Friday, June 29, 2012

HEALTHCARE - Halleluiah, Health Care Reform Legal (4 Refs)

As my readers should know my personal reaction is HALLELUIAH!

The Health Care Reform Act IS NOT perfect but, after years of Republican money-concerns-before-people's-health attempts to stop this law, they have failed. Of course they will continue to try to repeal the law under the banner of "it's socialism" and the false "it's government health care" and the claim it will cost too much (this is the money-before-people argument).

"Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Law: Mandate Is Constitutional" PBS Newshour 6/28/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: The Supreme Court upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul Thursday. Betty Ann Bowser reports from the Supreme Court, while Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal parses the ruling with Jeffrey Brown.





"In Real Health Care Terms, What Does the Court Decision Mean for Citizens?" PBS Newshour 6/28/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Susan Dentzer, editor in chief of the journal Health Affairs and an analyst for the NewsHour gives an overview of the possible implications of the high court's ruling.





"From 'Hallelujah' to 'Sadness,' Health Care Stakeholders React" PBS Newshour 6/28/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Ray Suarez gets some reaction on the Supreme Court's ruling from Ron Pollack, founding executive director of Families USA; Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans; Dr. Donald Palmisano, a physician and an attorney; and Bill McCollum, a former congressman and Florida attorney general.




ALSO

"Romney, Obama Uphold Health Care Falsehoods" by Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, and Eugene Kiely; FactCheck.org 6/28/2012

Presidential candidates supremely spin court decision.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

EDUCATION - Public Universities' Problems

"Public Universities Grapple with Money, Technology and Mission" PBS Newshour 6/27/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: A recent battle involving University of Virginia's president is highlighting the increasing pressures facing public universities. Jeffrey Brown discusses the national context with Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, George Cohen of University of Virginia Law School and Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And now: the role and future of public universities.

The battle over the top leadership at the University of Virginia came to a dramatic and surprising end yesterday. The university's governing board voted to reinstate president Teresa Sullivan, capping what had been a painful spectacle for a school whose roots go back to founder Thomas Jefferson.


MEXICO - Cost of War Against Drug Cartels

"In Mexico, War Against Drug Cartels Inflicts High Cost" PBS Newshour 6/27/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: With elections around the corner, a top concern for Mexican voters is the war on drug cartels. Margaret Warner continues her reporting from Mexico with a look at the devastating impact of the widespread drug violence.


AMERICA - Colorado Fire Storm Update


"Thousands Flee After Colorado Fire Doubles in Size" PBS Newshour 6/27/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): A firestorm raged in the Colorado countryside today, after exploding across containment lines near Colorado Springs. Firefighters struggled to keep up and homeowners scrambled to get out of the way.

NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden begins our coverage.

TOM BEARDEN: The flames swallowed entire neighborhoods on the edge of Colorado Springs overnight. The mayor's office said dozens of homes were destroyed.

MAN: Visibility is down to near zero in many parts of the northern half of Colorado Springs.

TOM BEARDEN: The Waldo Canyon fire seemed to flare out of control in the blink of an eye when the winds picked up unexpectedly.

WOMAN: These winds started picking up to about 65 miles per hour. That wasn't in the plan.

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), Colorado: This is tough, and we're going to -- and we know it's going to be tough, but we're also not going to back away. We're not going to back quit.

TOM BEARDEN: Some 32,000 people were ordered to evacuate, and fast, including hundreds living on the U.S. Air Force Academy campus. They grabbed precious possessions on the fly.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

AMERICA - Tropical Storm Debby and More

"Tropical Storm Debby Saturates Florida, Extreme Heat Fans Fires in Colorado" PBS Newshour 6/26/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Tropical storm "Debby" has been unrelenting, flooding thoroughfares and neighborhoods and spawning tornadoes. Meanwhile, wildfires are burning in more than 25 locations. Seven of those fires are in Colorado, which is currently in the grip of a record drought.

EDUCATION - School Punishment Policies

"Harsh Punishment for Misbehavior in Texas Schools" PBS Newshour 6/26/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: In the latest installment of our American Graduate series, correspondent Tom Bearden reports on the strict disciplinary policies in place in Texas schools. Misbehavior that in another era might have resulted in a trip to the principal's office now leads to fines, citations, even criminal records in some cases in Texas.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Now to our continuing look at the dropout crisis in America.

A number of school districts in Texas are sending tens of thousands of students into the criminal justice system every year for violating school rules.

NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden has our story. It's part of our American Graduate series.




COMMENT: This MAY be objectionable IF school Class-C Tickets are given on the first offense. I would have no problem if a particular student has repeat offenses, the ones who do not respond to 'normal' disciplinary actions including counseling.

AFGHANISTAN - Assessing the U.S. Presence

"In 'Little America,' Assessing the U.S. Presence in Afghanistan" by Daniel Sagalyn, PBS Newshour 6/26/2012

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama promised to make Afghanistan a top priority. A month after his inauguration, the new president agreed to the military's request for a troop surge, adding 17,000 to the 36,000 American forces already there. Ten months later, the president beefed up the U.S. presence further, adding more military forces and civilian aid to the Afghan government.

But how effective were those efforts, which cost billions of dollars every month? A new book, "Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan," delves into all of this. Its author is Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who recently spoke with Ray Suarez.

One of the key metrics for success in Afghanistan was the "burn rate" -- how much money the U.S. Agency for International Development spent -- rather than looking at what had been accomplished, or examining the effects of money being poured into the country, explained Chandrasekaran.

"When USAID reached a figure of $300 million a month, there was a great celebration at their offices in Kabul" for all that was achieved, Chandrasekaran said.

"That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact in many cases the more we [the USA] spent, the less we accomplished. Or what we accomplished ran counter to what we wanted to do. As we put more money in, we fueled corruption, we fueled inefficiencies, we fueled governmental theft and laziness. We fueled contractors skimming proceeds and layers of subcontracting."

According to Chandrasekaran, U.S. officials kept repeating the same diplomatic mistakes in Afghanistan. "They had a pig roast on the embassy compound -- this in a Muslim country that finds the consumption of pork deeply offensive."

American diplomats and aid workers had an "alcohol-sodden Mardi Gras party where people got into fist fights, and literally were urinating on the walls of the embassy," Chandrasekaran told Suarez. "Every year you get a whole new crop of these diplomats and aid workers who show up. And in many cases, show up fresh and not having learnt the lessons" from the past.


WOMEN - The Old Debate, Balancing Work and Family

"Women, Work and Having it All: Article Reignites Old Debate" PBS Newshour 6/26/2012

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): It's an old debate that has caught fire anew: How do women balance work and family?

A new article in The Atlantic magazine, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Anne-Marie Slaughter, has gone viral, with nearly a million views online in less than a week. It sparked a bigger conversation about the role of women in the work force, the competing demands on employees and generational differences over the ideals of feminism.

Slaughter is a Princeton professor who rose to the highest ranks of the State Department before resigning to live closer to her children. She joins us now from New York. We're also joined by Monica Olivera. She's a young mother who is the founder of Latin Baby and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, websites that are geared toward Latino families. And Naomi Decter, she's vice president of the public relations firm Beckerman. She is a mother of three who has also written articles and editorials for commentary for The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal.




COMMENT: To emphasis the lag between technology that is alluded to in the video, business lags in implementation of "computer commuting" (aka Telecommuting) jobs.

There is so much work that is done via a desktop workstation (computer) that CAN be done from the worker's home. This gives workers flexibility AND saves the employer money in the long run (office space, energy, etc.), just to name two. The problem IS the private business culture still being "the worker must be in the office," which is the actual hold up in Telecommuting.

