Monday, December 30, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Gerson Year-End

"Shields and Gerson on the political lessons of 2013" PBS Newshour 12/27/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's top political news, including the factors that fuel economic inequality in the U.S., how Edward Snowden used technology to decentralize government power and the lessons they hope politicians learned in 2013.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  So, we have just heard this conversation, Mark, about inequality.  We have talked about it before at this table. How big a problem is it in this country as we close out this year?

MARK SHIELDS:  I think it's a growing problem.  I think it's a real problem, Judy.

And the president has obviously -- has called it the defining issue of our time, and pointed out that, over the past 35 years, we have seen a widening of the difference in income and wealth between the middle class and between the top 1 percent.  The top 1 percent in the past 30 years, since Ronald Reagan was president, have seen their incomes go up by 279 percent.

Just last year, 10 percent, the top 10 percent got more than 50 percent of the country's income.  That's the first time that has ever happened in U.S. history.  And sort of the irony of this is that, as his critics have branded him a socialist, if anything, capitalists have done exceedingly well during Barack Obama's presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  If that's the case, Michael, where is the outrage, or should be there any outrage about this?

MICHAEL GERSON:  Well, there should be.  I think there should.

I mean, I think you are seeing stickiness at the lower ends of the ladder and an ability for the upper class to perpetuate privilege.  Often, affluent and educated people are marrying affluent and educated people.  The problem here, the bad news is, it's a very complex social problem.  It's not just a difference in income.  It's a difference in skills and education and social capital.

And those are what really make the difference in the long term.  And that's going to require institutions to change fundamentally to be able to transfer those skills and education and values.

The good news, from my perspective, is that both left and right have part of the answer here.  You know, part of the problem is the decline of families and values-shaping institutions, and part of the problem is the decline of blue-collar jobs at decent wages.

You know, both left and right should have something to contribute here.  Robert Putnam, who is an expert on these issues at Harvard, calls it a perfectly purple problem, meaning the left has insights into the problem.  The right has insights in the problem.  They should come together and have some ideas.

ECONOMY - 'Climbing the Ladder' Today

Graph presented in Alan Krueger's June 2013 speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "Land of Hope and Dreams: Rock and Roll, Economics and Rebuilding the Middle Class." Graph sources: Miles Corak (2011), OECD, CEA estimates.

"What's at stake for the U.S. as Americans struggle to climb the economic ladder?" PBS Newshour 12/27/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  More than four years after the recession hit, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 7 percent.  But after Saturday, unemployment benefits will end for an estimated 1.3 million individuals who have been out of work for more than six months.

Typically, states and the federal government provide unemployment insurance for up to 26 weeks.  In the wake of the recession, emergency aid was provided for a longer period, up to 99 weeks total at one point, and the program was repeatedly renewed.

But when Congress went home this month, it didn't extend the benefits again after Democrats like Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois urged his colleagues to do so.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, D-Ill.:  If we really care about working families and those who are on their way back to work, we have got to extend these unemployment benefits.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Some Republicans argue extending benefits is the wrong prescription as the recovery takes a more firm hold.

How typically Republican, lets threaten to shaft U.S. citizens to save money.

MORE:  What's the state of economic inequality in America?

TURKEY - Protests Over Corruption Probe

"Protests erupt in Turkey over corruption probe into Erdogan's government" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/27/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now to nearby Turkey, once a model of stability in the Middle East, where an exploding corruption scandal threatens the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner explains.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  Tensions erupted in the streets of Istanbul this evening, as police blasted protesters with water cannon, tear gas and plastic bullets.

The crowd threw rocks and shouted "Catch the thief," a cry aimed squarely at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the eye of a widening corruption probe.  But, earlier today, the prime minister defiantly rejected the calls for his removal.

PRIME MINISTER RECEP ERDOGAN, Turkey (through interpreter):  Let me be clear.  If our nation tells us to leave, we will go.  There's no hesitation there, because that's the office we respect.  But when the people are telling us to stay, we won't listen to someone who is telling us to go.

MARGARET WARNER:  The controversy exploded 10 days ago, when police detained two dozen people, many with Erdogan party ties, in a 14-month-long corruption and bribery investigation.

Officers raided the home of the CEO a major state-owned bank, discovering boxes of Turkish liras.  The video got wide play on Turkish TV.  It was a sudden blow to Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party, the AKP, who have ruled for 11 years.

Erdogan lashed back, charging that political foes, led by followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, and foreign powers were plotting to bring down the government.

RECEP ERDOGAN (through interpreter):  Those who are receiving the support of financial circles and media cannot change the direction of this country.

MARGARET WARNER:  But, eight days later, on Christmas Day, three cabinet ministers resigned after their sons were implicated in the investigation.  Later that day, Erdogan replaced 10 ministers, but again denounced the investigation as conspiracy.

RECEP ERDOGAN (through interpreter):  We are facing an attack against the Turkish people and the Turkish republic which is presented as a corruption probe.

MARGARET WARNER:  His government also tried to head off the probe with a new decree forcing prosecutors to clear their efforts with their superiors.  And last night, the prosecutor leading the probe charged interference and was removed hours later.

But, today, a Turkish court annulled the decree requiring high-level approval for all investigations.  The new controversy comes on the heels of gigantic summertime protests against the government's plans to raze Istanbul's popular Gezi Park to make room for development.  Both have taken an economic toll.  Foreign investors are dumping Turkish bonds, and the Turkish lira has dropped dramatically.

"What's behind the government corruption scandal in Turkey" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/27/2013


SUMMARY:  Once regarded as the model for successful Muslim democracy, Turkey is now facing corruption allegations that go right to the heart of the government.  Chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is attempting to fight back.

LEBANON - Syria Civil War's Spillover

As the West (especially the U.S.) fiddles the region burns......

"Deadly Beirut bombing kills prominent politician who was critic of Hezbollah" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/27/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now to Lebanon, where a prominent politician and others were killed in a bomb attack today.

Hari Sreenivasan reports

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  The powerful blast shook buildings in central Beirut this morning and left what looked like the aftermath of a battle.  A Lebanese TV channel captured the eerie silence in the streets moments after the explosion hit.  Plumes of smoke rose from flaming cars, as shaken residents tried to make sense of what had happened.

MAN (through interpreter):  As you can see, all the shops here are damaged.  I consider all this terrorism.  All this is terrorism, damaging the country and the people.  What more can we say?  God help us.  God help this country.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The attack wounded scores and killed six people, including the main target, Mohamad Chatah, a prominent Sunni politician and former ambassador to the U.S.  He was an outspoken critic of the Assad regime in neighboring Syria and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah that is fighting for Assad.

Less than an hour before the attack, Chatah tweeted his latest criticism of the militants, saying, "Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years."

Hezbollah denounced the assassination, but allies of Chatah took up his refrain in the hours after today's attack.

MARWAN HAMADEH, Lebanese Minister of Communications:  The target is Lebanon, its institution, its president, the whole image of this country, the convivial country, the country of democracy.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  From Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry also condemned the killing.  He called Chatah's death a terrible loss and said -- quote -- "His presence will be missed, but his vision for a united Lebanon free from sectarian violence and destabilizing interference will continue to guide our efforts."

But that goal seems far off, as the civil war in Syria has already split Lebanon into opposing political camps, with a weak caretaker government since April.  And there's been a tit-for-tat increase in bombings and other attacks in recent months.  Last month, two suicide bombings rocked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, killing 25 people.  Iran is a backer of Hezbollah.

Today's attack was the first major strike at Beirut's upscale renovated city center in years.

