Friday, June 28, 2013

SNOWDEN - Father Says 'He Has Betrayed His Government'

"Snowden’s father on ‘Today’ show:  ‘He has betrayed his government’" by Debbi Wilgoren, Washington Post 6/27/2013

The father of fugitive Edward Snowden told NBC News that he believes his son would return to the United States if he was assured that he would not be jailed before trial or subjected to a gag order.

Lonnie Snowden told journalist Michael Isikoff that he has not spoken with his son — who is currently believed to be hiding in a Moscow airport to evade arrest by U.S. authorities — since April.

Edward Snowden went into hiding in early June, after information he provided about U.S. data surveillance programs was published by The Washington Post and Guardian newspapers.  He has said he revealed the information because he feared the surveillance programs were violating the rights of private citizens.  He has been charged with leaking classified documents.

The portion of the interview that aired on the “Today” show Friday morning did not explain how the elder Snowden had developed his opinion as to the conditions under which his 30-year-old son might return home.

Lonnie Snowden sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. with his suggestions about how to get his son to return to this country, Isikoff reported.  In the interview, he said he knew his son had broken the law but does not think he committed treason.

“He has betrayed his government, but I don’t believe that he’s betrayed the people of the United States,” Lonnie Snowden said.

“I love him.  I would like to have the opportunity to communicate with him,” he added.

Lonnie Snowden, a career Coast Guard officer who retired and moved to Pennsylvania a few years ago, told NBC that he did not trust WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization that is providing his son with legal and logistical assistance.

“I am concerned about those who surround him,” the father said in the interview.  “I think WikiLeaks, if you’ve looked at past history, you know, their focus isn’t necessarily the Constitution of the United States.  It’s simply to release as much information as possible.”

Edward Snowden is reportedly seeking asylum from Ecuador.  He surfaced in Hong Kong shortly after his leaked information was published, then vanished from sight until he arrived in Moscow last Sunday.

He is believed to have been planning to travel from there to Ecuador, possibly via Cuba.  But as a crush of journalists descended on the airport on Monday, he did not board the designated Havana-bound flight.  He has remained out of public view, as heads of government have verbally jousted over whether he should be extradited to the United States.

TECHNOLOGY - Robotics Challenge, 8 Countries Compete

"The ultimate video game: teams compete in DARPA Robotics Challenge" by Elizabeth Barber, Christian Science Monitor 6/28/2013

Teams from eight countries competed in the first round of the challenge to develop a disaster response robot

Except in this game, turning on a garden hose is an enormously difficult task, requiring huge teams of scientists and decades of acquired technology.

About twenty-six teams from eight countries competed on June 17-21 in The Virtual Robotics Challenge, the first round of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, using complex software to direct virtual robots in a cloud-based simulator that looks like a 3-D video game.

The overall challenge for the teams is to develop software that can operate a DARPA-supplied humanoid robot across a low-bandwidth network, which is expected to be the only type of network available to first responders in a disaster scenario.

This first round was a software competition in which teams used software of their own design to have a simulated ATLAS robot navigate a simulated disaster zone that looked something like suburbia gone wrong.  For three days, competitors stared into computer screens in their respective far-flung labs and offices, instructing their virtual robots to complete a series of challenges, including driving a vehicle and walking over uneven ground.  Robots also had to pick up a hose, connect it to a spigot and turn it on.

“The disaster response scenario is technically very challenging,” said Russ Tedrake, a professor at MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  “It requires the robot and human operator to simultaneously perceive and gain an understanding for a complex, new environment, and then use that information to perform difficult manipulation tasks and traverse complex terrains.”

That means that the virtual robot must feed its raw sensor data back to its operating team, which then, with the help of the robot, must interpret its surroundings and enter instructions about where to move or how to manipulate objects.  The team then continuously asks the robot to share its plan, adjusting their requests and their suggestions until the robot provides a correct answer, at which point the robot is allowed to go on autonomously.

The top nine teams received funding and an ATLAS robot to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials in December 2013.  The trials are the second of three DARPA challenge events and will be the first time that the physical robots will compete.

The overall winner of the first round was The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a team of some 22 researchers.

“Getting in the car and driving was our biggest challenge,” said research scientist Jerry Pratt, the Florida Institute’s team leader.  “Walking — we had that nailed.”

Other winners included Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MIT, and TRACLabs.  The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was also among the winning teams, donated its awarded funds to three runner-up teams that DARPA had not originally selected – it had chosen six teams – putting the total to nine teams that will compete in the second round.

FLORIDA - Ex-Director of San Diego Zoo to Revamp Miami's Jungle Island

"Former director of San Diego Zoo now Jungle Island president" by Madeline O’Leary, Miami Herald 6/28/2013

The former director of the world-renowned San Diego Zoo is taking on troubled Jungle Island, the park announced Thursday.

John Dunlap has been named president of the Watson Island animal-and-garden attraction.  His San Diego-based company, Iconic Attractions, will manage all aspects of the operation.  Longtime owner Bern Levine will retain oversight.

The change has been in the works for the past year, said Ashley Serrate, Jungle Island’s public relations manager.

"Bern wanted to take Jungle Island to the next level and make it world-class destination...[he] decided that [Dunlap] was best fit for that."

In his quest to improve attendance figures and financial performance, Dunlap plans to create new attractions — some involving water — and improve customer service, retail options and catering cuisine.

“It will be a methodical process over a series of years,” he said.  “But you will start seeing changes in the park by the end of this year.”

Since leaving its original Pinecrest location in 1997, Jungle Island has suffered from lower-than-projected attendance, debt and overdue bills.  The park owes more than $26 million to the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, which have made most of the payments on a $25 million loan backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Job creation numbers have fallen far short of the 715 positions promised.

But in the past year, the picture has brightened, park officials said.  Last August Jungle Island made an overdue payment of $2 million that was its first on the federal loan, and it is scheduled to pay another $2 million on time this July, according to Serrate.

Still, the park faces a re-branding hurdle that will determine the park’s future, Dunlap said.  One early step will be investing in catering.

“I want to make sure that we are the most-compelling destination with excellent food,” said Dunlap, whose professional background includes hospitality management at several Westin hotels.  “We are already well-known in the city right now for being a unique catering venue, so advancing that is a top priority.”

For events, Dunlap said that he plans to embrace Miami’s climate.  “This city is hot, so new attractions may involve water,” he said.

Dunlap also plans to offer more appealing merchandise — such as shirts and caps — that visitors can connect with and wear regularly.

By boosting its appeal, Dunlap hopes to bump up visitorship — which last year was around 450,000, about 300,000 less than the park originally projected — that in turn will increase jobs from the 426 full-time employees last summer.

