Tuesday, May 27, 2014

AFRICA - U.S. Training Elite Antiterror Troops

Is this a 'will we never learn from history' moment.  Remember we trained and supplied the people that later became the core of Al Qaeda in their war against Russian occupation of Afghanistan.  So, will the troops we train in Africa become the core of anti-American movement in the future?

"U.S. Training Elite Antiterror Troops in Four African Nations" by ERIC SCHMITT, New York Times 5/26/2014

United States Special Operations troops are forming elite counterterrorism units in four countries in North and West Africa that American officials say are pivotal in the widening war against Al Qaeda’s affiliates and associates on the continent, even as they acknowledge the difficulties of working with weak allies.

The secretive program, financed in part with millions of dollars in classified Pentagon spending and carried out by trainers, including members of the Army’s Green Berets and Delta Force, was begun last year to instruct and equip hundreds of handpicked commandos in Libya, Niger, Mauritania and Mali.

The goal over the next few years is to build homegrown African counterterrorism teams capable of combating fighters like those in Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group that abducted nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls last month.  American military specialists are helping Nigerian officers in their efforts to rescue the girls.

Training indigenous forces to go after threats in their own country is what we need to be doing,” said Michael A. Sheehan, who advocated the counterterrorism program last year when he was the senior Pentagon official in charge of Special Operations policy.  Mr. Sheehan now holds the distinguished chair at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

As the United States military seeks to extend its counterterrorism reach in Africa, President Obama is expected to appear at West Point on Wednesday to emphasize a foreign policy that would avoid large land wars, like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and instead stress the training of allied and partner nations to battle militants on their own soil.

Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has slowly built a multipronged counterterrorism strategy in Africa:  It has carried out armed drone strikes in Somalia from its only permanent base on the continent, in Djibouti; backed African proxies and French commandos fighting Islamist extremists in Somalia and Mali; and increasingly trained African troops to combat insurgents.

Under the new Africa plan, the Pentagon is spending nearly $70 million on training, intelligence-gathering equipment and other support to build a counterterrorism battalion in Niger and a similar unit in nearby Mauritania that are in their “formative stages,” a senior Defense Department official said.

In a cautionary note about operating in that part of Africa, troubled by a chronic shortage of resources and weak regional partners, the effort in Mali has yet to get off the ground as a new civilian government recovers from a military coup last year.  In Libya, the most ambitious initial training ended ignominiously last August after a group of armed militia fighters overpowered a small Libyan guard force at a training base outside Tripoli and stole hundreds of American-supplied automatic weapons, night-vision goggles, vehicles and other equipment.

As a result, the training was halted and the American instructors were sent home.  Libyan and American officials have been searching for a more secure training site in Libya to restart the program.  But last summer’s debacle and the political upheaval in Libya since then have caused American officials to rethink how they select local personnel.

“You have to make sure of who you’re training,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue II, the commander of United States Army soldiers operating in Africa.  “It can’t be the standard, ‘Has this guy been a terrorist or some sort of criminal?’ but also, ‘What are his allegiances?  Is he true to the country, or is he still bound to his militia?’ ”

The American military uses conventional troops and elite Special Operations forces to train foreign armies all over the world.  The tasks range from teaching basic marksmanship to more advanced counterterrorism tactics and techniques.

In the past decade, the Bush and Obama administrations put a premium on training and equipping foreign troops to combat terrorists and other Islamist extremists and persuaded Congress to approve funding for those programs.

The new program to train small counterterrorism forces in Africa resembles larger efforts by American Special Operations troops carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Pentagon officials declined to comment publicly on the new program, but budget documents reveal some details.

In Libya, the Pentagon has allotted just over $16 million from a train-and-equip fund to develop two companies of elite troops and their support elements “to counter terrorist and extremist threats in Libya,” according to budget documents.  For the aborted training outside Tripoli, the Defense Department also tapped into a classified spending account called Section 1208, devised to aid foreign troops assisting American forces conducting counterterrorism missions.

For Mauritania, about $29 million has been set aside for logistics and surveillance equipment in support of the specialized unit.

For Niger, where the United States launches unarmed surveillance drones to fly over Mali in support of French and United Nations troops, the Pentagon is spending nearly $15 million on the country’s new counterterrorism unit.  The funds are part of $39.5 million this year to train and equip the West Africa nation’s army as it struggles to stem a flow of insurgents across Niger’s lightly guarded borders with Mali, Nigeria and Libya.

Maman S. Sidikou, Niger’s ambassador to the United States, said he could not comment on the counterterrorism unit, but he added in an email, “Training remains a critical part of our needs to further increase our men’s readiness to face the many challenges of our regional environment.”

Mr. Sheehan, the former Pentagon official, said a 12-member Army Special Forces team could train about 50 soldiers initially, and expand after that.  “It can be done,” said Mr. Sheehan, who conducted similar training in Latin America in the 1980s as a Special Forces commander.

J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center of the Atlantic Council, a policy research group in Washington, said the United States must make tough political judgments before investing in ambitious counterterrorism training programs.  Mr. Pham cited the lessons of Mali, where American-trained commanders of elite army units defected to Islamic insurgents that seized the north last year.

“The host country has to have the political will to fight terrorism, not just the desire to build up an elite force that could be used for regime protection,” Mr. Pham said.  “And the military has to be viewed well or at least neutrally by a country’s population.”

American counterterrorism officials also warn that without a commitment to support the specialized units, training can stall.  “It’s very difficult, very challenging dealing with African forces,” said Rudy Atallah, the former director of African counterterrorism policy for the Pentagon.  “You train them to a certain level, and then they can run short on gear, communications, even tires for their vehicles.”

American officials say trainees must be carefully screened and monitored for possible human rights violations or shifting allegiances.  “Any unit we train could be used to go after political opponents rather than Al Qaeda,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has visited Libya frequently.

No episode is a more sobering reminder of these risks than the collapse of the American counterterrorism training mission last August at Base 27, also called Camp Younis, a Libyan military installation about 15 miles from Tripoli, the capital.

The American trainers issued the Libyans M4 automatic rifles, night-vision goggles, Glock pistols and armored vehicles.  The Libyans took custody of the weapons and equipment and were responsible for safeguarding them in a warehouse at the camp, American military officials said.

In a predawn raid on Aug. 4, gunmen believed to be from one of the local militias overpowered the Libyan guards and seized the weapons and equipment in the storage area, American officials said.

The American trainers were not at the training camp when the raid occurred because they regularly stayed at a nearby villa that served as a safe house at night, American officials said.

American military officials briefed on the raid suspect that the theft was an inside job in which a Libyan officer or soldier tipped off some local Tripoli militia members about the matériel stored at the base.  Much of the stolen equipment was later recovered, but not before news reports indicated that some of the pilfered weapons had showed up online for sale on the black market.

The episode abruptly ended a weeks-long training course that American and Libyan officials had hoped would restart broader training efforts that were suspended after the attack on the American Mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.

A former American Special Operations officer said there was a broader lesson for any future Libya training mission:  “The take-away here is they’re going to take a lot more adult supervision to make sure the checks and balances are in place, so you don’t have outside militia taking over.”

MIDDLE EAST - Pope Francis' Visit

I too believe Palestine IS a sovereign nation.

"Pope Francis performs ‘balancing act’ of agendas on Middle East visit" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 5/26/2014


JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Nicholas Casey, is the Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and covered the pope’s trip.  He joins us now from Jerusalem.

Nick, let me ask you first about the pope’s invitation to Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres to come to Rome.  How much of a surprise was that, and how is it being seen by people that you’re talking to there?

NICHOLAS CASEY, The Wall Street Journal:  Well, it was a surprise to us, the reporters.  Sources I have in both governments said that this was an idea that was floated beforehand.

Now, what’s happened diplomatically on the two sides is that they have both walked away from the table.  This happened really acrimoniously last month.  Neither side has been talking to each other since.  So the pope realized this was the situation here and tried to get an olive branch circulating between both sides, which means that, some time next month, the presidents of the two countries are going to be meeting.  It’s not clear what they’re going to be talking about, how much politics will be on the table.

