Monday, December 31, 2012

EDUCATION - Model for Good Mass-Produced Schools?

"Can Rocketship Launch a Fleet of Successful, Mass-Produced Schools?" PBS Newshour 12/28/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Now we look to a California education experiment called the Rocketship Model that involves teachers, kids and parents and aims to expand one day to serve a million students.

NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has our report.

JOHN MERROW: The Model T was the first, the first innovative and affordable car available to the masses. Others had built good cars, but Henry Ford figured out how to build a lot of them. He and his moving assembly line proved that quality can be mass-produced.

Mass production is a problem the auto industry solved over 100 years ago, but it's an issue our education system has yet to figure out. America has lots of terrific schools. People open great schools every year, but typically open just one. Nobody has figured out how to mass-produce high-quality, cost-effective schools.

John Danner is the latest to give it a shot. He created an innovative charter school model with replication in mind. Charter schools receive public funding, but are privately managed and operate outside of the traditional public system.

INDIA - Paying the Consequences of Gang Rape

"In India, a Fatal Gang Rape Sparks Violent Protests, Demands for More Protection" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/28/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Sexual assaults are common in India, but a brutal gang attack that killed a 23-year-old medical student has outraged the public over what is seen as a lack of basic protection and justice for women. Ray Suarez talks to Julie McCarthy from NPR about the spontaneous demonstrations and greater protest movement against such attacks.



"Across Caste and Religion, Indian Women Share Sense of Powerlessness Over Rape" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/28/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: A brutal gang rape in New Delhi may help force a sea change in India, a thriving democracy that is also a very conservative society based on a diversity of old traditions. Ray Suarez talks to Miranda Kennedy, author of "Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India," about the taboos of coming forward as a rape victim.

OPINION - Enter the Draggin'

This is what happens in the hyper-politicized atmosphere of or nation's electorate. Our legislative representatives putting the fear for their political carriers (being able to be re-elected) AHEAD of the welfare of our nation today. They are governing for themselves NOT for citizens.

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 12/27/2012 and 12/28/2012
Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

OPINION - Americans Poised to Reap Benefits of Affordable Care Act

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 12/27/2012
Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

POLITICS - One Reason for Washington Gridlock


"Swing districts disappear, gridlock flourishes" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 12/28/2012

There are competing explanations as to why radicalized congressional Republicans refuse to compromise, even after failed election cycles, but Nate Silver points to one of the more compelling rationales.

In 1992, there were 103 members of the House of Representatives elected from what might be called swing districts: those in which the margin in the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result. But based on an analysis of this year's presidential returns, I estimate that there are only 35 such Congressional districts remaining, barely a third of the total 20 years ago.

Instead, the number of landslide districts -- those in which the presidential vote margin deviated by at least 20 percentage points from the national result -- has roughly doubled. In 1992, there were 123 such districts (65 of them strongly Democratic and 58 strongly Republican). Today, there are 242 of them (of these, 117 favor Democrats and 125 Republicans).

It creates a dynamic in which GOP lawmakers, even those who might want to play a constructive role in governing, don't feel like they have much of a choice -- if they're reasonable and responsible, they'll face a primary and lose.

Indeed, members have seen this happen plenty of times. My personal favorite Bob Inglis, a conservative House Republican from South Carolina who got crushed in a GOP primary for being insufficiently radical. Inglis expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on energy policy and he said his main focus as a lawmaker was to find "solutions" to problems -- shortly before losing by a ridiculous 42-point margin in a district he'd represented for more than a decade.

The way the lines are drawn, members just don't have much of a choice if they hope to avoid Inglis' fate. As Nate added, "Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk."

For GOP lawmakers, the way to stay in office is to keep the far-right base happy. And the way to keep the far-right base happy is to avoid compromise and adopt an unyielding stance on every issue.

Nate added, "There have been other periods in American history when polarization was high -- particularly, from about 1880 through 1920. But it is not clear that there have been other periods when individual members of the House had so little to deter them from highly partisan behavior."

The entire American policymaking process has been built around the notion that officials would have to compromise -- committees would have to compromise with one another, which would lead to compromises on the floor, which would lead to compromises with the other chamber, which would lead to compromises with the White House. It's built into the cake -- vote coalitions and deal making are features, not bugs, and there's nothing especially wrong with a system that operates this way.

But when lawmakers lose their incentive to play by the traditional rules, knowing that the best way to stay in office is to toe an aggressive ideological line, the result isn't pretty.

Silver's conclusion, about the practical effects of the situation, and why hyperpartisan districts doesn't really do the GOP any favors, rings true: "The district boundaries that give Republicans such strength in the House may also impede the party's ability to compromise, reducing their ability to appeal to the broader-based coalitions of voters so as to maximize their chances of winning Senate and presidential races. If so, however, that could mean divided government more often than not in the years ahead, with Republicans usually controlling the House while Democrats usually hold the Senate, the presidency, or both. As partisanship continues to increase, a divided government may increasingly mean a dysfunctional one."

Who's up for redistricting reform?

COMMENT: Essentially it is the sheep among voters (only follow the party line) that vote according to party doctrine against the interest of our nation that are at fault for the no-compromise, non-governance political system we have today. Isn't there an old Chinese proverb, "Be careful what you wish for...."

Friday, December 28, 2012

ENVIRONMENT - Evaluation of Obama Policy to Date

"As EPA Chief Steps Down, an Evaluation of Obama's Environmental Policy So Far" PBS Newshour 12/27/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson announced she is stepping down after almost four years. Jeffrey Brown talks to Kenneth Green of the Fraser Institute and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club for debate on whether President Obama's environmental agenda and record have been successful or disappointing.

POLITICS - Fiscal Cliff, From the REAL Republican Party

As seen by today's Republican Party, aka Tea Party.

"A Tea Party Take on U.S. Debt, Federal Budget Deal Negotiations" PBS Newshour 12/27/2012

Excerpt

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): We return to our series of different voices and viewpoints on the nation's fiscal cliff debate.

Tea party activists took aim at government spending three years ago, with protests and rallies in Washington and elsewhere. The national group FreedomWorks helped organized many of those events and financed fiscally conservative tea party-backed candidates in 2010 and this year.

So, where does the tea party movement stand on the fiscal decisions at hand today?

For that, we turn to Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks' president and CEO.



GREECE - An Economic Object Lesson for U.S.?

"Under Austerity, Greeks Feel Unfolding Social and Humanitarian Crisis" PBS Newshour 12/27/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: By the end of 2013, economists estimate Greece's recession will reach levels worse than the Great Depression in the U.S. With huge budget cuts, Greeks have been left with a small safety net even as they struggle to access basic needs. Jeffrey Brown reports how austerity measures have torn apart the social fabric of Greece.

POLITICS - Fiscal Cliff 4 Days to Go

"Congressional Leaders Talk More Politics Than Fiscal Deal as Deadline Nears" PBS Newshour 12/27/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Senate and House leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and John Boehner, R-Ohio, traded barbs over who's to blame for a lack of consensus for a budget deal. Margaret Warner talks to WNYC's Todd Zwillich about the looming deadline, only five days away, to avert automatic spending cuts and tax increases.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Five days and counting with plenty of tit-for-tat charges, but no agreement in sight, that, in short, summed up the state of affairs in Washington today as the fiscal cliff deadline loomed, Jan. 1. It would mean more than $600 billion in across-the-board tax increases and automatic spending cuts.