“In advancing customer service, increasing retail and developing more events and attractions, we will be able to provide plenty of job opportunities,” he said.

During his five years as director of the San Diego Zoo, from 2008 until May of this year, the zoo’s revenues increased 25 percent and profits rose 33 percent, according to Dunlap.

“The goal is not to create another San Diego,” Dunlap said.  “Jungle Island is completely unique because it’s an oasis in the urban core of Miami.  Its size also allows visitors to be more intimate with animals than they would in other zoos.”

He hopes to spark the same sense of pride among Miamians for Jungle Island that San Diego residents feel for their zoo.

“It’s about creating meaningful plan that will compel people to visit Jungle Island and view it as an iconic family destination in the urban core of Miami,” he said.

FLORIDA - Testimony in Trayvon Martin Case

My key issue with this case is a man shoots an unarmed man and is NOT held until after a FULL investigation is done to see if the killing was in fact justified by Florida's law.  That was TOTALLY wrong.

"Eyewitness describes Trayvon Martin's fatal struggle to Florida jury" by Barbara Liston, Reuters 6/28/2013


A witness in the murder trial of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman testified on Friday that he saw Trayvon Martin on top of Zimmerman during a struggle that led to the unarmed black teenager's shooting death in a central Florida gated community last year.

But Jonathan Good, a former resident at the townhouse complex, told the jury in Seminole County criminal court that he never saw Martin slam Zimmerman's head into the concrete sidewalk, undermining a key element in Zimmerman's defense.

"I did not see that," Good told the court under questioning by a state prosecutor about the racially charged case that triggered civil rights protests and debates about the treatment of black Americans in the U.S. justice system.

Police did not arrest Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, for 44 days.  Zimmerman does not deny killing Martin but he says he did so in self-defense after he was attacked and Martin smashed his head repeatedly into the sidewalk.

Good was the fourth former neighbor who partially witnessed the death of Martin on February 26 last year to testify in the trial.  Each has given slightly different accounts, but Good is the first to state that Martin was on top during the struggle.

Zimmerman, 29, was a neighborhood watch volunteer in the Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford at the time of the killing.  He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and could face life imprisonment if convicted.

Martin, 17, was a student at a Miami-area high school and a guest of one of the homeowners.  He was returning after buying snacks at a convenience store when he was shot in the chest during a confrontation with Zimmerman.

Several former Twin Lakes residents have testified for the prosecution that they heard and caught glimpses of the fight between Zimmerman and Martin, and heard cries for help, on a dark and rainy night near a walkway between units in the community of townhomes.

ECONOMY - Easing Concerns Caused by FED Chairman's Statement

Typical knee-jerk reaction by the worshipers-of-greed on Wall Street.

"Fed Officials Try to Ease Concern of Stimulus End" by BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, New York Times 6/27/2013


The economy is the victim of a little misunderstanding, Federal Reserve officials said on Thursday, telling investors who have sent borrowing costs soaring that they are misguided in believing the Fed’s stimulus campaign is about to wane.

The message, delivered in three separate but similar speeches, reflects the Fed’s frustration with a broad rise in interest rates that began in May and accelerated after remarks last week by the Fed’s chairman, Ben S. Bernanke.

“I don’t want to be too cute about a serious matter,” Dennis P. Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said in Marietta, Ga., “but to make an analogy, it seems to me the chairman said we’ll use the patch — and use it flexibly — and some in the markets reacted as if he said ‘cold turkey.’ ”

The speeches, including one by William C. Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and one of Mr. Bernanke’s closest allies, appeared to make an impression, helped along by upbeat domestic economic data and an easing of concerns about Chinese financial conditions.  Stocks rose modestly, ending up for the third day in a row, while interest rates ticked downward, inverting the recent pattern.

On Wall Street, the broad Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index had risen for most of the first five months of the year, bringing it to a high of 1,669.16 on May 21.  But the next day, after Mr. Bernanke first hinted at an impending change in Fed policy, stock prices began falling, and the S.& P. 500 eventually dropped 5.7 percent to a low on June 24, a few days after the most recent Fed policy statement.  Since then, as Fed officials have sought to clarify their goals, the index has risen 2.5 percent, including Thursday’s 0.6 percent increase.

On Thursday, the three officials emphasized that the Fed was increasingly optimistic about the durability of economic growth.  And they reiterated that they expected to reduce the volume of the Fed’s monthly bond purchases later this year.  But the Fed’s overall effort to reduce borrowing costs will continue as long as necessary, most likely for years to come.

Investors, they said, need to gently place interest rates back down on the floor.

“Market adjustments since May have been larger than would be justified by any reasonable reassessment of the path of policy,” said the Fed governor Jerome H. Powell.

Mr. Dudley, who is also the vice chairman of the Fed’s policy-making committee, was even more emphatic.  Investors expecting an early exit are “quite out of sync” with the Fed, he said.  “A rise in short-term rates is very likely to be a long way off.”

SCHOOLS - New Rules for Snacks Sold on Campuses

"USDA Releases New Rules for Snacks Sold at Schools" PBS Newshour 6/27/2013


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  Estimates suggest that many kids consume at least half their daily calories while at school.  The new rules, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are designed to lower the amount of fat, salt and sugar in a child's diet.

Starting next summer, vending machines would not have traditional candy bars or full-fat cookies, for example.  High schoolers will only be able to purchase drinks on campus that have fewer than 60 calories in a 12-ounce serving, much less than many sodas.

The regulations, which affect 50 million students, do not cover food sold after school or brought from home or at a fund-raiser.

For more, I am joined by Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

We invited several food and beverage companies, as well as their trade associations, to join us, but they declined our offer.

DOMA - Ripples of Supreme Court Decision

"Federal Agencies Move to Comply With Supreme Court Ruling on DOMA" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 6/27/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And now the day after, as we look at the practical and political implications of the Supreme Court's pair of rulings on gay marriage.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We believe in basic fairness.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In Senegal today, the president again praised the Supreme Court decision that struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act.  The provision had denied federal benefits to same-sex couples.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  What I think yesterday's ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody.

JEFFREY BROWN:  And as celebrations broke out in some parts of the country yesterday, the heads of several federal agencies welcomed the decision and said they'd move quickly to comply.

But the president noted that both inside and outside of the executive branch, that could be tricky.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  But you still have a whole bunch of states that do not recognize it.  It's my personal belief -- but I'm speaking now as a president, as opposed as a lawyer -- that if you have been married in Massachusetts, and you move someplace else, you're still married.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Across the nation, either through the courts or the ballot box, 13 states and the District of Columbia have moved to recognize gay marriage.

Meanwhile, 35 others have either state laws or constitutional amendments restricting marriage to one man and one woman.  A host of other states have laws either permitting or denying civil unions and benefits.

