Friday, November 30, 2012

SPORTS - College Sports Money Machine

This subject relates to what is turning college sports into big-money professional sports. This is what is the foundation behind things like the Pen State scandal which threatens the college football money machine.

"College Teams Play Game of Musical Chairs Switching Conferences for TV Contracts" PBS Newshour 11/29/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): ...... The college football season is reaching a climax of rivalries and conference championship games, and its basketball season is now under way. But much of the action in college sports these days is away from the field or the court, as schools change affiliations and leagues.

In the last 18 months, some 30 colleges have made moves, among the most prominent, the University of Louisville's departure from the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, or ACC, and two Eastern schools headed to the Big Ten, traditionally a Midwest-based conference.

The University of Maryland is leaving the ACC and Rutgers is departing from the Big East.

Well, what's going on? Well, sportswriter and author John Feinstein joins me now.

POLITICS - Newly Elected Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona

"Talking Revenue, Filibuster Reform and Transition to Senate With Jeff Flake" PBS Newshour 11/29/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): And now we continue our conversations with newly elected senators.

Jeff Flake (R) is currently finishing his sixth term representing Arizona in Congress.

Prior to being elected to the office, the 49-year-old Flake worked as the executive director of the Goldwater Institute, an association that promotes less government.

Earlier this month, he won the seat left open by retiring Republican Jon Kyl, taking 50 percent of the vote.

And Sen.-elect Flake joins me from Capitol Hill.

EGYPT - Work on New Constitution

"With Deadline Looming, Islamist-Led Egyptian Assembly Works on Constitution" PBS Newshour 11/29/2012


SUMMARY: Jeffrey Brown talks to the New York Times' David Kirkpatrick about the progress of Egypt's Constitutional Assembly to wrap up work on the new Egyptian constitution before its deadline after many secular and liberal representatives have walked away from drawing table, leaving Islamists to create the road map for Egypt's future.

NASA - Rumors of Curiosity Major New Finding Wrong

"Press Release - Update Set In San Francisco About Curiosity Mars Rover" by Veronica McGregor, Jet Propulsion Laboratory 11/29/2012

The next news conference about the NASA Mars rover Curiosity will be held at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3, in San Francisco at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds -- carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.

The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars' Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well. This is spectacular for such a complex system, and one that is operated so far away on Mars by people here on planet Earth. The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.

ECONOMY - Obama on Fiscal Cliff Prospects

And in dreamland.....

"Obama Optimistic for Finding a Budget Solution Before the Holidays" PBS Newshour 11/28/2012


SUMMARY: President Barack Obama urged Congress to find a solution to averting sequestration before Christmas and both Democrats and Republicans seemed optimistic about doing so. But congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle also seemed to hold firm their established stances on social security and taxes. Jeffrey Brown reports.

MIDDLE EAST - Palestinian Statehood

IMHO the U.S. is on the WRONG side on this issue. At the very least we should have abstained.

Palestine deserves statehood. Denying that will only prolong this unending conflict.

"Palestinians Seek United Nations Status Upgrade Despite U.S. Qualms" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/28/2012

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): The Palestinian Authority will make an historic move tomorrow at the United Nations, despite being discouraged by the United States.

For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, it is a moment of diplomatic and political opportunity, tomorrow's vote in the U.N. General Assembly.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian Authority (through translator): We are going to the United Nations to upgrade the status of Palestine to an observer state at the U.N. And this is the first step to accomplish our Palestinian rights.

MARGARET WARNER: Abbas is seeking recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state, encompassing the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem along the pre-1967 war borders.

His Fatah faction only rules now in part of the West Bank. Its Islamist rival, Hamas, which advocates violent resistance to Israel, controls Gaza. After long opposing Abbas' U.N. efforts, the militant Hamas recently endorsed the move.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas spokesperson (through translator): The Hamas movement is with all the diplomacy acts that adds to the Palestinian victories. We welcome the step for statehood at the United Nations, but we want it to be through a national program based on the resistance that keeps the Palestinian rights.

MARGARET WARNER: General Assembly recognition would put Palestine on a par with the Vatican at the U.N., but wouldn't grant full representation. Last year, Abbas failed to win full U.N. membership for a state of Palestine.

The U.S. is opposed to even limited recognition, saying it will endanger prospects for a negotiated settlement with Israel.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland issued that warning again today.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department: We are concerned that this vote is going to make the work of getting the parties back to the table more difficult.

MARGARET WARNER: But the Palestinians' U.N. representative, Riyad Mansour, voiced the opposite view yesterday.

RIYAD MANSOUR, permanent observer of Palestine to the United Nations: We should get ready for the day after. The day after that we desire is to create a conducive atmosphere to go to negotiation in order to reach an agreement with Israel that will end the occupation that started in 1967.

MARGARET WARNER: A majority of the General Assembly's 193 members are expected to vote yes, not just the Muslim and developing countries, but a good number of European nations, too, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland and, as of yesterday, France.

LAURENT FABIUS, French Foreign Minister (through translator): You know that for, years and years, the constant position of France has been to recognize the Palestinian state. So that is why I am answering you directly. When the question is put before us, France will answer yes out of desire for coherence.

MARGARET WARNER: Germany said again today it will vote no. Britain announced it will abstain, but would vote yes if the Palestinians pledge not to try to join the International Criminal Court, and agree to return to negotiations without conditions. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev dismissed Abbas' effort again today.

MARK REGEV, Israeli government: It's not going to change anything on the ground. The only way to make life better for both Israelis and Palestinians, to solve the issues that separate us, is through peace talks, direct peace talks, and we are ready.

MARGARET WARNER: For President Abbas, the U.N. win could boost his standing, after the recent conflict in Gaza bolstered Hamas among Palestinians and across the Middle East.

"How Will the Palestinian U.N. Move Impact Prospects for Mideast Peace?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/28/2012


SUMMARY: As Palestinians go to the United Nations to ask for more recognition, Margaret Warner talks to Ghaith al-Omari of New America Foundation and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute about why the different Palestinian factions are seeking a status change and how it may affect tensions with Israel and longterm peace prospects.

"U.N. Assembly, in Blow to U.S., Elevates Status of Palestine" by ETHAN BRONNER and CHRISTINE HAUSER, New York Times 11/29/2012


More than 130 countries voted on Thursday to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations, a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a sharp rebuke to the United States and Israel.

AMERICA - In the Land of Greed, Anti-Competition Fine Print

"How Fine Print on Your Bills Helps Big Companies in Taking More of Your Money" PBS Newshour 11/28/2012


SUMMARY: Cell phone bills are up 30 percent since 2009. So are cable television bills. Big companies are inserting tiny fees that add up to a lot and their profits do not reflect market competition. In fact, quite the opposite. Economics correspondent Paul Solman talks to David Cay Johnston about what's in the fine print on your bills.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Now:What's behind all those charges and fees that make up your monthly cable and cell phone bills?

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman recently took a look at the fine print with writer David Cay Johnston.

It's part of Paul's ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

FYI: Speakeasy Speed Test

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

AT MY CORE - Political Beliefs

This post is about my core political beliefs.

1. Totalitarian vs Free society

In a totalitarian society (government) you CANNOT do anything that is NOT APPROVED by the government.

In a free society, anyone (citizens, local government, state government, federal government) can DO ANYTHING that is NOT FORBIDDEN BY LAW; especially the national constitution. Also, the citizens have a say on the laws, directly or by representation.

2. U.S. Democratic Republic

We are a free society, with the U.S. Constitution the OVERRIDING law-of-the-land.

Citizens and local/state/federal governments can do anything that is NOT forbidden by the U.S. Constitution or law. And our Constitution gives specific powers to the federal government as well as imposing restrictions. And we (citizens) have a say on the law by direct vote or election of our representatives to government legislative bodies.

3. U.S. Society

Our society has a pact, enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, to obey the law-of-the-land. Which means we cannot just to anything we want. We are agreeing to restrict TOTAL freedom for the sake of our society.

