Friday, November 29, 2013

HEALTH CARE - What Should Be the Government's Involvement

My answer, government at all levels has a moral responsibility to see that citizens get health care.  Look at Norway.

"What role should the government play in the health care of its citizens?" PBS Newshour 11/28/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Now a look at some of the larger issues raised in the ongoing debate over the Affordable Care Act, questions of how deeply a government should involve itself in the personal welfare of its citizens, of individual rights and collective responsibilities, even whether the law's troubled rollout might be seen as a challenge to the viability of the liberal philosophy at its core.

The latest major setback came yesterday, when the Obama administration announced a one-year delay in launching the federal Web site for small businesses to enroll their employees with insurers.

Jeffrey Brown gets two views on these bigger issues at stake.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And for that, we're joined by Jacob Hacker, director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University.  He worked on the broad blueprint of the health care law and has written a number of books about social policy in the U.S.  And Avik Roy is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the new book "How Medicaid Fails the Poor."  He served as Mitt Romney's health care adviser during the 2012 presidential campaign.

EGYPT - Update on the End of Democracy

"Latest law limiting demonstrations sparks outrage, protests among Egyptians" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/28/2013


SUMMARY:  Egypt's military-appointed interim government enacted a law over the weekend forbidding protests at places of worship and gatherings of more than 10 people without a permit.  The latest crackdown on the freedom of expression sparked protests among Egyptians leading to arrests and violence.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

"Crackdown disappoints Egyptians expecting social justice from revolution" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/28/2013


SUMMARY:  Egypt's military-backed government has issued its latest crackdown on dissent, but now both Islamist and secular activists are being punished.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Leila Fadel of NPR about how Egyptians are reacting to the arrests and how the events are being portrayed by the media.

WORLD - New Global Climate Regime?

"Did Warsaw conference put world on track towards 'new global climate regime'?" PBS Newshour 11/27/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The devastating typhoon that struck the Philippines illustrated the vulnerability of island nations to extreme weather and added a spark to the international debate already under way over who bears the costs from climate change.

MARCIN KOROLEC, Environment Minister of Poland:  Climate is a global issue, global problem, and a global opportunity at the same time.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The United Nations' 12-day conference on climate change began earlier this month with an audacious goal: a new agreement to cut climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

They met with renewed purpose.  Typhoon Haiyan had just slammed into the Philippines with 195-mile-per-hour winds.  Among the strongest storms ever recorded, it caused massive flooding, widespread destruction and took at least 5,200 lives.

Although scientists have not pointed to global warming as the direct cause for massive superstorms, they caution that greenhouse gas-fueled climate change could bring about extreme weather.  A delegate from the Philippines went on hunger strike to demand an ambitious deal.

NADEREV YEB SANO, Philippines Climate Change Commissioner:  We stand together on this urgent call for climate action and solidarity among the most vulnerable peoples on Earth.

U.S. NAVY - Bribery Scandal

A personal note, as retired Navy I can tell you that at the very least all the officers involved, including the two Admirals, carriers are dead.  Those not criminally charged will retire.

"Navy commanders accused of taking bribes for contracts in fraud scandal" PBS Newshour 11/27/2013


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  For decades, Leonard Francis, known as "Fat Leonard" for his imposing girth, has been well-connected in top U.S. Navy circles, perhaps too connected.

His company, Glenn Defense Marine, provided logistics support to U.S. warships at ports in East Asia.  Since 2011, the company has won more than $200 million in Navy contracts, contracts that federal investigators now charge are at the center of an elaborate criminal conspiracy involving bribery, fraud and more.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that Francis plied top Navy commanders with prostitutes, cash, luxury hotel rooms...


JEFFREY BROWN:  ... even tickets to a Lady Gaga concert in Thailand.  In return, officials at the Justice Department say, Francis received classified information on ship deployments.  He also allegedly pressured commanders to steer ships to ports where his company would then overcharge for services like sewage disposal and tugboats.

SYRIA - Civil War Update

The 'West' fiddles while Syria burns.  The U.S. has lost its voice as an upholder and promoter of democracy.  Very sad and we should be ashamed.

"Underfunded and outgunned Free Syrian Army faces additional enemies" PBS Newshour 11/26/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The head of the Free Syrian Army announced today that his group will not be attending the so-called Geneva II conference aimed at bring a political solution to the country's crisis.

Instead, FSA commander Salim Idris vowed to continue fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But, as Margaret Warner reports, that objective has become increasingly unlikely as the underfunded and outgunned group is forced to fight additional enemies.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  Last November, we met Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Aikidi at his rebel command post outside Aleppo.  His Free Syrian Army units were on the march, he told us, taking ground in the city and surrounding area and seizing the momentum against Bashar al-Assad's government forces.

COL. ABDUL JABBAR AL AIKIDI, Free Syrian Army (through interpreter):  We have almost full control on the ground, though they are superior in the air and with rocket launchers, tanks and artillery.  But we are superior on the ground and we have control.

MARGARET WARNER:  But earlier this month, the well-regarded commander resigned his post.  In this YouTube video, he voiced frustration with all the in-fighting among the rebellion's disparate units and leaders, including jihadist brigades.

ASIA - East China Sea's Disputed Territory

"How China's push into disputed territory is increasing tension in East Asia" PBS Newshour 11/26/2013


SUMMARY:  The U.S. flew two B-52 bombers over disputed territory in the East China Sea, rejecting an air defense restriction from China for islands that are also claimed by Japan.  Judy Woodruff talks to Julian Barnes of The Wall Street Journal about increased volatility in the region.

Monday, November 25, 2013

HUMOR - Paying For Linux


For non-techies, Linux is OpenSource which means it IS free.

IRAN - Nuclear Program Talks Update

"Margaret Warner from Geneva:  Is this a done deal?" PBS Newshour 11/24/2013


Hari Sreenivasan (Newshour):  Joining us now from Geneva, Switzerland is the NewsHour’s chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner.  She has been reporting on the story all week.  So, it's somewhat complicated, Margaret, but break it down for us.  Which sides get what?

Margaret Warner (Newshour):  Well, Hari, in the days of painstaking negotiations in the Intercontinental Hotel right behind me, Iran and the U.S. both got the most important thing they needed.  For the U.S., the U.S. needed to stop the clock on the advancing of Iran's nuclear program because it's believed to be within three to six months of being nuclear weapons capable.  Not the same as having a bomb, but nuclear weapons capable.

And so the fear, the concern was that even during negotiations on a really comprehensive agreement to stop it all, that Iran would achieve that state and then President Obama would have a very unpleasant choice of military action, or letting it happen, or watching Israel launch a military strike.

So, they got a freezing - I’ll just give a few examples of the programs that-- of all of the reactors we've heard a lot about:  Fordone, Natanz and the Arak plutonium reactor.  Iran promised not to build any more centrifuges and not even operate thousands that they have installed that aren't operational.  And they agreed to no longer enrich to 20% which was weapons grade and to reduce and ultimately eliminate that stockpile.

LOTTERY - Credit Union Lotteries

"Save to Win:  A lottery where you can't lose" PBS Newshour 11/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Credit unions in four states offer a lottery that gives savers the chance to win small monthly prizes or a yearly grand prize -- even if you don't win you get to keep the money you put in, plus interest.  Supporters of this approach say it appeals to low and moderate income households; who have a harder time building assets.

ANNOUNCER:  “Tonight’s Mega millions jackpot is an estimated annuitized $149,000,000…”

KARLA MURTHY:  it’s a moment that millions of Americans wait for each week.

