Friday, September 30, 2011

AMERICA - Baseball, Season's Twists of Fate

"Red Sox, Braves Strike Out in Wild Card Chase" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/29/2011

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And finally tonight, triumphant wins, catastrophic collapses and a baseball night to remember.

They called it wild card Wednesday, the final night of the regular season, with four teams vying for two remaining spots in baseball's postseason field. And when it was over, the sport had indeed seen one of the wildest nights in its history.

The Saint Louis Cardinals got things started, shutting out the Houston Astros 8-0. At the beginning of September, the Cardinals had trailed the Atlanta Braves by eight-and-a-half games, but had surged in recent weeks, winning 23 of their last 31. The Braves, having faltered all month, still had a chance, needing a win over the Philadelphia Phillies. They went to 13 innings, but a double play ended the game and Atlanta's season, in a stunning collapse.

DAN UGGLA, Atlanta Braves: That's definitely disappointing. You know, whatever happened this last month, I mean, we played our -- we played our butts off all month. It just wasn't in the cards for us, I guess.

JEFFREY BROWN: Instead, the Cards held all the cards. Saint Louis clinched a first-round playoff berth, facing Philadelphia this weekend.

PLAYER: We just kept playing hard and kept winning some games. And they were losing. And we were -- you know, all of a sudden, we're right back in it. And we were able to see it through.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the American league, even more last-minute drama, as the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays also began the night tied for a wild card slot.

The Red Sox led the Baltimore Orioles in the ninth inning, and needed only one out to finish it. But the Orioles scored twice, to win 4-3. Just minutes later, in Tampa, the Rays' third baseman, Evan Longoria, stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning...

ANNOUNCER: Home run! A home run!

JEFFREY BROWN: ... in a tie game against the New York Yankees. Tampa had trailed 7-0 at one point, but Longoria's heroics sent his team to the playoffs.

EVAN LONGORIA, Tampa Bay Rays: You can't even really put it into words. I mean, we were out here for, I think, the better part of five hours, and then at the end there, it seemed like everything happened in a matter of seconds.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ecstasy for Tampa, and agony for Boston, one of baseball's best teams all year, but losers of 20 of their last 27 games and now out of the playoffs altogether.

"'Baseball Gods' Wind Down Regular Season With Dramatic Twists" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 9/29/2011


JOHN FEINSTEIN, sportswriter/author: Yes. If you believe in the baseball gods, they were certainly at work last night, creating this extraordinary, karmic activity within this period, because what the rain delay did was, at 11:40 last night, the Atlanta Braves lost to be out of the playoffs, blowing the biggest lead a team had blown in 111 years, to finish out of the playoffs.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Not that anybody keeps track.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Nobody keeps track of that.


JOHN FEINSTEIN: They keep track of everything in baseball, every stat.

Twenty-five minutes later, the Boston Red Sox broke that record. So it had stood for 111 years. Then it stood for 25 minutes. And the Red Sox lost in Baltimore, and, three minutes later, Evan Longoria hits the game-winning home run in Tampa.

But what was more unbelievable was three of the four teams that lost last night, two of them were one out from winning the game, and one of them, the Braves, were two outs from winning the game, and none of them won.

ARIB WORLD - Arib Spring Update 9/29/2011

"Bahraini Doctors, Nurses Sentenced for Treating Arab Spring Protesters" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/29/2011


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Now, a two-part look at the tremors from the Arab spring that have hit the Arabian Peninsula, first, a report from Bahrain, where doctors and nurses face imprisonment for treating demonstrators wounded in protests against the ruling family.

Troops from Saudi Arabia helped put down that rebellion earlier this year.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports.

"In Saudi Arabia, 'Change Is Coming, but It's Not Going to Come Quickly'" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 9/29/2011

EUROPE - German Vote on Rescue Fund

"German Lawmakers Approve Boost for European Rescue Fund" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/29/2011

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Efforts to contain the debt crisis in Europe took a major step forward today. The German government won a critical vote on expanding a continental bailout fund with greatly increased German financial support. The fund is intended to help Greece and other European nations staggering under a mountain of debt.

We begin our coverage with a report from Faisal Islam of Independent Television News.

JEFFREY BROWN: Efforts to contain the debt crisis in Europe took a major step forward today. The German government won a critical vote on expanding a continental bailout fund with greatly increased German financial support. The fund is intended to help Greece and other European nations staggering under a mountain of debt.

We begin our coverage with a report from Faisal Islam of Independent Television News.

FAISAL ISLAM: A vote to save the single currency in Berlin, in the end, resounding backing from Germany's lower house, the Bundestag, German M.P.s parking their fears about the dizzying exposure of hundreds of billions of euros to debts that aren't theirs, but this process has exposed serious fault lines in German politics and problems for Chancellor Merkel's government.

VOLKER KAUDER, German Parliament member (through translator): It's not about Greece. It's not about giving money to Greece. It's an umbrella to protect the whole of Europe. And this is nothing else than in the German national interest, my colleagues.

FAISAL ISLAM: It was yet more tough austerity from Greece, including privatization in property taxes to help this vote to pass.

Yet, in Greece today, remarkable occupations of seven government ministries by angry civil servants to meet the return to Athens of the so-called troika of IMF and EU economic inspectors. The specter of Greece not paying even more of its debts is gaining ground in Germany, even one politician who could end up the next center-left German chancellor backing it in today's debate.

But it's also the next chapter of this rolling euro crisis brewing already. The Berlin Wall, or at least a piece of it, just across the western border of Germany at Schengen, the place where Europe's politicians allowed its people free movement across borders.

This place is the a temple to the dissolving of borders within Europe built on the place where Luxembourg, Germany and France meet. But the euro crisis is beginning to build barriers again, not just within German politics, but differences of approach from Germany over there and France over there.

Unlike Germany, France is very nervous about pushing Greece to renege on more of its pile of debt. It's worried about the impact on its banking system, one euro stress alleviated, and another one seems to appear.

"Europe Faces 'Terra Nova' in Efforts to Avoid Financial Crisis" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 9/29/2011

ARAB WORLD - What is an Islamic State?

"Activists in Arab World Vie to Define Islamic State" by ANTHONY SHADID and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times 9/29/2011


By force of this year’s Arab revolts and revolutions, activists marching under the banner of Islam are on the verge of a reckoning decades in the making: the prospect of achieving decisive power across the region has unleashed an unprecedented debate over the character of the emerging political orders they are helping to build.

Few question the coming electoral success of religious activists, but as they emerge from the shadows of a long, sometimes bloody struggle with authoritarian and ostensibly secular governments, they are confronting newly urgent questions about how to apply Islamic precepts to more open societies with very concrete needs.

In Turkey and Tunisia, culturally conservative parties founded on Islamic principles are rejecting the name “Islamist” to stake out what they see as a more democratic and tolerant vision.

In Egypt, a similar impulse has begun to fracture the Muslim Brotherhood as a growing number of politicians and parties argue for a model inspired by Turkey, where a party with roots in political Islam has thrived in a once-adamantly secular system. Some contend that the absolute monarchy of puritanical Saudi Arabia in fact violates Islamic law.

A backlash has ensued, as well, as traditionalists have flirted with timeworn Islamist ideas like imposing interest-free banking and obligatory religious taxes and censoring irreligious discourse.

The debates are deep enough that many in the region believe that the most important struggles may no longer occur between Islamists and secularists, but rather among the Islamists themselves, pitting the more puritanical against the more liberal.

