Monday, April 30, 2012

ECONOMY - Outlook, Very Slow Growth in U.S.

"Troubling New Signs Plague European, U.S. Economies" PBS Newshour 4/27/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): For a closer look at economic woes here and abroad, we turn to Scheherazade Rehman. She is director of the European Union Research Center and professor of international finance at George Washington University.

And, Scheherazade, teetering governments, debt downgrades, in the U.S. positive, GDP growth, but not as much as people expected. Is there a thread that connects these data points, a pattern in all of this?

SCHEHERAZADE REHMAN, George Washington University: Well, I think the pattern is pretty clear. We in the United States are experiencing very, very slow growth.

HEALTHCARE - High Deductible Health Insurance Scams

"High-Deductible Plans a 'Quiet Revolution in Health Insurance'" PBS Newshour 4/27/2012


BETTY ANN BOWSER (Newshour): Dennis Adams is what the insurance industry calls a young invincible.

DENNIS ADAMS, professional dancer: I figured nothing would happen to me. When I was 26 or 25, when I got the plan originally, I had never had surgery, I had never broken a bone, I had never been in an ambulance, I had never been to the hospital.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: So when the non-profit Oberlin Dance Company of San Francisco offered a new type of health insurance three years ago, the 27-year-old professional dancer didn't think twice. He signed up right away.

It was a high-deductible insurance plan that traded lower monthly premiums for higher out-of-pocket costs to employees. In this case, Adams would have to pay $2,500 up front before his health insurance would kick in, if he needed it.

Then, the unthinkable.

DENNIS ADAMS: I got hurt.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: During a performance like this, Adams tore his ACL. When he need an MRI to determine how bad the damage was, the provider demanded the $1,600 test be paid for up front.

Adams was stunned, but, even worse, he didn't have the money. Of the growing number of companies that are going to high-deductible plans, about 23 percent of them offer employees some type of rainy-day option, usually called a health savings account, or HSA. And even though the dance company is a non-profit with a tight bottom line, it puts $100 a month in each employee's account.

The 30 people on the plan can also contribute to it tax-free, and the money rolls over year after year and from job to job. In the end, workers comp paid for Adams' treatment because the injury happened on the job. But for the young dancer, it was a teachable moment. He went back to a traditional plan with higher monthly premiums.

Dr. Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation in Palo Alto, calls this a reshaping of the insurance market

COMMENT: "A reshaping of the insurance market" to feed greed.

Needless to say, Dennis Adams' story fits the Republican sink-or-swim modus operandi. Dennis made the decision so too bad. The typical lack of concern about human beings and their health. Money before people's health.

What it comes down to ANYONE on these plans had better think about what happens if they are in a car accident with injuries. Also consider that they are NOT forever-young and as they get older they WILL need more health care. So they had better have money socked away just in case, but that defeats the purpose of living within a low budget.

Note the young lady with the headaches in the video, her plan does NOT include preventative care, which should include visits for repetitive headaches? I would NEVER use such a plan.

Friday, April 27, 2012

LIBERIA - The Hague, Taylor Guilty

"Liberia's Taylor Found Guilty of Aiding, Abetting Sierra Leone War Crimes" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 4/26/2012

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): For the first time since World War II, a head of state has been convicted of war crimes. The verdict came today at The Hague in the Netherlands against Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia.

We begin with a report from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

ALEX THOMSON: It took Judge Richard Lussick well over two hours to read out his verdict. But that's after a trial that lasted five -- yes, five -- years.

JUDGE RICHARD LUSSICK, Special Court for Sierra Leone: The trial chamber unanimously finds you guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of the following crimes and planning the commission of the following crimes.

ALEX THOMSON: Murder, rape, using child soldiers, mutilation, sex slavery.

Charles Taylor, the former Liberian leader, planned and aided hundreds of thousand of these offenses over a three-year war fought by his militias in neighboring Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor used diamond money to fund his proxy forces fighting in Sierra Leone.

So the court found there was no evidence that Charles Taylor was the commander of the forces in Sierra Leone that committed these atrocities, but there was clear evidence that he'd aided, abetted and planned what they did in that country.

BRENDA HOLLIS, prosecutor: Today is for the people of Sierra Leone who suffered horribly at the hands of Charles Taylor and his proxy forces. This judgment brings some measure of justice to the many thousands of victims who paid a terrible price for Mr. Taylor's crimes.

ALEX THOMSON: That price still very obvious in Sierra Leone today and in The Hague, too. Violent militias run by heads of state, human rights groups have been quick today to say it's a huge message that nobody is now above the law.

They're sincere, but entirely wrong, as defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths Q.C. pointed out.

COURTENAY GRIFFITHS, attorney for Charles Taylor: Have we forgotten Nicaragua? Have we forgotten El Salvador? Have we forgotten the mujahideen in Afghanistan? Whether you're the president of the United States or the prime minister of Britain, if you engage in such covert activities and crimes are committed, yes, haul in before an international court.

ALEX THOMSON: But limited justice, it will be argued, is better than no justice at all, and, in that regard, a little history was made here today.

"Charles Taylor's Conviction 'Pushes International Law Further' for Related Cases" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 4/26/2012

TECHNOLOGY - A Downside?

"Downloadable Gun Parts, Personalized Bioterror: the Downside of Innovation" PBS Newshour 4/26/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And now part two in our series on using technology to make the world a better place.

That's the goal of Singularity University, a futuristic think tank in California.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman recently attended a conference there and reported on some of the mind-bending research being explored.

Tonight, Paul looks at the downside of the high-tech revolution. It's part of ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

EDUCATION - The Technology-Science Gender Gap

"Bridging the Gender Gap: Why More Women Aren't Computer Scientists, Engineers"
PBS Newshour 4/26/2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

CHINA - The Bo Xilai Scandal Widens Again

"Ousted Chinese Leader Is Said to Have Spied on Other Top Officials" by JONATHAN ANSFIELD and IAN JOHNSON, New York Times 4/25/2012


When Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, picked up the telephone last August to talk to a senior anticorruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped — by local officials in that southwestern metropolis.

The discovery of that and other wiretapping led to an official investigation that helped topple Chongqing’s charismatic leader, Bo Xilai, in a political cataclysm that has yet to reach a conclusion.

Until now, the downfall of Mr. Bo has been cast largely as a tale of a populist who pursued his own agenda too aggressively for some top leaders in Beijing and was brought down by accusations that his wife had arranged the murder of Neil Heywood, a British consultant, after a business dispute. But the hidden wiretapping, previously alluded to only in internal Communist Party accounts of the scandal, appears to have provided another compelling reason for party leaders to turn on Mr. Bo.

The story of how China’s president was monitored also shows the level of mistrust among leaders in the one-party state. To maintain control over society, leaders have embraced enhanced surveillance technology. But some have turned it on one another — repeating patterns of intrigue that go back to the beginnings of Communist rule.

“This society has bred mistrust and violence,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a historian of Communist China’s elite-level machinations over the past half century. “Leaders know you have to watch your back because you never know who will put a knife in it.”

Nearly a dozen people with party ties, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, confirmed the wiretapping, as well as a widespread program of bugging across Chongqing. But the party’s public version of Mr. Bo’s fall omits it.

WALL STREET - Behaviour Change?

