Monday, September 29, 2014

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 9/26/2014

"Shields and Brooks on Islamic State as ‘ideal’ villains, retirement for Holder and Jeter" PBS NewsHour 9/26/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Obama’s urging for united action against the Islamic State at the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the importance of debating U.S. action against the militants, the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder, plus the “classy” career of Derek Jeter.

MISSOURI - Ferguson Shooting Update

"Ferguson police chief sparks new unrest after apology to Brown family – Part 1" PBS NewsHour 9/26/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  We return our attention now to Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black teenager was killed last month by a white police officer, sparking protests and continuing unrest, up to and including last night.

It started Tuesday night with gunshots and looting, after fire destroyed an impromptu shrine to Michael Brown.  Then, yesterday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson issued a video apology to the Brown family, nearly six weeks after the shooting.

THOMAS JACKSON, Chief, Ferguson Police Department:  I’m truly sorry for the loss of your son.  I’m also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street.  The time that it took involved very important work on the part of investigators who were trying to collect evidence and gain a true picture of what happened that day.  But it was just too long, and I’m truly sorry for that.

GWEN IFILL:  Last night, Jackson emerged, in civilian clothes, and marched with protesters.  But a fight broke out, and, in the end, seven people were arrested, all of this, as a grand jury continues investigating Brown’s death.

Saint Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said this week the panel should finish by early November.


"Discussing division and race ‘After Ferguson’ – Part 2" PBS NewsHour 9/26/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In a special PBS Town Hall called “America After Ferguson,” Gwen Ifill moderates a conversation on the death of Michael Brown and the wider community conflicts that have been exposed for Ferguson, Missouri, and the nation.  In this excerpt, participants discuss getting more young people of color involved in politics, as well as a divide in the perception of race and empowerment.

SPORTS - Derek Jeter's Final Game

"Jeter’s feel-good ending is ‘necessary tonic’ for sports fans" PBS NewsHour 9/26/2014

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It was the fairy tale ending to a career that’s brought universal acclaim and admiration.  On his last at bat on his home field at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter drove in the winning run against the Baltimore Orioles.

MAN:  With a walk-off single, Derek Jeter!

JEFFREY BROWN:  Jeter began his career in 1995 and has played 2,745 games, all as a Yankee.  He holds the sixth highest hit total in baseball history, won five World Series rings, and was selected as an All-Star 14 times, an incredible record that he discussed at the end of the game.

DEREK JETER, New York Yankees:  I would say a little prayer before every game.  And I basically just said thank you, because this is all I have ever wanted to do.  And not too many people get an opportunity to do it.  And it was above and beyond anything I have ever dreamt of.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Tributes to his clutch play have poured in throughout his final season.  Commercials like this one showed fans, rival players, and celebrities paying their respects.  Jeter’s final game will be on Sunday against the Red Sox in Boston.

Quite a night in New York, but also other kinds of continuing drama in the world of sports this week.

We’re joined by Christine Brennan, national sports columnist for USA Today and commentator for ABC News, and Mike Pesca, host of Slate’s daily news and discussion podcast The Gist.  He’s also a contributor to NPR.

Well, to Derek Jeter first.

Mike, it’s funny that he’s ending his career in Boston.  As a Red Sox fan, I know that he’s destroyed our hopes perhaps more than anyone.  And yet he’s respected there and everywhere.  Why?

MIKE PESCA, National Public Radio:  Yes, because, amidst the morass of immorality that sports is — oh, I was just unintentionally maybe poetic there — but Derek Jeter is just solid.  He just is reliable.

And, you know, he’s a little bit boring.  That was his advice to Gary Sheffield when he became a Yankee, be boring.  But he’s boring in kind of the great ways that fathers will nudge their sons, and say, look at this guy.  Look at how he runs it out on every play.  Look at how he inspires his teammates.

And, yes, the commercials have gotten a little bit crazy, and the hype about Jeter, just like everything with the Yankees and sports these days, has gone over the top.  But, fundamentally, there he is delivering a game-winning hit in the only game he has ever played in Yankee Stadium when the playoffs weren’t a possibility.

So the guy’s a winner and the guy does it the right way, and it’s a necessary tonic, given everything else we’re going to talk about.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

LAW ENFORCEMENT - Los Angeles County Sheriff Department

"Editorial:  Problems in L.A. County Sheriff's Department run deep" by The Times Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times 9/24/2014

Despite the assertion to the contrary by Sheriff John Scott, the sentencing Tuesday and likely imprisonment of six sworn Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, sergeants and lieutenants does not reflect merely the actions of a "few" bad actors.  The punishments do not remove the isolated corrosive elements in an otherwise solid Sheriff's Department, and they will not end the problems that some within the department and county government continue to insist occurred during a troubling but limited period of time.

The six were convicted of obstructing justice, an especially egregious offense by officers sworn to uphold the law, and their actions came in the form of a plot to shield the department from a federal investigation into the systematic and unwarranted abuse of jail inmates.  The six may not have known at first, in the summer of 2011, that one of their corrupt colleagues had taken a bribe to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate; but they knew that the inmate had the phone and that he was using it to tell FBI agents about beatings and other deputy misconduct.  They conspired to keep the inmate from communicating with federal authorities by moving him around the county's vast jail system using false names.  Two of the defendants even confronted an FBI agent outside her home and tried to intimidate her by claiming — falsely — that they were obtaining a warrant for her arrest.

Those defendants pursued a course of action that displayed a stunning arrogance.  They earned their sentences; but as obstructors rather than defenders of justice, they were not self-taught.  They operated within an ingrained culture of contempt, mismanagement, dishonesty and gratuitous violence.  It is important to remember that they were trying to block a probe into the widespread use of excessive force, and that such force has been documented against visitors as well as inmates in Los Angeles County jails.  It is important to keep in mind also that the department's Antelope Valley stations were found to have engaged in patterns and practices of racially based discrimination and unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and detentions.  Settlement talks are ongoing in a lawsuit alleging that top sheriff's officials condoned a pattern of violence against inmates.  A court-appointed monitor is operating under a similar lawsuit alleging mistreatment of mentally ill inmates going back decades, and the U.S. Department of Justice advised the county earlier this year that it too would go to court over treatment of the mentally ill in the jails.  Meanwhile, a Times investigation found fluctuating hiring standards that sometimes drop so low as to suggest the department will hire, at times, almost anyone.

It is tempting to believe that problems in the Sheriff's Department began and ended with these six defendants — or with the deputy who took the bribe to smuggle the cellphone, or with those indicted on firearms or financial fraud charges, or with Paul Tanaka's appointment as undersheriff in 2011, or Lee Baca's election as sheriff in 1998 — but the facts belie such a belief.  Problems in the department run deep, and the need for change will continue well after these six defendants are sent to prison.

OPINION - Eric Holder Tenure

"Editorial:  Rights and wrongs under Eric Holder" by The Times Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times 9/25/2014

With Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.'s resignation, President Obama faces the loss of someone who is not just a legal advisor and Cabinet member.  He is losing a close friend who has often dared to say what one suspects the president himself was thinking but was unwilling to speak aloud.

Holder is the first African American ever to serve as attorney general, and he got the job, of course, from the first African American president.  Almost from the first moments of the administration, however, the president has skittered around fractious conversations of race while Holder has engaged them squarely, if not always skillfully.

It was Holder who, just a month into the new administration, challenged the notion that the U.S. was genuinely an ethnic melting pot; on matters of race, he offered, it was “essentially a nation of cowards.”  It was Holder who fumed at his treatment by a House committee and suggested that members were hard on him and the president because of their race.  It was Holder, not Obama, who traveled to Ferguson, Mo., to help calm a community riven by riots after a white police officer shot a young, black man.

The trip to Ferguson may have been ill-advised — it placed Holder in the dual role of assuaging anger at the police department while supervising a presumably impartial investigation into whether that same department was violating civil rights laws.  But his stalwart determination to confront injustice has been a strength as well.  Among other things, he has defended embattled voting rights, pressed hard for marriage equality and initiated an important overhaul of federal drug sentencing laws.

