Wednesday, April 29, 2015

POLICING - Rage and Distrust

"Tracing rage and distrust in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood" PBS NewsHour 4/28/2015


SUMMARY:  In Baltimore, 25-year-old Freddie Gray's videotaped arrest and death has exposed a crisis long in the making.  In the poor, high-crime neighborhood where Gray lived -- and others like it in the city -- a history of mass arrests and harsh tactics employed by police have alienated residents, and worse.  Special correspondent Jackie Judd reports.

JACKIE JUDD (NewsHour):  Baltimore often lives up to its nickname of Charm City. But after a week of peaceful protests, Baltimore is now showing itself to be an angry and volatile city.

MAN:  Baltimore, we don’t have a good relationship with the police.  They whipped our ass every day.  This is nothing new to Baltimore.

JACKIE JUDD:  Freddie Gray’s videotaped arrest April 12, and his death a week later from a severe spinal cord injury, has exposed a crisis long in the making.

The city’s police commissioner, Anthony Batts, acknowledged that broken relationship in a remarkably candid interview.

ANTHONY BATTS, Commissioner, Baltimore Police Department:  Where we thought we were doing God’s work, where we’re going out trying to make the community safer, we have made mass arrests, we have locked people up, we have taken people to jail in numbers, and we have obliterated this community.

JACKIE JUDD:  If there is a ground zero, it is here where Gray lived, Sandtown in West Baltimore, pockmarked by vacant buildings struggling with higher-than-average unemployment and poverty and a robust heroin market. It is a place empty of what usually constitutes a neighborhood.

There are no grocery stores, no banks, no restaurants, but plentiful liquor stores, a place seemingly without a future for its young men and women.

Ray Kelly had run-ins with local police as a young man and is now a community activist.

RAY KELLY, No Boundaries Coalition:  You’re dealing with a population here trying to eat, trying to survive.  And it’s not really about black or white in this country.  Right now, it’s about survival.

"Should government play a role in addressing root causes of Baltimore’s upheaval?" PBS NewsHour 4/28/2015


SUMMARY:  At the White House, President Obama condemned the violence in Baltimore and called for reflection on systemic troubles driving the anger.  Gwen Ifill sits down with Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina -- where another police department came under fire recently for the death of a black man -- to discuss increasing police transparency and improving prospects for struggling communities.

SUPREME COURT - Gay Marriage

IMHO:  As my readers may ascertain from past post on this subject...
  • Same-sex (gay) marriage is a Human Right, the right of personal relationships between any consenting adults
  • It IS a matter of Equal Rights under the law
  • Protection from having ANY religious-based belief being imposed on others by using the law of the land
"Supreme Court considers whether it’s time for nationwide same-sex marriage" PBS NewsHour 4/28/2015


SUMMARY:  Today the Supreme Court tackled a highly anticipated and historic case that could set the definition of marriage in the U.S.  The justices heard arguments on whether all states must allow same-sex marriage, and if not, whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.  Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what happened in court.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  It was a historic day at the Supreme Court, at stake, the definition of marriage.

Justices split the issue into two questions:  Must every state permit same-sex marriage?  And, if not, do states have to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere?

Protesters from both sides of the debate crowded outside the court building in Washington this morning.

Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal was there and she joins us now.

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:  Hi, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, Marcia, big day at the court. Knowing that, what is it, 36 of the states…

MARCIA COYLE:  Plus the District of Columbia.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  … already declare same-sex marriage legal, what were the petitioners today asking the court to decide?

MARCIA COYLE:  Well, basically, they’re laying claim to the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process of law.

They’re saying that the court has recognized that there is a fundamental right to marry, and under the 14th Amendment, they have been — they deserve to be part and to participate in that fundamental right.

The states that still do ban same-sex marriage, they claim, are excluding them from that fundamental right to marry.  It was a packed courtroom, Judy, and the arguments were fast-paced and intense.  And I hope anybody who is interested will listen to the full audio and read the transcript.

