Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ARIZONA - The Chinese Spy Breach

"Intelligence Gap:  How a Chinese National Gained Access to Arizona’s Terror Center" by Ryan Gabrielson (ProPublica) and Andrew Becker (Center for Investigative Reporting), ProPublica 8/26/2014


The un-vetted computer engineer plugged into law enforcement networks and a database of 5 million Arizona drivers in a possible breach that was kept secret for years.

Lizhong Fan’s desk was among a crowd of cubicles at the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center in Phoenix.  For five months in 2007, the Chinese national and computer programmer opened his laptop and enjoyed access to a wide range of sensitive information, including the Arizona driver’s license database, other law enforcement databases, and potentially a roster of intelligence analysts and investigators.

The facility had been set up by state and local authorities in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, and so, out of concerns about security, Fan had been assigned a team of minders to watch him nearly every moment inside the center.  Fan, hired as a contract employee specializing in facial recognition technology, was even accompanied to the bathroom.

However, no one stood in Fan’s way when he packed his equipment one day in early June 2007, then returned home to Beijing.

There’s a lot that remains mysterious about Fan’s brief tenure as a computer programmer at the Arizona counterterrorism center.  No one has explained why Arizona law enforcement officials gave a Chinese national access to such protected information.  Nor has anyone said whether Fan copied any of the potentially sensitive materials he had access to.

But the people responsible for hiring Fan say one thing is clear:  The privacy of as many as 5 million Arizona residents and other citizens has been exposed.  Fan, they said, was authorized to use the state’s driver’s license database as part of his work on a facial recognition technology.  He often took that material home, and they fear he took it back to China.

Under Arizona law, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose agencies admitted Fan into the intelligence center, were required to disclose to the public any “unauthorized acquisition and access to unencrypted or unredacted computerized data” that includes names and other personal information.

To this day, they have not.

Terry Goddard, attorney general of Arizona in 2007, said Fan’s access and disappearance should have been reported to his office, but it was not.  Arizona law puts the attorney general in charge of enforcing disclosure.

The state was supposed to have scrubbed drivers' names and addresses from the license data.  State officials denied requests to discuss the extent of the data breach, including what personal information was in the files.

In fact, a review of records shows that David Hendershott, who was second-in-command at the sheriff’s office, moved aggressively to maintain silence, a silence that has now lasted some seven years.  Two weeks after Fan departed, Hendershott directed others in writing not to discuss Fan and the possible breach.  In an email to the outside contractor that had hired Fan, Hendershott wrote:  “Keep this between us and only us.”

Even among administrators at the Phoenix center, very few learned that the Chinese programmer had left the country or that their own personal information might have traveled with him.  Mikel Longman, the former criminal investigations chief at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said he received no warning about the incident.

“That really is outrageous,” Longman said.  “Every Arizona resident who had a driver’s license or state-issued ID card and all that identifying stuff is potentially compromised.  That’s a huge breach.”

Napolitano, who went on to serve as President Barack Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security, did not reply to multiple interview requests.

Hendershott, Arpaio’s longtime chief deputy, hung up on a reporter when reached by telephone.  The sheriff’s office fired Hendershott in 2011 over an array of alleged misconduct.  And he in turn filed suit in 2012, saying his legitimate law enforcement work had been mischaracterized as abuses of power.  His suit was dismissed earlier this year.  Today, he sells real estate in west Phoenix.

Col. Robert Halliday, the director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety who formally oversaw the operations of the intelligence center at the time Fan worked there, also did not respond to repeated interview requests.

Current officials with a handful of agencies involved with the intelligence center offered a variety of reasons for declining to answer questions about Fan and the possible breach.

The public safety agency initially denied that any potential breach had happened, then said the matter was the subject of a confidential FBI investigation.  Later still, the department argued the case was a personnel matter, and thus the agency would not comment as a matter of policy.  The sheriff’s office said that during the time that Hendershott was still working for the agency, he never reported anything about Fan – his hiring, his work or his flight.

Seven years after the potential breach, then, it is still unclear how closely law enforcement looked into the incident or what steps, if any, it took as a result.  The FBI opened a probe shortly after Fan’s disappearance, according to records and a former federal investigator, but the bureau has never made its findings public.

Perryn Collier, spokesman for the FBI’s Phoenix office, said the bureau won’t comment on investigations involving Fan.

Chinese espionage has made news in recent months as federal investigators have revealed successful assaults by hackers against businesses and government.  Last March, homeland security officials in Washington discovered that cyber attackers later traced to China had accessed data on federal workers who’ve applied for top-secret clearance.  These electronic break-ins were conducted remotely, continents away from the servers holding the data.

How the Phoenix intelligence center found itself vulnerable to a serious security breach, however, was neither much of a technological feat nor, it seems, the result of masterful espionage.  Indeed, an investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica – built on more than 50 interviews and the examination of thousands of pages of federal investigative reports, criminal and civil court filings, internal correspondence and immigration records – shows the episode at the intelligence center came off rather easily.

John Lewis arrived as the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Phoenix division in the spring of 2006.  Lewis, now director of security for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the San Francisco Bay Area, had a vague recollection of a contractor or subcontractor working at the center.  But he said he did not specifically recall that the person was a foreign national, nor did he have any “immediate recollection” of a security breach.

“No one ever sat in my office and asked about having a foreign national inside the fusion center.  That’s nuts,” Lewis said, adding that if he had been asked, his response would have been, “Can we do a little bit better guys?”

The chance that Fan made off with a raft of sensitive material was made possible by a set of cozy relationships – among a tainted sheriff’s official, a dubious technology startup company and a woman who U.S. government officials think is a Chinese spy.

SURVEILLANCE - NSA's Secret 'Google'

"The Surveillance Engine:  How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google" by Ryan Gallagher, The Intercept 8/25/2014


The National Security Agency is secretly providing data to nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies with a “Google-like” search engine built to share more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats, according to classified documents obtained by The Intercept.

The documents provide the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies.  Planning documents for ICREACH, as the search engine is called, cite the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration as key participants.

ICREACH contains information on the private communications of foreigners and, it appears, millions of records on American citizens who have not been accused of any wrongdoing.  Details about its existence are contained in the archive of materials provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Earlier revelations sourced to the Snowden documents have exposed a multitude of NSA programs for collecting large volumes of communications.  The NSA has acknowledged that it shares some of its collected data with domestic agencies like the FBI, but details about the method and scope of its sharing have remained shrouded in secrecy.

ICREACH has been accessible to more than 1,000 analysts at 23 U.S. government agencies that perform intelligence work, according to a 2010 memo.  A planning document from 2007 lists the DEA, FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency as core members.  Information shared through ICREACH can be used to track people’s movements, map out their networks of associates, help predict future actions, and potentially reveal religious affiliations or political beliefs.

The creation of ICREACH represented a landmark moment in the history of classified U.S. government surveillance, according to the NSA documents.

“The ICREACH team delivered the first-ever wholesale sharing of communications metadata within the U.S. Intelligence Community,” noted a top-secret memo dated December 2007.  “This team began over two years ago with a basic concept compelled by the IC’s increasing need for communications metadata and NSA’s ability to collect, process and store vast amounts of communications metadata related to worldwide intelligence targets.”

