Monday, June 30, 2014

HEALTH - Hospitals Using Data Brokers

"Hospitals turning to data brokers for patient information" PBS NewsHour 6/29/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  A story published a few days ago caught our attention.  It described how hospitals buy information about you to determine how likely you are to get sick and what it would cost to treat you.  For more we’re joined by one of the co-authors, Shannon Pettypiece of Bloomberg News.  So what are they buying and who are they buying it from?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, Bloomberg News:  Well they are buying the same type of data that retailers have been using for years to target products at you and what we’re talking about here is that information that’s collected by companies called data brokers, which can track every transaction a consumer can make, every purchase they make, with a drug store or a grocery store loyalty card.

They can find out how much your home is worth, what type of car you own.  Even things like your interests, whether you like hiking or rock climbing based off of public databases or even your web browsing history.  And for years, retailers have used this to send you a coupon or to figure out who might want to subscribe to their certain list or product.

Now hospitals are saying, can we use this data this information to try to predict who’s going to get sick and who is going to end up at the emergency room.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So why are hospitals interested in having this kind of information?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE:  Well under Obamacare they have an increased incentive to keep patients healthy because the law changes the way they are paid.

So under the law, hospitals now get penalized if you come back to the emergency room too frequently and if a hospital isn’t meeting certain patient quality and health outcomes and insurers are following the same mold too.

Insurers no longer want to pay for hospitals who are just doing more and more test and procedures over and over again and they want to be paying for quality so hospitals are going to be held accountable if patients are too sick if patients are coming to the emergency room too frequently.

HEALTH - 'Pay-For-Delay' Deals and 'Evergreening' to Ripoff Drug Consumers

Hay come on...  Those 'poor' drug companies need there huge profits, and they have a 'right' to 'rape' your pockets.

To FDA, both practices should be illegal!

"Are generic drugs being delayed to market?" PBS NewsHour 6/28/2014

Excerpts

SUMMARY:  Are generic drugs being delayed to market by so-called "pay for delay" deals between drug companies?  The deals happen after generic drug companies challenge the patents on brand-name drugs.  The settlements include a date that the generic drug can enter the market, and in some cases, a payment from brand company to the generic company.

MEGAN THOMPSON (NewsHour):  In 2004, Karen Winkler was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease affecting the nervous system.  The 46-year-old mother of three, who lives in Clarkston, Michigan, struggles every day with numbness, pain and extreme fatigue.

KAREN WINKLER:  It’s so overwhelming.  You wake up tired.  And as the day progresses, it just gets worse and worse.  And it’s where you could fall asleep standing up.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  In 2005, Winkler’s doctor prescribed a brand-name medication called Provigil.  It was one of the only drugs for fatigue on the market that had minimal side effects.  It was made by a company called Cephalon, which earned $475 million dollars on Provigil that year.  Winkler’s doctor put her on a half pill, every day.

KAREN WINKLER:  It was perfect, you know.  I had three young kids and I could still do- pretty much do everything that I did.  And, you know, if I had 10 things on the to-do list, you know, I could either get the 10 things done or at least eight or nine of them.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  Better yet, Winkler says her doctor told her Provigil was expected to go generic soon – possibly within a year.  And that could have saved Winkler more than a thousand dollars a year.  The potential savings were especially important because her disease made it impossible to go back to work as she’d planned.  And around that same time, her husband’s pay was cut and the family had to dip into savings and a 401(k).

KAREN WINKLER:  Then it didn’t go generic.  And it was a whole different story.
----
MEGAN THOMPSON:  Why hadn’t Provigil gone generic?  And why was the price of it rising so sharply?  As Winkler discovered through online research, the company manufacturing the drug, Cephalon, was using two common but little known business strategies that critics say end up costing consumers.  First, there’s something that opponents call, “pay for delay.”

MEGAN THOMPSON:  Here’s how “pay for delay” works.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, when generic manufacturers challenge a patent, the brand-name manufacturer sometimes pays to keep the generic version off the market.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  In the case of Karen’s drug, the company that makes Provigil paid a total of $200 million to four generic companies.  That deal guaranteed no generic would come to market for another six years.
----
MEGAN THOMPSON:  But because of what critics describe as those “pay for delay” deals, Provigil didn’t go generic.  So Karen Winkler and other consumers paid the price.  And it turns out she paid even more because of that second controversial business strategy that Cephalon used then and other drug manufacturers continue to use today — something opponents call “evergreening.”  The idea is to get consumers off the drug they’re taking and on to another brand drug the same company is making.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  In Winkler’s case — off Provigil whose patent was about to expire. — and onto Nuvigil, whose patent had several years to run.  Companies sometimes do this by jacking up prices on the first drug.  That’s what happened to Winkler when, seeking relief from the rising price of Provigil, her doctor offered her Nuvigil.

KAREN WINKLER:  So, I thought, “Great.  You know, here’s a solution.” Came home and I started taking the pills for two or three days and got a pounding, pounding headache from it.  And, to the point that it was almost like having a migraine.

MEGAN THOMPSON:  That’s when Winkler went online and figured out what was going on.

KAREN WINKLER:  And what they were trying to do was to get patients off of Provigil, because they knew it was going to be going generic shortly, to start taking this Nuvigil that had this new, extended patent period.  And then obviously once Provigil went generic, everybody on Nuvigil would not be going to a generic drug.  They would be still on the Nuvigil.

HEALTH - Alcohol Abuse's High Cost to Economy

"Why we’re all paying the cost of excessive drinking" PBS NewsHour 6/27/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The study ranks excessive alcohol consumption as the fourth leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S., accounting for one in 10 deaths among working-age Americans each year.  Its effects also cost the U.S. economy roughly $224 billion every year.

And it is not just the alcoholic drinker who is at risk.  Partying, bingeing and daily drinking all take a toll.

For a closer look, we turn to Dr. Robert Brewer.  He’s head of the Alcohol Program at the CDC and co-author of the report.  He joins us from Chicago.

So, first of all, we have known that excessive drinking has different costs on society.  It’s often a tragedy for the family or the loved ones of the diseased, but what surprised you about these numbers in this study?

DR. ROBERT BREWER, Alcohol Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:  Well, Hari, you’re right.

We have known that excessive alcohol use is a huge public health problem for a long time.  What surprised us in this study was the extent to which that public health impact was focused on working age adults.  And as you noted in your opener, we estimate that about one in 10 deaths among working-age adults, ages 20-64 years, are attributable to excessive alcohol use.

That’s a huge number and certainly indicates to us that we need to redouble our efforts to prevent it.

HEALTH - Medicare / Medicaid Disconnect

"Fixing the disconnect between Medicare and Medicaid to serve the most vulnerable Americans" PBS NewsHour 6/27/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next, another in our ongoing series about long-term care.

Providing that care at a reasonable cost, especially for low-income Americans and those who are elderly or who have disabilities, has long been a challenge.

The state of California is trying to tackle that problem, as special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports.

KATHLEEN MCCLEERY (NewsHour):  Eighty-five-year-old Lydia Cornell has diabetes, congestive heart failure, and has suffered multiple strokes.  She lives with her daughter, Elsa, who cares for her and manages her medical problems.

ELSA MALIWAT:  My mom sees like four different doctors, like her primary physician, who manages her diabetes, and then a cardiologist, because my mom had two strokes already.  She also sees a nephrologist now because she’s been a longtime diabetic, as well as a podiatrist.

KATHLEEN McCLEERY:  After her husband died, Cornell exhausted her financial resources.  Her low income allows her to receive Medicaid.  California calls it Medi-Cal.  And she gets Medicare too.

She’s one of more than a million Californians and nine million Americans who qualify for both.  It’s an especially vulnerable group, says attorney and longtime consumer advocate Greg Knoll, CEO of the Legal Aid Society in San Diego.

