Monday, September 30, 2013

CLIMATE CHANGE - The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013 Report

"UN Panel:  'Extremely Likely' Earth's Rapid Warming Is Caused by Humans" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/27/2013


SUMMARY:  The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its strongest warnings yet on global warming.  The scientists found it is "extremely likely" -- 95 percent certain -- that human activity is the main cause of rising temperatures.  Tom Clarke of Independent Television News reports on the findings.

"Climate Scientists Warn Opportunity to Prevent Dangerous Warming Is Dwindling" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 9/27/2013


SUMMARY:  Ray Suarez talks to Michael Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton University and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about a new scientific assessment that updates the previously-held understanding of the rate and consequences of global warming.

Cautionary Note:  The rate of warming is down but the global temperature is still higher than decades past.

IRAN - The Phone Call (Obama - Rouhani)

I have VERY skeptical hope, Iran.   Don't believe Assad at all.

"Obama, Iran's President Rouhani Discuss Diplomacy Prospects in a Phone Call" PBS Newshour 9/27/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now to breakthroughs on the diplomatic front.

President Obama spoke by phone to Iran's president this afternoon, the highest-level conversation between the two nations since 1979.  And the U.N. Security Council is poised to approve a resolution on Syria tonight.

Margaret Warner reports.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We're very hopeful about the prospects for what can be accomplished, but, obviously, there is a lot of work to be done.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  Meeting with India's prime minister, President Obama hailed the draft U.N. resolution to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I have always expressed a preference for resolving this diplomatically, and I appreciate all our international partners in working very hard over the past several days to make sure that we could arrive at a resolution that not only deters and prevents additional chemical use, but actually goes beyond what could've been accomplished through any military action, and that is the removal of chemical weapons, one of the largest stockpiles in the world.

MARGARET WARNER:  The measure, going before the full Security Council tonight, requires Syria to surrender its chemical weapons for destruction and give weapons experts full access to ensure compliance.

But if Syria balks or cheats, the U.S. and its allies would need a separate resolution if they want U.N. approval to impose sanctions or military action.  That was seen as a victory for Syria's ally Russia.  And Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the U.N. General Assembly today there's no place for unilateral action, as President Obama had threatened.

EDUCATION - America's First African-American Public High School (1870) Today

"Historic School Strives to Reclaim Glory Days and Graduation Rates" PBS Newshour 9/27/2013


SUMMARY:  In 1870, on the heels of civil war and the end of slavery, the nation's first African-American public high school opened just blocks from the U.S. Capitol.  Today Dunbar High School is honoring its past while hoping to recapture what once made it great.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Alison Stewart about her new book, "First Class."

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  It's a school aiming for the future.

STEPHEN JACKSON, Principal, Dunbar High School:  Good morning.

JEFFREY BROWN:  When principal Stephen Jackson greeted students to Dunbar High in Washington, D.C., on a recent morning, it was to a brand-new $122 million dollar state-of-the-art building that boasts the latest in classroom and energy-saving technology.

It's one part of the city's effort to turn around a deeply troubled school system.  Just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, Dunbar, on its former site next door, was known for low graduation rates, low test scores, and an often dangerous environment.

But the school, named for poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, is also one with a glorious, historic past.  That's now captured in a small museum in the new building and eagerly touted by principal Jackson to the outside world and to his students.

PBS Newshour American Graduate

OPINION - Shields and Ponnuru 9/27/2013

"Shields and Ponnuru Discuss Government Spending Showdown, Iranian Relations" PBS Newshour 9/27/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at The National Review, join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's top news, including the standoff in Congress over a federal spending bill, consequences of a government shutdown, warming U.S. relations with Iran's president and a UN breakthrough on Syria.

MARK SHIELDS:  I think the (Iran) sanctions are hurting.

I think -- I'm encouraged.  I think that this is a chance to bring some stability in a region that we have seen our own influence quite limited.  Let's be blunt about it.  I mean, Iraq didn't turn out the way we hoped. Afghanistan didn't.  Democracy has not produced flourishing democracies around.

I mean, this is a hope to bring to a region that lacks stability some stability.  And I think there is a mutual self-interest at this point.
RAMESH PONNURU:  But with Syria, again, there are some reasons for skepticism, that -- does this resolution actually have teeth?  And you will note that it doesn't even actually call the regime to account for using chemical weapons.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But there is language in there about consequences, isn't there?

RAMESH PONNURU:  But, again, the question is enforceability.  And, again, as with anything at the U.N., what are the Russians going to do if it comes to enforcing?

MARK SHIELDS:  The glass is more than half-full here.

This is the Security Council moving.  It isn't perfect.  It isn't ideal, but it is real progress.  The one reservation I have is, it leaves in power the status quo in Syria.  But we have learned over the last week, Judy, that the alternative is not terribly appealing in itself.

OPINION - U.S. Congress' Budget Deadlock

"A welcome break for Congress — and the economy" by Editorial Board, Washington Post 9/27/2013


WITH ONLY a couple of days left before a Sept. 30 deadline, it is anyone’s guess whether Congress will keep the federal government funded and open for business — for another month and a half.  That is to say, no one knows whether government will be open on the day, sometime in the second half of October, when a bigger potential crisis rolls around.  That’s when the Treasury Department runs out of cash and defaults on U.S. obligations — unless Congress raises the $16.7 trillion debt limit.  A government shutdown would be a stupid, self-inflicted wound; default could be a debacle.

The proximate cause of this predicament is the mischievousness of ultra-conservative Republicans.  Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and a band of like-minded back-benchers in the Senate and House have launched a spurious and self-interested crusade to “defund” Obamacare, linked to the must-pass spending bill.  Their reckless, doomed campaign has thwarted plans by more mainstream Republicans to pass a continuing resolution and avoid blame for a shutdown — so as to stage what they think, probably correctly, is a more winnable battle with President Obama over the debt ceiling.

Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats have been content to sit back and let the Republicans self-destruct rather than negotiate.  Under the circumstances, they have little incentive to do anything else.

The deeper cause of this dysfunction is a profound division between the two parties over the direction of the country — a red-blue gulf that spans everything from health care to taxes to immigration to spending.  Only the federal helium reserve seems to enjoy bipartisan support these days.  Ideological purists on both sides increasingly dominate intraparty politics, squeezing out moderates and magnifying the interparty gap.

Meanwhile, the economy struggles, burdened by misgovernment in Washington and the uncertainty that it inflicts on investors and workers alike.  Americans need a feasible alternative to the partisan deadlock in Washington.  At this point the best that might be hoped for could be an extended timeout, to give the economy a respite while politicians regroup and, one hopes, calm down.

"Danger to economy worries experts weighing potential government shutdown, default" by Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post 9/29/2013


A prolonged government shutdown — followed by a potential default on the federal debt — would have economic ripple effects far beyond Washington, upending financial markets, sending the unemployment rate higher and slowing already tepid growth, according to a wide range of economists.

A shutdown of a few days might do little damage, but economists, lawmakers and analysts are increasingly bracing for a shutdown that could last a week or more, given the distance between Republicans and Democrats.  Such an outcome would suck money out of the economy and spread anxiety among consumers and businesses in a way that is likely to hold back economic activity.

And a default on the federal debt, which may occur within 30 days without congressional action, would be much worse, economists say.  Failing to raise the debt ceiling would require the government, a major driver of growth, to cut spending by about a third, potentially forcing delays in Social Security checks, military pay and payments to doctors.

There are other risks, too.  On Oct. 17, the Treasury is scheduled to ask investors for $120 billion in loans.  But if investors grow nervous about whether the United States will be able to pay them back, they are likely to demand higher interest rates, which would cause rates to spike throughout the financial system, leading to more expensive mortgages, auto loans and credit card bills.