The search tool was designed to be the largest system for internally sharing secret surveillance records in the United States, capable of handling two to five billion new records every day, including more than 30 different kinds of metadata on emails, phone calls, faxes, internet chats, and text messages, as well as location information collected from cellphones.  Metadata reveals information about a communication — such as the “to” and “from” parts of an email, and the time and date it was sent, or the phone numbers someone called and when they called — but not the content of the message or audio of the call.

Monday, August 25, 2014

U.S. - Change of Attitude on Syria?

Note, all that's happening today could possibly have been avoided if the U.S. and the West had taken firmer action (military strikes at the least) in Syria at the beginning of the civil war.  Then, hindsight is always 20-20.

"Shift in U.S. attitude over involvement in Syria after Foley execution" PBS NewsHour 8/24/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Joining us now from Washington D.C. is Dion Nissenbaum of The Wall Street Journal.

It seems the pace of change here and the U.S. attitude in involvement in Syria or in airstrikes has changed dramatically just in the last 24-36 hours.

DION NISSENBAUM:  Yes there’s no question that the beheading of James Foley changed the calculus for the administration here and the rhetoric ramped up almost immediately.

You heard Secretary of State John Kerry saying that their wickedness, it has to be destroyed.  The pentagon is really escalating its efforts to identify targets inside Syria.

They’re looking at expanding the air campaign in Iraq.  I think militarily they could expand this fairly quickly.

I think what we need to see in the coming week is whether there’s the political will to move in this direction, and you’ll probably remember it was a year ago that we were having a similar conversation after president Assad was accused of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus that killed hundreds of people, and President Obama was seeking support for military strikes in Syria at that point as well.

UKRAINE - Russia Stepping Back From the Brink?

"What will shape the upcoming meeting between Poroshenko and Putin?" PBS NewsHour 8/23/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  President Petro Poroshenko is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk on Tuesday for their first encounter since June.

For more, we’re joined by Steve Sestanovich, a senior fellow from the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. and author of the book “Maximalist:  America in the World from Truman to Obama.”

So, did Vladimir Putin win in the world or war of perception so to speak, or did he back down?

STEVE SESTANOVICH:  He certainly did something that was unexpected.  Yesterday, everybody was predicting that maybe we were finally going over the cliff to war that this time the Russians were serious about an invasion and all hell was going to break loose.

Today they are taking the troops back and Putin has not done the big thing that he seemed to be threatening, which was to make his troops, his men, his trucks a shield for the separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

And the same landscape is really there now that was there before this truck convoy story.

Putin has to figure out how to support the separatists, who are basically going down, without over involvement that will excite too much opposition from the West and embroil him in a big mess that he wants to stay out of.

OPINION - Marcus and Gerson 8/22/2014

"Marcus and Gerson on lessons from Ferguson, Islamic State threat" PBS NewsHour 8/22/2014


SUMMARY:  Washington Post columnists Ruth Marcus and Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s top news, including the legacy of mistrust that laid the groundwork for unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the shifting U.S. stance on pursuing the Islamic State group after the murder of American journalist James Foley.

COMMENT:  If the U.S. sees the ISIS unfolding events a very dangerous (and they are) then the State Department needs to STOP allowing people from friendly nations from entering with out a visa and a full background check.  We should be treating ALL nations the same as far as who can enter the U.S.

OPINION - Islam/Muslims, a View on a Usenet Newsgroup

"Muslims And Critical Mass" by Neal Boortz, Newsgroup soc.culture.islam

My first stab at public speaking was at the Irvine Elementary School in Irvine, California.  My 8th grade teacher, Roy Henry, encouraged me to enter.   My speech on the atom and nuclear power brought me a second place behind some stupid girl.  Oh well.

I did learn one thing from that experience … the concept of critical mass.

Here’s your basic explanation.  You have a glob of weapons-grade uranium.  There’s enough radioactive material there to give off a good bit of radiation, but it’s less than a critical mass.  It will give off a specific amount of radiation for a very long time and it can most definitely hurt you, but the atomic reaction within your glob of uranium will remain under control.  Deadly .. but under control.

Now you come in with another hunk of uranium.  Again, it’s not a critical mass of uranium, so you’re just upping your exposure to radioactivity.  Somebody dares you to take the two globs of uranium and slam them together.  Uh oh … now you have gone from two sub-critical masses of uranium to one critical mass and the nuclear reaction is no longer controlled.  In fact … it’s very much OUT of control, and within a fraction of a fraction of a second the entire mass of uranium is turned into pure, raw energy.   It’s the old E=MC2 at work.  You’re now a vaporized crispy critter, as is pretty much everything within miles of you, and the landscape is scraped clean.  Why?  You just detonated an atomic bomb, that’s why.  Way to go, sport.  You just had to take that dare, didn’t you?

Where am I going with this?  To the wonderful, peaceful, gentle peaceful religion of Islam, that’s where.

Have you been watching this ISIS crowd in Iraq?  They are lopping the heads off of Christian children for being nothing more than Christian children.  These same bloodthirsty Islamic thugs stoned a woman to death in Syria last week for adultery.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the very man she committed the act of adultery with was right there throwing stones – such is the viciousness of this religion.  Would you like to see some pictures or videos of Muslims stoning women to death?  They’re on the Internet – go look.  Look at the frightened faces of these women as they’re buried up to their shoulders and these wonderful Muslim men gather around to kill them.  What an amazing religion!  And while you’re on the Internet maybe you can find pictures of these Muslim men mutilating the genitals of their young daughters.  After all, you certainly don’t want Muslim women feeling any sexual pleasure, do you?

Then there’s Hamas in Gaza.  I’m sure the fools who have been condemning Israel for fighting back against these Islamic murderers don’t want to hear this … but Israeli Defense Forces have now discovered a manual for Hamas killers telling them how to locate their rocket launching facilities near civilians, especially children, so that they can get their women (who are merely chattel) and children killed and blame Israel.  It works to a worrying extent … there are idiots all over the place who believe that Israel is the bad guy here.  As many people have commented, Hamas would kill all Israeli children if it could, but it can’t.  Israel COULD kill all Palestinian children in Gaza, but it won’t.

OK … so where does this critical mass thing come in?  You know individual Muslims, as do I.  Perhaps in a one-on-one situation you’ve found them to be engaging, intelligent and certainly not threatening.  I’m betting, though, that you’re experiences with Muslims have been in situations where they were decidedly in the minority.  Watching the reactions of Muslims in countries where they are in a decided minority, including the United States, gives you no real cause to worry.  Beheading aren’t likely.  But let those numbers increase – let their percentage of the population increase – and the danger increases, just as it will with larger globs of uranium.  Such is the case in France and Britain where Muslims have been demonstrating, sometimes rioting, as they protest.  The larger the numbers, the greater the chance for violence.  There were protests in the U.S. as well, though none were violent so far as I know.

There is, somewhere, a critical mass; a population percentage at which Muslims will cease all pretext at coexistence and tolerance will evaporate.  There is some number at which the Quran’s instructions that non-Muslims are to either be taxed, converted, or killed will get more serious consideration.  It’s happening in Iraq now to Christian populations besieged by the terrorist Islamic State.  Critical Mass.  These Christians have identifying marks on the doors outside their homes … if they don’t convert or pay the tax as instructed .. they literally lose their heads.