ANNOUNCER:  “Tonight’s Mega millions jackpot is an estimated annuitized $149,000,000…”

KARLA MURTHY:  It’s a moment that millions of Americans wait for each week.

It’s something called a prize-linked savings account.

CHINA - Journalism Under Threat

"Is foreign journalism under threat in China?" PBS Newshour 11/23/2013


SUMMARY:  Bob Dietz on the recent events that have raised questions about the freedom of the foreign press in China.  A prominent journalist for Reuters who had been reporting there for years was denied a visa.  Bloomberg News has denied a report that they withheld publication of an investigative story for fear they would be kicked out.

ACA HEALTH CARE - Enrollment Deadline Extended

"Enrollment delay for health care law coverage raises concerns for insurers" PBS Newshour 11/22/2013


SUMMARY:  The Obama administration announced changes to the health care law, pushing back the deadline to sign up for coverage.  Due to the troubled rollout, people will now have until December 23 to enroll in a policy that begins in 2014.  Jeffrey Brown gets details from Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Some of the key changes involve timelines for enrollment.

First, consumers trying to get new coverage starting January 1 now have an extra week to finish enrolling.  The new deadline to sign up is December 23.  The administration also announced it will push back the start of next year's enrollment period by one month.  That effectively means that in year two of the program, Americans can start signing up in mid-November 2014.

And late this afternoon, officials announced another change for this year.  Insurers will be able to directly enroll people in three states, Florida, Texas and Ohio.

Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal has been following these developments and is here to explain.

WALL STREET - The New Bubble

Now on the Cathedral of Greed, Wall Street, where they never learn....

"Bubble in the making?  How the stock market might not reflect the current economy" PBS Newshour 11/22/2013


SUMMARY:  At the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow ended above 16,000, another record high.  Meanwhile, companies continue to report healthy profits.  And yet the recovery is weak and unemployment is high.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks for answers and asks whether the Federal Reserve's stimulus has had the impact it intended.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  This has been a notable week for the stock markets, particularly for the Dow Jones industrial average, the benchmark index that's closely monitored and that's reaching new milestones.

But there are questions about what's behind the rally of late and whether it reflects the fundamentals of the economy.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman hit the trading floor yesterday in search of some answers.

The story is part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.
PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour):  And so companies can pay labor less (for workers), keep more for themselves and their mostly wealthy shareholders.  Yes, half of us own stock, if you include our pension funds.  But the top 10 percent own something like 90 percent of the stock market; the top 1 percent something like 40 percent of it.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 11/22/2013

"Shields and Brooks look at long-term impact of Senate's 'nuclear' rule change" PBS Newshour 11/22/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss their takes on Senate Democrats' move to invoke the "nuclear option" and how that rule change will affect partisanship.  They also look back at how President John F. Kennedy shaped public service in America.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  David's -- David's analysis is, as always, interesting, but erosion of partisan -- of comity and good feelings is not beginning with this.  This is not -- this is not a cause.

This is an effect of what has happened.  I mean, this is a consequence of what has been going on.  In running administration, Judy, personnel is policy.  If you can't have your own people at a department or an agency, you can never -- you can never execute or be responsible for -- for the administration of justice and the law, which is your obligation.

Take the case of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Because Republicans objected to the law, they refused to confirm Rich Cordray, first Elizabeth Warren, who is now a member of the United States Senate, who, as a consequence of their opposition, became a national folk hero, and finally Rich Cordray.  And only with the threat of the nuclear option did they do it.

I mean, so it had reached a point -- it will be more partisan, no question about it.  It will be more like the House.  But I don't -- I think this was a -- this was one more step at a time when there wasn't that willingness that there was eight years ago for a gang of 14 to emerge and to say, we're going to break with our own party.  Seven Democrats and seven Republicans, they did that on judicial nominees.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  David, the Democrats argue that -- that the obstruction under this president is much worse than it was under his predecessors.

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times columnist:  Well, I think, overall, that's true.

No kidding.  The Republicans started their anti-Obama campaign the day after he was elected.  They try to block EVERYTHING Obama, even policies that Republicans supported before President Obama's election.

AMERICA - Fair Housing Update

"A Year Later, Feds Inch Forward on Fair Housing" by Nikole Hannah-Jones,
ProPublica 11/22/3013

Tonight’s episode of “This American Life” will feature a story based on ProPublica’s yearlong investigation “Living Apart:  How the Government Betrayed a Landmark Civil Rights Law.”

Called “House Rules,” the TAL segment will examine the ways zip code determines the destiny of many Americans.  The show will feature some of the actors who go undercover to test the market for hidden housing discrimination, a highly effective tool seldom used by the government.

Our reporting chronicled the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s repeated failures in enforcing the 1968 Fair Housing Act.  This landmark legislation not only barred discrimination in housing sales and rentals – it also required communities to “affirmatively further” residential integration.

Since we published our first stories late last year, there have been several significant developments on matters we reported.  Here’s what’s happened.

HUD Proposes Regulation

In July, HUD issued a proposed regulation that for the first time clearly defined the steps local and state governments that receive HUD funding must take to examine housing segregation based on race and show they are in line with the Fair Housing Act.  The effort to define such rules began under the Clinton Administration, but stalled because of objections from cities and counties.  President Obama had promised the regulation would be issued by the end of 2010, but conflicts within HUD and pressure from powerful outside groups kept it bottled up for years.

The proposal would create a new planning process under which HUD grantees must use data provided by the federal government on segregation, racially concentrated areas of poverty, access to education, employment, transportation and environmental health to set housing and development priorities.

Advocacy groups such as the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council have praised the regulation.  Others, including The Weekly Standard, have accused HUD of social engineering.

The public comment period on the proposal ended Sept. 17.  The final regulation has not yet been issued.

Westchester County Loses Grant Dollars

In August, HUD took the unprecedented step of stripping $7.4 million in community development block grants from Westchester County, N.Y., the tony New York City suburb that settled a landmark fair housing lawsuit in 2009.

The second installment of ProPublica’s “Living Apart” series documented how, even with the explicit backing of a federal court, HUD had not taken steps to make Westchester County comply with requirements of the Fair Housing Act.  But this summer, after years of defiance by county leaders, Westchester became the first jurisdiction ever to lose its allocation of HUD grant dollars for not affirmatively furthering fair housing.

“It is unfortunate the County continues to fall short in its duty to identify barriers to fair housing choice and to work to overcome these obstacles,” HUD Deputy Secretary Maurice Jones said in a press release.  “This continuing failure to meet these requirements offers HUD no choice but to make these funds available to other jurisdictions that are willing to meet their civil rights obligations.”

Case Settles, Enforcement Tool Saved

For the second time since early 2012, a tool of fair housing enforcement has been saved from possible extinction by a case settling before it reached the Supreme Court.  Last week, the town of Mount Holly, N.J., settled a lawsuit slated to go before the court on Dec. 4.

As ProPublica reported in February, the Mount Holly case centered on allegations of what’s called “disparate impact”:  That a policy or practice disproportionately harmed racial minorities or other protected groups.  The Fair Housing Act does not explicitly mention disparate impact, but federal courts have consistently affirmed the principle in rulings over a 40–year period.  Since modern-day discrimination is rarely overt, this precedent has become a powerful tool for the government and civil rights groups, allowing them to bring cases against landlords, lenders or jurisdictions by showing their policies or actions had disproportionate effects on certain groups of people.  (Not all such impacts violate the law; if a legitimate business practice leads to the disparity, it’s not a violation.)

