret the error.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Next, an investigation into child sexual abuse among Jehovah’s Witness and accusations that religious leaders led a cover-up within inside some of the group’s 14,000 U.S. congregations.

Our colleagues from the Center for Investigative Reporting obtained confidential memos shedding new light on the revelations.

Special correspondent Trey Bundy has the story from Reveal, a new Web site, radio show, and podcast run by the center.

TREY BUNDY (NewsHour):  At a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in California, new members are taking the plunge.

MAN:  At your baptism, you said yes.

TREY BUNDY:  They’re joining more than eight million members worldwide.

Believers are taught to renounce secular society because it’s controlled by Satan, and not to socialize too much with outsiders.  But charges of sexual abuse have brought this insular community under greater scrutiny.  And now, in this San Francisco courtroom, the first child abuse case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses to go to trial is under way.

Candace Conti is suing the organization for failing to protect her from a known child abuser when she was 9 years old.

CANDACE CONTI, Plaintiff:  If I were to sum up our goals in this case, it was to attack the policies and procedures that where in place that let a serial molester continue to molest children.

TREY BUNDY:  Conti’s lawyer says instructions from Jehovah’s Witness leaders have enabled child molesters.


HISTORY - George Washington and Robert E. Lee

"Exploring Robert E. Lee’s connections to George Washington" PBS NewsHour 2/16/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Robert E. Lee was the son of a Revolutionary War hero who was a trusted aide to George Washington.  In 1861, after 25 years in the U.S. Army, Lee turned down an offer to command Union forces in the Civil War.  That decision is the subject of a new book, “The Man Who Would Not Be Washington.”  Judy Woodruff talks to author Jonathan Horn about choices that change history.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now, a new take on Robert E. Lee, the famous Confederate general, with President George Washington as the touchstone.

I recently talked with the author of this look at two men who helped shape American history.

The civil war split families, states and the nation; 74 years after the signing of the Constitution, the United States was torn in two.  One of the more conflicted participants in the war was none other than Robert E. Lee, a son of a Revolutionary War hero who was a trusted aide to General George Washington.  He married the daughter of Washington’s adopted son.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Lee had served 25 years with the U.S. Army, but in April 1861, he turned down an offer to command the Union Army, resigned his commission, and accepted the command of the military and naval forces of Virginia.

All this and more can be found in the new book, “The Man Who Would Not Be Washington:  Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History” by Jonathan Horn, who served as a speechwriter and special assistant to former President George W. Bush.

Jonathan Horn, welcome to the NewsHour.

JONATHAN HORN, Author, “The Man Who Would Not Be Washington”:  Thanks for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, you grew up in the area around Washington. Is that where this interest in Robert E. Lee came from?

JONATHAN HORN:  That’s exactly where this interest came up.

If you glow up on the Potomac River, you have so much of Robert E. Lee’s and George Washington’s history all around you.  Robert E. Lee was born in Westmoreland County downriver from Washington, and so was Washington.  Robert E. Lee grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, right near George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation, and Robert E. Lee married his wife at Arlington House, which is that great pillared mansion that’s now a cemetery, but back then it was actually a memorial to George Washington.

It was filled with relics of George Washington, because, as you mentioned, Robert E. Lee had married the daughter of George Washington’s adopted son.

POLITICS - NYT Ad Skewers Boehner


"Hilarious Full-Page Ad in NYT Skewers Boehner" by Flyswatterbanjo, Daily KOS 2/19/2015

Excerpt

It was paid for by the NIAC, the outfit run by prominent Iranian-American author and pundit Trita Parsi.  From their press release:

“The U.S. and its closest allies are on the brink of a historic deal that will both prevent an Iranian bomb and war with Iran, and Congressional hawks are orchestrating political stunts with foreign leaders to try to kill it,” said NIAC President Trita Parsi.  “The American people do not want another senseless military adventure and certainly don’t consider Benjamin Netanyahu to be their commander in chief.”

The statement also reminds us of this episode:

...in one of the most critical national security debates of our time – the decision of whether to invade Iraq – Netanyahu was brought to testify before Congress.  In his remarks he advocated strongly for the war, telling lawmakers ‘if you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.’

According to Jewish Voice for Peace, as of today, 29 members of Congress will skip Netanyahu's speech.  You can sign their petition here.

Or, you can contact your members of Congress directly and tell them to #SkipTheSpeech:

UPDATE:  Here's the Hill's 10-day-old list of those who have stated publicly they will skip the speech.

