Monday, December 22, 2014

NEW YORK CITY - Two NYPD Officers Shot

"‘It’s wrong’:  Shock, frustration surround shootings of NYPD officers" PBS NewsHour 12/21/2014

Excerpt

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Mourners gathered today at the scene of last night’s killing of the two New York City police officers.  And residents last night expressed shock and anger.

WOMAN:  At the end of the day, two families is missing somebody for the holidays, and its wrong!

MAN:  What are we?  We living in Dodge City or something like that?  It doesn’t happen like this.  Who does this?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM [narration]:  Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were shot at point blank range, sitting in their patrol car Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn.

NEW YORK CITY MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO:  Today is a sad day…

WILLIAM BRANGHAM [narration]:  The suspect — 28 year old Ismaaiyl Brinsley — fled to a nearby subway station and shot himself fatally in the head.  Earlier yesterday, Brinsley — who had a long criminal history — shot and wounded his girlfriend in this housing complex outside Baltimore before traveling to New York.  He then posted a photo on Instagram of the gun he would later use to kill the officers, indicating the shooting would be revenge for the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown — two black men killed by white police officers this year.  He wrote “They Take 1 of Ours…  We Take 2 of Theirs.  Shoot the police”

The killing of Brown and Garner — and the decisions by grand juries not to indict the officers involved — led to nationwide demonstrations, and in New York — led to a public fallout between New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and the police union.  After the Garner grand jury decision earlier this month, De Blasio said he’d been warning his mixed race son Dontae to be wary of the quote “dangers” he might face in interactions with police.

COMMENT:  Answer to the highlighted MAN's question, ask the NRA.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 12/19/2014

"Shields and Brooks on reconciling with Cuba, Sony censorship" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the choice to censor a Hollywood film about the assassination of Kim Jong-un, President Obama’s move to renew U.S. ties with Cuba and early signs that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could be a 2016 presidential candidate.

ENVIRONMENT - EPA's Coal Ash Decision

"EPA decision not to classify coal ash as hazardous angers environmentalists" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The past few years, and a pair of major spills into waterways and communities have brought a whole new concern about the coal industry to the forefront.  It’s about a byproduct called coal ash.

After a six-year battle, the Environmental Protection Agency has now set the first national standards for how to regulate and deal with it.  But some argue the federal government pulled its punches.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  December 22, 2008, more than a billion gallons of coal ash, a by-product of coal-burning energy production, mixed with water, burst through the banks of a containment pond in Kingston, Tennessee.

The coal ash slurry flooded homes, farmland and poured into the Emory River, prompting what would become a billion-dollar cleanup.  Earlier this year, more than 80,000 tons spilled from a Duke Energy holding pond into North Carolina’s Dan River.  According to the EPA, more than 100 such breeches, though usually smaller, happen every year.

Coal ash contains toxic contaminants like mercury, arsenic and lead, and environmental groups have long warned holding ponds are not only prone to ruptures, but also leak into groundwater.  They had pushed for coal ash to be classified as a hazardous material.  That would give regulatory authority of the substance to the EPA.

But in announcing new standards for coal ash storage and disposal today, EPA head Gina McCarthy said that power would remain with the states.

GINA MCCARTHY, Environmental Protection Agency:  This rule sets a commonsense, consistent baseline for industries and states to follow, and that communities can rely on to prevent health risks, as well as costly cleanups.

DIGITAL DIVIDE - Teens and Elders

"Teens and elders bridge generation gap and digital divide" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Finally tonight, building bridges across the generation gap and the technology divide.

The “NewsHour's” Mary Jo Brooks has our report.

COURTNEY KERSHAW:  You got it?

DOROTHY STONE:  Yes.  Yes.

COURTNEY KERSHAW:  You work out for the day?

(LAUGHTER)

MARY JO BROOKS (NewsHour):  Twice a week, 24-year-old Courtney Kershaw and 89-year-old Dorothy Stone head out on errands.  On the day we visited, there was a trip to the nail salon and the grocery store.

Kershaw works for Denver-based concierge business called Capable Living, which provide services for senior citizens who live in their own home.  Fees start at $1,000 a month.  What’s unique is that the employees are all young people, so-called millennials who were born at the end of the last century.

The goal of the company is not only to provide services, but to build bridges between a generation obsessed with smartphones and selfies with one that was raised in an entirely different era.

COURTNEY KERSHAW:  Some of my favorite things were you telling me about when you were my age and how you would fill up the car for 10 cents and go driving around all day.