UKRAINE - Trade Pact With EU

"Ukraine signs EU trade pact over Russian objections" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 6/27/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  In a move angering Moscow, Ukraine’s new leader signed a deal bring his country closer to Europe today.

Jeffrey Brown reports.

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukraine:  Ukraine paid the highest possible price to make her European dreams come true.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came to Brussels to sign the pact that had sparked the crisis in his country.

PETRO POROSHENKO:  It is a symbol of faith and of unbreakable will.  It is a tribute to people who gave their lives and health to make this moment happen.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Last November, Poroshenko’s Kremlin-backed predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, balked at signing the trade agreement to further integrate Ukraine with Europe and move it away from Russia.

That triggered a popular uprising in Kiev, and Yanukovych fled in February.

PETRO POROSHENKO:  Of course, all of us would have wished to sign the agreement under different, more comfortable circumstances.  On the other hand, the external aggression faced by Ukraine gives another strong reason for this crucial step.

JEFFREY BROWN:  That aggression, Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in March, major troop buildups on the Russian border with Ukraine, and accusations of Moscow’s support of separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

'Alice, just ignore the tanks and troops behind the curtain.'



"Trade deal locks Poroshenko and Russia in standoff" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 6/27/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In a move that angered Moscow, Ukraine’s new leader signed a trade deal to bring his country closer to Europe.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Matthew Rojansky of the Wilson Center and Nikolas Gvosdev of the U.S. Naval War College about the challenges of implementing the deal, as well as the dilemma now facing Russian interests in seeking to stave off further western sanctions.

OPINION - Shields and Ponnuru 6/27/2014

"Shields and Ponnuru on House GOP vs. Obama, missing IRS emails" PBS NewsHour 6/27/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s top news, including how incumbents held their ground against the tea party in last Tuesday’s primaries, Rep. John Boehner’s threat to sue President Obama for abusing presidential powers, as well as accusations swirling around missing IRS emails.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

MALNUTRITION - In a Land of Plenty

"Widespread childhood malnutrition is a paradox in agriculturally rich Guatemala" PBS NewsHour 6/25/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Infant mortality rates have fallen dramatically worldwide over the past 25 years.  But, even as health officials celebrate that achievement, they also warn that those who survive malnutrition frequently face lifelong problems.

In the Americas, the situation is most dire in Guatemala, where roughly 50 percent of the children are so malnourished they’re stunted, physically and developmentally, for life.

Now, for the first time in decades, that country’s leaders have a coordinated program to bring those numbers down.

Hari Sreenivasan has our report, which was produced in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Each day around mid-afternoon, Maria Chamile begins a chore she knows may harm her children.

With no meat and few vegetables, she starts cooking dinner with the ingredients available to her.  Usually, that’s just beans.  It’s a staple meal here in the predominantly Mayan highlands of Guatemala, one containing so few of the vitamins and minerals children need to grow properly that roughly eight in 10 of them are stunted in some communities.

POLITICS - Republicans Beat-Back Tea Party in Primaries

"After Cantor’s upset, incumbents hold their ground in close primary races" PBS NewsHour 6/25/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Two weeks after the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, Republican in Virginia, went down to a stunning primary defeat, the establishment struck back Tuesday night.

From Mississippi to New York to Colorado, there were plenty of close races for incumbents, but they all survived.

The NewsHour’s political editor, Domenico Montanaro, is back with us to decipher what happened.

So, Domenico, what did happen?  This was supposed to be comeback night for the Tea Party, Mississippi.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, Political Editor:  Maybe, right?

I mean, we were wondering whether or not the Eric Cantor race would be an aberration or whether or not it would be the start of some kind of anti-incumbent trend.  And what it certainly looked like last night is that it really was just an aberration for Cantor, because there were some other issues at play where he ignored his district.

There were plenty, like we said in the intro, of very close races, Mississippi being one of them, but Thad Cochran, the incumbent senator there, longtime senator, eked out a win by just less than 2 percentage points over his Tea Party opponent.  And he did it in a very unique way.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, talk about that, because there’s a lot of discussion — and you have been looking into this today — about what happened in some of these heavily Democratic parts of the state.

DOMENICO MONTANARO:  Well, if you told me three weeks ago that a Republican would wind up winning a Republican primary by appealing to Democrats and black voters, I would have said he’s done.

And I think that’s why a lot of the political community was fairly skeptical that Thad Cochran and his team, with the Haley Barbour machine really in Mississippi, being able to pull that off.  And that’s exactly what they wound up doing.

SUPREME COURT - On Cell Phone Searches and TV Streaming

"Supreme Court limits law enforcement cell phone searches, TV signal streaming" PBS NewsHour 6/25/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  In two closely watched technology cases, the Supreme Court placed limits on law enforcement and on streaming video services.  In a unanimous decision, the court decided police officers need a warrant to search cell phones.  And, separately, six of the nine justices sided with broadcast networks against an Internet startup that sought to share their signals without paying a fee.

For more on today’s decisions, we turn as always to Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal.”

That first case, Marcia, sounds a little bit like, when is a cell phone not a cell phone?

(LAUGHTER)

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:  Well, it was a fascinating case, a very straightforward decision by the chief justice.

Actually, it was two cases, Gwen, one from Boston and one from California.  The cell phone owners had been lawfully arrested, one for concealed weapons and gang-related activity, the other for drug-related activity.  One cell phone owner had a smartphone.  The other had the older clip phone.

As you know and as we have talked about, a search is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, generally, if police have a warrant, but there are exceptions to the warrant requirement that the court has recognized over the years.  And that exception — one of the exceptions played out in the case today.

Police can search you after you have been arrested, generally for two reasons, one, to look for any weapons that might endanger the officer or the public, and also to preserve possible destruction of evidence — preserve destruction of evidence — preserve evidence that might be destruction.

Sorry about that.

GWEN IFILL:  I got it.

INTERVIEW - Hillary Clinton

"Hillary Clinton talks ‘Hard Choices’ and battle scars" PBS NewsHour 6/25/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, senator and first lady, joins Gwen Ifill for an extended conversation on international concerns like the crisis in Iraq and upheaval in Ukraine, as well as the state of economic recovery in the United States, why Democrats should be embracing health care reform and the reason she's waiting to decide whether she'll run for president in 2016.

SAN DIEGO - Firm Investigation of SDPD

"Firm Investigating SDPD Has Strong Ties to Ex-Chiefs" by Liam Dillon, Voice of San Diego 6/25/2014

The ongoing Justice Department review of the San Diego Police Department is supposed to be independent.  City leaders have taken great pains to emphasize that they will have no control over what’s in the report.  The federal government – not SDPD – is paying the group conducting the review, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research firm called the Police Executive Research Forum, to help preserve its independence.

But the head of the firm doing the review has deep ties to two former SDPD leaders, and the firm itself has faced some criticism over its close relationships with police chiefs.

Since the probe began in late March, few details have come out about what the firm is doing – save a May community meeting PERF hosted in City Heights.

SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said that PERF officials have visited the city a couple times, including as recently as last week, gone on done ride-alongs and spoken with people inside and outside the department.  The police union had an hour-long meeting with PERF and discussed recruitment and retention problems.  Zimmerman said the firm is evaluating the department’s hiring practices and how it handled a dozen or so recent misconduct cases.

Zimmerman, who said she has no affiliation with PERF, said the firm’s SDPD ties have no bearing on the review.

“I’ve made it very clear that I wanted a thorough, independent critical assessment of our police department,” Zimmerman said.  “I welcome any and all recommendations for us to improve any of our processes.”

Neither the Justice Department nor PERF responded to requests for comment.

The PERF-SDPD Connection

Chuck Wexler, a former official in Boston’s police department, has led PERF for more than two decades.  He’s had very long relationships with former San Diego police chiefs Jerry Sanders and William Lansdowne.

