Tuesday, April 30, 2013

WALL STREET - Effects of Bogus Tweets

"How a Bogus Tweet Can Wreak Financial Havoc" PBS Newshour 4/29/2013


CHRISTINA BELLANTONI (Newshour):  We learned last week that a tweet can send markets crashing in a matter of minutes.  How can news outlets protect themselves from hacking?  And how difficult is it to stop something once it goes viral?

We discuss the issue now with two journalists from the website Daily Download.  Lauren Ashburn is the site's editor in chief.  Howard Kurtz is Newsweek's bureau chief and host of CNN's “Reliable Sources."

SPORTS - Basketball's Jason Collins, 'I'm Gay'

"Jason Collins Is NBA's First Active Player to Say 'I'm Gay'" PBS Newshour 4/29/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  For the first time, an active male player in the four major professional sports today announced publicly he's gay.  Pro basketball's Jason Collins put it this way:  "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center.  I'm black.  And I'm gay."

Jeffrey Brown looks at his decision and the reaction.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  The news came first in Collins' own account on Sports Illustrated's website.

He wrote:  "If I had my way, someone else would have already done this.  Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."

The seven-foot Collins is now 34 and a free agent.  He played for the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics this season, his 12th in the league.  In his "Sports Illustrated" account, he pointed to this month's attack in Boston, saying:  "It reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect.  Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?"

Reaction appeared largely positive.  Doc Rivers, coach of Boston Celtics, said in a statement:  "I'm extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins.  He is a pro's pro."

Los Angeles superstar Kobe Bryant tweeted his encouragement:  "Proud of Jason Collins.  Don't suffocate you are who you are because of the ignorance of others."

TAXES - Federal Law Allowing States to Collect Sales Tax?

IMHO, even though I do much online shopping, it about time this got done.

NOTE:  In California Amazon has already agreed to collect state sales tax since they are opening a distribution center in California.

"Congress Seeks to Eliminate Perk of Online Shopping by Requiring Sales Tax" PBS Newshour 4/29/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Since the earliest days of the Web, buying goods online has often come with one often-not-quite-legal perk, no sales tax.  But that may be about to change.

The Senate has cleared the way for a new law that would allow states to collect taxes on transactions conducted across state lines.  The bill exempts businesses earning less than a million dollars a year.  As it stands now, states can only collect taxes from businesses that have a physical presence in their state.

We look at what's at stake in Congress and the debate surrounding the change with Brian Bieron, senior director of global public policy for eBay, which has actively opposed the legislation, and Rachelle Bernstein, a vice president at the National Retail Federation, which supports the bill.

SYRIA - Chemical Weapon Debate (update)

"Obama Raises Concerns About Syrian Chemical Weapon Use in Call to Russia" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 4/29/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  President Obama voiced new concerns about the Syrian war and the alleged use of chemical weapons to Russian President Putin today.  They spoke in a phone call on a day when the Syrian prime minister narrowly missed being killed by a bomb in Damascus.

The bomb blast ripped through cars and buses in the Syrian capital, shattering windows and sending the wounded to the hospital.

MAN:  I just heard a very loud sound. I didn't look around.  I tried opening a door, but it wouldn't open.  My uncle, a professor at the university, died beside me.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  State TV said Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi, the intended target, was unhurt.  He was later seen presiding over a meeting of economic advisers without any indication of when the footage was shot.  And in recorded comments, Halqi mentioned today's date, but not the bombing.  Instead, the state news agency quoted him as saying it shows the rebels are bankrupt.

There have been other high-profile attacks in Damascus in the last year.  Today's came amid rising tensions on a different front, U.S. claims that the Syrian regime twice likely deployed chemical weapons in recent weeks.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.:  It's going to become a failed state by end of the year.  It's fracturing along sectarian ethnic lines.  It's going to be al-Qaida's safe haven.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  On Sunday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the U.S. must take action.

LINDSEY GRAHAM:  There's nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists and they are pouring into Syria.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Fellow Republican John McCain called for giving military aid to the Syrian rebels.  And he said there might be a need for outside forces, but not involving Americans.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.:  We have to, as an international group, plan and be ready operationally -- not just plan, but be ready operationally, to go in and secure those areas.  Whatever the composition of that force is, is something I think we have to look at very carefully.  But the worst thing the American -- the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria.  That would -- that would turn the people against us.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Today, White House spokesman Jay Carney turned aside talk of immediate action.  He repeated that the administration wants to make sure it has all the facts.

JAY CARNEY, White House Spokesman:  We have established with varying degrees of confidence that there have been incidents of chemical weapons used, sarin in particular, in a limited fashion in Syria.  We're now working to build upon that evidence to increase the amount of evidence to find specifically what happened, what occurred, who was responsible, and build that case, if you will.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that assessment is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the civil war in Syria continues, with more than 70,000 dead, and nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees in surrounding countries.

"On Syria, U.S. Must Weigh Risks of Involvement, National Interest, Moral Values" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 4/29/2013


SUMMARY:  How do the risks of the U.S. intervening in the Syrian conflict balance with the risks of doing nothing?  For two perspectives, Judy Woodruff talks with Murhaf Jouejati of The Day After project and Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

HEALTH - Pandora's Lunchbox, Processed Foods

"Is Processed Food a Pandora's Box for the American Diet?" PBS Newshour 4/29/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Human eating habits have changed more in the past century than in the previous 10,000 years.  In the U.S., Americans are consuming double the fat, 3.5 times more sodium, 60 percent more sugar and infinitely more corn and soybeans than in the year 1909.

One culprit, processed food.  About 70 percent of our calories come from them.  It's a topic of a new book by former New York Times business reporter Melanie Warner called "Pandora's Lunchbox:  How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal."

Melanie Warner joins me now.

IRAN - 6 Weeks to Go, Presidential Election Climate

"As Election in Iran Nears, Ahmadinejad’s Critics Are Piling On" by THOMAS ERDBRINK, New York Times 4/29/2013


Just six weeks before Iran’s presidential election, politicians and clerics have declared open season on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government, in one instance calling him a “coward” and likening him to a “drunk driver.”

The invective is the latest manifestation of infighting that broke out months ago between Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies and a loose coalition of clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders.

Night after night during prime-time talk shows on state television — under the firm control of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s opponents — critics tear into what they see as the government’s mismanagement of the economy, blaming the president and not international sanctions for its poor performance.

In an interview this month on the country’s most watched station, Channel 3, an economist showed a bar chart intended to illustrate how Mr. Ahmadinejad’s policies had led to massive job losses.

“Surprisingly,” the show’s host added, “this happened at a time of record oil revenues for Iran,” even though Iran’s oil revenues have now fallen off because of the sanctions, imposed over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Newspapers of all political affiliations and the semiofficial news agencies have enthusiastically joined the chorus.  On Monday the Shargh newspaper published pictures of poorly attended speeches by Mr. Ahmadinejad, in near-empty stadiums.  Last week, the moderate Web site Asr-e Iran published an opinion poll saying that 91.5 percent of Iranians disapproved of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s economic policies.

The change in tone signals a hardening among Iran’s top leadership toward Mr. Ahmadinejad, who by law cannot run for another term but who is championing the candidacy of a protégé, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, in the June election.  “It seems that there are controlled, plotted attacks against the president and his entourage,” said Saeed Allahbehdasthi, a political analyst.  “Anybody can talk against him now.”

The criticism stands in sharp contrast to 2009, when the top leadership and the security forces rallied around Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose landslide election victory was challenged as fraudulent by millions of protesters.

A well-orchestrated narrative that was spun out through state and semiofficial news media labeled anyone doubting Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory part of a “sedition” aimed at toppling the Islamic Republic.  Eventually, hundreds of prominent journalists, dissidents, activists and ordinary people were arrested, and many of them were tried in televised mass court cases.

