Thursday, March 28, 2013

SUPREME COURT - On DOMA and Gay Couples

"Supreme Court Considers Legality of Denying Benefits to Married Same-Sex Couples" PBS Newshour 3/27/2013


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court took up whether same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.  Kwame Holman offers history on the Defense of Marriage Act and reactions from outside the court.  Ray Suarez talks to National Law Journal's Marcia Coyle, who helps compare proceedings on both same-sex marriage cases.

AMERICA - Inequality, Poor Students Unnoticed by Universities

"Top-Achieving Poor Students Go Unnoticed by Some Elite Universities" PBS Newshour 3/27/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Why are some of the top achievers missing out on a shot to go to some of the best universities?

Jeffrey Brown explores that question, part of our continuing coverage on inequality in America.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  For years, colleges and universities have been trying to diversify their student body, not just by ethnicity, but by income as well.

But despite high-profile moves at some schools to do so, including big boosts in financial assistance and even full tuition, the numbers are still falling short of the goal.  A recent study is shedding new light on the problem and what's behind it.  The analysis found just 34 percent of high-achieving seniors from the lower end of the income ladder attend one of the 238 most select schools.

By comparison, nearly 80 percent of high-achieving students from the upper end of the income ladder attend an elite school.  The study also found there are many more high-achieving students from lower-income backgrounds than schools now know of or are recruiting.

INTERNET - Spam or Not to Spam Cyber War

"Cyber War Over Spam Slows Access for Internet Users" PBS Newshour 3/27/2013


SUMMARY:  A dispute between an online company that sends spam emails and a company trying to mitigate spam has led to the one of the largest reporter cyber attacks in history, creating slow access to common sites like Netflix for millions of web users.  Hari Sreenivasan talks over the case with Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  One company fights spam; the other is said to be behind sending those pesky e-mails.  A dispute between the two has led to one of the largest reported cyber-attacks in Internet history, the result, widespread congestion that's slowing access for millions of users to sites like Netflix.

Nicole Perlroth has been covering the story for The New York Times, joins me now.

NOTE:  For users, this is what eMail client filters are for.  Delete spam eMails, or move spam to a [Spam] folder.

OPINION - Supreme Court and Gay Marriage

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 3/27/2012
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

SUPREME COURT - California's Prop-8 Ban on Gay Marriage

"High Court Hears Challenge to Same-Sex Marriage Ban" PBS Newshour 3/26/2013


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a ballot measure that bans same-sex marriage.  Kwame Holman reports on reactions from supporters on both sides of the debate.  Judy Woodruff talks to Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal, who analyzes the arguments inside the courtroom.

Significant exchange

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:  If same-sex couples have every other right, it's just about the label.

THEODORE OLSON, Former U.S. Solicitor General:  The label marriage means something.  Even our opponents ...


If you tell -- if you tell a child that somebody has to be their friend, I suppose you can force the child to say, this is my friend.  But it changes the definition of what it means to be a friend.  And that is, it seems to me, what supporters of Proposition 8 are saying here.  You're taking -- all you're interested in is the label, and you insist on changing the definition of the label.

COMMENT:  This IS an issue of Equal Rights (equal treatment under the law), part of our U.S. Constitution.

Banning gay marriage is in the same context as WAS banning women's right to vote.  Banning equal treatment under the law because of one's gender.

AMERICA - Work Safety in Grain Storage

"Death of 14-Year-Old Worker Due to Dangerous Conditions in Grain Storage Bins" PBS Newshour 3/26/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  Working conditions in much of the agriculture industry rarely capture national attention.  And that includes the grain storage business.

But the storage of grain in huge silos is a growing business, ever more so in the age of biofuels.   Now a new investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, among others, is raising tough questions about its labor practices.

Among the findings, there have been at least 179 deaths at commercial storage facilities since 1984 and numerous others on farms themselves.  In many cases, workers like 14-year-old Wyatt Whitebread of Mount Carroll, Ill., literally suffocated to death, buried in corn in the silo.  Other deaths result from explosions.

2010 was the deadliest year on record, with 26 killed.  Commercial facilities are overseen by a federal agency, OSHA, but the investigation found that the government's initial fines of the companies ultimately were reduced by nearly 60 percent.

AMERICA - Housing Market Recovery

"Housing Market Shows Fastest Rate of Recovery Since Before the Crash" PBS Newshour 3/26/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  The latest numbers showed the biggest gains in home prices since the onset of the financial crisis.  The S&P/Case-Shiller Index found prices rose in the largest 20 markets by a little more than 8 percent in January, compared to a year ago.

Separately, a government report out today found new home sales were down by five percent last month, but still up 12 percent compared to 2012.  While some markets are reporting prices are climbing more quickly than expected, the average price of a new home is nearly $247,000 dollars.

For a closer look at what's driving the pace of this recovery, we turn to Nicolas Retsinas.  He teaches about real estate at the Harvard Business School.

AMERICA - Orchestra Labor and Financial Problems Nationwide

"San Francisco Strike Is Latest Orchestra Labor Dispute Playing Out Nationally" PBS Newshour 3/26/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Next: A strike by a leading symphony is the latest in a string of labor and financial headaches for the nation's orchestras.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels has the story.

SPENCER MICHELS (Newshour):  The San Francisco Symphony, under its conductor and musical director, Michael Tilson Thomas, canceled all its San Francisco concerts for the past few weeks, and called off an East Coast tour that included a performance in New York's Carnegie Hall.

Instead of performing, musicians milled about in front of Davies Hall in San Francisco and refused to play, until they got a contract that met their demands for higher pay and paid health care benefits comparable to other top orchestras.  It was just the latest trouble on the national classical music front.

Since 2002, classical music performances have seen a decline in attendance of 13 percent across the country.  Season ticket sales decreased as well, forcing orchestras to market single tickets, an expensive proposition, and to search for new audiences by finding new approaches to concerts.

Last year, Chicago Symphony musicians struck, asking for more pay and better health care.  That strike was settled quickly, with modest pay increases, but larger health care payments.  In Detroit, the symphony went out for six months in 2011.  The musicians finally accepted a 25 percent pay cut.  The celebrated Philadelphia Orchestra emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, and still faces financial problems.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

DOMA - President Bill Clinton, A Journey of Change

"Now in Defense of Gay Marriage, Bill Clinton" by PETER BAKER, New York Times 3/25/2013


He had just flown across the country after an exhausting campaign day in Oregon and South Dakota, landing at the White House after dark.  But President Bill Clinton still had more business before bed. He picked up a pen and scrawled out his name, turning a bill into law.

It was 10 minutes before 1 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 1996, and there were no cameras, no ceremony.  The witching-hour timing bespoke both political calculation and personal angst.  With his signature, federal law now defined marriage as the union of a man and woman.  Mr. Clinton considered it a gay-baiting measure, but was unwilling to risk re-election by vetoing it.

For nearly 17 years since, that middle-of-the-night moment has haunted Mr. Clinton, the source of tension with friends, advisers and gay rights supporters.  He tried to explain, defend and justify.  He asked for understanding.  Then he inched away from it bit by bit. Finally this month, he disavowed the Defense of Marriage Act entirely, urging that the law be overturned by the Supreme Court, which takes up the matter on Wednesday on the second of two days of arguments devoted to same-sex marriage issues.

