Thursday, December 18, 2014

MARS - Curiosity Rover Detects Organics!

"NASA’s Curiosity Rover detects Methane, Organics on Mars" by Tim Reyes, Universe Today 12/17/2014

On Tuesday, December 16, 2014, NASA scientists attending the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco announced the detection of organic compounds on Mars.  The announcement represents the discovery of the missing “ingredient” that is necessary for the existence – past or present – of life on Mars.

Indeed, the extraordinary claim required extraordinary evidence – the famous assertion of Dr. Carl Sagan.  The scientists, members of the Mars Science Lab – Curiosity Rover – mission, worked over a period of 20 months to sample and analyze Martian atmospheric and surface samples to arrive at their conclusions.  The announcement stems from two separate detections of organics:  1) ten-fold spikes in atmospheric Methane levels, and 2) drill samples from a rock called Cumberland which included complex organic compounds.

Methane, of the simplest organic compounds, was detected using the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM).  This is one of two compact laboratory instruments embedded inside the compact car-sized rover, Curiosity.  Very soon after landing on Mars, the scientists began to use SAM to periodically measure the chemical content of the Martian atmosphere.  Over many samples, the level of Methane was very low, ~0.9 parts per billion.  However, that suddenly changed and, as scientists stated in the press conference, it was a “wow” moment that took them aback.  Brief daily spikes in Methane levels averaging 7 parts per billion were detected.

The detection of methane at Mars has been claimed for decades, but more recently, in 2003 and 2004, independent research teams using sensitive spectrometers on Earth detected methane in the atmosphere of Mars.  One group led by Vladimir Krasnopolsky of Catholic University, and another led by Dr. Michael Mumma from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, detected broad regional and temporal levels of Methane as high as 30 parts per billion.  Those announcements met with considerable skepticism from the scientific community.  And the first atmospheric measurements by Curiosity were negative.  However, neither group backed down from their claims.

The sudden detection of ten-fold spikes in methane levels in Gale crater is not inconsistent with the earlier remote measurements from Earth.  The high seasonal concentrations were in regions that do not include Gale Crater, and it remains possible that the Curiosity measurements are of a similar nature but due to some less active process than exists at the regions identified by Dr. Mumma’s team.

The NASA scientists at AGU led by MSL project scientist Dr. John Grotzinger emphasized that they do not yet know how the methane is being generated.  The process could be biological or not.  There are abiotic chemical processes that could produce methane.  However, the MSL SAM detections were daily spikes and represent an active real on-going process on the red planet.  This alone is a very exciting aspect of the detection.

The team presented slides to describe how methane could be generated.  With the known low background levels of methane at ~ 1 part per billion, an external cosmic source, for example micro-meteoroids entering the atmosphere and releasing organics which is then reduced by sunlight to methane, could be ruled out.  The methane source must be of local origin.

The scientists illustrated two means of production.  In both instances, there is some daily – or at least periodic – activity that is releasing methane from the subsurface of Mars.  The source could be biological which is accumulated in subsurface rocks then suddenly released.  Or an abiotic chemistry, such as a reaction between the mineral olivine and water, could be the generator.

The subsurface storage mechanism of methane proposed and illustrated is called clathrate storage.  Clathrate storage involves lattice compounds that can trap molecules such as methane which can subsequently be released by physical changes in the clathrate, such as solar heating or mechanical stresses.  Through press Q&A, the NASA scientists stated that such clathrates could be preserved for millions and billions of years underground.

The second discovery of organics involved more complex compounds in surface materials.  Also since arriving at Mars, Curiosity has utilized a drilling tool to probe the interiors of rocks.  Grotzinger emphasized how material immediately at the surface of Mars has experienced the effects of radiation and the ubiquitous soil compound perchlorate reducing and destroying organics both now and over millions of years.  The detection of no organics in loose and exposed surface material had not diminished NASA scientists’ hopes of detecting organics in the rocks of Mars.

Drilling was performed on several selected rocks and it was finally a mud rock called Cumberland that revealed the presence of organic compounds more complex than simple methane.  The scientists did emphasize that what exactly these organic compounds are remains a mystery because of the confounding presence of the active chemical perchlorate which can quickly breakdown organics to simpler forms.

The detection of organics in the mud rock Cumberland required the drilling tool and also the scoop on the multifaceted robotic arm to deliver the sample into the SAM laboratory for analysis.  To detect methane, SAM has an intake valve to receive atmospheric samples.

Dr. Grotzinger described how Cumberland was chosen as a sample source.  The rock is called a mud stone which has undergone a process called digenesis – the metamorphosis of sediment to rock.  Grotzinger emphasized that fluids will move through such rock during digenesis and perchlorate can destroy organics in the process.  Such might be the case for many metamorphic rocks on the Martian surface.  The panel of scientists showed a comparison between rock samples measured by SAM.  Two in particular – from the rock “John Klein” and the Cumberland rock — were compared.  The former showed no organics as well as other rocks that were sampled; but Cumberland’s drill sample from its interior did reveal organics.
"Boston bombing suspect seen for the first time since 2013" by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, USA TODAY 12/18/2014

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has not been seen in public since he was arraigned on 30 federal charges in July 2013, when he still bore signs of the bloody standoff with police that led to his capture and the death of his older brother, Tamerlan.

On Thursday, he showed up in court for the first time.

The courtroom was packed as people strained to be the first to get a look at Tsarnaev.  Fourteen victims of the attacks sat together on one side of the galley.  Members of the media and general public occupied another 60 seats on benches.

Tsarnaev, 21, gave a small, seemingly nervous, smile to his lawyers upon entering the courtroom.  He had a scruffy beard and a mopped head of wavy, uncombed hair.  He wore a black sweater and open-necked collared shirt.

U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. asked him four questions, inquiring whether he had elected to be absent in prior status conferences and whether his lawyers had kept him apprised of the proceedings.

"Yes sir," Tsarnaev said.

O'Toole also asked if he's been satisfied with his legal representation.

"Very much," Tsarnaev said.  When O'Toole asked if he would like a private meeting with him to discuss his representation, Tsarnaev declined.

Security was tight during the final pre-trial hearing before Tsarnaev's trial, which is set to begin on Jan. 5.

Tsarnaev is charged in a 30-count indictment that alleges he conspired with his late older brother, Tamerlan, to build and detonate two pressure-cooker bombs that left three dead and more than 260 injured near the crowded finish line of last year's Boston Marathon.  He's also charged in the murder of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology security officer who died during the manhunt.  Tsarnaev, who has pleaded not guilty, faces the possibility of the death penalty if he is convicted.

The beefed up police presence included a line of police vehicles at front of the courthouse entrance.  In back, a Boston Police boat with blue lights flashing kept watch in Boston Harbor.  Both sides had visible support from Boston Police Special Operations, who patrolled on foot with dogs.

Thursday's hearing is the last chance to ask the judge for new ground rules for the trial.  Tsarnaev's lawyers recently filed a new motion seeking, for the second time, to have the trial relocated out of Boston, where they fear their client will not be treated fairly.

O'Toole rejected Tsarnaev's first request in September to move the trial, ruling that Tsarnaev's lawyers had failed to show that extensive pretrial media coverage of the bombings had prejudiced the jury pool to the point that an impartial jury could not be chosen in Boston.

