Wednesday, July 31, 2013

SENIORS - Elder Care in Assisted Living Facilities

"Investigation Finds Pattern of Problems for Elder Care in Assisted Living" PBS Newshour 7/30/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Finally tonight, troubling cases of elderly care, or lack of it, at some assisted living centers.

Nearly three-quarters-of-a-million Americans reside in more than 30,000 facilities.  They're the subject of an investigation on tonight's Frontline, done in partnership with ProPublica.

A.C. Thompson is co-author of a series of reports for ProPublica and correspondent on tonight's program.  He joins us now.

Well, welcome to you.

And first, for purposes of definition, tell us what you were looking into.  How are you defining assisted living?

A.C. THOMPSON, Frontline/ProPublica:  So, assisted living is the niche of senior housing that's between living at home on your own and living in a nursing home.

So these are people who need some help, they can't live independently anymore, but they don't necessarily need full-on around-the-clock medical care.  So in an assisted living facility, it's more like a home, it's more like an apartment, and what you're getting typically is help with your medication, help with your meals, help to get to the bathroom or dressing if you need it.

"Life and Death in Assisted Living" (full 53:36 video) PBS Frontline 7/30/2013

HONDURAS - Drug Wars = Highest Per Capita Murder Rate in the World

SIDE NOTE:  Vacation spot for NRA gun-nuts.

"Gangs 'Do Whatever They Want' in Honduras City Known as Most Dangerous Place" PBS Newshour 7/30/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Next, Outside of a war zone, this is the most dangerous place on earth, San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, at the crossroads of drug shipments from South America to the United States.

More than 1,200 people were killed in the city last year, more than 7,000 in the country.  Thanks to those ongoing drug wars, it has the highest per capita murder rate in the world.

Our story comes from filmmaker Guillermo Galdos, who spent a week in Honduras on assignment for Britain's Channel 4 News.

A warning:  The images and the details in this report are disturbing.

GUILLERMO GALDOS, filmmaker:  Friday night at the main hospital in San Pedro Sula, the casualties would in, this man barely alive shot twice in the head.  The hospital is so busy that even a dying man has to wait 24 hours for an operation.

HEALTH - New Medical Definition for 'Cancer' ?

"Doctors Propose New Cancer Definition to Avoid Unnecessary Treatments" PBS Newshour 7/30/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now we turn to changes in how we think about cancer and how we choose to treat it.  It comes from a panel of doctors advising the National Cancer Institute.

In a paper in "The Journal of the American Medical Association," the doctors recommended changing the very definition of what's often seen as the earliest signs of cancer.  For example, a diagnosis of noninvasive abnormal cells in the breast would be renamed so that the words cancer or carcinoma are not part of the description.  The idea is to avoid unnecessary treatment.

The recommendations were published on the same day another medical panel recommended annual CAT scans for people at higher risk of developing lung cancer.

For more on these findings, we turn to Dr. Barnett Kramer of the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Larry Norton of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

NATIONAL SECURITY - Bradley Manning Verdict

"Manning Acquitted of Aiding the Enemy, Convicted on 19 Other Charges" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 7/30/2013

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  The verdict was not guilty today on the one charge that could have sent Private 1st Class Bradley Manning to prison for life.

After a trial at Fort Meade, Maryland though, he was convicted of numerous lesser crimes involving the release of more than 700,000 classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.  The verdicts ended Manning's two-month court-martial and came more than three years after his disclosures rocked the U.S. government.

The former Army intelligence analyst listened attentively as the judge, Colonel Denise Lind, acquitted him of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, usually reserved for direct provision of assistance of an enemy.  She also found him not guilty of one other espionage charge.

But the judge convicted Manning of 19 other charges, including six counts under the Espionage Act, five counts of stealing U.S. government property, namely, the databases that contained files he disclosed, and computer fraud.

Defense attorney David Coombs hailed the acquittal on aiding the enemy, saying, "Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire."

His supporters have argued Manning is a whistle-blower who exposed official malfeasance for the public good.

MAN:  Roger.  Engage.  (from film of shooting cited below)

JEFFREY BROWN:  Among the most incendiary of his disclosures, a 2007 video that WikiLeaks called collateral murder.  It showed the crew of a U.S. helicopter gunship in Iraq it machine-gunned a group of men suspected of being Iraqi insurgents.  Instead, those killed included a Reuters News Service cameraman and his driver.

The 25-year-old Manning had already pleaded guilty to several lesser charges.  The sentencing phase on today's convictions begins tomorrow and the penalty could add up to 136 years in prison.

And we will have more on the Manning verdict after the other news.

COMMENT:  Being retired U.S. Navy, and having served on Court Martial Board in one case, I know how our military justice system works.  To civilians who are not familiar with the military Manning's trail may not look fair, but he had choices like choosing to be tried by a judge only and using a military defender (he could have chosen a civilian one).

"Did Bradley Manning Get a Fair Trial?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 7/30/2013


SUMMARY:  Though found not guilty of aiding the enemy, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was convicted on other 19 charges.  Former CIA official Jeffrey Smith and Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights join Jeffrey Brown to offer their views on the verdict, the fairness of his charges and the impact for the U.S. government.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

CITY ECONOMIES - Is Detroit's Bankruptcy the First in a House of Cards?

One needs to remember that this issue is a confluence of our recession (which we are NOT fully recovered from) and the very human error of expecting that the 'good times' would go on forever.  Some cities did not hedge 'their bets' when it came to their budgetary decisions in the past.

"Will Other U.S. Cities Follow in Detroit's Footsteps?" PBS Newshour 7/29/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  To what degree is Detroit a special case?  In what ways is it representative of problems in other cities?  Those and other questions have been much in the air since the bankruptcy filing.

For some answers, we turn to Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit focused on the city's economy, infrastructure, and education system, author and urban studies theorist Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto.  His books include "The Rise of the Creative Class" and "The Great Reset."  And Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution, co-author of "The Metropolitan Revolution:  How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy."

AMERICA - Summer Jobs 2013

Question, who actually NEEDS an income more, seniors who are struggling more than ever or teenagers?

"Teens Lose Out on Important Summer Jobs as Older Workers Fill Their Spots" PBS Newshour 7/29/2013


SUMMARY:  The geography of the job market has changed in the past decade.  Jobs typically held by teens are now being filled by older workers.  In Boston, some organizations are trying to mobilize America's unemployed youth and bring them into the professional labor market.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

CATHOLICISM - Pope Francis, Small Change and No Change

"Pope Francis Strikes Tolerant Tone in Remarks on Gay Catholics" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 7/29/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Pope Francis drew new attention today with some surprising remarks about gay Catholics, as he wrapped up a trip to the Americas that drew enormous crowds.

For 82 minutes, the pope fielded questions on his flight home from Brazil.  And for the first time ever, there were no restrictions.  Francis was asked directly about a so-called gay lobby within the Vatican, an allegedly powerful influence inside the church.  He struck a conciliatory tone on homosexuality in general and within the priestly ranks.

POPE FRANCIS, leader of Catholic Church:  Everyone writes about the gay lobby.  I still haven't found anyone who gave me an identity card in the Vatican with "gay" written on it.  If someone is gay and he searches for the lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The comments suggested a shift in acceptance, but not in Roman Catholic doctrine, which still holds that homosexual acts are disordered.  At the same time, Francis upheld the longstanding prohibition on women in the priesthood.  But he did advocate an expanded role and cited an exalted role model.

POPE FRANCIS:  The madonna, Maria, was more important than the apostles, bishops, deacons, and priests.  Women are more important than bishops and priests.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The pope's comments came as he returned from his first trip abroad since his March election.  The 76-year-old Argentine had attended World Youth Day events in Brazil, including two huge outdoor services in Rio de Janeiro.