Rarely has a former president declared that an action he took in office violated the Constitution.  But Mr. Clinton’s journey from signing the Defense of Marriage Act to repudiating it mirrors larger changes in society as same-sex marriage has gone from a fringe idea to one with a majority.

“President Clinton has evolved on this issue just like every American has evolved,” said Chad Griffin, who worked as a junior press aide in Mr. Clinton’s White House and now heads the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s most prominent gay rights organization.

Not every American has evolved in the same way Mr. Clinton has.  A sizable proportion of Americans still oppose same-sex marriage, and to them Mr. Clinton’s turnabout is a betrayal of sorts.  But neither supporters nor opponents find it entirely surprising since both sides assumed the former president had actually signed the bill out of politics rather than principle.


"It’s time to overturn DOMA" By Bill Clinton, Washington Post 3/7/2013

In 1996, I signed the Defense of Marriage Act.  Although that was only 17 years ago, it was a very different time.  In no state in the union was same-sex marriage recognized, much less available as a legal right, but some were moving in that direction.  Washington, as a result, was swirling with all manner of possible responses, some quite draconian.  As a bipartisan group of former senators stated in their March 1 amicus brief to the Supreme Court, many supporters of the bill known as DOMA believed that its passage “would defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.”  It was under these circumstances that DOMA came to my desk, opposed by only 81 of the 535 members of Congress.

On March 27, DOMA will come before the Supreme Court, and the justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional.  As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution.

Because Section 3 of the act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, same-sex couples who are legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia are denied the benefits of more than a thousand federal statutes and programs available to other married couples.  Among other things, these couples cannot file their taxes jointly, take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse or receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees.  Yet they pay taxes, contribute to their communities and, like all couples, aspire to live in committed, loving relationships, recognized and respected by our laws.

When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.”  Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory.  It should be overturned.

We are still a young country, and many of our landmark civil rights decisions are fresh enough that the voices of their champions still echo, even as the world that preceded them becomes less and less familiar.  We have yet to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, but a society that denied women the vote would seem to us now not unusual or old-fashioned but alien.  I believe that in 2013 DOMA and opposition to marriage equality are vestiges of just such an unfamiliar society.

Americans have been at this sort of a crossroads often enough to recognize the right path.  We understand that, while our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values.  One hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln concluded a message to Congress by posing the very question we face today:  “It is not ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but ‘Can we all do better?’?”

The answer is of course and always yes.  In that spirit, I join with the Obama administration, the petitioner Edith Windsor, and the many other dedicated men and women who have engaged in this struggle for decades in urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

MIDDLE EAST - Challenges for Secretary of State John Kerry

"New State Secretary Faces New and Old Challenges in the Middle East, Afghanistan" PBS Newshour 3/25/2013


SUMMARY:  What does Secretary of State John Kerry's schedule say about the current U.S. foreign policy priorities?  How does the current secretary compare to his predecessor?  Gwen Ifill talks with Michele Dunne of the Atlantic Council and Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy about the war in Afghanistan and challenges of responding to Syria.

EUROPE - Signs of Economic Turnaround, Ireland

"Local Businesses Help Refresh Irish Economy After Global Recession" PBS Newshour 3/25/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  And to the economy of another European nation, Ireland.

Good times turned sour during the worldwide financial crisis.  But now there are signs of a turnaround driven by locally grown businesses.

Ray Suarez reports from Dublin.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  For 15 years, Western Europe had few economies like Ireland's.  From the early '90s to 2008, the economy grew at breakneck speed.

When the global recession hit, the bubble burst.  The Celtic Tiger was declawed.  Unemployment shot up.  Countless for-sale and for-rent signs sprouted even on Dublin's most desirable streets.  Construction projects just stopped.  The workers were sent home, the carcasses of buildings left to sit for years, maybe never to be finished.

Talk to the Irish today about what happened, and you get a mixture of wonder, sadness, and regret.

GARETH OWEN, Ireland:  It was a little bit unsustainable.  Maybe we were living in kind of cuckoo land a little bit.

RAY SUAREZ:  From a working mother.

NICOLE HOLLEY, Ireland:  I only go out and buy something when I really need it, instead of seeing something and impulse buying.  Don't do that anymore.

RAY SUAREZ:  From a trade union leader.

DAVID BEGG, Irish Congress of Trade Unions:  We have had an incredibly severe retrenchment of the Irish economy over the last five years or so, such that we have lost just short of a fifth of our total economic size.

RAY SUAREZ:  From an accountant.

CARROLL TURNDOWN, Ireland:  A lot of the kids have emigrated now.  We have lost a lot of highly skilled young people, and that's as a result of the downturn.

RAY SUAREZ:  And from a high-tech executive.

KARL FLANNERY, Storm Technology LTD:  And people were becoming -- or felt they were much wealthier than they were in reality.  So there was a lot of investment in property particularly in the Irish economy.  And I think now, when we look back on that, we look at -- that looks like a huge waste of money, which it was.

BOOK - A Look Behind the Headlines, Real-Life Crimes and the Supreme Court

"Tales of Murder, Murderers and the Death Penalty at the Supreme Court" PBS Newshour 3/25/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  They begin as often grisly tales of murder, the stuff of the tabloids and nightly news, but some of these crime stories end up in the Supreme Court, part of a continuing and evolving debate in this country about the death penalty, its methods, its effectiveness, its morality.

A new book explores this history.  It's titled "Murder at the Supreme Court:  Lethal Crimes and Landmark Cases."  Its authors are veteran journalists Martin Clancy and Tim O'Brien.

Monday, March 25, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 3/22/2013

"Shields and Brooks on Obama in the Mideast, GOP in Overhaul" PBS Newshour 3/22/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss bipartisan compromise in Congress on the budget, an election postmortem for the Republican party, President Barack Obama's "soaring rhetoric" and "realistic policies" for the Mideast and the 10th anniversary of the War in Iraq.

MIDDLE EAST - Last Day of Obama's Diplomacy Trip

"In Call Brokered by Obama, Turkey's Erdogan Gets Apology From Netanyahu" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/22/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  The last working day of President Obama's Middle East trip saw an unexpected breakthrough on an issue that has hampered U.S. efforts to contain the conflict in Syria, a long-simmering dispute between Israel and Turkey.

On the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac before leaving Israel, the president facilitated an ice-breaking phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan.  Despite shared concerns about the Syria conflict and other eruptions in the region, they haven't been speaking for nearly three years.

Mr. Netanyahu apologized today for the death of nine Turkish activists during a 2010 Israeli commando raid on an aid ship bound for blockaded Gaza.  That had brought a sudden halt to what had been security cooperation between the two countries.  Today, Erdogan and Netanyahu agreed to normalize relations again.  The president spoke of the call and the importance of that relationship this evening in Amman, Jordan.

"Obama Pledges Help to Jordan on the Syrian Refugee Crisis" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 3/22/2013


SUMMARY:  President Obama traveled to Amman, Jordan, the first Arab country he has visited since the Arab Spring uprising two years ago.  In a joint press conference with King Abdullah, Mr. Obama pledged to help Jordan with the growing Syrian refugee crisis.  Judy Woodruff talks to Margaret Warner, reporting from Amman.

