Thursday, March 22, 2012

FRANCE - Homegrown Terrorism?

"France Awaits Arrest of Suspected Gunman" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/21/2012


JONATHAN RUGMAN, Rugman of Independent Television News: At around 3:00 a.m., police raided a block of flats believed to be home to two brothers and France's most wanted man.

Three policemen were injured by gunfire as they tried to storming the building. And an unidentified woman was taken away by ambulance. One man quickly gave himself up. But his brother refused to give in. He was described as a French national with an Algerian mother who had been to Afghanistan and Pakistan and was claiming to be a member of al-Qaida.

The suspect was later identified as Mohamed Merah, in his early 20s, whom police said was preparing to kill again. He had told them he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and the French army's involvement in Afghanistan.

FRANCOIS MOLINS, chief prosecutor, Paris (through translator): He said he has no regrets, besides not having had time to make more victims. And he's proud to have brought France to her knees.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Neighbors said they were stunned by the siege unfolding on their doorstep in a quiet residential neighborhood just two miles from the Jewish school where four were gunned down on Monday.

This man told me the suspect lived in the same block as his son and had helped him move in a new sofa. "Now my son is stuck inside with special forces refusing to let him out," he said.

Another neighbor said Merah had been seen having fun in a club just three weeks ago. "Now I'm hearing he's al-Qaida" he said. "Our reputation as Muslims will suffer."

At the same time, the funerals of those killed on Monday were taking place in Israel, France by now convinced it had found the man responsible for this anti-Semitic outrage. But the first victim was a paratrooper, one of three shot dead last week. And this afternoon, all three were buried with full military honors. They were from Muslim or ethnic minority backgrounds.

And with Muslims among the dead, President Sarkozy has warned his country not to give in to revenge. All France's main political leaders were there today in what is an election season, with many now asking why Mr. Merah, who'd been known to the authorities for years, wasn't identified earlier?

CLAUDE GUEANT, French interior minister (through translator): This man was followed for several years by the French intelligence and its agents in Toulouse. During this period, nothing suspicions emerged.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Tonight, police said they have found the scooter Mr. Merah used to carry out his alleged crimes. And the man quoted as saying he was trying to bring France to its knees has himself been cornered.

"French Shootings Renew Homegrown Terrorism Worries" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 3/21/2012

HEALTH - Cancer and Asprin

"How Aspirin May Help Prevent Certain Kinds of Cancer"
PBS Newshour 3/21/2012

POLITICS - The Disappearing Center

"Retiring Sens. Snowe, Bingaman: Political Center Is Disappearing" PBS Newshour 3/21/2012


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): .... tonight, two veteran senators, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman, are retiring. Both have expressed concern that the political middle ground is disappearing in Washington.

Gwen Ifill sat down with them earlier today.

SUPREME COURT - Whirlwind Day

"Supreme Court Weighs Cheney Confrontation Arrest"
PBS Newshour 3/21/2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

AFGHANISTAN - Opinion of General Allen

"General Allen: Despite Setbacks, Afghan Mission on Track" PBS Newshour 3/20/2012


KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour): Thousands of Afghans celebrated their new year today at an ancient festival marking the first day of spring.

But, by Western calendars, there's been little for Afghans or Americans to celebrate in 2012. In Washington, Marine General John Allen, commanding NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged as much at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

EDUCATION - As a National Security Issue

"Condoleezza Rice: Education Could Be 'Greatest National Security Challenge'" PBS Newshour 3/20/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): It's by now a familiar warning: Our public schools are not adequately educating our children.

A new report put out by the Council on Foreign Relations frames the risk in a global context, impacting both our economic and military might -- among its recommendations, expanding a core curriculum in school districts across the country beyond an emphasis on reading and math to include more science, technology, history, and foreign languages, offer students more choice and competition to public schools, and launch a national security readiness audit to raise awareness and hold schools accountable.

The 30-member task force was headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein.

I sat down with the two of them in Washington this morning.

WELFARE - Require Drug Tests for Recipients?

"To Receive Welfare, Should Drug Test Be Required?" PBS Newshour 3/20/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Utah passed a law this month requiring those on public assistance to take drug tests. Half of the states are considering similar measures.

Ray Suarez reports on the effort in Colorado.

COMMENT: IMHO drug testing is justified because the state has an interest in seeing that the money is going into whatever the program intends and NOT to support a drug habit.

SUPREME COURT - Life Without Parole for Juveniles

"Supreme Court Weighs Life Without Parole for Juvenile Murder Convicts" PBS Newshour 3/20/2012


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): Should a 14-year-old convicted of murder be required to spend life in prison without parole? That was the key question at the heart of a pair of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

FLORIDA - Consequences of 'Stand Your Ground'

"Killing of Fla. Teen Sheds Light on State's 'Stand Your Ground' Law"
PBS Newshour 3/19/2012

AFGHANISTAN - Trial-Prep for Staff Sgt Bales

"U.S. Soldier Accused of Afghan Massacre Begins Building Defense" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/19/2012

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): The American soldier accused of a massacre in Afghanistan began laying out his defense today. He had initial meetings with his lawyer, even as military investigators continued their work.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' new temporary home is an isolated cell at the Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas. The 38-year-old was flown there on Friday from a U.S. facility in Kuwait where he'd first been brought from his military base near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Bales' civilian defense attorney, John Henry Browne, met with him today for the first time.

Yesterday, he spoke about the challenges of the case.

JOHN HENRY BROWNE, attorney for Robert Bales: I couldn't imagine a more difficult case, I don't think, I mean, every challenge. I mean, this case has political ramifications. It has legal ramifications. It has social ramifications. So, you know, you couldn't really imagine a bigger case.

JEFFREY BROWN: Bales is suspected of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in two small villages, nine of them children and 11 from the same family. No formal charges have been filed yet.

News reports quoted military officials as saying he'd been drinking, something his lawyer denied.

Michelle Cadell grew up with Bales in Norwood, Ohio, where he played little league and captained his high school football team.

MICHELLE CADELL, Knew Robert Bales: It's like you're talking about two totally different people. You're not -- and every older woman on this street calls him ‘my Bobby,' not Bobby Bales. You don't know who Bobby Bales is. It's ‘my Bobby.'

JEFFREY BROWN: Bales had deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Current neighbors in Lake Tapps say it's hard to reconcile the married father of two with his alleged actions in Afghanistan.

KASSIE HOLLAND, Washington state: He was so kind to everybody. I mean, he was the kind of person that, as soon as you meet him, you know, it was like you had a friend, kind of.

JEFFREY BROWN: Some pointed to Bales' three tours in Iraq before he was sent to Afghanistan, including being twice wounded.

BEAU BRITT, Washington state: I can understand. And I kind of sympathize for him, because, I mean, if -- you know, being gone, you know, like being sent over there four times, you know, I can understand he's probably quite racked mentally.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Bales family was planning to move and they had just put their home on the market when the massacre happened.