The only areas where Telecommuting is taking hold is IT job sector and government.
"Backed by NATO, Turkey Steps Up Warning to Syria" by ERIC SCHMITT and SEBNEM ARSU, New York Times 6/26/2012

Excerpt

Buoyed by support from its NATO allies, Turkey escalated its warnings against Syria on Tuesday, even as some American and allied officials privately raised questions about whether the Turkish warplane shot down by Syrian air defenses — provoking the denunciation — had been on a spy mission.

In response to the downing, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey warned Syrian forces to stay clear of their troubled border or face a military response to any perceived threat. Mr. Erdogan’s bellicose tone came as ambassadors from the Atlantic alliance, seeking to avoid a wider conflict, held emergency talks in Brussels at Turkey’s behest.

After the meeting, the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the alliance considered Syria’s actions in shooting down the Turkish warplane to be “unacceptable.”

While the American and allied officials emphasized that some intelligence reports flowing in since the downing last Friday were murky and often conflicting, they said a preliminary analysis of the available data suggested that there may have been more to the aircraft’s mission than just a routine training exercise to test Turkey’s air defenses.

They pointed to several unanswered questions about the episode, including why, given the tensions between the two countries, Turkey was flying an unarmed reconnaissance plane so close to the Syrian border, where the aircraft was struck, and whether it had received any warnings to leave Syrian airspace.

Syria maintains that the plane was brought down by antiaircraft fire well within its airspace. But Turkey says the plane was attacked over international waters after straying briefly into Syrian space.

American military and NATO officials said they were examining these claims as well as radar tracks and other classified information to better understand what had happened.

Considering that the area is a hot-zone, want to bet that there are satellites, U.S. Reconnaissance Aircraft (spy planes), and ships tracking EVERYTHING in the area? Not to mention the NSA tracking of communications. "We" know just what the Turkish plane was doing.

MEDIA - Movie, "The Woman In Black"

I missed this one.... released 2/3/2012..... getting the DVD.


The Woman In Black
Official Site

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

EGYPT - Mohammed Morsi Takes the Helm

"Egypt's First Civilian President to Take Helm of Divided Country" PBS Newshour 6/25/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: From a dissolved parliament to Egypt's economic woes, President-elect Mohammed Morsi will have many problems to confront when entering office. Jeffrey Brown talks to regional analysts Hishem Melhem and Samer Shehata about what lies ahead for Egypt.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): In fact, as Morsi met today with Egypt's ruling military council, the way forward was ambiguous, at best. And it was unclear just how much power he will have.

In recent days, Egypt's highest court ordered the new parliament, dominated by Islamists, to be dissolved. And the generals imposed constitutional changes that give themselves sweeping powers.

For more, I'm joined by Samer Shehata, assistant professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, and Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya news.

SUPREME COURT - Three Big Decisions

"Supreme Court Upholds 'Most Controversial Part' of Arizona's Immigration Law" PBS Newshour 6/25/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: According to the Supreme Court, Arizona police may still stop people they believe to be illegal immigrants, but cannot arrest them without a warrant. The National Law Journal's Marcia Coyle, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and law professor Steven Gonzales weigh in on the ruling.




NOTE: This makes the Arizona law toothless from the Arizona enforcement perspective, they cannot arrest without warrant or take any other direct enforcement action. Enforcement is federal.

"High Court Reaffirms Campaign Finance, Strikes Down Juvenile Life Sentences" PBS Newshour 6/25/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: In addition to the judgment on Arizona's immigration laws, the Supreme Court ruled Monday on mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders and refused to reconsider a decision it had made in 2010 on corporate campaign finance rules.





MEXICO - Mexican Election Issue, War on Cartels

"Mexicans Focus on Security as Top Election Issue" PBS Newshour 6/25/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: In a time of relatively stable economic growth, the top concern for Mexican voters is the national war on cartels and widespread drug violence. Margaret Warner previews the upcoming Mexican election and the various party factions competing for control, including the campaign frontrunner who out-"dazzles" the other candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Finally tonight, we begin a weeklong series of reports from Mexico by Margaret Warner.

Her first focus is on its upcoming presidential election.


Monday, June 25, 2012

RELIGION - Catholic Monsignor Convicted

"Church Official Convicted for Handling of Sexual Abuse Claims" PBS Newshour 6/22/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): A jury convicted a U.S. church official for the first time for the handling and cover-up of sexual abuse claims.

Sixty-one-year-old Monsignor William Lynn of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was found guilty of child endangerment. Prosecutors said he recommended reassigning priests accused of abuse to unsuspecting parishes when he served as secretary of the clergy from 1992 to 2004. The jury acquitted him on one count of conspiracy and another of endangerment. He could face up to seven years in prison.

The jury could not agree on a verdict for his co-defendant, Rev. James Brennan. He was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

SYRIA - The Rebels, Just Who Are They?

"Who are Syria's Rebel Forces?" PBS Newshour 6/22/2012

Excerpt

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): And we turn to Syria.

A Turkish air force jet went down off the Syrian coast today. The office of Turkey's prime minister said Syria shot it down. And late this evening, the Syrian government admitted it did bring down the plane over its own territorial waters.

In a separate development, Syria's government accused rebels of killing more than 25 men. A gruesome video -- we're just showing one still frame -- captured corpses, some in military uniforms, dumped on a road near the northern city of Aleppo. The state-run news agency said the victims were pro-regime gunmen.

Government troops have launched an offensive in recent weeks to take back ground captured by the opposition.

Tracey Shelton of our partner GlobalPost was embedded with a group of rebels recently and filed this report.

MEDIA - Facebook and Personal Privacy

"Could Facebook Get Squashed by a 'Better Mousetrap?'" PBS Newshour 6/22/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And now to social media and personal privacy.

Facebook and other companies have been in the news recently. As analysts debate whether their profits justify their stock prices, still lingering in the background are concerns over privacy violations.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at that part of the story. It's part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN: It was one of biggest initial public stock offerings history, one of the most hyped, and one of the most disappointing. After the IPO, shares of the social networking giant Facebook swooned and are still well below the initial price.

But in his new book, "Friends, Followers and the Future," filmmaker, author, and longtime media blogger Rory O'Connor argues that Facebook faces even bigger problems in the long run.

LIBYA - Revolution, a Reporter's View

"Reporting a Revolution: Lindsey Hilsum on Libya, its War and its Future" PBS Newshour 6/22/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Veteran reporter Lindsey Hilsum's new book chronicles the revolution in Libya. She speaks with Jeffrey Brown about the war, its aftermath and the future of Libya.

Friday, June 22, 2012

WALL STREET - 15 Banks Ratings Downgraded

"Moody’s Cuts Credit Ratings of 15 Big Banks" by PETER EAVIS and SUSANNE CRAIG, New York Times 6/21/2012

Excerpt

Already grappling with weak profits and global economic turmoil, 15 major banks were hit with credit downgrades on Thursday that could do more damage to their bottom lines and further unsettle equity markets.

The credit agency, Moody’s Investors Service, which warned banks in February that a downgrade was possible, cut the credit scores of banks to new lows to reflect new risks that the industry has encountered since the financial crisis.

“The risks of this industry became apparent in the financial crisis,” said Robert Young, a managing director at Moody’s. “These new ratings capture those risks.”

Citigroup and Bank of America, which have struggled to fully recover from the financial crisis, were among the hardest hit. After the downgrades, the banks stand barely above the minimum for an investment grade rating, a sign of the difficult business conditions they face.

Executives at the banks argued on Thursday that the new ratings failed to reflect the safeguards and changes that they had put in place in recent years.

The cuts come at a time of tumult within the industry. Banks have struggled to improve their profits against the backdrop of the European sovereign debt crisis, a weak American economy and new regulations.