EDUCATION - Backlash on Chicago Schools Shut Down

"Chicago Board of Education Plans to Shut Down 54 Schools, Move 30,000 Students" PBS Newshour 3/22/2013


SUMMARY:  The Chicago Board of Education plans to close 54 schools, citing a $1 billion deficit and under-enrollment.  Critics say this move will disrupt communities and put kids in danger.  For both sides of the debate, Jeffrey Brown talks with Board vice president Jesse Ruiz and Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

JOBS - Those Without Equal Access to the Internet

"Americans Cut Off From Opportunity Without Equal Access to the Internet" PBS Newshour 3/22/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now we explore the so-called digital divide, the gap in access to the Internet and the challenges posed by how we use it even when we're wired in.

It's been a concern for the Federal Communications Commission.  Today, that agency's head, Julius Genachowski, announced that he will be stepping down soon.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story, the last in our series on broadband and how it's changing our habits, our work, and our communities.

JULIUS GENACHOWSKI, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission:  If you have connectivity, but you don't know how to use the programs and the software, it doesn't really help.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  That's outgoing FCC Chairman Genachowski last month on a new effort to close the so-called digital divide.

JULIUS GENACHOWSKI:  If you don't have the digital literacy, you can't even apply for a job and increasingly you're not eligible for a lot of the jobs being that are created in our economy.

Friday, March 22, 2013

AMERICA - Georgia, Infant Killed

"Police search for shooter after Ga. infant killed" USA Today 3/22/2013 (includes auto-play video)

Police are searching for two young suspects in Brunswick, Ga., on Friday after a shooter fired on an toddler being pushed by his mother in a stroller, killing the 13-month-old boy.

At a news conference Friday, Brunswick Police Spokesman Todd Rhodes said officers have received more than 30 leads in the case and are encouraging citizens to come forward if they have any information on the shootings.

"We will not rest until somebody has been arrested for this senseless act," Rhodes said.

WTLV reports the mother and her toddler were on a morning walk Thursday, when they were approached by two suspects and shot, Brunswick Police Chief Tobe C. Green said.

The two suspects are described as black males, one age 13 to 15 and the other age 10 to 12.

Rhodes said the toddler was shot with a handgun, which has not been recovered, according to CNN.

Several people in the neighborhood called 911 after they heard the gunshots fired, but Rhodes said investigators believed that the mother was the only witness to what happened. Rhodes described the neighborhood as safe.

Brunswick police are checking the attendance records of area schools to see who was missing or absent from class Thursday, WTLV reported.  The town is about 80 miles south of Savannah.

The Brunswick Police Department is "aggressively and actively searching for the suspects," Rhodes told WTLV.

The mother, Sherry West, described the incident in a tearful interview with WAWS-TV of Jacksonville.  "He said 'I'm going to kill you if you don't give me money,' and I said, 'I swear I don't have any,'" she said.

West said she tried to protect her baby, Antonio, but shots rang out.  "I put my arms over my baby, and he shoves me, and then he shot my baby right in the head," she told WAWS-TV.

Rhodes told WJXT that the mother suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was in stable condition at a nearby hospital.

"She is cooperating as fully as she can possibly cooperate, providing the best information that she has, given what she has gone through" Brunswick Mayor Bryan Thompson told WJXT.  "She is, for right now, the only eyewitness we have."

Brunswick police, who went door-to-door searching for the suspects Thursday, are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.  Rhodes said they have found no motive in the shootings.

The mother lives in a rented house in the Brunswick's Old Town historic district.  Beverly Anderson's husband owns the property, and she told AP that West has lived there for six or seven years.  Anderson said she spoke with her yesterday to extend her condolences and see if there was anything she could do for her.

"We're just very sorry about what happened and very aghast that something could happen in our little neighborhood," Anderson told AP.  "It's a quiet, safe little neighborhood."

Anderson said people walk up and down the street, children walk to school and families are frequently outdoors.  "It's scared everybody," she said.  "They don't feel so safe outside."

She said West stayed home to care for her baby, who was often spotted in his mother's arms.

"The house has a front porch with a swing, and we'd see him out on the swing with his mother," Anderson said.  "He was a happy, cheerful baby."

POLITICS - Current US Congress to Address Domestic Issues

REMINDER:  For non-US readers, the term "Congress" used here refers to both houses of our federal legislature, House of Representatives and Senate.  The 'confusion' MAY come when only one house (usually the House of Representatives) is actually referred in an article.

"Congress turns to domestic policy after budget battles" by Susan Davis and Jackie Kucinich and Alan Gomez, USA Today 3/22/2013

A brief reprieve in the fiscal battles between President Obama and a divided Congress will allow two contentious and politically divisive domestic issues — guns and immigration — to take center stage in the national debate this spring.

The ability for Washington to find solutions to either issue will require the kind of bipartisan cooperation and common ground the president and congressional leaders have been unable to find on the budget.

In other words:  It won't be easy.

The push to strengthen the nation's gun laws has been fueled by public pressure for legislative action in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 schoolchildren and six educators dead.

Renewed interest in overhauling the nation's immigration laws, and how or whether to create a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented residents, was sparked after the election in 2012 saw Hispanic voters siding with Obama over the GOP by 3-to-1.

Congress will turn to both issues this spring after approving competing budget resolutions and a short-term spending bill this week to avert a government shutdown through Sept. 30.  The action temporarily lessens the intensity of the two-year-plus fiscal drama with President Obama until mid- to late summer, when Congress will have to again vote on increasing the debt ceiling, the nation's borrowing authority.

Republicans in the House, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, plan a series of votes on "kitchen table"-type issues that address concerns of ordinary Americans.  For example, after the upcoming two-week break, the House will take up a bill that would create more flexibility in comp time rules for private sector workers.  Cantor calls the list of bills a "Making Life Work" agenda.

The majority leader began plotting out a domestic agenda this year in preparation for the lull in fiscal battles.  "We knew we were going to have all these fiscal cliffs, and then what?" said Rory Cooper, a Cantor spokesman.

For gun legislation, the agenda will be largely determined by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is scheduled to take up gun-control provisions in April.  House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the House will not consider gun legislation until the Senate passes a bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday evening that the Senate bill will contain provisions that would strengthen federal penalties for gun trafficking and increase grants to fund school safety improvement.  The bill will include language extending background checks to nearly every firearm purchase, but Reid said that portion may be replaced if senators can negotiate compromise language.

The National Rifle Association opposes early drafts of legislation to create a universal background check system, presenting a significant political obstacle to passing a bill out of the Senate.

A ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines faces certain defeat because it does not have the votes to clear a 60-vote hurdle.  Reid said the proposal probably won't garner even 40 votes in support, but it will get a vote anyway — as Obama called for in his State of the Union.

"I have to get something on the floor, so we can have votes on that issue and the other issues that I've talked about.  And that's what I'm going to try to do," Reid said.  Senate floor votes on gun legislation could begin as early as the second week of April.

Both chambers have made more progress toward consensus on immigration.  The Senate is likely to unveil a bill next month, and a bipartisan group of eight House lawmakers is likely to unveil a framework for comprehensive immigration changes in April as well.

House GOP and Democratic leaders have been briefed on the plan.  House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said it includes the outlines of a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally.  "They are close, they've made real progress," he said.

Immigration continues to be a politically perilous issue for Republicans despite an official Republican National Committee report out this week that endorsed a comprehensive overhaul and increasing calls from GOP leaders, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to find ways to legalize the nation's undocumented residents.

Immigration advocates are stepping up their engagement as the debate intensifies.  A rally is scheduled for April 10 in Washington.  "We have been sweet-talked and slow-danced before.  The time is now," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles.

AIRLINES - Frenchman Attempted Hijack of US Jet

"Frenchman 'posing as pilot' found in US jet cockpit" BBC News 3/22/2013

A Frenchman has been charged with impersonating a pilot after he was found in the cockpit of a plane due to take off in Philadelphia, police say.

Philippe Jernnard, from La Rochelle, France, was wearing a shirt with an Air France logo and a blazer with epaulets.

He was discovered in the jump seat behind the pilot on a US Airways plane on Wednesday evening, an officer said.

The FBI is investigating the incident and police said they expect federal charges may be filed.

Mr Jernnard, 61, faces state charges including criminal trespassing, tampering with records, impersonating a person privately employed, and providing false identification to law enforcement, Philadelphia police told the BBC.

When he was found in the cockpit, Mr Jernnard identified himself as a 747 pilot for Air France, authorities said.

The suspect, who had a ticket for the US Airways flight to Florida, could not provide proof of his credentials.

He was also reportedly carrying a fake Air France crew identification card.

Officer Christine O'Brien says Mr Jernnard became argumentative and was escorted from the plane.

He is being held on $1m bail (£657,000), US media report.

AMERICA - White Supremacist Suspect Dies in Texas Chase

AP/Wise County Messenger, Joe Duty

"Colorado murder suspect dies after Texas chase" CBS News 3/22/2013

A white supremacist parolee possibly connected to the murders of the head of Colorado's Department of Corrections and a pizza delivery man has died from wounds sustained during a shootout with police in Texas, an official said.

Tarrant County Medical Examiner's spokesman Roger Metcalf said an autopsy has begun on the man, believed to be 28-year-old Evan Spencer Ebel.  His identity must still be officially confirmed through fingerprint analysis, Metcalf said.

Ebel was gravely wounded after a high-speed pursuit Thursday, in which both he and a sheriff's deputy were shot.  He was pronounced brain-dead and placed on life support before being removed Friday morning, CBS station KCNC reports.

Ebel, a parolee in the Denver metro area, was a member of a white-supremacist prison gang called the 211s, a.k.a. the Brotherhood of Aryan Alliance, according to KCNC.  It was founded at Colorado's Denver County Jail by Benjamin Davis in 1995.

Tom Clements, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, was shot dead Tuesday after he answered the door at his home in Monument.

The Denver Post reported Friday that Colorado officials are investigating whether Clements' murder was a hit ordered by white supremacist leaders.

The Texas chase began when Ebel's vehicle was pulled over by Montague County Sheriff's Deputy James Boyd.  A source told CBS Station KTVT in Dallas-Fort Worth that as Deputy Boyd approached the vehicle, the driver started shooting.

Boyd was struck by three bullets; he was taken by air ambulance to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, where he is listed in serious condition but is expected to recover.

Ebel then fled from the scene, with officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Wise County Sheriff's Office and Decatur Police Department in pursuit, in a chase reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph.

Ebel continued shooting at officers, even after crashing his older model Cadillac with Colorado plates in Decatur.

"After the suspect was struck by the 18-wheeler he exited the vehicle with a firearm and engaged our deputies in a firefight," said Wise County Sheriff David Walker.  "None of the deputies were hit by any suspect shots.  The suspect was hit as the deputies returned fire."

"He didn't plan on being taken alive," said Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins.  "It didn't look like he wanted to be caught or taken alive."

Ebel was struck in the head.  KTVT reports was kept on life support for a short time for potential organ donation.

Spent shells found at the scene of the Texas shootout appeared, at first inspection, to match those found at Clements' home.

Clements is the fifth criminal justice official in the United States to be targeted since the beginning of the year, including the still-unsolved murder of a Texas prosecutor shot dead outside a courthouse in January, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

Texas investigators also confirmed that items found in the suspect's vehicle could be tied to the murder of a Colorado pizza delivery man.  Sources close to the investigation told KCNC that a Domino's delivery shirt and a pizza box were found in the back seat of the car.

Nathan Leon, 27, had gone missing Sunday while making deliveries for Domino's Pizza; six hours later his body was found in Golden.  He had been shot several times by an unknown person or persons.

Leon's family said he delivered pizzas as a way to earn extra money for his wife and his three girls.

HEALTH - A Look Inside a Newark (NJ) ER

"Emergency Room Doctor Returns to His Roots in 'Brick City'" PBS Newshour 3/20/2013


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  Dr. Sampson Davis is the fifth of six children in his family.  He was raised in Newark, N.J., in the 1970s.  He was surrounded by crime, drugs, and murders and by the notorious high-rise projects that earned Newark its nickname, Brick City.

Many of those high-rises have since been torn down.  Dozens of other buildings in the city's neighborhoods have been abandoned.  Newark remains one of the tougher urban areas in the country, with a third of its residents living below the poverty line.  The city's medical system also is under stress.

WOMAN:  Not ignoring you.  It's just that it's been very busy.

RAY SUAREZ:  Many residents lack access to primary care.  The city's three remaining emergency rooms -- three others were shut down in the last decade -- are often packed to capacity with patients.

After making a pact with two of his high school friends graduate medical school, Dr. Sampson Davis returned to Newark to work in the E.R. to try to make a difference.

DR. SAMPSON DAVIS, "Living and Dying in Brick City:  An E.R. Doctor Returns Home":  All right, let's go see another patient and fast-track.  Want to go out towards the waiting room.

RAY SUAREZ:  The lessons he learned there and the stories of the people he met and treated are the subject of a new book, "Living and Dying in Brick City:  An E.R. Doctor Returns Home."

SYRIA - Chemical Weapons?

"Looking for Evidence After Allegations of Chemical Weapon Attacks in Syria" PBS Newshour 3/20/2013


SUMMARY:  In Syria, sketchy reports of two deadly chemical weapon attacks were blamed on rebels by the state media, but those claims seem to be highly suspect.  Jeffrey Brown gets analysis from Leonard Spector of the Monterey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation and David Ignatius, a foreign affairs columnist for the Washington Post.

HEALTH CARE - Premiums Under New Law

NOTE:  Be sure to understand that the article points to cost of health insurance bought out-of-pocket by individuals or small businesses.  It does not address the effect of the law that will have more people getting health insurance, which under normal free-market circumstances SHOULD lower premiums; the rubric of how big-box stores can offer cheaper goods, they buy large quantities from suppliers and get savings, and pass this to their customers.

This should also remind people that Health Care Insurers are NOT in business to provide health care, they exist only to make big profits.

ALSO SEE:  "Bitter Pill:  Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us"  (video) by Steven Brill, Time Magazine, 3/4/2013

"Health Insurers Warn on Premiums" by ANNA WILDE MATHEWS and LOUISE RADNOFSKY, Wall Street Journal 3/22/2013

Health insurers are privately warning brokers that premiums for many individuals and small businesses could increase sharply next year because of the health-care overhaul law, with the nation's biggest firm projecting that rates could more than double for some consumers buying their own plans.

The projections, made in sessions with brokers and agents, provide some of the most concrete evidence yet of how much insurance companies might increase prices when major provisions of the law kick in next year—a subject of rigorous debate.

The projected increases are at odds with what the Obama Administration says consumers should be expecting overall in terms of cost.  The Department of Health and Human Services says that the law will "make health-care coverage more affordable and accessible," pointing to a 2009 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office that says average individual premiums, on an apples-to-apples basis, would be lower.

The gulf between the pricing talk from some insurers and the government projections suggests how complicated the law's effects will be.  Carriers will be filing proposed prices with regulators over the next few months.

Part of the murkiness stems from the role of government subsidies.  Federal subsidies under the health law will help lower-income consumers defray costs, but they are generally not included in insurers' premium projections.  Many consumers will be getting more generous plans because of new requirements in the law.  The effects of the law will vary widely, and insurers and other analysts agree that some consumers and small businesses will likely see premiums go down.

Starting next year, the law will block insurers from refusing to sell coverage or setting premiums based on people's health histories, and will reduce their ability to set rates based on age.  That can raise coverage prices for younger, healthier consumers, while reining them in for older, sicker ones.  The rules can also affect small businesses, which sometimes pay premiums tied to employees' health status and claims history.

The law's 2014 effect on larger companies is likely to be more limited.  Many of the big changes coming next year won't touch them as directly as individual consumers and small businesses, though some will have to grapple with the cost of covering more workers or paying a penalty.

The possibility of higher premiums has become the latest focal point of the political tussle over the health law, which marks its third anniversary Saturday.  Republican lawmakers have held hearings on the issue, and six GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce committee wrote last week to more than a dozen insurers asking them to turn over internal analyses on the law's impact on premiums and costs.

The insurance industry has also been talking publicly about big potential premium increases in lobbying for tweaks to the law.

The individual market includes about 15 million people, and around 18% of the roughly 149 million with employer coverage were at small companies, according to 2011 figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation.  The individual market is expected to grow to around 35 million people by 2016 as a result of the law.

In a private presentation to brokers late last month, UnitedHealth Group Inc. the nation's largest carrier, said premiums for some consumers buying their own plans could go up as much as 116%, and small-business rates as much as 25% to 50%.  The company said the estimates were driven in part by growing medical costs not directly tied to the law.  It also cited the law's requirements that health status not affect rates and that plans include certain minimum benefits and limits to out-of-pocket charges, among other things.

Jeff Alter, who leads UnitedHealth's employer and individual insurance business, said the numbers represented a "high-end scenario," not an average.  "There are some scenarios in which a member could see as much as a 116% increase or over," he said, though others, such as some older consumers, could see decreases.  He said the company dwelled on the possible increases because it was trying to prepare brokers to speak with clients facing big jumps.

Other carriers have also projected steep rate increases during private meetings and conversations with brokers.  Brokers say they are being told to prepare the marketplace for small-business and individual rate increases as carriers get ready to file specific rate proposals and plan designs with regulators.

Insurers are "not being shy that premiums are going to increase in 2014," and are urging brokers to "brace our clients," said John Lacy, vice president of group benefits at Bouchard Insurance, a brokerage in Clearwater, Fla.  His firm has been hearing from carrier representatives that individual premiums in Florida could go up 35% to 50%, on average, and small-business rates around 30%, though it hopes to find strategies to blunt the impact.

Aetna Inc. in a presentation last fall to its national broker advisory council, suggested rates on individual plans not being grandfathered under the law could go up 55%, on average, and gave a figure of 29% for small business rates.  Both numbers included 10 percentage points tied to medical-cost inflation, not the law.  An Aetna spokesman said the numbers are "still generally in line with what we've been estimating," and represented the average impact in a typical state.

An official with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of North Carolina told a gathering of brokers last week that individual premiums could go up by as much as 40% to 50%, according to brokers who were present.  A spokeswoman for the insurer said "we don't have final numbers" yet on premiums.

There has long been debate, even among insurance experts, over how the law will affect premiums.  Because the effect is likely to vary, different measurements can arrive at different conclusions.  The CBO analysis cited by the administration determined that average premiums for consumers who buy their own coverage would be 14% to 20% lower because of the law—if the law didn't change the types of plans they purchased.

But the CBO also suggested the law would lead to consumers buying more expensive plans, largely because it requires coverage to include certain benefits and limit charges such as deductibles.  When this effect was taken into account, the average premiums would go up 10% to 13%, the agency said, though subsidies would ease the bite for most people.  The agency also said small-business policies were likely to cost within a few percentage points of the amount they would have without the law.

Health and Human Services officials say competition among insurers, as well as provisions to limit their financial risk from attracting high-cost consumers, will exert downward pressure on premiums, and point to the tax subsidies that will limit many consumers' costs.

Subsidies will be available on a sliding scale for people with incomes of up to four times the federal poverty level—currently $45,960 for a single person and $94,200 a year for a family of four.  More than half of the 35 million people expected to be in the individual market by 2016 are likely to qualify for credits.  People whose incomes are around the poverty level could see almost all of the cost of their insurance subsidized, while people at the upper end will get only a small discount toward their premiums.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ASIA - French Hostage Murdered

"French hostage 'executed' in Mali" Al Jazerra 3/20/2013

A French hostage has been executed in Mali, a man claiming to be a spokesman for al-Qaeda in North Africa has told Mauritania's ANI news agency.

A French foreign office spokesman said on Tuesday that Paris was trying to verify the report of the killing of Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped in November 2011, adding that "we don't know at the moment" whether it was reliable.

The private Mauritanian news agency reported that someone calling himself Al-Qairawani and claiming to be a spokesman for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group told them that the "spy" Verdon had been executed "on March 10 in response to France's intervention in Northern Mali".

"The French President (Francois) Hollande is responsible for the lives of the other French hostages," he warned.

In all 15 French nationals, including Verdon, are being held captive in Africa, with AQIM claiming responsibility for six of the kidnappings.

Refusal to pay ransom

Verdon was seized on the night of November 24, 2011 along with Serge Lazarevic.  According to their families the two men had been on a business trip and were kidnapped from their hotel in Hombori, northeast Mali.

The families denied that the two men were mercenaries or secret service agents.

AQIM swiftly claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and in August last year a video showing Verdon describing the "difficult living conditions" was released on a Mauritanian website.

The hostages' families have in recent weeks expressed growing fears for their loved ones in the light of France's military actions in Mali.

Earlier Tuesday, Verdon's father Jean-Pierre Verdon complained that the families were hearing nothing from the French authorities.

"We are in a total fog and it is impossible to live this way," he told RTL radio.  "We have no information."

Asked about France's refusal to pay ransoms to kidnappers, Verdon senior replied that the families had no say in such "decisions of state".

Paris deployed forces in Mali on January 11 to help stop al-Qaeda linked fighters who had controlled the north of the country since April 2012 from moving southward and threatening the capital Bamako.

Pockets of resistance

France now has more than 4,000 troops on the ground in Mali, of whom about 1,200 are currently deployed in the northeast, carrying out operations after driving out most of the rebels from the area.

There are still pockets of resistance in areas such as Gao, which have witnessed stray attacks and suicide bombings since the rebels fled.

The French troops in the region are backed up by African forces.  Soldiers from Chad, whose experience and training has made them key in the French-led offensive, have also suffered casualties with at least 26 deaths.

On Tuesday the French army announced that 15 rebel fighters had been killed in recent days in the northern Mali region of Gao, with the seizure of a large cache of arms and ammunition.

The AQIM source cited by the Mauritanian news agency refused to confirm reports that top rebels, Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelhamid Abou Zeid had been killed in Mali earlier this month.

France has been carrying out DNA tests to determine whether the rebel leaders are among those killed in recent fighting in Mali.

ASIA - Bangladesh President Dies

"Bangladesh president dies in Singapore" Al Jazerra 3/20/2013

Bangladesh President Zillur Rahman has died in a Singapore hospital at the age of 84 after a long illness.

Rahman had been flown to Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital on March 10 for treatment of respiratory problems.

The veteran ruling party politician's death does not affect the government because Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy, with the prime minister holding the executive powers.

The president's office said parliamentary speaker Abdul Hamid would act as the head of state until the legislature elected a new one.

"The acting president announced the three-day state mourning for the death of President Zillur Rahman," a presidential spokesman was quoted by Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha, the state news agency, as saying.

Rahman was a former deputy chief of Bangladesh's ruling Awami League party before parliament elected him president in 2009.

In offering her condolences, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina described Rahman as a patriotic leader.

Rahman leaves a son who is a politician and two daughters.

Ivy, Rahman's politician wife, died in August 2004 after she was critically injured in a grenade attack on an Awami League party rally that killed 20 other people.

DIPLOMACY - Obama in Israel

"Obama in Israel on first official visit" Al Jazerra 3/20/2013

US President Barack Obama said at the start of his visit to Israel that the US' commitment to Israel's security was rock solid and that peace must come to the Holy Land.

Making his first official visit to Israel as president on Wednesday, Obama hopes to reset his often fraught relations with both the Israelis and Palestinians in a carefully choreographed three-day stay that is high on symbolism but low on expectations.

"I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations, to restate America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbors,"  Obama said at a welcoming ceremony at Tel Aviv airport.

"I am confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, is forever," he added.

Obama faces strong doubts among Israelis over his pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, something Tehran is saying it is not pursuing.

'Right to self-defense'

In his welcoming remarks to the US president, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cited an Israeli right to self-defense, which he said Obama supported.

"Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East," said Netanyahu, whose relationship with Obama has often been testy.

"Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel's sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat," the right-wing Israeli leader said before viewing with Obama the partially US-funded Iron Dome.

At the ceremony, Obama spoke of his hopes for peace - without directly mentioning Palestinians.  US officials said he was not bringing any peace initiative with him.

"We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land," Obama said.  "Even as we are clear eyed about the difficulties, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors."

Low expectations

Hopes for a new policy are low, with the White House having deliberately minimized expectations of any major breakthroughs, a reversal from Obama's first four years in office when aides said he would only visit Israel if he had something concrete to accomplish.

"If you talk to the administration people behind the scenes, they expect and they are hoping that in this trip, the president doesn't make any news," said Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Jerusalem.

Workers have hung hundreds of US and Israel flags on lampposts across Jerusalem, as well as banners that boast of "an unbreakable alliance," but the apparent lack of any substantial policy push has bemused many diplomats and analysts.

However with both Netanyahu and Obama starting new terms, the visit could be seen as the American leader's endorsement of Israel's government, said Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian journalist and founder of Electronic Intifada.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Chicago, he said:  "This visit coming just days after Israel swore in perhaps its most openly extreme government in its history...must be seen as the strongest staunchest endorsement of this extremist Israeli government's policies.  That's the only message Palestinians and the broader world can take away from this visit."

Obama travels to the West Bank on Thursday for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and will fly on to Jordan on Friday.

MIDDLE EAST - The Never Ending War, Update

"Hopes of Peace Slipping Away, Palestinian Factions Pursue Different Paths" PBS Newshour 3/19/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  This is not your typical after-school program.  Called Futuwwa, or youth in Arabic, it's paramilitary training for Palestinian high school students in Gaza.  It was instituted by Hamas, the militant Islamist movement ruling this impoverished district, which Israel withdrew from in 2005.

Gaza is home to 1.7 million Palestinians packed into an area the size of Atlanta.

MAN:  I'm here to learn how the use weapons.  The program teaches us to defend ourselves, to organize in school and everywhere.

MARGARET WARNER:  Futuwwa is now offered in all of Gaza's high schools.  It's further evidence of Hamas' entrenched grip on power here.

After winning a majority in Palestinian elections in 2006, Hamas violently expelled Fatah from Gaza.  Fatah is the older established secular party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, which now runs Palestinian affairs on the West Bank.

As President Obama travels to Israel and the West Bank this week, he will be trying to assess whether a real opportunity exists for the United States to try to revive the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  But among ordinary Palestinians, he will find no expectations that the U.S. can or will do anything to change the situation.

RELIGION - The Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis

"Pope Francis Officially Installed as Bishop of Rome With Mass and Ceremony" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/19/2013

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Pope Francis formally took office today with a special mass and ceremonies.

We begin with a report from James Mates of Independent Television News in Rome.

JAMES MATES, Independent Television News:  He is promising a simpler, humbler papacy.  And it was amongst the ordinary pilgrims to St. Peter's that Pope Francis started his day.

It is common now for a pope to kiss babies, less so for him to get out of the popemobile and walk over to give a blessing to a disabled worshiper.  The inauguration mass at St. Peter's Square was shorter and less ornate than in the past, but it could not be described as either simple or understated.

Heads of state, all their representatives occupied the front rows, but this service was squarely aimed at the 150,000 pilgrims who had stood since early morning to see the new leader of their church, among them, of course, many from Argentina, who watched as for the first time ever the symbol of the papacy, the fisherman's ring, was placed on the finger of a man from Latin America.

His homily was an instruction to get back to core principles.  Embrace, he said, the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important.

For almost a week now, his introduction to the papacy has been a series of services, meetings and now this magnificent inauguration.  But after today, the work proper begins and the to-do list is considerable.  In his first week, Francis has been spectacularly successful in defining the style of his papacy.  Winning approval for its substance will take a lot longer.

"Church Looks to Pope Francis to 'Shake Up,' Offer Reform to Vatican Business" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 3/19/2013


SUMMARY:  As Pope Francis officially assumes his title, he will face some established challenges and scandals.  But the pontiff has already signaled a shift and charmed followers by preaching for greater humility.  Jeffrey Brown talks with John Allen from the National Catholic Reporter and CNN about what messages the pope may hope to send.

HISTORY - Iraq War 10th Anniversary, Lessons Learned

"Car Bombs and Suicide Attacks in Baghdad Mark 10th Anniversary of U.S. Invasion" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/19/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  A full decade after the Iraq war began, the violence has not abated.  Today was the bloodiest day this year, as insurgents staged multiple attacks.  A high-level minister was assassinated and dozens more died.

A warning:  Our story contains some graphic images.

"Reflecting on Lessons Learned From the U.S. Invasion of Iraq, 10 Years Later" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 3/19/2013


SUMMARY:  At the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Judy Woodruff talks to New York Times reporter Michael Gordon and Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran about the United States military's perspective on the conflict, the legacy left behind in Iraq and the long-lasting effects on U.S. foreign policy.

IMMIGRATION - Opposition in GOP to New Law Falling

"G.O.P. Opposition to Immigration Law Is Falling Away" by ASHLEY PARKER and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, New York Times 3/19/2013


Republican opposition to legalizing the status of millions of illegal immigrants is crumbling in the nation’s capital as leading lawmakers in the party scramble to halt eroding support among Hispanic voters — a shift that is providing strong momentum for an overhaul of immigration laws.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Tea Party Republican, on Tuesday became the latest to embrace a more welcoming approach, declaring to the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants that if they want to work in America, “then we will find a place for you.”

While he never uttered the word “citizenship” and said a secure border must come first, Mr. Paul strongly implied that citizenship would eventually be available to them.

Republican sentiment for a more liberal immigration policy has been building in the aftermath of last year’s election.  But Mr. Paul’s comments provided strong new evidence that the rising generation of conservative leaders is turning against the Republican argument that those who enter the country illegally should be denied the chance to become permanent residents.

“Prudence, compassion and thrift all point us toward the same goal, bringing these workers out of the shadows and into becoming and being taxpaying members of society,” Mr. Paul said in a speech before the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The remarks are a departure for Mr. Paul, who as a Senate candidate in 2010 called for an electronic fence and helicopter stations to help secure the border with Mexico.  His new message follows the publication on Monday of a blistering report from the Republican National Committee that urged the party’s members to champion an immigration overhaul that Hispanics can embrace or risk seeing the party shrinking “to its core constituencies only.”

The report left vague, however, just what that “comprehensive” overhaul would include.

Mr. Paul joins Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in a growing list of leading conservatives to urge a new approach on immigration.  Mr. Rubio is part of a bipartisan group of eight senators who are working to create an immigration overhaul that can earn support from both parties.

TAXES - New York State and Higher Rates on Top Earners

"Deal in Albany Would Extend Higher Taxes on Top Earners" by THOMAS KAPLAN, New York Times 3/19/2013


Congress dodged the so-called fiscal cliff in part by raising taxes on high incomes.  California voters addressed their state’s school budget troubles with a surcharge on big incomes.  And now Albany has decided to raise revenue with a high income tax rate for people with seven-figure incomes.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders are finalizing a surprise deal to extend a high-tax bracket for the state’s top incomes.  The bracket, first approved by lawmakers in late 2011 as a temporary response to disappointing revenues, does not expire until the end of 2014.  But that year is an election year, and by deciding to renew the bracket now, Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers can avoid debating high tax rates while running for re-election.

Mr. Cuomo, who in 2011 described a new high tax bracket as a “short-term solution” to help the state weather a financial emergency, did not mention his desire to extend the new tax bracket when he publicly announced his budget proposal in January, or in the weeks since as he and his cabinet members have crisscrossed the state, promoting his spending plan to residents.

The Legislature has not held any hearings or debate about the tax proposal, and Mr. Cuomo’s office has declined to provide details while it is being negotiated.  The State Democratic Party has even broadcast television advertisements praising the lack of any tax increases in the spending plan that Mr. Cuomo proposed.

But the emerging deal follows similar actions in Washington and in other states to improve shaky balance sheets by generating more revenue from those with top incomes.  In its deal to resolve the so-called fiscal cliff, Congress agreed in January to raise taxes on individuals with incomes higher than $400,000 and couples with more than $450,000.  And in November, at the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, California voters approved a temporary income tax surcharge on the state’s highest incomes.

While some states are moving in the opposite direction — seeking to eliminate income taxes in an effort to spur growth — others like New York are embracing the idea of generating more revenue from those who make the most.  Maryland raised income taxes on high incomes last year, and Minnesota is considering an increase this year.

OPINION - America's Wars, Vietnam and Iraq

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 3/18/2013
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OPINION - Equal Rights for Gays, CPAC Doesn't Get It

"What social progress looks like" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 3/19/2013

Organizers for this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, as they've done in the past, made a deliberate decision to prohibit Republican groups advocating gay rights from participating in the event.  On the main stage, attendees saw notable GOP leaders like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proclaim that his desire to discriminate against LGBT Americans does not make him a "bigot."

But away from the speakers and organizers, it was clear to many that the marriage debate is effectively over, the right has lost, and even CPAC activists no longer seem to care.

Consider the results of the new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

I put together this chart (at top) to show the trajectory over the last decade, and the trend line isn't exactly subtle.

But the closer one looks at the results, the more striking they are.  Among Americans aged 18 to 29, support for marriage equality is 81%, which reinforces the simple fact that opponents are not only fighting against social progress, they're also fighting a losing battle against a calendar that's indifferent to their culture war.

Indeed, even among white evangelicals protestants, 31% back marriage rights for same-sex couples, which may not sound especially impressive, but that total has more than quadrupled over the last decade.

Also note, history suggests movements on social progress rarely go backwards, and there's nothing to suggest opponents of marriage equality will suddenly reemerge and become the majority again.  That trend line in the poll is only going to keep moving in a progressive direction, and there's not much Republicans can do about it.

At this point, the ideal solution for GOP officials would for the Supreme Court to simply rule in favor of same-sex marriage, end the debate, and take the issue out of the hands of politicians altogether.

"What's Behind the Dramatic Shift in Public Opinion Over Gay Marriage?" PBS Newshour 3/19/2013


SUMMARY:  A new survey shows a majority of Americans support gay marriage.  Support has also grown in the courts and among politicians, including former State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Sen. Rob Portman.  Gwen Ifill examines the shift with Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center and Greg Lewis of Georgia State University.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SUPREME COURT - State Voter Registration Laws

"High Court Hears Case on Conflict Between State, Federal Voter Registration Law" PBS Newshour 3/18/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Today's Supreme Court arguments pitted a national law against a state law, Arizona's 2004 voter registration statute.  The case explores the extent of state powers against the controversial backdrop of voting restrictions.

Arizona's Proposition 200 requires state residents to provide either a driver's license, passport, birth certificate, or physical proof of citizenship before they can vote.  But an existing federal law requires only a sworn statement of citizenship on a voter registration form.

Supporters say the Arizona measure cuts down on voter fraud by keeping non-citizens from voting.  But opponents argue the law unfairly targets minorities, immigrants, and the elderly.  The case is only the most recent dispute between Arizona and the federal government related to immigration issues.

Over the summer, the Supreme Court upheld part of a tough state law that allows police to check for immigration papers.  Other states, including Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee, have similar laws on the books and a number of other states are also considering comparable measures.  The Obama administration supports the challenge to the Arizona law.

And today's arguments on the heels of another case that could roll back a key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

For more on today's arguments, we turn as always to Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal.  She was in the courtroom this morning, and is back with us again tonight.

CYPRUS - Banking Crisis Effect

"In Cyprus, Banking Crisis Prompts Government to Tax Citizen Savings" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/18/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The day's biggest economic story came from Europe, where old worries about debt, bailouts, and public anger found new life again.  European markets were rattled today by events that occurred on the tiny Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus.  The island is part of the European Union, and plans for the government to seize individual bank deposits set off outrage there.