Mount Holly was sued a decade ago over its development efforts in a predominately black and Latino part of town.  The town bought and destroyed most of the homes in the neighborhood, planning to build more expensive housing that never came to be.  Residents sued, saying the town’s actions had a disparate impact on African Americans and Latinos.

The legal battle finally made its way to the nation’s highest court this year, setting the stage for a potential challenge from its conservative wing, which has revisited aspects of several pieces of landmark civil-rights legislation in recent sessions. This summer, the court limited the reach of the Voting Rights Act.

In 2011, the Supreme Court accepted a disparate impact case out of St. Paul, Minn., but federal officials and civil rights activists persuaded the city to withdraw the case to avert a ruling that might strike down the principle.

In February, as the Court contemplated whether to hear the Mount Holly case, the Obama Administration released a long-promised disparate-impact regulation aimed at solidifying the principle’s place in fair housing enforcement.

Last week, Mount Holly avoided the Supreme Court showdown when its town council voted to compensate those who’d lost their homes.

Disparate impact lives to fight another day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

OPINION - U.S. Power and Foreign Policy in the Middle East

"Reflections On American Power And Foreign Policy" by George Brent Mickum, The Public Record 11/18/2013


The deteriorating political landscape in the Middle East stands as a monument to the Bush and Obama Administrations.  While the United States attempts to extricate itself from another long, costly, lost cause – the twelve-year Afghanistan war – military intervention in Syria and Iran is now being considered.  Financially dependent upon the golem of war, members of Congress, Neocons, think tanks, and, of course, a claque of lobbyists clamor for a new conflict, despite positive overtures from that nation’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani.  Senator Lindsey Graham, among others, is actively stumping for war with Iran, threatening to introduce legislation authorizing military intervention in Iran without Congressional approval if “nothing changes” regarding Iran’s nuclear program by the end of the year.

The vicissitudes of history are “dross” – to borrow from Ezra Pound’s Pisan Canto #81 – unless the concomitant will to learn from history exists.  Based on an historical review since the Second World War, the United States seems incapable of learning from foreign policy mistakes, and this inability is becoming more and more pronounced.  There is one other possibility: the United States understands precisely what it is doing and does it anyway, spending trillions of dollars to protect corporate access around the world while vastly increasing the specter of terrorism and misery in the rest of the world.

The chaos in the Middle East affords an opportunity to consider whether the United States’ foreign policy around the world is hurting the country rather than helping it, to consider whether U.S. policies are increasing enmity against the United States and increasing the likelihood of terror attacks against the West.  As the drumbeat for military intervention in Syria and Iran increases, the question is whether additional U.S. military intervention in the Middle East is even rational when political destabilization has resulted virtually everywhere the U.S. has left its footprint.

The war in Syria has become a religious civil war that is marked by internecine fighting among forces opposing Assad, including al Qaeda.  Libya grows more chaotic by the day.  The corrupt and effete governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are incapable of influencing events in the Middle East and tremble at the prospect of civil uprisings and religious strife in their own kingdoms.  Saudi Arabia recently turned down a coveted position on the United Nations Security Council, blaming the U.S. The reason for turning down a Security Council seat: The U.S. refuses to attack Saudi Arabia’s political and religious enemies, Syria and Iran. Equally unpardonable is the fact that the U.S. is engaging in diplomacy with both countries.  Finally, there is no mystery that Israel desperately seeks U.S. conflict with both Syria and Iran for its own strategic reasons.

HISTORY - Terrorist Abu Zubaydah's Diaries, an Excerpt

"Former CIA Captive’s Top Secret Diaries Sheds New Light on 9/11, Afghanistan Invasion" The Public Record 11/15/2013

A new exclusive investigative story by Jason Leopold, who obtained the long sought after personal diaries of Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee captured after 9/11 subjected to a brutal torture regimen by US government interrogators.  The six volumes of diaries shed light on Zubaydah’s evolution from computer engineering student to student of jihad in Afghanistan during a civil war in 1991.  Leopold’s second installment of his five part series deals with the events leading up to and after the 9/11 attacks, as taken directly from Zubaydah’s diaries. :

Abu Zubaydah clearly knew something big was in the works.  Returning from Pakistan in mid-2001,he writes in his diary about an atmosphere of restless anticipation in Afghanistan, which was now his home, “People were waiting for the new operation, which Sheikh Bin Laden announced.”  But when the news comes that Al-Qaeda hijackers had killed almost 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, Abu Zubaydah is awed by the scale and audacity of the attacks.

Al-Qaeda had twice struck high-profile blows against U.S. interests abroad — the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the December 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.  But spectacular strikes at the power centers of what bin Laden liked to call “the far enemy” was beyond the imagination of even many of bin Laden’s acolytes and fellow travelers in Afghanistan.

“On the 11th of September, a passenger airplane hit one of the giant towers … and people were surprised by something that was unimaginable,” Abu Zubaydah writes 17 days later.  “As soon as they caught up their breath, another airplane hit the other tower, so screaming and crying was heard and the surprise was magnified.  A third airplane hit the American Department of Defense building (the Pentagon).  Then, the fourth airplane tried to hit the White House, but it did not hit the target, so it swerved away from its target; then we later heard that it crashed or was downed in another location, and news kept coming.”

“Happiness was not enough,” he adds.  “As soon as the news came out on the radio, lambs were slaughtered, and juice and sweets were distributed for several days.  News on the radio reflected American threats and preparation [for retaliation], close to a world war, while we were in a state of elation that God only knows.”

CHARITIES - Telemarketing Sharks

"One donation to charity telemarketer spawns more solicitation calls" by Kendall Taggart, Center for Investigative Reporting 11/14/2013


Judith Johnson of Stacyville, Iowa, doesn’t get out much anymore.

Legally blind and living on a small Social Security pension, the 72-year-old used to go to church once a week.  She stopped out of fear that her new walker would snag on the railroad tracks she had to cross to get there.

But Johnson, whose tiny apartment is decorated with crucifixes, still believes it’s her duty to help those less fortunate.

So when telemarketers call on behalf of cancer patients, homeless veterans or disabled firefighters, the retired secretary finds it hard to say no.

That penchant for giving made Johnson the target of America’s billion-dollar charity fundraising industry.

In one recent year, callers persuaded her to write 25 checks to 11 different charities.

The repeated calls were no fluke.

Each one can be traced back to a single source – Associated Community Services, a Michigan-based company that is one of the nation’s largest charity telemarketing firms.

After Johnson gave to one charity, the firm put her on a list that got her bombarded with calls for nearly a dozen more company clients.  Telemarketers sometimes called several times a day.

Johnson told one phone solicitor she couldn’t afford to give to a charity called Children with Hair Loss.

“She said, ‘You’re going to let this poor little child be bald-headed when they’re only 4 years old?’ ” Johnson recalled.  “I really felt bad for the children, so I think I gave her around $10.”

Unbeknownst to Johnson, about $1.75 of that donation made it to the charity.  The telemarketing firm pocketed the rest.

Johnson’s story is just like that of millions of Americans who give once over the phone only to find themselves flooded with calls for more causes.

To track how this happens, the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting scrutinized how a single company, Associated Community Services, operated in one state that has amassed a treasure trove of data.

Reporters interviewed 10 current and former employees and examined internal company documents subpoenaed by the Iowa attorney general.  Iowa regulators used the records, which provide a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the charity industry, to build a case against the firm.  Earlier this year, a judge in Iowa ordered Associated Community Services to stop soliciting in that state until it fully complied with a subpoena.  The telemarketer is appealing the ruling.