"After the Fall: How Has Wall Street's Behavior Changed?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 4/25/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Next: "After the Fall." We continue our look at what's changed since the financial meltdown of 2008, our focus tonight, Wall Street in the wake of laws passed to regulate it more tightly.

The biggest change in the wake of the financial crisis, the so-called Dodd-Frank regulations, passed with mostly Democratic support and signed into law by President Obama two years ago. Intended to prevent future meltdowns, the law created new oversight agencies, including one to examine financial products for consumers and another to reduce systemic risk to the banking sector from institutions considered too big to fail.

It also imposed new capital requirements on banks to limit their exposure to debt and avoid costly bailouts, brought risky shadow banking activities onto open exchanges under the watch of government regulators, and placed restrictions on banks making bets with their own money while engaged in consumer lending, known as the Volcker rule.

But the new regulations have had critics from the start, including financial institutions that argue the restrictions are excessive and are having a negative impact on even solid banking practices, to the detriment of the overall economy.

So what's changed and what hasn't?

We hear from Lynn Stout, professor of corporate and business law at Cornell University, Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO, a global investment management firm and the world's largest bond fund, and Peter Wallison, senior fellow for financial policy at the American Enterprise Institute. He served in the Treasury Department in the Reagan administration and as a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

Significant excerpt

LYNN STOUT, Professor, Cornell University: What we're dealing with here is the fact that the banking industry and the financial industry changed fairly dramatically over the past 20 or 30 years, and not in a healthy direction.

Twenty or 30 years ago, banks and investment banks were primarily involved in the capital-raising business. They helped connect up savers with entrepreneurs who were building new projects, building new companies. That was a very socially valuable activity.

But over the past '80s, '90s, and into 2000s, what happened is that the financial sector increasingly moved away from its basic and important capital-raising function, and became a trading center, where people were just passing securities back and forth, trading bits of existing businesses or even trading derivatives on businesses.

And that's not a business model that can sustain itself. It was great for a short-term party, where a lot of people got rich for a while. But at the end of the day, when you're just trading things back and forth, and you make your money by trading in an advantage relative to the other person, that's a zero-sum game. That's not a way to -- towards sustainable growth.

And, eventually, Wall Street cannibalized its own customer base. There really aren't people out there with the money to spend and the interest in trading that there used to be. And I think the Wall Street firms are having a real problem adjusting to the idea that trading isn't their lifeblood and can't be in the long run. They have to go back to their old capital-raising function. And they're having a problem doing that.

COMMENT: The REAL issue is banking ethics. Today they are taking big risks with YOUR money (corporate, retirement funds, investors in general) NOT their own. AND they were doing it in a NON-TRANSPARENT manner.

Why? GREED, they just make more money using this method. They behave as if they have no ethical prerogative to protect the money of clients, they ONLY focus on company profits.

Note this is the attitude presented by Peter Willison, American Enterprise Institute....

The world has gone from a world in which loans were made by banks or capital was raised by banks through selling shares for companies, to a world in which most companies are now accessing the capital markets to finance themselves.

....and he sees no ethical problem with that.

EDUCATION - Indiana, Keeping Students in School

"In Indiana School District, Dropouts Have Tech Alternative to Regular Classroom" PBS Newshour 4/25/2012


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): Our latest story about the dropout crisis and efforts to keep students in school comes from the Midwest.

Special correspondent John Tulenko of Learning Matters Television profiles one school district that altered its whole approach toward at-risk students.

It's part of our ongoing American Graduate project.

More excerpts

JOHN TULENKO: Watch lists have proliferated in high schools, owing largely to No Child Left Behind. The federal education law penalizes schools that fail to raise graduation rates.

To get its potential dropouts back on track, Shelbyville turned to technology. In this classroom at a local college, high school students in danger of dropping out can make up the courses they failed, and take new ones on computers.

Melissa Lakes runs the program.

MELISSA LAKES, Shelbyville Schools: It's at their own pace. It doesn't make them move on until they're ready to move on. It doesn't nag at them for not getting it right the first time around. You know, it's just -- it's whatever they need.

JOHN TULENKO: Nationwide, school districts seeking to raise graduation rates have embraced this alternative approach called online credit recovery.

Shelbyville runs three-hour classes, five days a week, with afternoon sessions for busy students like Kayla Owsley.

MICHAEL MAUPIN, student: (slow learner) Here, you can listen to music. You don't have as many people out here bugging you, or you don't have your teacher talking the whole class period.

JOHN TULENKO: At each of the computer centers, students track their own progress. Every time they pass a course, they tear a tab off these sheets, and the tabs go quickly.

MICHAEL MAUPIN: Here your work is a lot easier.

JOHN TULENKO: Easier? What do you mean?

MICHAEL MAUPIN: How do I put this? Out here, you can get a credit in half-a-week, a week, a couple of days.

KAYLA OWSLEY, student: It took me about two weeks to get one class done.

JOHN TULENKO: Have you seen kids move through the material quickly?

JASON WEST, Shelbyville Schools: I have.

JOHN TULENKO: What are we talking about?

JASON WEST: I'd say we're looking at a month, to month-and-a-half.

JOHN TULENKO: It's quicker, advocates say, because it breaks with the traditional model of schooling, which requires everyone to sit through semester-long courses, even though some students can master the material faster.

COMMENT: About student Michael Maupin, I have to wonder about his attitude and REAL life. I've got news for him, in real life he will HAVE to deal with what he finds objectionable in school. The world will NOT adjust to him, he has to adjust to reality.

As to students moving at their own pace, this has always been better for any student, K-12 or college. The problem has been implementing the idea in traditional schools, hard to do.

It is easier in the college setting, especially where they have online computer courses where you have live-video to interact with a teacher, or recorded-video of the course presentation, and may include eMail/Chat contact with teacher or other students taking the course.

AMERICA - Did Wal-Mart Orchestrate Bribery Scheme?

"Wal-Mart Bribery Allegations: What Legal Problems, Penalties Could it Face?" PBS Newshour 4/25/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): With more than 2,000 stores throughout the country, Mexico is an important foreign market for Wal-Mart. But a New York Times investigation has raised troubling questions over Wal-Mart's dominance there and how it came to be.

Among some of the findings: Former executives for the company orchestrated a campaign of bribery to obtain construction permits and build stores more quickly during the past decade, a paper trail of bribery documenting payments of more than $24 million, and top executives of the company seemed to shut down an internal investigation until recently.

Wal-Mart is now conducting an inquiry into whether employees may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That's a federal law that makes it a crime for American companies to bribe foreign officials.

Bloomberg News also reports the company is the subject of a criminal probe by the U.S. Justice Department.

We look more closely at the law and potential violations with Joseph Hoffmann. He's a professor of law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

IMMIGRATION - Supreme Court Battle on Arizona's Law

"In Ariz. Immigration Case, Supreme Court Weighs Limits of Federal, State Powers" PBS Newshour 4/15/2012


SUMMARY: As the Supreme Court heard arguments on Arizona's contentious immigration law Wednesday, justices appeared skeptical of the Obama administration's claim that the state had overstepped federal law. Gwen Ifill and Marcia Coyle discuss the arguments and the four distinct parts that are being challenged.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today over Arizona's immigration law. The justices appeared skeptical of the administration's claim that the state had overstepped federal law.