In my title "4 Days" to do something.

MEDIA - Gwen Ifill's 'Thanks for Watching'

"Gwen's Take: Thanks for Watching" by Gwen Ifill, PBS Newshour 12/28/2012

Working a holiday week means having no more excuses. So my desk, which had turned into the place where election-year research goes to die, needed my attention.

If I never replied to your invitation, answered your complimentary or critical note, or finished your book, this is why. My desk bore witness to the chaos brought on by a year of election coverage.

Most of the detritus headed into the recycling bin. But I did save two letters I unearthed from the piles of paper. Both were written in longhand on folded pieces of stationery. Old-school correspondence. Unlike email, which gets swallowed into the techno-void almost instantly, these missives seemed to demand attention.

Both were written by women who wanted to tell me of their ambitions.

"I am writing you for encouragement and motivation," said one, who was running what she candidly described as an uphill race for a city council seat in a small California town. "You are a wonderful role model and mentor for our country," she wrote me in June. "Hearing from you will be inspirational."

Regrettably, she never heard from me. (She will now.) I decided to look up election results online to see how things turned out for her in the end. She lost.

But a lot of people lose election races, which fortunately does not stop them from trying. It turns out there are still folks who are not turned off by the grimy business of entry-level politics. Most of them, I have discovered, are driven not by ego, but by a desire to serve.

The second letter I found arrived only a few weeks ago. It was written by a first-year journalism major at a small Ohio college.

"In the past, I have tried to keep up with the news," she wrote. "But often the bias in the broadcasts were so confusing, to the point where I sort of gave up."

One of her professors urged her to keep paying attention, and somewhere along the way she came across a recent PBS NewsHour discussion about a labor fight in Michigan. It featured two public figures -- Rep. Sander Levin, a Democrat, and State Senator John Proos, a Republican. They occupied opposite sides of the argument about a new right-to-work law that would make joining unions optional.

"The debate became quite heated, and I found myself getting frustrated too," the student wrote me. "You, however, were as cool as anything."

Yay for me. But read on.

"Despite what I know and think of the media, I really want to report," she continued. "I work hard at school to gather the knowledge I will need to gain experience and form separate, logical and whole opinions."

Yay for her. Imagine a future journalist who wants to do more than talk (as one student told me once) or create a "brand" (as another wrote me).

Faith restored. And not a moment too soon.

Perhaps these two letters, discovered by happenstance from a messy desk, caught my attention because they confirmed things I already believed, that public service and public information are essential and intertwined. Perhaps I would have been less taken with them if they were critical or skeptical.

But optimism has its place. I arrived at work Thursday to find another piece of snail mail from California. It was a thank you note from a viewer who perfectly captured Washington Week's Friday night ethos.

"The atmosphere of your telecasts," she wrote. "is as if you have invited special personal friends for dinner, the dishes have been cleared away, and now there is a grand opportunity to enjoy stimulating and meaningful dialogue on critical issues of interest to all of you."

That's perfect. And it gives me the opportunity to thank the rest of you whose letters and emails may have been ignored, whose tweets I did not respond to, or who just murmured to yourselves without bothering to write at all.

Thank you for paying attention. And stick with us. 2013 promises to be a bear.

OPINION - Stupidity of the Fiscal Cliff

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 12/26/2012
Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, December 27, 2012

POLITICS - Goodby to Rep. Barney Frank (D)

"Exit Interview: Barney Frank Reflects on Successes, Regrets, Future Plans" PBS Newshour 12/26/2012

Excerpt

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Finally tonight, another in our series of conversations with retiring lawmakers -- tonight, Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank.

The congressman, who's served for 32 years, is known for his sharp intellect and blunt style. As chairman of the Financial Services Committee, he co-authored the Dodd-Frank reform law regulating banks in the wake of the financial crisis. He was the first openly gay member of Congress, and recently married his longtime partner.

Before that, in the 1980s, his career was marred by scandal involving his relationship with a male prostitute.

But Frank weathered that and went on to win reelection by wide margins.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman sat down with him last week.

PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour): Congressman Frank, welcome.

Why Congress? What did you hope to accomplish when you came here first?

ECONOMY - Fiscal Cliff, 5 Days to Go

"Risk of Sequestration, Economic Uncertainty Haunts Investors, Federal Employees" PBS Newshour 12/26/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Returning to Washington after the holiday break, House Republicans called on the Senate to "act first" and avert the fiscal cliff. With prospects still murky for a deal before year's end, Gwen Ifill and guests discuss what government workers, Wall Street investors and taxpayers can expect if lawmakers miss the deadline.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): President Obama heads back to Washington tonight, as House Republicans call on the Senate to come up with a plan to avert the fiscal cliff.

With prospects still murky for a deal before year's end, what can government workers, Wall Street investors and taxpayers expect if lawmakers miss the deadline?

For that, we turn to Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jacque Simon, public policy director of the American Federation of Government Employees, and Hugh Johnson, who runs an investment and advisory firm in Albany, N.Y.

EGYPT - New Constitution Update

"Egypt Divided as New Constitution Takes Effect" PBS Newshour 12/26/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi signed into law a highly-debated Islamist-backed constitution. Margaret Warner reports.



"Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to NewsHour: Use Democratic Process Not Protests" PBS Newshour 12/26/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei told the NewsHour that Egypt's new constitution denied basic human values. On Wednesday, a member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party responded. Margaret Warner speaks to Waleed El Haddad about how the constitution outlines protection of rights and the country's economic crisis.

HEALTH - Law Aspires to Improve Mental Health

"California Law That Aspires to Improve Mental Health Raises Coercion Concerns" PBS Newshour 12/26/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: In the wake of several recent shootings, politicians and commentators have called for improved mental health screening and treatment. Spencer Michels reports on a program in California called "Laura's Law," an unfunded mandate that has proven difficult to implement and has drawn concern about involuntary treatment for patients.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): We turn to the difficulties of getting mental health care to those who need it. It's a subject getting more attention in the wake of the several recent shootings.

It's not known if the gunman in Newtown, Conn., suffered from mental illness. But the man who shot four firefighters in Webster, New York, this week, killing two of them, who were remembered at a procession yesterday, left a disturbing note in which he pledged to burn down the neighborhood and -- quote -- "do what I like doing best, killing people."

Politicians and commentators have used these and prior attacks to call for improved mental health screening and treatment.

But one such program in California has proven hard to implement, as NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

Monday, December 24, 2012

DROUGHT - Mississippi River Commerce Threat

"Cargo Continues Moving on the Mississippi River, but Perhaps Not for Long" by JOHN SCHWARTZ, New York Times 12/23/2012

Excerpt

The Mississippi River is still open for business — for now. January is another story.

A Midwestern drought has brought the river, one of the world’s largest navigable inland waterways, to water levels so low that they threaten to shut down shipping. The Mississippi, which handles some $7 billion in trade in a typical December and January, is expected to be closed to navigation between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., when water levels dip toward the nine feet of depth that is necessary for most tugboats to clear the river bottom.

