Tuesday, November 24, 2015


"The View From Counterterror’s Front Lines" by Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica 11/23/2015

Veteran European law enforcement officials, one of them Muslim, reflect on the roots of the Paris attacks, the tense aftermath and the debate about the effectiveness of counterterror forces.

PARIS — Ten days after the Paris terror attacks, Europe remains on edge.  Police in Belgium, anticipating a similar assault, are on highest alert as they press the hunt for the surviving attacker with the help of law enforcement in neighboring nations.  In France, the massive investigation continues.  Spain and other nations have intensified defenses against a terror offensive against the West by the Islamic State.  Weary, tense and somber after the bloodshed, top law enforcement officials from three countries spoke to ProPublica about the threat and response.  Three asked for anonymity because of the dangers they face and because they are not authorized to speak publicly.


The counterterror investigator was exhausted.

He had spent days hunting for Salah Abdeslam, the remaining fugitive in the Paris attacks.  The other suspects are dead.  They included Abdeslam’s brother, who blew himself up during the massacre in Paris, and his old friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader from Belgium, who died in a fierce gunfight with French police.

But Abdeslam remained on the run, last spotted in Belgium and believed to be wearing an explosives belt like the attackers who killed and died in Paris.  A human bomb ready to explode.  The fugitive was one of the main reasons Belgian authorities raised the terror alert in Brussels to its maximum level Saturday.  The subway system shut down.  Soccer games were canceled.  Authorities urged people to stay inside and avoid crowded places.  Teams of soldiers and police patrolled empty streets looking for Abdeslam and other Belgians suspected of plotting imminent suicide attacks.

“It’s very weird he’s still alive,” the investigator said.  “Maybe he has another mission. He’s violent.  Very dangerous.”

The investigator had been working in a command post with French police deployed to Belgium to exchange information.  He had participated in raids and searches, poring through data from confiscated phones and computers.  The week had been a blur.  He and his colleagues were still coming to the grips with a grim reality:  The extremist underworld of Belgium had helped spawn the most devastating attack on European soil since the Madrid train bombings of 2004.

In addition to the physical danger, it was demoralizing to see an unprecedented swarm of foreign media on the streets of Brussels, to hear complaints that Belgian law enforcement hadn’t done more to prevent the attacks.

“There has been a lot of criticism of us,” the investigator said.  “But we don’t have big budgets.  We are just a small service.  We are overwhelmed.  We are trying our hardest; stepping on the gas, as we say in Belgium.”

Abaaoud, from the tough suburb of Molenbeek, had been a top investigative target since January, when police killed two Islamic State gunmen in the city of Verviers and foiled a plot launched by the Belgian ringleader.  A court convicted Abaaoud in absentia, making him one of Europe’s most wanted men.  Yet he slipped back from his base in Syria to lead the Paris rampage.

Police believe Abaaoud had been back in Europe for two or three months.  He was part of a team of French and Belgian foreign fighters in Syria who trained and deployed operatives on a string of plots targeting their homelands during the past two years.

Investigators are trying to figure out why Abaaoud shifted from a remote shot-caller to a frontline fighter.  Perhaps senior figures in the Islamic State sacrificed him in order to ensure the success of a terror spectacular, the investigator said.

“He was a member of a command group.  Not the top guy,” he said.  “If he’s the top guy, he’s never going to come back to do some shooting in France.  He was like a field supervisor.  A criminal who had connections in the robbery underworld, who knew France and Europe well.”

“You can’t just leave Syria like that,” he said.  “You need clearance.”

As they hunted for the fugitive Abdeslam, Belgian police were well aware that more suicide bombers took part in the Paris attacks than had ever struck at once on European soil.  The investigator was perplexed about why three suicide bombers hadn’t done more damage at the France-Germany soccer match at the Stade de France the night of Nov 13.  The trio failed to get inside the stadium, and killed only one victim despite the presence of crowds.

“Two of them may have blown themselves up because they were running,” he said.  “TATP [explosive] is unstable if you run and do crazy things; it can blow up.  It may have been unintentional.”

Another Belgian counterterror official said the mindset of his prey was no mystery.

“The Islamic State gives criminals an opportunity to avenge themselves,” the senior official said, his voice full of disgust.  “It’s a pretext for hate.  A chance to shoot cops, the bourgeoisie, the infidels, everyone they’ve always hated and resented.  They have the same psychology as the mass killers you have in the United States.  But they do it as a group, not as individuals.”


A few days after the Paris attacks, Commandant Mohamed Douhane talked to two colleagues in the forensic division of the French national police.

They were experienced, hard-nosed crime scene investigators accustomed to all manner of mayhem and bloodshed.  But no amount of experience was enough for the task of working the scene at the Bataclan music hall, a slaughterhouse where three terrorists killed 89 concert-goers.

“It was the ultimate carnage,” Douhane said.  “They were exhausted, obliterated.  They had to go through that scene systematically and collect and record evidence.  Think about what that was like.  They didn’t sleep for two days.”

Douhane, the secretary general of the Synergie Officers police union, has a rare perspective.  He’s one of the highest-ranking officers of Muslim descent in the French police, the son of an immigrant bus driver from Algeria.  He believes the Paris attacks will cause an unprecedented backlash against extremism among French Muslims.

The reaction among Muslims has been stronger than after the attacks in January that killed 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish grocery, Douhane said.  One victim in those attacks was a policewoman.

The new strike on Paris, ordered this time by Islamic State leaders, “was an attack on the French people, on young people, working neighborhoods, on the art of French living,” he said.

French Muslims were shocked and saddened after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Douhane said.  But some had misgivings about the worldwide “I am Charlie” campaign in solidarity with the satirical magazine, which published caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed seen as blasphemous by many Muslims.  Feelings were more muted in slums where deprivation and alienation intertwine with criminality and extremism, he said.  Anti-Semitism is a sad reality among angry youths in those areas, Douhane said.

“They think that by attacking a grocery they are fighting for their community,” he said.  “This mentality is well-ingrained.  A rather sizable minority of young Muslims manifests a brutal, violent and cretinous anti-Semitism.”

Terrorists try to worsen divisions in French society, Douhane said.

“The great majority of French Muslims are completely integrated in France,” he said.  “The bad guys want a clash of civilizations.  The Muslim community is taken hostage.  They are viewed with suspicion by non-Muslims, but the Islamists say they are not true Muslims.”

The proximity and power of jihad in Syria has forced French law enforcement to dig in as never before against the nexus of crime and terror.

“The fact is, any little punk from the slums can go off to Syria,” Douhane said.  “There are more dangerous people than ever who are capable of committing an attack.  The border between gangsterism and terrorism has blurred.”

The attacks have highlighted flaws in the French counterterror apparatus.  Like other law enforcement officials, Douhane wonders if a recent major overhaul of the domestic intelligence system may have weakened the defenses.

Until 2008, the counterterror system worked like this:  A powerful agency called the DST conducted both intelligence and investigations of major terrorist activity — a role similar to the FBI’s in this country.  A second agency, the general intelligence division of the national police, played a key part with a far-flung grid of officers monitoring extremism and criminality.

Known as the RG, the intelligence division detected street-level threats with a mix of aggressive spying and open engagement with mosques and Muslim leaders.  At the same time, the RG was the heir of the Napoleonic political police.  The division spied on labor unions, students and politicians, and even did its own opinion polls.  It also fought turf battles with the DST.

Deciding it was time for reform, French spymasters carried out an ambitious fusion of the two agencies.  The result today is the General Directorate of Internal Security, known in France as the DGSI.  The super-agency has consolidated operations, reduced infighting and eliminated political excesses.  But in the process, nationwide intelligence-gathering has suffered at a time of increasing threats, some critics say.

“There has been a loss of effectiveness,” Douhane said.  “The reform was necessary, but it was too fast …  Especially in the provinces, the intelligence units have been destabilized.  They are less operational than before.”


