Friday, August 30, 2013

SPACE - Giant Black Hole Akin to a Toddler Whose Food Ends Up Mostly on the Floor

"Giant black hole in Milky Way spits out its food" by Clara Moskowitz (, Mother Nature Network 8/30/2013

The mass that Sagittarius A* spits back out explain why there is such a dim-looking black hole in the center of our galaxy.

The colossal black hole at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy is a messy eater.  Of all the gas that falls toward the black hole, 99 percent gets spewed back out into space, new observations show, making the black hole akin to a toddler whose food ends up mostly on the floor, rather than his mouth.

The Milky Way's supermassive black hole, called Sagittarius A* (pronounced "Sagittarius A-star"), contains the mass of 4 million suns.  Yet it's not getting much larger, according to the new findings, which help explain why the object is surprisingly dim.

Although black holes themselves can't be seen, their immediate vicinities usually emit strong radiation from the material falling into them.  Not so for Sgr A*, though, which has prompted a rash of competing theories trying to explain its surprising lack of light.  [Strangest Black Holes In the Universe]

"There's been a debate for the last 20 years or so about what actually is happening to the matter around the black hole," said research leader Q. Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  "Whether the black hole is accreting the matter, or actually whether the matter can be ejected.  This is the first direct evidence for outlflow in the accretion process."

The new findings show definitively that most of the matter in the gas cloud surrounding the black hole is ejected out into space, which explains why it doesn't release light on its way in to be eaten.

3 million seconds

The discovery comes via new observations taken by NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory that required the equivalent of about five weeks of observing time (Wang gave the amount of time as 3 megaseconds, or 3 million seconds), spread out over months, to achieve unparalleled resolution of the area around Sagittarius A*.

The X-ray views focused on the cloud of hot gas surrounding the black hole, and found that there was much less higher-temperature gas than lower-temperature gas there.  Because mass heats up as it falls toward a black hole, the researchers were able to infer that gas was being lost during this process.  "There must be ejection of matter when the gas is moving in," Wang explained.

"Exactly how it happens is not totally clear," Wang told  "There are all kinds of simulations and theories which predict that it should occur.  But this is the first observational evidence that can say this does occur."

Scientists still have a ways to go to see the area in enough detail to decipher the mechanism for the gas ejection, he said.  They also don't yet know where all this gas goes, he added.

Ruled out theories

The new observations definitively rule out some theories that had attempted to explain the perplexing dimness of Sgr A*, such as one idea that most of the light there was being emitted by a potential group of rapidly rotating low-mass stars.

Wang and his colleagues' findings are detailed in the Aug. 30 issue of the journal Science.

"This result is important not only for Sgr A*, but also all other low-luminosity black holes, since we now have a better understanding of their radiative efficiency, i.e., how to relate the light that we see to the amount of gas actually getting accreted onto the black hole," astrophysicist Jeremy Schnittman of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., wrote in an email.  Schnittman was not involved in the research, but wrote a commentary article on the findings published in the same issue of Science.

The new data also offer some evidence for where the gas cloud comes from.  The Chandra observations show its shape in better detail than ever before, and suggest that it closely mirrors the distribution of a group of massive stars previously seen there, which have formed a disc.  Massive stars are known to emit strong winds of material that fly out at superfast speeds.  Wind from these stars is likely colliding, producing the hot plasma of gas found around the black hole, Wang said.

Many of the researchers ideas about Sagittarius A* can be further tested in the coming months when a rare event occurs.  A small cloud of gas is on a collision course with the black hole, and is due to be gobbled up before scientists' eyes.  Because this cloud is made of cold and not hot gas, it's expected to be almost fully consumed by Sagittarius A*.

"It will be really interesting to see what happens when the G2 cloud approaches later this year," Schnittman told in an email.  "Will the efficiency change when the accretion rate goes up?  Is there an abrupt transition to a new type of accretion?  Will we see anything different at all?"

Stay tuned!

INDIA - Rupee Crisis

"Prime Minister:  Rupee Crisis Will Only Make India Stronger" by Nilanjana Bhowmick, Time World 8/30/2013

India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh, in a rare bullish speech to his country’s parliament on Friday, offered an explanation for the rapid fall of the rupee over the past week but said he was optimistic that the current instability would strengthen India’s economy in the future.

Singh blamed global unrest and a huge current account deficit for the fall of the Indian rupee, which has depreciated sharply against the dollar since the last week of May and fallen by around 20 percent since the beginning of the year.  The 80-year-old economist restated his government’s commitment to reforms.

“We are no doubt faced with important challenges, but we have the capacity to address them,” Singh said.  “It is at times like these that the nation shows what it is truly capable of.”

Singh placed the fall of the rupee on global unrest and the fear that U.S. Federal Reserve is on the verge of ending its easy money policy.  This turbulence has not only pulled down the value of the rupee but also other global currencies like the Brazilian Real and the Turkish Lira.

“Clearly we need to reduce our appetite for gold, economize in the use of petroleum products and take steps to increase our exports,” said Singh.  The former economist who is credited with helping India emerge from a major deficit in 1991.

Singh ruled out capital controls to stabilize the rupee despite widespread fear among analysts.  Over the last two decades India has grown as an open economy, and Singh said, “there is no question of reversing these policies just because there is some turbulence in capital and currency markets.”

Singh called out for a reduction in India’s hunger for gold and oil imports.  He said that while exports have failed to grow, inflation too, has been much higher making a correction in the exchange rate inevitable.

“To some extent, depreciation can be good for the economy,” Singh said, adding that many sectors have regained competitiveness in export markets as a result of the fall in the exchange rate.

The government is committed to keep the current account deficit to 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product, Singh said.  He predicted that India will grow substantially in the second half of the fiscal year owing to the effects of a good monsoon, revival of stalled projects, liberalization of foreign direct investment and fuel subsidy reform.  Still Singh warned of a temporary spike in inflation in coming months.

Ending his speech on a note of optimism, Singh said that India’s overall public-debt to GDP ratio has been in decline.

“All in all, the macro-stabilization process which should support the value of the rupee is under way,” Singh said.  “Even while we go about doing what is necessary, it is important to recognize that the fundamentals of the Indian economy continue to be strong.”

NORTH DAKOTA - Local Town's White Supremacists Crazy

"Tiny N.D. town fights against white supremacist" by Blake Nicholson, USA Today 8/30/2013

LEITH, N.D. (AP) — In a tree-fringed grassy lot with a lone picnic bench in the tiny North Dakota farming town of Leith, Craig Cobb sees the perfect venue for a white power music festival.

Across a gravel intersection between two abandoned buildings, he envisions a park — perhaps with a swimming pool — dedicated to a neo-Nazi and white supremacist activist.  He pictures the town decorated with fluttering flags and banners bearing the swastika — the symbol of Nazism.

"They would have to be approved by the town council, of course," Cobb said, gazing out over Leith's sparse downtown from his overgrown, weed-infested front yard.

Cobb, 61, a self-described white supremacist, has purchased about a dozen lots in the community about 60 miles southwest of Bismarck.  Over the past year he has invited fellow white supremacists to move there and help him to transform the town of 16 people into a white enclave.  No one has come.

Still, the community is mobilizing to fight out of fear that Cobb could succeed, and the mayor has vowed to do whatever it takes to ensure Cobb's dream remains just that.

Last week, while news of Cobb's plan was being splashed across the front pages of The Bismarck Tribune and The Forum, about two dozen people — mostly residents of Leith and concerned friends from neighboring towns — showed up for an impromptu meeting in nearby Carson.