There were plenty of disappointments during the Holder years.  He tried to put Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on trial in New York, then pulled back in the face of congressional opposition.  He tiptoed around the financial crisis, led overzealous attempts to punish officials who leaked to journalists and was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with an investigation of gun trafficking at the border.  Holder's close relationship with Obama — they often vacation together — fueled suspicion among their critics that the attorney general has failed to vigorously pursue allegations of governmental wrongdoing, from the gun trafficking case to the claim that the IRS targeted conservative groups.

Most of those allegations are nonsense, and serve as a reminder that Holder has spent much of his tenure in combat with shrill partisans.  That's not his fault, and his irritation with those critics has been understandable.  Like Obama, he's faced obdurate, unreasonable opponents; also like Obama, though, he's occasionally deserved their criticism.

EDUCATION - Food For Thought, Schoolchildren's Hunger

"Op-Ed:  No excuse for dismissing high-achieving schoolchildren's hunger" by Garret Keizer, Los Angeles Times 9/27/2014

In the fall of 2010, after a 14-year hiatus from the classroom, I began a one-year job filling in for a teacher on leave from the same rural Vermont high school that I'd entered as a rookie 30 years before.

Almost from my first day, I was moved by the sight of what had always been a good school straining to be a better one.  Multiple tutoring centers did a brisk business at every period and not infrequently after the buses had gone for the day.  Hardly a week went by when teachers were not summoned to an early-morning meeting to discuss an individual student's progress.  Study halls no longer functioned as de facto prep periods for their faculty minders or as down-time for sleepy kids.  Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the boy who woke at 2 in the morning to do his barn chores no longer had a place to lay his head.

By all official measures, the school was succeeding.  Ranked as the state's poorest on the basis of the number of its students eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches, Lake Region Union High School was outperforming many of its more affluent competitors on standardized tests.  The year before I returned, its writing scores were the highest in the state.  The next year, the free-and-reduced-lunch students performed above the state average in reading, writing, math and science on the New England Common Assessment Program exams.

I threw myself into the mission with as much gusto as a man can summon in late middle age.  I did my best to coach for the NECAPs — yes, we took time away from our lesson plans to do some teaching to the test — and resolved to keep my skepticism about the ultimate value of the tests to myself.  There were good reasons for doing so.  I knew that voters in the community were likelier to approve the school budget if the tests results were good.  I also knew that some of the kids I coached and cajoled would go on to surmount the social conditions that stood in their way.  I knew this because a few of them always had.

But I also knew the school's sincere efforts were in the service of a cynical agenda.  The battle cry of the school reform movement, that “poverty should never be an excuse for poor academic achievement,” all too often masks the blithe conviction that good academic achievement can serve as an excuse for poverty.  As long as the test scores are at par, you see, we need not be overly concerned if the pantries are bare, the parents jobless or jailed, and the gap between rich and poor more appalling than it's been since 1928.

In the same county where Lake Region is achieving its impressive test results, an estimated 1 in 4 children is “food insecure.”  It's a phrase that tries the imaginations of those who have the luxury of spicing their security with complaint.  “What to cook for dinner, always such a dilemma.”  Imagine waking up in a state of food insecurity and going to school to take a standardized test.  Imagine how ashamed you'll feel if your school is judged to be failing because of you.

Not to worry, though, because the hunger goes away just as soon as you've performed at grade level or are enrolled in an Advanced Placement course.  And within a few short years, you'll be getting the math right when you divvy up your welfare check after your job at the furniture mill has been outsourced or the family farm auctioned off.

In one of my classes was a girl who'd been rescued the previous winter from an unheated trailer behind her grandparents' house.  She was a tough and determined kid, intelligent, ready to seek extra help, not afraid to speak out in class, almost never behind in her homework.  I happen not to know her standardized test scores, but it's reasonable to assume that her better-than-average application resulted in a performance that was at least on a par with the better-than-average test scores of her school.  It is far less reasonable to assume that those test scores significantly improved her lot.  They certainly didn't improve her grandparents' lot.  They did nothing to allay the economic conditions that made her every achievement in school outrageously more difficult for her than it had to be.

No matter how dedicated, teachers alone cannot change conditions that will take nothing short of a revolution to change.  I didn't have to teach for a year in a “high-performing” rural high school to recognize the obscenity of using “failing schools” to ignore the implications of a broken democracy.  Or to recognize the moral futility of being charged with the task of creating “a level playing field” so that society can sort its winners and losers with a clearer conscience and a colder eye.

Of course, I can bear witness to the impressive academic achievements of students from impoverished backgrounds.  So can many other teachers, and they should.  To withhold one's applause for the sake of advocating broader social progress is to insult those students and their struggles.  It is also to forfeit what may be our best challenge to a society of mounting inequality.

After all, if food-insecure 16-year-olds can master a prescribed curriculum, then what is the excuse of the richest nation in the world for failing to master the common core of a livable wage, a color-blind legal system and a society in which the word “class” refers to a course you take and not to chances you never had?

CALIFORINA - Mammoth Lakes Earthquakes

IMHO:  Think about the frequency of tornadoes in the U.S. vs earthquakes.  I'll take the risk of earthquakes over tornadoes any day.

"Mammoth Lakes earthquake swarm tied to water pressure, tectonic stress" by Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times 9/27/2014

The more than 600 earthquakes that have struck the Mammoth Lakes region over the last 24 hours are an indication of tectonic, not volcanic, stress, an expert said Friday.

At least 109 of the earthquakes were magnitude 2.0 or greater, with smaller quakes making up the bulk of the activity, said David Shelly, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Volcano Science Center.  At least six, however, were greater than magnitude 3.0.

The largest, a 3.8 temblor six miles from Mammoth Lakes, occurred at 9:21 PM Thursday.

The swarm of quakes, which began Thursday in the 20-by-10-mile Long Valley caldera east of the central Sierra Nevada Range, isn't uncommon for the region.  About 200 small quakes -- the largest a magnitude 2.7 -- shook in Long Valley Caldera in July.

Still, Shelly said, “this one is a bit more energetic than what we have seen in a while."

The earthquakes may have been triggered by water pressure from area hot springs shifting through the ground surface, stressing tectonic plates.  Scientists, Shelly said, are closely watching the earthquake swarm, but don’t believe it's connected to any magmatic activity.

Shelly said seismic analysts plan to review the swarm and update locations and magnitudes of the quakes, but the activity is not nearly on the size and scale of what was measured in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the 1980s, the area was hit with a swarm of multiple 6.0-magnitude temblors, but they were overshadowed by the Mount St. Helens eruption in Washington, Shelly said.

A decade later, in 1997, the area was rocked with another series of mostly 4.9-magnitude quakes over the course of several months.

The Long Valley caldera is one of the most seismically active regions in the state, and is part of a quiet network of 17 volcanoes throughout California.  Many of the older volcanoes haven't been active for thousands of years.

The last time the Long Valley caldera erupted was 50,000 years ago.

Some volcanoes, like the Clear Lake Volcanic Field just 90 miles north of San Francisco, and Salton Buttes, which lies within the Salton Sea Geothermal Field 90 miles east of Palm Springs, experience some seismic activity, but nothing near the shaking in the Long Valley caldera.

"We are not having any eruptions in California ... in the near future," Shelly said.

Scientists rate a volcano's potential threat by assigning one of three different categories -- high to very high, moderate, or low to very low.

The USGS created the measurement to ensure hazardous volcanoes are monitored so scientists can better develop forecasts and warnings for residents.

The Long Valley caldera carries high to very high threat potential, likely because it rests near the community of Mammoth Lake.

CALIFORNIA - The San Gabriels

As a Californian who once lived near the San Gabriels, I agree.

"National monument status is best for San Gabriels:  Editorial" Pasadena Star-News 9/24/2014

National monument status is the best way right now to ensure needed resources to protect the San Gabriel Mountains.

Not someday.  Not whenever it is that the U.S. Forest Service is allocated enough money to pay for more rangers and trail maintenance.

In these hot years, in this almost permanent wildfire season, almost all of its budget goes toward fighting fires.