Tsarnaev's lawyers previously said the trial should be moved to Washington, D.C.

O'Toole also rejected a defense request that prosecutors turn over evidence about his older brother's possible participation in a 2011 triple killing in suburban Waltham.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys were expected to discuss the jury selection process with the judge during Thursday's hearing.  Both sides have submitted questions they want the judge to ask potential jurors, who will be selected from a pool of at least 1,200 people.

The trial is expected to last several months.  Seating a jury alone could take several weeks to a month.

When last seen, Tsarnaev still had visible injuries from a shootout with police several days after the April 15, 2013, bombings.  His left arm was in a cast and his face was swollen.  He appeared to have a jaw injury.

Three friends of Tsarnaev were convicted this year of hampering the investigation by removing evidence from his dorm room or lying to the FBI.

Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev were convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for removing a backpack containing fireworks and other potential evidence while authorities were still looking for the suspected bombers.  Another friend, Robel Phillipos, was convicted of lying to federal agents about being in the room.  All three are awaiting sentencing.

HISTORIC SHIFT - United States & Cuban Restore Diplomatic Ties

COMMENT:  The fall of the old USSR did not happen because we isolated them.  It came about after we started normal diplomatic ties.

"U.S. and Cuba restore diplomatic ties, swap prisoners – Part 1" PBS NewsHour 12/17/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  President Obama calls it the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in more than half-a-century.  In a stunning move today, he laid out plans for a diplomatic rapprochement with Havana.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The President appeared in the Cabinet Room of the White House to make his momentous announcement.  By executive action, he is reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba.  He also means to open an embassy in Havana, expand economic ties with the communist island, and ease the ban on travel for family, government business and educational purposes.

BARACK OBAMA:  I do not expect the changes I’m announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight, but I am convinced that, through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Mr. Obama finalized the deal after speaking at length with Cuban President Raul Castro yesterday.  It was the first significant discussion between presidents of the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.

Today, in his own televised address, Castro welcomed the thaw, while cautioning there is much still to be resolved.

PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO, Cuba (through interpreter):  In recognizing that we have profound differences in the areas of national sovereignty, democracy, human rights, and foreign policy, I reaffirm our willingness to discuss all of these matters.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The renewal of relations followed a year of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials in Canada and at the Vatican.  The first concrete step was a prisoner swap that took place this morning.  The U.S. released three Cuban agents convicted in 2001 of spying on military installations.

"Is it in America’s interest to have closer Cuban connection? – Part 2" PBS NewsHour 12/17/2014


SUMMARY:  For two views on the diplomatic reconnection with Cuba, Judy Woodruff turns to Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who supports the move and traveled from Cuba with released prisoner Alan Gross, and Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state, who says President Obama is “betting” on goodwill from the Castro regime.

"How does diplomatic reconciliation affect Cuban-Americans? – Part 3" PBS NewsHour 12/17/2014


SUMMARY:  How are Cuban-Americans responding to the breakthrough in relations between the U.S. and Cuba?  Maria de los Angeles Torres of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Cuban-American activist Ana Carbonell join Judy Woodruff for a debate on the change in policy and its effect on the future of pro-democracy activism on the island.

LAW ENFORCEMENT - Body Cameras as a Standard

"Making body cameras part of a police officer’s uniform" PBS NewsHour 12/17/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  In the aftermath of the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death of a man in New York City, civil rights groups and even the president have called for an increase in the use of body cameras by police departments.

Hari Sreenivasan takes us to one town where they recently began using them.

DANIELLE TORRES, Evesham Township Police Department:  It’s green.  I’m ready to go out on a shift.  I pick it up.  I put it on.  I flick it so that it’s like that.  Once it turns green, then it’s ready for me to start recording.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  For the last five months, police officer Danielle Torres has been wearing a small body camera when she’s out policing the streets of Evesham, New Jersey, a commuter town just 20 miles southeast of Philadelphia.

DANIELLE TORRES:  The body camera sees everything from me out, almost as if it’s my eyes, whereas in-car cameras only see a stationary view of what’s in front of my patrol car.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Her department is one of dozens across the country that have adopted this surveillance equipment.

And Chief Christopher Chew, who himself wears one, says his officers have all embraced the new policing tool.

PAKISTAN - Taliban Massacre

"Taliban massacre of schoolchildren shocks Pakistan" PBS NewsHour 12/16/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The people of Pakistan were staggered today by the worst terror attack in at least seven years.  When it was over, scores of young students lay dead at the hands of Taliban gunmen.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins our coverage.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  The wounded children were brought to a hospital in Peshawar, one after another, some on stretchers, others in the arms of teachers or parents, their dark green school uniforms bloody.  Most of the dead were students at a military-run school for first-through-10th graders, along with nine staffers.  Classes were under way when the Taliban killers stormed in.

STUDENT (through interpreter):  As soon as the firing started, our teacher made us sit in a corner and told us to lower our heads.  After around an hour, army personnel came and rescued us.  We saw in the corridors our friends who had been shot three or four times, some dead and some injured.  Their blood had spilled all over the place.

MAN (through interpreter):  I’m the physics lab assistant.  We were sitting in the canteen.  We saw six people climbing from the wall.  We thought it must be the children playing some game.  But then we saw a lot of firearms with them.  They started firing at us, so we ran into the classrooms and closed the doors.

MARGARET WARNER:  Army commandos ended the siege eight hours later.  Officials said seven attackers, all wearing explosive vests, were killed.

The Taliban attacks Pakistani schools frequently, but never on the scale of today’s slaughter.  The Pakistani Taliban claimed it was in retaliation for a new government military offensive in North Waziristan.  That’s a tribal area west of Peshawar used as a base by Taliban and other extremist groups to launch terror attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For years, the United States had urged Pakistan’s government to clear out the safe haven, to no effect.  But, in June, after a militant assault on Karachi’s international airport that killed dozens, Pakistani forces launched a concerted campaign in North Waziristan, and recently boasted of killing nearly 2,000 militants there.

Rushing to Peshawar today, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, vowed, the military offensive will not falter.

RACE & JUSTICE - Deeply Rooted Biases and Law Enforcement

"Oakland tries to address how deeply rooted biases affect law enforcement" PBS NewsHour 12/16/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now, race and justice in America.

Tonight, we look at efforts in Oakland, California, to address bias where it exists in law enforcement.

Special correspondent Jackie Judd has the story.

PROTESTER:  If I can’t breathe!

PROTESTERS:  You can’t breathe!

JACKIE JUDD (NewsHour):  The racial turmoil in the U.S. stemming from encounters between police and black men strikes a chord with Jennifer Eberhardt.  The social psychologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, has spent her career exploring racial bias and how that plays out in the criminal justice system.

Still, it came as a shock to her how embedded biases can be, biases we’re not even aware of.

JENNIFER EBERHARDT, Stanford University:  I’m on an airplane with my son.  And he looks up and he sees a black man, and he says, “Hey, that guy looks like daddy.”

And I look at the guy, he doesn’t look anything like my husband, and I notice he’s the only black guy on the plane.  And he says, “I hope he doesn’t rob the plane.”