You cannot have a society without restrictions. ALL societies of ANY type have restrictions on its members. This is why the 'states rights' group is wrong in believing that state laws override federal law.

These reasons are why, as an example, I believe that laws like California's Prop-8 anti-gay marriage law ARE unconstitutional. This law is the imposition of a one sects religious belief on all citizens of California which is unconstitutional because it violates separation of church-state (using law to impose a religious belief), equal treatment under the law, and human rights.

Note that Prop-8 is ONLY unconstitutional because it makes no provision for gay marriage under another name (such as Civil Unions) that would give gays the equal rights and privileges that other citizens enjoy.

POLITICS - Youth Vote and Obama's Re-Election

"Young Voters Played Critical Role in Obama Re-Election Despite Dip in Support" PBS Newshour 11/26/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Finally tonight, we turn to politics and a look at the impact of the youth vote in this year's presidential election. In 2008, young people went to the polls in record numbers, with 66 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds supporting President Obama, helping to sweep him to victory.

But, this year, the president's support among that age group dipped to 60 percent, although young voters proved much more critical to his re-election win.

That's the subject of a new analysis by the Pew Research Center. And we are joined now by Michael Dimock, one of the study's lead authors.

And, Michael, there were confident predictions before Election Day that youth was simply not engaged, not enthusiastic, and not going to show up on Election Day.

What really happened?

Significant excerpt

RAY SUAREZ: When we try to slice and dice the electorate, is there really a youth vote? Because every youth is something else? They come from their region, they come from their state. They're well-educated or not-so-well. They're high-income or low-income. They come from different racial and ethnic groups.

Is a youth voter more like another youth voter than they are like other Catholics, other Southerners?

MICHAEL DIMOCK, Pew Research Center: Right. No, it's true.

This is a diverse generation, as any generation is. Baby boomers were characterized as something, while they're very diverse.

All the generations have differences, but this generation really has a character that showed up early on, even before Obama came into the scene and energized people.

In the 2004 election, this was an engaged electorate that was already showing its Democratic leanings. And that's not just about personalities. It's about substance. They have somewhat different values about what they prioritize and what they think the government should be doing.

This is the one age group that wants the government to do more, whereas all the older age groups want the government to get out of their hair. This is the one generation that backs the health care reform and is much more liberal, not surprisingly, on some social issues like gay marriage or immigration.

Those fundamentals are part of the character of this generation. There's hardly uniform agreement within the generation, but it is a characteristic that really sets this age group apart.

CLIMATE CHANGE - Native American's and Rising Sea Levels

"Quileute 'Twilight' Tribe Deals With Rising Sea Levels That Threaten Way of Life" PBS Newshour 11/26/2012


SUMMARY: Located west of Olympic National Park, La Push, Wash., is idyllic at first glance. But the beauty of the place is matched by danger and vulnerability. Located at sea level, La Push lies directly in a flood and tsunami zone. Hari Sreenivasan reports on how the Quileute tribe culture is adapting to new climate challenges.

SUPREME COURT - Who is a Supervisor?

"Hinging on Supervisor Definition, Supreme Court Reviews Work Harassment Case" PBS Newshour 11/26/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): ..... Who qualifies as a supervisor in the workplace? That might seem obvious most of the time, but as a legal matter, courts have come to different conclusions, some saying it's confined to someone with powers such as hiring and firing, others deciding on a broader definition.

The Supreme Court looked at the issue today in a case where a woman claims a co-worker harassed her because of her race.

Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal" was in the courtroom to hear the arguments and is here with us tonight.

TURKEY - Ethnic Kurds Rise Fears

"As Kurds Fight for Freedom in Syria, Fears Rise in Turkey of Following Suit" PBS Newshour 11/26/2012


SUMMARY: In Syria's civil war, a third party fights for autonomy against Syrian rebels and Assad's government troops: Syria's Kurds. Turkey's own Kurd population watches, and tensions increase, especially for those sympathetic to the PKK, who have waged insurgencies for freedom. Margaret Warner reports.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And now to the conflict in Syria.

Government warplanes bombed rebel headquarters near the Turkish border today, reportedly missing their target, but sending hundreds of Syrians fleeing.

Margaret Warner has been on a reporting trip to the region. In her third and final story, she examines how the Syrian civil war has heightened tensions between Turkey and its ethnic Kurd population.

EGYPT - Morsi's Assault on Democracy

"Egyptian Protests Persist as Morsi Defends Powers Free From Judicial Review" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/26/2012

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): And we turn to two stories about conflict in the Middle East, starting with Egypt, where the controversy surrounding the president's recent decrees continues.

This morning saw relative calm in Cairo's Tahrir Square, but protesters insisted they will not leave the site until President Mohammed Morsi withdraws a sweeping decree he issued last week. It gives him broad new powers, free from judicial review.

MAN (through translator): We demand that the president listens to the people who chose him. The people elected him so he would defend the people, not to do as he pleases.

RAY SUAREZ: Instead, Morsi defended himself in a meeting today with the country's Supreme Judicial Council. A spokesman said he told the judges his actions do not infringe on their authority.

That stand could provoke more trouble after a weekend of violence pitting liberal and secular factions against Morsi's Islamist supporters. Last night in Cairo, protesters threw rocks at police, who fired back with tear gas. Demonstrators also clashed with pro-Morsi Egyptians in the city of Damanhour. Attacks on the local offices of the Muslim Brotherhood left one teenager dead and dozens of people wounded.

Thousands of the president's backers staged rallies in several cities.

MAN (through translator): We support Mohammed Morsi's fair and correct decision. And eventually the good from the bad will be distinguishable. We support Dr. Morsi for a better life for Egyptians.

RAY SUAREZ: U.S. officials raised concerns about Morsi's decree and prospects for new political strife.

Today, the State Department's Victoria Nuland called for calm.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department: What is important to us is that these issues be settled through dialogue, that these issues be settled democratically.

We are encouraged that the various important stakeholders in Egypt are now talking to each other, that President Morsi is consulting on the way forward, but we're not going to prejudge where that is going to go.

RAY SUAREZ: The domestic unrest has overshadowed Morsi's role in mediating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and Egypt's role as a mediator in indirect talks between the two adversaries. Concern was growing about more trouble in Cairo tomorrow. This afternoon, the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said the party had postponed demonstrations Tuesday to avoid bloodshed.

"Egyptians Debate Accountability for Democratically-Elected Presidents" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/26/2012


SUMMARY: Ray Suarez talks to Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, who says that at the heart of the Egyptian debate about President Mohammed Morsi's sweeping new powers is whether presidential authority should be wide-ranging, or whether greater accountability measures need to be enforced.

Monday, November 26, 2012

OPINION - Mideast, Obama, and Politics 11/23/2012

"Shields and Brooks on Mideast Turmoil, Obama in Asia, Giving Thanks for Politics" PBS Newshour 11/23/2012


SUMMARY: Jeffrey Brown and NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the week's top political news, including the U.S. role in an evolving and conflicted Middle East, President Obama's trip to Asia, criticism of Ambassador Susan Rice, Jesse Jackson Jr.'s resignation and what they are thankful for in U.S. politics.

EGYPT - Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

"Protesters and Police Clash After Egypt's President Grants Himself New Powers" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/23/2012

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Demonstrations, clashes with the police, and tear gas in Tahrir Square, familiar scenes in Egypt nearly two years ago that led to the fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. But, today, they were aimed at Egypt's new leader.

In the coastal city of Alexandria, opponents set fire to the offices of President Mohammed Morsi's political party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

There and elsewhere in Egypt today, the president's critics and supporters clashed in the streets over his decree yesterday exempting himself from judicial review and giving him authority to take steps against -- quote -- "threats to the revolution."

Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, took office in June. In recent days, he's garnered worldwide praise for mediating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Today, he told a supportive crowd outside the presidential palace in Cairo that granting himself sweeping powers was necessary to prevent figures from the old regime from halting progress.

