Friday, January 31, 2014

PERSONAL SECURITY - Opting Out from Data Brokers

Maybe it's time to HAVE a law to allow us to opt-out from Data Brokers, one without having to expose more personal information.

My 'We the People' Petition

"Privacy Tools:  Opting Out from Data Brokers" by Julia Angwin, ProPublica 1/30/2014

In the course of writing my book, Dragnet Nation, I tried various strategies to protect my privacy.  In this series of blog posts, I try to distill the lessons from my privacy experiments into a series of useful tips for readers.

Data brokers have been around forever, selling mailing lists to companies that send junk mail.  But in today’s data-saturated economy, data brokers know more information than ever about us, with sometimes disturbing results.

Earlier this month, OfficeMax sent a letter to a grieving father addressed to “daughter killed in car crash.”  And in December, privacy expert Pam Dixon testified in Congress that she had found data brokers selling lists with titles such as “Rape Sufferers” and “Erectile Dysfunction sufferers.”  And retailers are increasingly using this type of data to make from decisions about what credit card to offer people or how much to charge individuals for a stapler.

During my book research, I sought to obtain the data that brokers held about me.  At first, I was excited to be reminded of the address of my dorm room and my old phone numbers.  But thrill quickly wore off as the reports rolled in.  I was equally irked by the reports that were wrong — data brokers who thought I was a single mother with no education — as I was by the ones that were correct — is it necessary for someone to track that I recently bought underwear online?  So I decided to opt out from the commercial data brokers.

It wasn’t easy.  There is no law requiring data brokers to offer opt-outs.  Of the 212 data brokers that I managed to identify, less than half — 92 — accepted opt-outs.  Of those, a majority — 65 — required me to submit some form of identification, such as a driver’s license to opt out.  Twenty-four sites required the opt-out forms to be sent by mail or fax.  In some cases, I decided not to opt-out because the service seemed so sketchy that I didn’t want to send in any additional information.

Still, I achieve some minor successes:  A search for my name on some of the largest people-search websites, such as Intelius and Spokeo, yields no relevant results.

So, for those who want to try my strategy, here are the two spreadsheets I put together with the names of companies that track your information, links to their privacy pages, and instructions on how to opt out, in the cases where they offered them.

The first spreadsheet below is a list of data brokers who will give you copies of your data (you can download your own copy).  The second is the list of data brokers from whom I sought to opt-out, with the ones that allowed opt-outs highlighted (download this one here).

Good luck!

The spreadsheet links above, they have names and links to help you opt-out, you will have to have Microsoft Office or similar software installed to view.  If you do not, just use the article link.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

MEDICAL RESEARCH - New Stem Cell Breakthrough

"Researchers make stem cell discovery by studying tissue stress and repair" PBS Newshour 1/29/2014


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Today's news of a breakthrough in stem cell research captured the attention of scientists around the world.

For years, researchers have been investigating how to get adult stem cells to behave more like embryonic ones, which would allow them to be developed into almost any organ or tissue.  The findings announced today involve a simple treatment, immersing adult mouse cells in a mild acid bath.  As seen here, mouse embryos were grown with beating heart cells derived from this process.

Dr. Charles Vacanti was one of the lead researchers from the team at Brigham and Women's Hospital.  And he joins me now.
GWEN IFILL:  Well, one the differences, it seems to me, is that you know the debate around stem cell research has always been around embryonic stem cell research, because you had to destroy embryos in order to get access to that.  And that has crossed all kinds of barriers for people.  This, if it pans out, removes that possibility?

CHARLES VACANTI:  That was the intention.

So it is my belief that we can now create autologous, so specific for any individual, their own embryonic stem cells for use to generate new tissue without ever having to create an embryo or ever having to destroy an embryo.

POLITICS - Viewer Reactions to 2014 State of the Union Address

"Viewers respond to the 2014 State of the Union" PBS Newshour 1/29/2014

Viewer Response page


SUMMARY:  What did the American public think of President Obama's 2014 State of the Union?  NewsHour asked viewers to send in video responses.  From thoughts on renewable energy to the minimum wage, health care reform to NSA data collection, we sample a few of your reactions.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  We wanted to get reaction to the president's speech from outside Washington.  So we asked viewers like you to submit YouTube videos and our public television stations to gather local opinions.

Here's a sample:

AMERICA - Paralyzing Winter Storm Hits South

"Rare Arctic blast paralyzes southern communities ill-equipped for snow and ice" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/29/2014


SUMMARY:  A winter storm that brought freezing temperatures and dumped a few inches of snow had a major impact on some southern states.  In Atlanta, thousands of people were stranded trying to get home, including one woman who gave birth on an interstate and hundreds of children who spent the night on school buses.  Jeffrey Brown reports.

"Georgia Gov. anticipates clear roads as state thaws from winter storm" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/29/2014


SUMMARY:  Emergency responders continued to help clear drivers stranded after a heavy snow storm hit areas of Georgia on Tuesday.  Gov. Nathan Deal assured Jeffrey Brown that roads are close to being clear and all of the students who were stranded at their schools are now with their families.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

POLITICS - Fact Check of 2014 State of the Union Address

"Facts of the Union" by Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, and Eugene Kiely; 1/29/2014



We found a few overstatements and cherry-picked numbers among the applause lines and proposals in President Obama’s State of the Union address.

  • He boasted of businesses creating “more than 8 million new jobs” in the last four years.  But that leaves out a loss of government jobs, not to mention the loss of jobs earlier in Obama’s presidency.
  • Obama credited the Affordable Care Act with signing up more than 9 million Americans for private insurance or Medicaid.  But Medicaid estimates include renewals, along with new enrollees.
  • Obama boasted that the U.S. “reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”  Yes, but the U.S. produces a lot of emissions.  Looking at percentage change, dozens of countries did better.
  • Federal deficits have been “cut by half,” as he said, but they’re still at historically high levels.
  • It’s also true, as Obama said, that for the first time in 20 years, domestic oil production was greater than imports.  But the increase in U.S. production is primarily due to new technology, not government policy.


Selective Job Growth Stat

Obama referred to “more than 8 million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.”  That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s a highly selective statistic.

It’s true that nearly 8.2 million private sector jobs have been added since February 2010, which was the low point of the great job slump that began a year before Obama took office and continued through his first year.  But total employment has risen less – by 7.6 million – held back by layoffs of state and local government workers.  Obama was technically correct, as he was careful to speak of jobs “our businesses have created.”

His 8 million figure also leaves aside the nearly 4.2 million private sector jobs that were lost between the time he took office and the time the slump bottomed out.  Overall, the net job gain since he took office stood at just over 3.2 million (or nearly 4 million if counting only private sector jobs), as of the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for December.

Overstating ACA Impact

The president said that “because of the Affordable Care Act … more than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.”  But that total includes Medicaid renewals, not just new recipients that gained Medicaid coverage because of the health care law.

The 9 million figure includes three groups: 2.1 million Americans who have chosen insurance plans on the federal or state marketplaces, 3.9 million who were determined eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and an estimated 3.1 million young adults under age 26 who joined their parents’ plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s requirements.  Obama specifically referenced that last number:

Obama:  Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.  More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

But the Medicaid category includes more than just those signing up “because of the Affordable Care Act.”  As Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in announcing that 3.9 million “learned they’re eligible” for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program in October and November: “These numbers include new eligibility determinations and some Medicaid and CHIP renewals.”  So not everyone was a new enrollee who gained Medicaid coverage because of the law.  Some of the Medicaid numbers reported by the states included those renewing their already existing coverage.