"Were Multiple Deployments a Factor in Afghan Killings?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 3/19/2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

OPINION - Afghanistan 3/16/2012

"Shields, Brooks on Afghan Massacre, the Gingrich Factor, Goldman Sachs Op-Ed" PBS Newshour 3/16/2012

Excerpt on Afghanistan

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): A short time ago, a U.S. government official identified the U.S. soldier accused of killing Afghan civilians as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

And on that, we turn the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

This is the first time we have the name. We knew 38-year-old staff sergeant. He is being blown tonight from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

David, this terrible incident, the killing of all these civilians by -- and he is the suspect alleged to have done this -- how does it change what the U.S. is trying to do in Afghanistan?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times columnist: Well, I'm not sure it will have a long-term effect.

There have been tragedies before. There have been drone killings. There have been a lot of civilian killings over the years. And, as Ryan Crocker said, generally, we have been through them.

I think what is different now is the circumstances surrounding this and the Quran burnings, which is that we're much closer to the exits. We're certainly leaving by 2014. A lot of people now think we should leave by 2013. And so that idea that the exits are so close creates this momentum where people think, let's get out of here.

And what you have is a lot of Afghan capital is leaving the country, waiting for what is going to happen next. You have got an Afghan -- the educated class leaving the country and applying for asylum abroad, citizenship abroad. You get the Taliban knowing we don't have much longer to wait. So they are much more suspicious about negotiations.

So what happens is, when you begin the withdrawal process, you get this spiral. And so managing the withdrawal -- we're all agreeing we're going to withdrawal -- becomes much, much more difficult for the U.S.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, is it all about just managing the withdrawal and getting out faster?

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: No, I think it's more than that, Judy.

I think, first of all, there's an iron rule of history here. And that is that armies of occupation throughout human history are unpopular. Just think of the French, who were indispensable to the American Revolution, had stuck around for six months. Americans would have been stoning them in the streets. That's just -- that's human nature.

I think that is the first reality. Now this war is 10 years old. Secondly, nobody can define what the mission is now. Managing the exit, I mean, is this for the more expenditure of blood and treasure and Americans risking death, and worse?

And I guess that -- I think that is where it is. And I think that is the reality. It's got a political implication now. This week, we saw Newt Gingrich say it wasn't -- Afghans -- was not doable, Afghanistan was not doable, Rick Santorum saying that we ought to double the resources -- I'm not sure what resources mean -- or begin to pull out or accelerate the pullout.

And it really appears to be more of a political problem than a strategic international problem.


DAVID BROOKS: I have to say, I disagree with that. I think we know what the mission is.

The military is very clear about this and the president has been very clear about this, is that we are trying to create an Afghan army that can defend the country, so it doesn't descend back into civil war, so it doesn't descend back into a pre-9/11 circumstance.

And the people in the military, who are not particularly political, think that is quite doable. And they are little disturbed by the talk of the early withdrawal, because they think they can do that and we can get out. The Afghan army has -- is the one sole institution in that country which sort of functions. It's not perfect by any means. A lot of the troops are illiterate, among other things.

But it does sort of function and there are a lot of them. And so there is some expectation that you will be able to create an army so you won't have a long civil war, as you had after the Soviet pullout, after -- in previous pullouts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you don't see that as. . .

MARK SHIELDS: No, I stand second to nobody in my admiration of the military, but there is a pattern of American generals. they are always reluctant to go into a war and they are always to leave it. That is the pattern. And that is what we're seeing now, because this is a failed mission.

Let's be very blunt about it. We are not going to leave Afghanistan as a functioning, operating society. Karzai is a disaster. If you can remember -- those who remember South Vietnam, this is the parallel, this is the bookend to that. We are propping up a corrupt regime that doesn't have the respect and commitment of its own people and it has no commitment and respect of its people. That is the reality. He is the mayor of Kabul at best. And that. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: So when the ambassador, Ryan Crocker, tells Jeff, as he did a few minutes ago in that interview, that considering the circumstances, Hamid Karzai is doing what he has to do. . .

MARK SHIELDS: He is, what, playing to the gallery by insulting Leon Panetta and condemning the United States and chastising us and telling us what our strategy ought to be there? I just -- I don't see that he is a particularly either admirable or reliable ally.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that. I don't have much -- Ryan Crocker has to say he has a lot of room for Hamid Karzai.

I don't think too many people -- certainly, the U.S. military doesn't. They see him as corrupt, or at least his brother as corrupt. They see a lot of corruption rife through Afghanistan. There's no question about that.

But what we want is just stability so we won't have the Taliban coming in kicking girls out of school. You won't have just a long civil war, which will be a breeding round for Taliban, which will then bleed over into Pakistan. That's what we want.

And so can we get some basic level of stability? Well, I think the generals, maybe they're too yahoo about this, but I do think they think it's possible. And we have handed over large parts of Afghanistan to Afghan control. They're running it without really U.S. troops. We're busy in the south and other regions. So there is some just basic stability. That is all we want.

IRAN - The U.S. Intelligence Gap

"U.S. Faces a Tricky Task in Assessment of Data on Iran" by JAMES RISEN, New York Times 3/17/2012


While American spy agencies have believed that the Iranians halted efforts to build a nuclear bomb back in 2003, the difficulty in assessing the government’s ambitions was evident two years ago, when what appeared to be alarming new intelligence emerged, according to current and former United States officials.

Intercepted communications of Iranian officials discussing their nuclear program raised concerns that the country’s leaders had decided to revive efforts to develop a weapon, intelligence officials said.

That, along with a stream of other information, set off an intensive review and delayed publication of the 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, a classified report reflecting the consensus of analysts from 16 agencies. But in the end, they deemed the intercepts and other evidence unpersuasive, and they stuck to their longstanding conclusion.

The intelligence crisis that erupted in 2010, which has not been previously disclosed, only underscores how central that assessment has become to matters of war and peace.

Today, as suspicions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions have provoked tough sanctions and threats of military confrontation, top administration officials have said that Iran still has not decided to pursue a weapon, reflecting the intelligence community’s secret analysis. But if that assessment changes, it could lift a brake set by President Obama, who has not ruled out military options as a last resort to prevent Iran gaining nuclear arms.

Publicly and privately, American intelligence officials express confidence in the spy agencies’ assertions. Still, some acknowledge significant intelligence gaps in understanding the intentions of Iran’s leaders and whether they would approve the crucial steps toward engineering a bomb, the most covert aspect of one of the most difficult intelligence collection targets in the world.

Much of what analysts sift through are shards of information that are ambiguous or incomplete, sometimes not up to date, and that typically offer more insight about what the Iranians are not doing than evidence of what they are up to.