On Saturday, he told young people in soccer-mad Brazil, which hosts next year's World Cup, to set their eyes on a higher prize.

POPE FRANCIS:  Jesus offers us something more than the World Cup.  He offers us the possibility of a fruitful life without end.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  He also exhorted Brazilian bishops to get out of their parishes and spread more of their Catholic faith, which has seen many of the faithful leaving for evangelical Protestant sects.  Then on Sunday in the shadow of Rio's famed Christ the Redeemer mountaintop icon, an estimated three million people gathered on famed Copacabana Beach.

"Using Simple Language, Pope Francis Helps Shift Conversation About the Vatican" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 7/29/2013


SUMMARY:  The pope's remarks on gay Catholics may suggest a shift in acceptance, but not a change in church policy or teaching.  Judy Woodruff talks to John Allen of The National Catholic Reporter, who has been covering the pontiff's trip to Brazil, to discuss how Pope Francis has started to change the perception of the Catholic church.

Reminder, being a Pope in the context of the Vatican is a essentially a political position, and he will have to convince the ultra-conservatives within the Vatican higherarchie.

POLITICS - Dealmaker Sen. John McCain

From the emperor-with-no-cloths...

"Sen. John McCain Discusses Partisan Divide in Congress, Future of the GOP" PBS Newshour 7/29/2013


SUMMARY:  With Congress divided by partisanship, Sen. John McCain has stepped up as a dealmaker between Democrats and Republicans in order to make progress and avoid political showdowns on important legislation.  Gwen Ifill talks to the Arizona Republican about his role as a mediator between Republicans and the Obama administration.

MIDDLE EAST - Israeli, Palestinian Talks 2013

Fat chance, IMHO.  It is almost impossible to overcome the mutual distrust between Palestinians (and Arabs in general) and Israelis.

"Israelis, Palestinians Return to Face-to-Face Talks for First Time in Years" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 7/29/2013

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  The long-frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process may be showing faint signs of a thaw.  The two sides were sitting down this evening at the U.S. State Department, face to face, for the first time in years.

Hours before Israelis and Palestinians met to relaunch rare direct negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry this morning called for reasonable compromise.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY:  Going forward, it's no secret that this is a difficult process.  If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago.  I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse.

GWEN IFILL:  In an effort to jump-start the stalled process, Kerry has made six trips to the region since February. He was joined today by a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, named special envoy for the new talks.

Yesterday, Israel's cabinet agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners to clear the way for fresh negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel:  This moment is not easy for me.  It is not easy for the cabinet ministers and it's not easy especially for the bereaved families, whose feelings I understand.  But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the nation.  And this is one of those moments.

GWEN IFILL:  That decision quickly provoked protests by a number of Israelis.  And today, in Tel Aviv, reactions were still mixed.

ELIOT DIAMANT, resident of Tel Aviv:  It's a good development.  I believe that it's the time to give it a chance and to try it again.  I hope things are going to happen this time as we wish they would.

ELIEZER ZAIGER, resident of Tel Aviv:  A terrible decision.  I don't think -- you're not going to do any -- bring any good to the Israeli nation.

GWEN IFILL:  On the Palestinian side, protesters on the West Bank clashed with police on Sunday.  And today there was skepticism on the streets of Ramallah.

ISSAM BAKER, resident of Ramallah:  I think returning back to the negotiation again is a very big mistake from the Palestinian leadership.

GWEN IFILL:  That leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, doesn't govern Gaza, where Hamas rules.  The militant group has never recognized Israel's right to exist and it condemned any plans for talks.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas spokesperson:  Hamas reiterates its objection to the return to negotiations between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Israeli occupation, and reminds us the only beneficiary is the Israeli occupation.

GWEN IFILL:  Prospects for the new State Department talks are anything but clear.  The last significant direct negotiations broke down in 2008.  An attempted revival in 2010 lasted just one day.

"Can Israel, Palestinians Find Formula to Make Progress on Peace?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 7/29/2013


SUMMARY:  To examine the challenges and opportunities for Israel and the Palestinians going into a new round of talks, Judy Woodruff gets analysis from David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Hussein Ibsish of the American Task Force on Palestine.

Monday, July 29, 2013

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 7/26/2013

"Shields and Brooks on Obama's Economy Speech, Chances for Congress Compromise" PBS Newshour 7/26/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks talk to Judy Woodruff about the week's top news, including whether President Barack Obama's economy remarks were substantive, if the future looks bright for collaboration in Congress and what they think of former President George H.W. Bush's new haircut.

JAPAN - Update, Looking at Fukushima Today

"A Look Around the Ruins of Fukushima, Where Radiation Still Poses Danger" PBS Newshour 7/26/2013


JEFFREY BROWN:  And next to Japan, where the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been leaking contaminated underground water into the sea more than two years after the earthquake and tsunami.

Today, officials at Tokyo Electric Power admitted they delayed releasing that information, saying they didn't want to worry the public.  Meanwhile, the area around the plant remains deserted.

But Alex Thomson of Independent Television News got brief and rare access.

ALEX THOMSON:  Few people ever get in to the Fukushima exclusion zone.  Nobody gets in without protective equipment and screening.

Here's the radio to keep in contact, she's telling us.  Monitoring equipment for radioactivity comes next, then off, out to the final police checkpoint.  And we pull in just inside the exclusion zone to suit up.

It's becoming a way of life around here.  TEPCO, the company that runs the stricken plant, have given us five hours in the zone with a radio to keep in contact with us, let us know when our time's up.  The regalia in which I'm now standing, including this, a dosimeter which will give my accumulated radiation dose across the time that we're inside the exclusion zone.

We have come here with Anthony Ballard, who used to live in Futaba, the town which houses the giant nuclear plant, as did his friend and fellow English teacher Philip Jellyman.  Rubble from the quake stays just where it fell, fringed now with weeds.  The clock on the main street stopped at 2:46, the second the first tremors shattered this region on March the 11th, 2011.

The town shrine lurches after the quake.  Someone's been back at some point to try and save it with ropes.  Good luck messages to the gods for the unluckiest of towns after a quake, a tsunami, and radiation.

MAN:  The students who were at the school that day have never seen their houses.

GULF OIL SPILL - Update, Halliburton Destroyed Evidence

This as backdrop to BP's 'we are great' TV add campaign.  Can you hear the echo of shredders going full bore?

"Halliburton Admits Destroying Evidence in 'Grim Sorting Out' of Gulf Spill Blame" PBS Newshour 7/26/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Soon after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, three companies began a blame game over whose mistakes were most responsible for the environmental disaster.  That battle, which continues to play out in court, involved BP, Transocean, and Halliburton.

BP leased the Deepwater Horizon from Transocean.  It also owned much of the Macondo well that erupted and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.  Halliburton was contracted to design and build the well.

One of the key arguments has been about whether Halliburton's work on the well may have led to the blowout that killed 11 people.  Yesterday, Halliburton pleaded guilty to destroying evidence in 2010 about test simulations it did with cement in the wake of the accident.

Paul Barrett has been following this story for Bloomberg Businessweek and fills us in.

ARAB WORLD - Tunisian Assassination and Tensions in Egypt

"Assassination in Tunisia Sparks Outcry; Tension Continues Over Morsi in Egypt" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 7/26/2013


SUMMARY:  In Tahrir Square, tens of thousands of Egyptians rallied to support the military's ouster of former President Morsi, who may face new charges.  Islamists also held demonstrations where some fighting led to deaths.  In Tunisia, thousands protested the assassination of leftist politician Mohamed Brahmi.  Margaret Warner reports.

"Egypt, Tunisia Find Trouble With Transition to Democracy Despite High Hopes" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 7/26/2013


SUMMARY:  Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest unrest for Egypt and Tunisia and how both countries have faced major challenges in establishing inclusive, pluralistic democracies.