In interviews, phone solicitors described the tactics they used to persuade donors to give.  Along with the records, which include details about every Iowa donor who gave 10 times or more, their descriptions reveal a deliberate strategy of targeting trusting donors and exploiting their generosity to fuel profits in the name of charity.

From March 2010 through June 2011, nearly 400 Iowans made 10 or more donations to the firm’s charity clients.  Total number of donations from the frequent-donor group: more than 5,500, worth a combined $102,000.

Associated Community Services would hit up its most reliable givers dozens of times in a year, with no regard for their age or financial situation.

Calls came so often that nearly half of the repeat donors gave to two different charity clients in a single day.

In an email, company officials said they call people on their hot list randomly and do not purposefully call multiple times a day.

“If the stars aligned properly, it is possible that a potential donor phone number could be called for several charities in one day,” President Richard Cole wrote.  “But this would be an unusual incident.”

Cole also said the company does not target the elderly and has no way of knowing the age or financial situation of the people they call.

But the Iowa attorney general found that most of the company’s prolific donors – those who gave 20 times or more – were 69 or older.

The top donor was a man in his 80s in Dubuque.  In just over a year, he made 38 donations totaling $1,375 to 13 of the telemarketer’s charities.

Six times, he gave to two of the firm’s clients on the same day.

The Iowa data details one company’s operations in a state with roughly 3 million residents.  But industry experts and the firm’s employees who worked the phones say it is representative of how Associated Community Services and many other telemarketers do business across the nation.

Industry experts said such practices are used primarily by telemarketing companies that do cold-calling and take a percentage of the donations raised, rather than a flat fee, for their service.

The vast majority of the nation’s 1.6 million nonprofits do not use telemarketing firms.  Charities that hire these phone solicitors wind up with a fraction of what gets raised.  Financial filings by clients represented by Associated Community Services show the firm and its related companies keep as much as 85 cents of every dollar donated.  Once charities pay their own administrative costs – including rent and salaries – it often means pennies on the dollar make it to those in need.

"America's Worst Charities"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

AMERICA - President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

"Nation long remembers short remarks by Lincoln on Gettysburg Address anniversary" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/19/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Abraham Lincoln thought the world would little note nor long remember what he said at Gettysburg, but his call for a new birth of freedom out of the carnage of the Civil War has long endured.

Now, fourscore and 70 years later, Jeffrey Brown looks back at the legacy of the address.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  It was just five months after the Civil War's bloodiest battle when Abraham Lincoln came to help dedicate a national cemetery to honor the 51,000 men killed, wounded, captured, or missing.

About 15,000 spectators were in attendance.  The keynote speaker, famed orator and politician Edward Everett, spoke for two hours, Lincoln for two minutes, and, with some 270 words, delivered one of the most memorable addresses in American history, helping make sense of the great sacrifice and loss of the war, reshaping and, for many, redefining the nation's identity going forward.

One of five existing copies of the manuscript is now on display at the Library of Congress in Washington.  It's believed to be the first draft and the one from which Lincoln read that day.  It's written on two pieces of paper, one formal in pen, the other on a notebook page and in pencil.

Michelle Krowl is the exhibit's curator.

MICHELLE KROWL, Library of Congress:  What you see is that Lincoln worked on the address in Washington first, and then probably got to Gettysburg and changed his mind about the ending.  So you can think about what might have inspired Lincoln to change that ending about a new birth of freedom and a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

JEFFREY BROWN:  A century-and-a-half later, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is honoring those sacred words by urging Americans to post videos of themselves reading Lincoln's speech on the Web site

Dozens of notable public figures, including all five living U.S. presidents, have submitted recordings.

FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER:  That this nation under God.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  Shall have a new birth of freedom.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:  And that government of the people.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH:  By the people, for the people.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Shall not perish from the earth.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Those same words were also echoed today in Gettysburg, as thousands flocked to the site of Lincoln's address for a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary.

"Lincoln's words to honor loss spark debate and dedication to American freedom" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/19/2013


SUMMARY:  President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address articulated a powerful message 150 years ago that endures today.  How did a speech with so few words come to effect such great meaning in American history?  Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard University and Richard Norton Smith of George Mason University join Jeffrey Brown to offer reflections.

RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University:  Lincoln came to dedicate the field of honor that had been fought over, and at the same time he came to define the war, in some ways to define the nation.  One way he did that was to begin with a history lesson.  Fourscore and seven years ago refers to 1776 and the Declaration of Independence and the Jeffersonian ideal, the egalitarian ideal that all men are created equal.

Lincoln is telling his countrymen that the ideal of America, the egalitarian ideal of America existed before it was codified in the Constitution.  That's critical.  That's absolutely essential, because that's the America in a very real sense that Lincoln was rededicating his countrymen when he talked about a new birth of freedom.

POLITICS - Republicans in U.S. Senate Advise-and-Block Role on Judicial Nominations

Thanks to the say-no-to-anything-Obama Republicans.  They are fulfilling their advise-and-block role.

"Is the judicial confirmation impasse impacting American justice?" PBS Newshour 11/19/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  We turn now to the fight over President Obama's judicial nominations.

Yesterday, for the third time in as many weeks, the Senate blocked the confirmation of a presidential nominee to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the nation's second highest court.  In a June 4 Rose Garden ceremony, President Obama nominated federal Judge Robert Wilkins, law professor Cornelia Pillard, and attorney Patricia Millet.  All three have failed to garner the 60 votes needed for confirmation.  A fourth nominee, Caitlin Halligan, who is counsel for the Manhattan district attorney, withdrew her name after she was blocked earlier this year.

Republicans say the D.C. Circuit is just too large and that the Senate is fulfilling its advise-and-consent role.

What does the standoff mean for the judiciary?

For that, we turn to:  Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, and Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network.

ACA HEALTH CARE - Stories, State of Massachusetts

Note that Massachusetts passed its own health care law (2006) BEFORE Obama care.  In fact much of the ACA is modeled after their state law.

"Facing rising health costs, Massachusetts seeks cost-cutting that improves care" PBS Newshour 11/19/2013


SUMMARY:  With an outcome of near universal health coverage for residents of the Bay State, the 2006 reform of Massachusetts' health care system has also come with higher prices.  Paul Solman reports on the state's effort to slow rising costs by looking for ways to cut spending on care that doesn't add value or improve health.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Much of the anger and debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act focuses on questions of coverage and individual costs for the consumer.  But another big question is whether it can hold down overall costs, as intended.

The state of Massachusetts is now grappling with that very question, something it didn't do when lawmakers first expanded coverage there.

IRAN - National Security Advisor Rice on Iran & Afghanistan Negotiations, and Syria

"National Security Advisor Rice:  'Now is not the time for new sanctions' on Iran" PBS Newshour 11/19/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  As the U.S. negotiating team readies for the next round of talks in Geneva over Iran's nuclear program, President Obama urged senators at the White House today to hold off on seeking additional sanctions on the country.

Afterwards, six senators including Democrats Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, insisting that the administration not accept an agreement that would be overly generous to Iran or not tough enough on its nuclear program.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice joins me now from the White House to talk about today's meeting and the upcoming negotiations.

BANKING - JPMorgan's Record Settlement

The much bigger outcome is JPMorgan having to admit wrong doing, which is not the common practice in settlements.

"Will JPMorgan's record settlement set incentive for better bank behavior?" PBS Newshour 11/19/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  J.P. Morgan's $13 billion settlement brings months of delicate, high-stakes negotiations to an end.

Under the terms of the deal, $4 billion will go to struggling homeowners in the form of reduced mortgage payments, lower loan rates and other assistance; $7 billion will go to investors as compensation.  The remainder will be fines paid by the bank.