Those who ship goods up and down the river have asked the federal government to do two things: destroy rock formations known as pinnacles in Southern Illinois that hinder navigation when the water is shallow, and release more water from reservoirs along the upper Missouri River.

The Army Corps of Engineers has begun meeting the first request, using excavating equipment to break down the formations. Officials said the work should take 30 to 45 days.

Getting the corps to release the water has been more difficult. The corps has rejected requests for large-scale water releases from the upper Missouri, saying it does not have the authority to use that water to aid navigation on the Mississippi.

Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, applauded that decision and called it “unlawful” to release water that states like South Dakota need and use. He said that his region, too, has suffered “significant negative impact” because of the drought.

The Waterways Council, a group that lobbies on behalf of inland carriers, operators and ports, had initially warned that traffic would come to a halt by Monday. But so far, the water levels have dropped more slowly than expected, in part because of small water releases by the corps. A coalition of businesses involved in trade along the Mississippi and sympathetic lawmakers have asked President Obama to order the water released.

“It would cripple our national economy to shut down the Mississippi River,” said R. D. James, a Missouri farmer and a member of the Mississippi River Commission, which manages uses of the river with the corps.

But without action from the president, Congress or the courts, the water will stay behind the reservoirs of the upper Missouri.

“When they get a little water in those reservoirs,” Mr. James said, “they don’t want to give it up.”

It could soon be too late to prevent a partial closing. Water takes two weeks to make its way from the upper Missouri River reservoirs, and predictions released by the corps over the weekend suggest that without substantial rainfall, the water levels could dip below nine feet by Jan. 11.

With the threat of a shutdown ahead, farmers might decide to hold their grain instead of shipping it in a more expensive manner, said Gregory L. Guenther, a farmer and corporate consultant. Since farmers tend to pay for the coming year’s supplies like fertilizer with those sales, they will have to borrow instead, and “that means paying interest on it.”

Transporting goods by rail is a less attractive option, Mr. Guenther said, because shipping and storage facilities that use the river are not necessarily near rail lines, and rail capacity is limited. Altogether, shifting transportation modes would drive up prices, he said, adding, “Rail is not the answer.”

Rick Calhoun, the president of Cargo Carriers, a part of Cargill, noted that carriers were already loading barges to a lighter weight to deal with the water depth, which also ends up raising costs.

“We put less product in the barge, it takes longer to get there, and we use more fuel per barge,” Mr. Calhoun said, adding, “We’re going to be running into very difficult issues.”

Col. Christopher G. Hall, the commander of the St. Louis district of the corps, said, “We’re doing everything that we possibly can to keep that channel at the authorized depth so that they can continue to operate.”

AMERICA - Patsy Cline's Hometown

"For Patsy Cline’s Hometown, an Embrace That Took Decades" by DAN BARRY, New York Times 12/23/2012

Excerpt

The Patsy Cline Historic House is officially closed on this wintry day, but the door is open. A few garden club volunteers are decorating the squat Christmas tree, and someone has baked a black walnut cake to share when the lights are strung and the delicate ornaments are hung, just so.

Three months ago would have been Patsy Cline’s 80th birthday; three months from now is the 50th anniversary of her premature death, at 30. But still the people come, from as close as Culpeper and as far as Tokyo, to visit the hometown that was slow to embrace her and linger in the modest house where she spent several years, harboring dreams as big as her voice.

They say that Patsy speaks to them, giving them strength to carry on through hardship. “I’ve seen grown people fall to their knees when they come into the house,” says Judy-Sue Huyett-Kempf, the house’s executive director.

“Spooky, and almost overboard,” adds Mel Dick, Patsy’s brother-in-law. “But sincere.”

Perhaps the Patsy faithful are responding to the been-there intimations of struggle and heartbreak in her voice, the note of aching resilience that she came by honestly. If that famous Beckettian thought — “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” — were set to music, Patsy Cline would be the one to sing it.

In this way, the modest tin-roof house at 608 South Kent Street stands as a monument to the complicated — and therefore authentic — American life. We trip forward through the year with laughter one day and tears the next, then bid it farewell with holiday music and cake, ready to try again.

Ms. Huyett-Kempf leads an intimate tour through the house — this lamp is original to the home, Patsy’s mother gave that coat to her hairdresser — before telling a life story she knows as well as her own.

“Could you turn Patsy down a little bit?” she calls out to someone near the sound system.

Patsy Cline was born Virginia Hensley in Winchester in 1932, the first child of a 43-year-old blacksmith with his 16-year-old bride. Her mother, Hilda, eventually took her three children and moved into this converted log cabin, keeping poverty at bay by sewing for the rich.

GUN CONTROL - Connecticut Held Hostage by Gun Industry

"Gun Makers Use Home Leverage in Connecticut" by RAY RIVERA and ALISON LEIGH COWAN, New York Times 12/23/2012

Excerpt

Gun owners packed a hearing room in the Connecticut capital, vowing to oppose a bill that would require new markers on guns so that they are easier to trace.

One after another, they testified that the technology, called microstamping, was flawed and would increase the cost of guns.

But the witness who commanded the most attention in Hartford that day in 2009 was a representative of one of Connecticut’s major employers: the Colt Manufacturing Company, the gun maker.

The Colt executive, Carlton S. Chen, said the company would seriously consider leaving the state if the bill became law. “You would think that the Connecticut government would be in support of our industry,” Mr. Chen said.

Soon, Connecticut lawmakers shelved the bill; they have declined to take it up since. Now, in the aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, the lawmakers are formulating new gun-control measures, saying the state must serve as a national model.

But the failed effort to enact the microstamping measure shows how difficult the climate has been for gun control in state capitals. The firearm companies have played an important role in defeating these measures by repeatedly warning that they will close factories and move jobs if new state regulations are approved.

The companies have issued such threats in several states, especially in the Northeast, where gun control is more popular. But their views have particular resonance in Connecticut, a cradle of the American gun industry.

Like manufacturing in Connecticut over all, the state’s gun industry is not as robust as it once was. Still, Connecticut remains the seventh-largest producer of firearms in the country, according to federal data.

Colt, based in Connecticut since the 1800s, employs roughly 900 people in the state. Two other major gun companies, Sturm, Ruger & Company and Mossberg & Sons, are also based in the state. In all, the industry employs about 2,000 people in Connecticut, company officials said.

Gun-control advocates have long viewed Hartford, the capital, as hospitable terrain, because Connecticut is a relatively liberal state and already has more gun restrictions than most. Democrats control both houses of the legislature.

Yet lawmakers in Hartford did more than shelve the microstamping bill in 2009. They also declined to push a bill last year that would have banned high-capacity ammunition magazines — the very accessory used by Adam Lanza to kill 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

In several states, the gun companies have enlisted unions that represent gun workers, mindful that Democratic lawmakers who might otherwise back gun control also have close ties to labor.

COMMENT: The gun-nuts oppose making guns easier to trace?! So they ARE hiding something. The cost issue is a smoke screen.

POLITICS - Fiscal Cliff, 7 Days to Go

As Republicans continue to hold a 'gun' to our heads for ideology...

