Thursday, May 30, 2013

TECHNOLOGY - Facial Recognition, a New Tool for Police

"Are Faces the New Fingerprints?" PBS Newshour 5/29/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now to the second of our stories on the role of technology in unraveling the Boston bombing case.

Last night, science correspondent Miles O'Brien traveled to an explosives testing facility to learn more about the bomb itself.  Tonight, as part of his work for a special NOVA program (53:07), he reports on the facial recognition software that allowed investigators to identify the bombing suspects.

MILES O'BRIEN (Newshour):  It is a small unit on the cusp of a big change in the way police do their job. Welcome to the New York Police Department's facial identification section.

Inspector Ken Mekeel is the man in charge.

Do you feel like you're sort of at the beginning of when fingerprints first came in?  Is this the beginning of where policing is headed, in many respects?

INSPECTOR KENNETH MEKEEL, New York Police Department:  Yes, very much so.  It's not as good as a fingerprint.


KENNETH MEKEEL:  This doesn't have the confidence level of that.  It's not a definitive science such as fingerprints and DNA.  But this is good.

Just basically, maybe we can get a lead.  Maybe we can be pointed in a direction that this might be a possible person.  Hollywood makes facial recognition look easy.  But when you face the facts, this law enforcement tool is not as easy as it looks in the movies.

WOMEN - More Women are Primary Household Breadwinners

"More Women As Family Breadwinners Reflects 'Values Shift' in the U.S." PBS Newshour 5/29/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  There are new findings that show moms more than ever are becoming the breadwinners of the American family.  A record 40 percent of all families with children under the age of 18 are now headed by women who are the sole or primary source of income.

That analysis, based on census data, was released today by the Pew Research Center.  Notably, there are big income disparities among these women.  Almost 25 percent of families are led by single mothers who earn a median of $23,000 dollars a year.  Another 15 percent of families are comprised of married mothers who earn more than their husbands.  Their families' median income was almost $80,000 dollars a year.

For more on what these trends are and what they suggest about the changing dynamics of work and family life, we turn to Paul Taylor, an author of the report and executive vice president of the Pew Research Center.  And Ellen Galinsky, she is the president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute.

WAR ON TERROR - Pakistan Taliban #2 Killed

U.S. to terrorists:  There is NO place for you to hide, we WILL hunt you down.

"Suspected American Drone Strike Said to Have Killed Pakistan Taliban No. 2" PBS Newshour 5/29/2013


SUMMARY:  Days after President Obama announced new restrictions to the drone program, a suspected U.S. drone strike killed a top Pakistani Taliban commander.  Pakistani intelligence officials say the man, Wali ur-Rehman, was killed along with four others, but the White House would not confirm the attack or deaths.  Jeffrey Brown reports.

CALIFORNIA - Health Benefit Exchange

"California Health Insurance Premiums Under Obamacare Revealed" by Jeffrey Young, Huffington Post 5/23/2013


A 40-year-old Californian with a moderate income will pay between nothing and $219 a month for a basic health insurance plan next year under President Barack Obama's health care reform law, a state agency announced Thursday.

Covered California, the authority in charge of the state's health insurance exchange, has released details about what the health insurance market for individuals who don't get coverage at work will look like next year.  In all, 13 health insurance companies will sell products on the exchange, and premiums will range from 2 percent more to 29 percent less than what comparable plans cost this year, the agency said.

California is not only the most populous state in the U.S., but it also has the highest number of uninsured residents, 7.3 million in 2011.  The state is tied for the fourth-highest percentage of residents without health insurance at 20 percent, census data show.  The state embraced health care reform soon after Obama signed the law in 2010 and is seen as a bellwether for whether the initiative can succeed.

The results of Covered California's negotiations with health insurance companies belie predictions of massive premium increases under the law, at least for products that offer a range of benefits similar to those currently sold to small businesses.

The average cost of a standard health insurance plan sold on the health insurance exchange will range from $304 to $321 a month in the Golden State next year, Covered California announced.  Compared to existing plans with comparable benefits and factoring in available subsidies for low- and moderate-income people, prices like these represent either a small increase or a significant decrease in the monthly costs, the agency said.

"This is a home run for consumers in every region of California," Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, said in a press release.  'Our active negotiating will not only benefit potential enrollees to Covered California, but will benefit all Californians by making health care affordable.' California is one of just six states that will use their negotiating leverage to force lower premiums under Obamacare.

Health insurance companies and political opponents of the health care reform law repeatedly have cautioned that its benefit mandates and limitations on industry practices like excluding sick people and charging higher rates to women and older people would dramatically raise premiums.

The evidence to date is mixed.  In Maryland, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield requested that the state approve a 25 percent hike in premiums for individuals for next year.  In contrast, two health insurers in Oregon actually scaled back their proposed increases after seeing what their competitors planned.

California Health Exchange

OPINION - GOP's Lurch Right = No Moderates

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 5/28/2013
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

BOOK - Foreign Policy Begins at Home

"Is the U.S. Overreaching Abroad?" PBS Newshour 5/28/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Finally tonight, the second of two conversations about America's role in the world.

Last week, Margaret Warner talked to former State Department Vali Nasr, who offered a behind-the-scenes critique of policy-making in the Obama administration.

Tonight, Margaret gets a different view.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  The United States is overreaching abroad and under-performing at home -- that's the thesis of Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass in his new book, "Foreign Policy Begins at Home:  The Case for Putting America's House in Order."

It's a surprising viewpoint from a former top State Department and National Security Council official.

Richard Haass joins me now to discuss his book and his recommendations for rebalancing our country's priorities.

AMERICA - Health of U.S. Infrastructure

"What Bridge Collapse in Wash. State Says About Health of U.S. Infrastructure" PBS Newshour 5/28/2013


SUMMARY:  The collapse of a bridge on Washington state's Interstate-5 has refocused the nation's attention on the state of its ailing transportation infrastructure.  Gwen Ifill discusses the deficiencies and potential solutions with Casey Dinges of the American Society of Civil Engineers and infrastructure analyst Dan McNichol.

BOMBS - Understanding Them

"Understanding the Bombs Used at the Boston Marathon" PBS Newshour 5/28/2013


MILES O'BRIEN (Newshour):  We all watched the chaos of the Boston Marathon bombings with horror, but in Socorro, N.M., the raw emotion was mixed with scientific insight.

VAN ROMERO, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology:  It's really almost schizophrenic, I think, from my standpoint is, part of my brain is going into analysis mode, what -- that white smoke, what does that mean?  I started looking for broken windows.  Where is the pattern of broken windows from the video that I saw?

Because that tells me where the pressure wave went and how big the pressure wave was.  Is there a crater?  So, all that analytical stuff is going through your brain.

MILES O'BRIEN:  Van Romero is the vice president of research at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, which operates the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, the most active explosives testing facility in the U.S.