It also prompted worries about whether other nations could follow suit in time.  As the day wore on, concerns about the region's debt crisis dragged on U.S. markets as well.  The Dow Jones industrial average fell 62 points to finish the day at 14,452.  The NASDAQ lost more than 11 points to close above 3,237.

We begin our coverage with this report from Emma Murphy of Independent Television News in Nicosia.

EMMA MURPHY, Independent Television News:  They held their hands in protest and not inconsiderable despair.  These of Cyprus say they are furious with their government and other Eurozone leaders.  They are the people who are having to carry the weight of the E.U. bailout.

The banks will get 10 billion Euros to keep them afloat, but Cyprus has to find 5.8 billion more.  It would come through a levy, meaning these people will lose between six percent and nine percent of their savings.

MAN:  It's like people putting your hands in your pockets and receiving something.  It's outright theft.  And this is something that should not have happened in Cyprus.

EMMA MURPHY:  These are the people who are really suffering.  They saved their money.  They put it in the bank.  And they believed that it would be safe.  Then they woke up to find that their balances had gone down considerably and they couldn't even get access to cash, little wonder after promises from their president that their money would be protected, they're now so angry.

SUE HALL, Business Owner:  We do probably about 50 weddings a year.

EMMA MURPHY:  Sue Hall moved to Cyprus to run a wedding company.

SUE HALL:  My big concern is the business, because most of the money in my business account actually belongs to brides that have paid for weddings here.  So, you know, what do I do?  Do I ask them for more money or do I have to carry the loss?

EMMA MURPHY:  Banks are closed until Thursday.  And there's a limited amount of money left in the cash points.  The Cypriot government has to get parliament to agree the deal or the bailout fails.  They're not confident.

HARRIS GEORGIADES, Cyprus Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance:  We shall face a total collapse of the banking system and of the whole Cyprus economy.

EMMA MURPHY:  Such talk may well be brinksmanship.  If not, these people and many more across Europe face futures which will be forever changed by the events of the past three days.

"Will the Banking Crisis in Cyprus Rock Other Markets?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 3/18/2013


SUMMARY:  Off the coast of Greece, the small nation of Cyprus is facing big economic problems.  Judy Woodruff interviews Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics on the magnitude of the banking crisis in Cyprus and how it may be causing aftershock effects in others markets.

ISRAEL - Their New Government

"Ahead of Obama's Inaugural Visit, Israel Installs New Government" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 3/18/2013

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Later this week, President Obama travels to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Iran, Syria, and reviving the Middle East peace process will be high on the agenda.  The president faces challenges bridging differences between Israelis and Palestinians and fractures within both camps.  We will examine those divisions tonight and tomorrow night.

Jeffrey Brown begins with Israel's new government.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  In Jerusalem today, workers literally rolled out the red carpet, part of the final preparations ahead of President Obama's trip to the region.

At the same time, Israel's new coalition government was itself installed, led again by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but including some new key players.  Its formation took weeks of negotiations after Netanyahu won reelection in January's parliamentary elections, a victory accompanied by the surprisingly strong second-place finish of Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party.

Today, Netanyahu had this to say about his new government's stance on relations with the Palestinians.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel:  With a Palestinian partner who is willing to conduct negotiations in good faith, Israel will be prepared for historic compromise that will end the conflict with the Palestinians forever.

JEFFREY BROWN:  On one important issue, new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the country's new housing minister said yesterday that building would continue in -- quote -- "accordance with what the government's policy has been thus far."

The Palestinian leadership has refused to enter peace talks while Israel continues the settlement policy.  Another issue at the top of the new government's agenda is Iran and its nuclear program.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:  We face very great threats. Iran continues in its race to obtain an atomic bomb.  It continues to enrich uranium in order to produce a bomb.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Iranian officials have said their nuclear work is only for peaceful purposes.  In an interview that aired on Israeli television last week, President Obama said it would take Iran a year to develop a nuclear weapon, a longer timetable than that put forward publicly by Israeli leaders.

But the president reiterated his commitment to keep that from happening.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  When I say that all options are on the table, all options are on the table.  And the United States obviously has significant capabilities.  But our goal here is to make sure that Iran doesn't possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or could trigger an arms race in the region.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The new cabinet doesn't include members of Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties. They have been excluded for the first time in a decade.

"Amid Regional Tumult, Israel's New Government Looks to Domestic Agenda" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 3/18/2013


SUMMARY:  As neighbors in the region grapple with uncertainty and conflict, Israel's new governing coalition seems to be refocusing on domestic concerns.  Jeffrey Brown talks with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for an assessment of Israel's new political lineup and priorities.

AMERICA - Graying Workforce in Higher Education

"Colleges and Universities See Graying Workforce Holding On to Coveted Positions" PBS Newshour 3/18/2013


SUMMARY:  In academia, many professors remain working and teaching long past traditional retirement age, leaving younger potential professors shut out from highly coveted full-time, tenured positions.  As part of a series on older workers, economics correspondent Paul Solman reports on how institutions are negotiating with aging faculty.

Monday, March 18, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 3/15/2013

"Shields and Brooks on CPAC, Obama's Outreach to Congress, Pope Francis" PBS Newshour 3/15/2013


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields talk with Judy Woodruff about who was and wasn't at the annual CPAC meeting, whether President Obama's bipartisan outreach to Congress will produce results, plus words on what the new pope's leadership may mean for the Catholic Church.

POLITICS - Anual Gathering of the 'Political Liers Club'

Liar's Club

"Conservative Activists Outline Political Future at CPAC Meeting" PBS Newshour 3/15/2013


KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  For four decades, the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, has served as a barometer of Republican politics.

And this year, the GOP's future direction is the issue for more than 10,000 delegates who've been meeting just outside Washington.  At the last few gatherings of CPAC, the focus was on taking back the White House from President Obama.  But with last November's defeat of Mitt Romney, this key bloc of conservative enthusiasts has set its sights on a new goal: reshaping and re-energizing the Republican Party.

CALIFORNIA - Improve Mental Health Law?

"California Law That Aspires to Improve Mental Health Raises Coercion Concerns" PBS Newshour 3/15/2013


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

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

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

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

AMANDA WILCOX, Mother of murder victim:  I wanted the world to know what a wonderful, incredible person she was.

SPENCER MICHELS:  For more than a decade, Nick and Amanda Wilcox have been advocating timely treatment and early intervention for the severely mentally ill, in the hopes they won't become violent.  Twelve years ago, their 19-year old-daughter, Laura Wilcox, a college sophomore, was murdered while she was working over Christmas break at a mental health clinic in Nevada County, Calif.

HEALTH - Protecting American Drinking Water (Part-2)

"Decision Delayed on Dangerous Chemical Found in Drinking Water" PBS Newshour 3/15/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And now to part two of our investigative look at the safety of America's drinking water.

Science correspondent Miles O'Brien reports on the toxic chemical made famous in the movie "Erin Brockovich," its potentially harmful effect on human cells, and the agency charged with regulating it.

His report is the result of a partnership with the Center for Public Integrity.

AMIE HOLMES, University of Southern Maine:  There is some lead chromate in here and some zinc chromate.

MILES O’BRIEN:  At the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine, they are very wise indeed about a widely used heavy metal that gives millions of Americans shiny bumpers, vivid paint, and, possibly, cancer.  It is hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6.