(Full Audio and Transcripts) Obergefell v. Hodges; Docket Number: 14-556-Question-1, Docket Number: 14-556-Question-2

Monday, April 27, 2015

INTERNET - Bringing it to Deprived Homes

"How New York is bringing Internet-deprived homes out of the digital dark" PBS NewsHour 4/25/2015


SUMMARY:  There are more than 730,000 homes in New York City without broadband access.  And because the Internet today is the gateway to everything from education to the economy, the city is trying to bring those families out of the digital dark.  But Internet access requires more than a connection for cash-strapped families.  It has to be affordable, too.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Two years ago Karen been never had to walk to get someplace.  She owned a car.  She also had a corporate job in Atlanta and a house with a pool in the backyard.  But today this single mother of two boys is unemployed and on the job hunt in New York City.  They moved here for a better life but quickly ran out of money.  And the one thing she needs right now to get back on her feet is what most of us take for granted.

KAREN BEEN:  I feel that the internet will definitely be a catalyst in me getting out of the situation we are in.  If you are looking for a job they want me to go online and fill out an application.  There is no more hardcopies when it comes to resumes.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But it’s difficult for been to go online and send out her resume.  She can’t afford the monthly internet bill, which costs around 60 dollars a month in New York City.  So after school, the three make a beeline for the library.  Been’s 11 year old son Ishan Siddiqui rushes to finish his homework before the library closes.

ISHAN SIDDIQUI:  It was kind of difficult because sometimes in class I didn’t understand something and I wanted to go on the computer but I couldn’t go on it so I couldn’t research what I wanted to.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The Been family is one of 730 thousand households in New York that does not have internet in the home.  The city says it’s doing its part to pull New Yorkers out of the digital dark, but it takes more than just having an internet connection.  That connection has to be affordable too.

TECHNOLOGY - Israel's Water Technology

"Could Israel’s water technology ease drought conditions in California?" PBS NewsHour 4/25/2015


SUMMARY:  Could the technology used in Israel that successfully turned the country's water shortage into a surplus be implemented in California to ease the state's drought?  KQED Public Media reporter Daniel Potter joins Alison Stewart via Skype from San Francisco to discuss.

ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  Keeping Israel’s successful plan in mind, we wondered if or how Israel’s water technology, especially its use of desalination, could be put to use in drought-stricken California.

For more about that now, we are joined now from San Francisco by Daniel Potter.  He is a reporter for KQED Science.

So, Daniel, it’s sort of obvious.  People look and think, well, California’s is obviously right next to the Pacific Ocean.  Why isn’t desalination a bigger part of the conversation about the drought?  Why isn’t it?

DANIEL POTTER, KQED:  I think the short answer is because desalination is a really — setting up a desalination plant is a very long-term process.  It requires a lot of permitting and a huge amount of investment.  So, setting up a desalination plant, a lot of people I have talked to have said there is a good chance that plant would not be finished until long after the drought ended.

ALISON STEWART:  Are there desalination plant working, in progress in California?  I know there are a couple that are in the process of being constructed, correct?

DANIEL POTTER:  There are a few tiny ones that already exist and that are desalinating presently.  The biggest one is in Carlsbad.  It’s set to come on line probably this fall, and when it’s ready it will produce something like 7 percent of the water for San Diego County.  That project is on the order of something like $900 million or maybe $1 billion.

"Will Israel’s new water technology yield political gain in the arid Middle East?" PBS NewsHour 4/26/2015


SUMMARY:  Over the past few years in Israel, the country's water shortage has become a surplus.  Through a combination of conservation, reuse and desalination, the country now has more water than it needs.  And that could translate to political progress for the country in the Middle East, one of the most water-stressed regions in the world.  NewsHour's Martin Fletcher reports.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 4/24/2015

"Shields and Brooks on accidental drone deaths, Clinton money questions" PBS NewsHour 4/24/2015


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the accidental drone deaths of two hostages in Pakistan, questions about the Clinton Foundation and potential conflicts of interest, plus which Republican 2016 contenders are gaining traction.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  So, the story we started out with tonight, David, that broke yesterday about two hostages killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, all sorts of second-guessing, third-guessing about this.  Does the Obama administration need to rethink or get rid of this drone strike policy?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  I don’t think they should rethink it because of this.