POLITICS - Scott Walker Loses Attempted Education Dictatorship

"Scott Walker Loses Education Control Fight in Court" by Puddytat, Daily KOS 2/19/2015

A unanimous state appeals court on Thursday deemed unconstitutional a portion of a 2011 law that gave Gov. Scott Walker the ability to halt administrative rules by Schools Superintendent Tony Evers, who is independently elected.

The ruling by the Madison-based District 4 Court of Appeals upholds a 2012 decision by Dane County Circuit Judge Amy Smith.

Walker signed the law in May 2011, which gave his administration a greater say in writing administrative rules, which are used to implement state laws.  Administrative rules include more specifics than state statutes and carry the force of law.

Looks like Scott Walker got caught ignoring the State Constitution:

The state constitution says that "the supervision of public instruction shall be vested in a state superintendent and such other officers as the Legislature shall direct."  In a 1996 case that the appeals court repeatedly cited, the state Supreme Court held that lawmakers and the governor cannot give "equal or superior authority" over public education to any other official.

The Supreme Court's ruling found that the state constitution prevented then-Gov. Tommy Thompson from transferring powers from the Department of Public Instruction to a new Department of Education overseen by the governor's administration.

"In sum, the Legislature has the authority to give, to not give, or to take away (the school superintendent's) supervisory powers, including rule-making power.  What the Legislature may not do is give the (superintendent) a supervisory power relating to education and then fail to maintain the (superintendent's) supremacy with respect to that power," Appeals Judge Gary Sherman wrote for the court in Thursday's decision.


No, Scott Walker, you can't control state education.  You've defunded K-12 education by $2 billion and you're stripping $300 million from our previously wonderful State University system.  You've made taxpayers fund the private education of rich kids, too.

You have already done more than enough damage.

Since his 2011 inauguration, he's taken complete control of virtually ALL state agencies and has been hard at work on legislation giving him complete control over everything.
 The last 3 remaining agencies or departments he doesn't completely control (the DNR with it's soon to be legislatively abolished Citizen Advisory Board oversight, the Secretary of States' Office - run by a Democrat - soon to be stripped of staff and moved to an inaccessible basement by Walker's new budget, and the Government Accountability Board which oversees elections) have now been joined by a 4th, the Department of Public Instruction.

Walker's 2011 law gave him the final say in administrative rules for public schools despite the fact that the Superintendent is independently elected.  Not any more.

Aside from national fundraising and speechifying for his long anticipated Presidential run, Walker has spent every hour of every day since his election giving himself control of nearly all aspects of State Government in order to reward donors and punish real or imagined enemies or opponents.

Apparently the GOP isn't concerned that a Democrat could ever be elected as Governor in the future and wield all of that power to set things on the right path again.  Maybe they're right since Republicans have friendly media in Wisconsin and mega bucks to propagandize (or suppress) the voters.

It's nice to see Walker lose a big one like this and lose a bit of the power he's grabbed.  Well, that and seeing him trip on all the rakes he's been running into as a now top-tier Presidential candidate.

ATTENTION DEFAECATE DISORDER - Boner and Benghazi

"Boehner and Benghazi" by Eugene Kiely, FactCheck.org 2/17/2015

House Speaker John Boehner says there are “unanswered questions” about the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi.  He specifically asks “why didn’t we attempt to rescue” Americans under siege and why were some U.S. personnel “told not to get involved” in rescue attempts?

But those questions have been answered at length in several investigative reports, including two by Republican-controlled House committees.  Congressional committees and an independent board detail the rescue attempts that night, carried out despite U.S. military assets not being in position to defend the Benghazi facility.  Those reports say there were no undue delays in responding to the attacks, and they pointedly rejected unfounded allegations that the U.S. response was deliberately thwarted by a “stand down” order.

“Quite the contrary:  The safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response,” the independent Accountability Review Board concluded in its Dec. 18, 2012, report.

The “U.S. military performed well in responding to the attacks,” the House Armed Services Committee said in a February 2014 report.  Separately, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said in its November 2014 report that the CIA — which was first on the scene of the attack — responded in a “timely and appropriate manner.”