Significant excerpt

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  Well, my theory is that, when you have had people live under oppression for decades and decades, where no rival political parties are, if allowed to exist, not flourish, or in the case of the Brotherhood and the Islamists, they're in jail, in hiding, or in exile, and then suddenly the boot is taken off their neck, they have no experience in politics.  They have no experience in governing.

And it's not in their sort of social, cultural, political DNA to understand that democratic government actually involves give-and-take and trusting, that if your rival happens to be on top, he's not going to use it, he's not going to use the power to impose absolute power, because, after all, that's what they have all experienced.

I talked to Marwan Muasher today, a former foreign minister of Jordan, a big thinker about moderation in the Arab world, and he said, what connects these two is that the commitment to pluralistic democracy is really skin-deep.  Neither the seculars nor the Islamists really believe in inclusion.

NATIONAL SECURITY - View on Closing Arguments in Traitor Manning's Trial

"Prosecutors, Defense Offer Different Portraits of Bradley Manning in Closing" PBS Newshour 7/26/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  The defense got its final say today, for the soldier who made a massive disclosure of secret documents.  Now the so-called WikiLeaks case goes to a military judge.

As Army Private 1st Class Bradley Manning arrived at Fort Meade, Md., this morning, a handful of supporters stood by, some wearing T-shirts that said "Truth."  Inside, his attorney argued that Manning wanted the world to know the truth of U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The 25-year-old intelligence analyst stands accused of the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history, releasing more than 700,000 classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Manning was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq, and charged with 21 offenses.  Last February, he pleaded guilty to some of the lesser charges, including misuse of classified information.  The court-martial on the remaining offenses began June 3.  A conviction of the most serious, aiding the enemy, could send him to prison for life.

In their closing arguments yesterday, prosecutors argued that Manning was no naive soldier, but a traitor.  The defense insisted today he should be seen as a whistle-blower.

Charlie Savage of The New York Times was in the courtroom for the past two days and joins us now.

OPINION - Want More Jobs in the U.S.? Scrap the Sequestration Cuts

"Either job creation is the top priority or it isn't" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 7/26/2013

I'd very nearly given up trying to convince the political world that sequestration cuts still matter.  But then yesterday, something changed my mind.

For those who still care about the policy that was designed to hurt the country on purpose, there's been quite a bit of news lately, all of it showing the sequester doing what it was intended to do.  In addition to the voluminous list of documented problems, just over the last few days we've gotten a better sense of the ways in which the policy is hurting the military, public schools, parks, and the justice system.  The poor and minorities are disproportionately suffering.

Did the political world care about these stories?  Not really.  Generally speaking, the slow-motion disaster on auto-pilot just keeps plodding along, with little more than indifference from the Beltway.

So what made yesterday different?  This did.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Thursday estimated that keeping the spending cuts from sequestration in place through fiscal 2014 would cost up to 1.6 million jobs.

Canceling the cuts, on the other hand, would yield between 300,000 to 1.6 million new jobs, with the most likely outcome being the addition of 900,000, the CBO said.

The full CBO report, requested by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is online here.

And why might this part of the sequestration story matter, even after the other elements of the story were largely ignored?  Because it offers the political world an important test.

A month ago, several congressional Republican leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), insisted publicly that job creation is their "number one priority."  If those claims were true, I have good news -- now they can prove they meant it.

After all, we now have independent confirmation that this one policy, if it remains in place, will cost the nation about 1.6 million jobs through next year.  End the policy, on the other hand, and the U.S. economy adds 900,000 jobs.

For those who say the job market is their "number one priority," this is what's commonly known as a "no-brainer."

Let's make this incredibly simple for Congress,  either job creation is your top priority or it isn't.  If it is, then the House and Senate could take five minutes, scrap the sequester, and help the U.S. job market.  A lot.

Is it really that simple?  Well, yes, actually it is that simple.

But won't that mean slightly higher spending levels?  And won't that mean slightly less deficit reduction?

Perhaps, but either job creation is your top priority or it isn't.  If someone says, "I'd like to end the sequester, but not if it means increased spending and higher deficits," then we know, in a very literal sense, that the jobs are not their "number one priority."

It's a straightforward, binary choice.  Your call, Republicans.

OPINION - GOP Sacrificing Constituents to Sabotage Obamacare

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 7/25/2013
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Friday, July 26, 2013

WAR - Bypassing the U.S. Constitution in Requiring Congressional Approval

Note that it is Congress who gave up its responsibility by allowing Presidential actions that amount to war by calling the action something other than a war.  Also note that the need for Constitutional approval does NOT apply to treaty agreements like NATO or UN when the U.S. military participate.

"Diminishing Checks and Balances for U.S. Commanders in Chief Considering War" PBS Newshour 7/24/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Presidents who send troops into conflicts around the world, sidestepping Congress' role. That's the subject of a new book.

Ray Suarez talked with its author.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  The Constitution establishes the president of the United States as the commander in chief of the nation's armed forces, but the power to make war is subject to the checks and balances found throughout the Constitution.

The President asks Congress to declare war, and it's congressional approval that clears the way for a state of war.  But declarations of war are rare, and American forces have seen plenty of combat without them on the orders of the president.

Veteran journalist and teacher Marvin Kalb has taken a look at the evolving power of the president to commit the country to action around the world.  His new book is called "The Road to War:  Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed."

POLITICS - Senator Reid on Working Together

"Senate Majority Leader Reid:  'We Should All Work Together'" PBS Newshour 7/24/2013


SUMMARY:  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he agrees with the 83 percent of Americans who believe that Congress can be doing a better job.  In an exclusive sit-down with Judy Woodruff, Reid discusses what Congress can do to escape the current gridlock, as well as the president's recent remarks about race in America.

Senator Reid, I really don't like reminding you but today's Republican party is one that has a our-way-or-no-way policy.  They are not interested in governance, only in dogma.

POLITICS - Call for a Long-Term Economic Plan

"Obama Calls for Long-Term Economic Plan to Help Middle Class Rebound" PBS Newshour 7/24/2013


SUMMARY:  On the campus of Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., President Barack Obama renewed his commitment to addressing economic issues and strengthening the middle class during his second term.  Jeffrey Brown reports on the president's promises and the critical responses by Republican lawmakers.

OPINION - Republican Unacceptable and Contemptible Stance on Health Care

"None dare call it sabotage" by Steve Benen, Maddow Blog 7/25/2013

Reuters reports this morning, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, that when it comes to implementation of federal health care law, Republicans and their allies "are mobilizing ... to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage."

I hope folks will pause to let that sentence sink in for a moment.  Unlike every other industrialized democracy on the planet, the United States -- easily the wealthiest nation on earth -- tolerates a significant chunk of its population to go without basic health care coverage.  These Americans and their families can't afford to see a doctor and are one serious illness from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of politicians talking about the problem, President Obama actually signed the Affordable Care Act into law three years ago, giving working families a level of health-care security they've never had before, and throwing a life preserver to the uninsured.  Now, Republicans aren't just actively trying to sabotage the law, they're telling struggling Americans it's better to drown than accept the life preserver.

Writing in National Journal overnight, Norm Ornstein accurately describes the GOP efforts as "contemptible" and "spinning out of control."

It is important to emphasize that this set of moves is simply unprecedented....  For three years, Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm anybody to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the post that McClellan had held in 2003-04 -- in order to damage the possibility of a smooth rollout of the health reform plan.  Guerrilla efforts to cut off funding, dozens of votes to repeal, abusive comments by leaders, attempts to discourage states from participating in Medicaid expansion or crafting exchanges, threatening letters to associations that might publicize the availability of insurance on exchanges, and now a new set of threats -- to have a government shutdown, or to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, unless the president agrees to stop all funding for implementation of the plan. [...]

