Wednesday, January 30, 2013

MILITARY - Veteran Receives Real Human Arm Transplants

"Iraq War Vet Receives Rare Double Arm Transplant" PBS Newshour 1/29/2013


SUMMARY:  Former solider and Iraq war veteran Sgt. Brendan Marrocco is the recent recipient of a double arm transplant, which took place at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Marrocco lost all of his limbs during a roadside bomb attack in the spring of 2009.  Gwen Ifill talks with Dr. Jaimie Shores, director of hand transplantation at Johns Hopkins.

MAIL - Ancient Manuscripts Casualties in Conflict?

"Ancient Manuscripts May Be Among Casualties of Malian Islamist Conflict" PBS Newshour 1/29/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  There remains a great deal of confusion about the extent of the damage in Timbuktu.  What is known is that the city, a United Nations World Heritage Site, is home to more than 200,000 ancient manuscripts and other artifacts, spanning many centuries, stored in small private libraries and a large research center.

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro visited Timbuktu 10 years ago for the PBS program "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly."

Here's an excerpt from his report.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  It's an impoverished town of about 30,000, most of them nomadic traders or subsistence farmers.  But Timbuktu is rich in history -- history that contradicts a commonly held impression in the West that sub-Saharan Africa has only oral and no written traditions.

MILITARY - DoD Budget and Politics of Hagel Nomination

"Defense Department Budget Will Be Major Questioning Point for Nominee Hagel" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/29/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now we take a two-part look at President Obama's choice to be the next secretary of defense.

Confirmation hearings for former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel are set for Thursday.  Among other things, he is likely to face questions about the Pentagon's looming budget crisis. Automatic spending cuts set to take effect March first mean the Defense Department may have to find $52 billion in savings this year and half-a-trillion dollars over the next decade.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently sounded the alarm at the prospect of looming budget cuts.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA, United States:  The most immediate threat to our ability to achieve our mission is fiscal uncertainty.  We're going to suffer some damage.

KWAME HOLMAN:  That damage could be felt soon.  Hundreds of thousands of the Pentagon's civilian employees will face furloughs and reduced paychecks as early as April.

"In Some States, Political Ads Take Aim at Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/29/2013


SUMMARY:  Political ads both on TV and in newspapers have been launched against Chuck Hagel, nominee for Secretary of Defense.  Judy Woodruff talks with New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg about who may be behind the campaigns and what affect they may have.

IMMIGRATION - Obama Embraces Senate Blueprint

"Obama Embraces Bipartisan Senate Blueprint for Immigration Reform" PBS Newshour 1/29/2013


SUMMARY:  President Obama endorsed a bipartisan immigration plan crafted by eight senators, but that blueprint may face hurdles in the House, where some lawmakers are working on a competing plan.  Gwen Ifill gets views from Kris Kobach, Secretary of State of Kansas, and Clarissa Matinez de Castro of the National Council of La Raza.

OPINION - Contrasting Words vs Deeds in GOP Tax Policy

Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 1/28/2013
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

OPINION - Weakness in Bipartisan Immigration Plan

NOTE:  The lead-in in this video is long but pertinent to the subject, which is made 7:27 min into the video.

Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 1/28/2013
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

OPINION - Hurricane Sandy Aid

"Sandy aid passes Senate despite GOP opposition" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 1/29/2013

It's taken far longer than it should have, but federal aid for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy is finally on the way.

The Senate Monday night passed a $50.5 billion emergency spending bill to aid people in New York and New Jersey who are trying to rebuild their homes and businesses after last October's devastation from super-storm Sandy.

The vote was 62 to 36, with 60 votes needed for passage.

The vote came nearly two weeks after the House approved an identical measure, and sends the bill to the White House for President Obama's signature.

But before we move on, it's worth pausing to note the partisan split on Sandy relief -- in the Senate, 36 Senate Republicans, including members representing coastal states like Florida, Texas, Alabama, and the Carolinas, voted against the federal aid.  Or put another way, 80% of Senate Republicans opposed post-Sandy relief.

In the House, we saw roughly the same outcome -- 78% of House Republicans voted against the emergency assistance.

What we're seeing, in other words, is a fundamental shift in how GOP policymakers respond to communities struggling after a natural disaster.

For generations, these votes were not politicized or considered particularly controversial -- Americans could count on their elected representatives to step up if a natural disaster struck.  It wasn't partisan and it wasn't ideological; this is just what the country did. It was a reflection of who we are.

And those days are over.  As the Sandy votes demonstrate, it is now effectively the standard position of congressional Republicans to reject disaster relief unless the funding is offset by other spending cuts.  So long, compassionate conservatism, we hardly knew you.

SCIENCE - Principles of Science

This post is addressed to those who are anti-science OR for the more open minded who do not understand science.  The following is from a college course I am taking addressing Science Literacy.

  • "Theory" in science results from something that has been repeatably tested (modeled), by many people, and with repeatable results, for a significant period.  One, two, or a few tests will not do.
  • The laws that govern the behavior of things in the universe are discoverable (via the senses) in a quantitatively measurable way.  Quantitative = Descriptions of events that ARE based on numerical quantities.
  • The laws of science are uniform; they are the same everywhere in the universe.
  • The laws of science are invariant, they do not change in time.
  • The laws of science are relatively simple.
  • The laws of science are objective, rather than subjective; the validity of science does not depend on the voice of authority, that is, who is doing the science.  The only recognized authority is the behavior of nature (particularly in carefully measured experiments).  Science is also objective in the following sense, the laws are believed to have a reality that is independent of any observers.
  • Scientific models (tests) generally evolve as experiments improve, and may be overthrown at a later time. This is why scientists always qualify their theories.
  • Part of what scientists ALWAYS do is they question EVERYTHING, even their own theories.  This is what gives rise to the (mistaken) view of 'arguments' in science as seen by the non-scientific community.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

CONNECTICUT - Sandy Hook Post Traumatic Effects

Early responders at Sandy Hook Elementary included, from left:
Lt. Christopher Vanghele, Officer Jason Flynn, Officer Leonard Penna,
Detective Jason Frank and Officer William Chapman.

"Reliving Horror and Faint Hope at Massacre Site" by RAY RIVERA, New York Times 1/28/2013


The gunfire ended; it was so quiet they could hear the broken glass and bullet casings scraping under their boots.  The smell of gunpowder filled the air.  The officers turned down their radios; they did not want to give away their positions if there was still a gunman present.

They found the two women first, their bodies lying on the lobby floor.  Now they knew it was real.  But nothing, no amount of training, could prepare them for what they found next, inside those two classrooms.

“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” said Michael McGowan, one of the first police officers to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, as a gunman, in the space of minutes, killed 20 first graders and 6 adults.

Officer McGowan was among seven Newtown officers who recently sat down to share their accounts of that day.  Some spoke for the first time, providing the fullest account yet of the scene as officers responded to one of the worst school massacres in United States history, one that has inflamed the national debate over gun control.

It is an account filled with ghastly moments and details, and a few faint instances of hope.  One child had a slight pulse, but did not survive.  Another was found bloody but unhurt, amid her dead classmates.  Teachers were so protective of their students that they had to be coaxed by officers before opening doors.  And the officers themselves, many of them fathers, instinctively used their most soothing Daddy voices to guide terrified children to safety.

The stories also reveal the deep stress that lingers for officers who, until Dec. 14, had focused their energies on maintaining order in a low-crime corner of suburbia.  Some can barely sleep.  Little things can set off tears: a television show, a child’s laughter, even the piles of gifts the Police Department received from across the country.