And just today, the Supreme Court declined to take up two state marriage cases, one involving a ban on gay marriage in Nevada and another involving an Arizona law that denies benefits to same-sex partners.

"New Battlegrounds Ahead in Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 6/27/2013


SUMMARY:  A day after the high court released rulings on gay marriage, Jeffrey Brown talks to Winnie Stachelberg of the Center for American Progress to learn how it will impact federal benefits for same-sex couples.  Then New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Rep.  Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., join him to discuss political implications.

COMMENT:  The super-conservative view is just wrong.
  • Gay marriage has NO effect on other marriages
  • Government (local, state, federal) involvement in marriage has nothing to do with child-rearing, marriage is a SOCIAL CONTRACT that effects inheritance and benefits which is the historical reason for the creation of formal marriage with licenses
  • The rational of the anti-gay movement has its foundation in religious belief, and anti-gay-marriage laws are really about one religious group trying to use the law-of-the-land to impose their religious belief on everyone else, a clear violation of Freedom of Religion

AFRICA - President Obama's Visits

I've noticed that the U.S. has a problem with foreign policy.  We seem to have an ongoing problem juggling multiple concerns, or myopia on what's hot.  We have continued to pay little heed to Africa.

"Obama Kicks Off Presidential Trip to Africa With Visit to Senegal" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 6/27/2013


SUMMARY:  President Barack Obama began an eight-day tour of Africa with a stop in Senegal.  In a meeting with President Macky Sall, both leaders embraced transparent government, economic development and food security efforts, but they disagreed on the topic of gay rights.  Margaret Warner has more about the president's African itinerary.

"Reflecting on U.S. Presence, Policy and Performance in Africa" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 6/27/2013


SUMMARY:  As the president visits Senegal, Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development and Sarah Pray of the Open Society Foundation join Margaret Warner to grade the Obama administration's track record on Africa, and explore how that continent has fit into American foreign policy.

IMMIGRATION - U.S. Senate Passes Reform Bill

Now we get to watch it die, or get gutted, in the psychotic Republican House.  Also note Boehner's comment, "The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes."  Notice the trend to treat the U.S. Senate as a 'monitory' branch of Congress, we don't need to pay attention to them.

"Senate Passes Landmark Immigration Reform Bill" PBS Newshour 6/27/2013


SUMMARY:  With 68 votes, the U.S. Senate approved a sweeping overhaul of the country's immigration system for the first time in almost 30 years.  The bill will create a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million people currently living in the country as undocumented residents. Ray Suarez reports on the bill's passage.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

EGYPT - Tensions Mount

"Tensions Mount as Egyptian President Morsi Addresses Nation" PBS Newshour 6/26/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  Trying to defuse growing defiance to his rule, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi called on his opponents tonight to help end the country's political polarization.

In a live speech televised nationwide, Morsi warned that if the breach isn't healed, Egypt could slip into chaos.  He did acknowledge he had made mistakes, but he also accused remnants of the old regime of fomenting anti-government violence.  He spoke just days before mass protests set for Sunday on the one-year anniversary of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood assuming power.

Earlier today, two people were killed and more than 100 injured as clashes broke out between Morsi opponents and supporters.

And for more, we turn to Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo.

TEXAS - Anti-Abortion Law Filibustered

"In Texas, Marathon Filibuster Derails New State Restrictions on Abortion" PBS Newshour 6/26/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): a local battle in Texas over abortion legislation erupted into a national debate.

Chaos erupted in the Texas State Senate last night, as abortion-rights backers thundered their opposition to tough new restrictions.  In the midst of the din, majority Republicans insisted the bill, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, had passed.  But official records showed that didn't happen until after a midnight deadline had come and gone.

Just after 3:00 a.m., Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst, who presided over the session, conceded defeat.

LT. GOV. DAVID DEWHURST, R-Texas:  Regrettably, the constitutional time for the first called session of the 83rd legislature has expired.  Senate Bill 5 cannot be signed in the presence of the Senate at this time and therefore cannot be enrolled.

GWEN IFILL:  The bill would have required clinics to upgrade to surgical-level centers, an expense that would have caused most existing facilities to close.

Had it passed, Texas would have joined Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, North Dakota, and Virginia, all states that recently adopted stringent new anti-abortion laws.  The campaign to derail the measure was the brainchild of Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis, who declared her intent to talk the bill to death.

MAN:  Is it still your intention to filibuster?

STATE SEN. WENDY DAVIS, D-Texas:  Yes, Mr. President

GWEN IFILL:  Sporting pink tennis shoes, Davis began speaking at 11:15 in the morning.

WENDY DAVIS:  Members, I'm rising on the floor today to humbly give a voice to thousands of Texans who have been ignored.  These are Texans who relied on the minority members of this Senate in order for their voices to be heard.

GWEN IFILL:  News of the filibuster quickly grabbed national attention on social media and a catchy hashtag.  Late in the day, President Obama tweeted:  "Something special is happening in Austin tonight.  Stand with Wendy."

Davis continued speaking for nearly 11 hours and had intended to go until midnight.

SUPREME COURT - Wins for Equal Rights, Gay Marriage

"Gay Rights Advocates Score Supreme Court Victories on Same-Sex Marriage" PBS Newshour 6/26/2013


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, entitling same-sex couples to federal benefits.  They also ruled that defenders of California's gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower rulings striking down Proposition 8.  Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal joins Gwen Ifill.

"How Does Court's Decisions on Gay Marriage Impact State and U.S. Law?" PBS Newshour 6/26/2013


SUMMARY:  What are the legal implications of the Supreme Court's decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8?  Jeffrey Brown gets two views on the impact of the court's rulings from Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Mary Bonauto of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.

OPINION - Skim-Mild Marriage, Gay Equality

"Marriage milk revisited" By Will Femia, Maddow Blog 6/26/2013

Today's victories for marriage equality still leave a lot of work for activists at the state level, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's metaphorical milk just got a lot richer.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

ENVIRONMENT - President Obama and Greenhouse Gases

"Obama Moves to Limit Greenhouse Gases Emissions Through Executive Order" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 6/25/2013


SUMMARY:  In an address at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama announced a new climate change plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The president zeroed in on new and existing power plants that burn coal, and called for public lands to generate power via wind and solar energy projects.  Gwen Ifill reports.

"Reactions to the White House Proposal to Curb Climate Change" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 6/25/2013


SUMMARY:  President Barack Obama announced a sweeping proposal to curb climate change and cut emissions.  Gwen Ifill gets two reactions on the plan and its potential impact from Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and attorney Scott Segal, who represents companies pushing for the Keystone extension.

COLORADO - Health Insurance Exchange

"Colorado Struggles to Educate, Enroll Residents in New Health Insurance Exchange" PBS Newshour 6/25/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  .....spreading the word about the new health reform law.