The downgrades may amplify their problems. With lower ratings, creditors could charge the banks more on their loans. Big clients may also move their business to less-risky companies, further crimping earnings.

As bank profits falter, consumers could also be affected. Companies often try to make up for lost revenue by passing costs on to customers.

In the face of new regulations, banks have raised fees and other sources of income to bolster their business.

Moody’s downgrades are part of a broad effort to make its analysis more rigorous. During the financial crisis, Moody’s and its rivals got a black eye for placing high ratings on mortgage bonds that later imploded.

COMMENT: I am NOT supprised. These banks needed a '2-by-4' on the head to get their attention.

SUPREME COURT - FCC Indecency Regs, Crack Cocaine Case, and Union Nonmembers

"Court Rejects FCC Fines for Indecency, Rules Against SEIU" PBS Newshour 6/21/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: The Supreme Court dismissed fines against broadcasters who violated FCC indecency policies but did not address whether the government has the authority to regulate indecency on broadcast TV. The justices also said unions must let nonmembers object to unexpected fee increases that all workers are required to pay in a closed-shop.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): It was a day of big decisions at the Supreme Court. The justices issued three major opinions, but the fate of the highly anticipated health care and immigration cases won't be known until next week.

Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal was in the courtroom today and is here tell us more.

And, Marcia, on the big broadcast indecency question, the justices called the FCC rules vague. They sided with the broadcasters. But did they take on the big First Amendment questions having to do with the regulating of content on broadcast television?

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: No, they didn't, Ray.


AFRICA - Food Crisis and Children

"Food Crisis in Africa Hits Niger's Children Particularly Hard" PBS Newshour 6/21/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: A once-in-a-generation famine is threatening millions of lives in West Africa, including hundreds of thousands of children in Niger. Rohit Kachroo of Independent Television News reports.


EDUCATION - Students Entering Community Colleges Not Ready

"Community Colleges Struggling With Spreading the Knowledge" PBS Newshour 6/21/2012

Excerpt

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Now, why some community colleges are rethinking their approach to basic courses.

The schools have long been a place where students are required to fill in gaps in their high school educations, but there are important questions about how well it works. And now there's a move to change the way it's done.

Special correspondent John Tulenko from Learning Matters has the story.

JOHN TULENKO: Community colleges, with low tuition and open door admissions, are enrolling record numbers of students, especially minority students and returning adults, all of them with high hopes, says teacher Peter Adams.

PETER ADAMS, Community College of Baltimore County: They're coming here with a great emphasis on making their lives better. A lot of them have worked in fairly low-paying, insecure jobs, and they want a better career.

JOHN TULENKO: But as community colleges across the country have discovered, the vast majority of students arrives unprepared.

PETER ADAMS: And the first thing we say to them is, not so fast there. You're not really in college. You can't take college-level courses. You have got to take these developmental courses.

JOHN TULENKO: Catchup classes that do not count toward certificates and degrees, that's where more than half of all community college students and two-thirds of black and Latino students are placed.




COMMENT: What does that say about the students' high school education? How did they graduate NOT ready? Poorly run high school mills.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

UNIONS - Labor Union Election and the Future

"Labor Union Election Sheds Light on Embattled Future" PBS Newshour 6/20/2012

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): As local governments roll back employee pensions and benefits, the nation's largest public labor union prepares for an internal battle that could shape its external mission.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: You provide the hospitals. You provide the roads. You provide the ability of people to live a decent middle -class life. We owe you.

GWEN IFILL: Speaking before one of the Democratic Party's most important constituencies, Vice President Joe Biden issued a rallying cry yesterday to the nation's largest public sector union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME.

Union members welcome those fighting words as public sector unions engage in a series of battles around the country over jobs, benefits and bargaining rights. Only a few weeks ago in Wisconsin, where AFSCME was born in 1932, Republican Governor Scott Walker survived a union-driven recall attempt. The bitter vote came after Walker signed a bill to end collective bargaining rights for most public sector unions.

On the same day, in California, the labor movement also lost two smaller skirmishes, as voters in San Diego and San Jose decided to cut city workers' pensions. It was a setback from only last fall in Ohio, where public unions beat back an attempt to scale back collective bargaining rights.

These very public debates have now led to a vigorous internal one as well, as AFSCME tomorrow elects a new president for the first time in a generation. The race pits Lee Saunders, the current secretary treasurer, against Danny Donohue, head of AFSCME's New York state branch.

HUMOR - Politics From the Humor Times

Humor Times





ECONOMY - Bernanke's Crystal Ball Failed

This is in the 'no kidding' category. Looks like Bernanke's crystal ball is as accurate as mine.

"Bernanke: Fed Was 'Too Optimistic' About Recovery" PBS Newshour 6/20/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): The nation's economic outlook is worse now than just two months ago. The Federal Reserve issued a sobering new estimate today, in the face of a weak job market and trouble in Europe.

All eyes and markets looked to the Federal Reserve as it wrapped up its two-day policy meeting. When it was over, the Central Bank had lowered its estimate of growth this year by half-a-percentage point to 2.4 percent and said it expects the unemployment rate to remain at least 8 percent through 2012.

BEN BERNANKE, federal reserve chairman: The outlook has changed. Like many other forecasters, the Federal Reserve was too optimistic early in the recovery about the pace of recovery.

AMERICA - Preservation of the Mojave Language

"On a Mission for Preservation, Poet Natalie Diaz Returns to Her Roots" PBS Newshour 6/20/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: After spending several years away from home, poet Natalie Diaz felt a calling to return to her reservation to help preserve the Mojave language, which is rapidly being lost.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Next, a story of poetry, basketball and the preservation of a native language. It begins with a trip down the Colorado River.

HISTORY - From Americans Who Were in Hitler's Berlin

"Americans with a Front Row Seat to the Rise of Hitler" PBS Newshour 6/20/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Never before has the story been told of a group of Americans who lived in Berlin as Hitler and his Nazi party clawed their way to ultimate power. Margaret Warner speaks with former Newsweek journalist and author Andrew Nagorski about his new book, "Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power."

SYRIA - CIA Aiding and Vetting Opposition Groups

"C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition" by ERIC SCHMITT, New York Times 6/21/2012

Excerpt

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.

The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington’s attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has recently escalated his government’s deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule. With Russia blocking more aggressive steps against the Assad government, the United States and its allies have instead turned to diplomacy and aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Mr. Assad from power.

By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties. “C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts.

American officials and retired C.I.A. officials said the administration was also weighing additional assistance to rebels, like providing satellite imagery and other detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements. The administration is also considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service. But no decisions have been made on those measures or even more aggressive steps, like sending C.I.A. officers into Syria itself, they said.

COMMENT: About time we helped.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CALIFORNIA - Big-Brother IS Watching, California Style


"Police, lobbyists defeat bill to regulate license-plate scanners" by G.W. Schulz, California Watch 6/29/2012

Under pressure from law enforcement lobbyists and private industry, a California lawmaker has abandoned his effort to restrict how personal information on the whereabouts of drivers generated from high-tech license-plate scanners can be collected and stored in a database.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, proposed the bill in March after California Watch reported that a private company had stockpiled more than a half-billion records on drivers from the license-plate readers.

The scanner is affixed to the outside of patrol cars and captures the geographic location of motorists along with the date and time, regardless of whether the individual is a wanted criminal, a fact that alarms privacy groups. The Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco said it was disappointed by the bill's fate.

Simitian said in an interview that he was encouraged when the proposed legislation survived two committees, but any momentum had shifted once it reached the Senate floor, where Simitian realized he didn’t have the votes.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised by the lack of sensitivity to privacy concerns on the part of public entities, including law enforcement,” Simitian said. “This is not uncommon in my experience. I think for many of these organizations … they see privacy as a fairly abstract right.”