"Search for Way Through Fiscal Impasse Turns to the Senate" by JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times 12/23/2012

Excerpt

With little more than a week for lawmakers to avert huge tax increases and spending cuts, attention is turning from the gridlocked House to the Senate, where some Republicans on Sunday endorsed President Obama’s call for a partial deal to insulate most Americans from the tax increases but defer a resolution on spending.

Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, both Republicans, implored Senate leaders to reach an accommodation with Mr. Obama when Congress returns on Thursday, even if that meant that taxes would go up for those with high incomes and that spending cuts would be put off.

Mrs. Hutchison, appearing on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” said the tax cuts signed into law by President George W. Bush should be extended “at a reasonable salary level.”

“We can’t let taxes go up on working people in this country,” she said, backing Mr. Obama’s calls for a stripped-down temporary measure. “It is going to be a patch because, in four days, we can’t solve everything.”

Speaker John A. Boehner’s failed attempt on Thursday to attract enough Republican support in the House for legislation that would have prevented tax increases on income below $1 million left little chance for a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction.

It also shifted the action to the Senate as the last hope to stop more than half a trillion dollars in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts from kicking in on Jan. 1. The president urged senators to take up legislation extending the Bush-era tax cuts on income under $250,000 and preventing the expiration of unemployment benefits, while delaying the defense and domestic spending cuts to allow negotiations on a deficit deal continue.

“The fact that the House Republicans spent a week wasting time we didn’t have has greatly exacerbated the problem,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s communications director.

The hope is that the less polarized Senate will be different from the House. It is run by Democrats and includes several Republicans who are openly backing a deal.

“The president’s statement is right,” Mr. Isakson said Sunday on the ABC program “This Week.” “No one wants taxes to go up on the middle class. I don’t want them to go up on anybody, but I’m not in the majority in the United States Senate, and he’s the president of the United States.”

“The truth of the matter is, if we do fall off the cliff after the president is inaugurated, he’ll come back, propose just what he proposed yesterday in leaving Washington, and we’ll end up adopting it,” Mr. Isakson continued. “But why should we put the markets in such turmoil and the people in such misunderstanding or lack of confidence? Why not go ahead and act now?”

Democratic leaders say they will move forward on legislation this week only if Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, can assure them that it will not be filibustered and that once it is passed Mr. Boehner will bring it to a vote in the House.

Mr. McConnell has played the role of Congressional deal closer before. Last year, he engineered a way to raise the nation’s statutory borrowing limit that satisfied Republicans and Democrats alike. He also threw his weight behind an extension of the expiring two-percentage-point cut in the payroll tax, even after House Republicans tried to block it.

But in this case, neither he nor the junior members of his leadership have given any indication that they will intervene.

“It’s hard to overstate how little is going on,” said a senior Democratic leadership aide in the Senate, indicating what most lawmakers say in private: the country is likely to miss the Jan. 1 deadline.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

AFGHANISTAN - Moderate Taliban?

"Taliban Hint at Softer Line in Talks With Afghan Leaders" by MATTHEW ROSENBERG and TAIMOOR SHAH, New York Times 12/22/2012

Excerpt

After years of deriding Afghanistan’s government and army as corrupt tools of Western occupiers, the Taliban have begun publicly airing a softer vision for the country’s future, with senior insurgent leaders saying the militants are willing to govern alongside other Afghan factions and even to adopt the current American-financed army as their own.

That message was delivered over the past few days by Taliban envoys during private meetings with Afghan officials and opposition politicians near Paris, according to officials close to the talks, and the softer approach has been echoed in recent interviews with Taliban figures loyal to the group’s nominal leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. Together, it is the furthest that the Taliban’s senior leadership has gone to express in some official way that the group would be willing to operate as a mainstream Afghan political faction rather than aiming to return as conquering rulers after the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014.

But with the Taliban there are always questions.

The group is increasingly divided by power struggles, according to some Western officials and Afghans close to the Taliban, and there has sometimes seemed to be a disconnect between conciliatory statements from the top and the aggression of field commanders. As well, Afghan and American officials trying to open peace talks with the Taliban have long struggled with whether any offer of compromise could be seen as legitimate or just tactical maneuvering to gain public support.

Still, the new statements offer the tantalizing prospect of a Taliban leadership that is ready to talk, even if many of its aims are out of line with the Afghan government and its Western allies.

That willingness may be in part because of a still-unfolding feud at the group’s top levels, according to recent interviews with a senior Taliban commander and another Afghan man close to the group. Those two men, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say that the Taliban’s hard-line military commander, Mullah Abdul Quyyum Zakir, a former detainee at the American detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, is being pushed aside in favor of more moderate rivals.

HEALTH - Making Cancer Self-Destruct

"Drugs Aim to Make Several Types of Cancer Self-Destruct" by GINA KOLATA, New York Times 12/22/2012

Excerpt

For the first time ever, three pharmaceutical companies are poised to test whether new drugs can work against a wide range of cancers independently of where they originated — breast, prostate, liver, lung. The drugs go after an aberration involving a cancer gene fundamental to tumor growth. Many scientists see this as the beginning of a new genetic age in cancer research.

Great uncertainties remain, but such drugs could mean new treatments for rare, neglected cancers, as well as common ones. Merck, Roche and Sanofi are racing to develop their own versions of a drug they hope will restore a mechanism that normally makes badly damaged cells self-destruct and could potentially be used against half of all cancers.

No pharmaceutical company has ever conducted a major clinical trial of a drug in patients who have many different kinds of cancer, researchers and federal regulators say. “This is a taste of the future in cancer drug development,” said Dr. Otis Webb Brawley, the chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society. “I expect the organ from which the cancer came from will be less important in the future and the molecular target more important,” he added.

And this has major implications for cancer philanthropy, experts say. Advocacy groups should shift from fund-raising for particular cancers to pushing for research aimed at many kinds of cancer at once, Dr. Brawley said. John Walter, the chief executive officer of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, concurred, saying that by pooling forces “our strength can be leveraged.”

At the heart of this search for new cancer drugs are patients like Joe Bellino, who was a post office clerk until his cancer made him too sick to work. Seven years ago, he went into the hospital for hernia surgery, only to learn he had liposarcoma, a rare cancer of fat cells. A large tumor was wrapped around a cord that connects the testicle to the abdomen. “I was shocked,” he said in an interview this summer.

Companies have long ignored liposarcoma, seeing no market for drugs to treat a cancer that strikes so few. But it is ideal for testing Sanofi’s drug because the tumors nearly always have the exact genetic problem the drug was meant to attack — a fusion of two large proteins. If the drug works, it should bring these raging cancers to a halt. Then Sanofi would test the drug on a broad range of cancers with a similar genetic alteration. But if the drug fails against liposarcoma, Sanofi will reluctantly admit defeat.

“For us, this is a go/no-go situation,” said Laurent Debussche, a Sanofi scientist who leads the company’s research on the drug.

The genetic alteration the drug targets has tantalized researchers for decades. Normal healthy cells have a mechanism that tells them to die if their DNA is too badly damaged to repair. Cancer cells have grotesquely damaged DNA, so ordinarily they would self-destruct. A protein known as p53 that Dr. Gary Gilliland of Merck calls the cell’s angel of death normally sets things in motion. But cancer cells disable p53, either directly, with a mutation, or indirectly, by attaching the p53 protein to another cellular protein that blocks it. The dream of cancer researchers has long been to reanimate p53 in cancer cells so they will die on their own.