It's a crucial challenge for the federal government and states, creating so-called insurance exchanges.  Last week, an independent arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, reported that work is running behind.  Yesterday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters she still believes seven million people will enroll in the first year of the program.  But she acknowledged, "The most daunting aspect is that people still don't know enough about what's going to change in the law, and still have some misinformation."

NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser reports on Colorado's efforts to tackle the problem.

SUPREME COURT - Against the People, Again


In 1850 the Congress and the President adopted a series of bills that they thought would end the sectional division in the country over the slavery issue.   It didn’t, it did delay what now appears to have been an inevitable Civil War for ten years and probably bought the North the time it needed to develop strong enough to win that conflict.  Despite what the legislators and President thought, their best efforts were undermined by a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1856 known as the Dred Scott Decision.  That infamous decision ruled that a class of people could never be considered citizens of the United States nor have any rights under the laws and constitution of the nation because they had black skin.  That decision made the Civil War inevitable upon the election of President who opposed the expansion of slavery; a Civil War with over 600,000 dead and more wounded.

After ten years of an effort by the Congress and the President to assure the rights of the newly freed slaves and enforce amendments to the constitution that fully undid the Dred Scott Decision, the country settled for a society where all were free but only some (white) had rights.  In 1896 the Supreme Court of the United States issued a second outrageous ruling Plessy v. Ferguson.  That decision accepted the right to citizenship of ex-slaves but held that black and white citizens could be separated and treated equally.  It led to Jim Crow segregation and unequal schools, libraries, wash rooms, public fountains, parks etc.   It took almost 60 years for the Supreme Court to reverse that decision and declare unanimously that separate but equal was inherently unequal and therefore a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection of the laws clause.

It took another dozen years for the country to come to grips with that 1954 decision Brown v. Bd.. of Education.  And, in 1964 and 1965 the people of the country and the President from the South, with a preacher from Alabama and a Senator from Illinois succeeded in enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Some of those provisions led to immediate desegregation of public facilities; and, the Voting Rights Act led to representation at the county, state and federal level for the black citizens of many states.  Every President since Johnson and every Congress through 2006 has renewed the Voting Rights Act.

Now the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision, decides that section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which sets the trigger for the implementation of Section 5 is unconstitutional.   It is Section 5 that has made the Voting Rights Act a success.  It is Section 5 that required per-approval by the Justice Department if covered jurisdictions want to make changes in their election laws.  And, it is the means by which the federal government prevents encroachments on the rights of our citizens in the covered states.  If there is a weakness in the Voting Rights Act it is that pre-clearance should apply to all the states.

The Supreme Court is the most undemocratic branch of our government.  The Justices are appointed for life by an indirectly elected President (read Electoral College) and a non-representative Senate (read 2 per state).  It has a history of bowing to the powerful interests that rule our economy (witness the attempts to gut the New Deal reforms).  And now in Shelby v Holder it guts the Voting Rights Act.

We are at a crossroads in America.  One road leads to an America with a large underclass of undocumented non-citizens who will provide a cheap labor force for the industrial capitalists; a debt-burdened graduate student population that will live in apartments (read dollars for landlords and real estate interests) as they can’t afford their own homes; and a poor and black population whose voices at the ballot box will be stifled.  The other road leads to the America that the 19th and 20th centuries progressed towards; a Nation where all: men and women, young and old, rich and poor, white and black and Latino, gay and straight, enjoyed the promise of the American Dream - the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to live one's life with dignity.

Twice the Supreme Court has been dangerously wrong on the issue of race and equality.  Now it is wrong a third time.  Three strikes and you’re out.  It is time to begin a crusade for Democracy in America.  It is time to abolish the Electoral College; reform the Congress (and particularly the Senate) and establish a Supreme Court with Justices serving ten-year terms.  It is time to enhance and enshrine popular democracy in the United States.  We can keep the Republic that Benjamin Franklin said was being left to us rather than a Monarchy -- and we don’t want an Oligarchy or a Plutocracy either.

"In 5-4 Vote, Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Provision of the Voting Rights Act" PBS Newshour 6/25/2013


SUMMARY:  A key provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring federal oversight of states with a history of racial discrimination has been struck down by the Supreme Court.  Jeffrey Brown discusses the ruling with the National Law Journal's Marcia Coyle, and the court's argument that the U.S. is no longer divided as it was in the 1960s.

"Can Congress Design a Successor to Struck-Down Provision of Voting Rights Act?" PBS Newshour 6/25/2013


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote to strike down a provision of the Voting Rights Act that polices voting discrimination.  Ray Suarez gets debate on the fate of the law from Edward Blum of the Project on Fair Representation and Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Monday, June 24, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 6/21/2013

"Shields and Brooks on Farm Bill Failure, Obama in Berlin" PBS Newshour 6/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week's top political news with Jeffrey Brown, including the failure of the farm bill, the progress of immigration reform in the Senate and its prospects in the House, plus President Barack Obama's speech about nuclear arms in Berlin

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  New hurdles in the House are this, that the House is out of control, that the leadership has lost control in the House.

And what we basically have is a situation, Jeffrey, that is very analogous to where the Democrats were in the 1970s and 1980s.  Between 1968 and 1992, the Democrats had five presidential elections in which they averaged getting 17 percent of the electoral votes and carrying an average of eight states.

They lost -- they got one state in two elections, in '72 and '84.  But in all that time, they had the House.  And so members of the Democratic House didn't really care.  It would be nice to win the White House, but they didn't care.  The Republicans right now are in that position.  They are -- they have the House.  That's all they care about, the House members care about.

And they are different to the plight, as expressed by Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, if we don't do something on immigration, if we don't reform ourselves, if we don't enable ourselves as a party, the Republicans, to be able to speak to Latino voters, we're dead in 2016.

And I think that right now is falling on deaf ears among House Republicans.

RELIGION - Gay Christians, Faith is Not a Rational Process

"For One Gay Christian, a Search for Understanding While Hanging on to Faith" PBS Newshour 6/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Author and journalist Jeff Chu joins Ray Suarez to talk about his personal journey coming to terms with being Christian and gay.  In his book, "Does Jesus Really Love Me?", Chu discusses the choices made by gay Christians trying to reconcile their lives, identities and faith.

Significant excerpt

JEFF CHU, Author, "Does Jesus Really Love Me?":  I think, for some people who have ended up on the atheist/agnostic part of the religious spectrum, they feel a sense of triumph.  They feel like reason has won out.

That's not where I have ended up.  I have tried to hang onto my faith, because it is very important to me.  I think the conclusion that I have that is that we can't make these decisions for anyone else.  We're not talking about something that's rational when we're talking about faith.  There is an element of the absurd in it.  Kierkegaard talks about that in his writings.  Faith is not a rational process.