Police rely on an in-car alert to inform them if a scanned license plate is connected to a stolen vehicle or if the driver is wanted for some reason. But historical data also can be searched to determine where a driver has been and when, an alluring feature for criminal investigators and intelligence analysts.

Livermore-based Vigilant Video touts the intelligence value of its National Vehicle Location Service, and by earlier this year, some 1,200 new law enforcement users were being signed up to use the system every month. Shawn Smith, president and founder of Vigilant, said police in California alone have conducted some 80,000 queries of the service with 35,000 positive auto identifications.

Smith said he wouldn’t be surprised if some form of legislation regulating license-plate readers surfaced in the future, but it didn’t seem to him that the law enforcement community had been asked for feedback before Simitian introduced the bill. He said success stories involving the technology were handed over to police, who in turn used them to convince senators of the public safety benefits.

“I think at the end of the day, it made a big difference,” Smith said of the stories. “I don’t think it did in Senator Simitian’s mind, but it did in the minds of his colleagues.”

The examples are endless, Smith said. Immigration agents have used the National Vehicle Location Service to track down illegal immigrants. The district attorney in Los Angeles has used it to locate difficult-to-find witnesses. Police in Long Beach used it to find an identity theft suspect who was targeting veterans – she eventually was captured in Chicago after fleeing California.

“Although proponents would have you believe that this is a privacy bill, the fact is that there is no expectation of privacy in a public-displayed license plate,” several California law enforcement groups wrote to the state Senate earlier this year.

Simitian said he did previously work with the California Highway Patrol on rules for plate readers and knew what the views of police were, but he said the latest bill "turned out to be a bigger lift than I anticipated."

Data in the system comes from both police, who turn it over from their own plate readers for nationwide searches, and auto repossession companies that work with banks to hunt down delinquent borrowers. Civilian fleets of “scout cars” armed with license-plate readers are used to compile data on behalf of private industry.

Simitian wanted to limit to 60 days the length of time law enforcement agencies and companies like Vigilant could store such data, but exceptions would have been made for information needed in felony investigations. His legislation also called for blocking private businesses from selling or giving the data to anyone who is not a law enforcement officer and making the data available to police only with a search warrant.

Vigilant says searches of the National Vehicle Location Service already are restricted to approved law enforcement officials, but Simitian’s bid would nonetheless have prevented police in California from turning over data generated by their own scanners to any entity not engaged in law enforcement, such as private companies.

Many law enforcement agencies already have guidelines for how data from plate readers can be used. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina, for instance, told California Watch in January that it destroys irrelevant records after 180 days and cannot conduct nationwide searches through the National Vehicle Location Service.

The senator said he offered to compromise with law enforcement, but police still pushed for access to data collected by private companies.

Essentially, law enforcement’s argument was, ‘We think private-sector entities ought to be able to stockpile information on law-abiding citizens, and that information should be available to law enforcement upon request without a warrant or any probable cause,’ ” he said.

NOTE: The statement "affixed to the outside of patrol cars" is not exactly correct. Some of these devices can be hand-held by CHP Officers (communications cord to computer inside patrol car) or mounted below the front window (just like the camera use to record traffic stops), AND these devices record the car's speed. I've seen this on San Diego freeways. They can be used in Traffic Court if necessary, IF it can be proven the owner of the car was the driver at the time.

CALIFORNIA - Political Donors and Elections

"State's top 100 political donors contribute $1.25 billion" by Coulter Jones and Elizabeth Titus, California Watch 6/4/2012

In a state with nearly 38 million people, few have more influence than the top 100 donors to California campaigns – a powerful club that has donated overwhelmingly to Democrats and spent $1.25 billion to influence voters over the past dozen years.

These big spenders represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of individuals and groups that donated to California campaigns from 2001 through 2011. But they supplied about a third of the $3.67 billion lavished on state campaigns during that time, campaign records show.

With a few exceptions, these campaign elites have gotten their money’s worth, according to an analysis by California Watch of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics and state finance records.

The state’s top 100 donors gave nearly five times as much to winning candidates as they did to losers. And they helped steer initiative campaigns to success as well – about 55 percent of every dollar they contributed to propositions aided a winning campaign, the analysis shows.

Some of these top 100 donors are continuing to donate heavily in the 2012 election cycle. For their part, tobacco companies Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have spent more than $30 million since January to defeat an initiative on tomorrow’s ballot that would increase the cigarette tax.

“Major players with major stakes in statewide issues are going to make sure their opinions are heard,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College who focuses on California issues.

Given its size and wealth, California automatically sets national records for campaign donations – more money is spent here on politics than in any other state.

Not surprisingly for California, the top 100 directed their money in large part toward the Democratic Party, which controls the governor’s office and the state Legislature. Overall, these top donors – 50 wealthy individuals and 50 special interest groups analyzed by California Watch – gave twice as much to Democratic candidates as they did members of other political parties.

But there was a split: Special interest donors favored Democrats, while individual donors favored Republicans by a slim margin.

When broken down, records show the top 50 group contributors – including labor unions, energy companies and tribal governments – were three times more likely to give to Democratic candidates. The top 50 individuals, however, gave slightly more to Republicans.

The state’s most extravagant individual donor and biggest campaign loser is Stephen Bing, the real estate scion and Hollywood producer. He gave more money than any other individual to a state campaign – $49.5 million in 2006 to support Proposition 87, known as the alternative energy oil tax, which failed.

But Bing proved that a handful of California’s richest special interests and individuals have an outsized voice in elections here. The campaign he spearheaded became one of the most expensive in California history, drawing more than $156 million in contributions. Chevron, Aera Energy and Occidental Oil & Gas donated a combined $80 million to fight Bing’s measure.

The biggest special interest donor, the California Teachers Association, spent more than $118 million on campaigns in the state during the past five election cycles and the first half of this one. The union has focused overwhelmingly on initiatives, spending $100 million of that war chest advocating and opposing ballot measures over the past dozen years.

More than a third of its spending went to fight just four propositions that were key pieces of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempted government overhaul in 2005. The measures – all of which failed – would have extended the probationary period for teachers, altered the formula for funding public schools, required employee consent on union dues and removed redistricting powers from the Legislature.

Eight tribal governments also made the list of top special-interest donors. But two stood out: The Pechanga Band of LuiseƱo Indians and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians spent a combined $80 million in 2008 supporting four propositions to expand tribal gambling operations; they all passed.

Individual donors favor GOP

Bing, who also donated to Democratic candidates, was a bit of an outlier among the largest individual donors. The five most generous donors gave twice as much to Republicans than to Democrats.

Andrew “Jerry” Perenchio, the former chairman and CEO of Univision, and Charles T. Munger Jr., a wealthy Stanford physicist, were the state’s second- and third-largest donors. Perenchio gave at least $9.3 million to the state’s GOP, and Munger, who contributed mostly to ballot measures, is active in Republican politics.

California Watch, working in partnership with a Stanford University investigative reporting class, attempted to reach several of the top 50 individual donors. None would comment for this article.

But some of the elite institutional contributors were more open. The California Teachers Association, which has 325,000 members, said it uses an internal council of more than 800 members to vote on which candidates and causes to support.

When collecting dues from its members for political causes, the union operates a two-tiered system. Members give $8 each year to a committee that supports candidates and $36 annually to a ballot measure committee. They have the right to opt out of both committees.

To campaign against Schwarzenegger’s 2005 ballot measures, members voted to increase its annual contributions to $60 for three years.

“We were starting to see a lot of things surface that we felt were dangerous and we needed to defend against,” said Dean Vogel, president of the union. “It wasn’t so much a need to promote anything, but a way to defend against egregious attacks against public education.”