"We all share kind of the same concerns that people living in the community of Leith have — just the unknown," said Kathy Hoff, who lives just south of the town and attended the meeting.

Cobb spends his days in his ramshackle two-story home with no running water, posting online comments advocating for white supremacists to join his settlement.

"I only need 17 people," he said with a chuckle.  "You have to have a majority to win an election.  If we get 22 we've got a landslide."

Cobb's neighbors across a back alley are Sherrill Harper, who is white, and her husband Bobby, who is black.  Bobby Harper, a 52-year-old welder, said he has spoken to Cobb only once, and that Cobb's plans don't bother him much.

"The most extreme thing you can do is hate another man because of the color of his skin, (but) I don't think we should get too excited," he said.  "I believe right will prevail."

Officials are considering enforcing health codes and ordinances relating to the upkeep of Cobb's run-down property.  A proposal to disband Leith's government and turn over control to the county is even on the table.

"He would still own his property," said Mayor Ryan Schock, a 38-year-old farmer and lifelong Leith resident.  "But … he can't control the city if there's no city government."

No decisions have been made, but the six-member town council that usually convenes once a month might call a special meeting to discuss the matter soon, Schock said.

Ryan Lenz, a writer with the Alabama-based civil rights nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, said his organization has long tracked Cobb, who is wanted in Canada for willfully promoting hatred in Vancouver in 2010 via a blog.

"It's a pipe dream for white nationalists to have an entire area in which their neighbors are Aryan," Lenz said.

That's hard to achieve, Lenz said, but Cobb has made strides because he has gobbled up land — even transferring some to Tom Metzger, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and founder of the White Aryan Resistance.

That doesn't mean he's any closer to enacting his plan.  Metzger said he likes Cobb but that declared plans for white enclaves never work and that he will not be joining Cobb in Leith.

"I think it's better just to have people move in quietly, have a job, operate a regular daily life and get along with their neighbors," he said.  "I wouldn't go into a town pushing my weight around."

Cobb, a native of Missouri, fled prosecution in Canada and chased the promise of high-paying jobs in the booming western North Dakota oil fields.  He said he was fired from a job because of a dispute with a co-worker and that he lost a job with a Fargo-based paving company after media coverage of his settlement plans.

Canadian authorities have not approached the U.S. to extradite Cobb.  Cpl. Normandie Levas of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the white supremacist can't be extradited because the charge against him in Canada doesn't exist under U.S. law.

Deputy North Dakota Attorney General Tom Trenbeath said authorities are aware of Cobb, and the Grant County Sheriff's Office has increased patrols in the area.  But Cobb hasn't broken any laws there, and Schock acknowledges that he has a right to live in Leith, no matter his views.

Cobb's comments and writings indicate he believes in a superior white race, distrusts both Jews and Christians, and questions the intelligence of women.  He declines to talk about his upbringing and gives no indication as to why he adopted his supremacist platform.

In an interview outside his house, he was calm, cheerful and even jovial, making comments that raised questions about whether he believes his plan could succeed — or if he's just seeking publicity.

"If I'm the only one in Leith forever, white consciousness has already been raised," he said.

MANKIND - The Universe Says We Shouldn't be Here At All

"Four Reasons You Shouldn’t Exist" by Dave Goldberg, Slate 8/29/2013


Physics says you’re an impurity in an otherwise beautiful universe.

You’re almost unfathomably lucky to exist, in almost every conceivable way.  Don’t take it the wrong way. You, me, and even the most calming manatee are nothing but impurities in an otherwise beautifully simple universe.

We're lucky life began on Earth at all, of course, and that something as complex as humans evolved.  It was improbable that your parents met each other and conceived you at just the right instant, and their parents and their parents and so on back to time immemorial.  This is science’s way of reminding you to be grateful for what you have.

But even so, I have news for you:  It's worse than you think. Much worse.

Your existence wasn’t just predicated on amorousness and luck of your ancestors, but on an almost absurdly finely tuned universe.  Had the universe opted to turn up the strength of the electromagnetic force by even a small factor, poof!  Suddenly stars wouldn’t be able to produce any heavy elements, much less the giant wet rock we’re standing on.  Worse, if the universe were only minutely denser than the one we inhabit, it would have collapsed before it began.

Worse still, the laws of physics themselves seem to be working against us.  Ours isn’t just a randomly hostile universe, it's an actively hostile universe.

My physicist colleagues and I like to pretend that the laws of physics are orderly and elegant.  Indeed, I just published an entire book, The Universe in the Rearview Mirror, about the beautiful symmetries of the universe.  Programs like Nova or Slate’s own Bad Astronomy tend to focus on the knowable structure of how everything fits together.

The history of physics, in fact, is a marvel of using simple symmetry principles to construct complicated laws of the universe.  Einstein quite famously was able to construct his entire theory of special relativity—the idea that ultimately gave us E=mc2 and explained the heat of the sun—from nothing more than the simple idea that there was no measurable distinction to be made between observers at rest and observers in uniform motion.

The long-overlooked 20th-century mathematician Emmy Noether proved the centrality of symmetry as a physical principle.  And what is symmetry—at least as scientists understand it?  The mathematician Hermann Weyl gave perhaps the most succinct definition:

“A thing is symmetrical if there is something you can do to it so that after you have finished doing it, it looks the same as before.”

Which sounds innocuous enough until you realize that if the entire universe were made symmetric, then all of the good features (e.g., you) are decidedly asymmetric lumps that ruin the otherwise perfect beauty of the cosmos.

The seemingly simple idea that the laws of the universe are the same everywhere in space and time turns out to yield justification for long-observed properties of the universe, like Newton’s first law of motion (“An object in motion stays in motion,” etc.) and first law of thermodynamics (the conservation of energy).

As the Nobel laureate Phil Anderson put it:

“It is only slightly overstating the case to say that physics is the study of symmetry.”

Everything is kinda the same?  Every Friday night is like every other one?  Sounds almost comforting.  But it would be a mistake to be comforted by the symmetries of the universe.  In truth, they are your worst enemies.  Everything we know about those rational, predictable arrangements dictates that you shouldn't be here at all.

How hostile is the universe to your fundamental existence?

Very.  Even the simplest assumptions about our place in the universe seem to lead inexorably to devastating results.

OCEANS - Greenland's Ocean 'Grand Canyon'

"Revealed:  HUNGRY frosty Arctic cleft that could eat 2 Grand Canyons" by Brid-Aine Parnel, The Register 8/30/2013

A huge mega-canyon, nearly double the length of America's Grand Canyon, has been discovered beneath a mile of ice in Greenland.

The canyon looks like a winding river channel and is at least 750km (466 miles) long, making it longer than the famous tourist spot (which is a comparatively paltry 446km, or 277 miles) and is as deep in places at 800m (2,600ft).

"One might assume that the landscape of the Earth has been fully explored and mapped," said Jonathan Bamber, professor of physical geography at the University of Bristol and lead author of the study.  "Our research shows there's still a lot left to discover."

Boffins used thousands of kilometers of airborne radar data collected by NASA and researchers from the UK and Germany over several decades to map the landscape lying under Greenland's ice sheet.  A large portion of the data came from the space agency's Operation Icebridge, a six-year mission that is the largest airborne survey of the Earth's polar ice ever flown.