In the 1990s, PERF helped Sanders develop the city’s neighborhood policing model, the nationally renowned approach that emphasized crime prevention.  Sanders served as PERF’s treasurer and as a board member. Sanders’ wife, Rana Sampson, worked at PERF as a senior researcher and trainer.

When Sanders left SDPD in 1999, Wexler called him “one of the most progressive, innovative and compassionate leaders in the country.”

Wexler goes back with Lansdowne, too.  Wexler began a recent PERF report on minimizing officer use of force with an anecdote about Lansdowne.

Lansdowne also served as PERF’s treasurer and taught a senior management class for the firm.  Earlier this month, Lansdowne took a job with a mobile phone recycling company, and the job announcement said he was on PERF’s board.  (Neither PERF’s website nor the firm’s most recent tax form list him as a current member.)

Lansdowne retired in February, just as the SDPD misconduct scandal was heating up again.  Evidence in a civil lawsuit has revealed department leadership missed numerous red flags about a sexual predator in the force and lacked key policies to prevent misconduct.

When problems first struck the department in mid-2011, Wexler had nothing but praise for Lansdowne.  He tweeted links to a U-T San Diego story on Lansdowne’s plan to address officer misconduct allegations and our profile of his response to the problems.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

IRAQ - The Vulnerable Failed State

"How ISIL capitalized on vulnerabilities of Iraq’s security forces" PBS NewsHour 6/24/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The United Nations estimates that, at minimum, 1,000 people have been killed in two weeks of fighting in Iraq.  Judy Woodruff talks to two former U.S. Army officers who served in Iraq -- retired Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant and retired Col. Derek Harvey -- about the strengths and weaknesses of the Iraqi security forces, the role of incoming U.S. special forces and the spread of ISIL’s influence in the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  For more on the situation in Iraq, we turn to two former Army officers who served in that country.  Retired Colonel Derek Harvey was an intelligence officer and special adviser to the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus.  He’s now a professor of practice at the University of South Florida.  And retired Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Ollivant had two tours in Iraq.  He was also the director for Iraq on the National Security Council during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  He’s now a managing partner in a consulting company which does business in Iraq.

EDUCATION - Reading to Infants

Side comment on reading to infants.  For the first 6yrs of a child's life, he/she is a sponge, absorbing EVERYTHING heard, seen, smelled, or felt.  At this stage there is little comprehension BUT there is the forming of unconscious view of the world.  The young child has not developed the filters of society on what's correct.  But mom's or dad's voice is calming and pleasurable, enjoyable.

One of the main benefits of reading to infants is the enjoyment of the act, even though the child does not comprehend that it's reading, the concept of words, nor the meaning of words.  Later, when comprehension starts, reading is already a pleasurable event which makes learning to read easier.

"I is for infant: Reading aloud to young children benefits brain development" PBS NewsHour 6/24/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that reading daily to young children, starting in infancy, can help with language acquisition and literacy skills.  But, the report says, many children are missing out.  Jeffrey Brown takes a closer look at the consequences and opportunities to improve with lead author of the study, Dr. Pamela High of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

DOCUMENTARY - 'Ivory Tower' Why Collage is Pricey in America

"‘Ivory Tower’ explores why American higher education is so pricey" PBS NewsHour 6/23/2014

Excerpts

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  ..... A new television documentary tackles the growing worries and criticism over college costs and student debt.

Jeffrey Brown taped this conversation last week.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  The American higher education system has long been regarded as a crowning achievement.  But these days, the focus has been more on its problems, rising tuition bills that stoke ballooning debt, too many students who never graduate, misplaced and overly lavish expenditures on facilities and housing and much more.

A new documentary, “Ivory Tower,” looks at a range of such issues.  It opens in many U.S. cities this month.

Here’s a short clip that features one of its main themes.
----
ANDREW ROSSI, Director, “Ivory Tower”:  But we also see a shift in the ’70s, when conservative governors like Ronald Reagan suggested that the state shouldn’t be subsidizing intellectual curiosity.  And that is really the world we live in now.
----
ANDREW ROSSI:  Well, we really emphasize that metrics such as completion rates at schools, average amounts of student debt and employability at a particular institution once someone graduates should be the priority in choosing a school, and not, again, which university has the more popular football team or the more lush student center.

I think, if we can reorient to those metrics, many people might be able to avoid going into an amount of debt that is crushing.

Ronald Reagan, typical ignorant Republicanism.  Intellectual curiosity leads to the discoveries that drive technology and innovation that drives an expanding economy.

EGYPT - Non-Justice of a Dictatorship

"Egypt’s conviction of Al Jazeera journalists sparks international outcry" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 6/23/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Elsewhere in the Middle East, three Al-Jazeera journalists learned their fate in a Cairo courtroom today, sparking an international outcry.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Tanks were deployed and tight security in place for the readings of the verdicts, after a five-month trial that was widely denounced outside Egypt as a sham.

JUDGE MOHAMED NAGY SHEHATA (through interpreter):  Seven years of maximum jail time.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The sentences for Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a Canadian- Egyptian, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, who received 10 years, led to pandemonium at the court; 17 co-defendants were also sentenced.  Fahmy is a former CNN producer who once helped the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner and crew escape an attack by a mob in Cairo

Today, he was yelling, “They will pay for this,” as he and the others were taken away.

His brother, Adel Fadel Fahmy:

ADEL FADEL FAHMY, Brother of Defendant (through interpreter):  This is clear-cut corruption; it is a corrupt and politicized case and everything is wrong in this case.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Fahmy’s family vowed to appeal, as did Peter Greste’s brother, Mike.

MIKE GRESTE, Brother of Defendant:  Wrong verdict.  I don’t — I don’t know how the judge came to that decision.  I would be very interested to hear his reasons for giving that verdict.  But it doesn’t make any sense.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The three journalists were arrested last December and accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood by reporting on civil strife in Egypt.  The Brotherhood had been banned as a terrorist group.

At the time, the journalists were working undercover because the government had accused Al-Jazeera of pro-Brotherhood bias.  Last week, the company terminated its operations in Egypt.  Al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar; the Gulf emirate is a political supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the network denies any charges of bias.

AL ANSTEY, Managing Director, Al-Jazeera English:  Today was a really grim day for journalists and for journalism.

JEFFREY BROWN:  It’s managing director spoke in Doha.

AL ANSTEY:  People who respect freedom of expression, people who respect basic freedoms should say, no, enough is enough.  Governments who deal with Egypt should recognize the injustice of what took place in Cairo today.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Official denunciations also poured in from around the world.  This was Secretary of State Kerry from Baghdad.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  Today’s conviction is obviously — it’s a chilling and draconian sentence.  And, you know, it’s deeply disturbing to see in the midst of Egypt’s transition.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Just a day earlier, Secretary Kerry visited Egypt, with word the U.S. is releasing $575 million in assistance that had been on hold, and that Egypt will be getting Apache helicopter gunships to fight insurgents in the Sinai region.

The secretary met with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, among others.  Last year, the former army leader ousted Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and last month, he was elected president himself.  All the while, a crackdown on political opponents has intensified.  Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leader of the January 2011 revolution, was sentenced last week to 15 years for violating a ban on protests.

And, on Saturday, Mohamed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, had his death sentence upheld, along with nearly 200 supporters.


"Crackdown on Al Jazeera journalists helps government control Egypt’s narrative" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 6/23/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The controversial convictions of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt are among the most high-profile cases in a general crackdown on dissent.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Michael Hanna of the The Century Foundation about the geopolitics behind the convictions and shifting U.S. policy toward Egypt.