Among the top 50 individual donors, men dominate the ranks. Only five are women.

Ann Howland Doerr donated $3.1 million, most of it on two successful proposition battles. She spent $1.9 million for Proposition 71 in 2004, which supported stem cell research, and she gave $1 million to defeat Proposition 23 in 2010, which would have suspended California’s law to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Doerr’s husband, venture capitalist L. John Doerr III, gave more than $9 million to political causes and was the state’s fourth-largest donor.

Self-funded candidates were not included in the analysis, leaving former eBay CEO Meg Whitman off the list. Whitman spent more than $140 million on her failed gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

California Watch’s analysis focused on data through 2011. The numbers include money donated to state candidates and initiatives, but does not include federal campaigns or money donated to independent expenditure committees, which allow contributions in unlimited amounts to benefit candidates.

This year, California's large donors are continuing to exert influence with donations to fight ballot initiatives, according to data from the California secretary of state’s office.

Along with Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, which are spending tens of millions to fight Proposition 29 on tomorrow’s ballot, Pacific Gas & Electric and Perenchio each donated $100,000 this year in support of Proposition 28, which would alter the state’s term limit law.

Tobacco companies have a long history of big spending in California initiatives. R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris combined to spend $60.5 million opposing Proposition 86 in 2006, which also would have increased taxes on cigarettes. More than $83 million was donated in support and opposition of the measure, but proponents of the tax were vastly outspent, 4 to 1.

In practice, one individual or group with deep pockets can have a greater impact on ballot measures than with any single candidate’s election. Under campaign finance laws, individuals and groups are limited in how much they can give to candidates. But donations to committees supporting or opposing ballot measures are effectively unlimited.

For donors, despite a lower success rate, an initiative campaign is a safer bet.

“When you give money to a person, that person could end up being a disappointment,” Pitney said. “A ballot initiative is an inanimate object. It cannot double-cross you.”

Equal chances in ballot measure spending

Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said groups opposing initiatives have just as much chance of success as groups supporting them. In a recent study, Kousser and a colleague found that from 1976 to 2004, money spent for or against ballot measures had equal effects on the outcome.

“You can’t get anything passed with just money in California,” he said. “You can’t just spend your way into public support.”

Kousser said he doesn’t see a direct relationship between donating to candidates and influence. On a per-dollar basis, he said, direct lobbying can be more effective.

“Campaign contributions open a legislator’s door to you,” Kousser said. “You need to send the lobbyist to walk through the door if that access is going to get you anywhere. Partly, you spend that money on campaigns to make sure your voice is heard during the lobbying.”

AT&T spread its contributions around more than any other top donor. The company donated to more than 700 different campaigns. Less than 10 percent of the nearly $10 million it donated went to ballot measures. Of the rest, $3.7 million went to Republicans and $5.3 million went to Democrats.

Pacific Gas & Electric, the third-largest donor, gave to nearly 600 different campaigns for political candidates. Democrats received $3.2 million, compared with $1.8 million for Republicans. The majority of its $67 million in donations went to support or oppose ballot measures.

Political contributions come from the company’s shareholders fund and not from public utility customers’ payments, spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said.

“We think it’s important to participate in the political process,” Paulo said. “That includes contributions to campaigns and engaging with individuals who have the potential to make decision to affect our customers, employees and our company.”

Democratic political strategist Bob Mulholland said specific issues motivate top donors more than individual candidates, which is one of the reasons why propositions garner large contributions from a select group.

“Some people don’t wake up every day thinking about politics, but they are moved by things that are happening in the world,” he said. “They have the resources to spend, and they believe in the cause.”

Mulholland, who is not employed by any campaigns this year, is a delegate for California at the Democratic National Convention in September. He sees top donors making up less of a role in state politics as technology enables campaigns to target and tailor messages to unique donors and elicit small donations.

“The future means more money,” he said. “Yes, certain groups will continue to donate, but the future is more campaigns will have more donors. That’s good for campaigns because that allows you to quickly raise money when you’re under attack. You have a large pool you can go to.”

Hay, according to U.S. Supreme Court Inc. (corporate owned LLC) money does not enflunce elections.

IMMIGRATION - Issue's Political Fallout

"Immigration Fallout: A White House Win?" PBS Newshour 6/19/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: President Obama's decision last week to help undocumented youths obtain work visas has rippled through the presidential campaigns. Gwen Ifill and Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News discuss the political fallout, who the new policy affects and what it means for the Latino vote.


ECONOMY - State Budgets vs State Benefits Revisited

"Pension Shortfalls Force States to Consider Cutting Benefits" PBS Newshour 6/19/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): More and more states are struggling to keep their pension promises, as the ripple effects of recession erode their revenues. A new study painted a stark picture today of just how big the budget hole has become.

GOV. PAT QUINN, D-Ill.: This has to be the year of pension reform once and for all in our state of Illinois.

JEFFREY BROWN: For governors like Illinois's Pat Quinn, the already-huge pension gap just keeps growing. It's the difference between what they owe in public employee pensions and what's actually set aside.

A new analysis reports that nationally the shortfall in funds covering millions of workers reached $757 billion in fiscal year 2010. That marked a 9 percent increase from the year before. All told, 34 states fell short of safe levels of pension funding, roughly 80 percent of long-term obligations.

The study said hard-hit states have redirected funds away from pensions to more immediate needs. In Rhode Island, for example, state treasurer Gina Raimondo highlighted the problem for NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman last year.




Significant excerpt

KIL HUH, Pew Center on the States: Well, the widening gap has been growing.

As you mentioned, it has grown percent from 2009 to 2010 and collectively it's $1.38 trillion between what states have promised their workers and what they have set aside to pay for these benefits. These promises include both pensions and retiree health care.

So now states want workers to take the hit for a mistake made by the state legislatures? How typical.

Reference from video:

"Retirees hit amid CF bankruptcy endgame" by Ted Nesi, WPRI 4/27/2012

Excerpt

Central Falls is being carefully and painfully nursed back to health.

Last August the tiny city became the first Rhode Island municipality to file for bankruptcy, weighed down by $80 million in retirement benefits promised to its employees, deep cuts in state aid and a moribund economy. Its 19,376 residents - more than half of them Hispanic and 42% of them immigrants - have a median household income of $34,389, more than $20,000 below the state average.

National experts warned the bankruptcy process could drag on for years. But a concerted effort by the Chafee administration - and a lack of alternatives for its retirees - have Central Falls near the finish line after less than a year. The city could be out of bankruptcy within three months, but the situation is bittersweet, according to Rosemary Booth Gallogly, the state's director of revenue.

"We're not really proud of what came out of that," Gallogly told WPRI.com. "While we're really pleased with how our hard work has paid off, we're not really gleeful because there were a lot of people who were hurt by it. So it's kind of a balance. We really haven't tried to say, wow, we really got this done."

AMERICA - Supporting 'Black' Enterprises

Note that this type of behavior is used by many other communities. Asian, Jewish, Latino, etc., to boost community businesses and income. These are essentially community support efforts. This is not a new idea.

"One Family's Effort to Buy Black for a Year" PBS Newshour 6/19/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Paul Solman reports on one African-American family's year-long mission to shop only at black-owned businesses. Part of his Making Sen$e of financial news series, Solman speaks with the family about their "Empowerment Experiment," and looks at some of the challenges African American entrepreneurs face.



ITALY - A Win For Sepration of Church and State

"In Italy, Gay Marriage Efforts Met With Strong Vatican Opposition" PBS Newshour 6/19/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Finally tonight, the effort to legalize gay marriage in Italy has been met with opposition, specifically from the Vatican, but a recent Supreme Court ruling has given supporters hope.

Fabiana Formica reports for our partner GlobalPost.