What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous -- just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.

For the unhinged right, there's apparent confusion over these criticisms.  "We hate the health-care reform law," they argue, "so it's hardly outrageous for us to try to stand in its way."

This might help Republicans live with themselves, but it's a lousy argument.

More from Ornstein:

When a law is enacted, representatives who opposed it have some choices (which are not mutually exclusive).  They can try to repeal it, which is perfectly acceptable -- unless it becomes an effort at grandstanding so overdone that it detracts from other basic responsibilities of governing.  They can try to amend it to make it work better -- not just perfectly acceptable but desirable, if the goal is to improve a cumbersome law to work better for the betterment of the society and its people.  They can strive to make sure that the law does the most for Americans it is intended to serve, including their own constituents, while doing the least damage to the society and the economy.  Or they can step aside and leave the burden of implementation to those who supported the law and got it enacted in the first place.

But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation -- which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil -- is simply unacceptable, even contemptible.

It's worth emphasizing that Ornstein isn't some liberal firebrand.  When folks like, say, me write about Republican efforts to sabotage federal health care law, hoping to make millions suffer out of partisan spite, it's largely expected.  Ornstein, however, is a celebrated and respected figure of the Washington establishment, an independent political scientist, and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

In other words, when he writes columns like these, even the laziest both-sides-are-always-to-blame-for-everything Beltway talking head should take note.

And finally, let's also not forget that the sabotage-governing strategy is not the radical vision of the fringe; it's the official position of the elected Republican leadership in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.  No further proof of the radicalization of GOP politics in the Obama era should be necessary.

A variety of adjectives come to mind to describe Republican efforts on this issue, but as this is a family blog, "contemptible" is as good a word as any.

COMMENT:  What else would one expect from a party whose only true god is money and serve only the very rich.

OPINION - Degrading the Image of Public Service

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 7/24/2013
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OPINION - Gay Marriage Post SCUS Decision

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 7/24/2013
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, July 25, 2013

NSA - Blanket Restrictions on Surveillance Defeated in U.S. House

Good move.

"House Defeats Effort to Rein In N.S.A. Data Gathering" by JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times 7/24/2013


A deeply divided House defeated legislation Wednesday that would have blocked the National Security Agency from collecting vast amounts of phone records, handing the Obama administration a hard-fought victory in the first Congressional showdown over the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities since Edward J. Snowden’s security breaches last month.

The 205-to-217 vote was far closer than expected and came after a brief but impassioned debate over citizens’ right to privacy and the steps the government must take to protect national security.  It was a rare instance in which a classified intelligence program was openly discussed on the House floor, and disagreements over the program led to some unusual coalitions.

Conservative Republicans leery of what they see as Obama administration abuses of power teamed up with liberal Democrats long opposed to intrusive intelligence programs.  The Obama administration made common cause with the House Republican leadership to try to block it.

House members pressing to rein in the N.S.A. vowed afterward that the outrage unleashed by Mr. Snowden’s disclosures would eventually put a brake on the agency’s activities.  Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and a longtime critic of post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism efforts, said lawmakers would keep coming back with legislation to curtail the dragnets for “metadata,” whether through phone records or Internet surveillance.

At the very least, the section of the Patriot Act in question will be allowed to expire in 2015, he said.  “It’s going to end — now or later,” Mr. Nadler said.  “The only question is when and on what terms.”

Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, promised lawmakers that he would draft legislation this fall to add more privacy protections to government surveillance programs even as he begged the House to oppose blanket restrictions.

LAW - Misinterpreted or Mishandled Forensic Evidence

Note that IMHO the story title is misleading.  The science of "forensics" is not the issue, but on how it's handled and interpreted.

"High-Tech, High-Risk Forensics" by OSAGIE K. OBASOGIE, New York Times 7/24/2013


WHEN the police arrived last November at the ransacked mansion of the millionaire investor Raveesh Kumra, outside of San Jose, Calif., they found Mr. Kumra had been blindfolded, tied and gagged.  The robbers took cash, rare coins and ultimately Mr. Kumra’s life; he died at the scene, suffocated by the packaging tape used to stifle his screams.  A forensics team found DNA on his fingernails that belonged to an unknown person, presumably one of the assailants.  The sample was put into a DNA database and turned up a “hit” — a local man by the name of Lukis Anderson.

Bingo.  Mr. Anderson was arrested and charged with murder.

There was one small problem, the 26-year-old Mr. Anderson couldn’t have been the culprit.  During the night in question, he was at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, suffering from severe intoxication.

Yet he spent more than five months in jail with a possible death sentence hanging over his head.  Once presented with Mr. Anderson’s hospital records, prosecutors struggled to figure out how an innocent man’s DNA could have ended up on a murder victim.

Late last month, prosecutors announced what they believe to be the answer, the paramedics who transported Mr. Anderson to the hospital were the very same individuals who responded to the crime scene at the mansion a few hours later.  Prosecutors now conclude that at some point, Mr. Anderson’s DNA must have been accidentally transferred to Mr. Kumra’s body — likely by way of the paramedics’ clothing or equipment.

This theory of transference is still under investigation.  Nevertheless, the certainty with which prosecutors charged Mr. Anderson with murder highlights the very real injustices that can occur when we place too much faith in DNA forensic technologies.

In the end, Mr. Anderson was lucky.  His alibi was rock solid; prosecutors were forced to concede that there must have been some other explanation.  It’s hard to believe that, out of the growing number of convictions based largely or exclusively on DNA evidence, there haven’t been any similar mistakes.

In one famous case of crime scene contamination, German police searched for around 15 years for a serial killer they called the “Phantom of Heilbronn” — an unknown female linked by traces of DNA to six murders across Germany and Austria.  In 2009, the police found their “suspect,” a worker at a factory that produced the cotton swabs police used in their investigations had been accidentally contaminating them with her own DNA.

Contamination is not the only way DNA forensics can lead to injustice.  Consider the frequent claim that it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, for two DNA profiles to match by coincidence.  A 2005 audit of Arizona’s DNA database showed that, out of some 65,000 profiles, nearly 150 pairs matched at a level typically considered high enough to identify and prosecute suspects.  Yet these profiles were clearly from different people.

There are also problems with the way DNA evidence is interpreted and presented to juries.  In 2008, John Puckett — a California man in his 70s with a sexual assault record — was accused of a 1972 killing, after a trawl of the state database partially linked his DNA to crime scene evidence.  As in the Anderson case, Mr. Puckett was identified and implicated primarily by this evidence.  Jurors — told that there was only a one-in-1.1 million chance that this DNA match was pure coincidence — convicted him.  He is now serving a life sentence.

But that one-in-1.1 million figure is misleading, according to two different expert committees, one convened by the F.B.I., the other by the National Research Council.  It reflects the chance of a coincidental match in relation to the size of the general population (assuming that the suspect is the only one examined and is not related to the real culprit).  Instead of the general population, we should be looking at only the number of profiles in the DNA database.  Taking the size of the database into account in Mr. Puckett’s case (and, again, assuming the real culprit’s profile is not in the database) would have led to a dramatic change in the estimate, to one in three.

One juror was asked whether this figure would have affected the jury’s deliberations.  “Of course it would have changed things,” he told reporters.  “It would have changed a lot of things.”

DNA forensics is an invaluable tool for law enforcement.  But it is most useful when it corroborates other evidence pointing to a suspect, or when used to determine whether any two individual samples match, like in the exonerations pursued by the Innocence Project.

But when the government gets into the business of warehousing millions of DNA profiles to seek “cold hits” as the primary basis for prosecutions, much more oversight by and accountability to the public is warranted.  For far too long, we have allowed the myth of DNA infallibility to chip away at our skepticism of government’s prosecutorial power, undoubtedly leading to untold injustices.