Also, Obama didn’t claim that all of those signing up for coverage had been uninsured, and, in fact, we know that not all of them were.  For instance, members of Congress and their staffs signed up for exchange plans, as required by the law, instead of continuing to get coverage through the program for federal employees.

Stretching a Boast on Carbon Pollution Reduction

Obama rehashed a boast first made in a major speech on climate change last summer, that “the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”  As we noted then, that’s accurate in terms of the sheer tonnage of emissions reduced.  But dozens of nations have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by a larger percentage than the U.S., which is second only to China in total emissions.

Obama:  Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet.  Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.  But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. emitted 5,490.63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011.  That’s 362.4 metric tons fewer than what was emitted in the U.S. in 2003.  And Obama is correct that no other country saw such a large carbon pollution reduction, by metric tons, over the last eight years.

But some perspective is in order.  The carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. in 2011 were second only to China, which emitted 8,715.31 million metric tons.

Few other countries even come close to emitting the amount of carbon dioxide that the U.S. does.  The U.S. improvement results are different when the reduction amount is measured by the percentage change.

By that measure, dozens of countries fared better than the U.S., which reduced its emissions by 6.2 percent, including France (8.3 percent reduction), Germany (14.2 percent), Italy (15.1 percent), Spain (8 percent) and the United Kingdom (13.2 percent) — all of which committed to reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol that took effect in 2005 and has since been extended through 2020.  The United States did not ratify the treaty.

Also noteworthy, the EIA credited most of the U.S. reduction in carbon pollution to slower economic growth, weather, higher gasoline prices and an increasing shift from coal to natural gas — not necessarily the government’s energy policy, as claimed by Obama.

Still Historically High Deficits

Obama’s claim that federal deficits have been “cut by half” is true, but deficits remain at historically high levels.

When Obama took office in 2009, he inherited a projected deficit of $1.2 trillion.  By the time fiscal year 2009 was finished, the actual deficit turned out to be over $1.4 trillion – the highest in U.S. history.  And deficits remained over $1 trillion for the next three fiscal years.

The deficit for fiscal year 2013 (which ended Sept. 30) fell to $680 billion.  That’s indeed less than half the 2009 figure, but it’s still higher than any full-year deficit for any previous president.  The previous record was $459 billion in fiscal 2008, under President George W. Bush.

The outlook for the current fiscal year is improving rapidly, but it’s still quite high.  The Treasury Department just reported a deficit of $174 billion for the first three months (October through December), which is 28 percent lower than the $239 billion deficit recorded for the comparable three-month period a year earlier.

Domestic Oil Greater Than Imports

The president said that for the first time in nearly 20 years, there is “more oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world.”

That’s true.  The latest figures from the nonpartisan experts at the Energy Information Administration show domestic oil production averaged 7.5 million barrels per day last year, while net imports of petroleum averaged 6.2 million barrels.  And that’s the first time since 1992 that domestic production exceeded net imports.

But as we’ve often noted, the remarkable boom in U.S. oil production is chiefly the result of new drilling technology — using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — and not of any government policy.

POLITICS - State of the Union 2014

President Obama's State of the Union Address

"State of the Union Reactions" PBS Newshour 1/28/2014

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama vowed to use his executive action to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers and make it easier for millions of low-income Americans to save for retirement.  What issue was most important to you?  How well did the president address it?  The best reactions will air on the PBS NewsHour.

You can submit your reactions on this site.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 1/24/2014

"Shields and Brooks on McDonnell and money, Clinton and the campaign" PBS Newshour 1/24/2014


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the income inequality and consequences of money in American politics, the federal corruption charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and some early super PAC support for Hillary Clinton.

ECONOMY - Why Economic Mobility Hasn't Changed in 40yrs (recap)

"While inequality rose, study finds economic mobility hasn't changed in 40 years" PBS Newshour 1/24/2014


SUMMARY:  Across the last four decades, upward mobility hasn't declined in the United States, but it also hasn't improved, according to a new paper written by a group of economists.  Jeffrey Brown discusses that stagnation and possible contributing factors with Raj Chetty of Harvard University, one of the authors of the study.

SYRIA - Geneva Talks Update

"Despite different takes on Geneva communique, Syrian delegations agree to meet" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/24/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The United Nations' lead envoy on Syria struggled today to hold talks together aimed at ending that country's civil war.

As Hari Sreenivasan reports, they may have reached a breakthrough.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Demonstrators from both sides of the Syrian conflict highlighted the diplomatic divisions, as the Assad regime and the opposition failed to meet face-to-face today.

Then came this:

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. Envoy to Syria:  Tomorrow, we expect, we have agreed that we will meet in same room.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi made the announcement after hours of meeting separately with the delegations.

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI:  The discussions I have had with the two parties were encouraging.  And we are looking forward to our meetings tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon.  As you know, the whole process is based on the Geneva communique of the 30th of June, 2012.  And I think the two sides understand that very well and accept it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  That communique calls for a transitional government, and Brahimi acknowledged there are different interpretations of its provisions.

Earlier, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition insisted President Bashar al-Assad accept those terms before any direct talks.

Secretary-General Badr Jamous:

BADR JAMOUS, Secretary-General, Syrian National Council (through translator):  The negotiations will be indirect until the regime signs Geneva I.  We came to implement the agreement. And if the regime will not abide by it, then direct contact will not be beneficial.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But the Syrian delegation gave no ground publicly.  Instead, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his delegation would leave tomorrow if serious talks didn't begin.

Meanwhile, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to ridding Syria of Assad.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  Absent a political solution, we know where this leads, more refugees, more terrorists, more extremism, more brutality from the regime, more suffering from the Syrian people.

And we do not believe that we or anyone should tolerate one man's brutal effort to cling to power.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  As the day ended, expectations for tomorrow's talks in Geneva remained low, but, as one Western diplomat put it, "Every day that they talk is a little step forward."

"Talks between Syrian government, opposition back on despite tense day in Geneva" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/24/2014


SUMMARY:  The U.N. lead envoy on Syria was able to press the reset button Friday for talks aimed at ending the country’s civil war.  Despite strong disagreement over conditions of the talks, the two sides have agreed to meet Saturday.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner (Newshour) briefs Hari Sreenivasan from Geneva.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

SPACE - New Supernova in Nearby Galaxy

"KABOOM!  Nearby Galaxy M82 Hosts a New Supernova!" by Phil Plait, Slate 1/22/2014

I woke up to some great science news:  A supernova has gone off in the nearby galaxy M82!

This is terribly exciting for astronomers.  M82 is pretty close as galaxies go, less than 12 million light years away.  That means we have an excellent view of one of the biggest explosions in the Universe, and we’ll be able to study it in great detail!

The supernova has the preliminary designation of PSN J09554214+6940260.  I know, that’s awful—it’s based on the star’s coordinates—but it’ll get a name soon enough that’ll be easier on the eyes and brain.

And just to get this out of the way, we’re in no danger from this explosion.  It’s far too far away.  Also, you won’t be able to just go outside, look up, and see it.  Right now it’s too faint to see without a telescope.  But the good news is it appears to have been discovered about two weeks before it hits peak brightness.  Supernovae get brighter over time before fading away, and this one may get as bright as 8th magnitude, which is within range of binoculars.  Right now it’s at about 12th magnitude; the faintest star you can see with your naked eye is about mag 6 (note that the numbers run backwards; a bigger number is a fainter object).