The agreement comes as investigators are said to be pursuing cases against other financial institutions as well.

Some assessment now of the deal's significance and its problems.

Lynn Stout is a professor of business law at Cornell University.  She closely watches financial regulation.  And Bert Ely is a banking consultant.  He joins me here.

POLITICS - The Money Trail, How 'Crossroads' Buys Elections

"Crossroads’ Tax Return Shows Big Donors, But Doesn’t Name Them" by Kim Barker, ProPublica 11/18/2013


The dark money giant Crossroads GPS, launched by Republican strategist Karl Rove, told the IRS it raised almost $180 million in 2012, including one donation of $22.5 million, another of $18 million and another of $10 million.  Fifty donations were for $1 million or more.  Because the group is a social welfare nonprofit, none of the donors have to be made public.

The details come from the group’s 2012 tax return, which Crossroads made available today at their Washington office.  We picked up a copy and you can see it here.

Crossroads raised more than twice as much in 2012 as it collected in 2010 and 2011 combined.

The group also reported spending almost $75 million on direct and indirect campaign activities.

Crossroads GPS, also known as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, is the largest social nonprofit active in elections.  The group was created after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling opened the door to unlimited corporate and union spending on elections, to super PACs and to hundreds of millions of dollars in anonymous money.

In Crossroads’ application for nonprofit status in 2010, the group told the IRS that while it planned to spend money on elections, “any such activity will be limited in amount, and will not constitute the organization’s primary purpose.”

In the 2012 cycle, Crossroads told the Federal Election Commission it spent almost twice as much on political ads as the next most active social welfare nonprofit, Americans for Prosperity, backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Crossroads is in the crosshairs of campaign finance watchdogs, who have criticized social welfare nonprofits for exploiting loopholes in tax and election rules to be able to pour millions from undisclosed donors into campaigns.  Democrats have also targeted Crossroads for special attention.  In 2012, the lawyer for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign asked the FEC to force Crossroads to register as a political committee and disclose its donors.  (So far, that hasn’t happened.)

“There is no way in the world that $20 million-plus contributions, $10 million-plus contributions, that are funding campaign ads should be kept secret from the American people,” said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, who has worked to rein in outside spending in politics for decades.

Social welfare nonprofits are allowed to spend money on elections, but they are also supposed to be able to prove that social welfare is their primary purpose.  ProPublica has focused extensively on how many of these groups have poured much of their resources into political races.

Tax returns are one of the few places in which groups are required to detail both their revenues and expenditures and justify their social welfare mission.  But the returns are often filed more than a year after an election.

ACA HEALTH CARE - Personal Stories, The Hippocrates in Congress

"Perks Ease Way in Health Plans for Lawmakers" by ROBERT PEAR, New York Times 11/19/2013


Members of Congress like to boast that they will have the same health care enrollment experience as constituents struggling with the balky federal website, because the law they wrote forced lawmakers to get coverage from the new insurance exchanges.

That is true.  As long as their constituents have access to “in-person support sessions” like the ones being conducted at the Capitol and congressional office buildings by the local exchange and four major insurers.  Or can log on to a special Blue Cross and Blue Shield website for members of Congress and use a special toll-free telephone number — a “dedicated congressional health insurance plan assistance line.”

And then there is the fact that lawmakers have a larger menu of “gold plan” insurance choices than most of their constituents have back home.

While millions of Americans have been left to fend for themselves and go through the frustrating experience of trying to navigate the federal exchange, members of Congress and their aides have all sorts of assistance to help them sort through their options and enroll.

Lawmakers and the employees who work in their “official offices” will receive coverage next year through the small-business marketplace of the local insurance exchange, known as D.C. Health Link, which has staff members close at hand for guidance.

“D.C. Health Link set up shop right here in Congress,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate to the House from the nation’s capital.

Insurers routinely offer “member services” to enrollees.  But on Capitol Hill, the phrase has special meaning, indicating concierge-type services for members of Congress.

If lawmakers have questions about Aetna plan benefits and provider networks, they can call a special phone number that provides “member services for members of Congress and staff.”

On the website run by the Obama administration for 36 states, it is notoriously difficult to see the prices, deductibles and other details of health plans.

It is much easier for members of Congress and their aides to see and compare their options on websites run by the Senate, the House and the local exchange.

Lawmakers can select from 112 options offered in the “gold tier” of the District of Columbia exchange, far more than are available to most of their constituents.

Aetna is offering eight plan options to members of Congress, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield is offering 16.  Eight are available from Kaiser Permanente, and 80 are on sale from the UnitedHealth Group.

Lawmakers and their aides are not eligible for tax credit subsidies, but the government pays up to 75 percent of their premiums, contributing a maximum of $5,114 a year for individual coverage and $11,378 for family coverage.  The government contribution is based on the same formula used for most other federal employees.

In debates leading up to passage of the Affordable Care Act, members of both parties suggested that all Americans should have coverage as good as what Congress had.  President Obama said in 2009 that people should be able to buy insurance in a marketplace, or exchange, “the same way that federal employees do, same way that members of Congress do.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

ATF - Director Todd Jones on Urban Violence, Fast and Furious, and Illegal Cigarette Profits (Part-2)

"Boosting 'health' of ATF, targeting traffickers are goals for agency chief Jones" PBS Newshour 11/18/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now to part two of our newsmaker interview with B. Todd Jones, the new director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The first half of our conversation focused on the agency's responsibility for keeping track of the nation's 300 million firearms.

Tonight, we discuss urban violence, Fast and Furious, and illegal cigarette profits going to terrorists.

We talked late last week at the bureau's headquarters here in Washington.

Todd Jones, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, thank you for talking with us.

SPACE - Silicon Valley's Alternative to NASA Projects

"Silicon Valley entrepreneurs set their sights on space travel, moon mining" PBS Newshour 11/18/2013


SUMMARY:  Move over NASA, Silicon Valley is joining the space race.  Entrepreneurs from the nation's high-tech hub are designing lunar landers, making plans to mine the moon and gearing up to blast off into commercial space flight.  Thuy Vu of KQED reports on how private ventures and investors are investing in space exploration.

"Silicon Valley Goes to Space"

ACA HEALTH CARE - Personal Stories, Montez Family of Colorado

"Tax credit helps end one family's search for health insurance" PBS Newshour 11/18/2013


SUMMARY:  The Montez family of Colorado have been living without insurance, forcing them to avoid care and pay for medical expenses out of pocket.  But now they are able to afford a health care plan under the Affordable Care Act.  Julie Rovner of NPR joins Judy Woodruff to explain how tax subsidies are helping families get coverage.

WEATHER - Rare, Late-Season Storms in Midwest

"Disasters declared in seven Illinois counties after rare, late-season storms" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/18/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  They searched for victims and tallied the damage today, after a barrage of tornadoes hit the Midwest on Sunday.  At least eight people were killed, and scores more were hurt.  The most powerful storm cut a path roughly an eighth-of-a-mile-wide, clear across one Illinois town of 16,000 people.

Terrified townspeople watched and prayed as the giant funnel ripped through Washington, Illinois, Sunday.  Winds of almost 200 miles per hour tore at trees and blasted homes to bits.

MAN:  This is what my house looks like after a tornado came through.

GWEN IFILL:  In a matter of minutes, it was all over.  Then, residents surveyed the damage, up to 500 homes damaged or destroyed and cars crushed into mangled metal.

Today, an emotional Mayor Gary Manier vowed, his town will recover.