Name a terror bombing, Marine barracks in Beirut, Khobar Towers, Oklahoma City, the first attack on the World Trade Center, the London transit bombings.  In each case, investigators have come here to test their notions of what happened to build a court case and find new ways to defend against future attacks.

CYBERWAR - Chinese Hack U.S. Weapon Designs?

COMMENT:  The digital-world makes things much easier for everyone, BUT that includes for criminals and espionage.  This means EVERYONE has to be more vigilant about protecting their online data.  Unfortunately our government is playing catchup in technology (hardware and software).

"Is U.S. Less Secure After Chinese Hack Weapons Designs?" PBS Newshour 5/28/2013


JEFFREY BROWN:  There was a new report today of cyber-spying by the Chinese, this time aimed at U.S. military and defence systems.

According to The Washington Post, designs for more than two dozen U.S. weapon systems have been hacked and compromised.  The Post cited a confidential report by a Pentagon advisory panel called the Defense Science Board -- among the designs said to have been breached:  An advanced Patriot missile system; the FA-18 fighter jet; and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, considered the most expensive weapons system ever built.

In a written statement today, a Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department "takes cyber-espionage very seriously," but "suggestions that cyber-intrusions have somehow led to the erosion of our capabilities or technological edge are incorrect."

Warnings about the cyber-threat from China to both the military and private businesses have grown in recent months.  In March, National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon told an audience that the attacks had to stop.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TOM DONILON, United States:  Increasingly, U.S. businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber-intrusions emanating from China at a very large scale.  The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country.

ECONOMY - Americans in a Buying Mood

"Home Prices Rise, Putting Country in Buying Mood" by CATHERINE RAMPELL, New York Times 5/28/2013


Americans are in a buying mood, thanks largely to the housing recovery.

The latest sign emerged Tuesday as the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller home price index posted the biggest gains in seven years.  Housing prices rose in every one of the 20 cities tracked, continuing a trend that began three months ago.  Similar strength has appeared in new and existing home sales and in building permits, as rising home prices are encouraging construction firms to accelerate building and hiring.

The broad-based housing improvements appear to be buoying consumer confidence and spending, countering fears earlier this year that many consumers would pull back in response to government austerity measures.

In January, the two-year-old payroll tax holiday ended, stripping about $700 from the average household’s annual income, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.  Federal government spending cuts that started in March are also serving as a drag on economic growth, economists say.  And some recent data on other parts of the economy, like manufacturing and exports, have also disappointed.

Yet consumer confidence reached a five-year high in May, according to a Conference Board report also released on Tuesday, with big improvements in Americans’ views about both the current economy and future economic conditions.  Consumer spending has also been strikingly resilient so far this year, given the tax hikes.

“Five years after the start of the financial crisis in earnest, and four years and a week’s time from the beginning of the economic recovery, we’re finally starting to get more of a pickup,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics.  “It’s been a very drawn-out process, but you have to remember what we’ve been digging our way out of.”

The recent decline in gas prices is probably helping, as are increases in the stock market even though only about half of Americans own any equities.  Perhaps most important, economists say, the growth in the value of the existing housing stock means that homeowners around the country are finally feeling richer, and that so-called wealth effect is probably making consumers loosen their purse strings a bit.

The positive impact of rising home values and the appreciating stock market is expected to offset at least a third of the fiscal tightening, according to Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors.

The Case-Shiller 20-city composite index rose 10.9 percent over the last year, the biggest increase since April 2006.  Several cities — Charlotte, N.C.; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Tampa, Fla. — had their largest month-over-month gains in more than seven years.

CYBERCRIME - OnLine $6 Billion Heist

"Online Currency Exchange Accused of Laundering $6 Billion" by MARC SANTORA, WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, and NICOLE PERLROTH; New York Times 5/28/2013


The operators of a global currency exchange ran a $6 billion money-laundering operation online, a central hub for criminals trafficking in everything from stolen identities to child pornography, federal prosecutors in New York said on Tuesday.

The currency exchange, Liberty Reserve, operated beyond the traditional confines of United States and international banking regulations in what prosecutors called a shadowy netherworld of cyberfinance.  It traded in virtual currency and provided the kind of anonymous and easily accessible banking infrastructure increasingly sought by criminal networks, law enforcement officials said.

The charges announced at a news conference by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, and other law enforcement officials, mark what officials said was believed to be the largest online money-laundering case in history.  Over seven years, Liberty Reserve was responsible for laundering billions of dollars, conducting 55 million transactions that involved millions of customers around the world, including about 200,000 in the United States, according to prosecutors.

Richard Weber, who heads the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division in Washington, said at the news conference that the case heralds the arrival of “the cyber age of money laundering,” in which criminals “are gravitating toward digital currency alternatives as a means to move, conceal and enjoy their ill-gotten gains.”

“If Al Capone were alive today, this is how he would be hiding his money,” Mr. Weber said.  “Our efforts today shatter the belief among high-tech money launderers that what happens in cyberspace stays in cyberspace.”

Just as PayPal revolutionized how people shop online, making it possible to buy a microwave oven or concert tickets with the click of a button, Liberty Reserve sought to create a similarly convenient way for criminals to make financial transactions, law enforcement officials said.

The charges detailed a complicated system designed to allow people to move sums large and small around the world with virtual anonymity, according to an indictment, which was unsealed in federal court in Manhattan.

“As alleged, the only liberty that Liberty Reserve gave many of its users was the freedom to commit crimes — the coin of its realm was anonymity, and it became a popular hub for fraudsters, hackers and traffickers,” Mr. Bharara said at the news conference, where officials from the Justice and Treasury Departments, as well as the Secret Service and Homeland Security Investigations, also spoke.  “The global enforcement action we announce today is an important step toward reining in the ‘Wild West’ of illicit Internet banking.  As crime goes increasingly global, the long arm of the law has to get even longer, and in this case, it encircled the earth.”

Liberty Reserve surfaced as a preferred vehicle to transfer money between parties in a number of recent high-profile cybercrimes, including the indictment of eight New Yorkers accused of helping to loot $45 million from bank machines in 27 countries, officials said.

Liberty Reserve was incorporated in Costa Rica in 2006 by Arthur Budovsky, who renounced his United States citizenship in 2011, and was arrested in Spain on Friday.  He was among seven people charged in the case; five of them were under arrest, while two remained at large in Costa Rica.  All were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business, and operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.  The money laundering count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the other two charges carry a maximum of 5 years each.

In addition to the criminal charges, five domain names were seized, including the one used by Liberty Reserve.  Officials also seized or restricted the activity of 45 bank accounts.

The closing of Liberty Reserve last week seemed to have an immediate chilling effect on its customers, who were suddenly unable to access their funds and who posted anxious comments in underground forums, according to law enforcement officials.  Mr. Bharara said the exchange’s clientèle was largely made up of criminals, but he invited any legitimate users to contact his office to get their money back.