SYRIA - Possible 'Rump' State for Assad and Alawites

"In Ravaged Syria, Beach Town May Be Loyalists’ Last Resort" by an EMPLOYEE of THE NEW YORK TIMES in SYRIA and NEIL MacFARQUHAR, New York Times 12/22/2012

Excerpt

Loyalists who support the government of President Bashar al-Assad are flocking to the Mediterranean port of Tartus, creating an overflowing boomtown far removed from the tangled, scorched rubble that now mars most Syrian cities.

There are no shellings or air raids to interrupt the daily calm. Families pack the cafes lining the town’s seaside corniche, usually abandoned in December to the salty winter winds. The real estate market is brisk. A small Russian naval base provides at least the impression that salvation, if needed, is near.

Many of the new residents are members of the Alawite minority, the same Shiite Muslim sect to which Mr. Assad belongs. The latest influx is fleeing from Damascus, people who have decided that summer villas, however chilly, are preferable to the looming battle for the capital.

“Going to Tartus is like going to a different country,” said a Syrian journalist who recently met residents here. “It feels totally unaffected and safe. The attitude is, ‘We are enjoying our lives while our army is fighting overseas.’ ”

Should Damascus fall to the opposition, Tartus could become the heart of an attempt to create a different country. Some expect Mr. Assad and the security elite will try to survive the collapse by establishing a rump Alawite state along the coast, with Tartus as their new capital.

There have been various signs of preparations.

This month, the governor of Tartus Province announced that experts were studying how to develop a tiny local airfield, now used mostly by crop-dusters, into a full-fledged civilian airport “to boost transportation, business, travel and tourism,” as the official Syrian news agency, SANA, reported. The announcement coincided with the first attacks on the airport in Damascus, forcing it to close temporarily to international traffic.

More important, security forces are continuously tightening an extensive ring of checkpoints around the potential borders of an Alawite canton. The mountain heartland of the Alawites rises steeply to the east of Tartus, separating it from much of Syria. Across the mountains, the Orontes River creates a rough line separating Alawite territory from central Syria. Rebel military commanders from adjoining Hama Province said government soldiers vigorously maintain checkpoints on routes leading up into the mountains.

“If we bomb a checkpoint, it is back in place sometimes within hours,” said Basil al-Hamwi, a rebel fighter, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of opposition military commanders in Turkey. “Once, in Hama Province, we destroyed five in one day and they were all back the next day. This area is even more important for them than Damascus.”

EGYPT - The New 'Islamic' Constitution Approved

"As Charter Nears Passage, Egyptians Face New Fights" by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and MAYY EL SHEIKH, New York Times 12/22/2012

Excerpt

An Islamist-backed constitution appeared headed for approval on Saturday, propelling Egypt’s deeply divided political factions into a new phase in the battle over the country’s future.

As millions went to the polls for the final round of a referendum, all sides predicted that the charter would win approval, marking an important milestone in Egypt’s chaotic two-year transition to democracy. By late Saturday, results from over 60 percent of the polling places put the “yes” vote at more than 70 percent, according to the Muslim Brotherhood.

But the hastily drafted document leaves unresolved many questions about the character of that democracy, including the Islamists’ commitment to individual freedoms and their opposition’s willingness to accept the results of the political process without recourse to violent street protests.

The charter’s path to the referendum has also taken Egypt to the brink of civil strife, exposing the alienation of the Christian minority, the political opposition’s refusal to negotiate and the Muslim Brotherhood’s willingness to rely on authoritarian tactics.

How those tensions are managed and the new constitution is put into effect will determine whether Egypt returns to stability or plunges further into discord, and much of the region is watching the outcome of that definitive Arab Spring revolt.

Neither supporters nor opponents of the charter said they expected an immediate end to the partisan feuding that has torn at the country in the month before the vote.

The Islamists allied with President Mohamed Morsi said they intended to rebuild trust by using the new charter as a tool to battle remnants of former President Hosni Mubarak’s government. Old laws and prosecutors, the Islamists say, are protecting loyalists and holdovers while they obstruct change from within the bureaucracy and conspire with the opposition to stir up unrest. Leaders of the anti-Islamist opposition, however, said they hoped to carry the momentum of their struggle against the draft constitution into the parliamentary elections set to be held two months from now. They accused the Islamists of using the specter of a struggle against remnants of Mr. Mubarak’s government as a pretext to demonize the opposition and take over the machinery of the state.

“If we accept the legitimacy of working within the system, they have to agree that the opposition is legitimate,” said Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under Mr. Mubarak and a presidential candidate who has re-emerged as an opposition leader during the constitutional debate. “The ancient regime is finished. They are imagining things. They are imagining that if you say no to the constitution, as I have done, then you are part of a conspiracy to topple them.”

Both sides of the ideological divide appeared to dig in.

“A crack has emerged in Egypt; there’s a gap, there’s blood and deaths, there’s extremism,” said Ahmed Maher, who helped jump-start the revolution as a leader of the secular April 6 Youth Group and then served as a delegate in the constituent assembly that wrote a draft of the charter. “Something has happened between Egyptians that would make the results bad no matter what the outcome” of the constitutional vote, he said, predicting further clashes before the parliamentary elections.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

OPINION - Shields and Gerson 12/21/2012

"Shields and Gerson on Cabinet Noms, Gun Laws, Boehner's Leadership"
PBS Newshour 12/21/2012

AMERICA - Students Respond to Newtown Shootings

"'My Mom Grabbed Me and Held Me as Tight as She Could': Kids React to Newtown" PBS Newshour 12/21/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: As young people across the country began to mourn and process the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the NewsHour asked students from the 45 schools participating in its Student Reporting Labs to talk with their classmates about their initial reactions. Here are some of their stories.

POLITICS - The Weakened GOP

"Congress Goes Home for the Holidays After House GOP Spurns Boehner's Plan" PBS Newshour 12/21/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Congress broke for Christmas after conservative House Republicans spurned Speaker John Boehner's so-called "Plan B" budget deal. Boeher's plan would have raised tax rates for households making more than $1 million. Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports on efforts to resolve the fiscal crisis before the new year.

GUN CONTROL - NRA Response to Newtown Shootings

And from the 'more guns on our streets make us safer' organization.....

"NRA Rejects Calls for New Gun Laws, Advocates Armed Guards in Schools" PBS Newshour 12/21/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the NRA has been the subject of criticism, but its leaders hadn't made any public statement. The group broke its silence in Washington when NRA leader Wayne LaPierre reacted to the attack. Ray Suarez gets a response to the NRA's address from Mark Glaze of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

POLITICS - New U.S. Secretary of State

"The Remaking of Obama Foreign Policy Team: Sen. John Kerry Up for Sec. of State" PBS Newshour 12/21/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: President Obama nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The announcement came after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name after some political contention. Jeffrey Brown discusses the upcoming Cabinet changes with journalist James Mann and The Washington Post's David Ignatius.