SOCCER - World Cup, Team USA's Tie With Portugal

Colbert Nation
Team USA's Tragic Tie with Portugal

BRITAIN - Rupert Murdoch's Growing Circle of Scandal

"Murdoch’s Circle:  The Growing News International Scandal" by Lena Groeger, ProPublica 6/24/2014

This chart, which has been updated, was originally published February 15th, 2012.

From phone hacking to bribery, the corruption at News International has involved many players -- increasingly, ones close to Rupert Murdoch.  We’ve mapped out the players involved in this growing debacle, organized by their proximity to Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and other senior staff.  Keep in mind that in the United Kingdom, officers can make arrests without a formal charge (this Slate explainer provides more details on the British system).


Update (June 24, 2014):  Former editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones, while Rebekah Brooks was found not guilty of all charges.  Also acquitted were Brooks' husband Charlie, her secretary Cheryl Carter, head of security Mark Hanna (all found not guilty of conspiracy to "pervert the course of justice") and retired managing editor Stuart Kuttner (found not guilty on phone hacking charges).  The jury has not yet reached a verdict on further charges against Coulson and former royal editor Clive Goodman relating to paying police officers.

Update (October 30, 2013):  A London court was told that Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup, and Greg Miskiw had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept communications, and Glenn Mulcaire had pleaded guilty to hacking a mobile phone.

Update (June 19, 2013):  Nick Parker, the Sun’s chief foreign correspondent, was charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

Update (May 3, 2013):  David Johnson, a former security guard for Rebekah Brooks, was charged Friday with concealing potential evidence relating to phone hacking.

Update (Mar. 21, 2013):  The Crown Prosecution Service announced that Neil Wallis, a former executive editor of the News of the World who was arrested in July 2011, would face no further charges, due to "insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction."

Update (Mar. 20, 2013):  Geoff Webster, the deputy editor of the Sun, was charged on Wednesday with two counts of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office by authorizing payments to public officials.

Update (Feb. 13, 2013):  Six more journalists were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept telephone communications.  They were former News of the World editors Jules Stenson, Rav Singh, Polly Graham and Matt Nixson, and Sun editors Rachel Richardson and Jane Atkinson.

Update (Jan. 22, 2013):  Virginia Wheeler, the Sun’s defense editor, was charged Tuesday with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.  We've also added the recent arrest of Anthony France, a crime reporter at the Sun.

Update (Nov. 20):  David Cameron's former media chief Andy Coulson and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks were charged Tuesday for conspiring to pay bribes to public officials.  Two other journalists were also charged:  John Kay, former chief reporter at the Sun, and Clive Goodman, a former News of the World reporter.  We've also added a previous arrest: former News of the World crime editor Lucy Patton, who was arrested last December on suspicion of paying police officers.

Update (August 30):  Former News of the World legal manager Tom Crone was arrested Thursday on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept communications.  We've also added two previous arrests: former Times journalist Patrick Foster, who was arrested August 29th over suspected computer hacking, and former News of the World Scotland news editor Douglas Wight, who was arrested and charged August 17th with perjury and conspiracy to hack telephones.

Update (August 29):  Bob Bird, former Scotland editor of News of the World, was arrested and charged Wednesday with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Update (July 31):  Nick Parker, the Sun's chief foreign correspondent, was arrested Monday on the suspicion of gathering data from stolen mobile phones.  He has since been released on bail.  This was his second arrest.

Update (July 24):  British prosecutors brought 19 conspiracy charges against eight major figures in the Murdoch scandal.  The accused include Rebekah Brooks, who oversaw News International and served as a top editor of Murdoch's News of the World, Andrew Coulson, another former editor of the Murdoch paper, and Stuart Kuttner, Glenn Mulcaire, Greg Miskiw, Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup.  All eight have previously been arrested, but these criminal charges represent a major escalation in the ongoing scandal because the indicted could now face prison time.

Update (July 19):  Rhodri Phillips, a news reporter at the Sun, was arrested Thursday morning.

Update (May 15):  Rebekah Brooks, her husband, and four others were charged Tuesday with conspiring to pervert the course of justice.  The other suspects include head of security Mark Hanna, Brooks' former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, her security guard Daryl Jorsling, and her chauffeur Paul Edwards.  These are the first charges filed in the ongoing News Corp investigation.

Update (April 19):  Duncan Larcombe, the royal editor of the Sun, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt and conspiracy to cause misconduct in a public office.

Update (March 15):  Neville Thurlbeck, a former chief reporter at The News of the World, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of intimidating a witness.  This is his second arrest.

Update (March 13):  Six more people were arrested Tuesday, including Rebekah Brooks, her husband Charlie Brooks and News International Head of Security Mark Hanna.  This is Rebekah Brooks' second arrest.  We'll be updating this chart with more names as they become known.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

PUZZLES - 40th Anniversary of the Rubik Cube

"Rubik’s Cube’s mystique remains 40 years later" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2014

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It couldn’t be simpler or, for most of us, more difficult.

Twenty-six cubes designed to interlock and rotate around an axis that can be shuffled 43-quintillion ways.  (That’s 43 with 18-zeros after it.)

And yet, all Rubik’s Cubes can be solved in 20 or fewer moves.  It’s puzzled, pained, delighted and challenged millions — from young children to this robot.

PAUL HOFFMAN:  I mean, it’s industrial strength.  It normally paints cars on an assembly line, but it’s been programmed to do a Rubik’s Cube.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The robot is part of a new exhibit called ‘Beyond Rubik’s Cube,’ that opened in April, at the Liberty Science Center – across the river from Manhattan in New Jersey – to celebrate the 40th birthday of the cube.

ERNO RUBIK:  40 years is it’s a very long time.

JEFFREY BROWN:  And in a rare public appearance, inventor Erno Rubik was on hand to meet fans and talk about the impact of his work.

Rubik was a 29-year-old architecture professor in Budapest when he created the cube in 1974.  What began as a teaching tool to demonstrate spatial relations for his students grew into something that, by his own account is, well, less practical.

COLORADO - 'Right to Try' Drug Law

"‘Right to try’ law gives terminal patients access to drugs not approved by FDA" PBS NewsHour 6/21/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In May, Colorado became the first state to pass a so-called 'right to try' law, allowing terminal patients access to experimental drugs without FDA approval -- and Missouri is about to follow suit.  NewsHour Weekend examines the issue by speaking with the Missouri bill's sponsor and his daughter, who is suffering from cancer.

STEPHEN FEE (NewsHour):  In early 2013, Kristina Brogan was pregnant with her fifth child when she began experiencing excruciating pain — and her obstetrician didn’t know why.

KRISTINA BROGAN:  Finally my mom went with me to an appointment and said you got to find out why she’s hurting so bad.  So they did a level two ultrasound at St. Luke’s and admitted me immediately.

STEPHEN FEE:  Why?  What did they find?

KRISTINA BROGAN:  They found the tumor.  And they’d found it had gone up into my liver.

STEPHEN FEE:  Kristina, at the age of 39, was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer.

STEPHEN FEE:  What was that like?

KRISTINA BROGAN:  Scary.

STEPHEN FEE:  What was running through your head?

KRISTINA BROGAN:  I can’t say I had a – a normal thought in my head.  I was just scared.  Scared for my baby.  Scared for me.  Scared for my family.

STEPHEN FEE:  Her doctors needed to take aggressive measures to fight the disease and chose to perform a C-section, just 28 weeks into Kristina’s pregnancy.  Today, her son Evan is a happy and healthy one-year old.  Kristina however is battling a disease with dispiriting odds even with regular chemotherapy treatment.

IRAQ - Shiite Call to Arms and Political Future

"Iraqi Shiite leader calls for working government as ISIL advances toward Baghdad" (Part-1) PBS NewsHour 6/20/2014

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  In Iraq today, government troops were poised to take the fight north to Sunni extremists, while the spiritual leader of the country’s Shiite majority called for a new working government.