"How the conflict in Syria is spreading division and violence in Lebanon" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/27/2013


SUMMARY:  While the powerful political parties in Lebanon have talked about trying to keep things calm in their country, they support opposing sides of the Syrian civil war.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Anne Barnard of The New York Times about the symbolism of the bombing in the center of Beirut that killed a prominent political figure.

OPINION - U.S. District Court NSA Case Decision

"Judge on NSA Case Cites 9/11 Report, But It Doesn’t Actually Support His Ruling" by Justin Elliott, ProPublica 12/28/2013


In a new decision in support of the NSA's phone metadata surveillance program, U.S. district court Judge William Pauley cites an intelligence failure involving the agency in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks.  But the judge's cited source, the 9/11 Commission Report, doesn't actually include the account he gives in the ruling.  What’s more, experts say the NSA could have avoided the pre-9/11 failure even without the metadata surveillance program.

We previously explored the key incident in question, involving calls made by hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar from California to Yemen, in a story we did over the summer, which you can read below.

In his decision, Pauley writes:  "The NSA intercepted those calls using overseas signals intelligence capabilities that could not capture al-Mihdhar's telephone number identifier.  Without that identifier, NSA analysts concluded mistakenly that al-Mihdhar was overseas and not in the United States."

As his source, the judge writes in a footnote, "See generally, The 9/11 Commission Report."  In fact, the 9/11 Commission report does not detail the NSA's intercepts of calls between al-Mihdhar and Yemen.  As the executive director of the commission told us over the summer, "We could not, because the information was so highly classified publicly detail the nature of or limits on NSA monitoring of telephone or email communications.”

To this day, some details related to the incident and the NSA's eavesdropping have never been aired publicly.  And some experts told us that even before 9/11 -- and before the creation of the metadata surveillance program -- the NSA did have the ability to track the origins of the phone calls, but simply failed to do so.

Note that the above argument does NOT prove the judge was wrong.  The current metadata collection program is a tool that IF it had existed before 9/11 MAY have made it easier to find al-Mihdhar in California.

The current program exists because our national security teams realized that we need a way to back-track phone calls between those who wish the US harm.  The current program is very bulky, and finding links between wrong-doers is like finding a specific needle in a stack of needles, but it's better than nothing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

HISTORY - The Inspiration of Normandy Villa

"A chance encounter leads to a story of immigrant success" PBS Newshour 12/22/2013


JOHN LARSON:  As a correspondent, I’ve travelled more than 2 million miles on assignment, usually in a hurry, rushing to one story after another.  But along the way, I noticed that the most powerful stories - often weren’t where I was heading to or coming from at all, but in between.  And usually, sitting right next to me.

For example, I was flying American Airlines 2473, Boston to Dallas.  I was in 21C.  Next to me In 21B: Normandy Villa.

As we headed south across the skis above Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Normandy shared such a story with me, that when his family invited me to join them six weeks later near their home in New Jersey, I accepted.

To understand what’s going on here, you should know two things: first, even though the family comes from Colombia, Normandy is named after one of the more important moments in American history.

NORMANDY VILLA:  The Battle of Normandy in France, in 1941 was the beginning of the liberation of Europe, and my grandfather saw that as such a powerful moment in history, that he wanted to have his family carry a name that referred to a new dawn.  And so, the first born in the family received the name Normandy.

JOHN LARSON:  That first born was this man, Normandy Sr.

Which brings us to the second thing.  Senior would also hear something American that would inspire him.

PRESIDENT KENNEDY:  Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country …
JOHN LARSON:  Normandy’s father said the promise that brought them to America had almost nothing to do with making more money, or having a big house -- remember, they had that.  It had more to do with what his father heard it in the guns of Normandy, and what he heard in JFK -- that Americans at their very core are people who serve others.

When you meet the Villas, and understand their sacrifice, you can’t help but wonder if maybe the Great Lady’s gaze is not scanning the horizon for opportunity as many believe, but instead checking to see what we’ve done with ours.

CHARITIES - How to Choose One That Really Works

Note that I'm a believer that if you are truly charitable you do NOT take a tax deduction.  Charity means giving without expecting a return.

"How to choose a charity that really delivers" PBS Newshour 12/22/2013


JOHN LARSON:  And now to a topic on the minds of many this time of year: charitable giving.  Studies show that Americans are among the most generous in the world, but donations are partially fueled by tax deductions.  And for some time now, there’s been talk about capping those deductions.  For more about all of this, we are joined now by Ken Berger.  He’s the CEO of Charity Navigator, which rates how effective charities are at actually getting donations to those in need.  Ken, thanks so much for joining us.

KEN BERGER:  Thank you for having me.

JOHN LARSON:  First of all, that cap on deductions, it’s not the law of the land yet, but if it should become law, what do you anticipate the effect would be?

KEN BERGER:  Well, there’s some debate on that, but essentially, billions of dollars less will be given to charity, most likely.  The percent of the overall is in question, but certainly billions of dollars less would be given to charity.

FRANCE - Hyper-Sexualization of Young Girls?

Here is a subject, and solution, I can agree with.  I wish the U.S.A. would follow suite.

"Will France ban childhood beauty pageants?" PBS Newshour 12/21/2013


WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  In the public imagination, France is renowned for many things: its cuisine…its culture… as well as a very open embrace of female beauty.

You can’t walk a city block in Paris without seeing the scantily clad models showcasing France’s high fashion industry.  This is the nation that gave us Brigit Bardot And Catherine Deneuve, and welcomed former supermodel Carla Bruni as its first lady… this after her many years modeling with very little – or nothing at all -- on.

Given all that, it’s maybe a bit surprising that a controversy has erupted in France over what some argue is the ‘hyper-sexualization” of young girls…. Girls like 9 year old Anais Agogue… Anais regularly competes in what are called “mini miss pageants.”

OPINION - Shield and Brooks 12/20/2013

"Shields and Brooks on the health care law legacy, gifts for politicians" PBS Newshour 12/20/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

We're going to do our own version of brain training.

Talk about today's news conference by the president.  David, it's been a rough year for the president.  He was asked a lot of questions about what went wrong, especially when it came to health care.  He acknowledged some problems, but he kept saying, I did the right thing.

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times columnist:  Yes.  On health care, it's going to be political.  It's going to be, let's say, the confluence of the politics and the messy implementation.

So, what happened last night was, they announced this delay -- or this delay in some of the -- really wiping away some of the internal mandate, the individual mandates for people who have hardship exemptions.  And that came about as a bit because of political pressure from Democrats.

And the thing to look forward to in the -- really the months and years ahead -- or especially the months ahead, as the midterms approach, is, are more Democrats pressing the president to sort of weaken the individual mandate further, further, further?  And if it becomes politically unsustainable, for a lot of Senate Democrats in particular, then the individual mandate begins to look weaker, possibly goes away.

And if that goes away, then the health care law goes away.  So, they don't have a long time to implement the health care, because the political pressure may interrupt their effect to really implement the change and reform to make the thing work.

MENTAL HEALTH - Do Memory Video Games Help With Alzheimer's?

NOTE:  I use Lumosity.  As to the statement that their claims are exaggerated, that's true, but that is what ALL advertizing does.

"Can memory video games deliver on brain-boosting claims?" PBS Newshour 12/20/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  This weekend, the crossword puzzle marks its hundredth birthday.  First published in a New York newspaper, it's become a daily ritual for many and even been rumored to help stave off dementia.  But there isn't much evidence to back up that claim.

On the other hand, special correspondent Jake Schoneker reports on new research using video games to sharpen an aging mind.

JAKE SCHONEKER:  Fifty-seven-year-old Ashley Wolff has been a self-employed children's author and illustrator for 25 years, working out of her small home studio in San Francisco.  She says she loves being her own boss, but that working from home can be a challenge.

ASHLEY WOLFF, author and illustrator:  Working from home allows me really to just let my attention deficit problem fly.