Simple radio waves can map the bedrock by traveling at frequencies known to travel through ice.  The amount of time it takes the waves to traverse the ice and then bounce back off the rock below tells the scientists how deep the canyon is.

"Two things helped lead to this discovery.  It was the enormous amount of data collected by IceBridge and the work of combining it with other datasets into a Greenland-wide compilation of all existing data that makes this feature appear in front of our eyes," said Michael Studinger, Operation IceBridge project scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

The newly discovered ravine could play an important part in transporting subglacial meltwater from the valley-bed to the edge of the ice sheet and ultimately back to the ocean.  Professor David Vaughan of the EU program ice2sea, which helped fund the research, said the find could help boffins understand the region better.

"This area’s ice sheet contributes to sea level rise and this work can help us put current changes in context," he said.

The full study, "Paleofluvial Mega-Canyon Beneath the Central Greenland Ice Sheet", was published in the journal Science.

SAN DIEGO - My City's Tragedy Play

Typical rationalization, everyone else's fault BUT his own.

"Filner's Exit Isn't The End Of San Diego's Mayoral Mayhem" by Sandhya Dirks, NPR 8/30/2013

On Friday, the embattled mayor of San Diego officially steps down.  Allegations of sexual harassment against Bob Filner have rocked the eighth-largest American city, which now has to pick up the pieces and elect a new mayor.

The announcement last week that Filner would leave office was greeted with cheers, boos and a flurry of activity from the press — but it all went quiet when the soon-to-be ex-mayor emerged from a swell of bodyguards to speak at the podium.

"I take responsibility for putting the city through a very bad time," Filner said.  "Again, I apologize to all of you.  Certainly it was never my intention to be a mayor who went out like this."

Then the cracked voice and tone of apology gave way to indignation — and blame:  "I started my political career facing lynch mobs," Filner said, "and I think we have just faced one here in San Diego."

That tone of persecution isn't completely misplaced, says University of California political scientist Steve Erie.  As the first Democratic mayor in San Diego in 20 years, Filner went into office with a target on his back, Erie says.

"He was always a fighter for the little person.  And his campaign was one of putting not only neighborhoods, but putting people of color, community activists, environmental and neighborhood activists first.  They have not had a voice," Erie says.  "This is a town that has been run by the downtown corporate welfare crowd for years."

Erie says the terrible irony is the guy who was supposed to stand up for the little person was going around making women feel small. Women like Laura Fink, the second to publicly accuse Filner.

Fink, who is also a Democrat, says a true progressive vision involves ending a culture of sexual harassment across the board.

"With more people coming forward, with more people reporting it, the less impact it will have and the stronger each workplace will be," Fink says.  "And the more accountable these men in power will be."

So far, no woman has entered the race to replace Filner.  A special election has been set for Nov. 19.  It is unclear what party might have the upper hand.

Until then, City Council President Todd Gloria will serve as interim mayor.  Gloria was one of the many members of Filner's own party who called for the mayor to step down.

"My hope is that we can show that Democrats can run this city and run it effectively and competently," he says.  "I don't know that we've really seen that for the last number of months, but I know that we can see that in the next few months."

Gloria won't say yet if he is running to replace Filner permanently.  But as he packs to make the move eight floors up to the mayor's office, he says the city needs to heal.

"When the average San Diegan can go about their day not wondering what horrible new story is going to come out of this building, I think that heals the city," Gloria says.

Another possible contender in the special election is longtime Republican council member Kevin Faulconer.  Despite being on different sides of the political aisle, he and Gloria have been pretty inseparable as of late.

"Now we have an opportunity as a city to come together, to heal," he says, "particularly in the next several months."

But those next several months will also serve as the staging grounds for what could be a very contentious election.

NATIONAL SECURITY - The 'Black Budget'

"U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary" by Barton Gellman and Greg Miller, Washington Post 8/29/2013


U.S. spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats, according to the government’s top-secret budget.

The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former ­intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny.  Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses the money or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.

The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.

The summary describes cutting-edge technologies, agent recruiting and ongoing operations.  The Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods.  Sensitive details are so pervasive in the documents that The Post is publishing only summary tables and charts online.

“The United States has made a considerable investment in the Intelligence Community since the terror attacks of 9/11, a time which includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology, and asymmetric threats in such areas as cyber-warfare,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. wrote in response to inquiries from The Post.

“Our budgets are classified as they could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities and sources and methods that allow us to obtain information to counter threats,” he said.

Among the notable revelations in the budget summary:
  • Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013.  The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations and has long been considered the behemoth of the community.
  • The CIA and the NSA have begun aggressive new efforts to hack into foreign computer networks to steal information or sabotage enemy systems, embracing what the budget refers to as “offensive cyber operations.”
  • Long before Snowden’s leaks, the U.S. intelligence community worried about “anomalous behavior” by employees and contractors with access to classified material.  The NSA planned to ward off a “potential insider compromise of sensitive information” by re-investigating at least 4,000 people this year who hold high-level security clearances.
  • U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in friends as well as foes.  Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.”  The latter is a U.S. ally but has a history of espionage attempts against the United States.

EDUCATION - Great Principals For Urban Schools

"How to Train and Retain Great Principals in Struggling Urban Schools" PBS Newshour 8/29/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The new school year is under way in many districts around the country, an even more important time than usual, as many states get used to new testing standards and changing course work.

Teachers remain front and center in the ongoing debate over accountability and student performance.  But there is new attention to the role of principals as well.

We begin a two-part look with a report from Eddie Arruza of WTTW Chicago.

ERNESTO MATIAS, Wells Community Academy:  Hey, why are you messing around?  Why are you messing around?

EDDIE ARRUZA:  Principal Ernesto Matias runs a tight and disciplined school on Chicago's north side.  Like most urban high schools, Wells has occasional problems, but nothing like what was happening when Matias first arrived five years ago.

ERNESTO MATIAS:  There was a lot of conflicts, a lot of violence.  There was a student walkout the year before.  There were four teachers in remediation who were taken out of this building, not to return.  And so that's what I stepped into, a lot of distrust, disunity, and a lot of beating up of staff members here.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  Ray Suarez has the second part of our report.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  Some perspective now on the national picture when it comes to finding and retaining good principals and how that's changing.

Will Miller is the president of the Wallace Foundation, a national philanthropy that focuses on education for disadvantaged children.  The foundation funds research, including on ways of improving principal quality.

For the record, the Wallace Foundation is also a NewsHour underwriter.

IRS - Same-Sex Couples Entitled to File Joint Federal Returns

"IRS Says Same-Sex Couples Entitled to Same Tax Benefits as Straight Couples" PBS Newshour 8/29/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  And we look at new rules on same-sex marriage and the equality of tax benefits.  The issue has long been an important and practical concern in the financial lives of many couples.

Today, the Treasury Department and the IRS announced that legally married same-sex couples can file joint returns and will receive the same tax benefits as straight couples, no matter where they live in the U.S.  The change comes as the federal government continues to implement this summer's Supreme Court ruling that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Brian Moulton is the legal director for Human Rights Campaign.  The group works on behalf of civil rights matters of importance to the LGBT community.

POLITICS - Obstinance on U.S. Deficit

"Deficit Talks Resuming, but Few Sound Hopeful" by JACKIE CALMES, New York Times 8/28/2013


As tensions mount and expectations slip lower for any bipartisan consensus on a long-term deficit-reduction plan, a group of Republican senators will resume talks on Thursday with senior presidential advisers at the White House after a lapse that has lasted weeks.

