Friday, December 30, 2011

IRAQ - Helping Iraqis Who Helped U.S.

"Thousands of Iraqis Who Helped Americans in War Caught in Visa Holdup" PBS Newshour 12/29/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): .....helping Iraqis who helped Americans during the war.

In 2008, Congress passed a law allowing up to 5,000 Iraqis who'd worked with Americans to come to the U.S. with their families as refugees each year. But the process of issuing visas has been slow. In no year has the number exceeded 1,500. And, since 2009, it's been falling.

In all, nearly 3,700 Iraqis have been given refugee status under this special program, along with a similar number of family members. Another 62,000 Iraqis have come here under other refugee programs.

We look at the situation now with Eric Schwartz, who, until October, was a top State Department official dealing with the issue. He's now dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. And Trudy Rubin is foreign affairs columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

EDUCATION - Girls and Tech Careers

"Oakland Program Aims to Pique Girls' Interest in Science, Tech Careers"
PBS Newshour 12/29/2011

ECONOMY - America 2011

"How the U.S. Economy, Americans Fared in 2011" PBS Newshour 12/29/2011


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): One of the main issues of the election season under way is the sluggish state of the economy. Things are not nearly as bleak as they were at the depths of the recession, but, for many Americans, it's going to be a long road back to financial health and to the kind of prospects they once believed they had.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman saw this extensively in his coverage of the past year, part of his reporting on Making Sense of financial news.

COMMENT: Talk about "not getting it," Terry Savage (The Chicago Sun-Times) in the video is a perfect example.

She, and other blind conservatives, do NOT want to see the ever-widening gap between the top-1% and the rest of us as a problem. It's that gap that will not go away. It will continue to grow and can accelerate (as it did in 2010-2011) in the future.

Yes, our economy will recover (although not soon) but the gap will still be there and growing.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

WORLD - Disease Threats to World's Wheat Crop

"Scientists in Kenya Try to Fend Off Disease Threatening World's Wheat Crop" PBS Newshour 12/28/2011


FRED DE SAM LAZARO (Newshour): When the price of bread and other food staples goes up in the developing world, riots often result. What would happen if the majority of the world's wheat crop was wiped out by disease is unfathomable.

PETER NJAO, plant pathologist: This is a susceptible variety. And, actually, the disease is eating the whole plant.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Scientists Peter Njao and Ruth Wanyera say a fungal disease thought long under control called wheat rust is back and could destroy 80 percent of all known wheat varieties if it isn't stopped in its tracks.

AMERICA - 2011 Extreme Weather

"How 2011 Became a 'Mind-Boggling' Year of Extreme Weather" PBS Newshour 12/28/2011


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Some of the biggest stories of 2011 involved extreme weather that wreaked havoc in many states and cities. As the year comes to a close, it's sparking plenty of discussion in the world of science about the causes and meaning of those events.

Hari Sreenivasan explores all that following some background.

KOREA - As North Koreans Mourn, U.S. Prospects

"North Korean Mourners Crowd Streets for Elaborate Farewell to Kim Jong-il" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/28/2011


ANGUS WALKER, Independent Television News: It was perhaps fitting for a leader of a country still trapped in the Cold War that Kim Jong-il's funeral procession made its way through the frozen capital of his regime.

As the snow fell, so did the tears.

Voices trembling with emotion, state television commentators said that people would devote themselves to the departed Dear Leader. In a nation shrouded in secrecy, cut off from the world, he was all they knew on every screen, every front page, every billboard, a hero, a father figure, a god. And they mourn with religious fervor.

"How could the sky not cry when we have lost our general who was a great man from the sky?" this soldier says.

After the father comes the son. The next leader, Kim Jong-un, was given a key position, walking alongside the hearse just in front of his uncle, the power behind the throne. Only the party faithful have been allowed to line the route to show their boundless loyalty, which spilled out onto the streets.

This was orchestrated propaganda, the regime telling its people that it's still in control, the military showing its might to the world, a reminder North Korea is a nuclear power now led by a young man in his 20s, thrust into leadership by his father's death.

"Could U.S. 'Start Fresh' With North Korea's New Leader?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 12/28/2011

POLITICS - Representative Democracy

"Representative Democracy in America Is Changing -- for the Better?" by Cliff Wilson, Cliff's Notes 12/22/2011

When I was a youngster and lived with my family in Cypress Hills, in the borough of Brooklyn, NYC, I often dropped by the local Democratic club. These clubs had buildings where they met and conducted their business and they were the citizen’s gateway to the government. Every Friday if you dropped in you could see and talk to the Congressman Eugene Keogh, the last to wear a straw hat.

If you wanted to see your state representatives they were there also as was the party district leader around whom the clubs organized. In the days before Baker v. Carr (one man one vote) districts were often geographically based, e.g. one representative per county or a state senate district consisting of three state house districts. With the Supreme Court rulings that electoral districts that served to elect representatives to legislative bodies had to be equal in population (with a wider discrepancy allowed the smaller the districts were) counties and neighborhoods became less important to the concept of district representation.

Because the Courts have refused to rule that political based partisan gerrymandering is contrary to the federal constitution we have suffered under forty years of ever increasing politically motivated redistricting – with computers making partisan calculations even more precise and using population equality to hide behind.

The nature of representative democracy in America has changed. In the 19th century district representation played a great role but districts themselves not so much. Congressmen were people who went to Washington to act on the nation’s problems, state legislators went to state capitals to do the same on state matters. For local representation, that one could go to for assistance with problems, one went either to the local county officials or in the cities to the aldermen (precursors of the Councilmen who were a combination of elected officials and party officials).

In the 20th century the nature of representatives duties and compensation changed. From annual state elections we went to two and four year terms. From rotation in office for Congressional nominations (the norm by which a party gave its nomination to state representatives who waited their turn) we went to incumbents and even incumbent families “owning” Congressional seats. These federal and state legislators also took on the role of constituent servants. They opened offices in the districts and assisted with red tape problems; at first all problems and then eventually a hierarchy of helping only with the problems that related to bureaucracies at the level of government they served in.

As the nation continues to increase from its’ nearly 4 million in 1790 to its’ 312 million now - the nature of representative democracy has again changed. Rather than bemoaning it and yearning for the good old days- that trust me weren’t that good - we should understand and accept and use the changes. When the nation started the founding fathers wanted one representative per 30,000 persons – now it’s one per 705,000 (precise number may vary by state).

Districts today have become masses of election precincts combined for the purpose of electing a Congressman or a state legislator. Often that elected official is the only thing the people of the district have in common with municipalities and postal areas and shopping zones divided. These legislators should be looked at as representatives and the citizenry should use the social networking and the Internet and the 24/7 news media to follow what their representatives due in Washington D.C. or the state capital and judge them accordingly.

Local municipal government and councilmen and party officials should again be handling citizen constituent. Representatives should represent. With the demise of earmarks and the public outrage at the insider trading antics of federal representatives we may see a new Congress where members vote and speak and are judged accordingly. Again with the use of social networking, online petitioning, and the availability of information about the legislative branches activities district lines will become even less relevant. If we impose federal Congressional term limits (both Houses) and, if we ever get a handle on the money that is poisoning our politics (we need open public funding not backdoor public funding by the contributions of corporations that take federal money) we might see a return to real Representative Democracy in America.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

IRAN - Threats and Bluster Over Sanctions

"Iran Threatens to Block Oil Shipments, as U.S. Prepares Sanctions" by DAVID E. SANGER and ANNIE LOWREY, New York Times 12/27/2011


A senior Iranian official on Tuesday delivered a sharp threat in response to economic sanctions being readied by the United States, saying his country would retaliate against any crackdown by blocking all oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery for transporting about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.