THAT'S A WRAP - President Obama on Cuba, North Korea, Race Relations

"Obama closes 2014 with remarks on Cuba, North Korea" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  President Obama said today that the United States would respond proportionally and at time of its choosing to the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.  The FBI confirmed this morning that North Korea was behind the attack on the company.

Mr. Obama spoke on that and other issues at a year-end news conference.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It was a year-end review dominated by the events of one week.  As the fallout continued from the Sony hacking scandal, and the studio’s decision to cancel the release of the movie about assassinating North Korea’s leader, the President weighed in.

BARACK OBAMA:  Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities and this and that and the other.  I wish they had spoken to me first.  I would’ve told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Without divulging specifics, he said the U.S. will respond to the attack.

Mr. Obama also discussed his move to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba.  He acknowledged the country’s regime still oppresses its people, but did find room for optimism.

BARACK OBAMA:  What I know deep in my bones is that if you have done the same thing for 50 years and nothing’s changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.  And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  His action on Cuba was just the latest instance of Mr. Obama’s using the power of the executive.  Last month, he acted to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.  Both moves enraged Republicans, who will control both houses of Congress come January.

Despite their differences, and the gridlock that has gripped Washington for much of his tenure, the President said he still believes cooperation is still possible.

BARACK OBAMA:  We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement, and we have got to be able to make that happen.  And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame-duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Mr. Obama took just a handful of questions, and only from women reporters, including one on race relations in America.  It comes as the nation deals with anger over grand jury decisions in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict white police officers in the killing of two black men.

The President says the country’s made progress, but work remains.

BARACK OBAMA:  I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we have had.  These are not new phenomena.  The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been in the past stories passed on around the kitchen table allows people to, you know, make their own assessments and evaluations.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The President left tonight for his family’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii.


"How should the U.S. government respond to North Korea’s attack on Sony?" PBS NewsHour 12/19/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  President Obama told the White House Press Corps that Sony was wrong to withdraw its film, “The Interview,” and that the U.S. would react “proportionally” to the damaging cyber-attack by North Korea.  Judy Woodruff turns to Dmitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike and Jack Pritchard, the former U.S. special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, about options for an American response.

MEDIA - Colbert Transition to CBS Late Night Show

"Stephen Colbert leaves the pundit behind to play himself" PBS NewsHour 12/18/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Finally tonight, there’s a finally tonight coming from late-night comic Stephen Colbert.

Jeffrey Brown looks at his run and what’s ahead.

STEPHEN COLBERT, “The Colbert Report”:  Truthiness.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  He gave the late night world something called truthiness.

STEPHEN COLBERT:  Now, I’m sure some of the word police, the wordinistas over at Webster’s are going to say, hey, that’s not a word.

JEFFREY BROWN:  An approximation of fact that somehow captured the moment in American journalism and culture.  He presented “The Word,” a circular monologue that began in one place, meandered through puns and sight gags, and ended back where it started.

Night after night for nine years on “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert did it all in character, a character named Stephen Colbert, an excitable, hyperactive, brash, but also reasonable voice of conservative bluster, clearly modeled on the cable TV and radio styles of Bill O’Reilly and others, all played for laughs and lessons.

U.S.A. - Changing Relations With Cuba

"How Obama can change U.S.-Cuba relations without Congress – Part 2" PBS NewsHour 12/18/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Now back to the United States’ plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

For more on what it means in practical terms and efforts to lift the economic embargo, which is still in place, I’m joined by our foreign — chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, and NewsHour political director Domenico Montanaro.

So, Margaret, let me start with you.

What can the President do on his own, without needing Congress?

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Well, first of all, as you said, he can normalize relations with Cuba, just as, for example, Nixon normalized relations with China, with whom we were still at odds.  So that’s the first thing he can do.

Secondly, I learned just this afternoon that the — establishing a U.S. Embassy, which members of Congress have vowed to not fund, it turns out the U.S. Interests Section in the old U.S. Embassy.  It has 360 people working there, including 67 Americans.

And so one senior official said to me, right now, we’re not even sure we need additional personnel.  The building is a little shabby, but they can go right ahead.  Two, he can take Cuba off the state-sponsor of terrorism list after a six-month review by the secretary of state, and notifying Congress, but they do not have to approve it.

And, three, he can use his licensing authority to ease all these travel and investment restrictions, so people will be able to use American credit cards there, more people will be able to travel, transfer more money there.