The two sides had said they would meet during the August recess, but the gathering will be the first in that time and is intended to take stock before Congress reconvenes in September.  Neither side expressed optimism in interviews, with talks snagged on the same issues that killed past bipartisan efforts:  Republicans’ demands for deeper Medicare cuts and President Obama’s insistence that they, in return, agree to higher taxes on the wealthy and some corporations.

The apparent lack of progress after months of intermittent meetings suggests that the effort could soon be sidelined, if not ended, as the president and Congress turn to the more pressing work of negotiating measures to finance the government and increase the nation’s borrowing limit before October deadlines.  Without the spending measures, the government would shut down on Oct. 1; without a higher debt limit, the nation would be unable to pay bills after mid-October and would risk another financial crisis.

The goal when the bipartisan meetings began last winter, with Mr. Obama inviting Republicans to dinner after his second inauguration, was to agree on a multiyear fiscal deal before the fall that could ease efforts to pass annual spending bills and increase the debt limit.  Now it is probably too late.

POLITICS - Congressional Problem Solvers

"Congressional problem solvers" by Jeff Kirkland Helena, Helena Independent Record 8/28/2013

Poll after poll shows that Americans are mightily dissatisfied with Congress and hold the institution in low regard.  Gridlock seems to be the modus operandi, and partisan bickering by many members of Congress seems to put a premium on posturing rather than the cooperation and collaboration necessary to serve the country, the reason for which they were elected.

Now a coalition of more than 80 Congressmen and women, both Democrats and Republicans, are joining together to try to regain communication across the aisle to be able to collectively solve our nation’s myriad problems.  They call themselves “Problem Solvers” and are an outgrowth of a movement called “No Labels.”

These “Problem Solvers” have proposed a legislative package of nine initiatives called “Making Government Work.”  They have worked together to create a package of common–sense bills to address government waste and inefficiencies.

Each of the initiatives is co–sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican.  Some initiatives include:  No Budget, No Pay for Legislators; 21st-century Health Care for Heroes, which would merge electronic health records of the Department of Defense with the Department of Veterans Affairs; and Stay in Place, Cut Waste, which would cut 50 percent of agency travel and replace it with video conferencing.

If you’re interested in good government and the possible regaining of across–the–aisle cooperation, you should take a look at the “No Labels” website.  Check out the list of members and their legislative package.  It is a refreshing approach to finding positive ways to solve Congressional gridlock.  It would be nice if Montana’s Congressional delegation took a look, too, and decided to become “Problem Solvers.”

SYRIA - International Debate, Evidence, Opinion

"Possibility of Strike Over Syria Chemical Weapons Sparks International Debate" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 8/29/2013


SUMMARY:  As United Nations inspectors wrap up their investigation into alleged chemical arms use by the Assad regime in Syria, U.S. legislators are demanding Congressional approval of any American military action.  Jeffrey Brown reports on the state of international debate among European allies Britain, France and Germany.

"World Waits for 'Slam Dunk' Evidence That Assad Regime Used Chemical Weapons" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 8/29/2013


SUMMARY:  The world is waiting for United Nations inspectors to announce their findings over the alleged use of chemical warfare in Syria.  What are inspectors looking for?  And how would they be able to tell if the weapons came from the Assad regime?  Jeffrey Brown gets analysis from former UN and U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer.

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 8/28/2013
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, August 29, 2013

SYRIA - Al Jazeera America Reports

"Obama ponders 'shot across the bow' for Syria" Al Jazeera America 8/28/2013


President Barack Obama is certain that a chemical-weapons attack by the regime of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad caused the deaths of hundreds of civilians on the outskirts of Damascus last week, and warned that "international consequences" were required for such an act.  But he also gave strong signals that any military action he might take as a result would be limited in scope, its purpose being to warn the Syrian regime "that it better not do it again."

In an interview with "PBS NewsHour" that aired Wednesday evening, Obama emphasized that he has not yet made a decision on military action in Syria, but made it absolutely clear who he believes is responsible.

"We have looked at all the evidence and we do not believe the opposition possessed nuclear weapons on – or chemical weapons of that sort," Obama said.  "We do not believe, given the delivery systems using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks.  We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out, and if so, then there need to be international consequences."

Obama's interview coincided with efforts by Britain to win U.N. Security Council authorization for military intervention to protect Syrian civilians -- an effort that appeared unlikely to avoid the Russian and Chinese vetoes that stopped three previous, less muscular resolutions.

Even as it grapples with how to respond forcefully but not too forcefully to last week's events in Syria, the Administration remains unsure of whether a chemical-weapons attack was ordered from the top of the Assad regime, Foreign Policy magazine has reported.  Still, it is holding President Assad responsible for what it believes are the actions of his armed forces.  U.N. inspectors continue to probe the incident, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday they'd need at least another four days to finish gathering evidence, and more time to analyze it.

Even if the administration has no doubt that Assad's forces launched a chemical-weapons attack against civilians last week, it remains leery of being drawn into action to shape the outcome of Syria's civil war, but added that when "countries break international norms on weapons, like chemical weapons, that can threaten us, that they are held accountable."

Obama, at the same time, appears inclined to limit the impact of any military action, as suggested by his description of it as a "shot across the bow" -- an 18th century nautical term for a warning shot that does no harm but underscores a demand for compliance.

"Former UN weapons inspector: West has 'no authority' in Syria" Al Jazeera America 8/28/2013


Amb. Richard Butler, an Australian national and expert in nuclear disarmament, was the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq during the 1990s.  He also served as deputy representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), chairman of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, and executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission to Disarm Iraq (UNSCOM).

Butler spoke with Al Jazeera about the suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week that left hundreds dead.  Both the Syrian opposition and President Bashar al-Assad have denied responsibility for the attack, which crossed what President Barack Obama has called a "red line" that would necessitate a direct response from the U.S.  The U.N. on Monday sent its weapons inspectors to examine the site of the alleged attack in Damascus, about which Butler is uniquely qualified to comment.

These interview highlights were edited for length.

Butler on whether U.N. weapons inspectors will be able to produce a comprehensive report on the suspected chemical weapons attack in Damascus:

"It will be difficult, because they were kept away from the site for five days. … And the chemicals involved degrade fairly rapidly … although they leave traces of having been there … but those five days make it difficult.

"Secondly, they would best have tissue samples … and the reports are Syrian authorities would not let them exhume bodies. …  They were only allowed to take away limited quantities of blood and urine, so I’m a little bit pessimistic about the possibility the U.N. team will be able to bring back as detailed and as exclusive a report as we would have hoped.

"I know the leader of the team very well, and we worked together in the past.  The inspectors who were there in Iraq with me were men and women of extraordinary ability and integrity … but no matter how good they are, they need proper access in a timely fashion, and I think they have been denied of that, so I am not terribly optimistic that the report will be as comprehensive as we would like it to be."

SYRIA - Christian Science Monitor Reports

"How a US strike on Syria might play out" by Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor 8/28/2013


An airstrike by the US and its allies against the Syrian regime appears imminent, and many observers are pondering whether the region is on the brink of a new regional war.

Britain is drafting a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing all “necessary measures” to protect Syrian civilians.  Damascus and its allies in Russia and Iran have warned that a US attack could have “catastrophic repercussions” on the region.  Russia has evacuated dozens of its citizens from Syria.  Israeli citizens have been stocking up on new gas masks in case the Assad regime chooses to retaliate against the Jewish state.  In Lebanon, eyes are on the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, waiting to see if the Iran-backed group and Syrian ally will employ its powerful arsenal, potentially dragging the country into a destructive war with Israel.