ECONOMY - Psychological Effects of Economic Inequality

"Exploring the Psychology of Wealth, 'Pernicious' Effects of Economic Inequality" PBS Newshour 6/21/2013


SUMMARY:  It's been said that money is the root of all evil. Does money make people more likely to lie, cheat and steal?  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports on new research from the University of California, Berkeley about how wealth and inequality affects us psychologically.

"Study:  High Social Class Predicts Unethical Behavior" by Christopher Shea, Wall Street Journal 2/27/2012

IMMIGRATION - The 'Learn English' Requirement

On this issue I believe that younger immigrants should, but elderly immigrants should be encouraged to learn English but NOT required to.  One way to promote this is to highlight the job opportunities for anyone who can speak/read/write in more than one language.

"Should Immigrants Be Required to Learn English?" PBS Newshour 6/21/2013


SUMMARY:  A provision of the proposed immigration legislation would require immigrants to prove they're learning English before they can become permanent residents.  Ray Suarez gets debate on the issue from Georgetown University's Barbara Mujica and Max Sevillia of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

BRAZIL - One Million Protesters

"One Million Protesters Fill Brazil's Streets to Vent Anti-Government Grievances" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 6/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Anti-government fury swelled to new heights across Brazil as at least a million protesters took to the streets overnight.  The mostly peaceful week-long protests turned violent when masked youths challenged riot police.  Jeffrey Brown reports on how the public outraged was sparked by a transit fare hike.

"In Brazil, Enormous Stadiums Stand as Symbol of Protesters' Frustration" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 6/21/2013


SUMMARY:  At least a million Brazilian protesters flocked to the streets overnight.  Margaret Warner talks with Matthew Cowley, Sao Paulo bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, about how worries about an economic slowdown and Brazil's upcoming hosting of major sports events have helped fuel the massive public protests.

EDUCATION - Jeb Bush Wrong on U.S. Ranking

"Jeb Bush Gets ‘F’ on School Spending" by Rachel Finkel with Eugene Kiely, 6/21/2013

Jeb Bush has repeatedly — and falsely — claimed that the United States spends “more per student than any country in the world.”  Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland all spend more than the U.S. on elementary and secondary education.

The former Florida governor most recently made this claim at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual Road to Majority Conference, held on June 14 in Washington, D.C.  At the conference, Bush spoke about the need to create sustainable economic growth and cited education (at the 15:23 mark) as the “greatest challenge our country faces.”

Bush, June 14:  To me the greatest challenge our country faces is that 40 percent of our kids — truly, truly, honestly — 40 percent of our kids are college or career ready.  And we spend more per student than any country in the world.  That is not acceptable.  Too many young people now have shattered dreams because they don’t have the skills to be successful.

Bush made a similar claim in an earlier interview with Newsmax TV (about 19 minutes into the video):

Bush, March 31:  We have a third of our kids that don’t make it through the system, even though we spend more per student than any country in the world.  And a lot of students could be doing college-level work by the time they’ve graduated from high school but in effect they’re held back because we have this adult-centered homogenized learning model.

We asked Bush spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof for information that would support the governor’s claim that the U.S. has the highest per-student expenditure rate.  But the information she provided contradicted his claim.

Emhof referred us to a George Washington University chart, below, that clearly shows the expenditure per-student rate was higher in Luxembourg and Switzerland. Luxembourg, at $16,909, is 54 percent higher than the U.S. rate of $10,995.

The George Washington University chart is not complete.  A footnote says the chart was based on Table A-22-1 in a 2012 Department of Education report (page 200) (PDF), which shows that Norway, too, spent more per student on “elementary and secondary” education than the United States.

The DOE report is based on Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development data — specifically from its 2011 Education at a Glance report, which contains 2008 spending data on elementary and secondary education for 32 countries.  (It is also worth noting that the DOE report provides spending as a percentage of the gross domestic product.  By that measure, 10 of the 32 countries spent more on elementary and secondary education.  The U.S. spent 4.1 percent of the nation’s economy on elementary and secondary education; the OECD average was 3.8 percent.)

The most current OECD report — the 2012 report (PDF) with 2009 data — shows similar results.  The U.S. spent less per student on “primary education” than Denmark, Luxembourg and Norway, and less per student than Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland on “all secondary education.” (See Table B1.1a.)  That report also shows that the U.S. ranked behind Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland on per-student spending for “primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education.” (See Table B1.2.)

The OECD report does show the U.S. spends much more than any nation on “all tertiary education” — such as community colleges and universities — but Bush was clearly talking about elementary and secondary education, since his remarks were in the context of students not being ready for college.

Bush’s spokeswoman also referred us to a University of Southern California chart that shows the U.S. spends more per student than 11 other countries.  But Bush said “any country in the world,” not just some or even most countries.  The USC chart does not show, for example, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland — which outspent the U.S. in primary and secondary education in 2008 and 2009, as we’ve already noted.

This isn’t the first time that we fact checked a politician’s statement regarding the cost of educating U.S. schoolchildren.  In 2010, we reviewed a similar claim by then-Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who, like Bush, said the U.S. spent “more per student than any other country in the world.” It was wrong then, and it’s still wrong.

Friday, June 21, 2013

AMERICA - Can Money Buy Happiness? Not in the U.S.

IMHO money cannot buy happiness, it just makes it easier because financial worries are less.

"Finding the Connection Between Prosperity, Compassion and Happiness" PBS Newshour 6/20/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Now, ask yourself, does having more money make us happy?

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman went in search of answers.  It's part of his ongoing reporting “Making Sen$e of Financial News.”

PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour):  The University of California at Berkeley, a key location for one of the hot new subfields in economics, happiness studies.  But, despite living in the wealthiest economy in the history of the world, Americans are a surprisingly unhappy lot.

Christine Carter is a sociologist at Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.

CHRISTINE CARTER, University of California, Berkeley:  Usually, what we see across countries is that, as GDP goes up, happiness goes up or subjective well-being tends to go up.

And the U.S. is kind of a notable case, in the sense that in the last 35 years as GDP has grown, we actually haven't seen our average happiness level go up.

WOMEN - Cervical Cancer Drops 50% for Teen Girls

"HPV Vaccine Dramatically Cuts Number of Infections in Teen Girls" PBS Newshour 6/20/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  Infection by a virus that causes cervical cancer has dropped more than 50 percent in teenage girls since a vaccine against the virus was introduced in 2006.  That's the finding in a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testing the effectiveness of the new vaccine against human papilloma virus, or HPV.