The counterterror chief was worried about the Madrid-Barcelona soccer game.  And not just because he’s a Real Madrid fan.

The match between rival powerhouses is a soccer classic watched by a global audience estimated as high as 400 million.  After the suicide bombings outside the Paris stadium, it seems clear that Islamic State sees soccer games as vulnerable, high-profile targets.  Spanish authorities deployed more than 2,500 police and security guards for Saturday’s game, an unprecedented show of force at a Spanish sporting event.

“We are ready,” the counterterror chief said.  “We know how bad it could have been if the bombers in Paris had gained entry to the stadium.  That part of the plot seemed amateurish, thankfully.”

The match in Madrid transpired without incident.

The Paris attacks, which killed 130, are not the worst terror strike in the history of mainland Europe.  That sad honor goes to Madrid, where a crew of radicalized Moroccan drug dealers and al Qaida connected militants planted bombs on commuter trains on March 11, 2004.  The death toll was 191.

The skillfully timed attack played a role in the upset victory of the Socialist Party in elections three days later.  Voters expressed anger at the governing center-right party for its military presence in Iraq and initial mixed signals about whether Basque or Islamic terrorists were responsible.  Police pursued the bombers for a nerve-wracking three weeks.  The fugitives blew themselves up during a police siege, killing a SWAT team officer.

“The Madrid attack was more sophisticated,” the counterterror chief said.  “They used technology, telephones that had been altered for the bombs.  They stayed on the loose after the attack, trying to strike again.  And there was the planning to affect the elections.  But what is significant in Paris is that this is an attack by the Islamic State.  It represents a qualitative leap.”

Measured by the number of foreign fighters, the threat in Spain is less intense than in France or Belgium.  Spanish police have identified 138 fighters who have gone to Syria compared to about 2,000 jihadis from France.  Belgium has counted about 500, the largest proportionate contingent from Europe.

Nonetheless, Moroccans are plentiful in the Islamic State.  Abaaoud and other attackers in Paris were of Moroccan origin and had links to the country.  Spain’s geography as a crossroads into Europe from Morocco makes it vulnerable.  Most Spanish foreign fighters come from Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s territorial enclaves in northern Morocco.  They are often grouped with European and Moroccan militants in Syria.

Like many others in European law enforcement, the Spanish counterterror chief is aghast at the ease with which terrorists elude Europe’s border controls.  At least two of the suicide bombers in Paris are thought to have used Syrian documents and entered via Greece in the chaotic flow of Syrian refugees.

“We have the reality of a union like the United States, but different legislation among countries,” he said.  “Entering Europe is easy.”

An urgent question:  How did Abaaoud cross the continent unnoticed to lead the plot?  He may simply have used the authentic passport of someone who resembled him, the counterterror chief said.

“The Islamic State has acquired an enormous amount of blank passports, both Syrian and Iraqi,” he said.  “They are authentic.  They also have a lot of authentic European passports at their disposal.  They confiscate the passport of every foreign fighter who arrives, so they have a stock of nationalities, and they can use them to provide a fake identity based on resemblance.”

The Paris rampage reflected the savagery of the Islamic State’s reign in Syria and Iraq.  Yet, not every foreign fighter returns bent on mass murder.

“We have had guys come back who are repentant,” he said.  “They are disgusted.  They surrendered to police when they got back.  They said, ‘I’d rather go to jail here.  I can’t stand what I saw in Syria.’ ”

Nonetheless, Spanish police have arrested militants accused of preparing attacks after radicalizing on the Internet without direct contact with the Islamic State.  After being arrested at the Warsaw airport upon his return from fighting in Syria, a militant married to a Spanish woman admitted that Islamic State leaders told him to do reconnaissance on potential targets in Europe.  The group’s new aggressiveness requires a higher level of vigilance.

“It’s a new strategy,” the counterterror official.  “They have intensified their activity.  They want to do actions in the West.”

NASA CineSpace 2015

CineSpace is a collaboration between NASA and the Huston Cinema Arts Society that presents "NASA Imagery - Your Vision" and runs a yearly contest.  Here are some of my favorites of 2015:


"Red Pearl"

"Come Closer"

"Gravitation:  Variation in Time and Space" (for ballet lovers)

Monday, November 23, 2015

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 11/20/2015

"Shields and Brooks on how Paris changed the political debate" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2015


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the political and psychological aftermath of the Paris attacks, 2016 candidates speak out on the refugee crisis and fighting the Islamic State, plus reassessing President Obama’s strategy in Syria.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, this entire week, we have spent looking at what happened in Paris.

My question is, David, has this — what has this done here in the United States?  Are we now in some kind of new normal, as we were after 9/11?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  I think what ISIS has done psychologically is, it’s like a drug, you have to take more of it to get the effect.

And so their malevolence, their viciousness, their violence, they have ratcheted up a level.  And they started doing that from the first moment we became conscious of them, with the beheadings, with setting people on fire, and then this killing.

And while they haven’t achieved the super al-Qaida 9/11, they have created a more menacing atmosphere, I think, in this country, certainly in Europe and around the world, in Nigeria, Boko Haram.  And so I think there is a sense of living with violence.

And so I think about Israel, with, whatever you think of Middle East policy, the citizens there live with violence.  And you adjust in some ways, you develop rituals in some ways, but it preys on the consciousness in a lot of complicated ways.  And I think we’re now more or less in that world.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  How do you feel it has changed things?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  I don’t think it compares with 9/11; 9/11 was a profound traumatic experience in this nation.

And just in the reaction, I think that there’s — you can see what 14 years of conflict has done, and 14 years of being at war has done, as well as what ISIS has done.  Fourteen years ago, when the United States suffered the greatest infliction of loss of life on its own soil in our history, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, visited a mosque.  He said, Islam are our friends.  These are — the people who do this are traitors to their faith, and we must remind and remember that.

He looked like Abraham Lincoln, compared to the reaction of politicians in this city, and particularly in Lisa Desjardins’ piece tonight, which was small, petty, vengeful, un-American, unserious and irresponsible.

ISIS - Recruits More Women

"Why more and more women are drawn to the Islamic State" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2015


SUMMARY:  Experts say that more and more women are making the decision to join the Islamic State.  Who are they and what are their motivations?  William Brangham finds out from foreign affairs and defense producer P.J. Tobia, the host of NewsHour’s “Shortwave” podcast.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  When the man thought to have planned the Paris attacks was killed during a raid on Wednesday, a woman who was with him also died in the assault.  It’s not clear what role she played, if any, in planning the attacks.

But experts say more and more women are joining ISIS, traveling to territory held by the group in Syria and Iraq.  Why are they making the trip?  And what do they find when they get there?

William Brangham has more.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Here with me now to discuss the motivations of the women who join the Islamic State is NewsHour foreign affairs producer P.J. Tobia.  He also hosts our Shortwave podcast, which this week is all about the women of ISIS.

So, P.J., how do we know what we know about these women?  And who are they?

P.J. TOBIA (NewsHour):  Well, first of all, everything that we know pretty much comes from social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.  They’re very active in documenting not only their radicalization in place before they leave their homes in the West or in Asia or really anywhere, their travel to territory controlled by the Islamic State, and then what life is like when they get there.

And as to who they are, it kind of runs the gamut.  Of course, there’s the famous Bethnal Green case.  It was three young women, high school-age girls from Eastern London who journeyed to the territory controlled by the Islamic State earlier this year.

But there are also older women.  There is a story of a 26-year-old woman who is a doctor from Malaysia who relocated to Syria last year.  And she chronicled her journey through social media.  And she says, along the way, that she saw women in their 60s, much older women who were making this journey.