One detective, who was driving with his wife and two sons, passed a roadside memorial on Route 25 two weeks after the shooting, and began sobbing uncontrollably.  “I just lost it right there, I couldn’t even drive,” the detective, Jason Frank, said.

Officer William Chapman was in the Newtown police station along with Officer McGowan and others when the first reports of shots and breaking glass came in early on the day of the massacre.  The school was more than two miles away.  They traveled up Route 25, then right onto Church Hill Road.  “We drove as fast as we’ve ever driven,” Officer McGowan said.

They made it in under three minutes, arriving in the parking lot while gunfire could still be heard.

“I got out of the car and grabbed my rifle and it stopped for second,” Officer Chapman said.  “But then we heard more popping.  You could tell it was rifle fire. And it was up so close, it sounded like it was coming from outside.  So we were all looking around for someone to shoot back at.”

As the officers converged on the building, the gunfire stopped again.  Officers Chapman and Scott Smith made their way to the front entrance.  It was here, only minutes earlier, that a rail-thin 20-year-old named Adam Lanza, armed with a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine, two semiautomatic pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, had blasted his way through the glass.

Much more in the full story.

HEALTH CARE - Protecting Profits = High Health Care Cost

Don't be fooled.  This is ALL about protecting big-pharma's profit and NOTHING to do with protecting patient safety.  This move WILL keep the cost of health care high.  This also shows how big-pharma money CAN buy politicians.

"Biotech Firms, Billions at Risk, Lobby States to Limit Generics" by ANDREW POLLACK, New York Times 1/28/2013


In statehouses around the country, some of the nation’s biggest biotechnology companies are lobbying intensively to limit generic competition to their blockbuster drugs, potentially cutting into the billions of dollars in savings on drug costs contemplated in the federal health care overhaul law.

The complex drugs, made in living cells instead of chemical factories, account for roughly one-quarter of the nation’s $320 billion in spending on drugs, according to IMS Health.  And that percentage is growing.  They include some of the world’s best-selling drugs, like the rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis drugs Humira and Enbrel and the cancer treatments Herceptin, Avastin and Rituxan.  The drugs now cost patients — or their insurers — tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Two companies, Amgen and Genentech, are proposing bills that would restrict the ability of pharmacists to substitute generic versions of biological drugs for brand name products.

Bills have been introduced in at least eight states since the new legislative sessions began this month. Others are pending.

The Virginia House of Delegates already passed one such bill last week, by a 91-to-6 vote.

The companies and other proponents say such measures are needed to protect patient safety because the generic versions of biological drugs are not identical to the originals.  For that reason, they are usually called biosimilars rather than generics.

Generic drug companies and insurers are taking their own steps to oppose or amend the state bills, which they characterize as pre-emptive moves to deter the use of biosimilars, even before any get to market.

SPACE - Telescope to Map Dark Matter

"New Space Telescope to Map Dark Matter" by Jenny Marder, PBS Newshour 1/28/2013


This week, NASA announced that it will partner with the European Space Agency' to send a 4,760-pound spacecraft into space.  The Euclid mission space telescope will peer out over billions of galaxies, map and measure the Universe, and investigate the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

So we thought we'd take this as an opportunity to remind ourselves, what is dark matter?  And what is dark energy?

Matter as we know it -- planets, galaxies, stars, the atoms that make up the human body, in short, everything that we know and see -- accounts for only a fraction of total matter.  The rest is made up of a mysterious force called dark matter, which was first described in 1932, but has never been directly seen or observed.

Dark matter is spread throughout all of space.  It is five times more abundant than standard matter.  It engulfs our galaxy and others.  It does not interact with light - hence its name.  But scientists believe it does interact with ordinary matter through gravity, binding galaxies together like invisible glue.  They know that it's there, because of the gravitational force it exerts on other objects.  This video (at bottom) by Minute Physics does a nice job explaining the basics.

Even less is known about dark energy.  The universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, and it's believed that dark energy is at the root of this cosmic expansion.  Universal expansion, astronomers believe, depends on a tug of war between gravity trying to slow things down and dark energy trying to speed things up.  While there are still many questions about what exactly dark energy is, the commonly held theory is that it makes up most -- about three-quarters -- of the energy in the universe.  Stars and galaxies constitute only a small fraction -- about 5 percent.

So, put simply, dark matter holds things together and dark energy drives things apart.

Euclid will consist of a telescope operating alongside two scientific instruments, designed to map two billion galaxies.  The hope is that mapping these galaxies will give scientists more insight how the galaxies evolved and how the universe's acceleration changed over time, in turn revealing clues into the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

MEDIA - Super Bowl 2013 Commercials

Super Bowl 2013 commercials are already available on YouTube.

Here are samples:
(Note the Doritos commercials are from an amateur contest)

Monday, January 28, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 1/25/2013

"Shields, Brooks on Obama's Second Term and Hillary Clinton's Exit From State" PBS Newshour 1/25/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks talk to Jeffrey Brown about what's ahead for President Obama's first 100 days during his second term, an identity crisis for the Republican Party, John Kerry's vision for foreign policy at his confirmation hearing and Hillary Clinton's legacy at State.

CALIFORNIA - San Francisco's Drive to be a Zero Waste City

"San Francisco on Track to Become Zero Waste City" PBS Newshour 1/25/2013


SPENCER MICHELS (Newshour):  Each year, Americans throw away about 250 million tons of garbage.  That's roughly four pounds per person per day.

You can find all manner of trash in a landfill, old bent music stands, plastic bags, and a lot of items that could have been recycled, like bottles and cardboard.  Beyond the obvious blight they cause, landfills create environmental damage and emit harmful greenhouse gases.  They are monuments to waste.

Those concerns have prompted San Francisco and a handful of other cities to aim for a once-unthinkable goal, zero waste.

In 2009, San Francisco became the first city in the country to require that residents and businesses alike separate from their trash compostable items, like food scraps, and recyclable goods, like paper, metals, and plastic, into separate bins.

And that has led to a big reduction in the amount of garbage headed to the landfill, according to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

MALI - French vs Islamic Militants Update

"Tensions Remain High as Malian Troops Advance Into Islamist Territory" PBS Newshour 1/25/2013

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And next: to the West African nation of Mali.

Today, Islamist fighters destroyed a bridge using explosives near the Niger border.  Meanwhile, French forces pushed towards the rebel stronghold city of Gao.

But Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports that the Malian army is now posing problems for the French military.

LINDSEY HILSUM:  The Malian army is on the lookout for jihadis running from French bombing.  Soldiers in units fighting further north say the Islamist fighters are well-armed and many of them very young.

In the gendarmerie in Sevare, an officer brought out a 16-year-old he said had been captured near Douentza, a town the jihadis had occupied until last week.  The boy said he'd just been looking for work.

ADAMA DRABO, Mali (through translator):  They gave us clothes and shoes.  We stayed with them, cooking for them.  After a few days, one team of mujahedeen went out to fight, but we stayed to cook for the others.

LINDSEY HILSUM:  He seemed bewildered.  "I never carried a weapon," he said, "and my friend and I ran away when the fighting started."

ADAMA DRABO (through translator):  When the mujahedeen left to give food to their colleagues at the checkpoints, we realized that we had to leave.  When we were walking, we came face to face with a patrol of the Malian army.  They started asking us questions.  When they realized that we stayed with the mujahedeens, they took us with them to gendarmerie to find out more about us.