Following the arguments, supporters and critics of the measure made their case outside the court.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

WALL STREET - Ailing Housing Market Update

"After the Fall: Have Government Programs Helped Ailing Housing Market?" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 4/24/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): The signs of strain were evident again today in the U.S. housing market. The latest numbers highlighted how tough it's been to fix a vital economic sector.

Tonight, we look at the housing news as we begin a series, "After the Fall," on how Wall Street, the economy, and financial regulation have changed since the crisis of 2008.

Builders have been cutting back on housing construction, but, in March, there were still more new homes for sale than people wanted to buy. The National Association of Realtors reports sales last month fell over 7 percent, the most in more than a year. Overall, some 328,000 homes sold, less than half the rate in a healthy market.

And a closely watched index found home prices fell 1 percent as well. They have been falling for six months in a row. Overall, the data underscored just how much the housing market continues to struggle four years after the mortgage meltdown.

The Bush and Obama administrations both created programs to stem foreclosures, but they have come up short. One program designed to help four million homeowners refinance has led to just about 900,000 permanent loan modifications so far.

Excerpt from the Frontline's "Money, Power and Wall Street"

NARRATOR: Geithner realized he needed to know how bad Bear's books looked. He dispatched a SWAT team of investigators from the Federal Reserve to Bear's headquarters.

BETHANY MCLEAN, "All the Devils Are Here": Tim Geithner is frantically involved in trying to figure out what's going to happen if Bear melts down and how you need to prevent it from going into freefall and dragging down the rest of the financial sector with it.

BRYAN BURROUGH, Vanity Fair: By midnight, by 1:00, 2:00 in the morning, everybody and their mother has teams at Bear, Morgan, the Fed, the SEC, and they find out Bear is stuffed to the gills with toxic waste.

NARRATOR: Bear was party to complicated financial deals.

BETHANY MCLEAN: Nobody understood how subprime mortgages had proliferated through these things called credit default swaps, and nobody understood how they'd kind of gotten into the blood of the financial system.

I HIGHLY recommend viewing the Frontline series. It gives a detailed explanation on how Wall Street works and the derivative market scheme on toxic loans that put our nation's economy at risk.

HISTORICAL COMMENT: This was brought to my attention by Part-1 of the Frontline series.

Today's home buyer applying for a mortgage lone which is based on the value of the home is likely NOT aware that this was not the practice in the past.

In the past, ALL loans were based on the ability of the borrower being able to make the monthly payments, a "deposit" based loan system as stated in Frontline series Part-1.

Today's loan practices are risky because it essentially ignores the ability of the borrower to make payments.

SUPREME COURT - Arizona Immigration Law

"Supreme Court to Weigh Contentious Arizona Immigration Law" PBS Newshour 4/24/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): And to our two-part look at immigration.

On the U.S. Supreme Court docket Wednesday is a tough new law in Arizona.

NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden traveled there recently and sets the scene for tomorrow's arguments.

The "impromptu encounter" mentioned in above video

"'No One Is Higher Than Me,' Sheriff Arpaio Tells Inmate"
By Tom Bearden, PBS Newshour 4/24/2012

HOSPITALS - Only in America, Debt Collectors at Patients' Bedside

"Debt Collector Is Faulted for Tough Tactics in Hospitals" by JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG, New York Times 4/24/2012


Hospital patients waiting in an emergency room or convalescing after surgery are being confronted by an unexpected visitor: a debt collector at bedside.

This and other aggressive tactics by one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debts, Accretive Health, were revealed on Tuesday by the Minnesota attorney general, raising concerns that such practices have become common at hospitals across the country.

The tactics, like embedding debt collectors as employees in emergency rooms and demanding that patients pay before receiving treatment, were outlined in hundreds of company documents released by the attorney general. And they cast a spotlight on the increasingly desperate strategies among hospitals to recoup payments as their unpaid debts mount.

To patients, the debt collectors may look indistinguishable from hospital employees, may demand they pay outstanding bills and may discourage them from seeking emergency care at all, even using scripts like those in collection boiler rooms, according to the documents and employees interviewed by The New York Times.

In some cases, the company’s workers had access to health information while persuading patients to pay overdue bills, possibly in violation of federal privacy laws, the documents indicate.

The attorney general, Lori Swanson, also said that Accretive employees may have broken the law by not clearly identifying themselves as debt collectors.

Accretive Health has contracts not only with two hospitals cited in Minnesota but also with some of the largest hospital systems in the country, including Henry Ford Health System in Michigan and Intermountain Healthcare in Utah. Company executives declined to comment on Tuesday.

Debt collectors a patients' bed side! Talk about Machiavellian conduct.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

FRANCE - Elections and EU Voter Discontent

"France's Sarkozy Faces Uphill Fight in May Runoff Election" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 4/23/2012

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): A new wave of political and economic turmoil in Europe shook governments and stock exchanges today. The ruling coalition in the Netherlands fell, and the president of France faces an uphill fight in a runoff to retain his job.

In Paris and across Europe, all eyes were on Francois Hollande, now a major step closer to becoming the first Socialist president of France since 1995. Hollande landed 28 percent of the votes in Sunday's first-round election that saw a turnout of more than 80 percent. He finished ahead of Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. The incumbent president garnered 27 percent. The two will meet in a May 6 runoff election.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, French presidential candidate (through translator): I'm going to do exactly as I did in the first round. I'm going to gather all the French people who want change.

NICOLAS SARKOZY, French president (through translator): This campaign must be about the truth. This is a crucial moment. The French people need to have all the facts so they can choose. And I won't be running away from it or hiding from it.

RAY SUAREZ: But Sarkozy faced deep discontent over France's debt and high unemployment. Hollande calls for less austerity and more focus on economic growth. The voter unhappiness fueled far-right leader Marine Le Pen as well. She won nearly 18 percent, vowing to quit the euro currency system and curb Muslim immigration.

MARINE LE PEN, leader, French National Front Party (through translator): When I heard this morning that certain people were talking about a protest vote, I find that particularly rude in regard to our supporters. Just because they are for more national protectionism, it is because they want less immigration, it is because they want security problems resolved.

RAY SUAREZ: Economic worries and disillusionment with deficit cuts also drove the Dutch government into collapse today. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his cabinet resigned after the far-right Freedom Party balked at backing a new austerity package.

GEERT WILDERS, leader, Netherlands Freedom Party (through translator): It's not just the purchasing power for the elderly or less economic growth or unemployment figures rising as a direct result of the $18 billion in cuts. No, it's the whole thing. We just don't want it.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, new economic data showed Spain has fallen back into recession just two years after emerging from the last one. And the European Union reported the picture for the entire Eurozone is mixed, at best.

The 17 countries using the euro saw their average deficits fall to just over 4 percent of economic output in 2011. But their overall debt rose to 87 percent of output, the highest level since the euro's creation in 1999.

It all weighed heavily on European markets today, as major indexes fell 2 to 3 percent. In part, traders fretted about what will happen in France if the longtime Socialist Party leader, Hollande, wins, as polls suggest he will. He said he wants to renegotiate a European treaty designed to limit excessive government spending as a way of spurring growth.

Up to now, France, under Sarkozy, has joined with Germany to push other countries for fiscal restraint and spending cuts.