MALI - Radisson Blu Hotel Attack

"Who was behind the Bamako hotel attack?" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2015


SUMMARY:  Extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed a luxury hotel in Bamako, Mali, early Friday morning, shooting dozens.  Witnesses said they went room by room, letting guests go if they could recite verses of the Koran.  Malian special forces stormed the hotel, freeing hostages and battling the Islamist attackers into the night.  Judy Woodruff talks to Rudolph Atallah of the Atlantic Council.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The siege today in the capital city of Mali lasted all day before ending this evening.  Islamist gunmen burst into a hotel and seized up to 170 hostages, many of them foreigners.  In the end, scores of hostages were rescued or escaped, but the estimates of the dead ranged from 19 to at least 27, plus two attackers.

And the State Department said one American was among those killed.

The attack on the Radisson Blu brought security forces on the run early this morning.  Mali’s Defense Ministry said extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed the luxury hotel in Bamako just as guests were beginning their day.

MAN (through interpreter):  At this moment, this morning around 7:30, individuals not yet identified, about three or four, we believe, so far, attacked the Radisson Blu hotel.  Sadly, there are deaths.  People must remain calm.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  By some accounts, the attackers carjacked a diplomatic vehicle, drove up to the hotel, and stormed inside.  Witnesses said they shouted Islamist slogans and went room by room, asking guests if they could recite verses of the Koran.  Those who could were let go.

Early on, the owner of the hotel said the assailants locked in as many as 140 guests and 30 employees.  Hours later, Malian special forces stormed the hotel themselves, freeing hostages one floor at a time.

MAN (through interpreter):  The soldiers were very professional.  They took good care of us.  They came to us.  They knocked.  They said: “It’s the security forces.”  And then I looked.  It was them.  I left the room.  They cleared the whole floor.

MAN (through interpreter):  I heard gunshots very early in the morning.  I thought it was firecrackers and didn’t realize it was a hostage situation.  At one point, the Malian forces came to get us.  They knocked on our doors and evacuated us in small groups.  Thank God we’re safe.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  At least six Americans were evacuated during the operation, with U.S. and French special forces assisting the Malians.

A jihadist group previously affiliated with al-Qaida, al-Murabitun, claimed responsibility for the attack.

In Paris, French President Francois Hollande vowed to help the former French colony.

"The latest on the Mali hotel attack" PBS NewsHour 11/21/2015


SUMMARY:  Authorities in the West African nation of Mali say armed Islamic terrorists killed 19 people in Friday’s attack on a Radisson hotel in the capital city of Bamako.  Among the victims were hotel guests from Russia, China, Belgium, Israel -- and one American.  Wall Street Journal reporter Drew Hinshaw joins Megan Thompson via Skype from Ghana with the latest.

ISIS - Why They're Rich

"What’s made the Islamic State one of the richest terrorist armies in history?" PBS NewsHour 11/19/2015


SUMMARY:  How does the Islamic State militant group make money to fund its operations?  A key source is oil extraction, which has helped make the group one of the richest terrorist armies in history.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman takes a look at the Islamic State’s revenue sources, while William Brangham learns more from Cam Simpson of Bloomberg Businessweek.

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  Since the Paris attacks this weekend, the forces arrayed against ISIS have been pounding the territory it holds, and, specifically, hitting oil it’s been extracting for sale, as oil is a key source of ISIS revenue, having made the group one of the richest terrorist armies in history.

Earlier today, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton insisted the U.S. should be targeting ISIS’ money.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate:  When it comes to terrorist financing, we have to go after the nodes that facilitate illicit trade and transactions.  The U.N. Security Council should update its terrorism sanctions.

They have a resolution that does try to block terrorist financing and other enabling activities.  But we have to place more obligations on countries to police their own banks.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Republican candidate Donald Trump has been even more aggressive.

DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate:  ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because they have certain oil caps, right?  They have certain areas of oil that they took away.  There’s some in Syria, some in Iraq.  I would bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Meanwhile, there’s been a debate over just how much money ISIS actually has.

Last year, David Cohen, then with the U.S. Treasury Department, said on the “NewsHour”:

DAVID COHEN, Former U.S. Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence:  In the aftermath of some of the airstrikes that have been taken, as well as some of the efforts that have been undertaken to restrict ISIL’s ability to use these smuggling networks, our estimate is that ISIL is now earning something on the order of a couple million dollars a week.

PAUL SOLMAN:  A report this week in Bloomberg Businessweek suggests Cohen was overly optimistic, citing new data from the Treasury that ISIS actually took in as much as half-a-billion dollars in the past year from oil.

But just yesterday, Army Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the joint task force, said the stepped-up offensive against ISIS’ main source of revenue is paying off.  For the first time, the U.S. is attacking oil delivery trucks.

MELTING POT - Newcomer Education

"For young newcomers, school offers a stepping stone to life in America" PBS NewsHour 11/19/2015


SUMMARY:  Around the nation, cities that take in refugees face the challenge of how to educate young people who speak little or no English.  The NewsHour’s April Brown visits Houston, now the most diverse city in the U.S., where Las Americas Newcomer School teaches both the ABCs and the basics of life in a new country.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  As we mentioned earlier in the program, there’s an ongoing debate over whether the U.S. should accept Syrian refugees following the attacks in Paris.

Many American cities already regularly take in refugees, not just from Syria, but from around the world.  One of the major challenges those cities face is how to educate the children, who typically speak little or no English.

April Brown visited one school in Houston, Texas, taking on that challenge.

The report is part of our American Graduate series, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

APRIL BROWN (NewsHour):  This 12-year old boy is one of thousands of children who’ve made the dangerous journey from Latin America in search of a brighter future.

Jose, who asked us not to use his real name, came to Houston with his brother and aunt from El Salvador, a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Can you tell me what happened in your city, why you left?

JOSE, Student:  Because there is too much guns, and then they can kill you.

APRIL BROWN:  Jose, who spoke no English when he arrived, is just one of a growing number of immigrant and refugee students finding a new home in Houston.  The city has become increasingly attractive to foreigners fleeing their homelands.

ALI AL SUDANI, Interfaith Ministries For Greater Houston:  The reasons why Houston is a top destination for refugees is affordable cost of living, vibrant economy, welcoming environment, big support from the local communities and from the faith communities.

APRIL BROWN:  Ali Al Sudani is head of refugee services at Interfaith Ministries, a resettlement organization that helps newcomers with everything from housing and job training to finding schools for their children.

Al Sudani is a refugee himself who came to the U.S. from Iraq three years ago after serving as a military translator.  For immigrant and refugee students, he often recommends the Las Americas Newcomer School, where Jose enrolled in August.

WAR ON TERROR - Terrorists Going Dark

"Terrorists hiding behind impenetrable communication, says FBI" PBS NewsHour 11/18/2015


SUMMARY:  How did the Paris terrorists communicate with each other and elude surveillance?  Investigators are eyeing readily available cellphone technologies that defy cracking by intelligence agencies and even the companies that created them.  Judy Woodruff takes a look at some of the encrypted apps and software being used to evade detection.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Since the Paris attacks, there’s been lots of concern in Washington and other world capitals over fears of how terrorists can communicate by going dark, namely, using an array of technologies to hide from law enforcement before and after attacks.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, investigators are still hunting for answers to how the terrorists communicated with each other and eluded surveillance.  But their eyes are on the now ubiquitous cell phone, which can send coded information using free, readily available technologies that defy cracking by intelligence agencies and even the companies that created them.

In Washington yesterday, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Richard Burr, said that very technology was probably at play in Paris.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), North Carolina:  Globally, we need to begin the debate on what we do on encrypted networks, because it makes us blind to communications and to the actions of potential adversaries.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It’s called end-to-end encryption, meaning data gets encrypted or locked away with special codes on one device and is only decrypted when it reaches another.

Popular applications like WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, Threema and Telegram all operate this way.  Some of the encrypted apps, like Dstrux, also employ technology that makes messages disappear after they’re delivered, leaving no trace.