LINDSEY HILSUM:  On a barren wasteland across town, a sign that both sides in this war can be cruel, and civilians are the ones who suffer.  The well is spattered with blood.  The Malian army is said to be responsible.  You can just make out a body at the bottom of the pit.  The old man showed us a second well.

The French International Federation for Human Rights says, in the last two weeks, Malian soldiers in Sevare have summarily murdered 11 Tuaregs and Arabs, accusing them of being jihadis.  At least two bodies have been stuffed down these wells.

The local people took this red earth and put it down the well to stop the body from smelling.  This conflict is entering a very dangerous phase.  Most of the people I have met so far hate the jihadis.  They want to support the Malian army, but if the soldiers behave as badly as their enemies, then what is to stop the people from going to the other side?

The French are only too aware of the problem.  Tuaregs and Arabs further north fear reprisals by the Malian army.  To them, the jihadis may be the lesser of two evils.

COMMANDER SEBASTIEN, Operation Serval (through translator):  Listen, it depends on the will of the local population.  They have to choose their fate, whether or not to accept the jihadis.  It's hard to fight against a population who is in favor of the jihadis.  So the Malian people will decide the future of Mali.

LINDSEY HILSUM:  French armor is far superior than that of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, but if the people of Northern Mali fear and hate the Malian troops fighting alongside the French, victory may me hollow and short-lived.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The Malian army got a boost from Britain today.  Its defense ministry will deploy a spy plane to Mali to help with the military intervention.

EUROPEAN UNION - Talk of Its Future

"At World Economic Forum, Talk of Future of European Union and the Euro" PBS Newshour 1/25/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  And to another NewsHour correspondent overseas, Ray Suarez in Davos, Switzerland.  He's moderating panels at the World Economic Forum, where there's been talk about the future of the European Union.

We spoke earlier this evening.

Ray, let's start with the news this week.  The U.K. is making some noises about backing away in some parts from the European Union.  What is the reaction there, where all these European leaders are?

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  Well, here in Davos, the week was heavily dominated by news of the health of the joint European currency, the euro, and whether, in fact, the European Union as it has come to be known would remain with one of its largest members.

Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this week dropped a bomb, that he was going to later in this parliamentary term in a couple of years put Britain's continued membership in the European Union to a vote. And right now, the Union is not very popular among British politicians.  So perhaps, feeling the heat at home, Cameron is responding this way.

ISRAEL - Post Election Coalition?

"After Tight Elections, Israel's Netanyahu Works to Build Coalition" PBS Newshour 1/25/2013


SUMMARY:  While Benjamin Netanyahu has kept his position as Israel's prime minister, a centrist party led by former TV personality Yair Lapid made a surprisingly strong showing at that country's recent elections.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Margaret Warner about Netanyahu's plans to build a broad coalition beyond his conservative counterparts.

POLITICS - Presidential Intrasession Recess Appointments

Reminder, this opinion is not from the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Court Rules Recess National Labor Relations Board Appointments Unconstitutional" PBS Newshour 1/25/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN:  A federal appeals court rejected several recess appointments made by President Obama last year, saying the moves were unconstitutional.

The president appointed three people to the National Labor Relations Board last January.  The president argued he was justified in doing so because the Senate was away for a 20-day break.

But Republicans and business groups said the Senate was still technically in session, if only for a few minutes every few days.  The panel of three judges all appointed by Republican presidents said the president had done an inappropriate end run around the Senate.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney took issue with the ruling.

JAY CARNEY, White House Spokesman:  The decision is novel and unprecedented.  It contradicts 150 years of practice by Democratic and Republican administrations.  So we respectfully, but strongly disagree with the rulings.

There have been, according to the Congressional Research Service, something like 280-plus intrasession recess appointments by, again, Democratic and Republican administrations dating back to 1867.

COMMENT:  What the Senate practice of being in session for a few minutes every few days is ludicrous.  This practice is the real end run around ALL Presidents.

Also this issue is about the political gridlock in the Senate, especially with the Filibuster rule, on ALL (Democratic or Republican) Presidential appointments.

IMHO we need a Constitutional Amendment stating that all Presidential appointments must be given an up-or-down vote in the Senate within 90 days of submission or the appointment is automatically approved.

POLITICS - Republicans Shoot-Down Their Own for Compromising

Another story of the once GOP, which no longer exists, they are now the Tea Party in all but name.

"Another Senator Announces Retirement Blaming 'Legislative Gridlock'" by Greg Henderson, NPR 1/25/2013

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., won't seek re-election next year, he announced Friday.

The conservative Capitol Hill veteran faced recent criticism from the right for seeking a bipartisan compromise on deficit issues, and for being among the first high-level Republicans to question fidelity to Grover Norquist's no-new-taxes pledge after the November elections.

Those stances had raised speculation about a possible Tea Party-backed GOP primary challenge next year, when Chambliss would have been seeking a third six-year term.

In announcing his decision, Chambliss cited Washington dysfunction, not political fear, as his motivation:

"Lest anyone think this decision is about a primary challenge, I have no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won re-election," Chambliss said in a statement. "In these difficult political times, I am fortunate to have actually broadened my support around the state and the nation due to the stances I have taken."

"Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nation's economic health. The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff vote showed Congress at its worst and, sadly, I don't see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon. For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy."

The rationale echoed that of a more moderate Republican senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine, when she announced a year ago that she would not seek re-election in 2012.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that at least two Republican members of the House, Paul Broun and Tom Price, "have been contemplating primary challenges to Chambliss."

It said the announcement "could also awaken Georgia Democrats from the torpor they've been in since losing the governor's office in 2002," and cited a statement from Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:

"'Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle. There are already several reports of the potential for a divisive primary that will push Republicans to the extreme right. Regardless, there's no question that the demographics of the state have changed and Democrats are gaining strength. This will be a top priority.'"

At the end of 2014, Chambliss will have served 20 years in Congress: 8 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate.

In 2011, he was part of the so-called "Gang of Six" senators that tried and failed to reach a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal acceptable to both parties in Congress and to President Obama. But by backing a comprehensive plan that — while cutting entitlements — also would have increased tax revenue, Chambliss dissatisfied some conservatives.

Looming Senate Battles

Democrats currently hold a 55-to-45 edge in the Senate, including two independents who caucus with Democrats.

But the imminent confirmation of Massachusetts' Democratic Sen. John Kerry to secretary of state will open up a special election this year in which recently ousted Republican Scott Brown could seek to dent that margin, should he run. Longtime Democratic Rep. Edward Markey is seeking the Democratic nomination.

In addition to 33 Senate races nationwide in 2014 for full terms, at least two states will hold special Senate elections to complete the terms of Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye, who died late last year and was replaced on an interim basis by Democrat Brian Schatz, and South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint who resigned to take over a think tank and was replaced on an interim basis by fellow Republican Tim Scott.

Another Senate veteran, West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, also has announced that he won't seek re-election in 2014, giving Republicans an opening in a state that has voted Republican in recent presidential races, but where the major statewide offices are held by Democrats.

Friday, January 25, 2013

MEDIA - "Deadwood" HBO Series

I recently discovered HBO's "Deadwood" series (36 episodes) which is a VERY RAW look at 1870's South Dakota.

The series charts Deadwood's growth from camp to town, with many historical figures appear as characters on the show—such as Seth Bullock, Al Swearengen, Wild Bill Hickok, Sol Star, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp, George Crook, E. B. Farnum, Charlie Utter, Jack McCall and George Hearst.