The declaration by Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, came as President Obama prepares to sign legislation that, if fully implemented, could substantially reduce Iran’s oil revenue in a bid to deter it from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Prior to the latest move, the administration had been laying the groundwork to attempt to cut off Iran from global energy markets without raising the price of gasoline or alienating some of Washington’s closest allies.

Apparently fearful of the expanded sanctions’ possible impact on the already-stressed economy of Iran, the world’s third-largest energy exporter, Mr. Rahimi said, “If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz,” according to Iran’s official news agency. Iran just began a 10-day naval exercise in the area.

In recent interviews, Obama administration officials have said that the United States has developed a plan to keep the strait open in the event of a crisis. In Hawaii, where President Obama is vacationing, a White House spokesman said there would be no comment on the Iranian threat to close the strait. That seemed in keeping with what administration officials say has been an effort to lower the level of angry exchanges, partly to avoid giving the Iranian government the satisfaction of a response and partly to avoid spooking financial markets.

But the energy sanctions carry the risk of confrontation, as well as economic disruption, given the unpredictability of the Iranian response. Some administration officials believe that a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States — which Washington alleges received funding from the Quds Force, part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps — was in response to American and other international sanctions.

Hay... Iran, please, please make our day. "You feel lucky, punk?"

MILITARY - Iraq War Changed Veterans

"How the Iraq War Changed a Generation of Veterans" PBS Newshour 12/26/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): More than a million men and women served in Iraq and the armed forces over the past nine years in a war that will have lasting impact on them and on the nation.

We talk about that with four veterans. Army Staff Sgt. Gregg Bumgardner was a psychological operations specialist. He left the military after two tours in Iraq. Maj. P.K. Ewing is in the Marine Corps Reserves and currently on active duty recovering from war-related injuries. He served as a civil affairs team leader in Anbar Province. Sgt. Kelly Dougherty of the Colorado Army National Guard served as a military policewoman helping guard supply convoys in Iraq. After leaving the Army, she helped found Iraq Veterans Against the War. And Marine Corps Lt. Wade Zirkle did two tours in Iraq, including the first battle of Fallujah. He left the Marines in 2005 and founded Vets for Freedom, an advocacy group that promoted the surge.

EDUCATION - Teaching Financial Discipline

"In Face of Holiday Sales, Colorado Students Begin to Learn Financial Discipline"
PBS Newshour 12/26/2011

COMMENT: Now all we need is adult classes nation-wide.

NIGERIA - Christmas Day Attacks

"In Nigeria, Radical Muslim Group Claims Responsibility for Christmas Day Attacks" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/26/2011

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): The people of Nigeria faced new uncertainty today after Christmas Day attacks on Christian churches that killed at least 39 people. The worst attack came just outside the capital, where 35 were killed. Four more died in the city of Jos, and, overall, more than 50 were wounded.

Some were distraught. Others were furious today outside Saint Theresa's Catholic Church near the capital, Abuja. Christmas decorations still hung over the entrance, but burned Bibles and a crucifix lay in the debris. And the bomb crater just beyond the building testified to the power of the blast that hit worshipers as they emerged from Christmas mass.

The attack was one of three aimed at Christian churches Sunday in Nigeria, an oil-rich African nation of 160 million people split between a Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

In Rome today, Pope Benedict XVI denounced the killings.

POPE BENEDICT XVI, leader of Catholic Church (through translator): Our land continues to be drenched in innocent blood. I have learned with deep sadness the news of the attacks. Even this year, on the day of the birth of Jesus, grief and pain has been brought to some churches in Nigeria. I wish to express my sincere and affectionate closeness to the Christian community.

MARGARET WARNER: A radical Muslim group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for Sunday's attacks. A spokesman said there will be no peace until full Sharia law is enforced throughout Nigeria and democracy and the Constitution are suspended.

Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden," also struck on Christmas Eve of 2010 with bombings that killed 32 in the city of Jos. The group has mounted multiple attacks since, including bombing the U.N. headquarters in the capital, Abuja, last August, killing 24.

Sunday's attacks bring this year's total killings, blamed on Boko Haram, to more than 500. Late Sunday, President Goodluck Jonathan, condemned what he called the dastardly attacks, but he predicted the group will not last forever.

But Muhammadu Buhari, a former general from the north who lost the presidential election last April, sharply criticized Jonathan. He said in a statement, "This is clearly a failure of leadership at a time the government needs to assure the people of the capacity to guarantee the safety of lives and property."

The government has tried using police and security forces against Boko Haram. Some have criticized their neighborhood raids as repressive and ineffective.

"After Deadly Church Attacks in Nigeria, What Do Boko Haram Extremists Want?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 12/26/2011

OPINION - Wealthy Should Be Tax Exempt

"One of The World's Greatest Capitalists Says The Wealthy Should Be Permanently Tax Exempt" by negrus8, Newsgroup: alt.politics.democrats

Deficits only matter if there is a Democrat in the White House, never when there's a Republican. Ignorant ultra-partisan rightist pea brains who can't recall history past 2008 believe that Bush was the great fiscal conservative president while Obama is to blame for all their problems, including ones that have nothing to do with the Oval Office at all, like how so many of them are seditious anti-American mental cases who are still angry that Obama took out 24 Al Qaeda leaders including Osama Bin Laden, a member of the Bin Laden family who were also very close with the Bush clan. Personal accountability appears to be increasingly a left wing attribute while weak and stupid rightists play the blame game and offer no solutions but "put us in power and we'll do what we did last time to create this mess".

GOP hypocrisy on deficits
October 28, 2011 By ctucker

“Deficits don’t matter.” — Dick Cheney, 2002

For more than a year, I’ve watched in sheer amazement as Republicans — fueled by the Tea Party — bludgeoned Democrats, especially President Obama, for blowing a hole in the federal budget. I’m amazed because it was the administration of George W. Bush, assisted by a GOP-dominated Congress, that squandered the surplus left by President Bill Clinton. By the time Obama assumed office, the country was already floating in a sea of red ink.

Yet, the conventional wisdom among so-called moderates has been that Obama should bite the bullet and take responsibility for shrinking the deficit. Never mind that most mainstream economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (a Republican), say that the government should spend freely during a period of high unemployment in order to create demand for jobs. As the Great Depression taught us, the government shouldn’t freeze spending during hard economic times.

(Note: One of the reasons that the unemployment rate has stayed high is that state and local governments keep laying people off, and the public sector has not stepped in to fill the gap by hiring more workers. If the federal stimulus bill had been bigger — giving states more money — cops and teachers could have kept their jobs and the jobless rate would be lower.)

The blame-Obama theory was on display in a recent column by NYT columnist David Brooks:

Obama would be wiser to champion a Grand Bargain strategy. Use the Congressional deficit supercommittee to embrace the sort of new social contract we’ve been circling around for the past few years: simpler taxes, reformed entitlements, more money for human capital, growth and innovation.

Don’t just whisper Grand Bargain in back rooms with John Boehner. Make it explicit. Take it to the country. Lower the ideological atmosphere and get everybody thinking concretely about the real choices facing the nation.