“The intervention of America will be a disaster for the region,” Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the supreme leader of Iran, told the Iranian Fars news agency Wednesday.  “The region is like a gunpowder store and the future cannot be predicted.”

But while the US seeks to punish President Bashar al-Assad's regime for its alleged chemical weapons attack against Damascus suburbs last week that left hundreds dead, it does not want to trigger a retaliation by Damascus that could spark an escalation leading to a Middle Eastern war, analysts say.  The goal is to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.

"US, British lawmakers try to slow the march toward Syria strike" by Whitney Eulich, Christian Science Monitor 8/28/2013


This week’s drumbeat toward Western action in response to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons is slowing its tempo as politicians in Britain and the US demand a say in how the countries respond.

After days of headlines like, “US and Allies Prepare for Action in Syria,” “Military strikes on Syria 'as early as Thursday,' US officials say,” and “US military "ready" to attack Syria, Hagel says,” the international community may be hedging its bets.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who earlier this week seemed on track to call for military action, guaranteed legislators two rounds of voting on the topic.  The first vote will be on the “principle” of military intervention, and the second will come after the United Nations inspectors release their chemical weapons report, according to the BBC.

The Associated Press reports that Britain’s “Labor leader Ed Miliband said Thursday he is unwilling to give Prime Minister David Cameron a 'blank check' for conducting possible future military operations against Syria.”

"Has Russia done all it will for Syria?" by Fred Weir, Christian Science Monitor 8/28/2013


As the clock ticks down to what many in Moscow believe is imminent US-led military action against the Kremlin's client, Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, few here appear to believe that Russia can do much more to help Mr. Assad.

And that is not inconsiderable.  Moscow has pulled out all the diplomatic stops in recent days, warning that any military action against Syria would be "illegal" in the absence of an enabling United Nations Security Council resolution, and then going so far as to block just such a draft resolution on Wednesday.

It has also kept up a steady drumbeat of polemic, accusing the West of "rushing to judgement" over allegations that Assad's forces used chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb last week, and insisting that UN weapons inspectors be given time to complete their investigations.

SYRIA - Chicago Sun-Times Report

"Syria shows defiance; UN team tours near Damascus" by ALBERT AJI and KARIN LAUB (AP), Chicago Sun-Times 8/29/2013

Syrian President Bashar Assad said Thursday that his country “will defend itself against any aggression,” signaling defiance to mounting Western warnings of a possible punitive strike over a suspected poison gas attack blamed on his regime.

U.N. chemical weapons inspectors toured stricken rebel-held areas near the Syrian capital of Damascus for a third day Thursday, ahead of a weekend departure that could clear the path for military action against Syria.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Western powers to hold off on any decisions until his experts can present their findings to U.N. member states and the Security Council.

The suspected chemical weapons attacks took place Aug. 21 in suburbs east and west of Damascus. The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders has said the strikes killed 355 people.

President Barack Obama said he has not decided how the U.S. will respond.  However, he signaled Wednesday that the U.S. is moving toward a punitive strike, saying he has “concluded” that Assad’s regime is behind the attacks and that there “need to be international consequences.”

The Syrian regime has denied a role in the attacks, suggesting instead that anti-government rebels carried them out to frame Assad.

The Syrian president struck a tough tone Thursday.  His comments, from a meeting with a delegation from Yemen, were reported by the state news agency SANA.

“Threats to launch a direct aggression against Syria will make it more adherent to its well-established principles and sovereign decisions stemming from the will of its people, and Syria will defend itself against any aggression,” Assad said.

It’s not clear if Assad would retaliate for any Western strikes or try to ride them out in hopes of minimizing the risk to his own power.

Already, the conflict has sparked growing anxiety among civilians in neighboring countries.

Israelis stood in long lines Thursday for government-issue gas masks.  Turkey’s government crisis management center said officials had designated bunkers at seven areas along the border.  And Lebanon’s foreign minister, Adnan Mansour, warned that international military action against Syria would pose a “serious threat” to the security and stability of the region, particularly in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, both Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron were trying to shore up domestic political support Thursday for possible military action.

The Obama administration was planning a teleconference briefing Thursday on Syria for leaders of the House and Senate and national security committees, U.S. officials and congressional aides said.

Cameron convened Parliament for an emergency meeting to vote on possible international action against Syria.

Ahead of the session, the British government released documents meant to bolster the case that chemical weapons were used by Syria, including an intelligence assessment that said regime involvement was “highly likely.”  The government also said legal conditions have been met for taking action against Syria.

Earlier, Cameron had promised lawmakers he would not go to war until the U.N. weapons team has had a chance to report its findings.

The speaker of the Syrian parliament, Jihad Allaham, sent a letter to his British counterpart, urging British lawmakers not to endorse military action.

In Vienna, Ban said he spoke to Obama a day earlier about ways to expedite the U.N. investigation.  Ban said the U.N. team is set to leave Syria on Saturday, and suggested that Western powers hold off on any decisions until the inspectors have presented their findings.

Ban said he told Obama on Wednesday that the U.N. investigators “should be allowed to continue their work as mandated by the member states and I told him that we will surely share our information and our analysis.”

“Diplomacy should be given a chance, and peace given a chance,” Ban said.  “It’s important that all the differences of opinions should be resolved through peaceful means and through dialogue.”

The U.N. inspectors toured the eastern Damascus suburb of Zamalka on Thursday, according to anti-regime activists and amateur video.

In one of the videos, the inspectors stood next to their U.N. vehicles, and the accompanying caption indicated Thursday’s date and the location.  In another video, the U.N. convoy was seen driving through a street, accompanied by armed rebels in pickup trucks.

The U.N. team did not issue a statement about its plans Thursday.

On two previous tours this week, the inspectors visited a western suburb of the city as well as Zamalka where they took biological samples from suspected victims.  Ban has said the samples would be analyzed and presented to the U.N. Security Council.

In countries neighboring Syria, governments began taking precautions against possible Syrian retaliation.

Israel has called up reservists and deployed missile defense batteries in preparation for a possible Syrian response to an American attack.

In Turkey, the government’s crisis management center said on Twitter that a team of 100 chemical weapons experts were sent to the border area, which was being screened for any signs of chemical attacks.

Turkey is Assad’s strongest critic and has backed Syria’s opposition and rebels.  The country said this week it would take part in any international coalition that would move against the Syrian government.


"A fork in the road for UK foreign policy" by Mark Urban, BBC News 8/29/2013

The prospect of parliamentary opposition preventing the UK joining in US military action over Syria is a defining moment in British foreign policy.  It poses questions both about the future of the UK-US alliance and the ability of the British prime minister to make war without a majority in the House of Commons.

To be clear, there have been important moments before when a British government has declined to take part in a US-led campaign.  Perhaps the two most significant were former Prime Minister Harold Wilson's decision not to commit British troops to Vietnam and John Major's to give the 1992 intervention in Somalia a wide berth.

There were differences of view back then between different government departments or Cabinet members.  I can remember, for example, from talking to Whitehall figures at the time that the Ministry of Defense was hostile to the idea of deploying to Somalia, whereas the Foreign Office was more positive about the idea.

In the end though both the Wilson and Major governments made judgements, political ones, after hearing the views of various experts or interested parties.