One lead actor is Timothy Olyphant (plays Seth Bullock) is also the lead in FX series "Justified."  Keith Carradine plays Wild Bill Hickok.

Like many HBO movies, the series is not for the squeamish and has adult content, but is OUTSTANDING.

(Not for the squeamish)

I have the full 36 episode DVD set.

HBO Deadwood home page where you can watch full episodes.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

HUMOR - Economics Comedy Routines?!

For those who didn't think economics could be funny.....

"D.C.'s Funniest Celebrity: More Economics Comedy Routines"
PBS Newshour 1/24/2013

POLITICS - Secretary of State Clinton on Benghazi

"Secretary of State Clinton Claims Fault for Benghazi Attack in Heated Hearing" PBS Newshour 1/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke before Senate and House committees about the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  Gwen Ifill reports on Clinton's taking responsibility for the inadequate security as well as her rejection of claims from Republicans that the Obama administration had deceived the nation.

MILITARY - Lift on Banning Women in Combat

"Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Lifts Armed Services Ban on Women in Combat" PBS Newshour 1/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta decided to lift the ban on women in the military serving in combat, opening thousands of front line jobs to women and reversing the 1994 policy that kept them out of those positions.  Gwen Ifill talks with James Kitfield of National Journal about the historic change and implications.

POLITICS - Debt Ceiling Fight and GOP Priorities

"A Look at GOP Congressional Priorities as U.S. House Forgoes Debt Ceiling Fight" PBS Newshour 1/23/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  On Monday, the president laid out his agenda for his second term in office. Today, House Republicans took their first step to position themselves for a series of upcoming fiscal battles.

MAN:  The gentleman is recognized.

GWEN IFILL:  On the House floor today, Speaker John Boehner called the Republican bill pretty simple.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio:  It says that there should be no long-term increase in the debt limit until there's a long-term plan to deal with the fiscal crisis that faces our country.

GWEN IFILL:  Today, the House opted for short-term, temporarily lifting the debt ceiling until May 19, then resetting the cap to cover any borrowing over the current limit, $16.4 trillion.  And for now, Republicans will not force immediate spending cuts.

The party's new strategy would achieve that goal by forcing Congress to pass a budget.

House Budget Committee chair and last year's vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan:

REP. PAUL RYAN, R- Wis.:  And here's the point.  We have a law.  It's called the Budget Act.  It requires that Congress passes a budget by April 15.  All we're saying is, Congress, follow the law, do your work, budget. And the reason for this extension is so that we can have the debate we need to have.

GWEN IFILL:  As added incentive, the House bill says, if there is no budget, lawmakers won't get paid.

For once I agree with a Republican.  Paul Ryan's comment hits the nail on the head.

MILITARY - Drone Warfare

"Exploring Technology, Effectiveness, Consequences of Drone Warfare" PBS Newshour 1/23/2013


SUMMARY:  PBS's NOVA explores the pros, cons and controversies of drone warfare, as well as the technology behind drone strikes.  Jeffrey Brown discusses with Seth Jones of RAND Corporation and Chris Anders from the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Rise of the Drones"
PBS Nova (52:52 min)
Watch Rise of the Drones on PBS. See more from NOVA.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

ISRAEL - Netanyahu's Re-Election

"Prime Minister Netanyahu Re-elected but Changes in Store for Israeli Government" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/22/2013

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And now to Israel.

As election results come in tonight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be on his way to another term in office.

But, as Margaret Warner reports, his next government could look quite different from his last.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  The prime minister's victory came as no surprise, given his lead in the polls heading in to today.  But the margin of victory was a lot narrower than his Likud Party had hoped.  And whatever governing coalition Bibi Netanyahu tries to put together, it's sure to include new faces and new agendas that will influence the country.

One of those, Naftali Bennett, a high-tech millionaire and former settler leader who remodeled an old religious and nationalist party for the 21st century, calling it the Jewish Home.  He was out early at a polling station in Tel Aviv.

NAFTALI BENNETT, Jewish Home Party:  I think we're starting something new.  And -- hey. And we're trying to unite all the various tribes in Israel, the secular, the religious, the ultra-religious, the Jews, the Arabs, everyone together to unite Israel and do something good for this nation.

MARGARET WARNER:  His comments were inclusive, but Bennett's platform has a hard edge.  The time for negotiating with the Palestinians is over, he says.  Just annex parts of the West Bank. His campaign has drawn an enthusiastic following.

DAVIDE SAGIEL, Israel:  A fresh face, and he also has a lot of powers and abilities to contribute and to make the Israelis fight together, religious people and secular people.  And I think he's a very attractive figure for many youngsters especially for youngsters in Israel.

MARGARET WARNER:  The other major new face, at least as a political figure, is a Yair Lapid.  The former TV anchor and columnist launched his own movement, Yesh Atid, There Is a Future.  It has propelled itself into contention with a detailed pitch for middle-class votes and a gauzy centrist mess and of hope and change.

YAIR LAPID, Yesh Atid Party:  Because in a world, in an age where people do everything to escape responsibility, you took responsibility.  Because in an atmosphere where everybody is staying in their home and accusing each other, addicted to the politics of hate and fear, you decided to take the chance and believe in something.  So you are my heroes.

MARGARET WARNER:  Lapid is also pushing to reverse the cloud of religious conservatives on government policy, and education, housing and the draft.

Fellow former journalist Shelly Yachimovich is hoping to resurrect the prominence of the historically strong Labor Party, which has been in decline for more than a decade.  She's leading the party that drove the peace process with Palestinians towards a different message this time, focusing almost exclusively on economic and social issues.

For many Israelis, those concerns matter most in 2013.

ANNA KUNTSMAN, Israel:  I want middle-class concerns taken care of.  It is slowly collapsing. For young couples like me and my husband, it is almost impossible to buy a flat or a house.  And it is even hard to raise a child and to live with respect.

MARGARET WARNER:  A plurality of Israelis, however, have voted to keep the leader they know.  The prime minister built his appeal around his decades of experience and his image as a tough guy in a dangerous neighborhood.  That worked for Tomer and Avi Tepper-Lupu, who brought their young twins to the same polling station where Bennett voted.  They both work in Israel's booming high-tech sector.  And both cast their votes for Netanyahu.

How important is security as an issue to the two of you?

TOMER TEPPER-LUPU, Israel:  Very important.  I think it's the first thing today.  And that's why I think Bibi is the only alternative that we have today, he's the only one who can do it.

MARGARET WARNER:  But, tonight, Israel's voters were saying they want him to listen to other voices, too.

"Narrow Victory for Netanyahu Shows Centrist Political Shift in Israel" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/22/2013


SUMMARY:  Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party won a majority of seats in Tuesday's election, it was by a slim margin that reflected Israel's changing political climate.  Gwen Ifill talks to Margaret Warner from Tel Aviv about the country's political shifts.

POLITICS - Now That the 2013 Inauguration is Over.....

"Inauguration Over, President Obama Launches Second Term Progressive Agenda" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/22/2013

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  President Obama's forceful new focus on progressive ideals echoed across the nation on the day after the inauguration.  And it earned him both praise and potshots.

The president's inaugural themes lingered in the air this morning at a traditional prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral. Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton offered words of praise in the cathedral's great vaulted sanctuary.

REV. ADAM HAMILTON, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection:  We Americans say it seldom, but we should say it far more often.  Thank you for giving yourselves, for sacrificing, for living in glass houses, for accepting the constant barrage of criticism with very little praise, for being willing to risk everything in order to serve this country.  Thank you.