And I said, “Well, why would you say that?”

And he looked at me and he said, “I don’t know why I said that.”

And so we’re living with such severe racial stratification that even a 5-year-old can tell us what’s supposed to happen next.

RUSSIA - Low Oil Prices, Economy, and Putin’s Power

"Sanctions, cheap oil take toll on Russia’s struggling currency – Part 1" PBS NewsHour 12/16/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now, why economic alarm is building inside Russia, as the country’s Central Bank made a dramatic move to stabilize the economy.

The Russian currency, the ruble, still declined for much of this day, before recovering some in late trading.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Moscow banks nervously charted the ruble’s course, hours after an extraordinary move by Russia’s Central Bank.  It hiked a key interest rate nearly seven points, to 17 percent, in a desperate bid to shore up the currency.

ELVIRA NABIULLINA, Governor, Central Bank of Russia (through interpreter):  Without a doubt, the situation is really very difficult, and it requires absolutely coordinated actions of the government and the Central Bank.  And we are ready for such coordination.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Since January, the ruble has lost 60 percent of its value, fueling inflation, and leaving many on the streets of Moscow feeling the pinch.

WOMAN (through interpreter):  Prices are rising for us at a faster rate than our pensions.  It is bad.  It is bad for us.

MAN (through interpreter):  Look how the price of bread has risen, and I’m not talking about a little rise.  The situation is very difficult.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The plunging price of oil, one of Russia’s main exports, has been a primary driver in the currency’s devaluation.  Today, officials at the Moscow Stock Exchange voiced doubt that oil will turn around soon.

ANDREY SHEMETOV, Deputy Chairman, Moscow Exchange (through interpreter):  In such an unstable and volatile atmosphere, it seems to me that panic prevails, which is not good.  Naturally, at some point, it could reverse with the same speed, but at this moment, the mood in the market is not very positive.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Western sanctions imposed over the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine are also weighing on the ruble and the Russian economy.

Even so, President Vladimir Putin has sounded defiant.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter):  The modern world is very interdependent, but this doesn’t mean the sanctions against Moscow and a sharp drop in the prices of energy commodities and the national currency devaluation will have negative results or catastrophic consequences only for us.  Nothing like that will happen.

JEFFREY BROWN:  But another setback is coming.  The White House confirmed today that President Obama will sign a new round of sanctions into law later this week.

"Does economic turbulence hurt Putin’s power? – Part 2" PBS NewsHour 12/16/2014


SUMMARY:  To examine the roots of Russian economic vulnerability and the potential implications for Russia and other countries, Jeffrey Brown gets analysis from Angela Stent of Georgetown University and Eswar Prasad of Cornell University.

WEST AFRICA - Ebola Update

"Getting ‘to zero’ in the fight against Ebola" PBS NewsHour 12/16/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now an update on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

As of yesterday, the World Health Organization reported nearly 18,500 confirmed cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, with more than 6,800 deaths.  And while a newly published study finds that the number of unreported, and therefore undercounted, cases may not be as high as once feared, health officials say that, to halt the outbreak, every infection must be traced to its source.

Here to talk about that and more is the president of the World Bank Group, Dr. Jim Yong Kim.  He is a medical doctor, and he has just returned from West Africa.

Dr. Kim, thank you for being here.

DR. JIM YONG KIM, President, World Bank Group:  Thank you, Judy.  Thanks for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So you wrote while you were there that this is the worst epidemic you have ever seen.  Of course, I guess, to many, that wouldn’t be surprising, considering the numbers, but what did you see in West Africa?

DR. JIM YONG KIM:  Well, when I say it’s the worst, I spent a lot of my life fighting AIDS in Africa.  And that was pretty bad, and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

The reason this is so bad is because it is so deadly, and we have to get to zero.  There’s no getting almost to zero.  Each one of the epidemics in the three countries started with a single case.  And what we now know is — especially in this epidemic, is that if you leave a single case untreated and then if you let that transmission continue, it could explode again.

I’m very, very worried about this, because we still don’t have in place plans to get to zero in each of the three countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So what is it going to take?  You wrote — in the column that you wrote the other day, you said it’s not just money, it’s more local control over what’s happening there.

GUN CONTROL - Support Decrease

"Why has public support for gun control decreased?" PBS NewsHour 12/15/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next, the change in public attitudes and state laws when it comes to gun rights and restrictions.

It’s long been one of the most divisive issues in America.  And now several families who lost loved ones in Newtown Connecticut are suing the gunmaker.  The lawsuit was filed a day after the second anniversary of the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The gunman, Adam Lanza, had already killed his mother, and ultimately shot himself to death as well.

Now families of 10 of the victims are suing the manufacturer, distributor and seller of the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that Lanza used.  The suit alleges negligence and wrongful death, and argues that the rifle shouldn’t have been available to civilians because it’s a military weapon.

Nicole Hockley’s six-year-old son, Dylan, died in the Sandy Hook shooting.  She’s now one of the plaintiffs, and spoke to PBS NewsHour Weekend.

NICOLE HOCKLEY, Mother of Newtown Victim:  Dylan was shot five times.  So if we had a 10-magazine, 10-bullet limit, you know, instead of a 30, for all I know, Dylan could be alive today.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  After Newtown, the state of Connecticut did adopt some of the most restrictive gun policies in the nation.  They include a ban on large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds, background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases, and a prohibition on scores of assault-style weapons.

Overall, a San Francisco group, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says 37 states have passed nearly a hundred new gun laws since 2012.  And some 200 lawmakers from all 50 states have formed an alliance against gun violence.

But gun rights advocates, including Connecticut State Representative Rob Sampson, argue that even limiting magazine capacity will not prevent tragedies like Newtown.

ROB SAMPSON (R), Connecticut State Representative:  You can change a magazine in literally one second.  If I was to shoot you and say, I’m about to shoot you, and I have to change magazines first, boom, I’m done, you would never get to me in time. You wouldn’t even try.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  That sort of opposition has blocked congressional action on new gun legislation.  And the President’s nominee for U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has been caught up in the debate for arguing gun violence is a serious public health issue.

For more on all this, we turn to Carroll Doherty.  He’s director of political research at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.  And Joseph de Avila, who has been reporting on this and related stories for The Wall Street Journal.

COMMENT:  Rob Sampson is wrong.  It is true the actual changing of a magazine is very short, but he ignores the time it takes to get the magazine from where the shooter has stored it.  Reaching into a pouch for a new magazine will take longer than 'one second.'

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NEW YORK - Alarm, Hidden Finances of Charter Schools

"NY State Official Raises Alarm on Charter Schools — And Gets Ignored" by Marian Wang, ProPublica 12/16/2014

A top official in the New York State Comptroller’s Office has urged regulators to require more transparency on charter-school finances. The response has been, well, nonexistent.

Add another voice to those warning about the lack of financial oversight for charter schools.  One of New York state's top fiscal monitors told ProPublica that audits by his office have found "practices that are questionable at best, illegal at worst" at some charter schools.