In the Anderson case, thankfully, prosecutors acknowledged the obvious, their suspect could not have been in two places at once.  But he was dangerously close to being on his way to death row because of that speck of DNA.  That one piece of evidence — obtained from a technology with known limitations, and susceptible to human error and prosecutorial misuse — might mistakenly lead to execution at the hands of the state should send chills down every one of our spines.  The next Lukis Anderson could be you.  Better hope your alibi is as well documented as his.

EGYPT - General Calls for Mass Protests

More evidence that Egypt's government is still a military dictatorship.

"Egyptian General Calls for Mass Protests" by KAREEM FAHIM and MAYY EL SHEIKH, New York Times 7/24/2013


The commander of the armed forces asked Egyptians on Wednesday to hold mass demonstrations that would give him a “mandate” to confront violence and terrorism, appealing to one side of Egypt’s sharply divided populace and raising the specter of broader unrest.

During a speech to recent military graduates, the commander, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, warned of forces taking the country into a “dark tunnel,” a clear reference to Islamist supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, and he asked Egyptians to protest on Friday.

“I’m asking you to show the world,” he said.  “If violence is sought, or terrorism is sought, the military and the police are authorized to confront this.”

The call for mass mobilization thrust the general into the center of Egypt’s contentious politics, raising questions about his ambitions while contradicting the military’s pledges to defer to civilian leaders after removing Mr. Morsi.  His appeal also hinted at a broader crackdown against Islamists, whose leaders have already been detained.

As the Muslim Brotherhood planned competing protests on Friday, Egyptians faced another threat of bloody street clashes in what has become a long and wearying cycle.

In a statement, the Brotherhood said the general’s speech amounted to a call for “civil war.”

Michael Wahid Hanna, who studies Egyptian politics at the Century Foundation, a left-leaning policy group, said the speech was “pretty ominous.”

“At best this was an irresponsible effort to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood, to gain leverage in whatever negotiations ensue,” he said.  “At worst, it will green-light violence at lower levels and potentially provide a mandate to use force to break up the sit-in,” a reference to the Cairo encampment of Mr. Morsi’s supporters.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

NATIONAL SECURITY - President Obama, Don't Defund NSA Surveillance

President Obama is correct on this.

I am very familiar with the mata-data collected from phone systems.  I worked for a company that made the type of phone equipment that collected mata-data for 9yrs.  The data is ONLY phone numbers (including country codes), duration of calls, and date-time stamp.  No names or address are part of this data.  And, today, not even which phone company bills the number.  This is why you can keep your phone number even when switching phone providers.

Your personal data is ONLY on your phone provider's computer, and getting that data requires a warrant.

"Obama:  Don't defund NSA surveillance" by David Jackson, USA Today 7/24/2013

The White House is weighing in against a congressional proposal that would block funding for the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone data.

"We oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community's counterterrorism tools," said a statement from President Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney.

In opposing an amendment being pushed by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., Carney said that Obama welcomes a debate on surveillance, but opposes a "blunt approach" that could compromise national security.

It's not known whether the full House will approve the Amash amendment, or if the Senate would follow suit.

In any event, Obama would likely veto any attempt to cut NSA surveillance funding.

Carney's full statement:

"In light of the recent unauthorized disclosures, the president has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens."

"The administration has taken various proactive steps to advance this debate, including the president's meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, his public statements on the disclosed programs, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's release of its own public statements, ODNI General Counsel Bob Litt's speech at Brookings, and ODNI's decision to declassify and disclose publicly that the Administration filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  We look forward to continuing to discuss these critical issues with the American people and the Congress."

"However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community's counterterrorism tools."

"This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.  We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation."

NEW YORK - Anniversary of the 'Baby Hope' Case

"$12K Reward in 1991 'Baby Hope' Case" from AP, ABC News 7/24/2013

More than two decades after the body of a young girl was found inside a cooler, the New York Police Department is seeking help identifying the victim dubbed "Baby Hope."

On Tuesday, the 22nd anniversary of the discovery, police offered a $12,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest and conviction in the unsolved crime.
Baby Hope.JPEG

Officers put up posters and handed out fliers with sketches of how the victim might have looked.

The cooler was found in Washington Heights, on an embankment off the Henry Hudson Parkway.

The girl was believed to be between 3 and 5 years old.  Tests showed she was malnourished and had been sexually abused.

DNA testing has yielded no matches with databases of convicted felons or active missing person cases.

WEATHER - Watching the Birth of Hurricanes Using Drones

"NASA Drones Will Watch Hurricanes from Birth" by Becky Oskin, Live Science 7/24/2013

Starting next month, NASA will remotely pilot two high-flying aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean's hurricane nursery to track tropical cyclones from birth.

The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (H3) research mission, now in its second of five years, is part of an effort to reveal the environmental and internal factors that control storm growth, and thus improve hurricane prediction.  The twin Global Hawk drones will fly over and around tropical storms and hurricanes from the storms' source in the East Atlantic Ocean until the cyclones collapse weeks later in the western part of the basin.

Thanks to the drones, "we can get the storms we normally couldn't get," Scott Braun, the mission's principal investigator and a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said during a Google+ hangout today.

Hurricanes in this region arise from tropical storms that form in the tropical Atlantic Ocean.  Warm, moist air evaporating from the ocean creates a circular flow, sparking a rotating storm.

Until the Global Hawks were added to NASA's arsenal, research planes from the United States couldn't reach the Eastern Atlantic Ocean.  There, many hurricanes are born when disturbances move off the west coast of Africa and out over the ocean.  NASA's unmanned aircraft can fly for up to 30 hours, depending on how much weight they carry, and are piloted in shifts by controllers back on the ground.

Researchers are especially interested in how hot, dry and dusty Saharan air affects budding storms, Braun said.  Data collected by the drones last summer suggests the arid air may suppress storm formation, but other studies indicate the strong winds heading east from Africa may give swirling storms an extra kick.

"The dry air coming off Africa is a huge mystery," said Brian McNoldy, a weather researcher at the University of Miami, who is not involved in the mission.  "Being able to get wind fields from storms in the far Eastern Atlantic is something we've never been able to do," McNoldy said during the hangout.

The Global Hawk drones will join manned research planes flown by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Air Force in monitoring hurricanes, Braun said.  "We plan to collaborate with them to fly together or fly in series, so we can maintain as continuous a coverage of a storm as we possibly can," he said.  In 2010, six planes from NASA, the NOAA and the Air Force flew together to track Hurricane Karl.

One of the upcoming remotely piloted planes will release dropsondes, disposable weather recording devices that send back real-time data for forecasting.  Another will carry a detector to look for gamma-ray bursts, the electrical discharges known as dark lightning.  Other instruments will track rainfall, wind speed, temperature, humidity and more.

NATIONAL SECURITY - Traitor Snowden, Permission to Leave Moscow Airport

"Snowden’s lawyer says he will remain at Moscow airport for now" by Isabel Gorst, Washington Post 7/24/2013

Russia has decided to give fugitive leaker Edward Snowden permission to leave the Moscow airport where he has spent the last month, an immigration official said Wednesday, but it remains unclear whether he will be granted temporary political asylum.

Vladimir Volokh, the head of the public council of the Russian Federal Migration Service, said Snowden would be handed a certificate stating that he had applied for temporary political asylum.

State-controlled media, quoting unnamed security officials, said he was given the document sometime on Wednesday.

The certificate means that Snowden can leave the transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has been stranded — without permission or documentation to enter Russia or travel to another country — for more than a month.

Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency who has been charged in the United States with leaking classified information, will not be free to move around Russia unless he is granted asylum, Volokh said.

“He will only be allowed to stay in places designated by Russian law enforcement agencies,” Volokh told the Eko Moskvy radio station on Wednesday afternoon.