ADAM HAMILTON:  And, yesterday, you began to lay out a vision for us in your inaugural address that was very powerful and compelling.

GWEN IFILL:  Mr. Obama used that 18-minute address to tack toward a more overtly liberal agenda, perhaps most notable on gay rights.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

MAN:  I now pronounce you married.

GWEN IFILL:  The president first announced his support of same-sex marriage last May.  But that reference was a first for a presidential inaugural speech.  He also raised immigration reform, an issue that went unaddressed for much of his first term.

BARACK OBAMA:  Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our work force rather than expelled from our country.

GWEN IFILL:  The president singled out climate change as well, another issue that remained largely on the back burner during his first four years in the White House.

BARACK OBAMA:  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

BARACK OBAMA:  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

GWEN IFILL:  The calls to action drew cheers from the hundreds of thousands of well-wishers on the National Mall and from most Democrats.  But Republicans complained of a defiant tone and a sharply leftward turn, noting, for example, that the president has mentioned the deficit just once.

The SuperPAC Crossroads GPS unveiled a Web video citing news accounts of the speech.

MAN:  The progressive liberal agenda is what he's now clearly staking his second term on.

GWEN IFILL:  And at the Capitol today, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the criticism.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-Ky):  One thing that is pretty clear from the president's speech yesterday, the era of liberalism is back.  An unabashedly far-left-of-center inauguration speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party of ages past.

If the president pursues that kind of agenda, obviously, it's not designed to bring us together and certainly not designed to deal with the transcendent issue of our era, which is deficit and debt.  Until we fix that problem, we can't fix America.

GWEN IFILL:  White House officials dismissed that critique today.  And they said the president will speak directly to a wider array of issues in his State of the Union address in February.

"Era of liberalism is back," and thank the All Mighty, where people are MORE important than money.

"How Will Obama Address Economy, Equality and Partisanship in Second Term?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/22/2013


SUMMARY:  In his inaugural address, President Obama laid his plans for the next four years, including more attention to global warming and equal rights for gay Americans.  Jeffrey Brown and guests discuss the tone and content of Obama's address and what they hope the president will do over the next four years.

"Obama Speech Leaves G.O.P. Stark Choices" by JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times 1/22/2013

RELIGION - Los Angeles Cardinal Mahony vs Child Abuse Documents

"Sexual Abuse Files Cast Shadow on Los Angeles Cardinal" by LAURIE GOODSTEIN, New York Times 1/22/2013


Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, for more than 25 years the savvy shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles, retired nearly two years ago to a renovated yellow house behind his childhood parish, pledging to stay in the spotlight by continuing to fight for the rights of immigrants.

But the cardinal now finds himself in a most unwelcome spotlight, one that he sought for years to avoid.  Internal church personnel files released this week as part of a civil court case reveal that he and his top adviser knowingly shielded priests accused of child sexual abuse from law enforcement.  In one letter, the cardinal ordered a clergyman to stay in New Mexico, where he had been sent for treatment, to avoid the possibility of being reported to the police in California.

Lawyers for the Los Angeles Archdiocese fought for years to prevent the release of the files, but a demand for transparency was a primary goal of the more than 500 victims of clergy abuse who signed a record settlement for $660 million with the archdiocese in July 2007.  When a judge ordered the files to be made public despite the church’s objections, the archdiocese fought to be allowed to redact names and identifying details.  But it recently lost that battle and now awaits an imminent cascade of 30,000 more documents that could further tarnish Cardinal Mahony’s legacy.

“He played a very prominent role as social and spiritual leader,” said William Deverell, the director of the Huntington-University of Southern California Institute on California and the West.  “He’s a native, knows greater Los Angeles exceedingly well and presided over an already globally changed city, leading it into the next phase.  He earned a great deal of ecumenical trust and leadership, which is now going to be re-examined.”

In his long tenure in the nation’s largest archdiocese, Cardinal Mahony, now 76, distinguished himself as a keen politician in both civic and church circles.  He was an early champion of Hispanic immigrants, marching with César Chávez, the founder of the United Farm Workers of America, and is beloved by many Hispanics, who make up 70 percent of the four million Catholics in the archdiocese.

Cardinal Mahony, who was archbishop from 1985 until 2011, cultivated friendships with politicians like former Mayor Richard J. Riordan, and raised nearly $200 million to build the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a postmodern landmark downtown. In an increasingly conservative Catholic Church, he was known as one of the last relatively progressive prelates, embracing the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and encouraging increased participation of women and laypeople.  He hosted what has become the largest annual gathering of Catholics in ministry, the Religious Education Congress.

But his tenure was shadowed by the abuse scandal. In 2003, the California Legislature temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases for one year, allowing new lawsuits to be filed.  The legislation ultimately led to the settlement with more than 500 victims in 2007.

In 2009, the Los Angeles Archdiocese became the first in the nation to be the subject of a federal investigation into the handling of clergy sexual abuse.  The United States attorney, Thomas P. O’Brien, convened a grand jury, which was reported at the time to include an investigation into the role of Cardinal Mahony and his chief lieutenants in protecting accused abusers.  No charges were ever brought.

Roman Catholic Church 11th Commandment:  "Protect the church at ALL costs."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

AMERICA - 2013 Inauguration

"Beyonce Performs the National Anthem at President Obama's Inauguration" PBS Newshour 1/21/2013

"President Obama: 'Our Journey Is Not Complete'" PBS Newshour 1/21/2013

President Obama's Inaugural Speech

"Larger Than Expected Inauguration Crowd Shares Joy, Future Hopes" PBS Newshour 1/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Ray Suarez reports on the sights, sounds and crowds on the National Mall, where hundreds of thousands of people traveled from around the country and the world to witness the 57th presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.

"Shields and Brooks: More Sure-Footed Obama Lays Out Long Game" PBS Newshour 1/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks talk to Gwen Ifill about the content and tone of the 2013 inaugural address, including President Obama's mentions of climate change and social programs, and a greater sense of resolution and progressivism in his delivery.

EDUCATION - Science Literacy

The following is from a required-reading text in a Coursera online course that emphasizes why science and technology is important for the general public to be familiar with, at least enough to be an "active and informed science spectator."

Coursera gives FREE online college level courses from accredited universities and professors, although (as of now) you get no college credit.  I take courses just for my own interest and knowledge.

"Introduction to Science Literacy" by John W. White, Michael Dennin, and John W. White

Science and technology play a major role in modern everyday life.  These technical topics interact heavily with our economy, medicine, entertainment, politics, arts, and religion.  Every individual needs to be conversant with the general workings of science; most of all, everyone needs to be able to learn about the technical topics that touch our lives.  In an analogy to sports, every individual is capable of, and needs to become, an active and informed science spectator to be a truly engaged citizen of the 21st century.

"Chapter-1A  The Role and Meaning of Science Literacy"

Science literacy enables students whose talents and interests lie in other areas to gain an appreciation of topics that will touch and enrich their lives in many ways.  Science literacy enables us to make informed decisions when faced with a new technology or scientific report, and it implies the ability to acquire at least a modest competency that will help us maximize our experience of any new technology.  Finally, it provides focus and a strong foundation when scientific questions intersect political, social, and economic issues.

Monday, January 21, 2013

NATURE - Dolphin Seeking Help From Human

This is a video of a dolphin in distress that SEEKS help from a human diver.

OPINION - It's Appropriations Stupid

This post is about the distraction foisted on the American public by politicians and abetted by news media.