JAKE SCHONEKER:  Like many people her age, she's recently found herself forgetting things more often, and getting easily distracted from work.  She was worried about these problems getting worse as she got older, especially because her mother, at age 85, was beginning to exhibit signs of Alzheimer's disease.

ASHLEY WOLFF:  My sister and I are watching our mother kind of lose her memory.  And we thought, gee, wow, she always did the New York times crossword puzzle, and always seemed so sharp, and here she is, none of that helped her.  And we thought, we should try something.

JAKE SCHONEKER:  So she decided so try cognitive training, a new breed of video game designed to exercise the brain.  She now gets a daily reminder to log on to her laptop for a 15-minute mental workout.

SOUTH SUDAN - Unrest in the World's Youngest Country

IMHO:  This is what we can expect from a people who are new to democracy.  Who still have a very long, ingrained, link to tribalism (tribe before the nation) rather than democracy (nation before tribe).

"Political clash in world's youngest country grows into wider South Sudan unrest" PBS Newshour 12/20/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  The political crisis in the world's youngest nation deepened this week, raising fears of all-out civil war.

Foreign nationals began evacuating and the United Nations sought to bolster its force there, after two Indian peacekeepers were killed yesterday.  On Wednesday, President Obama ordered 45 American troops to reinforce U.S. Embassy security in Juba, the capital.

South Sudan broke off from Sudan in mid-2011.  This conflict began as a power struggle between the country's president, Salva Kiir, and his former vice president, Riek Machar, whom he fired earlier this year.

They represent rival ethnic groups.  Kiir is Dinka.  Machar is Nuer.  And some say that's fueling the violence.

ACA HEALTH CARE - Hardship Waver Possible For Canceled Health Insurance Policies

COMMENT:  On the statement about people complaining about paying for coverage they don't need.

This is further evidence that, as a nation, we have drifted away from the principle of 'the common good.'  We have become a nation of people who overly subscribe to self interest.  Paying for any coverage, whether you use it or not, spreads the cost thereby lowering the burden for those who do use it.

The complaint is very similar to people who do not have children complaining about having to pay any education tax.  They do not see that public education benefits our nation and education taxes are for 'the common good.'

"Obama administration announces special ACA hardship waiver for canceled policies" PBS Newshour 12/20/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Let's focus on an issue the president was asked about at length today, the health care law.

Mr. Obama acknowledged the rollout of it was probably his biggest mistake of the year.  But he defended the law overall, and pointed to a big increase in enrollment in the exchanges this month as evidence of his efforts to turn things around.

His remarks came after the administration responded last night to the problem of canceled insurance policies with a special exception.  Those affected can buy cheaper, bare-bones catastrophic coverage if new plans are more expensive.

Mary Agnes Carey watching all this for Kaiser Health News, an independent news organization.

Welcome back to the program.

MARY AGNES CAREY, Kaiser Health News:  Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So what exactly did the administration announce last night?

MARY AGNES CAREY:  What they said is for these folks in the individual market who may have had their policies canceled -- we're not sure exactly how many have had that.  The estimates are maybe three to four million.

If they have not been able to find a policy that they think is affordable, they can qualify for something called the hardship exemption in the health law.  Typically, this is for some sort of event, like you're homeless or you have been evicted in the last six months, that sort of hardship.  But they're saying that by qualifying for the hardship exemption, there's two things.

Number one, they won't face the individual mandate penalty in 2014, and they would be allowed to buy something called a catastrophic health care policy, which is usually just open to people under the age of 30.

MEDICARE - Weak Oversight Promotes Part-D Fraud

"‘Let the Crime Spree Begin’:  How Fraud Flourishes in Medicare’s Drug Plan" by Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein, ProPublica 12/19/2013


With just a handful of prescriptions to his name, psychiatrist Ernest Bagner III was barely a blip in Medicare's vast drug program in 2009.

But the next year he began churning them out at a furious rate.  Not just the psych drugs expected in his specialty, but expensive pills for asthma and high cholesterol, heartburn and blood clots.

By the end of 2010, Medicare had paid $3.8 million for Bagner's drugs — one of the highest tallies in the country.  His prescriptions cost the program another $2.6 million the following year, records analyzed by ProPublica show.

Bagner, 46, says there's just one problem with this accounting: The prescriptions aren't his.  "All of that stuff you have is false," he said.

By his telling, someone stole his identity while he worked at a strip-mall clinic in Hollywood, Calif., then forged his signature on prescriptions for hundreds of Medicare patients he'd never seen.  Whoever did it, he’s been told, likely pilfered those drugs and resold them.

"These people make more money off my name than I do," said Bagner, who now works as a disability evaluator and says he no longer prescribes medications.

Today, credit card companies routinely scan their records for fraud, flagging or blocking suspicious charges as they happen.  Yet Medicare’s massive drug program has a process so convoluted and poorly managed that fraud flourishes, giving rise to elaborate schemes that quickly siphon away millions of dollars.

Frustrated investigators for law enforcement, insurers and pharmacy chains say they don’t see evidence that Medicare officials are doing much to stop it.

“It’s kind of a black hole,” said Alanna Lavelle, director of investigations for WellPoint Inc., which provides drug coverage to about 1.4 million people in the program, known as Part D.

Lavelle said her team routinely refers doctors and pharmacies to the contractor Medicare hires to pursue fraud.  "Oftentimes we never hear back, positive or negative."

Since it started in 2006, Part D has been lauded for its success in getting needed medications to more than 36 million seniors and disabled enrollees.

But over the past year, ProPublica has detailed how Part D is beset by weak oversight.  Medicare doesn’t analyze its prescribing data to root out doctors whose inappropriate drug choices endanger patients.  Nor has it flagged those whose unchecked devotion to name-brand drugs, instead of generics, adds billions in needless expense.

For this story, ProPublica again scrutinized Medicare’s data, this time to identify scores of doctors whose prescription patterns bore the hallmarks of fraud.  The cost of their prescribing spiked dramatically from one year to the next — in some cases by millions of dollars — as they chose brand-name drugs that scammers can easily resell.

Sometimes the doctors claimed they were unwitting victims of identity theft.  In other cases they were paid for writing bogus or inappropriate prescriptions.

Friday, December 20, 2013

NORTH KOREA - Kim Jung Un's Power Play Sends Shivers Around the World

"Kim Jong Un's deadly power play stokes fear in foreign governments" PBS Newshour 12/19/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  This week, North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, embarked on his third year as head of the isolated kingdom, after a week that has raised questions about his intentions and his country's stability.

Today, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, commenting on Kim's execution of his high-ranking uncle, said: "These kind of internal actions by dictators are often a precursor to provocation."  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called it concerning to everyone.

Tonight senior foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner takes a closer look at the erratic 30-year-old.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman returned to Pyongyang today to renew what he calls his basketball diplomacy and his curious friendship with Kim Jong-un, North Korea's young leader for the past two years, who remains a mystery to the outside world.

The visit comes a week after Kim staged a theatrical and deadly power play.  He had his uncle and presumed mentor Jang Song Thaek arrested in public, tried for treason and executed.  Kim's summary dispatch of his high-ranking relative perplexed and disturbed foreign governments and longtime observers.

ECONOMY - Impact of the New Budget Deal

"What the budget deal means for Americans" PBS Newshour 12/19/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  There's been a lot of talk about the politics behind the bipartisan budget agreement.

We take a closer look now at the devil in those details.

Senate Democrats were happy today to tout the budget deal headed to the president's desk.

Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray said, the agreement was about more than just funding the government.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY, D-Wash.:  We showed the American people that members of Congress can work together, that we can listen to each other and get into a room and talk frankly without trying to hurt each other politically.  Secondly, by breaking through the partisanship, we finally ended the seemingly never-ending cycle of lurching from one crisis to the next.