But a rift opened between the former allies over the president’s support for his aide, Mr. Mashaei.  On the campaign trail, Mr. Mashaei has stressed nationalist themes rather than Islamic ones, alarming the traditionalists who oppose any revival of nationalism as a threat to their power base.

In appearances around the country, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies have been met with protests against Mr. Mashaei by members of paramilitary forces overseen by the Revolutionary Guards.

Now all they need is to get rid of the Cleric Dictatorship and return to government by the people's vote.

EDUCATION - Colleges Adapting Online Courses

"Colleges Adapt Online Courses to Ease Burden" by TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times 4/29/2013


Dazzled by the potential of free online college classes, educators are now turning to the gritty task of harnessing online materials to meet the toughest challenges in American higher education, giving more students access to college, and helping them graduate on time.

Nearly half of all undergraduates in the United States arrive on campus needing remedial work before they can begin regular credit-bearing classes.  That early detour can be costly, leading many to drop out, often in heavy debt and with diminished prospects of finding a job.

Meanwhile, shrinking state budgets have taken a heavy toll at public institutions, reducing the number of seats available in classes students must take to graduate.  In California alone, higher education cuts have left hundreds of thousands of college students without access to classes they need.

To address both problems and keep students on track to graduation, universities are beginning to experiment with adding the new “massive open online courses,” created to deliver elite college instruction to anyone with an Internet connection, to their offerings.

While the courses, known as MOOCs, have enrolled millions of students around the world, most who enroll never start a single assignment, and very few complete the courses.  So to reach students who are not ready for college-level work, or struggling with introductory courses, universities are beginning to add extra supports to the online materials, in hopes of improving success rates.

Here at San Jose State, for example, two pilot programs weave material from the online classes into the instructional mix and allow students to earn credit for them.

“We’re in Silicon Valley, we breathe that entrepreneurial air, so it makes sense that we are the first university to try this,” said Mohammad Qayoumi, the university’s president.  “In academia, people are scared to fail, but we know that innovation always comes with the possibility of failure.  And if it doesn’t work the first time, we’ll figure out what went wrong and do better.”

In one pilot program, the university is working with Udacity, a company co-founded by a Stanford professor, to see whether round-the-clock online mentors, hired and trained by the company, can help more students make their way through three fully online basic math courses.

The tiny for-credit pilot courses, open to both San Jose State students and local high school and community college students, began in January, so it is too early to draw any conclusions.  But early signs are promising, so this summer, Udacity and San Jose State are expanding those classes to 1,000 students, and adding new courses in psychology and computer programming, with tuition of only $150 a course.

San Jose State has already achieved remarkable results with online materials from edX, a nonprofit online provider, in its circuits course, a longstanding hurdle for would-be engineers.  Usually, two of every five students earn a grade below C and must retake the course or change career plans.  So last spring, Ellen Junn, the provost, visited Anant Agarwal, an M.I.T. professor who taught a free online version of the circuits class, to ask whether San Jose State could become a living lab for his course, the first offering from edX, an online collaboration of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ms. Junn hoped that blending M.I.T.’s online materials with live classroom sessions might help more students succeed.  Dr. Agarwal, the president of edX, agreed enthusiastically, and without any formal agreement or exchange of money, he arranged for San Jose State to offer the blended class last fall.

The results were striking; 91 percent of those in the blended section passed, compared with 59 percent in the traditional class.

NOTE:  I am using Coursera MOOC, a free online college level courses site, just to expand my knowledge.  They do not offer degrees at this time, but are looking for a way to do so but likely for a fee.

NUCLEAR POWER - Fukushima Nuclear Plant a Warning on Safety Regulation by Industry Insiders

Gray and silver storage tanks filled with radioactive wastewater
are sprawling over the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

U.S. nuclear regulators need to take heed.  "The story of how the Fukushima plant ended up swamped with water, critics say, is a cautionary tale about the continued dangers of leaving decisions about nuclear safety to industry insiders."

"Flow of Tainted Water Is Latest Crisis at Japan Nuclear Plant" by MARTIN FACKLER, New York Times 4/29/2013


Two years after a triple meltdown that grew into the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is faced with a new crisis, a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain.

Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute.  It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system.  A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns.  The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools.

But even they are not enough to handle the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant — a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster and, in critics’ view, ad hoc decision making by the company that runs the plant and the regulators who oversee it.  In a sign of the sheer size of the problem, the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, plans to chop down a small forest on its southern edge to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task that became more urgent when underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.

“The water keeps increasing every minute, no matter whether we eat, sleep or work,” said Masayuki Ono, a general manager with Tepco who acts as a company spokesman.  “It feels like we are constantly being chased, but we are doing our best to stay a step in front.”

While the company has managed to stay ahead, the constant threat of running out of storage space has turned into what Tepco itself called an emergency, with the sheer volume of water raising fears of future leaks at the seaside plant that could reach the Pacific Ocean.

That quandary along with an embarrassing string of mishaps — including a 29-hour power failure affecting another, less vital cooling system — have underscored an alarming reality; two years after the meltdowns, the plant remains vulnerable to the same sort of large earthquake and tsunami that set the original calamity in motion.

There is no question that the Fukushima plant is less dangerous than it was during the desperate first months after the accident, mostly through the determined efforts of workers who have stabilized the melted reactor cores, which are cooler and less dangerous than they once were.

But many experts warn that safety systems and fixes at the plant remain makeshift and prone to accidents.

The jury-rigged cooling loop that pours water over the damaged reactor cores is a mazelike collection of pumps, filters and pipes that snake two and a half miles along the ground through the plant.  And a pool for storing used nuclear fuel remains perched on the fifth floor of a damaged reactor building as Tepco struggles to move the rods to a safer location.

The situation is worrisome enough that Shunichi Tanaka, a longtime nuclear power proponent who is the chairman of the newly created watchdog Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters after the announcement of the leaking pits that “there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident.”

A growing number of government officials and advisers now say that by entrusting the cleanup to the company that ran the plant before the meltdowns, Japanese leaders paved the way for a return to the insider-dominated status quo that prevailed before the disaster.

Even many scientists who acknowledge the complexity of cleaning up the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl fear that the water crisis is just the latest sign that Tepco is lurching from one problem to the next without a coherent strategy.

“Tepco is clearly just hanging on day by day, with no time to think about tomorrow, much less next year,” said Tadashi Inoue, an expert in nuclear power who served on a committee that drew up the road map for cleaning up the plant.

But the concerns extend well beyond Tepco.  While doing a more rigorous job of policing Japan’s nuclear industry than regulators before the accident, the Nuclear Regulation Authority has a team of just nine inspectors to oversee the more than 3,000 workers at Fukushima.

And a separate committee created by the government to oversee the cleanup is loaded with industry insiders, including from the Ministry of Trade, in charge of promoting nuclear energy, and nuclear reactor manufacturers like Toshiba and Hitachi.  The story of how the Fukushima plant ended up swamped with water, critics say, is a cautionary tale about the continued dangers of leaving decisions about nuclear safety to industry insiders.

Monday, April 29, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 4/26/2013

"Shields and Brooks on Red Line Reluctance, Flexibility on FAA Furloughs" PBS Newshour 4/26/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks talk with Judy Woodruff about President Barack Obama's "red line" on Syria, the FAA furlough deal in Congress, repercussions of the Boston Marathon attack and George W. Bush's newly dedicated presidential center.

ASIA - Bangladeshi Garment Factory Collapse

The greed-driven garment industry, profits before workers......

"Global Standards for Garment Industry Under Scrutiny After Bangladesh Disaster" PBS Newshour 4/26/2013


SUMMARY:  The Bangladeshi garment factory collapse is the worst disaster ever for the country's booming clothing industry.  Ray Suarez discusses the role of Western retailers in keeping foreign workers safe with Avedis Seferian of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production and Scott Nova of Worker Rights Consortium.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  Wailing relatives tried to console one another as the death toll from Wednesday's collapse of an eight-story building kept climbing.  This father was left weeping with his son's coffin at his feet.  Others held up photos of loved ones still missing.