The distraction is the emphasis on our National Budget.

Budgets (home or government) do NOT spend one single penny, not one.  Our federal tax dollars are spent by Appropriation Bills (laws) passed by Congress.

There the total focus on our National Budget is, at least, misleading.  'We the people' and the news media should be paying much more attention to what is happening in the debates and passage of Appropriation Bills.

There are laws on the books that are not funded at all, or are under-funded.  Making these laws ineffectual at best.

The difference between budgets and appropriations are taken advantage by disingenuous politicians.  They vote for a bill, go home and 'brag' that they voted for it (because their constituent's like it), THEN go back and vote AGAINST the appropriation for the same law.

Also note that Appropriation Bills are laws that state what dollars are to be sent on what.  Emphasis, laws.  And our National Debt Limit (aka Debt Ceiling) is about paying today's bills as passed by law, not anything to do with our National Budget.

It's appropriations stupid.

AFRICA - Regional Islamic Militant Unrest

"Crises in Algeria, Mali Reflect Regional Unrest" PBS Newshour 1/18/2013


SUMMARY:  Recent terrorist activity in Mali and Algeria reflect greater regional tumult and threat to international security. Ray Suarez talks to Mary Jane Deeb from the Library of Congress and Dirk Vandewalle from Dartmouth College about the various geopolitical factors at play.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  We return now to North Africa, and what recent developments in Mali and Algeria tell us about the terrorist threat in that part of the world.

For that, I'm joined by Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress -- the views she expresses here are her own -- and Dirk Vandewalle, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College.

AMERICA - 2013 Inauguration Poet

"Inauguration Poet Richard Blanco Hopes to Offer Words of Unity, Belonging" PBS Newshour 1/18/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And now to the man who will be just the fifth inaugural poet in the nation's history.

Richard Blanco was, as he said, made in Cuba -- he was conceived there -- assembled in Spain -- his mother gave birth to him there -- and quickly imported to the United States. He grew up in Miami. He trained and worked as a civil engineer before turning to poetry. He's published three volumes, most recently one titled "Looking For the Gulf Motel."

Blanco now lives in the small town of Bethel, Maine. On Monday, he will become the first Latino, the first openly gay, and the youngest poet to read his work at a presidential inauguration.

OPINION - Political Polarization in American Congress

"When a partisan gap becomes a chasm" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 1/18/2013

The typical political conversation follows a predictable trajectory: the usual suspects argue that politics in Washington is broken because "both sides" have become more extreme, are beholden to their unyielding party bases, and are opposed to compromise. Folks like me try push back, arguing that this is wrong -- one party has been radicalized, the other hasn't -- leading the establishment to roll its eyes and dismiss my argument as overly partisan and ideological.

If only there was a way to quantify matters, removing opinions and subjectivity out of the equation. Wait, there already is such a way.

Political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal periodically update their DW-NOMINATE scores, and yesterday, they published a new report (graphs at top) reflecting the entirety of the 112th Congress. The data, as Dylan Matthews noted, is "the industry standard system for measuring how members of the House and Senate compare to each other ideologically."

And what did they find? The above image shows the ideological trajectory in the U.S. House since the last 1870s, and the blue line shows House Republicans reaching an extreme unseen since the dawn of the modern two-party system.

What about Democrats? They've been about the same since the mid-1990s.

The picture in the Senate is very similar.

The result isn't just a polarized Congress; it's the most polarized House ever recorded, and the most polarized Senate since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. It's not because "both sides" pander to their bases; it's because Republicans moved sharply to the right.

Poole and Rosenthal have more useful information in their report, including some additional charts. Be sure to share it with everyone who tells you "both parties" always deserve all of the blame.

OPINION - The Sick and Hateful OnLine

I am for Freedom of Speech, but one has to wonder about sick people who post messages like this on on a Usenet Group:

"There is absolutely no evidence that any children were killed in Sandy Hook, Connecticut" from "Too_Many_Tools"


Not skinny little lifeless corpse one.

Where are the bodies?

Where are the pictures?

Where is the proof this happened?

You know damned well Obama's anus lapping media pundits would
swear to any lie he tells.

This is all another lie just like the financial bailout.

This was a reply from "TMT" (on Usenet) to "Too_Many_Tools" post:

Millions of Americans would disagree.

Please keep posting...we need a continuing record of your mental
illness so we can confiscate your guns when the time comes...

I do agree with "TMT" and  since "Too_Many_Tools" is obviously mentally ill, he should be banded from owning any guns IF he actually commits any crime with a gun.

Then "Too_Many_Tools" post MAY be a 'troll' which means he just wants to trigger replies to an outlandish post.  A Newsgroup technique to get attention, like a child throwing a tantrum.

Friday, January 18, 2013

TECHNOLOGY - Long-Distance Laser Communication

"NASA beams Mona Lisa to moon with laser" by Miriam Kramer (, Fox News 1/18/2013

Call it the ultimate in high art: Using a well-timed laser, NASA scientists have beamed a picture of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, to a powerful spacecraft orbiting the moon, marking a first in laser communication.

The laser signal, fired from an installation in Maryland, beamed the Mona Lisa to the moon to be received 240,000 miles away by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the moon since 2009. The Mona Lisa transmission, NASA scientists said, is a major advance in laser communication for interplanetary spacecraft.

"This is the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances," David Smith, a researcher working with the LRO's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter — which received the Mona Lisa message — said in a statement. "In the near future, this type of simple laser communication might serve as a backup for the radio communication that satellites use. In the more distance future, it may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide."

The LRO spacecraft was the prime choice to test out the novel communication method because the spacecraft was already equipped with a laser receiver. While most spacecraft exploring the solar system today are tracked using radio signals, NASA is tracking LRO via lasers as well.

But the timing had to be just right.

NASA used its Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging station at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to send the Mona Lisa signal to LRO. The team divided the famous da Vinci painting into sections measuring 150 by 200 pixels and then transmitted them via the pulsing of the laser to the orbiter at a data rate of about 300 bits per second.

Once the lunar orbiter received the image, it reconstructed the photo, corrected for distortions created as the laser signal zipped through Earth's atmosphere, and then sent the image back to Earth using its normal form of communication: radio waves.

"This pathfinding achievement sets the stage for the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration," Richard Vondrak, another researcher with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter said, "a high data rate laser-communication-demonstrations that will be a central feature of NASA's next moon mission, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust environment Explorer."

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer is slated to launch toward the moon later this year and will focus on mapping the lunar atmosphere and environment.

POLITICS - Organizing for Action PAC

"Organizing For Action: Obama Campaign Relaunches As Issue-Based Nonprofit" by Paul Blumenthal, Huffington Post 1/18/2013

President Barack Obama may have run the last campaign of his career, but his political organization is not going away. In an unprecedented step for the campaign of a sitting president, Obama for America is relaunching itself ahead of the president's second inauguration as a social welfare nonprofit group called Organizing for Action.

First reported Thursday night by the Los Angeles Times and Politico, the new group will use the Obama campaign's extensive collection of data and manpower to push the president's agenda from outside the confines of the Democratic Party structure, while giving grassroots supporters a voice in deciding which issues the nonprofit will focus on.

Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager and the chair of Organizing for Action, explained the relaunch in an e-mail to staffers and donors, "It will be a supporter-driven organization, as we've always been, staying true to our core principles: 'respect, empower, include.'"