M82 is in Ursa Major, well placed for viewing right now in the Northern Hemisphere.  Universe Today has a map to show you how to find it.

Here’s a funny thing, too.  The supernova itself is what we call a Type Ia, a dwarf explosion.  Astronomers are still trying to figure out exactly what happens in a Type Ia explosion, but there are three competing scenarios.  Each involves a white dwarf, the small, dense, hot core left over after a star turns into a red giant, blows off its outer layers, and essentially “dies.”  One scenario is that the white dwarf is orbiting a second star.  It siphons off material from the star and accumulates it on its surface.  Eventually this material gets so compressed by the huge gravity of the white dwarf that it fuses, creating a catastrophic explosion that tears the star apart.

Another is that two white dwarfs orbit each other.  Eventually they spiral in, merge, and explode.  The third, which is a recent idea, is that there are actually three stars in the system, a normal star and two white dwarfs.  Due to the complex dance of gravity, the third star warps the orbits of the two dwarfs, and at some point they collide head-on!  This too would result in a supernova explosion.  All three scenarios involve very old stars, since it can take billions of years for a normal star to turn into a white dwarf.

What’s funny about this is that the galaxy M82 is undergoing a huge burst of star formation right now, and that means lots of massive stars are born.  These live short lives and also explode as supernovae (called Type II, or core collapse) though the mechanism is very different from that of the white dwarf explosions.  You’d expect M82 to have more core collapse supernovae, but this new one is a Type Ia.

And that’s actually more good news.  These supernovae tend to all explode with the same energy, so they behave the same way whether they are near or far.  We can see them for billions of light years away, which means they can be used to measure the distances of galaxies that are very far away.  It was this kind of exploding star that allowed astronomers to discover dark energy, in fact.  This energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, making it grow more every day.  We don’t know a whole lot about it—it was only announced in 1998—but we’re learning more all the time.  A nearby Type Ia means we can learn even more about these explosions, and hopefully calibrate our understanding even better.

And that means we need observations!  If you are an amateur astronomer, get images!  And if you observed M82 recently, you may have “pre-discovery” images of it, taken before it was officially discovered.  Those are critical for understanding the behavior of the supernova.  If you do, report it to the CBAT (but make sure you read the instructions first; they don’t want images, just reports of magnitudes and so on).

Given the fact that it’s nearby, up high for so many observers, and caught so early, this may become one of the best-observed supernovae in modern times.  I’m very excited this happened, and I hope to share more images and information with you soon!

POLITICS - Republican Rising Star Indicted

"Indictment of former Gov. McDonnell paints picture of couple living to extremes" PBS Newshour 1/22/2014


SUMMARY:  Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were indicted on federal corruption charges for receiving tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and loans from a wealthy campaign donor.  The former rising star in the Republican party has vowed to fight the charges.  Judy Woodruff talks to Rosalind Helderman of The Washington Post.

EDUCATION - Getting Students Ready For Work

Yes, you do not need collage to get a good job.  You need skills.

"Certification test focuses on readying students for work, not college" PBS Newshour 1/22/2014


SUMMARY:  For American industry, finding employees who have all the requisite skills is a big challenge, and hiring people who don't stack up can cost businesses a great deal of money.  Special correspondent John Tulenko from Learning Matters reports on a certification test that aims to boost U.S. students' workforce readiness

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Next: the challenge of getting students ready for the working world.

While most high schools focus on preparing students for college, businesses in one community outside Chicago are rallying around a different approach, preparing students for work.

Special correspondent John Tulenko from Learning Matters has our report.

JOHN TULENKO, Learning Matters:  From the outside, Hoffer Plastics in Elgin, Illinois, looks about the same as it did when it was founded back in 1953.  Inside, it's a different story.

Bill Hoffer is the CEO.

BILL HOFFER, Hoffer Plastics Corporation:  We have got job after job that 20 years ago would be a full-time operator.  Now it's a robot.

JOHN TULENKO:  There are fewer workers, but they're required to do more.

BILL HOFFER:  They need to be able to read blueprints.  They need to follow procedures, document what they're doing.  And that's all very important.

JOHN TULENKO:  Right now, finding employees who can do all that is a challenge for Hoffer Plastics and for 40 percent of U.S. companies.  The result?  A revolving door of workers that cost businesses billions.

PAT HAYES, Fabric Images:  Why do we keep spending money to solve the same problem over and over and over again?

CALIFORNIA - Drought Emergency Declared by Governor

COMMENT:  For decades environmental and other groups have opposed building more reservoirs which means less water storage.  Note I live in Southern California.

"Calif. calls for water conservation in response to record drought" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/22/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  It's well-known that California has its share of disasters and troubles with extreme weather.  But the severe drought that's hitting the state is having a deep and widespread impact.  It's even bringing back bad memories of similar problems during the '70s.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  While the Midwest and East face a fierce winter and heavy snowfall, there's an entirely different climate concern in California: a record-breaking dry spell that's been building for three years.

GOV. JERRY BROWN, D-Calif.:  I'm declaring a drought emergency.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Last week, Governor Jerry Brown formally announced the state may be facing its worst drought since record-keeping began some 100 years ago.  He returned to the subject today in his state of the state address.

JERRY BROWN:  Among all of our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic.  We can't control it.  We can only live with it.  And now we have to live with a very serious drought of uncertain duration.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Precipitation is below 20 percent of normal this winter, and, as a result, river flows are low, snowpacks are much smaller than normal and reservoirs are shrinking.

NARRATOR:  Water in L.A. is limited.  Every drop is precious.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The dry conditions are also feeding wildfires, as vegetation that typically rehydrates during the winter dries out instead.

California's huge agriculture industry is likewise threatened, raising prices for produce and raising concerns among farmers.  And the drought has raised new regional tensions.  Some in Northern California demand the drier south conserve more, while water suppliers insist they already are.

TERRY ERLEWINE, state water contractors:  There's been a huge amount of water conservation implemented in Southern California.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Several California Republicans in Congress and House Speaker John Boehner announced emergency legislation today to stop restoration of the San Joaquin River aimed at bringing back salmon to let farmers tap water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

They spoke in Bakersfield.

REP. DEVIN NUNES, R-Calif.:  We're not asking for anything more.  We're just asking for the original contract of water.  That is what allowed this valley to bloom.  So if we would just get the water that we were allocated and that we have been promised by the government, all these people would be working.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Today, Gov. Brown called for everyone across the state to save water.

JERRY BROWN:  We need everyone in every part of the state to conserve water.  We need regulators to rebalance water rules and enable voluntary transfers of water.  And we must prepare for forest fires.  As the state water plan action lays out, water recycling, expanded storage and serious ground water management must all be part of the mix.

JEFFREY BROWN:  If the drought continues, Brown warned, mandatory measures may be imposed.  And the lack of water will begin to affect surrounding states as well.