"How Economic Austerity Is Driving Voter Discontent in Europe" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 4/23/2012

ECONOMY - Social Security 2033

"Social Security Slated to Run Dry in 2033, Trustees Warn" PBS Newshour 4/23/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Next, the long-term health of Social Security worsens.

That's according to the latest projections today from its trustees. The program's trust fund will become insolvent in 2033, three years earlier than previously estimated. The Social Security fund for disability is in even tougher shape. It's expected to move into the red in 2016, but trustees favor transferring money to shore it up.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner spoke of the impact to come at a briefing today.

SECRETARY OF TREASURY TIMOTHY GEITHNER: The reports project that when considered on a combined basis, Social Security's retirement and disability programs have dedicated funds sufficient to cover benefits for the next 20 years.

But, in 2033, incoming revenues and trust fund resources will be insufficient to maintain the payment of full benefits. After that time, dedicated funds will be sufficient to cover about three-quarters of full benefits.

RAY SUAREZ: Currently, the average Social Security benefit for a retiree is $1,232 a month. Medicare's finances are no worse than they were a year ago, but it faces a bleaker situation overall. Its hospital insurance fund will become insolvent in 2024, and that's assuming Congress and the president allow scheduled cuts in payments to take place in future years, something that has not been the case historically.

Tonight, we focus on the state of Social Security.

Nancy Altman is the co-director of the group Social Security Works. She's also the author of the book "The Battle for Social Security." And David John is a research fellow specializing in retirement security with the Heritage Foundation. He worked previously on Capitol Hill on proposals to change the program.

COMMENT: Quite awhile back I posted an article about the Social Security fund being a stack of IOUs. That's because congress raides the Social Security fund as a means to fund government.

So, beware of what ANYONE says about the fund. Paying back all those IOUs will raise the deficit. How do you think that will go over in today's political climate?

HISTORICAL REMINDER: When Social Security was implemented the demographics (more workers that retirees) supported the design of today's workers paying for the people drawing Social Security.

As one of the interviewees in the video commented, today's demographics are changing; more retirees will be drawing from Social Security than workers paying into Social Security, in the future.

I basic fault of Social Security is its design (workers paying current retirees). BUT the historical fact that at the time when American distrusted banks (Crash of '29 and Great Depression) the government WAS the acceptable option.

As for today? Would you trust the Social Security safety-net if it was based on the greatest gambling casino called Wall Street?

To put it another way, could you afford the risk of loosing everything if your bet is wrong?

Monday, April 23, 2012

POLITICS - Democracy, Almost Like a Religion


I am a strong believer in Democracy - it’s almost like a religion to me. I’m a sort of Jeffersonian swearing eternal hostility against any form of tyranny over the mind of man. America after its revolution became the Symbol of Democracy to the world -- to Europe and South America in the 19th century and to the peoples of Asia and Africa in the 20th. From Bolivar in Columbia, the radical republicans in Europe in 1848, down the years to the young Chinese protesters in Tiananmen Square; the democratic movements throughout the world used America as an example and often our Statue of Liberty (a gift from the first nation to follow our revolution) as a symbol.

But can democracy continue to thrive in its modern birthplace, the United States of America in to the twenty first century? Throughout America today legislators are passing laws to restrict access to the vote - to make it more difficult to register and to require more paper and some use of money to be able to vote. This counter revolution comes after over one hundred and fifty years of franchise expansion. From a small number of well to do property owners to all white male, and then all male and then all female citizens the nation and its constituent states expanded the electoral franchise. With the Civil War the use of military ballots and absentee ballots became more common.

Today with recent Supreme Court decisions money is now uncontrollably flooding the political arena. We always had the ability to spend personal funds now corporations can spend their funds and in most cases now there is little to no accountability nor transparency. With the cost of waging Congressional and Senate campaigns becoming prohibitive to all but self made millionaires we are seeing more and more keeping offices in the family with sons and daughters running for their parents seats gaining the advantage of both their parents fundraising capability as an incumbent and inheriting their name recognition. The word for this type of government is Oligarchy - the rule of the few and the related - the curse of the Roman Empire. And when you add money to that you get Plutocracy - the rule of the rich few.

So in America today a new generation of citizens is entering the body politic --disenchanted with the political system believing that anyone can buy an office be it Mayor of New York City or President of the United Sates. And, today young citizens consider the jury still out as to whether their involvement going door to door and making calls and using social networking can overcome the expenditures of the billionaires.

So as the twenty-first century unfolds what kind of government does it portend for America: a democracy with a government of the people, by the people and for the people or a plutocratic oligarchy where a few rich families rule in the interests of the 1%. If that happens I fear that the peoples of the world who gather in Tahrir Square and seek freedom in Tibet and civil rights in Burma will turn to other models and examples -- perhaps to a Chinese model of economic freedom with some personal liberty and local control over local matters and a strong military keeping order. Or the Putin type man on a white horse approach in Russia where the leader by whatever title personalizes the government.

Democracy can be messy -- too many people today practice the politics of personal destruction and obliterate candidates - too many elected officials place such total loyalty to the D or the R behind their name that they refuse to work with each other to the benefit of the people. As citizens get turned off and fewer and fewer vote they care less if the democracy becomes the oligarchy or the plutocracy. And by not caring they ultimately loose the rights they have come to take for granted - the right to think what they want, to practice the religion they want, to get a good education, to get a good job earning a Living wage, to live in a safe community, to obtain quality health care and to decide who will make the rules that govern their society.

If the 99% allow the 1% to take ownership of their government “they will get” in Harry Truman’s words “the government they deserve.” America will enter the history books not as “the shining city upon a hill” that the Puritans so hoped it would be but as a failed attempt by a diverse society to govern itself in a democratic fashion. Many saw the 2008 Presidential elections as a cross roads that asked the question “would America elect a black President.” Now and especially since the counter-revolution of 2010 we are at a fork in the road - one path leads to continued democracy -- an end to the radical right wing Republican anti democracy moves--; and the other path leads to a society ruled by the rich and their relatives. The entire history of our nation and its great leaders and the many Americans who gave their lives fighting for freedom since 1776 calls out for today’s generations of Americans to keep the faith and keep their democracy.

For me, Democracy -IS a religion.

HEALTH - The "Ice Cream Headache"

"What causes brain freeze? Study reveals new clues" by Ryan Jaslow, CBS News 4/23/2012

We've all been there before: On a hot day, you reach for an ice cold drink or a big scoop of ice cream - and are shortly met with excruciating pain.

We're talking the dreaded "brain freeze," - often dubbed an "ice cream headache" - and a new study claims to have finally unlocked clues as to what causes this chilly sensation. The researchers behind the study say their findings may lead to better treatments for other headache sufferers, such as people with migraines or those with traumatic brain injuries.

Almost everyone has felt brain freeze at some point in their lives, according to the study and the effect is triggered by an ice-cold sip of liquid or a slurp of an ice cream or some other chilly product hitting the mouth's upper palate. But scientists have long been unable to explain the phenomenon - until now.

For the study, presented this week at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego, researchers induced brain freeze in 13 healthy adults by having them sip ice cold water with a straw on their upper palate. The researchers monitored participants' blood flow in their brains with a "transcranial Doppler test," and found the sudden headache seems to be triggered by an abrupt increase in blood flow on the brain's anterior cerebral artery. The pain disappears when that artery constricts, an effect researchers reproduced by having participants drink warm water.