"We'll work on the key battles of our generation, train the next generation of grassroots organizers and leaders, and organize around local issues in our own communities," Messina continued. "We'll continue to support the President in creating jobs and growing the economy from the middle out, and in fighting for issues like immigration reform, climate change, balanced deficit reduction, and reducing gun violence."

First Lady Michelle Obama emphasized the "supporter-driven" nature of the organization in a video posted online Friday.

"In terms of the specifics of what this organization is going to look like, a lot of that will be up to you," she said. "It will be determined by your energy and ideas and feedback because, after all, this is your movement. And going forward, it can be whatever you want to give it."

Messina will be joined at Organizing for Action by White House Director of the Office of Public Engagement Jon Carson, who will serve as the group's executive director.

As a social welfare nonprofit, organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code, Organizing for Action will be able to raise unlimited sums of money from any type of donor, whether that be an individual, a union or a corporation.

These types of groups came under scrutiny after the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision enabled them to spend freely on elections, since they are not required to disclose their donors. In fact, the Obama reelection campaign in fundraising appeals routinely attacked the secret money that was funding the 501(c)(4) groups founded by Karl Rove and the billionaire Koch brothers.

According to multiple press reports, Organizing for Action has stated that it will disclose all of its donors, although it has not decided whether to disclose on a monthly or quarterly basis.

This brought praise from Public Campaign, a campaign finance watchdog that has criticized the activity of political nonprofits not disclosing their donors.

"Obviously there should be extra scrutiny for an organization like this because of its ties to a sitting president and that's why we welcome that they will disclose their donors," said Adam Smith, communications director at Public Campaign.

There is no precedent for the continuation of a sitting president's political operation after the campaign is done. After the 2008 election, Obama for America's operations were housed inside of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as Organizing for America, but the effort was barely noticeable during the push to pass health care reform or any other piece of the first term Obama agenda.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) transformed his failed 2004 presidential campaign into a political action committee (PAC) to help progressive candidates across the country. That organization, Democracy for America, still continues to raise money and organize with other progressive groups to elect like-minded candidates to the House and Senate.

The way that Organizing for Action is being introduced makes it look less like a political organization that will support or oppose candidates, like Democracy for America or the secret money nonprofits from Rove's Crossroads GPS and the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, and more like a traditional, issue-based social welfare group.

"It's important to note that there's a difference between creating a 501(c)(4) to advance a legislative agenda versus one like Crossroads that was created just to elect people," Smith said.

That difference appeared to be confirmed by DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse in a tweet about the relaunch announcement, "Organizing for Action is great news for progressive movement and Dem. Party allowing DNC to focus on elections, C4 on issues."

MALI - European's Support for France's Intervention

"How Far Will Europeans Support France’s Counter-Jihad?" by HARVEY MORRIS, International Herald Tribune (IHT) 1/18/2013

It did not require a crystal ball to foresee, as Rendezvous did in our 2013 preview, that Mali would be in the news and that France might be the first to intervene there to counter a perceived terrorist threat to Europe.

Less predictable, however, is the extent to which the French can rely on the support of their European allies now that they have decided to go it alone.

The crisis had been building for the best part of a year since mutinous soldiers staged a coup in Bamako, the Malian capital, last March, and separatist Tuareg tribesmen took the opportunity to seize the north of the country. The tribesmen were quickly pushed aside by radical Islamists, including those behind this week’s hostage-taking in neighboring Algeria.

They were poised to extend their rule this month beyond the two-thirds of the country they already control when the French stepped in at the request of the Bamako government.

As early as last April, Alain Juppé, the then French foreign minister, was warning of the “extremely grave threat” posed by the Qaeda-linked insurgents and their aim of establishing a jihadist regime in northern Mali.

In early September, António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was telling readers of the IHT:

If unchecked, the Mali crisis threatens to create an arc of instability extending west into Mauritania and east through Niger, Chad and Sudan to the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden, characterized by extended spaces where state authority is weak and pockets of territorial control are exercised by transnational criminals.

So, did the international community, and Europe in particular, react too slowly to the escalating crisis? Or has France acted precipitously in opting for a military solution to contain the threat?

David Rohde writes elsewhere on Rendezvous that regional experts believe the French had to act.

But, as French troops launched ground operations this week in support of local forces, how far are France’s European allies prepared to be sucked into a potential Malian quagmire?

Germany, Denmark and Britain are among European Union partners that have offered logistical support in Mali.

However, as David Cameron, the British prime minister, assured Parliament when he announced the offer of transport aircraft to assist the French mission, there was no question of putting British boots on the ground.

The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is being even more cautious, limiting its assistance to supplying planes to airlift African troops from the regional ECOWAS alliance.

“Under no circumstances does Germany want to become involved in a messy conflict with no clear end in sight,” Germany’s Der Spiegel commented, “particularly not in an election year.”

Germany held out against intervention in Libya in 2011, eventually spearheaded by France and Britain, siding with Russia in a crucial United Nations vote in defiance of its European allies.

Libya underlined the lack of a common foreign policy, let alone a common defense policy, among the 27 European partners who now face a new crisis in North Africa.

Facing recriminations from some in France that it was only its soldiers who were doing the fighting, European foreign ministers agreed on Thursday to speed up the dispatch of more than 200 military personnel to train Malian government forces to confront the Islamists.

But that was an option that had been on the table since October, when European Union officials said the alliance was considering such a move.

The E.U. also stressed that the trainers, due to be deployed by mid-February at the latest, would not be involved in combat operations.

Commenting on the outcome of Thursday’s meeting, Christophe Giltay of Belgium’s RTL broadcaster, said, “More and more French people are asking themselves if the Europeans have really understood the gravity of the situation.”

Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer and Martin Michelot of the Washington-based German Marshall Fund of the United States wrote this week that “the glacial pace at which decisions are taken at the national level to support France’s efforts in Mali only underscores the need for European leaders to be willing to discuss common security issues.”

Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said on Thursday some of France’s partners were “willing to help and support France in every way and they did not rule in or rule out any aspect of that, including military support.”

But, according to the German Marshall Fund experts: “The French military is nevertheless facing the hard reality of acting on its own, with very little support from other European allies.”

AIRCRAFT - Boeing 787 Like Lithium-Ion Batteries a Long Concern

"Batteries Like Those on Dreamliner Raised Concerns" by DANIEL MICHAELS, Wall Street Journal 1/17/2013

Batteries similar to those at the center of the recent problems with Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner have raised growing concerns with air-safety regulators in recent years.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered a halt to Dreamliner flights on Wednesday after two major battery malfunctions aboard the aircraft, and regulators world-wide followed the FAA's lead, effectively grounding Boeing's flagship jet.

Until now, the biggest worry about lithium-ion batteries centered on the kind used in electronics products, such as laptop computers and cellphones, that were shipped in bulk as air cargo or stowed in passengers' carry-on baggage. The Dreamliner is the first passenger plane to use big lithium batteries as a backup power source.

It remains unclear whether the Dreamliner's batteries, which are produced by Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa Co., caused the problems on two Dreamliners operated by All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines, respectively. Other factors, such as their wiring or installation, could have contributed to the incidents, industry officials say.

Whatever the cause, the power cells posed a risk because they are highly flammable under certain conditions. Lithium batteries are vulnerable to overheating if overcharged, or if discharged too rapidly, and overheated or damaged batteries can catch fire. They burn at extremely high temperatures, may emit flammable vapors, flames or sparks, and can even explode.

The danger is related to what makes the batteries popular: They can store large amounts of energy. They combine light weight and compact size with the ability to charge up and discharge quickly.