That’s nonsense. As Brooks indicated in an earlier passage, Obama tried to strike up a Grand Bargain, and House Speaker John Boehner shoved it back in his face. If Obama kept going back to Republicans, begging them to negotiate, he’d look like a wimp. Republicans are never going to agree to a fair deal that includes tax increases, no matter how much Democrats offer in cuts. Just yesterday, the GOP rejected another deal that included massive cuts, along with some tax increases. The Republican Party does not care about deficits. They only care about defeating Obama and protecting the rich. That’s it. Oh — and securing their rightwing theocracy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

HEALTH - New Super-Painkiler Addiction?

"Painkiller 10 times stronger than Vicodin worries addiction experts" by News Staff, CBS News 12/16/2011


As pharmaceutical companies are approaching the final stages of development for a new type of painkiller said to be 10 times stronger than Vicodin, addiction experts worry a new wave of abuse may soon follow.

Four companies have begun patient testing on the pills which contain a pure version of the highly addictive painkiller hydrocodone, and one of them - Zogenix of San Diego - plans to apply early next year to begin marketing its product, Zohydro.

If approved, it would mark the first time patients could legally buy pure hydrocodone. Existing products combine the drug with nonaddictive painkillers such as acetaminophen.

Hydrocodone belongs to family of drugs known as opiates or opioids because they are chemically similar to opium. They include morphine, heroin, oxycodone, codeine, and methadone.

Critics are especially worried about Zohydro, a timed-release drug meant for managing moderate to severe pain, because abusers could crush it for an intense, immediate high.

"I have a big concern that this could be the next OxyContin," said April Rovero, president of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse. "We just don't need this on the market."

OxyContin, introduced in 1995 by Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Conn., was designed to manage pain with a formula that dribbled one dose of oxycodone over many hours. Abusers quickly discovered they could defeat the timed-release feature by crushing the pills. Purdue Pharma changed the formula to make the pill more tamper-resistant, but addicts have moved onto generic oxycodone and other drugs that are not time-released.

Oxycodone is now the most-abused medicine in the U.S., with hydrocodone second, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

WORLD - World Need For Diversified Energy

"Author Daniel Yergin on U.S. Need for a 'Diversified Energy Portfolio'" PBS Newshour 12/23/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): New drilling platforms in South America, a contentious pipeline through the heartland of the U.S., the enormous demand for automobiles in China, they're all part of the changing world of energy around the globe and the worries over its environmental impact on the planet.

Author and analyst Daniel Yergin tackled the history of oil in 1991 in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Prize." Now he's updated the story and widened the lens further in a new book, "The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World." Yergin is the chairman IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, which does consulting work for the industry. He has also served on government panels looking energy use.

MOROCCO - Reminder, People Who Have Tasted Democracy Often Want More

"New Morocco Constitution, Election Meant to Avoid Arab Spring-Style Uprising" PBS Newshour 12/23/2011


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Now, the second report from my recent trip to Morocco. Tonight, how changes sweeping the Arab world brought new elections in the North African nation and new hopes for greater democracy.

Moroccans have voted before, but this time was different. This was new. There's a promise of change from an Islamist party with new political powers, and Moroccans now find themselves eager, skeptical and curious about what may lie ahead.

The new constitution and the elections that followed were meant to avoid an Arab spring-style uprising, to give Moroccans a louder voice in the affairs of this country, after long years in which all the decisions that mattered were made by the king and his inner circle.

This year, 32 million Moroccans have looked on as, one by one, other Arab nations have erupted into struggle, uprising, deadly violence. What unfolded on the streets of Morocco was a peaceful, but similar refrain, the demand for a more democratic government.

When the protests subsided, King Mohammed VI quickly organized a constitutional referendum and, under the new rules, a national election, all part of a transition, the king said, toward greater power for people, and less for the palace.

The U.S. ambassador in Morocco, Sam Kaplan, calls the latest election a move in the right direction.

Friday, December 23, 2011

SPACE - Galaxy From Birth of Universe

(click for better view)

"Rare galaxy from 'dawn of time' photographed" by Tariq Malik (, MSNBC 12/22/2011

An ancient galaxy that formed just after the birth of the universe has been photographed by telescopes on Earth and in space, and is the brightest galaxy ever seen at such remote distances, astronomers say.

The blob-shaped galaxy, called GN-108036, is about 12.9 billion light-years away and appears as it existed just 750 million years after the universe began. The universe, for comparison, is about 13.7 billion years old.

But the sheer distance to the galaxy isn't the only thing to intrigue scientists. The galaxy is also creating stars at a furious pace, making it a rare cosmic find. NASA officials described the galaxy as shining from the "dawn of time," with star formation inside it occurring at a "shockingly high rate."

A photo of the rare galaxy released by NASA shows the object as a red blob surrounded by other bright galaxies.

"The discovery is surprising because previous surveys had not found galaxies this bright so early in the history of the universe," said Mark Dickinson of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., in a statement announcing the find on Dec. 21.

"Perhaps those surveys were just too small to find galaxies like GN-108036. It may be a special, rare object that we just happened to catch during an extreme burst of star formation."

An international team of astronomers discovered galaxy GN-108036. It was initially spotted by Japan's Subaru telescope atop the volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and its ultra-far distance was confirmed using the Keck Observatory, also on Mauna Kea. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and infrared Spitzer Space Telescope were then used to take better images of the galaxy. The research is detailed in the Astrophysics Journal.

"We checked our results on three different occasions over two years, and each time confirmed the previous measurement," said study leader Yoshiaki Ono of the University of Tokyo.

Galaxies forming within the first few hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang were much smaller than the ones astronomers see in later periods because they had not yet built up most of their bulk. So seeing a galaxy like GN-108036, which is small yet exceptionally bright and teeming with star formation, came as a shock. [The Universe to Now in 10 Easy Steps]

"We had never seen such a vigorously star-forming galaxy at a comparable distance until the discovery of GN-108036," Ono said.

Astronomers measure the distance to objects in space by measuring how much their light is stretched toward the red end of the light spectrum, a factor known as "redshift." The greater an object's redshift, the older and farther away it is, NASA officials explained.

GN-108036 has a staggering redshift of 7.2, one of the few objects known with a redshift larger than 7. Just two other objects have been confirmed to be older and more distant than GN-108036, NASA officials said.

The newfound galaxy is so ancient that it and others like it may have played a role in the transition from the so-called "dark ages" of the universe — a period before the first stars formed when a thick hydrogen fog permeated the cosmos — into the universe we see today.

"This was therefore a likely ancestor of massive and evolved galaxies seen today," said Bahram Mobasher, a team member from the University of California, Riverside.

HEALTH - French-Made Breast Implants, France Takes Risk

"France Recommends Removal of Risky Breast Implants" by ANGELA CHARLTON (AP), ABC News 12/23/2011


Tens of thousands of women with risky, French-made breast implants should have them removed at the state's expense, France's health minister recommended Friday, in an unprecedented move that could have implications across Europe and South America.

Xavier Bertrand said the mass removals were "preventive" and not urgent, and French health officials said analyses so far have found no link between the pre-filled silicone gel implants and nine cases of cancer among women implanted with them.

But Bertrand, in a statement, cited an unusually high risk that the implants could rupture and leak a questionable type of silicone gel into the wearer's body.