A new status as the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument will put a spotlight on the grand mountain range and its recreational possibilities as real wilderness, the closest to any mega-city in our nation.

These magnificent mountains that loom over our region — buffers from the desert, funnelers of whipping winds, place where we hike, fish, ski and hunt — were not created by any government.  They are for the ages; the federal government has tried to protect them for a mere century.  But it is county, state and federal government that built the trails and highways into them, and provided what resources they have beyond their flowing waters and wildness.

The proposals to bring them additional protections beyond the national forest status that they have began 11 years ago through the offices of Hilda Solis, then the member of Congress for the central San Gabriel Valley.  They have continued under Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, who has sought the status of National Recreation Area for the mountains and a region downstream along the San Gabriel River banks.

That status as an NRA isn’t happening anytime soon in the current congressional quagmire.  So Chu has made a controversial request to President Obama for him to use his executive powers to declare the mountains a national monument, as 15 presidents before him have unilaterally declared other wild and scenic areas as monuments.

In reality the reason the executive-order request is controversial is that the President has been exercising the privilege perhaps too often on other, entirely unrelated matters.  Does that have any effect on whether monument status is a good idea for the San Gabriels?

It does not.  Neither does it matter here whether some people don’t like President Obama and therefore don’t want to approve of him taking action.

The reason his taking action is a good idea is that the San Gabriels see a tremendous number of visitors and yet the Forest Service doesn’t have the resources to handle them.  The budgets for the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests are not separate line items in federal spending; they are tiny parts of the vast USFS budget, and can’t be increased by lawmakers or even by private philanthropy, which just goes into the big pot.  A national forest is that vague thing, a “land of many uses”; national monuments — which, for instance, the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree originally were — are created specifically to welcome visitors.  Once the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is created, a visitor management plan follows, and financial resources would shift to repair the signage, restrooms, picnic tables and trails that are now in such disarray.

The private cabins on leased land, the Adams Pack Station, the current rights of off-road vehicle use — none of these would be adversely affected by a monument.

We urge President Obama to take executive action for the park-poor people of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties so the tremendous possibilities of the San Gabriels can be fully realized.

EDITORAL - Americans Favor Military Action on ISIS?

"Why do Americans favor military action in Middle East again?  Question of the Week" Editorial, Pasadena Star-News 9/22/2014

Americans’ attitudes about military action in the Middle East seem to have changed — again.

Polls show a majority support President Obama’s plan for air strikes to combat the Islamic State, the Sunni jihadist group whose human-rights abuses in Iraq and Syria include the purported videotaped beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.

The support for an anti-terrorist military effort isn’t as widespread as it was following the al-Qaida attacks on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001.  But it marks a reversal from recent years, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan produced wariness about further military entanglements in that part of the world.  Last fall, polls found strong opposition to air strikes in Syria, where leaders used chemical weapons against the country’s own citizens.

Why do Americans favor military action in the Middle East again? That’s our Question of the Week for readers.

This month, a CNN poll found 76 percent favor additional air strikes against the Islamic State and 62 percent favor providing military aid to foreign forces fighting the extremists.  A Washington Post/ABC poll showed support for air strikes against insurgents in Iraq rising to 71 percent.  In an MSNBC.com online poll, 52 percent said, “Do what it takes” to defeat the group.

Majorities do seem to make a distinction between air strikes and “boots on the ground,” cautioning against deploying ground forces.

Is this the explanation for the mood shift — that Americans have been convinced that military action can be confined to bombing, and that this strategy will be effective?  Or is it that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) is seen as a global terrorist threat rather than merely a regional player?  Is all of this a reminder of the power of video to frighten people?

Is the new attitude on the part of many Americans, not to mention the once anti-war president, justified by the danger the Islamic State presents?

Send your thoughts to opinion@langnews.com.  Please include your full name and city or community of residence.  Also, provide a daytime phone number.

Or, if you prefer, share your views in the comments section that accompanies this article online.  We’ll publish as many responses as possible Sept. 30.

Friday, September 26, 2014

NATIONAL MOUNUMENTS - The Pacific Remote Islands Marine Preserve

"U.S. expands pristine national monument in the middle of the Pacific" PBS NewsHour 9/25/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  A region of the Pacific Ocean three times the size of California will now be off-limits to commercial activity.  President Obama signed an order today expanding protection for what scientists say is one of the most pristine remaining ocean ecosystems.

Hari Sreenivasan has more.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The Pacific Remote Islands Marine Preserve is farther from human settlement than any other U.S. territory.  The president’s expansion of the reserve today will close 490,000 square miles of largely undisturbed ocean to commercial fishing and underwater mining.

The area is home to thriving colonies of rare and endangered ocean life, including fish, sea turtles, and coral reefs.

Joining me now to talk about the significance of today’s announcement is Elliott Norse.  He is founder and chief scientist of the Marine Conservation Institute.

Thanks for joining us.

So, first off, what is in these waters?

ELLIOTT NORSE, Marine Conservation Institute:  These waters are filled with marine life.

They have extraordinary coral reefs, extraordinary because they are among the most pristine coral reefs on earth.  They still have their big sharks.  Waters further from shore have large predators, including tunas of several species.  They abound with seabirds, sea turtles.  There’s a species of whale there that was discovered within the waters of that monument just a relatively few years ago. It’s full of life.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The area was deemed a monument by President George W. Bush.  Why the need to expand it?

ELLIOTT NORSE:  Well, President Bush did something really visionary in 2009 by designating it as Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, but I don’t think all of the scientific information was taken into account at that point.

We know now that the seabirds that feed their chicks in their nests on the islands forage out to a distance in some cases of several hundred miles, and they need to find concentrations of food so they can go back and feed their babies.

EDUCATION - Lifesaving Training, Changes Outlook for Young Men

"Lifesaving training changes outlook for young men in Oakland" PBS NewsHour 9/25/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last month cast a harsh spotlight on how a majority black city came to have so few black law enforcement officers.  In fact, in many communities around the country, police, fire and paramedic services remain predominantly white, no matter what the communities they protect look like.

In Oakland, California, a new effort is under way to change those statistics, and give young men of color new career opportunities.

Sarah Varney of Kaiser Health News collaborated with the NewsHour on this report.

SARAH VARNEY, Kaiser Health News:  Twenty-two-year-old Dexter Harris, who lives with his aunt near Oakland, California, is getting ready for a 12-hour shift as an emergency medical technician, or EMT, an entry-level job in the paramedic field.

Harris works full-time and supports himself and some of his family members.  But when he was younger, his life was headed in a very different direction.

DEXTER HARRIS:  I just thought I could just run around in the streets and make a living off that.  If you grew up like me, my house — home was kind of rocky.  You didn’t have somebody telling you, oh, you can be whatever you want to be.  You could be a doctor.  You could be a lawyer.  So you kind of start just looking up to the wrong people.

SARAH VARNEY:  Harris spent nine months in a juvenile detention center when he was 17, a common experience for many young men of color in Alameda County, which includes Oakland.

Here, black and Latino youth account for nearly 90 percent of those detained in juvenile hall.  And school dropout and unemployment rates for that population are among the highest in the country.  But while he was in juvenile hall, Harris’ life took a dramatic turn when he was recruited for a new county program that not only trained him how to be an EMT, but profoundly altered what he thought he could do with his life.

WOMAN:  Come on.

MAN:  One, two, three, four, five, six.

SARAH VARNEY:  The program is called EMS Corps.  And on a recent afternoon, 25 students in the current class were practicing basic life support skills under the watchful eye of instructor Maria Garcina (ph).

POLITICS - The Domination of Money in U.S. System

aka Let the little guy be damned.

"Are billionaires dictating American political debate?" PBS NewsHour 9/25/2014

Excerpts

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  How has big money come to dominate politics?  And who is writing the checks?  It can be hard to tell.

For instance, The New York Times discovered a glitch in the website run by the tax-exempt wing of the Republican Governors Association that revealed the names of prominent corporate donors.  Large political contributions are perfectly legal, and both parties solicit them.  But corporate donors’ identities are usually kept secret.