When you have a drone policy, when you go to war, friendly-fire and accidents and tragedies are just endemic in the nature of the fog of war.  In World War II, there was something called the Allerona train bombing, where American bombers accidentally killed 400 American POWs and British and South African POWs that were in Nazi control.

It was an accident.  These sorts of things happen in these sorts of circumstances.  And so the fact that two people were tragic — two innocents were tragically killed is what we should have expected, I think, and what we did expect.  War is never perfect.

So, you know, I don’t think it should be cause for us to reevaluate.  I think the fundamental issue that is worth reevaluating all the time is the equation between how we’re setting back al-Qaida or are we inciting others to join ISIS?  And that’s a legitimate issue.  I don’t know the answer to it.  But it seems like that’s the big issue here.

The fact that a tragedy — a completely foreseeable tragedy happened that’s endemic in the nature of this sort of business happened doesn’t seem to me a cause to rethink.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Time to reevaluate, rethink?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  I don’t think we have ever evaluated a thought about drones, quite frankly, Judy.

This is a perfect weapon for a 12-year war without any coherent explanation and without any conclusion to it.  It’s a war, as James — General James Mattis, the former CENTCOM commander, pointed out recently in a speech, the only war since the American Revolution we have fought without a draft and we have fought it with tax cuts.

So, this is a great weapon because it removes the war.  The war has been fought only by 1 percent of Americans, suffered only by 1 percent of Americans.  And this takes all the carnage and all the killing.  Is it effective, is it surgical, is it precise?  By all those definitions, it’s a rather remarkable device.

But it spares us from ever seeing dead people, from ever seeing the wailing of the orphan, of the widow.  And I think there’s — in a responsible democracy, there has to be debate and there has to be accountability, and there hasn’t been.

The president has accepted responsibility, as he should.  But he says there’s going to be an investigation.  We don’t know what it’s about.  And I think there are serious questions about whether, in fact, in the — with hundreds of civilian deaths acknowledged over the use of drones, that whether in fact it has been an incredible recruitment device for ISIS and for al-Qaida.


Well, I would say, what are their alternatives?   It seems to me there are four alternatives.  One, we don’t do anything, and we allow al-Qaida to have safe haven in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  That seems to me hardly a great option.  The second is, we have bombing campaigns with conventional bombs.  That seems to me much messier.

The third is, we send in special forces.  And this isn’t Hollywood.  You are not going to send in six people.  You’re going to send in hundreds of people.  And they’re scared, and they’re doing massive assaults.  It seems to me you’re going to have more casualties.  Or drones.  It seems to me, of these horrible options, drones is the least bad option.

MARK SHIELDS:  I just — I really do think that this comes back to we have not had a debate about what we are doing there and what we ought to be doing.

If there is a commitment, a true commitment on the part of the nation, it isn’t something that’s just done like a video game.  It is something that does, should involve the American people, not only in the debate, but in some sense of commitment as to what we’re about.

There has been no debate on this war.  It’s just been turning it over to the President.  And I think liberals have to acknowledge that, under a liberal Democratic President, that the number of drone attacks has increased dramatically.  And we have become reliant upon it and we have resorted to it.  It’s become the default means of United States military engagement in a very, very difficult area.

TURKEY - Government Spin-Doctors on 'Genocide'

"Why Turkey doesn’t use the word ‘genocide’ for Armenia" PBS NewsHour 4/24/2015


SUMMARY:  The Turkish government has rejected the term “genocide” to describe the mass killing of Armenians 100 years ago, a stance that has sparked criticism and protest.  For two perspectives on the history and meaning today, Jeffrey Brown talks to Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Hrach Gregorian of American University.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Some perspective now on history and today.