Boehner appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and discussed the Select Committee on Benghazi, a special panel created by the Republican-controlled House last year.  The U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi (referred to in official reports as a temporary mission facility, or TMF) was attacked by heavily armed extremists on Sept. 11, 2012.  The terrorist attack left four U.S. citizens dead — including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

Host Chris Wallace asked Boehner why he set up the committee “even though there have been about a half dozen investigations” and the GOP-controlled House intelligence committee “basically said there was no there there.”  Wallace asked if the committee was created to hurt former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

Boehner, Feb. 15:  No, Chris, it’s — the idea here is to get the American people the facts about what happened.  Why wasn’t the security for our embassy in Libya, the extra security, given to the ambassador after repeated requests?  The night of the event, why didn’t we attempt to rescue the people that were there?  Why were the people there told not to get involved?

And then, as importantly, when did the president know this?  And why, for some two weeks, did he describe it differently than what it really was?

There are a lot of unanswered questions, and as Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the Benghazi committee, has been told by me, I don’t need a big show here but we need our facts.  The American people deserve the truth about what happened and that’s all we’re interested in.

All the questions posed by Boehner have been addressed by various House and Senate committees and by the Accountability Review Board convened by the State Department, but we focus in particular on the U.S. rescue attempts because the premise of those questions is misleading.

Let’s review what the reports say about the rescue attempt and how U.S. security, intelligence and military personnel were deployed that night.

Extremists armed with small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars attacked the diplomatic facility at about 9:42 p.m. Benghazi time on Sept. 11, 2012, according to a Defense timeline.  In about 17 minutes after the attack, the Defense Department diverted an unmanned surveillance drone to Benghazi, the timeline says.  At about the same time, the chief of a CIA annex near the Benghazi diplomatic facility was making preparations to send a team of seven to assist in a rescue operation.

At 10:04 p.m., the CIA team departed in two armored vehicles, arriving at the facility at 10:25 p.m. and immediately engaging in a 15-minute firefight with the extremists, according to a bipartisan report issued December 30, 2012, by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The House intelligence committee report said that “some Annex team members wanted urgently to depart the Annex for the TMF to save their State Department colleagues,” but the Annex chief “ordered the team to wait so that the seniors on the ground could ascertain the situation at the TMF and whether they could secure heavy weaponry support from local militias.”

This order to wait has been described by some as a “stand down” order, but it was not.  The Republican-controlled House intelligence committee said that based on all the evidence, “the Annex leadership deliberated thoughtfully, reasonably, and quickly.”

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nov. 21, 2014:  The evidence from eyewitness testimony, ISR video footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources provides no support for the allegation that there was any stand-down order.  Rather, there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the team should depart prior to securing additional security assets.

A bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report released on Jan. 15, 2014, reached the same conclusion.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Jan. 15:  The Committee explored claims that there was a “stand down” order given to the security team at the Annex.  Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.

At about midnight Benghazi time, a little more than two hours after the attack began, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gathered top military leaders at the Pentagon to discuss military options, according to the Defense timeline.  (We will get back to Panetta’s decisions later.)

While military leaders convened at the Pentagon, a six-man security team from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, including two military personnel, departed for Benghazi at about 12:30 a.m.  Rear Adm. Brian Losey, commander at the time of Special Operations Command Africa, did not send all the security forces stationed in Tripoli.  He ordered Army Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson’s team to remain in Tripoli to protect the U.S. embassy in the event of an attack there, according to the House Armed Services Committee report.

Gibson was initially “visibly upset” that his team was not dispatched to Benghazi along with the other team from Tripoli, the House report said.  A colleague described Gibson as being “furious” at the time at having been ordered to “stand down.”  But “Gibson made it clear to the committee that ‘in hindsight’ he believes remaining in Tripoli was appropriate,” the House report said.

“I was not ordered to stand down.  I was ordered to remain in place,” Gibson told the House Armed Services Committee.”  ‘Stand down’ implies that we cease all operations, cease all activities.  We continued to support the team that was in Tripoli.”

The Tripoli team arrived in Benghazi in about an hour, but it was delayed at the airport “for at least three hours,” according to the Senate homeland security committee report.  The committee said the delay “merits further inquiry” to determine if it was merely part of the “chaotic environment” at the time or “was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi.”  It turned out to be the result of the “chaotic environment,” not “part of a plot.”

The Senate intelligence committee later said in its report that the Tripoli team was trying to locate Stevens before leaving the airport.  There had been reports that Stevens may have been at the Benghazi Medical Center, but Libyans were concerned about security at the hospital and feared the Americans could be lured into an ambush, the committee report said.