Pete Grannis, New York State's First Deputy Comptroller, contacted ProPublica after reading our story last week about how some charter schools have turned over nearly all their public funds and significant control to private, often for-profit firms that handle their day-to-day operations.  The arrangements can limit the ability of auditors and charter-school regulators to follow how public money is spent – especially when the firms refuse to divulge financial details when asked.

Such setups are a real problem, Grannis said.  And the way he sees it, there's a very simple solution.  As a condition for agreeing to approve a new charter school or renew an existing one, charter regulators could require schools and their management companies to agree to provide any and all financial records related to the school.

"Clearly, the need for fiscal oversight of charter schools has intensified," he wrote in a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last week.  "Put schools on notice that relevant financial records cannot be shielded from oversight bodies of state and local governmental entities."

It's a plea that Grannis has made before.  Last year, he sent a similar letter to the state's major charter-school regulators – New York City's Department of Education, the New York State Education Department, and the State University of New York.

He never heard back from any of them.  "No response whatsoever," Grannis said. Not even, he added, a "'Thank you for your letter, we'll look into it.'  That would have been the normal bureaucratic response."

We contacted all three of these agencies and the mayor's office for comment.  None of them got back to us.

The charter-school debate in New York, as elsewhere, is politically fraught.  De Blasio's cautious stance on charters has put him at odds with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose financial backers include some big-dollar charter-school supporters.  The state comptroller's office has faced repeated lawsuits from charter groups and operators challenging its authority to audit charter schools.

To Grannis, though, his efforts aren't about politics.  His office is "agnostic on charters," as he put it.  His office also audits the finances of traditional public-school districts, he pointed out.

"We're the fiscal monitors.  We watch over the use or misuse of public funds," Grannis said.  "This isn't meant to be anti-charter.  Our job is not to be pro or anti."

Grannis has not yet gotten a response from the mayor's office about the letter he sent last week.

As to the charter-school regulators who got his letter the year before?  He's still puzzled why they wouldn't be more interested in a possible fix, or why the charter regulators never bothered to respond.

"I honestly don't know," Grannis said.  He said he's going to send another round of letters to them.

Monday, December 15, 2014

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 12/12/2014

"Shields and Brooks on the CIA interrogation report, spending bill sticking points" PBS NewsHour 12/12/2014


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government and the Senate’s investigation of the CIA’s interrogation methods.

COLLEGE - Dangerous Drinking

My answer.... it's been a tradition for decades, and only now has the side effects become a headline issue.  Getting wild and drunk was happening when I was in high school (I'm 69 now).

This is a matter of culture, college culture.  Also, my first 4yrs (of 22) in the U.S. Navy, getting drunk and partying was the norm.

"Why haven’t efforts worked to stop dangerous drinking at college?" PBS NewsHour 12/12/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  There’s a growing recognition about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, and it seems new headlines each week, including the high-profile investigations currently under way at the University of Virginia.

One major factor that’s getting less attention, and yet accompanies many cases, is the volume of drinking happening on or near campus.

That’s our focus tonight.

Gwen has a conversation we recorded earlier this week.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The scenes you find of college parties on the Web and in the movies play up the fun, the rowdy moments, the sheer “Animal House” craziness of campus life.

But a recently renewed discussion about rape allegations has thrown a fresh spotlight onto the dark side of problems associated with excessive drinking at institutions of higher learning.  More than 1,800 students die each year from alcohol-related incidents; 600,000 students have been injured while drunk and nearly 100,000 sexual assaults have been reported that were linked to alcohol intoxication.

We talk with two people who have seen the problem close up.

Jonathan Gibralter is the president of Frostburg State University in Maryland, which has about 5,000 students.  He’s the co-chair of a college presidents working group to address student drinking.  And Beth McMurtrie is with “The Chronicle of Higher Education” and she’s part of a team that just finished a special series, “Alcohol’s Hold on Campus.”

MEDICAID - House the Homeless?

Think  about it....  Being homeless is NOT healthy.  So why not use Medicaid money to solve this health issue?

"Should a federal health program pay to house L.A.’s homeless?" PBS NewsHour 12/12/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Since the federal health care law expanded Medicaid in some states, about seven million low-income Americans have gained new health insurance.

But, in Los Angeles, health officials say that’s not enough and they want to try going further, using Medicaid dollars to pay for housing for the homeless.

Hari Sreenivasan has our report.

WOMAN:  I got appendicitis, OK?  Cirrhosis of the liver.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Deborah Mullins blames most of her health problems on this block in downtown Los Angeles.  She has been living on the sidewalk here for the past 30 years.

MAN:  Do you know how many times she went to the hospital?  At least eight.  At least.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Mullins’ health has gotten so bad that even the police have started worrying.

MAN:  As a matter of fact, no, that’s been this year, and we’re not even done yet.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  She’s exactly the kind of person Dr. Susan Partovi and her team from L.A.’s Department of Health Services have been trying to find recently.  They say they have an obviously cure for much of what ails the city’s chronically homeless, namely, housing.

INTERNET - Hackers vs Hollywood

"Hollywood studios check security after hackers leak Sony’s salaries, embarrassing emails" PBS NewsHour 12/12/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  It’s been just about two weeks since word broke of cyber-criminals hacking into Sony Pictures.  And each day seems to bring more damaging, embarrassing or worrisome revelations.

The hackers have released a steady flow of information, ranging from salaries, to personal e-mails, Social Security numbers, and health records of employees, to internal messages showcasing industry hardball.

The past couple of days have been even worse for the company, if you can believe that.

And again to Hari, who is in our New York studios tonight.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The latest e-mails put new pressure on Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Entertainment and one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood.  It’s focused on confidential e-mails between Pascal and Scott Rudin, a powerful producer.

Before a fund-raiser for President Obama, they exchanged messages in which they try to guess the president’s favorite movies, all with African-Americans.  Pascal writes: “Should I ask him if he liked ‘Django’?” referring to “Django Unchained.”

Rudin writes back, “12 Years,” for “12 Years a Slave.”

Pascal responds:  “Or ‘The Butler? Or ‘Think Like a Man?’”

Both apologized yesterday.  It’s not yet clear who’s behind the hacking.  But they call themselves the Guardians of Peace.

We turn to two watching this closely, Sharon Waxman, editor in chief of The Wrap, an industry news site, and James Lewis, a cyber-security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Sharon, I want to start with you.

You’re one of the few people to get in touch with Ms. Pascal yesterday.  How significant is this hack?  Put this in perspective.  Is this what folks in Tinseltown are all talking about right now?

THE AMERICAN DREAM - And Economic Reality

COMMENT:  What do you expect when our nation is effectively run by 1% of its citizens?

"Is economic reality wiping out the American dream?" PBS NewsHour 12/11/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  By many measures, the U.S. economy seems to have picked up steam this year.  And the most recent jobs report saw the best results since January 2012.

But many Americans say they are still doubtful about economic opportunity and the ability to move up the ladder.  In fact, a new poll by The New York Times found the public is more pessimistic than it was right after the financial collapse.  Just 64 percent of those surveyed said they still believed it was possible to become wealthy if they started out poor.

That’s a pronounced drop from 2009 and the lowest level in two decades.  The poll also sampled opinions with some surprising answers on a range of economic issues.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, a columnist for The New York Times and editor at large of its DealBook section, joins us now.  He also co-hosts Squawk Box on CNBC.