The charges outlined how the money transfer system operated, offering a glimpse into the murky world of online financial transactions where money bounces between accounts from Cyprus to New York in the blink of an eye.

To transfer money using Liberty Reserve, a user needed only to provide a name, address and date of birth. But users were not required to validate their identity.

“Accounts could therefore be opened easily using fictitious or anonymous identities,” the indictment states.  Prosecutors cited “blatantly criminal monikers” used by Liberty Reserve clients, like “Russia Hackers.”

Essentially, all a customer needed to open an account was an e-mail address.

One undercover agent was able to register accounts under names like “Joe Bogus” and describe the purpose of the account as “for cocaine” without being questioned, officials said.  That no-questions-asked verification system made Liberty Reserve the premier bank for cybercriminals, prosecutors said.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

BOOK - The Reshaping of Wall Street Regulations

"New Book Chronicles Fight Over Financial Reform After 2008 Crisis" PBS Newshour 5/27/2013


SUMMARY:  Judy Woodruff talks with journalist and author Robert Kaiser about his new book, "Act of Congress:  How America's Essential Institution Works, and How it Doesn't."  Kaiser explores how members of Congress reshaped Wall Street regulations after the 2008 financial crisis.

AMERICA - A Duty of Office, the President of the United States

"From Oval Office to Disaster Site, Presidents Offer Compassion After Catastrophe" PBS Newshour 5/27/2013


SUMMARY:  In recent months, President Barack Obama has comforted Newtown families, memorialized Boston bombing victims and toured Oklahoma tornado destruction.  Presidential historian Michael Beschloss and Alexis Simendinger of Real Clear Politics analyze with Gwen Ifill the role of presidents during times of national distress and tragedy.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now a look at the time-honored, but seemingly more frequent role of president as consoler in chief.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here.

GWEN IFILL:  They are the increasingly familiar moments of searing loss, when presidents give voice to the nation's grief.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  I can hear you.  The rest of the world hears you.  And the people ...

And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

GWEN IFILL:  Three days after 9/11, President George W. Bush stood on the rubble at Ground Zero in New York.  Six years earlier, in April 1995, President Clinton comforted mourners in Oklahoma City after 186 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:  We pledge to do all we can to help you heal the injured, to rebuild this city, and to bring to justice those who did this evil.

GWEN IFILL:  The presidents act as stand-ins for a nation's anguish.  In Jan. 1986, hours after the destruction of space shuttle Challenger, it fell to President Reagan to remember the seven astronauts killed that day.

FORMER PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN:  We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to such the face of God.

GWEN IFILL:  And five days after President Kennedy was assassinated in Nov. 1963, the newly elevated President Lyndon Johnson went before a shaken Congress and country.

FORMER PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON:  No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that he began.

GWEN IFILL:  Yesterday, President Obama returned to the task, traveling to Moore, Okla., where 24 people died a week ago in a massive tornado.

VETERANS - The 'Honor Flights'

"Honor Flights Serve Those Who Have Served With a Trip to Remember" PBS Newshour 5/27/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And now a special effort to honor those who have served in the nation's wars.

World War II veterans from Arizona preparing to take a flight, one filled with anticipation and special meaning.  This is an Honor Flight, part of an eight-year-old nonprofit program for vets who've never had the chance before to go to Washington to see the memorials, particularly the one honoring their service.

Upon landing in Baltimore, they met a large crowd of well-wishers offering a hero's welcome.  This group, 30 men in their 80s and 90s, is one of 370 visiting the nation's capital this year alone.

Eighty-five-year-old Marvin Murphy lives in Apache Junction, Ariz., east of Phoenix.

MARVIN MURPHY, U.S. Military Veteran:  We had tears.  I was speechless.  They didn't promise us this before we came.  It was just, well, we're going to take you here, you know?  And forever, forever, I will be grateful.  It is something, really something.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The next day, at the World War II Memorial, the tour and the welcome, this time by middle schoolers, continued.

More than 800 veterans of that war die every day.  And there's a quiet understanding on these trips that this may well be a first and last visit.

IMMIGRATION - Where Do Low-Skilled Workers Fit?

"How Do Low-Skilled Workers Fit Into Equation of Immigration Reform?" PBS Newshour 5/27/2013


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  The U.S. has used unskilled immigrants throughout its history.  They worked in factories, on farms, in hotels and restaurants.  And over time, those workers could see their opportunities change and their families' life chances improve.

For two different views on immigration and the low-skilled labor force in history and moving forward, we turn to Mae Ngai, a history and Asian-American studies professor at Columbia University, and Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.

LEBANON - Rocket Attacks Leading to Regional Conflict?

"Rocket Attacks in Lebanon Raise Concern of Expanding Regional Conflict" PBS Newshour 5/27/2013


SUMMARY:  Two rockets exploded in an area of Beirut controlled by Hezbollah, raising new concerns about the spread of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon and the region.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Margaret Warner from Beirut about Hezbollah's support for the Assad regime and the country's history of strife and its remaining sectarian tensions.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And we return to the bloody civil war in Syria.

Today, U.S. Sen. John McCain became the highest-ranking American official to enter Syria since the start of fighting there.  He crossed the Turkish border accompanied by a Free Syrian Army general.

Meanwhile, a fierce battle continues in the strategically critical town of Qusayr, with Hezbollah sending fighters from its home base in Lebanon to support the regime of Syrian President Assad.  And, yesterday, two rockets exploded in an area of Beirut controlled by Hezbollah.  That raised new concerns about the spread of the Syrian conflict into the larger region.

Margaret Warner is in Beirut.  And we spoke earlier today.

POLITICS - Bob Dole on Today's Republican Party

"Bob Dole: Republican Party Should Put A Sign Up That Says 'Closed For Repairs'" Real Clear Politics 6/26/2013


CHRIS WALLACE:  What do you think of your party, of the Republicans, today?

BOB DOLE:  I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says closed for repairs until New Year's Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.

WALLACE:  You describe the GOP of your generation as Eisenhower Republicans, moderate Republicans.

Could people like Bob Dole, even Ronald Reagan, could you make it in today's Republican Party?

DOLE:  I doubt it.  And I -- Reagan wouldn't have made it.  Certainly Nixon couldn't have made it, because he had ideas and, we might have made it, but I doubt it.  I mean --

WALLACE:  Too moderate?  Too willing to compromise?

DOLE:  I just consider myself a Republican, none of this hyphenated stuff.  I was a mainstream conservative Republican, and most people are in that category.

Monday, May 27, 2013

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 5/24/2013

"Brooks and Marcus Discuss Obama's National Security Address, Disaster Spending" PBS Newshour 5/24/2013


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus discuss the week's top political news with Judy Woodruff, including President Barack Obama's speech on refining the fight against terrorism, controversies at the IRS and the Justice Department and the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma.

FOREIGN POLICY - Critique of U.S. Policy

"Former State Dept. Official Offers Critique of American Foreign Policy Decisions" PBS Newshour 5/24/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  In his new book, "The Dispensable Nation:  American Foreign Policy in Retreat," Vali Nasr, a former adviser to the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, blames the White House for mishandling those countries and the broader Middle East.