“After more than three hours of negotiations and communications with Libyan officials … the Libyan government arranged for the Libyan Shield Militia to provide transportation and an armed escort from the airport” to the CIA Annex, the Senate intelligence committee report said.

The Tripoli team arrived at the CIA Annex at 5:04 a.m., “about ten minutes before a new assault by the terrorists began, involving mortar rounds fired at the Annex,” according to the Senate homeland security report.  That attack resulted in the deaths of Annex security team members Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, the report said.  Libyan forces arrived at the Annex at 6 a.m. with 50 vehicles and transported the remaining Americans to the airport, where they would be evacuated by plane to Tripoli in two trips at 7:40 a.m. and 10 a.m. enroute ultimately to Germany.

Where was the U.S. military?

Panetta’s midnight meeting (Benghazi time) at the Pentagon lasted until about 2 a.m.  After the meeting, Panetta took several actions.  He agreed to send one Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team platoon stationed in Rota, Spain, to Benghazi and another to Tripoli.  He also directed two special operations forces — one from Central Europe and another based in the United States — to depart for a staging base in Italy, according to the Defense timeline and the Senate homeland security report.  None of those troops reached Benghazi in time.

“[T]here simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference,” as the independent Accountability Review Board said in its report.  But other rescue efforts did make a difference.

The ARB report, which was released Dec. 18, 2012, said “every possible effort was made to protect, rescue and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith.”  Smith, a State Department information management officer, also died in the attack at the diplomatic mission.

Accountability Review Board:  The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.  Senior-level interagency discussions were underway soon after Washington received initial word of the attacks and continued through the night.  The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders.  Quite the contrary:  The safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans.

The ARB was led by Thomas R. Pickering, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George H.W. Bush, and retired Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.  Although there has been some criticism of the board in conservative circles, the State Department inspector general’s office issued a report in September 2013 that reviewed the board’s operations in general and its work specifically on Benghazi, and concluded that the ARB “operates as intended — independently and without bias.”

In a press conference on the board’s report, Mullen addressed the military’s inability to mobilize its assets quickly enough to defend the Benghazi facility.  He said that “it is not reasonable, nor feasible, to tether U.S. forces at the ready to respond to protect every high-risk post in the world.”

There was, however, an increase in military protection of U.S. diplomatic facilities after the Benghazi attacks.  A Congressional Research Service report dated July 30, 2014, said that “the U.S. Marine Security Guard posted detachments to 152 U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world as of September 2012; 35 new Marine Guard detachments were requested by the department after the Benghazi attacks.”

There is no question that mistakes were made prior to Sept. 11, 2012, that left the U.S. facilities in Benghazi vulnerable to attack.  Multiple investigative reports document those mistakes.

The Senate homeland security report said the State Department made a “grievous mistake” in keeping the Benghazi facility open given the “dangerous threat environment” in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attack.  The ARB report said “systemic failures” and leadership “deficiencies” caused the State Department to ignore “repeated requests” for additional security staffing in Libya, leaving the Benghazi facility “grossly inadequate to deal with the attack.”  (Which goes to another of Boehner’s questions: “Why wasn’t the security for our embassy in Libya, the extra security, given to the ambassador after repeated requests?”)

But as far as the night of the attack?  The consensus is that the rescue attempts were carried out in a timely manner under difficult circumstances.  For Boehner to ask “why didn’t we attempt to rescue” Americans under attack and why were some U.S. personnel “told not to get involved” ignores the evidence.

Friday, February 20, 2015

U.S. MUSLIMS - Take ISIS On




Humera Khan, the founder of Muflehun, a think tank that focuses on countering violent extremism, during a youth leadership and safety conference in Avon, Conn., in November.
Credit Katherine Taylor for The New York Times

"U.S. Muslims Take On ISIS’ Recruiting Machine" by LAURIE GOODSTEIN, New York Times 2/19/2015

Imam Mohamed Magid tries to stay in regular contact with the teenager who came to him a few months ago, at his family’s urging, to discuss how he was being wooed by online recruiters working for the Islamic State, the extremist group in Syria and Iraq.

But the imam, a scholar bursting with charm and authority, has struggled to compete.  Though he has successfully intervened in the cases of five other young men, persuading them to abandon plans to fight overseas, the Islamic State’s recruiting efforts have become even more disturbing, he said, and nonstop.