He said Snowden would “not be extradited to any country where his life might be in danger, because he has applied for asylum here.”

Police stepped up security at the airport earlier Wednesday, fueling rumors that the Snowden’s release was imminent.  Russian television aired footage of Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer for Snowden, arriving at Sheremetyevo in the afternoon to consult with his client.

Snowden asked the Russian government for temporary asylum last week.  He has indicated that he sees life in Russia as a short-term solution and hopes eventually to move on to Latin America.

Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela have offered to give Snowden refuge, but pressure from Washington, as well as concern that the United States or Europe might block him from traveling across their airspace has prevented the fugitive from departing Russia.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

SPACE - View of Earth From Saturn

The Earth, little blue dot on the right,
is seen from Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft,
July 19, 2013.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

"Earth Strikes a Pose Beneath Saturn's Rings" by JON M. CHANG, ABC News 7/23/2013

The Cassini spacecraft took a day off from exploring Saturn's rings and weather patterns to snap a photo of Earth.  Like Voyager 1 revealed in 1990 when it took a photo of the planet from the edge of the solar system, Earth really does look like a pale blue dot.

Cassini was nearly 900 million miles away when it snapped several photos of Earth.  One of its photos marks the first time that the spacecraft was able to see the moon and Earth as two distinct celestial objects.

The event also marked the first time that people were notified that they could be a participant in the photo shoot.  NASA encouraged people to take pictures of themselves waving at Saturn.

MOB BOSS TRIAL - Updated Testimony by Hitman

"Will "Whitey" Bulger's "private code" prompt him to take stand?" by Amanda Cochran, CBS News 7/23/2013

Convicted killer Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, a former confidante of the reputed mobster, is back on the witness stand in the trial of James "Whitey" Bulger on Wednesday.

On his third day on the stand on Monday, Flemmi said Bulger brutally choked a 26-year-old woman in 1986.  During his testimony, Flemmi said Bulger "stepped out from behind the top of the basement stairs, grabbed her by the throat, started to strangle her.  They lost their balance and fell on the floor."

The woman was Deborah Hussey, the daughter of Flemmi's longtime girlfriend.  According to Flemmi, Bulger was concerned over her drug problems and her tendency to drop their names when she got into trouble.  "It didn't take long.  She's a fragile woman," Flemmi said.  "I was there, I didn't do anything."

Flemmi, who admitted to having a sexual relationship with Hussey, as well as her mother, added that Bulger took a nap after he killed her.  Flemmi was Bulger's longtime friend and former right-hand man.

Earlier, Flemmi testified he witnessed Bulger strangle another woman with his own hands.  Debra Davis, who was then Flemmi's girlfriend.  She was murdered, Flemmi said, after she learned both men were FBI informants.

Legal analyst Gerry Leone said:  "(Flemmi) is the person who can talk in very direct terms about what Bulger did, not just what he ordered, and not just what he conspired and agreed to, but what he did."

The issue at the center of this case is Bulger's own private code, CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman pointed out on "CBS this Morning."  Bulger, she said, doesn't want it known that he may have killed women.

"I still maintain that Whitey Bulger has to testify because this is his show," she said.  "This isn't a normal trial.  This is a story of Gangsterland in Boston.  And only Whitey can tell his story, and expose the government corruption and say 'Stevie killed those women.  I didn't.'

"What Stephen Flemmi is trying to show, is that he is, is in essence, a clean, cold-blooded killer," Klieman said.  "That is, 'I killed them, I popped them, I cleaned them up, this is what I do for a living.  And why do I do it?  Because Whitey insisted.  Someone else insisted.  I never had any of these ideas of my own.'  It's why it's a cross examiner's dream."

Flemmi has admitted to lying on the stand before and has apologized.

"These are the things that I think when you're in the courtroom just make your blood boil," Klieman said.  "He apologized because he had once committed perjury in the courtroom.  I am sorry, this is the time, where no matter whether or not Whitey Bulger is convicted of all of these crimes, Stephen Flemmi needs to be exposed for who he is."

"Flemmi, to me, not only is not credible...but he is someone that is far more repulsive to me as a human being than the stone-cold killer Whitey Bulger.  And I think they both need to be kept away from society for the rest of (their) days."

ALASKA - Sudden Torrents of Water From Glacier Threaten Juneau

Visitors leaving the ice caves under the Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau, Alaska.
Unpredictable flood surges have elevated concerns.

"Alaska Looks for Answers in Glacier’s Summer Flood Surges" by KIRK JOHNSON, New York Times 7/22/2013


The idea that glaciers change at a glacial speed is increasingly false.  They are melting and retreating rapidly all over the world.  But the unpredictable flood surges at the Mendenhall Glacier, about 14 miles from downtown Juneau, Alaska’s capital, are turning a jog into a sprint as global temperatures and climate variability increase.

Starting in July 2011, and each year since, sudden torrents of water shooting out from beneath the glacier have become a new facet of Juneau’s brief, shimmering high summer season.  In that first, and so far biggest, measured flood burst, an estimated 10 billion gallons gushed out in three days, threatening homes and property along the Mendenhall River that winds through part of the city.  There have been at least two smaller bursts this year.

“That first one caught us by surprise,” said Tom Mattice, the emergency programs manager and avalanche forecaster for the City and Borough of Juneau.

That the Mendenhall Glacier is thinning, and has been for decades, is only part of the explanation.  Water from snowmelt, rain and thawing ice are also combining in new ways, researchers said — first pooling in an ice-covered depression near the glacier called Suicide Basin, then finding a way to flow downhill.

What prompts a surge, and the urgent search for a way to anticipate and prepare by scientists and safety officials like Mr. Mattice, is pressure.  As water builds up in the basin and seeks an outlet, it can actually lift portions of the glacier ever so slightly, and in that lift, the water finds a release.  Under the vast pressure of the ice bearing down upon it, the water explodes out into the depths of Mendenhall Lake and from there into the river.

Glaciologists even have a name for the process, which is happening in many places all over the world as climates change: jokulhlaup, an Icelandic word usually translated as “glacier leap.”

“We don’t have a sense yet how much of a threat this poses, or how much water you could store up there,” said Jason Amundson, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Southeast, in Juneau.

What elevates the concern is the proximity of people, and lots of them.  Glaciers may be leaping in many places, but it mostly happens in isolation.

The roughly 12-mile-long Mendenhall, by contrast, is one of the most visited glaciers in the world, and an urban one.  About 400,000 tourists a year, 80 percent of them from the cruise ships that stop at the Port of Juneau, are drawn to the glacier.

“We’re a drive-up glacier,” said Nikki Hinds, the assistant director at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which is operated by the Forest Service.  “In how many places can you have that?”

This summer, glacier-monitoring intensified.  A pressure transducer to gauge water buildup, partly paid for by the city, was installed in a deep crack on the edge of the basin, with a satellite link sending back real-time data about the glacier’s hidden waterworks.  A time-lapse camera was also positioned at the main pooling site for the first time to track bulges in the ice that could suggest dammed-up water.
Note that the cost of a no-fly zone over Syria does NOT include the possibility that the U.S. would not be the primary enforcer.  The U.S. did not have a high participation in the Lilian situation.  Of course, this would be dependent on convincing the UN and other nations to take the lead.

"Pentagon Lays Out Options for U.S. Military Effort in Syria" by MARK LANDLER and THOM SHANKER, New York Times 7/22/2013


The Pentagon has provided Congress with its first detailed list of military options to stem the bloody civil war in Syria, suggesting that a campaign to tilt the balance from President Bashar al-Assad to the opposition would be a vast undertaking, costing billions of dollars, and could backfire on the United States.