Politics and the Pentagon drove too many decisions, Nasr argues, while overlooking broader strategic solutions offered by his former boss, the late Richard Holbrooke, and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

And Vali Nasr joins me now.

MEDIA - Revolution, Traditional TV vs Netflix Streaming

"On Netflix, Streaming Entertainment Is New 'Development' for Traditional TV" PBS Newshour 5/24/2013


SUMMARY:  There's money in the banana stand, but what about in streaming entertainment?  Traditional TV shows are showing up on online-only venues, including "Arrested Development," which is getting a second wind on Netflix after being canceled in 2006.  Gwen Ifill talks to show producer Brian Grazer and Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times.

MILITARY - Future of U.S. Drone Campaign

"What's Next for the U.S. Drone Campaign as Obama Tries to End a Decade of War?" PBS Newshour 5/24/2013


SUMMARY:  According to reports, U.S. drone attacks on militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere are conducted by both the CIA and the U.S. military, but will eventually be handled solely by the Defense Department.  New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti talks to Jeffrey Brown about the CIA's shifting role in the fight against terrorists.

OPINION - U.S. Infrastructure Maintenance Failure

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 5/24/2013
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Friday, May 24, 2013

IMMIGRATION - Guest Worker Program

"Could More Highly Skilled Guest Workers Help Spark Tech-Driven Economy?" PBS Newshour 5/23/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  On Capitol Hill today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a comprehensive immigration proposal will be debated in June.  And House Republicans said they won't vote on the Senate version, but will pull together their own legislation instead.

We continue our conversations about the issue in our series “Inside Immigration Reform.”

Ray Suarez has that.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  Tonight's focus, the number of highly skilled foreign workers allowed to enter the U.S.

We examine how the visa program known as “H-1B” is structured now and the proposed changes with Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford Law School and author of the book "The Immigrant Exodus:  Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent," and Ron Hira, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Rochester Institute Of Technology.

And, Professor Hira, the United States admits about a million immigrants a year.  Is it a relatively small share of that million that we're talking about with the H-1B visas?

RON HIRA, Rochester Institute of Technology:  Well, actually, we admit about a million permanent residents each year, and about 140,000 or so are high-skilled permanent residents.  That's Green Cards.

The H-1B is actually a guest-worker program, and in there, in the guest-worker program, we admit about 115,000 a year.  There's a cap of 85,000.  So, these are actually two separate numbers and separate programs.  One is a guest-worker program.  One is a Green Card program.

BRITON - Slaying of Soldier as Terrorism

"British Authorities Characterize Brutal Slaying of Soldier as Terrorism" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 5/23/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  British investigators continue the search for answers after the brutal murder of a soldier yesterday.  The daytime attack took place in the Woolwich area of South London; 25-year-old Lee Rigby was hacked to death by two men armed with knives.  The attackers stayed at the scene, one even speaking to a bystander filming the aftermath.

A warning:  The images are graphic.  The video shows the man holding two knives, his hands covered in blood.

After that, police arrived and shot the men, who were then taken to a hospital.

We begin with a report from Lucy Manning of Independent Television News.

"Though U.K. No Stranger to Terrorism, London Killing Seen as New Style of Attack" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 5/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Two British men of Nigerian descent have been arrested for hacking to death British soldier Lee Rigby.  Judy Woodruff talks with Vikram Dodd, senior reporter at The Guardian in London, about what is known about the 22-year-old and 28-year-old suspects and whether any one else is involved.

MILITARY - Sexual Assault Update

"Top Brass, Lawmakers Grapple With Rising Levels of Military Sexual Assault" PBS Newshour 5/23/2013


SUMMARY:  With sexual assaults in the military on the rise, what are the current tactics and policies for prevention and prosecution, and what more might be done?  Kwame Holman reports on efforts to subdue the crisis.

COMMENT:  As my bio says, I am a retired 22yr U.S. Navy Chief, so I know the culture within the Navy.

The core problem IMHO is the people running the Navy today are from the era I served in, and therefore under the influence of the culture of that time.  Unfortunately that culture is of seeing women as ONLY as sexual objects.

As a result, just sitting ranking officers and NCOs in classes will NOT have the desired effect.  But it is very hard to change the culture of individuals, in or out of the military.

For clarification you must understand the military justice system.  First there is Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) where the enlistee's Commanding Officer is judge and jury to any charge, BUT any enlistee can refuse NJP which could lead to full a Court-Marshal.  At a Court-Marshal, a specified (in the UCMJ) number of officers and enlisted sit on the 'bench' depending on type of Court-Marshal.

Note I served as one of two enlisted on a Special Court-Martial.

AMERICA - The War on Terror

"Obama Addresses Drones, Gitmo in Speech on Refocusing Strategy on Terrorism" PBS Newshour 5/23/2013


SUMMARY:  President Barack Obama tried to reframe America's approach to the war on terror in an address on foreign policy.  Jeffrey Brown examines the president's remarks with Pardiss Kebriaei from the Center for Constitutional Rights, former State Department official Harold Koh and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The president used a wide-ranging speech today to try to reframe America's approach to fighting terrorism.  In so doing, he tackled some of the most controversial elements of his administration's national security policy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation and world that we leave to our children.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The president aimed to redefine not just the tactics, but the overall approach to countering terrorists, at the National Defense University in Washington.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror.

What we can do -- what we must do -- is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.

We must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror, but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.

President Obama's full (59:42) speech

A longer (18:45) historical opinion:

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 5/23/2013
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

HISTORY - Legacy of Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space

"Honoring Sally Ride's Legacy as Scientist, Trailblazer, Educational Role Model" PBS Newshour 5/21/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And, finally tonight, the legacy of Sally Ride.

Yesterday, President Obama announced he would confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, on a woman remembered as a pioneer in space travel and an educator and role model for women in the sciences.

It was 1983 when Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space.  Ride was just 32 at the time, and she said then that she thought her age was more important than her gender.

DR. SALLY RIDE, Former NASA Astronaut:  I guess that I was maybe more excited about getting a chance to fly early than I was about getting to be the first woman.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Ride was a physicist and one of the first six women chosen for the program.  She would fly into space again a year later.

But when her flying days were over, she continued to play an important role in the space program.  She served on two investigative boards that examined what went wrong in the Challenger and Columbia disasters.  And after her NASA years, Ride focused on engaging young people in science, particularly girls and women.

In a 2008 video, she promoted EarthKAM, an effort to put cameras on the space station, allowing middle schoolers to take pictures from space.

SALLY RIDE:  We provide a website that allows them to do all the appropriate calculations, figure out exactly when the station is going to be going over that part of the Earth, and then command the camera to take a picture at that second.