Sectarian division has so far prevented the political party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from claiming its seats in parliament.  But Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, urged the newly elected body to convene quickly and choose a speaker and president.

A representative read Sistani’s sermon in Karbala.

AHMED AL-SAFI, Representative for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (through interpreter):  It is also important that winning blocs open dialogue to help form an effective government largely acceptable to all, in order to surmount past mistakes and open new horizons for a better future to all Iraqis.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Back in the United States, the Pentagon said it expects Iraq to agree to legal protections for the incoming group of U.S. military advisers.  American forces left the country in 2011 after the Iraqi government refused to grant U.S. service members legal immunity.

Hundreds of miles north of Baghdad in the ISIL-controlled city of Mosul, there are signs that once-fearful residents are beginning to return home to try life under the militant group’s rule.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News, who is just outside the city.

JONATHAN RUGMAN, Independent Television News:  It is perched precariously and it is precarious in more ways than one, the Monastery of St. Matthew, 1,600 years old, its cloisters still echoing with Aramaic, the language of Christ himself, but a sanctuary for months now shelters 50 Christian families after their city, Mosul, was conquered by Islamic extremists last week.

“They tell us to trust us,” this woman told me.  “They tell us they won’t hurt us, but we’re not going back because we don’t trust them.”

Her husband was killed by jihadists in Mosul two years ago.  Now ISIS is in charge, they fear they will be branded as heretics and executed.

FATHER YOUSID BANNA, Mosul Priest:  So what you hear that if you stay in Mosul, you will have a lot of problems, your churches will be destroyed, so they are afraid and they left Mosul.  Most of the families, especially the Christian, left Mosul.

JONATHAN RUGMAN:  This was as close to Iraq’s second city as we dared go, a checkpoint manned by Kurdish fighters patrolling the border of a vast new self-declared Islamic state.

And to our surprise, a queue to get in — Iraq’s government is apparently so hated by so many here that even some Christians are giving the ISIS alternative a chance.

MAN:  We don’t think worse happened to the church, our homes.  As a Christian, there is nothing, you know?

JONATHAN RUGMAN:  So you as a Christian are not worried about these…

MAN:  No.

JONATHAN RUGMAN:  You’re not?

MAN:  I think it’s OK.

“We’re not afraid.  They’re doing nothing to civilians,” said this man.

“If you leave your car somewhere, it will be safe and nobody will steal it,” says another.

ISIS seems to be trying to win hearts and minds in Mosul, and here, we’re just a few hundred meters from the ISIS front line.  But nobody knows how long the group’s restraint will last, given that it has boasted about executing prisoners south of here.

But these are the scarred remains of the army, which beat a rapid retreat from Mosul last week.  Many soldiers deserted.  This dejected handful didn’t, though one admitted to us there wasn’t much hope of getting the city back.

And that forces the two million people of Mosul to choose whether to stay or to go.  Hundreds of thousands have fled from ISIS, those without money or relatives living in camps in unbearable heat, a dwindling number of Christians either clinging on in their ancient homeland or heading for the hills to pray.


"Who holds the cards to Iraq’s political future?" (Part-2) PBS NewsHour 6/20/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Pressure is mounting for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as ISIL advances toward that nation’s capital.  Judy Woodruff talks to Rod Nordland of The New York Times from Baghdad about the future of Iraq’s government and reaction to President Obama’s announcement that he’s sending up to 300 military advisors to Iraq.

IMMIGRATION - So Many Children Crossing Boarder Alone, Why?

"Why so many migrant children are braving the journey across the U.S. border alone" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2014

Excerpt

P.J. TOBIA (NewsHour):  Last year, 11-year-old Nodwin survived a journey that has killed many adults.  He traveled from Honduras to the U.S. border over land almost entirely by himself.  He almost drowned crossing the Rio Grande River near Texas in an inflatable raft.

NODWIN, Child Migrant (through interpreter):  The boat suffered a puncture, and I went under the water, but I managed to grab onto a piece of wood, and that’s how I saved myself.

P.J. TOBIA:  He says he made this dangerous journey because his hometown in Honduras has been overrun by criminal gangs.

NODWIN (through interpreter):  Big people force the children to sell bad things, and if they don’t do it, they rape them or they kill them.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 6/20/2014

"Shields and Brooks on U.S. intervention in Iraq, presidential poll numbers" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s top news, including the current political agenda of religious conservatives in America, the election of Rep. Kevin McCarthy to be House majority leader, new poll numbers for President Obama and the murky goals for U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

HUMOR - Politics in America

Humor Times


----


----


----


FAUX NEWS - Animal Rights for Gummy Bears!

"Animal Rights Activist Wants Gummy Bears Taken Off Market" by P. Beckert (Faux News), Humor Times 6/22/2014

Gummy Bears candy has been around for decades, giving children the world over a fun and fruity treat, whether sprinkled on ice cream or eaten straight out of the bag.  However, there is one person who wants Gummy Bears taken off the market.

Susie McGillicutty, from San Diego, is a PETA activist who claims that Gummy Bears may make hunters out of children later in life.

“Sure, they are cute, those little dancing bears,” said McGillicutty, “but have you ever wondered about what happens to children when they grow up on Gummy Bears?  They are so desensitized by the time they become young adults, that they may decide killing bears and eating them is perfectly fine.”

Even for other PETA members, this seemed to be a stretch, but McGillicutty claims she has several co-activist friends who thoroughly agree with her.

“I decided to come forward with this thought of mine after seeing that the United States Patent Office has stripped the Washington Redskins of their trademark.”

Although that bit of news has nothing to do with animal cruelty, we continued our conversation with McGillicutty.

“I love bears,” said an emotional McGillicutty, “and I’ll go to any lengths to save them,” she continued, wiping away a tear.

When reminded that this was merely a children’s candy and not really aimed at making killers or hunters out of the children who ate them, McGillicutty was unconvinced.

“Oh, I’ve watched children scarf down those little bears with reckless abandon,” she said.  “They remind me of a pack of hungry hyenas going after a water buffalo carcass in Africa.”

That last statement from McGillicutty begged the question “Interesting that you make that connection, Ms. McGillicutty.  Certainly you are aware that Gummy Bears contain gelatin made from the collagen extracted from the carcasses of mainly cattle and pigs?  Perhaps that is why you are so intent on getting this candy off the market?”

Ms. McGillicutty seemed shocked to learn this.

“You mean, I’m right?  I mean, yeah, sure, I knew that.  That is another reason I don’t want kids eating the stuff,” she said.

PETA could not be reached for comment.

FAUX NEWS - American Tourist in Italy

"American Tourist in Italy Excited to Visit the ‘Sixteenth Chapel’" by Jeff Boldt (Faux News), Humor Times 6/22/2014

Seeking to broaden his horizons, an American tourist visits Italy

American tourist and college grad, Richard Head, recently decided it was time to get some culture in his life.

Or, in his words, 16th century porn.

After “learning” about the paintings that ornamented the lavish walls of the Vatican’s famous “Sixteenth Chapel,” he logically assumed that this was how all Italians lived and dressed, and so, of course, he wanted to see it for himself.

However, he hesitated for a brief moment because he thought it a bit strange that so much nudity would be found in chapels of all places.  But he didn’t hesitate for long because so much culture awaited.

Upon arriving in the Fiumicino airport, he hurriedly made his way through the tarmac and into the waiting area, fully expecting a cornucopia of lounging flesh similar to what one might find on Mount Olympus.

The disappointment on his face was evident.

However, he quickly recovered and encouraged himself with the knowledge that they probably wouldn’t want to freak people out too much right off the bat, so the airport couldn’t have been a good indicator of the rest of the country.