Although the Wilson decision in particular was characterized by some at the time as a significant setback to the UK-US relationship there was no lasting damage and the two countries have happily joined forces to rain destruction on their foes in the years since.

Today's situation is different because it would appear that Prime Minister David Cameron is unable to deliver military support to the US despite his insistence that the two countries must stand together and that action must be taken to deter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime from further use of chemical weapons.

Change in stance

From US President Barack Obama's point of view, this could transform the UK from the position of his country's most dependable ally into a significant complicating factor as he seeks to reassure a reluctant Congress and public that the US must act.

Mr Cameron's potential inability to deliver UK support reflects a failure to convince people, experts and public alike, that action against Syria is in the UK national interest.  This is a particular irony given his 2010 electoral stance that British governments had sometimes been too ready to support the US without a proper consideration of whether it would benefit the country to do so.

Throughout the past two years, I have found contacts in the British military, Foreign Office, and intelligence services pretty much unanimous in opposing direct intervention in Syria, or in reciting all the practical difficulties that would prevent such action having a positive effect.

On Wednesday a senior military figure described to me the proposed limited cruise missile and airstrikes as "naïve and childlike", suggesting they would be too small to have any major effect on the regime and could produce all kinds of unintended consequences.

Do it "properly", with extensive support to the opposition over a prolonged period, or don't do it was the message - and it was given with a strong implication that there was no will in the US or UK to make a commitment of that kind.

'Royal Prerogative'

It has been Downing Street that has repeatedly returned to the issue of armed intervention in Syria, albeit with occasional support from the Foreign Secretary, William Hague.  But despite this determination, and the appalling images of suffering emerging from that country, neither the professionals in Whitehall nor the wider public have warmed to the case for getting more deeply involved.

So while Harold Wilson or John Major recognized that expert advice or public opinion were helpful in shunning a role in a US-led war, Mr Cameron tried to go against the grain and appears, barring a reversal of political fortunes, to have come unstuck as a result.

The dangers, in terms of White House views of Britain, of failing to deliver support are significant.  It is already the case that many in Washington refer bitterly to Britain's failure to "stay the course" in southern Iraq or deliver a more positive outcome there.

There have been times when a British prime minister has managed to launch military operations despite public hostility or deep divisions.  The gulf between public reluctance to get involved and a PM doing what he or she felt was necessary in order to maintain the UK-US relationship or Britain's permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council could be finessed or ignored.

This was a political reality, but also a constitutional matter, with Downing Street regarding itself as having "the Royal Prerogative", the ability to go to war without a vote of Parliament.

Under former Prime Minister Tony Blair this became increasingly hard to maintain, and of course, he recognized the importance of getting a Commons vote in favor of military action in Iraq.

At the time the Bush White House, seeing the political cost of doing so and potential for a humiliating defeat in the Commons, offered Mr Blair a way out.  He declined to withdraw UK forces from the invasion.

Now it would appear that the ability of a British government to commit to military action without broad parliamentary support in any but the most urgent emergency has gone.  Given the war weariness and indeed anti-Americanism of much of the British public, that has important implications for the future of UK-US relations.

INTERVIEW - U.S. President Obama

"President Obama:  'I Have Not Made a Decision' on Syria" PBS Newshour 8/28/2013


SUMMARY:  President Barack Obama said he had not yet made his decision regarding a U.S. strike on Syria during an interview with Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  Mr. Obama reflects on the challenges Americans still face over jobs, health care, education and voting rights.

(27:03 Interview)

SYRIA - Debating U.S. Response to Use of Chemical Weapons

"Should U.S. Punish Syria?  Debating Legality, Effectiveness and National Interest" PBS Newshour 8/28/2013


SUMMARY:  Would a possible U.S. military strike in Syria send a message that chemical weapon use is universally unacceptable or make a bad situation worse?  Jeffrey Brown gets three views from Hisham Melham of Al Arabiya, Ivo Daalder of Chicago Council on Global Affairs and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

SYRIA - While Assad Howls the U.S. is 'Ready to Go'

"U.S. Military 'Ready to Go' for Syria, Assad Warns Strike Would Be 'Failure'" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 8/27/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The eyes of the world were focused on Washington and other Western capitals today amid rising expectations that an attack on Syria is coming soon.

The Obama administration insisted again there is no doubt the Assad regime used chemical weapons last week in a Damascus suburb.  Inside the White House, the emphasis was on laying the legal groundwork for a possible military strike in Syria.

Spokesman Jay Carney pointed out that nearly 190 nations have signed a convention opposing the use of chemical weapons.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary:  There must be a response.  Kerry made that clear at the president's instruction yesterday.  I echoed that here yesterday and I'm echoing it again today.  There must be a response.  We cannot allow this kind of violation of an international norm with all the attendant grave consequences that it represents to go unanswered.

What form that response will take is what the president is assessing now with his team.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Whatever form it takes, Carney was quick to say the goal will be limited.

JAY CARNEY:  I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change.  They are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.

"White House Debates Best Way to Punish, Prevent Syrian Chemical Arms Use" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 8/27/2013


SUMMARY:  If the U.S. doesn't wait for the U.N. to finish inspecting the alleged chemical weapons attack site in Syria before taking action, it may still rely on those findings in building an international case.  Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how the White House continues to consult allies and consider military action.

HEALTH CARE - State Health Insurance Exchanges

"Pricing in Your State's Insurance Marketplace" by Phil Galewitz and Kaiser Health News (KHN), PBS Newshour 8/27/2013


Wondering how much insurance premiums will cost under the upcoming insurance exchanges?  In many states, information is now becoming available.

One of the biggest questions about Obamacare is whether its new consumer protections might lead to higher costs for some people buying coverage on their own -- or through small groups -- when they purchase it via the online insurance marketplaces that open for enrollment Oct. 1.

A growing number of states have released approved 2014 premiums and other details about individual and small group insurance plans that will available on the marketplaces, also called exchanges.  Those rates do not take into account the federal tax credits that many people will be eligible for.  In addition, the federal government must give final approval to the plans in September.

Some states such as Arkansas, Illinois and New Hampshire have approved their rates but have not released any information about premiums and say they don't plan to do so until Oct. 1.

States that are running their own exchanges, such as California, provide details about the benefits in each state-approved plan in each region of the state.

States who have declined to run their own and who will have federally-run exchanges, still must have the premiums approved by the Obama administration.

The following are links to publicly released data from states that have made their information available.  KHN will add links to other states as they are published.

Full article has list of states with links.

MEDIA - Dysfunctional Washington DC Provides Fodder For Storytellers

"Storytellers Find Fertile Material in Fictionalizing Washington Dysfunction" PBS Newshour 8/27/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Finally tonight, we conclude our series on governing in a time of gridlock.

Treasury secretary Jack Lew warned yesterday the federal government could hit the limit of its borrowing ability, known as the debt ceiling, by mid-October.  That is sooner than anticipated.  And it promises to add fuel to the running battle over government spending that has paralyzed Washington in the past.

Boring news for many viewers, perhaps, but, as Jeffrey Brown explains, it's also fodder for fiction and drama.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  From a novel of intrigue about Watergate to casting the right actor to play presidential nominee John McCain, or depicting a power-hungry politician who stops at nothing to get his way, our guests have had a hand in portraying Washington in books and on large and small screens, for better and worse.