“The recruiters wouldn’t leave him alone,” Imam Magid said of the young man he met with recently.  “They were on social media with him at all hours, they tweet him at night, first thing in the morning.  If I talk to him for an hour, they undo him in two hours.”

President Obama on Wednesday described the fight against violent extremism as a “generational challenge” that would require the cooperation of governments, religious leaders, educators and law enforcement.  But even before he called on more than 60 nations to join the effort, the rise of the Islamic State and the attacks by homegrown terrorists in Paris, Ottawa, Copenhagen and Sydney, Australia, had jolted American Muslims into action.

Muslim leaders here and elsewhere have already started organizing or expanding prevention programs and discussions on countering violent extremism, often with assistance from law enforcement officials and trained counter-recruiters who emphasize that the Internet’s dangers for young Muslims now go far beyond pornography.

With the Islamic State in particular deploying savvy online appeals to adolescents alongside videos of horrific executions, the sense of urgency has grown.  Though some Muslim leaders still resist cooperating with the government, fearing that they would be contributing to religious profiling and anti-Muslim bigotry, many have been spurred to respond as they have come into contact with religiously ardent youths who feel alienated by life in the West and admit that they have been vulnerable to the Islamic State’s invitation to help build a puritanical utopia.

“The number is small, but one person who gets radicalized is one too many,” said Rizwan Jaka, a father of six and the board chairman of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, where Imam Magid is the spiritual leader.  “It’s a balancing act:  We have to make sure our youth are not stereotyped in any way, but we’re still dealing with the real issue of insulating them from any potential threat of radicalization.”

In practice, it often means one-on-one conversations with Muslims like Amir, a 22-year-old computer programmer in Virginia who said he was drawn to extremist videos from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, because he was a new convert struggling with how to live out his faith in the United States.  He said he chafed at having to work in an office with Muslim women who covered their heads but wore clothing he considered too tight.  He also did not like seeing photographs of people on the walls, or advertisements for credit cards, which he said Islam strictly forbids.  “Every time I mentioned it, no one heard me out,” he said.  “I definitely felt like a stranger.”

He said his disenchantment with the Islamic State began when the group beheaded Peter Kassig, who reports said was a Muslim convert, and later executed a Jordanian pilot.  Amir then had some long talks with Imam Magid, who pointed him to passages in the Quran that forbid killing other Muslims, innocent women and children.  Amir concluded that the Islamic State was only sowing chaos and hatred, which the Prophet Muhammad abhorred.

“The Islamic State once looked like eye candy to me,” said Amir, who was willing to be identified only by his first name because he did not want to attract the attention of extremists.  “But now I think they are deviants.”

Imam Magid described Amir as “the kind of person who is vulnerable to ISIS” — an alienated young Muslim with a black-and-white worldview, looking for purpose and adventure.  But, he added, it is often hard to identify which people are most at risk.

Here in suburban Virginia — where Muslim parents tend to be professionals whose children are enmeshed in American culture and are more likely to spend time at the mall than watching extremist videos — the threat still feels remote, especially for those who are active in mosques.  Many homegrown extremists in the West were converts who had little exposure to the faith, or education in it.

Many parents and religious leaders are struggling with where to focus their efforts.  Imam Magid, who is in regular communication with the F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies, said the young men he had counseled came from a variety of family backgrounds.

Humera Khan, the founder of Muflehun, a think tank based in Washington that focuses on countering violent extremism, said that increasingly, there is no consistent profile of those who are targeted for recruitment or drawn to Islamic extremists.

“There are no patterns, and that’s making it harder for everyone,” she said in an interview in Virginia late last month.  “They can come from every ethnic, socioeconomic group, any geographic area.  But they are more often men than women, and they’re getting younger.”

Officials estimate that about 150 Americans have traveled, or tried to travel, to fight in Syria.  That is fewer than in France, where 1,000 people are estimated to have gone to Syria, or England, which has counted about 600, not including those who were in touch with extremists online and decided not to join.

Imam Magid said that in addition to those he had talked out of going, he knew of one young Muslim from Virginia who recently left to join the Islamic State in Syria.  (He said he had never met this man or had a chance to dissuade him.)

In Chicago in October, two brothers, ages 19 and 16, and their 17-year-old sister were detained at the airport on their way to Turkey to join the Islamic State.  Three girls from Denver, one as young as 15, were stopped at an airport in Germany the same month on their way to join militants in Syria.  All were reportedly recruited over the Internet.  And that has provoked new levels of introspection, both private and public, among American Muslims of all ages.