But, as he exited and made his way to the cabs, he began to wonder if he had made a huge mistake.

“Do you know where I can find the Sixteenth Chapel?” he queried one taxi driver.  “And the other fifteen too if you have time.”

“Idiota Americano, si?” the driver asked in return.

“No, I don’t want a coffee.  Take me to see the good stuff.”

“Per l’amor di Dio!” exclaimed the driver in frustration as he got in his taxi and drove away.

FAUX NEWS - Anti-Feminist Assaulted

"George Will Assaulted by Feminist ‘Swat’ Team:  Gains Status, Privilege" by Michael Egan (Faux News), Humor Times 6/22/2014

George Will infamously said sexual victimhood confers status and privilege, now he proves it.

Conservative columnist George Will was sexually assaulted by a six-woman squad of feminist “swat team” avengers as he left his Washington DC apartment Friday evening.  The leather-jacketted so-called “gang of sex,” trained and financed by the National Organization for Women (NOW), apparently stalked Will for several days before waylaying him about 8 p.m. on his way to a Heritage Foundation dinner.

Earlier that day Will doubled-down in a C-SPAN interview with Brian Lamb on his recent Washington Post claim that sexual victimhood confers privilege and status.  He repeatedly refused to apologize or retract, and authorities speculate that this may have provoked the women beyond endurance.  Also galling was Will’s assertion that unwanted touching, demeaning sexual remarks, and indeed anything short of physical rape itself, hardly constitute sexual assault.

Asked about his own “gang rape” experience, George Will said that it been thrillingly nauseating and scary.  “I can’t wait for my new privileges and statuses to start,” he said, noting that unfortunately actual rape had not occurred.  “Yeah, little Caesar here,” he nodded resentfully, “couldn’t veni, vidi, vici, if you catch my highly learned, intellectual drift.”

George Will quickly continued:  “But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t molested, insulted and humiliated.  Those chicks knew their business, alright.  First they took me behind a smelly dumpster and said I was asking for it, the way I was dressed.  Then they made repeated impotence jokes and said they bet I couldn’t even get it up.  Well, like I said, we couldn’t, could we?”  He glanced down.  “Et tu, Brute,” he muttered.

After the jokes the Swat team pinched and prodded the 73-year old sage for several minutes, tweaking his nipples and laughing each time he winced.  The leader stood on a box and slowly read his rape column aloud, followed by a transcript of the C-Span interview.

“That was the hardest part,” Will said.  “Finally, a couple of them stuck their tongues in my ears and ruffled my hair.  Okay, so it’s a toupĂ©, very funny.  Then they unzipped me and made disparaging remarks about how small it is.  How small it was.  Normally I’m fine, it was just unusually cold that night, freezing.  They all laughed again and said I should be called George Won’t.”

I told George Will that he might not be eligible for any new statuses and privileges after all, since he had only been threatened, demeaned, humiliated, laughed at, disparaged and physically molested.  He hadn’t actually been forced to have sex, and two of the girls were now saying it had been consensual.

“What?  That’s outrageous,” Will shouted angrily.  “It was an emotional rape!  I felt violated, insulted, belittled, intimidated and sexually frightened.  They were all bigger than me and I was outnumbered.  Who the hell says that just because I wasn’t actually raped nothing totally upsetting didn’t happen?”

I showed him his Washington Post column.  “Oh,” he said.

Friday, June 20, 2014

NASA - Flight Test of New Manned Spacecraft Coming

"December test flight huge for NASA's next manned spacecraft" by Mike Wall (Space.com), Fox News 6/20/2014

The first flight test of NASA's new manned spacecraft may be six months away, but agency engineers are already looking forward to what they will learn from the trial.

NASA's Orion capsule, which is designed to take astronauts to Mars and other farflung destinations, will blast into space for the first time in December.  During the unmanned mission, known as Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), Orion will travel 3,600 miles from Earth, then come rocketing back into the planet's atmosphere at 20,000 mph.

The December trial is a vital proving ground, since NASA plans just one more flight test (in 2017) before the capsule's first crewed mission lifts off in 2021.

For example, EFT-1 will test out Orion's launch-abort system (LAS), which is designed to steer crewmembers to safety in the event of a problem during liftoff.  Even if the launch goes flawlessly, however, a motor has to fire to jettison the LAS, which would otherwise block Orion's parachutes, making a soft ocean splashdown impossible.

So engineers will watch for the successful separation of the LAS during EFT-1 — the first of 17 such jettisons that must happen in sequence for the mission to succeed, officials said.

EFT-1 will also put Orion's heat shield — at 16.5 feet wide, the largest such structure ever built — to the test.

"The reason that Orion is traveling so far and coming back in so fast is to give the heat shield a good workout — the idea is to get as close as possible to the temperatures Orion would experience during a return from Mars," NASA officials wrote in an update Thursday.

"At the speed it will be traveling, the temperature should reach almost 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit," they added.  "At that same temperature, a nuclear reactor would melt down."

Parachute performance will also be key.  While Earth's thick atmosphere will play the primary role in slowing the Orion capsule down, its parachutes — three main chutes and two drogues — need to finish the job.  Orion must hit the water at just 20 mph to make a safe splashdown, NASA officials said.

EFT-1 will also test how Orion's advanced computer system handles extreme temperatures, the rigors of launch and re-entry and high radiation levels, officials said.

Radiation exposure is a big concern for manned missions to deep space, which will take astronauts far beyond the protective cocoon of Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field.  EFT-1 will spend a lot of time in the Van Allen radiation belts that surround our planet, allowing researchers to see how Orion's radiation shielding holds up.

"Sensors will record the peak radiation seen during the flight, as well as radiation levels throughout the flight, which can be mapped back to geographic hot spots," NASA officials wrote.

CALIFORNIA - 2014-2015 Budget Signed

REMINDER:  A budget, any budget, is ONLY a plan.  It does NOT spend one penny.  Actual money is spent when the Appropriation Bills are passed.

"Gov. Brown signs $156B budget in San Diego" Fox 5 News San Diego, 6/20/2014

Gov. Jerry Brown signed California’s $156 billion budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year at a ceremony Friday in San Diego.

Brown — joined at the signing ceremony by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley — described the spending plan as “not perfect” but a sign of California’s fiscal progress over the past few years.

“What this budget shows is balance, paying down debts, putting almost $10 billion into public schools, creating a rainy day fund and starting to really tie up and shore up the teachers’ retirement fund,” Brown said.

He said it also was a sign that the state government was working, and that the majority could actually govern, with cooperation from the minority party.

The visit to San Diego was the third during the budget cycle for Brown, who was in town on the day his budget proposal was released in January, and last month when he issued revisions.  He said he wanted to sign the budget in San Diego out of respect for Atkins, who took over leadership of the Legislature’s lower chamber last month.

The state spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 includes a $1.6 billion “Rainy Day Fund” and $142 million for drought-response measures, such as firefighting, water management, wildlife preservation and food assistance.

Last month, the governor reached an agreement with the Legislature on the reserve fund that would:

  • Require the state to bank large increases in capital gains revenues, which are the most volatile form of tax income;
  • require supplemental payments to accelerate the payoff of debts and liabilities;
  • raise the dollar amount of the rainy day fund to 10 percent of the general fund revenue;
  • allow withdrawals to be made from the fund when needed during recessions, within prescribed limits; and
  • create a reserve account for education to avoid future funding cuts.

He said the fund would be “untouchable” while he was in office, until it was needed due to poor economic conditions.

Additional agreements with legislative leaders last week will add at least $180 million in overtime pay for health-care workers who provide care to the disabled and elderly in their homes, direct a quarter of cap-and-trade revenue toward construction of a high-speed rail line and expand preschool opportunities for economically disadvantaged children.