Friday, December 21, 2012

WORLD - Aid Group Personnel in Increasing Danger

"Program on Polio Eradication Suspended in Pakistan After 9 Aid Workers Killed" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/20/2012

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): The death toll of polio vaccine workers killed in a string of attacks in Pakistan climbed again today. One victim died from wounds sustained in a shooting on Wednesday.

Tom Clarke of Independent Television News narrates this report on the difficult decisions the World Health Organization faces between protecting workers and eradicating a disease.

TOM CLARKE: Hundreds turned out to bury Mohammad Hilal, to mourn the loss of a 22-year-old student who gave out polio vaccine in his spare time. But they also came to express public outrage at this week's murders.

Nine young people, six of them women, one just 17, have been gunned down since Monday, and not at random, a series of coordinated assassinations targeting an annual three-day polio vaccination campaign.

BUSHRA ARAIN, All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Association (through translator): We go out door to door and risk our lives to save innocent children from being permanently handicapped.

For what? So that our coming generations turn out to be healthy. We work for our country, and we are being rewarded in the form of death. What kind of justice is this? Why are we targeted and killed?

TOM CLARKE: Until someone claims responsibility, we won't know why. The Taliban haven't come forward, but extreme Islamist groups have long opposed Western health interventions and the role for women in campaigns.

Frustration is compounded by the fact they were making such good progress. There were just 56 cases of polio in Pakistan this year, the lowest ever.

Up until the 1950s, polio, which can paralyze 10 percent of the children it infects, was one of the world's most feared diseases. Vaccination programs have steadily eradicated it in rich countries, and in recent decades, it's been all but wiped out in the developing world, too.

When the World Health Organization launched its campaign 24 years ago, polio was found in more than 125 countries, with around 350,000 cases every year. But now it's endemic in just parts of three countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And the cases have dwindled, 650 last year, and just 213 in 2012 so far.

The eradication program has had setbacks before, like a ban linked to extreme Islamists in Nigeria that led to outbreaks in 20 other countries. But observers say this week's violence is something new and requires the WHO to rethink the battle with polio it has so nearly won.

DR. HEIDI LARSON, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: I think it needs to think about how to do it differently, maybe not as polio for polio's sake, but in the context of health.

And I know that that's been thought about. I know that the idea of integrating and mixing with other interventions has been thought through, but maybe it needs another look.

TOM CLARKE: The WHO warned failure to eliminate polio from its last few strongholds could mean as many as 200,000 new cases every year within a decade. That would be cruel memorial to the young volunteers who were so close to wiping it out for good.


"Understanding Why Delivering Aid Can Be a Dangerous Endeavor" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/20/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: While aid groups operate with apolitical, humanitarian intentions, workers trying to bring relief in the middle of conflicts often find themselves in danger. Ray Suarez talks to Joel Charny of InterAction about the recent deaths of health workers trying to eradicate polio in Pakistan and the "erosion of safety" for aid groups.


ShelterBox USA Disaster Relief
InterAction.org

POLITICS - Senate Benghazi Hearings

"Hearings on Benghazi Attack Focus on Painful Lessons, Priorities, Party Politics" PBS Newshour 12/20/2012

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Yesterday saw the release of a highly critical review board report. Today, the State Department and Benghazi were back in the spotlight, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's deputies appeared before Senate and House committees.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.: The hearing will come to order.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour): The Senate Foreign Relations Committee went first in a long day of hearings on the attack in Benghazi.

Committee chair John Kerry:

JOHN KERRY: Clearly, mistakes were made. The report makes that very clear. And one of the most candid and important observations was the failure by certain leaders to see the forest through the trees. There were clear warning signs that the security situation in Libya had deteriorated.

KWAME HOLMAN: That report by an outside review board blamed systemic management failings at the State Department that led to grossly inadequate security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

U.S. Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans lost their lives in the attack on Sept. 11. Today, Republican Richard Lugar said, at a minimum, American diplomats never should fear for their lives.

ECONOMY - Holiday Spending or Saving?

"'Tis the Season, But Should We Save or Spend? A Holiday Money Conundrum" PBS Newshour 12/20/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Is saving money during the holidays smart or Scrooge-ish? Is shopping a way of forging social bonds and expressing your freedom or is it giving in to crass commercialism? Following the lessons of some "economist Christmas carols," economics correspondent Paul Solman weighs the economic and social theories of both sides.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): Retailers are hoping to finish the holiday shopping season strong, particularly given some forecasts warning of a slowing economy in 2013.

As we reported earlier, consumer spending helped spike better growth this fall. But in light of the last recession, some are asking whether less personal debt and perhaps some more austerity might be a better approach.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has been exploring that question, part of his ongoing reporting on Making Sense of financial news.

ACTRESS: The economy is just terrible. I'm really worried about our future, honey.

ACTOR: I'm spending just as fast as I can to stimulate the economy. Uh-oh. I just maxed out my credit card.

ACTRESS: Here, use mine. The economy can use all the spending it can get.

NARRATOR: Stop right there.

Deck the Halls with Macro Follies
(humorous look)

SYRIA - Diary of a Mass Murder, Use of Cluster Bombs

"Syria Unleashes Cluster Bombs on Town, Punishing Civilians" by C. J. CHIVERS, New York Times 12/20/2012

Excerpt

The plane came in from the southeast late in the afternoon, releasing its weapons in a single pass. Within seconds, scores of finned bomblets struck and exploded on the homes and narrow streets of this small Syrian town.

After the screams and the desperate gathering of the victims, the staff at the local Freedom Hospital counted 4 dead and 23 wounded. All were civilians, doctors and residents said.

Many forms of violence and hardship have befallen Syria’s people as the country’s civil war has escalated this year. But the Syrian government’s attack here on Dec. 12 pointed to one of the war’s irrefutable patterns: the deliberate targeting of civilians by President Bashar al-Assad’s military, in this case with a weapon that is impossible to use precisely.

Syrians on both sides in this fight have suffered from the bloodshed and sectarian furies given dark license by the war. The victims of the cluster bomb attacks describe the tactic as collective punishment, a mass reprisal against populations that are with the rebels.

The munitions in question — Soviet-era PTAB-2.5Ms — were designed decades ago by Communist engineers to destroy battlefield formations of Western armored vehicles and tanks. They are ejected in dense bunches from free-falling dispensers dropped from aircraft. The bomblets then scatter and descend nose-down to land and explode almost at once over a wide area, often hundreds of yards across.

Marea stands along an agricultural plain, surrounded for miles by empty fields. Even at night, or in bad weather, it cannot be mistaken for anything but what it is — the densely packed collection of small businesses, offices and homes that together form a town.

Two journalists from The New York Times were traveling toward Marea as the attack occurred and arrived not long after the exploding bomblets had rippled across its neighborhoods.

Blood pooled on the street, including beside a water-collection point at an intersection where Nabhan al-Haji, 18, was killed.

Another victim, Ahmad Najjar Asmail, had been riding a motorcycle when a submunition landed beside him. He was decapitated. Ramy Naser, 15, was also fatally wounded.

The hospital was crowded with patients. Many more were en route to hospitals in Turkey.

The use of cluster munitions is banned by much of the world, although Syria, like the United States, is not party to that international convention. In the detached parlance of military planners, they are also sometimes referred to as area weapons — ordnance with effects that cover a sprawling amount of ground.