Over the past decade, aviation regulators have recorded dozens of incidents in which lithium batteries in consumer products have overheated or caught fire on planes or at airports. Stricter international safety rules kicked in this year to tackle the hazards of shipping such batteries by air.

Large shipments of the power cells are suspected of having played a role in the fatal crashes of two jumbo-jet cargo planes in 2010 and 2011 and the destruction of a smaller freighter in 2006, according to safety officials.

Despite the concerns about lithium batteries, they are being used more widely in aircraft. The U.S. military's new F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter jet uses lithium-ion batteries produced by a unit of French battery maker Saft Groupe SA. No safety incidents with the units have been publicly reported.

A spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp., which builds the fighter, said in a statement that its batteries aren't from GS Yuasa, and that "we expect no impact [on the Joint Strike Fighter] program."

Europe aircraft maker Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co., uses small lithium batteries for emergency power on its two-deck A380 super-jumbo, which entered service in 2007.

Airbus plans to use bigger lithium batteries on its new A350 model, now in development, but those cells still will be smaller than those aboard the Dreamliner. Saft will supply the A350 batteries, Airbus said.

The Dreamliner is an unusual airplane because it relies on electric power for most of its functions.

Previous airliners from Boeing, Airbus and other manufacturers have used a combination of electrical and mechanical power drawn from a plane's engines.

The new Airbus A350 will use roughly one-third the electric power of the Dreamliner, Airbus officials said Thursday. The plane also uses two batteries in parallel where Boeing uses one, reducing the power that each one stores and discharges, Airbus officials said.

"We don't need as much power, and it's a different architecture on the A350," said Tom Williams, Airbus's executive vice president for programs. He declined to comment on how the 787 incidents might influence the A350's battery design. "We need to wait and see what the investigation tells us," he said.

As concerns about the batteries have increased, the FAA has conducted extensive testing of their performance. In at least one test, the batteries burned hot enough to melt test equipment, according to a person familiar with the results.

In another set of tests last year, the FAA caused lithium batteries in a laptop computer to ignite in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 jet. Pilots increasingly use laptop and tablet computers as replacements for the heavy maps and manuals they have long lugged around.

The test focused more on the smoke hazard from a fire than the damage caused by flames. To disperse the smoke, the testers boosted ventilation in the cockpit, replacing its air entirely once every minute, according to an FAA report of the test.

Nevertheless, the testing showed that a standard lithium laptop battery, which is much smaller than the models on the Dreamliner, "could pose a significant smoke hazard" in the cockpit, the report said. In one test, the smoke was dense enough to cause a "severe lack of visibility."

ALGERIA - Gas Plant Hostages Update

"Algeria: 60 hostages unaccounted for in gas plant standoff" by Karim Kabir and Paul Schemm (AP), CTV News 1/18/2013

About 60 foreign hostages are still unaccounted for three days into a bloody siege with Islamic militants at a gas plant deep in the Sahara, Algeria's state news service said Friday.

The militants, meanwhile, offered to trade two American hostages for terror figures jailed in the United States, according to a statement received by a Mauritanian news site that often reports news from North African extremists.

It was the latest surprising development in a hostage drama that began Wednesday when militants seized hundreds of workers from 10 nations at Algeria's remote Ain Amenas natural gas plant. Algerian forces retaliated Thursday by storming the plant in an attempted rescue operation that killed at least four hostages and left leaders around the world expressing strong concerns about the hostages' safety.

Algerian special forces resumed negotiating Friday with the militants holed up in the refinery, according to the Algerian news service, which cited a security source.

The report said "more than half of the 132 hostages" had been freed in the first two days, but it could not account for the remainder, saying some could be hidden throughout the sprawling desert site.

Militants on Friday offered to trade two American hostages for two prominent terror figures jailed in the United States: the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a Pakistani scientist convicted of shooting at two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

The offer, according to a Mauritanian news site that frequently broadcasts dispatches from groups linked to al-Qaida, came from Moktar Belmoktar, an extremist commander based in Mali who apparently masterminded the operation.

Algeria's government has kept a tight grip on information, but it was clear that the militant assault that began Wednesday with an attempted bus hijacking has killed at least six people from the plant - and perhaps many more.

Workers kidnapped by the militants came from around the world - Americans, Britons, French, Norwegians, Romanians, Malaysians, Japanese, Algerians. Leaders on Friday expressed strong concerns about how Algeria was handing the situation and its apparent reluctance to communicate.

British Prime Minister David Cameron went before the House of Commons on Friday to provide an update, seeming frustrated that Britain was not told about the military operation despite having "urged we be consulted."

Terrorized hostages from Ireland and Norway trickled out of the Ain Amenas plant, 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of Algiers, the capital. BP, which jointly operates the plant, said it had begun to evacuate employees from Algeria.

"This is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages," Cameron said. He told lawmakers the situation remained fluid and dangerous, saying "part of the threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, a threat still remains in another part."

Algeria's army-dominated government, hardened by decades of fighting Islamist militants, shrugged aside foreign offers of help and drove ahead alone.

The U.S. government sent an unarmed surveillance drone to the BP-operated site, near the border with Libya, but it could do little more than watch Thursday's military intervention. British intelligence and security officials were on the ground in Algeria's capital but were not at the installation, said a British official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

A U.S. official said while some Americans escaped, other Americans were either still held or unaccounted for.

El Mokhtar Ould Sidi, editor of the Mauritanian news site ANI, said several calls on Thursday came from the kidnappers themselves giving their demands and describing the situation.

"They were clearly in a situation of war, the spokesman who contacted us was giving orders to his colleagues and you could hear the sounds of war in the background.... He threatened to kill all the hostages if the Algerian forces tried to liberate them," he said.

With the hostage drama entering its second day Thursday, Algerian security forces moved in, first with helicopter fire and then special forces, according to diplomats, a website close to the militants, and an Algerian security official. The government said it was forced to intervene because the militants were being stubborn and wanted to flee with the hostages.

Militants claimed 35 hostages died when the military helicopters opened fire as they were transporting hostages from the living quarters to the main factory area where other workers were being held.

The group - led by a Mali-based al-Qaida offshoot known as the Masked Brigade - suffered losses in Thursday's military assault - but garnered a global audience.

The militants made it clear that their attack was in revenge for the French intervention against Islamists who have taken over large parts of neighboring Mali. France has encountered fierce resistance from the extremist groups in Mali and failed to persuade many Western allies to join in the actual combat.

Even violence-scarred Algerians were stunned by the brazen hostage-taking Wednesday, the biggest in northern Africa in years and the first to include Americans as targets. Mass fighting in the 1990s had largely spared the lucrative oil and gas industry that gives Algeria its economic independence and regional weight.

The official Algerian news agency said four hostages were killed in Thursday's operation, two Britons and two Filipinos. Two others, a Briton and an Algerian, died Wednesday in the initial militant ambush on a bus ferrying foreign workers to an airport. Citing hospital officials, it said six Algerians and seven foreigners were injured.

APS said some 600 local workers were safely freed in the raid - but many of those were reportedly released the day before by the militants themselves.

"Algeria Raids Gas Plant to Free Hostages; Conflicting Reports on Fallout" PBS Newshour 1/17/2013


SUMMARY:  After Islamic militants tied to al-Qaida took hostages at a natural gas plant in Algeria as retribution for France's strikes in Mali, the Algerian government launched an assault to free those held, including some Americans.  Jeffrey Brown reports on conflicting accounts about how many got out alive and how many were killed.