There’s something to be learned in the U.S. from what you haven’t seen.  That would be Muslims demonstrating against the killings of Christians, the stoning of women, and the genital mutilation of young Muslim women.  There are small and limited exceptions, to be sure, but in general Muslims don’t seem at all outraged at all at the behavior of Muslims worldwide.  That, my friends, should alarm you.  Why?  If Muslims who truly want to live in peace can’t or won’t speak out against the violence now … what is going to happen as Muslim numbers increase?  What happens when they reach the critical mass?  When the numbers are so great – and Muslim numbers are increasing faster than any other religion – that elections can be controlled and public reaction can be ignored – what happens then?

Muslim violence can be controlled now.   Those in a significant minority have this tendency to recognize their disadvantage and thus behave.  They’re below critical mass.  Do you want to sit back and wait to see what happens when that critical mass is ended?

Yes … I know that some of you are just itching to point out that pretty much all religions, including the Christian religion, can descend to violence and depravity in furtherance of their beliefs.  The Christian religion certainly has seen this.  But we’re not going to prevent what Muslims might become by pointing out what Christians or other religions once were.  And yes – there are Christians today who would gladly use force to compel others to live in accordance with their beliefs.  Though the numbers may be small, we need to be diligent in resisting their quest for power as well.

Islam is not a peaceful religion.  Christianity, by and large, is.  You certainly can’t find something in the Bible that suggests murdering people who don’t believe as you do.  This political correctness must be ended.  This threat has to be faced.  Let’s hope we in America don’t have to discover this first hand because we slept through the beginning of this crisis.

COLLEGES - Boosting Graduations

"Colleges emphasize student ‘stickiness’ to boost graduations" PBS NewsHour 8/22/2014


SUMMARY:  In Tennessee, a disturbingly high dropout rate at public universities prompted the state to change how they fund schools, the more students graduate, the more a school gets paid.  Hari Sreenivasan reports on the rise of performance-based funding and innovations by schools to keep students invested.

Explore the future of higher education with Hari Sreenivasan (38:21)
PBS NewsHour

IRAQ - Kurdish Peshmerga Army vs ISIS Report

"Why Kurdish fighters lack the military might to thwart the Islamic State" PBS NewsHour 8/22/2014


MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Racing south on the highway between Iraq’s Kurdish capital, Irbil, and Baghdad, miles of open desert unfold, dotted by villages and towns.  But just a quarter of the way down, Iraq’s most vital commercial lifeline becomes the frontline.

The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has advanced to within 650 yards of the road.  Kurdish forces Colonel Wria Hasan took us to one of many well-manned Kurdish Peshmerga outposts guarding the new frontier to show us just how close the militants’ forbidding flag flew.

What keeps the ISIS forces from just moving across this road?

COL. WRIA HASAN, Peshmerga (through interpreter):  If they came closer, we could stop them, and we could move their way, but there are a lot Arabs living there.

MARGARET WARNER:  So you’re saying it will be a very bloody battle if you tried to advance that way?

COL. WRIA HASAN (through interpreter):  Yes it would be bloody, and many civilians would die.

MARGARET WARNER:  Colonel Hasan was escorting us in his armored SUV to the town of Jalawla, 100 miles northeast of Baghdad, in southern Diyala Province.  The province is now partly controlled by the Kurds since the Iraqi army collapsed before the Islamic extremists’ onslaught in mid-June.

We’d come to explore why, over the past month, the famed Peshmerga army, considered one of the best in the region, had also fallen back at several points along its internal frontier against the Islamist group.

General Mahmoud Sengawi commands this southern region, and on our way to the front, I asked him why he was now fighting to take back the strategically located town of Jalawla.
GEN. HUSSEIN MANSOUR (through interpreter):  There, we have problems larger than weapons.  Arabs in those towns support ISIS.  Jalawla has always been a bastion of Baathist support.  There are 1,200 former high-ranking Baathist officers there.  It’s always been a bastion of terrorists, even when the Americans were here.

MARGARET WARNER:  To test that notion, we had Mohammed Mala Hassan, mayor of Khanaqin, where the Peshmerga are based, take us in his convoy of heavily armed men to meet one of the many Sunni Arabs he said have fled to Khanaqin from Jalawla.

Amer Yusef, a successful contractor, left with his family of 13 in June as the Islamic State began infiltrating Jalawla.  He has a decidedly negative view of the Islamist group.

He said it’s true some Sunnis are with them, but often the extremists are more brutal with Sunnis.

AMER YUSEF, Contractor: (through interpreter):  They are a terrorist organization that wants to harm us.  They have harmed most of the families who have stayed in the town.

MARGARET WARNER:  Many people say all Arabs here support the Islamic State.  Is that true?

AMER YUSEF (through interpreter):  I have a close friend who was a member of the municipality, my neighbor, and he is a Sunni Arab.  They killed him few days ago.  After taking him and his brother to their Sharia court, his brother said they killed them.

MARGARET WARNER:  The Islamic State says they’re doing all of this in the name of pure Islam.

AMER YUSEF (through interpreter):  No.  They everyone’s enemy.  Who are they killing the most?  Christians or Muslims?  They have killed mostly Muslims, both Sunnis and Shiites.

EDUCATION - Family Members as Summer Teachers

"Turning parents into teachers to fight the ‘summer slide’ in reading" PBS NewsHour 8/22/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  As the new school year approaches, teachers have come to expect that many of their students will have forgotten some of what they learned earlier.  It’s called summer learning loss, and some teachers believe it’s inevitable.  Are they right?

Special correspondent for education John Merrow of Learning Matters reports.

SARAH PISANO, Springboard Teacher:  Everyone, turn to page three, please.

JOHN MERROW:  The traditional educator’s remedy for summer learning loss is more of the same, more hours and more days of classes and, of course, summer school.

SARAH PISANO:  Now we’re on page four.

JOHN MERROW:  But suppose there is another solution.

SARAH PISANO:  Good morning, Springboard families.  Please sign in.

JOHN MERROW:  What if schools enlisted family members as partners to help teach the children?  That’s what’s happening here at Russell Byers Charter School in Philadelphia.  For five weeks this summer, Sarah Pisano helps 6- and 7-year-olds get better at reading.

MIDDLE EAST - Hamas vs Israel, 'and the War Goes On'

"Israeli strikes kill members of Hamas leadership" PBS NewsHour 8/21/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Following this week’s cease-fire collapse, there was heavy fighting again today between Israel and Hamas.  Members of the Palestinian group’s military leadership were among the casualties.  Hari is back with that.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Thousands marched through the streets of Gaza today in the funeral procession of three senior Hamas military commanders.  The men, identified as Mohamed Abu Shamala and Raed al-Attar, plus Mohammed Barhoum, were killed by a pre-dawn Israeli airstrike.  The militant group quickly decried the killing.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas Spokesman (through interpreter):  The assassination of the al-Qassam leaders in Rafah is a big Israeli crime that will not succeed in breaking the will of our people.  And the occupation will pay the price, God willing.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meeting with U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa, hailed the intelligence behind the attack and vowed there’s more to come.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel (through interpreter):  I want to commend the excellent work of the operational and intelligence units of the Shin Bet security service.  We will continue to work together to reach the targets, to restore peace and security for an extended period to the citizens of Israel.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  A day earlier, an Israeli airstrike missed Mohammed Deif, the top Hamas commander, but his wife and infant son were killed.

Ordinary Gazans appealed today for an end to the aerial assault.