PRESIDENT MOHAMMED MORSI, Egypt (through translator): I haven't taken a decision to use it against anyone. To go against anyone is something that I could never be associated with or announcing that I am biased towards anyone. However, I must put myself on a clear path that will lead to the achievement of a clear goal.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president's backers insisted the decree would be in effect only until a new constitution is approved.

MOHAMED ADEL, Egypt (through translator): Yes, he might be a dictator for the time being or might have unprecedented power throughout this period of two months, but, after that, these powers will be transferred to an elected parliament.

JEFFREY BROWN: But tens of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters rallied in Tahrir Square, the heart of last year's popular revolution that led to end of the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

They threw rocks at riot police, who retaliated by firing tear gas canisters to disperse the crowds.

HAZEM MESHAABIN, Egypt: This is just a new era of dictatorship in Egypt. This is not what the revolution was about. The revolution was about stripping the president from all these unquestioned rights. And now there is just -- we are way stepped back than where we were before.

JEFFREY BROWN: Among the protesters in Cairo were two men who ran against Mr. Morsi, Hamdeen Sabahi from the leftist Al-Karama party, and Constitution Party founder Mohamed ElBaradei, who tweeted yesterday that Morsi had appointed himself -- quote -- "a new pharaoh."

In his decree, Morsi also held out the possibility of a second trial for Hosni Mubarak for the killings of protesters.

"As Egypt's Constitution Waits in Limbo, Mohammed Morsi Takes More Power" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/23/2012


SUMMARY: After a successful stint as the primary mediator to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi took additional presidential powers, leading to protests largely led by non-Islamic groups. George Washington University's Nathan Brown talks with Ray Suarez about what motivated Morsi's actions.

IRAN - No Dissent, No Freedom of Speech

What else should we expect from a dictatorship run by religious zealots?

"Iran Cracks Down on Dissidents, Human Rights Attorneys and Journalists" PBS Newshour 11/23/2012


SUMMARY: In addition to arresting activists, the Iranian government has also targeted the people who would defend them and tell their stories. Reporting in affiliation with the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED, Spencer Michels looks at cases of Iranian attorneys and journalists charged with acting against national security.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Next to Iran.

Journalists and human rights groups there have charged the government with imprisoning dissidents, part of a campaign to silence criticism of the regime.

The NewsHour, along with the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED San Francisco, have obtained interviews from an Iranian journalist to help tell that story.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

TURKEY - Reluctant Role

"Neighbor Turkey's Reluctant Role in Syrian Civil War" PBS Newshour 11/23/2012


SUMMARY: The violence in Syria's 20-month conflict has moved eastward, closer to Turkey's border, and more players have entered the ring, including Syrian Kurds fighting against rebel forces. Ray Suarez talks to Margaret Warner from Istanbul about the price of the war for Turkey and the country's request for aid from the U.S.

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

No country has been more affected by the uprising than its neighbor to the north, Turkey. Thousands of refugees have flooded across the border, and stray mortar shells routinely land near Turkish towns.

Margaret Warner is on a reporting trip to the region. I spoke with her from Istanbul a short time ago about Turkey's role in the conflict and its relationship with the U.S.

Margaret, welcome.

The death toll has passed a significant milestone, 40,000 people, and the war is said to be widening. What's changing inside Syria and how is that affecting Turkey?

Friday, November 23, 2012

TEXAS - Massive Thanksgiving Highway Pileup

"150-vehicle pileup on foggy Texas highway leaves 2 dead, 100 hurt" by Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times 11/22/2012

A series of massive Thanksgiving morning pileups involving up to 150 vehicles in southeast Texas has left two dead and as many as 100 injured, authorities told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

It was one of the busiest driving times on one of the highest-traffic days of the year, and Deputy Rod Carroll of the Jefferson County Sheriff's office said heavy fog and high speeds probably caused the three separate pileups to begin on Interstate 10 -- in both directions -- about 8 a.m.

“Driving out there, I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of my car," Carroll told The Times. "I still had people trying to pass me and I had headlights and sirens on.”

Media photos from the scene showed pile after pile of vehicles, shredded FedEx trailers and tractor-trailers rammed into smaller vehicles.

Carroll said two people died when their SUV crashed into the cars in front of them, and then a tractor-trailer rammed them from behind and ran over their vehicle.

“It was definitely a chain-reaction accident," Carroll said of the pileups, which sent up to 100 people to five area hospitals.

Officials cleared westbound Interstate 10 for traffic a few hours after the accident, but eastbound Interstate 10 remained shut down Thursday afternoon as officials cleared the scene. Carroll said some of the tractor-trailers had spilled their hauls and needed more time to clean up their lost loads.

PHOTOS: Massive Thanksgiving Day pileup in Texas

MARS - Will 'Curiosity' Change Our Perception?

"NASA Keeping Curiosity ‘Secret’ For Now" by John, The Droid Guy 11/23/2012

Robotic rover Curiosity has reportedly taken a data sample of a Martian soil that could potentially change the perception of man about the red planet forever.

According to a latest report by CNET correspondent Erik Mack, the people at NASA are trying to keep something earth-shattering at least for several weeks until they are able to verify the sample.

NASA is starting to receive significant information from the mobile chemistry lab mounded on Curiosity. SAM or sample analysis at Mars has been reading really important facts about the components of the Martian soil.

NPR science correspondent Joe Palca said the people at NASA, especially Curiosity mission lead scientist John Grotzinger, are crossing their fingers that it is really a breakthrough finding on Mars.

“This data is going to be one for the history books, it’s looking really good,” Grotzinger said in the story that aired yesterday, according CNET.

Asked on the reason behind their decision to keep the findings a secret for now, Grotzinger said NASA needs to make sure that the data was not erroneous.

Lewiss Dartnell, a leading astrobiologist at the Center for Planetary Science at UCL/Birkbeck in London, said scientists not associated with NASA also have less information regarding the current discovery on the red planet. Dartnell added there is likely no option for now but to wait for NASA’s announcement.

“The SAM instrument is designed to detect organic molecules on Mars, so the smart money is on an announcement along those lines.”

Even NASA’s much awaited revelation could be months away from today, people are now starting to debate over a never ending issue on whether there’s really life on Mars.

In fact, CNET reporter Mack is already thinking of human colony on Mars with condominiums or maybe a five-star resort.

“The seas may be rising and more superstorms may continue to threaten humanity’s most important megalopolises, but there could soon be an emerging market for condominiums on Mars to take our minds off of such challenges,“ said Mack.

MIDDLE EAST - Never Ending War Part-10002, Israel vs Palestine

"To End Violence, Israel and Gaza Leave Negotiation Sticking Points for Later" PBS Newshour 11/21/2012


SUMMARY: The cease-fire agreement struck between Israel and Hamas after eight days of airstrikes and rocket fire was the first hurdle in opening up talks about larger issues like easing restrictions on the Gaza Strip. Jeffrey Brown talks to NPR's Leila Fadel and The Times of London's Sheera Frankel about the details of the truce.

HURRICANES - Insurers Rethink Risks

For climate change deniers and others who doubt, there is very significant information in this Newshour article.

Significant excerpt

ROBERT HARTWIG, Insurance Information Institute: We are seeing an increased frequency in the number of natural disasters, roughly tripled or quadrupled since 1980, and the costs have doubled, tripled and quadrupled as well.

"Climate Change Causes Insurers to Rethink Price of Risk After Hurricane Sandy" PBS Newshour 11/21/2012


SUMMARY: The insurance industry looks at historical data, old and new, in order to assess the risk for potential disasters and put a price on premiums. But when Sandy hit the Northeast, some insurance companies reconsidered if they priced insurance high enough for the greater risks brought on by climate change. Paul Solman reports.

TURKEY - The Civil War Next Door

"Civil War Next Door: Syrian Conflict Tests Neighbor Turkey" PBS Newshour 11/21/2012


SUMMARY: As Syrian refugees flee their homeland to escape violence between rebels and military troops, Turkey finds itself walking a fine line between protecting its interests and being drawn into war. Margaret Warner reports on the reactions from the Turkish government and civilians to Syrian violence spilling over its 500-mile border.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And now to the conflict in Syria.