In this book conversation, Jeffrey Brown looks at a group of very rich donors who’s names are already well-known.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  The numbers keep growing and the dollars keep flowing.  This midterm election has already seen more spending by outside interest groups than any in history, some $230 million and counting, more, in fact, than any election, other than the last one for the presidency in 2012.

Under campaign finance laws, much of this funding is not required to be disclosed, but a lot of it comes from a relatively small number of the very wealthiest Americans.

Darrell West, the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, writes of their influence on politics in his new book, “Billionaires:  Reflections on the Upper Crust.”

And welcome to you.

DARRELL WEST, Brookings Institution:  Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The argument first is that billionaires and their money are big players in politics, right?  How big and how much influence?

DARRELL WEST:  Very big.

The Koch brothers are estimated to be spending $125 million just on this election year, much of it focused on those key Senate races, but then liberal and moderate billionaires also are amping up their resources.  Michael Bloomberg has put $50 million into fighting the NRA and gun violence.  Tom Steyer is very concerned about climate change.  He’s spending $50 million of his own money.

So, 2014 is shaping up as the battle of the billionaires.
----
DARRELL WEST:  Well, this is certainly not the first time wealthy interests have been influential.  When you think about the Carnegies, the Rockefellers, the other barons of 100 years ago, they were very influential and in some cases dictated public policy.

But, after Watergate, we made a serious effort to clean up the political process.  There were caps on spending.  People had to disclose the sources of their contributions, but over the last 30 years, there have been gaping loopholes in these rules.

And so now we have essentially returned to the pre-Watergate era of big money and great secrecy.  And this is also taking place at a time when the news media are much weaker.  And so the oversight organizations are having a difficult time keeping track of all the money.

INDIA - Pride Over First Mission to Mars

"Indians beam with pride over successful — and cheap — Mars mission – Part 1" PBS NewsHour 9/24/2014

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now let’s turn to a space story that captured the world’s attention today, as India claims a triumph in its first mission to Mars.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Cheers erupted at the Indian Space Research Organization on word that the satellite named Mangalyaan, or Mars craft, had swung into Mars orbit.

Journalist Pallava Bagla was at mission control in Bangalore, and spoke with us via Google Hangout.

PALLAVA BAGLA:  When it emerged from behind Mars and 12 minutes later the signal came that the main rocket engine had its stopped firing, oh, my God, I have never seen such happy faces in India.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  India joins the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and the European Union as the only ones to land a spacecraft on the Red Planet or place one in orbit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

NARENDRA MODI, Prime Minister, India:  History has been created today.  We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The Indians pulled it off on the first try for just $75 million, less than it cost to make “Gravity,” the Oscar-winning blockbuster movie.  But there have been debates over whether the money could be better spent in a country where millions live in wrenching poverty.

BRINDA ADIGE, Director, Global Concerns India:  At one end of the spectrum, so much of money that is being spent to send a rocket out into outer space, when we know that here on Earth, in my country, there are children dying every day because they have no food to eat.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Still, the success in space proved inspirational for many, including schoolchildren who arrived in class early to watch the TV coverage.

STUDENT:  It is a very big achievement for India.  I mean, we are feeling very proud to be Indians, proud to be born in a country who can do anything.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  India’s satellite followed close behind the U.S. MAVEN orbiter, which arrived at Mars on Sunday.

BRUCE JAKOSKY, Principal Investigator, MAVEN:  We are on orbit of Mars, guys.

(LAUGHTER)

BRUCE JAKOSKY:  And we have taken 11 years to get here, and now we get to do the science that we have been planning for all this time.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  MAVEN cost nearly 10 times that of India’s satellite, but their missions are similar, to examine how the planet went from warm and wet to cold and dry.


"India’s low-budget space program may offer lesson for U.S. – Part 2" PBS NewsHour 9/24/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  India’s successful first mission to Mars is a major accomplishment for that nation, in both scientific and budgetary terms.  To understand the historic feat, India’s space program and where it fits into the American exploration of Mars, science correspondent Miles O’Brien joins Hari Sreenivasan.

BIG OIL- Rigging Wages

Greed at its 'best.'

"For Oil and Gas Companies, Rigging Seems to Involve Wages, Too" by Naveena Sadasivam, ProPublica 9/25/2014

Excerpt

U.S. Department of Labor investigations have uncovered hundreds of cases in which oil and gas workers, many involved in dangerous jobs, are being cheated of earnings.

A ProPublica review of U.S. Department of Labor investigations shows that oil and gas workers – men and women often performing high-risk jobs – are routinely being underpaid, and the companies hiring them often are using accounting techniques to deny workers benefits such as medical leave or unemployment insurance.

The DOL investigations have centered on what is known as worker "misclassification," an accounting gambit whereby companies treat full time employees as independent contractors paid hourly wages, and then fail to make good on their obligations.  The technique, investigators and experts say, has become ever more common as small companies seek to gain contracts in an intensely competitive market by holding labor costs down.

In the complex, rapidly expanding oil and gas industry, much of the day to day work done on oil rigs and gas wells is sub-contracted out to smaller companies.  For instance, on one gas rig alone, the operator might hire one company to construct the well pad, another to drill the well, a third company to provide hydraulic fracking services and yet another to truck water and chemicals for disposal.

But for the thousands of workers in the hundreds of different companies, a single standard is supposed to apply;  by law, they must be paid more than minimum wage and they must be fairly compensated for any overtime accrued.

In 2012, the DOL began a special enforcement initiative in its Northeast and Southwest regional offices targeting the fracking industry and its supporting industries.  As of August this year, the agency has conducted 435 investigations resulting in over $13 million in back wages found due for more than 9,100 workers.  ProPublica obtained data for 350 of those cases from the agency.  In over a fifth of the investigations, companies in violation paid more than $10,000 in back wages.

One of those companies was Morco Geological Services, a company providing mud logging services for other oil and gas drilling companies.  In 2013, the DOL found that Morco was paying some workers $75 daily for working virtually round-the-clock shifts.  The company eventually agreed to pay $595,737 in back wages to 121 workers following the DOL's investigation.  In another significant case, Hutco, a company providing labor services to the oil and gas industry, ended up paying $1.9 million to 2,267 employees assigned to work in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

"The problem of misclassification has become pervasive," said Dr. David Weil, a former economics professor at Boston University who today heads the DOL's Wage and Hour Division.  "Employers are looking for opportunities in a changing business landscape at the employee's expenses to cut corners as much as possible, leaving room for wage and hour violations."

Over the last decade, the oil and gas industry has seen tremendous growth.  Between 2007 and 2012, when average employment in all U.S. industries fell by 2.7 percent, employment in the oil and gas industry increased by over 30 percent.  According to research conducted by Annette Bernhardt, a scholar on low-wage work, 84 percent of workers in the oil, gas and mining industry were employed by contractors in 2012.

At the same time, the industry has also seen an increase in fatalities and injuries on the job.  There is, so far, no evidence to suggest that these accidents are a result of inadequate training or overworked laborers.  But accounts from other industries that heavily outsource work suggest those risks could be present.

For example, a 2012 investigation by ProPublica and PBS Frontline showed that cell phone carriers often contract out the dangerous job of climbing towers to smaller firms, which don't provide the necessary training and equipment to climbers.  As a result, the death rate was 10 times higher among cell tower climbers than other construction workers.

Between December 2009 and November 2011, Troy Bearden worked on gas rigs in Pennsylvania and Colorado for Precision Air Drilling Services, a company that provides labor services for oil and gas exploration around the country.  During that time period, Bearden worked an average of 12 hours a day, seven days a week, unloading and hooking up drilling equipment and maintaining it during operation.

Bearden was a full time employee of Precision Air Drilling, but the company classified him as exempt from the federal overtime statute, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and did not pay him time and a half for his overtime hours.

In 2011, Bearden and other workers filed a class action lawsuit against the company.  Precision Air Drilling settled for $500,000.

"We know that the oil and gas industry has a reputation of paying high wages, but the economic reality often is they receive large paychecks because of the number of hours they're putting in," said Betty Campbell, the Deputy Regional Administrator for the Wage and Hour Division’s Southwest Region.