Health authorities in Britain — where even more women have the implants than in France — said Friday that for now they see no reason to take similar action.

Questions remain about the logistics and final costs of the removals. Francois Godineau, a top official in the French national health service, estimated it could deplete French government coffers by euro60 million ($78 million) at a time when the country is teetering on a brink of a new recession and struggling to tame state debt.

Investigators say the company Poly Implant Prothese used cheaper industrial silicone for the implants instead of medical silicone to save money. The implants were pulled from the market last year and the company is being liquidated.

Typical big-business, risking people's health to save money.

CALIFORNIA - San Diego Illegal Hiring Crackdown

"San Diego restaurant owner fined over hiring" AP, CBS News 12/23/2011

A judge fined the owner of a popular restaurant and bakery nearly $400,000 Thursday for employing illegal immigrants in a rare case of federal prosecutors charging an employer with illegal hiring.

Michel Malecot, 59, was spared prison time and his fines and penalties were below the $650,000 sought by federal prosecutors.

Malecot, a naturalized U.S. citizen from France and a major donor to local charities, appeared to hire illegal immigrants at The French Gourmet out of compassion rather than to take advantage of them, said U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan, who also ordered five years of probation.

The case has drawn attention from restaurant owners because criminal prosecutions of employers are fairly rare. Federal prosecutors face high burdens of proof to show that employers knowing hired illegal immigrants.

Rebecca Kanter, an assistant U.S. attorney, urged a higher fine against Malecot to deter other employers from illegal hiring. The restaurant employed 91 illegal immigrants over several years.

"This is the type of cost that can be absorbed," she said of the nearly $400,000 fine.

The prosecutor challenged the judge's assertion that Malecot acted out of compassion, saying he had a financial motive. Kanter said it would have been illogical for him to hire illegal immigrants at the same wages and conditions of those legally allowed to work.

Eugene Iredale, Malecot's attorney, said the restaurant owner learned his employees were working illegally after he hired them and "couldn't pull the trigger to fire someone."

"His work has truly been dedicated to helping others," Iredale said.

Malecot, who pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor that carried a maximum penalty of six months in custody, apologized to the judge and said he took steps to avoid illegal hiring. The French Gourmet signed up for a program to verify the immigration status of new hires on a federal database.

Malecot's family, friends and employees packed the courtroom. A boyhood admirer of John Wayne, Malecot came to the United States as a young adult and found success in the restaurant business, opening his bistro in San Diego's Pacific Beach neighborhood in 1979.

SYRIA - Damascus Car Bombings

"Car bombs kill 40, wound 100 in Damascus" by REUTERS, Jerusalem Post 12/23/2011

Syria TV: 2 rigged vehicles cause explosion in capital killing several civilians, soldiers, most casualties are civilians; Syria Foreign Ministry: Lebanon warned al-Qaida had infiltrated from its territory.

Two booby-trapped cars blew up at security sites in Damascus on Friday, killing a number of civilians and soldiers, state television said, in the worst violence to hit Syria's capital during nine months of unrest against President Bashar Assad.

Syria's Dunia television channel put the number of dead from the blasts at 40 with 100 wounded and said most of the casualties were civilians. Dunia cited information from its own correspondents at the scene.

Syrian television described the attack as a suicide bombing and said initial inquiries indicated al-Qaida was behind it.

Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday that Lebanon warned Damascus two days earlier that al-Qaida had infiltrated into Syria from its territory.

"The Lebanese authorities warned us two days ago that al-Qaida group infiltrated to Syria from (north Lebanon's town of) Ersal," spokesman Jihad Makdesi told Reuters in an email.

"And today's suicide bombers caused the death of around 40 and more than 150 injuries, all are civilians and military personnel. Freedom seekers should know that this is not the way to achieve democracy."

The attack came a day after the arrival of Arab League officials to prepare for a monitoring team that will check whether Assad is implementing a plan to end the bloodshed.

State television broadcast footage of bloodied bodies being carried in blankets and stretchers into ambulances and people hunting through rubble of a badly damaged building.

A Reuters cameraman was barred from the site. State television also broadcast shots of bloodied streets littered with mangled human remains and blackened debris.

State television said the blasts targeted a state security administration building and a local security branch.

The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed more than 5,000 people in their crackdown on the protests, which erupted in March inspired by uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Syria says it faces a campaign by foreign-backed gunmen and terrorist groups. This week it said more than 2,000 members of the army and security forces had been killed since March.

Anti-Assad protests have swept the country, although central Damascus and the northern commercial city of Aleppo have remained relatively quiet.

A small blast was reported near a Syrian intelligence building in Damascus last month, but there was little damage.

But in recent months the mainly peaceful pro-democracy movement has become overshadowed by pockets of armed insurgency that have launched attacks on Syrian security forces.

The escalating violence on both sides has raised fears that the country is slipping towards civil war.


"Twin Bombings Kill at Least 47 in Syria's Capital" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/23/2011

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The carnage that's bloodied much of Syria came home to the capital today. Two bombs erupted in Damascus, killing nearly four dozen people and wounding more than 150.

We begin with a report narrated by Inigo Gilmore of Independent Television News.

We have some technical difficulties with the Inigo Gilmore report. We'll bring it to you now.

INIGO GILMORE: One of the bomb blasts left this huge crater in the ground. The tangled bodies of the dead were ferried away on stretchers, a doubly whammy in the heart of the capital, Damascus -- the targets, two buildings belonging to Syrian security forces.

MAN (through translator): I heard the explosion and saw many body parts. There were dead bodies all over the place, bodies of women and children in their cars.

INIGO GILMORE: The attacks were carried out by suicide bombers driving vehicles packed with explosives. At least, that's what the government claims. Even before the dust had settled, Syria's state media seized on the attacks, saying they were further evidence of a threat from foreign-linked armed gangs.

Within minutes, state TV was reporting that terrorists linked to al-Qaida were responsible. At the bombing sites, heavily armed security forces gathered to pledge their loyalty to the regime. Car bombings have become a familiar feature in neighboring Iraq, but these were the first in Damascus since the uprising began.

Opponents of Bashar al-Assad's regime scoffed at government claims about al-Qaida links to the attacks, pointing out that these security buildings were heavily guarded.

ALI HASSAN, Syrian Revolution General Commission: We are assured now that those bombings are happening by the regime to prevent this Arab League to meet the activists directly.

INIGO GILMORE: He was referring to a visit by a delegation from the Arab League, who arrived in Syria just hours before the bombs blasts. They've come to oversee an initiative aimed at stopping the violence that's left more than 5,000 dead.

Today, they were taken straight to the scene of the bombings to see the conflict from the regime's perspective. "And you still say there are no armed gangs in Syria?" a state journalist scoffs at this female delegate.

Accused of being perpetrators of mass killings, the regime today was casting itself as the victims. It's a propaganda windfall at a crucial moment. They're confident they've got their opponents on the run.

FAISAL MEKDAD, Syrian deputy foreign minister (through translator): The committee of the Arab League have seen the destruction and the bodies of the dead. We will visit the injured later. No human being can see these murders without condemning them.

INIGO GILMORE: This amateur video apparently shows large-scale demonstrations today in the northern region of Idlib, the scene of a massacre this week, according to the opposition.

These are the bodies of up to 90 men from the opposition Free Syria Army, allegedly killed by regime forces. It's mass killings like this one that continue to fuel the protests. Whether the Arab League will stand up to the regime and insist on hearing stories of atrocities firsthand will determine whether their mission has any credibility and if they can really do anything to stop the killings.