Welcome back to the NewsHour.

You know, we have been seeing, I guess, coming off the midterm elections that Americans don’t feel good about the economy, despite the statistics that say otherwise. But this poll that The Times has done suggests a much deeper, long-term kind of pessimism.

How do you explain it?

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, The New York Times:  Well, you know, we wanted to try to look at this concept of the American dream, this concept of mobility, of starting poor and really becoming rich.

We also asked people what they thought rich meant, and I would tell you we thought some of those answers were quite surprising.  You don’t need to be a millionaire in this country to be considered rich.  About 25 percent, 26 percent of the respondents said, if you can make $100,000 or $200,000, that was very wealthy in this country.

But we wanted to look into that mobility issue, and so many people repeatedly said they didn’t think that mobility existed in the same way that they thought it might have existed before.  And, frankly, what was most surprising about it was that people thought that they had a better shot even three years ago, after the financial crisis.

And I think that it’s really a demonstration of the tale of two countries, if you will, when it comes to the economy that we have seen over the past years, which really goes to this larger issue of inequality.

RACE AND JUSTICE - Cooling Down Confrontations

"How police can cool down confrontations before they turn deadly" PBS NewsHour 12/11/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Protesters continue to take to the streets around the country following the fatal police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, as well as the death of Eric Garner in New York City.

Earlier this week on “NewsHour,” we had a discussion with a panel of young protesters.  Tonight, we hear from a panel of law enforcement experts.

I spoke earlier this week with three people who have thought a lot about the subjects of policing, violence and race.  Dean Esserman is the chief of police in New Haven, Connecticut.  David Klinger is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri.  He’s also a former Los Angeles police officer.  And Ronald Hampton, a former 23-year community relations officer in Washington, D.C.

We welcome you all to the “NewsHour.”

Chief Esserman, let me begin with you. Let’s talk first about how police officers evaluate a threat. How — how — is there a universal training that officers learn on how to do that?

DEAN ESSERMAN, Police Chief, New Haven, Connecticut:  We’re trained in similar ways, different priorities.

But police officers are trained to go and to serve and to protect.  And, sometimes that means using force, and sometimes that means slowing down the tempo and using what we know how to use best, which is a conversation.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And, Professor Klinger, as someone, as we just said, as a former police officer, how do you strike that balance between a time to — to be prepared to use force it, if necessary, and on the other hand it’s a time to calm things down?

DAVID KLINGER, University of Missouri-Saint Louis:  Well, I think you’re always prepared to use force, and that’s the key, is you have to understand that these things can escalate quickly.

But, as the chief indicated, our best tactic is to create some time and talk to people.  The vast majority of the time, we’re going to be able to talk people into jail.  The vast majority of time, when people are upset, we can calm them down, but there’s times and places where we can’t.  And if it doesn’t get to that point, the person remains agitated and a threat emerges, either to an officer or to a civilian, then the police have to move for a forceful action.

Unfortunately, sometimes, the first moment an officer arrives on scene, that’s a moment where there’s a threat, and the officer has to take physical force as the first option, essentially.

CLIMATE CHANGE - From the Eyes of Peru's Indigenous People

"Peru’s indigenous people call for protections against environmental threats" PBS NewsHour 12/11/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  International delegates have gathered for climate change talks in Lima, Peru, this week, hoping to build the framework for a plan to cut the world’s heat-trapping gas emissions.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived there today to help with that new accord.  But, for many Peruvians, the focus is local, as mining and timber operations encroach into once pristine areas inhabited by indigenous tribes.

Jeffrey Brown is in Lima, and has this report, part of his series Culture at Risk.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  There were dancers and drummers, banners and chants, traditional clothing of all kinds, a march of thousands, many of them tribal people, that shut down part of downtown Lima for several hours, demanding better protection of their lands and their cultures.  They came from near and far, some very far.

This group from the Ucayali region in Eastern Peru had traveled for several days, by boat, plane, and bus, to get here from their remote homes.

Grimaldo Villacorta heads the group.

GRIMALDO VILLACORTA (through interpreter):  For us, as an indigenous population, it’s important to be here, because we want to stop climate change.  We used to have regular seasons, summer and winter, during which we planted our seeds.  But now, with the climate changing, we can work the land, but sometimes we cannot plant seeds.  There is no production.

KURDISH - Duputy Prime Minister, Message to U.S.

"Kurdish deputy prime minister urges U.S. leaders to remain engaged in Iraq" PBS NewsHour 12/10/2014


MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Talabani’s visit comes as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias battle to roll back Islamic State gains.

The militants moved into Northern and Western Iraq in June, sending Iraqi troops fleeing.  In August, U.S. warplanes joined the fray, targeting Islamic State units.  Yesterday, on a visit by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, asked for more U.S. airpower and weapons.

But Hagel warned that U.S. firepower is not the solution.

CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense:  As Iraqi leaders and the people of Iraq know, only they can bring lasting peace to their country.

MARGARET WARNER:  Baghdad did take a step to reconcile with the alienated Kurds last week with a deal to share the country’s oil revenues between them.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is deploying 3,000 trainers and advisers to Iraqi forces and may join them in the field if and when they try to recapture the large northern city of Mosul.

I spoke today with Deputy Prime Minister Talabani in Washington, where he’s urging U.S. leaders to remain engaged in Iraq.

Deputy Prime Minister Talabani, thank you for joining us.

LIGATURE - Picture Books for Adults Only

"Profane picture books make fun out of a parent’s pains" PBS NewsHour 12/10/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Finally tonight, a hit bedtime book series not meant for children.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

And a note in advance:   It contains profane language we have bleeped out.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It begins so tender and sweet.

BRYAN CRANSTON, Actor:  The bunnies are munching on carrots.  The lambs nibble grasses and bleat.  I know you’re too hungry to reason with, but you have to (EXPLETIVE) eat.

JEFFREY BROWN:  But it ends with a word we can’t use on the air.

BRYAN CRANSTON:  Oh, now you’re hungry.

JEFFREY BROWN:  It’s the voice of actor Bryan Cranston, he of “Breaking Bad” fame, reading the words of frustrated father Adam Mansbach.

ADAM MANSBACH, Author:  The sunrise is golden and lovely.  The birds chirp and twitter and tweet.  You woke me and asked for some breakfast.  So why the (EXPLETIVE) won’t you eat?

JEFFREY BROWN:  Mansbach was known as the author of several critically acclaimed novels, until a little ditty he published in 2012 titled “Go the ‘Blank’ to Sleep” became a surprise huge bestseller.

SCIENCE - Talking to Dogs

"Talking to dogs isn’t so far-fetched:  Researchers translate canine with computer science" PBS NewsHour 12/9/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Dog lovers will want to pay close attention to our next story.

Researchers in North Carolina are working on ways to listen to and speak with man’s best friend.

Hari Sreenivasan reports, the idea of talking dogs isn’t so farfetched.

MAN:  Here we go, bud.  Ready?

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Man’s best friend is getting a digital nudge.

MAN:  Stick his head through there.


HARI SREENIVASAN:  David Roberts, a computer science professor, and his team at North Carolina State University are inventing new ways to talk and listen to dogs, like Robert’s Labrador retriever, Diesel.