AMAL LADIYALI (through interpreter):  Every day, there are men, women, elderly people, and children getting killed, everybody.  They mock us by giving us a bit of food to distract us.  They are killing us and burying us at the same time.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Meanwhile, a mortar round fired from Gaza seriously wounded one man in Southern Israel today.  Overall, more than 100 rockets were fired, leaving Israelis within their reach to ponder staying or leaving.

LARRY BUTLER:  This is my home, and I will stay here.  And I just hope these people — maybe — it will all calm down.  It has to calm down.  It can’t get much worse.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  It was the June killing of three Israeli teenagers and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teen that sparked this conflict.  A top Hamas official has now acknowledged for the first time that his group kidnapped the Israeli teens.

There were also accusations about the collapse of peace talks in Egypt this week.  Officials of the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, claimed the Gulf state of Qatar pressured Hamas to scuttle the effort.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

GLOBAL WARMING - Ground Giving Way in Frozen North

"Why in ‘remote, cold corners’ of the world, melting ground is giving way" PBS NewsHour 8/20/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Finally tonight, new indications that the planet is warming, especially in the frozen north.  Scientists have been tracking Arctic thawing for decades, and they have seen a dramatic increase since 2000.

When holes opened up in the earth recently in Siberia, a wave of speculation was set off as to their cause.  Scientists now think warming is the culprit.

To help us understand all this, we welcome back Tom Wagner.  He directs studies of the polar regions for NASA.

And it’s good to have you on the program again.

TOM WAGNER, NASA:  Thanks for having me back.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, just for those folks who don’t follow the polar region so closely on a regular basis, like you do, remind us, what is the Arctic made out of and how are you seeing it change?

TOM WAGNER:  Yes, so the top of the Arctic is an ocean covered by sea ice, but all around it are the lands of Russia and Alaska and things.  And that’s frozen ground, ground like in your backyard, but it’s frozen solid.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And what have you been observing, you and other scientists, in terms of the change?

TOM WAGNER:  Well, in general, the Arctic has warming.

We know there’s been less sea ice.  We also know snow melts earlier and things like that.  But this recent story from Siberia took everybody by surprise, because literally holes the size of a football field just opened up in the ground.

JOURNALISM - Rembering James Foley

"In remembering James Foley, sobering lessons for protecting journalists" PBS NewsHour 8/20/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Joining me now to talk about James Foley and the threat that reporters like him face covering conflicts today is Global Post co-founder and journalist Charles Sennott and Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the committee to protect journalists.

Charles Sennott, first of all, our condolences to you and your colleagues on the loss of James Foley.  What’s can you tell us about him and how he came to be held?

CHARLES SENNOTT, Co-Founder, Global Post:  Thanks, Gwen.

You know, the best way to start to describe who is James Foley is probably to start with the way his parents talked about him today.  Anyone who saw how much faith they have, how strong they are, they know where James came from.  And that’s really important to understanding him.

Jim had strong faith in himself, but his parents had tremendous faith in what he did as a journalist.  They understood that Jim wanted to do work that mattered.  He wanted to do work that made a difference.  They understood his motivations.  And they were unwaveringly supportive of it.

And that really is who Jim Foley was.  He was a courageous reporter who took great risks to bring the story home.

IRAQ - The Displaced, 'Iraq, Country of Monsters'

"Displaced Iraqis traumatized by Islamic State, betrayed by neighbors" PBS NewsHour 8/20/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Other victims of the Islamic State in recent weeks include Christians and members of the Yazidi minority.  Most who were lucky enough to escape have flooded the Kurdish -controlled region in Northern Iraq with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Tonight, chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner takes a close look at these newly internally displaced persons, or IDPs, and efforts to contain their suffering.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  A Boeing 747 touched down in the afternoon heat of Irbil today, carrying 100 tons of United Nations Refugee Agency aid, the first wave of fresh supplies since the U.N. last week announced a heightened level of emergency for Northeastern Iraq.

NED COLT, Spokesman, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:  It can’t be done overnight.  No one would suggest otherwise.  But now the system is up and running in a major way.  So, we’re not just getting materials in that we already have in stock, but we are bringing them in from around the world.

MARGARET WARNER:  The tents in this shipment will shelter at least 20,000 people, but that’s just a fraction of the estimated 1.25 million Iraqis who have fled into the country’s Kurdish region since the self-proclaimed Islamic State began its onslaught here eight months ago.

MAMMALS - Update on the New Species, Olinguito

"‘Crowd-sourced’ science sheds new light on new mammal, Olinguito" PBS NewsHour 8/19/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  ..... Newly discovered by scientists and newly documented by the crowd.

Jeff is back to explain.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It was an exceedingly rare discovery; a new species of mammal called the Olinguito, a small, furry, tree-welling member of the raccoon family, living in the forests of Colombia and Ecuador.

In the year since the announcement, the Olinguito has gone from literal unknown to being surprisingly well-documented through photos and videos shot by amateur naturalists, bird watchers, and others, a kind of crowd-sourced science.

Kristofer Helgen, a curator of mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History, was part of the original discovery team, and joins us once again for an update.

MISSOURI - Restoring Calm in Ferguson and Racial Devide

"What will it take to restore calm and justice in the Ferguson community?" PBS NewsHour 8/18/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  We take a closer look now at the situation in Ferguson, how the St. Louis, Missouri, area community is struggling to keep order and heal the divisions that continue to bring protesters out into the streets.

A short while ago, we spoke with USA Today reporter Yamiche Alcindor, who is in Ferguson.

Yamiche Alcindor, thank you for joining us again.

I want to start by asking you about reaction there to Governor Nixon’s decision to ended curfew and to call in the Missouri National Guard.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, USA Today:  The reaction here was really mixed.  I talked to a lot of people who were really happy to hear that the National Guard was coming in.  People say that the businesses here are losing so much money and people who live in this neighborhood are terrorized because every night there is tear gas and there’s gunshots in their neighborhoods.

However, some people are really upset.  I talked to one woman who said she feels like she’s in prison in her own neighborhood.  And there, people really thought, you know, this is just even more militarizing of our neighborhoods.  This is really the actual military.

And when the National Guard comes in, there is going to be soldiers walking down the street.  So I think people are kind of mixed, but I think the majority of people I talked to are worried because that they thought this might get out of hand.

"Public perceptions of Brown killing and protests reveal stark division by race" PBS NewsHour 8/19/2014


SUMMARY:  To discuss the racial divide in reactions to the Ferguson protests, Judy Woodruff looks at data with Carroll Doherty of Pew Research Center.  Ronald Hampton, former executive director of the National Black Police Association, and Gil Alba, former detective of the New York City Police Department, discuss the prospects for reconciling the Ferguson community after such upheaval.

"Ferguson residents speak to town’s tragedy" PBS NewsHour 8/20/2014


SUMMARY:  Amid protest and tension over the killing of Michael Brown, the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, are contemplating what the events in their community mean for them and the whole country.  Hari Sreenivasan offers an array of voices from Ferguson.

AFRICA - Photographer's View of Ebola Crisis

"Photographer documents effects of Ebola on daily life in Liberia" PBS NewsHour 8/18/2014


JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  I spoke to John Moore, a photographer with Getty Images, a short time ago.  He witnessed the attack on the quarantine center and has been documenting the outbreak in Monrovia.