CALIFORNIA - City of Stockton Debt Impact

"We Built This City on Debt 'n' Entitlements: Stockton Faces Bankruptcy Threat" PBS Newshour 3/16/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And we turn to a major city in California once riding high in the boom years, now on the verge of bankruptcy, and joining other cities around the country forced to make serious cuts to stay afloat.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

SPENCER MICHELS: The police department in Stockton, Calif., is getting a new chief, the fifth one in the last eight years. They retired, often early, with generous pensions, one reason, but certainly not the only one, that the city is in dire financial shape.

Stockton, 100 miles east of San Francisco in the agricultural Central Valley, is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. If that happens, this city of 300,000 would be the nation's largest bankrupt city. Increasingly, cities across the nation are in crisis because of pensions, health care costs, and overspending, all aggravated by the recession.

To prevent bankruptcy, Stockton officials have been slashing the budget. The police have taken the biggest hits. Through cuts and retirements, the force is down 27 percent since 2008. And that has had a big impact, according to public information officer Pete Smith.

COMMENT: Reminder to everyone, including the citizens of Stockton, the "market" (aka Wall Street and everything based on it) is nothing more than our nation's biggest gambling casino. And as any professional gambler will tell you, don't bet what you cannot afford to lose.

AFGHANISTAN - Reverberations

"Afghanistan's Karzai Criticizes U.S. Over Massacre Investigation" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/16/2012

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): The president of Afghanistan voiced new outrage today over the killings of 16 civilians in his country. Hamid Karzai made angry new accusations against the U.S. as the American suspect in the shootings was being flown home.

Karzai fired off his new broadside after meeting with relatives of those murdered last Sunday.

HAMID KARZAI, president of Afghanistan: It is by all means the end of the rope here. This form of activity, this behavior cannot be tolerated. It is past, past, past the time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The killings took 16 lives, mostly women and children, shot as they slept in two separate villages. Karzai demanded the U.S. military be more forthcoming, as he lent a sympathetic ear to family members who insisted, despite what U.S. officials have indicated, that the shooter could not have acted alone.

HAMID KARZAI: The story of the village elders and the affectees is entirely different. They believe it is not possible for one person to do that. And the army chief has just reported that the Afghan investigation team didn't receive the cooperation that they expected from the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The massacre was the latest in a series of incidents that have cratered U.S.-Afghan relations. Last month's Quran burnings by U.S. personnel ignited days of rioting and reprisal killings against Americans.

And ongoing tensions over U.S. night raids against suspected insurgents also factor in. Yesterday, after meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Karzai said he wants NATO coalition troops out of Afghan village outposts. American officials played down the statement.

But, today, the Afghan leader insisted he was serious. He said he told President Obama as much in a phone call.

HAMID KARZAI (through translator): Yesterday, I made it clear that they should leave our houses and villages. This morning, the American president called me and talked about this issue. He asked, did you announce this? I said, yes, I announced it. I have said get out of our villages.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama was in Chicago today and didn't mention the conversation with Karzai. A White House statement said they have reaffirmed the plan to begin a transition to Afghan-led security next year and full Afghan control in 2014.

But the statement said -- quote -- "They also agreed to further discuss concerns voiced by President Karzai about the presence of foreign troops in Afghan villages."

Meanwhile, the 38-year-old staff sergeant suspected in the massacre had already been flown to Kuwait. Today, he was on a flight headed to the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He'd originally been stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State.

And his newly-named civilian defense attorney, John Henry Browne of Seattle, said the soldier was deeply affected by the wounding of a comrade in Afghanistan.

JOHN HENRY BROWNE, attorney: We have been informed that, at this small base that he was at, somebody was gravely injured the day before the alleged incident. He's never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He's never said anything antagonistic about Middle Eastern individuals. He's, in general, been very mild-mannered.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Browne denied reports that the soldier had been drinking, which is forbidden in combat zones. He also dismissed talk of marital stress. But he did say the soldier's deployment to Afghanistan was of grave concern.

JOHN HENRY BROWNE: He was told that he was not going to be redeployed. And the family was counting on him not being redeployed. And so he and the family were told that his tours in the Middle East were over. And then, literally overnight, that changed. So, I think that it would be fair to say that he and the family were not happy that he was going back.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The soldier was previously deployed three times to Iraq, and wounded twice, including one classified as a brain injury. This was his first deployment to Afghanistan.

ADDENDUM - JUDY WOODRUFF: A short time ago, a U.S. government official identified the U.S. soldier accused of killing Afghan civilians as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

"Crocker: Afghan Killings Were 'Horrific, Shocking Murders'" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 3/16/2012

LAW - Student Hate Crime

"Ex-Rutgers Student Guilty of Invasion of Privacy, Bias Intimidation" PBS Newshour 3/16/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The jury found Dharun Ravi guilty on 15 counts of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and tampering with evidence, among others. The 20-year-old was not charged with Tyler Clementi's death.

But Ravi's actions, including the spying on his roommate with a Webcam, came three days before Clementi took his own life. No direct connection was alleged, but the case became a flash point for discussions about bullying, intimidation, and attitudes towards gay men and women.

Kate Zernike has been covering the case for The New York Times, and has been at the courthouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, today.


"Jury Finds Spying in Rutgers Dorm Was a Hate Crime" by KATE ZERNIKE, New York Times 3/16/2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

AFRICA - Man-Made Water Shortages

"What's Causing Water Shortages in Ghana, Nigeria?" PBS Newshour 3/15/2012


STEVE SAPIENZA, special correspondent: Every day, millions of people across a wide swathe of West Africa struggle to get access to clean and safe drinking water. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1,000 people in the region die each day from illnesses related to unsafe water.

The shortage is also hampering development here. In two of the biggest and richest nations of the region, Nigeria and Ghana, pollution, political unrest, and corruption have contributed to water shortages for decades.

What's different today is that a new generation of West African journalists is trying to hold government officials accountable for the failures. We followed two of them, Nigeria's Ameto Akpe and Ghana's Samuel Agyemang, as they did their jobs.

As a reporter for Nigeria's BusinessDay newspaper, Ameto's stories target the contradiction of a country with immense oil wealth and great water resources that are not reaching their citizens.

ECONOMY - The Wall Street Story, Fact and Fiction

"After Goldman Sachs Resignation, Assessing Wall Street's 'Moral Fiber'" PBS Newshour 3/15/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): The investment bank Goldman Sachs is back at the center of public attention again over questions about its culture and business practices and whether it and other firms are too focused on their own profits.

As the New York Stock Exchange opened this morning, the financial world was still buzzing about an op-ed article in yesterday's New York Times. Greg Smith, a vice president at Goldman Sachs in Europe, resigned with a series of broadsides aimed at the bank.

He wrote that the firm cares about money, not about its customers -- quote -- "I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients," he said. "It's purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them."

Smith did not accuse Goldman of anything illegal, but he said CEO Lloyd Blankfein and president Gary Cohn had -- quote -- "lost hold of the firm's culture on their watch." And he warned that the decline in the firm's moral fiber is the single biggest threat to its survival.