GARY MANIER, mayor of Washington, Ill.:  That is what this community is about.  We love our neighbors, and we're going to bounce back from this.  And I want to thank the surrounding communities that have reached out in droves of people.  We looked like a parking lot last night, so many people trying to get into our community to help us.  And we had to finally shut the community down and say, no more.  We can't have any more help.

GWEN IFILL:  Deadly storms from the same weather front raged across the Midwest throughout the day on Sunday, pulling trees out of the ground and flipping cars.

DAVID FRAWLEY, tornado survivor:  It's hard.  I couldn't even walk out here last night.  I kept wanting to be inside.  You kind of get like a little depression mode.  So I don't have that drive just of yet to, let's go and rebuild again.

GWEN IFILL:  Illinois Governor Pat Quinn ultimately declared disasters in seven counties.  He too visited the town of Washington today.

GOV. PAT QUINN, D-Ill.:  It's very, very important that at this time, we finish our search-and-rescue efforts all across our state to make sure there is no one in harm's away.  But, upon completion of that, our mission now is to recover.  And we will recover.  We will prevail over these -- these tornadoes.

GWEN IFILL:  In addition to Illinois, twisters and damaging winds hit a dozen states.  In this image from the National Weather Service, red dots symbolize more than 80 tornado reports across the region.  The blue dots stand for high winds from thunderstorms.

Those storms knocked down power lines in town after town, and 800,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark this morning.  Forecasters have sounded an early alert, but it was still highly unusual to see that many storms with that much power this late in the year.  With winter quickly approaching, the focus is now on cleaning up and making neighborhoods livable, as the mayor of Washington pointed out.

GARY MANIER:  The unfortunate thing is, this thing hit in November.  November is not the construction season that we build homes in this part of our state and part of our country.  So it's going to be a longer process than if it happened in March.

GWEN IFILL:  For now, though, police are keeping people out of the worst-hit areas until they are declared safe.

"Timing of widespread wave of strong storms in the Midwest is 'very unusual'" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/18/2013


SUMMARY:  The string of storms that devastated the Midwest over the weekend was very rare for the timing, both time of year and time of day.  Gwen Ifill talks to Howard Bluestein of the University of Oklahoma about the special conditions that triggered the deadly tornadoes.

Monday, November 18, 2013

CYBER SECURITY - Government Security Breach by Collective 'Anonymous'

"Government security breach by Anonymous - scope unknown" PBS Newshour 11/17/2013


SUMMARY:  Joseph Menn of Reuters reports on the story he helped break about how activist hackers linked to the collective known as Anonymous have secretly accessed U.S. government computers in multiple agencies and stolen sensitive information.  Menn says the campaign began almost a year ago and its scope is not yet known.

EDUCATION - The GED Makeover

"The GED gets a makeover:  Will it make for better workers?" PBS Newshour 11/17/2013


SUMMARY:  For more than 70 years, the General Educational Development exam, or the GED, has been an important tool for those who didn't complete high school and immigrants looking to make inroads into higher education or secure better jobs.  On Sunday, we take a look at the overhaul to the exam set to take effect in January 2014.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 11/15/2013

"Shields and Brooks on waning ACA confidence and its impact on liberal government" PBS Newshour 11/15/2013


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week's top political news, including how the challenges of enacting the Affordable Care Act may wreak political havoc for the Obama administration and future liberal agendas.

MARK SHIELDS:  It wasn't (President Obama's mea culpa) -- it wasn't, this is mine and I'm going to make sure that it never happens again.  I mean, this has got to work.

Judy, this is beyond the Obama administration.  If this goes down, if the Obama -- if health care, the Affordable Care Act is deemed a failure, this is the end -- I really mean it -- of liberal government, in the sense of any sense that government as an instrument of social justice, an engine of economic progress, which is what divides Democrats from Republicans -- that's what Democrats believe.

And that's what Democrats believe.  Time and again, social programs have made the difference in this country.  The public confidence in that will be so depleted, so diminished, that I really think the change -- the equation of American politics changes.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Is your view that dire?

DAVID BROOKS:  I agree with that.

I think it's -- I don't know if it's permanent, but it will be a severe blow to the idea of expanded liberal governments.  My big thought is, are we no longer the kind of country in which you can pass this sort of thing?  And by that, I mean, when you were passing the New Deal or the Great Society, there were winners and losers.

But the losers felt part of a larger collective and they said, OK, I'm going to take a hit for the team.  We may no longer have that sense of being part of a larger collective, so when you're a loser, you just say, I'm a loser.  And, as a result, you're just not willing to be part of the group.

And the penalty for being part of the loser just makes you want to hit whoever made you the loser.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And you're saying that that just doesn't...

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, we have lower social trust, lower faith in the institutions, lower sense of collectivity.

And those are deep social trends that have been building for decades, but it just makes it much harder to sustain this kind of big legislation.

MARK SHIELDS:  The we-ness of our society, the we, that we're all in it together, has really been diminished.

Now, the one thing that could save the Democrats, having given that apocalyptic assessment, is the Republicans.  I mean, nobody in his right mind or her right mind looks at a hearing, a statement, an investigation, a press release given by any Republican and comes to the conclusion that they're really interested in covering people who aren't covered.

They are rooting for failure.  I mean, it's so transparent, and so obvious, whether it's Darrell Issa, whether it's Reince Priebus, the chairman.  They're just cheering for failure.  There's not a sense of what we can do to make this work, or this isn't going to work, but we're going to come up with something better.  There just isn't.

CHINA - Changes to Government Policies Announced

"China plans to ease one-child policy, end forced labor camps" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/15/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  After decades of global condemnation over the practices, China today announced the easing of one controversial government policy and the abolishment of another.

Jeffrey Brown explains.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  The announcement heralded the biggest change in China's one-child policy in three decades.  Millions more couples will be allowed to have two children, provided at least one parent was an only child.

The existing policy, enforced by mandatory abortions and sterilization, was deeply unpopular.  And so was the system of forced labor camps that Communist Party leaders announced they're abolishing.  That system, established in 1957, allows police to imprison people for up to four years without formal arrest or trial.

The reforms came out of a four-day meeting of top communist officials, led by President Xi Jinping, who took office earlier this year.  Xi consolidated his power at the gathering with the formation of a national security committee to oversee the party, government and military.  The party meeting also agreed to let the private market play a more important role in the world's second-largest economy.

"Chinese reforms come in response to public discontent, economic necessity" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/15/2013


SUMMARY:  China's changes to its one-child policy and labor camp enforcement show some responsiveness to domestic and international pressure, as well as to growing economic pressure.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch and Susan Shirk of University of California to examine how far these reforms go.

ACA HEALTH CARE - Personal Stories, Aaron Macholl-Stanley

"In some states, more poor Americans get health care under expanded Medicaid" PBS Newshour 11/15/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  For all of the problems with the rollout of the health insurance program, one part of that effort seems to be going better is the expansion of Medicaid, health care for the poor.

Nearly 400,000 additional Americans have learned that they are now eligible to enroll.

And that brings us to our series of personal stories of health reform.  Tonight, we hear from a young man in California who is in the process of newly enrolling in Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that's known there as Medi-Cal.

WOMAN:  I'm going to scrape that out.  Don't you dare put water in there.  Oh, you snot.

AARON MACHOLL-STANLEY, college student:  My name is Aaron Macholl-Stanley.  I'm 25 years old.  I currently live at home with my mother.  I am just finishing up a second year at San Francisco City College culinary arts program.

Cooking has always just been one of the things that I have enjoyed.  I actually started working at the Common Wealth Cafe and Public House in Oakland, where I am dishwashing, prep cook, and line cook.

