Tuesday, January 31, 2012

MEDIA - A Different Media Star

"Hans Rosling Brings Life, Humor, Sword-Swallowing to Global Health Statistics"
PBS Newshour 1/30/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Can you almost feel when the lights are going on, when people are saying, aha?

DR. HANS ROSLING, Professor of International Health: Yes, we have.

But it's also -- you have to check after a year if it's still there. And the old concept of the Western world and developing world is very strong. And it's also because it's sort of frightening. People think it's frightening with this Asia and Africa here.

No, these are customers. These are partners. And prosperity in the rest of the world means more peace. The U.S. armed forces doesn't have to make so many interventions in the world if we have less conflict. So it's sort of a new vision about the world we must have.

Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes
The Joy of Stats



EUROPE - Brussels, Austerity and Protests

"Protests Against Austerity Measures Greet EU Members in Brussels" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/30/2012


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): It's their 17th meeting in two years, trying to tame an economic crisis that threatens to ensnare Europe in another recession.

Leaders of the 27 E.U. member states arrived in a Belgian capital nearly paralyzed by a general strike. The union-led protests targeted austerity measures in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe, like raising taxes and retirement ages and slashing government spending to reduce deficits and crushing debt.

But now, with unemployment rates rising and growth rates declining in many countries, E.U. leaders are reaching beyond the idea that austerity alone is the answer. Today's summit credo instead was jobs and growth.

British Prime Minister David Cameron instituted a cuts-only agenda at home, but the British economy has been reeling.

DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: We need to get really serious about the growth agenda in Europe. That means completing the single market. It means signing trade deals with the fastest-growing parts of the world. And it means a serious effort at deregulation, particularly for small businesses, so they can create the jobs and the growth that we need.

MARGARET WARNER: Which may be easier said than done.

With large debt loads in many countries, the economic arsenals available to European nations are severely depleted. And many of the measures discussed today, like funding apprenticeships and training for unemployed youth, would do little to improve growth in the short term.

At the same time, austerity remained part of the picture. The leaders today signed off on a fiscal pact first outlined in December that would impose much stricter budget discipline and potential sanctions on those who sign up. Today, all 17 Eurozone countries did and eight of the 10 outside the common currency.

There was no action on the euro nation in most serious jeopardy, Greece. It remains in talks to restructure its private debt, a precondition to get the next installment of E.U. bailout funds. And doubts about the Greek effort to reform had some leaders echoing a mandate from another era of summits -- trust, but verify.

FREDRIK REINFELDT, Swedish prime minister: They're not delivering on their own promises when it comes to reforms. We're all in this together, but we need to ensure that we all do what we promise others.

MARGARET WARNER: What also wasn't agreed today was increasing the size of the European-backed bailout fund for countries that do get in trouble. But that is sure to be on the agenda at the next E.U. summit in March.

"At EU Summit, a New Focus on Growth, Not Just Austerity" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 1/30/2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

SYRIA - Spiraling Escalation of Violence

"News of Escalated Violence in Syria Troubles Arab League Monitors" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/27/2012

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): The violence continued in Syria today with fighting in Homs, Hama, and Idlib. Activists reported at least 74 people were killed in the last two days.

Also today, Syrian insurgents said they're holding seven Iranians hostage, and wouldn't release them until the government frees a rebel army officer and stops military operations in Homs.

We have this report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The protesters brandished their weapons in Idlib today. Their slogan: "We have the right to defend ourselves."

So much for the idea of a peaceful uprising. Many are now preparing for a protracted armed struggle against the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

MAN (through translator): No matter what you do, however much you terrorize us and however many of our children you kill, we will prevail. God is with us.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The defecting soldiers who call themselves the Free Syrian Army drove onto the streets of Homs today as the crowds massed. They were mourning some 30 people killed in fighting with government forces before dawn, and a similar number who died yesterday, amongst them eight children killed with knives.

The pictures are too gruesome to show. Opposition activists say they were victims of government thugs. Several neighborhoods in Homs now show the marks of war. An activist shot this video of a building which collapsed on Tuesday after being shelled, killing 18 people inside.

"That's my brother's toy bear," she says. "And this doll used to sing. Look, it's ruined."

The town of Hama echoed to the sound of shelling and rocket fire this morning. A defector who oversaw the defense budget until a month ago told Channel 4 News today that Iran is helping the Syrian government with weapons and snipers.

MAHMOUD HAJ HAMAD, former Syrian defense ministry auditor (through translator): There are planes loaded with cash coming from Iran. I would estimate about $6 billion has arrived so far. There were Iranian snipers. I saw them going into the security compounds. I heard them speaking Farsi. What business do they have there?

LINDSEY HILSUM: The head of the Arab League observer mission said today there's been a significant increase in violence over the past three days. There were even deaths and injuries in normally quiet Aleppo today, but there's no solution in sight, and the Russians have said they will veto the proposed resolution at the U.N. Security Council tonight.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret Warner takes it from there.

"In Syria, Reports of 'Daily Double-Digit Death Tolls'" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 1/27/2012

IMHO Syria is spiraling toward civil war, if it's not there already. Very sad situation.

EDDUCATION - Linkage, Financial Aid to College's Cost?

"Should Financial Aid Be Linked to a College's Affordability?" PBS Newshour 1/27/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The president specifically targeted the rising cost of college, and the student loans often needed to cover the hefty price tag.

The College Board reports the average in-state tuition at four-year public institutions rose 8.3 percent last fall, much faster than inflation. Together with room and board, the total exceeds $17,000 a year. By comparison, at private institutions, that number jumps to more than $38,000 per year on average.

In the spring, the average college graduate left school with about $24,000 in student loans to pay off. And last October, for the first time ever, Americans owed more on student loans than on credit cards.

Today, as he did at his State of the Union earlier in the week, the president said he's putting colleges on notice.

BARACK OBAMA: You can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down. We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don't.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Obama also proposed a billion-dollar grant program that would provide more funding to states that help bring college costs down as well.

In addition, the president pushed for action from Congress on measures that would extend a tuition tax break, and keep the rate of the most common type of student loan from doubling in July.

ECONOMY - Lots of Ground to Make Up

"Growth Accelerates, but U.S. Has Lots of Ground to Make Up" by CATHERINE RAMPELL, New York Times 1/27/2012

The American economy picked up a little steam last quarter, growing at its fastest pace in a year and a half. Whether it can sustain that momentum is critical to millions of Americans out of work — and perhaps President Obama’s re-election chances.

The nation’s economic output grew at an annualized rate of 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department reported Friday, probably putting to rest last summer’s fears that a second recession was imminent. Other reports this week on manufacturing and consumer sentiment offered similar, if mild, encouragement.

“All in all, it’s not bad, but there’s no oomph,” said Jay Feldman, an economist at Credit Suisse.