John Moore, thanks for joining us.

First, tell us more about the event.  Who was involved and why did they seem to be doing it?

JOHN MOORE, Getty Images:  Well, it was an angry crowd who had just driven away a burial team who had come to claim several bodies that were suspected of — people suspected of dying of Ebola.

And the crowd drove away the burial teams and the police and then marched on the isolation ward, the holding center for Ebola patients.  They pushed through the doors and told people that they really didn’t have Ebola after all, that they were sick of other causes, and that it was safe to come out.

There’s a lot of people who deny the existence of Ebola here.  They think that it’s a scheme, a hoax, a plot by the government to bring in international money.  And they pulled these people out of the ward.  And then I left the scene because it was getting difficult.

And afterwards this crowd looted the facility, taking soiled mattresses and contaminated medical equipment, and I assume spreading the disease much more in their community.

HUNGER IN AMERICA - Who's Getting Emergency Food Assistance

"More emergency food assistance going to working Americans, study finds" PBS NewsHour 8/18/2014


JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  That report by the nonprofit group Feeding America found that roughly one in seven people in the country, 46 million people, rely on food banks or other charitable organizations for basic nutrition.  They included some 620,000 military households and an increased number of adult college students.

Food bank clients come from all demographic groups, in suburbs, as well as urban areas.  And many report facing the choice between buying food and paying for utilities, rent, medicine and other necessities.

Joining us is Deborah Flateman.  She’s the executive director of the MARYLAND FOOD BANK and a board member of Feeding America.

Welcome to you.

DEBORAH FLATEMAN, President & CEO, Maryland Food Bank:  Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN:  On a general level first, what do we learn from this report about who is hungry in America?

DEBORAH FLATEMAN:  You know, honestly, from my point of view, it verifies what we have been seeing trending over the past few years.  I think one of the most significant pieces of data tells us that more than half of the people who are accessing food through the emergency feeding system, including food banks and food shelves, are people who are working.

HUMOR - Like It Is

Humor Times

Monday, August 18, 2014

INSIDE VIEW - Global Organ Trafficking

"Inside the growing global market of organ trafficking" PBS NewsHour 8/17/2014


HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Here in the United States, nearly 4,000 people a year die waiting for a kidney.  And while it’s illegal almost everywhere in the world to traffic in organs, there is a thriving global market.  Yesterday, I spoke with Kevin Sack of The New York Times who’s been investigating the global organ trade.

So you’ve been looking at this for a year.  What did you find?

KEVIN SACK:  Well, we found that there’s organ trafficking really all over the world.  I don’t know that there’s a country that’s necessarily immune, including the United States.  We had a prosecution here a couple of years ago, the first prosecution of organ trafficking in this country.

So it happens everywhere and obviously it’s just because there’s this huge demand for kidneys.  People are desperate to get these organs and to save their lives.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  You focused on Israel, and you said that they actually have a disproportionate influence on the global demand.  How is that?  Explain.

KEVIN SACK:  Well, it’s kind of remarkable but over the last 15 years, just time after time, when there have been prosecutions of organ traffickers, Israel always seems to have some role.  Israelis are either the buyers or the sellers.  Often they’re the brokers.

And it has a lot to do with a view among orthodox rabbis that brain death, which obviously is the optimal circumstance for organ donation, is not actually death, and as a result organ donation rates in Israel are very low and people have few places to go other than the black market.

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 8/15/2014, With Rand Paul Editorial

"Brooks and Marcus on police power in Ferguson, political change in Iraq" PBS NewsHour 8/15/2014


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s top news, including the response to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, by politicians and President Obama, as well as the political shift in Iraq and the prospect for additional American intervention.

"We Must Demilitarize the Police" by Sen. Rand Paul, Time Magazine 8/14/2014

Anyone who thinks race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention, Sen. Rand Paul writes for TIME, amid violence in Ferguson, Mo. over the police shooting death of Michael Brown

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is an awful tragedy that continues to send shockwaves through the community of Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation.

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off.  But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting.  There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.

Glenn Reynolds, in Popular Mechanics, recognized the increasing militarization of the police five years ago.  In 2009 he wrote:

Soldiers and police are supposed to be different. … Police look inward.  They’re supposed to protect their fellow citizens from criminals, and to maintain order with a minimum of force.

It’s the difference between Audie Murphy and Andy Griffith.  But nowadays, police are looking, and acting, more like soldiers than cops, with bad consequences.  And those who suffer the consequences are usually innocent civilians.

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson observed this week how the rising militarization of law enforcement is currently playing out in Ferguson:

Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb?  Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors?  Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards?  (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”)  Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?

Olson added, “the dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.”

How did this happen?

Most police officers are good cops and good people.  It is an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances.

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem.  Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism.  The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.

Bernick continued, “federal agencies of all stripes, as well as local police departments in towns with populations less than 14,000, come equipped with SWAT teams and heavy artillery.”

Bernick noted the cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve, “today, Bossier Parish, Louisiana, has a .50 caliber gun mounted on an armored vehicle.  The Pentagon gives away millions of pieces of military equipment to police departments across the country—tanks included.”

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them.  Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.

This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri.  It is what the citizens of Ferguson feel when there is an unfortunate and heartbreaking shooting like the incident with Michael Brown.

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention.  Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm.  It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime.  It is quite another for them to subsidize it.

Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security.  This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.

Let us continue to pray for Michael Brown’s family, the people of Ferguson, police, and citizens alike.

ANNIVERSARY - Panama Canal, 100yrs Old

"Triumph of 100-year-old Panama Canal came with dangerous costs" PBS NewsHour 8/15/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  From shipping vessels to cruise liners to luxury yachts, over a million ships have passed through the Isthmus of Panama since its canal opened on August 15, 1914.  Spanning a strip of mountainous land between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the canal is a conduit for business and sea power, shortening the trip from New York to San Francisco by nearly 8,000 miles.

The triumph of engineering, man’s harnessing of water and moving of mountains, took over 30 years to complete.

KIM STEENTOFT, Ship captain:  It’s a huge achievement they made when they produced 100 years back.  If you think about the locks are nearly the same today, and it’s what they built 100 years back, it’s a huge achievement.

GWEN IFILL:  The French broke ground on the project in 1881.  But soaring costs, engineering problems, and a steep death toll from yellow fever estimated at 22,000 people ended French involvement.

But where the French saw failure, President Theodore Roosevelt saw opportunity, a chance to unlock America’s economic power.  In 1903, Panama gained independence from Columbia, with U.S. support.  In return for Washington’s backing and recognition, the new government surrendered sovereignty over a portion of the country that would become known as the Canal Zone.

The U.S. officially took over in 1904, but yellow fever, one of the major hurdles to the project’s success, remained.  It wasn’t until Dr. Colonel William Gorgas targeted mosquitoes that health officials gained the upper hand.

The U.S. also came up with a new engineering approach, discarding plans for a sea level route, in favor of a series of locks that could lift ships as much as 85 feet through the complex mountain formations, before being lowered again to sea level.

But the massive excavation and construction process was still fraught with danger.

DIVERSITY - Why So Difficult in Police Forces

"Why it’s so difficult to retain a diverse police force" PBS NewsHour 8/15/2014


JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  The city of Ferguson, with a population of 21,000, is more than two-thirds African-American, but just three of its 53 police officers are black.  It’s a factor in other communities across the country as well.