NATO said today that it would consider a Turkish request to deploy Patriot missiles to protect itself from Syrian attacks. Turkey and Syria share a 560-mile-long border, and after Syrian mortar rounds landed in Turkish territory, concerns have risen that the civil war fighting could spread further.

In Margaret Warner's latest report, she examines the spillover that's already happening.

POLITICS - Big-Money Lost Bets Funding Election 2012

"Big Donors Saw Diminishing Returns in Most Expensive Election in History" PBS Newshour 11/21/2012


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): And we turn now to politics. The most expensive set of campaigns in history is in the books. Candidates, parties and outside groups spent a record $6 billion on elections in 2012, up $700 million from the previous record of $5.3 billion in 2008, driven by almost $1 billion in outside spending, three times the amount shelled out four years ago.

And of that, more than $300 million was spent by groups not required by law to disclose their donors.

For more on where all that money went, what it bought, and what it means for future elections, we turn to two reporters who've been tracking all those numbers, Matea Gold of The Los Angeles Times, and Eliza Newlin Carney, who covers this for Roll Call newspaper.

AMERICA - State Two-Party System Dying?

"One-Party Control Opens States to Partisan Rush" by MONICA DAVEY, New York Times 11/22/2012


Come January, more than two-thirds of the states will be under single-party control, raising the prospect that bold partisan agendas — on both ends of the political spectrum — will flourish over the next couple of years.

Though the Nov. 6 election maintained divided government in Washington, the picture is starkly different in capitals from California to Florida: one party will hold the governor’s office and majorities in both legislative chambers in at least 37 states, the largest number in 60 years and a significant jump from even two years ago.

“For quite a period of time, people were voting for divided government because they wanted compromise, middle ground,” said State Senator Thomas M. Bakk, the minority leader — and soon to be majority leader — in Minnesota. Democrats there seized control of both legislative chambers, creating single-party rule in St. Paul for the first time in more than two decades. “But they’ve come to realize that compromise is getting awfully hard to accomplish. The parties have gotten too rigid. Maybe this whole experiment with voting for divided government is starting to wane. I think that’s what happened here.”

Twenty-four states will be controlled by Republicans, including Alaska and Wisconsin, where the party took the State Senate, and North Carolina, where the governorship changed hands. At least 13 states will be Democratic, including Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon, where control of the legislatures shifted, and California, where the already dominant Democrats gained a supermajority in both chambers. (The situation in New York, where the potential for single-party control by the Democrats rests on the makeup of the Senate, is still uncertain.)

Power will be split in, at most, 12 capitals — the fewest, said Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures, since 1952.

So while President Obama and Republican leaders in Washington have made postelection hints of an openness to compromise, many in the states may see no such need.

OPINION - Education Today Is Degrading

"When ‘Grading’ Is Degrading" by MICHAEL BRICK, New York Times 11/22/2012

IN his speech on the night of his re-election, President Obama promised to find common ground with opposition leaders in Congress. Yet when it comes to education reform, it’s the common ground between Democrats and Republicans that has been the problem.

For the past three decades, one administration after another has sought to fix America’s troubled schools by making them compete with one another. Mr. Obama has put up billions of dollars for his Race to the Top program, a federal sweepstakes where state educational systems are judged head-to-head largely on the basis of test scores. Even here in Texas, nobody’s model for educational excellence, the state has long used complex algorithms to assign grades of Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable to its schools.

So far, such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic international rankings in science, math and literacy we’ve had for years.

And yet now, policy makers in both parties propose ratcheting it up further — this time, by “grading” teachers as well.

It’s a mistake. In the year I spent reporting on John H. Reagan High School in Austin, I came to understand the dangers of judging teachers primarily on standardized test scores. Raw numbers don’t begin to capture what happens in the classroom. And when we reward and punish teachers based on such artificial measures, there is too often an unintended consequence for our kids.

I went to lunch recently with a fine history teacher, Derrick Davis, who is better known in my neighborhood as the basketball coach at Reagan High. He has a particularly wide vantage on the decline of Reagan High, which opened in the 1960s as the pride of the city, complete with consecutive state football championships, national academic recognition and a choir that toured Europe.

When he graduated in 1990, the yearbook still showed a significant number of white faces mixed in with larger black and smaller Hispanic populations. Parents could see from the annual state report that 82.4 percent of 11th graders passed all the standardized tests, just a tenth of a percentage point below the district average.

In 1994, the state education agency started applying its boilerplate labels, which became shorthand for real estate agents. Reagan High was rated “Academically Acceptable,” the second-lowest grade. Families of means departed for the exurbs, private schools and eventually charter schools.

Even so, returning as a teacher, Mr. Davis had high hopes for No Child Left Behind, the federal education reform legislation enacted in 2002 with bipartisan support led by President George W. Bush and Senator Edward M. Kennedy. The law turned a powerful spotlight on the second-class education being provided for poor kids in places like East Austin. Finally, the truth was out. In that sense, Mr. Davis believed at the time, “No Child Left Behind was the best thing that happened to us.”

But that was hardly the case: instead of rallying a new national commitment to provide quality public education for all children, the reform movement led to an increasingly punitive high-stakes competition for standardized test scores, school grades and labels. Within just a few years, Reagan High fell to “Academically Unacceptable.”

In 2009, I watched the teachers at Reagan High raise test scores just enough to stave off a closure order, working against a one-year deadline. Teachers “taught to the test” and did their best to game a broken system.

Most of all, though, their efforts focused on something more difficult to quantify. I watched Coach Davis revive the basketball team, dipping deep into his own paycheck and family time to inspire the school with an unlikely playoff run. I watched the principal, Anabel Garza, drive around the neighborhood rousting truants out of bed, taking parents to court and telling kids their teachers loved them. I watched a chemistry teacher, Candice Kaiser, drive carloads of kids to cheer on the basketball team, attend after-school Bible study and make doctors’ appointments. I watched the music director, Ormide Armstrong, reinvent the marching band as a prizewinning funk outfit that backed Kanye West.

Together, they gave families a reason to embrace a place long dominated by tension, violence and the endless tedium of standardized test drilling. They improved the numbers. Mostly, they did it through passion, intelligence, grit and love.

No longer “Academically Unacceptable,” Reagan High has started to reclaim its proud stature, though it still serves a disproportionate number of poor families. Mr. Davis still works there. So do Ms. Garza, Ms. Kaiser and Mr. Armstrong, all trying to build a sustainable public school for our neighborhood.

Still, the most significant obstacle they face is the very same myopic policy suggested by Mr. Obama’s erstwhile opponent, Mitt Romney, in the weeks before the election: we grade our schools, he said, so parents “can take their child to a school that’s being more successful.” As for the parents, teachers and children who can’t make that choice, they’re left to salvage what remains.

MIDDLE EAST - Israel, Gaza, Iran

"For Israel, Gaza Conflict Is Test for an Iran Confrontation" by DAVID E. SANGER and THOM SHANKER, New York Times 11/22/2012


The conflict that ended, for now, in a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel seemed like the latest episode in a periodic showdown. But there was a second, strategic agenda unfolding, according to American and Israeli officials: The exchange was something of a practice run for any future armed confrontation with Iran, featuring improved rockets that can reach Jerusalem and new antimissile systems to counter them.

It is Iran, of course, that most preoccupies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. While disagreeing on tactics, both have made it clear that time is short, probably measured in months, to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

And one key to their war-gaming has been cutting off Iran’s ability to slip next-generation missiles into the Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where they could be launched by Iran’s surrogates, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, during any crisis over sanctions or an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Michael B. Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a military historian, likened the insertion of Iranian missiles into Gaza to the Cuban missile crisis.