DAVID ROBERTS, North Carolina State University:  We’re developing the technologies that are going to help us what we like to say decode, or interpret, what our dogs are saying or communicating to us, as well as help us communicate back to our dogs.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  This prototype harness allows researchers to send wireless commands to dogs in the form of vibrations, while multiple sensors on the device send information from the dog back to researchers.

DAVID ROBERTS:  The mission that I have in connecting technologies in dogs and humans is to help improve that vocabulary.

SUPREME COURT - The Elite Circle of Lawyers

"Elite circle of lawyers finds repeat success getting cases to the Supreme Court" PBS NewsHour 12/9/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The Supreme Court today ruled against Amazon warehouse workers who argued that they should be paid for the extra time it takes them to be screened at the end of the workday.

Cases like this are often argued by a relatively tight circle of lawyers who are well-known to the justices and are more likely to share the same education and private firm pedigrees.

Reuters looked at 17,000 petitions filed with the court to try to put numbers to that conclusion, and uncovered an unusually insular legal world at work at the nation’s top court.

Reuters legal editor Joan Biskupic joins us to detail the findings.

Joan, start by telling us, exactly what does it take to become a lawyer who argues at the court?

JOAN BISKUPIC, Legal Affairs Editor in Charge, Reuters:  Well, you can be admitted to the Supreme Court bar just by virtue of being a lawyer anywhere out in the country.

But for this tight group, it’s these repeat performers, they’re people who have come up mostly as perhaps Supreme Court law clerks themselves, worked behind the scenes, worked for the prestigious Office of the Solicitor General.  Those are the people who are dominating now.

But, generally speaking, anyone who’s a lawyer who’s admitted to the Supreme Court bar, which literally would cover thousands, tens of thousands out in America, can argue.  It’s just that we have found is that, more and more, clients are turning to this select group.  And the justices themselves seem to be signaling that they’re interested not just in the merits of a case that is presented to them, but the merits of the lawyering, just because of what the data have shown.

PROTESTS - Why Do the Young March?

"Why do you march?  Young protesters explain what drives them" PBS NewsHour 12/8/2014


SUMMARY:  Many of the now-daily protests on race and justice are being led by young people frustrated by recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York City.  Gwen Ifill gets perspectives from protester Molly Greiber, Tory Russell of Hands Up United, and Jessica Pierce of the Black Youth Project on what’s driving them personally and the movement at large.

HUMOR - Interview, Smaug the Dragon

Colbert Report
Interview, Smaug the Dragon

Thursday, December 11, 2014

POLITICS - From Senator Bernie Sanders

"An Economic Agenda for America:  12 Steps Forward" by Sen Bernie Sanders, GoodReads 12/1/2014

The American people must make a fundamental decision.  Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all?  Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?  These are the most important questions of our time, and how we answer them will determine the future of our country.

The long-term deterioration of the middle class, accelerated by the Wall Street crash of 2008, has not been pretty.  Today, we have more wealth and income inequality than any major country on earth.  We have one of the highest childhood poverty rates and we are the only country in the industrialized world which does not guarantee health care for all.  We once led the world in terms of the percentage of our people who graduated college, but we are now in 12th place.  Our infrastructure, once the envy of the world, is collapsing.

Real unemployment today is not 5.8 percent, it is 11.5 percent if we include those who have given up looking for work or who are working part time when they want to work full time.  Youth unemployment is 18.6 percent and African-American youth unemployment is 32.6 percent.

Today, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages.  In inflation-adjusted dollars, the median male worker earned $783 less last year than he made 41 years ago.  The median woman worker made $1,337 less last year than she earned in 2007.  Since 1999, the median middle-class family has seen its income go down by almost $5,000 after adjusting for inflation, now earning less than it did 25 years ago.

The American people must demand that Congress and the White House start protecting the interests of working families, not just wealthy campaign contributors.  We need federal legislation to put the unemployed back to work, to raise wages and make certain that all Americans have the health care and education they need for healthy and productive lives.

As Vermont's senator, here are 12 initiatives that I will be fighting for which can restore America's middle class.

1.  We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure; roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads, and schools.  It has been estimated that the cost of the Bush-Cheney Iraq War, a war we should never have waged, will total $3 trillion by the time the last veteran receives needed care.  A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive.  We need to invest in infrastructure, not more war.

2.  The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change and make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren.  We must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies.  Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient and we need to greatly accelerate the progress we are already seeing in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other forms of sustainable energy.  Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment, it will create good paying jobs.

3.  We need to develop new economic models to increase job creation and productivity.  Instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries, we need to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives.  Study after study shows that when workers have an ownership stake in the businesses they work for, productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down and employees are much more satisfied with their jobs.

4.  Union workers who are able to collectively bargain for higher wages and benefits earn substantially more than non-union workers.  Today, corporate opposition to union organizing makes it extremely difficult for workers to join a union.  We need legislation which makes it clear that when a majority of workers sign cards in support of a union, they can form a union.

5.  The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage.  We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage.  No one in this country who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.

6.  Women workers today earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts make.  We need pay equity in our country -- equal pay for equal work.

7.  Since 2001 we have lost more than 60,000 factories in this country, and more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs.  We must end our disastrous trade policies (NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, etc.) which enable corporate America to shut down plants in this country and move to China and other low-wage countries.  We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad.

8.  In today's highly competitive global economy, millions of Americans are unable to afford the higher education they need in order to get good-paying jobs.  Further, with both parents now often at work, most working-class families can't locate the high-quality and affordable child care they need for their kids.  Quality education in America, from child care to higher education, must be affordable for all.  Without a high-quality and affordable educational system, we will be unable to compete globally and our standard of living will continue to decline.

9.  The function of banking is to facilitate the flow of capital into productive and job-creating activities.  Financial institutions cannot be an island unto themselves, standing as huge profit centers outside of the real economy.  Today, six huge Wall Street financial institutions have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product - over $9.8 trillion.  These institutions underwrite more than half the mortgages in this country and more than two-thirds of the credit cards.  The greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of major Wall Street firms plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.  They are too powerful to be reformed.  They must be broken up.

10.  The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege.  Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation.  We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.

11.  Millions of seniors live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country.  We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it.  Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.

12.  At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a progressive tax system in this country which is based on ability to pay.  It is not acceptable that major profitable corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes, and that corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than their secretaries.  It is absurd that we lose over $100 billion a year in revenue because corporations and the wealthy stash their cash in offshore tax havens around the world.  The time is long overdue for real tax reform.

Monday, December 08, 2014

SAN DIEGO - Race vs Crime

"The data on race and crime in San Diego" by Joel Hoffmann, San Diego Union-Tribune 12/6/2014

As is the case elsewhere in the country, black San Diegans make up a disproportionate share of crime victims and crime suspects.

In 2013, blacks made up 5 percent of the county population, but 27 percent of violent crime victims and 29 percent of violent crime suspects were black.  The 2013 crime data was in line with previous studies by the San Diego Association of Governments, which keeps the data.

According to a SANDAG crime bulletin from last year, “Blacks were overrepresented in every violent crime category in comparison to their proportion in the population.”