At a forum for Muslim millennials in Washington sponsored by the Muslim Public Affairs Council last year, college students and Muslim leaders speculated about why a group as barbaric as the Islamic State had successfully attracted any Muslims at all from the West.

“ISIS says:  ‘Come here.  We’ve got ripped warriors,’ ” said Imam Suhaib Webb, a popular Muslim leader who moved from Boston to the Washington area last month.  “It’s a very simplistic response, but it’s somewhat effective.”

He said that in more than 15 years as an imam, he had encountered only five Muslims considering whether they should join violent militant groups, and that none of them had actually left the United States to fight.  “They were all males,” said Imam Webb, and “they all had daddy issues.”  He added, “They were not really drawn to this on theological grounds.”

Ms. Khan, who has four degrees from M.I.T., left lucrative consulting work to develop a prevention program that addresses extremism and the way that technology can be used for manipulation.  At one of her events last year, about 30 young Muslims, both high school and middle school students, gathered at the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center in Avon, Conn., for what was billed as a “cybersafety workshop,” with Ms. Khan moving swiftly from how to detect online pedophiles to how to detect Islamist extremists.

“They are telling you, ‘Let’s go fight.’  They are asking you to share gruesome images,” said Ms. Khan, who wore a blue floral-print head scarf.  “Be very careful.  These people are not your friends.”  She told the students, who were quick to raise their hands and ask questions, to avoid contact with strangers online, or with anyone who demanded secrecy.  The sexual predators are usually male, she told them, but the extremist recruiters can be male or female, and some of them can be, or can pretend to be, teenagers, too.  Her presentation included a picture of a wolf zipped into a sheep’s skin.

“Have you guys heard of grooming?” she asked them, using a term more often used in relation to sexual predators.  “They will try to be your friend.  They will be nice to you, spend lots of time with you.  Some of them will be sending you gifts.”

Programs like this have not been embraced as a widespread priority by American Muslims, at least until recently, in part because the problem seemed to be overseas, not here, Muslim leaders say.  And since many American Muslims are immigrants or African-Americans, there is substantial fear and suspicion of law enforcement officials, along with simple defensiveness and denial.

“The family says, ‘It’s not going to happen to me,’ ” said M. Saud Anwar, a pulmonologist and the first Muslim to be elected as a mayor in Connecticut, where he serves South Windsor.

Imam Magid, speaking upstairs at his Muslim center while a team of Muslim girls pounded out a basketball game below, said that real prevention meant programs that give young people as much purpose and inspiration as extremists promise.  Once young Muslims buy into the ideology, he said, it is very hard to pry them loose.  “You have to reach them before it happens,” he said.

Monday, February 16, 2015

WEST COAST PORTS - Impact of Labor Disputes Hype?

"Is the economic impact of the labor disputes at West Coast ports just hype?" PBS NewsHour 2/15/2015

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  A labor dispute between shipowners and longshoreman on the West Coast has been going on for months now.  This weekend, the President dispatched labor secretary Thomas Perez to California to try to resolve it.  For more, economist Christopher Thornberg joins Alison Stewart from Los Angeles.

ALISON STEWART (NewsHour):  In Canada today, 3,000 members of the Teamsters went on strike.

They are in a dispute with the Canadian Pacific Railway over wages and benefits.  Analysts say a prolonged strike would affect the flow of oil, lumber, auto parts and other products into the United States.

Another labor dispute between ship owners and longshoremen has been going on for months now on the West Coast of this country.  And, this weekend, the President dispatched Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to California to try to resolve it.

For more about this, we are joined now from Los Angeles by Christopher Thornberg.  He is an economist and a founding partner of Beacon Economics.

So, Christopher, tell me, what is at the center of this dispute, and why has it gone on for something like nine months?

CHRISTOPHER THORNBERG, Founding Partner, Beacon Economics, LLC:  Well, we have to remember that, you know, there is a long history of tension between the longshoremen and the various owners of the shipping companies that move products in and out of those ports.

This time around, the contract was up for renewal.  Those negotiations had been carrying on.

I know the workers at the port have been working under the old expired contract for a number of months.

Contract negotiations haven’t been going very fast.

And, as a result of that, there’s been kind of this, if you will, guerrilla action going on between both parties.

It’s somewhat of a work slowdown by one side of the equation, and, of course, these kind of weekend-long lockouts on the other side of it.  And, overall, the tensions are just getting hotter and hotter.