POLITICS - IRS Witch-Hunt Moves to U.S. Senate

"Senate Committee Grills Former IRS Commissioners on When Officials Knew Facts" PBS Newshour 5/21/2013


SUMMARY:  A Senate Finance Committee hearing on the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service turned its focus to former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, who led the agency until last fall.  Judy Woodruff has more, including testimony from his successor Steven Miller and the Treasury Department inspector general.

CONGRESS - Apple Takes Bite Out of Taxpayers

"Congressional Hearing on Apple Tax Practices Puts Spotlight on Legal Loopholes" PBS Newshour 5/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Tech giant Apple has avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes to the U.S. or any country by using a complex web of Irish subsidiaries.  But Apple is not alone, and none of the practices are illegal.  Margaret Warner talks to Charles Duhigg of The New York Times for more on corporate tax loopholes.

FREE PRESS - Investigation of Government Leaks

"How Far Should Government Go in Investigation of Leaks?" PBS Newshour 5/21/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now to another story that has captured the attention of the news media and of Congress.

After new revelations about extensive investigations involving the Associated Press and FOX News, three former Justice Department officials are defending the leak inquiries.

Writing in The New York Times, they said today:  "The criticism of the decision to subpoena telephone toll records of AP journalists in an important leak investigation sends the wrong message to the government officials who are responsible for our national security."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today the key is to strike the right balance.

But what is that balance?

For that, we turn to Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment lawyer who routinely represents news organizations, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, now an attorney in private practice in New York City.

OKLAHOMA - The Monster Tornado

"Survivors of Monster Oklahoma Tornado Share Harrowing Stories" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 5/21/2013


SUMMARY:  In Moore, Okla., residents of the town devastated by a powerful tornado began surveying damage and assessing losses.  Rescue crews combed through rubble through the night, searching for survivors in a disaster that has so far claimed 24 lives.  Gwen Ifill reports on the grueling efforts to recover after the storm.

"Okla. Town Confronts Reality of Rebuilding After Stunningly Powerful Tornado" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 5/21/2013


SUMMARY:  A monster tornado nearly flattened the town of Moore, Okla.  Jeffrey Brown gets reaction from Time Magazine's Jay Newton-Small, Sgt. Jeremy Lewis of the Moore Police Department, and Bob Henson from the National Center for Atmospheric Research about the devastation, the latest rescue efforts and the science behind the mighty storm.

From Time Magazine:

"Wrenching Decisions as Tornado Flattens School" by Jay Newton-Small 5/22/2013

"Oklahoma’s Dangerous Dearth of Storm Cellars" by Martha C. White 5/22/2013

"Tornado Warning:  Despite Oklahoma Alert, U.S. Weather Forecasting Service Needs Major Upgrades" by Jeffrey Kluger 5/21/2013

"Counting the Dead:  Joplin’s Coroner Explains" by Kayla Webley 5/21/2013

"Tornado-Proofing Cities in the Age of Extreme Weather" by Bryan Walsh 5/21/2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

HISTORY - Watergate Scandal 40th Anniversary

"Covering Watergate:  40 Years Later With MacNeil And Lehrer" PBS Newshour 5/17/2013


ROBERT MACNEIL, 1973 (Editor, Newshour):  Good evening from Washington.  In a few moments, we’re going to bring you the entire proceedings in the first day of the Senate Watergate hearings -- hearings to bear the truth about the wide range of illegal, unethical or improper activities established or still merely alleged, surrounding the reelection of President Nixon last year.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  May 17, 1973.  Day one of the historic Senate hearings that would a year later lead to the resignation of an American President.

It was also the start of something quite new for public broadcasting, led by Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer.

JIM LEHRER, 1973:  We are running it all each day because we think these hearings are the important and because we think it is important that you get a chance to see the whole thing and make your own judgments.  Some nights, we may be in competition with a late, late movie.  We are doing this as an experiment, temporarily abandoning our ability to edit, to give you the whole story, however many hours it may take.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The botched break-in at Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. had happened one year earlier.

The special Senate committee was set to build on reporting by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post and reporters at other news organizations.

Note that the Newshour's coverage of the Watergate scandal was what got me hooked on PBS Newshour.  Even now I consider Newshour the best news program on TV.

MILITARY - Growing Outrage on Sexual Assaults

"As Outrage Grows, Military Makes Addressing Sexual Assault Top Priority" PBS Newshour 5/17/2013


SUMMARY:  Defense Secretary Hagel said he'll do everything necessary to fix the military's sexual assault crisis, but offered no new solutions during a briefing at the Pentagon.  Some members of Congress are advocating a solution that lies partly outside the command ranks.  Margaret Warner talks with The Wall Street Journal's Julian Barnes.

POLITICS - IRS Chief Inquisition aka Witch-Hunt

"Outgoing IRS Chief Admits Mistakes, but Dismisses Notion Scrutiny Was Political" PBS Newshour 5/17/2013


MAN:  What you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  Steven Miller, the man forced out as acting head of the IRS, began by acknowledging failures.

STEVEN MILLER, Former Internal Revenue Service Commissioner:  I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service for the mistakes that we made and the poor service we provided.

The affected organizations and the American public deserve better.  Partisanship or even the perception of partisanship has no place at the IRS.  It cannot even appear to be a consideration in determining the tax exemption of an organization.

KWAME HOLMAN:  But, at the same time, Miller asserted IRS staffers didn't act out of political motivation when they gave special scrutiny to tea party and other groups on the political right.

STEVEN MILLER:  I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.

The listing described in the report, while intolerable, was a mistake, and not an act of partisanship.

FACT CHECK - Independent IRS?

"IRS Not So ‘Independent’" by D’Angelo Gore, 5/16/2013

The Internal Revenue Service is not exactly an “independent agency,” as President Obama claimed during a May 13 press conference.  In fact, it is a bureau of the Treasury Department, an executive agency within the federal government.  And it is the president who nominates the head or chief executive of the IRS, and who has the authority to remove the individual in that post at his or her will.

Obama spoke of the agency’s supposed independence as he responded to questions about the IRS’ admission that it investigated conservative political groups enjoying tax-exempt status during the 2012 election cycle.

Obama, May 13:  If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.  And they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re applying it in a non-partisan way — applying the laws in a non-partisan way.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, had previously called the IRS “an independent enforcement agency with only two political appointees,” during a press briefing on May 10.  But as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have both pointed out, the IRS is not a completely “independent agency.”

Not even the Web page on “Independent Agencies and Government Corporations” lists the IRS.  And that’s the site to which the White House’s own Web page on “Federal Agencies & Commissions” directs visitors.

The Commissioner of Internal Revenue heads the IRS and is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  And, in its own words, the IRS says that it was “organized to carry out the responsibilities of the secretary of the Treasury under section 7801 of the Internal Revenue Code.”  Plus, the commissioner reports to the secretary of the Treasury via the deputy secretary.