WALL STREET - New York Fed Culture Clash

"Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash" by Jake Bernstein, ProPublica 9/26/2014

Excerpt

A confidential report and a fired examiner’s hidden recorder penetrate the cloistered world of Wall Street’s top regulator—and its history of deference to banks.

Barely a year removed from the devastation of the 2008 financial crisis, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York faced a crossroads.  Congress had set its sights on reform.  The biggest banks in the nation had shown that their failure could threaten the entire financial system. Lawmakers wanted new safeguards.

The Federal Reserve, and, by dint of its location off Wall Street, the New York Fed, was the logical choice to head the effort.  Except it had failed miserably in catching the meltdown.

New York Fed President William Dudley had to answer two questions quickly:  Why had his institution blown it, and how could it do better?  So he called in an outsider, a Columbia University finance professor named David Beim, and granted him unlimited access to investigate.  In exchange, the results would remain secret.

After interviews with dozens of New York Fed employees, Beim learned something that surprised even him.  The most daunting obstacle the New York Fed faced in overseeing the nation's biggest financial institutions was its own culture.  The New York Fed had become too risk-averse and deferential to the banks it supervised.  Its examiners feared contradicting bosses, who too often forced their findings into an institutional consensus that watered down much of what they did.

The report didn't only highlight problems. Beim provided a path forward.  He urged the New York Fed to hire expert examiners who were unafraid to speak up and then encourage them to do so.  It was essential, he said, to preventing the next crisis.

A year later, Congress gave the Federal Reserve even more oversight authority.  And the New York Fed started hiring specialized examiners to station inside the too-big-to fail institutions, those that posed the most risk to the financial system.

One of the expert examiners it chose was Carmen Segarra.

Segarra appeared to be exactly what Beim ordered.  Passionate and direct, schooled in the Ivy League and at the Sorbonne, she was a lawyer with more than 13 years of experience in compliance – the specialty of helping banks satisfy rules and regulations.  The New York Fed placed her inside one of the biggest and, at the time, most controversial banks in the country, Goldman Sachs.

It did not go well.  She was fired after only seven months.

As ProPublica reported last year, Segarra sued the New York Fed and her bosses, claiming she was retaliated against for refusing to back down from a negative finding about Goldman Sachs.  A judge threw out the case this year without ruling on the merits, saying the facts didn't fit the statute under which she sued.

At the bottom of a document filed in the case, however, her lawyer disclosed a stunning fact:  Segarra had made a series of audio recordings while at the New York Fed.  Worried about what she was witnessing, Segarra wanted a record in case events were disputed.  So she had purchased a tiny recorder at the Spy Store and began capturing what took place at Goldman and with her bosses.

Segarra ultimately recorded about 46 hours of meetings and conversations with her colleagues.  Many of these events document key moments leading to her firing.  But against the backdrop of the Beim report, they also offer an intimate study of the New York Fed's culture at a pivotal moment in its effort to become a more forceful financial supervisor.  Fed deliberations, confidential by regulation, rarely become public.

The recordings make clear that some of the cultural obstacles Beim outlined in his report persisted almost three years after he handed his report to Dudley.  They portray a New York Fed that is at times reluctant to push hard against Goldman and struggling to define its authority while integrating Segarra and a new corps of expert examiners into a reorganized supervisory scheme.

Segarra became a polarizing personality inside the New York Fed — and a problem for her bosses — in part because she was too outspoken and direct about the issues she saw at both Goldman and the Fed.  Some colleagues found her abrasive and complained.  Her unwillingness to conform set her on a collision course with higher-ups at the New York Fed and, ultimately, led to her undoing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

SCIENCE - The New Frontier of Biohacking

"Hackers breach biology to transform life into building material" PBS NewsHour 9/23/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Imagine a world where mushrooms can be turned into furniture, algae can be used to conduct electricity, and glowing plants can replace streetlights.  Those are examples of what’s become known as biohacking, a diverse movement that is gathering steam, converts and controversy.

NewsHour” special correspondent Spencer Michels explains.

SPENCER MICHELS (NewsHour):  In private and university labs, students and volunteers are messing with biology.  They are engaged in what’s become known as biohacking.

Stanford bioengineering Professor DREW ENDY:

DREW ENDY, Stanford University:  Hacking is a positive term, and it means learning about stuff by building, and trying to make things and seeing what happens.

SPENCER MICHELS:  That’s what they’re doing at Berkeley BioLabs.  Biohackers here are delving into biological systems, trying to figure out how the DNA in plants is controlled, how to build an inexpensive photometer for biological research, and how to use algae to make batteries.

MAN:  You’re not making electricity.  You’re storing electricity that you can recover later.

SPENCER MICHELS:  This is one of a growing number of biohacking locations, mostly off campus, where biology has become a citizen sport, a place where anyone with or without training can do hands-on biology, and perhaps change the world.

It is a new, less formal way of practicing biology than in many university or commercial labs.

Ron Shigeta, a Ph.D., chemist and biologist, co-founded the lab a year ago.

WAR ON ISIS - U.S. and Arab Partnership

"U.S. and Arab partners begin air war against Islamic State in Syria – Part 1" PBS NewsHour 9/23/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The air war against Islamic State forces has now moved into Syria.  Bombs and missiles rained down on targets there overnight.  Another group was also hit to avert a possible attack on the United States itself.

In all, the more than 200 airstrikes included bombing from U.S. carrier-based aircraft, as well as sorties from regional Arab nations, plus nearly 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. Navy vessels, all aimed at more than a dozen locations across Northern Syria.

They included Islamic State training camps and other facilities in Raqqa and also in Hasakah, Deir el-Zour, and hard by the Iraq border at Abu Kamal.

As he left the White House this morning, President Obama said the aerial assault made a vital point.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We were joined in this action by our friends and partners — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar.  The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Separately, on its own, the U.S. hit a group called Khorasan, an organization of veteran al-Qaida operatives.  Eight airstrikes hit near Aleppo, where the Khorasan militants are linked with the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s principal Syria franchise.

Pentagon leaders said the strikes were successful.  The top operations officer for the Joint Chiefs, Lieutenant General William Mayville, said the Aleppo attacks aimed to disrupt an active plot.



"How do airstrikes on Islamic State complicate the war in Syria? – Part 3" PBS NewsHour 9/23/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Judy Woodruff gets analysis of how the airstrikes will complicate an already complicated war in Syria from Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma and retired Col. Derek Harvey of the University of South Florida.

WALL STREET - Climate Change Protests

"Protesters converge on Wall Street to call attention to climate change" PBS NewsHour 9/22/2014

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  More than 100 world leaders are gathering at the U.N. tomorrow to discuss the impact of climate change and to try to move toward new agreement.  But potential action from governments or even a lack of it is only part of the story.

Major voices in business, philanthropy, science and the environmental movement are announcing their own initiatives this week, hoping to mobilize public attention.  Hundreds of activists poured onto the streets of New York’s Financial District, snarling downtown traffic to protest capitalism’s role in climate change.

ANANDA LEE TAN, Spokesman, Climate Justice Alliance:  Wall Street invests in all the polluting, wasteful, toxic, destructive and extractive industries that are causing this crisis.  Wall Street itself profits from the destruction of this planet and its human and natural resources. So we have to stop them.

GWEN IFILL:  A short distance away, Secretary of State John Kerry lent his weight to the cause, opening what organizers are calling climate week.  He underlined findings that 2013 saw the largest single-year increase in carbon pollution in 20 years.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  It doesn’t cost more to deal with climate change.  It costs more to ignore it and to put our head in the sand and continue down this road of obfuscation and avoidance.  And we need to make that clear to people in this country.

GWEN IFILL:  All of this followed a much larger worldwide protests on Sunday.  Hundreds of thousands of activists took to the streets of Manhattan.  They were joined by Hollywood celebrities and by former Vice President Al Gore, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General, United Nations:  If we do not take action now, we will have to pay much more.  They have raised their voice.  They have shown their power to change the mind-set of people.