“No budget is perfect, and no one got everything that they wanted,” Atkins said.  “But with this budget, that ensures stability and expands opportunity, we have a chance to put the great recession even further behind us.”

The general fund, for discretionary spending, will be almost $108 billion.

Brown’s Republican opponent in the November election, former Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari, said the budget is a “giveaway for special interests paid for by working families,” despite the “nation’s highest poverty rate” and a “failing” education system.

“Higher gas prices for his pet High Speed Rail project, a last minute tax break for a favored industry and micro-managing local school spending from Sacramento Brown’s budget priorities represent more of the same back-room dealing from Sacramento,” Kashkari said.  “Unfortunately for the millions of workers struggling to find good jobs, kids stuck in failing schools and families trying to make ends meet, this budget does nothing to provide a better future through economic opportunity for all.”

After signing the budget, Brown traveled to Los Angeles for a function with Latino legislators.

POLITICS - Republicans Accuse the IRS of Lying

What do you expect?  Republicans don't believe ANYONE who does not agree with their subjective, self-serving, view of the world.

"I.R.S. Head and Lawmakers Clash Over Missing Emails in Heated Hearing" by DAVID S. JOACHIM, New York Times 6/20/2014

A congressional hearing examining how the Internal Revenue Service lost thousands of emails sought by investigators turned into a shouting match on Friday, with Republicans on the panel accusing the I.R.S. commissioner of lying.

“Sitting here listening to this testimony, I don’t believe it,” Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, told the commissioner, John Koskinen, at a hearing of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.  “That’s your problem.  No one believes you.”

Mr. Ryan, echoing the sentiment of many Republicans in Congress, described the missing emails associated with seven I.R.S. employees as part of a pattern of denial and obstruction by the I.R.S. over the last year as the agency answers accusations that it mistreated conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions.

Mr. Ryan, his voice rising, said that now “you don’t have the emails.  Hard drives crashed.  You learned about this months ago.  You just told us.  And we had to ask you on Monday.  This is not being forthcoming.  This is being misleading again.  This is a pattern of abuse.”

Mr. Koskinen, maintaining a measured tone, replied that in his “long career,” “That’s the first time anybody has said they do not believe me.”

As he tried to continue, Mr. Ryan stopped him:  “I don’t believe you.”

After a series of interruptions, Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the panel, said:  “Will you let him answer the question?”

“I didn’t ask him a question,” Mr. Ryan said.

“Yes, you did,” Mr. Levin replied.

Throughout the three-hour hearing, Democrats on the committee raised objections to the chairman, Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, about the way Republicans were treating Mr. Koskinen.  They also called the panel’s inquiry a “witch hunt” meant to create the appearance of a conspiracy during an election year.

Some of them, instead of asking their own questions, gave their time to Mr. Koskinen to respond to the Republicans’ accusations.

Given that time, Mr. Koskinen disputed the contention voiced by Mr. Ryan and others on the committee that the delay in notifying investigators about the computer crashes, and the fact that the agency notified the Treasury Department weeks earlier, was indicative of a cover-up.

Mr. Koskinen submitted as evidence an email exchange from 2011 between the agency’s technology staff and Lois Lerner, the former I.R.S. official at the center of the inquiry, in which she sought to have her messages restored.

He said that Ms. Lerner’s computer crash and the effort to retrieve her lost messages had occurred before the agency was notified that Congress was receiving complaints from conservative political groups that they were being unfairly scrutinized, undercutting the notion that emails were deliberately destroyed.

Mr. Koskinen also pointed to a report by an inspector general of the Treasury Department, the parent agency of the I.R.S., which concluded that while agency employees had acted improperly, there was no evidence of political motivation or outside influence.

Democrats on the committee said the committee’s inquiry was missing a larger point:  that political groups of all kinds were effectively getting subsidies from taxpayers as “social welfare groups,” even though they were actually engaged in campaigning for political candidates.

Over the last week, the I.R.S. has said that thousands of emails of interest to investigators had been destroyed because of computer crashes.  Those employees included Ms. Lerner, who has been accused of orchestrating a politically motivated effort to hold up applications for tax exemption from Tea Party groups before the 2012 election.

Republican lawmakers responded to the disclosure incredulously, questioning whether the emails were truly unrecoverable and accusing the agency of a Nixonian cover-up.  They have also suggested that the disappearance of the emails violated federal record-keeping laws.

During the hearing, Mr. Camp demanded that the I.R.S. hand over the damaged hard drive for forensic examination.  He also questioned the agency’s contention that the missing emails were not recoverable because they had been overwritten on backup drives, in keeping with the agency’s former policy of reusing computer equipment to save money.

“I find it hard to believe, and I don’t believe that the I.R.S. went through every possible exercise to recover these documents,” Mr. Camp said.

On Monday, Mr. Koskinen is scheduled to appear before another panel — the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Representative Darrell Issa of California — to answer questions about the missing emails.

Ms. Lerner, who quit in September as the head of the agency’s division on tax-exempt organizations, was cited for contempt by the Republican-led House last month after refusing to answer lawmakers’ questions.

Some Republicans have called for a special prosecutor to investigate the I.R.S.’s suspected misconduct.  So far, the Justice Department has declined to appoint one or to act on a criminal referral on Ms. Lerner’s contempt citation.

IRAQ - Maliki Won't Go Quietly

"Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ‘won’t go quietly,’ foes and friends say" by Liz Sly, Washington Post 6/20/2014

Excerpt

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not readily surrender power and is unlikely to do so unless chief ally Iran insists that he go, Maliki’s foes and supporters warn as pressure mounts on the embattled Iraqi leader to make concessions to rivals or step aside.

The pressure intensified Friday with an appeal by Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric for the swift formation of a new government capable of uniting Iraqis against the threat posed by Sunni militants who have seized large chunks of Iraqi territory over the past 10 days.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani did not directly mention Maliki, but he called for the creation of a government that has “broad national support,” a clear reference to Maliki’s failure to win the confidence of the country’s Sunnis during his eight years in office.  The message was delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the holy city of Karbala.

Sistani’s message echoed one delivered by President Obama on Thursday that hinted at a withdrawal of U.S. support for Maliki, whose authoritarian style and discriminatory behavior toward Iraq’s Sunni minority are widely blamed for the bloodshed threatening to tear the country apart.

“Only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis,” Obama said, while announcing the dispatch of as many as 300 U.S. troops to assist Maliki’s forces in their battle against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremists.

However, persuading Maliki to step down could be difficult, say his political foes, who have long sought to persuade the United States that Maliki is a liability but repeatedly failed to form a viable coalition against him.

“This is not going to be easy,” said Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni who has led many fruitless efforts to build parliamentary coalitions against Maliki in the past.  “Maliki will not go quietly.”

Previous bids to oust Maliki through constitutional means have foundered on the inability of his foes to unite around a single alternative candidate.  According to the parliamentary system of government spelled out in the constitution, drawn up under U.S. supervision in 2005, whoever commands a majority of seats in the parliament forms the government, making it theoretically possible to replace any leader by mustering the support of enough lawmakers.

A bigger obstacle to forcing Maliki’s departure, however, could be the support of Iran, which has shown no sign that it is preparing to dilute its support for the incumbent prime minister.  The support includes funding and training for the private militias that back Maliki, many of whose members have taken to the streets in recent days in response to a call for arms.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

IRAQ - Senators Kaine and McCain Discuss the crisis

No good choices.

"Sens. Kaine and McCain debate U.S. exit from Iraq, prerequisites for new military response" PBS NewsHour 6/18/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The U.S. secretary of defense and the nation’s top military leader were pressed today on Capitol Hill about an American course of action in Iraq.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman:  We have a request from the Iraqi government for airpower.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, made clear the sense of urgency in the crisis in Iraq today, as he spoke before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill.  He was joined by the secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, who was pressed by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana on the severity of the situation.