GWEN IFILL:  The budget plan averts another government shutdown like the one this past October that lasted for 16 days.  It also gives the Pentagon some relief from automatic spending cuts and restores billions of dollars to domestic programs, including scientific research.

The $62 billion price tag will be paid for in part by scaling back benefits for military retirees under the age of 62.  But, already, there is talk from both sides about finding the money somewhere else instead.

RUSSIA - Putin's Change of Heart

"Putin announces amnesty for jailed oil tycoon, punk rock band Pussy Riot" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/19/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over his annual news conference today, and despite the marathon session with reporters, he held back the most news-making announcement until after it was over.

The tightly choreographed event attracted hundreds of Russian journalists, with some holding signs and even stuffed animals and dolls, hoping Putin would notice and call on them.  But the Russian leader saved his biggest headline until the four-hour-long news conference finally ended, announcing he will pardon the jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through interpreter):  He has already spent more than 10 years in jail.  It is a serious punishment.  He refers to circumstances of the humanitarian nature.  His mother is ill.  And I think that, bearing in mind those circumstances, it is possible to make that decision, and I will soon sign an order about his pardon.

"Do Putin's pardons represent public relations rather than real concessions?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/19/2013

Humm... Lets see... 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia..... OK, a real change of heart.


SUMMARY:  Was Russian President Vladimir Putin's amnesty announcement for some high-profile dissidents mostly a public relations tactic?  To put Putin's move in perspective, Judy Woodruff talks to Angela Stent of Georgetown University and Dimitri Simes of the Center for the National Interest.

CYBERTHEFT - Target Inc. Gets Hacked For Customer Credit Card Info

"U.S. consumers have many protections but no guarantees against credit card fraud" PBS Newshour 12/19/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  The retail chain Target confirmed that hackers breached tens of millions of credit card and debit accounts at the height of the shopping season, just before Thanksgiving and right up until Dec. 15.

The theft occurred when people swiped their cards in store, not online.  The retailer confirmed that customers' names, credit card and debit card numbers and security codes were stolen.  It's the latest in a series of major breaches in recent years.

We explore them with Steve Surdu of Mandiant, a cyber-security firm.

How did 40 million accounts get compromised?

STEVE SURDU, Mandiant:  Well, we don't know the details at this point in time.  They're still investigating.

But, obviously, information had to be siphoned off from the organization.  Attackers almost certainly came in from outside, put software in place that allowed them to aggregate the information over time and then remove it, so that they could use it.

THAT IS:  Hackers installed a Trojan virus that allowed external access to Target systems.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

POLITICS - Three U.S. House Members Announce Retirement and 2014 Midterm Elections

"Wave of Congressional retirements open up opportunity for both parties" PBS Newshour 12/18/2013


SUMMARY:  Three senior members of the House of Representatives have announced retirement plans, giving both parties possible openings for the 2014 midterm elections.  Gwen Ifill talks to political editor Christina Bellantoni about races to watch, changing demographics and incumbents who are likely to face tough fights.

TECHNOLOGY - Financing 'Oculus Rift' Gaming Goggles

"Tricking the brain with transformative virtual reality" PBS Newshour 12/18/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Correspondent Paul Solman takes a look at a technology that allows adventurous users to explore the latest developments in the world of video gaming.

It's part of his ongoing coverage Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour):  It was a 20-year-old named Palmer Luckey who would finally make science fiction dreams come true.

Working in his parents garage, he cobbled together a headset out of ski goggles, smartphone and tablet parts to create a just-like-real-life gaming experience.  Then, hoping to raise $250,000 to take his invention to market, he turned to the crowd-funding Web site Kickstarter.

PALMER LUCKEY, Oculus Rift:  So join the revolution.  Make a pledge.  And help up change gaming forever.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Within days, he had 10 times what he needed, as gamers went gaga over the goggles.

NATIONAL SECURITY - Will NSA Oversight Recommendations Make it Easier For Terrorists?

I suspect the answer it YES.  It will now be much slower tracking suspect terrorist contacts within the US, which increases the risk that we will not be able to stop terrorist's plots.

As a former employee of a company that made the systems that collect metadata, I know that having telephone companies store the data will be very hard.  They do not have the computer capacity.  Metadata is dumped (deleted) after it is polled/transferred to a telephone company's billing computer, AND the metadata polled is only for a number's specific phone company.  What others may be missing is that phone systems do not just collect data for one phone company, they collect data for all phone numbers in an area regardless of who the phone company the caller uses.  That is a local Phone Switching Station may be owned by AT&T but calls from a Verizon, Sprint, or other provider, pass through the Phone Switching Station which is where metadata is gathered.

Also, since metadata ONLY has phone numbers, it is NOT known which telephone company it belongs to.  It is when a phone company polls the metadata looking for it's phone numbers where a telephone company is linked to a phone number.

"Would new NSA oversight recommendations adversely slow down intelligence?" PBS Newshour 12/18/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  The 300-page report recommends scores of changes in how the National Security Agency gathers intelligence.

It urges the massive amount of phone record data collected by the agency be stored by telephone companies themselves or a third party.  It also proposes requiring a court to approve individual searches of phone and Internet records.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama plans no public comment on the findings.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary:  In January, when the overall internal review is completed, the president will make remarks about the work that he has undertaken and the outcomes of his review.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The outside assessment was ordered after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked secret details about the agency's efforts last summer.

Intelligence officials maintain their data collection operation has thwarted a number of terror attacks.  But opponents argue it goes too far.

ECONOMY - The FED Scales Back Buying Treasury Bonds

"Federal Reserve announces pull back on stimulus as Bernanke nears end of tenure" PBS Newshour 12/18/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The Federal Reserve has been warning for months that it would shift and reduce the size of its role in spurring the economy.  But right up to this afternoon's announcement, many were still wondering when the Fed would dial back and how it would do so.

Ben Bernanke came to his last scheduled news conference as Fed chairman as the Central Bank announced it will start scaling back its long-running stimulus program.

BEN BERNANKE, Federal Reserve Chairman:  Today's policy action reflects the committee's assessment that the economy continues to make progress, but that it also has much farther to travel until conditions can be judged normal.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The Fed has been buying $85 billion in Treasury bonds every month to hold down interest rates and boost economic growth.  Starting next month, that amount will be reduced by $10 billion a month.

At the same time, a benchmark short-term interest rate will stay near zero.  The Fed says that policy will hold well past the point when the unemployment rate falls below 6.5 percent.  It's now at 7 percent.

BEN BERNANKE:  The job market has continued to improve, with the unemployment rate having declined further.  At the same time, the recovery clearly rings far from complete, with unemployment still elevated and with both underemployment and long-term unemployment still major concerns.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  For Bernanke, the announcement is a climax to an eight-year tenure that's been marked by big moments in U.S. financial history.

SCIENCE - Climate Models and the Movie 'Hobbit'

Note that I am a very big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" books and movies, of which "The Hobbit" (book title) was actually the first.

"Climate models turn the weather in Tolkien's 'Hobbit' into science" by Rebecca Jacobson, PBS Newshour

It doesn't take magic to make the climate on J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth.  It takes physics and a lot of computing power.

Fans of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy praise the fantasy series -- which also include "The Hobbit" and "The Silmarillion" -- for its detail.  Tolkien's son posthumously published his father's laborious creations that describe the entire universe of Ea, and the lands beyond Middle Earth.  The books contain detailed maps and descriptions of the land's geography, from the Grey Mountains to the Shire.  Even the weather along the hobbits' journey is painted in meticulous detail based on Tolkien's own travels around the world, as this 2002 article from the journal Weather points out.