Officially, this is a meeting of talking, reflection and prayer.  But, hopefully, it will lead to some sort of revival of peace talks here eventually.

"Pope Francis invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders for prayer at the Vatican" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 5/26/2014


SUMMARY:  In charged acts of political symbolism, Pope Francis stopped at some of the holiest sites for Jews and Muslims during a trip to the Middle East.  Pope Francis called for renewed peace talks, and became the first pontiff to refer to the “state of Palestine.”  The visit came just weeks after U.S.-led talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators collapsed.  Jeffrey Brown reports.

CALIFORNIA - Isla Vista College Town Shootings

How many have to die before police learn to believe parents and others that warn about unstable people.  LEOs need to be trained to assume people like this COULD be a danger, or better, take a psychologist with them.  This incident may have been averted if the police had searched Rodger's apartment back in April.

Also, Elliot Rodger is a poster 'child' for better gun control policies.

"One month before deadly rampage, California shooter evaded police suspicion" PBS NewsHour 5/26/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The college town of Isla Vista, California, just outside Santa Barbara, remained in mourning on this holiday, after a troubled student went on a killing spree there Friday night.  Officials have worked to piece together what happened.

The parents of Elliot Rodger called the police and rushed to Isla Vista desperate to stop their son, but were too late.  By the time they arrived on Friday night, Rodger had killed six people, injured 13 more and shot himself.  Rodger had e-mailed a 140-page manifesto, as he described it, to his parents shortly before the rampage.  In it, he mapped out his troubled life and what he called a day of retribution.

He had been planning the attack for three years, according to what he wrote in the manifesto.  He also posted multiple videos to YouTube.  The most recent one was uploaded the day before the shooting.

In these videos, he swore to annihilate all the women who he said had rejected him.

ELLIOT RODGER:  You forced me to suffer all my life, and now I will make you all suffer.  I have waited a long time for this.  I will give you exactly what you deserve, all of you, all you girls who rejected me and looked down upon me and treated me like scum.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In late April, deputies from the sheriff’s office visited Rodger at his apartment after worried calls from state mental health officials.  On Sunday, county Sheriff Bill Brown said, at the time, they were given no reason to search his apartment.

EUROPE - The Anti-EU Sentiment

"Swinging both right and left, anti-EU sentiment sweeps Europe’s parliamentary elections" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 5/26/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  An anti-European Union tide swept through the European parliamentary elections this weekend.

In Great Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party shocked the Labor and Conservative parties with a surprise victory.  And there were more anti-establishment wins on the continent.

Matt Frei of Independent Television News is in Paris and filed this report.

MATT FREI, ITN:  A drooping flag under leaden skies, with the promise of more rain, that just about sums up the mood in Paris this morning.  The tourists are still doing what tourists do, and the traffic on the Champs-Elysees is still terrible.

But the political landscape here has changed, perhaps forever.  It’s all thanks to them, the Le Pen father and daughter.  Once, they were shunned by the political establishment as a freak show on the fringes of national politics.  Now they’re guzzling the bubbly with a giddiness of freshly made history.  Champagne.  What else?  Their anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, anti-Paris elite message has struck a chord.

And this morning, Marine Le Pen read the establishment the riot act.

MARINE LE PEN, President, National Front Party (through interpreter):  They cannot ignore the lessons of this ballot and its incredible rejection of the Socialist Party in power, but also of the entire so-called traditional political class.

MATT FREI:  At about the same time in Copenhagen, the Danish People’s Party and their star candidate, the unforgettably named Morten Messerschmidt, were also celebrating some historic numbers on the back of an anti-immigrant, anti-E.U. message.

If the swingers were not to the far right, they were to the far left.  In Greece, the Syriza Party rode to victory was on an anti-austerity, anti-Berlin clarion call, best summed up as, we don’t want to become German’s colony.

ALEXIS TSIPRAS, Leader, Syriza Party (through interpreter):  This is a historic day for our people.  They have made a clear and brave verdict that despite the unprecedented propaganda of fear, they condemned the Samaras government and the policies of the bailout, and for the first time in history, it raised the left to first place, and what a significant difference.

MATT FREI:  But the swings were mostly to the right, and nowhere did they hurt more than in Paris, the spiritual home of the European Union, and here at the home of a president who enjoys approval ratings consistently below 20 percent.

Of course, the success of the National Front is very much the failure of the man residing currently in that building behind me, the Elysee Palace.  Now, Francois Hollande has not only failed to revive France’s economic pulse after the great recession.  He’s also, almost uniquely, managed to upset two groups of people, the rich, who feel overtaxed, and the poor, who continue to feel underemployed.

This morning, he summoned an emergency meeting of his Cabinet.  His prime minister, Manuel Valls, newly appointed to stop the hemorrhaging of support, called the result a political earthquake.

"Why far-right and far-left parties are gaining ground in Europe" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 5/26/2014


SUMMARY:  From Great Britain to Greece, anti-European Union political fervor surged in European Parliamentary elections over economic, globalization and immigration concerns.  Jeffrey Brown discusses the rise of these anti-establishment groups and their potential impact with Antoine Ripoll of the European Parliament Liaison Office and Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations

Monday, May 26, 2014

PHOTOGRAPHY - Tintypes by U.S. Soldier

"Soldier documents experience in Afghanistan in tintype photographs" PBS NewsHour 5/25/2014


LEAD:  California airman Ed Drew’s job as a gunner on combat search-and-rescue helicopters is one of the most dangerous in the military.

When he got word he was heading to Afghanistan last spring, Drew, who’s also a photographer, was inspired to make something lasting while he was there — in case he didn’t return.

Little did he know that by reviving a long lost art he would end up making history.

Our story, narrated by Scott Shafer, was produced by our partners at KQED San Francisco.

ED DREW, soldier/photographer:  When I grew up my life wasn’t incredibly easy, my mother worked all the time, my real father was out of the picture.

I really had to learn on my own how to hold myself up.  Photography is one of those things that I used as a vehicle for self-expression ‘cause I felt in my heart that I was an artist.

SCOTT SHAFER, KQED:  Working out of a makeshift darkroom, using highly reactive chemicals, metal plates and a large format camera… artist Ed Drew is putting his own spin on a 19th century art form.

ED DREW:  I like tintypes because it’s not just something simple … you have to set it up and you have to be really physical with it, you can’t just click.

You’re basically making a photo on a piece of metal.  You’re exposing it, developing it and fixing it all right then and there.

RUSSIA - Putin's Foreign Press Conference

More lies and spin from (in reality) a dictator.  'Me thinks he protests too much.'

"Putin expresses dismay toward West in meeting with foreign journalists" PBS NewsHour 5/24/2014

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  For more we’re joined via Google Plus from St. Petersburg by Paul Ingrassia, managing editor for the Reuters News Service.  He and a group of foreign journalists met today with Russian President Putin.  So, it was a very small audience, what are the headlines from this meeting?

PAUL INGRASSIA, Reuters:  Well, you know, it was an interesting meeting.  It was three hours.  And I think what really became clear during the whole meeting was that, you know, President Putin feels a real sense of aggrievement by the west.  And especially, I would say by the United States, you know, for not taking into account what he regards as Russia’s needs, Russia’s security interests, etc.  He said he does not want the resumption of a Cold War.  He said he does not want to recreate the former U.S.S.R., or anything like that.

But he also clearly feels that Russia’s entitled to the respect of his interests as he sees them from western countries.  He was, you know, clearly more oriented toward Europe and the European Union, reaching out to there more than to the United States.  At one point he was asked do you talk very often with President Obama and the answer, he sort of shrugged, and said, well, we talk occasionally, but I have to leave now, so I’m going to talk to Mr. Hollande and Mrs. Merkel.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Everybody has got to have probably been asking him about the election coming up tomorrow and what that does for Russia and the troops that are right along the Ukrainian border.

PAUL INGRASSIA:  Yeah, he did say he would honor, respect the wishes of the Ukrainian people, but it wasn’t quite as simple as an answer, if you will, Hari.  What he did say was he’ll respect the results of the election, the decision of the Ukrainian people, but he thinks they’re doing it all wrong.  He said several times there was a coup d’état in Ukraine, and it’s basically an unlawful government.  He said he’s offered to have mediation with Ukraine, and that he’s been rebuffed about that.