According to the researchers, since migraine sufferers are more likely to experience brain freeze than people who don't experience the icy headache often, brain freeze may share traits with other types of headaches, including those brought on by the trauma of blast-related combat injuries in soldiers or migraines. One possible link between brain freeze and other headaches is local changes in brain blood flow. If further research confirms all these types of headaches are caused by blood flow changes, new drugs that block widening of the blood vessels - called vasodilation - could improve treatment for sufferers.

Why does this increase in blood flow occur? The researchers think the brain is adapting to the "freeze" through a self-defense mechanism.

"The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time," study co-author Dr. Jorge Serrador, a cardiovascular electronics researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a written statement. "It's fairly sensitive to temperature, so vasodilation might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm." He adds the sudden influx of blood could raise pressure and cause pain.. The blood vessel constriction that follows may be a way to bring pressure down in the brain before it reaches dangerous levels.

NETHERLANDS - Government Collapse

This is an example of what the IMF is worried about.

"Dutch government collapses over debt woes" by Toby Sterling (AP), USA Today 4/23/2012

The Dutch government, one of the most vocal critics of European countries failing to rein in their budgets, quit Monday after failing to agree on a plan to bring its own deficit in line with EU rules.

The government information service announced Queen Beatrix had accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Cabinet after a meeting in which Rutte told her talks on a new austerity package had failed over the weekend.

Although the Netherlands has relatively low levels of national debt, its economy is in recession and it is expected to post a deficit of 4.6% in 2012.

Rutte is to address parliament Tuesday to discuss interim measures to keep public finances in order and schedule new elections. No date for elections was immediately announced, but opposition lawmakers called for a vote as soon as possible.

The Dutch government collapse came a day after the first round election victory of France's soft-on-austerity socialist candidate Francois Hollande. It calls into question whether austerity policies that are causing trauma in countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal can be enforced even in "core" European countries such as France — or the Netherlands, one of the few along with Germany to maintain an AAA credit rating.

Rutte's hopes to clinch a deal to cut the target below the EU's 3% target evaporated Saturday, when his most important political ally, populist euroskeptic Geert Wilders walked out of the talks, saying a slavish adherence to European rules was foolish and would harm the Dutch economy.

That view is shared by some, such as the government's own Central Plan Bureau, and opposed by others, such as Dutch Central Bank President Klaas Knot.

"We don't want our pensioners to suffer for the sake of the dictators in Brussels," Wilders said.

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes called Wilders a hypocrite, since the Netherlands itself, along with Germany, had been one of the loudest in demanding Brussels adopt a 3% deficit limit in the first place.

"Pointing to Brussels now is dumb, it's untrue, it's distracting, and it doesn't solve anything," said Kroes, who is a member of Rutte's free-market VVD party.

A spokesman for the German finance ministry said that despite developments over the weekend, approval for Europe's plan to tackle government debt by cutting spending is actually "increasing." He didn't give evidence backing that assertion.

"We should not now simply let ourselves be thrown off track by daily developments," Martin Kotthaus told reporters in Berlin.

He said Europe's recent reforms had been well received at a weekend meeting of the International Monetary Fund. "The road is right; Europe has done its homework," he said.

Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager insisted he still plans to submit an outline budget to Brussels by April 30, as mandated by European rules.

He said he was optimistic about prospects for agreeing some cuts with opposition parties in Parliament.

"We'll show the financial markets, in consultation with Parliament, that the Netherlands' decades-long budgetary discipline will remain," he told reporters after a brief Cabinet meeting ahead of the resignation.

Opposition lawmakers say they are prepared to work with Rutte to draw up a 2013 budget.

However, Diederik Samsom, leader of the opposition Labor Party, signaled he would not insist on bringing the Dutch deficit back in line with EU norms next year.

"As far as we are concerned, you don't have to reach 3% by 2013," he said.

The package Rutte had been negotiating with Wilders would have slashed foreign aid and hastened a planned increase in the retirement age to 66 from 65.

Wilders, who is publishing a book in the U.S. next week about his struggle against Islam, said abruptly Saturday he could not support the package because it was unfriendly to the elderly.

Yields on Dutch bonds were up 0.11 of a percentage point higher than they were before the weekend. Netherlands government bonds are trading around 2.35% for 10-year debt, about 0.6 percentage points more than long-term German government bonds.

Ratings agency Fitch last week warned the Netherlands stands to lose its AAA credit rating depending on the outcome of the budget talks that failed Saturday.

Central Bank President Knot has predicted Dutch interest rates will increase by around a percentage point if the country's rating is cut, making budget reform vital.

SPACE - Lyrid Meteor Shower 4/22/2012

"Lyrid meteor shower wows skywatchers around the world" by Tariq Malik (, Fox News 4/23/2012

The Lyrid meteor shower amazed some skywatchers around the world with bright celestial fireworks this weekend, thanks in part to the lack of a bright moon.

The annual April "shooting star" display hit its peak in the wee hours of Sunday (April 22) while the moon was in its dark, new phase, offering observers with clear weather a better chance to spot the Lyrid meteor shower without the interference of bright moonlight.

"Clear skies, no moon, a bit chilly, but otherwise perfect. I saw two meteors shortly after sunset," photographer Bill Allen of Ralph, Saskatchewan in Canada told in an email.

Allen snapped a striking snapshot that captured a Lyrid with green northern lights in the background. "The aurora added to what was already a great night," Allen said.

Allen wasn't the only lucky observer to witness the Lyrids this weekend. Photos sent in to from skywatchers in California, Malaysia and other spots around the world reveal striking views of bright Lyrid meteors.

Skywatcher Brian Emfinger of Ozark, Ark., captured a magnificent fireball that created a spectacular sight through his fish-eye lens-equipped camera. The bright stars of our Milky Way galaxy serve as a backdrop in Emfinger's view.

Photographer Marian Murdoch in Ridgecrest, Calif., also reported several bright Lyrids during this year's display, but sadly the best show of the night escaped her lens.

"There was a HUGE fireball that we observed, low on the horizon, but (of course) it was out of my field of view with the camera, Murdoch told via email. "Some of the meteors were very dim, and were not even seen with the human eye. Only after I brought them up on the computer was I able to see them."

The Lyrid meteor shower has been observed by humans for more than 2,600 years and occurs each year in mid-April when the Earth passes through a stream of dust left behind by the comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1). The comet dust can reach speeds of up to 110,000 mph (177,027 kph) as it slams into Earth's atmosphere, causing it to ignite as dazzling meteors.

NASA scientists predicted an impressive Lyrid meteor display this year because of the shower's timing coincided with the new moon. A confluence of two other events also enhanced the meteor shower for NASA.

First, scientists developed a special meteor camera designed to photograph fireballs while dangling from a weather balloon flying in the stratosphere. A team of students from Union High School and Home Street Middle School in Bishop, Calif., launched the camera-equipped balloon late Saturday night (April 21). The second event occurred in space; the Lyrids were expected to be visible to astronauts on the International Space Station.

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama coordinated efforts to track meteors on the ground, by the student balloon and by station astronauts to create an unprecedented look at the Lyrid meteor shower. The Marshall center posted video and images of the student balloon launch online, along with camera views of Earth from the station, but whether Lyrid meteors were actually seen by astronauts remains to be seen.

In Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia, skywatcher Veerayen Mohanadas also snapped amazing views of the Lyrid meteor shower.

"It seems very special to me when seeing the 'shooting star' coming from star Vega," Mohanadas said.

Cooke also led an NASA webchat and video stream on the agency's website that provided live views from meteor cameras for observers plagued by bad weather.

Cooke said the Lyrid meteor shower is the second notable meteor display of the year, but the pace is about to pickup.

In May, the Eta Aquarids — one of two annual meteor showers created by remnants of the famed Halley's comet — will peak between May 5 and 6, according to a NASA guide.

PHOTO GALLERY at (slide-show)

AMERICA - The Lingering Effects of the Gulf Oil Spill

"Gulf Still Grapples With Massive BP Oil Leak 2 Years Later"
PBS Newshour 4/20/2012

COMMENT: As stated in the video it IS very hard to evaluate the lingering effects of the spill because we do not have baseline information to compare to.

This is especially since drilling at the depth of Deapwater Horizon is not been fully evaluated as of yet. This is just one of the problems with deep-water drilling in general, it is too new. BP and other drilling companies and affiliates are going ahead WITHOUT conscientious evaluation of what SHOULD be considered, as if deep-water drilling = shallow-water drilling. This also includes our own government when giving licenses for deep-water drilling, which they are TRYING to address as of now.

TECKNOLOGY - What's Next?

"Tech's Next Feats? Maybe On-Demand Kidneys, Robot Sex, Cheap Solar, Lab Meat" PBS Newshour 4/20/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Now, mining technology to solve the world's problems.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman recently traveled to California and filed this report on some innovative thinkers. It's part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

Meaningful excerpt

CRAIG VENTER, CEO, Synthetic Genomics: If all these dreams come true -- and I hope these people are right -- then we will solve everything. Nobody has the solutions in hand right now.

We have potential solutions. We don't have ways to provide the fuel, we don't have ways to provide the food, clean water, medicine for seven billion people now. How are we going to do it for eight, nine, 10 billion people in the coming decades?

WORLD - The Global Economy's Outlook

"IMF's Lagarde: Global Economy Sees 'Dark Clouds on the Horizon'" PBS Newshour 4/20/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Questions are growing about the stability of the worldwide economy now that there are more troubling signs in Europe and mixed reports here at home.

On Wall Street, at least, the mood brightened a bit today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 65 points to close at 13,029, although the NASDAQ fell seven points to close at 3,000. Traders pinned their hopes to strong earnings reports from General Electric, McDonald's and Microsoft.

But other, more negative news has raised questions about whether economic growth is slowing again. The unemployment report for March showed the smallest number of new jobs created since November. And this week came data showing housing starts have dropped and factory activity has lessened.

At the same time, there are questions about the worldwide recovery.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, offered this assessment yesterday in Washington.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE, managing director, International Monetary Fund: We are seeing a light recovery blowing in a spring wind, but we're also seeing some very dark clouds on the horizon.

AMERICA - Secret Service Scandal Expands

"More Secret Service Agents Out as Scandal Inquiry Expands" PBS Newshour 4/20/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): With new details unfolding all week about just what happened during the president's trip to the Summit of the Americas, the Associated Press is reporting the Secret Service has placed another employee newly implicated in the scandal on leave.

Officials tell the AP two more agents are resigning today, while another has been fired, bringing to six the Secret Service employees forced out so far.

For Secret Service agents, it's been a week of disclosures culminating in the news that more will lose their jobs. They were among 11 agents recalled from this hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, last week on allegations they used prostitutes they met at a local strip club.

The Washington Post today identified two of the three agents ousted earlier this week in the scandal. It turned out one of them, David Chaney, had posted a picture on Facebook of his time protecting Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in 2008.

His comment read, "I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean."


"Shields, Brooks on Voter Volatility, Obama vs. Romney Over 'Big Visions'" PBS Newshour 4/20/2012

Leading excerpt on Secret Service

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): First, an update on the Secret Service story.

A short time ago, the agency announced three more employees have resigned and one additional has been implicated. Another was cleared of serious misconduct, but will face administrative action.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

RANT - Discourteous Drivers

@$!##@! idiot!

Been driving and have other drivers drive you up the wall? Cutting you off, pulling in front of you with only feet between. Drivers who NEVER use their turn signals or use them two feet before they turn. Drivers on the freeway speeding at 75mph in down-pouring rain, or tailgate you.

In California drivers can be very bad or discourteous. Most do NOT know how to drive safely in the rain. Most do not observe the tried-and-true freeway rule of one car-length for every 10mph over 35mph (i.e. at 73mph you should maintain 7 car-lengths between you and the car ahead) whenever possible.

Here's the recent example of why I'm posting this rant:

This occurred on the North-bound 805 freeway in San Diego during my drive to work. Location was where Home Av on-ramp merges with the 805 (see pic below).

Starting 15mils back on the 805 traffic was backed up and moving at a crawl. I was in the right-hand lane because I new I wanted to get off soon (freeway 15 North ramp just passed Home Av). When I got to Home Av on-ramp there was a car stalled in the right-hand lane with his hood up. He was the cause of the 15mil backup.

In the pic below you can see where he was AND that there is a no-drive wedge next to him. ONLY FEET AWAY! This discourteous idiot was just sitting there making no effort to push his car into the no-drive wedge to get out of the way!

I left home at 09:30 (9:30am to civies) but got into work at 11:00, it normally take me 20min to get to work.

(click for better view)

Well, got that off my chest.

Friday, April 20, 2012

RELIGION - Dalai Lama in San Diego, CA

One of the true Men of Peace.

"The Dalai Lama Comes to San Diego" by Christine Schanes, Huffington Post 4/20/2012

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet began his first official visit to San Diego on Wednesday, by offering two parts of his three-part symposium, "Compassion Without Borders: Science, Peace, Ethics" by taking part in a panel discussion entitled "The Global Impact of Climate Change" at University of California, San Diego and by giving a public talk entitled, "Cultivating Peace and Justice."

On Thursday, the Dalai Lama completed his San Diego symposium at San Diego State University by giving the public talk entitled, "Upholding Universal Ethics and Compassion in Challenging Times."

At the University of San Diego, President Mary E. Lyons presented the Dalai Lama with the USD Medal of Peace.

At the USD Jenny Craig Pavilion before a full house, the Dalai Lama spoke about peace, compassion and nonviolence. He asked what is the meaning of peace? Is it the absence of trouble or violence?

Answering his own question, the Dalai Lama said, "Going deeper into peace ... genuine peace must come through inner peace, not through fear." "Any action that is harmful to others or is in the long run harmful is unjust," he shared. He explained that "the key thing" is a "warm heart of concern for others' well being."

He explained that scientists are beginning to learn about the value of creating an internal balance and a calm mind in helping people recover from illness faster. A calm mind, he said, is the remedy for the loss of hope and a destroyer of fear, distrust and hate.

Stating that the energy to restore our happiness is within ourselves, the Dalai Lama urged further study of the relationship of the mind with the emotions to learn about the destroyers of inner peace.