Climatologist Dan Lunt at the University of Bristol in England has been a Tolkien fan since his childhood.  He created a climate model of Middle Earth using the university's supercomputer.  Lunt published his findings on the university's website as a tongue-in-cheek scientific study by Radagast the Brown, the forest-dwelling wizard of the fantasy series.  Lunt likens him to the "environmental scientist" of Middle Earth.  And according to Lunt, the climate described in the fantasy series holds up to science.

Overall, Middle Earth's climate was much like western Europe and northern Africa.  The model showed that in northern Middle Earth, the wind comes from from the east, allowing the elves to set sail from Grey Havens to reach the Undying Lands in the west at the end of "Return of the King," the third in "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.  And the Misty Mountains creates a rain-shadow, keeping the lands to the east dry and dropping more rain and snow on lands to the west.  Those rain patterns leave warm deserts covered with small shrubs over Mordor in the south, comparable to West Texas, Los Angeles, California or Alice Springs in Australia.  The Shire, home to the series' hobbits -- the diminutive characters that inhabit Middle Earth -- has an annual average temperature of 44 F, and 24 inches of rain each year, making it very similar to Belarus, Leicestershire, England, or north of Dunedin on New Zealand's South Island.

The climate model also maps the vegetation of the rest of the world.  While it can't account for deforestation by dwarves, dragons or the "wanton destruction by orcs," most of Middle Earth is covered with forests, says Radagast in the paper, remarking:  "This is consistent with reports I have heard from Elrond that squirrels could once travel from the region of the Shire all the way to Isengard."

The paper, which is also published in the Tolkien-invented languages of Elvish and Dwarvish, was just a fun exercise in his free time, Lunt said, but it has a serious point to make.

"These are the same models we use to predict our future and the climate on lands we've never been to, whether it's our future (Earth), Mars, Venus or Middle Earth," he said.  "These models are complex and they are based on such fundamental science that they can model anything."

This exercise shows climate modeling isn't magic; it's physics, said Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  Supercomputers run millions of lines of code, processing fluid dynamics calculations to determine how air and water will move over our spherical planet.  These formulas explain the formation of clouds, wind, rain, snow, hot summers, cold snaps and droughts.  Over the past 30 years, faster computers brought these calculations into finer detail, modeling the Earth's present, past and future climates in 100 square kilometer blocks, Schmidt said.

It's a matter of plugging specific data and boundaries into the complex formulas, Lunt said.  What does the surface of the planet look like?  How tall are the mountains?  What is the atmosphere made of?  Lunt fed the descriptions of Middle Earth's geography into the supercomputer and ran the simulation for about 5 days, generating 70 years worth of climate data.  Everything in model starts in stasis -- there's no wind, no clouds, no plants, and the oceans are still.  As the calculations continue, waves form on the oceans, storms and hurricanes form and fade, vegetation grows and pictures of the climate on Middle Earth take shape.

But relying on those models' predictions takes proof that they're right.  That's why scientists model the Earth's past climate in the same way Lunt modeled Middle Earth, feeding the supercomputers data based on the Earth's past geography.  Then they measure the model's outcome against evidence from ice core data, tree rings and other paleolithic records.

"We try to predict things that have already happened; that's why you go back to the past and you poke and you prod and see if it reacts the same way the real world did.  Does it respond to greenhouse gases the way we think it did over the last 50 million years?  Does it change to the climate in the same way?" Schmidt said.

Manipulating a model not only shows scientists how the climate changed in the past, it builds their confidence in the model's ability to predict future climates.

"We can look at things happening now and in the past and in the future and look at things that are more fanciful and get a sense of how that whole system reacts when it changes," Schmidt said.  "It turns out Tolkien wasn't such a terrible climatologist."

(Although, Tolkien didn't account for how dragons breathing fire would have affected his world's atmosphere, which could have led to a real "Smaug situation," he joked, referring to the mythical creatures.)

Climate models are pretty robust, but they aren't the same as a weather forecast, Lunt said.  Chaos theory means a small change can have a large impact down the line.  In other words, a butterfly flapping its wings in the Shire may cause a hurricane in Mordor, he said.

And they aren't perfect.  The more scientists learn, the more they can add to the equations and make the future projections more accurate, Schmidt said.  For example, ten years ago climate projections did not predict that Arctic sea ice would melt as rapidly as it has today, he said.  Scientists recently reran the calculations with modern supercomputers; still the models didn't quite match reality.

As a result, scientists are asking what other factors need to be included in climate models to make those predictions better.  Now scientists are learning how drifting dust and soot in the atmosphere, like the smog from growing cities like Beijing, moves and affects the climate around the world, Schmidt said.  With each change to the Earth's atmosphere and geography, climate scientists return to the models to add information with the hopes of making their predictions more accurate.

Lunt said he has had lots of requests from science fiction authors to model their dream planets, but no plans to do another fantasy climate model.  But he's been touched by the number of teachers who have already used this as an example in their classrooms.  By learning about modelling Middle Earth's climate, he hopes people will better understand how climate modelling works.

"In some way, it lends confidence to future projections, where we can predict a different world than the one we're living in today."

AMERICA - Untrained Temporary Blue-Collar Workers Facing Danger

Ninety minutes into his first day on the first job of his life, Day Davis, pictured above, was called over to help at Palletizer No. 4 at the Bacardi bottling plant in Jacksonville, Fla.  Above is a composite image of the times Davis is seen in a surveillance video before an all-too-common story for temp workers unfolded.
 "Temporary Work, Lasting Harm" by Michael Grabell, Olga Pierce, and Jeff Larson; ProPublica 12/18/2013


This was it, he told his brother Jojo.  He would finally be able to pay his mother back for the fender bender, buy some new shoes and, if things went well, maybe even start a life with his fiancée who was living in Atlanta.

After getting his high school diploma, completing federal job training and sending out dozens of applications, Day Davis, 21, got a job.  It was through a temp agency and didn’t pay very much, but he would be working at the Bacardi bottling plant, making the best-selling rum in the world.

Davis called his mother to tell her the good news and ask if she could pick him up so he could buy the required steel-toe boots, white shirt and khaki pants and get to the factory for a 15-minute orientation before his 3 p.m. shift.

Word spread quickly through the family.  “Me and my brother was like, ‘Don’t mess up now, you got to do good, don’t mess up,’ ” said his younger sister, Nia.

It was a humid 90 degrees as Davis walked into Bacardi’s Warehouse No. 7 to the rattle of glass bottles, the whir of fans and the clank of industrial machines.  It was his first day on the first job of his life.  He went to the bathroom and took a photo of himself in the mirror, showing off his work clothes and orange safety vest.  He texted it to his fiancée, Alicia Lloyd, and promised he would call her during his break.  (image above shows Davis  'goes under' palletizer)

* * *

When Davis walked into the factory, he joined one of the fastest-growing and more dangerous segments of the U.S. labor market: blue-collar temp work.

Since the 2008 recession, companies have increasingly turned to temporary employees to work in factories and warehouses and on construction sites.  The temp industry now employs a record 2.8 million workers.

The trend carries a human cost.

A ProPublica analysis of millions of workers’ compensation claims shows that in five states, representing more than a fifth of the U.S. population, temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees.

In California and Florida, two of the largest states, temps had about 50 percent greater risk of being injured on the job than non-temps.  That risk was 36 percent higher in Massachusetts, 66 percent in Oregon and 72 percent in Minnesota.

These statistics understate the dangers faced by blue-collar temps like Davis.  Nationwide, temps are far more likely to find jobs in dangerous occupations like manufacturing and warehousing.  And their likelihood of injury grows dramatically.