“In the Cuban missile crisis, the U.S. was not confronting Cuba, but rather the Soviet Union,” Mr. Oren said Wednesday, as the cease-fire was declared. “In Operation Pillar of Defense,” the name the Israel Defense Force gave the Gaza operation, “Israel was not confronting Gaza, but Iran.”

It is an imprecise analogy. What the Soviet Union was slipping into Cuba 50 years ago was a nuclear arsenal. In Gaza, the rockets and parts that came from Iran were conventional, and, as the Israelis learned, still have significant accuracy problems. But from one point of view, Israel was using the Gaza battle to learn the capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — the group that has the closest ties to Iran — as well as to disrupt those links.

Indeed, the first strike in the eight-day conflict between Hamas and Israel arguably took place nearly a month before the fighting began — in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, as another mysterious explosion in the shadow war with Iran.

A factory said to be producing light arms blew up in spectacular fashion on Oct. 22, and within two days the Sudanese charged that it had been hit by four Israeli warplanes that easily penetrated the country’s airspace. Israelis will not talk about it. But Israeli and American officials maintain that Sudan has long been a prime transit point for smuggling Iranian Fajr rockets, the kind that Hamas launched against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem over recent days.

The missile defense campaign that ensued over Israeli territory is being described as the most intense yet in real combat anywhere — and as having the potential to change warfare in the same way that novel applications of air power in the Spanish Civil War shaped combat in the skies ever since.

Of course, a conflict with Iran, if a last-ditch effort to restart negotiations fails, would look different than what has just occurred.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

MIDDLE EAST - Never Ending War Part-10001, Israel vs Palestine

"Players in Israel-Gaza Truce Talks Face 'Complicating' Regional Realities" PBS Newshour 11/20/2012


SUMMARY: As the Israel-Hamas conflict continues and pressure for peace rises, some factors complicate the negotiation process. Jeffrey Brown talks to Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Dennis Ross and Brookings Institution's Khaled Elgindy about Egypt's prominent role, failures of old U.S. policy and the rise of political Islam.

"Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder: What Is Hamas?" PBS Newshour 11/20/2012

NEW YORK - Protection From Superstorms Possible?

"Protecting New York From Future Superstorms as Sea Levels Rise" PBS Newshour 11/20/2012


SUMMARY: As thousands of residents continue to clean up from Hurricane Sandy, many are anticipating future disasters and considering how New York will cope with rising seas and potentially more devastating flooding. Hari Sreenivasan reports on options like barriers that could protect the region from future storm surges.

HEALTH CARE - Rules for State Health Insurance Exchanges

"White House Sets New Insurance Rules for Benefits Coverage" PBS Newshour 11/20/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The law allows many uninsured Americans to buy new coverage beginning in 2014 through new marketplaces known as health care exchanges.

States can set up their own federally subsidized exchanges or opt to let the federal government run one for them.

So far, at least 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, will set up their own. But some 20 others, many led by Republican governors, won't and may leave the task to the federal government.

Five others want to partner with the administration. Six have not decided on a path yet. State officials also say they have been waiting for federal rules on a whole host of provisions, including what insurers must cover as essential health care benefits.

The Obama administration released some of those regulations today.

For a look at where things stand, I'm joined by Susan Dentzer. She's the editor of the journal "Health Affair" and an analyst for the NewsHour.

"Health Exchange Plans by State" PBS Newshour

EDUCATION - High School Sports 'Don't Study, Don't Play'

"High School Coach Tells Football Team, 'Don't Go to Study Hall, You Don't Play'" PBS Newshour 11/20/2012


SUMMARY: Natalie Randolph is one of the first women to head a high school football team, but to her students she is more than a coach. At Coolidge High School in Washington, Coach Randolph prioritizes academics by ensuring athletes attend study hall before practice. Jeffrey Brown talks to Randolph about success on and off the field.

POLITICS - Post Election 2012 U.S. House

"U.S. House Races Were Quiet Compared to High Profile White House, Senate Fights" PBS Newshour 11/20/2012


SUMMARY: Though Democrats won a net gain of eight U.S. House seats during the 2012 elections, Republicans maintained their majority control and, for the most part, the status quo. Judy Woodruff talks to Rothenberg Political Report's Nathan Gonzales about why the results of U.S. House seat bids lacked major surprises and drama.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): And to politics. Two weeks after Election Day, a disputed congressional contest in Florida was settled this morning, when Tea Party member Allen West of Florida said he wouldn't contest the results. West was trailing Democrat Patrick Murphy by fewer than 2,000 votes. The seat will add to the Democrats' numbers, although Republicans still hold the majority.

Here to walk us through how each party fared is Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report, and he's also a contributor to Roll Call.

OPINION - On Republican Foreign Policy

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 11/19/2012
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

POLITICS - Time for the Tax Pledge to Go?

aka 'The Our-way-or-no-way Tea Party Pledge.' The ultimate political extremism.

"For Tax Pledge and Its Author, a Test of Time" by JEREMY W. PETERS, New York Times 11/19/2012


Grover Norquist, who leads Americans for Tax Reform, has claimed he wants to reduce government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Next to the oath of office, it has been perhaps the most important commitment that Republicans in Congress can make. It is called simply “the Pledge,” and its enforcer is such a fixture in the party that he is known simply by his first name, Grover.

Signing it means a promise never, ever to vote for a tax increase.

But the pledge and its creator, Grover Norquist, a 56-year-old conservative lobbyist, have never before faced a test as they do now. The federal deficit stands at $1 trillion. The social safety net continues to grow — and, in the case of Medicare and Social Security, remains hugely popular. And unless the two parties can agree on a fiscal plan before Jan. 1, hundreds of billions of dollars of tax increases will go into effect automatically, meaning that Congress does not even need to act for taxes to rise.

The combination means that Mr. Norquist, whose long record of success is a rarity in Washington, finds himself in a tricky spot. Some top Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner, are saying they now agree with Democrats that the government must collect more tax revenue. Others have gone so far as to break with Mr. Norquist publicly.

By Mr. Norquist’s count, 219 House members — enough for a majority — and 39 senators have committed to the pledge. But some of those members who signed on, many of them years ago, have started to back away, apparently leaving him several votes shy of the majority he would need to block any tax increase.

“A pledge is good at the time you sign it,” said Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican whose name still appears as a pledge signer on the Web site of Mr. Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform. “In 1941, I would have voted to declare war on Japan. But each Congress is a new Congress. And I don’t think you can have a rule that you’re never going to raise taxes or that you’re never going to lower taxes. I don’t want to rule anything out.”

Mr. Norquist contends that every few years, several noisy Republicans say their support is squishy. Yet every time, he says proudly, the outcome is the same.

“It’s been 22 years since a Republican voted for a tax increase in this town,” he said in a recent interview. “This is not my first rodeo.”

Ask Republicans in Congress today what they think of the pledge, and many of them say that while they still subscribe to a low-tax view of government, they resent being hamstrung by a piece of paper they signed well before they were elected. Some of them are even saying they want out.

EDUCATION - The Range of the Human Voice, Throat-Singing

"A Class Where Opening Minds, Not Earning Credits, Is the Point" by TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times 11/19/2012


Tuvan throat singing was never in my repertoire. I had never heard of Tuva, a small Russian republic north of Mongolia. And until the third week of “Listening to World Music,” a free online course taught by a University of Pennsylvania professor, I did not know that the human throat was capable of producing two notes simultaneously.

But after listening to a lecture on Tuvan culture and history and viewing throat-singing videos (example at bottom), I was hooked on the sound — a deep buzz saw with high overtone whistles — and was happy to watch the assigned 90-minute concert by a touring Tuvan ensemble. I wrote the required essay that night, the Tuvan steppes still on my mind.

Three days later, I was given five essays by classmates to grade. (With 36,000 students enrolled, peer grading was the only practical way that Coursera, the company offering the course, could assess students’ work.) I had my doubts about the process, but to my surprise, the process was interesting and useful and taught me as much as the lectures did.