What an official said to me today, though, is, it is not open for business, that it is not open, that the economic embargo still holds, if you’re talking about big American hotel chains going down there.  That is not the case.  And so there will be a limit on that.



"American businesses eye Cuban opportunities – Part 3" PBS NewsHour 12/18/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  As President Obama closes a door on Cold War hostilities between the U.S. and Cuba, American businesses wait in the wings for new opportunities to expand to the nation that has long been off-limits.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Marcelo Prince of The Wall Street Journal about which industries would be most affected if the embargo was lifted.

BANKS - Wall Street Rules

"Is the 2015 spending bill a gift to big banks?" PBS NewsHour 12/18/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Let’s turn to a story about Wall Street and banks that’s angered many.

As one of its final acts last week, Congress passed a spending bill for 2015.  Tucked into it was a provision to loosen banking regulations on hedges or bets known as derivatives or swaps.  These are financial instruments that essentially allow banks to hedge bets on things that rise and fall in value, such as mortgages, currencies and interest rates.

After the financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act required big banks like J.P. Morgan to move some of those derivatives, or bets, to other banking units that don’t have a federal backstop or guarantee from the government.

The idea:  No federal guarantee means no bailout.  But the provision passed last week essentially cancels it and says banks don’t have to move those swaps around anymore.

Liberals were outraged.  The most outspoken voice ahead of the Senate vote, Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) Massachusetts:  Who do you work for, Wall Street or the American people?  This fight isn’t about conservatives or liberals; it’s not about Democrats or Republicans.  It’s about money, and it’s about power right here in Washington.

This legal change could trigger more taxpayer bailouts and could ultimately threaten our entire economy.  But it will also make a lot of money for Wall Street banks.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But others, including Republicans and some Democrats, said that fear was overstated.

COMMENT:  Boy, Los Vegas gamblers would love to have this out.  Gamble all they want with their money, but have the American taxpayer cover any losses.  Like I've said in the past, stock exchanges are the world's biggest gambling casinos.

ARE YOU KIDDING - Fukushima as Host for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Events?!

"Fukushima2020?  Disaster-stricken area hopes to host Tokyo Olympic events" RT.com News 12/21/2014

Fukushima hopes to host some of the events for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to show the world that the worst days of the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster are behind it.

"We need to set a goal so that we can show how much Fukushima has recovered," Masao Uchibori, who was elected the new governor of Fukushima Prefecture in October, said Tuesday.

"The Olympics is meant to show to the world the Tohoku region's reconstruction.  We want to cooperate as much as possible," he said, as cited by Reuters.

Uchibori made no mention of which events Fukushima Prefecture would aim to host, but football is the likely choice, on account of the schedule and large number of stadia needed for the Olympic tournament.

In September 2013, Tokyo successfully won the bid to host the 125th International Olympic Committee (IOC) session, beating out Madrid and Istanbul.  Japan last hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964 – the first Olympics ever held in Asia.  Tokyo was actually supposed to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, although Japan’s invasion of China saw the games moved to Helsinki before ultimately being canceled because of World War II.

Tokyo said the event would help the country recover from the 2011 tsunami and earthquake which sparked the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

“Japan needs hope and dreams,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after the IOC announcement.

Just days before Tokyo won the bid, Abe told the IOC that ongoing leaks of radioactive water at Fukushima would have no impact on the country’s ability to host the 2020 Olympics.

“There have been some expressions of concern over the leak of polluted water at Fukushima, but the government will take a lead in achieving a complete resolution of this problem,” Abe told reporters at the time.  “I will explain carefully that we are doing our utmost with a firm resolve and that in 2020, seven years from now, there will be absolutely no problem.”

The president of the Japanese Olympic Committee further attempted to assuage fears by saying the radiation level in Tokyo was “the same” as in other major global capitals such as London, New York and Paris.

But Mitsuhei Murata, a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, said it was “immoral” to invite people to the Olympic Games in Japan, saying “the health environment cannot be secured,” the UK Independent cited him as saying at the time.

He called for the bid to be rescinded.

Later that month, Abe ordered that two Fukushima reactors which survived the 2011 disaster be permanently decommissioned.

The president of Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operated the disabled Fukushima plant, promised Abe it would finish treating contaminated water at Fukushima by March 2015.

Earlier this month, Japan’s nuclear watchdog said the radioactive water that has accumulated at the plant must be decontaminated and dumped into the ocean.