In response, Blankfein and Cohn issued a public letter to employees, saying, "We are far from perfect, but where the firm has seen a problem, we have responded to it seriously and substantively. And we have demonstrated that fact."

But former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said yesterday that Goldman's character changed after it went public in 1999.

"Fictional Thriller Tackles Dangers of High-Frequency Trading"
PBS Newshour 3/15/2012

AFGHANISTAN - Karzai Backlash

"Afghanistan's Karzai to U.S. Troops: Leave Our Villages" PBS Newshour 3/15/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): The U.S. mission in Afghanistan ran into yet more trouble today. Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced he wants American forces to pull back to their bases after mass killings last weekend.

Karzai's call was the most direct fallout from Sunday's massacre of 16 Afghans, allegedly by an American soldier stationed at a small outpost near Kandahar. In a statement, he said: "International security forces have to be taken out of Afghan village outposts and return to bases immediately." The Afghan president also said he wants NATO to hand over all security duties to Afghan forces in 2013, a year early.


"Karzai Calls on U.S. to Pull Back as Taliban Cancel Talks" by ROD NORDLAND, ELISABETH BUMILLER, and MATTHEW ROSENBERG; New York Times 3/15/2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

WALL STREET - Goldman Sachs Culture Outed

"Public Rebuke of Culture at Goldman Opens Debate" by SUSANNE CRAIG and LANDON THOMAS JR, New York Times 3/14/2012


Until early Wednesday morning, Greg Smith was a largely anonymous 33-year-old midlevel executive at Goldman Sachs in London.

Now everyone at the firm — and on Wall Street — knows his name.

Mr. Smith resigned in an e-mail message to his bosses at 6:40 a.m. London time, laying out concerns that Goldman’s culture had gone haywire, putting its own interests ahead of its clients.

What the e-mail didn’t say was that about 15 minutes later, an Op-Ed article he had written detailing his criticisms was to be published in The New York Times. “It makes me ill how callously people still talk about ripping off clients,” he wrote in the Op-Ed article.

The Op-Ed landed “like a bomb,” inside Goldman, said one executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The article reignited a debate on the Internet and on cable television over whether Wall Street was corrupted by greed and excess. By noon, television crews crowded outside Goldman’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. More than three years after the financial crisis, the perception that little has changed on Wall Street — and that no one has been held accountable for the risk-taking that led to the crisis — looms large in the public consciousness. While it was an unusual cry from the heart of a Wall Street insider, many questioned whether it would prompt any change.

Goldman disagreed with the assertions in the Op-Ed article, saying that they did not reflect how the firm treated its clients. Top executives have previously said that despite some rough times of late, clients have stuck with the firm.

Friends of Mr. Smith, who had a list of Goldman’s business principles taped on a wall by his computers in London, say they were not surprised by his public farewell. “He has a really high moral fiber and really cared about the culture of the firm,” said Daniel Lipkin, a Miami lawyer who went to Stanford with Mr. Smith. Mr. Lipkin learned about the Op-Ed on Wednesday from Mr. Smith. “He sounded confident and felt good about his decision to go public,” he said.

WAIT! I thought that to goal of Wall-Street-Big-Business IS to rip off clients. They make more money that way.

POLITICA - Anti-Voter Laws, Update

"Waging a Battle Over Voter ID Laws" PBS Newshour 3/14/2012


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): A Wisconsin judge and the U.S. Justice Department moved separately this week to derail two new state voter identification laws. Since last year, eight state legislatures have moved to tighten access to the polls by requiring voters to show photo I.D. before they cast a ballot.

Overall, 16 states have passed or enacted a variety of poll access laws. The Justice Department said the Texas law passed last year could disenfranchise Hispanic voters. And two judges in Wisconsin declared that state's newer law amounted to voter suppression. But coast to coast, the debate is just beginning to heat up.

For an update on the ongoing dispute, we turn to Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, and Hans Von Spakovsky, manager of the Civil Justice Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation. He served in the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration.

AFGHANISTAN - Drawdown Update

"Obama, Cameron Outline Afghanistan Drawdown Plans"
PBS Newshour 3/14/2012

AFRICA - Sudan Update, Nuba Mountains

"George Clooney Puts 'Spotlight' on Bloodshed, Crisis in Sudan's Nuba Mountains" PBS Newshour 3/14/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Now, an update on the continued fighting in the African nation of Sudan and a well-known visitor to that country.

Last summer, people in South Sudan celebrated as they became citizens of the world's newest nation. After decades of internal violence in Sudan, the South won its independence in a 2011 referendum. But the South's hard-won freedom hasn't stopped the fighting for oil-rich territory and over ethnic divisions. Sudan is a major oil supplier to China and other nations.

Shortly before the formal break, the Sudanese government took military action in the border areas of Abyei and South Kordofan. That region had been aligned with the South, but now lies north of the new border. Fighting there has continued, with growing appeals for world action.

Actor George Clooney is a longtime advocate for peace across Sudan. He visited the border region this past week.

EDUCATION - Getting Girls Interested in Science/Technology/Engineering

"Oakland Program Aims to Pique Girls' Interest in Science, Tech Careers" PBS Newshour 3/14/2012 (Revisit from 12/29/2011)


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): ..... enticing students, especially girls, to stay in school by promoting a future for them in science, technology or engineering.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels has the story. It's part of our American Graduate series: an 18-month project with other public media partners to examine the causes of and solutions to the high school dropout problem.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

BP - Feds Ignore Safety Concerns

"Feds Let BP Off Probation Despite Pending Safety Violations" by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica 3/12/2012

BP’s refining subsidiary was released today from criminal probation related to a 2005 explosion in Texas City that killed 15 workers.

The company has addressed the most serious safety deficiencies exposed by the accident and satisfied the terms of a felony plea agreement to settle charges that it failed to protect workers from known risks, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said.

The move closes a controversial chapter for the company, but it leaves an array of worker-safety issues unresolved. BP is still negotiating over more than 400 additional violations brought against its Texas City refinery separately from the criminal case.

Following the explosion, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and BP reached a settlement requiring the company to address safety issues at the refinery. Fixing those problems became one of the Justice Department’s conditions for settling felony charges relating to the explosion and for ending the three-year probation period.

In late 2009, however, after a series of inspections, OSHA determined that BP had not addressed many of its safety lapses and levied 270 additional violations and a $87.4 million fine. It also hit the company with another 439 additional “egregious and willful” safety violations at the refinery that were not a component of the criminal case.

At issue then was whether the company had violated some of the most important terms of its probation even after it was given a second chance. In 2010, BP settled with OSHA, paying the agency $50.6 million and committing to making substantive safety changes by the court-set sunset of its probation period today (March 12).