AMERICA - Motorcycle Helmet Laws

This is a sore subject with me because I rode a motorcycle in my 20s (I'm now 67). Using motorcycle helmets is a freedom issue. The ONLY reason for such laws is the health costs.

The solution COULD be having motorcycle drivers sign a legal document that they CHOOSE not to ware motorcycle helmets, and to acknowledge that they will NOT receive ANY financial help from state nor federal government (aka public help).

As for insurance companies, they would just charge a huge fee for covering motorcycle drivers who do not ware helmets and be able to refuse to pay coverage for motorcycle drivers who are in an accident while not waring a helmet.

Also note that the comment in the video about the divergent trend of number of people dying in car accidents vs the growth in the number of motorcycle deaths MAY be that today's cars are built with better safety features, making the comparison invalid.

"Why Rise in Motorcycle Deaths Hasn't Meant Tougher Helmet Laws" PBS Newshour 6/19/2012

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Fatalities on the nation's roads may be declining, but motorcycle deaths are not. Those deaths have increased from about 3,200 in 2002 to 4,500 in 2010. And yet state laws requiring helmets have been weakened.

In the 1970s, 47 states shown here in gray required all motorcycle drives to wear helmets. Today, just 19 of them, all in dark blue, require them. Most of the rest in light blue still require helmets of younger riders. That's the finding of a new report released earlier this month by the investigative group FairWarning.org.

Days later, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued its own report, finding that five times as many cyclists who don't wear helmets die in accidents compared to those who do wear one.

All of this has stirred plenty of anger in the motorcycle community. The American Motorcyclist Association said in a statement that it -- quote -- "opposes helmet mandates because they have unintended consequences. Historically, the enforcement of helmet mandates has siphoned away scarce funds from effective crash prevention programs such as rider education and motorist awareness."



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ECONOMY - Fiscal Stimulus, the Krugman Solution

"Paul Krugman's Solution to Getting Fiscal Stimulus? It Involves Aliens" PBS Newshour 6/18/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Amid a tough economy, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has probably captured as much attention -- and notoriety -- as anyone else in his field. Part of his Making Sen$e of financial news series, Paul Solman speaks with Krugman whose new book "End This Depression Now" suggests some radical policy-making.


EGYPT - Elections, Let the Spin Begin

"In Egypt, Both Sides Claim Victory in Presidential Vote" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 6/18/2012

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): In Egypt today, both sides claimed they won more votes in this weekend's presidential election. Meanwhile, Egypt's ruling military leaders issued constitutional amendments to strip presidential powers and increase their own authority.

We begin with a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports in Cairo.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In Tahrir Square this morning, it was crisis, what crisis? The Muslim Brotherhood celebrating apparent victory in the first presidential election here with more than one candidate, a moment to savor, after 60 years of autocratic military rule.

MAN (through translator): This is the first president ever properly elected in Egypt. So, personally I'm so happy I can't even describe it. Thank God almighty.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The man who would be president is Mohammed Morsi, a 60-year-old physics professor. He pledged to represent all Egyptians, including the country's 10 million or so Christians. But his victory speech may have been premature, because his rival, Ahmed Shafiq, a retired air marshal from the old regime, has not conceded defeat.

The weekend's vote is still being counted and the result seems too close to call. As the day wore on, the traffic returned to Tahrir. Egypt may be in constitutional crisis because last night the army announced it was in charge of all law making, as well as the budget and the writing of a new constitution. But it's too early to say whether the revolution in this sweltering city will reignite or not.

If Mr. Morsi has lost, his supporters may well cry foul and protest. And even if he's won, he may be little more than a figurehead, though Egypt's military rulers today insisted they didn't want power and would hand it over to the new president by the end of this month.

GEN. MOHAMMED AL-ASSAR, Egyptian Military Council (through translator): The elected president will be handed all powers vested in the power of the president, the head of the executive authority, with complete authority, with all due respect. And he will be the head of state. There is no doubt about that.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In Tahrir this evening, supporters of Egypt's first Islamist president are celebrating, though if the army doesn't deliver on its promise of civilian rule the move could soon turn towards revolt.


"After Parliament Dissolved, Egyptian Generals Put on 'Charm Offensive'" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 6/18/2012

GREECE - Pro-Bailouts Win Election, Now What?

"Greece's Respite Met With Cautious Optimism" PBS Newshour 6/18/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Europe cleared a major hurdle Sunday, as voters in Greece decided to stick with their bailout. But, today, new obstacles loomed on the road to the continent's financial security.

From newsstands in Athens, to the G20 summit at a Mexican resort, to financial markets, the election results from Greece were felt worldwide. Political parties who support staying in the European currency union and accepting the international bailout of Greece managed to win a majority in parliament on Sunday.

Antonis Samaras and his conservative New Democracy Party led the field with nearly 30 percent of the vote. He set to work today on forming a governing coalition likely with the Socialist Party.


Monday, June 18, 2012

EGYPT - Dangerous Political Times

"Egypt Politics 'Entering New, Dangerous Period'" PBS Newshour 6/15/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: More than 200 policemen were deployed outside Egypt's parliament Friday after a court nullified recent elections. Jeffrey Brown and Harvard University professor Tarek Masoud discuss the dashed hopes of the Egyptian people as voters head to the polls this weekend for a presidential election.


OPINION - Jose Antonio Vargas on Change to Deportation Policy

"Jose Antonio Vargas: Immigration Decision 'Joyous'" by: Christina Bellantoni, PBS Newshour 6/15/2012

President Obama announced a sweeping change to deportation policy Friday, a move that would allow some 800,000 undocumented young people to remain in the United States if they go to school and stay out of trouble.

The NewsHour was there as some of the young people impacted by the decision watched the president's speech at the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington. At that event, we spoke with Jose Antonio Vargas, (Pulitzer Prize winner) the journalist who revealed one year ago he is an undocumented immigrant.

In our video, Vargas explains how he was brought to the United States as a young boy, and then reacts to the president's move. Mr. Obama's announcement comes less than a day after Vargas and other so-called "dreamers" appeared on the cover of Time Magazine for a story that highlights the thousands of undocumented young people in the United States and hoping for change.

Vargas' Define American group lauded the decision and launched a petition urging others to come forward. In that note, Vargas notes he does not qualify under the rules since he is over the age of 30.

We'll have more from the other side, and more coverage, soon. Watch Friday's NewsHour to hear from the White House and GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.



GREECE - Elections and Global Economic Jitters

"How Greece's Election Could Shape Global Economy" PBS Newshour 6/15/2012

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Leaders around the world are closely watching this weekend's elections in Greece, where the outcome could have serious repercussions for the global economy.

Polling stations across Greece were busy with pre-election activity today for the second time in six weeks. No party won enough support in last month's vote to form a government, forcing a do-over this Sunday. And the stakes are high for Greece, Europe and even the broader world economy.

The left-wing Syriza Party insists that, if it wins, it wants to reopen the part of the international bailout agreement that forced austerity measures on Greece. There had been fears of a Greek exit from the euro currency system and resulting turmoil in financial markets. Syriza's leader, Alexis Tsipras, however, now insists he is focused on improving the terms of the bailout and wouldn't quit the euro.

"Supporters of Bailout Claim Victory in Greek Election" by RACHEL DONADIO, New York Times 6/17/2012




Friday, June 15, 2012

SYRIA - Russia Sends Troops to Protect Tartus Port

"US official: Russia sends troops to Syria as peace hopes fade" by Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News 6/15/2012

Excerpt

Russia is sending armed troops to Syria amid escalating violence there, United States military officials told NBC News Friday, in a move certain to frustrate Western efforts to put pressure on the regime of President Bashir Assad.