And we explore the issue Tracie Keesee, the co-founder of the UCLA Center for Policing Equity.  She’s also a 25-year veteran of the Denver Police Department.  And Commander Malik Aziz, chairman of the national black police association.  He is deputy chief of the Dallas Police Department and has 23 years experience in law enforcement.

Tracie Keesee, let me start with you.  And I do want to start with a question about today’s news, because there’s still a lot of confusion and even anger over the issue of when the officer involved in the shooting was named and the release of the video of Michael Brown.

What’s your reaction to that today?

TRACIE KEESEE, UCLA Center for Policing Equity:  Well, I think there is a couple of things going on here.

First of all, if you want to have the trust of the community, transparency is always going to be key.  And the faster you can get information out to the community is going to be helpful.

I think, in addition to that, you have to balance the safety of the officer at the time, before we knew his name, to make sure that they were safe, and he was receiving threats.  But I think you also have to that balance, but I think you also have to be mindful of the community that you serve and that they really deserve to hear who is involved in what and what’s going on with in the investigation.

FERGUSON MISSOURI - A Militarized Zone?

"Why doesn’t Ferguson’s police force reflect the community?" PBS NewsHour 8/14/2014


SUMMARY:  Judy Woodruff talks to Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today in for a closer look at the drama unfolding over the police killing of Michael Brown, as well as local reaction to the governor’s order for State Highway Patrol to take over security.  Former Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher and Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch weigh in on Ferguson’s disproportionately white police force.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  For a look at what’s happening on the ground in Ferguson, we turn to USA Today reporter Yamiche Alcindor, who was there last night.  She regularly covers social issues relating to criminal justice. I spoke to her a short time ago.

Yamiche Alcindor, we thank you for talking with us.

First of all, reaction to the governor’s announcement that the Missouri Highway Patrol is going to be taking over law enforcement there?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, USA Today:  Residents here for the last two days that I have been here have really been complaining about what they consider military-style policing.

People are welcoming this announcement.  I just talked to a woman who said she was scared to have her child out in the street and that she was going in extra early.

I think people are really excited about.  And even though they don’t know exactly what’s coming and they — and they’re still kind of worried about what the Highway Patrol is going to do, people think, if it’s not going to be tanks or tear gas, that may something will be better.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, you were very much there last night.  You were reporting on it, tweeting about it.  What did you see?  Because, as you know, officials are saying people in the crowd were throwing rocks, throwing firebombs.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:  So, I didn’t see people throwing rocks and firebombs.  But I know that there are some images of people doing that, so I continue — I think that that might have actually happened.

What I saw mostly were people crowding in different areas, picking up their arms, saying, don’t shoot, hands up.  People were in some ways aggressively walking up to police and kind of taunting them.  At about 2:00 in the morning, I was at the Ferguson Police Station, and a group of six to seven people actually walked on to the Ferguson police property and were kind of taunting the police there.

Soon after, the Saint Louis County police showed up with about four trucks and about 60 officers in riot gear.  So I think — I saw that.  And I also saw officers with rifles drawn kind of pointing at people that they thought were either taunting them or — or that they thought might be shooting at them.

"Why military equipment is in the hands of local police" PBS NewsHour 8/14/2014


SUMMARY:  Violent clashes between local police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, has highlighted the distribution of military equipment to police departments around the country from the U.S. Defense Department.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times about the concerns over the militarization of domestic law enforcement.

GAZA - Dutch 'Righteous Among the Nation' Returns Award in Protest

"Dutch Nonagenarian Returns ‘Righteous Gentile’ Medal to Protest IDF Killing of Gaza Relatives" by Boruch Shubert, Jewish Political News 8/15/2014

As reported in Ha’aretz, a 91-year-old Dutch man who was honored with the special status of Righteous Among the Nations for going out of his way to rescue a Jew during the Nazi takeover of his country returned his medal and certificate on Thursday to protest the killing of six of his relatives by an Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip last month.

In 2011, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum declared Henk Zanoli and his late mother, Johana Zanoli-Smit, as members of the elite group known as Righteous Among the Nations for having saved a Jewish child, Elhanan Pinto, during the Nazi occupation of Holland.  Pinto, who was born in 1932, was hidden by the Zanoli family from the spring of 1943 until the Allies finally liberated Holland in 1945.  The boy’s parents perished in Nazi death camps.

In hiding a Jewish child, the Zanoli family knowingly took a double risk, because it was already being closely watched by the Nazi authorities for having opposed the German occupation.  Zanoli’s father was sent to the Dachau concentration camp in 1941 because of his opposition to the occupation, and he eventually died at the Mauthausen concentration camp in February 1945.  The Nazis executed Henk Zanoli’s brother-in-law because of his participation in the Dutch resistance, and one of his brothers had a Jewish fiancée, who was also murdered by the Nazis.

Zanoli’s great-niece, Angelique Eijpe, is a Dutch diplomat who currently works as deputy head of the Netherlands’ diplomatic mission in Oman.  Eijpe’s husband, economist Isma’il Ziadah, was born in the al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza; the couple has three children.  Ziadah’s parents were born in Fallujah, the area that now hosts the town of Kiryat Gat.

On Sunday, July 20, during its ongoing military action against Hamas targets, an Israeli fighter jet dropped a bomb on the Ziadah family’s home in al-Bureij.  The bomb killed the family matriarch, Muftiyah, age 70; three of her sons, Jamil, Omar and Youssef; Jamil’s wife, Bayan; and their 12-year-old son, Shaaban.  The bombing thereby orphaned Jamal and Bayan’s other five children, four daughters and a son, while orphaning Omar’s two sons, and Youssef’s three sons and a daughter, of their fathers.  The bombing additionally killed Mohammed Maqadmeh, who was visiting the family that day.

Zanoli, an attorney, learned of the killing of the Ziadah family from his niece.  As a means of expressing his shock and anguish, he decided to return the medal and certificate that honored him and his mother (posthumously) as Righteous Among the Nations.  Due to his age and poor health, Zanoli did not do so in person, but instead sent them by messenger to the Israeli Embassy in The Hague – the same place where he had been presented with them in an official ceremony three years ago.

In the accompanying letter, addressed to Israeli Ambassador Haim Davon, Zanoli began by describing the price his family paid for resisting the Nazis and their successful attempt to save a Jewish child.  “Against this background it is particularly shocking and tragic that today, four generations on, our family is faced with the murder of our kin in Gaza.  Murder carried out by the State of Israel,” the elderly Dutchman wrote.

“The great- great grandchildren of my mother have lost their [Palestinian] grandmother, three uncles, an aunt and a cousin at the hands of the Israeli army,” he further stated.  “For me to hold on to the honor granted by the State of Israel, under these circumstances, will be both an insult to the memory of my courageous mother who risked her life and that of her children fighting against suppression and for the preservation of human life as well as an insult to those in my family, four generations on, who lost no less than six of their relatives in Gaza at the hands of the State of Israel.”

Commenting that Israel’s actions in Gaza “have already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he went on, “as a retired lawyer it would be no surprise to me that these accusations could lead to possible convictions if true and unpoliticized justice is able to have its course.  What happened to our kin in Gaza will no doubt be brought to the table at such a time as well.”