Cindy Burke, who keeps the data for SANDAG, said the best available discussion of possible racial bias in the San Diego justice system comes from a 2008 study of the juvenile system.

The study found that “race, along with other legal and social factors, increased the likelihood of a youth being detained following arrest.”

Latino youth were 2.8 times more likely than white youth to be detained, meaning held in custody, while black youth were 1.8 times more likely to be detained.

Despite evidence that a disproportionate number of black youth were serving time in long-term juvenile detention centers, the study did not find that race increased the likelihood of such detention.

Taken together, gang affiliation, prior criminal record and poor school performance were better predictors of long-term detention for youth, according to the study.

“It’s difficult to say the causality is race when there are so many socioeconomic factors tied to it,” Burke told the Watchdog.

Of the officers at the San Diego Police Department, 6.4 percent are black, mirroring the city’s 6.7 percent black population.

Lei-Chala Wilson, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said there is no doubt racial bias plays a role throughout the justice system in San Diego and other cities.

“The statistics have proven we don’t commit more crimes than anyone else, but we’re more likely to get stopped, detained and arrested,” she said.  “The word is getting out and people are more aware of it.”

Inconsistencies in how data on race and police use of force are reported make it difficult to analyze, but Brian Marvel of the San Diego Police Officers Association said it’s imperative for law enforcement to listen to the community’s concerns and improve relationships wherever possible.

“Just because we don’t think there’s a problem, it doesn’t mean the community doesn’t think there’s one,” Marvel said.

Marvel said the events in Ferguson and New York were “a good opportunity for law enforcement to take a look at those incidents and see what we can gain.”

LINK to charts  (for more readable view, use article link)

GAMES - New 'Legend of Zelda'

"The Coolest Thing About The New 'Legend of Zelda' For Wii U" by Erik Kain, Forbes

Nintendo had a good showing at the Game Awards Friday night.

The company won Developer of the Year, took Best Fighting Game for Super Smash Bros. and Best Racing Game and Best Family Game for Mario Kart 8.

But perhaps the very best moment for Nintendo at the award show was the extended gameplay footage of the upcoming video game, The Legend of Zelda—the first new game in the franchise to hit Wii U.

You can watch that footage yourself right here:

The game looks lovely, and the big open world is full of promise.  I can’t wait to how the designers of the carefully designed Zelda franchise handle a truly open-world.

But the coolest thing we saw—to me at least—was the way the game handles horseback-riding.

As Link rides about Hyrule on the back of his longtime equine companion, Epona, he can do so “hands-free.”  Link, and by extension the gamers who play Link, can trust in the horse to keep riding without having to steer.

Epona will ride around trees because “real horses don’t run into trees very often” producer Eiji Aounuma remarks to Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto.  It’s one of those funny, obvious observations that makes so much sense but isn’t really evoked in game design at all.  In some games it’s hard not to run your horse into trees and other obstacles.  In Nintendo’s hands, horses don’t just run into trees because gamers can’t steer.  Horses, thinking beasts that they are, run around them.

This frees up Link to fight—with sword and bow—and so forth.

The other neat thing about horseback riding in the new Zelda game is Link’s ability to leap off of Epona and slow down time midair.  We saw a CGI animation of this in the game’s reveal trailer.  Now we see that it’s an actual gameplay mechanic, not just a flashy, cinematic CGI moment.

If the care going into Link and Epona’s traversal options is any indication, we’re looking at something very special in the Wii U’s first new Zelda title.  It must be getting harder and harder to not own this console.

SPACE - New Horizons Ship Wakes Up on Approach to Pluto

An undated artist's concept shows the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

"NASA Spacecraft Wakes Up as It Approaches Pluto" by Justin Worland, Time Magazine

New Horizons will come closest to the dwarf planet on July 14

A NASA spacecraft has emerged from hibernation in preparation for completing its nine-year, 2.9-billion mile journey to observe Pluto from up close, the space agency said.

Sending its signal at the speed of light, the New Horizons ship beamed a report down to Earth that it was back in active mode as of Dec. 6.

“Technically, this was routine, since the wake-up was a procedure that we’d done many times before,” said Glen Fountain, the mission’s project manager.  “Symbolically, however, this is a big deal.  It means the start of our pre-encounter operations.”

After tests early next year, the spacecraft will collect data and images about Pluto and its surrounding moons.  It will come closest to the dwarf planet on July 14.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 12/5/2014

"Shields and Brooks on who gets credit for jobs growth, protests on race and justice" PBS NewsHour 12/5/2014


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the better-than-expected jobs report, the nomination of Ash Carter for secretary of defense and the aftermath of the grand jury decision on the killing of Eric Garner.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  I think so.

Judy, Reince Priebus, the Republican national chairman today, said that 300,000 jobs, 323,000 created, ought to be expected every month.  It shouldn’t be an exception.  And just a historical perspective, during the eight years of President Bush, there were 2.1 million net jobs created in the United States, and of that 2.1 million, 1.8 million were in the public sector, state, local or federal government.

That means there were 300,000 jobs in the private sector created in eight months — in eight years, rather, net.  So, I mean, this is rather remarkable.  And I just point out that in the — David touched on the fact that more jobs have been created in the United States in the last four years than in Europe, Japan, all the industrialized modern world combined.

So, it’s a record.  And there’s just one other little item, and it’s not unimportant.  And this is where David and I do disagree, I know; 70 years since World War II, 36 years with a Republican president, 34 years with a Democratic president, in those 70 years, there were 36.7 million jobs created by Republican — under Republican Presidents, while Republicans were office, OK, a little over half the time.

In 34 years, there were 63.7 million created by Democrats.  That’s 29 million more.  Perhaps it’s an accident once or twice or what.  But, I mean, at some point, the Democrats ought to be trumpeting the fact that they have been better on the economy and job creation than have been their opposition.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE - Designate Ashton Carter

"How Ashton Carter differs from Obama’s past defense secretaries" PBS NewsHour 12/5/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  President Obama announces a change of command at the Defense Department, as the military faces multiple challenges abroad.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Today, I’m pleased to announce my nominee to be our next secretary of defense, Mr. Ash Carter.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The President’s event in the Roosevelt Room at the White House confirmed what was widely expected.  He’s chosen Ash Carter to succeed Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon.

BARACK OBAMA:  With a record of service that has spanned more than 30 years as a public servant, as an adviser, as a scholar, Ash is rightly regarded as one of our nation’s foremost national security leaders.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Carter is a Pentagon veteran, although he’s never served in the military himself.  He was deputy secretary from October 2011 to December 2013, and, before that, the technology and weapons-buying chief.

ASHTON CARTER, Secretary of Defense Designate:  It’s an honor and a privilege for me to be nominated for the position of Secretary of Defense.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The honor brings with it a host of major challenges, including the battle against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, winding down the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and the resulting struggle with Russia, and deep budget cuts straining the Defense Department.

There’s also the question of working with the White House.  Two previous secretaries, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, accused Obama aides of micromanagement.  And Hagel reportedly complained of a lack of influence.

But Carter made clear he means to have his say.