"California's drought could mean bad news at the grocery store" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/22/2014


SUMMARY:  The record drought in California is not only likely to decrease the state's agricultural yield and affect food prices, it could also wreak severe economic consequences for rural communities.  To discuss the impact on farming and for consumers, Jeffrey Brown talks to Karen Ross of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

WINTER OLYMPICS - Sochi, Why a Prime Target

"Why the Sochi Olympics may be a prime terror target" PBS Newshour 1/21/2014


SUMMARY:  Security pressures for the upcoming Olympics are high, due to the bloody history of its location.  Sochi was the site of a massacre 150 years ago, bringing fresh symbolism to insurgents wishing to avenge more recent bloodshed.  For more, Hari Sreenivasan talks to Robert Bruce Ware of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

SUPREME COURT - 2014 Session Update

"Supreme Court considers cases on 'Raging Bull' authorship, labor union limits" PBS Newshour 1/21/2014


SUMMARY:  Gwen Ifill talks to Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal about two cases heard at the Supreme Court.  In one, non-unionized health care workers argue they shouldn't have to pay for contract negotiations.  Then, can an author's heir claim copyright infringement against the 1980 movie "Raging Bull" decades later?

CATHOLICISM - Abuse Files, Update

"Documents reveal Chicago archdiocese protected priests accused of sex abuse" PBS Newshour 1/21/2014


SUMMARY:  The revelation that the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago hid decades of child sex abuse was revealed through documents as part of a settlement with victims.  The papers describe how church leadership reassigned priests accused of abuse to different parishes.  Gwen Ifill talks to Jeff Anderson, attorney for the plaintiffs.

COSMOS - What is Dark Matter?

"Scientists search for understanding of dark matter in deep underground lab" PBS Newshour 1/20/2014

SNOLAB:  Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Labatory


SUMMARY:  At the bottom of a nickel mine near Sudbury, Ontario, scientists at one of the world's most sophisticated particle physics observatories are investigating one of the biggest mysteries of the cosmos: What is dark matter?  Science correspondent Miles O'Brien helps to shed some light on the research at SNOLAB.

AFGHANISTAN - Political Uncertainty Affecting Security?

"How does political uncertainty affect Afghanistan's security?" PBS Newshour 1/20/2014


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  The Taliban carried out a brazen attack today against a military base in Southern Afghanistan. Using a truck bomb, gunmen stormed the complex and killed an American soldier.  That followed an assault Friday that targeted a restaurant frequented by Westerners in Kabul; 21 civilians were killed, 13 of them non-Afghans, in the single deadliest attack against foreign citizens since the war started.

Claiming responsibility, the Taliban said the attack was in retaliation for an airstrike last week against insurgents in the eastern Parwan province.  There is little agreement on the genesis of that attack.  There were a number of civilian causalities, but there are conflicting reports on how many were killed.

For more on the instability in Afghanistan, we turn to Washington Post reporter Pamela Constable.  She recently returned from the country.  And Omar Samad, a former Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman who also served as the country's ambassador to France and to Canada.

SYRIA - Iran Not to Attend Peace Talks

We do NOT need a terrorist supporter at these talks.  It is Iran's support of terrorist groups that is making the war worst.

"World powers dispute whether Iran should attend Syrian peace talks" PBS Newshour 1/20/2014


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now the diplomatic struggle over the Syria peace talks.

The back-and-forth over the U.N.'s decision to invite Iran to participate continued all day, with the scheduled start of the talks less than 48 hours away.

In two days' time, world powers will gather at this hotel in Montreux, Switzerland, to try to negotiate an end to Syria's civil war.

Yesterday, in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon extended an 11th-hour invitation to Iran.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General:  I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis.

GWEN IFILL:  Ban initially said Iran accepted the goal of a transitional government in Syria that would remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.  Later, though, Iran insisted it will not accept preconditions for attending.

Hours after that, a spokesman for Ban made this announcement at the U.N.:

MARTIN NESIRKY, UN spokesman:  The secretary-general is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment.  He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communique.  Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran's participation.

Monday, January 20, 2014

CYBERCRIME - Who Orchestrated the Target Breach

"Were criminal gangs involved in the Target security breach?" PBS Newshour 1/18/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Another story that we wanted to follow up on tonight is the state of credit card security, or lack of it.  This following discourse is about major security breaches at big retailers, including Target and Neiman Marcus.  Now new details are emerging about who was behind it, and how it was accomplished.  For more we are joined now, from Washington, by Mike Riley with Bloomberg News.  So, there was a big report out - it started to layout the details.  How do these hackers get all the credit card numbers?

MIKE RILEY, Bloomberg News:  So, they have a pretty sophisticated piece of malware that goes on the point of sales system itself, so that is the terminal that sits in front the the cash register that we all swipe our cards on.  So, the malware goes there and it takes advantage of a quirk, where within that machine, all that information that is taken off that card is sent from one memory chip to another.  It is not encrypted in that process, and they grab it right there.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And so, who is writing this malware?

MIKE RILEY:  It looks like it is Eastern European or Russian criminal gangs.  Some of the most sophisticated hackers in the world are Russian or Eastern European.  What they have done is they have gotten really good systems.  It is like a supply chain that you can buy pieces of malware.  If you are good enough, as in this case - they have bought a specific piece of malware, called Black POS.  It is a pretty good piece of malware to begin with, but then they customized it.  They made it better.  They made it harder to find, and then they figured out a scheme to get into Target's computers, and stuck it on the point of sales system.  It is also pretty clear that the same gang, or a group of different hackers using the same malware, are targeting other retailers.  We have not seen the end of this.

WORLD - Reaction to President Obama's NSA Changes

"European critics react to proposed NSA changes" PBS Newshour 1/18/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  You might have heard yesterday about changes to America’s intelligence gathering procedures.  Tonight we want to examine how that announcement is playing overseas. particularly among American allies.  As you’ll recall, some of them, including German Chancellor Angela Merkle, were targeted by American spy operations.  For more we’re joined now from Washington with Geoff Dyer, Foreign Policy correspondent of the Financial Times.  Thanks for joining us.  So, I guess the initial reaction to President Obama’s speech, what are you hearing?

GEOFF DYER, Foreign Policy correspondent of the Financial Times:  Well, it seems to be a cautious welcome.  It’s a welcome because this is actually the first time the President has really raised, addressed some of the concerns that people in Europe and Latin America had by the way the NSA was collecting data on ordinary citizens.  There’s been almost this slightly bizarre, parallel conversation going on throughout this whole debate.  In the U.S., politicians have been focused on the question of whether or not Americans rights have been violated or not.  And that’s absolutely appropriate, that’s what they should be focused on, that’s their constitutional responsibility.  But that did give the impression to lots of people around the world, there was almost a free for all on non-Americans.  Their emails and their text messages were just fair game.  So by addressing some of those concerns in the speech, that was really the first time the president had done that.  But it’s a cautious welcome because there was very little real detail or substance in there.  A lot of that’s gonna be fleshed out in the weeks and months ahead, and so I think people who are focused on this issue are going to be watching very closely to see the actual specifics of what the White House outlines for them.

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 1/17/2014

"Brooks and Marcus on Obama's surveillance reforms, Benghazi attack blame" PBS Newshour 1/17/2014


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Gwen Ifill to discuss the week's top political news, including whether or not President Obama went far enough with his recommended surveillance reforms, who's blame for the Benghazi attack and the possibility for new sanctions on Iran.

ACA - Former CEO, America's Medical System Rewards Bad Outcomes

For the record, I have Kaiser Senior Advantage (Medicare) coverage now, and my family had been covered by Kaiser for decades.  Also note that Kaiser incorporated much of the ACA standards BEFORE it existed.