Moscow has sent a ship carrying a small contingent of combat forces to guard Russia’s deep-water port and military base at the Syrian city of Tartus, the US officials said.

The U.S. officials also said Russia has not sent additional attack helicopters to the Syrian government, but replacement parts for the Russian helicopters the Syrians are already flying.

It comes after the conflict was declared by France on Wednesday to be a full-blown civil war.

The head of the U.N. observers in Syria said Friday a recent spike in bloodshed is derailing the mission to monitor and defuse more than a year of violence and could prompt the unarmed force to pull out.

"Violence over the past 10 days has been intensifying willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers," Maj. Gen. Robert Mood told reporters in Damascus. "The escalating violence is now limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects."

Tartus is one of Russia’s most strategically-important assets, giving it military access to the Mediterranean Sea.

SPACE - Voyager 1 Reaches Edge of Our Solar System


"Voyager space probe reaches edge of solar system" by Chris Wickham, Reuters 6/15/2012

The Voyager 1 space probe has reached the edge of the solar system, extending its record for being the most distant man-made object in space.

According to a statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the spacecraft is sending back data to Earth showing a sharp increase in charged particles that originate from beyond the solar system.

"Voyager scientists looking at this rapid rise draw closer to an inevitable but historic conclusion - that humanity's first emissary to interstellar space is on the edge of our solar system," NASA said in the statement.

Voyager 1, along with its sister spacecraft Voyager 2, was launched in 1997 and is now about 18 billion kilometers from the Sun. It is moving at a speed of about 17 km per second and it currently takes 16 hours and 38 minutes for data to reach NASA's network on Earth. Voyager 2 is about 15 billion kilometers from the Sun.

Between them, the probes have explored all the giant planets of the solar system; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, as well as 48 of their moons.

They both carry a greeting for any extraterrestrial life they may bump into, a phonograph record and 12-inch gold-plated copper disk with sounds and images of life and culture on Earth selected by a group chaired by the famous space scientist Carl Sagan.

The charged particles hitting Voyager 1 originate from stars that have exploded elsewhere in the galaxy. They have been steadily rising as it approaches interstellar space but that trend has become sharper in recent months.

"From January 2009 to January 2012, there had been a gradual increase of about 25 percent in the amount of galactic cosmic rays Voyager was encountering," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

"More recently, we have seen very rapid escalation in that part of the energy spectrum. Beginning on May 7, the cosmic ray hits have increased five percent in a week and nine percent in a month."

The exact position of the edge of the solar system is unclear but another indicator that Voyager has entered interstellar space is expected to be a change in the direction of the magnetic fields around the space craft. NASA scientists are looking at data from the craft to see if this predicted change has occurred.

"The laws of physics say that someday Voyager will become the first human-made object to enter interstellar space, but we still do not know exactly when that someday will be," said Stone. "The latest data indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing more quickly. It is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system's frontier."

The plutonium power sources on the Voyager probes are designed to last until 2025. When they die, the probes will keep hurtling through space towards other stars in the Milky Way but they will no longer transmit data back to Earth.

SPACE - The Search for Black Holes, New Telescope

"NASA launches telescope to seek out black holes" by Alicia Chang, Bloomberg 6/13/2012

NASA on Wednesday launched its newest X-ray space telescope on a mission to shine a light on black holes and other hard-to-see objects lurking in the Milky Way and other galaxies.

Mission controllers clapped after receiving a signal from the telescope that it had reached orbit 350 miles above Earth.

"It's a terrific day," assistant launch director Tim Dunn said.

NASA decided to air-launch the $170 million mission, instead of rocketing off from a launch pad, because it was cheaper. The telescope was boosted into orbit by a Pegasus rocket released from a carrier aircraft that took off from the remote Kwajalein Atoll, a horseshoe-shaped Pacific island halfway between Hawaii and Australia.

After free-falling for several seconds, the rocket ignited its engines and climbed to space. Minutes later, the telescope separated from the rocket and unfurled its solar panels as it circled 350 miles above the Earth.

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuStar for short, focuses high-energy X-rays to peer through gas and dust in search of supermassive black holes in the center of galaxies, remnants of exploded stars and other exotic celestial objects.

While black holes are invisible, the region around them gives off telltale X-rays. NuStar will observe previously known black holes and map hidden ones. By zeroing in on never-before-seen parts of the universe, scientists hope to better understand how galaxies form and evolve.

"We can view black holes and galaxies even if they're enshrouded with dust and gas. If you had high-energy X-ray eyes and you stared up out of the galaxy, what you would see is the glow of all the massive black holes sprinkled throughout the cosmos," chief scientist Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology said earlier this week.

NuStar will also hunt for the remains of ancient supernovae, stars that exploded in past centuries. If it's lucky, it'll witness a star's death throes, but such events don't happen often and the telescope will have to be pointed at the right place at the right time.

Scientists expect sharp images from the mission, which is many times more sensitive than previous space telescopes that have looked in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

After a week in orbit, NuStar will unwrap its 33-foot mast laden with sensors. Observations will begin about a month after launch.

The mission was supposed to lift off in March, but was delayed by a flight software issue with the rocket. To keep costs down, project managers bypassed the launch pad, which would have required a much larger rocket.

The launch comes at a trying time for NASA's astrophysics division. Last week, the space agency killed an X-ray telescope mission because it failed to come in on budget. That mission, called GEMS, was supposed to launch in 2014 and would have observed many of the same targets as Nustar.

NASA is pressing ahead with its flagship astrophysics mission — the budget-busting James Webb Space Telescope considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It has the capability of peering deeper into the universe and back in time than ever, and is expected to launch in 2018 with an $8 billion price tag.

IMMIGRATION - Obama Stops Deportation of Young Law-Abiding Immigrants

"Obama signs order to stop deportation of young undocumented immigrants" by Ed Pilkington, The Guardian UK 6/15/2012

Excerpt

The Obama administration has announced a dramatic move to placate the rising anger of Hispanic communities across America by offering a partial Dream Act to young law-abiding immigrants without documents who will now no longer live under the threat of deportation and will have the right to work.

The move will take effect immediately and could have an impact on 800,000 young immigrants, largely Hispanic, who came to the US as children and though hard-working and law-abiding have lived for years under the shadow of deportation.

The department of homeland security said that those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria will be eligible to be taken off the deportation list for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.

"Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner," said the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. "But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."

SAN DIEGO - Dog Attack Kills Baby

"Baby dies after dog bite in Lemon Grove" by Susan Shroder, San Diego Union-Tribune 6/14/2012

Sheriff's homicide detectives are investigating the death Thursday of an 8-month-old boy who had been bitten by a dog.

Deputies and paramedics from the Lemon Grove Fire Department were called to a residence on West Street, between Broadway and North Avenue in Lemon Grove. They responded at 4:52 p.m., within four minutes of getting the call, sheriff's homicide Lt. Larry Nesbit said.

They found a woman holding an injured boy, Nesbit said. Paramedics began treating the baby and transported him to Rady Children's Hospital. He died shortly after 6 p.m., the lieutenant said.

Nesbit said animal-control officers removed three dogs from the residence, and the occupants were being interviewed. The dogs were described as "apparent pit bulls."

Video from 10News showed animal-control officers struggling to get one of the dogs into a truck with a catch pole as it strongly resisted the effort.

The child's name was not yet released by the Medical Examiner's Office.

It was not disclosed whether the dogs were owned by the child's family.

POLITICS - Misguided, Naive, Uninformed, Egregious Supreme Court Decision

"Sen. John McCain: 'There Will Be Scandals' in New, Money Fueled Campaigns" PBS Newshour 6/14/2012

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): You have long been passionate about the idea of restricting the amount of money that flows in campaigns.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But in the wake of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United, we are seeing enormous sums of money going into this campaign, to the campaigns themselves, to outside supporters.