Hrach Gregorian is an adjunct professor at American University and president of the Institute of World Affairs, a nonprofit organization that focuses on conflict analysis and post-conflict peace-building.  And Soner Cagaptay is the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  He’s the author of the recent book “The Rise of Turkey:  The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power.”

Welcome to both of you.

Let me start with you, Hrach Gregorian.

1915, I just want to fill in a little bit of the history.  The Ottoman Empire is collapsing.  What led specifically to the killing of so many Armenians?

HRACH GREGORIAN, American University:  Well, I think there was a general feeling that the Armenians were not to be trusted.

And even before that, there was a policy of Turkification by the young Turks dating back to 1908.  And the Armenians were viewed as a threat to Turkish identity and Turkish security.  And there were orders to rid the country of the community.

JEFFREY BROWN:  For Turks, this history is tied to the creation — the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Turkish state.


"How Barney Frank used government to fight inequality" PBS NewsHour 4/23/2015


SUMMARY:  For more than half a century, Barney Frank was one of America's loudest voices for progressive policies, both financial and social.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman spends a day in Boston with the famous former lawmaker and financial reformer to discuss his new memoir, “Frank:  A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage.”

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Next, a profile of a crusading voice on financial reform who also became a public figure in the debate over gay rights.

It’s the story of former Congressman Barney Frank, son of a mob-connected New Jersey father.  He went on to Harvard and to volunteer as a Freedom Rider in Mississippi.  His public and private story, including his long tenure as a lawmaker, is the subject of his new autobiography.

Economics correspondent Paul Solman caught up with him in Boston for tonight’s installment of Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  For 32 years, perhaps the country’s most controversial, quick-witted congressman, Barney Frank, now improbably lolling in semi-retirement.

But for almost half-a-century, his was one of the America’s loudest voices for progressive policies, both economic and social, a devotee of using government to help redress inequality.

His new autobiography sums up his half-a-century of effort, and the two stunning surprises of his long career, the revolution in attitudes toward government and sexuality.

So, you start out, government in high repute, homosexuality…

FORMER REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), Massachusetts:  In low repute.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Contemptible.


PAUL SOLMAN:  And now it’s the other way around.

BARNEY FRANK:  Well, as I have said, by the time I retired in 2012, my marriage to my husband, Jim, got a much better public response than my chairmanship of the committee that wrote the financial reform bill.

PAUL SOLMAN:  When Frank began his political career here at Boston City Hall, it was unheard of to be openly gay.  So, he remained in the closet, a bright-eyed Harvard-schooled reformist assistant to Boston Mayor Kevin White in 1968.  His government goals?

SEXUAL IDENTITY - The Quite Revolution

"The quiet revolution behind the word ‘transgender’" PBS NewsHour 4/23/2015


SUMMARY:  Alex Myers grew up as Alice, a girl, in rural Maine.  In the mid-'90s, during the summer between junior and senior years at boarding school, Myers came out as transgender, starting the process of embracing his true gender identity.  Once the first transgender graduate of Harvard University, today Myers, a writer and professor, takes his story to high school and college campuses.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now we turn to the first in an occasional series on changing attitudes about being transgender in America.

A new survey from the Human Rights Campaign shows more Americans, 22 percent, say they know or personally work with a transgender person.  That’s up 17 percent from a year ago.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story of one person’s transition and his efforts to change thinking and perceptions.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The soccer fields at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut turned into an outdoor classroom of sorts this past Sunday.  High schoolers from area boarding schools gathered for the fifth annual conference on Sexual Minorities and Straight Supporters, or SMASS.