"Former health care CEO argues America's medical system rewards bad outcomes" PBS Newshour 1/17/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  No matter how you feel about the health care law known as the Affordable Care Act, many experts agree we are entering a critical time that will test ideas about what may or may not work when it comes to changing the health care system.

While much of the debate surrounding Obamacare centers on coverage and penalties, parts of the law are designed to see if costs can be reduced and spending slowed down further.

One large insurer, Kaiser Permanente, has already incorporated into its model some of these ideas, including an emphasis on prevention, a greater use of electronic records, and changing how doctors are paid, including coordinating how patients are treated through team care.  Kaiser employs 17,000 doctors, owns more than 35 hospitals and has annual revenues of $50 billion.

Its record has been the subject of both praise and criticism.

And its just-departed CEO, George Halvorson, has had a distinct voice in all of these issues.  He is out with a new book titled "Don't Let Health Care Bankrupt America."  And he joins me now.

Welcome to the NewsHour.

GEORGE HALVORSON, former CEO of Kaiser Permanente:  Thank you for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, this new health care law has rolled out.  And you have a unique perspective on it.  Unlike most Americans, you have been involved in health care management your entire career.  You just, as we said, stepped down from running the nation's biggest nonprofit health care and hospital system.

What does it look like to you?

GEORGE HALVORSON:  Well, we are the only industrialized country that hasn't covered everyone.  Everything else has universal insurance.

And we are way overdue.  This is the right thing for us to do.  We need to cover everyone.  We are now in the process of rolling out an attempt to do that, and there have been a few challenges in the process.  It hasn't been entirely supported and it hasn't been done perfectly, but it is directionally very correct.  This is the right thing to do.

We do need to cover everyone.  And we need to get this right.

NSA - President Obama's New Limits

A good start.  But traitor Edward Snowden still harmed our nation.

The phone companies are resisting holding the data partly because of the vast storage capacity that would require.  Normally they hold metadata for as long as needed for billing systems to extract what is needed, then the metadata is dumped.

"Obama unveils new limits on U.S. spying while defending surveillance operations" PBS Newshour 1/17/2014


SUMMARY:  President Obama called for several changes to U.S. spying practices including ending the NSA's storage of bulk phone metadata.  Kwame Holman reports on the president's reforms and Hari Sreenivasan gets reaction from Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies and John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA.

Full announcement

SATIRE - Colbert Report on NSA Software Implants

NSA Software Implants
The Colbert Report 1/16/2014
Colbert Nation

The Colbert Report
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Friday, January 17, 2014

CARMAKERS - 2014 Detroit Auto Show

"At Detroit Auto Show, carmakers unveil new high-performance models" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/16/2014

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Five years ago, two of the largest auto manufacturers, GM and Chrysler, were on the brink.  The Bush and Obama administrations offered them critical lifelines of cash, tens of billions of dollars, most of which has since been repaid.

In the wake of the crisis, carmakers said they would change the kinds of vehicles they were selling, reducing their size and increasing fuel-efficiency.  And, to some extent, that is happening.

But, in Detroit this week, the industry also returned to some of its old high-powered old form.

Hari is back with that story.

MAN:  Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the big nasty, the 2015 Corvette Z06.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Detroit puts its best new offerings on stage each year at the North American International Auto Show, previewing concept cars that may never be made, alongside those that car-lovers can expect to see in showrooms in the coming years.

Vice President Joe Biden was among the enthusiasts today as Chevrolet rolled out the new Corvette.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:  Now, you know, that old Corvette, that rear end, it wasn't what you would call stable, right?


JOE BIDEN:  But they tell me this new one, man, can take the Porsche.  I'm counting on it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And automakers seem to be counting on a new yearning for high-performance cars, after focusing more on smaller sedans and electric vehicles in recent years.

RAJ NAIR, Ford Group:  There you have it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Trucks are also moving off dealers' lots.  And at the auto show, manufacturers tried to spotlight redesigned models like Ford's F-150, which are lighter and more fuel-efficient.

RAJ NAIR:  Overall, as much as 700 pounds of weight have been saved, helping the F-150 tow more, haul more, accelerate quicker, stop shorter, all with better gas mileage.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Ford and its competitors are racing to meet a surging demand for trucks, fueled partly by contractors buying more as them, as the housing industry picks up.

The new CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, unveiled her company's new midsize pickup, the GMC Canyon, on Sunday.

MARY BARRA, General Motors:  At today's GM, our products are the result of putting the customer at the center of everything we do.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Overall, the industry racked up strong sales gains in 2013, with more than 15 million vehicles sold.  It's hoping to build on that performance in 2014.

"Big trucks lose weight, gain greater efficiency for Detroit Auto Show" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/16/2014


SUMMARY:  At the 2014 North American International Auto Show, the spotlight shines on sports cars and trucks, rather than alternative fuel vehicles.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Dan Neil of The Wall Street Journal and Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book about the state of the industry and how gas mileage improvements are shaping trends.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

INTERNET - FCC Net Neutrality Rules

"Will end of net neutrality rules impact future innovation?" PBS Newshour 1/15/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Net neutrality is the idea that broadband Internet service providers, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others, should treat everything that flows across the Internet equally.  That means preventing service providers from creating fast lanes for sites they have business ties with, such as streaming video services like Hulu or Netflix, and slowing access to others, like Amazon.

It also means not charging more for YouTube and other sites based on their heavier bandwidth use or in exchange for faster speeds, all of which could affect what consumers see online, how fast, and at what price.  The principles were set out by the Federal Communications Commission nearly a decade ago.

The agency enshrined them in its Open Internet Order adopted in 2010.  But Verizon sued to challenge the agency's authority, and, yesterday, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found the FCC acted improperly.  The 81-page ruling said the agency is wrong to classify Internet service providers as information services, but at the same time regulate them as common carriers, meaning as it does telephone and utility companies.

While the FCC decides whether to appeal, Amazon and others are watching to see if the broadband networks impose their own rules, favoring some content companies over others.

For its part, Verizon issued a statement yesterday that said, in part:  "Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet.  This will not change in light of the court's decision."

The ruling doesn't apply to wireless services accessed through mobile devices, which represent a growing share of the market.

LIBYA - Senate Benghazi Report

"Senate concludes State Dept. ignored security warnings ahead of Benghazi attack" PBS Newshour 1/15/2014


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  More than a year ago, a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in an uprising in Benghazi, Libya.  The questions about the incident, why it happened, how it happened, whether it could have been avoided, have never completely gone away.

Today, after dozens of hearings and interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its own bipartisan conclusions.

Adam Goldman of The Washington Post joins us now to talk about them.

So, how did the Senate Intelligence Committee's finding differ from what we have heard about?  We have heard so much about this Benghazi episode?  Was there anything different that they discovered today?

ADAM GOLDMAN, The Washington Post:  No.

I think they came to the same conclusion as other reports that what happened in Benghazi was preventable.  I think what was new about the report was the detail they went into.  And that in itself was extraordinary.  The whole report was released.

And we really got a blow-by-blow of what happened.  And there weren't very many redactions in this report.

SUPREME COURT - Planned Parenthood Clinic Buffer Zones

IMHO having a buffer zone around women's health clinics DOES NOT impede free speech.  Anti-abortion types can still intercept women approaching clinics.  What they really want is to stand in front of the clinic door and impede women who wish to enter.