A Justice Department spokesman said BP has met its obligations for probation, including addressing the 270 violations. The remaining 400 or so OSHA violations, however, were not specific to the Texas City agreement.

“These violations were unrelated to the 2005 settlement agreement and did not in the Department's view rise to criminal conduct,” said Wyn Hornbuckle, an agency spokesman, in a statement to ProPublica. “The Department did not seek any extension or revocation of BP's criminal probation.”

The resolution of those remaining violations will be dealt with administratively, by OSHA, Hornbuckle said, and not by the courts.

As the probation expired, confusion remained about exactly what improvements BP had made at its refineries. According to the 2010 agreement with OSHA, BP pledged to address the risk of catastrophic chemical releases and to install new protective equipment and instrument systems across the sprawling refinery’s 28 units.

It was not clear how much progress the company had made, however, and BP spokesman Daren Beaudo characterized the OSHA issues as Unresolved.

“We continue to work with OSHA to resolve these issues,” Beaudo wrote in an email. BP declined to say whether it had made any of the specific improvements listed in its 2010 settlement agreement, or to say how much money it had invested at the Texas City plant to meet the terms of its agreement with OSHA.

A spokeswoman for OSHA said the agency remained in negotiations with the company.

In an email exchange, OSHA told ProPublica that the agency could not provide copies of any of the quarterly progress reports that BP had agreed to submit, and that it was “unable” to specify how many of its outstanding violations BP had addressed.

On March 23, 2005, a facility used to distill gasoline and boost its octane content was overfilled by BP workers, spewing a geyser of flammable liquid into the air. The subsequent explosion destroyed an office trailer nearby, killed 15 workers, and sent nearly 200 more to area hospitals.

Like the investigations into BP’s Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a series of reports analyzing the refinery disaster found that the company had failed to follow basic steps to avert a disaster, had not installed or maintained equipment that would have helped prevent the leak and the explosion, and generally had a poor safety approach.

A 2010 investigation by ProPublica found that in the years before the explosion, BP had been repeatedly warned that its facilities were in need of repair, and the company had declined to replace ailing equipment — including the unit that failed the day of the explosion — in order to cut costs.

Documents obtained by ProPublica showed that an internal BP report shortly before the disaster said that employees at the plant worked with “an exceptional degree of fear.” The report warned that the plant might “kills (sic) someone in the next 12-18 months.”

The Texas refinery, which produces about 3 percent of the country’s gasoline, continued to have problems after the explosion. Several more workers died in accidents, and in 2010, the plant was found emitting a huge cloud of unpermitted toxic emissions.

After the toxic release, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas’s chief environmental regulator, charged the company with emissions reporting violations and alleged it had violated the terms of its probation with the federal government. BP settled that case, as well as an another similar emissions violation, with Texas in late 2011.

That left the criminal probation period and the outstanding OSHA violations as the final chapters in the Texas City saga.

BP has endeavored to keep the Texas City accident separate from claims and ongoing investigations into its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As recently as two weeks ago, the company’s lawyers argued in court that past accidents should have no bearing on a trial to decide liability for the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers.

BP sought to strike portions of testimony about Texas City and other past incidents from its former CEO, Tony Hayward, in depositions that would be admitted to the court.

BP announced last year that it would sell its Texas City refinery along with another facility outside Los Angeles. The company said this week it has suitors and expects to complete a sale by year’s end.

Hay, after all BP has such an outstanding reputation on caring about safety.... NOT!

MILITARY - Our Troops' Mental Health

"Aftershock: The Blast That Shook Psycho Platoon" by T. Christian Miller and Daniel Zwerdling (NPR), ProPublica 3/13/2012


ABC News and CNN have reported that the soldier who allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians previously suffered a traumatic brain injury during one of his four deployments, citing unnamed Defense Department sources. As part of our extensive coverage of traumatic brain injury, ProPublica featured a unit of soldiers dubbed "Psycho Platoon" who sustained brain injuries in Iraq and had severe mental health challenges when they returned from their deployments. In another story, we also visited Fort Lewis, where the soldier accused of the killings was based. While there, we talked to soldiers about how they are assessed for brain injuries.
At 8:20 p.m. on Sept. 21, 2010, Iraq veteran Brock Savelkoul decided it was time to die. He lurched from his black Tacoma pickup truck, gripping a 9-mm pistol. In front of him, a half dozen law enforcement officers crouched behind patrol cars with their weapons drawn. They had surrounded him on a muddy red road after an hour-long chase that reached speeds of 105 miles per hour. Savelkoul stared at the ring of men and women before ducking into the cab of his truck. He cranked up the radio. A country song about whiskey and cigarettes wafted out across an endless sprawl of North Dakota farmland, stubbled from the recent harvest. Sleet was falling, chilling the air. Savelkoul, 29, walked slowly toward the officers. He gestured wildly with his gun. "Go ahead, shoot me! ... Please, shoot me," he yelled, his face illuminated in a chiaroscuro of blazing spotlights and the deepening darkness. "Do it. Pull it. Do I have to point my gun at you to ... do it?"

Twenty feet away, the officers shifted nervously. Some placed their fingers on the triggers of their shotguns and took aim at Savelkoul's chest. They were exhausted, on edge after the chase and long standoff. They knew only the sketchiest of details about the man in front of them, his blond hair short, his face twisted in grief and anger. Dispatchers had told them that Savelkoul had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. They warned that he might have been drinking. Family members told police that Savelkoul had fled his home with six weapons, including a semiautomatic assault rifle and several hundred rounds of hollow point ammunition. To Megan Christopher, a trooper with the North Dakota Highway Patrol, Savelkoul's intentions seemed obvious. "Suicide by cop," she thought. "He wants to go out in a blaze of glory."

As it happened, Savelkoul's state of mind was of interest not only to the cops, but to some of the nation's top military officers and medical researchers.

More than 2 million troops have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Tens of thousands have returned with a bedeviling mix of psychological and cognitive problems. For decades, doctors have recognized that soldiers can suffer lasting wounds from the sheer terror of combat, a condition referred to today as post-traumatic stress disorder. They also have come to know that blows to the head from roadside bombs -- the signature weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan -- can result in mild traumatic injuries to the brain, or concussions, that can leave soldiers unable to remember, to follow orders, to think normally.

Now it is becoming clear that soldiers like Savelkoul are coming home afflicted with both conditions, in numbers never seen before. Studies have estimated that about 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury while deployed. Of those, anywhere between 5 percent to nearly 50 percent may suffer both PTSD and lingering problems from traumatic brain injuries. It is an epidemic so new that doctors aren't even sure what to call it, let alone how best to diagnose and treat it.

ECONOMY - Gas Prices 3/2012

"How Uncertainty, Speculation Factor Into Gas Prices" PBS Newshour 3/13/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The U.S. economy gave off new signs of momentum today, from retail sales to the Federal Reserve's latest outlook. They provided reasons for optimism, even as rising gas prices gave cause for concern.