OPINION - U.S. Preps Military Rebuke to Syria Chemical Weapons

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 8/26/2013
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
"Exclusive:  CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran" by SHANE HARRIS and MATTHEW M. AID, Foreign Policy Magazine 8/26/2013

OPINION - Defense of Voting Rights Spreads Nationally

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC 8/26/2013
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

SYRIA - U.S. Possible Response on Use of Chemical Weapons

I regret to say this may be too little, too late.  I am also aware that many Americans are tired of being involved in another war after Iraq and Afghanistan; BUT to let Syria burn, when we can do something, is immoral.

"US Weighs How to Hold Syria Accountable for Alleged Chemical Attack" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 8/26/2013


SUMMARY:  Secretary of State John Kerry issued a warning to the Syrian government, stating "there must be accountability" for chemical weapon use.  With the United Nations now permitted to begin investigation at the alleged attack site, Judy Woodruff reports on the pressure for a U.S. response.

"U.S. Action on Syria Might Send Message to Other Nations, Reinforce Taboo" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 8/26/2013


SUMMARY:  How might the United States and other allies respond to what Secretary of State John Kerry calls "undeniable" evidence of chemical weapons used by the Assad regime?  Judy Woodruff discusses options with Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations and Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

MILITARY - Medal of Honor, Army Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter

"Medal of Honor Winner Showed 'Essence of True Heroism' in Battle and With PTSD" PBS Newshour 8/26/2013


SUMMARY:  President Barack Obama awarded Army Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter with the nation's highest military honor for his actions of bravery during a 2009 battle during the war in Afghanistan.  Judy Woodruff offers excerpts from the Medal of Honor ceremony honoring Carter's courage in battle and in facing PTSD in his return home.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  This is a historic day -- the first time in nearly half-a-century, since the Vietnam War, that we've been able to present the Medal of Honor to two survivors of the same battle.

Indeed, when we paid tribute to Clint Romesha earlier this year, we recalled how he and his team provided the cover that allowed three wounded Americans -- pinned down in a Humvee -- to make their escape.  The medal we present today, the soldier that we honor -- Ty Carter -- is the story of what happened in that Humvee.  It's the story of what our troops do for each other.

Monday, August 26, 2013

SYRIA - Denial of of Use of Chemical Weapons

"Syrian Regime Denies Using Poisonous Gas in Deadly Attack Outside Damascus" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 8/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Amateur videos show scores of Syrian civilians suffering after what opposition leaders say was a deadly, poisonous gas attack by government forces outside the capital city of Damascus.  As in past accusations, Syrian government officials are denying any use of chemical weapons.  Ray Suarez reports.

"Will Latest Attack Confirm Chemical Weapon Use by Syrian Regime?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 8/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Will investigators find sufficient evidence of chemical weapon use by the Syrian government in this latest alleged attack on civilians?  What will inspectors face on the ground?  Ray Suarez asks Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Amy Smithson of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Assad Warcriminal

NATIONAL SECURITY - Chelsea (aka Bradley) Manning Gets 35 Years

IMO 'Chelsea' Manning deserved one year, served consecutively, for EACH document he released.  He-She got off lightly.

"Bradley Manning Gets 35 Years in Prison After Largest Data Leak in U.S. History" PBS Newshour 8/21/2013


SUMMARY:  Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the largest data leak in U.S. history.  Manning provided the website WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents.  Gwen Ifill discusses Manning's fate with Charlie Savage, who has been covering the case for The New York Times.

NSA - Internet Surveillance Program

"NSA Ability to Intercept Domestic Communication Raises More Privacy Questions" PBS Newshour 8/21/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  The nation's top intelligence official today declassified documents showing that, for three years, the National Security Agency, or NSA, collected more than 50,000 e-mails a year between Americans with no connection to terrorism.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2011 ruled the collection methods unconstitutional.  And today's documents show changes the NSA made so that the program, designed to target foreign intelligence, could continue.

The release came hours after The Wall Street Journal reported the NSA has built a surveillance network covering roughly 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic, including e-mails, Web searches and Internet phone calls of Americans.

And we're joined now by Siobhan Gorman, intelligence correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

AMERICA - Anti-Government Sovereign Citizens

These idiots actually think you can have a society (or a nation) without a social contract, like federal or state constitutions.  NO CITIZEN is 'sovereign' unless he/she lives on an island by themselves.  More from kooks of the world.

Vegas arrests cast light on anti-government ‘sovereign citizens’ movement" by Erin McClam, NBC News 8/23/2013

A Las Vegas couple who plotted to kidnap and kill police officers are part of a growing movement whose adherents believe they aren’t subject to laws and follow a complex theory about the secret enslavement of American citizens, authorities say.

The couple spent hundreds of hours developing a plot to attract attention to the movement, a cause known as “sovereign citizens,” which holds that police do not have legitimate power, authorities said.

The two shopped for guns, found a vacant house and rigged it to bind captives to cross beams during interrogation, and they planned to subject officers to their form of a trial for civil rights violations, authorities said.

Authorities have linked the “sovereign citizens” movement to the killing of police officers in the past.  After two deputies in Louisiana were killed in a shootout last year, police said some of the seven people arrested had ties to the movement.

And three years ago in Arkansas, a father-son team of adherents to the movement killed two police officers before they themselves were killed in a separate gun battle with authorities.

In Las Vegas, an undercover officer was with the couple and documented their plans, police told reporters Thursday.  Las Vegas police Lt. James Seebock characterized it as a domestic terrorism plot.

Arrested were David Allen Brutsche, 42, an ex-convict child sex offender from California, and Devon Campbell Newman, 67, police said.  They were charged with attempted murder.

Brutsche trained by posing as a cop and putting a gun to Newman’s head to take her into custody, according to a police report.  They planned to capture police by following their cars and seizing them when the officers got out to make a traffic stop, police said.

The FBI, in a public alert about the “sovereign citizens” movement in 2010, said that adherents don’t believe they have to answer to government authority.  They set up sham courts and clog the real justice system with frivolous lawsuits, the FBI said.

The bureau said that the movement should not be confused with domestic militias:  While “sovereign citizens” followers often use illegal weapons, guns are secondary to their anti-government and anti-tax beliefs.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, says that the movement has grown since the late 2000s but says it can’t know how many believers there are, in part because the movement has no central leadership.

“Sovereign citizens” trace alternate versions of American history, the center says.

Some believe that the American government secretly replaced the system designed by the founding fathers with a version of maritime law and enslaved citizens, and that judges around the country are in on the secret.

Some also believe that the government, at the birth of each child in the United States, sets up a corporate shell account and assigns the rights of the child to the account-holders, the center says.

By filing frivolous lawsuits, “sovereign citizens” adherents believe they can free themselves from the corporate masters and access the money in their shell accounts, the center says.

SAN DIEGO - History of Scandalous Mayors


Bob Filner’s disgraced departure from the mayor’s office is just the latest in a city long accustomed to controversy.

Four of the eight mayors San Diego has elected since 1963 have now succumbed to scandal, and a fifth was awash in it only recently, two decades after leaving office.

Then-Mayor Frank Curran finished a distant fourth in a 1971 re-election effort following a bribery scandal.  Roger Hedgecock resigned in 1985 after felony convictions related to campaign financing that were later overturned.  And Dick Murphy left in 2005 with federal investigators probing misleading bond disclosures and the city’s massive pension debt.

Just this past February, former Mayor Maureen O’Connor appeared in federal court to answer charges that she took $2 million from her late husband’s charitable foundation to feed a gambling addiction.  Her case is on hold for two years while she tries to pay back the money.