The employer doesn't provide any sort of health insurance, despite being an awesome place to work and a really friendly environment.  At my school, we have a health fee that covers limited medical responses.  Like, if I have cut myself, they will give me a Band-Aid.  I still need insurance so that I can get a prescription if I get sick.

I don't have any preexisting conditions or health issues constantly, other than maybe the occasional cat allergy, but I'm much more likely to burn myself or cut myself, and constantly around fire and sharp objects.

And I believe that having health insurance is definitely a necessity in this industry.

ACA HEALTH CARE - Insurers Cautious, U.S. House Bill

Another attempt to kill the ACA.

"Insurers 'very cautious' about new move to extend canceled policies" PBS Newshour 11/15/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Congress took the first step today toward letting Americans hang on to their current health plans. But the bill that passed the House may be going nowhere fast.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, R-Texas:  What has been visited upon the American people in the Affordable Care Act will not be resolved by this action today.  It is merely to stop the bleeding.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  The one-page bill pushed through by House Republicans would let those who want to keep or reinstate their health plans.  The Associated Press reported more than four million policies have been canceled so far.

Friday, November 15, 2013

IRAN - U.S. Congress Should Not Step Up Pressure During Negotiations

"As negotiators ready for Iran talks, Obama asks Congress not to step up pressure" PBS Newshour 11/14/2013


SUMMARY:  President Obama urged Congress to hold off on imposing new sanctions on Iran while negotiations over that nation's nuclear program are in progress.  Margaret Warner joins Gwen Ifill to offer insight on the factors influencing lawmakers, including distrust of Iran, worries about maintaining leverage and pressure from Israel.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  President Obama also used his news conference today to warn Congress against imposing new sanctions on Iran while diplomatic options remain.

As the U.S. negotiating team prepares to return to Geneva for a third round of talks next week, administration officials say they can still force Iran to freeze its nuclear program.

At the White House, the president said no new sanctions are needed.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  If in fact we're serious about trying to resolve this diplomatically, because no matter how good our military is, military options are always messy, are always difficult, then there is no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them to the table in the first place.

GWEN IFILL:  The behind-the-scenes struggle between the White House and Congress could drive the outcome of the Geneva talks.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner says it's been quite a vigorous one.

ATF - As Seen by New Director Todd Jones, Keeping Track of 300 Million Firearms (Part-1)

"ATF head Jones reflects on agency's outdated technology, system vulnerabilities" PBS Newshour 11/14/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now to our newsmaker interview with B. Todd Jones, the new director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives.  The agency, charged with keeping track of the nation's 300 million guns, lacked a permanent head for the last seven years.  Jones was appointed shortly after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and he was confirmed in July.

I spoke with him this afternoon at the bureau's headquarters here in Washington.

Director Todd Jones, thank you for talking with us.

B. TODD JONES, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives:  Well, thank you for being here.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In your confirmation hearings to become the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, you called this an agency in distress.

Others have called it the neglected stepchild of federal law enforcement.  They have called it a bureau under siege.  How do you see it now that you're here?

B. TODD JONES:  I call it a resilient law enforcement agency.

I had the privilege of serving in an acting capacity for two years, which gave me the benefit of getting to know the people, getting to know the organization -- the organization better, and also identifying some immediate actions that we wanted to take.  And it's -- 24 months has gone by really fast.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The ATF hadn't had a permanent director for seven years before you took the job.  You have a budget that is -- yes, it's grown, but it's not nearly as vast as the budgets of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency.

It's been pointed out your number of agents smaller than many city municipal police departments, sheriff's departments.  How are you managing?

FEDERAL RESERVE - Nominee Yellen Before U.S. Senate

"Fed nominee Yellen defends stimulus efforts before Senate committee" PBS Newshour 11/14/2013


SUMMARY:  Federal Reserve nominee Janet Yellen, the woman poised to become the most powerful banker in the world, faced scrutiny from the Senate Banking Committee.  Yellen discussed the Fed's move to continue stimulus efforts and pledged to keep up outgoing chairman Ben Bernanke's push for greater transparency.  Kwame Holman reports.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  As Washington debated health care fixes and the world coped with the Philippine disaster, the woman who would become -- who could become the most powerful banker in the world appeared on Capitol Hill today.

Janet Yellen, who would succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, appeared to move one step closer to confirmation, but not without scrutiny.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

ACA HEALTH CARE - Extension of Canceled Health Plans

Reminder, President Obama is the ONLY president that did anything about health care in decades.  Previous attempts failed because Congress was dragging their feet.  Is the ACA the best we could do, not really, but at least it's a good first-try.  Better than health care in the U.S. before where insurers got between you and your doctor (deigning your doctor's prescribed drugs or procedures), deigning your coverage because of pre-existing conditions, etc.

"Obama moves to allow Americans to extend canceled health plans" PBS Newshour 11/14/2013


SUMMARY:  President Obama made a move to keep his promise and put out a political firestorm by allowing people to keep their recently canceled health care plans for at least one year.  His response came after millions of Americans received cancellation notices for existing insurance policies that were not compliant with the ACA.

And from the "lets kill Obama Care" side of Congress....

"House members debate Obama's proposed fix to insurance cancellations" PBS Newshour 11/14/2013


SUMMARY:  President Obama's idea to temporarily lessen the blow for Americans whose existing insurance policies were canceled has garnered mixed reviews on Capitol Hill.  Gwen Ifill gets reaction from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.

QUESTION:  Have you ever thought WHY health care insurance is different than any other insurance, restricted 'enrollment?'  You don't have enrollment periods for your car insurance, you buy car insurance ANY time for a stated period and renew when it expires.

Now just why can't health care be sold the same way?  (without enrollment periods)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

POLITICS - Tea Party's 2014 Prospects

"Did the Shutdown Hurt the Tea Party’s 2014 Prospects?" by Amy Dean, In These Times 11/13/2013


The Tea Party lost big by forcing this fall's government shutdown, and it is slated to take a major hit in next year's midterm elections.  Such is the current wisdom, in any case, among mainstream political pundits.  But this analysis is too easy.  It imagines that progressives will make gains without the hard work of organizing.  And it presumes that Democrats can put forward a compelling agenda that will give people something to vote for, rather than merely expressing distaste for Washington altogether.

To get a more nuanced take on the political fallout of the shutdown, I spoke with longtime electoral strategist Steve Cobble.  He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a co-founder of Progressive Democrats of America and a senior political adviser to Free Speech for People, a group engaged in the fight to roll back Citizens United and end the idea that corporations are people.  Cobble served as a leader in the Jesse Jackson campaign of 1988 and more recently in Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

Given his background, Cobble identifies with the Democratic Party, yet he is consistently critical of the party's neoliberal wing.  In our conversation, he questioned whether the Democrats' fear of populism and failure to seriously challenge Wall Street will allow the Tea Party to hold on to the populist mantle–and to retain strength because of that.

I started by restating the common belief that the Tea Party will suffer electoral setbacks because of the shutdown.  Cobble jumped in immediately.

“I don't believe that,” he said.  “If the Tea Party is going for a smaller party that's more pure, they're not necessarily deterred by getting beaten.  [With incidents like the shutdown,] they just feel like they got sold out, so they redouble their efforts.  At some point, this process will curdle on itself and collapse, but I don't think we've reached that point yet.  I think the Tea Party's going to keep fighting.  If the Republican caucus in Iowa for president was next week, I think Ted Cruz would win it.”