At least one way that federal law attempts to remove partisanship from the IRS is through the use of five-year terms for its commissioner that overlap the four-year presidential election cycles.  And as Carney indicated, the only other political appointee in the agency besides the commissioner is the IRS chief counsel, who “provides legal guidance and interpretive advice to the IRS, Treasury and to taxpayers.”

The law also prohibits the president, Vice President and members of their executive office staff from requesting “directly or indirectly, any officer or employee of the Internal Revenue Service to conduct or terminate an audit or other investigation of any particular taxpayer with respect to the tax liability of such taxpayer.”

But federal law also says that the IRS commissioner can be removed from the position “at the will of the president.”  That can’t be done to the heads of some other actual “independent” agencies without a reason.

For example, the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board — which is listed on the Web page — can “be removed by the President, upon notice and hearing, for neglect of duty or malfeasance in office, but for no other cause.”  Likewise, members of the Federal Reserve Board, another independent agency, can only be removed “for cause.”  And the law outlining the organization of the Federal Maritime Commission says that the president may only “remove a Commissioner for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”

Obama proved this very point on May 15, when he said that he had directed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to review the matter and then Lew requested and accepted the resignation of the acting IRS commissioner, Steve Miller.  It has been reported that Miller was aware of the agency’s targeting of conservative political groups and chose not to disclose it to members of Congress.

Obama added that the administration would “put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again,” and that the Treasury secretary would “ensure the IRS begins implementing the [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's] recommendations right away.”

FACT CHECK - Benghazi

"Benghazi Attack, Revisited" by Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson, 5/16/2013

President Obama says the May 8 House hearing on Benghazi and subsequent reporting about it produced no new information.  That’s largely the case, but the president misrepresented some facts at his May 13 press conference in dismissing the House investigation as a “political circus.”

  • Obama said Republicans acted “as if there’s something new to the story” about the talking points used by an administration official to discuss Benghazi on the Sept. 16, 2012, Sunday talk shows.  But this much is new:  We learned that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney falsely claimed the White House and State Department made no substantive changes to the talking points.  Extensive revisions were made after State raised objections and after a White House meeting.
  • The president also said “congressional committees” reviewed emails “several months ago” regarding changes to the talking points, and they “concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used.”  There was no such conclusion.  Obama was referring to a February closed-door meeting in which senators viewed the emails as part of John Brennan’s confirmation.  Some senators were satisfied and some weren’t.  Sen. Marco Rubio, in fact, said a review of the emails “raises other questions with regard to process.”
  • Obama said he used the term “act of terrorism” a day after the attack.  Not exactly.  He said “acts of terror” and “act of terror.”  Also that day, the president said he did not use the word “terrorism” because “it’s too early to know exactly how this came about.”  Over the next several days, he would repeat that the attack began as a protest of an anti-Muslim video and spiraled out of control.

Changes to the Talking Points

The White House and Republicans have been at odds for nearly eight months over the talking points used by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, when she appeared on several Sunday talk shows five days after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi.  Rice used talking points written by the CIA that said the attack — which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens — started “spontaneously” as a protest.

Rice, for example, told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sept. 16 that the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi began “spontaneously … as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy — sparked by this hateful video.”  She was referring to a protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, where demonstrators scaled the walls and removed a U.S. flag in protest of an anti-Muslim video produced in the United States.

But Rice’s claim about a spontaneous demonstration in Benghazi proved to be false.  Many Republicans — including Sen. John McCain, the party’s presidential nominee in 2008 — have charged the White House with engaging in an election-year cover-up by blaming the anti-Muslim video for the Benghazi attack, rather than acknowledging it was a premeditated terrorist attack carried out on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

It’s important to note that all the evidence — then and now — shows that the talking points always said that the attack grew out of a spontaneous demonstration in response to the Cairo protests.  That was in the original draft of the talking points, and it remained in the final draft.  There has been no evidence showing an election-year cover-up.

It has been known since at least late November that Rice’s talking points were changed.  CBS News reported on Nov. 20, 2012, that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — not the White House nor the State Department — removed references to al Qaeda and terrorism from talking points given to Rice.  The Senate Committee on Homeland Security issued a bipartisan report on Dec. 30, 2012, confirming that the talking points had been changed, and that the White House and State Department were not involved.  But the report also said that it failed to get a “full account” of what changes were made, who made them and why — despite “repeated requests” for that information.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeatedly has said that the White House and State Department changed only one word of the talking points.

Carney, Nov. 28, 2012:  The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two — of these two institutions were changing the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility,” because “consulate” was inaccurate.  Those talking points originated from the intelligence community.  They reflect the IC’s best assessments of what they thought had happened.

That has been proven demonstrably false — first by a May 3 report in the Weekly Standard and later by a more detailed May 10 report by ABC News.  Both news reports show the CIA made many deletions and alterations in response to State Department comments, including removing references to other recent attacks on “foreign interests” in Benghazi and a reference to the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia group as possibly being involved.

On May 8, the day of the House committee hearing on Benghazi, Carney was asked about the Weekly Standard report.  He reiterated his statement that White House involvement was minimal when asked, “Were you incorrect when you said that only a single word had been changed?”

Carney, May 8:  No, I was not.  I think what remains the case is that the intelligence community, CIA, drafted these talking points and redrafted these talking points.  The fact that there are inputs is always the case in a process like this.  But the only edits made by anyone here at the White House were stylistic and non-substantive.  They corrected the description of the building or the facility in Benghazi from “consulate” to “diplomatic facility” and the like.

Carney may be technically correct to say the CIA was the entity that “drafted” and “redrafted” the talking points — a House GOP report on the matter said, “The actual edits were made by a current high-ranking CIA official.”  But the Weekly Standard and ABC News reports describe how changes were made after the State Department objected.  To say that the State Department made a “single adjustment” to the wording, as Carney claimed, is misleading at best.  It glosses over the State Department’s extensive involvement in the editing process.

ABC News published 12 drafts of the talking points.  All of the drafts say the attack began “spontaneously” in response to a violent protest in Cairo (which was sparked by the anti-Muslim video).  But the original CIA talking points said, “We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida participated in the attack.”  And they said that “[i]nitial press reporting linked the attack to Ansar al-Sharia.”

The final draft, used by Rice, in her appearances on political talk shows on Sept. 16, 2012, would only say that “extremists participated.”  Rice, reflecting the talking points, said it wasn’t clear if al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates were involved.

ABC News — based on reporter Jonathan Karl’s review of administration emails and the drafts of the talking points –reported that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland objected to including the names of terrorist groups, saying “we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.”

ABC News also reported that the emails — which were released by the administration five days later on May 15 — showed “the State Department had extensive input into the editing of the talking points,” including the removal of a reference to CIA warnings of al Qaeda-linked threats in Benghazi.

ABC News, May 10:  Summaries of White House and State Department emails — some of which were first published by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard — show that the State Department had extensive input into the editing of the talking points.