"You must develop compassion" not pity, he said. Genuine respect is a very noble form of compassion. With compassion, distrust reduces. He advised that we could have a sense of concern for other people because they are human beings just like ourselves. Further, we can respect other people even if they have taken negative actions toward us.

He stressed the value of education through which awareness can be developed, so we can get an understanding of our inner world and achieve inner peace after which justice automatically comes.

Speaking about materiality, the Dalai Lama recognized that material things can bring physical comfort, "but not mental comfort." He gave as an example that some people have plenty of money and "still are not happy." No matter what you're surroundings, he said, you can keep peace of mind.

The twentieth century was a century of blood, fear and violence, said the Dalai Lama. However, he feels that the twenty-first century can be a happy century based on inner peace, "we would have a compassionate world."

A healthy mind brings a healthy body and a healthy family and a healthy world. He asked that we all think more about these things, but "If you don't do this, no problem, "I'm leaving the day after tomorrow. It's your problem."

Overall, the Dali Lama feels that "humanity is becoming more civilized, more mature." He recommended taking care of our minds, being compassionate and living more holistically. A bad economy, he said, reminds us to invest in new things ... it's a "good lesson."

When asked how he remains optimistic when there is so much bad in the world, the Dalai Lama responded, "It is far better to remain optimistic." When we are optimistic, we "look for ways and means to work on. When you loose all hope, there is no ground making effort."

FLORIDA - Zimmerman Apologizes at Bond Hearing

"Zimmerman's bond set at $150,000; he apologizes to Trayvon Martin's parents" by Becky Bratu, MSNBC 4/20/2012

A Florida judge set bail Friday at $150,000 for the release of George Zimmerman, who apologized on the stand to Trayvon Martin’s parents for the loss of their child.

“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman, who was wearing a suit and had chains that wrapped around his waist and connected to handcuffs, said that at the time of the shooting he did not know how old Martin was or whether he was armed. He also said he previously had asked police and his attorneys to tell Martin’s family that he was sorry.

His comments were the most robust to date about the incident, which set off a wave of protests and an examination of race relations in the country. Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Martin, who was black.

Following the hearing, Natalie Jackson, an attorney for the Martin family, said Zimmerman's apology was "insulting to the family."

"This is the most unmeaningful apology we've ever seen in our entire lives," Jackson said, according to an Orlando Sentinel reporter.

Judge Kenneth R. Lester, Jr. said Zimmerman would not be released immediately and that he would be monitored electronically via GPS. The terms of the bond include a curfew and no alcohol or guns. Also, Zimmerman must be in touch with authorities every three days. The judge wouldn’t rule on whether Zimmerman would be allowed to leave the state.

Zimmerman’s attorney had asked for a $15,000 bond, citing his client’s family’s modest financial holdings. The prosecution said Zimmerman should not be granted a bond, but if he is, it should be for $1 million.

Speaking publicly for the first time since her husband shot the unarmed teenager in February, Zimmerman’s wife of almost five years, Shellie Nicole Zimmerman, said her husband poses no danger to the community.

“Absolutely he is not a violent person,” Shellie Zimmerman said. She spoke to the court by phone because she said she has received hate mail and is concerned for her safety. She did not report the mail to the police, she admitted upon cross-examination by Prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda.

Zimmerman, who is a nursing student four weeks shy of graduation, said she would “absolutely” ensure that her husband would be present in court for his trial if he were to be released on bail. She added that her husband has been living in hiding since the shooting.

She was among a handful of witnesses testifying at the hearing, including Zimmerman’s mother and father and an investigator for the state attorney’s office, who was one of the signatories of the probable-cause affidavit that accused Zimmerman of “profiling” Martin.

Dale Gilbreath, the investigator, said he couldn't remember who came up with the use of the word "profiling" in the document.

Gilbreath added that Zimmerman had two lacerations on his head, which could have been caused by impact with cement.

Zimmerman claims self-defense in the shooting. ABC News says it has obtained an exclusive photo of the back of Zimmerman's head, which appears bloody and may help substantiate his claims.

Zimmerman’s father, Robert, echoed his daughter-in-law’s testimony, saying his son is “absolutely not violent.”

“I’ve never known him to be violent at all unless he was provoked, and then he would turn the other cheek,” Robert told the court. “He’s been honest his whole life.”

The defendant’s father, a former court magistrate, added his son has always been interested in criminal justice.

Zimmerman’s mother’s testimony painted the portrait of a man concerned with the community he lived in, who was “protective” of people and children. Gladys Zimmerman testified that the Sanford mayor had recognized her son for his efforts in mobilizing the community in the case of a homeless man who had been beaten. She also added that her son mentored two African-American children in Orlando and visited them often despite her objection that they lived in a “dangerous” area.

On Thursday night, Zimmerman reached out to ask to speak to Martin’s parents, but they rejected that request, another attorney for the family, Benjamin Crump, told NBC Miami.

The family did not want to talk with Zimmerman because they felt he had never publicly apologized for what happened to their son and they thought it was inappropriate to do so at the 11th hour before his bond hearing, according to Crump.

MEXICO - Volcano Rattles Nerves

"Volcano Puts Mexico on Alert" by JEAN GUERRERO, Wall Street Journal 4/20/2012

The towering Popocatépetl volcano outside Mexico City rumbled loudly and spewed plumes of ash, water vapor and hot rocks high into the sky on Friday, scaring nearby residents and putting Mexican officials on alert.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón visited nearby communities and flew close to the crater Friday morning, later calling on residents via his Twitter account to prepare in case of a needed evacuation by keeping at hand a battery-powered radio, flashlight, medicine and important documents.

"It is important to keep calm," Mr. Calderón wrote. "We are closely watching the activity of Popocatépetl."

Authorities mapped out evacuation routes, and prepared shelters in case the volcano's activity increases.

Experts say a massive eruption of the 17,886-foot (5,450-meter) volcano is unlikely, but a buildup of a magma chamber under its slopes may release clouds of thick ash that could blanket Mexico City and cause havoc at its international airport.

"Popo," as the volcano is affectionately known in Mexico, came back to life in 1994 after decades of relative quiet and regularly emits puffs of ash and vapor. In fact, the volcano's name in Mexico's indigenous Nahuatl language means "smoking mountain."

In the past week, the volcano's activity suddenly increased, forcing authorities to raise the alert level and place a seven-mile security radius around the mountain, which sits 35 miles outside of the capital.

Overnight on Friday, the volcano emitted a deep roar that could be heard for miles and spooked residents. Experts say the volcano's emissions have been particularly frightening to nearby residents at night because they give the false impression of being lava.

"The material has a certain temperature that makes it look incandescent at night, and that is why you see the red," said Juan Carlos Mora Chaparro, a volcanologist at the Geophysics Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. However, he said that unlike lava, the materials being emitted are cool by the time they reach the ground.

Mr. Mora said it is impossible to know how far the effect of a potential volcanic eruption would reach at this point, but that it could destroy areas many kilometers away.

HUMOR - Dilbert 4/20/2012

(click for better view)

SYRIA - Evolution of the World's Failed Policy

IMHO: The evolution of the world's failed policy.

"As Syria Flouts Cease-Fire, Ban Pushes to Send 300 Military Observers"
PBS Newshour 4/19/2012

COMMENT: Our government does NOT see a national security risk in this situation?!