In the attack on Marea, at least three dispensers, each containing 42 bomblets slightly smaller than a one-liter bottle and packed with a high-explosive shaped charge, were dropped squarely onto neighborhoods and homes.

POLITICS - Fiscal Cliff, 11 Days to Go

"House GOP Opt for 'Plan B': Little Chance of Agreement Before Christmas" PBS Newshour 12/20/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Prospects for a budget agreement before Christmas looked slim as the House moved towards a vote on Speaker John Boehner's plan for limiting tax increases by raising rates only for those making more than $1 million. Jeffrey Brown talks to Norman Ornstein of American Enterprise Institute and political editor Christina Bellantoni.


BUT....

"Boehner Cancels Tax Vote in Face of G.O.P. Revolt" by JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times 12/20/2012

REPUBLICANS = ideology before the welfare of our nation.

HOMETOWN - Voice of the Homeless

"Emails from a Newly Homeless Woman" by Kelly Bennett, Voice of San Diego 12/19/2012

Last Tuesday, a woman named Liz Hirsch wrote to us after we announced a new reporting effort on homelessness in San Diego.

“This homeless life is new to me and I am experiencing so much that I don't know how to express it all,” she wrote. “I've been staying in hotels and sitting up nights at Lestat's, but I am out of money so I have to see what the shelters are like.”

I wrote her back, intrigued to hear more of her story. Over the weekend, she stayed in a shelter for the first time. She and I have been trading emails all week.

As we do this dive into homelessness in San Diego, lots of big numbers color the conversation. How many people there are in shelters and on the streets. How many in downtown, and how many countywide. How much the various plans on the table might cost.

But there’s merit in zooming in. Sam Hodgson and I met up with Hirsch Tuesday afternoon, and then spent several cold hours around downtown (Balboa Park dipped down to 41 degrees Tuesday night), talking with maybe a dozen others. Many of them have been on the streets for years.

For Hirsch, this is all new. Over this last week, she’s sent me a handful of reflections on her experiences. She OK'd me sharing them, and I've obscured her email address for her privacy.

I began by asking Hirsch about the last few years of her life. How did you end up in this position, I asked. She told me the story — she’s lost her sister and her job in the last several years.

“I wouldn’t have said, ‘OK, in 2012, I’ll live in a shelter, no,” she said.

Her unemployment checks covered rent in her $850 per month apartment in Normal Heights. Then the checks stopped.

“When the money ran out, I sold things (things I and my sister had collected over the years) to stay in hotels at night, or sat up in coffee shops,” she wrote. Now, here she is.


On Saturday, she wrote to say she’d found a friend’s house where she could stay, a woman her age whose Social Security payment doesn’t cover her rent and who is planning to move in with her sister soon.

Hirsch reflected on the technological tools that help her stay connected:

I was thinking how different being homeless is now then it was in the 1930's when my mom lived through the first Depression. I have a cell phone that I buy minutes for, a small laptop I bought at the pawn shop loaded with windows and software that he "shared" with me, an MP3 for portable music and videos. Very different from someone living in the streets where maybe they could watch t.v. at the local hardware store window and maybe be a dime for a phone call on a public phone.

Even chronically homeless possess a cell phone, although they don't always have minutes.

Sunday night, she ventured to the Rescue Mission for the first time. “It really wasn’t awful,” she wrote Monday morning.


After Hirsch sent that note, she found my post from Monday highlighting some of the deadlines politicians have put on “ending homelessness” in the next few years. She sounded skeptical.


She added that the shelter had given her two pairs of jeans, a couple of other pieces of clothing and a bag of toiletries. All much-needed, she said:

I REALLY needed the jeans, I had one pair and I'd worn them for about two months straight, washing them in the sink at the hotel.

I asked her what she planned to do that night. She’d try the Rescue Mission again, she wrote, and “hope they have a bed.”


Yesterday afternoon, Sam and I went to meet her while she drank tea and used the internet in that same Starbucks. She said she’s had a sense that as long as she can go to Starbucks, “I’m not totally done."

When I got there, she was scouring Craigslist, looking for odd jobs she could pick up — ones the 58-year-old can physically handle, which aren’t a lot. “I’d rather work than be in this situation,” she said.

Then she caught the bus up to the Rescue Mission to try to get a place for the third night. She wrote again Wednesday morning.


Hirsch wheels around a small rolling suitcase and an L.L. Bean tote bag that says “SIMON” in embroidery on the front. In the corner of the downtown cafĂ©, in her sweater and scarf, you might never guess she’s in this situation. Her emails make clear she’s a keen observer of what's happening around her.

“It’s fascinating,” she said before she left for the Rescue Mission Tuesday. “As soon as you get over the fear. But I’m not dead, you know? I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but that’s OK.”

I hope to stay in touch with Hirsch as she continues to learn about homelessness here firsthand. I’m grateful she was willing to let me share this peek into her experience with you. I’ll share more with her permission in the coming weeks.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

AMERICA - Senator Joe Lieberman

"Sen. Joe Lieberman Reflects on 24 Years in the Senate, Sandy Hook, Partisanship" PBS Newshour 12/19/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Judy Woodruff talks to Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who is retiring after 24 years in Congress. Lieberman reflects on the mass shooting at Sandy Hook and his proposal for a commission to review possible gun control laws, as well as the budget deal negotiations and Washington partisanship.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Now we return to issues here at home and to our interview with retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004.

It's the first of several conversations we will have in the coming weeks with members of Congress who are leaving Washington.

I sat down with Lieberman in his hideaway office at the Capitol this morning to talk about the tragedy in his state and more.

(Extended interview)

SYRIA - Civil War Update, Damascus

"As Fighting Continues in Damascus, Syrians Still Seek Sense of Normal Life" PBS Newshour 12/19/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: While the U.N. estimates that one million Syrians will have fled their homeland by June 2013, many Syrians are attempting to stay within their communities, and in shelters if necessary, in hopes of maintaining some sense of normality despite the losses and disruptions of civil war. Alex Thomson of ITN reports.

SECURITY - Benghazi Fallout and Statement of Witness to Event

"Report Finds State Dept. at Fault for 'Systemic Failures' of Benghazi Security" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/19/2012

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Three U.S. State Department officials quit today after a new report stated that security measures at a diplomatic facility in Libya were -- quote -- "grossly inadequate."

Jeffrey Brown has more.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): The highly critical report came three months after the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.

Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired the outside accountability review board. They spoke at the State Department.

THOMAS PICKERING, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations: Frankly, the State Department had not given Benghazi the security, both physical and personnel resources, it needed.

ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, former Joints Chiefs chairman: Certain State Department bureau-level senior officials in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership.

JEFFREY BROWN: Overall, the report found that, "Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies resulted in a security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."

Earlier, Mullen and Pickering briefed members of key House and Senate committees in private. Lawmakers on both sides endorsed the findings.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, D-Ill.: There was a breakdown in Benghazi on September 11 that is stark and challenging to all of us in public life.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, R-Wyoming: Clearly, there were very poor judgments being made within the State Department. There was a failure of leadership.

JEFFREY BROWN: In a letter that accompanied the full report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it "a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix." She said she accepted all of the recommendations.