Is this -- is it just inevitable that we're now in a period where money is going to be playing this dominant role in American politics?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I'm afraid, at least for the time being, that's going to be the case, because of the most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court I think in the 21st century.

To somehow view money as not having an effect on election, a corrupting effect on election, flies in the face of reality. I just wish one of them had run for county sheriff. So what we are. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean one of the justices?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: One of the five Supreme Court justices that voted to invalidate what we know of as McCain-Feingold.

Look, I guarantee you, Judy, there will be scandals. There is too much money washing around political campaigns today. And it will take scandals, and then maybe we can have the Supreme Court go back and revisit this issue.

Remember, the Supreme Court rules on constitutionality. So just passing another law doesn't get it. So I'm afraid we're in for a very bleak period in American politics. You know, we all talk about -- and you just did -- about how much money is in the presidential campaign.

Suppose there's a Senate campaign in a small state, and 10 people get together and decided to contribute $10 million each. You think that wouldn't affect that Senate campaign?

JUDY WOODRUFF: This question of campaign money highlighted today by this -- the announcement that there's a huge amount of money coming in from one donor in the state of Nevada.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Mr. Adelson, who gave large amounts of money to the Gingrich campaign. And much of Mr. Adelson's casino profits that go to him come from this casino in Macau.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which says what?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Which says that, obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign -- political campaigns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because of the profits at the casinos in Macau?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. That is a great deal of money. And, again, we need a level playing field and we need to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have to have a limit on the flow of money, and that corporations are not people.

That's why we have different laws that govern corporations than govern individual citizens. And so to say that corporations are people, again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court decisions that we have made -- that have been made in the past.

SCIENCE - Microbial Map of Healthy Humans

"A New Genetic Map That Could Make Your Skin Crawl" PBS Newshour 6/14/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Very little has been known about the trillions of bacteria and other micro-organisms in our bodies. But now, scientists with the Human Microbiome Project have completed the first microbial map of healthy humans. Jeffrey Brown speaks with Dr. Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): It's the sort of thing that might literally make your skin crawl, but it's very much a fact of life. Each of us harbors trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms on and in our bodies.

Another fact, very little has been known about these microbes, what they are, where they are, how they differ on an individual person and from person to person. But now scientists, more than 200 of them involved in a five-year project called the Human Microbiome Project, have completed the first microbial map of healthy human beings. And that could eventually help understand and combat some diseases.

The research has just been published.

Here to tell us about it is Dr. Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.


WORLD - Cambodia's Clothing Factories

"Are Western Consumers Willing to Pay More for Apparel?" PBS Newshour 6/14/2012

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Next, labor unrest in Cambodia's clothing factories. Workers are calling for fewer hours, better conditions and higher wages. That raises a question: Are Western consumers ready to pay more for apparel?

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (Newshour): Back in the 1990s, Cambodia, impoverished and rebuilding after its genocidal Khmer Rouge years, took steps to give its new garment industry a competitive leg up. It agreed to a system of labor standards, with minimum wages and a limit on working hours, union representation and freedom of expression.

All would be open to international inspection. Today, there are perhaps 400,000 garment workers in more than 300 factories in and near the capital, Phnom Penh, subcontractors to retailers and brands across Europe and North America.

Beginning from scratch less than two decades ago, Cambodia's garment industry has grown into the largest export earner for this country. Three out of four dollars that come into Cambodia come from the garment factories.

The key question is how much all this has benefited workers, almost all of whom are female, or, if you listen to the unions, whether it has benefited them at all.

Many factories have been plagued by labor unrest. Occasionally, it has been violent. There have been frequent reports of workers fainting on the factory floors.

Union leader Chey Mony blames unhealthy conditions and workers weak from malnourishment.


POLITICS - The Effect of Tweets on Elections

"Political Parodies on Twitter: 'Mockery Can Be a Very Effective Tool'" PBS Newshour 6/14/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: As part of an ongoing series on how candidates use social media this election season, Margaret Warner and journalists Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz of Daily-Download.com discuss how parody accounts of politicians and surrogates on Twitter and Pinterest are creating buzz online.


EGYPT - Military Power-Grab via Supreme Constitutional Court

"Blow to Transition as Court Dissolves Egypt’s Parliament" by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times 6/14/2012

Excerpt

A panel of judges appointed by Egypt’s ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, threw the nation’s troubled transition to democracy into grave doubt Thursday with rulings that dissolved the popularly elected Parliament and allowed the toppled government’s last prime minister to run for president, escalating a struggle by remnants of the old elite to block Islamists from coming to power.

The rulings by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court were quickly condemned as a “coup” by Islamists, liberals and scholars. The court’s action, coming two days before a presidential runoff, set up a showdown with the Islamists who controlled Parliament. They said Thursday night that they refused to dissolve the legislature and vowed to win the presidency despite the signs of opposition within the government overseeing the vote.

The rulings recalled events that have played out across the region for decades, when secular elites have cracked down on Islamists poised for electoral gains, most famously when the dissolution of Algeria’s Islamist-led Parliament started a civil war 20 years ago.

Citing a misapplication of rules for independent candidates, the court sought to overturn the first democratically elected Parliament in more than six decades and the most significant accomplishment of the Egyptian revolt. Many analysts and activists said Thursday that they feared the decision was a step toward re-establishing a military-backed autocracy, though it was not yet clear whether the military leadership was willing to risk a new outbreak of unrest by suppressing the country’s most powerful political forces.

The streets were mostly quiet on Thursday as organizers digested the rulings. Activists met to plot a response, and some groups announced plans for a major demonstration on Friday night.

The military rulers did not issue a statement on the court’s decision. But the Web site of the state newspaper Al Ahram reported that the generals said the presidential runoff would still take place on schedule.

“From a democratic perspective, this is the worst possible outcome imaginable,” said Shadi Hamid, research director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “This is an all-out power grab by the military.”

The timing of the ruling seems like a transparent attempt to undermine the Islamists just two days before Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood is set to compete in the runoff against Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general and Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister.

If the ruling is carried out, whoever wins the presidential race would take power without the check of a sitting Parliament and could exercise significant influence over the elections to form a new one. The new president will also take office without a permanent constitution to define his powers or duties. A 100-member constitutional assembly appointed by Parliament and including dozens of lawmakers may also be dissolved. And in any event, the ruling generals are expected to issue their own interim charter during the drafting.

Electing a president without either a constitution or a parliament is like “electing an ‘emperor’ with more power than the deposed dictator. A travesty,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning diplomat and former presidential candidate, said in a comment online.

"Security Forces Surround Parliament in Egypt, Escalating Tensions" by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times 6/15/2012

Excerpt

Egypt’s military rulers formally dissolved Parliament Friday, state media reported, and security forces were stationed around the building on orders to bar anyone, including lawmakers, from entering the chambers without official notice.

The developments, reported on the Web site of the official newspaper Al Ahram, further escalated tensions over court rulings on Thursday that invalidated modern Egypt’s first democratically elected legislature. Coming on the eve of a presidential runoff, they thrust the nation’s troubled transition to democracy since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last year into grave doubt.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that dominates the Parliament, has said it disputes the court’s ruling and its authority to dissolve the legislature. Saad el Katatni, the Brotherhood-picked Parliament speaker, accused the military-led government on Friday of orchestrating the ruling.

The authorities set up checkpoints overnight and contingents of riot police were moving around the city to prepare for any disturbances.

As of midday the streets remained relatively quiet. Mindful of the sweltering sun, organizers called for a demonstration later, just hours before the polls are expected to open for the presidential runoff on Saturday.