ALEX MYERS, Author, “Revolutionary”:  It’s really nice to see that written into the rule book and to see the words like gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender students at Choate.  It’s like, oh, they exist.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Alex Myers was one of the speakers.  He’s the first conference presenter to be transgender, and he uses his life story as a way of educating others about transgender issues.

POLICING - Reform in Philadelphia?

"Can police reform happen in Philadelphia?" PBS NewsHour 4/22/2015


SUMMARY:  Last December, Brandon Tate-Brown was killed by Philadelphia police after being pulled over for driving with his headlights off.  His family is not alone in their pain -- there have been 394 shootings involving the police in Philadelphia since 2007.  Despite efforts to review and reform police training and transparency, the changes are far from reality at this point. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The death of a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, in Baltimore is the most recent in a string of stories spotlighting use of force by police.

Many cities across the country are trying to improve relations between police and the citizens they protect.  In Philadelphia, a recent Justice Department report found nearly once a week over the past eight years Philadelphia police opened fire on suspects, who are almost always African-American.

Hari Sreenivasan has more.

TANYA BROWN-DICKERSON, Mother of Brandon Tate-Brown:  On December 15, 2014, I was going to work.  I got to work a little late.  I got there, I want to say 6:26.  And I was getting ready to cut my car off.  And I heard a black male, on the radio, a black male, 26 years old, gunned down by police at the 6600 block of Frankford Avenue, driving a white Dodge Charger.

So when I heard that, unfortunately, I knew that it was my son.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Last December, Tanya Brown’s son Brandon Tate-Brown had been killed, shot by Philadelphia polices, after being pulled over for driving with his headlights off.

TANYA BROWN-DICKERSON:  To know that my son suffered like that and that I wasn’t there to protect him or lay my body on him, and them probably kill me too, it breaks my heart.  I’m his mother.  And I couldn’t do nothing to help him.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Tanya Brown is not alone in her pain.  There have been 394 shootings involving the Philadelphia police since 2007.  In many years, the department saw more police shootings than New York City, a city that is five times its size.

STUDENTS - Whistleblowers Prevent Shooting

"These student whistleblowers spoke up to prevent a shooting" PBS NewsHour 4/22/2015


SUMMARY:  One year ago, two students in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, began sharing plans to gun down their classmates.  They may have gotten away with it had it not been for a group of students who alerted school authorities.  Young journalists from NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs look at the actions of the whistleblowers that led to the arrest of the potential shooters.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This month we have been bring you stories from high school students around the country reporting on how the concept of school safety is evolving.

Tonight, we travel to the town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where a potential attack by students was foiled one year ago.

As part of our ongoing Student Reporting Labs series called The New Safe, student television network correspondent Nick Weiss investigates what inspired a handful of brave students to take action.

NICOLE MALINOSKI, Principal, Cedar Crest High School:  You know, the first thing I do when I wake up every morning is think about the safety and security of all students here.  It’s actually even before education, just because of school safety, how it’s been in the media and, unfortunately, you know, things that have happened over the last number of years.

I was actually out of the building the day that this occurred and I received a text message from Ms. May, who’s an assistant principal here.  She asked me if I could call ASAP.  She had something very important to discuss with me.

NICARAGUA - China's Threat to South American Environment

"Mega canal project threatens to uproot Nicaragua’s farmers, imperil wetlands" PBS NewsHour 4/22/2015


SUMMARY:  A Chinese-financed shipping canal in the works to connect Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast to the Caribbean would dwarf Panama’s famous waterway.  But while Nicaraguan officials say the project will create much-needed jobs, human rights advocates and environmental groups are protesting the construction.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the controversy.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (NewsHour):  They came by the busload.  They piled into cattle trucks.  They came by horse and mule from miles around for a rally that likely tripled the population of the dusty little town of Los Chiles.

At stake was Nicaragua’s sovereignty, they chanted, sold to the Chinese.  The object of their protest is a shipping canal to be built by a Chinese company.  As described in this video dubbed from Chinese into Spanish for Nicaraguans, it would stretch 170 miles across the country to connect its Pacific coast to the Caribbean and thus the Atlantic.