In Florida, for example, temps in blue-collar workplaces were about six times as likely to be injured than permanent employees doing similar jobs.

The findings were particularly stark for severe injuries.  In Florida, the data shows, temps were about twice as likely as regular employees to suffer crushing injuries, dislocations, lacerations, fractures and punctures.  They were about three times as likely to suffer an amputation on the job in Florida and the three other states for which such records are available.

ProPublica interviewed more than 100 temp workers across the nation and reviewed more than 50 Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigations involving temp worker accidents.

The interviews and OSHA files revealed situations that occur over and over again: untrained laborers asphyxiated while cleaning the inside of chemical tanks, caught in heavy machinery such as food grinders and tire shredders, and afflicted by heat stroke after a long day on a garbage truck or roof.

The lightly regulated blue-collar temp world is one where workers are often sent to do dangerous jobs with little or no training.  Where the company overseeing the work isn’t required to pay the medical bills if temps get hurt.  And where, when temp workers do get injured on the job, the temp firm and the company fight with each other over who is responsible, sometimes even delaying emergency medical care while they sort it out.

The growing reliance on temps subverts one of the strongest incentives for companies to protect workers.  The workers’ comp system was designed to encourage safety through economic pressure; companies with higher injury rates pay higher insurance premiums.  Hiring temp workers shields companies from those costs.  If a temp worker gets hurt, the temp agency pays the workers’ comp, even though it has little or no control over job sites.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

MUSIC - New Biography on Johnny Cash and New Album

"How Johnny Cash spoke to the heart of America" PBS Newshour 12/16/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Finally tonight: the Man in Black.  It's been 10 years since the legendary singer songwriter died at age 71.

Last week, his estate announced a new album would be released in March.  The never-before-heard songs were recorded in 1986.  The audiotapes of the original recording sessions recently were discovered in the family archives.

We get a look now at Johnny Cash the man.

Jeffrey Brown has our book conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  From the Sun recording studios in Memphis to California's Folsom Prison, to the famous last video he recorded before he died, Johnny Cash crossed musical boundaries and influenced and moved several generations of singers, songwriters and fans, even while he struggled with his own addictions and pains.

All of this can be found in "Johnny Cash: The Life," a new biography by Robert Hilburn, who served as chief music critic for The Los Angeles Times for more than 30 years.

GUN CONTROL - Better Mental Health Access = Curb on Gun Violence?

Better mental health cannot curb gun violence alone, you need to also curb the ACCESS to guns by people with mental problems.  That requires better gun control laws.

"Can the U.S. find consensus in better mental health access to curb gun violence?" PBS Newshour 12/16/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now to a debate that never seems to end.  Every time a shooter goes on the rampage in a public place, the discussion turns to guns, mental health and even to violent video games.

The FBI today said it helped disrupt or prevent nearly 150 shootings and other violent attacks in the past year, in part by directing potential attackers to mental health services.  So there has been some progress, but there always seem to be new headlines.

Friday's shooting at a suburban Denver high school was the latest violent jolt.  Well-wishers left flowers today at a growing tribute to student Claire Davis.  She was shot at point-blank range by a fellow student, 18-year-old Karl Pierson.  Davis remains in a coma in critical, but stable condition at a local hospital.

The latest shooting came as the nation was marking the first anniversary of the shocking attack in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 schoolchildren and six educators.  The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School revived the long-running debate over the causes and solutions for a mass shootings like it.

It also prompted President Obama to say he would push for gun control legislation that wasn't a top priority during his first term.

ECONOMY - To Taper FED's Stimulus Efforts?

"To taper stimulus efforts? Examining the Fed's role in the economic recovery" PBS Newshour 12/16/2013


PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour):  A candle, also known as a taper, a candle shrinking, also known as tapering, and thus we introduce the decision once again facing the Federal Reserve and its much-anticipated Open Market Committee meeting this week.

To taper or not to taper, that is the burning question for bond investors, for stock investors, for the economy as a whole.  Since the crash of '08, the Fed has created several trillion dollars of new money to buy Treasury and mortgage-backed bonds.  Will that buying finally taper off?

We spoke with former Fed economist Catherine Mann.

CATHERINE MANN, Brandeis University International Business School:  Taper means reduce the amount, the pace, so going from $45 billion to, say, $35 billion a month.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Billions of dollars that, ever since the crash, the Fed's trading desk in New York has periodically injected into the economy by a process known as quantitative easing, creating great quantities of money to buy bonds, thus easing interest rates to boost the economy.

So what does Professor Mann think the Fed will do this week?

NSA - Bulk Collection of Metadata 'Likely' Unconstitutional?

"Judge rules NSA's bulk collection of phone records is likely unconstitutional" PBS Newshour 12/16/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  In the first legal setback for the National Security Agency since the disclosures by Edward Snowden, a federal judge ruled today that its phone metadata collection program is likely unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found that the program appeared to breach the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures and that the Justice Department failed to show that the mass collection helped stop terrorist attacks.

In a statement provided to reporter Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden reacted to the ruling, saying -- quote -- "Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights.  It is the first of many" -- end quote.

Well, joining me now to discuss the ruling, the lawsuit that prompted it, and what it means for the NSA's program is reporter Josh Gerstein of Politico.

Welcome back to the program, Josh.

Tell us about what was behind this lawsuit, who is behind it and so forth.

Monday, December 16, 2013

AMERICA - Our Cash Economy

"Life in the cash economy for “underbanked” Americans" PBS Newshour 12/15/2013


KARLA MURTHY (Newshour):  For most of us, going to the local bank to deposit a check is second nature, but for many poor people in the New York neighborhood of the South Bronx, it’s not.

More than half the residents there don’t have a bank account, so on a Friday afternoon customers trickle into Ritecheck, a check cashing store.  They are paying bills, buying money orders and cashing checks at a type of business often criticized for seeming to exploit the poor - by charging high fees.

But on this day, one of these tellers is not like the others.

Lisa Servon is actually a professor of urban policy at the New School in Manhattan, and her job at this check cashing store is part of a research project to find out why people choose to come here, despite the fees, rather than going to a bank.

KARLA MURTHY to SERVON:  What were your impressions of check cashing places?--

LISA SERVON:  I thought the same thing that you see in the press.  I would cite the literature that called check cashers abusive and predatory and-- you know, being businesses that were really taking advantage of the poor.  So I believed that.

KARLA MURTHY:  But that belief was challenged when a man who runs one of these businesses visited Lisa Servon’s class as guest lecturer five years ago.

TECHNOLOGY - Domestic UAS, Crowed Skies? (revisited)

"How will thousands of drones impact already crowded skies?" PBS Newshour 12/14/2013

UAS "Unmanned Aerial System" aka UAV


SUMMARY:  Drone aircraft might be delivering Amazon orders to your door soon says Jeff Bezos.  But first states and the federal government are wrestling with the implications of many new, pilotless aircraft -- how they might affect civil liberties -- and how to keep them out of the way of manned aircraft in skies that are already crowded.

RICK KARR (Newshour):  The future of aviation could be an aircraft light enough to be carried by a grad student, rugged enough to take off from a grassy field, and flexible enough to do just about anything in the air.  Not firing missiles -- this one’s designed to chase storms in Tornado Alley.  But it could just as easily search for someone who’s missing ... relay communications in an emergency ... monitor a pipeline for leaks ... maybe even deliver packages.

NSA - Reform Recommendations

"Advisory group makes recommendations to reform NSA surveillance" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/13/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Late today, the White House announced that the president has received an advisory committee's recommendations on revamping the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency.  And The Washington Post reported that the NSA can crack cell phone security codes, giving them the capability to listen in on private calls and text messages.