You know, he maintained time and again, of course, that Crimea voted freely and independently to join Russia, and therefore, you know, the right to self-determination should be respected.  He said he believed that really the replacement, the deposement really of President Yanukovych of Ukraine was something that was outside of the bounds of law, and he’s the lawful president of the country.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, was there anything that surprised you about the meeting?

PAUL INGRASSIA:  Well, I think, what did surprise me, honestly, was the intensity, if you will, of his feeling of aggrievement.  He really seems to feel that the west sort of willfully ignored Russia and relegated Russia to more of a second-class status over the last 20 years, and he thinks Russia’s legitimate interests were ignored.  And as he put it, we had no choice but to take decisive action to prevent independent Ukraine from joining NATO.  Just the depth of his feeling, about this aggrieved sentiment, was sort of surprising, actually.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Paul Ingrassia of Reuters News Service joining us from St. Petersburg via Google Plus, thanks so much.

PAUL INGRASSIA:  Okay, thank you.

OPINION - Shields and Gerson 5/23/2014

"Shields and Gerson on conservative candidates, Shinseki under fire" PBS NewsHour 5/23/2014


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including primary election contests in Kentucky, Oregon and Georgia, and calls from some lawmakers for Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down after troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

BOOK - What Would Plato Say About Our World Today?

Just to show my ignorance, I always thought Socrates was a real Greek.  This discussion taught me that, "he (Plato) creates this character of Socrates."

"What would Plato ask a neuroscientist?" PBS NewsHour 5/23/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Finally tonight, a book that argues for the place of ancient philosophy in the modern world.

Jeff is back with a conversation he recorded recently.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Our next guest tonight, Plato, the Greek philosopher.  Well, not really, but what if he was able to join us, or to visit Google to discuss search engines or study brain scans with the leading neuroscientists?

How would our world look to him?  What insights might he have for us?

Such questions and flight of imagination are tackled in the new book “Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away.”

Author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is a philosopher, novelist, and winner of a MacArthur Award.  She joins us now.

POLITICS - IRS and Dark Money Rules Update

Bet part of the reason for the delay is Republicans, they love dark money.

"IRS Delays New Rules for Dark Money Groups" by Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica 5/23/2012

After intense criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed indefinitely proposed rules that would have imposed new limits on social welfare nonprofits, which have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars from anonymous donors into recent elections.

The agency said yesterday it would postpone a hearing on the proposal it released in November defining more clearly what constitutes political activity for such groups, and would revise the plan to reflect some of the more than 150,000 comments it triggered.

Officials put no timeline on the process, disappointing those who had hoped the new regulations might kick in before this year's mid-term elections.

"I think it's unfortunate that new rules will be delayed even further and that we're going through another election cycle" without them, said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel with the Campaign Legal Center.

Others called the delay a prudent step that would give the IRS an opportunity to get a crucial change right.

"They're not going to put out some slapdash rule just to check it off their list," said John Pomeranz, a Washington lawyer who works with nonprofits that spend money on politics.  He doesn’t expect the agency to finish the rules any time soon.  “I think we’ll be lucky if they’re in place for the 2016 election.”

Social welfare nonprofits have poured money into politics since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, which allowed corporations, unions and nonprofits to spend unlimited money on elections.

Social welfare nonprofits spent more than $256 million in the 2012 cycle alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  Campaign finance watchdogs have viewed their rise with concern, fearing the influence of so-called "dark" money from secret donors, and had called for more oversight from the IRS.

Under IRS regulations, the groups can spend some of their resources on politics, but must devote themselves mostly to social welfare to keep their nonprofit status.  But the rules defining what is and isn't politics are murky.

Late last year, the IRS moved to clarify the issue, but its proposal came under fire from both the left and the right.

Conservatives complained that the rules would stifle political speech.  The American Civil Liberties Union chafed at a provision in the proposed rules that would prevent nonprofits from backing ads that even mentioned politicians in the two months before a general election.

"We have no doubt that the Service is acting with the best of intentions, but the proposed rule threatens to discourage or sterilize an enormous amount of political discourse in America," the ACLU said in its written response to the proposal.

The plan was also criticized for impeding nonpartisan election work such as voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The IRS, still facing fallout from accusations that it singled out the applications of conservative nonprofits for special scrutiny in the run-up to the 2012 election, decided it would make revisions.

"Given the diversity of views expressed and the volume of substantive input, we have concluded that it would be more efficient and useful to hold a public hearing after we publish the revised proposed regulation," the agency said in statement.

AFGHANISTAN - President Obama's Surprise Visit

"Remarks by the President to the Troops at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan" Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan 5/25/2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

AMERICA - Life on Minimum Wage

"What quality of life can workers earning nation’s highest minimum wage afford?" PBS NewsHour 5/22/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The battle over the minimum wage heated up across the country today, as fast-food workers in several cities launched a one-day strike.

Outside Chicago, near the corporate home of McDonald’s, workers protested as the company held its annual meeting.  More than 100 were arrested.  The workers are demanding minimum pay of $15 an hour, which brings us to the question:  What is it like to live on minimum wage, even in a state with the highest wage in the country?

The NewsHour’s economics correspondent, Paul Solman, profiles two people dealing with that question, all part of his reporting Making Sense of financial news.

TERRAN LYONS, Crew Trainer, McDonald’s:  Everything just seems to be going wrong, you know?  So, I’m just — I’m trying to be responsible and fix it, but it’s stressing me out.


PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  Terran Lyons was talking about her car, but it may as well have been her life.  The 25-year-old single mother of two, a high school dropout, works as a crew trainer at a McDonald’s in Seattle, earning $9.85 an hour, just above the state minimum wage of $9.32.

Using her federal earned income tax refund, she moved to a cheaper suburb 30 miles south, close to her mother, who watches the kids while she works, and bought a 17-year-old car for the commute.

TERRAN LYONS:  Car’s the quickest way for me to get there, because on the bus, I will be on there for three hours.

GENERAL MOTORS - Can They Survive 14 Million Recalls?

"Growing list of recalls may be more than a bump in the road for GM’s reputation" PBS NewsHour 5/21/2014


JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  The latest addition to GM’s ever-growing list: 218,000 Chevrolet Aveos recalled just this morning.  They have a dashboard lighting module that could overheat and catch fire.

A day earlier, the company told customers to bring in nearly 2.5 million vehicles for seat belt, gear shifter, and other mechanical problems.  It all started in January, with nearly 2.6 million vehicles recalled, for ignition switch defects going back a decade, and linked to 13 deaths.

GM’s new CEO, Mary Barra, faced senators in April.

MARY BARRA, CEO, General Motors:  Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced for this program, but I can tell you we will find out.

JEFFREY BROWN:  By now, GM has called back nearly 14 million vehicles, the most ever in a single year.  The 29 separate actions include last Thursday’s recall of 2.7 million Chevrolet, Saturn and Cadillac models for taillight and other malfunctions, the March 13 recall of 1.7 million Buick, GMC and Chevrolet vehicles for brake and air bag problems, and the March 31 recall of 1.3 million Chevrolets, Saturns and Pontiacs for power steering issues.

Last Friday, the government fined GM $35 million for concealing the ignition switch problem.

BANKS - Justice Department, 'No Bank is Too Big to Jail'

"Will Justice Department’s crackdown on Credit Suisse lead to more bank prosecutions?" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Credit Suisse is the first big bank in more than two decades to plead guilty to a felony crime in the U.S.  The Department of Justice announced the charges late yesterday, saying the Swiss bank had conspired to aid tax evasion over decades by helping thousands of people hide wealth.

Credit Suisse, which has an American investment bank, will pay $2.6 billion in penalties.

Attorney General Eric Holder has been emphasizing of late that — quote — “No bank is too big to jail.”

The Credit Suisse case, he said, was a good example.

ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General:  This announcement should send a firm and unequivocal message to anyone who would engage in dishonest or illegal financial activity that the Justice Department doesn’t and we will not tolerate such activities.

When a bank engages in misconduct that is this brazen, it should expect that the Justice Department will pursue criminal prosecution to the fullest extent possible, as has happened here.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Holder’s comments come after many experts have frequently asked about why the Department of Justice has not pursued more serious charges against some of the banks connected with the financial crisis.


"Former treasury secretary reflects on ‘deeply unfair’ nature of financial crisis recovery" PBS NewsHour 5/22/2014


SUMMARY:  Timothy Geithner, key architect of the government’s response the financial crisis, joins Gwen Ifill to discuss his new book, "Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises."  As the former treasury secretary, Geithner offers perspective on the government’s response to the crisis, what response Americans deserved and how close the country came to another Great Depression.

HEALTH - NIH Orders New Drugs be Tested on Both Sexes

"NIH orders scientists to test new drugs on animals of both sexes" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  When you see headlines about a new drug on the market, chances are you have rarely thought about the gender of the lab animal the drug was first tested on during trials, but, in fact, most early trials are conducted on male rats or other male animals.

Researchers say that gender difference has led to a significant impact after a drug comes to market.  Last week, the National Institutes of Health announced that it is requiring scientists to test their work on both male and female animals.

For some insight into what’s behind these changes and what it means, we turn to Dr. Janine Clayton.  She’s the director of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health.  That’s the agency that announced the change.  And Phyllis Greenberger, she’s the president of the Society for Women’s Health Research.  She has long advocated for this change.

BOOK - Apple After Steve Jobs

"In ‘Haunted Empire,’ a look at life at Apple after Steve Jobs" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next, Hari Sreenivasan has our book conversation.  He talked with an author who has written about the impact one man has had on the success or failure of a company.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  When the one man is Steve Jobs, it’s a question well worth asking.  It’s been a little more than two years since the founder and creative force behind Apple died at age 56.

Since then, former Wall Street Journal technology reporter Yukari Kane interviewed more than 200 people inside and outside the company.  The upshot is her book, “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs.”

MICROSOFT - Microsoft Successfully Challenges FBI

"Microsoft Successfully Challenges FBI Order For User Info" by Amy Lee, Cruxial 5/23/2014

Documents related to Microsoft's successful challenge of a governmental request for information about one of the company's customers have been unsealed.

The order, a Federal Bureau of Investigation National Security Letter, sought "basic subscriber information" about one of Microsoft's enterprise customers, according to according to a post by Microsoft’s general counsel and executive VP of Legal and Corporate Affairs, Brad Smith on the company's TechNet blog.

A federal court in Seattle unsealed the documents on May 22 2014.

"This marks an important and successful step to protect Microsoft's enterprise customers regarding government surveillance," Smith wrote.

Microsoft challenged the nondisclosure provision of the Letter in June 2013, arguing that it would violate the First Amendment.

"It did so by hindering our practice of notifying enterprise customers when we receive legal orders related to their data," Smith wrote.

After the petition was filed, the FBI withdrew the Letter.  According to Smith, governmental requests for information related to enterprise customers are "extremely rare."

In the previous cases where similar requests for information occurred, Microsoft was able to obtain permission from the customer in question, or to ask directly.  In this case, the FBI was able to get the info from the customer, according to the notice of withdrawal.

Microsoft, along with major tech firms like Apple, Facebook and Google, have ramped up their efforts to gain greater abilities to disclose the government's requests for data to their customers.

"As more users migrate from locally installed software and locally stored data to cloud-based computing platforms, Microsoft increasingly is entrusted to store its customers' data safely and securely," the petition states.

In December 2013, Smith wrote a post on the TechNet blog reaffirming Microsoft's commitment to protecting customer data, and promising to inform customers of any legal orders Microsoft receives or to challenge any gag orders prohibiting them from doing so.

Smith also stated the company’s belief that when seeking information, government agencies should go directly to customers except in exceptional circumstances, "just as they did before customers moved to the cloud."

With cloud services, such as Microsoft's Office 365, customer data is stored in Microsoft data centers, rather than on the customer's own systems.

"As more users migrate from locally installed software and locally stored data to cloud-based computing platforms, Microsoft increasingly is entrusted to store its customers' data safely and securely," the petition states.

Earlier this month, Glenn Greenwald, who has been a key part of disclosures related to how the National Security Administration collects information, published documents including details of Microsoft's relationship with the agency.

Greenwald had previously claimed in July 2013 that Microsoft had worked with the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook and had also worked with the FBI to help them better collect information from OneDrive.  Microsoft responded to the allegations shortly after, with the basic message that the company complies with data requests only when legally necessary.

"This new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response [...] for our enterprise customers.  This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established," the recently revealed document states.

CHINA - Catch After Baby's Two Story Fall

"Watch a Man Successfully Catch a Baby Plummeting From a Window" by Samantha Grossman, Time 5/23/2014

He fell from the second story of a building

During heavy thunderstorms in south China this weekend, a one-year-old baby apparently went looking for his mother by a window.  Two men on the street below noticed the child’s precarious position and anticipated his fall, Reuters reports.

“I didn’t think too much at the time,” said the man who managed to catch the baby, identified only as Mr. Li.  “I was just afraid of failing to catch him.”

Another resident, identified as Mr. Hu, helped put down cardboard and a sofa to break the baby’s fall, just in case.  “It was nothing but human instinct to do so,” he said.

Watch the surveillance video that captured the miraculous catch above.

BRITAIN - Anti-European Union Party's Strong Performance

"Euroskeptics Make Big Gains in UK Local Elections" by AP, ABC News 5/23/2014

Britain's anti-European Union party made big gains in local elections Friday, taking votes from both the governing Conservatives and main opposition Labor Party and rattling rivals' nerves a year ahead of a British national election.

It's a strong performance for the U.K. Independence Party, which advocates pulling Britain out of the EU and stopping the unfettered right to entry of European citizens.

With three-quarters of results declared Friday from voting for more than 4,000 seats on 161 local authorities, UKIP had almost 140 seats, well over its predicted total of 80.

Labor won the largest share of seats, at least 1,400, gaining more than 230 and making gains particularly in London.  Britain's cosmopolitan capital largely defied the UKIP surge.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives lost almost 200 seats, while government coalition partners the Liberal Democrats lost even more — about a third of the Lib Dem total.

The BBC said that if projected nationwide the result would give UKIP 17 percent of votes, compared to 31 percent for Labor and 29 percent for the Conservatives.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the result meant "we are serious players" in British politics.  He said his party was confident it would elect its first lawmakers to Britain's parliament in next year's election.

Cameron acknowledged that UKIP's appeal to voters angry about austerity and worried about immigration had hit home.

"The economy is growing, we are creating jobs, but we have got to work harder and we have got to really deliver on issues that are frustrating people and frustrating me, like welfare reform and immigration and making sure people really benefit from this recovery," Cameron said.

Britons also voted Thursday in European Parliament elections.  Polls suggest UKIP could gain the largest share of the vote in the race for Britain's 73 seats in the legislature.  Those results will be announced Sunday along with tallies from 27 other EU countries.

NEW MEXICO - Another Albuquerque Police Shooting

"Albuquerque police shoot knife-wielding man" by RUSSELL CONTRERAS (AP), Seattle PI 5/23/2014

Facing increased scrutiny over its use of force, Albuquerque police shot and killed a man who authorities said slashed a good Samaritan's throat late Thursday, police announced at a briefing.

Deputy Chief William Roseman told reporters that the knife-wielding man was attacking a woman when the good Samaritan stepped in to help late Thursday and was stabbed.

"Officers attempted to talk to the offender and tried to have him drop the knife," Roseman said.  "As officers tried to deescalate the situation, the male offender began to advance on the officers."

Roseman said two officers shot and killed the man after he continued to move toward police.

The name of the suspect was not released.  Officials also have not released the names of the officers who fired their weapons.

In addition, police did not say how many times the man was shot nor if lapel camera footage of the shooting was available.

Roseman said the good Samaritan is in critical condition, while the woman has been treated and released.

It is the third fatal shooting by the Albuquerque Police Department since the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing review of the agency's use of force and the 40th police shooting since 2010.  The report also faulted Albuquerque police for officers' interaction with suspects who have mental illness and how the police SWAT team resolved conflicts.

The city has entered negotiations with the Justice Department over reforms and it could take months before the two sides outline an agreement.

In recent weeks, critics have stepped up the pressure on Albuquerque police by holding street protests and crowding City Council meetings to demand immediate reforms.

Earlier this month, angry demonstrators took over the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, chanting for the ouster of the Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Ede, shouting at Council members and causing so much disruption that the panel's president adjourned the meeting.  Protesters tried to serve a "people's arrest warrant" on Chief Gorden Eden and then held a mock council meeting in the chambers.

Demonstrators were removed from the next meeting by police when some approached the podium and refused to speak to protest new Council rule changes on speech.

This week, councilors approved a measure that would require that future police chiefs hired by the city get confirmed by the Council.  The measure now goes before city voters in a referendum.

Critics say they are planning a June protest march.

TENNESSEE - Brings Back the Electric Chair

The coddle-criminals types are not going to like this.

"Tennessee to use electric chair when lethal drugs unavailable" by Ed Payne and Mariano Castillo, CNN 5/23/2014

As controversies over lethal injection drugs surge, Tennessee has found a way around the issue:  It is bringing back the electric chair.

Eight states authorize electrocution as a method of execution but only at the inmate's discretion.

Now Tennessee is the first state to make use of the electric chair mandatory when lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the measure into law Thursday.

"This is unusual and might be both cruel and unusual punishment," said Richard Dieter, president of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"No state says what Tennessee says.  This is forcing the inmate to use electrocution," according to Dieter, who believes "the inmate would have an automatic Eighth Amendment challenge."

The amendment protects against cruel and unusual punishment.

"The electric chair is clearly a brutal alternative," Dieter said.

Controversy over lethal injections has been brewing in recent years after European manufacturers, including the Denmark-based manufacturer of Pentobarbital, banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions.

In April, a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma catapulted the issue back into the international spotlight.  It was the state's first time using a new, three-drug cocktail for an execution.  Execution witnesses said convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett convulsed and writhed on the execution gurney and struggled to speak, before officials blocked the witnesses' view.  Lockett died 43 minutes after being administered the first drug, CNN affiliate KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City reported.

Earlier this year, a convicted murderer and rapist in Ohio, Dennis McGuire, appeared to gasp and convulse for at least 10 minutes before dying from the drug cocktail used in his execution.

In 2009, the U.S.-based manufacturer of Sodium Thiopental, a drug also commonly used in executions, stopped making the painkiller.

Many states have scrambled to find products from overseas or have used American-based compounding pharmacies to create substitutes.

This month, a group of criminal justice experts recommended that federal and state governments move to a single lethal drug for executions instead of complex cocktails that can be botched.

The controversy over legal injection drugs raises the question of when a case will arise to test the new law.

The last death penalty by electrocution in Tennessee was that of Daryl Holton in 2007.

Holton -- a convicted murderer who killed his three young sons and his ex-wife's daughter -- elected to be killed by the electric chair.

Before Holton's execution, Tennessee had not used the electric chair in 47 years.

SPORTS - Donald Sterling, Clippers, NBA Scandal

"Donald Sterling Signs Over Clippers to Wife Shelly" by Colleen Curry, ABC News 5/23/2014

Donald Sterling has signed the Los Angeles Clippers over to his wife Shelly, a source close to the team confirmed today to ABC News.

Shelly Sterling, who previously shared ownership of the beleaguered NBA franchise with Donald, is now in talks with the NBA over selling the team, the source said.

ESPN reports that Donald has agreed to allow Shelly to negotiate the sale.

The NBA banned Donald Sterling for life from all league events after an audio tape became public that recorded him uttering racist comments to his assistant, V. Stiviano.  He told her not to post photos of herself with black people on Instagram or bring them to his basketball games.

On Monday, ESPN reported that the NBA had charged Sterling with damaging the league with his racist comments and set a hearing for June 3, after which other team owners will vote to decide the future of his ownership of the Clippers.

Sterling initially planned to fight to retain ownership but changed his mind this week, ESPN reported.

INTERNET - Is Net Neutrality a Myth?

"Net Neutrality Fans Aren't Going To Like This Chart" by Gerry Smith, Huffington Post 5/22/2014

When news broke in February that streaming giant Netflix would pay Comcast for direct access to the cable company's broadband network, some experts said it marked the beginning of the end of net neutrality.

Yet a new report says that such deals are far more widespread than many realized at the time.

Many large tech companies -- including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Facebook -- have quietly brokered deals with Internet providers to ensure their content is not slowed as it travels through their networks, according to a blog post published Wednesday by telecom analyst Dan Rayburn.

It's unclear whether these deals were brokered before or after a federal court in January struck down rules that maintained net neutrality, which is the principle that all Internet traffic should be equally accessible to consumers.  But Rayburn, an analyst at the research firm Frost & Sullivan, said such arrangements between web companies and Internet providers are nothing new.

"There are a lot of these deals in the market and have been for many, many years," he wrote on his blog.

Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Facebook did not return requests for comment.

Netflix, for example, accounts for roughly 30 percent of all web traffic.  Because data-heavy videos can create traffic jams on broadband networks, the company is paying Comcast to ensure its videos are streamed to customers more smoothly.

Such deals pertain to how Internet traffic flows between your Internet provider and third-party middlemen who operate the backbone of the web.

Those deals are technically beyond the scope of the Federal Communications Commission's recent proposal to allow Internet providers to charge web companies more to deliver their content via a "fast lane."  The FCC's proposed fast lanes only relate to the so-called last mile of online traffic that flows directly to customers' homes.

On Tuesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told a congressional panel that the FCC would start looking more closely at the type of deals that Rayburn highlighted.

In his blog post, Rayburn said the deals are fair.  If companies like Netflix didn't pay extra to ensure their content was delivered smoothly, Internet providers would be forced to raise prices on customers by passing on the extra cost of handling the increased traffic from all of Netflix's streaming videos.

This chart from Rayburn's blog indicates deals between tech companies and Internet providers:

Monday, May 19, 2014

AMERICA - Biking to Work

"Statistics reveal how America bikes to work" PBS NewsHour 5/18/2014

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  There’s some new data out on how we get to work and what that may say about us.

This past Friday was Bike to Work Day, but chances are you did not participate – only point six percent of Americans commute to work by bike.

I am occasionally, one of them.  On some days I ride to work over the 59th Street Bridge.

The number of us that pedal to work is up 60% over the past decade.  That’s according a new report from the Census Bureau.  But it also finds something else interesting about those who have to ride to work, versus those of us who can choose to.

Turns out, the poorest and the richest; least educated and most educated are the most likely to ride to work.  As the Washington Post put it, “alternatives to driving in the United States are both a luxury for the well-off and a last resort for the poor.”

Here in New York – where dramatically fewer people drive to work than in the rest of the country – I ride my bike as an alternative to the subway.  In the past few years the city has installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes and launched a new bike share program.

PAUL STEELY WHITE:  We’ve seen double-digit growth in bicycling each year for the last several years in New York.

Paul Steely White is the executive director of transportation alternatives, a New York cycling and pedestrian advocacy organization.  On bike-to-work day they handed out coffee and snacks to cyclists making the trip in.

White says the census data only tells part of the story.

PAUL STEELY WHITE:  The Census only captures work trips.  So it’s not counting errands, or recreation, or other kinds of bike trips.  And it doesn’t count trips that people take to the train, or to the bus.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Every kind of person.  On every kind of bike.  Doing every sort of thing.  Even a quick promo for the NewsHour.

One promise, I won’t be doing the show anytime soon in my bike clothes.

America’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities Bicycling Magazine


Best Cities

There are many important things a city can do to gain our consideration for this list: segregated bike lanes, municipal bike racks and bike boulevards, to name a few.  If you have those things in your town, cyclists probably have the ear of the local government—another key factor.  To make our Top 50, a city must also support a vibrant and diverse bike culture, and it must have smart, savvy bike shops.  If your town isn’t named below, use this as an opportunity to do something about it.  Already on the list?  Go out and enjoy a ride.  (Note:  We considered only cities with populations of 100,000 or more, and we strove for geographical diversity to avoid having a list dominated by California’s many bike-oriented cities.)

The article includes a US map and details of each city.

WIKIPEDIA - The Perceived Gender Gap

IMHO this is not the fault of the Wikipedia organization, it is women not being interested enough to participate in editing articles which is time consuming.

"‘Wikipedian’ editor took on website’s gender gap" PBS NewsHour 5/18/2014


SUMMARY:  Wikipedia has come under scrutiny over a lack of female representation and participation on the website.  To combat this trend, Adrianne Wadewitz was a dedicated "Wikipedian," who wrote and edited content on Wikipedia as one of the nearly 75,000 active volunteer editors.

TRACY WHOLF (NewsHour):  Rebecca Morris is a prominent, contemporary American artist.  With a career spanning the last 20 years, her paintings can be viewed in galleries and museums around the globe including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Goetz collection in Munich, Germany.

And if you google her, immediately images of her work and links to interviews appear.

But prior to March 9 of this year, Rebecca Morris didn’t have a Wikipedia page.  Some say that this omission is a small example of a very large problem; the lack of female representation and participation on one of the world’s most popular websites, Wikipedia.

WALL STREET - Going More Deeply Into Max GM Fine

"Federal government hits General Motors with $35 million fine" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2014


SUMMARY:  The federal government issued a record $35 million fine against General Motors on Friday for to the automakers slow response reporting faulty ignition switches -- a defect that has been linked to 13 deaths.  What’s the latest on the massive recall?  Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Micheline Maynard, who has covered the auto industry for many years, about the fine and this developing story.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 5/16/2014

"Shields and Brooks on Brown v. Board legacy, tea party outlook" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2014


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to the discuss the week’s news, including the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of education ruling, Karl Rove’s comments about Hillary Clinton’s health and the outlook for the tea party.

INDIA - First Non-National-Congress-Party Prime Minister Elected

"In record-breaking election, India picks polarizing Modi for next prime minister" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  In India, the results of the largest democratic election in human history came in today, sweeping into power a Hindu nationalist party whose leader was once barred from entering the United States.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Celebrations erupted in New Delhi today.  Supporters of Narendra Modi, the next minister of India, danced as election results were announced.

NARENDRA MODI, Prime Minister-Elect, India (through interpreter):  I thank all of you from my heart, and I salute all of you.  You all have carried out a great responsibility.  Today, in the history of 60 years of Indian democracy, you have created a new record.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Over the course of five weeks, 814 million eligible voters made their way to the polls in the most expensive general election in the country’s history, to replace the current prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

Modi’s opposition party, Bharatiya Janata, or BJP, dealt a decisive blow to the political dynasty of the Nehru-Gandhi family.  Their India National Congress Party has dominated in the country since its independence.

Rahul Gandhi fell on his sword at a concession speech earlier today.

RAHUL GANDHI, Vice President, Indian National Congress Party:  Congress Party has done pretty badly.  There is a lot for us to think about.  And as vice president of the party, I hold myself responsible.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Gandhi failed to convince his countrymen that his party could tackle government corruption and revive India’s stagnant economy.  Modi capitalized on voter dissatisfaction, with the promise of a new India.

NARENDRA MODI (through interpreter):  You have given 60 years to Congress.  Try giving me 60 months.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  His pro-business is popular with many Indians.  As chief minister of the state of Gujarat for four terms, he brought prosperity to the state’s main city of Ahmedabad, emphasizing foreign investments and development of public infrastructure.

While much of India struggles to stay on the world’s economic stage, many residents look to Gujarat’s success as an indication of what Modi could bring to the rest of the country.

MAN (through interpreter):  There is no one else capable for the prime minister’s post.  For the country’s security, it is very essential for Modi to become the prime minister.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But despite the overwhelming popularity, Modi has emerged as one of the most polarizing politicians across India.  His nationalist party has ties to Hindu fundamentalism and Modi himself has a controversial past.

In 2002, violent riots broke out along sectarian lines across Gujarat, killing more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.  Hindu-Muslim violence reached an unprecedented level since the time of the partition of India and Pakistan.  Modi oversaw all of this, as head of the state, and is blamed for doing nothing to stop the violence.  The United States revoked the leader’s visa over the incidents in 2005.

For now, however, those issues are far from the minds of Modi’s millions of supporters, who are celebrating their leader’s historic victory.

HISTORY - Brown v. Board 60th Anniversary

"60 years after Brown v. Board, school segregation isn’t yet American history" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Saturday marks 60 years since the landmark Supreme Court decision that declared separate schools for black and white students are unconstitutional.

Gwen Ifill recorded a conversation about the anniversary earlier this week, but, first, some background.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The case was named for Linda Brown, a third-grader in Topeka, Kansas, forced to travel more than an hour each day to an all-black elementary school, rather than attend the all-white school located just blocks from her home.

Government-sanctioned racial discrimination was the law of the land in 1954.  The Supreme Court’s Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling half-a-century earlier had ruled that, as long as separate facilities were considered equal, segregation itself wasn’t a violation the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

But the Browns, Linda and her two sisters, who were joined by families of students in four states and the District of Columbia, said no.  Their class-action suit eventually reached the Supreme Court.

Retired Baltimore public school principal John Stokes was one of the original plaintiffs in the Virginia case included in the Brown litigation.

JOHN STOKES, Plaintiff, Brown v. Board of Education:  It was separate, though it was never equal.

GWEN IFILL:  He describes the conditions at his overcrowded all-black high school in Farmville, Virginia, as deplorable, with no running water or indoor plumbing, and a potbelly stove that leaked soot into the classroom.

JOHN STOKES:  We knew we were being programmed for failure.  It was very obvious.  We could not only see it.  We could smell it, and when that soot fell down from that flue, we could taste it.  We could actually taste it.  So we knew we had to do something to make a change.

Significant Question:

SHERYLL CASHIN, Georgetown University Law School:  There are also innovations that you can do in terms of changing the finance system.  Why is it?  We haven’t — we haven’t really tried this many places, but why is it that states require schools to be funded based on property taxes?

Poorer neighborhoods mean lower property tax collected for education, leading to lower school funding.

TRAFFIC CAMERAS - Good Traffic Enforcement or Violation of Due Process?

First, just what is the difference between a traffic LEO sitting at a corner watching for red-light-runners and a traffic camera doing the same thing?  The traffic camera is always there, not off chasing a violator or home in bed.  Also, traffic tickets have always been a cash-cow for cities.

"Do traffic cameras save lives or violate due process?" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2014


SUMMARY:  Ten years ago, only a few dozen communities had red-light or speed-enforcement cameras.  Today, hundreds do.  On Saturday, we take a look at a debate in Ohio.  Camera advocates say the technology saves lives.  Opponents say the devices are profit-centers for municipalities and camera manufacturers and a violation of due process.

RICK KARR (NewsHour):  Drivers who run red lights kill nearly seven hundred people every year nationwide.  Sue and Paul Oberhauser refuse to call those crashes “accidents.”

PAUL OBERHAUSER:  Most of those are intentionally people think they going to get away with it and they run the red light.  They never think they’re going to kill a person.

RICK KARR:  Their daughter Sarah was killed by a driver who ran a red light in 2002.  She was thirty-one years old and a mother of two, a high-school chemistry teacher and basketball coach in Oxford, Ohio.  She was on her way to a teacher-training workshop on a Saturday morning when her light turned green.

SUE OBERHAUSER:  There was a young man who was 21 years old.  And he ran the red light going 55 miles an hour.  And he T-boned her car and Sarah was killed instantly.

RICK KARR:  The Oberhausers believe there’s a way to prevent crashes like the one that killed their daughter: automated cameras that keep an eye on intersections 24/7.  So even when police aren’t there, drivers think twice before running a light.  And the proof that they work, according to the Oberhausers, is a forty-minute drive from their farmhouse in Ohio’s state capital.

RICK KARR:  The City of Columbus installed its first red-light camera at this intersection in 2006.  Since then, it’s put cameras at more than three dozen other intersections.  And at those locations, side-impact collisions are down by 74 percent.

Friday, May 16, 2014

INTERVIEW - Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson

"Jeh Johnson on counterterrorism challenges, deportation enforcement" PBS NewsHour 5/15/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF:  And we are joined now by the man tasked with protecting the country from future terrorist attacks, among other things.

As Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson oversees some 240,000 workers, spread across 22 government agencies.  In addition to counterterrorism, he’s responsible for everything from border security, to immigration and customs enforcement, to natural disasters.

Secretary Johnson, we welcome you back to the NewsHour.

JEH JOHNSON, Secretary of Homeland Security:  Thank you, Judy.  Good to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So we’re now 12-and-a-half years past 9/11.  How much safer is the United States today than it was then?

JEH JOHNSON:  Well, I think we have come a long way since 9/11, which happens to be my birthday, so I remember the day well.  I’m a New Yorker.  I was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001.

We have come a long way in terms of our counterterrorism efforts.  I think we have learned how to do a pretty good job at detecting a number of terrorist threats to the homeland.  But we have to be vigilant in a number of respects.

Al-Qaida is now a much more decentralized entity, with affiliates.  And we have to always be vigilant in terms of potential homegrown threats, the so-called lone wolf.  And we saw an example of that with the Boston Marathon bombing last year.

So we have got to be vigilant on a number of fronts.  I still believe that counterterrorism needs to be the cornerstone of the Department of Homeland Security’s mission.

9/11 MEMORIAL - The New Museum

"Honoring the memory of 9/11 with a new museum" PBS NewsHour 5/15/2014


SUMMARY:  A new National September 11 Memorial Museum commemorates both the 2001 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  At each turn, exhibits recount chilling and heartbreaking moments from that September day and honors the victims with portraits of each individual killed in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.  Judy Woodruff reports on the dedication ceremony.

INTERVIEW - Bill Clinton 5/14/2014

"Bill Clinton reflects on fixing the wealth gap, embracing the Affordable Care Act and Hillary’s health" PBS NewsHour 5/14/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now; a conversation with former President Bill Clinton about economic growth, inequality, health care, and foreign policy.

I sat down with him earlier today in Washington as part of a fiscal summit run by the Peterson Foundation.  And the economy was naturally the place to start.

Here is a portion of our nearly hour-long conversation.

I’m going to plunge right in, because one of the interesting conversations we have been having lately in Washington and around the world is about inequality.  It’s back again.

I went back and looked at a conversation we had on this stage three years ago, and we were talking about it then.  Why do you think now?  Why is Thomas Piketty (see post on book) suddenly such a big deal?

FMR. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:  Well, first of all, it is severe constraint on growth for the country.

And it is evidence of a loss of social mobility.  The median real middle income, adjusted for inflation, is still slightly lower than it was the day I left office.  And the cost of education and health care and other things has gone up.

The average walking-around person is having a pretty tough time.  And it’s also really put a crimp in the whole idea of the American dream, that, if you work hard, you can do better than your parents did.

RETIREMENT - Senior Commuities Associated With Colleges

"Why more seniors are going back to college — to retire" PBS NewsHour 5/14/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  ..... Many Americans have strong and nostalgic ties to their colleges and universities.  Some of those institutions are reviving those relationships by developing retirement communities for former students and others.

NewsHour special correspondent Spencer Michels reports on one such development, and its residents.  It’s part of our Taking Care series.

SPENCER MICHELS (NewsHour):  Have you been stung?

RAY GOLDWIRE, Resident, Oak Hammock:  Many times.


RAY GOLDWIRE:  Yes, and the thing about getting stung, you really sort of get immune to it after a while.

SPENCER MICHELS:  Ten years ago, when he was 69, Ray Goldwire and his wife, Ann, moved into a new retirement home in Gainesville, Florida, north of Orlando, and a few years later he began a new hobby: beekeeping.

RAY GOLDWIRE:  It’s entirely different from anything I have ever done before, just like I started singing in the chorus this year, because I have never sung before.

SPENCER MICHELS:  The Goldwires chose a place to live that they hoped would keep them stimulated in their retirement years.  They live with about 400 other residents at Oak Hammock.  It’s affiliated with, and close to, the University of Florida Ray Goldwire’s alma mater.

And it’s a far cry from their first try at retirement living.

POLITICS - Widening Politial Devide Midterm

"Midterm races showcase widening political divide" PBS NewsHour 5/14/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Just when you thought Congress couldn’t get any more polarized, think again.

Election results last night in Nebraska and West Virginia highlight a growing divide.  In Nebraska, Ben Sasse, who is a Tea Party-backed candidate, won the Republican Senate primary and is now likely to be their next senator.  He would replace the more moderate Republican Mike Johanns, who is retiring.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito won the Republican Senate primary.  She faces off against Democrat Natalie Tennant, who is West Virginia’s secretary of state.  Capito is favored in that contest and would replace retiring Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller.

And here to walk us through all this is our political editor, Domenico Montanaro.

Interactive graphics shown in video

ASIA - China vs Vietnam, South China Sea, Oil

China thinks it own everything in the South China Sea and ignores international conventions.

"Territorial dispute with China boils over in Vietnam" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 5/14/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Tensions between China and Vietnam reached a fever pitch today, as thousands of protesters in Vietnam went on a rampage over Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

Clouds of smoke rose skyward over foreign-owned factories near Ho Chi Minh City today, casualties in an escalating territorial struggle with China.  Rioters targeted industrial sites they believed were Chinese-run, but a provincial official said some were actually Taiwanese or South Korean-owned.

The mobs torched at least 15 plants.  Scores more were looted or vandalized.  In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry demanded action to calm the situation.

HUA CHUNYING, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, China (through interpreter):  China is seriously concerned with these incidents.  The Foreign Ministry has called in the Vietnamese ambassador to China and lodged a solemn demand for Vietnam to take immediate and effective measures to stop and punish the illegal activities.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The protests, rarely allowed in Vietnam, began peacefully enough several days ago, but officials claimed today they’d been hijacked by extremists.  They said 440 people were detained.

Vietnamese anger flared after the Chinese began operating an oil rig in disputed waters near the Paracel Islands.  They’re controlled by China, but claimed by Hanoi.

Both sides have accused the other of intentionally ramming their vessels.  Chinese ships also fired water cannon at Vietnamese crews.  Today, the Vietnamese coast guard claimed Chinese ships had once again blocked attempts to reach the rig.

COL. PHAN DUY CUONG, Vietnamese Coast Guard Tactical Assistance (through interpreter):  Today, we got as close as 12 kilometers to the oil rig, and Chinese forces reacted with many ships and followed us closely.  At one point, five Chinese ships surrounded one of ours to stop us from getting close to the oil rig that is operating illegally in our territories.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  China has rejected Vietnam’s complaints and defended its own actions.  Again, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman:

HUA CHUNYING (through interpreter):  I think it’s quite obvious who is the provoker, who is the victim, who is trying to calm the situation, and who is escalating tension.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In Washington, the White House has criticized China’s actions in the territorial dispute.  But spokesman Jay Carney appealed today for calm on both sides.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary:  These are disputes that need to be resolved through dialogue, not through intimidation.  And we are not a party to the specific disputes, but we, again, urge dialogue and their resolution.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  China is also involved in territorial disputes with the Philippines and Japan.

"What are China’s ambitions in escalating dispute with Vietnam?" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 5/14/2014


SUMMARY:  Judy Woodruff talks to Kenneth Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution and Gordon Chang, a Forbes.com columnist, about the historical rupture and motives underlying a dispute over a Chinese oil rig placed in waters claimed by Vietnam.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

GUN CONTROL - How Many People Are Shot Each Year?

"Why Don’t We Know How Many People Are Shot Each Year in America?" by Lois Beckett, ProPublica 5/14/2014

Answer:  The pro-gun lobby doesn't want the public to know.

Has nonfatal gun violence increased or decreased over the past 10 years?  No one really knows.

How many Americans have been shot over the past 10 years?  No one really knows.  We don't even know if the number of people shot annually has gone up or down over that time.

The government's own numbers seem to conflict.  One source of data on shooting victims suggests that gun-related violence has been declining for years, while another government estimate actually shows an increase in the number of people who have been shot.  Each estimate is based on limited, incomplete data.  Not even the FBI tracks the total number of nonfatal gunshot wounds.

"We know how many people die, but not how many are injured and survive," said Dr. Demetrios Demetriades, a Los Angeles trauma surgeon who has been studying nationwide gunshot injury trends.

While the number of gun murders has decreased in recent years, there's debate over whether this reflects a drop in the total number of shootings, or an improvement in how many lives emergency room doctors can save.

Doctors and researchers have been advocating for better gun injury data since the late 1980s.  But fierce political battles over gun violence research — including pressure from congressional Republicans that put an end to some government-funded studies on firearms — has meant that we still don't know many basic facts about gun violence in America.

"In the absence of real data, politicians and policymakers do what the hell they want."  Dr. David Livingston, the director of the New Jersey Trauma Center at University Hospital in Newark said "They do what the hell they want anyway," he added, "but in the absence of data, they have nobody to call them on it."

An initial push to create a national database of firearm injuries in the late 1980s and early 1990s was slowed by the political fight over Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding for gun research, according to a history of the project written by researchers who worked on it.  To make the effort more politically viable, as well as more scientifically rigorous, researchers decided to collect data on all violent deaths, not just firearm deaths.

And to cut costs, they decided to focus only on fatal injuries.  Even that more limited effort has languished without full congressional funding — the database currently covers fewer than half of all states.

Most discussions of crime trends in America look back 20 years, to 1993, when violent crime of all kinds hit its peak.  Compare 1993 to today, and the picture looks bright:  The number of murders is down nearly 50 percent, and other kinds of violent crime have dropped even further.

The Department of Justice has estimates of nonfatal shootings that suggest a similar trend:  Its National Crime Victimization Survey shows a decline, from an average of about 22,000 nonfatal shootings in 2002, to roughly 12,000 a year from 2007 to 2011, according to a Department of Justice statistician.

But over the same time period, CDC estimates show that the number of Americans coming to hospitals with nonfatal, violent gun injuries has actually gone up; from an estimated 37,321 nonfatal gunshot injuries in 2002 to 55,544 in 2011.

The contrast between the two estimates is hard to clear up, since each data source has serious limitations.

Experts say that household data-gathering efforts, like the National Crime Victimization Survey, likely miss the Americans who are most likely to be victims of gun violence.

Shooting victims are "disproportionately young men of color who are living unstable lives and often involved in underground markets or criminal activity, and this is a group that is incredibly difficult to survey," said Philip Cook, a gun violence expert at Duke University.  "A lot of them are in jail at any point in time, or if they're not in jail, they have no stable address."

Meanwhile, the CDC numbers are based on a representative sample of 63 hospitals nationwide, and the margin of error for each estimate is very large.  The CDC's best guess for the number of nonfatal intentional shootings in 2012 is somewhere between 27,000 and 91,000.

"Uncertainty in the estimates precludes definitive conclusions," one group of medical researchers explained in a back-and-forth in a journal on internal medicine last year.

The FBI also gathers data on gun crime from local police departments, but most departments do not track the number of people who are shot and survive.  Instead, shootings are counted as part of the broader category of "aggravated assault," which includes a range of gun-related crimes, from waving a gun at threateningly to actually shooting someone.

There were about 140,000 firearm aggravated assaults nationwide in 2012, according to the FBI's report.  How many of those assaults represent someone actually getting shot?  There's no way to tell.

The lack of a clear number of nonfatal shootings has caused confusion.

A frequently cited 2012 Wall Street Journal article attributed the falling murder rate to advances in trauma care:  "In Medical Triumph, Homicides Fall Despite Soaring Gun Violence."  The article based its conclusion — that "America has become no less violent" over the past two decades — on the CDC's shooting estimates.

The article did not cite the other estimates of gun violence that show shootings trending down, or the level of uncertainty in the CDC's own data.

Livingston, the Newark trauma surgeon, said that it's "very nice" when journalists give trauma surgeons credit for saving more lives.  "I think that improvements in trauma care clearly have made a great difference," he said.  "On the other hand, if you don't know the extent of all of the patients, and all of the data, you can make some erroneous conclusions."

At University Hospital, which treats the vast majority of shooting victims from Newark and surrounding towns, Livingston and other doctors decided to do their own research.

"It's easy to count dead people.  But counting people who are merely injured?  The data was all over the place, and, frankly, terrible," Livingston said.

In a paper published early this year, they looked back at their own hospital's records and logged every gunshot wound patient from 2000 to 2011.

What they found was that the number of patients injured by guns had actually held roughly steady over the past decade.  But the injuries were getting worse.  The percentage of patients who came in with multiple bullet wounds had increased from only 10 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2011.  The incidence of brain and spinal cord injuries almost doubled.

And though trauma care has advanced over the past decade, the mortality rate for gunshot wound patients in Newark had actually increased, from 9 percent to 14 percent.

With more severe gunshot injuries came increased costs.  The researchers estimated the total cost over 10 years for their hospital was at least $115 million — and three quarters of that was unreimbursed, which meant that taxpayers ultimately paid the bills.

In total, the hospital had treated an average of 527 patients with intentional violent gunshot injuries each year; "unrelenting violence," as the researchers termed it.

Are the trends that the Newark researchers observed an anomaly?  Or are gunshot wound injuries across the county becoming more severe, as they have at this one hospital?  The Newark researchers looked for national data and could not find it.

After the American Bar Association and medical and public health groups collaborated on an extensive campaign — with the message, "what we don't know is killing us" — Congress did approve funds to begin building a National Violent Death Reporting System in 2002.  The push was inspired by a successful effort to track highway vehicle accidents, which experts say has helped reduce the number of deaths from car crashes.

But until last year, the system had only received enough congressional funding to collect detailed data on deaths in 18 states.  Then after the Sandy Hook shootings, Congress approved an additional nearly $8 million for database, though that still isn't enough to detail violent deaths in all 50 states.

President Obama has asked for enough funding next year — $23.5 million — to allow the CDC to finally begin to collect violent death data nationwide.

As for tracking the number of Americans who are violently injured and survive, CDC spokeswoman Courtney Lenard, said simply, that "is something that may be considered in the future."

Funding a CDC effort to track nonfatal violence is not the only path to getting a better answer.  Livingston and Demetriades, the Los Angeles trauma surgeon, suggested that independent medical associations could also help collect national nonfatal gun injury data, supported by government funding, and perhaps by legislation.  In order to get a clear picture of gun violence, injury data from hospitals should be combined with local law enforcement data about crimes, they said.

Another solution might be better FBI data.  "In my opinion, the FBI's UniformCrime Reports system should be changed so that it tracks nonfatal gunshot woundings in criminal assaults," said Daniel Webster, a gun violence researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

"If the FBI could get local agencies to include nonfatal criminal shootings into its UCR system, you have the capacity to track information that hospitals couldn't — distinguishing domestic shootings, from gang shootings, from robbery shootings."

An FBI spokesman said that changes in data collection practices could be made through congressional mandate or through the Criminal Justice Information Services Division Advisory Process, which would require buy-in from an advisory board of local, state and national law enforcement representatives.

In the past, changes to UCR data collection methods have been rare, the spokesman said.  But several changes have been made in recent years, including changing the definition of rape, and changing how data about hate crimes is collected.

Cook, the Duke University researcher, said that the first step should be to find out why CDC data shows a different trend than other measures, and clarifying whether the ways hospitals collect data — or changes in the willingness of patients with minor gunshot wounds to come to the hospital for treatment — might explain the disparity.

"We have a variety of other evidence that gun violence is going down," Cook said.  "By Occam's razor, I'd have to believe that the simplest explanation is that the nonfatal woundings are going down, too."