American shoppers are picking up the pace. Retail sales rose more than 1 percent in February, the most in five months. That news followed Friday's report that employers added another 227,000 jobs in February. Consequently, the Federal Reserve said today the economy is expanding moderately.

But the Fed also warned that the spike in gas prices will feed inflation, at least temporarily. In fact, with gasoline up 30 cents a gallon in the past month, President Obama is feeling the political heat. He acknowledged as much yesterday in Washington.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As long as gas prices are going up, people are going to feel like I'm not doing enough. And I understand that, because people get hurt when they're going to that gas station and seeing those prices rise every day.

COMMENT: Truth, there's little ANY President can do when it comes to prices for anything.

AFGHANISTAN - Kandahar Killings Reaction and Reasons

"Insurgents Attack Afghan Delegation at Massacre Site" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/13/2012

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): New violence erupted in Afghanistan today after a U.S. soldier allegedly killed 16 civilians Sunday. At the same time, President Obama condemned the killings again in his strongest words yet, and the U.S. military found probable cause to continue holding the suspect soldier.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Gunfire exploded again this morning at the scene of Sunday's massacre near Kandahar. Insurgents opened fire on a visiting delegation of senior Afghan officials who had come to pay respects, including two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers.

They were unhurt, but one Afghan guard was killed and another wounded. The Taliban said it was in retaliation for the killing of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by an American soldier. And in Jalalabad, hundreds of Afghan students burned an effigy of President Obama and a cross.

MAN (through translator): We condemn the killing in Kandahar by the infidel occupiers. And, secondly, we want the immediate trial of the culprits for the killing of the martyred victims in Kandahar.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, in Washington, President Obama tried again to calm the anti-American rage.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it's unacceptable. It's not who we are as a country, and it does not represent our military.

And for that reason, I've directed the Pentagon to make sure that we spare no effort in conducting a full investigation. I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us, and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The soldier in custody is a 38-year-old staff sergeant from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Pentagon officials continued to withhold his name today, pending charges.

But they said he served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury at one point.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, traveling abroad, said the soldier could be subject to the death penalty. He also argued that Sunday's attack must not undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They've taken place in any war. They're terrible events. And this is not the first of those events, and it probably won't be the last.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Taliban demanded today that the soldier be tried as a war criminal and then executed by the victims' relatives.

"What Do We Know About Kandahar Killings Suspect?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 3/13/2012

NUCLEAR POWER - Fukushima One Year Later 3

"Fukushima's Food Fallout: Testing Groceries for Radiation in Japan" PBS Newshour 3/13/2012 (Series Part-3)


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): Next, the last in our special series on the aftermath in Japan, one year after the nuclear accident at Fukushima.

NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien has been reporting on the continuing concerns in the region, including fears of contamination.

Tonight, how Japanese citizens are grappling with very real questions about farming and food safety.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


(click for better view)

"NASA and GM reveal Robo-Glove for astronauts and engineers" by Chris Davies, Slash Gear 3/13/2012

Tech for astronauts and automotive engineers seldom overlaps, but a robotic glove co-developed by General Motors and NASA could change all that. An offshoot of the Robonaut 2 project from last year, the Human Grasp Assist device – known unofficially as the K-glove or Robo-Glove – promises to make manual labor less intensive as well as reduce the risk of repetitive-stress injuries by cutting the amount of force needed to hold and use tools.

“An astronaut working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly operator in a factory might need to use 15-20 pounds of force to hold a tool during an operation” the teams say, “but with the robotic glove only five-to-10 pounds of force might need to be applied.”

Pressure sensors in the fingertips of the glove track when the wearer is grasping a tool, triggering actuators threaded through the upper section. These augment the user’s own action, with synthetic tendons clamping down until the sensors are released.

The current, second-gen prototype weighs around two pounds taking into account the control electronics and actuators, and have a display for programming and diagnostics. The battery – an off-the-shelf LiIon pack more commonly used for power tools – is mounted on a belt-clip battery with a belt-clip; a third-gen prototype is already in the works, reducing both bulk and weight.

NASA and GM say the tech is on course for worker use “in the near future.”

AMERICA - Oregon Butterfly Storm

"In Oregon, Rare 'Snowstorm' of Pine Butterflies Takes Toll on Forests"
PBS Newshour 3/12/2012

NUCLEAR POWER - Fukushima One Year Later 2

"After 500 Years in Family, Rice Farmers Forced Off Land by Fukushima" PBS Newshour 3/12/2012 (Series Part-2)


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Next, the enormous challenges of trying to clean up radiation contamination from the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan. Sunday marked the first anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdowns.

NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien returned to the region for a series of stories.

Here's his second report.

SYRIA - Free Syrian Army

"Inside the Free Syrian Army"
PBS Newshour 3/12/2012

AFGHANISTAN - Killings Chopping the Legs Off U.S. Goals

This is getting RIDICULOUS! We (U.S.) are not just shooting ourselves in the foot, we are cutting our legs off.

The DoD needs to get their act together and pay attention to physiological condition of our troops, especially those who have been in Afghanistan often and for long deployments. The longer our troops have been there, the closer they should be physiologically evaluated.

"In Afghanistan, Furor Rises Over Civilian Killings" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/12/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): A massacre in the middle of the night, Afghan civilians slaughtered as they slept, an American soldier the lone suspect.

U.S. officials struggled to make sense of those stark facts today, as Afghans demanded justice.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage.

Now, the understatement.....

"Afghan Civilian Killings Give Taliban 'Valuable Propaganda,' Analyst Says" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 3/12/2012


STEVE CLEMONS, New America Foundation: Well, I think this has given the Taliban an edge and a piece of very valuable propaganda.

I think that whatever may be going on behind the scenes in trying to negotiate some deal with the Taliban, with the Afghan government's inclusion and the Pakistan government allowing it to happen, that the correlation of forces, if you will, just shifted a bit more towards the Taliban, that whatever edge we thought we might have had gave way somewhat with this incident.

And I think that, to a certain degree -- and I agree with Seth that this has been, you know, such a cauldron of horror for so long for so many people that part of the issue internally is, the Taliban have done awful things. But the United States was the trusted player. Many Afghans look at the fact that inside their country, they see Iran, they see China, they see India, they see others meddling inside their domestic operation.

And the U.S. was supposed to be the trusted ally. And this makes it easier. . .

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): It didn't sound like that coming from Hamid Karzai.

STEVE CLEMONS: No, no. And I don't think he can position himself to be that close to the United States while there is so much anger about this incident.

And I think that really does damage the ability to talk, because what most Afghans are beginning to realize -- and they have acquiesced to -- is the U.S. is on its way out. And they see two or three more decades of turmoil and civil war as being the life they're likely to have. And this makes the punctuation point of a departure point with the United States easier. And that's really tragic.