SEN. DAN COATS, R, Ind.:  We have already lost some territory. They have already gained control of the second largest city in Iraq.

CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense:  No, I — we ought to be clear.  It wasn’t the United States that lost anything.  We turned a pretty significant situation over, as you noted, for the very reasons you noted, to the Iraqi people when we phased out of our military involvement in Iraq.

And so we have done everything we could to help them.  But it’s up to the Iraqis.

ENVIROMENT - The Expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

Need I say, Republicans and their Big-Money owners will not like this.  They want to be able to rape our environment for profit.

"Can Obama’s Pacific Ocean sanctuary plan balance environmental and economic interests?" PBS NewsHour 6/17/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The President used the power of executive authority again today, this time to protect a wider expanse of the central Pacific Ocean.

Jeffrey Brown has the story and why scientists believe the area needs special safeguards.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  If we drain our oceans of their resources, we won’t just be squandering one of humanity’s greatest treasures.  We will be cutting off one of the world’s major sources of food and economic growth.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  President Obama announced his plan to create the world’s largest marine preserve in a video message delivered today at a State Department conference on oceans conservation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  And like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I’m going to use my authority as president to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Today’s directive would add to U.S. marine monuments in the Central Pacific designated by President George W. Bush during his administration.  President Obama’s proposal could expand protection areas around seven islands and atolls in the U.S. territorial waters from 50 miles to 200.

And while final boundaries have not yet been determined, the executive step would expand the sparsely inhabited Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to more than 780,000.  That would put drilling, fishing and other activities in the new preserves off-limits.

IRAQ - Shia vs Sunni Conflict, Spillover on Neighbors

The results of two U.S. Administrations getting it wrong.

"What Iraq’s violent sectarian split means for its neighbors" PBS NewsHour 6/17/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Late this evening in Baghdad, Reuters reports that Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni political leaders, including the prime minister, made a joint call for national unity.

Tonight, we take a closer look at what the Iraq crisis and its sectarian divisions mean for an already volatile region.

I’m joined by Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya News channel, and Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress.  But the views she expresses here are her own.

What is the dangerous, Hisham, that the Sunni-Shiite split, which we have become so familiar with now, is going to spread beyond the borders of Iraq throughout the entire region?

HISHAM MELHEM, Al Arabiya News:  What we see now in terms of Shia-Sunni rivalry is unprecedented in the history of Islam.

This is the first time we see bloodletting on a continuum front from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon.  And if you add to it occasional flare-ups in Bahrain and Yemen, you will get an idea.

This has never happened in modern history, or even any time throughout the history of Islam.  That’s why it’s extremely dangerous.  When you add to that the fact that you have major Arab countries that are literally unraveling along sectarian ethnic lines, fault lines, Syria and Iraq, you add to that refugee problems in two brittle countries, Lebanon and Jordan, you add to that dearth of leadership in the region, you add to that dearth of leadership in Europe, which makes American leadership extremely important, unfortunately, American leadership also was absent in the last two years.

EDUCATION: Homeless in High School

"From Skid Row to high school graduation, Los Angeles supports homeless students’ academic success" PBS NewsHour 6/17/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  It’s high school graduation season, and one of the country’s largest school districts is celebrating the accomplishments of dozens of students who’ve had a particularly difficult time earning a diploma.

They have all been homeless, which drastically increases the likelihood of their dropping out.

But as David Nazar of PBS SoCal explains, a concerted effort to help those students graduate has been paying off.

It’s the latest report for our American Graduate project, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

DAVID NAZAR, PBS SoCal:  Nora Perez just graduated from Roybal learning center, a high school in Los Angeles.  Those four years can be an uphill battle for many students.  However, Nora faced a mountain of challenges.  This is what she called home during high school, the back of a car, parked on a city street.  It’s where Nora spent part of the night and studied after school.

NORA PEREZ:  You don’t have your own room.  You don’t have your own bed.  You don’t even know where to shower.  And it was really difficult. It was really difficult.

And it brings tears to my eye, because going through all this pain, going through all those moments, all those cold nights that I looked at my parents and saw the pain in their face.

DAVID NAZAR:  The difficult road for Nora began during her freshman year.  Her father lost his job, and then the family lost its house.

SUPREME COURT - Latest On Guns and Political Speech

"Supreme Court enforces ban on straw purchase of guns, upholds challenge to political speech law" PBS NewsHour 6/16/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Two Supreme Court decisions today, one on purchasing firearms and the other involving political speech.

Jeffrey Brown has that.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  As it happens, both cases involve when the truth must be told.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the federal government can enforce its ban on so-called straw gun purchases.  Under that law, buyers must tell the truth when they are buying guns for someone else.  In a separate ruling, the court looked at an Ohio law that bars the making of false statements about candidates in a political campaign.  The court unanimously ruled that a legal challenge to the law can go forward.

Here to tell us more, as always, is Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal.”

MUSIC - Jazzman Jason Morgan's Goal to Enthrall New Jazz Listeners

"Jason Moran strikes up the band — and a conversation — to enthrall new jazz listeners" PBS NewsHour 6/16/2014

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Pianist and composer Jason Moran is one of today’s best-known younger jazz musicians.  Performing solo and with his trio around the world, he’s a true believer that his art form can transport and transform an audience.

JASON MORAN, Artistic Director for Jazz, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:  Well, there’s a power that kind of starts to stir in the body.  The molecules start to, start to want to jump around.  It has a possibility to change how the body feels, how the mind feels.

And that is something that you can’t quantify.  And then, when the music hits the audience, and when it hits the space, the air, it has the possibility to change everything in that person’s being.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Now the 39-year-old has a distinctive public perch here at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where he’s been named artistic director for jazz, with a goal of both preserving a tradition and building new audiences.

UGANDA - The Ultimate Anti-Gay Law

"Uganda gays face life in prison under law" PBS NewsHour 6/15/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  For gays living in Uganda, just walking outside of their homes can be dangerous.  And today, long-standing prejudice has been institutionalized into law with the country’s “Anti-Homosexuality Act,” which calls for harsh sentences for gay acts.  Offenders convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” face life in prison.  NewsHour Weekend special correspondent Martin Seemungal reports from Kampala.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL (NewsHour):  For Geoffrey Ogwaro this, is a risk, just being out of his house.  He is a gay activist, he lives in Uganda and that, he says, is dangerous.

GEOFFREOY OGWARO:  You don’t know what’s going to happen to you next.  You’re more careful, instead of living your life freely as a Ugandan you’re more cautious of the places you go to.  Who you invite to your house.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:  Pepe Onziema is also active in the gay community in Kampala.  He is extremely careful.

PEPE ONZIEMA:  Many people know my face.  I actually don’t go to the city because I’ve been attacked on the streets many times.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:  The attacks are sometimes lethal.  This man was accused of being gay, he was beaten to death by a mob.

IRAQ - What Are U.S. Options?

"U.S. weighs potential military response in Iraq" PBS NewsHour 6/14/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  What are America’s military options (for Iraq)?  For more on that, we are joined by Janine Davidson.  She is a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.  So the president has said repeatedly no boots on the ground and here we have an aircraft carrier off the coast.  Does that mean U.S. drones are the most likely or aircraft launched from these carriers?

JANINE DAVIDSON, Council on Foreign Relations:  It means options.  An aircraft carrier can do an array of things from intelligence to airstrikes.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And then in these sort of densely populated areas, are we likely to incur greater civilian casualties if we don’t have people on the ground?

JANINE DAVIDSON:  That is the greatest risk of airstrikes and why some people think they’re not really a viable option.  You really need people on the ground calling in where those things are going to happen, especially in an urban environment.  Now if there are areas where the enemy is in an open space and you can confirm, then it may be more viable.