Tonight, chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner continues her conversations with lawmakers on reforming government surveillance.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  Documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have triggered six months of explosive revelations and recriminations.  The documents showed the vast reach of NSA data collection, of phone calls, texts, Internet searches and e-mails vacuumed up, stored, and analyzed, the targets, not just foreigners, but many Americans.

In August, the president announced two reviews of NSA activities.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  And a general impression has, I think, taken hold not only among the American public, but also around the world, that somehow we're out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody.

MARGARET WARNER:  Today, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported that one advisory group has drafted a host of recommendations, including new rules for collecting and storing phone data and tighter standards for spying on foreign leaders.

REP. MIKE ROGERS, R-Mich.:  There has been no willful use to misuse the privacy of just your phone numbers, not even your name.

MARGARET WARNER:  Last night on the NewsHour, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers defended the NSA's activities, saying more than 50 attacks had been thwarted as a result.

And you know that to be the case?

MIKE ROGERS:  I absolutely know that to be the case.

MARGARET WARNER:  But leading critics, like Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have urged the president to rein in the NSA.

"Sen. Ron Wyden on balancing the 'teeter-totter' of security and liberty" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/13/2013


SUMMARY:  Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., believes that when it comes to government surveillance, security and liberty are not mutually exclusive.  Margaret Warner talks to the NSA critic about why he thinks the administration needs to do a better job of striking a balance between protecting Americans while respecting their privacy.

IMO:  There continues to be a very big misconception regarding phone calls....

SEN. RON WYDEN, D-Ore:  For example, on this whole matter of collecting millions and millions of phone records on law-abiding Americans, now, this country wants to be safe, and all of us on the Intelligence Committee know it's a dangerous world.  But the evidence doesn't support the proposition that there is a significant measure of safety that's added as a result of collecting all these records on law-abiding Americans.

What is wrong with the implications of Wyden's statement is that 'law-abiding Americas' data is being collected.  The fact is that the metadata being collected HAS NO PERSONAL information therefore you do NOT know anything about people involved, law-abiding or not, it is just phone numbers.

As I said before, I worked of 9yrs for a company that made the equipment that gathers the metadata on phone systems and know exactly what it is.  Phone numbers and date-time stamps ONLY.

A phone number does NOT get connected with a user/client (person or company) until a phone carrier's billing computer polls the metadata and pulls the information for numbers that are associated with the phone carrier.  The metadata date-time stamps provide length of a call and the carrier's billing computer associates it with the client of record.  Only at that time is a name, address, etc, involved.  To get the information from a carrier's billing computer is where a warrant becomes required.

The assertion that mere collection metadata is a threat to freedom is an exaggeration at best.  Especially...

I want it understood for your viewers that, when your government knows who you called, when you called and for how long you called, they're getting a lot of private information about individuals.  For example, if the government knows that you called a psychiatrist three times in 24 hours, once after midnight, they know a lot about you.

Which is a massive exaggeration.  This does NOT happen with out FIRST having a warrant.

NORTH KOREA - Purge, Jang Song Thaek Execution

"North Korea executes high-level official, charging leader's uncle was a traitor" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/13/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now to North Korea.

The execution of one of the isolated country's highest-ranking officials is raising questions about its stability.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our report.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  Until very recently, Jang Song Thaek was considered the second-most powerful figure in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  But on state TV today, his remarkable demise was made official.

NEWS ANCHOR (through interpreter):  The special military tribunal of the Ministry of State Security of North Korea condemned Jang Song Thaek as a wicked political careerist, trickster and traitor, in the name of the revolution, and the people ruled that he would be sentenced to death.  The decision was immediately executed.

KWAME HOLMAN:  Married to the aunt of leader Kim Jong-un, Jang ascended the country's ranks rapidly following the stroke of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, in 2008.  And he rose further still following Kim's death in 2011.

Though not a career military man, he was made a four-star general and was fond of appearing in his white military uniform at state events.  He played a key role in shaping economic policy and was considered the architect of the country's joint ventures with neighboring China.

However, in Beijing today, a spokesman was tight-lipped regarding the news of his death.

HONG LEI, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter):  This is North Korea's own internal affair.  As a neighboring country, we hope for North Korea to maintain stability, economic development, and a happy livelihood for its people.

KWAME HOLMAN:  As with word of his execution, Jang's removal from office was broadcast on state TV earlier this week, as the 67-year-old was taken from a Central Committee meeting by uniformed guards.  He was accused of a litany of crimes, from gambling away $6.3 million, to womanizing, to attempting to overthrow the leadership, to not showing proper enthusiasm for his nephew's achievements.

In Seoul, South Korea, the high-level purge has put officials on guard.

RYOO KIHL-JAE, South Korean Unification Minister (through interpreter):  Generally, in the past, we have seen that efforts to crack down on internal insecurities then lead to external provocations.  We are paying close attention to such a possibility this time as well.

KWAME HOLMAN:  Next week, the country marks the two-year anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death.

"Does North Korea's purge signal rising instability?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/13/2013


SUMMARY:  Will the execution of Kim Jong Un's uncle, the high-level North Korean official Jang Song Thaek, lead to intensified internal repression?  Judy Woodruff gets analysis from Sung-Yoon Lee of Tufts University and Robert Carlin, co-author of "The Two Koreas:  A Contemporary History."

OPINION - Shields and Gerson 12/13/2013

"Shields and Gerson discuss the budget breakthrough, Boehner's backlash" PBS Newshour 12/13/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's top political news, including whether the budget deal making its way through Congress could lead to more compromise, Speaker John Boehner's shot at the tea party and the president's sinking approval ratings.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

POLITICS - The Bipartisan Budget, Reactions

"Should Congress approve the budget compromise?" PBS Newshour 12/11/2013


SUMMARY:  Avoiding provisions that sharply divide the two parties, budget negotiators reached a deal to fund the government for two years.  Kwame Holman reports on reaction to the deal.  Judy Woodruff talks to Steven Rattner of Willett Advisors, Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum and Romina Boccia of the Heritage Foundation.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  It may not be the legislative equivalent of peace in our time, but the budget deal announced last night provides, at the very least, a time-out for lawmakers battling over fiscal matters.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman sums up the agreement.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.:  By having a budget agreement that doesn't raise taxes, that does reduce the deficit and produces some certainty and prevents government shutdowns, we think is a good agreement.

KWAME HOLMAN:  After weeks of negotiating with Democrats, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan had to sell the agreement to members of his own party this morning.

PAUL RYAN:  We know that this budget agreement doesn't come close to achieving what we want to achieve on our ultimate fiscal goals.  But, again, if we can get a step in the right direction, we're going to take that step.  And that's why we're doing this.

HISTORY - Looking Back at Bernie Madoff's Ponzi Scheme

I can admire anyone who is good at what they do, even a crook.  He suckered even the big Wall Street types who should have known better.

By the way, he got away with this (for a time) because his scheme appealed to peoples' greed, wanting MORE big-bucks.

"Looking back at Bernie Madoff's fraud scheme five years on" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 12/11/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now:  What's happened to the people who invested their life's savings with disgraced financier Bernie Madoff?

Today is the fifth anniversary of his arrest for fraudulently operating a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Five years ago, the world's media followed disgraced Wall Street financier Bernie Madoff wherever he went in New York, from the courthouse to his Park Avenue apartment.  Madoff's fall from financial grace came hard and fast.

In 2009, he pleaded guilty to running an elaborate global Ponzi scheme, defrauding investors of $64 billion in paper wealth and $17 billion in actual cash.  The victims numbered in the thousands and many were left with nothing.