“That’s the struggle of the future,” said Azzam Tamimi, a scholar and the author of a biography of a Tunisian Islamist, Rachid Ghannouchi, whose party, Ennahda, is expected to dominate elections next month to choose an assembly to draft a constitution. “The real struggle of the future will be about who is capable of fulfilling the desires of a devout public. It’s going to be about who is Islamist and who is more Islamist, rather than about the secularists and the Islamists.”

The moment is as dramatic as any in recent decades in the Arab world, as autocracies crumble and suddenly vibrant parties begin building a new order, starting with elections in Tunisia in October, then Egypt in November. Though the region has witnessed examples of ventures by Islamists into politics, elections in Egypt and Tunisia, attempts in Libya to build a state almost from scratch and the shaping of an alternative to Syria’s dictatorship are their most forceful entry yet into the region’s still embryonic body politic.

My hope is that they define an Islamic state that is NOT in the mold of the Taliban. An Islamic state that is tolerant of, AND respects, ALL religions. And respects human rights including that of women. Also a state that is not violently anti-west.

Having said that, I am not a Muslim nor an Arab, so I may wish but cannot directly influence what is decided.

I do have hope. Why? An example, Indonesia, considered to be the world's largest Muslim democracy. "Although it is not an Islamic state, Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, with 86.1% of Indonesians being Muslim according to the 2000 census."

So, even though Indonesia is not officially considered an Islamic state, it IS close to being one. Or to put it another way, it could be an one example of a 'definition' of an Islamic state.

SAN DIEGO - Import from France? Street "Loo"

(click for better view)

The city of San Diego, CA (my hometown) is looking at this idea for downtown.

"Much-needed public restrooms get caught up in the battle over the future of redevelopment" by Kelly Davis, San Diego CityBeat 9/22/2011

The Portland Loo seemed like an easy, cost-effective way to address a problem that even a good, regular power-washing can’t fully scrub from Downtown San Diego sidewalks.

Named for the city that created it, the Loo is a prefab, stainless-steel public restroom, big enough to hold a person and a bike or a mom and a stroller. Eco-friendly with its solar panels and low-flow toilet, its surfaces are graffiti-proof, and a system of louvers allows police to monitor activity inside it without infringing on privacy.

To Girls Think Tank, a nonprofit focused on homelessness, the Loo was a simple solution to Downtown’s public-restroom shortage; in June 2010, the City Council agreed.

But public-works projects, even those as relatively small as the Loo, can easily become complicated: First there was a five-month public-outreach process. Then arose the issue of who’d pay for the maintenance. By June 2011, everything appeared to have been sorted out. But then came a lawsuit challenging the state’s overhaul of local redevelopment programs and, with it, a freeze on the Loo’s funding source.

“Some of us, myself included, naively thought we’d get the restrooms by January of 2011,” said Noor Kazmi, vice president of Girls Think Tank, which first proposed the Loos in early 2010. “There are a lot of things that are out of our control, obviously.”

Girls Think Tank started in 2006 as a group of girlfriends, many of them attorneys and law students, meeting over dinner to discuss solutions to homelessness. Two years ago, they launched the Basic Dignity Campaign after surveying Downtown’s homeless population to see what was needed most.

“Of course, the first thing was housing,” Kazmi said. “But the second thing was access to public restrooms and clean drinking water.”

The Loo’s been a success in Portland—there are four located throughout the downtown area with plans for two more this year, said project manager Anne Hill.

GTT pitched the Loo idea to Council-member Marti Emerald. In May 2010, Emerald sent a memo to the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC), the city’s Downtown redevelopment arm, noting that $900,000 had been earmarked for one public restroom in Little Italy. “The Portland Loo is priced at $87,500, not including shipping and installation,” she wrote. “For that amount of money, the city could afford to install multiple loos throughout Downtown.”

Maintenance of each Loo—including supplies, thrice-daily cleanings and water—is estimated at $24,000 a year, said Tara Lake, a CCDC project manager. By comparison, the city spends more than $200,000 a year to operate its two 24-hour public restrooms, located at the Civic Center and at the southern end of the Gaslamp Quarter.

While community leaders in Little Italy ultimately concluded that a Loo wasn’t for them—they’re opting for a less-expensive public restroom—it was decided, with input from neighborhood groups, that one Loo would be located on city property at 14th Street and Imperial Avenue near Tailgate Park and the other at a proposed off-leash dog park at 11th Avenue and Market Street.

Though redevelopment money can cover the purchase and installation of the Loos, CCDC would need to find someone to pay for maintenance. Funding for the Loo at 11th Avenue and Market Street was easy: The cost would be built into the contract of whomever operates the dog park’s adjoining parking lot. For the second Loo, CCDC first approached the Padres. But, after months of negotiations, in July, the team said it didn’t have the money. However, the Downtown San Diego Partnership, an association of Downtown businesses, has agreed to pay for the maintenance of the Tailgate Park Loo under a one-year pilot program, said the Partnership’s president, Kris Michell.

In an Aug. 10 post on the GTT website, Kazmi said she hoped the Loo would get its “first flush” before the end of 2011.

The very next day, Aug. 11, the state Supreme Court halted redevelopment activity pending the outcome of a legal challenge to legislation that requires cities to either dissolve their redevelopment agencies or make annual payments to the state in exchange for redevelopment being allowed to continue. Under the court’s stay, CCDC can’t enter into any new contracts. The court’s expected to make a decision by Jan. 15, 2012.

“The Portland Loos, like many other neighborhood projects, are unfortunately caught up in the battle over the future of redevelopment,” said City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, whose district includes Downtown. “I will be pushing for funding for this project and others as I continue to battle Sacramento’s grab for San Diego redevelopment dollars.”

CCDC’s Lake traveled to Portland recently to visit a friend and made a point to check out the Loos.

“They looked great, they were working well, they were a huge hit,” she said.

Last week, Lake was perusing San Diego’s general plan— the document that guides the city’s long-term development— and was surprised to see that the need for more public restrooms was included in the “mobility” section of the plan.

“It talks about how public restrooms should be around and accessible. It was talking about improving the pedestrian environment and having people out and walking,” she said. “A lot of people wouldn’t have thought to put that in the mobility element.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

PAKISTAN - Terrorist Ties Update

"Guide to the Latest on Pakistan’s Terror Ties" by Braden Goyette, ProPublica 9/29/2011

The U.S. has long had a love-hate relationship with Pakistan, sending it billions of dollars in aid while suspecting, and occasionally accusing, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, of supporting terrorist groups.

The evidence and allegations of those connections have been coming so quickly it’s been hard to keep track of it all. What exactly are the United States' claims? What proof does it have, and which groups does it suspect the ISI has collaborated with? Here’s our breakdown of the basics. (And here’s an earlier guide we did as well)

The latest U.S. accusations against Pakistan

On Sept. 13, members of a Pakistan-based insurgent group called the Haqqani network laid siege to the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A detailed New York Times piece on the Haqqanis described them as “the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war, a ruthless crime family that built an empire out of kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, even trucking.”

The attack lasted 20 hours and killed 27 people, including insurgents. It was the most direct attack on the U.S. embassy since it reopened almost a decade ago. American officials told The New York Times that the attackers had placed calls to Pakistani intelligence agents from their cell phones.

Shortly after the attacks, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Pakistan for providing a safe haven to the Haqqani network and said that the U.S. would do “everything we can to defend our forces.”

On Sept. 22, Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went much further. He accused Pakistan’s intelligence service of directly supporting the apparent Haqqani attacks in Kabul. Mullen also said the ISI provided support for two other recent attacks: a large truck bombing Sept. 10 and an attack on a Kabul hotel in June.

Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while the ISI does not have operational control over the Haqqani network, it is “in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency,” and operates from Pakistan “with impunity.”

U.S. officials have long suggested that the ISI has kept ties with the Haqqanis as a way to maintain influence in Afghanistan, though none has been as blunt as Mullen was. Pakistan is worried primarily about India, and views the Haqqanis as a handy proxy force to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani denied the accusations. Some U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have criticized Mullen’s comments, saying they overstate the situation.

The U.S. has been frustrated for some time with the Pakistani military’s reluctance to engage militants in North Waziristan, a mountainous area of Pakistan where groups that attack U.S. targets in Afghanistan have found refuge.

Though the Obama administration hasn’t provided details on the steps it would be prepared to take, officials have indicated that the U.S. would be ready to act unilaterally if Pakistan doesn’t crack down on the Haqqani network and other terror groups within its borders.

Pakistan’s intelligence service linked to more attacks

The ISI has been suspected of collaborating with some terrorists for years. A ProPublica investigation detailed links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 116 and wounded 308, including six Americans. According to trial testimony from David Coleman Headley, a top reconnaissance operative behind the plot, ISI officers helped to fund and plan the attacks and chose American, Western and Jewish targets for Lashkar to attack. The Headley trial marked the first time that US prosecutors had charged an ISI officer with terrorism. You can read our full investigation here.

The New York Times also reported this week that, according to eyewitnesses, a 2007 ambush on American officials was carried out by Pakistani military and intelligence officers. An anonymous U.N. source told The Times that U.S. officials have known this but kept it quiet in the interest of smoothing relations between the two countries. Pakistani soldiers present during the attack claim that a lone, unbalanced member of Pakistan’s border militia opened fire on the Americans.

Pakistan turns a blind eye to other terror groups

As Time magazine detailed this week, Pakistan has also been hesitant to crack down on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a terrorist group that carries out attacks mostly within Pakistan. LeJ is known to train with al-Qaeda, and has links to the Taliban. The group was also involved in the 2002 killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

According to Time’s report, the military, provincial government, law enforcement and judicial system have all been unable to hold LeJ accountable, empowering the group to attempt bolder attacks.

The group’s leader, Malik Ishaq, was released from prison in July because of a “lack of evidence,” though he is suspected of coordinating a high-profile attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team from prison. Earlier this week, Pakistan put Ishaq under temporary house arrest, and as of yesterday, he is reportedly back behind bars. According to the Agence France-Presse, “rights groups say a persistent lack of action from the government has emboldened sectarian militant groups, blamed for the deaths of thousands in past years.”

Pakistan pushes back

The Pakistani Army announced Monday that it has no new plans to go after the Haqqani network despite increased American pressure.

Prime Minister Gilani said that any unilateral entry of his country by U.S. forces to track down terrorists would be a violation of national sovereignty.

Pakistan has increasingly courted China since the U.S. suspended and canceled millions in aid earlier this summer. While Pakistan has received U.S. aid since the early days of the Cold War, roughly two-thirds of it has come since 9/11 — or $20.7 billion since 2002.

This week, Pakistan’s interior minister offered to help crack down on Chinese militants taking refuge in Pakistan.

Other reports of Pakistani officials aiding terrorists

A recent New Yorker piece about Pakistani journalists who’ve been threatened by the ISI included an interview with Fida Muhammad, an ISI agent who claimed he helped Haqqani fighters travel across the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan. He also claimed that ISI agents had helped a group of insurgents flee from Tora Bora, the area of Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden was hiding in 2001, to Pakistan. From the New Yorker:

Muhammad told me that his most memorable job came in December, 2001, when he was part of a large ISI operation intended to help jihadi fighters escape from Tora Bora — the mountainous region where bin Laden was trapped for several weeks, until he mysteriously slipped away. Muhammad said that when the American bombing of Tora Bora began, in late November, he and other ISI operatives had gone there, and into other parts of eastern Afghanistan, to evacuate training camps whose occupants included Al Qaeda fighters.

"Hay, America, trust us. We're your friends...." NOT!

POLITICS -Lying Republican Group Political Ad

"Pro-Bachmann group says Rick Perry is spending more money than Texas government takes in, covering deficits with record borrowing" 9/1/2011

A group backing U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota for president says Gov. Rick Perry leads a state in fiscal dire straits. In an advertisement targeting South Carolina voters, the narrator says: "This year, Rick Perry is spending more money than the state takes in, covering his deficits with record borrowing."

Talk about news; is Texas state government in the red?

Some perspective: Texas is a "pay-as-you-go" state that, unlike the federal government, cannot borrow money to balance its operating budget. About 45 states have constitutional provisions requiring their budgets to balance, as we noted in a December 2010 fact check. The Texas Constitution says that barring a four-fifths vote of the Legislature, lawmakers may not spend more than the cash and projected revenue that the state comptroller certifies as available for appropriation.

This June, State Comptroller Susan Combs certified the state would have sufficient revenue to fund the 2012-13 state budget that lawmakers sent to Perry, the Austin American-Statesman then reported. Perry signed the budget into law that month.

So how is Texas in the hole?

The Keep Conservatives United super PAC traces its ad claim to an Aug. 23, 2011, Wall Street Journal news article which says the state’s sale that day of $9.8 billion in tax-exempt general obligation tax and revenue anticipation notes, set to mature Aug. 30, 2012, was the largest sale of short-term notes since the state started selling short-term notes in 1987.

"Such notes typically mature within one year," the story says, "and are generally issued by states at the start of their fiscal years to raise cash ahead of incoming tax and revenue receivables for that year."

The story quotes the Texas state comptroller's office saying the notes mainly would be used to support payments to public schools at the beginning of the school year, but also to avoid a temporary cash shortfall in unrestricted accounts in the state's general-revenue fund and so the state could manage its cash flow spending through the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2012.

According to the story, the comptroller projected a maximum temporary cash shortfall of $13.2 billion within fiscal 2012 without the note proceeds and other available borrowing. The state said it expects to start fiscal 2012 with a $1.8 billion negative cash balance in the general revenue fund's unrestricted accounts, and to end the 2012 fiscal year with a negative cash balance of $6.7 billion.

Indeed, those figures are in the comptroller’s offering document describing its intended sale of the notes. But there’s more information, too, indicating the state won’t be in the hole once all funds are taken into account.

The offering document says the notes "currently projects that the maximum temporary cash shortfall within fiscal year 2012 will be $13.2 billion before application of note proceeds and other available interfund and intrafund borrowing." And, the document says, while the Legislature approved a balanced budget, the state "expects to begin fiscal year 2012 on Sept. 1, 2011, with a negative cash balance in the unrestricted accounts in the General Revenue Fund of $1.8 billion. The General Revenue Fund is expected to end fiscal year 2012 with a negative cash balance of $6.7 billion in the unrestricted accounts."

Later, the document says the state’s general revenue kitty has "historically been subject to a temporary cash shortfall during each fiscal year because taxes and other revenues are received more slowly than expenditures are paid through the first eight months of the fiscal year." Hence, the document says, the need for the short-term notes.

So, the state made a record sale of short-term notes and predicted a cash shortfall during the fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31, 2012.

Is that the same as running a budget deficit?

We asked Combs, Billy Hamilton, the state’s former deputy comptroller, and Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, for their views.

Combs’ spokesman R.J. DeSilva replied by email that annual sales of Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes aren’t designed to cover deficits. Instead, he said, they help the state maintain cash-flow. Looking ahead, he said, if there’s insufficient revenue to fulfill state obligations at the end of this fiscal year, the gap will be handled in the next year’s sale of notes.

Hamilton told us it’s been state practice since the late 1980s to sell the short-term notes to smooth out payments — such as those to school districts — over months that state tax revenue isn’t accumulating fast enough to immediately cover expenses.

Craymer, previously a budget adviser to two governors, said by email that the pro-Bachmann group’s claim, based on the comptroller's projection of revenues and spending for the year ending Aug. 31, 2012, overlooks the reality that Texas legislators approve two-year budgets — and the latest budget balances through August 2013.

August 2012, then, is the "mid-point of our budget, not the end point," Craymer said. "It's kind of like criticizing someone who gets paid at the end of each month because they spend more than they take in during the first half of the month."

Craymer added that the tax-anticipation notes sold by the state are "commonly used by states and other government entities to cover spending and revenue timing gaps within the budget. They are short-term notes paid off before the end of each fiscal year, and cannot be used to finance any deficit (in Texas or any other state)."

Craymer said in an interview: "Washington has real debt. The states have to balance their budgets. There’s no logical connection between short-term cash borrowing and a (budget) deficit. That’s a stretch."

Our ruling is that while the state undertook record short-term borrowing, the state is not in the red by any stretch of that characterization. The two-year budget adopted by lawmakers and signed into law by Perry was required to balance--and there’s no indication that it no longer does. The ad’s statement--casting the sale of short-term notes as covering Perry’s deficits--misrepresents a routine annual sale.

This is worse than incorrect. It’s ridiculous. Pants on Fire!

POLITICS - Another Republican Wrong on Health Care Law

"Herman Cain said government bureaucrats will determine when you get a CAT scan once the new health care law begins" 9/22/2011

Herman Cain said at a Republican presidential candidates' debate last week that he would be dead if his cancer had occurred while "Obamacare" was in effect.

Cain had made the statement previously, so Chris Wallace of Fox News asked him about it at the debate sponsored by Fox News and Google in Orlando, Fla.

Wallace: "Mr. Cain, you are a survivor of Stage 4 colon and liver cancer. And you say if 'Obamacare' had been -- (Here Wallace was interrupted by sustained cheers and applause) and we all share in the happiness about your situation, but you say if 'Obamacare' had been in effect when you were first being treated, you'd be dead now. Why?"

Cain: "The reason I said that I would be dead on 'Obamacare' is because my cancer was detected in March of 2006. And from March 2006 all the way to the end of 2006, for that number of months, I was able to get the necessary CAT scan tests, go to the necessary doctors, get a second opinion, get chemotherapy, go to get surgery, recuperate from surgery, get more chemotherapy in a span of nine months.

"If we had been on 'Obamacare' and a bureaucrat was trying to tell me when I could get that CAT scan, that would have delayed my treatment. My surgeons and doctors have told me that because I was able to get the treatment as fast as I could, based upon my timetable, and not the government's timetable, that's what saved my life, because I only had a 30 percent chance of survival. And now I'm here five years cancer-free because I could do it on my timetable and not on a bureaucrat's timetable. This is one of the reasons I believe a lot of people are objecting to 'Obamacare,' because we need to get bureaucrats out of the business of trying to micromanage health care in this nation."

"Obamacare," in case you haven't figured it out yet, is the Republicans' often mocking name for the health care law that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. Some of the changes resulting from the law have already taken effect, including sons and daughters under 26 being allowed to be covered by their parents' health insurance. But many major provisions don't begin until 2014.

Here's the general way the new law works: The major health insurance systems are left in place, especially the health insurance coverage people get through work and Medicare. For people who have to buy insurance on their own, the government adds new regulations for health insurance companies to follow. States will create "exchanges," which are virtual marketplaces where people will be able to comparison shop for insurance. The law says that everyone must have insurance or pay a tax penalty. (That's called the individual mandate, and it's being challenged in federal courts.) People who make modest incomes will qualify for tax breaks to help them buy insurance, and very poor people will be eligible for Medicaid.

What the law is not is a single-payer system, as in Canada, where the government picks up the bills; nor is it a nationalized system like Great Britain's where the government owns hospitals and employs doctors. So if those are the systems Cain had in mind, that's not what the new health care law is. (We asked Cain's campaign what the basis was for his statement, but we didn't hear back.)

Even for people over age 65 in Medicare -- the part of the health care system that most resembles a single-payer plan -- private physicians would still make decisions about scans and treatments.
Still, opponents of the health care law have argued that it will eventually result in bureaucrats making decisions that affect treatment, particularly for Medicare recipients. But those claims have been rated False on our Truth-O-Meter when they have asserted that bureaucrats will make decisions about individual cases.

For example, PolitiFact Georgia looked at a statement from Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., who said that under the health care law, "a bunch of bureaucrats decide whether you get care, such as continuing on dialysis or cancer chemotherapy."

Gingrey said the bureaucrats are part of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB.

The board is a new part of the health care law, and it was created in response to criticism that Congress has been unable to make the politically risky and technically complex decisions needed to slow the growth of costs for Medicare.

Under the health care law, if Medicare spending growth is projected to exceed certain targets, the IPAB must come up with plans to slow the increase. If Congress does not act on the recommendation within a set time frame, the IPAB's plans are automatically implemented.

Both sides of the aisle have problems with the board. Some worry it will be too hard for Congress to overrule IPAB recommendations or that the board will stifle innovation. In recent months, several members of Congress from both parties have signed on to repeal the board.

But saying that the IPAB will determine the course of treatment for individual cases is an entirely different matter -- and it's factually incorrect. Even people who oppose the IPAB agree that it will not intervene in the cases of individual patients but will rather determine how much the government pays health care providers for various services. It can also reduce payments to hospitals with very high rates of readmission or recommend innovations that cut wasteful spending. (See PolitiFact Georgia's fact-check for more details on the IPAB.)

But we should point out here that the IPAB applies to Medicare. Medicare is a government-run health insurance program for those over age 65. When Cain was diagnosed with cancer in March 2006, he would have been 60 -- too young for Medicare. So the IPAB wouldn't even have applied, even if it had been in effect at the time.

We don't know the personal details of Cain's health status or how he is insured. But it's impossible for us to see how a government bureaucrat could have delayed Cain's care. Cain said at the debate that, "If we had been on 'Obamacare' and a bureaucrat was trying to tell me when I could get that CAT scan, that would have delayed my treatment." But there is no part of the health care law that allows a government bureaucrat to weigh in on an individual's course of treatment -- not Cain's nor anyone else's. We rate his statement False.

AMERICA - Economic Inequality, Part-5 (Health)

"Inequality Hurts: The Unhealthy Side Effects of Economic Disparity" (Series Part-5) PBS Newshour 9/28/2011

(Series Part-1, Part-2, Part-3, Part-4, Part-6)


PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour): According to Marmot and colleagues, the stress of low status explains some otherwise puzzling statistics. The U.S. leads the world in health care spending, for example. Yet, in infant mortality, we rank 47, below Malta, Slovenia, Cuba.

In life expectancy, America is 50th, six years less than Macau. In what do we lead the world? Obesity. And given our incomes, we're well up there in economic inequality.

Richard Wilkinson suspects there's a connection.

RICHARD WILKINSON, "The Spirit Level": On lots of different measures of health, more unequal societies seem to do worse.

PAUL SOLMAN: Also a British epidemiologist, Wilkinson is the co-author of "The Spirit Level," which reports a strong correlation between inequality and poor health society-wide.

RICHARD WILKINSON: Societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor do worse on a whole range of measures. They have worse health. They have more violence. They have more drug problems. Standards of child well-being are worse.

PAUL SOLMAN: And not just a little bit worse, says Wilkinson -- sometimes, way worse.

AMERICA - Social Security and the Future

"How Severe Are Problems With Social Security?" PBS Newshour 9/28/2011


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): President Obama has said he's open to finding ways to fix the program's problems.

But he said in the White House Rose Garden last week that any changes to Social Security should be separate and distinct from the current deficit reduction efforts.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have said before, Social Security is not the primary cause of our deficits, but it does face long-term challenges as our country grows older, and both parties are going to need to work together on a separate track to strengthen Social Security for our children and our grandchildren.

One of the interviewees said, "I want to acknowledge this is a political debate. It's going to require compromise." Problem, today's Republican Party (aka Tea Party) will NOT compromise, that's a dirty word in their rightard-dictionary.

They will sacrifice anything and anyone (elderly, sick, poor, middle class, etc) to their edict that nothing is worth paying for, except giveaways to the rich. (aka money is more important than people)

LIBYA - Update, Hunt for Gadhafi and Nation-Building

"Libyan Rebels Press Toward Sirte in Hunt for Gadhafi, Sons" (Part-1) PBS Newshour Transcript 9/28/2011

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): And to the battle for Libya.

Rebel forces pressed again for control of Sirte, a city of 100,000 people, on the main road between Tripoli and Benghazi, still held by Moammar Gadhafi's loyalists. One of the deposed leader's sons may be holed up there too.

We begin with a report from Neil Connery of Independent Television News.

NEIL CONNERY: On the western outskirts of Sirte, the battle for Colonel Gadhafi's hometown grinds on, Libya's revolutionary forces determined to silence those still willing to fight for Gadhafi and claim this prize as their own.

On the front line, with Sirte in their sights, we watched their latest efforts. While the noose is tightening around pro-Gadhafi fighters inside Sirte, the forces of Libya's National Transitional Council are still hoping that they can take full control of Colonel Gadhafi's hometown, but trapped in the middle are tens of thousands of civilians.

Those families who have risked all to flee Sirte speak of the terror endured by its people. Ibrahim (ph) tells me of his family's suffering. His daughter Hadil's (ph) face tells its own story.

"They are really afraid. We had to escape from the city," he says.

They may have left this behind them, but so many remain effectively held as prisoners in this last stand by Gadhafi loyalists. The forces we're with say they have just heard their position is about to be targeted by Gadhafi's men.

MAN: That's what we hear, but actually we are not moving out of this place, even if they shoot at us or bomb at us by their rockets.

NEIL CONNERY: You will stay?

MAN: Of course. Of course we will, because we cannot leave our group in the front.

NEIL CONNERY: Sirte will fall, but it's still not clear when.

While the final chapter in this war can only be written once Colonel Gadhafi's fate is known, what happens here in the former leader's hometown will resonate across the new Libya.

"Libyans Not Hearing Much About Nation-Building Process" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 9/28/2011

HEALTH - WARNING, Contaminated Cantaloupes

"CDC Chief: Source of Deadly Listeria in Contaminated Cantaloupes Still Unknown" PBS Newshour 9/26/2011


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): The government has launched an investigation into the deadliest outbreak of foodborne disease in more than a decade.

The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration say at least 13 people have died so far from listeria found in contaminated cantaloupes. Three other deaths are reportedly under investigation, and 72 people have been sickened.

Scientists have determined the tainted fruit originated at Jensen Farms in eastern Colorado. The melons were shipped to at least 25 states and some foreign countries.

And the number of reported infections is expected to rise.
DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: This is first time we have ever documented this particular bacteria, listeria, in cantaloupe.

And the Food and Drug Administration is currently doing an investigation at the farm to figure out why, so we can prevent future cases of contamination. But the skin, the flesh of the cantaloupe is actually a good place for bacteria to grow. Listeria is quite unusual as a bacteria for a couple of reasons.

One is that, once you eat it, it may be one to three weeks or even one or two months before you become ill. And that's the main reason we expect to see, unfortunately, case numbers rising in the coming weeks. And the second is that it's one of those rare bacteria that can actually grow even when it's refrigerated.

So as you put it in your refrigerator, most food, even if it's contaminated, you will knock down that contamination. But with listeria, the bacteria can continue to grow in your refrigerator, and that's why we tell people to throw out anything from Jensen Farms, any cantaloupe from Jensen Farms.

WORLD - Rent-a-Cops for Immigration Detention Camps

Shades of Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe Services).

"Companies Use Immigration Crackdown to Turn a Profit" by NINA BERNSTEIN, New York Times 9/28/2011


The men showed up in a small town in Australia’s outback early last year, offering top dollar for all available lodgings. Within days, their company, Serco, was flying in recruits from as far away as London, and busing them from trailers to work 12-hour shifts as guards in a remote camp where immigrants seeking asylum are indefinitely detained.

It was just a small part of a pattern on three continents where a handful of multinational security companies have been turning crackdowns on immigration into a growing global industry.

Especially in Britain, the United States and Australia, governments of different stripes have increasingly looked to such companies to expand detention and show voters they are enforcing tougher immigration laws.

Some of the companies are huge — one is among the largest private employers in the world — and they say they are meeting demand faster and less expensively than the public sector could.

But the ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.

“They’re very good at the glossy brochure,” said Kaye Bernard, general secretary of the union of detention workers on the Australian territory of Christmas Island, where riots erupted this year between asylum seekers and guards. “On the ground, it’s almost laughable, the chaos and the inability to function.”

Private prisons in the United States have long stirred controversy. But while there have been conflicting studies about their costs and benefits, no systematic comparisons exist for immigration detention, say scholars like Matthew J. Gibney, a political scientist at the University of Oxford who tracks immigration systems.

Still, Mr. Gibney and others say the pitfalls of outsourcing immigration enforcement have become evident in the past 15 years. “When something goes wrong — a death, an escape — the government can blame it on a kind of market failure instead of an accountability failure,” he said.

In the United States — with almost 400,000 annual detentions in 2010, up from 280,000 in 2005 — private companies now control nearly half of all detention beds, compared with only 8 percent in state and federal prisons, according to government figures. In Britain, 7 of 11 detention centers and most short-term holding places for immigrants are run by for-profit contractors.

HEALTHCARE - Leep of Fath, Supreme Court to Rule on Health Care Law

"Supreme Court Is Asked to Rule on Health Care" by ADAM LIPTAK, New York Times 9/28/2011


The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to hear a case concerning the 2010 health care overhaul law. The development, which came unexpectedly fast, makes it all but certain that the court will soon agree to hear one or more cases involving challenges to the law, with arguments by the spring and a decision by June, in time to land in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign.

The Justice Department said the justices should hear its appeal of a decision by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, that struck down the centerpiece of the law by a 2-to-1 vote.

“The department has consistently and successfully defended this law in several courts of appeals, and only the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it unconstitutional,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “We believe the question is appropriate for review by the Supreme Court.

“Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation, such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed,” the statement continued. “We believe the challenges to the Affordable Care Act — like the one in the 11th Circuit — will also ultimately fail and that the Supreme Court will uphold the law.”

On Monday, the administration announced that it would not seek review from the full 11th Circuit. Its Supreme Court petition was not due until November.

The administration did not explain why it did not take routine litigation steps that might have slowed the progress of the challenges enough to avoid a decision in the current Supreme Court term. It did say in its brief that the 11th Circuit’s decision striking down the central piece of a comprehensive regulatory scheme created “a matter of grave national importance.”

Ballsy step.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SAN DIEGO - Special Tax Zones for Neighborhood Maintenance

"Special Tax for Neighborhood Services Ruled Illegal" by Adrian Florido, Voice of San Diego 9/26/2011

Strapped for cash, the city of San Diego has drastically cut some basic neighborhood services that residents have come to expect. Things like tree trimming and graffiti cleanup.

So in more than 50 neighborhoods, property owners have voted to create special zones requiring them to pay extra taxes used for neighborhood maintenance. They've proliferated citywide, sometimes infuriating residents who don't believe they should pay more for basic services.

But last week, a California appeals court ruled that San Diego had illegally formed one of those special zones, a major victory for a group of residents of Greater Golden Hill, which includes South Park. They argued the city manipulated a vote creating the zone in order to unload the burden of paying for basic services on property owners.

The court sided with the residents, raising questions about whether any other districts have been formed illegally. The ruling made it clear that San Diego must walk a fine line as it copes with budget deficits and tries to find new ways to pay for old services.

The decision means the regular graffiti removal and tree-trimming is likely to end in Golden Hill. Beth Murray, the city's deputy economic development director, said she will ask the City Council to dissolve the neighborhood's zone, which collected about $500,000 annually. She said there are no plans to try to get it re-established.

How They Work

Creating a maintenance assessment district like the one in Golden Hill can often be more art than science, depending on a formula that's up for interpretation.

In order to create one, the city holds a vote by mail. All property owners within the zone who would be taxed can vote and majority support is needed for approval.

But not everyone's vote is the same. Under the rules, property owners pay a higher tax if their property will get more of a benefit from the services. So those property owners' votes are worth more. It's up to the city to develop a formula to decide how much each property would benefit and how much weight each vote gets.

In 2007, Golden Hill property owners approved the special tax. But not long afterward, a group of residents sued the city, arguing that the city had given itself too much influence in the vote.

The city owns 95 parcels in the neighborhood, but almost all of them are canyon land. One parcel is the southeastern corner of Balboa Park.

In its formula, the city made those parcels worth more than four times as much as a single-family home, giving the special tax the votes it needed to pass. But it didn't say why its parcels were worth so much more, something it's required to do.

How Responsibility Shifted

When the tax passed, the city started collecting the money from property owners. The city itself paid $35,000 into the special fund for the 95 properties it owned. At trial, the city's lawyers said those payments made it obvious the city wasn't trying to skirt its obligations.

But for the court, the problem was clear.

The city, it said, "could view $35,000 in special assessment charges a small price to pay to shift over $400,000 in costs for improvements and services ... to the property owners."

State laws say the city also has to show how the taxes will give a special benefit to property owners. The court said the city had also failed to do that.

"This is the first time a neighborhood group has challenged the city's long-standing procedures for forming MADs and won," said John McNab, president of the Golden Hill Neighborhood Association, which challenged the district, also called a MAD for short. "Assuming that other MADs were formed in the same way, it has implications for existing MADs and for those on the drawing board."

Murray, of the city's economic development division, said the Golden Hill zone was the only one she knew of that had been challenged in court. She said the Golden Hill case and similar cases in other cities have taught the city about what is and is not acceptable when it's trying to create special tax zones. It isn't clear how many other maintenance assessment districts might face similar issues.

Her department oversees nine of them, while the city's park department manages more than 40.

The special taxes can be controversial, but in places like Little Italy, they've been used to turn previously lackluster areas into bustling neighborhood centers. In many neighborhoods, residents see them as unfortunate but necessary funding tools for neighborhood upkeep, given the city's dire financial picture.

But as San Diego makes deeper cuts to neighborhood services each year, residents have questioned whether their creation just gives the city a free pass and gives officials less of a sense of urgency to fix the financial problems that can make special taxes appealing.

That was a sentiment in North Park this year, when property owners voted to reject a new maintenance assessment district there. North Park already has one, and the vote would have created a second layer of special taxes in a subset of the neighborhood, including an area where bars and restaurants have proliferated in recent years.

MAD = Middletown Neighborhood Association

Although there is an apparent be a problem with one zone, the zones are a good idea as long as the process is fair. It is a way to deal with the city budget deficits when the neighborhood is willing to foot the bill.

WORLD - Rejection of Conventional Political Structures

"As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe" by NICHOLAS KULISH, New York Times 9/27/2011


Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strike. Israel reels before the largest street demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and Greece take over public squares across their countries.

Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.

They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.

“Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless.”

Economics have been one driving force, with growing income inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social spending breeding widespread malaise. Alienation runs especially deep in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens, erupted into violence.

But even in India and Israel, where growth remains robust, protesters say they so distrust their country’s political class and its pandering to established interest groups that they feel only an assault on the system itself can bring about real change.

Young Israeli organizers repeatedly turned out gigantic crowds insisting that their political leaders, regardless of party, had been so thoroughly captured by security concerns, ultra-Orthodox groups and other special interests that they could no longer respond to the country’s middle class.

In the world’s largest democracy, Anna Hazare, an activist, starved himself publicly for 12 days until the Indian Parliament capitulated to some of his central demands on a proposed anticorruption measure to hold public officials accountable. “We elect the people’s representatives so they can solve our problems,” said Sarita Singh, 25, among the thousands who gathered each day at Ramlila Maidan, where monsoon rains turned the grounds to mud but protesters waved Indian flags and sang patriotic songs.

“But that is not actually happening. Corruption is ruling our country.”

Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.

The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.

The juncture of technology and freedom of speech.

Now we only have to remember that "like-minded individuals" includes the crazies and fanatics with agendas that are not good for the public.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ON THE LITE SIDE - Portal to Another Dimension


AMERICA - Unemployment in the South

"The Nation’s Unemployment Landscape"
(click image for better view)

"Deep Recession Sharply Altered U.S. Jobless Map" by MICHAEL COOPER, New York Times 9/26/2011


When the unemployment rate rose in most states last month, it underscored the extent to which the deep recession, the anemic recovery and the lingering crisis of joblessness are beginning to reshape the nation’s economic map.

The once-booming South, which entered the recession with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, is now struggling with some of the highest rates, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show.

Several Southern states — including South Carolina, whose 11.1 percent unemployment rate is the fourth highest in the nation — have higher unemployment rates than they did a year ago. Unemployment in the South is now higher than it is in the Northeast and the Midwest, which include Rust Belt states that were struggling even before the recession.

For decades, the nation’s economic landscape consisted of a prospering Sun Belt and a struggling Rust Belt. Since the recession hit, though, that is no longer the case. Unemployment remains high across much of the country — the national rate is 9.1 percent — but the regions have recovered at different speeds.

Now, with the concentration of the highest unemployment rates in the South and the West, some economists wonder if it is an anomaly of the uneven recovery or a harbinger of things to come.

“Because the recovery is so painfully slow, people may begin to think of the trends established during the recovery as normal,” said Howard Wial, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program who recently co-wrote an economic analysis of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. “Will people think of Florida, California, Nevada and Arizona as more or less permanently depressed? Think of the Great Lakes as being a renaissance region? I don’t know. It’s possible.”

The West has the highest unemployment in the nation. The collapse of the housing bubble left Nevada with the highest jobless rate, 13.4 percent, followed by California with 12.1 percent. Michigan has the third-highest rate, 11.2 percent, as a result of the longstanding woes of the American auto industry.

Now, though, of the states with the 10 highest unemployment rates, six are in the South. The region, which relied heavily on manufacturing and construction, was hit hard by the downturn.

POLITICS - Portrait of Chicago Mayor in Progress

"After 100 Days as Chicago's Mayor, How Is Rahm Emanuel Faring?" PBS Newshour 9/26/2011


EDDIE ARRUZA, WTTW: In his first 100 days as mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel lived up to his reputation, that of being tireless, demanding, and in control. He's taken on the Chicago public school system.

RAHM EMANUEL, (D) mayor of Chicago: Teachers will be on a performance-pay system. Principals will be on a performance-pay system.

EDDIE ARRUZA: Ordered Chicago cops on desk duty to hit the streets.

RAHM EMANUEL: We do that to bring a level of safety to our communities that have not had it.

EDDIE ARRUZA: And put city workers on notice.

RAHM EMANUEL: The effort here is to make sure that everybody knows who we work for and who we're accountable to, which is the residents of the city of Chicago and the taxpayers.

EDDIE ARRUZA: By his 99th day in office, the mayor was boasting of having completed or set in motion dozens of initiatives, everything from posting the city budget online to making bike lanes safer. Even some independent-minded Chicago City Council members acknowledge that the new mayor is, if nothing else, determined.

ECONOMY - Global Hope, Greek Bailout

"Global Markets Rally as Hope Emerges for Greek Bailout" (Part-1) PBS Newshour Transcript 9/26/2011


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): European markets were calmer today amid signs of new efforts to stop the debt crisis in Greece from damaging the global economy. At the World Bank in Washington this weekend, the U.S. and other major economies pushed for stronger European action. During an appearance in Mountain View, Calif., today, President Obama spoke about the urgency of the situation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So, they're going through a financial crisis that is scaring the world, and they're trying to take responsible actions. But those actions haven't been quite as quick as they need to be.

RAY SUAREZ: And, today, officials at the European Central Bank confirmed talks are under way on creating a large, permanent rescue fund.

In Greece, the front pages of newspapers and the streets of Athens were abuzz about the possibility of new help for their hard-pressed country.

MAN (through translator): I'm hoping something good will come out of it and they won't allow us to proceed to bankruptcy.

WOMAN (through translator): Everything is gloomy, gloomy. We can only believe things will be OK.

RAY SUAREZ: All 17 countries in the Euro bloc must approve strengthening the debt rescue package before any such plan can be enacted.

According to reports today, it would be modeled on the TARP program used in the U.S. after the 2008 financial crisis. The existing European bailout fund totals just under $600 billion. By some accounts, it could be increased to $2 trillion.

As things stand, without more bailout funding, Greece could run out of money by mid-October. So the Greek government has been imposing more austerity measures and proposing new taxes to make sure it qualifies for the help.

VANGELIS AGAPITOS, economist: I think our European partners, and Germany in particular, they want additional assurances that Greece will deliver on its promises as agreed on the 21st of July of this year, while at the same time Greece needs to have the comfort that Europe will be on time to provide any further installments.

RAY SUAREZ: But the cutbacks in Greece have also sparked new outrage. In Athens today, metro, tram and suburban rail workers held a 24-hour strike. Bus and trolley service was halted for several hours. The Greek police, faced with personnel cuts, also voiced their frustration. A special guard unit hung a banner on the city's tallest hill that reads "The Greek police mourn."

Tomorrow, the Greek Parliament is set to vote on a key part of the austerity package. It's a new property tax that would be paid through electricity bills.

"Amid New Strikes in Greece, 'a Constant Tension in the Air'" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 9/26/2011

Monday, September 26, 2011


"Shields and Brooks on Romney vs. Perry, Disaster Aid Deadlock in Congress" PBS Newshour Transcript 9/23/2011

Excerpt on FEMA shutdown

JIM LEHRER (Editor, Newshour): All right, let's go to the two votes in Congress, yesterday in the House and this morning in the Senate, about -- well, the bottom line is, are we going to have another "shut down the government" crisis?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times columnist: Yes, well, I look at history, and I assume that we will just do just enough to stay stagnant and miserable. We never seem to solve our problems, but we never quite walk off the precipice. So I'm going to assume that's going to happen again.

You know, substantively, I disagree with both parties. I don't think we should offset our disaster spending with cuts elsewhere. I don't particularly think we should do corporate welfare for electric cars either. So I think they're both wrong.

But the main takeaway, I think, is the whole world is now in a very precarious situation. Europe is sliding off the edge of a cliff, banks in Europe really teetering, our economy really looking like it may go through a double-dip. And they're fighting over this stuff.


DAVID BROOKS: It's just unnerving.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, it raises the question. You think, what is it about -- that's going on in this country that the members of Congress don't understand and don't understand the polls that show them, what, 82 percent unfavorable? And they're still playing the same games, like nothing has happened.

Why? What is it they don't get? And it's both Republicans and Democrats in this case.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: Yes. Well, I think they came back chastened and severely defensive after the August recess, because after the showdown and the debt ceiling being raised, both sides were hurt, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House was hurt. The Congress was hurt institutionally, politically, across the board.

This is interesting. I mean, this really is -- we have voted literally hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. And this is -- you're talking about $7 trillion to rebuild, in fact, the storm-ravaged United States.

And I think -- I think the Democrats, quite honestly, part of this is the chemistry of -- they have been rolled, they feel, on every showdown, I mean, starting last December, in April and in August, and there was sort of a -- I can't say manhood, because that's no longer an appropriate term, but there was a sense of, we have to earn and stand up and we're not going to take this any longer.

JIM LEHRER: Show how tough we are, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: And I think there will be a showdown. I agree with David. There will not be a shutdown.

JIM LEHRER: But there will be a show -- so, but what is the showdown about now? I mean, is it still about little things? They're not having a showdown about anything large, are they?

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, it's Pavlov dog time. It's: We can do things. We're fighting for you guys, for our base, those guys saying, we're fighting for our base.

And right now, both bases are feeling pretty good, actually. Some of us are left out. But Obama came out, tax increases for the rich. Liberals are feeling pretty good. The Republicans saying, we're not doing business as usual, we're going to shut things down, conservatives feeling pretty good.

Whether we're actually governing, that's another question. But I do think it's a combination of that. And the minusculeness of what they're trying to do is just a function of being stuck in the little pressure zone in Washington.

JIM LEHRER: And that's going to continue?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, I think that FEMA is going to run out of money. I think it's a legitimate place to make a stand.

But I do think that there is an awareness that this doesn't look good in the country and, at some point, that it could lead in fact to a -- just a surge on the part of voters against incumbents in both parties.

EDUCATION - Changing "No Child Left Behind"

"Obama Offers States an Exit to Parts of 'No Child Left Behind' Law" PBS Newshour 9/23/2011


TOM BEARDEN (Newshour): Amid bipartisan praise, President Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in 2002. The sweeping education reform sought to make sure more public schools and more students performed up to expectations.

But, almost 10 years later, President Obama said today, the law wasn't working.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that. Higher standards are the right goal. Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal. And we've got to stay focused on those goals.

But experience has taught us that, in its implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children, instead of helping them.

TOM BEARDEN: The president said the law's heavy reliance on annual testing led educators to teach to the test and de-emphasize history and science, in the quest to improve reading and math scores.

Despite that effort, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that more than 80 percent of the nation's schools risk being labeled failures under the law by 2014. So, the president today announced waivers for states if they offer their own plans that meet federal standards.

BARACK OBAMA: We can't let another generation of young people fall behind because we didn't have the courage to recognize what doesn't work, admit it, and replace it with something that does.

TOM BEARDEN: Mr. Obama insisted he is not weakening the law, but helping states set higher standards. And he said congressional delay in addressing the issue had forced his hand.

BARACK OBAMA: Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.

COMMENT: The reason states did what they did, is because the law effects the federal education funds available to them. The current implementation of the law is typical one-shoe-fits-all approach, which often does NOT work.

More excerpts

JACK DALE, Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools: Well, I think the goals, as Kati just said, are lofty and appropriate.

What you see in the classroom is this obsession with testing, instead of an obsession with learning. And because we have been so much around the testing side of it, we haven't paid attention to kids actually learning and all of the different things besides just learning to read and do computations with mathematics, but learning how to think critically, how to problem-solve, how to work with other kids and that kind of thing.

So the feedback I get repeatedly from parents is way too much focus on testing. So that's one of the challenges right there. The other challenge was moving up the bar every year to assume that, in a given instant, 100 percent of the kids would always pass the test. And we had this focus on a one-shot piece of testing, as opposed to change that I think we should have is one where you can focus on kids: Did you learn? Did you not? If you didn't learn it, then how can you relearn it and then demonstrate your competence?
JACK DALE: And then we have local community members who want yet something different. So, one of the things I want to see in this flexibility is, for us, particularly in the community I serve, is, I can't just focus on reading and math. I have got to focus on a lot richer set of skills for kids in critical thinking and problem-solving, complex problems of the world.
KATI HAYCOCK, Education Trust: That's not changing in -- but what is changing is the balance between federal and state is righter, I think, this time.

What essentially the federal government is suggesting is that we still have a need to move our country ahead quickly in education, both for all kids and for the kids who have been behind. But we're going to set the goals here, keep that tight, but keep looser how you get there.

And so what I think this is likely to do, although it won't happen overnight, is begin get more ownership from states and fewer conflicts between federal and state ideas about what should be done, which should make it easier for reform-minded educators to move ahead.

MIDDLE EAST - Campaign for Palestinian Statehood

"Abbas Takes Campaign for Palestinian Statehood to U.N." (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/23/2011


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The Palestinians took their campaign for statehood to the U.N. today, defying U.S. warnings. The Israelis made their case as well, insisting any such move will only make an ultimate peace harder to come by.

Hours before their leaders spoke at the U.N., Palestinian stone- throwers clashed with Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh. And one man was killed in the town of Qusra. But, in Ramallah, Palestinians celebrated peacefully, anticipating their official bid for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood.

And, later, at the U.N., Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally handed the request to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, seeking action by the Security Council. The U.S. opposed the move. But Abbas won long applause before the U.N. General Assembly.


RAY SUAREZ: He charged that negotiating for statehood was meaningless so long as Israel continues building settlements in the West Bank.

COMMENT: The last sentence above is a truth.

"After Palestinian Statehood Bid, Where Do Mideast Talks Stand?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 9/23/2011

MEDIA - On the Latest Disaster Movie, "Contagion"

"'Contagion' Reality Check: CDC Experts Explore Some of the Film's Scenarios" by Talea Miller, PBS Newshour 9/23/2011

The box-office hit "Contagion," a movie about a lethal airborne virus that kills within days, is still a top dramatic draw going into the weekend.

The film has drawn interest not just for its suspense and star-studded cast, but also for trying to realistically represent how an emerging disease could sweep across today's highly inter-connected world.

So just how plausible is some of the science represented in "Contagion"? A group of Centers for Disease Control experts helped the NewsHour sort through some of the facts and found there is much in the film that relates to real life (additional information provided by the World Health Organization):

Contagion scenario: The deadly disease in the movie is modeled off a combination of influenza and a virus called Nipah, which causes inflammation of the brain and respiratory disease.

Reality check: Take a deep breath and stop Googling Nipah vaccines -- for now -- this combination disease is a Hollywood concoction and can't exist in the real world, CDC virus experts told the NewsHour.

"Influenza and Nipah have incompatible genomes that are not capable of recombination in nature," the CDC said in an email.

But Nipah is a real emerging disease in South Asia and can cause deadly brain inflammation in humans. It killed 105 patients in an outbreak in Malaysia in 1999, and caused 49 deaths in India during an outbreak in 2001.

Most Nipah outbreaks have not spread widely in humans, however, and have resulted in only a handful of cases. CDC virologists say Nipah is not highly consistent with a pathogen that could cause a global pandemic.

Currently there are no effective treatments or vaccines for the disease.

Contagion scenario: The virus is so transmissible it spreads to new locations around the globe within days.

Reality check: This setup is plausible and has already occurred twice, said the CDC, with the outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003 in Asia, and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. SARS spread to 13 countries on three continents in less than a month, and H1N1 spread globally within weeks.

Contagion scenario: The fictional virus reaches humans through a series of animal encounters: a bat eats some fruit then drops it in a pig pen, the pig eats it, then is butchered and handled by a chef who comes in contact with Gwenyth Paltrow.

Reality check: Pigs and bats are both real life culprits in Nipah outbreaks. The disease passed to humans through contact with infected pigs in Malaysia and Singapore, and through consuming fruit that was contaminated with urine or saliva from infected bats in Bangladesh and India. Bats in particular make great reservoir hosts for disease, meaning they can harbor the pathogen indefinitely with no ill effects.

"Contact with bats (or contact with intermediate animal hosts that acquired infection from bats) is a common theme among some recent emerging human infections," said the CDC.

SARS, Ebola and avian flu, are just a few of the many other diseases humans share with animals. Food markets and food preparation are also a known path for disease to spread to humans -- the SARS outbreak in 2003 was traced to human contact with an animal called a civet cat, which is sold for food in China.

Contagion scenario: As the disease rages on, quick work by scientists leads to a vaccine being developed within about four months.

Reality check: In the case of an entirely new virus emerging, developing a vaccine that fast would be unlikely, says the CDC. Flu vaccines, which are developed every year, take four to six months to create at minimum. For a brand new threat, identifying a new virus, formulating a vaccine, and taking safety of the vaccine into account would all take time.

"Assuming a vaccine can be created -- that could take more time than 4 to 6 months," the CDC said.

Contagion scenario: A process called contact tracing is carried out in the film by investigators trying to trace the disease through paths of social networks and interactions.

Reality check: This procedure is widely used during epidemiology investigations. It gives health authorities a sense of the extent of exposure and is used to develop the public health response in an emergency, said CDC.

Investigators will interview a patient or family members, track down patient's contacts, retrace steps, screening people along the way and trying to identify the source. This process is used in everything from sexually transmitted diseases, to food-borne illness as was seen in efforts to trace the origin of the E.coli outbreak in Europe earlier this year.

It's a labor intensive process, and privacy concerns have been raised in some cases, but it is considered a vital tool in outbreak response, especially early on before disease has spread too widely.

Contagion is not the first movie of this subject, here is a small list:

...and many with the title "Pandemic" including a 2006 release staring Tiffani Thiessen.

Should I say.... the above list is from my DVD collection.