So if this continues, which is likely, and the region blows up there's no risk to U.S. security? BS, what happens in ANY Arab/Muslim nation is of security interest.

The U.S. needs to stop hiding under the bed when it comes to Syria.

AMERICA - Veterans Administration Backlog Fix

"VA Adds 1,600 Workers to Fix Backlog, but 'Always More We Can Do'" PBS Newshour 4/19/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And to a response from the Veterans Administration to a growing backlog of mental health cases from current and past wars.

Today, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said the agency will add 1,600 professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, and another 300 clerical workers to speed up processing of claims.

A federal appeals court issued a blistering ruling last year demanding the VA offer better mental health care for veterans. Next week, Senate committee hearings on the issue are scheduled, as is the release of a report from the VA's inspector general.

To discuss all this, we're joined by Sonja Batten, a senior mental health official at the VA.

RELIGION - Vatican Rebuke of U.S. Nuns

"Vatican Rebuke: Are U.S. Nuns Promoting 'Radical Feminist Themes?'" PBS Newshour 4/19/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Now, a new report from the Vatican criticizes the largest group of Catholic nuns in the United States.

The assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious comes from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It says the group of sisters promoted -- quote -- "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith." It concluded that the sisters had contradicted church teaching on homosexuality and on male-only priesthood in public statements that -- quote -- "disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals."

To discuss this assessment, we're joined by Donna Bethell. She is now the chairman of the board of directors for Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. And Jeannine Hill Fletcher, she teaches theology at Fordham University in New York.

ART - China's Terra Cotta Warriors Replicated

"Newly Cast Terra Cotta Warriors Look to More Peaceful Future in 2801" PBS Newshour 4/19/2012


Artist Gong Yuebin grew up during China's Cultural Revolution and it shows. His piece "Site 2801," on display at Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif., reflects a re-imagined terra cotta army -- 200 warriors interspersed with 10 modern-looking soldiers, symbolizing an unchanged feeling of militarism. Spencer Michels reports.

SPENCER MICHELS (Newshour): Half-a-mile from California's state capitol, in a storefront studio in Sacramento, a 52-year old artist from China has replicated 2,200-year-old-warriors discovered in an ancient tomb.

Gong Yuebin, who came to the U.S. in 2004 speaking no English, has fashioned a exhibition that uses the past to comment on the future. Those ancient terra-cotta soldiers, 8,000 of them, were discovered by farmers in China in 1974, buried in the tomb of China's first emperor in 210 B.C. and meant to protect him in the afterlife.

The carefully-crafted army, including horses and chariots, has drawn thousands of tourists to the site, and some of the objects themselves have been exhibited in America and elsewhere.

Gong Yuebin was a teenager when the soldiers were discovered. And their large military presence inspired him even then.

POLITICS - The Outrage Over GSA Spending

"Congress Agrees on 1 Thing: GSA Scandal an Outrage" PBS Newshour 4/19/2012


REP. TIM WALZ, D-Minn.: It goes beyond public trust. It goes beyond the thought that how can we get to a point of that type of selfishness, when others are being asked to do more with less.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour): Even with bipartisanship at the Capitol in short supply these days, one issue has had Democrats and Republicans speaking with a unified voice: the spending scandal at the General Services Administration.

At the time of this post the video prematurely ends, here's the last sentence

KWAME HOLMAN: In the meantime, the spotlight will stay on the GSA, at least for now, with additional hearings expected next week.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

AFGHANISTAN - America Embarrassed Again

"Photos of Troops With Dead Insurgents Add to U.S.-Afghan Tensions" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 4/18/2012

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Once again today, U.S. officials found themselves apologizing for pictures of American troops in Afghanistan. They emerged as the U.S. tries to wind down the Afghan war and the Taliban tries to step up the pressure.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: I have strongly condemned what we see in those photos.

JEFFREY BROWN: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke just hours after The Los Angeles Times published two images. In one, U.S. soldiers and Afghan police posed with the severed legs of a suicide bomber, seen here partially blurred. The other photo appeared to show the hand of a dead insurgent atop the shoulder of a smiling American.

The incidents, from 2010, involved members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. They were tasked with identifying dead Afghan insurgents through iris scans and fingerprinting.

Secretary Panetta addressed the issue from Brussels, where he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a NATO meeting on Afghanistan.

LEON PANETTA: That behavior that was depicted in those photos absolutely violates both our regulations and, more importantly, our core values. This is not who we are. And it's certainly not who we represent when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there.

JEFFREY BROWN: The secretary apologized on behalf of the U.S. government and said an investigation has already begun.

LEON PANETTA: So, wherever those facts lead, we will take the appropriate action.

If rules and regulations are found to have been violated, then those individuals will be held accountable.

JEFFREY BROWN: A White House spokesman called the images -- quote -- "reprehensible." The Times said they were among 18 photos provided by an anonymous soldier.

And in his remarks today, Secretary Panetta added that the military had urged The Times not to publish the images, fearing the Taliban would use them to incite anti-American sentiment.

LEON PANETTA: I know that war is ugly and it's violent, and I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions.

I am not excusing that. I'm not excusing that behavior. But neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people.

JEFFREY BROWN: The photos were the latest in a series of incidents since the year began that have made U.S.-Afghan relations increasingly tense.

In January, video emerged that showed U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, violent protests and revenge killings broke out after U.S. troops accidentally burned Korans. And last month, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly killed 17 Afghan civilians in two villages. Most were women and children.

All of this comes as the Taliban steps up its attacks, including last weekend's 18-hour assault in Kabul. At the same time, the U.S. and its coalition partners are trying to finalize plans to withdraw combat troops in 2014.

"Troop Photos With Dead Afghans: How Embarrassing Episodes Affect U.S. Mission" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 4/18/2012

ECONOMY - Citigroup Shareholders Put Their Foot Down

"Citigroup Shareholders Assert Say Over CEO's Pay" PBS Newshour 4/18/2012


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Shareholders delivered a loud message at Citigroup's annual meeting in Dallas yesterday.

They voted to reject a nearly $15 million pay package for CEO Vikram Pandit. The bank's board of directors already voted to award Pandit the money for 2011, but as part of the Dodd-Frank law on financial regulation, public companies now must offer a say on pay vote to their shareholders at least every three years.

Like many banks, Citi has struggled in recent years. It got a $45 billion bailout loan from the Treasury during the financial crisis, but has paid it all back, and now is profitable.

We look at what was behind the vote and what happens now with Anne Simpson, director of corporate governance for CalPERS, the California state pension fund. It holds 10 million Citi shares and voted against the pay package. And Russell Miller, founder and managing director of ClearBridge Compensation Group, which advises companies on executive pay.

We invited Citi to appear, but the company declined our invitation.

For the record, Citi is a NewsHour underwriter.

Other significant excerpts

ANNE SIMPSON: And I think what we're seeing now is that investors, the majority of investors have got well-thought-through frameworks for looking at long-term targets, and, also, I think in the banking sector particularly, being concerned that there is a robust risk strategy that wraps around the returns, because we know chasing short-term returns was one part of the reason the financial crisis took us to the edge.

ANNE SIMPSON: The United States celebrates success. That's a great feature of American culture.

And, therefore, if there's any complaint about pay, it's because performance has not matched up. Pay for performance is understood -- pay for failure or pay for under-performance, no.