Doubt could grow about the safety of parking money in U.S. bonds, the linchpin of the global financial system.

“It’s corrosive on the economy,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.  A lengthy shutdown followed by a default would be “the nightmare of the recession all over again.”

Even if lawmakers find a way out of a shutdown or a default, this fall’s brinkmanship — the fourth such crisis in two years — is likely to have negative effects on the economy.  With so much uncertainty in Washington, economists say that businesses, flush with cash, have been reluctant to invest and hire.

“The simple story is it creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty,” said Ethan Harris, a top economist with Bank of America.  “One of the unfortunate side effects of the brinksmanship is a message to business leaders to delay long-term commitments and wait to see whether something really bad happens.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES - What Can Older Americans Expect? (Series Part 6)

"What Kinds of Changes Can Older Americans Expect Under Health Reform?" PBS Newshour 9/26/2013


SUMMARY:  How does the Affordable Care Act alter Medicare or other insurance coverage for older Americans?  Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News joins Ray Suarez to answer some of your most frequently asked questions.

IRAN - U.S. Diplomacy

"How Should the U.S. Proceed With Iran Diplomacy?" PBS Newshour 9/26/2013


SUMMARY:  Top officials from the U.S. and Iran met for the first time in 30 years.  How serious is Iran about making a deal with the international community on their nuclear program?  Judy Woodruff talks to Flynt Leverett of Penn State University, Suzanne Maloney of Brookings Institution and former CIA case officer Reuel Marc Gerecht.

POLITICS - Budget Blockage by Our-Way-or-No-Way Republicans

"Battle Lines Harden as Boehner Warns House GOP May Block Spending Bill" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/26/2013


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio:  I do not see that happening.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  Speaker John Boehner immediately quashed any notion House Republicans would accept a stopgap spending bill from the Democratic-controlled Senate that simply removes a provision defunding the health care law.  Boehner wouldn't lay out Republican demands, but he did insist again they want to keep the government running.

JOHN BOEHNER:  I have made it clear now for months and months and months we have no interest in seeing a government shut down.  But we have got to address the spending problems that we have in this town.  And so there will be options available to us.

KWAME HOLMAN:  In the Senate, Democratic Leader Harry Reid said House Republicans are unsure what to do.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.:  If anyone here thinks the Republicans in the House have a workable plan to avert a shutdown on Monday, tell me about it.  I get all kinds of reports from them we're going to do this, we're going to do that.  So, we will have to see what they decide to do, because, right now, they don't know.

KWAME HOLMAN:  The Senate headed toward a vote tomorrow to strip out the defund Obamacare provision.  Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Democrats to break with their party on the issue.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.:  So, this law is a mess.  It needs to go.  So I hope some of our Democratic friends who voted for this law will look themselves in the mirror and think, truly think, about whether protecting the president's pride is really more important than helping the American people.

KWAME HOLMAN:  Meanwhile, House Republicans readied a separate proposal that would raise the nation's debt limit, but they also attached a one-year delay of the health care law.


KWAME HOLMAN:  President Obama denounced that strategy during an event in Largo, Md.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  The entire world looks to us to make sure that the world economy is stable.  You don't mess with that.

You don't mess with that.

And that's why I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

KWAME HOLMAN:  The immediate focus, though, is staving off a government shutdown.  Senate leaders said this evening the stopgap spending bill is expected to go to final passage tomorrow, leaving the next move up to the House.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In another development, the Obama administration announced new delays in opening health care exchanges to the uninsured next Tuesday.  It said small businesses and a Latino enrollment service will not be able to enroll online for several weeks.  We'll have more on the spending fight and Obamacare later.

"Weekend Deadline Looming, What's Going on Behind the Scenes of the Budget Fight?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 9/26/2013


SUMMARY:  Lawmakers on both sides of the budget fight have come out to wage a public war of words and sway opinion, but what's going on behind the scenes?  Gwen Ifill gets views from two former Capitol Hill staffers: Jim Manley of QGA Public Affairs and Ron Bonjean of Singer Bonjean Strategies.

HAY, I got an idea, lets defund the Republican Party!

DETROIT - No Bailout Thanks to Anal-Retentive Republicans

Republicans, tax breaks for the rich but nothing for anyone else.

"$300 Million in Detroit Aid, but No Bailout" by JACKIE CALMES, New York Times 9/26/2013


Two months after Detroit became the largest city ever to file for bankruptcy, top Obama administration officials will be there on Friday to propose nearly $300 million in combined federal and private aid toward a Motown comeback — only a fraction of the billions the city owes and a reflection of the budget and political limits on President Obama.

This first major infusion from the federal government, which administration officials say will not be the last, would be used to help clear and redevelop blighted properties, improve transportation systems, bolster the police — especially around schools — and overhaul city management systems wrecked by years of poor administration and inadequate resources.

The package follows weeks of meetings in Detroit and at the White House between the administration team and local business, labor and philanthropic leaders on how best to pool existing resources.  Final details are to be worked out in a two-hour meeting of the federal and local officials at Wayne State University, participants said.

While Mr. Obama remains in Washington as fights over the budget and health care threaten a government shutdown at the start of a fiscal year on Tuesday, he is sending a delegation led by his chief White House economic adviser, Gene B. Sperling, which includes three cabinet members: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.; Shaun Donovan, secretary of housing and urban development; and Anthony R. Foxx, secretary of transportation and a former mayor of Charlotte, N.C.

Administration officials acknowledged that the initial aid would hardly solve problems in Detroit that have been decades in the making.  But, Mr. Sperling said, “It’s the largest city bankruptcy in the history of our country, on our watch, and we’ve got to do something.”

Yet the idea of the federal government’s responsibility toward Detroit is hardly a settled issue in Washington. Instead, divisions over the question reflect the fundamental divide between the two parties over the size and role of government.

Congress, preoccupied with reducing federal deficits, has been all but silent about helping the birthplace of the auto industry and, some say, of the American middle class.  The Republican-controlled House is hostile to any spending initiatives from Mr. Obama.  In the Senate, two Southern Republicans separately and unsuccessfully proposed legislation intended to ban bailouts — Detroit leaders have not sought one — briefly churning the racial currents at play over a city where four out of five residents are black.

So with the chances that Congress would pass any legislation for Detroit “somewhere between zero and zero,” as an administration official put it, Mr. Obama has fallen back on what he can do through executive actions, with available money and tax credits, or through partnerships with local businesses and foundations.

The effort is similar to the way he has worked around Congress to create advanced manufacturing centers nationwide with federal and local support, provide broadband in every classroom, speed up infrastructure projects and try to reduce gun violence.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

FUTURE OF TV - Impact of Shows Without a Television Set or a Cable Connection

"The Future of TV:  How Do Networks Plan to Stay Competitive?" PBS Newshour 9/25/2013


SUMMARY:  Today's technology lets consumers watch shows without a cable connection or even a television.  What's next for broadcast networks, cable providers and their places in the media market?  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Brian Roberts of Comcast about staying competitive and the legal battles with companies who stream TV for free.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Broadcast TV networks, no surprise, are clamoring for new viewers this fall.  But beyond the traditional scramble for ads and ratings, the networks and the companies that own them are also preparing in to do battle with an entirely new set of competitors.

Hari Sreenivasan gets the perspective from one of the industry's biggest players tonight, part of our occasional series on the future of TV.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  With all the new ways to consume media, phones, tablets, laptops, you can now watch TV shows without a television set or a cable connection.

But established companies are reluctant to give up their hold on the media industry, among them, cable giant and owner of NBC, Comcast.  It's the largest cable company in the U.S., and one of the biggest broadband Internet and home phone service providers.  In 2011, it acquired NBC Universal, making it a major content player in the market.

HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES - Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum Plans (Series Part 5)

REMINDER:  The exchanges are for people who DO NOT get health insurance through their employer.

"From Bronze to Platinum Plans, What Will New Insurance Exchange Premiums Cost?" PBS Newshour 9/25/2013


SUMMARY:  New details were released about coverage choices for consumers in the new health care exchanges.  What will their premiums cost?  Ray Suarez is joined by Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal to answer some of your most frequently asked questions.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now we take a deeper dive into the health care story with the first look at what premiums will cost as the new marketplaces known as exchanges come online.

Among the details released today: Customers will be able to choose from a variety of plans, ranging from lower-cost plans in a bronze or silver category with less coverage to higher-cost ones known as gold or platinum with greater coverage and benefits.

The average monthly premium for an individual buying insurance through one of the cheaper options will be $328 a month.  Then it gets complicated.

Ray Suarez picks it up from there.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  It's not simply a matter of picking among these different categories like bronze or silver.  Each class of plans will have a number of options to choose from and, in many cases, people will also be able to get a subsidy to help purchase the insurance.

But the premiums will vary by age, health status, geography and other factors.  And there are additional costs, too.

We try to walk through this now with Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal.

U.S. SENATE - Debate on Budget Bill Begins

"Senate Votes Unanimously to Take Up Debate on Budget Bill After Cruz 'Talkathon'" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/25/2013

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Our lead story tonight: A bill to fund government operations beyond the end of the month cleared its first procedural hurdle today.  It was a rare unanimous vote.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

WOMAN:  On this vote, the yeas are 100, the nays are zero.  The motion is agreed to.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  That outcome without a single dissenting vote came after Texas Republican Ted Cruz and others strongly dissented for more than 21 hours.  They warned fellow Republicans to insist that any bill that funds the government also defunds the president's health care law.

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-Texas:  I don't think you're entitled to vote with Harry Reid and the Democrats, give Harry Reid and the Democrats the ability to fund Obamacare, and then go to your constituents and say, I agree with defunding Obamacare.  You don't get it both ways.

KWAME HOLMAN:  The talkathon split Republican ranks.  On one hand, Florida's Marco Rubio defended Cruz's tactics.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-Fla.:  If nothing else, I think people across this country know more about this law and its impacts than they did a day ago.  If nothing else, the people in this country are now increasingly aware of all the implications of this law on their lives, on their dreams, on their hopes, and on their families.

KWAME HOLMAN:  A number of other Republicans took issue with Cruz, in particular his comparing the current fight to events preceding World War II.

TED CRUZ:  Look, we saw in Britain Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, accept the Nazis.  Yes, they will dominate the continent of Europe, but that's not our problem.  And in America, there were voices that listened to that.  I suspect those same pundits who say it can't be done, had it been in the 1940s, we would have been listening to them.

KWAME HOLMAN:  That drew a forceful rebuke today from Arizona's John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.:  I resoundingly reject that allegation.  That allegation, in my view, does a great disservice, a great disservice for those brave Americans and those who stood up and said what's happening in Europe cannot stand.

KWAME HOLMAN:  On the Democratic side, Majority Leader Harry Reid minced no words in dismissing Cruz's effort.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.:  It has been a big waste of time.  The government is set to shut down in a matter of hours, just a few days.  Government will close.  And it's a shame we're standing here having wasted perhaps two days, most of yesterday and a good part of today.

KWAME HOLMAN:  In the end, after the marathon floor speeches, even Cruz voted in favor of taking up the government funding bill.  He said the real test will be another procedural vote expected tomorrow.  Majority Democrats say if they get over that hurdle, they have the votes to strip the anti-Obamacare language from the bill, and pass it by the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration today released its first estimates of how much premiums will cost the uninsured under Obamacare.  And the House returned to work, as it waits for the Senate to finish the spending bill and the clock counts down to the deadline for a government shutdown next Tuesday.

"Senators Weigh in on Budget Hurdles and Fiscal Compromises" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 9/25/2013


SUMMARY:  Judy Woodruff talks to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on where the budget battle is headed next, whether Sen. Ted Cruz's effort to stall was worthwhile or political theater, and whether they think Congress will prevent a government shutdown.

IRAN - President Rouhani Comment on the Holocaust

"Iran’s Leader, Denouncing Holocaust, Stirs Dispute" by MARK LANDLER and THOMAS ERDBRINK, New York Times 9/25/2013


As he conducts a high-profile good-will visit to New York this week, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, says he is bringing a simple message of peace and friendship.  But on Wednesday, Mr. Rouhani set off a political storm here and in Iran, with an acknowledgment and condemnation of the Holocaust that landed him in precisely the kind of tangled dispute he had hoped to avoid.

Mr. Rouhani, in an interview on Tuesday with CNN, described the Holocaust as a “crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews” and called it “reprehensible and condemnable.”  It was a groundbreaking statement, given that his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied the systematic extermination of Jews during World War II.  Mr. Rouhani largely repeated his comments in a meeting with news media executives on Wednesday.

But a semiofficial Iranian news agency accused CNN of fabricating portions of Mr. Rouhani’s interview, saying he had not used the word Holocaust or characterized the Nazi mass murder as “reprehensible.”  Mr. Rouhani spoke in Persian; officials at CNN said they used an interpreter provided by the Iranian government for the interview, which was conducted by Christiane Amanpour.

The dispute over his comments reflects the extreme delicacy of the Holocaust as an issue in Iranian-American relations.  More broadly, it speaks to the political tightrope Mr. Rouhani is walking, trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with the United States that will ease sanctions to please everyday Iranians, without provoking a backlash by hard-liners.

Such careful calculations prompted Mr. Rouhani to eschew a handshake with President Obama at the United Nations General Assembly.  After weeks of conciliatory moves, including Iran’s freeing of political prisoners, Iranian and American officials said they believed Mr. Rouhani needed to placate hard-liners in Tehran, who would have bridled at images of an Iranian leader greeting an American president.

“Shaking hands with Obama would have won Rouhani huge points with the Iranian public, but it would have caused Iran’s hard-liners a conniption,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  Mr. Rouhani avoided other land mines at the United Nations.  His comments to the General Assembly, though less inflammatory than those of Mr. Ahmadinejad, touched on similar themes and grievances: the lack of respect for Iran, the West’s refusal to recognize its right to enrich uranium, and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

But when Mr. Rouhani sat down later with Ms. Amanpour, he moved into fraught territory.  Asked whether he shared his predecessor’s belief that the Holocaust was a myth, Mr. Rouhani replied, according to CNN’s translation, that he would leave it to historians to judge the “dimensions of the Holocaust.”

But he added, “In general, I can tell you that any crime or — that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people — is reprehensible and condemnable, as far as we are concerned.”

TECHNOLOGY - The Mind Controlled Bionic Leg

"Amputee:  Bionic leg controlled by brainwaves 'blew my mind'" by Jonathan LaPook, CBS News 9/25/2013

Four years ago, Zac Vawter lost his lower right leg in a motorcycle accident.  After years in a regular prosthetic leg, he's been testing the first one controlled by brainwaves.

"I seamlessly walk up a set of stairs and just go up foot over foot up the stairs, like you do," Vawter said, "whereas with my normal prosthetic I have to drag it behind me as I go up the stairs."

In Wednesday's New England Journal of Medicine, researchers described how it works.

When a person thinks about moving, a signal is sent from the brain down through the spinal cord.  These impulses control the muscles.  After an amputation, the muscles are no longer there but the nerves are.  Zac underwent surgery to move these nerves to his hamstrings.  Sensors relay these nerve signals to a computer, which instructs the knee and ankle how to move.

"We've rewired him," said Levi Hargrove, a research scientist who helped engineer the device with a team at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

"So you just think about moving along, the device pushes you along, pushes you up stairs, helps control you when you walk down stairs and it does everything in a seamless matter," Hargrove said.

"It really blew my mind the first time we did that," Vawter said.  "It was a pretty amazing experience because I hadn't moved my ankle in a way that I could see for two years or whatever it was."

The Army funded this research, hoping to improve the lives of the more than 1,200 soldiers and approximately 1 million Americans who have lower leg amputations.

"We really trying to make these advanced devices that will allow them to get back to active duty or later in life allow them to move around their home and remain independent longer," Hargrove said.  "That's one of the primary goals of this research."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

INFANT HEALTH - Why is a $13 Life-Saving Test Not Required?

"The $13 Test That Saved My Baby’s Life.  Why Isn’t it Required For Every Newborn?" by Michael Grabell, ProPublica 9/21/2013

On July 10, my wife gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby boy with slate-blue eyes and peach-fuzz hair.  The pregnancy was without complications.  The delivery itself lasted all of 12 minutes.  After a couple of days at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut, we were packing up when a pediatric cardiologist came into the room.

We would not be going home, she told us.  Our son had a narrowing of the aorta and would have to be transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at New York - Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia, where he would need heart surgery.

It turned out that our son was among the first in Connecticut whose lives may have been saved by a new state law that requires all newborns to be screened for congenital heart defects.

It was just by chance that we were in Connecticut to begin with.  We live in New York, where such tests will not be required until next year.  But our doctors were affiliated with a hospital just over the border, where the law took effect Jan. 1.

As we later learned, congenital heart problems are the most common type of birth defect in the United States.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in 555 newborns have a critical congenital heart defect that usually requires surgery in the first year of life.

Many cases are caught in prenatal ultrasounds or routine newborn exams.  But as many as 1,500 babies leave American hospitals each year with undetected critical congenital heart defects, the C.D.C. has estimated.

Typically, these babies turn blue and struggle to breathe within the first few weeks of life.  They are taken to hospitals, often in poor condition, making it harder to operate on them.  By then, they may have suffered significant damage to the heart or brain.  Researchers estimate that dozens of babies die each year because of undiagnosed heart problems.

The new screening is recommended by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Yet more than a dozen states — including populous ones like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin and Washington — do not yet require it.

The patchy adoption of the heart screening, known as the pulse oximetry test, highlights larger questions about public health and why good ideas in medicine take so long to spread and when we should legislate clinical practice.

Newborns are already screened for hearing loss and dozens of disorders using blood drawn from the heel.  The heart test is even less invasive: light sensors attached to the hand and foot measure oxygen levels in the baby’s blood.  This can cost as little as 52 cents per child.

Our son’s heart defect was a coarctation of the aorta, a narrowing of the body’s largest artery.  This made it difficult for blood to reach the lower part of his body, which meant that the left side of his heart had to pump harder.

In the hospital, though, he appeared completely healthy and normal because of an extra vessel that newborns have to help blood flow in utero.  But that vessel closes shortly after birth, sometimes revealing hidden heart problems only after parents bring their babies home.

Depending on the heart defect, the onset of symptoms can be sudden.

This is what happened to Samantha Lyn Stone, who was born in Suffern, N.Y., in 2002.  A photograph taken the day before she died shows a wide-eyed baby girl lying next to a stuffed giraffe.  The next morning, her mother, Patti, told me, she was wiping Samantha’s face when she heard a gurgle from the baby’s chest.

Before her eyes, Samantha was turning blue.  Blood began to spill from her mouth.  Ms. Stone dialed 911, and minutes later, a doctor who heard the call over a radio was there performing CPR.  Samantha went to one hospital and was flown to another.

But the damage was irreparable.  Samantha had gone 45 minutes without oxygen: She lapsed into a coma and died six days later.

It wasn’t until several years later that Ms. Stone learned about the pulse oximetry test.  “This could have saved my daughter,” she told me.  “There is no parent that should ever have to go through what I went through.”

Pulse oximetry is not a costly, exotic procedure.  Most hospitals already have oximeters and use them to monitor infants who suffer complications.  You can buy one at Walmart for $29.88.

A recent study in New Jersey, the first state to implement the screening, estimated that the test cost $13.50 in equipment costs and nursing time.  If hospitals use reusable sensors similar to those found on blood-pressure cuffs, the test could cost roughly fifty cents.

As medical technology advances, few screenings will be so cheap or simple.  Recent years have seen controversy over prostate cancer and mammography screenings.  Medical ethicists have to weigh the costs of each program and the agony caused by a false positive against the lives saved.

But with pulse oximetry, the false positive rate is less than 0.2 percent — lower than is seen for screenings newborns already get.  The follow-up test is usually a noninvasive echocardiogram, or an ultrasound of the heart.  A federal advisory committee came down in favor — three years ago.

“There’s really no question, scientifically, this is a good idea,” said Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.  “The issue is, how do we change culture?”

Opposition has taken two forms.  One is from doctors who believe policy makers shouldn’t interfere with how medical professionals do their jobs.  The other is from smaller hospitals, which worry about access to echocardiograms and the costs of unnecessary transfers.

These concerns can be addressed fairly easily.  Nurses in New Jersey and elsewhere have been able to work the test into their normal routines.  A rural hospital should already have a protocol to transfer a newborn in serious condition.  If Alaska can do it, less remote states can, too.

But this is not simply a rural health care problem.  Cardiologists and neonatologists I’ve spoken with said they knew of hospitals in New York City, Boston and metropolitan Atlanta that weren’t screening newborns for heart defects.

“It’s completely the luck of the draw of where you deliver,” said Annamarie Saarinen, who has pushed for the screening since her daughter narrowly avoided leaving the hospital with an undetected heart defect.

Fortunately, our son’s condition was also caught and corrected.  The only lasting effects are a three-inch scar on his side and checkups with a cardiologist.  He will live a normal life.  He will be able to play sports and climb things he’s not supposed to.

Shouldn’t every baby have that chance?

KENYA - Faces al-Shabab Islamic Militants

REMINDER:  Al-Shabab does NOT represent main-stream Islam.  They are an extremist group who actually defames Islam.

"Kenyan Government Claims It Has 'Control' in Deadly Standoff With al-Shabab" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Three days after al-Shabab militants stormed a Nairobi shopping mall, officials say 62 people have died and more than 170 have been injured.  Kenyan troops believe all hostages have now been released, but the outcome of the battle is still in doubt.  Gwen Ifill reports.

"Can Kenya Handle the Threat of a 'Much More Lethal' al-Shabab?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 9/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Al-Shabab, once a disparate coalition, has evolved into a regional affiliate of al-Qaida, able to pull off attacks of greater sophistication and attract foreign fighters.  Ray Suarez talks to J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council about the group's effort to make an impression and how prepared Kenya is to deal with the threat.

INTERVIEW - President Bill Clinton, Clinton Global Initiative

"President Clinton on Foreign Affairs, Politics of Health Care and Gun Control" PBS Newshour 9/23/2013


SUMMARY:  As the Clinton Global Initiative kicks off its annual meeting, former President Bill Clinton joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the mall attack in Nairobi, prospects for a Syrian deal, politics of health care reform and gun control, plus the potential for a presidential bid by his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  We turn now to our newsmaker interview with former President Bill Clinton, who kicked off his annual meeting today of the Clinton Global Initiative today.

I sat down with him at the site of the gathering in Midtown New York.

BUSINESS - View of the Affordable Care Act

"Businesses Weigh Bottom Line of Health Reform's Employer Mandate" PBS Newshour 9/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Under the Affordable Care Act, employers who have at least 50 full-time employees are mandated to provide affordable insurance or pay a penalty.  Most employers already comply, but some business-owners, especially in the restaurant industry, argue it will be a major burden.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

EDUCATION - Globally, How Others Succeed in Getting Smart Kids

IMHO the problem is American culture does NOT make education a high enough priority.  It is NOT just the job of the system, it is the primary job of parents to emphasize education in every way they can.

"Searching for Lessons on Education at Schools Around the Globe" PBS Newshour 9/23/2013


SUMMARY:  What makes for educational success for kids around the world -- and how can we apply that in the U.S.?  Jeffrey Brown speaks with Amanda Ripley, author of "The Smartest Kids in the World:  And How They Got That Way," on her conclusions after studying the diverse academic environments of Poland, Finland and South Korea.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Nineteen-year-old Eric, finishing high school in Minneapolis, decides to spend a year in school in a South Korea city where students study through much of the night, then fall asleep in class.

STUDENT:  In Korean high school, home and school intersect constantly.  If you're at home, you're either studying, eating or sleeping.  If you're at school, you're studying, eating or sleeping.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Kim, a 15-year-old in rural Oklahoma, jumps at the chance to study a year In Finland.

STUDENT:  The students here care more.  They understand that it's important.  They may not like a class, but they know, if they don't pass it, then they don't pass their tests and they don't -- it's harder to get to university.
JEFFREY BROWN:  Now, when you say smart, you're using this measurement of a test called PISA, right, P-I-S-A?

AMANDA RIPLEY, "The Smartest Kids in the World":  Yes.  Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN:  We should explain that because it -- there are a lot of questions about how effective and what it really tells us, but you think it's a good measure.


Well, I don't think you ever want to just rely on one thing.  Right?  You want to hedge your bets and look at other things, like high school graduation rate and college complete rate and other things, other tests.  But I really liked the PISA in particular because it was designed specifically to look at your ability not to memorize knowledge, but to take it to solve problems that you have never seen before, so to apply what you know, to communicate an argument, to reason, those kinds of things.
AMANDA RIPLEY:  So, Finland is really the utopia model, the Holy Grail of education, where you're getting 15-year-olds, virtually all of them, regardless of their background, reaching a really high level of critical thinking in math, reading and science.

And they're doing that -- this is the amazing thing -- they're doing that without working that many hours.  They're not studying all night long.  They're not going to after-school tutors. They're probably doing less homework on average than American teenagers.

South Korea is a great example of the pressure cooker model of Asia, so it's an extreme version of that model, where kids are working unbelievably hard day and night.  Families are very, very focused on education.  And they get to the same level as Finland, but the kids are working at -- studying at least twice as many hours.
JEFFREY BROWN:  Well, that of course is the key question for our audience.  What does it mean for the U.S.?  Having looked at all this, what do you conclude that we're not doing right or as well as we could?

AMANDA RIPLEY:  I'm actually very hopeful.  I came back here more hopeful than when I left.

And part of that is, we're against an economic crisis as well.  And I think people are starting to realize that, whereas you didn't need rigor to succeed in America 20 years ago, you need it now.   And our kids, in order to thrive in this economy, they need to be able to think, right, and to learn for their whole lives.

So, I think there's a consensus building around that.  I don't know.  We will see.  It won't be every state, but in some places, we're seeing the Common Core standards adoption.  We're seeing some movement towards more serious education colleges.

COMMENT:  What PISA tests sounds much, much better than what the U.S. uses to evaluate students today.

RELIGION - Jesus of Nazareth, the Man

"Reza Aslan's 'Zealot' Aims to Better Understand Jesus by Understanding His World" PBS Newshour 9/24/2013


SUMMARY:  In his new book, "Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," author and scholar Reza Aslan sets out to dig through generations of interpretation to get to know Jesus, the real, historical figure and the world he lived in.  Aslan sits down with Ray Suarez to discuss his research and why he wanted to write the book.

"Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth"  prophet?  sun of god?  why did you write (it)?
  • "Deep sense of respect for Christianity"
  • Dig thru layers of interpretation to get to know Jesus better (as an Evangelical) Iranian American

Monday, September 23, 2013

OPINION - Brooks and Dionne 9/20/2013

"Brooks and Dionne Discuss Conflict in the GOP, Confronting Gun Violence" PBS Newshour 9/20/2013


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's top political news, including prospects of a government shutdown, conflict and leadership within the Republican party, the politics of choosing a new Federal Reserve chairman and the shooting at the Navy Yard.

EGYPT - Today, From the Coptic Christian View

"In Egypt, Coptic Christians Become Target for Attack in Times of National Stress" PBS Newshour 9/20/2013


SUMMARY:  Coptic Christians have been a part of the social fabric of Egypt for centuries, but in recent history they have also become a target for assault and discrimination.  In the days since the ouster of former President Morsi, Coptic churches have been attacked in some of Egypt's most fiercely Islamist areas.  Margaret Warner reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now, in the final story from her recent overseas reporting trip, Margaret Warner looks at Egypt's Christians, who have been victims of dozens of attacks since July.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  The attackers came at night to the Church of the Virgin Mary, for more than 60 years a Coptic Christian sanctuary in the village of Kafr Hakim.

Fifi Awad worshiped there.

FIFI AWAD, Egypt (through interpreter):  They attacked the church.  They took everything they could take, the generator, the refrigerator, even bags they thought had donation money.  Then they burned the first and second floors and said, "Allahu akbar."

MARGARET WARNER:  Guard Emile Moussa was on the job, but he felt powerless.

EMILE MOUSSA, guard (through interpreter):  A march came towards the church yelling, "Islamic, Islamic" and cursing the pope and Christians.  I started to call the police and the military, but no one answered.

HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES - Financial Incentives and Disincentives (Series Part 4)

"How Do the Health Reform Law's Financial Incentives and Disincentives Work?" PBS Newshour 9/20/2013


SUMMARY:  Even as Republicans are trying to shut off funding for the law, the Obama administration and some states are preparing for implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  Julie Rovner of NPR joins Ray Suarez to answer some of your frequently asked questions on tax credits and subsidies, as well as penalties for not having insurance.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  We have spent some time laying out some of the basics of the exchanges and the premiums consumers might payment, but we're also getting a number of questions on other related financial issues, such as tax credits, taxes, and penalties still to come.

And that's our focus tonight.

And, once again, Julie Rovner of NPR joins us.

And, Julie, to get people to do things and not do things, there are all kinds of incentives and disincentives baked into the law.  What about these subsidies and tax credits?  How do they work?
RAY SUAREZ:  And in a country with a median family income in the low $50,000 range, that captures most American families, that 400 percent of poverty, doesn't it?

JULIE ROVNER, National Public Radio:  Yes.  Many of the people who go to the exchanges who don't have insurance will be able to get some kind of a subsidy, some kind of help to help them pay for insurance.  In many cases, it will be possibly almost equivalent to what they would get if they had help coming from an employer.  That's the idea.

RAY SUAREZ:  All week, we have been fielding questions from people who have asked us about things they still don't understand that's in the law.  Let's take a listen.

MICHELE TORO, Florida:  I'm Michele Toro from Pembroke Pines, Florida.

And my question is, how will the tax credits affect those uninsured?

RAY SUAREZ:  Is this different if you are not working right now?

JULIE ROVNER:  No.  Basically, it's the same.

If you go to the exchange, if you are uninsured or if you buy your own insurance -- again, it's important to remember that the exchanges are not really for people who have insurance at their jobs.  It's for people who are in what we call the individual market, people who buy their insurance on their own without the help of an employer, or people who are uninsured who don't have insurance, don't have access to employer-provided insurance.

And, again, all of those people who go to the exchange will be eligible for these subsidies, these tax credits if they are between 100 percent of poverty and 400 percent of poverty, their income.

HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES - Lower Premiums, Fewer Choices?

Reminder, the for-profit health insurance industry is NOT in business to provide health care.  They exist ONLY to make a profit (a BIG profit) from customers who cannot really say no.

"Lower Health Insurance Premiums to Come at Cost of Fewer Choices" by ROBERT PEAR, New York Times 9/22/2013


Federal officials often say that health insurance will cost consumers less than expected under President Obama’s health care law.  But they rarely mention one big reason: many insurers are significantly limiting the choices of doctors and hospitals available to consumers.

From California to Illinois to New Hampshire, and in many states in between, insurers are driving down premiums by restricting the number of providers who will treat patients in their new health plans.

When insurance marketplaces open on Oct. 1, most of those shopping for coverage will be low- and moderate-income people for whom price is paramount.  To hold down costs, insurers say, they have created smaller networks of doctors and hospitals than are typically found in commercial insurance.  And those health care providers will, in many cases, be paid less than what they have been receiving from commercial insurers.

Some consumer advocates and health care providers are increasingly concerned.  Decades of experience with Medicaid, the program for low-income people, show that having an insurance card does not guarantee access to specialists or other providers.

Consumers should be prepared for “much tighter, narrower networks” of doctors and hospitals, said Adam M. Linker, a health policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center, a statewide advocacy group.

“That can be positive for consumers if it holds down premiums and drives people to higher-quality providers,” Mr. Linker said.  “But there is also a risk because, under some health plans, consumers can end up with astronomical costs if they go to providers outside the network.”

Insurers say that with a smaller array of doctors and hospitals, they can offer lower-cost policies and have more control over the quality of health care providers.  They also say that having insurance with a limited network of providers is better than having no coverage at all.

Friday, September 20, 2013

HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES - What Premiums Might Cost? (Series Part 3)

"How Does Health Care Reform Affect the Cost of Insurance Premiums?" PBS Newshour 9/19/2013


SUMMARY:  Whether you already have health insurance or will soon be shopping for coverage through one of the insurance exchanges, what can you expect to happen to the cost of your premiums?  NewsHour analyst Susan Dentzer joins Ray Suarez to answer some of our most frequently asked questions about the new health care reform law.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  We again focus on essential questions about the exchanges and insurance rates.  Tonight, what do we know about what premiums might cost?

We have received a lot of questions about this, and this time we're joined by "NewsHour" regular Susan Dentzer.

Susan, there's widespread either misunderstanding or confusion about what this is going to mean, even among people who are already insured.  They think something is coming to change their lives.  We got questions like this one.

BURTON CATLEDGE, Odenton, Md.:  My name is Burton Catledge.  I'm from Odenton, Maryland.

And my question for the Affordable Care Act is, will the premiums go up for those that currently have health insurance, and, if so, how much?

RAY SUAREZ:  Do we even know that yet?

RELIGION - Catholic Balanced Moral Edifice?

"Pope:  Church's Moral Edifice Will Fall 'Like a House of Cards' Without Balance" PBS Newshour 9/19/2013


SUMMARY:  In a frank interview, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church must find a balance between "small-minded rules," like doctrines against abortion and homosexuality, and the need to be more merciful.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Father Matt Malone of America Magazine for more on the practical implications of the pontiff's comments.

CALIFORNIA - Using Eminent Domain to Solve Underwater Mortgage Crises

"Calif. City Contemplates Using Eminent Domain to Solve Its Foreclosure Crisis" PBS Newshour 9/19/2013


SUMMARY:  Half of all homeowners in Richmond, Calif., owe more on their property than what it is worth, prompting the city to consider using the power of eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages and help residents stay in their houses.  But detractors say that move will hurt the city by alienating Wall Street.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Jazz musician Morris LeGrande spends a lot of time jamming in the small recording studio in the back of his Richmond, California, home.  He and his wife Luajuana, both 57, were first-time homeowners when they bought their place in 2004 for $310,000.

Several years later, when the property was appraised at nearly half-a-million dollars, they refinanced and used the money to do some home repairs.

LUAJUANA LEGRANDE, homeowner:  This was on sale, actually.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But the LeGrandes' dream of paying off their home one day was shattered in 2007, when the housing bubble burst, and like so many families across America, they found themselves underwater on their mortgage, owing more than their home was worth, much more.
HARI SREENIVASAN:  Steven Gluckstern is the chairman of the San Francisco private investment firm Mortgage Resolution Partners, MRP.  He is the one who proposed the eminent domain plan to Richmond leaders, and he's now working closely with the city to implement it.

And here's an important point to understand:  Gluckstern and the city didn't just randomly pick 624 mortgages to buy.  They went after homes with a very specific, complicated loan, known as private label securitized mortgages.  Now, these are mortgages which have been sold from the original lending institution, bundled together with other loans in trusts, and then sold to private investors.   They are traded daily, so hundreds, possibly thousands of individuals have a financial stake in them.

Gluckstern says, unlike a traditional loan directly between a bank and a borrower, the complicated structure of PLS mortgages makes it very difficult for Richmond homeowners and homeowners around the country to know who they can actually negotiate with to reduce their loan.

PLS mortgages.... hmm.... sound familiar?  Like bundled Sub-Prime Loans that were a major cause of the 2008 crash ring a bell.  Remember, financial complexity is there to hide something.

WALL STREET - Bull in Economic China Shop, JP Morgan

"Regulators Charge JP Morgan With More Than $1 Billion in Penalties" PBS Newshour 9/19/2013


SUMMARY:  Investment bank J.P. Morgan got hit with two sets of penalties that total over a billion dollars in fines and refunds.  Judy Woodruff talks to Dawn Kopecki of Bloomberg News for details on the charges, the ongoing investigations and the larger consequences for the company.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  And we return to J.P. Morgan, the huge investment bank hit with two sets of penalties today.  First, SEC officials criticized the bank's top leaders for how they handled trading losses last year that eventually topped $6 billion.

The SEC said -- quote -- "Senior management broke a cardinal rule of corporate governance.  Inform your board of directors of matters that call into question the truth of what the company is disclosing to investors."

No top executives were charged.

For more on this and another federal penalty, we turn to Dawn Kopecki with Bloomberg News.  And she joins us from New York.

IRAN - 'Charm Offensive' on Nuclear Program?

"Iran's President Signals Possible Diplomatic Opening on Nuclear Program" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 9/19/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now to Iran and what looks like a charm offensive not seen in more than three decades.

Ever since Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran in June, he's been sending signals that he is more open, more moderate than his predecessors.  Perhaps his most overt olive branch was delivered last night during an interview with NBC News, in which he signaled a possible diplomatic opening on his country's disputed nuclear program.

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI, Iran (through interpreter):  We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb, and we are not going to do so.  In its nuclear program, this government enters with full power and has complete authority.  We have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem.

GWEN IFILL:  Rouhani also said he'd had a positive and constructive exchange of letters with President Obama on the issue, which the White House confirmed.  The Iranian leader has already transferred responsibility for nuclear negotiations from Iran's conservative military to the Foreign Ministry.

And, on Monday, the country's new atomic energy head pledged increased cooperation with U.N. inspectors.

During an interview on Telemundo this week, President Obama said he welcomes the apparent diplomatic thaw.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  There are indications that Rouhani, the new president, is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States in a way that we haven't seen in the past.  And so we should test it.

GWEN IFILL:  Other signs of defrosting, Iranian authorities unexpectedly released 11 political prisoners yesterday, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer.  And earlier this month, in a tweet, Rouhani wished the world's Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah.

Rouhani's change in tone, at least, stands in stark contrast to the heated rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the previous president, who routinely attacked the West and denied the Holocaust.  But Israeli government leaders remain deeply skeptical about Rouhani's nuclear plans.

YUVAL STEINITZ, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister (through interpreter):  We are warning the entire world, with all the kindness, smiles and the moderation Rouhani is reflecting, what is important are the facts on the ground.

GWEN IFILL:  Although Rouhani will attend the U.N. General Assembly next week, there are no announced plans for him to meet with President Obama.

"What Are the Motives Behind Iran's 'Charm Offensive'?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 9/19/2013


SUMMARY:  Iran's President Hassan Rouhani is reaching out to the U.S. and the world in ways his predecessors never did.  Gwen Ifill talks to Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for more context into the diplomatic thaw.

POLITICS - From U.S. House Psychotics, Defunding Affordable Care Act

"Congress Engages in Obamacare Spending Standoff Days Before Budget Deadline" PBS Newshour 9/19/2013


SUMMARY:  House Republicans plan to eliminate funding for the Affordable Care Act as part of a spending bill that would keep the government running past October 1.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said any bill that defunds health care reform won't survive the Senate.  Gwen Ifill reports on the budget battle.

SATIRE - Syria Conflict Heralds the 'End of Times'

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

U.S. NAVY - Defense Secretary, Wake of Washington Navy Yard Shooting

"Defense Secretary Hagel on Security: 'We Need To Do More -- And We Will'" PBS Newshour 9/18/2013


SUMMARY:  In the wake of the Navy Yard shooting, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recognizes his department's responsibility to ensure the safety of its employees.  But, he told Judy Woodruff, there were "red flags that didn’t get connected."  On Syria, Hagel said the military is ready to respond to any option the president decides to take.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Secretary Chuck Hagel, welcome to the NewsHour.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  Let's talk first about these tragic shootings at the Navy Yard this week.  You acknowledged earlier today that there were a number of red flags, as you put it, that were thrown out that should have been picked up.  You've commissioned a couple of reviews to be done, and you've said whatever mistakes were made, we're going to fix them.

But what do you say to the families of the victims and to the people who still work at this Navy Yard and other military installations who are thinking, I thought if my loved one worked at a place like this, they'd be safe?

HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES - How Employers May Respond? (Series Part 2)

"What Are the Effects and Requirements for Employers Under Health Reform?" PBS Newshour 9/18/2013


SUMMARY:  The health care reform law was designed to help give people without health insurance an affordable avenue to buy it.  But how does it affect Americans who get their insurance through their workplace?  NewsHour analyst Susan Dentzer joins Ray Suarez to help answer frequently asked questions about how companies are affected.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Tonight, we are looking at the changes that start taking effect when new online insurance marketplaces known as public exchanges open next month.  One big question:  how employers may respond.

Just today, Walgreens announced that it will move 160,000 of its employees into a private exchange where they can choose an insurance plan, but with company subsidies.  Executives cited generally rising health care costs as one reason, but said expenses associated with the new law were a factor as well.  Time Warner, Sears and Trader Joe's have announced similar moves.

That brings us to our series in which we try to answer some of your more frequently asked questions.

And to Ray Suarez.

RAY SUAREZ (Newshour):  The law was designed to provide coverage for many who don't have health insurance now.  But there are still many concerns and questions about what it may mean for employer-sponsored coverage and whether some businesses may change what they offer as the law takes full effect.

The workplace is our focus tonight.

And, once again, we're joined by NewsHour regular, analyst Susan Dentzer.

ECONOMY - Keeping Up the Stimulus

"What's Behind the Federal Reserve's Surprising Decision to Keep Up Stimulus?" PBS Newshour 9/18/2013


SUMMARY:  Chairman Ben Bernanke announced that the Federal Reserve would continue its stimulus effort of pouring money into the bond market because the economy still needs help.  Gwen Ifill talks to Neil Irwin of The Washington Post for a deeper look into the thinking at the Fed.

BEN BERNANKE, Federal Reserve Chairman:  We try our best to communicate to markets.  We'll continue to do that. But we can't let market expectations dictate our policy actions.

Our policy expectations have to be determined by our best assessment of what's needed for the economy.  What we will be looking at is the overall labor market situation, including the unemployment rate, but including other factors as well.  But, in particular, there is not any magic number that we are shooting for.  We're looking for overall improvement in the labor market.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Today's moves comes amid a very public and highly- anticipated decision from the president about who will succeed Bernanke next year.

We look deeper into the Fed's thinking with Neil Irwin, who covers the financial world for The Washington Post.  He's also the author of "The Alchemists:  Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire."

ARCTIC THAW - Point Barrow, Alaska North Slope

"Melting Ice, Warming Waters Could Erode Way of Life for Alaska's North Slope" PBS Newshour 9/18/2013


SUMMARY:  More than 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Alaska’s North Slope is ground zero for global climate change.  NewsHour producer April Brown reports the melting ice has opened up opportunity for shipping and other development – industry that could be catastrophic for the way of life of residents.

APRIL BROWN (Newshour):  It's a day of fishing out in the Arctic Ocean for brothers Brower and Jack Frantz.  They are checking on nets they have recently set near the shoreline of Point Barrow, the northernmost tip of America that sits more than 300 miles above the Arctic Circle.  Today's catch is seen as a moderate success.

The brothers were born and raised in nearby Barrow, Alaska, one of eight villages in the North Slope borough, an area that sprawls across more than 90,000 square miles and that for most of the year can only be reached by plane, or, depending on the sea ice, ship.

Nearly 5,000 people call Barrow home.  Roughly half are native Inupiat Eskimos.  For Brower and Jack, today is simply another day at the office.  They are often in search of walrus, seals and, when the season is right twice a year, they go for the biggest prize of them all, bowhead whales.

The marine mammal that has been at the center of Inupiat culture for generations.  All of their catch will later be shared with their family and friends.

NEW ORLEANS - Danziger Bridge Convictions Overturned

"Danziger Bridge Convictions Overturned" by A.C. Thompson, ProPublica 9/17/2013

A federal judge on Tuesday overturned the convictions of five New Orleans police officers tied to the shooting of unarmed civilians during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, finding that prosecutors in the case had engaged in “grotesque” misconduct.

In a blistering and meticulously detailed 129-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt found that federal prosecutors in New Orleans had anonymously posted damning online critiques of the accused officers and the New Orleans Police Department before and during the 2011 trial, a breach of professional ethics that had the effect of depriving the officers of their rights to a fair trial.

The judge granted the officers’ request for a new trial.

“Re-trying this case is a very small price to pay in order to protect the validity of the verdict in this case, the institutional integrity of the Court, and the criminal justice system as a whole,” Judge Engelhardt wrote.

The judge’s decision nullifies – at least temporarily – a key success in the U.S. Department of Justice’s half-decade effort to clean up the troubled New Orleans Police Department.  Four of the five officers had been accused of firing on a group of civilians on or near the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, killing two people and seriously injuring others; a fifth officer had been charged with covering up the shooting.

The judge’s ruling excoriated two former top attorneys in the federal prosecutor’s office in New Orleans, as well as a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division who had played a role in the case.  The prosecutors posted comments about the Danziger case on, the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, as the case was still unfolding.  The comments included a variety of attacks on the police department, calls for guilty verdicts and encouragements to other anonymous commentators to take apart the defense being offered by the five officers.

Engelhardt wrote that he was unaware of any other case in which “prosecutors acting with anonymity used social media to circumvent ethical obligations, professional responsibilities, and even to commit violations of the Code of Federal Regulations.”  He called the behavior of prosecutors “bizarre and appalling.”

The Justice Department, in a statement, said it was disappointed in the judge’s action.

“We are reviewing the decision and considering our options,” the statement said.

Judge Engelhardt’s ruling sets the stage for another round of trials for former detective Arthur Kaufman, who was charged with directing an extensive cover-up, as well as former officers Anthony Villavaso, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, and Robert Faulcon, who were accused of firing on the civilians.  Judge Engelhardt had overseen the trial and sentenced the officers to prison terms ranging from 6 to 65 years.

Lawyers for the officers subsequently asked the judge to overturn the conviction, saying the prosecutor’s office had “engaged in a secret public relations campaign” to inflame public opinion against the officers and to secure their convictions.  The judge did not find evidence of an organized campaign, but said the conduct of the individual prosecutors had wound up having the same effect.

Two of the prosecutors involved in the online posting, Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, resigned after their conduct became known.  The D.C.-based Justice Department lawyer implicated in the scandal, Karla Dobinski, is a veteran of the Civil Rights Division.  It is unclear whether her employment status has been affected by the revelations.

News that some federal prosecutors in the New Orleans office had improperly posted comments online first broke in 2012, and ultimately cost Jim Letten, the office’s top official, his job.  The Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility launched an investigation.

But Judge Engelhardt’s ruling called into question just how vigorous and comprehensive a probe that has been.

PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES - What Admissions Directors Say

"Admissions Directors at Public Universities Speak Honestly (and Anonymously) About Their Goals" by Marian Wang, ProPublica 8/18/2013


As we detailed last week, many public universities, suffering from state budget cuts or hungry for prestige, have made it a priority to attract out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition, and those who will help boost the schools’ place in college rankings.

But a newly released survey by Inside Higher Ed of admissions directors directly about their priorities, allowing them to respond anonymously.  The survey, of course, is of admissions directors -- so it’s focused more on what type of students schools are going after in the recruitment stage, and less on the students who gets financial aid as a sweetener to prompt enrollment.

Still, it’s a reflection of some of the same priorities -- including a strong interest in out-of-state students and international students, who typically bring in more revenue, even with modest discounts.

For instance, 80 percent of admissions directors surveyed at public four-year universities agreed or strongly agreed that they were likely to increase their efforts to recruit out-of-state students.  The percentage was slightly lower -- but still 66 percent to 72 percent, depending on the type of public institution -- for international students.

The survey also has some telling results about the popularity of so-called merit aid, which universities use to give discounts to particularly appealing students.

About two-thirds of admissions directors at public universities said that they would likely increase their efforts to recruit students with merit scholarships.  Most also said they didn’t see a problem with using institutional resources on merit aid -- even though as we noted, investing resources in merit aid often means giving it to students who don’t need it, and not having much left over for those who do.

Over the long term, state schools have been giving a growing share of their grants to wealthier students, and a declining share to the poorest students, as we reported.  They’ve also been serving a shrinking portion of the nation’s needy students, leaving community colleges and for-profit colleges to take on more of that responsibility.

Asked about first-generation college students, the responses from admissions directors indicated that they were also a target population, though perhaps less so relative to out-of-state or international populations:  62 percent of admissions directors at public research universities said they’d likely increase recruitment efforts for first-generation populations, and that figure was 55 percent for master’s/bachelor’s degree public institutions.

For a look at the full report, head to Inside Higher Ed.

U.S. HOSPITALS - How Many Die From Mistakes

"How Many Die From Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?" by Marshall Allen, ProPublica 9/19/2013

It seems that every time researchers estimate how often a medical mistake contributes to a hospital patient’s death, the numbers come out worse.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous “To Err Is Human” report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals.  The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials — and quoted ubiquitously in the media.

In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.

Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, the study says.

That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.

The new estimates were developed by John T. James, a toxicologist at NASA’s space center in Houston who runs an advocacy organization called Patient Safety America.  James has also written a book about the death of his 19-year-old son after what James maintains was negligent hospital care.

Asked about the higher estimates, a spokesman for the American Hospital Association said the group has more confidence in the IOM’s estimate of 98,000 deaths.  ProPublica asked three prominent patient safety researchers to review James’ study, however, and all said his methods and findings were credible.

What’s the right number?  Nobody knows for sure.  There’s never been an actual count of how many patients experience preventable harm.  So we’re left with approximations, which are imperfect in part because of inaccuracies in medical records and the reluctance of some providers to report mistakes.

Patient safety experts say measuring the problem is nonetheless important because estimates bring awareness and research dollars to a major public health problem that persists despite decades of improvement efforts.

“We need to get a sense of the magnitude of this,” James said in an interview.

James based his estimates on the findings of four recent studies that identified preventable harm suffered by patients – known as “adverse events” in the medical vernacular – using use a screening method called the Global Trigger Tool, which guides reviewers through medical records, searching for signs of infection, injury or error.  Medical records flagged during the initial screening are reviewed by a doctor, who determines the extent of the harm.

In the four studies, which examined records of more than 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008, researchers found serious adverse events in as many as 21 percent of cases reviewed and rates of lethal adverse events as high as 1.4 percent of cases.

By combining the findings and extrapolating across 34 million hospitalizations in 2007, James concluded that preventable errors contribute to the deaths of 210,000 hospital patients annually.

That is the baseline.  The actual number more than doubles, James reasoned, because the trigger tool doesn’t catch errors in which treatment should have been provided but wasn’t, because it’s known that medical records are missing some evidence of harm, and because diagnostic errors aren’t captured.

An estimate of 440,000 deaths from care in hospitals “is roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year,” James wrote in his study.  He also cited other research that’s shown hospital reporting systems and peer-review capture only a fraction of patient harm or negligent care.

“Perhaps it is time for a national patient bill of rights for hospitalized patients,” James wrote.  “All evidence points to the need for much more patient involvement in identifying harmful events and participating in rigorous follow-up investigations to identify root causes.”

Dr. Lucian Leape, a Harvard pediatrician who is referred to the “father of patient safety,” was on the committee that wrote the “To Err Is Human” report.  He told ProPublica that he has confidence in the four studies and the estimate by James.

Members of the Institute of Medicine committee knew at the time that their estimate of medical errors was low, he said.  “It was based on a rather crude method compared to what we do now,” Leape said.  Plus, medicine has become much more complex in recent decades, which leads to more mistakes, he said.

Dr. David Classen, one of the leading developers of the Global Trigger Tool, said the James study is a sound use of the tool and a “great contribution.”  He said it’s important to update the numbers from the “To Err Is Human” report because in addition to the obvious suffering, preventable harm leads to enormous financial costs.

Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at The Johns Hopkins Hospital whose book “Unaccountable” calls for greater transparency in health care, said the James estimate shows that eliminating medical errors must become a national priority.  He said it’s also important to increase the awareness of the potential of unintended consequences when doctors perform procedure and tests.  The risk of harm needs to be factored into conversations with patients, he said.

Leape, Classen, and Makary all said it’s time to stop citing the 98,000 number.

Still, hospital association spokesman Akin Demehin said the group is sticking with the Institute of Medicine’s estimate.  Demehin said the IOM figure is based on a larger sampling of medical charts and that there’s no consensus the Global Trigger Tool can be used to make a nationwide estimate.  He said the tool is better suited for use in individual hospitals.

The AHA is not attempting to come up with its own estimate, Demehin said.

Dr. David Mayer, the vice president of quality and safety at Maryland-based MedStar Health, said people can make arguments about how many patient deaths are hastened by poor hospital care, but that’s not really the point.   All the estimates, even on the low end, expose a crisis, he said.

“Way too many people are being harmed by unintentional medical error,” Mayer said, “and it needs to be corrected.”