Terrorists conceal their work using other sites like JustPaste.it.  It is one place the Islamic State group posts messages and claims of responsibility without having to register.  The TOR browser bounces communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers, hiding both the user’s activity and location.

Terrorist groups have even created their own encrypted software specifically to evade detection by the National Security Agency.

"Do governments need access to encrypted messages to thwart terrorism?" PBS NewsHour 11/18/2015


SUMMARY:  Would greater government access to messages sent through secure communication technology help intelligence agencies fight terrorism?  Judy Woodruff gets views from Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary of Homeland Security, and Kate Martin of the Center for American Progress.

WAR ON ISIS - The Battle as Seen Form the 'West'

"How should the West battle the Islamic State’s shifting strategy?" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2015


SUMMARY:  The attacks in Paris have raised concern about the threat posed by the Islamic State around the world, and how to counter it.  Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff talk with William McCants, author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Hassan Hassan of Chatham House and Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence official.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  We focus now on the changing nature of the threat from the Islamic State group and how to counter it.

For that, we turn to four people with deep expertise.

Juliette Kayyem was an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.  She now has her own security consulting firm.  William McCants is director of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic world at the Brookings Institution.  His most recent book is “The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.”

Richard Barrett is a former director of global counterterrorism operations for the British government.  He’s a founder of the United Nations’ Counter-Terrorism Task Force.  And Hassan Hassan is a Middle East analyst at Chatham House in London.  He co-authored the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.”

And we welcome you all to the program.

Will McCants, I’m going to start here in Washington with you.

What have we learned from the Islamic State group from these attacks?  What new do we know about them now?

WILLIAM MCCANTS, Brookings Institution:  Well, they seem to have shifted and taken on a strategy of global jihad.

They have always had the rhetoric of global jihadism, similar to Al Qaeda.  They have always talked about hitting the far enemy, the United States, France, and others.  But for most of their history, they have focused on state-building.  And for the past few years, they have been pretty successful at it.

But with the attacks over the past two weeks, taking down the Russian airliner, the attack in Beirut, and now in Paris, we believe that its attention has shifted abroad.

"Paris attacks bring migrant crisis, Islamic State strategy to U.S. political forefront" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2015


SUMMARY:  From the campaign trail to the halls of Congress, leaders weighed in on the fallout of the Paris attacks.  Gwen Ifill speaks to Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR about how responses to the tragedy are playing out in the presidential race, calls from some lawmakers to change U.S. policy toward Syrian immigrants, as well as takeaways from the Democratic debate.

"Sanders:  Turning our backs on refugees destroys the idea of America" PBS NewsHour 11/17/2015


SUMMARY:  How would Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders handle terror threats at home and abroad, in light of the Paris attacks and the shifting threat of the Islamic State?  Sanders joins Gwen Ifill to discuss his views on combating terrorism and the anti-refugee backlash in the U.S.

"Carson:  Our first responsibility is U.S. safety, not refugees" PBS NewsHour 11/17/2015


SUMMARY:  What’s Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s views on bringing Syrian refugees to the U.S., in light of the Paris attacks and the shifting threat of the Islamic State?  Carson joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his stance on fighting the militant group.

OPINION - Bernie Sanders

"What Is Actually Radical About Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism Isn’t the Socialism" by Theo Anderson, In These Times 11/19/2015

It isn’t a particularly radical political vision—it’s an unflinching commitment to democracy.

“What you are asking for is a cultural revolution,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders to an overflow audience of students at the University of Chicago on September 28, his voice booming off the massive stone walls of the school’s Rockefeller Chapel.  He was answering a student’s question about how to translate the relatively intimate, small-scale politics of Vermont to the national level.

“I think what you’re talking about,” Sanders said, “is creating a nation— it’s pretty radical stuff—in which we actually care about each other rather than looking at the world as, ‘I’m in it for myself.  And to hell with everybody else.’”

The brouhaha over Sanders’ self-identification as a “democratic socialist” has largely missed what is truly radical about that identity.  It’s not the socialism.  Sanders has never used the “S” word with precision—for him, it seems to be simply a shorthand for robust investment in public services and the common good.

That shorthand has proved remarkably useful, allowing him to distinguish himself from liberals and most Democrats, while pointing out that much of what he calls socialism is already deeply embedded in American society in a variety of popular programs and institutions, most notably in public libraries and parks, in the Social Security and Medicare programs, and in various aspects of the military.  The ambitious agenda he has laid out would amount to “the largest peacetime expansion of government in modern American history,” as the Wall Street Journal has noted.  At the first Democratic debate, the former senator from Virginia, Jim Webb, used one of his few speaking opportunities to toss a pail of cold water on Sanders’ proposals.  “I don’t think the revolution’s going to come,” he said blandly, “and I don’t think the Congress is going to pay for a lot of this stuff.”

Webb was correct about the odds of Congress passing much of Sanders’s agenda for public spending.  But he was wrong to conflate that agenda with the revolution Sanders has in mind.  What makes Sanders a radical, and what constitutes the essence of his revolution, isn’t his commitment to certain spending priorities or a particular economic plan—it’s his fierce commitment to democracy.

“Change never takes place from the top down,” he told his audience at the University of Chicago.  “It always takes place from the bottom up.  It takes place when people by the millions, sometimes over decades and sometimes over centuries, determine that the status quo—the world that they see in front of them—is not the world that should be, and they come together.  And sometimes they get arrested. …  And sometimes they die in the struggle.  And what human history is about is passing that torch from generation to generation to generation.”

Though they are very different in their approaches to achieving it, Sanders shares this commitment to a radical version of democracy with Saul Alinsky, the activist and organizer who made Chicago his home and has played an outsized role in our recent national politics.  Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals, the summary of his organizing philosophy that was published a year before his death in 1972, is particularly notorious among right-wing pundits, and he was often invoked by conservatives in the 2008 and 2012 elections as evidence of Barack Obama’s secret radicalism.  Obama was, famously, a community organizer in the 1980s for a Chicago-based organization, the Developing Communities Project, inspired by Alinsky’s strategies.  Hillary Clinton’s ties are even more direct.  She was born in Chicago and grew up in a suburb, and she wrote her thesis at Wellesley about Alinsky.  In a letter she sent him in 1971, Clinton wrote that “the more I’ve seen of places like Yale Law School and the people who haunt them, the more convinced I am that we have the serious business and joy of much work ahead.”  His ghost will no doubt be conjured once again if Clinton wins the Democratic nomination.

As with Sanders, though, Alinsky’s radicalism wasn’t a matter of the specific reforms he pushed for, which were about winning incremental and often relatively modest improvements in the lives of the poor and disenfranchised.  Rather, he was a radical and a revolutionary because he actually believed in democracy.

There are many dimensions to democracy, of course.  But for both Sanders and Alinsky, it is essentially about the distribution of power in society.  As Alinsky explained in Rules, “My aim here is to suggest how to organize for power:  how to get it and to use it.” When Sanders talks about how to end economic inequality, he’s proposing the same project.

To believe in democracy is to believe that a broadly engaged electorate, in which power is relatively equally distributed, fosters a society that works better.  “If you don’t believe in people,” Alinsky once told Chicago radio personality and author Studs Terkel in an interview, “then what you have to believe in, of necessity, is a dictatorship, an elitist society, an aristocracy.”

Few political leaders of any party would say that they doubt the wisdom of “the people.”  But the actual test of that commitment is how well our systems—educational, economic, political—prepare and empower them to contribute to “a common faith,” as the philosopher and theorist John Dewey called his vision of the democratic project.  “The foundation of democracy,” Dewey wrote, “is faith in the capacities of human nature; faith in human intelligence and in the power of pooled and cooperative experience.  It is not belief that these things are complete but that if given a show they will grow and be able to generate progressively the knowledge and wisdom needed to guide collective action.”

For those with power, the dilemma is that sharing it with the people can provoke unpleasant questions about what constitutes the common good.  One convenient solution is to use power to change the subject.  Alinsky was a radical because he—like Sanders—never allowed anyone to change the subject.

He focused relentlessly on the question of power—how it is gained and distributed—and he made concrete demands at the micro level, working for reform brick by brick and block by block.  He kept his distance from electoral politics in the belief that formal political ties and ideological commitments would only hinder his pragmatic approach to organizing.  But he grudgingly allowed that there was no choice but to work within the political system.  “We will start with the system because there is no other place to start from except political lunacy,” he wrote in Rules for Radicals.  “It is most important for those of us who want revolutionary change to understand that revolution must be preceded by reformation.”

That this strategy bore fruit is undeniable.  Alinsky achieved much for neighborhoods in Chicago that had very little, leaving a legacy that has inspired generations of organizers.  But it’s also evident, more than four decades later, that he fell far short of achieving either the reformation or the revolution that he sought.

The divide between those with and without power is starkly, shockingly visible on the South Side of Chicago, where Sanders gave his September speech.  The University of Chicago’s expansive lawns and gothic architecture are set among some of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in the city and the nation.  On the day that Sanders delivered his speech, 14 people were shot in the city in a 15-hour period.  Six of them died, including a mother and grandmother as they stood outside, preparing to get in a car and visit relatives.

Alinsky likely would not be surprised that the revolution he sought has not been realized.  He was allergic to, and impatient with, the kind of dramatic pronouncements that define Sanders’s style.  All the talk of peace and love and cooperation among young people in the 1960s, Alinsky told Terkel, had a mystical quality that was disconnected from realities on the ground.  “You’re not asking for a revolution,” he said.  “You’re asking for a revelation.”

For all his clear-eyed realism, though, Alinsky, who was a secular Jew, did acknowledge the critical importance of a certain element of faith and hope in the quest for social justice, and his parting words in Rules sum up much of what the Sanders campaign is all about:  “We must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new world; we will see it when we believe it.”

It may be that neither Alinsky’s ground-level strategy nor Sanders’ effort to build a broad, national coalition can reverse our march toward increasing inequality and the concentration of power among elites.  It may be that a political revolution of the kind that Sanders predicts is an impossible dream.

On the other hand, perhaps only a grand vision of “the world that should be” is equal to the scale of the challenges we face.  Perhaps “millions of people at every level,” as Sanders offered at the conclusion of his University of Chicago talk, can indeed come together to foster a healthy democracy, redistribute power and make the American political system work for all people.

That may require a leap of faith.  So, too, may a radical commitment to democracy.  And given the makeup of Congress and the apparent apathy of much of the electorate, there is ample reason for doubt.  But “if you believe in a free and open society,” as Alinsky once put it, “what are the alternatives?”

CONSERVATION - San Diego's Safari Park, White Rhinos

"NOLA’S DEATH HITS HOME" by KARLA PETERSON, San Diego Union-Tribune 11/23/2015

NOTE:  This is from the online newspaper, so no article link.

She was euthanized at Safari Park, her residence since 1989, leaving 3 northern white rhinos in world.

Nola, one of just four endangered northern white rhinos left in the world, died Sunday at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

The 41-year-old rhino had been under veterinary care for a bacterial infection and age-related health issues.  Her condition took a turn for the worse over the weekend, San Diego Zoo Global said in a statement.  Early Sunday morning, the Safari Park team “made the difficult decision to euthanize her.”

It is a crushing loss for the Safari Park, where Nola had lived since 1989.  The gentle 4,000-pound animal was a favorite with the staff because of her sociable personality and love of back scratches.  She was also a popular attraction for Safari Park visitors, who could always spot her because of her distinctively curved horn.

Nola’s death is also a blow to the northern white rhino sub-species.  After decades of poaching, there are just three northern white rhinos left in the world.  All three — a male and two females— live on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

The source of Nola’s lingering infection was recently traced to a large abscess deep in her pelvic region.  Veterinarians performed a minor surgical procedure to drain the abscess on Nov. 13, and the majority of the infected material was removed.  But her condition began rapidly deteriorating on Saturday, and the decision was made to euthanize her.

“It sounds corny, but with her, every day is a blessing,” lead keeper Jane Kennedy said last month, when she and her fellow Safari Park staff members were keeping an eye on Nola’s condition.  “I would call her a symbol of our purpose.  She truly represents what we are all dedicating our lives to.”

Nola had been caught in Sudan when she was approximately 2 years old.  She came to the Safari Park in 1989 from the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic as part of a breeding program.  But she and her fellow northern whites had already made a big impression on her new hosts.

“I met Nola and her group of rhinos in July of 1986, when I traveled to what was then the Czech Soviet Republic.  The Soviet army was there, and so was this group of northern white rhinos,” said Oliver Ryder, director of genetics, Kleberg Chair, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.  “The last week I was there, a baby rhino was born.  It made a big impression on me, because these enormous creatures were so gentle and so cautious and curious with this baby rhino.  I was impressed yet again that there is a depth to their lives that we don’t understand.”

The hope was that Nola would mate with Angalifu, the Safari Park’s northern white rhino male.  The mating happened, but there was never a pregnancy.  At one point, staffers sawed off the horns of Nola and fellow female, Noti, to keep them from fighting Angalifu off.  But without herd behavior to spur more frequent mating, there were never any northern white births at the Safari Park.

Two deaths since December

And then, there were fewer northern white rhinos altogether.  Noti died in 2007, and Angalifu died last December.  And in July, Nabire, a female northern white rhino living in the Dvur Kralove Zoo, died at the age of 32.

So when Nola was put on medical watch this year due to a sinus infection, the whole rhino-watching world began to worry.  In May, she began receiving treatment for an abscess on her right hip.  The life expectancy of the white rhino species, which includes northern and southern white rhinos, is 40 to 50 years.  But when Nola’s abscess and the bacterial infection that it caused came back in September, the Safari Park community was on high alert.

“It’s tough.  It’s like having your 90-year-old aunt get sick, and there is nothing you can do except give her basic care and keep her comfortable,” keeper Kennedy said last month, as she watched Nola recline in the shade of her Safari Park enclosure, with her companion southern white rhino, Chuck, nearby.  “When her abscess came back the second time, you could tell she didn’t feel good.  When her attitude sinks, ours has to jump up because we need to help her.”

For Kennedy and her fellow members of Team Nola, helping the rhino was a priority and a privilege.  And the rhino made it easy.  Due to an irregularity in her hooves, Nola needed regular nail trimmings.  The constant interactions with the keepers made her comfortable with human contact and usually a cinch to work with, despite her massive size.

She did not like being in her boma corral, and she was not at all fond of taking her many antibiotic pills.  But she loved her pedicures and her back scratches and hanging out in her 65-acre African Plains habitat with the equally sociable Chuck, who was very eager to track her whereabouts when Nola was getting her abscess drained last week.

“They are like the elderly couple who met late in life and became friends,” Kennedy said of Chuck and Nola.  “I’ve known Nola for 26 years, and she is truly, truly one of the sweetest animals I have ever worked with.”

With neither of the Ol Pejeta northern white females able to give birth naturally due to advanced age or reproductive issues, it is up to science to save the sub-species.  The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s Frozen Zoo contains viable cell cultures from 12 northern white rhinos.  Genetic materials from Nola have been preserved, and the plan was always to collect her ovaries and any viable stem cells upon her death.  With the help of in-vitro fertilization, the hope is to use the recently arrived southern white rhinos living in the Safari Park’s new Rhino Rescue Center as surrogates for a hybrid rhino, which would be created with northern white sperm and southern white eggs.  San Diego Zoo Global has one of the world’s most successful rhino breeding programs.  To date, 94 southern white rhinos, 68 greater one-horned rhinos and 14 black rhinos have been born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  As the genomic research, technology and procedures become more advanced, the goal would be to create complete northern white rhino embryos, which the southern whites would carry to term.  Nola’s legacy will live on, and not just in the hearts and minds of the people who cared for her.  “The white rhinos represent the wild places and prehistoric animals that are still with us,” said Steve Metzler, interim associate curator of mammals, who accompanied the Rhino Rescue Center’s six southern whites on their 22-hour flight from Johannesburg to San Diego.  “It is devastating to think that in just a few hundred years, we can wipe that out.  That is just wrong, and we need to do something about it.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

SAN DIEGO - USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)

"‘America’s Big Stick’ is S.D.’s new carrier" by JEANETTE STEELE, San Diego Union-Tribune 11/20/2015

NOTE:  This is from the online edition, so there's no link.  Also corrected obvious typos in the article.

The Navy currently has 10 aircraft carriers, and a handful of them have been familiar guests in San Diego: Vinson, Reagan, Nimitz, Stennis.

Now, there’s a new biggun in town.

The carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is scheduled to reach San Diego for the first time Monday.  The nuclear flattop is transferring here after a 29-year career on the East Coast.  And the ship is finishing an eight-month deployment of epic dimension.

Six of those months, including a hellaciously hot summer, were spent conducting airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and northern Iraq.

Some weeks, the heat index on the flight deck climbed past 150 degrees.  The ship’s captain called the conditions “at the very edge of human performance.”

Then, on a rare around-the-world journey, the Roosevelt hosted Defense Secretary Ashton Carter off the coast of Asia, where Carter warned China against aggression at sea.   For the Roosevelt’s crew, then, the Monday arrival in San Diego will be a return to not only the American mainland but also to normal life.

For the city, the flattop brings a new hull number to the skyline — 71 — and new naval history to learn.  The ship is named for Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president.  Roosevelt is known for advocating an aggressive foreign policy and especially for using the Navy as a sign of U.S. ambition.  His most famous quote is, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  His namesake carrier has adopted that motto, calling itself “America’s Big Stick.”

Its crew members said Thursday that they lived that mantra on this latest deployment.  Navy aircraft delivered more than 1,000 munitions against terrorist targets — more ordnance than any other carrier group so far in the airstrike campaign against the Islamic State.

“Everyone was working very hard, and there was no question that everybody was very tired.  But morale was high because I think the sailors and Marines knew why we were there,” said Capt. Craig Clapperton, the Roosevelt’s commanding officer.

“Our pilots were going up every day, flying anywhere from eight to 16 missions in country,” he said during a phone interview from the ship.  “And they were coming back very, very often with no bombs left on their jets.”

Days handling the aircraft were long and hot.

But maybe the worst conditions were in the kitchen, or “galleys.”  That’s because the carrier uses outside air to ventilate those spaces, Clapperton said.  Temperatures got up to 120 degrees.

After sailors started reporting heat-stress injuries in July, Navy brass had to shorten shifts to give people a break in the even hotter months of August and September.

One Roosevelt cook, Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Scott, called morale “pretty decent” despite the “treacherous” weather.  “The fight against ISIS, the crew takes that seriously,” said Scott, 29.  “And we take our jobs pretty seriously and have been motivated to do our part.”  As a result, last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris resonated strongly with him.

“It makes me feel pretty proud to know we’ve been making a major commitment to that effort, especially with all those things that recently happened in France,” Scott said.  Since the Paris assaults, which killed 129 and injured hundreds, the United States has continued its bombing campaign in the Middle East.  It also began assisting French warplanes with targeting data.  One scholar of Roosevelt’s presidency said the Navy carrier’s involvement in the anti-terrorism effort is something from the “Rough Rider’s” playbook.  “He didn’t want to have wars, but he believed that a strong military discouraged potential aggressors,” said William Tilchin, a Boston University professor and editor of the Theodore Roosevelt Association journal.

The Roosevelt’s arrival in San Diego is part of a massive three-carrier swap that involves 9,000 sailors and two other flattops.  The carrier Ronald Reagan left town in August to take up residence in Japan.  But, first, the George Washington left Asia and came to San Diego, where the two carriers swapped crews.  The San Diego-based crew is now sailing the George Washington around South America toward Virginia, where the carrier will begin a four-year overhaul of its nuclear core.  Those San Diego sailors will fly home in December and January to take over jobs on the Roosevelt.  Because about 1,300 San Diego sailors will serve on three carriers in the space of a year, this group has been dubbed the “Three Presidents Crew.”  About half of the Roosevelt’s 3,000 crew members will transfer to San Diego.  The other half will fly home to Virginia to take up residence on the George Washington.

These naval musical chairs will save the Navy about $41 million, as thousands of sailors won’t have to relocate with their ships.

One of the newcomers to San Diego will be Shakayla McGee, 20, an aviation boatswain’s mate arriving on the Roosevelt.  A native of South Carolina, it’s her first time in this city.  “I know it’s always sunny,” McGee said.  “Now I want to try the food.” The Roosevelt’s captain, Clapperton, has lived in Coronado and joked that he might as well be on the chamber of commerce payroll.

“I’ve been talking to my sailors about the quality of life and all the things to do in San Diego,” he said.  After more than eight months at sea, he said, “Their faces just light up.”

PS:  When I was in the Navy I served with squadrons out of NAS Miramar (now MCAS Miramar) that deployed on the USS Hancock (CVA-19) which is much like the USS Midway (Museum SD).

Monday, November 16, 2015

OPINION - Shields and Gerson 11/13/2015

"Shields and Gerson on Paris terror attack, Trump targeting Carson" PBS NewsHour 11/13/2015


SUMMARY:  What’s behind Sen. Bernie Sanders’ latest campaign tactics?  Lisa Desjardins reports, then syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including a terror attack in Paris, Donald Trump’s remarks against Republican front-runner Ben Carson and the emerging division on immigration among the GOP contenders.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  So, gentlemen, this is a fast-moving story.  Still very much that we — we know President Hollande has closed the borders of France.  He has called an emergency.

And, Mark, it’s a reminder that even though foreign policy, defense policy has not been front and center, I think, in the minds of most Americans, something can change in an instant.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  No question, Judy.

And there is a sense of shock, but an increasing awareness of vulnerability.  And I think that’s what — the reaction and understandable reaction is of most people, beyond the obvious sympathy and sense of outrage that the people have done it and the sympathy for those who are suffering.  But it does remind us of our vulnerability.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And it’s clear at this point that President Obama and administration officials have said, Michael, there is no indication of an immediate threat to the United States, but, of course, that’s where your thinking goes.

MICHAEL GERSON, Washington Post:  Well, this is one of the strategies of al-Qaida-like organizations, spectacular attacks designed to demoralize countries.

This was true of the U.S., true in Britain in 2005 with the underground attack, and it’s true in France now.  But it doesn’t work.  It actually hardens resolve.  And, you know, France is playing an important role in the Middle East.  I think that they’re not going to be deterred from that.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

FRANCE - Paris Attacks

"Attackers launch coordinated terror strikes on multiple sites in Paris" PBS NewsHour 11/13/2015


SUMMARY:  Terror has struck again in Paris, where multiple shootings and bombings across the city, leaving as many as 120 dead.  Police say scores were killed at a concert hall, where attackers also took hostages.  Judy Woodruff gets an update from Kate Moody of France 24.

"What authorities are asking about the Paris attacks tonight" PBS NewsHour 11/13/2015


SUMMARY:  Who is capable of conducting the multiple-target attack that terrorized Paris on Friday night?  Judy Woodruff talks to Lorenzo Vidino of George Washington University.

EDUCATION - Kids, Self Learning

"Given Internet access, can kids really learn anything by themselves?" PBS NewsHour 11/12/2015


SUMMARY:  It started with a hole in the wall. Sugata Mitra, working for a software company in Delhi, cut a gap between his firm and the slum next door, putting out an Internet-connected computer for kids in the community to use.  That simple experiment has turned into a radical idea that children can teach themselves in self-organized learning environments.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

STUDENT:  Why do dogs chase cats?

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  I have absolutely no idea.

A public elementary school in Harlem, New York, is adopting a radical idea that threatens the education industry as we know it, SOLEs, Self-Organized Learning Environments.

STUDENT:  How do you make a computer?

STUDENT:  How come father seahorses have babies, but the females don’t?

PAUL SOLMAN:  The students come up with the questions, and then choose one to answer.  The man behind the idea, Sugata Mitra, visiting from England.

SUGATA MITRA, Newcastle University:  OK, so now here’s what’s going to happen.  Listen carefully.  You’re going to work with these six computers; the question is, why do dogs chase cats?  And, of course, you can talk as much as you like, you can walk around, you can move, you can look at other people’s work.  You can do whatever you like.

PAUL SOLMAN:  A crowd of onlookers in a nearby room, waiting to know if, given six computers and just 20 minutes, these kids can really self-organize and learn the answer on their own.

SUGATA MITRA:  Do you have any idea?  I have never actually thought about it.  Of course, everyone knows that dogs chase cats.

PAUL SOLMAN:  No.  My guess is cats are a symbol of something they could eat, but don’t eat?  I don’t know.  That’s my best shot.

Mitra’s first experiment in self-organized learning took place years ago and far away, at the turn of the 21st century here in Delhi, where he worked for a huge Indian software firm.

Worried about information poverty and the digital divide between those who can afford computers and those who can’t, Mitra simply cut a hole in the boundary wall between his firm and the fetid slum next door and put in a computer, connected to the Internet, and watched.

MEDAL OF HONOR - Confronting a Suicide Bomber

"How a Medal of Honor recipient confronted a suicide bomber" PBS NewsHour 11/12/2015


SUMMARY:  Retired Army Capt. Florent Groberg was awarded the Medal of Honor for risking his life to stop a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.  Thirty-two-year-old Groberg is just the 10th living service member to receive the nation's highest military honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor today to retired Army Captain Florent Groberg for risking his life to stop a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

The 32-year-old French-born soldier, who often goes by Flo, is just the 10th living service member to receive the nation’s highest military honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  And so it was on an August day three years ago that Flo found himself leading a group of American and Afghan soldiers as they escorted their commanders to a meeting with local Afghans.

It was a journey that the team had done many times before — a short walk on foot, including passage over a narrow bridge.

Flo noticed something to his left — a man, dressed in dark clothing, walking backwards, just some 10 feet away.  The man spun around and turned toward them, and that’s when Flo sprinted toward him.  He pushed him away from the formation, and as he did, he noticed an object under the man’s clothing — a bomb.

And at that moment, Flo did something extraordinary — he grabbed the bomber by his vest and kept pushing him away.

One of Flo’s comrades, Sergeant Andrew Mahoney, had joined in, too, and together they shoved the bomber again and again.  And they pushed him so hard he fell to the ground onto his chest.  And then the bomb detonated.

Ball bearings, debris, dust exploded everywhere.  Flo was thrown some 15 or 20 feet and was knocked unconscious.  And moments later, he woke up in the middle of the road in shock.  His eardrum was blown out.  His leg was broken and bleeding badly.

That blast by the bridge claimed four American heroes — four heroes Flo wants us to remember today.

One of his mentors, a 24-year Army vet, Command Sergeant Major Kevin Griffin.

A West Pointer who loved hockey and became a role model to cadets and troops because he always cared more about other people than himself, Major Tom Kennedy.

A popular Air Force leader known for smiling with his whole face, Major David Gray.

And, finally, a USAID foreign service officer, a man who moved to the United States from Egypt and reveled in everything American, Ragaei Abdelfattah.

We honor Flo because his actions prevented an even greater catastrophe.  You see, by pushing the bomber away from the formation, the explosion occurred farther from our forces, and on the ground instead of in the open air.  And while Flo didn’t know it at the time, that explosion also caused a second, unseen bomb to detonate before it was in place.

The truth is, Flo says that day was the worst day of his life.  And that is the stark reality behind these Medal of Honor ceremonies, because on his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best.  That’s the nature of courage, not being unafraid, but confronting fear and danger and performing in a selfless fashion.

He showed his guts.  He showed his training, how he would put it all on the line for his teammates.  That’s an American we can all be grateful for.

It’s why we honor Captain Florent Groberg today.

MAN:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Captain Florent A. Groberg, United States Army.

Watch full Medal of Honor ceremony for Army Capt. Florent Groberg

ARCHEOLOGY - Our Earliest Wanderers

"What an ancient boneyard reveals about our earliest global wanderers" PBS NewsHour 11/11/2015


SUMMARY:  On a years-long hike across the globe, journalist Paul Salopek is following the path humans took after the Ice Age.  One of the most important human migration sites in the world is in Dmanisi, Georgia, where people have walked for nearly 2 million years.  Hari Sreenivasan joins Salopek in learning more about the first pioneers to wander that part of the world.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The fog-shrouded fields and rolling hills of Southern Georgia are much more than a waypoint for Paul Salopek.  We were nearing the ancient city and archaeological site of Dmanisi.

PAUL SALOPEK, Journalist/National Geographic Fellow:  So, Dmanisi is finally in sight and this is probably one of the most important human migration sites outside of Africa proper.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Salopek is following the path humans took after the Ice Age, 70,000 to 100,000 years ago.  But here in Dmanisi, that path is much older.

Along these green and jagged river gorges, we have walked in one form or another for nearly two million years.  The history here is stacked high, part of what Salopek calls the layer cake effect of the Caucasus.  With a happy dog welcoming us, we passed what was likely an outer defensive tower of the 1,400-year-old city of Dmanisi.

This has been a crossroads for a long time.

PAUL SALOPEK:  From day one. And pretty much everybody invaded it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And was this a trading route?

PAUL SALOPEK:  This was a Silk Road trading route city, a big shining city on the hill, very rich, until the Mongols came and plundered it.  And then they were here a few hundred years until the Georgians and Armenians pushed them out.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  It’s an archaeological gold mine.  With the summer digging season finished, we arrived at a sort of bunk house for archaeologists to rest for the night.

PAUL SALOPEK:  If we did, by some miracle, get a clear sky, it really will change everything completely.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The next morning, a miracle had indeed swept away the fog.  Within what you’re seeing is nearly two million years of history, the medieval city, whose walls still stand, built on top of a Bronze Age settlement that’s 5,000 years old, and still beneath that, the 1.8 million-year-old remains of one of modern human’s earliest ancestors.

Salopek, Dima Bit-Suleiman, his walking partner in Georgia, and I were joined by the director of Georgia’s National Museum, David Lordkipanidze, for the walk up to the hilltop dig site.

Journalist goes on a walk around the world to find the story of humanity

MEXICO - Diabetes

"Mexico’s sugar clinics help patients gain control over diabetes" PBS NewsHour 11/9/2015


SUMMARY:  In Mexico, over 70 percent of citizens are overweight or obese and 14 percent of Mexican adults now suffer from diabetes, though half of those affected aren't even aware they have the disease.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the struggle to bring the disease under control.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (NewsHour):  The North American Free Trade Agreement brought Mexico chain restaurants, malls and big box stores with abundant shelves, and an epidemic of diabetes.

JAVIER LOZANO, Founder, Clinicas del Azucar:  Regular food, but sugar free.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  Javier Lozano, whose mother suffers from the disease, thinks he can make a difference.  Three years ago, he opened a chain called Clinicas del Azucar, or the Sugar Clinics.