"Supreme Court weighs clash between freedom of speech, abortion rights" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/15/2014


SUMMARY:  In Massachusetts, a 35-foot restricted area outside of abortion clinics give patients and staff a buffer zone from protesters.  But as Kwame Holman reports, some say the law restricts the freedom of speech of abortion opponents.  Judy Woodruff gets a view from inside the courtroom from Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal.

"Do abortion clinic buffer zones protect public safety or restrict free speech?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/15/2014

NOTE: The Supreme Court building has a buffer zone.


SUMMARY:  Pro-choice advocates believe buffer zones around abortion clinics are necessary to prevent harassment and targeted violence, while opponents feel their free speech rights are being restricted.  Judy Woodruff hears both sides of the debate from Steven Aden of Alliance Defending Freedom and Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

CYBERCRIME - Can Shoppers Protect Their Personal Information?

My answer, you cannot completely secure your information when using ANY form of online commerce, which includes the card scanners at stores.  "If you build a 10ft firewall, hackers will build a 12ft ladder."

All you can do is closely monitor ALL your statements (bank and credit) and use at least on well known credit protection service.  One example is LifeLock.  These services are worth every penny.

The government does need to make it easier, AND faster, for consumers to clear their credit and identity from Identity-Theft.

"How can shoppers keep their information secure amid retail hacks?" PBS Newshour 1/14/2014


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  New revelations have come to light in the past several days about the massive hacking attack of consumers' information affecting customers of some major retail stores.  They're raising more concerns over how many people may be at risk and what individuals need to know to protect themselves.

The holiday shopping season is over, but the data breach that hit retail giant Target is still growing.  The company now acknowledges that information on up to 110 million accounts was compromised.  Initial estimates were 40 million.

Today, two U.S. senators demanded answers from Target's CEO.  Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller and fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill said in a letter:  "We expect that your security experts have had time to fully examine the cause and impact of the breach and will be able to provide the committee with detailed information."

The breach has scared some shoppers away from pulling out their credit cards.

WOMAN:  I would rather just use -- try and use cash here until they straighten everything out.  So, it seems a little scary.

GWEN IFILL:  While others say they're just going about their business.

MAN:  Yes, I use a credit card, but it wouldn't deter me, because, really, Target is like all the big businesses, you know?  Cyber-theft is cyber-theft.

EGYPT - Sputtering Democracy Update

"Pivotal vote on Egypt's new constitution stirs violence and division" PBS Newshour 1/14/2014


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  In Egypt today, at least 11 people were killed in sporadic protests and clashes, as millions went to the polls to vote on a new constitution.  The violence highlighted the deep political divisions that persist six months after its Islamist president was ousted from office by the military.

NewsHour chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  For the second time in little more than year, Egyptians lined up today to vote on a new constitution.  They seemed eager, but anxious.

WOMAN (through interpreter):  May God bring calm to the country.  Many people have been lost

MARGARET WARNER:  The campaign for the balloting, which ends tomorrow, was intense, with advocates for the current government urging a yes-vote.

MAN (through interpreter):  No one will ever agree 100 percent with any constitution.  I would say, if you are agreeing with just 60 percent of it, say yes.

MARGARET WARNER:  And the government's nemesis, members of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, denouncing it.

MAN (through interpreter):  We had a transparent election that elected Morsi, and it was blown away.  It is impossible to say that now there is democracy or a fair referendum.

INTERVIEW - Robert Gates, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War"

"In 'Duty,' Gates reflects on debates waged behind the scenes of war" PBS Newshour 1/14/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  One of the most talked-about and controversial books of the new year went on sale today.  Its author, Robert Gates, has served eight presidents, held key posts at the White House, was head of the CIA and secretary of defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama.

The book, "Duty:  Memoirs of a Secretary of War," sparked a frenzy of headlines ahead of its official release for his public criticism of the administration he recently left.

I spoke to him earlier today.  He was wearing a neck brace after falling at his home last week.

Secretary Robert Gates, welcome to the NewsHour.

IRAN - Agrees to Interim Nuclear Deal

"Iran agrees to interim nuclear deal, but is absent from Syria peace process" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/13/2014


SUMMARY:  Secretary of State John Kerry voiced frustration with Iran's role in the Syrian civil war, ahead of upcoming peace talks in Switzerland.  But some Iranian diplomatic progress has been made.  Gwen Ifill reports on an interim nuclear deal that asks Iran to dial back fuel enrichment in exchange for easing of financial sanctions.

"With Iran interim deal settled, what challenges lie ahead for a permanent fix?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/13/2014


SUMMARY:  The U.S. and Iran have finally settled on the details of an interim nuclear deal, with talks for a final agreement slated for February.  Gwen Ifill talks to chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner about diplomatic relations going forward with Iran, including the Syrian peace efforts and pressure on Capitol Hill for sanctions.

HEALTH - Investing in Health Early

"Why investing in the health of Americans should start early" PBS Newshour 1/13/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Much of the national focus on improving health care has centered on the expansion of coverage that's starting to take effect.  But a report out today says it's time for the country to pay more attention to the socioeconomic conditions that play a role in health outcomes, especially for lower-income Americans.

The recommendations, issued by a nonpartisan commission created by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, call for new investments like pre-k education for children under 5.

David Williams is a professor at Harvard's School of Public Health.  He was a staff director for the commission as well.

And, for the record, the foundation is one of our sponsors for health coverage.

Professor Williams, it's good to have you with us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what is the rationale for thinking that doing something about socioeconomic conditions is going to be connected to a health improvement?

DAVID WILLIAMS, professor at Harvard's School of Public Health:  Well, first, the larger context is, as a nation, we have a huge problem.  We spend more money on medical care than any other country in the world.

According to the World Bank, half of the money spent on medical care in the world annually is spent in the United States.  Yet we rank among -- at the bottom of the industrialized world on health and we are losing ground over time.  So we have a crisis.  And the problem is not just a problem of the low-income individuals and the poor.

Even the best-off Americans are not currently achieving a level of health that is possible.  And more medical care spending will not solve it.  We now need to look at what are the drivers of health in the first place.

Our health care system is wonderful.  We have great facilities.  We have the best-trained medical work force in the world, but to a large degree, medical care is a repair shop that takes care of us once we get sick, and it doesn't determine whether we get sick or not in the first place.

DIGITAL DIVIDE - Helping More Seniors Get OnLine

"Closing the digital divide by helping seniors get online" PBS Newshour 1/13/2014


SUMMARY:  It's estimated that about half of Americans over the age of 65 use the Internet.  But for the other half, increasing societal dependence on digital technology threatens to leave behind those who don't go online.  NewsHour correspondent Mary Jo Brooks reports on efforts to teach elders how to stay connected through computers.

SUPREME COURT - Presidential Recess Appointments

"Supreme Court considers definition of 'recess' in case on Obama's appointments" PBS Newshour 1/13/2014


SUMMARY:  Can the president bypass the Senate in making temporary appointments?  Gwen Ifill talks to Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal about how a local labor dispute transformed into a debate of presidential power and the Supreme Court's first time considering the Constitution's recess appointments clause.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Today's action at the Supreme Court centered on the question of whether the president can make temporary appointments without Senate approval.

Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal was in the courtroom this morning and joins us now, as always.  She was in the courtroom this morning.

NSA - Hacking by Radio

Public release of this information is a direct threat to U.S. national security.  We have just let our new enemies know what to look for.