Example MOOCs

EDUCATION - Massive Open Online Courses aka 'MOOCs'

"College of Future Could Be Come One, Come All" by TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times 11/19/2012


Teaching Introduction to Sociology is almost second nature to Mitchell Duneier, a professor at Princeton: he has taught it 30 times, and a textbook he co-wrote is in its eighth edition. But last summer, as he transformed the class into a free online course, he had to grapple with some brand-new questions: Where should he focus his gaze while a camera recorded the lectures? How could the 40,000 students who enrolled online share their ideas? And how would he know what they were learning?

In many ways, the arc of Professor Duneier’s evolution, from professor in a lecture hall to online instructor of tens of thousands, reflects a larger movement, one with the potential to transform higher education. Already, a handful of companies are offering elite college-level instruction — once available to only a select few, on campus, at great cost — free, to anyone with an Internet connection.

Moreover, these massive open online courses, or MOOCs, harness the power of their huge enrollments to teach in new ways, applying crowd-sourcing technology to discussion forums and grading and enabling professors to use online lectures and reserve on-campus class time for interaction with students.

The spread of MOOCs is likely to have wide fallout. Lower-tier colleges, already facing resistance over high tuition, may have trouble convincing students that their courses are worth the price. And some experts voice reservations about how online learning can be assessed and warn of the potential for cheating.

MOOCs first landed in the spotlight last year, when Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor, offered a free artificial-intelligence course, attracting 160,000 students in 190 nations. The resulting storm of publicity galvanized elite research universities across the country to begin to open higher education to everyone — with the hope of perhaps, eventually, making money doing so.

The expansion has been dizzying. Millions of students are now enrolled in hundreds of online courses, including those offered by Udacity, Mr. Thrun’s spinoff company; edX, a joint venture of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Coursera, a Stanford spinoff that is offering Professor Duneier’s course and 200 others.

No one knows just how these massive courses will evolve, but their appeal to a broad audience is unquestioned: retirees in Indiana see them as a route to lifelong learning, students in India as their only lifeline to college-level work.

CUBA - Easing Embargo?

"Easing of Restraints in Cuba Renews Debate on U.S. Embargo" by DAMIEN CAVE, New York Times 11/19/2012


“If I could just get a lift,” said Francisco López, imagining the addition of a hydraulic elevator as he stood by a rusted Russian sedan in his mechanic’s workshop here. All he needed was an investment from his brother in Miami or from a Cuban friend there who already sneaks in brake pads and other parts for him.

The problem: Washington’s 50-year-old trade embargo, which prohibits even the most basic business dealings across the 90 miles separating Cuba from the United States. Indeed, every time Mr. López’s friend in Florida accepts payment for a car part destined for Cuba, he puts himself at risk of a fine of up to $65,000.

With Cuba cautiously introducing free-market changes that have legalized hundreds of thousands of small private businesses over the past two years, new economic bonds between Cuba and the United States have formed, creating new challenges, new possibilities — and a more complicated debate over the embargo.

The longstanding logic has been that broad sanctions are necessary to suffocate the totalitarian government of Fidel and Raúl Castro. Now, especially for many Cubans who had previously stayed on the sidelines in the battle over Cuba policy, a new argument against the embargo is gaining currency — that the tentative move toward capitalism by the Cuban government could be sped up with more assistance from Americans.

Even as defenders of the embargo warn against providing the Cuban government with “economic lifelines,” some Cubans and exiles are advocating a fresh approach. The Obama administration already showed an openness to engagement with Cuba in 2009 by removing restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. But with Fidel Castro, 86, retired and President Raúl Castro, 81, leading a bureaucracy that is divided on the pace and scope of change, many have begun urging President Obama to go further and update American policy by putting a priority on assistance for Cubans seeking more economic independence from the government.

“Maintaining this embargo, maintaining this hostility, all it does is strengthen and embolden the hard-liners,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban exile and co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group in Washington, which advocates engagement with Cuba. “What we should be doing is helping the reformers.”

Any easing would be a gamble. Free enterprise may not necessarily lead to the embargo’s goal of free elections, especially because Cuba has said it wants to replicate the paths of Vietnam and China, where the loosening of economic restrictions has not led to political change. Indeed, Cuban officials have become adept at using previous American efforts to soften the embargo to their advantage, taking a cut of dollars converted into pesos and marking up the prices at state-owned stores.

And Cuba has a long history of tossing ice on warming relations. The latest example is the jailing of Alan Gross, a State Department contractor who has spent nearly three years behind bars for distributing satellite telephone equipment to Jewish groups in Havana.

In Washington, Mr. Gross is seen as the main impediment to an easing of the embargo, but there are also limits to what the president could do without Congressional action. The 1992 Cuban Democracy Act conditioned the waiving of sanctions on the introduction of democratic changes inside Cuba. The 1996 Helms-Burton Act also requires that the embargo remain until Cuba has a transitional or democratically elected government.

ECONOMY - Tax Talks, Raising Tax Rates for the 'Rich'

"Tax Talks Raise Bar for Richest Americans" by DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI, New York Times 11/19/2012


By most measures, the personal finances of Anne Zimmerman, a small-business owner in Cincinnati, have little in common with those of Oracle’s chief executive, Lawrence J. Ellison.

Ms. Zimmerman runs an accounting business and a cloud-based Internet service company with combined annual profit of $250,000 to $500,000 in recent years. Mr. Ellison made nearly $15 million in salary, bonuses and perks in 2011, even without the $62 million he received in stock options from Oracle.

In the deficit reduction debate now consuming Washington, however, both Mr. Ellison and Ms. Zimmerman are grouped in the same, sprawling category: wealthy Americans targeted for tax increases.

President Obama has focused efforts on raising revenue from the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers — individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families with adjusted gross incomes above $250,000 — calling them “millionaires and billionaires who can afford to pay a little more.” Republicans have thus far resisted those efforts, countering that the high earners are job creators and that increasing their taxes would discourage hiring.

But for all the broad brush rhetoric of political debate, the rate increases and limits on deductions now being discussed by the president and Congressional Republicans are calibrated to take the biggest bite out of the highest earners. They would lead to a smaller increase for those who earn less than $500,000 a year. The figures are all adjusted gross incomes, and since some deductions would be preserved, a household would probably have more than $250,000 in total income, perhaps $300,000, before it would fall into the wealthy definition used by the president.

If all Mr. Obama’s tax proposals for wealthy Americans were enacted, they would raise $1.6 trillion over the next decade. And an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research firm, found that the increases would be heavily weighted toward the wealthiest. Taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over $1 million would see average increases of $184,504, the study found, with higher taxes on the ultrawealthy bloating that average. Those with adjusted gross incomes from $200,000 to $500,000 would face a tax increase averaging $4,446, with people toward the lower end having only a modest increase and people on the higher end paying several times more.

A married couple with two children earning $300,000 would see its effective tax rate increase to 21.1 percent from 16.5 percent, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. A married couple with two children earning $2 million would see its effective federal income tax rate rise to 26.8 percent from 21.6 percent.

To Ms. Zimmerman, the Cincinnati businesswoman, that amount sounds reasonable.

“I’m not going to change my business decision-making process based on a few percentage points of tax increases,” she said. “If it helps get the country on a better path, well, we’re all in this together.”

POLITICS - Independent Senator Angus King

"Maine's Incoming Independent Senator Angus King on Caucusing With the Dems" PBS Newshour 11/19/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And finally tonight, the first of several conversations with newly elected senators from both parties.

We begin with Angus King from Maine. The 68-year-old former governor also was a wind power company executive. He won the seat held by retiring Republican Senator Olympia Snowe with 53 percent of the vote.

The independent King kept voters guessing which party he'd caucus with. He made up his mind last week, the day before I spoke with him.

Senator-elect, welcome and congratulations. You ran as an independent. Now you have announced that you will caucus with the Democrats.

So, why not remain independent, and why the Democrats?

MYANMAR - President Obama's Visit

"President Obama Travels to Myanmar, Saluting a Long Struggle for Freedom" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/19/2012


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): By the tens of thousands, cheering people packed the streets of Myanmar's capital city today. The crowds waved American flags as they angled for a glimpse of the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian nation.