It found the infection rate in girls between the ages of 14 and 19 dropped by 56 percent, even though only one-third of teenage girls in the U.S. have been vaccinated with the full three-dose course.  HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus.  An estimated 75 percent to 80 percent of men and women are infected during their lifetime, but most do not develop cancer.

For more, we turn to Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC.  She's the director of its Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

COMMENT:  The real 'complexity' is caused by the psychotic ultra-conservatives and their world view.  Their teen daughters NEVER have sex, it's always someone else's daughter.

WALL STREET - Uncertainty and the Effect of China

"Wall Street Feels Pain of China's Credit Crunch, Federal Reserve Uncertainty" PBS Newshour 6/20/2013


SUMMARY:  It was a bad day for global markets, whose stocks fell over worries about a credit crunch in China and comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that the fed may begin paring back stimulus efforts.  Jeffrey Brown gets reactions from The Wall Street Journal's David Wessel and James Paulsen of Wells Capital Management.

IMMIGRATION - U.S. Senate Compromise

Of course the U.S. House Republicans will not let this happen.  They want "The Dome" (as in TV Series "Under the Dome") over the entire U.S., FIRST.  Then there's the Federal Deficit issue, beefing up the border is costly.  And IF House Republicans even allow this bill to be voted on, I expect their accounting will consist of cutting even more from programs that help lower and middle class Americans.

"Senators Near Key Compromise on Beefed-Up Border Security" PBS Newshour 6/20/2013


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  The prospects for passage of immigration reform, by a big margin, appeared to brighten considerably today.

Supporters talked hopefully that they'd met demands for greatly expanded policing of the border with Mexico.

Two Republicans went to the Senate floor this afternoon to announce a potentially critical compromise on a key sticking point for many in the GOP.

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN, R-N.D.:  Americans want immigration reform.  Of that, there is no doubt.  But they want us to get it right, and that means first and foremost securing the border.

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.:  Some people have described this as a border surge, and the fact is that we are investing resources in securing our border that have never been invested before.

RAY SUAREZ:  Senators John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee worked out the beefed-up security provisions.  Their language would nearly double the number of Border Patrol agents to 40,000 at a cost of $30 billion dollars over 10 years.  It would also build 700 miles of additional border fencing, and it would make use of surveillance drones to monitor illegal crossings.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

EDUCATION - Funding and Advocating the Humanities

Note that this is a "I want my piece of the pie" issue.

"Report Argues U.S. Is Neglecting, Undervaluing Education in the Humanities" PBS Newshour 6/19/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Languages, history, philosophy and more, a call for new commitments to the humanities in higher education.

A report to that effect was issued today by a congressionally-mandated panel of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  It comes at a time when much focus has been on the need for the U.S. to nurture more graduates who specialize in science, technology, math, and engineering.  It also comes amid lower funding for research in the humanities and a drop in interest in civics courses.

Two members of the panel join us now, co-chair Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University, and actor and writer John Lithgow.


SCIENCE - Return of the Cicada

"Cicada Mania: The Entomologists' 'Super Bowl'" PBS Newshour 6/19/2013


MILES O'BRIEN (Newshour):  These boys likely do not know it, but they are playing with some bugs that are older than they are.  The periodical cicada invasion will stop soon enough, but the once-every-17th-summer event is impossible to ignore.

TATIANA LOWE, Dealing With Cicadas:  This is like a bit much.  It's like every day you hear this racket, and then at night, it gets quiet, and then in the morning, you see all the dead ones everywhere.  It's pretty gross.

MILES O'BRIEN:  Of course, beauty is in the compound eyes of the beholder.  And like them or not, with the emergence of one of the big East Coast broods, the cicadas are ready for their close-ups.

This is a scene from "Return of the Cicadas."  For six years now, filmmaker Samuel Orr has been capturing cicadas in spectacular, close-up, time-lapse fashion as they emerge from the ground, climb, molt, reproduce, and then die.

Sam is, naturally, a big cicada fan.

AFGHANISTAN - Talks With Taliban Halted

"Afghan Government Backs Away From Talks With Taliban, U.S." (Part-1) PBS Newshour 6/19/2013


SUMMARY:  A day after an announcement that the Afghan government would open negotiations with the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai reversed that decision, raising objections including the Taliban's use of its formal name at its new office in Qatar.  Karzai also suspended talks with the U.S. over security conditions.  Jeffrey Brown reports.

See more from PBS NewsHour.
"Will Setback in Afghan Negotiations Affect Long-Term Prospects for Talks?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 6/19/2013 Excerpt
SUMMARY:  A day after a breakthrough agreement on holding direct talks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai backed away from announced negotiations with the U.S. and the Taliban.  Jeffrey Brown talks with The New York Times' Rob Nordland, from Doha, Qatar, for more detail on the decision and possible next moves.
See more from PBS NewsHour.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

MEDICAID - States Rethinking Expansion by Health Reform Law

"Some States Have Second Thoughts About Refusing Medicaid Expansion" PBS Newshour 6/17/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Medicaid is a crucial piece of the health reform law and its goal of providing new coverage to 30 million Americans.

Roughly 13 million of them are expected to receive coverage by expanding eligibility to the program, which provides health care to the poor.  But the calculus changed after the Supreme Court decided states could opt out, even though the federal government would pick up 100 percent of the new costs for the first three years.

So far, 23 states, mostly led by Democratic governors and the District of Columbia, have said they plan to expand eligibility starting next year.  Eighteen others with Republican governors are opposed.  Those states could be passing on billions of dollars.  Now some Republican governors who have been opposed to the health care law are pushing to expand Medicaid.  That includes Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona, where Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill to do so today.

We look at what's behind these changes in two of these states.

Mary K. Reinhart is with The Arizona Republic.  And Karen Kasler is with Ohio Public Radio.

IRAN - Moderate President Elected

"Iran Elects Moderate Candidate Hasan Rowhani to Be Next President" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 6/17/2013


SUMMARY:  A reform-minded, moderate cleric will be Iran's next president.  Hasan Rowhani won the recent election by nearly 51 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off and beating out several more conservative candidates.  Gwen Ifill profiles the new leader and reports on reaction from the international community.

"How Will Iran's New President Impact Relations With U.S.?" PBS Newshour 6/17/2013


SUMMARY:  What does the election of Hasan Rowhani mean for Iran's nuclear program?  How will Iran's new president approach relations with the U.S.?  To address those questions, Gwen Ifill is joined by Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group.

SYRIA - From the G8 Summit

Can you believe Putin's London statement?  Talk about painting one side as over-the-top evil.