Monday, March 12, 2012

ECONOMY - Tax Collections vs a Fairer Tax Code

"Spitzer: Richest Americans Would Likely Still Work Facing 60% Tax Rate" PBS Newshour 3/9/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): This week, a special program that affects every one of you, taxes.

We want to start with some big numbers. In 2011, the federal budget was $3.6 trillion. But federal revenues were only $2.3 trillion. Most of that money comes from taxes. Individual income taxes, followed by social security taxes, Medicare taxes, corporate taxes, gasoline taxes, and the rest.

Despite all those tax collections, the U.S. still had a budget deficit of nearly $1.3 trillion during the last fiscal year.

Of course, much more rapid economic growth would mean more tax revenues and help close that deficit. But unless and until that happens, we're left with two ways to make the budget whole: Cut spending or raise more money from taxes. Today, our focus is on that side of the equation, taxes.

Specifically, how we can raise more money and make the tax code fairer for everyone. Joining us from left to right in every sense, Eliot Spitzer is the former Democratic governor of New York, Dorothy Brown is a Professor of Law at Emory University, specializing in federal tax law. Bruce Bartlett was a former Policy Analyst in the Reagan White House. He helped draft the nation's last major tax reform in 1986. He's written a new book called "The Benefit and the Burden." And Dan Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and previously served as an economist for the Senate Finance Committee.

Need to Know, "Cleaning up the tax mess" (22:42) PBS 3/9/2012

ECONOMY - Jobs, More Momentum

"Jobs Report Shows 'More Momentum,' but Unevenness Seen in U.S. Recovery" PBS Newshour 3/9/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The jobs numbers for February offered new signs of hope today that the recovery is gaining some traction. The president pointed to progress, while his opponents said it's still not nearly good enough.

The U.S. economy has now turned in three of its strongest months of job growth since the recession began.

COMMENT: Americans do want the job market to improve MORE than it has, even myself although I'm semiretired. I worry about my fellow Americans.

Having said that (as I've said in the past) I do NOT expect the job market to grow as fast as we would like. You don't fill an 8yr-hole in our economy to be filled in just 4yrs, or 8yrs for that matter.

The sad truth is government can do little to grow the economy (including the job market) no matter what ANY politician promises.

What we can, or should, expect is the slow-but-steady improvement we have today.

Also, as to job expectations, the FIRST priority is to GET A JOB even if it's at lower pay or does not match a previous job. Once you get a job, a paycheck, then you can continue to look for better pay or a position that matches your previous job.

NUCLEAR POWER - Fukushima One Year Later

"Near Fukushima, a Big 'Guessing Game' Over Radiation's Long-Term Risks" PBS Newshour 3/9/2012 (Series Part-1)


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Sunday will mark a year since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The pair of tragic events killed as many as 20,000 people, and led to the partial meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plants.

The Japanese government is expected to be cleaning up radiation for years, and nearly 90,000 residents in an evacuation zone had to leave their homes, likely forever.

NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien recently returned to the area for a series of reports one year later.

Here's the first.

"Fukushima Survivor: 'I've Hardly Smiled This Whole Year' (Part-1)"
PBS Newshour 3/9/2012

Fukushima Survivor: 'I've Hardly Smiled This Whole Year' (Part-2)

Friday, March 09, 2012

AMERICA - Fish in the Fields

"Oregon Farmers Surprised to Find Fish in Fields"
PBS Newshour 3/8/2012

AFRICA - Satan's Son Lives, Joseph Kony

"'Kony 2012': 'Unprecedented' Viral Video's Message, Backlash Examined" PBS Newshour 3/8/2012


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): The 30-minute video was posted on YouTube Monday and quickly went viral. The work of the non-profit group Invisible Children, it purports to document atrocities committed by militant Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and Central Africa beginning in the 1980s.

NARRATOR: For 26 years, Kony has been kidnapping children into his rebel group, the LRA, turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into child soldiers.

He makes them mutilate people's faces and he forces them to kill their own parents. And this is not just a few children. It's been over 30,000 of them.

MARGARET WARNER: Over the course of the week, the number of views on YouTube alone skyrocketed from a few thousand on Monday to more than 38 million today. It was most popular with young people ages 13 to 24.

The video features Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell explaining Kony's actions to his son, Gavin.

JASON RUSSELL, co-founder, Invisible Children: Joseph Kony, he has an army, okay? And what he does is, he takes children from their parents and he gives them a gun to shoot, and he makes them shoot and kill other people.

BOY: But they're not going to do what he says because they're nice guys, right?

JASON RUSSELL: Yeah, they don't want do what he says, but he forces them to do bad things. What do you think about that?

BOY: Sad.

NOTE: The 'boy' is Jason Russell's son.

IMHO: All this video by Jason Russell and Invisible Children is doing, is putting the spotlight on just ONE of the players in this Uganda and Central Africa, which is a good thing. Is obviously NOT intended to address all those responsible.

It worries me that the blogosphear is so focused on other issues, rather than join the focus on Joseph Kony, on just this one criminal. Also, using the term "famous" is a mistake, Joseph Kony is infamous.

This is a very small step (one step at a time) for the problems in Africa or elsewhere, and it does NOT detract from the other problems.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

SCIENCE - Studying the Jet Streams

(click for better view)

"NASA to blast 5 rockets in 5 min in jet stream test" by Brid-Aine Parnell, The Register 3/8/2012

NASA is planning to light up the night sky in the next month, sending five rockets at the same time to the edge of space to find out more about the jet stream winds that circle the planet.

The space agency is waiting for a clear night between 14 March and 4 April to blast off the five sounding rockets, known as the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX), all within five minutes.

The 35 to 40 feet (10.5 to 12m) boosters will be exploring the high-altitude jet stream to give boffins more information on the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage man-made satellites and disrupt communication systems.

The winds high up in the sky – just below a typical satellite's orbit but above where passenger jets fly – rush through the atmosphere at speeds of up to 300 miles an hour (483kmph). Atmospheric disturbances in the jet streams above one part of the Earth can be transported across the world in just a day or two.

"This area shows winds much larger than expected," Miguel Larsen, a space scientist at Clemson University who is working with the rockets, said in a canned statement.

"We don't yet know what we're going to see, but there is definitely something unusual going on. ATREX will help us understand the big question about what is driving these fast winds."

Figuring out where the wind comes from requires the boffins to look at the way the winds move and the kind of turbulence they show.

The five sounding rockets will blast off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, trailing a chemical tracer of trimethyl aluminium, which will leave milky white clouds behind, allowing scientists on the ground to "see" the winds and track them with cameras. Two of the rockets will also have instruments on board that can measure pressure and temperature while they're up there.

The cloud trails from the rocket will last for 20 minutes and should be visible to people along the east coast of the US from South Carolina to New Jersey.