On hold.  That’s how many San Diegans must feel after Filner’s predecessor, Jerry Sanders, had rebuilt the city’s national reputation and financial condition after a remarkable run of trouble.

Incorporated in 1850, San Diego had its share of scandal early on.  Joshua Bean, its first mayor, “sold” City Hall and city pueblo lands to himself and a drinking buddy.  Mayor Frank Frary was arrested in a brothel in the Stingaree District in 1903.  Former Mayor William Carlson was imprisoned during World War I for mail fraud.  And in 1935, Rutherford B. Irones resigned and received a six-month jail sentence after crashing a city car into a sailor’s vehicle and fleeing the scene and the sailor’s injured wife.

In modern times, just as San Diego exploded in growth to become California’s second-mostpopulous city in 1970, it exploded in scandal again. Mayor Curran, four council members and three former council members were charged with bribery and conspiracy to increase taxi fares after accepting campaign contributions from the owner of the Yellow Cab Company.  Ultimately, all but one — a council member who pleaded no contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge — were acquitted or had the charges against them dropped.

Curran’s political career ended in the next election when voters showed him the door.

Hedgecock’s case evolved in his favor eventually — with a conviction being overturned following jury tampering charges and his record expunged — but his resignation from the mayor’s office was stunning.

At the time, Hedgecock called questions about more than $350,000 in 1983 campaign contributions “the country’s longest-running political soap opera.”  But a reporter called Hedgecock’s departure “dramatic” and “rapid-paced” after he was convicted of 13 felonies.  On appeal, Hedgecock — who now hosts a show on U-T TV — closed his casemore than five years later when a judge reduced a single remaining conspiracy conviction for campaign fraud to a misdemeanor, then dismissed it under a plea deal.  It was finally expunged from his record.

Murphy’s departure may have been the most dramatic — until Friday.

On April 17, 2005, Murphy stood in his driveway a day before 4 million copies of Time magazine hit the streets naming him one of the three worst big-city mayors in America.

“Tell Time magazine that they just don’t understand what’s going on,” he said.

Just eight days later, he stood in the press room at City Hall and said he would resign because it was “in the best interests of San Diego” and “the city needs a fresh start.”

Now it will have another.

MILITARY - Staff Sgt Bales Sentenced to Life Without Parole

"Staff Sgt. Bales Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murdering 16 Afghan Civilians" PBS Newshour 8/23/2013


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  We turn to two Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.  He was sentenced to life in prison without parole today for murdering 16 civilians in a solo nighttime rampage in Afghanistan last March.  Most of his victims were women and children.

Today's sentence was the toughest the six-member military jury could impose.  The 40-year-old staff sergeant pleaded guilty in June, which spared him the death penalty.

Adam Ashton has been covering this trial for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, and joins us now.

Adam Ashton, welcome.

What was this jury weighing in trying to decide what sentence to impose?  Well, first of all, what were their options?

ADAM ASHTON, The News Tribune:  They only had two options.

Murder has a mandatory minimum life sentence under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so Bales only had a choice -- option today of life with parole or life without parole.

MILITARY - How Will the U.S. Army Handle 'Chelsea' Manning?

"How Will the Military Handle Bradley Manning's Request to Be 'Chelsea'?" PBS Newshour 8/23/2013


RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  Just days after Bradley Manning was handed 35 years in prison over the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history, the Army private is bringing another issue to the fore.  The soldier, who long struggled with gender identity, announced on Thursday the preference to live as a woman named Chelsea.

In a statement read on NBC's Today Show, Manning said:  "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me.  I am Chelsea Manning.  I am a female.  Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible."

The announcement has raised legal questions over whether the Army provides that therapy.  The soldier will serve time at Leavenworth maximum security prison in Kansas.  The prison has 515 beds and no female prisoners.  Manning's attorney says he plans to fight for his client once again.

DAVID COOMBS, attorney for Bradley Manning:  A Fort Leavenworth spokesperson said, we don't have certain treatment; that's not what we give.

I'm going to change that.

RAY SUAREZ:  Manning's request has put a spotlight on an issue that's often overlooked and how the military handles it.

Estimates vary, but one analysis from the Williams Institute at UCLA.  Suggested as many as 700,000 Americans may be transgender, though many fewer may have taken hormones or surgery.  Currently, most insurance plans will not cover treatments or surgeries involved with sex changes.  There was an earlier gender reassignment involving a veteran.  It first came to public attention after World War II.

Christine Jorgensen, an American soldier who served as a man, returned from military service and became Christine.  In Manning's case, the focus now lies on how the Army will proceed with the soldier's request and what that means for the private's future in prison.

SYRIA - Chemical Weapons and Child Refugees

While I am also concerned about the U.S. being involved in another Arab region war, I think it is immoral to stand by and twiddle our thumbs.  If America IS to be what we say we stand for, we must take action, and I mean NOW.

Also, considering the number of Syrians that have fled to other countries, one has to wonder if Assad has a country left to govern.

"While Nations Urge Syria to Allow Inspectors, UN Announces New Refugee Milestone" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 8/23/2013


SUMMARY:  President Barack Obama called an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria "a big event of grave concern," but also sounded notes of caution about the U.S. taking immediate military action against the Syrian regime.  Margaret Warner reports on the continuing violence in Syria and a new milestone in the refugee crisis.

"Children Made Refugees by the Syrian War at Risk of Becoming 'Lost Generation'" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 8/23/2013


SUMMARY:  One million Syrian children have been ripped from the daily life they know and forced them into refugee camps.  Margaret Warner speaks with Sarah Crowe of UNICEF for more on the impact of the war on the youngest Syrians and the burden the crisis has placed on the surrounding region.

MILITARY - U.S. Army Major Hasan Guilty

This shows how dangerous religious fanaticism is, this so-called psychiatrist could be persuaded by Islamic militant doctrine.  He wants to become a martyr 'to the cause.'

"Hasan Found Guilty of Murder, May Face Death Penalty for Fort Hood Shooting" PBS Newshour, 8/23/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF(Newshour):  A military jury today unanimously convicted Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan of premeditated murder for his shooting spree against unarmed soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas.  The 42-year-old killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in the 2009 attack.  He could now face the death penalty.

Karen Brooks has been covering the court-martial for Reuters.  And she joins us now.

Karen, thank you for being with us.

Was this outcome ever really in doubt, given the overwhelming evidence against Major Hasan?

KAREN BROOKS, Reuters:  Not really.  It wasn't.  He didn't put up any defense at all.  And he didn't dispute the facts.  And, in fact, he started the trial by saying that the evidence would clearly show he was a shooter.  So, up or down wasn't really that much of a question, if any.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

HEALTH - Lyme Disease on the Rise

"Dramatically Revised Lyme Disease Statistics Raise New Questions About Risk" PBS Newshour 8/20/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Lyme disease was first identified in the 1970s, but it now turns out that it's much more common than previously estimated, about ten times more.

The CDC reported this week that an estimated 300,000 Americans get the tick-borne disease every year.  Symptoms can include fatigue, fever, skin rashes, and a headache.  Left untreated, it can lead to arthritis, facial palsy, and problems with the nervous system.  The number of cases has been increasing.  Most are concentrated in the Northeast, with 96 percent of them in 13 states.

There's also been a long-running debate around treatment for the disease.

And for all this, we turn to Beth Daley of The Boston Globe.  She has been working on a series about the disease and its impact.