GWEN IFILL:  There were also marches in London, Paris, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, and Melbourne, Australia.  The protests coincide with tomorrow’s U.N. climate summit.

At the same time, activists got a boost from philanthropists who vowed to stop investing in climate-warming fossil fuels like coal and oil.  The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, built on the family’s oil fortune, was the largest organization to announce it’s dropping such investments from its portfolio.


"What’s the financial case for divesting from fossil fuels?" PBS NewsHour 9/22/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Sixty-seven foundations with $50 billion in assets have so far pledged to divest their investments in fossil fuels over the next five years.  Gwen Ifill sits down with Jenna Nicholas of Divest-Invest Philanthropy, who advised the foundations, to discuss the financial and social ramifications of this environmental campaign.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MARS - NASA's Maven Spacecraft

"Man on Mars? NASA’s Maven spacecraft explores the possibility" PBS NewsHour 9/21/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Later tonight the NASA MAVEN spacecraft is expected to complete a 10-month voyage to Mars.

Once it’s placed into orbit, NASA scientists plan to gather information about the red planet’s atmosphere — information they hope will offer clues about our own planet’s climate.  For more on the mission significance, yesterday I spoke with the NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien.

Why are space nuts, Mars nerds, all so excited for Sunday night?

MILES O’BRIEN (NewsHour):  Well this is all part of the big tapestry, if you will, of laying the ground work for one day putting human boots on Mars — we hope.  You just don’t fly off in a rocket and land there.  You need to learn about the soil, the ground.

And in this case, the atmosphere.  One of the big questions, the overriding questions, which trouble scientists and which has a lot to do about future exploration of Mars, is, what happened to the planet over the past 3 billion years?

It used to be warm and wet and now it’s awfully dry and awfully cold.  What happened along the way?  Understanding what’s going on in the fringes of the atmosphere, which is what MAVEN will do, will help scientists understand what happened.

Did the solar wind kind of blow the atmosphere away?  Was that a part of what happened to this planet as it went through kind of the ultimate climate change.

SPORTS - Should Pro Athletes be Role Models?

"Should pro athletes be considered role models?  Students weigh in." PBS NewsHour 9/20/2014

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  By a two-to-one margin, Americans disapprove of the way the NFL has handled domestic violence incidents involving its players, this according to a poll conducted by ABC News and Marist college.

Earlier this week the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs team asked high school students for their reactions to the Ray Rice incident and others like it, they also asked if professional athletes should be considered role models.

VICTORIA DAVILA:  When I saw that video of Ray Rice, I actually, somebody sent me the video and I watched it and I think the right word was like appalled.

MAXWELL PIUS:  My reaction when I saw Ray Rice lay his hands on his fiancĂ©e it was shocking.

THOMAS WILKERSON:   Being an athlete, we look up to these guys and unfortunately the role they play it puts a huge target on them to be good role models.

You know not only on and off the field, kind of makes you wonder you know are these guys that are being put in the spotlight worth being looking up to.

KAYCEE ARASE:  No matter who you are, I think any type of violence, anything that a regular person should do, you should also get punished no matter if you’re the president of the United States, if you’re a quarterback for the NFL, if you’re a kid like us, there are consequences to whatever you do.

MARIYAH ESPINOZA:  Unfortunately society gives the impression that athletes do need to be role models, however, this does become tricky for athletes because they need to learn how to balance their personal life from their sports life.

RAMY AHMED:  Professional athletes definitely have an obligation to act as role models if you are playing on every Sunday on national television and people watch you then they begin to look up to you.

And whether you like it, or not you have to act like a role model.

DONETHE CYPRIEN:  At the end of the day they’re not the ones who interact with your children.  It’s you, it’s teachers, it’s everyone else so sort of putting the blame on the public figures, maybe people should look at themselves first.

OPINION - Brooks and Dionne 9/19/2014

"Brooks and Dionne on ground troop debate, Hillary’s chances of running" PBS NewsHour 9/19/2014

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including conflict over President Obama’s strategy to rule out the possibility of using ground troops against the Islamic State, what Hillary Clinton’s visit to Iowa says about her likelihood of running for president and who has the momentum ahead of November elections.

UTAH - Public Lands and Extreme Sports

"Should public lands be a natural setting for extreme sports?" PBS NewsHour 9/19/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to the second in our two-part look at land disputes in the American West.

Last night, Jeffrey Brown looked at a fight between local residents and the federal government over closing down a canyon rich in archaeological treasures to motorized vehicles.

Tonight, Jeff has the story of a very different split over how to enjoy and experience the natural beauty.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Stretch a high-tech nylon line some 400 feet above a canyon near Moab, Utah.

HAYLEY ASHBURN:  Do you want to tighten it before we walk?

SCOTT ROGERS:  It’s really tight, actually.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Strap on a harness.

SCOTT ROGERS:  I’m going to go barefoot.  I like feeling the line between my toes.

JEFFREY BROWN:  And step out into the air.

HAYLEY ASHBURN:  Whew!

JEFFREY BROWN:  It’s called highlining, done on public lands, a perfectly legal activity that most of us, including your correspondent, who stayed far back from cliff’s edge, would never dream of undertaking.

HAYLEY ASHBURN:  I’m always a little bit nervous no matter how many I do.

JEFFREY BROWN:  But Hayley Ashburn and Scott Rogers, members of a group called the Moab Monkeys, do this sort of thing several times a week.

SCOTLAND - Vote's In, Will Remain Part of British United Kingdom

"Scotland says ‘no thanks’ to independence" PBS NewsHour 9/19/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Well, the votes are in and the no’s have it.  Polls had flip-flopped in recent weeks, but in the end, Scotland’s residents decided to stay in their 307-year-old union with the United Kingdom.

A dreary mist shrouded the Scottish capital of Edinburgh this morning, matching the moods of 1.6 million people who’d voted for independence, only to see it lose.

CHERYL BURGAR, Yes Scotland supporter:  It shows that still there are a lot of people in Scotland that didn’t want that.  It’s not like — it’s not a landslide vote.  So we think that’s a good thing overall, even if it is still no, because it’s going to show that we’re not — we’re not all happy with the way things are.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The official announcement came in the early morning hours.

MARY PITCAITHLY, Chief Consulting Officer, Scotland:  The majority of valid votes cast yesterday by the people of Scotland in response to the referendum question, should Scotland be an independent country, were in favor of no.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

Friday, September 19, 2014

AUSTRALIA - Monitoring ISIS Supporters

"How Australia is monitoring Islamic State supporters inside their borders" PBS NewsHour 9/18/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  A short time ago, I spoke via Skype to Sydney-based journalist Stuart Cohen, who’s been covering the story and the ongoing politics investigation.

Stuart Cohen, thank you for talking with us.

What evidence, first of all, did police have before they arrested these suspects?

STUART COHEN, Freelance Journalist:  Well, obviously, as with any sort of intelligence operation, they’re playing their cards very close to the vest.

But one thing that they did let out was that the raids that took place in Sydney were based on an intercepted phone call between that senior ISIS militant, that senior Australian ISIS militant that Tony Abbott mentioned in the piece before, and Omarjan Azari, who was the 22 year old who is the only person that has actually been charged in these arrests so far.

So that’s the one piece of intelligence that they did let slip, that they had intercepted a phone call, and that was what sort of put this whole operation in motion, realizing that they were close to possibly carrying out these attacks.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And what made them think that these individuals were actually going to carry them out?

STUART COHEN:  Well, they have been having these people under surveillance for a while.  That’s the best that the police would say.  They have been watching these people.

Obviously, they had reason ever since the terror alert was raised last week to high, which means that the terror alert is now — or a terror attack is now likely in Australia, they have been putting some increased scrutiny on people.  They know where the radical Islamic element is in Sydney, and they keep a lot of these people under surveillance.  And they figured the time was right.

It was time to get in there and start making arrests before the worst thing could happen and they could carry out some sort of an attack.