JAVIER LOZANO:  Our dream was, imagine there’s a clinic in every corner.  Just as we have franchise for hamburgers and pizza and fried chicken.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  The clinics are a one-stop shop to see a doctor or nutritionist, get your eyes checked, or feet, then pick up a pair of shoes or snacks.

Lozano, a 33-year-old MIT graduate, hopes to have 200 outlets by 2020, but it’s a tiny fraction of the demand in a country that by then could have 20 million diabetics.

DR. SIMON BARQUERA, National Institute of Public Health:  Basically, diabetes prevalence has been doubling every six to 10 years.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  Dr. Simon Barquera of Mexico’s National Health Institute says it now affects 14 percent of Mexican adults, a population with widespread genetic predisposition to diabetes.

Adding to the risk, 72 percent are obese or overweight.  Those numbers are now higher than Mexico’s northern neighbors, but with double the impact.  Far fewer Mexicans have their symptoms under control.

DR. SIMON BARQUERA:  For example, in Canada and the U.S., more than half of the population with diabetes has adequate control, in Mexico, only 25 percent.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

RUSSIA - Sochi Olympics Doping Scandal

"RUSSIA SLAMMED IN WADA DOPING REPORT" by REBECCA R. RUIZ (New York Times writer), San Diego Union-Tribune 11/10/2015

NOTE:  This is from the online version, therefore no link.

Members of Russia’s secret service intimidated workers at a drug-testing lab to cover up top athletes’ positive results.  They impersonated lab engineers during the Winter Olympics in Sochi last year.  A lab once destroyed more than 1,400 samples.  Athletes adopted false identities to avoid unexpected testing.  Some paid to make doping violations disappear.  Others bribed the anti-doping authorities to ensure favorable results, and top sports officials routinely submitted bogus urine samples for athletes who were doping.  Those allegations were among hundreds contained in a report released Monday by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).  Across 323 pages, it implicated athletes, coaches, trainers, doctors and various Russian institutions, laying out what is very likely the most extensive state sponsored doping program since the notorious East German regime of the 1970s.

In addition to providing a granular look at systematic doping, the group that drafted the report made extraordinary recommendations, including a proposal that Russia be suspended from competition by track and field’s governing body and barred from track and field events at next summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s worse than we thought,” Dick Pound, founding president of the World Anti-Doping Association and an author of the report, said at a news conference in a Geneva hotel.  “This is an old attitude from the Cold War days,” he said.  Russian officials responded with defiance, disputing the investigation’s findings.  “Whatever we do, everything is bad,” Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister, told the news agency Interfax.  “If this whole system needs to shut down, we will shut it down gladly.  We will stop paying fees, stop funding the Russian anti-doping agency, the Moscow anti-doping laboratory.  We will only save money.”

Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, director of the Moscow lab whom Monday’s report accused of having solicited and accepted bribes, dismissed the suggestions.  “This is an independent commission which only issues recommendations,” he said.  “There are three fools sitting there who don’t understand the laboratory.”

Pound said he had presented the group’s findings to Mutko before they were released publicly.  “He’s frustrated to some degree,” he said.  “He certainly knew what was going on.  They all knew.”

The report also recommended WADA impose lifetime bans on five Russian coaches and five athletes, including the gold and bronze medalists from the women’s 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics.

“The Olympic Games in London were, in a sense, sabotaged by the admission of athletes who should have not been competing,” the report read.

Bans from competition are not all that could come of the inquiry.  Pound said the agency had negotiated a cooperation agreement with Interpol and handed over extensive documents and evidence.  Interpol confirmed that cooperation with its own announcement Monday, noting that related inquiries stretched from Singapore to France.

Last week, French authorities announced they had opened a criminal investigation into the former president of track and field’s world governing body, Lamine Diack of Senegal, for having allegedly accepted bribes to allow at least six Russian athletes to compete, including in the 2012 Olympics.

The former director of the medical and anti-doping division of that governing body is also under investigation, the International Association of Athletics Federations, French authorities said, along with Diack’s legal counsel.

Russian athletes, in soaring numbers, have been caught doping in recent years.  Russia had far more drug violations than any other country in 2013: 225, or 12 percent of all violations globally, according to data from WADA.  About a fifth of Russia’s infractions involved track and field athletes, the focus of Monday’s report.

“This level of corruption attacks sport at its core,” Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer and an author of the report, said in an interview.  In contrast to corporate governance scandals like those roiling world soccer, he said, drug use by athletes has distorted the essence of professional games.  “Bribes and payoffs don’t change actual sporting events,” McLaren said.  “But doping takes away fair competition.”  The report released Monday was the result of a 10 month investigation by an independent commission of WADA.  Its inquiry stemmed from a December documentary by the German public broadcaster ARD, which drew on accounts from Russian athletes, coaches and anti-doping authorities, who said the Russian government had helped procure drugs for athletes and cover up positive test results.

Further allegations emerged in August, when ARD and The Sunday Times of London released another report more broadly focused on the leaked results of thousands of international athletes’ blood tests dating to 2001, showing decorated athletes in good standing with suspicious drug tests.  Those allegations — which drew significant suspicion to Kenya — are also being investigated by the independent commission, but the results were not included in Monday’s report, as the inquiry is continuing, the agency said.

The three-person commission, chaired by Pound, also included McLaren, who teaches law at Western University in Ontario, and Gunter Younger, head of cybercrime for the police in the German state of Bavaria.

WADA’s foundation and executive board will decide whether to act on the commission’s recommendations; they are scheduled to meet next week in Colorado Springs, Colo., an event that motivated the timing of the release of the commission’s report, Pound said.

In a statement Monday, the International Olympic Committee called the report “deeply shocking,” and said it trusted the judgment of the IAAF, which would decide whether to bar Russia from competition.

Pound did not offer any time frame for the recommended suspension.  If Russia did not fight the prescriptions — to enact rigorous and specific drug-testing controls — he said he thought it could be possible for the country’s track and field athletes to compete in the summer Olympics.

The commission also recommended that the Russian anti-doping authority be declared non-code-compliant, indefinitely; that the director of the Moscow laboratory be removed from his job; and that the lab, which was provisionally banned in 2013, lose its accreditation.

Monday, November 09, 2015

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 11/6/2015

"Shields and Brooks on Keystone pipeline politics, Ben Carson claims" PBS NewsHour 11/6/2015


SUMMARY:  President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline after seven years, and the October jobs report offered a brighter labor outlook.  Judy Woodruff discusses the week’s news with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, including claims about Ben Carson’s past, questions about Marco Rubio’s finances and revelations in a new biography about George H.W. Bush.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  But, first, a White House decision finally on the Keystone pipeline, a rough week for some Republican candidates, and wins for conservatives on Election Day.

First, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It’s great to have you here.

So, that Keystone pipeline decision, David, the president finally — seven years later, we now know he’s against it.

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  Yes.  Well, first of all, it could be mythical.  With oil prices so low, they might never build it anyway.  So, it really doesn’t matter at some level.

But pretending it matters, I do think it’s an anti-environmental, anti-science move.  His State Department and many other experts decided, if the oil is going to come out of the sands, it’s a lot cleaner to have it go through the pipeline than to put on trains or trucks and send it over to China through ships that way.

And, so, if the oil comes out of the sands, which it’s going to do if it makes economic sense, we might as well do it in the cleanest way possible.  So, to me, this is just a political decision to placate some people who he’s offended with some of his other decisions.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Political decision, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS:  I don’t think anyone could accuse the President of being impulsive.  It was seven years, five exhaustive studies.


MARK SHIELDS:  And I think it became a symbol for both sides, bigger than it was really.

I don’t think it was going to be an environmental disaster.  And I don’t think, with gasoline $2 a gallon cheaper than it was the day that Barack Obama was nominated, the urgency had abated.