WOMAN (through translator): I hope he can bring change in every aspect.

MAN (through translator): I really hope that Obama will help build the transition to democracy. We have many ethnic groups in Myanmar. And they are also hoping that Obama will help them progress.

RAY SUAREZ: Also known as Burma, the country was under military rule for half-a-century and was largely closed off from the rest of the world. Yet, in the past two years, it's begun a rapid about-face.

And, today, President Obama complimented the Myanmar president, former General Thein Sein, and his reforms.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The steps that he's already taken for democratization, elections, the release of prisoners of conscience, a commitment to work with us on a human rights dialogue, all can unleash the incredible potential of this beautiful country.

RAY SUAREZ: From there, the president followed by admirers traveled to the home of longtime opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest and is now an elected member of her country's house of representatives.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI, Opposition Leader: The United States has been staunch in its support of the democracy movement in Burma, and we are confident that this support will continue through the difficult years that lie ahead. I say difficult because the most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Obama joined in that caution, telling an audience at the University of Yangon that those in power must accept constraints. And he saluted Myanmar's long struggle for freedom.

BARACK OBAMA: Above all, I came here because of America's belief in human dignity. Over the last several decades, our two countries became strangers. But today I can tell you that we always remained hopeful about the people of this country, about you. You gave us hope and we bore witness to your courage.

RAY SUAREZ: Wherever they could, people watched the speech on television, as the president pressed for more reforms. He also urged an end to fighting between ethnic groups and Buddhists and Muslims in the north and west of the country.

BARACK OBAMA: Within these borders, we have seen some of the world's longest-running insurgencies, which have cost countless lives and torn families and communities apart and stood in the way of development. No process of reform will succeed without national reconciliation.


RAY SUAREZ: During the president's six-hour stay, the government of Myanmar announced new steps to try to calm the ethnic conflict.

"With President Obama's Visit, Myanmar Looks Towards Greater Democracy" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/19/2012


SUMMARY: President Obama's trip is the first time that a U.S. president has visited Myanmar. Ray Suarez talks to retired foreign service officer Priscilla Clapp and Human Rights Watch's Tom Malinowski for analysis on whether reforms are aggressive enough to establish a strong democracy and reduce ethnic conflict in Myanmar.

NEW YORK - Sandy Victims' Insurance Woes

"Future Unclear for Superstorm Sandy Victims Dealing with Insurance Woes" PBS Newshour 11/19/2012


SUMMARY: Despite a history of hurricanes, there were many storm victims in New York without flood insurance thinking the risk for damage was low. But after Sandy hit, many residents are faced now with huge damage bills and no idea how they'll recover. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports from New York's Long Island.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Now we turn to our ongoing coverage of the recovery after superstorm Sandy.

New York City officials say they will demolish about 200 homes in the outer boroughs, including some heavily damaged ones in the Rockaways. Some 200 other homes in the city were so badly damaged by the storm that they likely will be demolished as well.

As residents consider their next steps, they face questions over whether to rebuild and the role of insurance coverage.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, visited the area as part of his reporting Making Sense of financial news.

SYRIA - The Turkish Lifeline

"For Syrians Enduring the Harsh Conditions of War, Turkey Acts as Lifeline" PBS Newshour 11/19/2012


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And we turn to another deadly conflict in the Middle East, the Syrian civil war. According to one activist group, the battle between government forces and rebels has claimed the lives of more than 37,000 people.

Margaret Warner is on a reporting trip to the region filing stories for our website and our broadcast. Tonight, she gets an inside look at the opposition in Syria and Turkey's role supporting it.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): It was a reunion six years in the making. Thirty-three-year-old Syrian Oubab Khalil embraced his younger brothers last week on a street corner in the Turkish town of Rehanle, just three miles from the Syrian border.

Oubab left Syria in 2006, after his civil society activities drew a warning from President Bashar al-Assad's government.

But from his comfortable life in Dallas, he recently engineered his younger brother's escape. En route to their meeting, he spoke of his mixed feelings at having to meet them in Turkey.

OUBAB KHALIL, Syria: Very excited to see them, but at the same time, I cannot take, like, the back images that we're meeting in a foreign country, in a neighbor country, not meeting at home.

Monday, November 19, 2012

OPINION - Campaign Negativity, Government Gifts, Gaza

"Brooks and Marcus on Campaign Negativity, Government 'Gifts' and Gaza Conflict" PBS Newshour 11/16/2012


SUMMARY: Judy Woodruff talks to the New York Times' David Brooks and the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus about the lack of substantive rhetoric in the 2012 presidential election, comments by Mitt Romney that voters chose President Obama for "gifts," chances of fiscal cliff compromise and the violent conflict between Israel and Hamas.

COLORADO - Recreational Marijuana Legal, Now What?

"Colo. Voters Legalize Pot, But State Is Anxious Over U.S. Government's Reaction" PBS Newshour 11/16/2012


SUMMARY: On Election Day, Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative making recreational marijuana legal, to be regulated and taxed by the state. But law enforcement officials anticipate regulation will be difficult, even with legalization, because pot is still illegal at the federal level. Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): And to a post-elect story.

Voters in two states, Colorado and Washington, approved ballot initiatives allowing recreational use of marijuana.

Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio reports from Denver, a city that currently has more medical marijuana stores than Starbucks and McDonald's combined. Her story is another in our new collaboration with public media partners across the country in a series we call Battleground Dispatches.

MIDDLE EAST - Never Ending War Part-10000, Israel vs Palestine

"Hamas Fires Rockets at Jerusalem; Israel Readies Troops and Tanks at Gaza Border" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/16/2012

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): There was no letup today in the battle between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza.

Airstrikes echoed across Gaza, and rockets landed near Tel Aviv and, for the first time, near Jerusalem. The combined death toll reached 30, 27 Palestinians and three Israelis.

We begin with a report from John Ray of Independent Television News in Gaza.

JOHN RAY: A sleepless night in Gaza gave way to another morning of missiles. Israel promised a lull in its assault, a chance for words to speak louder than bombs.

But on neither side was there a cease-fire. And if the Egyptian prime minister came armed with a peace plan, he kept it to himself. This was far more a display of Muslim Brotherhood with Hamas. Hisham Qandil called Gaza a tragedy and Israel the aggressor.

The tragedy is deeply personal, and it unfolds at the Gaza City Hospital, where they rush the dead and the injured, boys like Yeheah, just 10 years old. "I was buying bread for my mother," he says, "when the rocket came."

Dooah, a girl of 14, was hit my shrapnel on her way to a wedding. "All I remember is the flash of red light," she tells me.

Israel insists it is striking targets that are carefully selected. This was the Ministry of the Interior, obliterated. Israel is reducing the symbols of Hamas rule to so much twisted metal and smoldering rubble, but they have not yet stopped the rockets. And while the missiles continue to fly, any chance of a cease-fire that sticks seems slim.

Nor is there a monopoly on suffering. More Palestinian rockets hit home today, while sirens rung out in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, extending what Israel calls a reign of terror far beyond the Gaza border.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel: There is one basic difference between us and our enemies. They deliberately target civilians and deliberately hide behind civilians, and we do everything in our power to minimize civilian casualties while we exercise our legitimate right of self-defense.

JOHN RAY: Israel's called up 16,000 reserve troops. The border looks like the marshaling point for an invasion. Sometime, an order must come to pull back or advance.

"How Did Latest Escalation Between Israel and Hamas Begin?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/16/2012


SUMMARY: Jeffrey Brown talks to Al Arabiya's Hisham Melham and University of Haifa's Dan Schueftan about how the latest escalation between Israel and Hamas got started and what the U.S. role in the conflict should be.