WOMAN:  For the last three days, I have been looking for my sister, but no trace.  I want get my sister back, alive or dead.

RAY SUAREZ:  So far, rescue crews have pulled more than 80 survivors from the rubble.  One government official said 41 of those were found alive in a single room overnight.  At a nearby hospital, an 18-year-old worker described her ordeal.

WOMAN:  First, a machine fell over my hand and I was crushed under the debris.  Then the roof collapsed over me.  I was rescued last night, but my hand had to be amputated.

RAY SUAREZ:  And with high humidity and daytime temperatures reaching 95 degrees, there are fears that time is running out for those still trapped.

Meanwhile, a local television station released video showing police inspecting the site on Tuesday, a day before the deadly collapse.  Large cracks were visible, but garment factories at the site continued running anyway.

Some of them make clothing for several major retailers in North America.  Today, thousands of garment workers protested poor conditions and called for the building's owners to be punished.  Some demonstrators clashed with police, but the rallies were mostly peaceful.  This new disaster came just five months after a garment factory fire in Bangladesh killed 112 workers.

For more on all of this, we get two views.  Avedis Seferian is the president and CEO of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, or WRAP, an organization created by the American Apparel and Footwear Association, along with buyers and brands around the world.  And Scott Nova is executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor rights monitoring organization.

SYRIA - Chemical Warfare and the U.S. View

"White House Cautious About Syrian Chemical Warfare Claims" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 4/26/2013

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  The Syrians insisted today that they have not used chemical weapons.  President Obama issued new warnings, while saying the U.S. and the world continue to seek conclusive evidence.  All the while, the civil war in Syria raged on.

Explosions and heavy fighting rocked Damascus today, as government forces pressed an offensive to retake parts of the Syrian capital from rebels.  At the same time, the war of words over chemical weapons escalated.  Syrian government officials denied U.S. claims made yesterday.  White House letters to senators said, "U.S. intelligence assesses with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale, specifically sarin."

The disclosure put new pressure on President Obama to take action.  He met today with the visiting king of Jordan and said the findings are preliminary.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We're going to be consulting with our partners in the region, as well as the international community and the United Nations, to make sure that we are investigating this as effectively and as quick -- as quickly as we can.  It's obviously horrific, as it is when mortars are being fired on civilians and people are being indiscriminately killed.  To use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations, that is going to be a game changer.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The President has also said any use of chemical weapons would cross a -- quote -- "red line."

And on Thursday, Republican Sen. John McCain said, it's been crossed.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.:  The President of the United States has now told us that they used chemical weapons.  Those stocks of chemical weapons, some of which are in disputed areas, must be secured, and we must give the opposition the capability to drive out Bashar Assad once and for all.

JEFFREY BROWN:  But other lawmakers today were more cautious.  Democratic Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland attended a closed briefing on the matter.

REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER, D-Md.:  We feel that there has been some chemical weapons that have been used, but we're still investigating who did it, where it's coming from.  And right now, we're just in an evaluation stage.  I don't think we, just as the United States, want to go into another war.

JEFFREY BROWN:  A spokesman for the Syrian opposition welcomed the administration's findings and President Obama's promise of further investigation.

KHALID SALEH, Syrian National Coalition:  The positions that the U.S. and U.K. took in the last couple of days are very advanced and we welcome them.  We will invite investigators.  We will cooperate with investigators.  And we are certain that the evidence will show that the Syrian regime actually used those chemical weapons against innocent civilians.

JEFFREY BROWN:  It was unclear how long further investigation might take.  The President said today, "We have to make these assessments deliberately."

"Weighing Options for U.S. Response if Syria Chemical Weapon Use Is Confirmed" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 4/26/2013


SUMMARY:  How should the U.S. act if it confirms that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons?  Jeffrey Brown moderates a debate on different approaches between Kori Schake, research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and David Cortright, director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

GUN CONTROL - The Real Issue is Mortality During Mas Shootings

Our Vice President stated the issue best when he used "...stop the carnage."  Better gun control will not stop mas shootings, but it will lessen the carnage/mortality when they occur.  The following makes a point.

"Study links gun laws and lower gun mortality" by Tom Watkins, CNN 3/7/2013

States with the most gun laws experienced a lower overall mortality rate from firearms than did states with the fewest laws, researchers in Boston reported in a study published Wednesday.

"States that have the most laws have a 42% decreased rate of firearm fatalities compared to those with the least laws," said Dr. Eric W. Fleegler, an attending physician in pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Children's Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Those states with the most gun laws saw a 40% reduction in firearm-related homicides and a 37% reduction in firearm-related suicides, he said in a telephone interview.

Fleegler, the lead author in the study published online in JAMA Internal Medicine, reached that conclusion by analyzing data reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2007 through 2010 and then correlating those figures with state-level firearm legislation aggregated by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Figuring out how many laws existed in each state was difficult.  "What do you do when one law has seven parts" Fleegler asked.  "Is that seven laws?  Is that one law?"

Mark Kelly:  Gun loophole makes no sense (includes video)

So the researchers checked the state laws to determine whether they were intended to curb firearm trafficking; strengthen background checks beyond what's required under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act; ensure child safety; ban military-style assault weapons; or restrict guns in public places.

Based on how many of those categories a state's laws covered, the researchers calculated a "legislative strength score," which they compared with firearm-related mortality rates in all 50 states.  The legislative strength scores ranged from 0 in Utah to 24 out of a possible 28 in Massachusetts.

Over the four years scrutinized, 121,084 firearm fatalities occurred, with rates ranging from a high of 17.9 per 100,000 in Louisiana to a low of 2.9 per 100,000 in Hawaii.

Opinion:  Even NRA members want gun reforms (includes video)

When compared with the quartile of states with the fewest laws, the quartile of states that had the most laws had a lower firearm suicide rate and a lower firearm homicide rate, Fleegler said.  The absolute difference in the suicide rates was 6.25 deaths per 100,000; in the homicide rates it was 0.40 deaths per 100,000.

"When you're talking about 300 million people, you're talking about thousands of deaths that would not otherwise have occurred," Fleegler said.

Even on a state level, some figures were striking.  For example, there was a three-fold difference in firearm-related suicide between Massachusetts and Louisiana, which has few laws limiting the use of firearms.

"We anticipated that there was going to be a relationship between state laws and firearm mortality," he said.  "The magnitude of the effect, a 42% reduction, that was a big number to look at."

Loaded language poisons gun debate (includes video)

The authors acknowledged that they showed only an association; they did not prove that more laws on firearms translate into fewer deaths.

Fleegler said his study "speaks to the importance of having legislation.  One of the things that we've learned over time is that there are laws that have been passed that have large loopholes, and those loopholes make the enforcement and efficacy of the laws diminished.  There are ways to make these laws better and stronger."

But Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, urged caution in interpreting the study in an accompanying editorial published in the journal.

"Correlation does not imply causation," he wrote.  "This fundamental limitation is beyond the power of the authors to redress."

He added that the list of laws takes no account of differences between states in the specifics of laws and takes no account of how hard states worked to enforce those laws.

The biggest difficulty, Wintemute continued, is that almost all of the associations between more laws and fewer deaths disappeared when the investigators took into account the prevalence of gun ownership in each state.

"This is a problem because there are two completely opposite explanations for why that might be the case," Wintemute said in a video issued by his university.  "One is that these laws work, and that they work by decreasing the rate of gun ownership in a state, because we know that the rate of gun ownership is associated with the rate of violent death in a state.

Will states go where Congress hasn't on gun laws? (includes video)

"But the other possibility, that's at least as plausible, is that it's easier to enact these laws in states that have a low rate of gun ownership to begin with.  Gun ownership is not as important in those states, there's less opposition."

He added, "We really don't know what to do with the results.  We cannot say that these laws -- individually or in aggregate -- drive firearm death rates up or down."

He predicted that policy makers would not be able to draw useful conclusions from the work.  "The conclusion that I draw is we need to get this question answered right."

Wintemute said the researchers did a good job with the limited data they had available but said the larger problem dates back to the 1990s, when the National Rifle Association inserted language into the CDC's appropriation that limited its work on how to reduce firearm injuries.

Now, as lawmakers are looking for evidence on what works, "investigators like this group are reduced to doing the best they can with what's available," he said.

For his part, Fleegler bemoaned the dearth of data from individual cities about firearms-related injuries and noted that data on enforcement of those laws were also spotty.  "We agree that there is a lot more research that needs to be done, that funding to allow robust research and robust collection of data is what's really going to move the science forward for understanding how we can reduce deaths," he said.

Friday, April 26, 2013

LESSONS - Teaching Methods Against Domestic Terrorism

"Teaching the Lessons Learned in War, to Thwart Attackers at Home" by C. J. CHIVERS, New York Times 4/25/2013


The bomb-disposal technicians huddled with the fire chief and the Transportation Security Administration supervisor on the tarmac of Northwest Florida Regional Airport.  The chief and the supervisor told the technicians that luggage screeners thought they had spotted two bombs in suitcases belonging to passengers on a departing plane.

Operators of a CTX machine, or luggage scanner, spotted the first in a rollaway bag on a conveyor belt. The bag had been matched to a passenger.  A review of surveillance video from the terminal showed its owner talking in a familiar way to another man.

That man’s bag, also thought to hold a bomb, was “out there” — the T.S.A. supervisor gestured toward luggage trailers on the asphalt near a gate.

So began an exercise in the Advanced Improvised Explosive Device Disposal course, a quietly busy American military school intended to help thwart a weapon indelibly linked to terrorism and war; the makeshift bomb, the type of weapon that had been used days before in the Boston Marathon attack.

This exercise, held on the Florida Panhandle the night before the police closed in on the marathon suspects in Massachusetts, had been scheduled since January.  But its timing was not lost on its participants.

Tracy Stage, the airport’s deputy director, watched the drill and said the value of the training had been brought home by what happened in Boston.  A weapon of unconventional war had shown itself once again to be a domestic killer.

The students and instructors, mostly military veterans of combat tours in Afghanistan or Iraq, had seen the bloody effects of bombing campaigns abroad.  They had years of experience disabling improvised devices, examining blast sites and searching for evidence among burned wreckage and human remains.

The events in Boston seemed to surprise none of them.  Several said they expected to see more makeshift bombs in the United States, where, in certain circumstances, particularly in rural areas, military ordnance disposal technicians could be called to work beside civilian law enforcement agencies.

“It’s not a matter of if,” said Capt. Joseph Polanin, the commanding officer of Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal, which offers this advanced course to seasoned technicians.  “It’s a matter of when.”

The school Captain Polanin commands trains ordnance disposal technicians in all four American military services, as well as foreign military students.

The course, which lasts three weeks and trains about 375 students a year, is open only to experienced military technicians and students from federal agencies; it does not admit foreign students, however, because much of its instruction is classified.  The curriculum sharpens skills that might be used overseas or in the United States.

BOSTON - The Search for Evidence in the Marathon Bombings

"Investigators Seek Boston Bombing Suspect’s Laptop" by SERGE F. KOVALESKI and MICHAEL COOPER, New York Times 4/25/2013


The search for evidence in the Boston Marathon bombings sent white-suited investigators combing through the garbage at a landfill in New Bedford, Mass., on Thursday as they hunted for a laptop computer belonging to one of the suspects, a law enforcement official said.

Investigators have been searching for several days for the laptop that they believe belonged to one of the two brothers suspected of setting off bombs at the Boston Marathon last week that killed three people and wounded more than 260, several law enforcement officials said.

They believe that the computer may have been thrown out, and they searched the Crapo Hill Landfill in New Bedford, near the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where one brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who was charged in the bombings this week, was a student.

New details continued to emerge about the bombing plot and last week’s manhunt for the suspects.  Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York called a news conference at City Hall to announce that Mr. Tsarnaev had told investigators from his hospital bed that he and his older brother, Tamerlan, had decided to drive to New York last Thursday night to use their remaining explosive devices in Times Square.  Law enforcement officials confirmed the account, but said the brothers’ intention appeared to have been more of a spontaneous idea than a real, thought-out plan.

Officials continued to revise and, in some cases, correct some of their initial accounts of the manhunt during the fast-moving events of last week.  An armed carjacking that state and federal officials at first said last week had occurred in Cambridge, Mass., actually appears to have taken place across the Charles River in Allston, a Boston neighborhood, several law enforcement officials said Thursday.

A Cambridge police spokesman, Dan Riviello, said the authorities were still trying to sort out whether the suspects, believed to be the brothers, had a car, or what car they used, in fleeing the location of a shooting earlier that night of an M.I.T. police officer in Cambridge, a few miles from Allston.

Angel Sifontes, 27, who works at a Hess gas station on Brighton Avenue in Allston, said detectives investigating the carjacking had visited the station to see if its cameras had caught any images of the crime.  “I was here when they came,” he said, adding that the carjacking was apparently out of range of the cameras.

The Cambridge police initially said the carjacking had been carried out by two men “in the area of Third Street in Cambridge.”  A sworn affidavit from an F.B.I. agent accompanying the criminal complaint against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that was unsealed on Monday said “an individual carjacked a vehicle at gunpoint in Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

Christina Sterling, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Massachusetts, said Thursday that officials had written “Cambridge” in the affidavit because that is what investigators believed at the time.  She said that “has since changed.”

OPINION - FAA Taking Back Seat on Safety

Good idea, the fox watching the hen house.... NOT!

"A Back Seat for Safety at the F.A.A." by JAMES E. HALL, New York Times 4/25/2013

IF one thing is clear after this week’s National Transportation Safety Board hearings on the certification of the Boeing 787’s lithium-ion battery, it is that the Federal Aviation Administration and the industry it regulates share a cozy relationship that sometimes takes a front seat to safety.  This relationship contributed to the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner in January and the astonishing swiftness with which the airplane was approved to return to commercial flight.

As a former chairman of the safety board, I know firsthand that effective government oversight helps prevent fatal airplane accidents.  For decades, the F.A.A. has used what it calls “designated airworthiness representatives” to certify that aircraft meet government safety standards.  They were experts selected and supervised by the agency, even if they worked for the manufacturer.  But in 2005, the F.A.A. changed the process of selecting those designees, ruling that aircraft manufacturers who qualified under the new procedures could choose their own employees to certify their planes.  The distinction is important, because it suggests a slide toward industry self-certification.

This laissez-faire certification system would save the aviation industry nearly $25 million between 2006 and 2015, the F.A.A. said at the time — a pittance when compared with Boeing’s $81 billion in revenue for 2012.  It is no coincidence that the committee that helped develop this process was made up of industry members.  Essentially, aircraft makers persuaded the F.A.A. to let them certify their own aircraft so they could save money.

Problems with the plane’s lithium-ion batteries emerged about 14 months after the 787 entered commercial service in November 2011, underscoring the folly of this policy.  As we learned from this week’s hearings, the agency let Boeing help write the safety standards, develop the testing protocol and then perform those tests.  In 2008, a year after standards for the battery system were approved with special conditions on the containment and venting of the batteries, stricter industry guidelines for these batteries were released.  But the F.A.A. did not require the 787 to meet those new guidelines.

The potential for these batteries to catch fire was well known.  In 2011, one of these batteries on a jet built by Cessna started smoking.  The F.A.A. ordered Cessna to remove the batteries, and Cessna replaced them with less combustible nickel-cadmium batteries.  Incredibly, the F.A.A. failed to absorb the lessons of this experience.

Boeing initially estimated that there was the potential for one battery failure incident in 10 million flight hours.  As it turned out, smoke and fire broke out in batteries on two separate 787’s in just the first 52,000 flight hours.  Even Boeing’s chief engineer on the 787, Mike Sinnett, acknowledged to the N.T.S.B. that one of the battery tests had been inadequate and was not “conservative enough.”

Now the 787 has been grounded for months, the F.A.A. has lost face, and Boeing has been losing $50 million a week on a plane that was supposed to demonstrate innovative aircraft design and help the United States recapture its onetime dominance of the world aircraft market.

Given all of that, the F.A.A.’s recent decision to approve Boeing’s plans to fix the lithium-ion battery seems shortsighted and represents a complete failure of government oversight.  It is puzzling that the agency was so quick on its feet to accommodate Boeing in recertifying the safety of the airplane, without even knowing the root cause of the battery problem.

And where has Congress been?  The first hearing on Capitol Hill on the 787 was held just one week ago.  But some of the testimony was very telling.  The Government Accountability Office questioned the F.A.A.’s ability to maintain the up-to-date knowledge necessary to approve new equipment, and the Department of Transportation’s inspector general criticized the agency for failing to ensure that personnel designated by aircraft manufacturers to certify their aircraft or components were competent to do so.

Congress needs to take a closer look at the F.A.A.’s practices and procedures to make sure that safety is the top priority, and should overhaul the agency to provide more direct government oversight as new aviation technologies are introduced.

We enjoy the safest commercial aviation system in the world.  But what about tomorrow?  After the N.T.S.B. hearings, this question is more important than ever.

BOSTON - Bombing Victims Face Difficult Path

"Victims in Boston Face a Difficult Path to Recovery" by ABBY GOODNOUGH and JESS BIDGOOD, New York Times 4/25/2013


Almost two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260, the medical toll is becoming clearer, with many of the victims suffering complex wounds that are causing intense pain and that will require several more operations.

Thirty-one victims remained hospitalized at the city’s trauma centers on Thursday, including some who lost legs or feet.  Sixteen people had limbs blown off in the blasts or amputated afterward, ranging in age from 7 to 71.  But in a way, their cases are the simpler ones, said Dr. David King, a trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.

For some whose limbs were preserved, Dr. King said, the wounds were so littered with debris that five or six operations have been needed to decontaminate them.

“The idea is to spread out the physiological stress over multiple operations,” he said.

Some of the wounded also still need surgery to repair bones, veins and nerves.  Many will need physical therapy as well.  About 10 patients have already arrived at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, said Timothy Sullivan, a spokesman, and that number could soon double.

For many of the wounded, managing pain is a constant challenge.  Dr. Alok Gupta, a trauma surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said the hospital was giving patients oral and intravenous narcotics and, where possible, regional nerve blocks using catheters.

Dr. King said that for those who lost limbs, so-called phantom pain — which feels as if it is coming from the body part that is no longer there — can be excruciating and particularly hard to treat.

“You have to balance between taking the pain away,” he said, “and them being interactive and able to participate in their own rehabilitation.”

The ailments are not just physical.  Some patients are upbeat, doctors said, but others are angry, anxious and depressed.

Joan Smith, the manager of social work services at Tufts Medical Center, said that virtually all of the 14 victims who came through the hospital were experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder that may continue indefinitely.

ASIA - Bangladesh Factory Collapse Toll and Western Firms

Ah yes, greed first, worker safety last.

"Western Firms Feel Pressure as Toll Rises in Bangladesh" by JULFIKAR ALI MANIK, STEVEN GREENHOUSE, and JIM YARDLEY; New York Times 4/25/2013


As rescuers struggled on Thursday to reach survivors in one of the worst manufacturing disasters in history, pointed questions were being raised about why a Bangladesh factory building was not padlocked after terrified workers notified the police, government officials and a powerful garment industry group about cracks in the walls.

As the death toll neared 300, the owner of the collapsed building, the eight-story Rana Plaza, was in hiding, and the police and industry leaders were blaming him for offering false assurances to factory bosses that the structure was sound, leading to the decision to allow 3,000 workers return to work.

Pressure continued to build on Western companies that had promised after a deadly fire in November to take steps to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi factories that make the goods the companies sell.  Activists combing through the rubble here have already discovered labels and documents linking the factories to major European and American brands, like the Children’s Place, Benetton, Cato Fashions, Mango and others.

PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and Tchibo, a German retailer, have endorsed a plan in which Western retailers would finance fire safety efforts and structural upgrades in Bangladeshi factories — although they first want other companies to sign on.

Walmart has refused to join that effort.  But, in January, it announced that it would demand that factories quickly correct any safety violations and would dismiss any contractor that uses unapproved or unsafe factories.  Two weeks ago, Walmart pledged $1.8 million to establish a health and safety institute in Bangladesh to train 2,000 factory managers about fire safety.

On Thursday, the Bangladeshi authorities opened an investigation into the collapse, while the police brought negligence charges against the building’s owner, Sohel Rana, his father and the owners of four factories in the building.  Bangladesh’s High Court also issued a summons for Mr. Rana, who is involved in local politics for the country’s ruling party, the Awami League.  He has been ordered to appear in court next Tuesday.

The immediate question was why the garment factories on the upper floors of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, outside Dhaka, the capital, were operating when the structure collapsed Wednesday morning.  Industry leaders continued to point to Mr. Rana and what they said were his false assertions that the structure was safe.  “Based on that, they ran the factories yesterday,” said Mohammad Atiqul Islam, the president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, in a telephone interview.  He said his staff had told factory owners on Tuesday to stay closed until the building was inspected.  “We had very clearly told the owners not to open.”

But analysts said that, based on past experience, there was likely to be plenty of blame to go around, with harried factory owners scrambling to fill orders under tight deadlines imposed by their Western customers.

“Even in a situation of grave threat, when they saw cracks in the walls, factory managers thought it was too risky not to work because of the pressure on them from U.S. and European retailers to deliver their goods on time,” said Dara O’Rourke, an expert on workplace monitoring at the University of California, Berkeley.  He added that the prices Western companies pay “are so low that they are at the root of why these factories are cutting corners on fire safety and building safety.”

GUN CONTROL - A Familiar Fight From Another Era

"Uphill Gun Control Fight Feels Familiar to Advocates of Another Era" PBS Newshour 4/25/2013


SUMMARY:  The defeat of a bipartisan effort to expand background checks for gun buyers was cheered by gun rights advocates and denounced by the president and families of gun victims.  Judy Woodruff takes a behind-the-scenes look at the fight over gun control and the decades-long evolution of lobbying tactics on both sides of the debate.

SYRIA - Chemical Weapons Already Used?

Already we are hearing from anti-Obama side saying for him to uphold his 'red-line' statement on Syria.  I, for one, know that President Obama is being very cautious about getting the U.S. into another war, especially after the Iraq fiasco and Afghanistan.  Think about that.

My personal advice to President Obama is to consider pushing for a no-fly zone over all of Syria.  This would be a lower level intervention.

"U.S. Believes Syrian Regime Has Used Chemical Weapons, Waits for Confirmation" PBS Newshour 4/25/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  The disclosure came initially from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, traveling in Abu Dhabi.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL, United States:  U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin.

MARGARET WARNER:  At the same time, the White House released letters using exactly the same words from Legislative Affairs Director Miguel Rodriguez to senators Carl Levin and John McCain.

In the letters, Rodriguez added:  "We do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime."

But he said the U.S. would need more definitive evidence before deciding to act.  "Given the stakes involved," he said, "only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making."

For months, President Obama has warned the Syrian government against using chemical weapons in terms he first used last August.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that's a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.  That would -- that would change my calculations.

MARGARET WARNER:  Today's disclosure brought calls for a U.S. response from lawmakers in both parties.  Republican Sen. John McCain insisted the president must respond quickly.

NEW YORK CITY - Tsarnaev Brothers Planned to Attack Times Square

"Tsarnaev Brothers Planned Times Square Attack After Boston Bombing" PBS Newshour 4/25/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  New York City was supposedly going to be the next target of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg disclosed that during a news conference today.

Bloomberg said FBI officials were told by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that he and his brother decided spontaneously to attempt an attack on Times Square last week.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly filled in other details of the plan after Bloomberg spoke first.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, I-New York City:  He told the FBI apparently that he and his brother had intended to drive to New York and detonate additional explosives in Times Square.  They had built these additional explosives, and we know they had the capacity to carry out these attacks.

POLICE COMMISSIONER RAYMOND KELLY, New York City:  They discussed this while driving around in a Mercedes SUV that they had hijacked after they shot and killed an MIT police officer in Cambridge, Dzhokhar said.

That plan, however, fell apart when they realized that the vehicle that they hijacked was low on gas and ordered the driver to stop at a nearby gas station.  The driver used the opportunity to escape and call the police.  That eventually led to the shoot-out in Watertown, where the older brother was killed in an exchange of gunfire with the police.

Up until that point, the two brothers had at their disposal six improvised explosive devices.  One was a pressure cooker bomb similar to the two that had exploded at the marathon.  The other five were pipe bombs.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

OPINION - Attempting to Rehabilitate a Failed President

"How not to rehabilitate a failed president" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 4/24/2013

A confluence of events appears to have created a curious new talking point on the right.  With former President George W. Bush's library set to open, and last week's Boston Marathon bombing still very much on the public's mind, Republican pundits see value in trying to tie the two together in the hopes of improving Bush's reputation.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, for example, published this gem yesterday:

"Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11."

A few hours later on Fox News, Eric Bolling echoed the sentiment.

"I will tell one thing, from you 9/12/01 until the time President Obama raised his right hand January of '09, the man kept us safe.  And there -- you certainly can't say that since President Obama has taken the oath of office."

When it comes to Bolling, I should note that this is an improvement from his previous stance.  Two years ago, he suggested on the air that he didn't recall 9/11 at all:  "America was certainly safe between 2000 and 2008.  I don't remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that period of time."

I should also note that neither Rubin nor Bolling seemed to be kidding.  Their comments weren't satirical or jokes intended to make Republicans appear silly.

As for the substance, there are three main angles to keep in mind.  The first is the bizarre assertion that President Obama somehow deserves the blame for the bomb that killed three people in Boston last week, because he didn't "keep up safe."  The argument reflects a child-like understanding of national security and is absurd on its face.

Second, though the right likes to pretend otherwise, there were terrorist attacks during Bush/Cheney's tenure -- after 9/11 -- that shouldn't be ignored.  Indeed, it's a little tiresome to hear Republicans argue in effect, "Other than the deadly anthrax attacks, the attack against El Al ticket counter at LAX, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush's international unpopularity, the former president's record on counter-terrorism was awesome."

And finally, I'm not sure Republican pundits have fully thought through the wisdom of the "other than 9/11" argument.

Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline:  "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time.  He heard the briefer out and replied, "All right.  You've covered your ass, now."  A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.

For Rubin and Bolling, the response is, in effect, "Yeah, but other than that, he kept us safe."  The problem, of course, is that's roughly the equivalent of saying other than that iceberg, the Titanic had a pleasant voyage.  Other than that one time, Pompeii didn't have to worry about the nearby volcano.  Other than Booth, Lincoln enjoyed his evening at Ford's Theater.

It is, in other words, a little more difficult to airbrush catastrophic events from history.

I can appreciate the zeal with which Republican pundits want to rehabilitate Bush's poor standing, but they'll have to do better than this.

There is a list Terrorism in the United States that includes 2000-2009 (24), which includes 9/11/2001 and other events (18) that occurred during our 'Great Protector' G.W. Bush's reign.

BOSTON - Mining Tsarnaev Brothers' Online History

"Mining Online History for What May Have Radicalized, Informed Tsarnaev Brothers" PBS Newshour 4/24/2013


SUMMARY:  In Boston, a memorial service honored a police officer killed during the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers, while new information was released about the bombing suspects.  Judy Woodruff talks with Jerrold M. Post of the George Washington University and Jessica Stern of Harvard University about how people turn to radical violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Meanwhile, the scene of the Boston Marathon attack, Boylston Street, reopened to the public.

And in the investigation, the Associated Press quoted unnamed U.S. officials who said the bombs were triggered by rudimentary remote controls.  Some of the gunpowder in the devices may have come from this store in New Hampshire, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev bought $400 dollars worth of fireworks in February.

WOMAN:  He just wanted the biggest, loudest stuff that we have in the store, pretty much.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The surviving Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar, has reportedly told investigators that the brothers learned to make the pressure cooker bombs from an online magazine called Inspire.  It's published by al-Qaida's affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula and includes a section called "Open Source Jihad" that explains bomb-making techniques.

The ideology that apparently sparked the attack remained on display on Tamerlan Tsarnaev's YouTube page, links to videos from, among others, an Islamist fighter in the North Caucasus.

This afternoon, The Washington Post reported that the CIA asked to place Tamerlan Tsarnaev's name on a watch list more than a year before the attacks.  It wasn't immediately clear when his name was added to the list.  But The Post said it happened after the FBI closed its initial inquiry.

For more on what may have turned two young men into violent terrorists, I'm joined now by Dr. Jerrold Post, who had a 21-year career at the CIA, where he founded the Center for Analysis of Personal and Political Behavior.  He's now a professor of psychiatry, political psychiatry and international affairs at George Washington University.  And Jessica Stern, who is a lecturer at Harvard and former National Security Council staffer who's interviewed dozens of terrorists to try to understand what motivates them.

Significant excerpts

JERROLD POST, The George Washington University:  And there are three, and this coincides with what Jessica said earlier.  First, we are the victims.  Secondly, they, the West, and especially United States and Great Britain, but also Israel, are the victimizers, and therefore defensive jihad is justified and required against those who are doing this to us.

And that's a powerful message.  And you have people who have -- the brothers were characterized as losers by their uncle, who are not doing so well in their lives, and that he had given -- had lost his dream to be an Olympic boxer, that his parents had left and were back in Dagestan.  All of these together may have helped move him into this sphere where -- from passivity and helplessness to activity to aggression.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And what about the -- staying with you, Jessica Stern, just a moment, what about the ideological or the religious, Islamist strain of this?  I mean, for example, are there passages from the Koran?  Or is it extreme language that veers off in another direction?

JESSICA STERN, Harvard University:  Well, what we have found is that it's often people who are most ignorant about Islam who can pick and choose passages, actually, from any religion that would seem to support a holy war.

And right now there's a canned ideology, a jihadi ideology that seems to be very appealing to the kind of alienated and lonely and lost young men that Jerry Post is talking about, that canned jihadi ideology right there.  Some of them are converts.

See more from PBS NewsHour.

AMERICA - Flooding in the Midwest

"Heavy April Showers Inundate Midwest States With Widespread Flooding" PBS Newshour 4/24/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now the floods along the Mississippi and other Midwest rivers, creeks and streams.

This week, communities are coping with rising waters, heavy rain and increasing damage, with no immediate end in sight.  The scope of the problem keeps growing, with flooding along the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers.  Towns and cities from North Dakota to Arkansas have felt the brunt, with its biggest impact so far in Illinois and Missouri.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  The rain-swollen Mississippi River neared its crest today near Saint Louis, after days of rising waters.

Muddy river waters covered the tops of trees and street signs, and a boat was the best way to get around in some areas.  The unruly river caused more than 100 barges to break free earlier this week.  A handful of them hit a Saint Louis County bridge.  The Coast Guard says at least 10 barges sank.

Meanwhile, floodwaters on the Illinois River crested at 29 feet.  That's the highest it's risen in 70 years.  The waters began falling today.  Volunteers worked steadily to throw up tens of thousands of sandbag barriers to stop flooding.  But, for some houses, the waters couldn't be stopped.  Many stood partially submerged yesterday.  Buildings on the floodplain, like this one, were suddenly in the middle of the river.

Meanwhile, in the north of the state, the water receded enough in some areas to allow residents to start their cleanup.  In Des Plaines, west of Chicago, the streets are lined with the unsalvageable.

AMERICA - Update on Ricin Letters Investigation

"Search for Sender of Ricin Letters Turns Up Odd Twists, Echoes of Anthrax Case" PBS Newshour 4/24/2013


SUMMARY:  Federal investigators searched a home in Tupelo, Miss., in the hunt for who sent politicians letters tainted with ricin.  Gwen Ifill talks to Kimberly Kindy of The Washington Post and Marilyn Thompson of Reuters about strange twists in the investigation, including conflict between a karate teacher and an Elvis impersonator.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now an update on the probe into a poison pen mystery.

Federal investigators swarmed a Tupelo, Miss., home last night, hunting for the sender of ricin-tainted letters mailed to government officials.

The home belongs to Everett Dutschke.

EVERETT DUTSCHKE, Resident of Mississippi:  Everybody has something suspicious in their house, but, no, there is nothing that is related to these letters.

GWEN IFILL:  Dutschke has not been arrested, and no charges have been filed.  Last night's search came after yesterday's sudden twist, when a first suspect was released.

Without explanation, federal prosecutors dropped all charges against Paul Kevin Curtis of Corinth, Miss.  An FBI agent testified that a search of Curtis' home found no evidence of the dangerous substance.  Curtis, who was released yesterday evening, said he told investigators all along that he was innocent.

PAUL KEVIN CURTIS, Former Suspect:  I respect President Obama.  I love -- love my country and would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other U.S. official.

GWEN IFILL:  But it turns out Curtis has some history with Dutschke, who once threatened to sue him.  Dutschke, seen in this 2007 photo with Sen. Roger Wicker, one of the officials who received the poisoned letters, also maintains he didn't mail them.

ART BEAT - Soul Singer Charles Bradley, With Hugs

"Soul Singer Charles Bradley Breaks Loose" by Margaret Myers, PBS Newshour 4/24/2013

If you go to a Charles Bradley concert, prepare to get hugged...by Charles Bradley.  He does it every time.  After the show -- after the screaming and the sweat -- he steps down from the stage, arms outstretched, and embraces the audience one by one.  I got a hug.  Video editor Josh Barajas got one, too.

"When I go on stage and I see the audience, see the way they love me, the way they give me love, it's a love that you carry inside you," the 64-year-old soul singer said before a recent performance in Annapolis, Md.  "It makes you want to open every bit of love you carry inside you.  It's a beautiful feeling."

Bradley's story is far from beautiful.  His mother was absent for most of his upbringing.  He left home at 14 and spent time living on the street and in subway trains in New York.  It was then that he found Job Corps, the vocational training program created in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, and earned work as a cook.  It was also around this time that he got to see James Brown perform.

"When I got a chance, when I was 14, to go see James Brown...that just enhanced my singing," he said.  "And when I went to Job Corps, I finally met my first band.  I could sing.  They wanted me to sing.  But I was a little nervous being around a big crowd.  But once you get that mic in your hand, it gets in your spirit, you just break loose."

A soul singer was born.

But it took nearly a half-century before the masses would get to hear his music.  Bradley was in his 50s when the co-founder of Daptone Records "discovered" him in a Brooklyn nightclub performing as a James Brown act called Black Velvet.  By age 62, Daptone released his first album, "No Time for Dreaming," to critical acclaim.  It made Rolling Stones' 50 Best Albums of 2011, ranking him alongside smash hit artists like Adele and Frank Ocean.

But success only seems to make him more humble.  Bradley's painful past, which includes the shooting death of his brother in 2000, can be heard in his songs, notably 2011's "Heartaches and Pain."

"My songs come from a lot of my deep emotion, from the trials and tribulations that I've been through," he said.  "Every lyric got a picture behind it.  That's why sometimes it gets very emotional for me."

Now 64, he recently released his second album, "Victim of Love," and has embarked on his first world tour.  Now the world will get to hear the Screaming Eagle of Soul.  They'll get to see his moves -- he's been dancing since he was 4 years old.  They'll get to witness his spirit; his performance is coated in his faith -- at one point in the show he screams, "Can I go to church!" And they'll get their hugs.  Bradley so much as promises it.

"My goal now's really getting out into the music industry, getting to people's eyes so they're really seeing me," he said.  "I see a lot of hurt in people's faces, and I see a lot of joy.  That's why I like going out to the public, hugging them, letting them know that I see it."

Heartaches and Pain

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

INDIA - The Preference for Baby Boys, Revisited

Individual men can father many more babies than individual woman can birth, which means in over populated India clinging to this ancient tradition is detrimental to all of India.  It also points out a society that still treats women as chattels to be bargained away.

"Pervasive Preference for Baby Boys Over Girls Prevails Among Parents in India" PBS Newshour 4/23/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Next, from India, worries about the age-old bias favoring male children.

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro updates a story he did a dozen years ago about the skewed sex ratio of children born in India.

It's another in our Agents of Change series.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (Newshour):  For some months, Pooja, a 22-year-old mother of three, has been coming to this crisis counseling center in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Delhi.

Pooja is trying to keep her family together.  Her husband and in-laws have tried to throw her out.  Their problem, all three children are girls.

POOJA, Mother:  The family says they need sons to carry on their name and since I have only three daughters, they tried to trick me into signing divorce papers so that their son could marry again.  That led to some violence when I refused, and I had to run away to my mother's house for safety.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  The preference for boys goes back millennia.  Boys performed the last rites at their parents' funeral.  They carry the family name and when they marry they bring a dowry into the family.

Dowries were outlawed 50 years ago, but they're pervasive and mistakenly believed to have roots in Hindu scriptures, says Ranjana Kumari of the Delhi-based Center for Social Research.

BOOK - The Blurring Line, Soldiers vs Spies

"Book Examines the Blurring Line Between Soldiers and Spies Since 9/11 Attacks" PBS Newshour 4/23/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Finally tonight, a new book about a major change in the way America fights.

The attacks of September 11th sparked a revolution of sorts at the Central Intelligence Agency, transforming it from an operation focused on stealing secrets to something closer to a paramilitary organization focused on hunting down and killing terrorists.

The Department of Defense has evolved as well, beefing up its global intelligence gathering capabilities, and at times conducting missions that were previously done by the spies of the CIA.

New York Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti tracks all this in "The Way of the Knife:  The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth."

Margaret Warner sat down with him recently, and began by asking when it first became apparent that the line between spies and soldiers had blurred.

POLITICS - The SEC and Corporate Donation Disclosure

Even more push to government by big-business.  It's not enough that our U.S. Supreme Court was bought-out by corporations and gave these entities the right to buy our elections.

I should not have to say, but Republican fascists will do everything to block this since corporations finance the GOP.

"S.E.C. Gets Plea: Force Companies to Disclose Donations" by NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, New York Times 4/23/2013


A loose coalition of Democratic elected officials, shareholder activists and pension funds has flooded the Securities and Exchange Commission with calls to require publicly traded corporations to disclose to shareholders all of their political donations, a move that could transform the growing world of secret campaign spending.

S.E.C. officials have indicated that they could propose a new disclosure rule by the end of April, setting up a major battle with business groups that oppose the proposal and are preparing for a fierce counterattack if the agency’s staff moves ahead.  Two S.E.C. commissioners have taken the unusual step of weighing in already, with Daniel Gallagher, a Republican, saying in a speech that the commission had been “led astray” by “politically charged issues.”