"Fate of Syria, U.S. Aid to Rebels Dominates Attention at G-8 Summit" PBS Newshour 6/17/2013


SUMMARY:  What to do about the bloody war in Syria is overshadowing the usual agenda of trade deals and unemployment at this year's G-8 summit in Ireland.  Gwen Ifill reports on conflict playing out during the conference around the United States' decision to send military aid to Syrian rebels.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  President Obama and Russian President Putin met privately on the sidelines of the meeting today in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.  Publicly, at least, the tone was conciliatory.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence, securing chemical weapons, and that we want to try to resolve the issue through political means if possible.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia:  Of course, our opinions do not coincide.  But we are united by the common intention to end the violence, to stop the number of victims from increasing in Syria, and to resolve the problems by peaceful means.

GWEN IFILL:  But Putin was much more blunt in London yesterday, without President Obama at his side.  Criticizing any move to aid the rebels, he cited a notorious incident involving a rebel commander.

PRESIDENT PUTIN:  I believe one doesn't really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public gaze and cameras?  Are these the people you want to support?  Are they the ones you want to supply with weapons?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

SUPREME COURT - Arizona's Proof of Citizenship Unconstitutional

Arizona's Anti-Immigrant-Phobia looses again, in 7-to-2 Supreme Court decision.

Note the decision makes Arizona's law unconstitutional because the 'proof of citizenship' is specified in Federal Law and a state cannot require more proof than that.

"Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona's Proof-of-Citizenship Voter Requirement" PBS Newshour 6/17/2013


SUMMARY:  It is unconstitutional to make voters prove their U.S. citizenship to be able to register to vote.  The Supreme Court made that reversal to Arizona law in a 7-2 decision.  Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal breaks down the details of that ruling with Judy Woodruff.

Monday, June 17, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 6/14/2013

COMMENT:  This piece contains a very good debate on the Syrian issue.

"Shields and Brooks on Syria, Snowden and Surveillance" PBS Newshour 6/14/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week's top political news with Judy Woodruff, including the Obama administration's decision to provide aid to Syrian rebels, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and American attitudes towards domestic surveillance.

CHINA - And California Surplus Milk

"Could a Surplus of California Milk Fulfill China's Cheese Needs?" PBS Newshour 6/14/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And finally tonight, we conclude our weeklong look at food security and how climate change is affecting what we produce and how we eat.

Special correspondent Susanne Rust reports on how China's growing demand for dairy products is affecting California farmers, the economy, and global trade.

It's part of our series “Food for 9 Billion,” in partnership with Public Radio International's "The World," Homelands Productions, American Public Media's Marketplace, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

SUSANNE RUST:  At the Culinary Institute of America in California's Napa Valley, a group of pizza executives is taking a cooking class.  They have come all the way from Asia to try cooking with California cheese.

Davis Wei works as a cheese buyer for the largest pizza chain in China.

DAVIS WEI, Cheese Buyer:  I definitely like dairy.  I'm very passionate about it.  Just look at my figure, and you can tell that I really love this type of food.

SUSANNE RUST:  Wei is here on a tour of the state's dairy industry organized by the California Milk Advisory Board to drum up business.

GUN CONTROL - Six Months After Newtown, Gun Violence Continues

"Six Months After Newtown, Battle Over Gun Control Continues" PBS Newshour 6/14/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Today marked six months since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., an attack that brought tears and outrage and prompted a new debate over gun violence and rights.

Margaret Warner has a look at how the day was commemorated.

CARLEE SOTO, Sister of Victoria Soto:  If we can take that moment now, please?

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  The sister of slain teacher Victoria Soto asked for twenty six seconds of silence today, one for each of the victims killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

They were gunned down on Dec. 14, after Adam Lanza killed his mother and then stormed Sandy Hook.  Police said Lanza shot 20 schoolchildren and six educators, before shooting himself.  Today's moment of silence was followed by a daylong reading of more than 6,000 names, all victims of gun violence around the country since the Newtown tragedy.

The memorial was organized by Mayors Against Gun Violence, a group funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that has been working with some of the victims' families.  Some of those families have been trying for months to persuade lawmakers to back tighter gun control measures, including background checks.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:  The amendment is not agreed to.

MARGARET WARNER:  But that legislation failed to pass the Senate in April.  Now some senators, including some who voted no, are said to be discussing an amended bill.

Families came to Capitol Hill yesterday vowing to support it.

AMERICA - City of Detroit's Debt, Default?

"Painful Options Ahead:  Detroit to Default on $2.5 Billion Debt" PBS Newshour 6/14/2013


SUMMARY:  The city of Detroit is facing difficult decisions in the face of billions of dollars of debt.  Emergency manager Kevyn Orr laid out a last-ditch plan to 150 creditors to accept pennies on the dollar to keep the city running.  Some residents are skeptical of Orr's approach.  Ray Suarez talks to Matt Helms of the Detroit Free Press.

SYRIA - Shift in U.S. Policy

"Obama Policy Shift on Arming Syrian Rebels Triggers Concerns" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 6/14/2013


SUMMARY:  Having concluded that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against rebels in the last year, the White House announced that the U.S. will dramatically increase military assistance to opposition forces.  Jeffrey Brown reports on the Assad regime's response to the American findings and requests from the rebels.

"As Assad Makes Gains, Will New U.S. Strategy for Syria Change the Dynamics?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 6/14/2013


SUMMARY:  The Obama administration says it will send help to the rebels after determining that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons.  Jeffrey Brown assesses the decision and the risks with Vali Nasr, former State Department official, and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

OPINION - Psychotic Anti-Gay Base Alienates GOP

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OPINION - Closing of 'Gitmo'

"The same tired talking points win again" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 6/14/2013

It was just three weeks ago that President Obama made a persuasive case for closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.  He described a military prison that costs too much, has become an international embarrassment, and is filled with "people who have been charged with no crime."

The vision the president outlined has been embraced by liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, civilians and military personnel.  And yet, GOP lawmakers in Congress appear to be going backwards.

Last week, House Republicans once again barred the Obama administration from transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay.  Today, against a backdrop of a terrible hunger strike, a Democratic effort to do the right thing was easily defeated in the face of mindless, reactionary conservative opposition.

"These terrorist detainees pose a very real danger to our security in America.  They mean us real harm," said Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), a veteran of the Iraq war who called closing Gitmo "appeasement."

"Who are these detainees?  They are not innocent goat herders swept up by marauding United States military, of which I was a part, and of which I detained numerous potential terrorists," said Rep.  Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), referring to his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) argued that moving the prisoners to the United States would paint targets for terrorists "on every elementary school, every shopping mall, every small business" in the area where they end up being housed.

Arguments like these predictably won the day in the lower chamber.  Rep. Adam Smith's (D-Wash.) proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, calling for a plan to close the detention facility was crushed on a 174 to 249 vote.

What about the dozens of prisoners who've already been cleared by military and intelligence officials for transfer?  What about the hundreds of terrorists who are already locked up safely in American prisons?  What about the extent to which this facility undermines our standing and credibility on the international stage?