AMERICAN WORKER- Why the Struggle to Share Prosperity

"Why the typical worker is struggling to share U.S. prosperity" PBS NewsHour 9/18/2014

Excerpts

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The U.S. Census Bureau has been releasing a lot of new data this week on income, poverty and economic growth.  Much of it, unfortunately, confirms again what many Americans already know and deal with on a day-to-day basis.  That is that real incomes are not moving up appreciably.

The country’s median household income in 2013 was $51,939, up $180 from the year before, but still below where it was prior to the great recession.  There was some good news.  The official poverty rate fell slightly to 14.5 percent.  And it was the largest drop in child poverty in a single year since the 1960s.  The growth in family household incomes was also better than for households with singles or roommates.

Sheldon Danziger is the president of the Russell Sage Foundation, which closely studies these issues.

And, Sheldon Danziger, welcome to the NewsHour.

Let me start by asking you, as we said, some good news along with the bad news.  Why don’t you explain the good news first?

SHELDON DANZIGER, Russell Sage Foundation:  Well, the good news is that the economy is recovering slowly.

As you mentioned, poverty has declined somewhat.  There is an increase in the number of people working full-time full-year.  And, clearly, those are good signs the unemployment rate has been falling.

But, again, the bad news is, prosperity is no longer widely shared when the economy grows.  And so the typical family, whether we’re talking about earnings of full-time workers or the household incomes of families are no better than they were before the recession, and it’s been almost 15 years with not much progress for the middle- and lower-income groups.
----
JUDY WOODRUFF:  Another thing I was struck by is that you told us, you said, we’re living in an economy where a rising tide no longer lifts all boats.

SHELDON DANZIGER:  That’s correct.

And in the great American boom, which lasted from the end of World War II to the early ’70s, everyone, whether it was the factory worker, the factory manager or the corporation owner, did very well.  And real income, that is incomes adjusted for inflation, across the distribution rose rapidly and pretty much in unison.

That was a period of rapidly declining poverty and slightly falling inequality.  And, unfortunately, we now live in a world in which the global economy and the U.S. economy are very different.

UTAH - Protests in Federal Land Dispute

"Utah archaeological site becomes protest site in federal land dispute" PBS NewsHour 9/18/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  A battle over the question of local control vs. federal power is playing out in the Western U.S. once again, and this time, it involves a prized Native American archaeological site.

It’s happening in Utah, where federal prosecutors filed criminal charges of conspiracy yesterday against five men who organized an illegal all-terrain vehicle ride into a canyon closed to motorized vehicles.  Seven years ago, federal land managers closed the canyon to ATVs and the like to protect it.  Since that time, the dispute has come to stand for a much larger fight.

Jeffrey Brown visited the canyon and the protest organizers for his series Culture at Risk.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It’s called Recapture Canyon, 28 miles of rocky cliffs, juniper trees and wildlife in southeast Utah.

And for hundreds of years, beginning around 500 A.D., it was home to a large Native American Pueblo population.

So how many people would have lived in a place like this?

JODY PATTERSON, Archaeologist:  In a structure like, you would have probably had an extended family, 10, 12, maybe up to 15 people.

MIDEAST - Arab World vs ISIS

"What role should Mideast countries play in Islamic State fight?" PBS NewsHour 9/18/2014

Excerpt

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Joining me now to explore that is former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.  He’s now a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace and author of “The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism.”   Robin Wright is a journalist and author who has reported extensively on the Arab world and neighboring Iran.  She’s also a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center.  And Nader Hashemi is director for the Center for Mideast Studies at the University of Denver.

Marwan, I want to start with you.

This week, the Obama administration has been laying out the case to try and drum up support for the U.S. plan against the Islamic State.  How much support is there in Jordan, where you are?

MARWAN MUASHER, Former Foreign Minister, Jordan:  There’s a lot of support in Jordan against, you know, ISIS.  That doesn’t mean, of course, again boots on the ground in the case of the Jordanians, but it will mean a lot of intelligence support, a lot of logistical support, a lot of support that we have seen before, when Jordan cooperated with the Americans against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the predecessor of I.S. in Iraq in 2007.

So, you can expect much of that support again.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Nader Hashemi, what’s your take on the people and the leaders in the Middle East and how much they support the U.S. plan?

NADER HASHEMI, University of Denver:  Well, I think one always has the make that distinction between the people and the leaders of the Middle East, because what the people want is not always reflected in sort of official elite position.

I think there’s, you know, always the back drop of the legacy of external intervention, the legacy of colonialism, and more recently the legacy of the disaster of the Iraq war.  People, I think, are very feared of a repeat in — of that scenario playing itself out if this intervention goes badly wrong.

And there is also, I think, just the general sort of uncertainty and lack of clarity in terms of what Obama’s long-term strategy for the region is, because he seems to have been sending signals in recent years that he really wasn’t interested in investing any time and attention in the Middle East.  He wanted to pivot to Asia.  He wanted to reduce the American footprint, all for very good reasons.

And then his whole strategy with respect to the bloodletting and the disaster in Syria has raised a lot of questions just about where Obama stands, what his grand strategy is.  So, I think there’s a lot of sort of deep concern, both at the popular level and also at the governmental level, with respect to what comes next.

POLICING - Plan to Rebuild Trust Between Communities and Police

"Justice Department aims to rebuild trust in police with community engagement initiative" PBS NewsHour 9/18/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  When Ferguson, Missouri, erupted after the police-involved shooting of an unarmed black teenager, the rift between the town and its protectors was laid bare.  Ferguson is not the only community forced to bridge that chasm.

Today, the Justice Department announced a nearly $5 million plan, the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, designed to better train police departments against bias and examine law enforcement procedures.  The approach is known as community policing.

We are joined by two people who have studied it for years.

Tracie Keesee is the co-founder of the UCLA Center for Policing Equity, which is receiving some of the Justice Department funding.  She’s also a 25-year police veteran.  And Ronald Hampton, former executive director of the National Black Police Association and for more than two decades a community relations office for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C.  He now teaches criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia.

Welcome to you both.

Tracie Keesee, today, the attorney general said that the goal of this new initiative is to ensure fairness, eliminate bias and build community engagement.  You were there today at that announcement.  Maybe you can tell us what exactly that means.

TRACIE KEESEE, Center for Policing Equity:  Well, what it means is that the consortium that they have put together under the initiative, under the initiative, will look at and work with five different cities to actually enact and evaluate those five things that he’s pointed out.

PHILIPPINES - Debate Over GMO Golden Rice

"GMO debate grows over golden rice in the Philippines" PBS NewsHour 9/17/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Researchers believe they have found a way to add critical nutrients to rice, a dietary staple in countries like the Philippines.  But those changes tap directly into concerns over genetically modified food.

Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has a look at the high stakes in this fight.

One note for eagle-eyed viewers:  Miles shot this story earlier this year, before he lost his left arm in an accident.

MILES O’BRIEN (NewsHour):  He may not be happy about it, but this megadose of vitamin A might save his vision or maybe his life.  Vitamin A deficiency is a pervasive and silent killer of malnourished children and pregnant mothers in the Third World.

Each year, at least a half-million children and a few hundred thousand women go blind or die for lack of this crucial micronutrient.   The best sources of vitamin A, meats and leafy vegetable, expensive and often unavailable, are rarely part of the daily diet here.

That’s why people here in the Philippines are working to add vitamin A to the daily staple, rice.  But the rice they’re meticulously breeding has become the gold standard for a heated debate over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

IOWA - Election Fever Already in Full Boil

"Why Iowa’s Senate race is one of the closest in the nation" PBS NewsHour 9/16/2014

Excerpt

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  A quick look at the calendar reminds us that today is just seven weeks away from this year’s midterm elections, when voters across the country will be deciding ballot issues and choosing state and local officeholders and members of Congress.

With control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs, I headed to Iowa this past weekend, the site of one of the closest contests in the nation.

If you love college football, the place to be in Iowa this past weekend was Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, as they hosted the Iowa State Cyclones.  The beer flowed freely, and over 100,000 exuberant fans jostled, ready to cheer or jeer at the slightest provocation.