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit did not respond to Haaretz’s questions about whether the Ziadah home was bombed in error, or if not, who in the house was considered a target and whether the IDF’s legal department considers the death of six civilians to be legitimate collateral damage.  The unit’s response said only that the IDF invests great efforts in trying to avoid civilian casualties, is currently working to investigate all allegations of irregular incidents and will publish its conclusions after this investigation has been completed.

WALL STREET - 60 Minutes Exposè

Is the U.S. stock market rigged?
60 Minutes

Friday, August 15, 2014

MUSIC - One of My Favorite Versions of "Waters of March"

Waters of March
Al Jarreau & Oleta Adams ( Tom Jobim )

ENVIRONMENT - Drillers Using Diesel Fuel For Fracking

"Report:  Drillers Illegally Using Diesel Fuel to Frack" by Naveena Sadasivam, ProPublica 8/14/2014

A new report charges that several oil and gas companies have been illegally using diesel fuel in their hydraulic fracturing operations, and then doctoring records to hide violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The report, published this week by the Environmental Integrity Project, found that between 2010 and July 2014 at least 351 wells were fracked by 33 different companies using diesel fuels without a permit.  The Integrity Project, an environmental organization based in Washington, D.C., said it used the industry-backed database, FracFocus, to identify violations and to determine the records had been retroactively amended by the companies to erase the evidence.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires drilling companies to obtain permits when they intend to use diesel fuel in their fracking operations.  As well, the companies are obligated to notify nearby landowners of their activity, report the chemical and physical characteristics of the fluids used, conduct water quality tests before and after drilling, and test the integrity of well structures to ensure they can withstand high injection pressures.  Diesel fuel contains a high concentration of carcinogenic chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, and they disperse easily in groundwater.

FracFocus is an online registry that allows companies to list the chemicals they use during fracking.  At least 10 states, including Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, mandate the use of the website for such disclosures.

The report asserts that the industry data shows that the companies admitted using diesel without the proper permits.  The Integrity Project's analysis, the report said, then showed that in some 30 percent of those cases, the companies later removed the information about their diesel use from the database.

"What's problematic is that this is an industry that is self-reporting and self-policing," said Mary Greene, senior managing attorney for the environmental organization.  "There's no federal or state oversight of [filings with FracFocus]."

The FracFocus website currently has no way to track changes to disclosures.  The Integrity Project noticed the changes when it compared newer disclosures to those in older FracFocus data purchased from PIVOT Upstream Group, a consulting firm in Houston.

Energy In Depth, the communications and research arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, published a lengthy response to the Integrity Project's report and criticized it for including diesel use that occurred prior to a 2014 Environmental Protection Agency rule clarifying the types of chemicals considered "diesel fuels."

Energy In Depth said the Integrity Project was "retroactively changing the definition of diesel fuel in order to malign more operations for engaging in an activity (a "diesel frack") that did not occur."

The EPA first listed kerosene as a type of diesel fuel in May 2012 when it released a draft version of the rule finalized this year.  Kerosene is also listed as a type of diesel fuel in the definition of the Toxic Substance Control Act, which controls the production, use and disposal of chemicals.

In its response, Energy In Depth also pointed out that in some cases companies may have provided incorrect data to the FracFocus website and were seeking to correct it, not skirt the law.

"We no longer use the contract completions crews that used very small trace amounts of kerosene and a hydrocarbon distillate on five wells more than three years ago," said John Christiansen, director of external communications at Anadarko Petroleum Corp., one of the companies listed in the report.  "Since 2011, there has been no re-occurrence, and we remain in compliance with EPA regulations," he said in an email to ProPublica.

The report found that six companies had changed disclosures for wells; Pioneer Natural Resources accounted for 62 of the changes.  Tadd Owens, vice president of governmental affairs at Pioneer said most of these changes were made because of "coding errors" while submitting data to FracFocus.

"We did use trace amounts of kerosene in 2011 prior to when the EPA issued guidance.  The rest of the wells on the list are coding errors and we have an ongoing internal quality control process [to identify them]," he said.

For many years fracking industry groups insisted their member companies never used diesel fuels in their operations.  Then, in 2011, a congressional investigation found that in fact between 2005 and 2009, 12 companies had injected 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or fracking fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states.

The industry groups then shifted their argument, declaring that they could not be in violation of federal regulations in their use of diesel fuels because the EPA had never adequately spelled out exactly what exact kinds of fuels were barred.

Indeed, in a 2011 email to ProPublica, Halliburton, a company listed in the congressional investigation as having used 7.2 million gallons of diesel fuel, said it had not violated any laws "because there are currently no requirements in the federal environmental regulations that require a company to obtain a federal permit prior to undertaking a hydraulic fracturing project using diesel."

The EPA then acted to make its enforcement authority explicit, and earlier this year finalized more detailed regulations governing the use of diesel fuels in fracking operations.

In February 2014, after the EPA released its rule, Lee Fuller, the vice president of government affairs at the Independent Petroleum Association of America, stated that the rule was "a solution in search of a problem."

"Based on actual industry practices, diesel fuel use has already been effectively phased out of hydraulic fracturing operations," Fuller said.

Yet energy companies have continued to produce fracking fluids containing diesel fuels.  The Environmental Integrity Project's report identified 14 well fracturing products – commercially called emulsifiers, dispersants, additives and solvents – sold by Halliburton that contain diesel fuels.  Halliburton's own safety data sheets for these products list diesel as a chemical in these products.

"Halliburton is working with state regulators and customers to be sure all [FracFocus] reports are accurate," said Emily Mir, a spokeswoman for the company.  Mir would not comment on whether Halliburton informs drillers that purchase its products that they are required to obtain a permit before diesel fuel can be used for fracking.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


I am getting 'Snowden fatigue.'  Snowden IS A TRAITOR!

"Snowden and supporters fear Americans will lose interest from ‘NSA fatigue’" PBS NewsHour 8/13/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now to the new revelations from a fresh interview with NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

The extensive profile, in “Wired” magazine is based on hours of interviews conducted over three days, including audio that captures Snowden’s voice.

EDWARD SNOWDEN (traitor):  What I did wasn’t to benefit myself.  I didn’t ask for money.  I gave this information back to public hands.  And the reason that I did that wasn’t to gain a label, but to give you back a choice about the country you want to live in.

GWEN IFILL:  Snowden discloses that the U.S. government ran a top secret cyber-war program code-named MonsterMind.  He said it could accidentally start a war.  And he reveals that, in 2012, NSA hackers mistakenly shut down all of Syria’s Internet service.

ENVIRONMENT - Doing Enough to Safeguard Drinking Water

"Are we doing enough to safeguard drinking water?" PBS NewsHour 8/13/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  ..... The state of our drinking water and how two major problems in American cities these past few months are calling new attention to concerns over supply and protection.

Hari Sreenivasan in our New York studios has our conversation.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The most recent case, Toledo, Ohio, where contamination from an algae bloom in Lake Erie temporarily made the water supply unsafe for 400,000 people and stirred new worries throughout the Great Lakes region.

That followed a major disruption earlier this year in West Virginia, after chemicals leaked into the Elk River around Charleston.

David Beckman wrote about these matters in an op-ed for The New York Times.  He’s with the Pisces Foundation, an environmental philanthropy based in San Francisco, and joins me now.

So, Mr. Beckman, I know that we’re better off than 800 million people or so on the planet who don’t have access to clean drinking water on a daily basis, but what do these two events start to make you think about?