According to 249 members of the House, these facts just don't matter.

Friday, June 14, 2013

AMERICA - New U.S. Survey Shows 92% LGBT Acceptance, Also California's Prop-8

"Though Acceptance for Gay Americans Is Growing, Discrimination Persists" PBS Newshour 6/13/2013


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  A new survey provides one of the largest and most complex portraits of what life is like today for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans.  The sweeping survey conducted by the Pew Research Center spanned topics including political views, social stigmas and the difficulties of coming out.

It finds growing acceptance in the U.S. of the LGBT community; 92 percent of those surveyed said they agreed with that.  Yet 53 percent of gay Americans say there is still discrimination.  The survey was done just weeks before the Supreme Court decision and was released during Pride Month.

A short time ago, President Obama spoke at a Pride Month event at the White House about those changing attitudes.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  From Minnesota to Maryland, from the United States Senate to the NBA, it's clear we're reaching a turning point.

We have -- we have become not just more accepting.  We have become more loving as a country and as a people.  Heart and minds change with time.  Laws do, too.

Change like that isn't something that starts here in Washington, but it's something that has the power that Washington has a great deal of difficulty resisting over time.

RAY SUAREZ:  For more on all this, we turn to Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and co-author of the LGBT survey, and Gary Gates, distinguished scholar at the Williams center at UCLA and co-author of the "Gay and Lesbian Atlas."

"California Prepares for Fallout as High Court Ruling on Prop. 8 Nears" PBS Newshour 6/13/2013


SUMMARY:  In San Francisco, city employees are preparing for a rush of same-sex marriage applications in case the Supreme Court strikes down Proposition 8, which banned marriage for anyone except between a man and a woman.  Spencer Michels looks at the history of California's fight on same-sex marriage and previews the court's decision.

CLIMATE CHANGE - India's Farmers Dealing With Seawater Flooded Fields

"Struggling Farmers in India Find Promise for the Future in Ancient Seeds" PBS Newshour 6/13/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And, next, we resume our weeklong look at food security and how climate change is affecting what we produce and how we eat.

Tonight, special correspondent Sam Eaton reports from India on how farmers are turning to ancient seeds to keep their crops viable in the future.

It's part of our series “Food for 9 Billion,” in partnership with Public Radio International's "The World," Homelands Productions, American Public Media's Marketplace, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

SAM EATON:  On May 25, 2009, Cyclone Aila slammed into the Ganges River delta on the coast of Bangladesh and India.  Hundreds of thousands fled as the storm surge tore through earthen embankments and flooded rice fields with a wall of seawater.

I traveled to Eastern India with ecologist Asish Ghosh to see how the more than four million people living in this vast river delta are adapting to the salty soils the storm left behind.  It's been four years since the cyclone hit.  And farmer Raj Krishna Das says growing enough food is still a struggle.

ASISH GHOSH, Director, Center for Environmental Development, Kolkata:  So he even cannot have any vegetables growing after Aila because still -- still there is salt in the soil.

SAM EATON:  This is what climate change looks like for the densely populated river deltas of the world.  They hold some of the most productive farmland on the planet.  But it's also some of the most threatened.

ASISH GHOSH:  We have lost this amount of land on all sides of the island.

SAM EATON:  Today, this delta coastline is retreating more than 600 feet a year, and the salt is encroaching even farther inland.  As farmers here adapt to rising sea levels and more powerful storms, they become a case study for how to produce food on a warming planet.

Significant excerpt:

SAM EATON:  In even the remotest parts of India, the green revolution caused many farmers to abandon their traditional seeds for the modern high-yielding varieties promoted by the government.  But for those who didn't, the benefits of these locally adapted seeds are becoming more and more pronounced; 64-year-old farmer Looknath Nauri grows 30 different traditional varieties of rice, millet, corn, squash and lentils on his two-acre plot in Eastern India.

His song is a celebration of the diversity of traditional seeds and the happiness it brings to his family and his land.  These seeds, created over thousands of years, don't just have the genes to withstand droughts and floods.  They're also adapted to local soils and pests, eliminating the need for costly nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides.  Some are so resilient, they sprout even in the dry months.

MAN:  Look at this pearl millet.  We cut it last December.  There hasn't been any rain for five months.  And it's sending up new shoots.  This would never happen with a high-yielding variety.  Once the rains come, we don't even have to reseed it.  It just grows back by itself for two to three years.

SAM EATON:  Nauri says he tried the new rice seeds, but his harvest didn't even come close to the traditional varieties.

More prof that Mother Nature knows what she's doing.

SUPREME COURT - On Human Gene Patents

Our Supreme Court gets this one right (as in correct).

"Supreme Court Unanimously Rules Human Genes Cannot Be Patented" PBS Newshour 6/13/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  We turn now to the Supreme Court's decision on genes and its impact for patients and medical research.

The justices unanimously ruled that a company cannot patent an isolated human gene.  The case involved Myriad Genetics, a company that holds patents on genes correlated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Myriad sells the genetic tests for those cancers.

In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote:  "Myriad found the location of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  But that discovery, by itself, doesn't render the BRCA genes patent eligible."

But the justices also found that firms can patent synthetically created genetic material known as cDNA.

For a look at the implications, we are now joined by Todd Dickinson.  He's the executive director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association.  And Sandra Park, she's an attorney with the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU.  Their team argued the case against Myriad Genetics.

SYRIA - Assad Did Use Chemical Weapons

It's about time.  Now all they need is a no-fly zone.

"U.S. Says Assad Regime Has Used Chemical Weapons Against Rebels" PBS Newshour 6/13/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  We begin with a late development about the war in Syria.  The Obama administration has concluded the Syrian government has utilized chemical weapons in its fight against rebels.  That word came late this afternoon from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

In a statement, he said:  "The Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale, against the opposition multiple times in the last year."  The statement said U.S. found no evidence that rebels have used chemical weapons.

White House officials said in response to the findings President Obama has decided to provide new military support to the rebels, but they gave no details.

The confirmed death toll in the Syrian civil war has grown to nearly 93,000.  The U.N. Human Rights Office reported the new figure today.  It said, on average, nearly 5,000 people are being killed every month.

And U.N. human right chiefs Navi Pillay said the actual death toll may be much higher.

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Civilians are bearing the brunt of widespread violent and often indiscriminate attacks, which are devastating whole swathes of major towns and cities, as well as outlying villages.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The war has also driven more than a million Syrians to take refuge in other countries and millions more are internally displaced.

Assad Warcriminal

OPINION - Weak U.S. Congress = More NSA Power

REF:  "The Secret War" by James Bamford, 6/12/2013

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