Fukushima water to be cleaned, dumped into Pacific, watchdog says

Some 400 tons of untainted groundwater are believed to be seeping into the buildings of the Fukushima plant on a daily basis.  It is then mixing with the toxic water generated in the process of cooling the crippled reactors.  TEPCO collects the radioactive groundwater and stores it at the site of the plant.  However, storing the groundwater becomes more difficult each day, as the water quantity continues to increase.

The March 11, 2011, incident at Fukushima was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.  Despite TEPCO’s intensive cleanup operation at the site, it will likely take four decades to completely decommission the plant’s four damaged reactors.

Friday, December 19, 2014

NEW YORK - State Bans Fraking

"New York State Bans Fracking" by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica 12/17/2014

When natural gas companies first pressed into New York in 2008, state environmental regulators barely understood the process of "hydraulic fracturing."  Today, six and a half years after ProPublica first raised concerns that the drilling could threaten both the state's water supply and its residents' health, Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned the process across the state.

The ban makes New York, which holds large natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale, the largest and most significant region to bow out of the nation's energy boom because of concerns that its benefits may be outweighed by the risk.

The decision comes after a long-awaited report from the state's Health Department this week concluded that the fracking would pose health risks to New Yorkers. It also follows an exhaustive state environmental review effort that began the day after ProPublica's first story in July 2008.

Since then, New York has walked an indecisive line on drilling, while an energy boom provoked by advances in fracking technology took much of the rest of the country by storm.  Today's lower oil prices are due, in part, to an oil bonanza in North Dakota's Bakken Shale that had barely begun when New York first put a temporary halt to new drilling in the state.  Likewise, the gas drilling waves that have rippled through states from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Michigan, North Carolina, Maryland, Texas and Wyoming had yet to run their course.

But by delaying a decision on drilling for so many years, Cuomo also allowed a clearer picture of the impacts and changes that drilling activity would bring to emerge.  That clearer picture ultimately dampened the enthusiasm for drilling in New York and validated many of the environmental and health concerns that anti-drilling groups have raised across the country.

Just across the state line from New York's Southern Tier, where the richest Marcellus gas deposits lie, Pennsylvania landowners dealt with one incident of water contamination after another.  They complained of illnesses caused by both the water and new air pollution brought by the drilling.  State regulators in Pennsylvania – once enthusiastic boosters of the process – wound up cracking down on drilling companies' messy practices and strengthening their own environmental laws as a result.

Across the country, similar stories emerged, many of them reported as part of a four-year-long investigation by ProPublica.  From Texas and Louisiana to California, drilling waste was being spilled or leaking into drinking water aquifers and high pressures caused by fracking activities were causing wells to leak.  Methane gushed from wells and pipelines.  And residents' allegations that the drilling was causing symptoms from nerve disorders to skin lesions and birth defects began to be substantiated through peer-reviewed scientific research.

The potential payoff for such risks – which the drilling industry long maintained were minimal – was that drilling would bring huge economic benefits to rural regions long desperate for new jobs and an injection of economic vigor.  That economic promise has been born out across many parts of the country, but in some instances, those who needed the financial benefits most have been denied them.

An investigation by ProPublica earlier this year found that landowners in Pennsylvania who supported drilling and signed leases with drilling companies in order to earn a share of the profits were instead being cheated out their payments, called royalties.  In fact, the stories showed, energy companies had withheld royalty payments worth billions of dollars from both landowners and the federal government across states from Texas and Wyoming to Louisiana and Colorado, substantially blunting the prosperity that could come from allowing drilling to proceed.

All of this, it now seems, must have made Cuomo's decision this week a lot easier.  But the ban also reflects the conclusion of a lengthy learning curve for New York State.

When ProPublica reporters, in a joint project with WNYC, first went to Albany to talk with the state's environment regulators, those officials couldn't answer basic questions about the process they were poised to permit:  What chemicals would be pumped underground near drinking water supplies?  Where would the waste be disposed of and did New York have facilities capable of handling it?  State officials told ProPublica then that fracking had never once caused pollution to water supplies, and said they were unaware of the hundreds of cases brought to their attention by ProPublica where such damage had indeed taken place.

On the morning of July 23, 2008, then Gov. David Paterson called for those state environment officials to go back to the drawing board in their assessment of the risks of fracking before the state issued any new permits, effectively placing a moratorium on drilling that lasted until now.

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

Excerpt

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

Excerpt

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Excerpt

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

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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

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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

Excerpt

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Excerpt

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.

MAN:  OK.

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

Excerpt

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

Excerpt

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.