"N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers" by DAVID E. SANGER and THOM SHANKER, New York Times 1/14/2014


The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.

While most of the software is inserted by gaining access to computer networks, the N.S.A. has increasingly made use of a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet, according to N.S.A. documents, computer experts and American officials.

The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers.  In some cases, they are sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target.

The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack.  In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.

The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of “active defense” against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive.  But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level.

Among the most frequent targets of the N.S.A. and its Pentagon partner, United States Cyber Command, have been units of the Chinese Army, which the United States has accused of launching regular digital probes and attacks on American industrial and military targets, usually to steal secrets or intellectual property.  But the program, code-named Quantum, has also been successful in inserting software into Russian military networks and systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime partners against terrorism like Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, according to officials and an N.S.A. map that indicates sites of what the agency calls “computer network exploitation.”

“What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” said James Andrew Lewis, the cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.  “Some of these capabilities have been around for a while, but the combination of learning how to penetrate systems to insert software and learning how to do that using radio frequencies has given the U.S. a window it’s never had before.”

No Domestic Use Seen

There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States.  While refusing to comment on the scope of the Quantum program, the N.S.A. said its actions were not comparable to China’s.

“N.S.A.'s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement.  “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

TEENS - An Anti-Bullying Song, Crazy Crazy

This is an Anti-Bullying song by a teen who experienced it.

Madisyn Elise - Crazy, Crazy (Official Lyric Video) on MUZU.TV.

SUPREME COURT - Refuses Arizona Appeal on Abortion

"Supreme Court refuses to hear Arizona abortion case" PBS Newshour 1/13/2014

The Supreme Court Monday declined to reconsider an Arizona law that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The justices, according to SCOTUSblog, refused to hear the case filed by the state of Arizona "without comment and without any noted dissents."

The ban, signed into law by Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2012, was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2013.  The lower court ruled that the ban violated previous Supreme Court rulings concerning a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy up to the time when the fetus was "viable" enough to live outside the womb -- currently considered around 24 weeks.

In the appeal, filed by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, the state questioned whether the fetus' "viability", taken from the Supreme Court's previous decisions upholding abortion rights in 1973's Roe v. Wade and 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, was correctly used as the only critical factor when deciding on constitutionality.  The appeal also included a reference to evidence of fetal pain and whether the previous precedents in two seminal Supreme Court cases should be revisited considering said evidence.

AMERICA - Smoking, 50th Anniversary of 1964 Report

"What’s the state of smoking in America?" PBS Newshour 1/12/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 report by then Surgeon-General Luther Terry warning about the dangers of smoking.  That report is widely credited with saving millions of lives.  For more about the government's current efforts to reduce smoking, we are joined now from Washington by Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak.  He is the Acting United States Surgeon General.

GERMANY - Legacy of the Nazi-Era

aka "Legacy of Satin's Disciple"

"Germany continues to grapple with Nazi-era legacy" PBS Newshour 1/12/2014


SUMMARY:  Nearly seventy years after the end of World War II, the German government is intensifying its efforts to educate young Germans about Nazi war crimes and continues to pursue prosecution for those who committed them.  William Brangham reports from Ludwigsburg, Germany.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  From the outside, it looks like a beautiful old estate, but this is no private residence.  Inside, investigators for the German Federal Government are poring through decades old records, searching for the last remaining Nazi war criminals who might have escaped justice.

This is part of a much broader national effort underway in Germany to wrestle with the legacy of the holocaust… it includes the construction of memorials and museums at a record pace --- the revamping of the nation’s curriculum so that all German school kids get a fuller understanding of the Nazi era.

But perhaps few are as crucial to this effort as this man.  His name is Kurt Schrimm, and he runs the central office in Germany that’s still trying to bring former Nazis to justice.

POVERTY IN AMERICA - Rates Surge in Suburbs

"Poverty rates surge in American suburbs" PBS Newshour 1/11/2014


MEGAN THOMPSON (Newshour):  By all appearances, Leigh Scozzari is living a comfortable suburban life.  She baked cookies one recent afternoon with her four-year-old twins at her mom’s place in Shirley, Long Island - about 65 miles east of New York City.  Scozzari owns an SUV… the girls spend their days at a nice day care center ...and Scozzari works a full-time job.

LEIGH SCOZZARI:  A lot of people look at me and they judge me just by looking at me, like, "Okay, well, she has a job, you know.  She-- you know, she has a home and-- you know, her kids look very well taken care of.  Why would she need any help at all?"

MEGAN THOMPSON:  Scozzari needs help because by official standards, she and her daughters live in poverty.  Her job as a certified medical assistant pays just over 19,000 a year and offers no benefits.  So Scozzari is on Medicaid, gets food stamps, and a government subsidy to pay for child care she could never otherwise afford.  This 30-year old single mom lives in that two-bedroom house with her mother and pays rent.  Her car has almost 200,000 miles on it and is in such bad shape Scozzari says she’s afraid to drive it.

LEIGH SCOZZARI:  I live paycheck to paycheck.  That’s what it is right now.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  Do you have any savings?

LEIGH SCOZZARI:  Typically, I have enough probably to get me through the next week or so.  But as far as having a savings, no.  I worry about-- not being able to have enough food to feed the girls.  I worry about them not having the opportunities that other kids-- are going to have.  So I'm constantly worrying, you know, always worrying.

MEMORIAM - Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Dies at 85

No matter what we think of his policies, weather we like or dislike him, he had a vast affect on the Middle East.

"Reflecting on the life and legacy of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon" PBS Newshour 1/11/2014


SUMMARY:  Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died Saturday.  He was 85 years old and had been in a coma since 2006.  NewsHour's Margaret Warner reflects on the legacy of a man whose career spanned the entirety of Israel’s 65-year history.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 1/10/2014

"Shields and Brooks on Christie's scandal tolerance, Gates' war stories" PBS Newshour 1/10/2014


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's top news, including the possible fallout of the "cheap political trick" that shut down traffic in New Jersey, a new memoir by former Defense Secretary Gates and lessons from the nation's 50 year war on poverty.

WEST VIRGINIA - Chemical Disaster

Question, why do states allow chemical plants near major rivers, especially if it's a source of drinking water?

"Federal disaster declared in W.Va., where chemical spill caused water emergency" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 1/10/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Hundreds of thousands of citizens in West Virginia are heading into the weekend dealing with a major water emergency caused by a chemical spill.

Even as it's disrupting lives, officials are still trying to get a handle on just what happened.

Earlier this evening, Hari Sreenivasan in our New York studio spoke with Charleston's mayor.

But he begins with some background.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Ground zero is this Freedom Industries plant that makes chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.  State inspectors say a foaming agent used in coal preparation leaked from a 40,000-gallon tank yesterday.  Some of it overran a containment area, and ended up in the Elk River.

An estimated 300,000 people are affected in nine counties, many of them reporting a smell like black licorice.  Emergency hot line centers like this one are fielding calls.

C.W. SIGMAN, Kanawha County, W.Va., Deputy Emergency Management Director:  We have had some complaints about eyes burning, things of that nature.  Best advice is to stay inside right now until they get this taken -- taken care of.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  For now, people are being told to avoid using tap water to bathe, drink, cook, or wash clothes and dishes.

Jeff McIntyre heads the Charleston Water Treatment Plant.  He says the chemical is not especially toxic, but it's not worth taking a chance.