State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland raised specific objections to this paragraph drafted by the CIA in its earlier versions of the talking points:

“The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaida in Benghazi and eastern Libya.  These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy.  We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”

In an email to officials at the White House and the intelligence agencies, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland took issue with including that information because it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?  Concerned …”

The paragraph was entirely deleted.

That paragraph was deleted after a Saturday morning meeting at the White House.  ABC News later updated its report to say that “a source familiar with the White House emails” said that Nuland was concerned that the talking points went beyond what she could say at State Department briefings and that, ABC News said, “she believed the CIA was attempting to exonerate itself at the State Department’s expense by suggesting CIA warnings about the security situation were ignored.”

Despite all this, Carney stuck to his story in a May 10 press briefing on the day ABC News published its report.  Reporters peppered him with questions about how he could describe these changes as “stylistic and non-substantive.”  He repeatedly said that it was the CIA that made the changes, and that the only edit made by the White House was the “consulate”/”diplomatic facility” change.  Carney said it was standard procedure for there to be “inputs” from various agencies.

Carney, May 10:  And the only edit made by the White House or the State Department to those talking points generated by the CIA was a change from — referring to the facility that was attacked in Benghazi, from “consulate,” because it was not a consulate, to “diplomatic post.”  I think I had referred to it as “diplomatic facility.” I think it may have been “diplomatic post.”

But the point being, it was a matter of non-substantive/factual correction.  But there was a process leading up to that that involved inputs from a lot of agencies, as is always the case in a situation like this, and is always appropriate.  And the effort is always to, in that circumstance, with an ongoing investigation and a lot of information — some of it accurate, some of it not, about what had happened and who was responsible — to provide information for members of Congress and others in the administration, for example, who might speak publicly about it that was based on only what the intelligence community could say for sure it thought it knew.  And that is what was generated by the intelligence community, by the CIA.

Carney pointed to the Ansar al-Sharia information as speculative at the time, or information that the CIA “could not be concretely sure of.”  And indeed, the original CIA talking points said that “initial press reporting” linked the group to the attack.  “The group has since released a statement that its leadership did not order the attacks, but did not deny that some of its members were involved,” the original draft said.

Carney also said that the State Department’s objections had to do with the talking points going further “in assigning responsibility than preliminary assessments suggested, and there was concern about preserving the integrity of the investigation.  That concern was expressed in other quarters, not just at the State Department.”

But Carney’s initial statement about a “single adjustment” gave a false impression about the State Department’s role in developing the final talking points.

Congressional Review of Changes to Talking Points

Asked if “newly public emails show that the White House and the State Department appear to have been more closely involved with the crafting of the talking points on the attack than first acknowledged,” the president said “congressional committees” reviewed those same emails and concluded there was “nothing afoul.”

Obama, May 13:  And the emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees.  They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used.  And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story.  There’s no “there” there.

We asked the White House what congressional committees came to that conclusion and when, because, as we briefly noted earlier, the Senate report on Benghazi said the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee did not receive “a full account of the changes made to the talking points, by whom they were made and why.”  The committee sought a timeline of the changes, but the report said it “has not been delivered as promised because the Administration has spent weeks debating internally whether or not it should turn over information considered ‘deliberative’ to the Congress.”

In response to our request, the White House referred us to a closed-door meeting on Feb. 26 attended by Senate Intelligence Committee members, who were allowed to review the emails as part of their consideration of John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director.  Specifically, the White House noted that GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said after the meeting that the review of the emails “answers a lot, if not all, of the questions that the committee [had] from an oversight standpoint.”  It also noted that Brennan was confirmed.

But Burr’s opinion wasn’t shared by all on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who worked on the Senate’s Benghazi report with Sen. Joe Lieberman, attended that meeting.  She said after the meeting, “I still have many concerns and believe there’s still gaps in the information.”  Rubio, another Republican on Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “I think it raises other questions with regard to process.”

Collins appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on May 12, and she was asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley whether she learned anything new about Benghazi.  “I did learn something new,” she said.  “There were further iterations and changes in the talking points than I’ve been aware of.”

Obama and ‘Act of Terror’

At his press conference, Obama expressed frustration with those who label the administration’s initial response to the attack a “cover-up.”  He said, “The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.”

Not quite.  The president, in remarks Sept. 12 in the Rose Garden, used the term “acts of terror.”  The President said, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”  Later that night, he used the term “act of terror” at a campaign event in Las Vegas.

Between the morning speech and the evening fundraiser, Obama spoke to CBS News reporter Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes.”  Kroft noted that “you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya attack.”  Obama said, “Right.”  Asked why, the president said that “it’s too early to know exactly how this came about.”

Even after his director of the National Counterterrorism Center labeled the incident a “terrorist attack,” Obama declined to call it that at a town hall meeting on Sept. 20 and during a taping of “The View” on Sept. 24.  He also appeared Sept. 18 on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” where he blamed the anti-Muslim video for the attack in Benghazi.  “Extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the consulate in Libya,” he said.  (For more details, see our extensive timeline of the Benghazi attack)

As we said in our timeline, the Obama administration displayed an abundance of caution when publicly discussing the possibility of a premeditated terrorist attack — but did not show that same level of caution when saying without any evidence that the attack in Benghazi started as a spontaneous demonstration of an anti-Muslim video.

Update, May 16:  This article was updated to reflect that the Obama administration released 100 pages of emails regarding changes to the talking points used by Rice on the Sept. 16 Sunday talk shows.

OPINION - Rumsfeld, Apologize for Tenure at Pentagon?

"'Did you ever think about apologizing?'" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 5/17/2013

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apparently isn't done sharing his thoughts with the public just yet -- he'll even be on "Meet the Press" this weekend -- and he's published a new book, "Rumsfeld's Rules:  Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life."  It includes, without a hint of irony, the former Pentagon chief's belief that "it's easier to get into something than it is to get out."

Taegan Goddard flagged an exchange between Rumsfeld and Kai Ryssdal this week that stood out as especially interesting (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).

Ryssdal:  I do wonder whether you read Robert McNamara's memoirs when they came out.  Obviously, the secretary of defense during Vietnam.

Rumsfeld:  I have not.  I served in Congress during that period.

Ryssdal:  Here's why I ask, that book was widely seen as an apology for his role in Vietnam.  And I looked in this book [Rumsfeld's Rules] pretty hard for any rule that you might have had about apologizing.  And I couldn't find one.

Rumsfeld:  And?  What's your question?

Ryssdal:  Did you ever think about apologizing?

Rumsfeld may not have fully appreciated the scope of the question, because his answer kind of meandered a bit.  "Well, my goodness," he replied.  "As Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.'  Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hoped."

I'm not sure this counts as an apology, but for those who look at his Pentagon (aka DoD) tenure with sorrow, grief, and crushing disappointment, it'll probably have to do.