ASHTON CARTER:  If confirmed in this job, I pledge to you my most candid strategic advice.  And I pledge also that you will receive equally candid military advice.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Republicans will control the Senate that considers Carter’s nomination.  Today, they generally praised his qualifications, but Arizona Senator John McCain warned that he, too, may have limited sway at the White House.

EMPLOYMENT - More 'Meat-On-Bone' Jobs

"Revved up employment growth offers ‘meat-on-the-bone’ jobs, but mostly more minimum wage" PBS NewsHour 12/5/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Let’s take a deeper dive into today’s surprising good labor news.

Jobs growth revved up last month with more than 300,000 added.  At this pace, the economy is on track to produce the largest number of jobs in 15 years.

One development that also caught much attention, average hourly wages rose higher than expected, the largest increase since June of last year.

Even so, earnings have grown a sluggish 2 percent in the past year.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story from our New York studios.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  I’m joined by Diane Swonk, an economist with Mesirow Financial, a financial services firm.

So, what’s behind the higher number today?

DIANE SWONK, Mesirow Financial:  Well, a lot of good news.

We had actually some meat-on-the-bone jobs in things like business services.  That’s an area that was really hard-hit during the recession.  It includes everything from accountants, technical consultants, engineers, architects.  That’s the good news.

We saw those meat-on-the-bone jobs.  We also some manufacturing and construction jobs, off a low base, but still some jobs in those sectors. And then there was this huge hiring in retail, also in food, restaurants, all those kind of areas that are more…

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Just from the holiday season?

DIANE SWONK:  Holiday hires, but not just holiday hires; 20 percent of the retail hiring was in the auto sector to sell cars.  That’s not really what we tend to buy as gifts for the holiday season.

VENICE BEACH - Changing From Bohemian to Tech

"Replacing surf shops with startups, tech boom makes waves in bohemian Venice Beach" PBS NewsHour 12/4/2014


STEVE GOLDBLOOM (NewsHour):  In San Francisco, computer programmers are like rock stars.  Here in Los Angeles, the rock stars are the rock stars.  But now that’s starting to change, as more entrepreneurs are trading in the high costs of Bay Area living for sunnier space right here in Venice Beach.  They even have a name for it, Silicon Beach.

But as is the case in San Francisco, the tech boom brings with it both prosperity and its share of problems.

CHAD BILLMYER, CEO, Panjo:  We’re a marketplace for auto, sport, and hobby enthusiasts.

FARBOD SHORAKA, CEO,  It’s awesome to be by the water and working at the same time.

CHAD BILLMYER:  Three hundred and sixty-five days a year, I can walk to work.  Right?  It’s going to be sunny.  It’s going to be 70.

STEVE GOLDBLOOM:  L.A. Times tech reporter Paresh Dave covers Silicon Beach.

PARESH DAVE, The Los Angeles Times:  The West Side of Los Angeles has always been sort of a young, hip district.  And things like the weather and being close to the beach, to some, it was attractive.  And I think that’s what got it started.

STEVE GOLDBLOOM:  Entrepreneur Erik Rannala decided to relocate to L.A. from the bay area.  He co-founded Mucker Capital, the first start-up accelerator to arrive in Silicon Beach.  They nurture and invest in young start-up companies.

ERIK RANNALA, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Mucker Capital:  I have seen a lot of these buildings switch over from, you know, not tech companies to tech companies.

THE SLEAZE FILES - Takata's Profit Before Human Safety View

"Takata fights nationwide recall for exploding airbags" PBS NewsHour 12/3/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Air bag manufacturer Takata was back in the spotlight today over its refusal to endorse a nationwide recall of defective air bags.  The Japanese firm faced questions on that decision and others in a hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives.

The hearing came just hours after a deadline for Takata to expand its recall, as demanded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA.

Deputy Administrator David Friedman.

DAVID FRIEDMAN, Deputy Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:  First of all, I was deeply disappointed by Takata’s response and Takata’s failure to take responsibility for the defects that their products — for the defects in their products.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The problem lies with inflators that activate so violently, they cause the air bags to explode.  There have been at least five deaths and dozens of injuries linked to the defect worldwide.

Takata Senior Vice President Hiroshi Shimizu insisted again today that only people who live in humid conditions are at risk.

HIROSHI SHIMIZU, Senior Vice President, Takata:  The data still supports that we should remain focused on the region with high temperature and high humidity.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In line with that thinking, about eight million vehicles have been recalled in the U.S., mostly in Florida, Hawaii, and along the Gulf Coast.  Takata says a nationwide recall would double that figure.  The company remained adamant today that a nationwide recall isn’t supported by the evidence.

But NHTSA’s Friedman pointed to reports of air bag explosions in other parts of the country.

DAVID FRIEDMAN, NHTSA:  Between the fact that the root cause on the driver side is not clear, now that it’s clear that it is outside those areas of high temperatures and high humidity, and the fact that we now have six total incidents, it is clear to us that a regional recall is no longer appropriate for the driver-side air bags.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The agency had threatened to take legal action and impose fines of up to $35 million unless Takata complied.  But the air bag maker took the position today that Washington doesn’t have the legal authority to make a parts maker enforce a recall.  And Friedman acknowledged it could take a protracted fight.

SUPREME COURT - Employers vs Pregnant Workers

"Must employers make special considerations for pregnant workers?" PBS NewsHour 12/3/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Peggy Young, a former UPS driver who says the company discriminated against her when she was pregnant.  UPS placed Young on unpaid leave for several months because she was unable to perform her required duties, they said.

Young’s lawyers say the company’s actions violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  Women’s rights groups and members of Congress rallied outside the Supreme Court this morning to support Young.

But there are at least two sides to the argument.

Joining us to describe what happened inside the court today, Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal,” Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, and Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ Small Business Legal Center.

Marcia, I want to start with you and with the law.  Let’s look at this 1979 law, ’8 law.  I’m always getting that wrong.  If I put on my glasses, I can see it.


MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:  OK.

GWEN IFILL:  It says, “Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is illegal sex discrimination, and pregnant women shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as other persons not so affected, but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Sounds pretty straightforward and pretty simple.

MARCIA COYLE:  Simple, until you get into the Supreme Court and start arguing what the language means.

Today, the arguments really focus primarily on that second clause, how to treat pregnant workers.  UPS has argued and it argued today that it has basically a pregnancy-blind policy.  It offers accommodations to workers whose injuries occur or conditions develop on the job, not off the job.

So it’s not singling out pregnant workers.  They are being treated like all of UPS’ other workers who have injuries or conditions that develop off the job.  And it looked at that second clause and said, that’s not a freestanding, independent claim to bring — to charge discrimination against UPS.

It is tied to the basic prohibition against pregnancy discrimination.  Well, Ms. Young’s attorney says, OK, let’s look at the language of that clause again.  It says nothing about on-the-job, off-the-job distinctions.  It also doesn’t speak to the cause or the source of the limitation on the worker.

Instead it says, you’re to compare the pregnant worker limitation with non-pregnant workers who have similar limitations on their ability or inability to do the job.  And also he claims that UPS doesn’t have a pregnancy-blind policy because it does offer accommodations to workers, for example, who lose their Department of Transportation certificate that allows them to drive.  And also it accommodates workers with conditions that are recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act.