MICHAEL DE VITA, Bernie Madoff Investor:  This is a man who stole $65 billion.  Nobody else has ever come close to $65 billion in theft.  He has absolutely no remorse.  You take a look at the people who have committed suicide as a result of this.  Well, there's physical suicide, and there's emotional suicide.  None of us will ever be made whole, ever.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  About $9 billion has been recouped so far by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee charged with recovering the lost assets.  He's suing a number of defendants, including J.P. Morgan Chase, claiming they should have known about the fraud.

For decades, Madoff lived a lavish lifestyle and worked to deceive investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission, as heard in this 2005 phone call released later by investigators.

BERNIE MADOFF:  Obviously, first of all, this conversation never took place, OK?  Look, you never know what they're going to ask, because these guys, it's a fishing expedition.  That's what they do.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Madoff has claimed he acted alone, but a separate fraud trial began this fall in New York for five former employees.  They include his secretary, investment operations director and computer programmers.

Madoff himself is serving a 150-year sentence at a medium-security prison in North Carolina, which he recently said was very laid-back and kind of like camp.

"How are Bernie Madoff's fraud victims coping five years later?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 12/11/2013


SUMMARY:  Recovering the losses from Bernie Madoff's enormous Ponzi scheme has been slow over the past five years.  For more on the where Madoff's fraud victims are today, Judy Woodruff talks to Diana Henriques of The New York Times, who says his victims are still "living a nightmare."

RELIGION - Pope Francis Time's 'Person of the Year'

Even though I'm Agnostic, I admire the man.

"Pope Francis recognized as 'Person of the Year' for changing tone of the papacy" PBS Newshour 12/11/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  In less than a year, Pope Francis has shaken up some of the images and public perception of the Catholic Church.  TIME magazine selected him today as its person of the year.

His remarks and actions have captivated Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, whether washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday or, when asked about the status of gays and lesbians in the church, telling reporters, "Who am I to judge?" or decrying the problems of economic inequality.

The ripple effect has been remarkable.  We assess his impact with Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity University -- Trinity Washington University, and Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute.

Welcome to you both.

Let's start off with that, "Who am I to judge?" comment, because that struck me, because some people could have said, if not the pope, who?  Is that what caught your attention?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

SYRIA - Kurdish Refugees Flee to Iraq

"Will flood of Kurdish refugees from Syria increase volatility in Iraq?" PBS Newshour 12/10/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  As Syria's civil war grinds toward its fourth year, the refugee crisis it's spawned grows larger by the day.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner looks at the effects the flight of Syria's Kurds on the prosperous Kurdish region of Iraq.

In late summer, a new wave of refugees poured out of Syria, some 50,000 in a matter of days.  They were Kurds fleeing their homes in northeast Syria for the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq.  It wasn't Bashar al-Assad's forces that drove them out.  Kurdish militias were in control in their home areas.  The threat came from a different quarter instead, the ranks of anti-Assad jihadi rebel fighters linked to al-Qaida.

MAN (through interpreter):  The area was besieged by Al-Nusra Front.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  This man left his Syrian town when it came under assault by Islamist rebels.

MAN (through interpreter):  An edict was issued permitting the shedding of Kurdish blood.  They called from the mosque loudspeakers that it is permitted.  And from that day forward, we didn't dare venture out.  I left in search for a place where I can find speech.

OMAR HOSSINO,  The Kurdish areas in Syria were seen as stable because the regime never really bombarded them, like they did with other rebel-controlled regions.

WOMEN - GM's First Female CEO

"General Motors names company insider Mary Barra as first female CEO" PBS Newshour 12/10/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  General Motors has named a new CEO, and she's a woman, one who worked her way up in a company once known as an old boys club.  The news comes one day after the federal government sold the last of the GM shares it purchased during the big auto bailout.

Micheline Maynard long covered the auto industry, and she is now a contributor to Forbes.  She's a lecturer at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and the editor of a new journalism project, Curbing Cars:  How We Get Around.

Micki Maynard, hello.  Welcome back to the NewsHour.

Tell us, who is this new CEO, Mary Barra?

SOUTH AFRICA - Nelson Mandela's Memorial Service

"World leaders join South Africans to memorialize Nelson Mandela" PBS Newshour 12/10/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Millions of people around the world watched early today as South Africans, world leaders, celebrities and a vibrant community of mourners paid final respects to the country's former president and anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela.

A cold rain didn't dampen the spirits of tens of thousands who came from far and near to the four-hour service.  Downpours may have kept others away, with just two-thirds of the stadium's 95,000 seats filled.  But the weather took nothing away from a celebration of Nelson Mandela's life and legacy that was at turns jubilant, raucous and solemn.

The late leader's nephew spoke for his family, praising the humility of the man widely known with affection by his clan name.

GEN. THANDUXOLO MANDELA, nephew of Nelson Mandela:  In his lifetime, Madiba mingled with kings, queens and presidents, and prime ministers, captains of industries and ordinary workers.  At the core of his being, he was a man of the people.

WALL STREET - Regulators Adopt 'Volcker Rule' For Risky Trades

"Will the Volcker Rule change the culture of Wall Street?" PBS Newshour 12/10/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Five years after the financial crisis crippled the American economy, the behavior of Wall Street and other financial firms has been the subject of intense debate, lobbying and legislation.

At the center of financial reform, one rule has attracted more scrutiny than almost any other, the Volcker rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Today, federal regulators spelled out how it's supposed to work.  And now the question is, what kind of impact will it have on reducing risk?

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  The Dodd-Frank Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010, contained hundreds of provisions designed to avoid future meltdowns, among the most controversial, the Volcker rule, named for the former Fed chairman.

MAN:  All in favor, please say aye.

MAN:  Aye.

MAN:  Aye.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Its final approval today by five regulatory agencies signals a major shift in practices banks can undertake and their oversight.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

EULOGY - Nelson Mandela by President Obama

"Obama eulogizes his hero, Nelson Mandela" by Associated Press, PBS Newshour 12/10/2013

Celebrating one of his personal heroes, President Barack Obama praised Nelson Mandela as the last great liberator of the 20th century, urging the world to carry on his legacy by fighting inequality, poverty and discrimination.

At a memorial service in Johannesburg, Obama compared the former South African President to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

"For nothing he achieved was inevitable," Obama said.  "In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness, persistence and faith.  He tells us what's possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well."

The crowd at the half-filled stadium erupted in applause each time Obama's name was mentioned or his image was shown on the screen.  Dozens gathered below the box seats where Obama and other U.S. presidents sat, waving and snapping pictures of the leaders.

As if to underscore the spirit of reconciliation that Mandela's life embodied, Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro as he made his way down a line of world leaders gathered to honor the anti-apartheid leader.  It was a rare moment of accord for the leaders of the two Cold War enemies.

Calling himself a beneficiary of Mandela's struggle, Obama traced the influence that Mandela's story has had on his own life, disclosing that he asks himself how well he's applied Mandela's lessons to himself as a man and as President.

He said in the U.S., South Africa and around the world, people must not allow progress that's been made to cloud the fact that more work must be done.

"We, too, must act on behalf of justice.  We, too, must act on behalf of peace.  There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality," Obama said, referring to Mandela by his traditional clan name.

Extolling Mandela as practical but unyielding on his core principles, Obama said it was because Mandela could admit to being imperfect that the world loved him and continues to learn so much from his example.  "He was not a bust made of marble.  He was a man of flesh and blood," Obama said.

He said Mandela had changed both laws and hearts, inspiring those around him by reconciling with the jailers who kept him prisoner for 27 years.  In trusting others despite the injustices he suffered, Mandela showed that the cruelty of the past must be confronted with truth, generosity and inclusion, Obama said.

"We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," Obama said.  "But let me say to the people of Africa, and young people around the world:  You can make his life's work your own."

Joining Obama on the 16-hour trip from Washington for the ceremony were first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also attended the memorial service.