Friday, May 17, 2013

BIOLOGY - Unfertilized Human Egg, to Early-Stage Blastocyst, to Heart Cells

"Major Embryonic Stem Cell Advance Raises Ethical Quandaries" PBS Newshour 5/16/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And finally tonight, a major advance in stem cell work, but one that again raises ethical questions.

Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University were able to create embryonic stem cells through a cloned human embryo, a longtime goal, since such cells are capable of transforming into tissues and organs genetically identical to a patient who needs them.

Researchers took the DNA from a donor's unfertilized egg, then inserted mature skin cells containing the DNA of a patient.  That led to the creation of an early-stage embryo called a blastocyst, a group of 50 to 100 cells.  From that, scientists derived stem cells and then transformed them into heart cells.

The blastocyst was destroyed in the process and was never implanted in a human womb.

Rob Stein has been covering this story for NPR and joins us now.

IMMIGRATION - Shift in Evangelical Stance

"Demographic Shifts, Biblical Ideals Contribute to Evangelical Immigration Stance" PBS Newshour 5/16/2013


SUMMARY:  While lawmakers in Washington continue work on overhauling American immigration policy, Ray Suarez reports from Colorado, where members of the Evangelical Christian community are advocating passage of immigration reform to respond to demographic shifts in membership.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  It looks like a typical evangelical church service, with modern songs of worship, guitars strumming, arms raised in praise.  But listen closely.  The words are sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish.

This is Immanuel Fellowship Church in Frisco, Colo.  Frisco is a mountain resort town.  The Latino population has zoomed, up 70 percent over the last 10 years, as immigrants come, looking for service industry jobs.

MAN:  Go down to verse eight.

RAY SUAREZ:  The demographic shift is reflected in the pews at Immanuel, now half Anglo, half Hispanic.  Latinos are moving steadily from their centuries-long home in the Catholic Church toward evangelical congregations like this one.  All across the U.S., that shift is transforming what had always been white, English-speaking congregations.

Erick Luna was raised Catholic in El Salvador.  He is now a minister of music at Immanuel.

TURKEY - Prime Minister Erdogan's White House Visit

"Obama, Turkey's Erdogan Reaffirm Urgency of Ending Bloodshed in Syria" PBS Newshour 5/16/2013


SUMMARY:  President Barack Obama hosted Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan at the White House where talk centered on Syria.  Margaret Warner talks with Henri Barkey of Lehigh University and Steve Heydemann of the U.S. Institute for Peace about how the international community could collaborate on ending the Syrian civil war and the violence.

POLITICS - White House Drama and Calming the Storm

"Keeping on Top of Priorities When White House Deals With Drama" PBS Newshour 5/16/2013


SUMMARY:  The Obama administration has been hit with a wave of crises and scandals lately.  Jeffrey Brown talks with Tom Perriello from Center for American Progress Action Fund and strategist Ron Christie, who worked on Capitol Hill in the George W. Bush administration, about handling drama without losing sight of presidential priorities.

"White House Works to Calm Storm of Scandal" PBS Newshour 5/16/2013

SUMMARY:  President Barack Obama used a rainy, Rose Garden news conference to get in front of a series of political storms, tackling questions on the IRS scandal, the AP subpoenas and Benghazi.  Judy Woodruff talks to White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri about how the Obama administration is responding to various crises.

OPINION - Benghazi None-Scandal

"Trudy Rubin: Real scandal of Benghazi" by TRUDY RUBIN (from The Philadelphia Inquirer), McClatchy 5/17/2013

Yes, Virginia, there is a Benghazi scandal.

The scandal is that Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and some Republican colleagues are dishonoring the memory of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans by making a political circus out of their deaths.

As chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa is ready to manipulate the pain and anger of relatives and colleagues of the victims, but shows little interest in making U.S. diplomats safer.  The hearing he held last week ignored the real issues raised by Benghazi in favor of promoting conspiracy theories about "talking points" that administration officials used after the tragedy.

The Benghazi-mongers think they've found a new Watergate, even though their claims fall apart upon examination.  "I'd call it a cover-up," intoned Sen. John McCain, who should know better, on ABC's This Week.  They distort, or ignore, the real issues raised by the attacks - Why was security so inadequate?  How can it be improved? - in favor of theatrics.

So let's look at which Benghazi issues are real - and which are not.

Atop the nonissue category are the famous "talking points."  Here are the key details:  Shortly after the attacks, the deputy head of the House intelligence committee asked the intelligence community for some talking points on what had happened so that he could publicly comment without revealing any secrets (including the fact that the Benghazi "consulate" was mainly a CIA station).

Bureaucratic caution, and a CIA-State Department tussle over which agency would take more heat for the tragedy, led to a set of watered-down talking points that mentioned "extremists" but not terrorists.  Then-CIA head David Petraeus testified in November that any reference to al-Qaida was removed to avoid tipping off the perpetrators, which was verified in e-mails released Wednesday by the White House.  Yet Republicans still insist there was a nefarious White House plot to withhold the "truth."

Much more relevant is the question of why security at the Benghazi facilities was so inadequate.  Here, too, political posturing has muddied the facts.

An accountability review headed by Adm. Mike Mullen, former head of the Joint Chiefs, and retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering slammed senior State Department officials for relying for security on local militias, and for ignoring requests for more guards at the Tripoli embassy.

Three senior State Department officials were forced out (perhaps the sweep should have included Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy).  But Issa charged that the review was "flawed," even though senior officials have almost never been fired in many previous cases where U.S. personnel were killed abroad because of official lapses, including the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, or the 1998 bombings by al-Qaida of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Issa could have used the Mullen-Pickering review as an excuse to rethink Republican efforts to cut funding for State Department security, a critical issue as the department expands its security personnel dramatically in the wake of Benghazi, but faces sequester cuts.  Instead, Issa focused on the political, on whether former Secretary of State (and potential 2016 candidate) Hillary Clinton was to blame for Benghazi "because it was on her watch."

On another critical issue - why rescue efforts were so tardy - Issa again chose circus over substance.  The Pentagon insists it had no forces readily available to dispatch to Benghazi.  The nearest AC-130 gunship was in Afghanistan, Delta Forces commandos were in Fort Bragg, N.C., and there were no armed drones within range of Libya.  The U.S. Africa Command has no rapid strike force to respond to emergencies.

This inability to respond raises serious issues about readiness.  Then-Sen. John Kerry was correct to ask late last year whether the military needs to play a greater role in protecting diplomats in dangerous regions.

But rather than examine such questions, Issa insisted, despite Pentagon denials, that the military could have sent planes to relieve Benghazi.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has served under Republicans and Democrats, called Issa's idea a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities."  Given the number of surface-to-air missiles in jihadi hands, Gates said he would have nixed such a mission, which couldn't have saved the men on the ground.

That won't stop the Benghazi-mongers from hinting that the White House deliberately let Stevens die.  Nor will it shame them into working in bipartisan fashion to prevent future attacks.  That's the real Benghazi scandal, right there.

The Maddow Show
MSNBC 5/15/2013
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