POLITICS - Conservative Group Misleads on Affordable Care Act

"Group’s ‘Obamacare Tax Form’ Evades Facts" by Ben Finley, 11/16/2012

A conservative group misleads taxpayers on the Affordable Care Act and the Internal Revenue Service’s future role in enforcing it. Americans for Tax Reform posted a “projected” IRS tax form on its website that claims to “help families and tax specialists prepare” for new tax provisions under the health care law. But ATR makes several false claims:

  • The group claims taxpayers will have to disclose “personal identifying health information” to the IRS to prove they have insurance. It quotes an IRS official who said taxpayers will report their “insurance information.” But the official also said the agency will not collect “any personal health information.”
  • ATR says employers must offer preventative coverage that includes “abortion and hair loss treatment.” That’s not true. The law requires smaller insurance plans to cover preventative services, but states decide if those services include abortion. Even then, each state must have at least one plan that does not cover abortion.
  • The group says failing to comply with the law could result in “interest against your property.” The law specifically bans the IRS from filing liens and levies against persons who fail to pay the tax for lacking insurance.
  • ATR claims taxpayers can apply for a waiver from the health care law. That’s false. The government has given temporary waivers to some companies — not taxpayers — regarding one provision of the law, which involves benefit caps.

ATR says it created the tax form — just days before the presidential election — as a ”service to the public.” Our public service is to correct the record.

Not Getting Personal

Starting in 2014, the health care law requires most Americans to have insurance or pay a tax, although exemptions will apply based on income and other factors. The IRS will require most taxpayers to prove they’re covered or they must pay a tax on their 2014 tax returns.

The IRS hasn’t issued exact procedures for how taxpayers will prove they have insurance. But that hasn’t stopped ATR from making misleading statements.

In an introduction to the tax form and in the instructions, ATR claims the IRS will require Americans to disclose:

  • “Personal identifying health information”
  • “The nature of their health insurance”
  • “Insurance card information”

ATR bases its claim on a snippet of congressional testimony from then-IRS deputy commissioner Steven Miller in September. ATR quotes from Miller’s prepared remarks, in which he stated that “taxpayers will file their tax returns reporting their health insurance coverage and/or making a payment.”

But Miller explicitly stated that the IRS will not collect “any personal health information.”

Miller, Sept. 11: Taxpayers will get a form at the end of every year from their insurer to use when they prepare their tax returns. It is important to note that the information that insurers provide to the IRS will show the fact of insurance coverage, and will not include any personal health information.

In most cases, taxpayers will file their tax returns reporting their health insurance coverage, and/or making a payment, and there will be no need for further interactions with the IRS.

Douglas Shulman, who recently stepped down as IRS commissioner, also addressed privacy concerns. He told Congress in August that the IRS will verify whether or not a taxpayer has insurance. But he said the agency will not ask for personal information (See part 2, minute 40:00).

U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, Aug. 2: There are also individuals who … claim that the Internal Revenue Service is going to have access to individuals’ private health information. Is that a need in order to enforce the provisions of the act?

Shulman: No. Absolutely not. What we will know is and ask for based on the law is: ‘Do you have health insurance coverage? If so, for how many months? And what is the name of the insurance company?’…

I think it’s been way overstated our role in health care. We are basically going to facilitate the financial transactions that make this whole law work. But we’re not going to have access to private individual health care information except for the fact of coverage.

Shulman said the IRS will match the information a taxpayer submits to what his or her insurer reports (see minute 9:00).

He also explained in a speech at the National Press Club in 2010 that taxpayers will attach a form to their tax return that insurers will send to them.

Shulman, April 5, 2010: When someone files their return, the insurance company will send us a little box that is checked, a yes-no question, that says, ‘Do they have coverage or not?’ They’ll send it to the individual. The individual will attach it to their return, and they’ll send it to us. Think it’s just like a 1099, where you get information reporting about the interest that you have on the bank account.

We will run matching programs around that. And if somebody doesn’t have coverage, they’ll either have paid the penalty that they owe, or they’ll get a letter [from] us saying that you owe this amount.

The IRS hasn’t officially announced procedures for how taxpayers will prove they have insurance. None is listed on the IRS’s web page dedicated to Affordable Care Act tax provisions. But the IRS proposed in April the types of information insurers must submit to the IRS in 2015 — and they don’t include personal health details.

The agency proposed asking insurers for the following:

  • The name, address and Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number of the taxpayer and any dependents.
  • Dates the insurer provided coverage.
  • Whether the insurance is considered “qualified” under the law, which means it covers a number of broadly defined health benefits, among other requirements.
  • Whether the individual bought insurance through an affordable insurance marketplace, known as a health insurance exchange.
  • Whether the individual is eligible for tax credits and other assistance to help pay for coverage.

Abortion Coverage Required?

ATR claims employers must offer preventative coverage that includes “abortion and hair loss treatment.” That’s not true.

The law requires preventative coverage in insurance plans sold to small businesses and individuals. But the states define what that coverage is.

Some states already have laws banning abortion coverage — although some extend exemptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Others states have chosen to include voluntary abortion coverage in plans offered to small businesses and individuals. But even then, the health care law requires those states to offer an additional plan that does not cover abortion.

ATR’s tax form asks taxpayers if their employer offers “affordable qualifying coverage.” And the instructions for this question claim that a qualified plan “must include necessary preventative coverage such as contraception, abortion, and hair loss treatment.”

It’s true the ACA specifically requires most health insurance plans to pay for contraception for women, coverage that at least 26 states mandated to some extent before the health care law. And it’s true the law includes new coverage requirements for preventative services. But those requirements apply to new insurance plans sold to individuals and small businesses that have 50 or fewer employees. The requirements do not apply to large employers, which make up about 70 percent of the insurance market.

The act’s intent is to make coverage sold to individuals and small businesses as comprehensive as typical employer-based plans. So, the law requires the smaller plans to cover 10 broadly defined “essential health benefits,” one of which is “preventative and wellness services.”

The ACA allows the states to define what those preventative services are in “benchmark” insurance plans.

The benchmark plans in Kansas, Kentucky and Utah, for example, do not cover voluntary abortion beyond at least one of the exceptions for rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. In fact, those states — and five others — outlawed private and public insurance from covering voluntary abortions before the ACA became law.

And 20 states have banned insurers from covering abortion in plans sold on exchanges, the affordable insurance marketplaces that states and/or the federal government are supposed to set up under the health care law.

States including California, Colorado and New York have picked benchmark plans that cover “voluntary” or “elective” abortions.

California’s plan, for example, requires a $30 copay for a “voluntary termination of pregnancy.”

But as we’ve written before, the law requires that at least one plan sold on a state exchange not include abortion coverage beyond the standard exceptions. (The law also bars federal subsidies from directly paying for a voluntary abortion.)

None of the benchmark plans in the six states mentioned above covers cosmetic hair loss treatment.

No Liens or Levies

The form also claims that “failing to comply with the Obamacare Tax Mandate could result … in interest against your personal property.” That’s not true.

As we’ve written before, the IRS cannot file a tax lien (a legal claim against such things as homes, cars, wages and bank accounts) or a levy (seizure of property or bank accounts).

The law specifically states on page 151 that the government cannot “file notice of lien with respect to any property of a taxpayer by reason of any failure to pay the penalty imposed by this section, or … levy on any such property with respect to such failure.’’

But as we noted, the law leaves room for the IRS to issue penalties and to sue to recover the unpaid tax, just as it does now for overdue taxes.

Waiver Whopper

The form’s instructions page also claims that taxpayers “can apply to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for a waiver from Obamacare.”

We’ve addressed similar claims before. The fact is HHS gave temporary waivers to companies — not individual taxpayers — pertaining to one provision of the law.

The health care law will gradually eliminate the annual and lifetime dollar limits placed on insurance benefits. The law raises the limits each year until 2014, when health plans can no longer place a cap on benefits.

HHS has granted waivers to more than 1,200 companies, particularly restaurants with low-income and part-time employees. The waivers allowed companies such as McDonald’s to temporarily continue to provide bare-bones insurance coverage to some workers.

The waivers, which affect nearly 4 million people, expire in 2014.