"People have launched single rockets before," Larsen said. "But the key here is that we're extending the range of measurements to many hundreds of miles. The furthest rocket will make it half way to Bermuda."

NASA wants to launch five of the sounding rockets because the boffins want to find out if the turbulence is 3D or 2D in order to figure out where the winds might be coming from.

If the turbulence is three-dimensional, it would suggest that the winds are like gusting winds on Earth, telling the scientists that the winds could be driven by heat in the atmosphere, which varies during the course of a day. However, other man-made tracers, such as the exhaust from space shuttles, hasn't broken up and dissipated the way it should have down if this kind of turbulence is up there.

The turbulence could also be two-dimensional, which would support the theory that the wind is a directed, jet stream flow, strongly enhanced by the combination of electrical currents and the rate of the Earth's rotation.

MEDIA - Computer Live-Capture, Games, and More

"‘Heavy Rain’ video game creator David Cage innovates with high-tech ‘Kara’ performance" by Associated Press, Washington Post 3/8/2012

The future of performance-capture technology is right around the corner, and its name just might be “Kara.”

David Cage of video game developer Quantic Dream unveiled a new way to simultaneously capture and digitize an actor’s performance — including voice, face and body — during a presentation Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The innovation came in the form of a 7-minute non-interactive demonstration titled “Kara.”

In the footage, which Cage said could be entirely run on a PlayStation 3, actress Valorie Curry portrays an android named Kara who gains self-awareness as she’s being assembled by a squad of robotic arms. The virtual Kara emotively speaks in English, French and German, as well as sings in Japanese, as she converses with an operator who is heard but never seen.

“I think the most interesting future feature in the next-gen platforms should be meaningful content,” said Cage. “Yes, technology is great and is going to be better and better, and we’ll have more power until you won’t be able to tell the difference between reality and virtual, but what are you going to use this technology for and what do you have to say?”

Cage, who wrote and directed the 2010 thriller game “Heavy Rain,” noted that “Kara” is a demo, not Quantic Dream’s next project. He said the new technology from the French studio could be used for full performance capture, a technique where all aspects of a portrayal are recorded at once, rather than the common practice of separately capturing them.

Unlike the methods used to capture actors’ performances in “Avatar,” Cage said the performance capture technology developed by Quantic Dream used about 90 sensors placed on an actor’s face instead of a small camera mounted in front of the actor’s noggin. It’s also faster, less expensive and requires quiet because the audio and movement are captured together.


SYRIA - Highest Ranking Civilian Official to Date Defects

"Senior Syrian official defects to protest Assad's crackdown" AP, USA Today 3/8/2012

Syria's deputy oil minister announced his defection in an online video that emerged Thursday, making him the highest ranking civilian official to abandon the regime since the uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted a year ago.

Abdo Husameddine's announcement came one day after the top U.S. general said President Barack Obama has asked for a preliminary review of military options in Syria, as the conflict grows increasingly dire. The U.N. estimates 7,500 people have been killed.

"I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime," Husameddine said in a video posted on YouTube, adding that he was joining "the dignified people's revolution."

He appeared to address President Bashar Assad directly.

"You have inflicted on those you claim are your people a full year of sorrow and sadness, denied them the their basic rights to life and humanity and pushed the country to the edge of the abyss," said Husameddine, wearing a suit and tie and appearing to be reading from a paper.

It was not clear when or where the video was made. There was no comment from Damascus.

Husameddine identified himself as an "assistant" to the oil minister and a member of the ruling Baath Party and said he has served 33 years in various government positions. Cabinet ministers in Syria may have several assistants known as deputies.

The defection came as international condemnation on Assad mounts.

On Wednesday, the U.N. humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, got the first independent outside look at the Baba Amr district of Homs following a deadly monthlong siege. The military took control of Baba Amr on March 1, but Amos was allowed in only Wednesday.

She said Thursday she was struck by the devastation she saw in the shattered neighborhood. She found it mostly empty after residents fled the fighting. Activists charge that Syrian forces conducted cleanup operations there, including executions and arrests.

"The devastation there is significant. That part of Homs is completely destroyed, and I am concerned to learn what happened to the people in that part of the city," she said in Damascus, a relatively peaceful stronghold of Assad's regime.

"I have been struck by the difference between what I have seen here in Damascus and what I saw yesterday in Baba Amr," she added.

But shortly after she spoke, Syrian security forces opened fire to disperse mourners in Mazzeh, an upscale neighborhood of Damascus. The crowd had gathered for the funeral of a soldier who was allegedly executed last month for refusing to obey orders to shoot at civilians in Homs.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said scores of people were arrested as security forces attacked the crowd in Mazzeh. There was no word of casualties.

In Cairo, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan said his top priority as special envoy to Syria is to end the violence and deliver badly needed aid.

He warned against further militarization of the conflict and urged the opposition to come together with the government to find a political solution.

"I hope that no one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation," Annan said. "I believe any further militarization would make the situation worse."

Addressing a news conference after talks with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, he said he would be making "realistic" proposals to resolve the conflict. He did not elaborate.

Annan, who has been appointed joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, is scheduled to travel to Damascus on Saturday, where he will likely meet Assad.

Annan said his mission was to start a "political process" in Syria to resolve the conflict there, and his only priority was the welfare of the Syrian people. "They are a brave, ancient people and they deserve better," he said.

Although there are widespread concerns that military action in Syria would be difficult, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that Obama has ordered up a Pentagon review of options.

Dempsey said the options to be examined included enforcing a no-fly zone and humanitarian airlifts. Dempsey said the military would study the situation and report back on points like Syria's sophisticated air defenses and its extensive stockpile of chemical weapons. He said the assessment would include "mission, enemy, terrain, troops and time."

The committee chairman, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, said the time is not right for a U.S. move against Syria.

Kerry told CBS's "This Morning" Thursday that there are stark differences between Syria and Libya, where NATO airstrikes helped topple dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year. Kerry said Washington "can't just jump up some morning and say, 'Let's go and drop some bombs on Syrian tanks.'"

The uprising began with largely peaceful protests, but faced with a vicious regime crackdown, it has become increasingly militarized. The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed in the yearlong violence. Activists put the death toll at more than 8,000.

Assad's power structure has suffered a steady stream of army defectors, who have joined a group of dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army, now numbering in the thousands, but civilian government officials have remained largely loyal.

That added significance to the defection of Husameddine, the deputy oil minister.

Among numerous military defections recently was that of Syrian Brig. Gen. Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheik, who fled to Turkey in January, becoming the highest ranking officer to bolt.

In late August, Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general of the central city of Hama, appeared in a a video announcing he had defected from the regime. Authorities reported he had been kidnapped and said he was being kept against his will by gunmen. He has not been heard from since.

In the YouTube video, Husameddine said he was defecting "knowing full well that this regime will burn my home, persecute my family and make up a lot of lies."

"I advise my colleagues … to abandon this sinking ship," he added.