The list of options — laid out in a letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan — was the first time the military has explicitly described what it sees as the formidable challenge of intervening in the war.

It came as the White House, which has limited its military involvement to supplying the rebels with small arms and other weaponry, has begun implicitly acknowledging that Mr. Assad may not be forced out of power anytime soon.

The options, which range from training opposition troops to conducting airstrikes and enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria, are not new.  But General Dempsey provided details about the logistics and the costs of each.  He noted that long-range strikes on the Syrian government’s military targets would require “hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers,” and cost “in the billions.”

General Dempsey, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, provided the unclassified, three-page letter at the request of Mr. Levin, a Democrat, after testifying last week that he believed it was likely that Mr. Assad would be in power a year from now.

On that day, the White House began publicly hedging its bets about Mr. Assad.  After saying for nearly two years that Mr. Assad’s days were numbered, the press secretary, Jay Carney, said, “While there are shifts in momentum on the battlefield, Bashar al-Assad, in our view, will never rule all of Syria again.”

Those last four words represent a subtle but significant shift in the White House’s wording: an implicit acknowledgment that after recent gains by the government’s forces against an increasingly chaotic opposition, Mr. Assad now seems likely to cling to power for the foreseeable future, if only over a rump portion of a divided Syria.

That prospect has angered advocates of intervention, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who had a testy exchange with General Dempsey when the general testified before the Armed Services Committee about why the administration was not doing more to help the rebels.  The plan to supply the rebels with small arms and other weaponry is being run as a covert operation by the Central Intelligence Agency, and General Dempsey made no mention of it in his letter.

On Monday, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said that despite “very strong concerns about the strength of the administration’s plans in Syria and its chances for success,” the panel had reached a consensus to move ahead with the White House’s strategy, without specifically mentioning the covert arms program.  Senate Intelligence Committee officials said last week that they had reached a similar position.

BRAZIL - Shoppers' Prices Outrage

A reminder to my fellow Americans who whine about prices in the U.S.

"Prices Fuel Outrage in Brazil, Home of the $30 Cheese Pizza" by SIMON ROMERO, New York Times 7/22/2013


Shoppers here with a notion of what items cost abroad need to brace themselves when buying a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone: the same model that costs $615 in the United States is nearly double that in Brazil.  An even bigger shock awaits parents needing a crib: the cheapest one at Tok & Stok costs over $440, more than six times the price of a similarly made item at Ikea in the United States.

For Brazilians seething with resentment over wasteful spending by the country’s political elite, the high prices they must pay for just about everything — a large cheese pizza can cost almost $30 — only fuel their ire.

“People get angry because we know there are ways to get things cheaper; we see it elsewhere, so we know there must be something wrong here,” said Luana Medeiros, 28, who works in the Education Ministry.

Brazil’s street protests grew out of a popular campaign against bus fare increases.  Residents of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro spend a much larger share of their salaries to ride the bus than residents of New York or Paris.  Yet the price of transportation is just one example of the struggles that many Brazilians face in making ends meet, economists say.

Renting an apartment in coveted areas of Rio has become more expensive than in Oslo, the capital of oil-rich Norway.  Before the protests, soaring prices for basic foods like tomatoes prompted parodies of President Dilma Rousseff and her economic advisers.

Inflation stands at about 6.4 percent, with many in the middle class complaining that they are bearing the brunt of price increases.  Limiting the authorities’ maneuvering room, the popular indignation is festering at a time when huge stimulus projects are failing to lift the economy from a slowdown, raising the specter of stagflation in Latin America’s largest economy.

“Brazil is on the verge of recession now that the commodities boom is over,” said Luciano Sobral, an economist and a partner in a São Paulo asset management firm who maintains an irreverent economics blog under the name the Drunkeynesian.  “This is making it impossible to ignore the high prices which plague Brazilians, especially those who cannot easily afford to travel abroad for buying sprees where things are cheaper.”

BIG PHARMA - GlaxoSmithKline's China Drug R&D Center

"Drug Research in China Falls Under a Cloud" by KATIE THOMAS, New York Times 7/22/2013


Executives at the British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline were warned nearly two years ago about critical problems with the way the company conducted research at its drug development center in China, exposing it to potential financial risk and regulatory action, an internal audit found.

The confidential document from November 2011, obtained by The New York Times, suggests that Glaxo’s problems may go beyond the sales practices that are currently at the center of a bribery and corruption scandal in China.  They may extend to its Shanghai research and development center, which develops neurology drugs for Glaxo.

The failings, some experts said, underscore the problems that can arise when major drug companies export their scientific development to emerging markets like China.

Since 2006, 13 of the top 20 global drug makers have set up research and development centers in China, according to a report by McKinsey & Company.  “It’s cheaper to do research there,” said Eric G. Campbell, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.  However, “I have absolutely no doubt that with cheaper research comes greater risk.”

Auditors found that researchers did not report the results of animal studies in a drug that was already being tested in humans, a breach that one medical ethicist described as a “mortal sin” in the world of drug research.  They also concluded that workers at the research center did not properly monitor clinical trials and paid hospitals in ways that could be seen as bribery.

Last year, Glaxo said, a more favorable audit found the concerns had been addressed.  But several outside experts said the problems outlined in the initial audit were grave and painted a picture of an organization that failed to keep tabs on a crucial research center as it expanded both in size and scope.  And it indicates that the problems there were more extensive than were reported in June, when the company fired the head of research and development in China after discovering that an article he helped write in the journal Nature Medicine contained misrepresented data.

Monday, July 22, 2013

AMERICA - Down in the Delta

"Down in the Delta, Outsiders Who Arrived to Teach Now Find a Home" by BRET SCHULTE, New York Times 7/21/2013


If you are from around here, you know Doug Friedlander is not.

Born in New York City and reared on Long Island, Mr. Friedlander is Jewish and vegetarian and has a physics degree from Duke.

But here he is, at 37, living in a roomy white house in this hard-luck Delta town of 12,000.  Mr. Friedlander and his wife, Anna Skorupa, are part of a gradual flow of young, university-trained outsiders into the Delta’s shrinking communities, many of whom arrived through Teach for America and stayed beyond their two-year commitment.

Mr. Friedlander is now the ambitious director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce.  He frets over the kudzu that is devouring abandoned buildings.  He attends Rotary Club meetings, where he sidesteps the lunch offerings for carnivores.  He organizes workshops to modernize small businesses and pushes tourism and the development of a decimated downtown along the banks of the Mississippi.

The mechanization of agriculture, lost manufacturing and a legacy of poverty and racism have taken their toll on the Delta, but Mr. Friedlander is thrilled to be here.  He left his job at a software company in North Carolina’s Research Triangle nine years ago, taking a two-thirds pay cut, to “make a bigger difference.”

To that end, “this is the most fertile soil on earth,” Mr. Friedlander said.  “If I were in New York, I would be a leaf at the end of a branch at the end of a tree — in a forest.”

Mr. Friedlander arrived in 2004 to teach science at Central High School in Helena.  He was one of 71 corps members in the Delta; currently, about 300 of them fan across the region’s classrooms each year, mostly in Arkansas and Mississippi.

Here, in towns like Helena, a former agricultural hub and river port, they find some of the most devastating poverty in the country:  shacks on cinder blocks, schools with nearly all students on subsidized lunch programs.

Segregation is a fact of life.  Private “white-flight academies,” as some locals call them, are common, leaving public schools to serve an overwhelmingly poor, black student body.

“I just knew when they left my classroom, it was an uphill battle for so many of my kids,” said Greg Claus, who is from Ohio and taught art at a public junior high school from 2008 to 2011.  Now an assistant to the mayor of Greenville, Miss., he has seen the names of some former students on the police blotter.  Several more are already parents.