The report didn't single out specific individuals, but three State Department officials, Charlene Lamb, Eric Boswell, and Raymond Maxwell, resigned today.

And, last week, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice removed her name for consideration to become secretary of state. She'd been heavily criticized by Republicans for not immediately calling the incident a terrorist attack. There will be more tomorrow, as Deputy Secretaries of State William Burns and Thomas Nides testify at House and Senate hearings.


"Providing Appropriate Security at Embassies and Preventing Future Attacks Abroad" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/19/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: The State Department was held responsible for the lack of embassy security and accurately measuring risks that led to attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Jeffrey Brown talks to Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who say what's important is not who is to blame but how to prevent such attacks in the future.



"What I Saw in Benghazi" by Osama Alfitory, PBS Newshour 12/19/2012

Significant Excerpt

The teenagers were using a wall from a neighboring property for cover. I think they were the last of the attackers, the tail of the attack group, covering those who were leading the attack. I think their job was to stop people from getting any closer to the compound. I ran to the wall as well, to protect myself, to take cover. They saw me with my camera.

The first one said, "Don't use your camera, don't turn it on."

I said "No, I am a journalist. I am a Libyan, this is my country. I'm doing my job. Or do you feel that you are doing something wrong? Something that shouldn't be known about?"

The second guy said, "If you turn it on, I will break it."

A third attacker looked at the second guy and said, "Don't break the camera. If he turns it on I will shoot him in the head."

Then he told me to leave.

As I turned to go, one of the attackers mentioned the Muhammad film, the one from YouTube. He said that was part of the reason they were angry. But I hadn't heard of the film yet, I didn't know about it at the time so I just left.

IF this statement is true, it supports the first report that the attack was by Muslims angry over the YouTube film.

GUN CONTROL - The Renewed Conversation

"President Obama Declares Gun Control Will Be a 'Central Issue' of Second Term" PBS Newshour 12/19/2012

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): The school shootings that shook the nation sparked a new call to action at the White House today. The president vowed to have proposals ready for the new Congress that convenes next month.

Somber scenes of mourning played out once again today in Newtown, Conn., while, in Washington, President Obama walked into the White House Briefing Room named for James Brady, the press secretary critically wounded in the shooting of President Reagan in 1981, to talk about gun violence.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing.

GWEN IFILL: Instead, in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Mr. Obama said, this time, the words need to lead to action on gun violence.

BARACK OBAMA: The vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war.

I'm willing to bet that they don't think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas.

There is a big chunk of space between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all.



"Examining the Efficacy and Limitations of Gun Control Laws to Stop Violence" PBS Newshour 12/19/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: While lawmakers discuss what legislation could help prevent mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary, Ray Suarez talks with UCLA School of Law's Adam Winkler and economist John Lott for debate on what potential legislative action could make a real impact on rates of gun-related crimes and violence.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

GUN CONTROL - Newtown Shootings Changing Conversation

"Gun Rights Supporter Sen. Mark Warner Says Tighter Firearms Laws Needed" PBS Newshour 12/18/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: As funerals continued for shooting victims in Newtown, Conn., the White House and congressional leaders called for new gun legislation. Gwen Ifill speaks with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, who explained that while there may be no easy solution, "Enough is enough."

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): We turn to the aftermath of the shooting in Connecticut, as the community continues to mourn its losses in Connecticut, resume some routine, and consider its own role in a national conversation on what steps should now be taken.

MEMORIAM - Sen. Daniel Inouye Dies at 88

"Remembering Sen. Daniel Inouye, 88, Hawaii Statesman Since State's Birth" PBS Newshour 12/18/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: Since the state of Hawaii was admitted to the union in 1959, Daniel Inouye represented its constituents. A senator for nearly 50 years, Inouye died at the age of 88. Jeffrey Brown reports on the life and legacy of statesman, remembered as a life-long civil servant, World War II hero and consensus builder in Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): The late Senator Daniel Inouye was remembered today for his heroism in war, soft-spoken dignity in office and decades of service. The Hawaii Democrat died Monday.

Jeffrey Brown has this look back at his life.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Daniel Inouye's desk in the U.S. Senate chamber sat empty today, save for a bouquet of white roses and black shroud. And in his office, colleagues, friends and admirers filled a book of condolences.

Nearing his 50th year in the Upper Chamber, Inouye had represented the state of Hawaii in Congress from the moment it was admitted to the union in 1959.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: Our friend, Dan Inouye, just died.

JEFFREY BROWN: His passing was announced last night to a stunned Senate chamber by Majority Leader Harry Reid.

HARRY REID: His service in the Senate will be with the greats of this body.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: An iconic political figure of his beloved Hawaii and the only original member of a congressional delegation still serving in Congress.



Video clip from the Ken Burns documentary "The War"

AMERICA - Words of Hope From 'Mr. Rogers'

"Words of Hope and Healing After Crisis: Message From Mr. Rogers Goes Viral" PBS Newshour 12/18/2012

Excerpt

SUMMARY: After the shooting in Newtown, a tiny bit of hope was found in a message from children's advocate Fred Rogers via social media. Ray Suarez talks to Washington Post writer Maura Judkis whose father Jim Judkis photographed Rogers over his career, including the image published on Facebook along with words from the late Mr. Rogers.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour): On Friday, as details of the horrific shooting in Newtown emerged, a group that supports public television posted on Facebook this image and these words from the late Fred Rogers.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I'm always comforted by realizing there are still so many helpers, so many caring people in this world."

That message has since been shared by tens of thousands of people online.

The picture was taken by Jim Judkis, who photographed Mr. Rogers over the years.

We're now joined by his daughter, Maura Judkis, who is a writer for The Washington Post.

And did you realize soon after that your father's photo was ricocheting around the Web?

(LAUGHTER)

MAURA JUDKIS, The Washington Post: I think I noticed it Friday evening. And at that point, it had been shared by maybe 50,000 people.

OPINION - Michigan's Republican Governor Pays a Price


"Michigan's Snyder pays a price for anti-union law" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 12/18/2012

A week before Election Day, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's (R) political standing looked quite good. He enjoyed a 47% approval rating and fairly comfortable leads against prospective Democratic challengers.

A lot can happen in a month. Since that poll was taken, the Republican governor abandoned his promise to voters and signed a brutal anti-union law, described by the right as a "right to work" measure. A new survey from Public Policy Polling shows the decision has taken a severe toll on Snyder's public standing.

The PPP results show Snyder's approval rating down to just 38%, while 56% disapprove, which suddenly makes him one of the nation's least popular governors. What's more, a 51% majority disapprove of the anti-union law Snyder promised not to pursue, but which he signed last week.

Making matters slightly worse for the Republican, in hypothetical matchups, Snyder "trails every Democrat we tested against him," even though the leading Democratic candidates aren't especially well known statewide (not one has name recognition above 50%).

Even Snyder's brand is shot. You may recall that he ran as a moderate technocrat with no interest in his party's culture war, describing himself as a "tough nerd." PPP found less than a third of Michigan voters consider the governor a "tough nerd" now.

Snyder still has two years before he'll face voters again, which is obviously an enormous amount of time in the context of campaign politics. But it's clear the governor's standing has plummeted, and would have been far stronger had he kept his word to his constituents.