JEFF MCINTYRE, West Virginia American Water Company:  We don't know that the water is not safe.  But I can't say that it is safe.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Testing shows contamination levels in the river are already falling, but McIntyre says it's too early to say how long it will take to clean the water system.

JEFF MCINTYRE:  Our activities will be to go away from the treatment plant in concentric rings, if you like, flush the system and sample the system to make sure it's safe for our customers.  We may be able to put customers back in service by zones.  I don't think we are going to be able to do it, the entire area, all at once.  So it's going to be chasing the line as the water flows and testing and flushing as we go.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  For its part, Freedom Industries says its working nonstop to contain the leak and determine how much of the chemical got into the river.

In the meantime, bottled water and bags of ice have been flying off store shelves.

WOMAN:  This is actually the third place I have been to trying to get water, so I have resorted to ice.

WOMAN:  You're going to melt this down.  That's what you are going to do, like you did back in them old days.  Put it in a little tub, put it in there, and just take, you know, like a bird bath.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  President Obama has declared a federal disaster in the affected region, expediting aid.  And federal prosecutors have launched an investigation.

"Mayor of Charleston, W.Va., says water emergency is devastating his community" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 1/10/2014


SUMMARY:  The mayor of Charleston, W.Va., says the water emergency has been "nothing but bad news" for residents who are still awaiting a timeline for when they'll be able to resume normal life.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Mayor Danny Jones about how the chemical spill is affecting his community.

Friday, January 10, 2014

MIDDLE EAST - What's Become of the Arab Spring?

"Why the next wave of Arab awakening should be waged for pluralism" PBS Newshour 1/9/2014


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  As the fourth year of the Arab spring begins, the Middle East is seeing fresh waves of violence of widening scope.

In Syria, Sunni-led rebels long fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces are now battling jihadi extremist units as well.  In Iraq, where Sunnis are protesting the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Maliki, militants linked to al-Qaida have seized key western cities.  And in Lebanon, spillover from the Syria conflict has triggered car bomb assassinations of top Sunni figures and bombings of Shiite neighborhoods in Southern Beirut.

Marwan Muasher, former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan, takes a long view of all this in his new book, "The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism."

We sat down for a conversation about it at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

VERMONT - Governor's State of the State Address on Heroin Crisis

"Vermont gov. confronts deadly heroin crisis as public health problem" PBS Newshour 1/9/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF:  A governor broke with tradition yesterday and devoted his entire state of the state address to drug addiction.

Peter Shumlin, the governor of Vermont, urged residents to open their eyes to the growing problem in their front yards, rather than leaving it only to law enforcement, medical personnel and addiction treatment providers.  Shumlin argued the facts speak for themselves.

In Vermont, since 2000, there has been a 770 percent increase in treatment for all opiates.  He stated: "What started as an OxyContin and prescription drug addiction problem in this state has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis" and -- quote -- "Last year, we had nearly double the number of deaths in Vermont from heroin overdose as the previous year."

It turns out Vermont is not the only state facing this crisis.  According to the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, the number of deaths involving heroin surged 45 percent between 1999 and 2010.

For more on this, I'm joined by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Huffington Post Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim.  He's also the author of the book "This Is Your Country on Drugs."
GOV. PETER SHUMLIN, D-Vt.:  And, listen, here's the challenge.  We have lost the war on drugs.  The notion that we can arrest our way out of this problem is yesterday's theory.

And, you know, the one thing Vermonters cherish is our quality of life, our safety, the fact that we're a state where we take care of each other, and that we know that our communities are safe and that we have a good quality of life.

And this compromises it.  So, as far as I'm concerned, this is one of the real battles that we're facing that we have got to win.  And we have got to do that by changing the discussion and changing the policy, so that we say that what heroin addicts and folks that are addicted to opiates are facing is a public health issue, not a crime issue.  And we have got to be willing to fight it from that vantage point.

NEW JERSEY - Governor Christie's Apology

"Gwen's Take:  The art of the authentic apology" by Gwen Ifill, PBS Newshour 1/10/2014

In many ways, it was a relief to hear New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declare he was apologetic, humiliated, embarrassed and sad after an odd tale of bridge and tunnel retribution exploded on his watch this week.

"I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution," Christie said of the George Washington Bridge lane closures allegedly carried out by his staff last fall.  "And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover.  This was handled in a callous and indifferent way."

So often, apologies come couched in arm's-length formulation.  Public figures apologize if they offended someone, implying that the offense itself is not the problem.  They often suggest that they were not really responsible for their actions and disappear briefly into rehab.

And sometimes, they never apologize at all.

Not Christie.  With his national reputation as a straight-talking potential president on the line, he conducted a tour de force press conference in Trenton, holding forth for nearly two hours until reporters began repeating the same questions over and over again.  Tom Kean, a former New Jersey Republican governor, was among those who suggested that Christie lay everything on the table.  "If he doesn't," he told the Washington Post, "it's going to be like water torture."

But while Christie declared himself mortified by what he considered a betrayal by his staff, he had to be prodded to express similar concern for the actual actions they took -- basically ordering up a traffic jam to punish New Jerseyans who did not support the governor.

"It was an awful, callous indifferent thing to do," he said -- only when he was asked -- of the political vendetta carried out by his close aides.  He spent far more time holding forth on what their lies had done to him.

Authentic apology is a tricky thing to pull off in politics, which is why it so seldom occurs.  Plausible deniability must be preserved.  True contrition has to be displayed.  Traitors to the cause must be immediately be jettisoned.  Most of all, the goal is to stop the bleeding.

I watched Hillary Clinton do this in the White House East Room years ago as she sought to tamp down a brewing scandal involving her old Little Rock law firm.  It was later tagged the "pretty in pink" press conference because of the color she chose to wear.  It went on, I recall, for a long time.

Anthony Weiner apologized too, more than once.  David Vitter and Eliot Spitzer did too.  President Obama admitted his administration "screwed up" the rollout of his signature health care plan.  Trey Radel, the Florida congressman who got caught purchasing cocaine, expressed tearful regret to members of his party caucus when he returned to Washington from rehab this week.

The ritual is always fascinating to watch, and three cable networks hung with Christie's mea culpa for the entire time.

I was reminded of what authentic apologies can look like when Melissa Harris-Perry, an MSNBC host, took to her own airwaves to apologize for a discussion on a year-end panel on her program with comedians that briefly mocked a photograph of Mitt Romney holding one of his grandchildren, who is African American.  It was tasteless.

She did not blame her staff, although she could have.  She did not blame the comedians who made the unfunny joke.  She just said, flat out, that it was an insensitive thing to say, that she was in charge, and that the Romneys had the right to be offended.

Romney accepted the apology right away.

This sort of honest exchange seldom occurs with anyone searching for an elevated life in elective office.  Christie, who enjoys enthusiastically batting down speculation about his presidential ambitions, made sure he was most offended by being lied to by staff he trusted.

"I was being led to believe by folks around me that there was no basis to this," he said.  "I was wrong."

This is where plausibility deniability comes in.  Christie fired his deputy chief of staff and directed another top political adviser to step aside.  But he apparently never spoke to them directly.

"The political nature of this would lead to charges of interference," he said.  "I'm just trying to be a safe and careful steward of the public trust."

Trust is, of course, at the heart of every authentic apology.  In politics and in life, the trust only holds if the water torture ends.