Interestingly, Cobble believes that the Tea Party's fight with Wall Street Republicans will allow it to strengthen its populist appeal.

“One of the interesting dynamics of the Tea Party that's going to come up,” he argued, “is that they're going to get into primary fights with the Wall Street wing of the Republicans.  That's not necessarily bad for the Tea Party, because one of the quickest ways to get back in the fight is to have Wall Street–one of the most hated parts of the American scene–start trying to take out your champions.  At that point, you can run against both Washington and Wall Street.  Their primary fights will have a funny way of reinforcing their argument that they're the ones who like Wall Street the least.

“There's a huge resentment on the far Right and the far Left, which actually extends quite a bit toward the middle of average Americans, that Wall Street screwed us and then bought off Washington–and got away with it.  I think there's still power in that argument. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party's not making it.  No one thinks that the monetary penalties that the Justice Department is administering on the banks are real penalties.  As somebody wrote the other day, it's like a traffic ticket to JPMorgan.  The only person who goes to jail is Martha Stewart.

CALIFORNIA - New Law Protects Whistleblowers

"California Protects Wage-Theft Whistleblowers" by Jeffrey Bishku-Aykul, In These Times 11/14/2013

In a victory for both immigrant laborers and California workers as a whole, Gov. Jerry Brown signed bill AB 263 last month, protecting workers against employer retaliation for wage-theft claims.

Now, any employer in the state that punishes or threatens to punish employees for filing an oral or written complaint over unpaid wages will be fined up to $10,000 per employee.  The bill also offers specific protections against “unfair immigration-related practices,” which include contacting immigration authorities in retaliation against worker complaints, among other measures.

The Public Policy Institute of California has estimated that there are more than 1.8 million undocumented workers in the state.  Some employers have responded to employee grievances by using such threats as deportation to “hold workers hostage,” says legislative advocate Caitlin Vega, of the California Labor Federation (CLF), which has lobbied for AB 263.

But it doesn't always stop there, as Orange County day laborer José Ucelo Gonzalez learned in 2012: Gonzalez, who is undocumented, landed in the custody of immigration officials when he was falsely accused of robbery after seeking compensation for a paving job.  “Existing law simply wasn't enough to protect this portion of the workforce,” says CLF spokesman Steve Smith.

While amending California law, AB 263 also recognizes that low-wage immigrant workers “have the greatest number of work-related injuries and fatalities” and that they “are the most frequent victims of wage theft and are also exposed to the greatest hazards at work.”

AB 263 passed in the California Senate on September 9 and in the Assembly the next day.  As the bill sat at Gov. Brown's desk, Assemblyman Roger Hernández, who sponsored the legislation, and groups such as the CFL and the AFL-CIO called on him to sign it.

Gov. Brown finally signed AB 263 in October, along with several other bills protecting immigrants.  Among them was AB 4, also known as the Trust Act, which prevents undocumented immigrants changed with minor crimes from facing deportation.

“While Washington waffles on immigration,” Gov. Brown declared, “California's forging ahead.”

PHILIPPINES - Monster Storm Leads to Despair and Uncertainty

"Dwindling supplies add to despair and uncertainty in the Philippines" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/13/2013


JOHN IRVINE, Independent Television News:  It's the last place outsiders have reached, the town of Guiuan, the eastern edge of this country, where the Philippines meet the Pacific.

We headed into what's left.  The soldier with us was a guide, not a guard.  The people here could not have been more welcoming as they showed us the horrendous destruction.

Guiuan's location, normally a blessing, was on Friday a terrible curse.  There's nothing to the east of this town other than thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean, and it was from there that the typhoon came.  The most powerful storm ever recorded by man first encountered mankind right here and dealt a terrible blow.

Several people were killed here in a sports center designated as a shelter, a refuge that became a death trap as the typhoon blew the roof in.  The monster storm killed at least 85 people.  And the survivors still can't quite believe that they lived through it.

"Storm debris continues to be obstacle to typhoon relief efforts" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 11/13/2013


SUMMARY:  Relief supplies have been slow to reach typhoon victims due to physical obstacles slowing down delivery.  The lack of aid and growing desperation have led to a "breakdown of peace and order" in the hardest hit regions.  Gwen Ifill talks to Richard Gordon of the Philippine Red Cross about the challenges.

ACA HEALTH CARE - Reactions Series Part 3, Sick Americans

"Sick Americans find solace in health reform's pre-existing conditions guarantee" PBS Newshour 11/13/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  That brings us to another chapter in our series featuring reactions to the Affordable Care Act, as more people become aware of the details.

Yesterday, we aired the story of a Washington, D.C., lawyer who was angry that her current insurance policy had been canceled.

Tonight, we hear from a Colorado woman who was diagnosed with cancer just before her husband lost his job and his health care plan.

Here's some of what she told us:

HEALTH - New Guidelines For Statins

"New statin guidelines expand how doctors calculate which patients could benefit" PBS Newshour 11/13/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  The recommendations by the nation's leading heart organizations are the first new cholesterol guidelines released since 2004.

For decades, doctors have prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins to their patients based on their laboratory numbers.  But the new recommendations focus on risk factors, including whether individuals have diabetes or heart disease, or if they have a level of so-called bad cholesterol known as LDL.  That's 190 or higher.

Dr. Harlan Krumholz is a cardiologist and a professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine who has long studied this issue.

So, Dr. Krumholz, how significant are these new guidelines?

ISRAEL - Tensions Anew, Israeli-Palestinian Talks, Iran

"Efforts for Israeli-Palestinian talks complicated by tensions" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 11/13/2013

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Tensions have been mounting between the U.S. and Israel over the Iran nuclear talks and recent stumbling blocks in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. Secretary of State:  While I understand the skepticism, I don't share it, and I don't think we have time for it.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  That was Secretary of State John Kerry in July, announcing the restart of Israeli-Palestinian talks, aimed at reaching a two-state solution by next May.

JOHN KERRY:  I'm convinced from my conversations today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as with President Abbas, that this is not mission impossible.  This can happen.

JEFFREY BROWN:  And that was Kerry in Bethlehem last week, pressing for progress, despite rising tensions.  Only two days earlier, Israel had announced plans to construct 1,700 new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Palestinians angrily accused the Israelis of not negotiating in good faith.

AHLAM SAMHAN, protester (through interpreter):  We want peace and we want negotiations, but peace should be fair and guarantee the right of return, self-determination, a Palestinian state, the release of all prisoners, and settlement expansion should stop.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Meeting with Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged it's the Palestinians who've failed to live up to their promises.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel:  I'm concerned about their progress, because I see the Palestinians continuing with incitements, continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid and run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace.

JEFFREY BROWN:  But, on Israeli television, Kerry bluntly warned of what might happen if there is no progress.

JOHN KERRY:  The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos.  I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?

JEFFREY BROWN:  Then, yesterday, the Housing Ministry announced plans to build another 24,000 homes in disputed territory.  But, within hours, Netanyahu halted the move, saying it would create unnecessary confrontation with the international community.

Today, Palestine's chief negotiator said the damage has been done and that his team is resigning.  Hanging over all of this are the ongoing talks with Iran about its nuclear program, watched warily by the Israelis and other key regional players.

I have to agree with the Palestinian view, Israel is not negotiating in good faith as long at they continue to build or expand settlements in Palestine.

"How the Iran nuclear talks affect Israel's confidence in the U.S. as mediator" PBS Newshour 11/13/2013


SUMMARY:  To assess how the Iran nuclear negotiations are affecting the relationship between Israel and the U.S. and the American role in mediating Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Jeffrey Brown talks to Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine.