Friday, February 28, 2014

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 2/28/2014

"Shields and Brooks on Putin perceptions and a tax reform proposal" PBS Newshour 2/28/2014


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the latest developments in Ukraine and the ways Russian President Vladimir Putin wields power, the veto of a controversial bill in Arizona, Rep. Dave Camp’s new tax reform plan and the launch of a program encouraging private foundations to support young men of color.

UKRAINE - Russia Flexing Its Muscle

"Why Russia is ‘flexing its muscle’ in Crimea" PBS Newshour 2/28/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Late today, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations proposed sending an urgent independent and credible mediation mission to help resolve Ukraine’s crisis.

However, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed the idea, saying he was against imposed mediation.

Our Jeffrey Brown takes a closer look at the tensions escalating between Russia and Ukraine.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  And to do that, I’m joined by Dimitri Simes, president for the Center for the National Interest, a foreign policy think tank, and Angela Stent, director of the Center of Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.  Her latest book is “The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the 21st Century.”

BITCOINS - The Sucker's Bet Lost Big

Remember the oft quoted phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute."  Like something with nothing substantial to underpin it is a good bet.  Mt. Gox would make P.T. Barnum proud.

"Major Bitcoin exchange files for bankruptcy, loses $425 million in virtual currency" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 2/28/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  A week ago, most people never heard of an online currency exchange known as Mt. Gox.  But it’s suddenly become the subject of international interest and its recent turn of fortune is prompting many questions about the future of the virtual currency Bitcoin.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles issued his mea culpa before news cameras in Tokyo today.

MARK KARPELES, CEO of Mt. Gox:  There was a weak area in the system, and, as a result, we lost Bitcoins.  I am deeply sorry that I have caused trouble to everyone.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  His website had been one of the largest online exchanges for the digital cryptocurrency known as Bitcoins.   Bitcoins are generated, or mined, by computers, solving math problems that become ever more complex and time-consuming.

The site went offline Tuesday amid allegations of major theft, and Karpeles acknowledged today he can’t account for 850,000 Bitcoins.  That is almost 4 percent of all the Bitcoins that will ever be mined, and they’re valued at about $425 million.

The catastrophic losses prompted picketing this week outside the company’s Tokyo offices

KOLIN BURGESS, Mt. Gox User:  I had 311 Bitcoins in there, which at the time before this started was worth around $300,000.  So it looks like that has disappeared.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Bitcoins were created in 2009 to enable anonymous cross-border transactions without third-party oversight or expensive transaction fees.  And their value soared in recent months.

Some entrepreneurs even set up ATM-like vending machines to distribute a hard version of the currency.  But security concerns and Bitcoin’s use in money laundering caught the eye of world regulators.  In October, U.S. officials shut down the Silk Road, a major online marketplace for drugs and other illegal products based purely on Bitcoin transactions.

Today, Japan’s finance minister said the Mt. Gox collapse wasn’t unexpected.

TARO ASO, Finance Minister, Japan (through interpreter):  I really wondered whether this would continue.  I thought it would indeed go bankrupt at one point.  But it has indeed happened quickly.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Supporters of Bitcoin say Mt. Gox is an isolated case, and that virtual currencies still have great potential.

"Will Mt. Gox’s missing money prompt regulation on Bitcoin?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 2/28/2014


SUMMARY:  Mt. Gox, an early player in the virtual currency Bitcoins, became a major online exchange until the disappearance of a significant sum and the subsequent bankruptcy of the company.  Kashmir Hill of Forbes joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the potential for tracking the missing money and the repercussions of collapse for its users and other rising cryptocurrencies.

SYRIA - Humanitarian Crisis Update

"Humanitarian aid groups prepare for long-term crisis in Syria" PBS Newshour 2/27/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  We turn now to two who have focused on the humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian civil war.  Nancy Lindborg is assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in charge of conflict and humanitarian assistance.  And Michael Gerson is a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

And we welcome you both to the NewsHour.

Nancy Lindborg, we see these terrible pictures, almost impossible to believe.

How did it get like this?

NANCY LINDBORG, U.S. Agency for International Development:  You know, it’s been steadily escalating, particularly in the last year.

We have seen the number of people who have been displaced rise by three times in the last year.  And the Yarmouk people who you saw are part of 12 cities that are literally besieged, 250,000 people, many of whom haven’t received aid for months and months.  And they’re eating cats and dogs.
MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post:  But a lot of the humanitarian organizations are now beginning to plan for five years, 10 years out.  This is going — not going to be solved in any short amount of time.

Champion The Children of Syria

HEALTH - Why Nutrition Label Makeover?

"Why U.S. nutrition labels will be getting a makeover" PBS Newshour 2/27/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  For the first time in two decades, the federal government is making significant changes to the nutrition labels on the food and drinks you buy at the store.

Jeffrey Brown sorts through the details and what the changes are designed to do.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  As Michelle Obama said today, unless you had a thesaurus, a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition, you were out of luck.  So the new labels put forward by the Food and Drug Administration aim to reduce confusion about calories, serving sizes and more.

We get an explanation from William Dietz, former director for the CDC’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.

And welcome to you.

I want to start with some props that we have to help us, a 12-ounce bottle of soda that used to be thought of as a single serving, and a 20-ounce bottle that is nowadays perhaps at the lower end of what people actually consume in a serving.  How do the new labels deal with this growth in serving sizes?

DR. WILLIAM DIETZ, Former CDC Official:  Well, the nutrition facts panel was originally developed about 20 to 30 years ago, at a time when servings were much smaller than they are today.

And the 12-ounce to the 20-ounce soda is a good illustration.  Another good illustration is that ice cream used to be, a serving was half-a-cup, and, today, it’s a cup.  So one of the most important changes in the nutrition facts panel is an updating of portion size.

JEFFREY BROWN:  All right, so, now I want to show a proposed new label so we can see another way that these new labels would help.  This is — this emphasizes calories, and the number of servings are given much more prominence here.  This is to overcome some of the confusion?

DR. WILLIAM DIETZ:  Well, twofold.

Yes, part of it is to overcome confusion.  Part of it is to highlight the role of calories.  The issue in the United States today is obesity.  And obesity is caused by excess calories.  So highlighting the caloric content of the product is an important step towards trying to control obesity.

JEFFREY BROWN:  There’s also in this new proposed label at least something new.  It’s a separate line for sugars that are added.  Now, explain what that means and why it’s important.

DR. WILLIAM DIETZ:  Well, the last two dietary guidelines, under two different administrations, 2005 and 2010, called for a reduction in the intake of added sugars by Americans.

But the prior labels didn’t have added sugars on them.  Furthermore, we know that sugars are an important contributor to obesity.  So highlighting added sugars gives Americans an additional piece of information on how to begin to control their weight.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In thinking about how important all of this is, what — how much is known about the degree to which people actually read these labels and are guided by them?

DR. WILLIAM DIETZ:  Well, my understanding is that about a third of people read those nutrition facts panels today.

But our hope is that this will get increased use.  And, as the panel becomes more helpful and to helping Americans make good decisions about their nutrition, that it will receive increasing use.  But it’s certainly not be-all and end-all.  People make decisions for all sorts of reasons, and nutritional content is only one of those reasons.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Also still on the table, but I gather delayed so far, are changes to labels on menus in restaurants and fast food stores.  So that, of course, is another component of all of this.


And, in my view, that’s a much more complicated business, because restaurants, the way they prepare their portions and their foods is going to be very hard to assign a nutrition facts panel too.

But, certainly, most people get their calories from those products that they buy in the grocery stores.  And those products are going have the nutrition facts panel, which will enable a more educated judgment about that purchase.

JEFFREY BROWN:  And, finally, the food industry and everyone actually gets to weigh in for — before all of this is set.  Would you expect changes or delays to these proposed new labels?

DR. WILLIAM DIETZ:  Well, I think that there’s going to be a lot of controversy about this.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association had kind of a noncommittal statement this morning about their response to these panels.  But I think there’s an opportunity for both the industry and the public, most importantly the public, to respond to these changes and let the federal government know how they feel about it and whether they think this is going to be helpful.

JEFFREY BROWN:  All right, William Dietz, thanks so much.

DR. WILLIAM DIETZ:  You’re very welcome.

AMERICA - After Tennessee Failure, Future of Organized Labor

"What does the VW union failure mean for the future of U.S. organized labor?" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 2/26/2014

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now: A showdown for big labor raises questions about its future in the South and beyond.

Jeffrey Brown has our look.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Two weeks ago, employees at this Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga voted against joining the United Auto Workers.  It was close, 712 to 626, but the outcome ended the union’s two-year-long effort to organize the plant.

Officially, Volkswagen was neutral, but it had made clear it wanted to create an employee management council at the plant, and, legally, it can’t do that without union involvement.

Frank Fischer is CEO of V.W.’s Chattanooga operation.

FRANK FISCHER, CEO, Volkswagen Chattanooga:  I want to thank all of our Chattanooga production maintenance employees for their participation in this election to decide the question of union representation.  They have spoken.  And Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority.

JEFFREY BROWN:  For its part, the UAW hoped a win in Chattanooga would launch it toward organizing 20 foreign auto plants across the South and reverse a long decline in its membership.

In 1979, the UAW’s ranks peaked, at 1.5 million members; 35 years later, that number has plummeted to around 390,000.  The UAW’s efforts in Chattanooga ran into strong opposition, including from Republican Senator Bob Corker, a former mayor.  He insisted unionization wouldn’t have provided any real benefits.

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.:  The pay out there is already above what UAW workers make that have worked the same amount of time.  I don’t see how they can improve the environment that they work in or the safety.  We have probably the number one environmentally-sound building in the world.  And so this was about one thing, and I think the employees realized that.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The UAW has filed a formal objection with the National Labor Relations Board, charging Volkswagen workers were unfairly influenced and intimidated by outsiders.  But five V.W. Chattanooga workers filed their own petition yesterday, asking the NLRB to block any revote.  They accused the company and the union of colluding to force unionization.

"What do unions offer American workers today?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 2/26/2014


SUMMARY:  Jeffrey Brown gets debate from Linda Chavez of the Center for Equal Opportunity and Kate Bronfenbrenner of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University on the significance of Volkswagen auto workers in Tennessee rejecting UAW membership and the outlook and importance of unions for today’s workers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

EDUCATION - Undocumented Students, Private Sector Help For College Tuition

"For undocumented ‘dreamers,’ private initiative aims to help pay college tuition" PBS Newshour 2/25/2014


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Every year, some 65,000 students who entered the country illegally as children graduate from U.S. high schools.  And while 17 states now allow these students known as dreamers to pay in-state tuition at public higher education institutions, they are not eligible for federal financial aid like Pell Grants or low-interest government loans.

Now with the prospect for immigration reform stalled, if not dead, on Capitol Hill, a private sector effort to help these students is under way.

It was founded by former Washington Post owner Donald Graham and our two guesses, Carlos Gutierrez, former commerce secretary under President George W. Bush.  He now chairs the political action group Republicans for Immigration Reform.  And Henry Munoz, a businessman in San Antonio, Texas, who serves as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee.

DOD BUDGET - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's Proposed Budget Cuts

"How will proposed military savings affect strategy and security?" PBS Newshour 2/24/2014


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now: striking the balance between national security and budget reality.

CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense (news brief):  Good afternoon.

GWEN IFILL:  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out plans this afternoon to cut troops and close bases, reshaping the nation’s military after more than a decade of war.

CHUCK HAGEL:  We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power, and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States.

GWEN IFILL:  A key part of that repositioning, shrinking the Army from 522,000 active-duty soldiers to between 440,000-450,000, the fewest since World War II.

The Army National Guard would be reduced as well, but Hagel said it can be done without compromising national defense.

CHUCK HAGEL:  Our analysis showed that this force would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major combat theater — as it must be — while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater.

GWEN IFILL:  The budget also calls for eliminating the venerable A-10 Warthog aircraft, used for close air support of ground troops, and for replacing the iconic U-2 spy plane with a force of Global Hawk drones.

Among the other recommendations: increasing health insurance deductibles and co-pays for military families and retirees, reducing subsidies to military commissaries, and closing more military bases.

Hagel also proposes freezing salaries of generals and admirals and limiting pay raises for military personnel to 1 percent.  He said delaying such decisions actually hurts morale.

"‘Beloved’ A-10 Warthog aircraft may not survive Pentagon Attack" PBS Newshour 2/25/2014


SUMMARY:  The A-10 Warthog was designed specifically to fly in low and attack enemy forces, loitering over the battlefield.  But top Pentagon officials now say the Warthog's days are over.  The Defense Department plans to eliminate the entire fleet and save $3.5 billion over five years in order to save for newer and more capable aircraft.  Kwame Holman reports on the debate.

How the A-10 Warthog became 'the most survivable plane ever

MEXICO - The Arrest of Sinaloa Drug Cartel Boss

"Mexicans express hope and skepticism about significance of ‘El Chapo’ arrest" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 2/24/2014

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  The arrest over the weekend of the head of one of the world’s most sophisticated narcotics networks proved a major victory for both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement.

But both sides now want to prosecute him.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  Mexican marines led Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman away in handcuffs on Saturday, thus ending a 13-year hunt for one of the world’s most dangerous men.

JESUS MURILLO KARAM, Attorney General, Mexico (through interpreter):  This arrest is the product of an operation that’s been worked on for several months in coordination with all federal government agencies. And the arrest was impeccably achieved.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Only two days earlier, Guzman was surrounded by troops at his ex-wife’s home in the western city of Culiacan, capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa.  He got away through a trapdoor under the bathtub, and managed to escape through a network of tunnels and the city’s sewer system.

U.S. drug agents and Mexican troops, acting on wiretaps and other information, pursued him 135 miles South, to this luxury condominium in the seaside resort of Mazatlan.  There, just before dawn Saturday, they stormed into Guzman’s room and captured him without firing a shot.

In Washington today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised the joint effort.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary:  This is a significant achievement in our shared fight against transnational organized crime, violence, and drug trafficking.  The U.S. and Mexico have a strong security partnership and we will continue to support Mexico in its efforts to ensure that cartel leaders are put out of business.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Guzman was formally charged Sunday with drug trafficking in Mexico.  He faces indictments in the U.S. as well, and federal prosecutors in New York and Chicago already are asking for his extradition.

It’s not the first time behind bars for the 56-year-old Guzman, nicknamed El Chapo, or Shorty.  In 2001, he escaped from a high-security Mexican prison before he was halfway through a 20-year sentence for drug trafficking and murder.

Over the years, he built the Sinaloa cartel into Mexico’s most powerful drug operation, wiping out rivals in a reign of brutality that killed tens of thousands of people.  In Mexico City this weekend, word of his capture brought both hope and skepticism.

FRANCISCO ALCOCER, (through interpreter):  I think that it’s something very good.  I think it’s an excellent achievement from this government that is giving us results.  I think not just for Mexico, but for many countries, it’s an important arrest.

RAMON TORRES, (through interpreter):  It’s very difficult.  The cartel is quite organized and has a presence in many states in the country, so it’s difficult to say that just with the capture of El Chapo the cartel will fall apart.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Guzman now joins Miguel Angel Trevino, who was head of the Zetas, a rival cartel, and was arrested last summer.  Those are major gets for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who had said he’d rebalance the all-out war against cartels with a new emphasis on the economy and education.

"Arrest of cartel leader Guzman, ‘face of Mexican impunity,’ sends message" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 2/24/2014


SUMMARY:  Under Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel rose to dominate or destroy rivals on the U.S.-Mexican border.  Jeffrey Brown looks at how the arrest affects the drug trade with former Mexican intelligence official Alejandro Hope and Sam Quinones of the Los Angeles Times.

AMERICA - Exploiting Temp Workers

"U.S. Lags Behind World in Temp Worker Protections" by Michael Grabell, ProPublica 2/24/2014


‘Permatemping’ cases highlight lack of U.S. protections for temp workers. Other countries limit the length of temp jobs, guarantee equal pay and restrict dangerous work.

For nearly six years, Limber Herrera has toiled as a temp worker doing the same work for the same company in Mira Loma, Calif.  About 40 hours a week, he unloads shipping containers for NFI—one of the largest freight distribution firms in America—moving goods that will eventually stock the shelves of Walmart and Sam’s Club.

Herrera, 30, has been a temp so long that he’s outlasted the agency that hired him.  But that mattered little.  One day in late 2012 he was called into the break room to fill out some paperwork.  Then he went back to work—only now employed by the temp agency that took over the contract.

If Herrera worked in South Korea, his temporary assignment would be limited to two years, after which the company would have to hire him as a regular employee.  If he worked in Germany, he would be guaranteed the same wages and working conditions as employees hired directly by the company.  And if he worked in Chile, his temp agency could be shut down if it failed to pay him his wages or put him in harm’s way.

But Herrera works in the United States, which has some of the weakest labor protections for temp workers in the developed world, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which produces research on behalf of 34 of the world’s industrialized nations.

Since the 2007-09 recession, temp work has been one of the fastest growing segments of the economy.  But a ProPublica investigation into this burgeoning industry over the past year has documented an array of problems.  Temps have worked for the same company for as long as 11 years, never getting hired on full-time.  Companies have assigned temps to the most dangerous jobs.  In several states, data showed that temps are three times more likely than regular workers to suffer amputations on the job.  And even some of the country’s largest companies have relied on immigrant labor brokers and fly-by-night temp agencies that have cheated workers out of their wages.

In contrast, countries around the globe have responded to similar abuses by adopting laws to protect the growing number of temps in their workforces.  These include limiting the length of temp assignments, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work and restricting companies from hiring temps for hazardous tasks.

“The lack of basic protections for temporary workers in this country is shameful,” Rep. George Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, said in a statement.  “It is important that the U.S. examine some of these provisions and consider whether they can serve as models for statutes to help protect American workers.”

Herrera’s is an extreme case of “permatemping,” hiring a temp for years to do the same job permanent employees do, but without the benefits and protections.  A former construction worker during the housing boom, he desperately needs the work to support his family, but believes the practice is exploitive.

“I think that workers, everyone, deserves to have a good job hired directly by a company with good benefits,” said Herrera, who has a 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

Having strong labor laws on the books doesn’t necessarily mean they’re enforced.  For example, Brazil has some of the world’s strictest temp worker regulations.  But it also has an enormous underground economy in which workers are paid informally and abuses go unchecked.  And a country’s protections for its temp workers may not apply to guest workers brought in from other countries for major construction projects or domestic work.

Still, the OECD statistics – which rank the United States 41st among 43 developed and emerging economies – show the types of legislation available for protecting temp workers who federal and state officials say are among the most vulnerable.

CYBERWAR - Use, or Not to Use, Against Syria

Here's my take:  The issue comes down to does the U.S. start a Cyber Arms Race (similar to the Nuclear Arms Race), or does that race already exist?  IMHO the Cyber Arms Race already exists, although it is in its infancy.

"Syria War Stirs New U.S. Debate on Cyberattacks" by DAVID E. SANGER, New York Times 2/24/2014


Not long after the uprising in Syria turned bloody, late in the spring of 2011, the Pentagon and the National Security Agency developed a battle plan that featured a sophisticated cyberattack on the Syrian military and President Bashar al-Assad’s command structure.

The Syrian military’s ability to launch airstrikes was a particular target, along with missile production facilities.  “It would essentially turn the lights out for Assad,” said one former official familiar with the planning.

For President Obama, who has been adamantly opposed to direct American intervention in a worsening crisis in Syria, such methods would seem to be an obvious, low-cost, low-casualty alternative.  But after briefings on variants of the plans, most of which are part of traditional strikes as well, he has so far turned them down, according to officials familiar with the administration’s long-running internal debate.

Syria was not a place where he saw strategic value in American intervention, and even covert attacks — of the kind he ordered against Iran during the first two years of his presidency — involved a variety of risks.

The considerations that led Mr. Obama to hesitate about using the offensive cyberweapons his administration has spent billions helping develop, in large part with hopes that they can reduce the need for more-traditional military attacks, reflect larger concerns about a new and untested tactic with the potential to transform the nature of warfare.  It is a transformation analogous to what happened when the airplane was first used in combat in World War I, a century ago.

The Obama administration has been engaged in a largely secret debate about whether cyberarms should be used like ordinary weapons, whether they should be rarely used covert tools or whether they ought to be reserved for extraordinarily rare use against the most sophisticated, hard-to-reach targets.  And looming over the issue is the question of retaliation: whether such an attack on Syria’s air power, its electric grid or its leadership would prompt Syrian, Iranian or Russian retaliation in the United States.

It is a question Mr. Obama has never spoken about publicly.  Because he has put the use of such weapons largely into the hands of the N.S.A., which operates under the laws guiding covert action, there is little of the public discussion that accompanied the arguments over nuclear weapons in the 1950s and ’60s or the kind of roiling argument over the use of drones, another classified program that Mr. Obama has begun to discuss publicly only in the past 18 months.

But to many inside the administration, who insisted on anonymity when speaking about discussions over one of America’s most highly classified abilities, Syria puts the issue back on the table.  Mr. Obama’s National Security Council met Thursday to explore what one official called “old and new options.”

Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to discuss “the details of our interagency deliberations” about Syria.  “But we have been clear that there are a range of tools we have at our disposal to protect our national security, including cyber,” she said, noting that in 2012 “the president signed a classified presidential directive relating to cyberoperations that establishes principles and processes so that cybertools are integrated with the full array of national security tools.”

The directive, she said, “enables us to be flexible, while also exercising restraint in dealing with the threats we face.  It continues to be our policy that we shall undertake the least action necessary to mitigate threats.”

One of the central issues is whether such a strike on Syria would be seen as a justified humanitarian intervention, less likely to cause civilian casualties than airstrikes, or whether it would only embolden American adversaries who have themselves been debating how to use the new weapons.

Monday, February 24, 2014

MILITARY - Mental Illness Programs Not Working

"Military using unproven programs to take on mental illness" PBS Newshour 2/23/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  It’s estimated that nearly a thousand additional Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder every week.  A report out Thursday by the Institute of Medicine said that despite dozens of programs by the military to help treat the mental illnesses that veterans suffer, few of them are proving effective.  For more we’re joined by Gregg Zoroya of USA Today who has been covering this story.  So the Department of Defense asked for this review, what did it find?

GREGG ZOROYA, USA Today:  Well it really was a review that was, the request was really built on something that happened last year.  The Institute of Medicine had completed a four-year review of just how prevalent the problem was and they found that the numbers of folks that were ill were really kind of getting so large that both the Pentagon and the V.A. were having trouble staying ahead of it.  So the Pentagon asked for this report.  They wanted to know — we’ve got prevention programs out there, why aren’t they working?  And essentially what this panel, from the Institute of Medicine, found was that while some of these ideas in theory made sense when they were introduced earlier in the war, that there really hadn’t been a strong enough effort by the Pentagon and by some of the branches to try to understand whether through some real strong scientific research whether the programs worked.  And they found that in fact, they hadn’t.

HEALING JOURNEYS - The World's Most Remote People, What They Can Teach the World

"Giving a microphone to the world’s most remote people" PBS Newshour 2/23/2014


SUMMARY:  How can the modern study of global change benefit from ancient knowledge?  Special correspondent John Larson reports on the new ways indigenous communities around the world are connecting with one another to share observations and sustain their native cultures.

JOHN LARSON (for Newshour):  You’re aboard a motorized canoe traveling the headwaters of the Amazon – on the Urabamba River, of Peru.  Now, you travel the Giraffe River, a tributary of the White Nile in South Sudan.

And now?  You are navigating the Stewart of Canada, a tributary of the longest, free flowing river on earth: the Yukon, of North America.

JOHN LARSON:  All of the these are among the most remote rivers in the world, and the indigenous people who live along them are being connected, at least in part, by one man.

JON WATERHOUSE, tribal leader and environmentalist:  “We had a couple of canoes and we were going to go down the river, and talk to people in every village along the way.”

Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council – the largest international organization of indigenous people in the world

AMERICA - Long-Term Unemployed Making Do

"As benefits expire, long-term unemployed make do with less" PBS Newshour 2/22/2014


SUMMARY:  On Dec. 28, 1.3 million Americans lost their unemployment insurance when an emergency federal unemployment insurance program expired.  Critics of extended unemployment benefits say the benefits raise jobless numbers by allowing people to stay unemployed longer instead of taking an available job.  But people like Trista Selmar-Steed, a 38-year-old former medical biller who lost her job in 2012, say the benefits have kept her family above water while she looks for work.  Special correspondent John Carlos Frey reports from Georgia.

TRISTA SELMAR-STEED:  I open it up and just rip it down the middle. Separate it.

JOHN CARLOS FREY (for Newshour):  Trista Selmar-Steed cuts a lot of coupons these days…  In fact she’s becomes a bit of a fanatic about it.

TRISTA SELMAR-STEED:  This is my coupon box, container, I carry it with me to the grocery store.  Coffee, cake, butter, milk, pasta, sugar — this one here is for household goods and personal items.

TRISTA SELMAR-STEED:  You never know that coupons will save you as much money as you– it actually has.

JOHN CARLOS FREY:  The 38-year-old who lives in a suburb just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, has been saving all these coupons because as of December 28th, she has no income.  She was one of 1.3 million Americans who lost their unemployment insurance when an emergency federal unemployment insurance program expired.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 2/21/2014

"Shields and Brooks on Ukraine upheaval, trade policy skepticism" PBS Newshour 2/21/2014


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week’s news, including the instability in Ukraine, disagreement among Democrats on trade policy, the influence of governors in an era of Washington gridlock, plus how boosting the minimum wage might affect jobs and poverty.

POLITICS - Can State Leaders Avoid Partisan Gridlock?

"With Washington mired in partisan gridlock, can state leaders push forward?" PBS Newshour 2/21/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The nation’s governors have gathered in Washington this week for their winter meeting.  And with action in the nation’s capital stymied by partisan gridlock, many are looking to the states for solutions to the country’s challenges.

For a sample of what’s happening, we are joined by two governors, Tennessee Republican Bill Haslam and Illinois Democrat Pat Quinn.

RUSSIA - Winter Olympics and the Russian People

"What the Winter Olympics tell us about life in Russia (and vice versa)" PBS Newshour 2/21/2014


SUMMARY:  To outsiders, Russia carries a near mythic reputation.  Gregory Feifer, whose mother grew up during communism and lived there himself as a news correspondent, teases out an understanding of Russian character through observations of daily life in his new book, “Russians: The People Behind the Power.”  Feifer joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss how Russian behavior is reflected in the Sochi Olympics.

Friday, February 21, 2014

AMERICA - 20th Year of NAFTA

"20 years on, debating whether NAFTA is success story or damaging policy" PBS Newshour 2/20/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The prospect of reaching new cross-border trade deals was very much on the mind of President Obama during his trip to Mexico this week.  But a trade agreement that’s now two decades old and still the subject of strong debate is casting a long shadow over the president’s plans.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Canada and Mexico are two of our largest trading partners, with trade that supports millions of American jobs.

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  President Obama’s one-day summit with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts marked 20 years of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  American exports to Canada and Mexico continue to grow faster than our exports to the rest of the world.  Together, our countries have strength to give North America a tremendous competitive advantage, the skills of our workers, manufacturing that’s growing, and new sources of energy.

JEFFREY BROWN:  NAFTA was originally spearheaded by the first President (H.W.) Bush, in a bid to eliminate cross-border trade duties and other barriers.  It got the backing and was eventually signed into law by President Clinton.

Supporters argued it would spur growth.  But in a CNN debate with Vice President Gore, billionaire businessman Ross Perot famously argued it would send thousands of jobs to lower-paying, less-regulated Mexico.

FACEBOOK - Why WhatsApp?

"Messaging monopoly?  Why Facebook is willing to pay $19 billion for WhatsApp" PBS Newshour 2/20/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  ....... Why is Facebook willing to pay $19 billion for a messaging application and service that’s just 4 years old and has only 55 employees?  Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp eclipses just about any other deal made for a startup in recent years.

As an instant messaging service for mobile devices, it’s attracting an enormous number of users around the world at a rapid pace.  People can send texts, photos and video on WhatsApp over their phones.  There are now more than 50 billion messages sent that way each day.  The first year of service is free to consumers.  Afterwards, it charges just $1 a year, cheaper than text service in many countries, and there is no advertising.

In the past nine months, its use has doubled to 450 million monthly users, most of them outside the U.S.

Reporter Ellis Hamburger has been covering this for The Verge.  It’s a technology-centered news Web site.  And he joins me now.

EGYPT - More From the Military Dictatorship, Journalists Trail

"Trial begins for Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt" PBS Newshour 2/20/2014

GWEN IFILL:  Three Al-Jazeera television journalists arrested in Egypt last December went on trial today accused of terrorism.  Proceedings at Cairo’s Tora prison came amid a continued crackdown by Egypt’s military government that has ensnared reporters, as well as the political opposition.

Paul Mason of Independent Television News has our story.

PAUL MASON:  Inside, three journalists from the Al-Jazeera network faced terrorism charges. Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohammed and Australian Peter Greste have been held since the 29th of December.

FARAG FATHY, Lawyer for the Defense (through interpreter):  We asked that they be released pending investigations, and we also asked to question all witnesses and demanded to question the technical committee that had examined the equipment which was seized.

PAUL MASON:  Outside, their supporters waited anxiously for news.

HEATHER ALLAN, Head of News Gathering, Al-Jazeera English:  We believe we will be acquitted.  The lawyers are fully on board with us.  They fully believe in our case.  They fully believe that we were just operating as journalists.  We don’t have an agenda.  We have got nothing against Egypt.  We certainly don’t lie or do biased reporting.

PAUL MASON:  What they’re accused of is more than that.  This police footage complete with doomy soundtrack was played on a pro-government TV channel which labeled them a terrorist cell.

The charges they face today include manipulating footage to give a false image that Egypt is in the middle of a civil war and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated a terrorist group.

NICHOLAS PIACHAUD, Amnesty International:  Today’s trial sends a very clear message, I think: Egypt doesn’t tolerate dissent.  That is a message at international media, but also national media in Egypt.  These men face very serious criminal charges.  But I think the real reason they are in jail right now is because they dared to question the narrative of the authorities.  And that is really what this trial is about.

PAUL MASON:  In December, these three secular youth leaders, instrumental in the original revolution of 2011, were given three years hard labor.  The crackdown on the Brotherhood has come alongside repression of bloggers, secularists and democratic opposition parties.

NICHOLAS PIACHAUD:  What we have right now is a widening circle of oppression, one that doesn’t just target supporters of Mohammed Morsi and news outlets like Al-Jazeera, but also bloggers like Alaa Abdul Fattah, people who were very opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood when they were in power.

PAUL MASON:  The hearing was postponed until the 5th of March.  The men remain behind these notorious walls.

HIGH SCHOOL - Curbing Conflicts With Conversations

"To curb conflict, a Colorado high school replaces punishment with conversation" PBS Newshour 2/20/2014


SUMMARY:  At Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo., students, parents and administration are meeting face-to-face to resolve student conflict with conversation.  The number of physical altercations has taken a nosedive as this new type of disciplinary action, called “restorative justice,” replaces suspension.  Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

BONNIE MARTINEZ, Dean of Students, Hinkley High School:  That (this approach), to some people, may be viewed as a soft discipline, especially if you look at the Western culture.  You know, we’re about war and violence.  We’re not about peace and harmony.

UKRAINE - Diplomatic Efforts in Three Parts

"European diplomats work behind the scenes to halt Ukraine violence" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 2/20/2014

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  In Ukraine, as the battle between government forces and protesters, as we saw, became bloodier and deadlier, diplomats labored behind the scenes to find a way to end the violence.

Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports.

LINDSEY HILSUM:  They couldn’t even get through the streets.  Fighting prevented European Union foreign ministers from reaching the presidential palace in Kiev this morning.

They made it by the afternoon and are reported to be preparing for more talks overnight.  President Yanukovych reportedly left the meeting at one point to call President Putin, but there was no deal.  The ministers from France, Germany and Poland left and diplomacy moved to Brussels.

E.U. foreign ministers decided to sanction key members of the Ukrainian government, whom they regard as responsible for the violence.

CATHERINE ASHTON, Foreign Policy Chief, European Union:  We decided as a matter of urgency we need to look at targeted sanctions.  We have agreed to suspend export licenses for equipment for internal repression.  And we have asked the relevant working bodies of the council to make the necessary preparations immediately.

LINDSEY HILSUM:  The Russian foreign minister, visiting Baghdad, wasn’t impressed.

SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter):  The opposition cannot or doesn’t want to distance itself from extremist groups.  Our Western partners and everyone in Europe and the U.S. have thrown the blame on the government of Ukraine, and they do not condemn, as they should, the actions of the extremists.  We are very troubled by all that, because the double standards are obvious here.

LINDSEY HILSUM:  Ukraine is pulled between Europe to the west and Russia to the east.  It became independent in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  A quarter of its 45 million population are Russian speakers, living mainly in the south and east.

The majority, who speak Ukrainian as a first language, dominate the West.  Pro-Europe activists in Ternopil, Lutsk, Ivano-Frankivsk have seized control of regional councils, and Lviv has declared independence.  Western Ukrainians tend to be Catholic, while easterners are mainly orthodox.

But so far, this is a fight between the state and protesters, not between divided Ukrainians.  Outside intervention, though, may fan the flames, as Ukraine becomes the victim of renewed hostility between Russia and the West.

Notice that Yanukovych had to check-in with his puppet-master?

"Has the moment passed for the West to sway Ukraine with sanctions?" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 2/20/2014


SUMMARY:  World powers have watched as the Ukrainian conflict has escalated to unrestrained battle.  How can they help ensure stability for this country that’s in the heart of Europe while tightly connected to Russia?  Gwen Ifill talks to William Taylor, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, and Matthew Rojansky of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"Ukraine president, opposition agree to early elections, new government" (Part-3) Al-Jazeera 2/21/2014

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has signed a deal with the country’s opposition to hold presidential elections early, form a national unity government and make constitutional changes reducing his powers, diplomatic representatives of both sides said Friday.

Yanukovich announced the proposal earlier on Friday after all-night talks with the opposition and three European Union ministers, aimed at resolving a crisis in which at least 77 people have been killed in gun battles between protesters and police that began Tuesday.

"As the president of Ukraine and the guarantor of the constitution, today I am fulfilling my duty before the people, before Ukraine and before God in the name of saving the nation, in the name of preserving people's lives, in the name of peace and calm of our land," the president said in a statement on his website.

After several hours of silence from the opposition, leader Vitali Klitschko confirmed to the German newspaper Bild that his side would sign the deal but said further talks would be needed to quell protests.

Earlier on Friday, fighting broke out among deputies in parliament when the speaker declared a pause, delaying a debate on a possible resolution calling for Yanukovich's powers to be reduced.

Several deputies exchanged blows as the chamber descended into chaos for several minutes.  The speaker, Yanukovich ally Volodymyr Rybak, then left the chamber, but some of the deputies continued the debate.

On the streets, a shaky peace reigned in the protest camps in downtown Kiev after the days of fighting, which left at least 577 injured in addition to those killed.  On Friday morning several thousand protesters milled around Independence Square, known as the Maidan, with no visible police forces remaining on the square.  Volunteers walked freely to the protest camps to donate food and other aid.

Support for the president appeared to be weakening, as reports said the army's deputy chief of staff, Yury Dumansky, was resigning in "disagreement with the politics of pulling the armed forces into an internal civil conflict."

Yanukovich was expected to "make concessions in order to restore peace," Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted his spokeswoman Anna German as saying.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

SCIENCE - The Film "Particle Fever"

"Physicist-turned-filmmaker captures seven years of ‘Particle Fever’" by Rebecca Jacobson, PBS Newshour 2/19/2014


On July 4, 2012, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland announced that they had discovered the Higgs boson, the elusive particle that scientists hoped would explain why all matter has mass.  News cameras rolled as the physicists popped open champagne.

What the public didn’t see were the years of stress, joys and frustrations that accompanied the efforts of the Large Hadron Collider.  But theoretical physicist David Kaplan and physicist-turned director Mark Levinson followed the drama that unfolded since the collider went live in 2008, capturing 500 hours of film in seven years.  Using professional film crews and physicists armed with cameras, “Particle Fever” captures the sheer excitement the moments before the collider first turned on and the distress in the control room when a helium leak brought research to a temporary stop.  Theoretical physicists feared they would never see proof that this particle, the lynchpin of the standard model of particle physics, existed.


We caught up with Kaplan this week at a screening of the film at the National Science Foundation.

ECONOMY - Debating Boosting the Minimum Wage

Humm.... Lets see:
  • +900,000 people out of poverty
  • +16,000,000 people get a raise
  • -500,000 jobs lost
  • Total:  +16,400,000
Note, this points out the problem of using terms like "half-a-million" rather than numbers.

"CBO report fuels debate on costs and benefits of boosting the minimum wage" PBS Newshour 2/19/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The Congressional Budget Office, by definition, is considered a nonpartisan agency.  But the report it released yesterday about the effects of raising the minimum wage was seized upon by both sides of the debate.

Among its findings:  If the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour, it could eliminate half-a-million jobs, but it would also lift 900,000 families out of poverty and raise incomes for more than 16 million people.  The report noted there could be significant variation in the numbers.

We join the debate with Thea Lee.  She’s the deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO.  And David Neumark is an economist at the University of California, Irvine.  He’s done extensive work on this subject.

VENEZUELA - Protests as a Building-Block for Change

"Venezuela protests reach boiling point as opposition leader is arrested" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 2/19/2014

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  A month of protests reached a boiling point this week in economically strapped Venezuela.  At the center of the uproar is a charismatic leader seeking to oust the current government.

Demonstrators burned trash, chanted, and made noise any way they could outside a Caracas court where a top opposition leader faced criminal charges.

Leopoldo Lopez is accused of fomenting protest during a tumultuous three weeks in Venezuela.  The Harvard-trained economist surrendered to police yesterday, after imploring supporters to keep up the pressure on socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

LEOPOLDO LOPEZ, “Popular Will” Party (through interpreter):  Every Venezuelan who wants change, gather ourselves, organize ourselves and hold nonviolent protests.  I swear to you, we will overcome and very soon we will have a free and democratic Venezuela.

GWEN IFILL:  The protesters have denounced Maduro’s stewardship of the oil-rich Venezuelan economy, also at issue, rampant crime, controls on media, and food shortages.

Five people have died in the last week, as protests turned violent, a turn many blame on so-called colectivos, a paramilitary citizens militia allied to the Maduro government.

MARIA SANCHEZ, (through interpreter):  We cannot support Maduro.  He’s a bad man.  He’s worse than Chavez.  There are no medicines.  There’s nothing in this country.  For how long are we going to continue to suffer in this country?

GWEN IFILL:  Maduro, in turn, has minced no words in denouncing the protests.

PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO, Venezuela (through interpreter):  I have been personally overseeing the operations, so that I can guarantee peace in the face of the fascists gathering today with their armed gangs, with their trained groups, so that there would be peace.

GWEN IFILL:  Maduro was elected last April by a razor-thin margin.  He’d been vice president for the late Hugo Chavez, who feuded with successive American presidents and accused the U.S. of orchestrating a 2002 coup.

Maduro has leveled the same charge this time.  On Monday, Venezuela’s foreign minister ordered three American diplomats to leave the country.  It’s been four years since the U.S. posted an ambassador there.

The White House rejected claims the U.S. is promoting unrest.

For now, a tense calm prevails in Caracas, as both sides wait for whatever comes next.

"Venezuela unrest could be ‘building block’ for opposition to make substantive change" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 2/19/2014


SUMMARY:  Less than a year has passed since the death of Hugo Chavez and the election of President Nicolas Maduro, but the problems driving unrest in Venezuela have been building for a decade.  Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies joins Gwen Ifill to offer background on the “snowballing” of anti-government sentiment and why neighboring countries have been shy to speak out.

TEXAS - Air Quality in Fracking Frontier

"Raising health and air quality concerns in Texas’ fracking frontier" PBS Newshour 2/19/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Now, as shale and natural gas fracking booms in Texas, there are new questions about its possible connection with air quality and health problems.

That’s the focus of a new report jointly done by the Center for Public Integrity, Inside Climate News, and The Weather Channel.  It specifically looked at drilling in a huge area known as the Eagle Ford Shale Play, where, as you can see, the oil wells are in green dots, gas wells in red.

It examined almost 300 health complaints in the region potentially linked to fracking.  The industry is disputing the report.

Jim Morris is one of the journalists who worked on it for the Center for Public Integrity.

Welcome to the program.

JIM MORRIS, Center for Public Integrity:  Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, just a little bit of background.  How much drilling of this kind is going on in this South Texas area and why did you decide to look at the air quality issue?

JIM MORRIS:  There are about 8,000 wells that have already been drilled in the Eagle Ford Shale, which is about 20,000 square miles.  Another 5,000 or so have been permitted or online.

We chose to look at the Eagle Ford specifically because it has not been part of the national conversation on fracking.  And we looked at air because so much focus has been put understandably on contaminated water that we felt it was time to look at air pollution.

MIDDLE EAST - Looking at the Results of the 'Arab Spring'

"Nations inflamed by Arab Spring yield different fates" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 2/19/2014


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour):  It was just over three years ago that demonstrations engulfed Tunisia, inspired by a street vendor who set himself ablaze to protest corruption and intimidation.

In the process, he ignited a revolution across the region.  But the uprisings and protests from Morocco to Oman, what came to be known as the Arab spring, have yielded decidedly mixed results.

The best may be in Tunisia itself, where Secretary of State John Kerry visited yesterday, praising the nation’s progress.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  I want to congratulate Prime Minister Jomaa and the Tunisian people on the very difficult road that they have navigated and the successful way in which they have moved through a very difficult transition to democratic rule.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The transition began when the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali gave way to more unrest, as Islamists and secular groups competed for influence.  The economy worsened.  Assassinations of two powerful left-wing politicians eroded trust between parties.  And attacks by an al-Qaida-linked faction stoked fears of a takeover by radical Islamists.

Despite it all, last month, the National Assembly approved a new constitution now being hailed as one of the Arab world’s most progressive.

RACHED GHANNOUCHI, President, Ennahda Party (through interpreter):  Our people succeeded in making a peaceful revolution that enlightened the world.  We succeed to avoid a civil war between us.  But we achieved consensus.

JEFFREY BROWN:  There’s been no such consensus in Libya, Tunisia’s neighbor to the east.  Two well-armed militias have demanded the interim parliament resign.  Today, they extended their deadline to Friday.

"Looking to the past to understand Arab Spring struggles and success" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 2/19/2014


SUMMARY:  What differentiates Tunisia in its progress establishing a young democracy, while other countries inspired by the Arab Spring have floundered?  What are the lasting consequences for nations that have plunged into long-term conflict?  Jeffrey Brown asks for an assessment from Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya, Mary-Jane Deeb of the Library of Congress and Tarek Masoud of Harvard University.

SAN DIEGO - 2024 Summer Olympic Bid?

"Fact Check:  San Diego’s Phantom Olympic Venues" by Lisa Halverstadt, Voice of San Diego 2/19/2014

Statement:  “More than 80 percent of necessary proposed venues are already in place,” an announcer said in a recent video produced by San Diego’s 2024 Olympic exploratory committee.

Determination:  Misleading

Analysis:  Russia has pumped more than $50 billion into the Olympic games in Sochi, and like many hosts before it, a big chunk of that investment went toward new sports venues.

The latest estimates put the sticker price for new facilities at $6.7 billion but a group of San Diegans hoping to bring the summer games here in 2024 recently debuted a splashy new video that seems to suggest the region’s investment could be far less.

The promotional video, which aims to show San Diego is nearly Olympic-ready, claims more than 80 percent of necessary venues for the summer games are already in place as the camera pans to footage of Petco Park and cheering fans at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena.

The video highlights San Diego’s “first-rate” transportation network and emphasizes the region’s ability to leverage resources from a countywide half-cent transportation tax expected to draw more than $17 billion for transit, highway and road projects over the next 60 years.

What the video doesn’t mention is that San Diego is missing four very expensive sports facilities; two new stadiums, a basketball arena and a large aquatics center.

Vincent Mudd, chairman of San Diego’s 2024 exploratory committee, doesn’t deny that the group wants to focus on what the region already has.

He argues other cities looking to host the summer games have much more to build and says his committee’s assessment is based on information from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which detailed about three dozen facilities needed to host a summer games.  San Diego is just one of at least seven U.S. cities working on a 2024 bid.  The USOC is expected to pick its preferred host city by the end of the year.

The USOC did not respond to requests to confirm its facility requirements or information shared with the San Diego exploratory committee.

We did, however, find 2008 marketing materials for the Beijing summer games that described 37 Olympic facilities, the same number Mudd’s committee documented.  A 2005 U.S. Government Accountability Office review of the 2004 games in Athens also said Greek officials used 35 sports venues, which also closely matches the required number of facilities Mudd’s committee detailed to VOSD.

Mudd says his committee has used the USOC’s guidance to fan out across the region and assess the area’s sports venues.  They’ve tentatively nailed down roughly 30 locations they believe meet USOC protocols, including a beach in Coronado for volleyball and Mission Bay for everything from rowing to the triathlon.

Organizers have yet to pursue formal commitments, Mudd said.

But again, four major facilities are missing from this initial roadmap.  Organizers believe San Diego needs two stadiums, a sports arena and a large aquatic center to host a summer games – four venues likely to come with very large sticker prices.

The committee’s current plan assumes one of those new stadiums will be downtown, a general location the Chargers have also floated as recently as this fall.

They also envision the Olympic village – the hub of the games – would be in Mission Valley, the Chargers’ current home base, and that Qualcomm Stadium will be demolished to make room for more developments.  This concept, like the new downtown stadium, is far from a slam-dunk.  There aren’t any deals with contractors or official discussions about who would pay for it.

Mudd sees five major elements to the prospective Olympic village project: a new stadium that’s better situated for Olympic plans, a hotel, retail stores plus office space and housing for athletes.  The latter two could be used by college students or businesses before and after the 2024 games.

To appease the USOC, one of those stadiums must be outfitted to host track and field events and another for rugby and soccer.

Mudd acknowledged that the Chargers are unlikely to use a stadium built for running events due to the track that circles around the venue, separating players and fans.  The rugby and soccer stadium, however, could work for the football team if it’s properly outfitted.

Then there’s the new sports arena.  Mudd said it would need at least 17,000 seats and large locker rooms that none of the region’s current basketball-ready venues have.

San Diego also needs an aquatic center with at least three 50-meter pools plus two smaller ones swimmers could use for warm-ups, Mudd said.

Altogether, these new facilities are likely to exceed $2 billion, and it’s not clear whether taxpayers or private backers would be writing the checks.

Just to give you an idea, here’s a sample of costs associated with venues similar to what the exploratory committee has proposed:

Last fall, the Atlanta Falcons revealed their new stadium would cost $1.2 billion and the Dallas Cowboys reported similar spending on AT&T Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Beijing National Aquatics Center that debuted for the 2008 summer Olympics cost a reported $140 million, and a basketball arena erected for the 2012 Olympics in London went for about $62.5 million.

Mudd doesn’t deny the four facilities San Diego is missing are pricey but he prefers to focus on what the region wouldn’t need to build – and so does the video.

“When people realize that of everything that you need San Diego has a large percentage of it, that all of the sudden focuses you on the fact that we’re not building this from scratch,” Mudd said.  “We’re not spending the money others (who have hosted Olympics) are because they built everything absolutely from scratch.”

He also emphasized that any facilities San Diego builds don’t need to be especially flashy and should be useful to San Diegans long after the Olympics.

For the purposes of this Fact Check, we decided to assume that the exploratory committee has accurately documented required venues, as dictated by the USOC.

But even if that’s the case, the promotional video’s claim that San Diego already has most of the facilities it needs to host the 2024 Olympic is problematic.

This statement implies San Diego won’t have to invest much cash to ready itself for the Olympics when even the exploratory chair admits taxpayers or private interests must invest in four major venues likely to cost at least $2 billion.

San Diego may indeed only need to erect less than 20 percent of required facilities but the ones it does have to build are especially costly.  Focusing on the percentage of venues the region already has is akin to announcing Thanksgiving dinner is mostly ready — you just have to cook the turkey.

The missing facilities – particularly the two stadiums – are central to San Diego’s Olympic bid.  Other venues the exploratory committee has tentatively nailed down are certainly crucial but beaches and bays, for example, exist because they’re natural resources, whereas a stadium must be built from the ground up — at a high cost.

The promotional video’s claim that San Diego already has more than 80 percent of needed Olympic venues is misleading.  It takes an element of truth about San Diego’s existing sports hubs and leaves a deceiving impression: that San Diego is nearly ready for the Olympics when even the committee pushing for it admits the region needs significant cash and political will to build four major sports venues.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

UKRAINE - Spinning Out of Control

My answer, (duh) YES.  The situation is an example of Putin buying loyalty.

"Is Ukraine on the verge of spinning out of control?" PBS Newshour 2/18/2014


The deadly violence and mayhem gripping Kiev signals an escalation in the more than two months of protests against the pro-Russia Ukrainian government.  Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution and Adrian Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council join Gwen Ifill to discuss the root causes of the unrest, the leverage of the West and the outside forces pushing Ukraine into battle.

EDUCATION - Challenging the Value of SAT Scores

"Study finds high SAT and ACT scores might not spell success at college" PBS Newshour 2/18/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  It’s one of those times of the year when high school juniors aiming for college are getting ready to take the SAT or the ACT, but a large new study is challenging the value of these well-known standardized tests.

Researchers looked at 33 public and private colleges and universities where it’s optional for applicants to submit their test scores.  In all, the study examined the records of 123,000 students from more than 20 states.  It found that test scores didn’t correlate with how well a student did in college based on grades and graduation rates.

The paper has raised a variety of questions from several corners.

And we turn to its lead author, William Hiss.  He’s the former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, which is, we should note, a test-optional school.

POLITICS - How Micro-Targeting Works

Micro-targeting, aka micro-propaganda

"How ‘microtargeting’ works in political advertising" PBS Newshour 2/18/2014


SUMMARY:  What you watch, read, buy and listen to online can tell political campaigns whether it’s worth their time and money to woo your vote.  Gwen Ifill talks to Ken Goldstein of the University of San Francisco and Eitan Hersh of Yale University to learn more about how our digital footprints are being used in the evolution of political advertising.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  In an age of hyper-connectedness, it was only a matter of time until the politicians found you.  Does the music you stream make you a Democrat or a Republican?  Do the programs you record to watch later give political ad-makers a clue to whether you’re persuadable?  Satellite TV, radio and cable are all in on the game, which takes targeted advertising way beyond what you’re getting in the mail.  But how does it work?

For that, we turn to Ken Goldstein, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and former president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, and Eitan Hersh, assistant professor of political science at Yale University.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR - Elephants Show Empathy

"Elephants use their trunks to console distressed members of their herd" CBS News 2/18/2014

When elephants are feeling blue, they lend each other a trunk to cry on -- and then some.  New research shows that Asian elephants comfort each other by making sympathetic noises and touching their trunks to the others' mouths or nether regions.

Published Feb. 18 in the journal PeerJ, the study followed the behaviors of 26 elephants between the ages of 3 and 60 years old, living in a sanctuary in northern Thailand.  Adult male elephants were excluded from the study because in the wild, they are not part of the herd.

The researchers upset the animals by sending dogs walking past, placing snakes in the vicinity, and bringing in unfriendly elephants.

"When an elephant gets spooked, its ears go out, its tail stands erect or curls out, and it may emit a low-frequency rumble, trumpet or roar," said co-author Joshua Plotnik.  Plotnik is a lecturer in conservation biology at Mahidol University in Thailand and chief executive of the nonprofit Think Elephants.  "The consistency with which elephants responded to a friend in distress was quite remarkable.  Rarely did an elephant give a distress call without a response from a friend or group member nearby."

When those distress calls went out, other members of the herd exhibited several behaviors specifically geared towards calming them down.

"Elephants get distressed when they see others in distress, reaching out to calm them down, not unlike the way chimpanzees or humans embrace someone who is upset," study co-author Frans de Waal, a professor at Emory University, told Science Now.  The only other animals known to comfort peers are humans, great apes, dogs and some birds.

But while humans might offer a hug, elephants have an approach all their own: they reach out and touch their trunk to the other elephant's genitals, put their trunks in the other elephant's mouth, or make a high-pitched noise.

"Elephants do a lot of touching of others with their trunks.  Genital touching is a way for elephants to identify others, and in this case, it may also be a way for the elephants to identify the behavioral state of the others," Plotnik said.

"I think the genital touching, in combination with other touches, specifically in this context, serves to reassure the other elephant," Plotnik said.  "We also see the elephants put their trunks into each others' mouths, which seems to be a way of saying, 'I'm here to help you.'"

AMERICA - Health-Care Jobs Today

"Health-Care Jobs Are Getting Squeezed, Finally" by Peter Orszag, Bloomberg 2/19/2014


Evidence is spreading that health-care costs are growing much more slowly than before.  Now, it's not just a flattening in Medicare spending; the deceleration has spread to employment, too.

Last fall, in a generally skeptical analysis of the apparent slowdown in health-care costs, Harvard University economist Amitabh Chandra of Harvard University and co-authors noted that, because 57 percent of overall health-care expenditures are labor costs, "it seems unlikely that we would expect to see a permanent bending of the cost curve without a commensurate shift in employment rates.”  And at that point, they didn’t see any such shift.

Now, a few months later, the accumulating data show that we are indeed experiencing a noticeable decline in health-care employment growth.  From 1990 to 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in health care grew by an average of 2.8 percent per year.  But over the past year, it has grown by only 1.4 percent.  And in the past two months, it has barely changed at all -- and that is something that hasn't happened since data collection began.

“We have noted since first publishing on the health care spending slowdown that health labor would eventually need to follow suit," said Charles Roehrig, director of the Altarum Institute’s Center for Sustainable Health Spending.  "We have apparently finally reached that point.”

Within health care, employment is still expanding rapidly in some areas but has slowed sharply in others.  The most notable trend is that hospital jobs, which account for a third of employment in the sector, have basically stopped increasing.  On the other hand, in some outpatient care services (freestanding emergency medical centers and kidney dialysis centers, for example) the number of jobs has risen about 6 percent over the past year.  These patterns reflect the broader shift toward outpatient care.

What does this all mean both for the broader economy and for health care?  Given the weak state of the labor market, will sluggish job growth in the health-care sector be a problem?  Consider that, if the job growth rate in health care after 2010 had continued at its historical average of 2.8 percent per year, the sector would employ some 650,000 more people today than it actually does.

While that seems like a lot of jobs, however, it would represent only about one-half of 1 percent of the workforce, even assuming the additional jobs in health care did not displace jobs in other sectors.  The way to strengthen the overall labor market this year is not to perpetuate inefficiencies in health care.  (By the way, some good news for workers in the sector: The share of labor compensation in total health-care income has remained roughly constant over time.  That stands in stark contrast to the economy as a whole.)

SOCHI - The Extreme Park and Risks

"Olympic Athletes Risk Limbs in Crashes at Sochi Extreme Park" by Chris Spillane, Bloomberg News 2/19/2014

Cameron Bolton was approaching a jump when he clipped Italy’s Omar Visintin in the Olympic men’s snowboard cross semifinal.  The Australian fell on his face before getting hit by another Italian, Luca Matteotti.

“Welcome to boardercross,” Nick Baumgartner, a U.S. snowboarder, said during an interview as Bolton was left with a bloody face and a suspected broken wrist.  “It’s fun to watch, we put on a good show every time.  When you’re in the air, you do whatever you can to survive.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.”

Of the 38 athletes competing in the event at Sochi’s Rosa Khutor Extreme Park yesterday, 13 were disqualified or didn’t finish as crashes and falls drew gasps and sharp intakes of breath from spectators.  France’s Pierre Vaultier won gold while Nikolay Olyunin of Russia beat American Alex Deibold to take silver for the host country.

The final of the snowboard cross, also known as boardercross, was postponed by a day because of dense fog on the hill, but the murky conditions returned during the event’s latter stages while freezing rain made the snow slushy and exposed ice.  The injury toll at the Winter Games is rising as bad weather and risk-taking by athletes combine to provide an element of danger that fans crave, yet has some competitors being carried off on stretchers.

In snowboard cross, athletes race in groups of as many as six on terrain featuring cambered turns, gap jumps, drops and flat sections over 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) with a vertical drop of 213 meters.

‘Lot of Slush’

Among the casualties was Canada’s Kevin Hill, 27, who ended up with his face bloodied and his ski goggles broken into four pieces after a fall.  Such was the amount of rain on the course it reminded him of water sports.

“Because of the wet conditions, there’s a lot of slush, and underneath the slush there’s ice, and I hit my face on the ice,” Hill said in an interview.  “I wouldn’t mind if I was swimming when I was racing, as long as I get to the bottom.  I’m happy to be safe and happy to be going home healthy.”

Bolton, who finished 11th, was winded for about 30 seconds during one of his two crashes and was scheduled to see a doctor later yesterday.

“I’m a little bit worse for wear,” the 23-year-old said after the race.  “I think my wrist is broken.  I got it strapped up and got out there and crashed again.  I hit it somewhere in there, but I don’t think I hurt it any further in that last crash as I hit my head and rolled around and hit some other things.”


The number of athletes injured during Sochi 2014 isn’t significantly different to the previous games in Vancouver four years ago, according to Mark Adams, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee.

“Winter sports are not without their risks, but we don’t see any difference between this games and the last one,” he told reporters Feb. 17.  “The ski federation, as I understand, is very happy with the venue.”

The IOC, which has added new so-called extreme sports to boost interest among younger audiences, declined to say how many athletes have been injured so far.

Bode Miller, the oldest alpine skiing medalist, today aggravated a knee injury during the men’s giant slalom at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.  He said “it looks like” it will be his final Olympic event and he may now miss the slalom event on Feb. 22.

Extreme Crashes

Extreme sports accounted for some of the most high-profile crashes and injuries.  Ski-cross racer Maria Komissarova of Russia broke her spine during a practice run at the Extreme Park and is being treated in Munich after undergoing surgery in Krasnaya Polyana, the nearest town to the venue.

Canadian skier Yuki Tsubota suffered a mild concussion and a fractured cheekbone in a Feb. 11 crash during the women’s slopestyle event, when athletes soar and slide over obstacles before launching themselves off progressively larger jumps.  The 20-year-old landed short and was taken off the course on a stretcher.  She has returned home to see if she needs surgery.

“Those who will win will take risks and make no mistakes,” men’s parallel giant slalom snowboarder Andrey Sobolev of Russia said today.  “You obviously always have to take some risks, because without it you’ll never make it.  The course is very difficult, as it has been very well prepared and the snow is hard, so a lot of riders commit errors.”

During the women’s snowboard cross event on Feb. 16, Jacqueline Hernandez of the U.S. was carried off after she banged her head, as was Norway’s Helene Olafsen with a knee injury.


“This is a great course but it’s intimidating,” said 21-year-old Faye Gulini of the U.S., who finished fourth.  “We don’t usually have courses that have jumps this big.  These big features scare people but it’s fun and that’s what we need to separate the field.”

Aerial skiing also poses injury risks.  The competitors start at a height of 1,075 meters and slide down a ramp at speeds of more than 65 kilometers (40 miles) an hour before launching themselves into the air.  They’re judged on execution of tricks, height achieved and style, as well as on their landing.

Aerials skier Christopher Lambert of Switzerland was another victim of Extreme Park with a suspected dislocated elbow.  Britain’s Rowan Cheshire, a skier in the women’s halfpipe event, withdrew from the games after being knocked unconscious during training.

‘It’s Crazy’

“With a concussion injury there needs to be a rest period followed by a graduated return to play phase,” the British team’s chief medical officer Niall Elliott said in a statement.  “The time scale is unfortunately too tight for Rowan.”

Although the danger and speed draw fans, such as 40-year-old Robert Campbell from Atlanta, he says there should be limits to the risks that athletes are running in snowboard cross.

“I want to see ‘big air’ but safely,” the construction manager said in an interview.  “The outdoor element has something to do with it too.  In speedskating there’s definitely not as much risk for a big injury, big fall.”

U.S. snowboarder Baumgartner, 32, says “anything can happen” in such a demanding sports event.

“We’re a winter sport so we’re not used to doing this very often,” he said.  “It’s crazy.  When you hit the ground with your head it’s a lot softer in these conditions, maybe it’s like a pillow.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

AMERICA - Another Shooting Case in Legalized-Murder State of Florida

Note, no gun was ever found in the SUV Jordan Davis occupied at the time of shooting.

The upshot is, if you're in Florida and your are black, you can be killed for playing loud music.

"Mistrial in Jordan Davis murder case revives debate on race and self-defense" PBS Newshour 2/17/2014


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Over the weekend, the verdict in another Florida murder case raised hackles in the continuing debate about race and self-defense.

Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old Jacksonville software developer, who is white, was convicted on three counts of attempted murder.  But a mistrial was declared in a separate charge that he murdered 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was black.

In November 2012, Dunn pulled into a gas station where four teenagers were parked in an SUV listening to loud music.  After an argument, Dunn fired 10 bullets at the SUV.  Three of the teens, who were unarmed, were not hit, but Davis was and later died.

We take a closer look at the verdict now with Judith Browne-Dianis, a civil rights lawyer and co-director of The Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, and David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami-Dade County.  He’s now a partner at the Clarke Silverglate law firm in Miami.