Forecasts have called for such slow growth that the Federal Reserve on Wednesday said it planned to keep interest rates near zero through 2014. Even with the pickup in output, the pace last quarter was below the average of economic expansions in the United States since World War II. Given how much ground was lost during the Great Recession, the United States economy needs above-average growth right now.

Government spending is not helping, either. Not because it’s too big — but because it’s shrinking at a rapid pace.

Spending at the federal, state and local levels fell at an annual rate of 4.6 percent last quarter, providing a significant drag on total gross domestic product. At least at the state and local levels, the cuts are likely to continue as municipal governments shed workers and public services.

At the federal level, the biggest cuts were in national defense, which fell at a whopping annual rate of 12.5 percent. That’s an unusually large dip, and economists do not expect to see it repeated in the beginning of 2012.

But legislators may wield the ax elsewhere in the federal budget.

Congress has not decided whether to renew a temporary payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits past February, when both are scheduled to expire. Allowing these benefits to lapse would shave a percentage point off gross domestic product growth this year, said Ian Shepherdson, chief United States economist at High Frequency Economics.

“A great deal is at stake,” said Alan B. Krueger, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “Continuing that support for household consumption is extremely important for sustaining and strengthening the recovery.”

Growth in the fourth quarter was also driven mostly by companies rebuilding their stockroom inventories, not by consumers who were shopping more or foreign businesses buying more American-made products. And companies are likely to have only so much appetite for refilling their back-room shelves if consumers are still unwilling to buy those products.

Consumer spending rose at an annual pace of 2 percent, slightly better than the 1.7 percent in the previous quarter, Friday’s report showed. But based on early data, it looks as if consumer spending deteriorated toward the end of the year. This may be because of unseasonably warm December weather, which probably lowered families’ household electricity and gas bills. Consumers also benefited from lower gasoline prices, but appear to remain concerned about stagnant incomes.

“We did have some relief on gasoline prices in the fourth quarter, but that didn’t cause people to go out and spend more vigorously,” said Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight. “It just means they didn’t have to dip into savings.”

One of the more positive surprises in the report was in housing. Investments in sectors like home construction and repairs rose 10.9 percent last quarter. The housing sector is so small now, though, that it didn’t provide much energy.

Some economists found signs for optimism in other recent economic reports. New orders for manufactured durable goods, reported on Thursday, exceeded economists’ expectations in December by growing 3 percent.

Credit to small businesses has also been expanding steadily over the last year.

“I talk to banks and I talk to small businesses, and I promise you, credit’s been the main problem, just as it is after every financial crisis,” Mr. Shepherdson said. “Once you see credit start to grow again, provided there are no other encumbrances” — like last year’s Arab Spring, Japanese earthquake or debt ceiling debacle — “we should see small businesses expanding and hiring.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, echoed that sentiment, saying that the critical risks to the American economy were a worsening of Europe’s chronic sovereign debt crisis or a rise in tensions between Iran and the international community, which could stoke global oil prices. He said he expected the United States to grow about 2 to 3 percent this year, ahead of the 1.7 percent growth in 2011. Last year was the slowest growth in a non-recessionary year since 1947, economists at Credit Suisse said.

Many of the bigger American companies have reported strong profits in recent months, too.

Companies like General Electric and Lockheed Martin closed the year with record order backlogs, a sign that, at least for some businesses, demand is so strong that they cannot produce quickly enough. The backlogs portend solid growth in coming quarters, and suggest to some economists that the United States could weather the European debt crisis relatively unscathed after all.

On the other hand, corporate success has not translated into big benefits for American workers and consumers so far in this recovery. Today, the nation produces more than it did when the recession began in 2007, but it manages to do so with six million fewer jobs.

Companies seem reluctant to use their mounting profits to invest in new workers.

“Businesses have been holding much higher levels of cash than they have in past,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economist at RDQ Economics.

The bottom line is that our economy cannot clime out of a 8yr hole in just 4yrs. It is going to be a longer haul.

Friday, January 27, 2012

POLITICS - President Obama vs Congress

"Obama vs. Congress: Good Re-election Strategy for President?" PBS Newshour 1/26/2012


KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour): It's a theme President Obama hits in nearly every appearance these days, urging Congress to act, as he did today in Las Vegas.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Your voices convinced Congress to extend this middle-class tax cut before. I need your help to make sure they do it again, no drama, no delay. Let's just get this done.

KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, criticizing the inaction of Congress apparently has become a key part of the Obama reelection strategy. He first laid out the theme last October, pushing his jobs bill.

BARACK OBAMA: The question then is: Will Congress do something?

If Congress does something, then I can't run against a do-nothing Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it's not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town because they are frustrated and they know we need to do some -- something big and something bold.

KWAME HOLMAN: The confrontation pits the president squarely against Republicans, who now control the House and have the votes to block his proposals in the Senate.

They went toe to toe with Mr. Obama last summer over raising the federal debt ceiling, and later over extending the payroll tax break and long-term unemployment benefits. Those measures passed, but much of the rest of the president's agenda has languished.

And the battle has taken a toll on Congress' public approval rating. It stood at just 13 percent in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

The Senate's Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, says it is no surprise.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: I understand why the American people look at Congress and shake their head, what is this all about, because we have not been able to accomplish things the American people think they need and deserve. And we can't do it because this has been the most obstructive year of Congress that I can imagine, and I have been in a lot of Congresses.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the leader of the Senate's powerful minority, Republican Mitch McConnell, argues the Congress is not solely to blame.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were confronted with the same situation, where they had a Congress that wouldn't give them everything they wanted, and they managed to lead and to reach agreements and to be successful. This president has chosen to play the blame game.

Sen. McConnell, the current political climate is NOT the same as it was for President Clinton. Your party, the Republican Party, has become locked in the no-compromise mode. Just look at the "pledge" you had candidates sign. The Republican Party of the Clinton years WAS willing to compromise.

Your party has also been in the get-rid-of-Obama mode since the day after he was elected. The Republican election campaign is not just 2012, it started in 2008.

ALSO SEE: ECONOMY - In Our Age of Austerity = Nastier Politics

AMERICA - The Future of U.S. Manufacturing Jobs

"How Many Manufacturing Jobs Can U.S. Realistically Maintain?" PBS Newshour 1/26/2012


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Now, the prospects for creating a more robust manufacturing sector in the U.S. It's a theme both President Obama and the Republican candidates are sounding this week as they talk about reviving a stronger economy.

Ray Suarez explores the challenges ahead, beginning with some background.
RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The U.S. remains the world's largest manufacturing economy. Roughly 9 percent of the American workforce -- about 12 million Americans -- are employed directly in manufacturing today.

But as jobs have increasingly moved to Asia and elsewhere, the role of manufacturing is down sharply from the industry's heyday. To encourage the opening of new plants, the president is proposing more training, additional education and new tax incentives.
RAY SUAREZ: A gap in science and engineering is fueling other problems. A new report released by the National Science Board last week showed the U.S. has lost 28 percent of high-tech manufacturing jobs, or nearly 700,000 jobs, since 2000.

ECONOMY - In Our Age of Austerity = Nastier Politics

"In an 'Age of Austerity,' How Scarce Resources Could Shape U.S. Politics" PBS Newshour 1/26/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): The economy and battles over government spending in a time of belt-tightening are not only helping shape the 2012 presidential campaign. They're also redefining American politics, and potentially the United States' place in the world.

That's the argument in a new book by former Washington Post political reporter Thomas Edsall. He's now a professor of journalism at Columbia University. And he writes a column for The New York Times. The book is "The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics."

And author Tom Edsall joins us now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because you are clearly worried where this country headed, where American politics is headed. What has you so concerned?

THOMAS EDSALL, "The Age of Austerity: Well, what's happened, I think, in the past -- really since the collapse, economic collapse, is that the country now is -- has become dominated by the issue of debt and deficits.

And there is a serious problem in the long run over the rising cost of Medicare and perhaps some other entitlements. And this stuff has to be addressed over time. The result, though, has been to change the basic nature of American politics, from one in which you could have compromise with a growing economy, some people are going to get tax cuts, other people could get social programs, to one now it where it's a zero sum or negative sum competition.

Somebody's going to take a hit. It's no longer a nice friendly game. It's who's going to get hurt. That makes for -- we already had a polarized politics. When you add this notion that politics now is one not just of what can I get out of it, but what do I have to do to the other people to get what I want, that makes it a much nastier and much more hostile circumstance.

And I think the 2011 Congress basically affirmed much of this kind of character of politics. And the fight now is a much more serious and brutal fight over, basically, economics and how do you cut up a smaller and smaller pie.

Another excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF: You describe two very different sets of adversaries here in Republicans and Democrats. You see them as qualitatively different people. Is that what you're saying?

THOMAS EDSALL: There's a lot of evidence and there's been a lot of study of the psychology, the values, the world outlook of conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans.

A lot of this has become more intense since the culture wars and the civil rights movement and the women's rights movement. There's been a real divide. And there is a different world view held by liberals and Democrats from that held by conservatives and Republicans. They're not totally antithetical. They share many -- they're both human beings, but they put priorities on very different things.

Liberals are very concerned with compassion and fairness. Conservatives have what one person describes as a broader spectrum, but not as much focus on compassion and fairness, but also on issues of sanctity, of a different kind of fairness. Their opposition to affirmative action, for example, is a different kind of fairness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, you go so far as to say conservatives are willing to inflict harm. You're pretty tough on conservatives.

From that standpoint, Tom Edsall, is this a partisan book?

THOMAS EDSALL: No, I don't think so, although it's going to be accused of that.

But, actually, the idea that conservatives are willing to inflict harm is not necessarily a criticism. If you are in a fight, and you're fighting to protect what you have, being loyal to your own people is not necessarily a bad thing. If you and your family had to protect what your child is getting and what your husband and so forth -- if they face serious threats of lost goods, in effect, you're fighting for them, and, in fact, if that meant someone else had to get hurt, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

So to hear that as a fault is not really right, I don't think. It's a different value structure. Conservatives have a much stronger in-group sense and out-group sense. And they see the in-group as one to be protected. You can see this in Congress, where they are protecting their tax cuts, they're protecting what they want.

And they see the out-group as an adversary, which they are much more willing to cut benefits, for example, for poor people and for those who are not those within the conservative Republican constellation.

COMMENT: Note that in the context (the economy) of Mr. Edsall's comments, the nastiness of politics ALSO applies in the context of resources, like food. As the world's population grows and more food is needed but unavailable, the same political nastiness will result.

I also fine Mr. Edsall's comment about in-group vs out-group VERY insightful and pertinent.

EGYPT - Americans Barred From Leaving

"As Tensions Rise, Egypt Bars Exit of Six Americans" by STEVEN LEE MYERS and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times 1/26/2012


Building tensions between the United States and Egypt flashed into the open Thursday when Cairo confirmed that it had barred at least a half-dozen Americans from leaving the country and the Obama administration threatened explicitly to withhold its annual aid to the Egyptian military.

The travel ban came to light on Thursday after the International Republican Institute, an American-backed democracy-building group, disclosed that the Egyptian authorities had stopped its Egypt director, Sam LaHood, at the Cairo airport on Saturday before he could board a flight to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. LaHood is the son of Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation and a former Republican congressman from Illinois. He is one of six Americans working for the Republican Institute or its sister organization, the National Democratic Institute, whom Egypt has blocked from leaving as part of a politically charged criminal investigation into their activities.

Just a day before Mr. LaHood was detained temporarily, President Obama had warned Egypt’s leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, that this year’s American military aid hinged on satisfying new Congressional legislation requiring that Egypt’s military government take tangible steps toward democracy, said three people briefed on the conversation.

Mr. Obama referred specifically to the criminal inquiry into several democracy-building groups with foreign financing, including the Republican Institute, the people who were briefed said, and he made clear that Egypt had not fulfilled the Congressional requirements, but Field Marshal Tantawi did not seem to believe him.

Then, after the travel ban on the Americans became public on Thursday, the administration made the warning public as well. “It is the prerogative of Congress to say that our future military aid is going to be conditioned on a democratic transition,” Michael H. Posner, an assistant secretary of state responsible for human rights issues, said at a previously scheduled press conference in Cairo on Thursday.

The Egyptian military IS really scared of loosing its power.

AMERICA - Companies Supporting Marriage Rights in State of Washington

"Starbucks, Google back gay marriage in Washington" (state) by KING 5 News 1/25/2012

Starbucks and Google are the latest corporations to support gay marriage in Washington state.

Washington United for Marriage announced Wednesday that the two companies are among dozens of businesses that are supporting SB 6239 and HB 2516 (state bills).

These companies bring the total number of supportive businesses to more than 100. The list of companies includes Microsoft, Nike and Group Health Plan.

"Marriage equality provides a multitude of intangible benefits to Washington businesses. Recognizing the relationships of all - irrespective of sexual orientation - means an open and innovative business climate that ensures fundamental fairness and basic civil rights for all," said Lacey All, Chair of Washington United for Marriage. The addition of these companies continues to show that momentum in Washington State is on the side of equality for all Washingtonians."

At this time, six states plus the District of Columbia recognize marriage for same-sex couples under state law: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.

Nine states - California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington - provide same-sex couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state.

Another win on the side of Human Rights, and Equal Rights (aka equal treatment under the law).

I cannot think of ANYTHING more sacred that the relationships of consenting adults. Local, state, nor federal law should anything to say about this, which would include marriage (or Civil Unions).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

POLITICS - Fact-Checking State of the Union 2012

"Fact-Checking President Obama's Third State of the Union"
PBS Newshour 1/25/2012

EGYPT - Still in Unrest, One Year Later

"One Year After Revolution's Start, Egypt Still in Unrest" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/25/2012


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians flocked to Tahrir Square to mark the onset of the 18-day revolution that drove President Hosni Mubarak from office last year. People waved flags and chanted, but, unlike a year ago, there were no army troops or police present.

For many, this was a celebration.

MOHAMED GAMAL EL DIN, Egypt (through translator): I came to celebrate what has been fulfilled from the goals of the revolution. I came to celebrate the downfall of Mubarak and his corrupted people around him. I came to celebrate freedom.

MARGARET WARNER: But others from the secular forces who sparked the revolution protested today against continued rule by the interim military government.

MAHER MOHAMED ABD EL HAKIM, Egypt (through translator): This is not the anniversary of the revolution. It hasn't ended yet.

MARGARET WARNER: In fact, the political divisions were plainly evident, liberal secular Egyptians massing on one side of the square protesting, and Islamists on the other side celebrating.

For now, it's the Islamists who've won political power. In Egypt's newly elected lower house of parliament, the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood now holds the largest bloc. Along with other Islamist groups, it controls nearly 70 percent of the 508 seats.

Hangovers from the Mubarak-era past are adding to the tension. A trial is still ongoing for the ailing former president for complicity in the killing of more than 800 protesters last year. Today, some demonstrators said there could be no progress without justice for past wrongs.

OMNIA SHAKER, Egypt: We want the revenge for the people who died a year ago. And we still didn't get justice or anything. Slow justice is unfair. And the people who died needs the revenge.

MARGARET WARNER: Amr Moussa, the former Arab League head now hoping to replace Mubarak, said the military needs to loosen its grip more quickly. But he also looked to the future.

AMR MOUSSA, Egyptian presidential candidate (through translator): The change is the hope of all citizens. We cannot continue to live and we shouldn't live under dictatorial regimes or with the rule of oppression and telling the people what to do and how to feel.

MARGARET WARNER: Egyptians are expecting to elect a new president later this year.

"Remembering Jan. 25: How Will Mubarak-Era Tension Shape Egypt's Future?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 1/25/2012

TAXES - Interview With Buffett and Secretary

"Warren Buffett and His Secretary Talk Taxes" by Seniboye Tienabeso, ABC News 1/25/2012


In a week when taxes and tax returns have dominated the headlines, billionaire investor Warren Buffett jumped back into the political debate and showed his returns exclusively to ABC News’ Bianna Golodryga, adding, “I have never had it so good. … What has happened in recent years, we were told a rising tide would lift all boats, but the rising tide has lifted all yachts.”

Buffett’s secretary since 1993, Debbie Bosanek, sat next to her boss just hours after being invited by the president to the State of the Union address, where the president made her the face of tax inequality in America.

Bosanek pays a tax rate of 35.8 percent of income, while Buffett pays a rate at 17.4 percent.

“I just feel like an average citizen. I represent the average citizen who needs a voice,” said Bosanek. “Everybody in our office is paying a higher tax rate than Warren.”

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Think the Tea Party (aka Republican Party) will EVER listen? Likely not. They will continue to be dumb and blind.

SOMALIA - Replay.... Pirate Hostages Freed

"U.S. Navy SEALs Free 2 Western Hostages From Somali Captors" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/25/2012

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): An American woman and a Danish man were free today after U.S. commandos whisked them away from their pirate captors in Somalia. The operation unfolded in secret, even as President Obama made ready to address the nation.

The first hint of action came in the president's cryptic greeting to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta just before delivering the State of the Union address last night.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good job tonight. Good job tonight.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president said nothing else during his speech, but confirmation came several hours later.

U.S. Navy SEALs had raided a site near Adado in central Somalia. They freed two aid workers who'd been kidnapped from another town, Galkayo, three months ago. At the time, American Jessica Buchanan and her Danish colleague, Poul Thisted, had been part of a project to clear land mines.

Today, they were being reunited with their families. Emerging accounts said the SEALs parachuted in, and took the sleeping pirates by surprise, killing nine. There were no American casualties.

Vice President Biden praised the operation this morning on ABC.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: It just takes your breath away, their capacity and their bravery and their incredible timing.

JEFFREY BROWN: The raiders were from SEAL Team 6, the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan last May.

The president approved the Somalia mission on Monday. In his own statement today, he said, "This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people."

There have been other raids against Somali pirates in recent years to combat their hijackings of ships at sea. The piracy problem is part of the larger lawlessness that has gripped Somalia for decades and left it a broken state.

"Who Was Behind Kidnapping, Rescue in Somalia?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 1/25/2012

ECONOMY - Full Recovery Years Away?

"Fed Signals That a Full Recovery Is Years Away" By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, New York Times 1/25/2012


The Federal Reserve, declaring that the economy would need help for years to come, said Wednesday it would extend by 18 months the period that it plans to hold down interest rates in an effort to spur growth.

The Fed said that it now planned to keep short-term interest rates near zero until late 2014, continuing the transformation of a policy that began as shock therapy in the winter of 2008 into a six-year campaign to increase spending by rewarding borrowers and punishing savers.

The economy expanded “moderately” in recent weeks, the Fed said in a statement released after a two-day meeting of its policy-making committee, but jobs were still scarce, the housing sector remained deeply depressed and Europe’s flirtation with crisis could undermine the nascent domestic recovery.

The Fed forecast growth of up to 2.7 percent this year, up to 3.2 percent next year and up to 4 percent in 2014, but at the end of that period, the central bank projected that the recovery would still be incomplete. Workers would still be looking for jobs, and businesses would still be looking for customers.

“What did we learn today? Things are bad, and they’re not improving at the rate that they want them to improve,” said Kevin Logan, chief United States economist at HSBC. “That’s what they concluded — ‘We’ve eased policy a lot, but we haven’t eased it enough.’ ”

The economic impact of the low-interest rate extension, however, is likely to be modest. Many businesses and consumers can’t qualify for loans, a problem the Fed’s efforts do not address. Moreover, long-term rates already are at record low levels and, like pushing on a spring, the going gets harder as it nears the floor. Finally, the Fed already was widely expected by investors to hold rates near zero well into 2014, limiting the benefits of a formal announcement.

“I wouldn’t overstate the Fed’s ability to massively change expectations through its statements,” the Fed’s chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said at a press conference Wednesday after the announcement. “It’s important for us to say what we think and it’s important for us to provide the right amount of stimulus to help the economy recover from its currently underutilized condition.”