It’s not a new idea.  The Americans once considered it.  This map from 1870 shows a proposed route for a shipping shortcut between the Earth’s hemispheres.  In the end, the U.S. Congress opted to build in Panama.

Nicaragua’s waterway will dwarf the Panama Canal, three times as long and twice as deep.  Cost estimates range from $50 billion to $100 billion.

BILL WILD, HKND Group:  It is by far the largest earth-moving project ever attempted in the world.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  The project’s chief engineer is Bill Wild, an Australian veteran of many big builds, but nothing approaching this one.

BILL WILD:  There will be two large port facilities, one at either end of the project, hydroelectric schemes, and a number of other parts of the project.  So, overall, it’s an incredibly exciting and large and challenging engineering project.

AFGHANISTAN - Book Highlights Elite Band of Female U.S. Soldiers

"The sister soldiers who assisted Special Ops in Afghanistan" PBS NewsHour 4/22/2015


SUMMARY:  In Afghanistan, an elite band of female U.S. soldiers were deployed on risky night raids with one of the toughest special operations units.  Margaret Warner talks to Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who recounts their story in her book, “Ashley’s War.”

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next, the newest addition to the NewsHour bookshelf, women in war.

They were an elite band of sister soldiers deployed on insurgent-targeting night raids with one of the toughest special operations units in Afghanistan, the Army Rangers.  Their story is recounted in “Ashley’s War,” a new book by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

Margaret Warner recently talked with Lemmon at Busboys and Poets, a bookstore in the Washington area.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Gayle Lemmon, welcome.

You profile some remarkable women in this book, but first explain what the theory was behind creating these all-female teams that went out on some of the riskiest missions in the Afghan war.

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, Author, “Ashley’s War”:  They were the cultural support teams, which were created to fill a security breach, which is that American soldiers could not go into quarters that were inhabited by women.  Right?

So, to have a sense of what was happening in the women’s rooms and among women and children, you really needed female soldiers.  And so, in 2010, Admiral Olson, who was then the head of Special Operations Command, had this idea.  A little bit later, Admiral McRaven, then running Joint Special Operations Command, actually says, we need these female out there with the Ranger regiment and the other special operations teams.

And by the start of 2011, there was a recruiting poster that said, female soldiers, be part of history.  You know, come support special operations on the battlefield.

KENTUCKY - Great Bourbon Theft

aka 'Making Al Capon Proud'

"Crime ring busted for stealing valuable Kentucky bourbon" PBS NewsHour 4/22/2015


SUMMARY:  In 2013, 200 bottles of valuable Pappy Van Winkle bourbon whiskey were stolen from a locked and secure distillery in Kentucky.  On Tuesday, authorities said they found a bourbon crime ring connected with the heist; nine people were indicted for taking more than $100,000 worth of whiskey, including the Van Winkle.  Jeffrey Brown learns more about the case from Sheriff Pat Melton of Franklin County.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  For some time now, bourbon has been back with a boom.  Domestic whiskey sales are up 40 percent in the past five years.  Some high-end brands, like one called Pappy Van Winkle, can fetch big money, up to $1,000 or $2,000 a bottle or more, depending on its age.

And as prices rose, there was also a bourbon heist in Kentucky that authorities have been trying to solve that has now attracted national attention.

Yesterday, a big crack in the case.

Jeffrey Brown explains.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):   Call it the case of the missing cases.  It goes back at least to 2008 and included a 2013 high-profile theft of some 200 bottles of the much-valued Pappy Van Winkle from a locked and supposedly secure distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.  Those bottles had an estimated retail value of $25,000.

Yesterday, authorities said it was an inside job, part of an organized crime ring, and indicted nine people for stealing more than $100,000 worth of whiskey overall.

Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton has been pursuing this case and joins us now from Louisville.

So, Sheriff Melton, an inside job.  How do you steal so much bourbon for so long?