"Syria's Claims Over 'Unusual' Bombings in Damascus Draw Much Skepticism" (Part-1)
PBS Newshour 12/23/2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

MILITARY - Army Charges in Wake of Suicide Death

"Army Charges 8 in Wake of Death of a Fellow G.I." by KIRK SEMPLE, New York Times 12/21/2011


One night in October, an Army private named Danny Chen apparently angered his fellow soldiers by forgetting to turn off the water heater after taking a shower at his outpost in Afghanistan, his family said.

In the relatives’ account, the soldiers pulled Private Chen out of bed and dragged him across the floor; they forced him to crawl on the ground while they pelted him with rocks and taunted him with ethnic slurs. Finally, the family said, they ordered him to do pull-ups with a mouthful of water — while forbidding him from spitting it out.

It was the culmination of what the family called a campaign of hazing against Private Chen, 19, who was born in Chinatown in Manhattan, the son of Chinese immigrants. Hours later, he was found dead in a guard tower, from what a military statement on Wednesday called “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” to the head.

On Wednesday, the American military announced that the Army had charged eight soldiers in Private Chen’s battalion in connection with the death.

It was an extraordinary development in a case that has stirred intense reactions in the Asian population in New York and elsewhere and provoked debate over what some experts say is the somewhat ambivalent relationship between the Asian population and the United States military.

The authorities have not publicized much information about the circumstances of the death. Family members said they had gleaned bits of information about the hazing in private briefings with American military officials. But the array of charges announced — the most serious of which were manslaughter and negligent homicide — suggested that military prosecutors believed that the soldiers’ actions drove Private Chen to commit suicide.

Private Chen’s relatives and friends said they welcomed the announcement of the charges, as did Asian-American advocacy groups, which have been pressing the Army to conduct a transparent investigation into the death and to improve the treatment of Asians in the armed forces.

As if the war in Afghanistan wasn't dangerous enough, or troops have to worry about their own.

BANKING - Bank of America $335M Settlement

"Bank of America to Pay $335M to Settle Countrywide Case of Alleged Racial Bias" PBS Newshour 12/21/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): The U.S. Justice Department announced a major settlement today over alleged racial bias in home mortgage lending. Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million in a case involving Countrywide Mortgage, which the bank bought in 2008.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Countrywide engaged in systematic discrimination against blacks and Hispanics.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. attorney general: Now, these allegations represent alarming conduct by one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country during the height of the housing market boom. For example, in 2007, a qualified African-American customer in Los Angeles borrowing $200,000 paid an average of roughly $1,200 more in fees than a similarly qualified white borrower.

JEFFREY BROWN: The settlement stems from an investigation that began in 2008.

Two years later, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed her own lawsuit, and she worked with the Department of Justice to gain today's settlement.

Humm.... one has to wonder if BofA regrets buying Countrywide Mortgage?

This also high-lights the issue of loan brokers being paid in accordance with the loans they sell, or on commission (which is a common practice). If you want to stop abuse, just pay them a fixed salary.

POLITICS - Republicas Lose Tax Issue

"The GOP's Payroll Tax Fiasco" Opinion, Wall Street Journal 12/22/2011

How did Republicans manage to lose the tax issue to Obama?

GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the President before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest.

The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.

Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he's spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.

House Republicans yesterday voted down the Senate's two-month extension of the two-percentage-point payroll tax holiday to 4.2% from 6.2%. They say the short extension makes no economic sense, but then neither does a one-year extension. No employer is going to hire a worker based on such a small and temporary decrease in employment costs, as this year's tax holiday has demonstrated. The entire exercise is political, but Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics.

Their first mistake was adopting the President's language that he is proposing a tax cut rather than calling it a temporary tax holiday. People will understand the difference—and discount the benefit.

Republicans also failed to put together a unified House and Senate strategy. The House passed a one-year extension last week that included spending cuts to offset the $120 billion or so in lost revenue, such as a one-year freeze on raises for federal employees. Then Mr. McConnell agreed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the two-month extension financed by higher fees on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (meaning on mortgage borrowers), among other things. It passed with 89 votes and all but seven Republicans.

Senate Republicans say Mr. Boehner had signed off on the two-month extension, but House Members revolted over the weekend and so the Speaker flipped within 24 hours. Mr. Boehner is now demanding that Mr. Reid name conferees for a House-Senate conference on the payroll tax bills. But Mr. Reid and the White House are having too much fun blaming Republicans for "raising taxes on the middle class" as of January 1. Don't be surprised if they stretch this out to the State of the Union, when Mr. Obama will have a national audience to capture the tax issue.

If Republicans didn't want to extend the payroll tax cut on the merits, then they should have put together a strategy and the arguments for defeating it and explained why.

But if they knew they would eventually pass it, as most of them surely believed, then they had one of two choices. Either pass it quickly and at least take some political credit for it.

Or agree on a strategy to get something in return for passing it, which would mean focusing on a couple of popular policies that would put Mr. Obama and Democrats on the political spot. They finally did that last week by attaching a provision that requires Mr. Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days, and the President grumbled but has agreed to sign it.

But now Republicans are drowning out that victory in the sounds of their circular firing squad. Already four GOP Senators have rejected the House position, and the political rout will only get worse.

One reason for the revolt of House backbenchers is the accumulated frustration over a year of political disappointment. Their high point was the Paul Ryan budget in the spring that set the terms of debate and forced Mr. Obama to adopt at least the rhetoric of budget reform and spending cuts.

But then Messrs. Boehner and McConnell were gulled into going behind closed doors with the President, who dragged out negotiations and later emerged to sandbag them with his blame-the-GOP and soak-the-rich re-election strategy. Any difference between the parties on taxes and spending has been blurred in the interim.

After a year of the tea party House, Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats have had to make no major policy concessions beyond extending the Bush tax rates for two years. Mr. Obama is in a stronger re-election position today than he was a year ago, and the chances of Mr. McConnell becoming Majority Leader in 2013 are declining.

At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly. Then go home and return in January with a united House-Senate strategy that forces Democrats to make specific policy choices that highlight the differences between the parties on spending, taxes and regulation. Wisconsin freshman Senator Ron Johnson has been floating a useful agenda for such a strategy. The alternative is more chaotic retreat and the return of all-Democratic rule.

Answer to WSJ question: The Republican Party no longer exists, it's now the Tea Party (NO-compromise, our-way or no-way).

As to "the return of all-Democratic rule," I would applaud that. It would be MUCH better than the no-governance Democratic/Tea-Party rule we have today.


"Democrats Pressure House GOP to Back Down on Payroll Tax Cut" PBS Newshour 12/21/2011

ENVIRONMENT - New EPA Rules, Finally, After 2 Decades

"New EPA Rules Target Power Plants' Toxic Mercury Emissions" PBS Newshour 12/21/2011


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled new rules today to curb mercury emissions from the nation's power plants. The standards apply to roughly 600 coal- or oil-fueled power facilities. They will have to either reduce their emissions or shut down.

The battle over the rules stretches back two decades. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said today the new regulations of multiple pollutants would save lives and clean the air.

LISA JACKSON, Environmental Protection Agency: And this is a suite of air toxic standards. It is mercury. It is arsenic. It is cadmium. It is chromium. It is cyanide. It is hydrochloric acid. It is hydrofluoric acid. And because the pollution control technology that will go on these plants will also get some soot out of the air, it means, by addressing some toxics, we're actually addressing a suite of toxics and getting a lot of health benefits.

GWEN IFILL: But there's a reason the rules have taken so long to take effect.

For more on that, we get two views.

Scott Segal is director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an energy industry trade group, and John Walke is clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

COMMENT: Ah yes. Another example of corporate greed ahead of the health of people.

The power companies who fought these rules are just interested in the bottom-line in their books. Note, in this piece the inference that some power plants ARE already upgrading and complying. It just the power companies that have been fighting the necessary changes that will now be forced to comply or shut down. They would have better served if they had spent money on the necessary plant upgrades instead of spending it on lawyers, lobbyist, and consultants to fight the rules.

EGYPT - Women's "Arab Spring"

"In Tahrir Square, 10,000 Women March After Reported Attacks on Female Protesters" (Part-1)
PBS Newshour 12/21/2011

"For Egyptian Women, 'a March of Anger' and More Calls for Protests, Protection" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 12/21/2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CALIFORNIA - Medical Marijuana

"Mendocino County marijuana program at risk after DEA raids permitted farm" by Michael Montgomery, California Watch 11/8/2011

On Oct. 13, heavily armed Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided Northstone Organics, a medical marijuana cooperative in Mendocino County. The farm is part of a county-wide program that remains the only effort in California to impose local controls on marijuana production. The program has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for the sheriff's department and has become a model for other counties looking to bring order to the medical marijuana industry.

The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED examined Mendocino's experiment in legalizing medical marijuana cultivation in this summer's PBS FRONTLINE episode "The Pot Republic" and has obtained exclusive access to footage from the Oct. 13 raid.

(Frontline's full 24:28 episode)

Watch The Pot Republic on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

EDUCATION - For-Profit College Accreditation Risk

"With low job placement rates, for-profit colleges risk losing accreditation" by Erica Perez, California Watch 11/18/2011

New figures show two California campuses owned by for-profit education firm Career Education Corp. appear to have placed fewer than 65 percent of graduates in jobs – the minimum job placement rate required by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

And while Career Education officials disclosed earlier this month that job placement rates at 36 of 49 health education and art and design schools had fallen below the minimum required by the accrediting agency, the new data show that as many as 45 of the campuses may have missed the mark.

At the International Academy of Design & Technology in Sacramento, for example, an estimated 39 percent of students who graduated between July 2010 and June 2011 got jobs in a related field.

The college sells itself as a ticket to an engaging career: “Attention all creative individuals: Now is the time to turn your talents into exciting career opportunities,” the website says. “We don't want you to just have a job; we want you to experience a career you love.”

Although students in the fashion design and marketing associate's degree program paid about $17,000 per year in tuition and fees, the new data shows fewer than 1 in 5 graduates of that program actually got jobs in the field.

Career Education officials disclosed earlier this month that an independent investigation by outside counsel found that most of its health and art and design campuses had inflated the 2010-11 job placement rates that were about to be reported to accreditors. The investigation was prompted by a subpoena from the New York attorney general’s office.

"We have uncovered what were going to be recorded as placements were not genuine placements, according to our standards," Career Education CEO Steven Lesnik said Nov. 3.

After promising to disclose the correct rates to students, Career Education officials this week posted new figures on each college’s website.

It turns out that the independent investigators didn’t examine employment information for every single graduate. They only reviewed – and corrected – a “statistically valid” sample. When they extrapolate their findings to the entire group of graduates, job placement rates fall below 65 percent for 45 out of the 49 colleges they investigated.

Based on this calculation, an estimated 64 percent of graduates of Brooks Institute in Ventura got jobs in related fields. Brooks offers degrees in screenwriting, film and design.

In the coming weeks, lawyers will complete their investigation on the rest of Career Education’s campuses, including the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts campuses in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Career Education serves more than 116,000 students across the world through more than 90 campuses, as well as online programs.

CALIFORNIA - Another Example of Big-Money in Politics

"Wal-Mart ramps up ballot threats to speed new stores" by Will Evans, California Watch 12/21/2011


In a push to expand across California without interference, Wal-Mart is increasingly taking advantage of the state’s initiative system to threaten elected officials with costly special elections and to avoid environmental lawsuits.

The Arkansas-based retailer has hired paid signature gatherers to circulate petitions to build new superstores or repeal local restrictions on big-box stores. Once 15 percent of eligible voters sign the petitions, state election law puts cash-strapped cities in a bind: City councils must either approve the Wal-Mart-drafted measure without changes or put it to a special election.

As local officials grapple with whether to spend tens of thousands or even millions of taxpayer dollars on such an election, Wal-Mart urges cities to approve the petition outright rather than send it to voters.

While most development projects don’t attract much controversy, Wal-Mart has become a lightning rod almost everywhere it goes in California. Backers of organized labor have demonized the company for opposing unions and paying low wages, while other critics say its superstores cripple local businesses and increase sprawl.Now, Wal-Mart’s use of the initiative process has angered elected officials who say the company’s political strategy effectively holds them hostage.

“They circumvented the system and blackmailed the town,” said Rick Roelle, a councilman in Apple Valley, where Wal-Mart pushed through a superstore proposal in April. “We’ve had controversial projects, but we were never bullied like Wal-Mart.”

Wal-Mart and its supporters argue that the strategy helps speed up development that can boost employment and tax revenue, as well as low-price shopping. The initiative process, according to the company, pressures cities only because it shows the strong community support for Wal-Mart.

“The initiative process was an opportunity that allowed voters to voice their support for the benefits that Wal-Mart would bring their community, including jobs, affordable groceries, increased tax revenue, and infrastructure improvements,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia said in a statement.

The company has employed the same well-honed strategy across the state, from the Central Valley agricultural community of Kerman to the Silicon Valley suburb of Milpitas to the High Desert town of Apple Valley, where the main street has a special crosswalk button for horse riders.

Wal-Mart has ramped up the campaign in the last year, pushing through four new superstore projects and fighting big-box regulations in San Diego. The company spent $2 million on the effort, paying election lawyers, campaign consultants and public relations firms.

So, not only do we have to put up with Big-Money influence on national politics (thanks to the sell-out by the Supreme Court Inc,) but now local politics has to fight Big-Money greed.

CALIFORNIA - Voter Registration Computer Upgrade Problems

"Technology failures prompt criticism of secretary of state" by Will Evans, California Watch 12/20/2011


The latest technology snafus to hit (California) Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office have added to growing frustration from registrars and watchdog groups, who say Bowen has been unresponsive to their concerns.

The server crash that brought down California’s campaign finance disclosure database for more than two weeks now also has incapacitated the state system for validating new voter registrations.

This, on top of a years-long delay in creating a new voter registration database, as well as other elections issues, has ratcheted up the criticism directed at Bowen, who's in her second term.

"Sometimes, I feel like we’re having to knock really hard on the door and scream that we’re out here and need time and attention and guidance and leadership," said Gail Pellerin, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. "It’s been really hard to get a seat at the table."

Bowen acknowledged the latest technology problems have been "extremely frustrating," but said she has always worked closely with county officials and advocates to formulate policy and fix problems.

"Obviously, there’s always room to improve, but I’m a little puzzled because I’ve made it a priority to serve the needs of elections officials," Bowen said. "I want to make sure the registrars know how supportive I am, because they’re the ones who are doing the heavy lifting."

The server that runs the Cal-Access database, which lets the public view campaign contribution and lobbying records, crashed Nov. 30. The CalVoter registration system, which helps verify the identities of those registering to vote, went down with it.

Pellerin, who is Santa Cruz County's registrar of voters, said the crash is causing an unwieldy backlog. For Sacramento County Registrar Jill LaVine, it was getting in the way of tallying signatures for ballot initiative campaigns because some petition signers needed their voter registration applications validated in order to count.

Bowen's staff is processing the validation requests manually, and there should be no more than an hour or two of delay, said spokeswoman Nicole Winger.

"We have gone to such great lengths to make sure that this doesn’t impact them at all," Winger said.

CalVoter and Cal-Access should be working again sometime in the next two weeks, she said.

Derek Cressman, Common Cause's Western states regional director, is calling for legislative oversight hearings on the secretary of state's technology operations.

"We've just seen too many problems," Cressman said. "The public needs to get to the bottom of what’s really going on."

Bowen, who was elected secretary of state in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, said her staff has been working hard to transition from the "ancient" hardware and software systems she inherited.

"It’s what’s been keeping IT staff up at night," Bowen said.

But Bowen said a full upgrade to Cal-Access would cost millions of dollars that the state doesn't have. She pointed to cuts to education and support for the elderly and those with disabilities.

"It’s pretty tough to argue that those functions are less important than a brand-new, shiny Cal-Access, which I would love to have," she said. "I don’t want to lose credibility on things that I need by asking for things where the timing just isn't right."

California has access to federal funding to create a new statewide voter registration database, but that process has been marred by years of delays. Bowen's office fired the contractor on that project last year and is still working to find a new one. The system isn't expected to be in place until 2015. Bowen blames the problems on the state's procurement process.

California, where bureaucratic logjams have become an art.

CALIFORNIA - Kids Soliciting Money for a Church

"Controversial church sends kids to solicit money at BART stations" by Will Evans, California Watch 12/21/2011


A West Oakland church and private school that sends children to solicit donations at BART stations has a history of financial and legal troubles, including two cases in which church leaders admitted they illegally received government assistance.

The children, including one who said he was 7 years old, have been raising funds for St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church at East Bay BART stations for hours at a time on weekday evenings. They say they are collecting money for a new 24-hour day care center for the church, which runs a small K-12 private school.

"It’s going to be under my pastor’s house, and we’re going to put the pastor’s house on top," said 9-year-old Mekhi Sade Nosakhare, standing in the Downtown Berkeley BART station without an adult present. She said she doesn't like soliciting donations every night, but if she doesn't, she said she'll get in trouble with her mother and stepfather, Andrew Lacy, who is one of the pastor's sons. Lacy, who arrived shortly after, declined to be interviewed.

The church and its pastor, Robert Lacy, drew scrutiny last year after a CBS 5 investigation found that they required young students to spend long hours raising money from passers-by in downtown San Francisco. At the time, the students also said they were fundraising for a new building, but the TV report raised questions about where the money was actually going.

Now, church officials have a permit from BART to raise funds every night from 5 to 8 p.m.

Elizabeth Curry White, the pastor's ex-wife and mother of Andrew Lacy, said the pastor has been making children raise money for many years, with nothing to show for it.

"He tells my sons that he don’t have no money, so they go out there and try to get money," White said. "He takes all the money and keeps it."

Robert Lacy, the church’s 79-year-old founder, sometimes watches silently in the background as his own young children solicit money. One of them, Cloella Lacy, 16, said that if they don't each collect about $50 or $75 in a night, they could get detention. Another, 12-year-old Moses Lacy, said he likes collecting money because "it gives me a mind to want to look into people's eyes and get donations."

Both children were interviewed while they solicited donations in the Rockridge BART station without adult supervision. The pastor, who arrived later, declined to answer questions.

"I’m not going to tell you about it because you are a reporter, and we don’t want to get into no lawsuit with you," Robert Lacy said. "BART gave us privilege to come out here. That’s all you need to know. ... Leave me alone now before I call the police on you."

Officials at St. Andrew did not respond to phone calls or e-mails.

White said she recently took her grandson away from the church so he wouldn't have to solicit money at night. The grandson, she said, was told that if he didn't raise at least $100 in a night, he would get bad grades.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Unified School District approved payments totaling $72,700 to St. Andrew school officials for teacher training and student support since October 2009. One of the pastor's sons, Robert Lacy Jr., received $19,100.

The money comes from federal funding that public school districts must, by law, share with private schools. The district has little say over who receives the funds, said district spokesman Troy Flint.

Organizations like St. Andrew face minimal oversight. Unlike other charities, churches don't have to file with the state attorney general or the Internal Revenue Service. The California Department of Education doesn't regulate private schools.

From Girl Scout cookies to school magazine sales, children often are roped into fundraising. The minimum age for such soliciting in California is 6.

The Alameda County Social Services Agency, which investigates allegations of child abuse, has not investigated the church or school, said spokeswoman Sylvia Soublet. "The only time we can go out and investigate is when we have a specific allegation for a specific child," she said.

White said the church hasn't been remodeled or expanded in decades. Currently, no construction permits have been requested from the city of Oakland for the pastor's or church's addresses, according to the city's community and economic development agency.

Robert Lacy brought the church to its current West Oakland location in 1978. He has a history of financial problems, filing for bankruptcy in 1996 under the name Robeth Lacy and again in 2003 as Robert Lacy, both times using the same Social Security number. He and his adult sons have been sued over various financial issues, including unpaid rent.

In 2007, Robert Lacy pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of theft of government money. He failed to notify the Social Security Administration of his father’s death and personally took about $17,000 in Social Security payments sent to his father's account after he had died, according to the proposed plea agreement. Robert Lacy also failed to report family property that made him ineligible to receive about $22,000 in government assistance, according to the agreement. He had to pay back the money through deductions to his monthly government checks and was given three years' probation and a $1,000 fine.

Sniff, sniff..... does something smell fishy?

IRAQ - Political Tensions and Maliki

"After U.S. Pull-Out, Tensions Escalate in Iraq With VP Sought on Charges" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/20/2011

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Next tonight, escalating political tensions in an Iraq no longer patrolled by American troops.

It was a hero's welcome today at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington for American soldiers home for the holidays, and for the last time from Iraq.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman: Greeting you here today with your troopers is an honor and a privilege that I won't long forget.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president and the vice president looking on, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, welcomed back the officers who managed the U.S. withdrawal.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Thirty million Iraqis are free today. They now have a choice in their future and an unprecedented opportunity to live in peace and prosperity inside Iraq, within the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the last U.S. convoy had hardly crossed into Kuwait on Sunday when Iraq was thrust into new and potentially dangerous political turmoil.

An arrest warrant was issued for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on charges that he had run death squads during the sectarian bloodbath of 2006 and 2007. As proof, the purported confession of a man named Ahmed was broadcast. He said Hashemi spoke to him through an intermediary.

AHMED, alleged death squad member (through translator): He told me, "I choose you to carry out serious tasks. And you are able to do them well. And you should implement what I want. Your interest and that of your family concern me."

This means he warned me that, if I won't implement such a mission, we will harm you and your family. I understood what he meant. I told him, yes, sir, at your disposal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Al-Hashemi, who is Sunni Muslim, angrily denied the charge today and he dared the government to try to arrest him in the Kurdish city of Irbil, where he's taken refuge. The vice president also accused Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, of stoking barely controlled sectarian flames in a bid to consolidate power.

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI, Iraqi vice president (through translator): Al-Maliki is behind the whole issue. The country is in the hands of al-Maliki. All the efforts that had been exerted to reach national reconciliation and to unite Iraq are now gone. So, yes, I blame al-Maliki.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is a charge al-Hashemi leveled in an interview last year with the NewsHour's Margaret Warner in Baghdad.

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: This could lead easily to another dictatorship.

MARGARET WARNER: A dictatorship by whom?

TARIQ AL-HASHEMI: By whoever, al-Maliki, yes. If he's going to be the prime minister, and he's not going to change his course, definitely, this country is drifting to a dictatorship, within might be the umbrella of fragile democracy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Mr. Prime Minister, you've said that Iraqis seek democracy, a state of citizens and not sects.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just last week, President Obama had welcomed al-Maliki to the White House as the U.S. presence in Iraq wound down after nearly nine years.

BARACK OBAMA: People throughout the region will see a new Iraq that's determining its own destiny, a country in which people from different religious sects and ethnicities can resolve their differences peacefully through the democratic process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked what steps the administration is taking to quell the crisis.

JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: We are talking to all parties to express our concern regarding these developments. We continue to urge all sides to work to resolve differences peacefully. Ambassador James Jeffrey, as well as other U.S., senior U.S. officials, have been in frequent contact with Iraqi leaders on this matter and will continue to do so.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the meantime, several high-profile Maliki opponents, like former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have sided with al-Hashemi, as political and ethnic divisions flare once again.

"Does Maliki Want to Become Unchallenged Ruler of Iraq?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 12/20/2011

KOREA - Secretive North Korea Hard to See

"Amid Public Mourning for Kim Jong-il, 'Truth About North Korea Is Hard to See'" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/20/2011


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Displays of public emotion are one image that the North Korean leadership wants the rest of the world to see. But much else remains a mystery, even the extent of that mourning.

We begin with a report from Angus Walker of Independent Television News, reporting from South Korea.

ANGUS WALKER: Lying in state, Kim Jong-il in death, as in life, treated like a king, surrounded by garlands and guards.

His son Kim Jong-un, in his 20s, expected to be the next in line in the world's only communist dynasty. The burden of his birth seems heavy on his young shoulders as he assumes leadership of a country where even public mourning is controlled.

The country appears to be a state of hysteria, at least in front of the cameras. In the South Korean capital, I met three defectors from North Korea. We watched the latest news from the country they escaped from.

It's crocodile tears, they told me. And I asked, what would happen if people didn't weep and grieve in public?

SON JEONG HUN, North Korean defector (through translator): If people don't cry in public, then they can be seen as insulting the leadership. It can regarded as a crime against the state.

ANGUS WALKER: It's only when North Koreans have defected to the South that they're free to reveal what they truly think about the regime they have escaped from.

But it is possible to hear what people are saying inside the secretive state. This is a radio station which broadcasts at midnight. North Koreans, risking arrest, can listen to the shortwave signal. The man who runs the station says he's managed to speak to North Koreans on smuggled mobile phones during the last 24 hours.

HA TAE GYUNG, radio station director: So, some of them, even some of them called -- we called today, they say that they welcome the death of Kim Jong-il, because the death of Kim Jong-il signals a new era, when they can change North Korean society.

ANGUS WALKER: But any hopes of real change now rely on Kim Jong-un. His succession, shrouded in secrecy, amid rumors of infighting means now more than ever the truth about North Korea is hard to see.

"How Does North Korea Stay So Secretive?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 12/20/2011

AFRICA - Naked Journey From Warlord to Evangelist

"Film Tells Story of Warlord-Turned-Evangelist Known as General Butt Naked" PBS Newshour 12/20/2011


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Next, a final installment in our series from the Economist Film Project.

It's about Joshua Milton Blahyi, also known as General Butt Naked, one of Liberia's most feared warlords. He was responsible for killing and maiming thousands during Liberia's 14-year civil war.

Then, suddenly, the general renounced his violent past and reinvented himself as a charismatic Christian evangelist.

His story is told in the new documentary titled, "The Redemption of General Butt Naked."

Filmmakers Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion spent five years with Blahyi, tracking his often troubling path as he sought forgiveness from his victims.

Here's an excerpt.

Economist Film Project

EGYPT - Biggest Women's Demonstration in Modern History

"Mass March by Cairo Women in Protest Over Abuse by Soldiers" By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times 12/20/2011


Several thousand women demanding the end of military rule marched through downtown Cairo on Tuesday evening in an extraordinary expression of anger over images of soldiers beating, stripping and kicking female demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

“Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me!” they chanted. “Where is the field marshal?” they demanded of the top military officer, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. “The girls of Egypt are here.”

Historians called the event the biggest women’s demonstration in modern Egyptian history, the most significant since a 1919 march against British colonialism inaugurated women’s activism here, and a rarity in the Arab world. It also added a new and unexpected wave of protesters opposing the ruling military council’s efforts to retain power and its tactics for suppressing public discontent.

The protest’s scale stunned even feminists here. In Egypt’s stiffly patriarchal culture, previous attempts to organize women’s events in Tahrir Square during this year’s protests almost always fizzled or, in one case in March, ended in the physical harassment of a small group of women by a larger crowd of men.

“It was amazing the number of women that came out from all over the place,” said Zeinab Abul-Magd, a historian who has studied women’s activism here. “I expected fewer than 300.”

The march abruptly pushed women to the center of Egyptian political life after they had been left out almost completely. Although women stood at the forefront of the initial revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak 10 months ago, few had prominent roles in the various revolutionary coalitions formed in the uprising’s aftermath. Almost no women have won seats in the early rounds of parliamentary elections. And the continuing demonstrations against military rule have often degenerated into battles in which young men and the security police hurl rocks at each other.

On the fifth day of clashes that have killed at least 14 people, many women in the march said they hoped their demonstration would undercut the military council’s efforts to portray demonstrators as little more than hooligans, vandals and arsonists. “This will show those who stay home that we are not thugs,” said Fadwa Khaled, 25, a computer engineer.

The women’s demand for a voice in political life appeared to run counter to the recent election victories of conservative Islamists. But the march was hardly dominated by secular liberals. It contained a broad spectrum of Egyptian women, including homemakers demonstrating for the first time and young mothers carrying babies, with a majority in traditional Muslim head scarves and a few in face-covering veils. And their chants mixed calls for women’s empowerment with others demanding more “gallantry” from Egyptian men.

Egypt’s military rulers came under fire from international human rights groups soon after they took power in February for performing invasive, pseudo-medical “virginity tests” on several women detained after a protest in March. But in Egypt’s conservative culture, few of the women subjected to that humiliation have come forward to criticize the generals publicly.

The spark for the march on Tuesday came over the weekend, when hundreds of military police officers in riot gear repeatedly stormed Tahrir Square, indiscriminately beating anyone they could catch. Videos showed more than one instance in which officers grabbed and stripped female demonstrators, tearing off their Muslim head scarves. And in the most infamous case caught on video, a half-dozen soldiers beat a supine woman with batons and ripped off her abaya to reveal a blue bra. Then one of them kicked her in the chest.