The Republicans, in full control of our federal government, took 8yrs to dig our economy into this hole. Surprise, surprise it will take longer than 2yrs to fill in that hole.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

POLITICS - House Grilling of Richard Cordray

"New Consumer Watchdog Richard Cordray Makes First Appearance on Capitol Hill" PBS Newshour 1/24/2012


PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour): Weeks after his embattled recess appointment to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray appeared before a congressional oversight subcommittee.

President Obama tapped Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, last summer. But the nomination was stalled by the Senate. Republicans insisted the CFPB is too powerful and lacks oversight.

Republican Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who chaired today's hearing, repeated that charge.

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY, R-N.C.: The fact of the matter is, the operations and authority of the CFPB still remain a mystery to Congress and the American public.

PAUL SOLMAN: During questioning, McHenry pressed Cordray to lay out the CFPB's agenda for the coming year.

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY: With these roughly 800 employees you have and a budget that's hundreds of millions of dollars, will you lay that out?

RICHARD CORDRAY, director, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: I think our agenda has been pretty clear to everybody who has interacted with us, from the Chamber to consumer groups. I'm happy to have my staff work with you, and if that seems to be a best practice, that that's something that we could do.

We're not intending to hide the ball. I think our priorities are quite clear. We have stated them very clearly.

RUSSIA - Russia's Revolutionaries, Burning Desire for Change

"What's Uniting Russia's Revolutionaries?" PBS Newshour 1/24/2012


JONATHAN RUGMAN, Independent Television News: In the past few weeks, Russia's been roiled by the biggest street protests in 20 years.

For most of that time, this vast country has been run by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy who now stands accused of rigging last month's elections to stay in power even longer. Videos emerged of votes stuffed into boxes long before the polls even opened. This woman was filmed voting dozens of times, and officials have been caught on camera busily trying to change the election result.

Mr. Putin's hometown is St. Petersburg, where the mood is turning against him. "Give power to the people," they chanted last month. Others never had the chance to be heard. The 1917 revolution began here. So could this be the launch pad for Russia's version of the Arab Spring?

Channel 4 News has been given access to three groups in the vanguard of anti-Putin protest. These are the most notorious and secretive of St. Petersburg's revolutionaries. They're currently in hiding, and there's an international warrant out for their arrest.

Their name is Voina, which means war. On New Year's Eve, they set fire to a police transporter, claiming this was their gift for all political prisoners. They've turned over police cars in protest. The aim here, they say, is to create works of art which humiliate the authorities and inspire dissent.

Here, they soldered and screwed shut the doors of a restaurant owned by a Putin supporter. The three ringleaders live by stealing food and clothing. And they're constantly on the lookout for the police. They keep their home address secret. And it's so run-down that they have no piped hot water. Two of them were in prison for three months last year, until the British graffiti artist Banksy posted 80,000 pounds bail.

They're bring up a 2-year-old child here. And even he has to sleep in a cardboard box to keep warm. And Putin, they believe, will stay cozy in his position of absolute power, unless they escalate their protests.

IRAQ - Haditha Killings

"Plea Deal in Haditha Killings Opens New Wounds in Iraq" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/24/2012

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): Now: a surprising outcome to a case that shook Iraq and the United States, the gunning down of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, in 2005.

Late today, a military judge recommended 90 days confinement and reduction in rank to the remaining Marine charged. But because of a pretrial agreement, he will serve no time.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): It was one of the worst attacks on civilians by U.S. troops of the entire Iraq war. Blood-soaked rooms, scattered bullet casings, and piles of bodies littered the scene in Haditha 140 miles northwest of Baghdad in November 2005.

Survivors accused U.S. Marines of carrying out a massacre.

SAFA YOUNIS, Iraq (through translator): The Americans knocked at the door. My father went to open it. They shot him dead from behind the door and then they shot him again after they opened the door. Then comes one American soldier and shot at us all. I pretended to be dead.

MARGARET WARNER: It had begun with a roadside bomb that killed Marine Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. His death was noted on the NewsHour's Honor Roll.

Military investigators concluded his squad went on a rampage of revenge, killing 24 Iraqi civilians, including three women and seven children. Four enlisted Marines were charged with manslaughter and other crimes. Four officers were charged with a cover-up.

Defense lawyers argued the Marines believed they were in hostile territory and acted properly. Ultimately, charges were dropped against six of them and a seventh was acquitted. Yesterday, squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich's court-martial was cut short. He pled guilty to dereliction of duty, admitting he had given orders to shoot first and ask questions later.

Prosecutors dropped the more serious charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. Conviction on those could have sent him to prison for life.

The plea deal opened old wounds in Haditha today. This man survived the attack, but his bullet scar is still visible.

AWIS FAHMI HUSSEIN, Iraq (through translator): I was expecting that the American judiciary would sentence this person to life in prison and that he would appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair.

MARGARET WARNER: Wuterich could also face a separate discharge hearing.

At his sentencing hearing today, Wuterich expressed sorrow to the victims and said he hadn't meant for his men to kill innocent civilians.

"Was Justice Served After Haditha Killings?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 1/24/2012

POLITICS - 2012 State of the Union Address

2012 State of the Union Address
President Obama
PBS Newshour 1/24/2012
(Full speech 1:11:41)

"Full transcript: Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address" USA Today


Some of what's broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything - even routine business - passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.

The executive branch also needs to change. Too often, it's inefficient, outdated and remote. That's why I've asked this Congress to grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy so that our Government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people.

Finally, none of these reforms can happen unless we also lower the temperature in this town. We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common sense ideas.
Those of us who've been sent here to serve can learn from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn't matter if you're black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight. When you're marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you're in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind.

One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn't matter. Just like it didn't matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates - a man who was George Bush's defense secretary; and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president.

All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves. One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn't deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job - the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs. More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other - because you can't charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there's someone behind you, watching your back.

So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I'm reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other's backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we're joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SPACE - Private Cargo Run

"Delay for Space Station's First Private Cargo Run" by Marcia Dunn, Sci-Tech Today 1/23/2012

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which aims to make the first-ever commercial space flight to dock with the ISS, has been delayed. The unmanned craft was due to fly to the space station on February 7, but additional testing is needed and now it won't launch until late March. SpaceX is one of several companies vying for ISS visiting privileges.

The first commercial cargo run to the International Space Station is off until spring. SpaceX planned to launch its unmanned supply ship from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 7. But the company said more testing was needed with the spacecraft, named Dragon. And on Friday, officials confirmed the launch would not occur until late March.

Space station commander Daniel Burbank said as much as he'd like to take part in the historic event, it's important that SpaceX fly when it's ready. Burbank will return to Earth in mid-March.

"If that's not to be during our mission, then that's OK," Burbank said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. "We've got plenty of other things to occupy us ... but they'll fly when they're ready and they'll fly when they need to."

Just over a year ago, the California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched a test version of the capsule, becoming the first private business to send a spacecraft into orbit and return it safely. NASA is counting on companies like SpaceX to keep the station stocked, now that the shuttles are retired.

Until then, the Russian, European and Japanese space agencies -- all government entities -- are picking up the slack as best they can, sending up regular shipments to the orbiting outpost.

SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham pointed out that this is a developmental program for her company, and everyone wants it to be a complete success.

"It may take a little more time, but when it happens, it's going to be amazing," she said.

This first Dragon capsule to visit the space station will carry several hundred pounds of astronaut provisions -- nothing crucial, in case of a failure.

Astronauts aboard the space station will use a huge robot arm to grab and berth the Dragon.

"This will be one step in the long road to human expansion off of the planet into low-Earth orbit and beyond," space station astronaut Donald Pettit said Friday. He is barely one month into a five-month mission.

The beauty of the Dragon is that it will be able to return scientific samples to Earth, Burbank noted. None of the other countries' supply ships can do that; they burn up on re-entry.

Americans Burbank and Pettit, three Russians and a Dutchman make up the six-man crew.

NASA closed out its 30-year shuttle program last July.

"There have been some impacts ... the shuttle did all the heavy lifting" for space station, Burbank said. There's excess equipment and trash on board, especially given the loss of a Russian supply ship in a launch accident last year. Those cargo carriers are filled with garbage before being jettisoned.

"I think we're getting by OK," Burbank said, "but we need to have as much up-mass and down-mass capability as we can to support space station operations at the level we need it."

SpaceX -- run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk -- is one of several companies vying for space station visiting privileges. Its long-term goal is to modify its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule to ferry astronauts to the station.

In the meantime, Americans are buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

MEDIA - "American Idol" in San Diego

"'American Idol' recap: San Diego makes some noise" by Amy Reiter, Los Angeles Times 1/23/2012


"American Idol" fans who stayed up past that extended nail-biter of a football game in which the New York Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers for a Super Bowl spot and were still interested in singing after listening to Steven Tyler's rendition of the national anthem in Sunday's previous championship game, where the New England Patriots also earned a Super Bowl spot by toppling the Baltimore Ravens (I actually kind of admired the "Idol" judge's unconventional take -- and he mostly remembered the words) – as well as football fans too zonked out to reach for the remote – were treated to what we were warned at the outset would be an "Idol" audition episode "unlike any other."

What made it different? Well, for starters, the auditions, held in San Diego, didn't take place in a building or even on land, setting up shop instead on the "historic USS Midway," a retired Naval aircraft carrier. That meant viewers watched many a contestant's backside as he or she determinedly ascended the stairs to the ship's deck to audition and then saw at least one of them bonk his head on a low-slung pipe as he celebrated his golden ticket below deck. It also meant viewers, judges and contestants had to endure all manner of rude open-air interruptions. Much merry was made of plane noises, boat honks, and the like. Tyler, in particular, seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to jest: letting the ambient noise "bleep" his more colorful exclamations, waving at his rear end as if waving away a waft of gas, etc. Oh, that rock 'n' roll nut!

SCIENCE - Space Stations That Never Flew

"Strange Forgotten Space Station Concepts That Never Flew" by Adam Mann, Wired Science 1/24/2012


Astronauts living and working in space rely on the International Space Station as their port of call. The iconic ISS is a modern engineering triumph, zipping around the Earth every 90 minutes at a height of 200 miles above the surface.

Its construction required careful coordination between nearly a dozen countries working through five space agencies. Perhaps because of this, the ISS has a highly industrial look, with function certainly triumphing over form.

Yet the history of space station design is littered with concepts -- some elegant, some strange, and some remarkably cute -- that were passed over for one reason or another. Here, we look at some space station ideas that didn’t quite make it off the drawing board.

Just 2 of several examples

Space Station Odyssey
(2001 A Space Odyssey)

Spider Space Station
(1977 design, designed with the shuttle in mind)

AMERICA - Protecting the U.S. Consumer

"Watchdog-in-Chief Richard Cordray Outlines Plan to Clean Up Consumer Lending" PBS Newshour 1/23/2012


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I'm appointing Richard as America's consumer watchdog.


PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour): Richard is Richard Cordray, perhaps the most controversial recess appointment in recent memory. After a long procedural battle with the Senate, the president made Cordray head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Jan. 4.

BARACK OBAMA: When Congress refuses to act, and as a result hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them.

PAUL SOLMAN: GOP lawmakers cried foul, claiming that the Senate was open for business and wasn't on recess, even if no business took place.

How typical of the Tea Party (once known as the Republican Party), their agenda before protecting the American consumer.

Republicans: "circumvented the American people" or "unaccountable to the American people."

Translation: "circumvented the Republican Party" or "unaccountable to the Republican Party."

PHILIPPINES - Population and Food

"Food for 9 Billion: Turning the Population Tide in the Philippines" PBS Newshour 1/23/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And now to the Philippines, a country struggling to cope with its rapidly growing population.

Tonight's story is part of a new project that looks at the challenge of feeding the world in a time of social and environmental change. It's a NewsHour partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Homelands Productions and American Public Media's "Marketplace."

The project is called Food for 9 Billion.

The reporter for tonight's story is Sam Eaton of Homelands Productions.

SYRIA - Assad Dismissive of Arab League

"Syria's Assad Dismisses Arab League's Peace Plan" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/23/2012

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): Ten months after it began, the conflict in Syria continues unabated. An anti-government group reported 23 more people were killed today.

Ray Suarez has more on developments in Syria and the Arab world's search for an end to the violence.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The Syrian government today four rejected a peace plan adopted at this Arab League meeting yesterday in Cairo. The plan called for forming a unity government in Syria within two months that would be followed by supervised parliamentary and presidential elections, and President Bashar al-Assad would hand over his powers to the country's vice president during the transition period. The European Union endorsed the plan today, and so did the U.S. State Department.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department spokeswoman: They made a concrete proposal in line with the leadership that they have been showing on the Syria issue for many weeks now about how this could happen. Regrettably, Assad rejected it, almost before the ink was dry. And this just speaks again to the fact that he's thinking about himself and his cronies, not about his people.

RAY SUAREZ: The Arab League also agreed to extend its observer mission in Syria for another month. But the monitor's presence has been criticized for failing to stop the Syrian government's violent campaign against protesters.

Meanwhile in Syria, this amateur video showed a mass gathering today in Duma just outside Damascus. Thousands turned out to mourn nearly a dozen residents killed in clashes over the weekend.

"Syria's Assad: How Powerful, Dangerous Is He Now?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 1/23/2012


ANDREW TABLER, Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Government tries to reassert. The problem is, you have hundreds of thousands of people coming back out. Assad can't put this genie back in the bottle. He's been trying over and over again for over 10 months. And he simply can't do it. The security solution isn't working. He isn't able to reform his way out of it. He's in a real dictator's dilemma. And I don't think he knows how to get out of it.

SUPREME COURT - Tracking With GPS Needs Warrant, Sometimes

"Want to Use a GPS-Tracking Device? Get a Warrant, Supreme Court Tells Police" PBS Newshour 1/23/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): In 2005, police secretly attached a GPS device to a Jeep owned by Antoine Jones, a Washington, D.C., nightclub owner. Information gathered from tracking his movements eventually helped bring about his conviction for cocaine trafficking.

Today, though, the Supreme Court ruled the police action was a violation of the Constitution. The decision itself was unanimous, but the justices were divided in their reasoning, as they grappled with tricky issues of law, technology and privacy.

POLITICS - The Cloud Over Our Political System

I could not have described the current political climate any better.

"The Politics of Bullying" by Cliff Wilson, Cliff's Notes 1/21/2012

We have become a nation where bullying not only is too common in school hallways and playgrounds but in our politics and public meetings.

As we saw in the Congressional town halls of 2010 those angered by the lies being spread about the health care reform bill were loud, rude and nasty to elected officials and other citizens. There was no evidence of respect for the office of the persons conducting the meeting and no civility toward neighbors who were present and perhaps on the other side of the issue. Instead there was simply an attempt to loudly bully those in attendance to either join in harassing the elected official or keep silent.

And that continues today. While once was considered standard at a political rally or a peaceful demonstration to cheer, jeer and exhibit enthusiasm is now common at community governmental meetings to shout, scream and accuse elected officials of lying. This reached the extreme when a Congressman shouted at the President during the State of Union address “You Lie”. Citizens shout at their local officials until they do what the citizens want. We were a nation whose body politic was formed around the concept of representative democracy. People voted in elections and accepted the results of the election. If those who won did not perform to the expectations of the majority they were ousted in the next elections.

Today as soon as the ballots are counted the losing side declares the winners illegitimate. The losers than practice the art made famous by former Speaker Gingrich in 1995 - the politics of personal destruction. Rather than debate an idea the losing side demonizes and seeks to personally defame and destroy the individual who represents that idea or party. Epithets are tossed around and accusations with no basis in fact are issued like dogma. Some of the charges are a distortion of an underlying fact but most are simply made up. And, if the attacked party attempts to reason with their attacker they can’t because anything they say in their own defense is twisted and used against them. When the shouter claims the sky is green and the elected official says no it’s blue the attacker responds you know it’s black when there’s a storm. You cannot reason with irrational people; you cannot present facts to those who refuse to understand them. As the Bible says none are as blind as those who will not see.

The result of this bullying politics is to drive good people out. Those who will not fight fire with fire stay home - they may vote but that’s the last time they are heard. They will not seek or accept office because understandably they don’t want to make themselves the targets of the bullies. When the Communists took power in Russia in 1917 and when the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933 it was through the tactics of bullying. They silenced the opposition using force when verbal bullying failed.

One of the many reasons I support the people of Wisconsin in their effort to recall Governor Walker is to show people that there is another way. Vote those you disagree wit out. We need more recall provisions in our various state laws and we need more states with initiative and referendum. We also need term limits for legislative officials. But with those reforms must come a societal acceptance of the results of the elections. Let those elected show their stuff and then let the electorate take the appropriate actions to replace them if they wish to.

If we no longer accept the legitimacy of our elections - and the right wing efforts to suppress voting by enacting photo id laws and reducing the number of polling places and restricting absentee voting will only increase the seeming illegitimacy of the election results - we will soon lose the right to hold elections. If we don’t adopt a constitutional amendment to require full transparency and total disclosure of campaign contributions and limit the size of personal and corporate contributions our democracy will become an oligarchy of the very rich. And we will find that when Patrick Henry cried “Give me Liberty or give me death” he never assumed that two hundred years later we might get neither.

Monday, January 23, 2012

INTERNET - Online Piracy Fight, Push-Back

"Hackers Retaliate Against DOJ in Raging Online Piracy Fight" PBS Newshour 1/20/2012


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): It's one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought. The target is a website based in Hong Kong that's been used to share large files, including movies, videos, television shows, e-books, games, and music.

It's called Megaupload, and the heavily visited site is said to have 150 million registered users and 50 million visits a day. Now it stands charged with storing and distributing pirated material, and thus robbing copyright holders of more than $500,000.

Yesterday, the Justice Department shut it down and released indictments against seven executives. Four were arrested at the New Zealand mansion of its founder, who goes by the name Kim Dotcom.

Within hours, the hacker collective called Anonymous retaliated, shutting down the websites of the Justice Department and major media groups, including Universal Music and the Motion Picture Association of America. The government's crackdown came one day after this week's online protests against anti-piracy bills in Congress.

Another excerpt

CECILIA KANG, The Washington Post: So there's a lot of -- there's a lot of suspicion around the timing of this. But these are two -- one should keep in mind that these are two discreet issues. There's the federal indictment of a criminal case, and then there are the two bills right now that are being proposed on the Hill that I should say actually have been on hold, today were put on hold because of all the controversy around them.

POLITICS - Wisconsin Governor Recall, Update

"After Union Fallout, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on the Brink of Recall Election" PBS Newshour 1/20/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Next, a different political story, this about the continuing fallout in Wisconsin from the big battles over union rights. The governor now could be facing a recall election.

Zac Schultz of Wisconsin Public Television has he story.

Aha... There is still hope that another Republican emperor-want-to-be can be sent packing.

SUPREME COURT - Texas Electoral Map Ruling

"Supreme Court Ruling on Texas Electoral Maps 'Huge Setback' for Democrats" PBS Newshour 1/20/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The Supreme Court today tossed out the Texas congressional map, creating chaos for the upcoming primary election and highlighting the difficulties of redrawing boundaries in states with diverse populations.

Four million new residents means Texas is adding four additional seats in Congress, and Democrats had high hopes of winning some of those seats as they attempt to reclaim the House.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio drew its own map, fearing the lines drawn by the Texas legislature wouldn't win speedy approval from the Department of Justice, as required under the Voting Rights Act. Today, the Supreme Court unanimously found the San Antonio judges used the wrong standards to draw the temporary maps.

So, now what?

For a look at the legal and political implications of the decision, we're joined by Richard Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California Irvine School Of Law, and Shira Toeplitz, a political reporter for Roll Call who has been closely following the Texas case.

NOTE: I highlighted (larger text) the phrase above to emphasize that the San Antonio judges were correct on what they attempted BUT found wrong on HOW they did it. That is an important point.

Another point. IMHO this is one of the things wrong with our electoral process, the drawing of districts by the political interests in any state. This allows the powers-that-be to always skew districts to keep themselves in power, rather than seeing that the all the people have the representation they desire. Having said that, political districting is a state function. I just wish the people in charge would put aside self-interest.

Friday, January 20, 2012

GEEK FILES - Internet cowboy has taste for Fast Cars, High Living, and Strange Behavior

"Megaupload chief had wild ride before arrest" by Austin Carr, MSNBC 1/20/2012

In the Wild, Wild West-era of digital media, there is no cowboy quite like Kim Dotcom. Part Sean Parker, part Kevin Mitnick, with a whiff of Notorious B.I.G., Dotcom embodies the wildest age of piracy having made a fortune on the edges of Internet freedom.

Dotcom, the megamind behind Megaupload, was arrested yesterday in New Zealand, his panic-room door busted down by officials, who found the hacker clinging to a sawed-off shotgun. Dotcom faces up to 55 years in prison if extradited to the U.S. and convicted on charges of racketeering, copyright infringement, and money laundering. The hacker-turned-multimillionaire businessman has been accused of costing the entertainment industry $500 million through pirated content uploaded to his popular file-sharing site, which boasted 180 million registered users and celebrity endorsements from Kanye West to Kim Kardashian.

Before Megaupload was shut down by federal prosecutors, a statement was reportedly posted on the site calling the charges "grotesquely overblown."

Dotcom has long been a controversial and flamboyant figure. Pictures of the Megaupload founder online show him with yachts, private jets and Playboy bunnies in exotic locations such as Monaco, Cuba, and Brazil. According to court filings, prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of $175 million, dozens of bank accounts, as well as sports cars including Mercedes-Benzes, Rolls-Royces, and Lamborghinis (with vanity plates such as "God" and "CEO".

Long before SOPA, Dotcom saw a potential market in taking advantage of the system--and ran wild with the opportunity. How wild? Here's a look inside Dotcom's life of excess--a lifestyle afforded to a guy who's both tech savvy and unencumbered by business ethics, and who has a taste for shotguns, black Benzes, and wraparound shades.

- In 1994, 20 cops raided Dotcom's home, in what appeared to be a sting operation set up by MCI. The police confiscated $80,000 in computer equipment, arresting Dotcom and charging him with selling stolen credit cards. Dotcom claimed to be working undercover for MCI, and that he was only trying to help make the company's systems more secure.

- In 1998, Dotcom wore black sunglasses to his trial in Germany, and boasted that he loved "feeling like a spy." He was convicted of fraud and other hacking charges, including embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was sentenced to two years of probation, and fined 20,000 marks. The judge at the time said the court viewed his actions as "youthful foolishness."

This is just a taste. There's more in the full article.

GEEK FILES - First-Ever Science Fiction Movie Filmed in Space

"NASA Relents: Apogee of Fear, First Sci-Fi Film Shot in Space, Will Be Released" by Matt Blum, GeekDad 1/19/2012

Good news! Following many reports over the last few days that the first-ever science fiction film to actually be filmed in space was being kept from release by NASA, there is now word that the space agency has relented and that Apogee of Fear will see the light of day after all.

The eight-minute film was shot by Richard Garriott aboard the International Space Station on his trip there as a paid civilian in 2008. Based on a screenplay written for him by Tracy Hickman (best known as co-creator of the Dragonlance shared universe), Garriott made the film with the assistance of two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut.

He had hoped to release it along with the documentary he made about following in his astronaut father Owen Garriott’s footsteps (Man on a Mission, which is playing in indie theaters across the country). But NASA put the kibosh on those plans without giving a great many specifics as to reasons, except that it was outside the scope of Garriott’s agreement with them. It seemed as though Apogee of Fear would remain hidden from the public eye.

Now I am pleased to report that things have changed for the better. In response to a query to NASA on the subject, I received the following reply from Bob Jacobs, deputy for communications at NASA:

NASA is working with Richard Garriott to facilitate the video’s release. While the project was not part of his original Space Act agreement with NASA, everyone involved had the best of intentions. We hope to resolve the remaining issues expeditiously, and we appreciate Richard’s cooperation and his ongoing efforts to get people excited about the future of space exploration.

It sounds like NASA is leaving open the possibility of making some edits to the short film, but on the whole it reads like great news to me. The agency certainly seems to understand why it’s important that this kind of thing is released to the public, and the fact that the word “expeditiously” is in there bodes well for that happening soon.

So watch this space: We’ll be sure to let you know if we hear anything else about Apogee of Fear. It may turn out not to be very good, of course — there’s no way to know, really — but its historical importance should make it worth eight minutes of your time regardless.

SYRIA - Violence Continues, Arab League Failure

"Killings in Syria Continue Unabated as Arab League Mission Ends" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/19/2012

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Next tonight, Jordan's King Abdullah talks about his neighbor in turmoil, Syria.

The Arab League's peace monitoring mission in Syria officially came to an end today. As it did, Syrian opposition activists charged security forces killed at least 16 more people. In fact, the killing has continued unabated over the period the monitors have been assessing whether President Bashar Assad's regime had stopped firing on civilians, as promised.

The United Nations estimates the death toll at close to 5,500. One Algerian monitor quit the team, telling Al-Jazeera that the mission was a farce and was simply letting the Syrian regime buy time.

And on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, said Arab troops needed to be deployed to end the bloodshed.

EMIR HAMAD BIN KHALIFA AL-THANI, Qatar: For such a situation, to stop the killing, we have some -- some troops should go to stop the killing.

MARGARET WARNER: The unrest also poses risks for Syria's small neighbor Jordan and its ruler, King Abdullah. He was the first Arab leader to urge President Assad to step down. And on a visit to Washington this week, he and President Obama wrestled with what to do.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will continue to consult very closely with Jordan to create the kind of international pressure and environment that encourages the current Syrian regime to step aside, so that a more democratic process of transition can take place inside of Syria.

MARGARET WARNER: The Jordanian monarch himself has faced demands for change since the onset of the Arab spring last year. These protesters in Amman last spring were demanding political reform and more economic growth.

King Abdullah met the demands by increasing government subsidies, firing his cabinet and amending the constitution in some respects. At the same time, the king has been trying to deal with the Middle East's other major challenge, the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

He updated President Obama on talks he hosted this month between negotiators for the two sides.

KING ABDULLAH II, Jordan: Although this is still in the very early stages, we have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that we can bring the Israelis and the Palestinians out of the impasse that we're facing.

MARGARET WARNER: The king has a keen interest in ending that impasse. Half of Jordan's population of 6.5 million people is Palestinian, and the country is one of only two Arab nations to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

For now, though, the violence in Syria is perhaps the most urgent topic on Jordan's agenda. The Arab League meets Sunday to decide whether to extend the monitors' mission for another month, or take stronger action.

"Jordan's King Abdullah: Coming Weeks Critical for Syria, Assad, Arab League" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 1/19/2012