A petition to the S.E.C. asking it to issue the rule has already garnered close to half a million comments, far more than any petition or rule in the agency’s history, with the vast majority in favor of it.  While relatively few petitions result in action by the S.E.C., the commission staff filed a notice late last year indicating that it was considering recommending a rule.

In response to the growing pressure, House Republicans introduced legislation last Thursday that would make it illegal for the commission to issue any political disclosure regulations applying to companies under its jurisdiction.  Earlier this month, the leaders of three of Washington’s most powerful trade associations — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — issued a rare joint letter to the chief executives of Fortune 200 companies, encouraging them to stand against proxy resolutions and other proposals from shareholder activists demanding more disclosure of political spending.

Tax-exempt groups and trade associations spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political advertising during 2012 elections, but they are not required to disclose their donors.  Evidence has mounted that a significant portion of the money came from companies seeking to intervene in campaigns without fear of offending their customers, their shareholders — or the lawmakers they target for defeat.

OPINION - While Damascus Burns

"Dithering While Damascus Burns" by BOB CORKER, New York Times 4/23/2013

AS Syria slips further into chaos, America is acting hesitantly at a pivotal moment for our national interests and for those of our allies in the region.

It appears that President Bashar al-Assad’s fall is inevitable, but the question is how long it will take and how much suffering and bloodshed will occur before it happens.  There is a looming second battle in Syria, as the opposition is divided along sectarian lines and between moderates and extremists.  Simply being against Mr. Assad is no longer enough.

In both practical and moral terms, no one’s interests will be served by a chaotic collapse of the Syrian state, the empowerment of violent extremist groups with ties to Al Qaeda and the sectarian reprisals that could follow Mr. Assad’s fall.  America must therefore prepare to make new investments and commitments to avoid an even deeper catastrophe.

American leadership, including providing arms and training to moderate rebels, are likely to be the only things that can tip the balance, help end the bloodshed and halt brewing threats to us and our allies.

Yet the Obama administration has been indecisive, neither fully “in” nor “out,” as radicals and militants are rapidly becoming a more influential force inside Syria.  Furthermore, if allegations of Syria’s use of chemical weapons — a “red line” that Mr. Obama has said Syria must not cross — prove true, it will force the White House and Congress to decide about expanding our involvement there.

President Obama and his advisers face difficult decisions about Syria.  He should work closely with Congress in devising his strategy and not deploy any military forces without Congressional consent.  Like the president, I am reluctant to commit the United States as an active participant in a complex and distant war and do not support the deployment of American forces to topple Mr. Assad.  But the time for “leading from behind” is over.

First, the United States must act to affect the balance of power on the ground, shifting momentum away from radical Islamist groups toward more moderate elements that we hope can lead Syria after Mr. Assad’s fall.

Unfortunately, the moderate elements we must support are not the most formidable or the most cohesive of the forces fighting in Syria.

We must use American resources and ingenuity to help change that — beyond the “nonlethal assistance” we currently provide.  This will require weapons and training for rebel units vetted by the United States as well as assistance to improve leadership skills, and cohesiveness in both military and civilian institutions.  We should not be engaged in nation building, but we can certainly support Syrians committed to rebuilding their country.

But sending arms alone will not solve the problem.  After all, small arms are already flowing to combatants from other sources in the region at an alarming rate.  By more fully engaging vetted units and training them to respect the law of armed conflict, protect critical infrastructure and secure dangerous weapons sites, America can make a down payment on Syria’s future by building relationships with future partners.

In addition, the United States must take the lead in building an international consensus on what the next government of Syria will look like.  We can be under no illusions: this will be very difficult and will require that we secure significant changes in policy from Russia and other countries in the region.

Establishing common cause between moderate Sunni groups and Alawites — parties that are currently at war with one another — against radical Sunni groups and Iranian proxies will be central to building Syria’s next government.  The Alawites are largely clinging to Mr. Assad’s regime for fear that a Sunni victory will lead to sectarian violence against them and that it may be part of the larger, increasingly bitter Sunni-Shia divide throughout the region.

When it comes to Russia, America must display a deeper understanding of Russia’s regional interests and take advantage of our shared concerns about Islamic extremism.  Russian leaders believe that Syria is becoming a safe haven for extremists, and we should take that concern seriously while at the same time insisting on sending aid to moderate groups.  This could be the basis for a new understanding with Moscow and a shared approach toward Syria.

Only Russia can convince Mr. Assad that he must step aside, which is an essential first step toward a negotiated solution, and only the United States is in a position to persuade the Friends of Syria — a group of 11 nations — to isolate extremists and bring the core of the opposition to the negotiating table.

The United States must also be more aggressive in stopping Iranian support for Mr. Assad.  Likewise, public and private sources of support for anti-Assad extremists in Syria should be publicized and targeted with sanctions.  Other countries opposed to Mr. Assad, including American allies, must also be much more selective about who they arm and support in the war in Syria.

They must recognize that it is in their interests, as well as America’s, to build an Alawite-Sunni alliance of the center to oppose both Mr. Assad’s army and Sunni extremists with ties to Al Qaeda.

Changing the dynamics of the conflict in the short term will help preserve and rebuild a stable Syria over the long term.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Istanbul reflects this view and is a welcome step.  But ending the violence in Syria will require the United States to play an even greater role, and it will force both us and our partners to make difficult decisions.  The consequences of our continued collective failure are unthinkable, and grow more serious every day.

As I've said before, the first step to ending this civil war  is to establish a no-fly zone over ALL of Syria.

BOSTON - Tsarnaev Brothers Self-Taught Terrorists

"Boston Suspects Are Seen as Self-Taught and Fueled by Web" by MICHAEL COOPER, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, and ERIC SCHMITT; New York Times 4/23/2013


The portrait investigators have begun to piece together of the two brothers suspected of the Boston Marathon bombings suggests that they were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs but were not acting with known terrorist groups — and that they may have learned to build bombs simply by logging onto the online English-language magazine of the affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

The investigation into the bombings is still in its earliest stages, and federal authorities were still in the process of corroborating some of the admissions that law enforcement officials said were made by the surviving suspect in the attacks, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19.  But they said some of his statements suggested that the two brothers could represent the kind of emerging threat that federal authorities have long feared; angry and alienated young men, apparently self-trained and unaffiliated with any particular terrorist group, able to use the Internet to learn their lethal craft.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters after emerging from a two-hour classified briefing with F.B.I. and intelligence officials Tuesday evening that the suspects were most likely radicalized over the Internet, but that investigators were still searching for possible sources of inspiration or support overseas.

“The increasing signals are that these were individuals who were radicalized, especially the older brother, over a period of time — radicalized by Islamist fundamentalist terrorists, basically using Internet sources to gain not just the types of philosophical beliefs that radicalized them, but also learning components of how to do these sorts of things,” Mr. Rubio told reporters.

“This is a new element of terrorism that we have to face in our country,” Mr. Rubio said.  “We need to be prepared for Boston-type attacks, not just 9/11-type attacks.”

"Suspect Admits Role in Boston Attacks; Medical Condition Upgraded to Fair" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 4/23/2013


SUMMARY:  As family members of two victims laid their loved ones to rest, new details emerged in the Boston Marathon attack.  Authorities say that suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev admitted he played a role and said U.S. involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was a motivating factor. Judy Woodruff has the latest on the investigation.

"Bombing Suspect Alleges Attack Was Self-Motivated, Not Connected to Other Groups" PBS Newshour 4/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remains hospitalized with limited ability to communicate.  But the 19-year-old has reportedly acknowledged that he acted alone with his brother out of anti-American sentiment.  Judy Woodruff gets an update from Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal.

NOTE:  The following has details (transcript) of bedside interview, and has info on other terrorist/criminal events in North America during 'this news cycle.'

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 4/22/2013
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