It’s the biggest and oldest rivalry in this state, and it played out as another, newer rivalry is reaching a full boil; the contest for the open U.S. Senate seat here being vacated by 30-year Democratic veteran Tom Harkin.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It’s a battle between four-term Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst, until just a few months ago a little-known Republican state senator from a town of just over 5,000, who splashed onto the political scene earlier this year with a TV ad touting her experience growing up on an Iowa farm:

JONI ERNST, Iowa Republican Senate Candidate:  I’m Joni Ernst.  I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm.  So when I get to Washington, I will know how to cut pork.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Another TV spot stressed how comfortable the National Guard lieutenant colonel, who served in Iraq, is shooting a gun.

NARRATOR:  Joni doesn’t miss much.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  All this endeared her to conservative voters, who catapulted her to an impressive 56 percent win in a field of five Republicans.

Since her primary victory in early June, however, she has put less emphasis on her strong anti-abortion and gun rights views and reworded the slogan on her Web site, “Mother, Soldier, Conservative,” to “Mother, Soldier, Independent Leader.”

Ernst herself, an Iowa state grad who said she was staying neutral on this big game day, downplays the change in tone.

A VOICE OF COURAGE - Malala, Why She Risked Death to Support Girls' Education

"Malala explains why she risked death to speak up for girls’ education" PBS NewsHour 9/16/2014

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JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Finally tonight, a different take on education.  It comes from Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education.

She has since become an international figure.  Her story has inspired children all over the world.

We invited our Student Reporting Labs to submit questions for Malala.  And, when she visited New York recently, Hari Sreenivasan put them to her.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Malala Yousafzai, first, we’re going to have you listen and react to some reporter questions. Student Reporting Labs has generated these questions out in the field.

EMILY VARNADORE, York Comprehensive High School, South Carolina:  Hi.  My name is Emily from York Comprehensive High School.  My question for you is, when do you think your battle for education for all will finally be won?

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, she says when will your battle for education for all be won?  You have a simple dream.  When will that be accomplished?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI, Author:  When dreams do come true — and, in our history, we have seen that 100 years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote, but now they’re able to vote and they have achieved their — this right.

And long ago, people were struggling for the rights of black people, so that they can vote as well, and they are respected in society.  And it’s getting better every day. And now we see that there were dreams in the past, and now they are becoming a reality.  So I’m hopeful that the dreams which I have now to see every child going to school, to see equal rights for women, I think, soon, in future, if you continue the struggle, if you work hard, then I will see those dreams becoming a reality.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Here’s Jeff Love of the Philip’s Academy.

JEFFREY LOVE, Philip’s Academy Charter School, New Jersey:  Malala, why did you continue to speak out for women’s education, even though you knew you could be killed?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI:  It’s a very good question.

So, when I was in Swat Valley, at that time, there were more than 400 schools destroyed.  And women were flogged, because we’re not allowed to go to school.  And, at that time, I had really two options.  One was to remain silent and wait to be killed.  And then the second was to speak up and then be killed.

And I chose the second one, because I didn’t want to face the terrorism forever.  And I wanted to come out of the terrible situation.  And I wanted to go to school. It was my love for education that encouraged me to continue the campaign.  So, I think, in hard times, we need to raise up our voice.  Otherwise, we will have to live in that terrible situation forever.

HEALTH - 50% of U.S. Adults at Risk Due to Dibetes

"Study finds half of U.S. adults at risk for health problems related to elevated blood sugar" PBS NewsHour 9/15/2014

This issue pertains to me, I have Type 2 Diabetes.  There is one thing doctors and health care providers could do; perform the A1C blood test at least annually for everyone under 60yrs, and every six months for seniors.

The A1C blood test provides a 6mth snapshot of your blood sugar levels.

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  We have talked frequently about the growing burden of diabetes.  But new data show the picture is more sobering than ever.  A recent study found the risk for some cancers, such as those in the breast, liver, pancreas or stomach, is 15 percent higher if a person has higher-than-normal blood sugar, a condition often referred to as pre-diabetes.

And the Centers for Disease Control is reporting that one out of three Americans over the age of 20, or 85 million people, have pre-diabetes.  Another 29 million already have diabetes, which would put half of the U.S. adult population at risk of developing serious health problems.

Dr. David Nathan is director of the Diabetes Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.  He joins me now.

Dr. Nathan, what explains this kind of increase over just a decade, an increase of 27 percent?

DR. DAVID NATHAN, Director, Diabetes Center at Massachusetts General hospital:  Well, we have been seeing this increase not just in the past decade, but over even the past several decades.

And it seems to be attributable almost entirely to the co-epidemic, if you will, of obesity and overweight.  So, now in the U.S., for example, 35 percent of the population is overweight, and another 35 percent is actually obese.  And obesity and overweight, as well as sedentary lifestyle, are the major risk factors for the development of diabetes.

GWEN IFILL:  Let’s make the distinction between type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.  How often does one lead to the other?

DR. DAVID NATHAN:  Well, so pre-diabetes is a term that we invented a number of years ago, and it’s meant to capture those persons who are at average-than-average or at very high risk for developing diabetes.

The term is a bit unfortunate, because not everyone with pre-diabetes actually develops diabetes, but approximately 50 percent we think go on to develop diabetes over time.

ISIS - Regional Allies in the Fight?

"Can U.S. mobilize regional allies to fight Islamic State?" PBS NewsHour 9/15/2014

Excerpt

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The debate over crafting a coalition moves next to Congress, when Secretary of State Kerry testifies at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

So, how much support is the U.S. getting for its coalition?

For answers, we turn to retired Colonel Derek Harvey.  He was an intelligence officer and special adviser to General David Petraeus, and he is now director of the Global Initiative on Civil Society and Conflict at the University of South Florida.  And Steven Simon, he was senior director for Middle Eastern and North African affairs on the National Security Council staff from 2011 to 2012.  He’s now a senior fellow at the Middle East institute.

Thank you both for joining us.

Colonel Harvey, how well is this coalition that we keep talking about coming together, from your lights?

COL. DEREK HARVEY (RET.), Former Army intelligence officer:  Well, I think it’s too early to tell at the moment, but there are major concerns.

I applaud the efforts to hold the conference in Paris.  And the right things are being said.  But, given that, moving beyond that, the coalition is going to be required to actually do some heavy lifting.  And the test will be in the substantive and meaningful actions by coalition members, contributing in the kinetic realm, as well as just contributing verbally and with information campaigns and some legal mechanisms to diminish recruitment.

And that means an Arab country or countries need to get out front and be there in the kinetic operations, and not just offer in-kind assistance, air refueling, intelligence support, basing.  They need to be participants in this, because it can’t be the Westerners doing this alone.

GWEN IFILL:  Steven Simon, do you see that happening, the involvement from the Arab countries that Derek Harvey is talking about?

STEVEN SIMON, Former National Security Council staff:  Well, I think it is going to be an uphill battle for Washington.

Secretary Kerry has approached it with his customary energy, but I think the president has given him a very hard job.  The Arab states whose cooperation we’re seeking are mostly concerned about unseating Assad in Syria.

They’re concerned about regime change there.  They’re not so concerned, I think, about defeating ISIL, or ISIS.  They have got — they have got their goal, and they have been maneuvering toward that goal for several years now, fighting essentially a proxy war in Syria against Assad.

So what the United States is asking them to do, really, is to shift gears and change direction in a fairly major way.  Now, I don’t think it’s an impossible battle in terms of air support.  I mean, real kinetic, as Derek Harvey put it, kinetic support for U.S. operations from the United Arab Emirates and perhaps from Saudi Arabia.

But the Saudis seemed very focused on providing arm-and-train help for the fight against ISIS.  The UAE has staged air operations, and they staged them rather far from the United Arab Emirates, as far away as Libya.  So it’s quite possible they would join the United States in these kinetic attacks, in the air attacks that we’re talking about, but I think these will take a while to arrange.

These are complicated things to work out, to harmonize.  The United States needs to work with these other countries on divisions of labor, on deconfliction, on the specific signals, so that the two sides can tell who’s friend and who is foe.  There are a lot of technical issues that need to be — that need to be sorted through.  And I think that that is all going to take time.