Teach for America is fiercely competitive, drawing top graduates accustomed to success.  “For most, this is the hardest challenge they’ve ever met,” said Luke Van De Walle, a 33-year-old corps alumnus from Indiana who has settled in Helena with his wife, Jamie, and their two young children.  “They put a lot of effort in, and they get chewed up by 25 third graders.”

Still, some former members say they have never felt so satisfied.

Michelle Johansen, 37, arrived from the University of Michigan in 1997.  Since then, she has become a volunteer manager at the farmers’ market in Cleveland, Miss.  She works part time at Habitat for Humanity and is an adjunct instructor at Delta State University.

“I don’t want to leave,” said Ms. Johansen, who is married and has two children.  “The work I’ve been able to do in the Delta is fulfilling.”

She does wish there were a Target in town.  And a movie theater.  There is no place to get brunch.  But, she said, “there’s something about the Delta that’s very special, and if people are open to it, they will be captivated by it.”

Matty Bengloff, 28, is one of those people.  He grew up in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Now he owns a three-bedroom home in Cleveland, as well as a hip new yogurt shop called Delta Dairy, with his fiancée, Suzette Matthews.

“The barriers here are low,” Mr. Bengloff said.  “You can be really entrepreneurial.  Everyone is eager to help.”

But the transition is not always easy.

Residents cured Mr. Bengloff of his Yankee ways.  Soon after arriving in the South with Teach for America, Mr. Bengloff was in a school speaking to a receptionist.  When he could not hear the man’s words, Mr. Bengloff asked, “What?”  The receptionist said:  “I can tell you’re not from around here.  When you don’t understand something, you say, 'Excuse me, sir?'  Or, 'Sir?'”

MICHIGAN - Detroit's Bankruptcy and Pensions

Although I sympathize with the people of Detroit, this is an example of believing that 'the good times will roll' forever and will not have a hefty price tag.  The 'free lunch' is a myth.

"Cries of Betrayal as Detroit Plans to Cut Pensions" by STEVEN YACCINO and MICHAEL COOPER, New York Times 7/21/2013


Gloria Killebrew, 73, worked for the City of Detroit for 22 years and now spends her days caring for her husband, J. D., who has had three heart attacks and multiple kidney operations, the last of which left him needing dialysis three times a week at the Henry Ford Medical Center in Dearborn, Mich.

Now there is a new worry:  Detroit wants to cut the pensions it pays retirees like Ms. Killebrew, who now receives about $1,900 a month.

“It’s been life on a roller coaster,” Ms. Killebrew said, explaining that even if she could find a new job at her age, there would be no one to take care of her husband.  “You don’t sleep well.  You think about whether you’re going to be able to make it.  Right now, you don’t really know.”

Detroit’s pension shortfall accounts for about $3.5 billion of the $18 billion in debts that led the city to file for bankruptcy last week.  How it handles this problem — of not enough money set aside to pay the pensions it has promised its workers — is being closely watched by other cities with fiscal troubles.

Kevyn D. Orr, the city’s emergency manager, has called for “significant cuts” to the pensions of current retirees.  His plan is being fought vigorously by unions that point out that pensions are protected by Michigan’s Constitution, which calls them a contractual obligation that “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, a Republican who appointed Mr. Orr, signed off on the bankruptcy strategy for the once-mighty city, which has seen its tax base and services erode sharply in recent years.  But the governor said he worried about Detroit’s 21,000 municipal retirees.

“You’ve got to have great empathy for them,” Mr. Snyder said in an interview.  “These are hard-working people that are in retirement now — they’re on fixed incomes, most of them — and you look at this and say, ‘This is a very difficult situation.’ ”

On Sunday, Mr. Snyder fended off the notion that the city needed a federal bailout.  “It’s not about just putting more money in a situation,” the governor said on “Face the Nation” on CBS.  “It’s about better services to citizens again.  It’s about accountable government.”

Many retirees see the plan to cut their pensions as a betrayal, saying that they kept their end of a deal but that the city is now reneging.  Retired city workers, police officers and 911 operators said in interviews that the promise of reliable retirement income had helped draw them to work for the City of Detroit in the first place, even if they sometimes had to accept smaller salaries or work nights or weekends.

“Does Detroit have a problem?” asked William Shine, 76, a retired police sergeant.  “Absolutely.  Did I create it?  I don’t think so.  They made me some promises, and I made them some promises.  I kept my promises.  They’re not going to keep theirs.”

Vera Proctor, 63, who retired in 2010 after 39 years as a 911 operator and supervisor, said she worried that at her age and with her poor health, it would be difficult to find a new job to make up for any reductions to her pension payments.

“Where’s the nearest street corner where I can sell bottles of water?”  Ms. Proctor asked wryly.  “That’s what it’s going to come down to. We’re not going to have anything.”

Officials overseeing Detroit’s finances have called for reducing — not eliminating — pension payments to retirees, but have not said how big those reductions might be.  They emphasized that they were trying to spread the pain of bankruptcy evenly.

When the small city of Central Falls, R.I., declared bankruptcy in 2011, a state law gave bondholders preferential treatment — effectively protecting investors even as the city’s retirees saw their pension benefits slashed by up to 55 percent in some cases.

Detroit, by contrast, wants to spread the losses to investors as well as pensioners, and hopes to find cheaper ways to cover retirees through the subsidized health exchanges being created by President Obama’s health care law.

AMERICA - Coming Food Crisis

"Our Coming Food Crisis" by GARY PAUL NABHAN, New York Times 7/21/2013


THIS summer the tiny town of Furnace Creek, Calif., may once again grace the nation’s front pages. Situated in Death Valley, it last made news in 1913, when it set the record for the world’s hottest recorded temperature, at 134 degrees.  With the heat wave currently blanketing the Western states, and given that the mercury there has already reached 130 degrees, the news media is awash in speculation that Furnace Creek could soon break its own mark.

Such speculation, though, misses the real concern posed by the heat wave, which covers an area larger than New England.  The problem isn’t spiking temperatures, but a new reality in which long stretches of triple-digit days are common — threatening not only the lives of the millions of people who live there, but also a cornerstone of the American food supply.

People living outside the region seldom recognize its immense contribution to American agriculture:  roughly 40 percent of the net farm income for the country normally comes from the 17 Western states; cattle and sheep production make up a significant part of that, as do salad greens, dry beans, onions, melons, hops, barley, wheat and citrus fruits.  The current heat wave will undeniably diminish both the quality and quantity of these foods.

The most vulnerable crops are those that were already in flower and fruit when temperatures surged, from apricots and barley to wheat and zucchini.  Idaho farmers have documented how their potato yields have been knocked back because their heat-stressed plants are not developing their normal number of tubers.  Across much of the region, temperatures on the surface of food and forage crops hit 105 degrees, at least 10 degrees higher than the threshold for most temperate-zone crops.

What’s more, when food and forage crops, as well as livestock, have had to endure temperatures 10 to 20 degrees higher than the long-term averages, they require far more water than usual.  The Western drought, which has persisted for the last few years, has already diminished both surface water and groundwater supplies and increased energy costs, because of all the water that has to be pumped in from elsewhere.

If these costs are passed on to consumers, we can again expect food prices, especially for beef and lamb, to rise, just as they did in 2012, the hottest year in American history.  So extensive was last year’s drought that more than 1,500 counties — about half of all the counties in the country — were declared national drought disaster areas, and 90 percent of those were hit by heat waves as well.

The answer so far has been to help affected farmers with payouts from crop insurance plans.  But while we can all sympathize with affected farmers, such assistance is merely a temporary response to a long-term problem.

Fortunately, there are dozens of time-tested strategies that our best farmers and ranchers have begun to use.  The problem is that several agribusiness advocacy organizations have done their best to block any federal effort to promote them, including leaving them out of the current farm bill, or of climate change legislation at all.