DAVID BECKMAN, Pisces Foundation:  Well, Hari, they make me think about the fact that, while we have come a great distance in terms of water in the United States since the early 1970s, when we had rivers catching on fire, that water pollution is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation.

And we have to be cognizant all the time and vigilant to address new threats that come on the horizon, so that we can continue to enjoy safe and reliable drinking water and clean lakes and rivers.

IN MEMORIAM - Lauren Bacall

"Lauren Bacall, 89, lit up stage and screen with glamour and strength" PBS NewsHour 8/13/2014


JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Ann Hornaday is a film critic for The Washington Post, and joins me now.

Well, Ann, what’s interesting about that first performance for me is, it seems to start with a kind of Hollywood construct.  That famous director Howard Hawks, he’s looking for, trying to shape a type, but Lauren Bacall manages to make it more than that, right?

ANN HORNADAY, The Washington Post:  Oh, it’s mythic in all of its contours, because you’re right.  It was that kind of straight from Shraff kind of narrative about, you know, get me the right girl.

And, of course, it was his wife Slim who suggested then Betty Perske, Betty Bacall, that he look at her.  And then he did mold her.  And I think one of the contradictions of her career is that she did come to personify this ideal of independence and flintiness underneath this amazing panther-like sensuality.

And a lot of that was created by Hawks.  He was the one who suggested that she lower her voice, which she exercised every day to lower.  He was the one who helped her perfect the look.  So it was very much a collaboration.

POLITICS - How To Rig the Game

"States stretch the limits of geography for politically uniform districts" PBS NewsHour 8/12/2014


GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  No matter what the polls tell us about how unpopular Congress is, 90 percent of them are reelected every time.  It’s no accident.  Their districts are drawn that way.

For proof, look no further than the state of Florida.  Last month, a federal judge said two key districts there designed to protect the incumbents representing them were illegal.  So, yesterday, the state legislature came up with new maps, two weeks before the next round of primary elections, and even though a million voters have already cast ballots.

Florida is not the only state where the lawmakers from both parties have stretched the limits of geography to create politically homogeneous districts.

Here to explain what’s up and why is NewsHour political editor Domenico Montanaro.

So much of what happens, Domenico, in the midterms doesn’t have to do with what voters themselves are voting for directly.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, Political Editor:  A lot of it has to do with how the table is set before the voters actually go into the polls.

You think that you’re voting directly for direct election of your congressman.  And what actually has been happening is that the cake kind of gets baked.  And over the last couple of decades — and it’s really gone back to even our founding fathers in certain instances, but really over the past decade or so, they — both sides have really perfected the game, perfected an art almost of how to draw some of these districts to either pack in a lot of voters of one party, to — in order to keep districts safe outside of that, or to exclude them in other ways.

IN MEMORIAM - Robin Williams

"Out-of-this-world wit: Famed performer Robin Williams dies at 63" PBS NewsHour 8/12/2014

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  A fast-talking space alien, a manic genie with a gift for improv, an inspirational teacher with a love of literature, and a blazing stand-up comedian, all just a handful of the roles that propelled Robin Williams into the entertainment stratosphere.

Jeffrey Brown has our look at the work of the Oscar-winning actor.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  This afternoon, the Marin County, California, Sheriff’s Department said that Robin Williams had died by asphyxia by hanging.

LT. KEITH BOYD, Marin County Sheriff’s Office:  Mr. Williams’ personal assistant became concerned at approximately 11:45 a.m., when he failed to respond to knocks on his bedroom door.

At that time, the personal assistant was able to gain access to Mr. Williams’ bedroom and entered the bedroom to find Mr. Williams clothed, in a seated it position, unresponsive, with a belt secured around his neck.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Word of his death broke yesterday evening and led to an outpouring of shock and sadness from fans, friends and colleagues.

On Twitter, comedian Steve Martin wrote:  “I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul.”

Friend and colleague Billy Crystal wrote simply:  “No words.”

And late-night host Conan O’Brien appeared shaken as he announced the news during his show.

CONAN O’BRIEN, Host, “Conan”:  I’m sorry to anyone in our studio audience that I’m breaking this news.  This is absolutely shocking and horrifying and so upsetting on every level.

JEFFREY BROWN:  President Obama released this statement, saying:  “Williams made us laugh.  He made us cry.  He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most.”

Robin Williams began his career in stand-up comedy and was known from the beginning for his almost out-of-this-world improvisational wit, speed, and energy.

ROBIN WILLIAMS, Comedian:  I’m melting.


ROBIN WILLIAMS:  Help me.  Help me.

You’re not going to help me, are you?



JEFFREY BROWN:  His big break, in fact, came in the late ’70s, playing an alien on the television show “Mork & Mindy,” where his character would often check in with his outer space superior.

ACTOR:  A spaceship from the planet Necroton landed on Earth.

ROBIN WILLIAMS:  Oh, no, not the Necrotons.  Our arch enemies?

ACTOR:  No, they’re a hockey team.


ACTOR:  Of course they’re our arch enemies.

ROBIN WILLIAMS:  Good retort, sir.  That’s one for you, eight million for me.


JEFFREY BROWN:  Williams moved to film, sometimes combining his frenetic comedic style with more serious subject matter, as when he played a rebellious armed services deejay in the 1987 movie “Good Morning Vietnam.”

ROBIN WILLIAMS:  Hey, this is not a test.  This is rock ‘n’ roll.  Time to rock it from the Delta to the DMZ.  Is that me, or does that sound like an Elvis Presley movie?  Viva Da Nang.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In 1989's “Dead Poets Society,” he was an unconventional English teacher at a boarding school attempting to inspire his students.

ROBIN WILLIAMS:  Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits necessary to sustain life.  But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

JEFFREY BROWN:  More hits came in the 1990s in a variety of roles, including “Mrs. Doubtfire,” where he played a father pretending to be a British nanny in order to see his children.

ROBIN WILLIAMS:  Euphegenia Doubtfire, dear.  I specialize in the education and entertainment of children.


JEFFREY BROWN:  And Williams won an Oscar for his supporting role as a South Boston psychiatrist in 1997's “Good Will Hunting.”

ROBIN WILLIAMS:  You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, and watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Through the years, Williams returned to stand-up comedy, performing for U.S. troops overseas, winning a Grammy for a comedy album in 2002, and appearing multiple times at the Kennedy Center’s Annual Mark Twain Awards.

ROBIN WILLIAMS:  Some of you are under indictment.  You know who you are.


ROBIN WILLIAMS:  So, we ask you please to turn off your cell phones and your ankle bracelets.  Enjoy the evening.


JEFFREY BROWN:  Yet, throughout the many highs, he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and with depression, and would make reference to it in his comedy routines.

Just this summer, he checked himself into a rehab clinic to help maintain his sobriety.  And, today, the coroner said Williams had been seeking treatment for depression.

Robin Williams was 63 years old.

"Robin Williams made transformation look effortless" PBS NewsHour 8/12/2014


SUMMARY:  The death of Robin Williams, beloved American comedian and actor, has sparked an outpouring of shock and sadness.  Jeffrey Brown joins A.O. Scott of The New York Times and Budd Friedman, founder of Improv Comedy Club, to look back at the “exuberance, sweetness and generosity” of William’s talent.

Robin Williams - Live on Broadway (New York 2002)