PAT MELTON, Sheriff, Franklin County:  Well, obviously, Toby Curtsinger as a senior employee of Buffalo Trace distillery.  Sean — Searcy was a senior employee of Wild Turkey distillery.  They both had the access to where the bourbon is stored and both worked on loading docks and in transporting moving the bourbon.

So it was actually — you know, you trust your employees.  And they had the opportunity to do it.  And I think it was a continued pattern of behavior.  That’s why we invited them for working with our commonwealth attorney’s office, Larry Cleveland and Zach Becker.  We indicted them for engaging in organized crime.

IRAQ - Fleeing and Fighting ISIS

"Fleeing and fighting Islamic State forces in Anbar province" PBS NewsHour 4/21/2015


SUMMARY:  After being driven out of Tikrit, the Islamic State has renewed its push into Western Anbar province.  The government in Baghdad is wary of letting in fleeing families, seeing displaced people from IS strongholds as security risks.  Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are preparing for a tough battle in Garma.  Special correspondent Jane Arraf reports.

JANE ARRAF (NewsHour):  The latest wave of Iraqis fleeing the Islamic State group.  This time, it’s in the Sunni heartland of al-Anbar province.

Driven out of Tikrit, the group, also known as ISIS, has made a renewed push into western Anbar province and its capital, Ramadi.  These families are the tip of a huge humanitarian crisis, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in Iraq’s biggest province forced out by the conflict, joining two million Iraqis already displaced.

Fatima has moved three times since she left her home in Haditha in western al-Anbar last year, always just one step ahead of the fighting.

FATIMA MAHMOUD AWADH (through interpreter):  They were striking us with rockets.  There were explosions in the houses.  There were houses being hit during the airstrikes at night.  Finally, we had to leave.

JANE ARRAF:  The Iraqi government sees these people as a potential security risk.  ISIS has controlled large parts of Anbar for most of the year, and the government is wary of letting in people from ISIS strongholds.

These people have managed to flee Ramadi and the ISIS onslaught.  But they’re not safe yet.  To actually get to Baghdad, they have to prove that they have a sponsor to vouch for them.  The problem is that some of these families have now moved three and four times, and they have run out of relatives to stay with.

When we met him, this Ramadi resident had been waiting here for two days in the hope someone would sponsor him.  The government later said it would allow families to enter without a sponsor, but it would keep out young single men.

Um Ibrahim saw two of her sons married just two days ago.  The wedding party took place in a prefabricated trailer.  She says tribal leaders and the Iraqi government have abandoned them.

“This is the only thing we ever got from them,” she says, holding up a piece of chocolate.  “I’m going to save it as a souvenir.”

The Interior Ministry says it is concerned that ISIS operatives could be hiding among displaced people.  In Baghdad, the Interior Ministry paraded the latest ISIS suspects.  These, they say, have confessed to attacks against security forces and involvement in a bomb-making ring.

U.S. SENATE - Human Trafficking vs Confirmation of Loretta Lynch

"Was the human trafficking compromise worth delaying vote on Loretta Lynch?" PBS NewsHour 4/21/2015


SUMMARY:  Senate negotiators struck a deal to tweak the human trafficking bill that has held up the confirmation proceedings for President Obama's nominee for U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch.  The holdup was due to an unrelated fight over access to abortion for human trafficking victims.  Gwen Ifill talks to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., about the deal and the delay.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  It took more than five months, but Senate negotiators finally came to agreement on the bill that had blocked Loretta Lynch’s path to confirmation as President Obama’s second Attorney General.

The hitch appeared in an entirely unrelated fight over access to abortion for victims of human trafficking.

MAN:  Mr. President?  The majority leader.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Word of the deal came first thing this morning, on the Senate floor, from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader:  I’m glad we can now say there is a bipartisan proposal that will allow us to complete action on this important legislation, so we can provide help to the victims who desperately need it.

GWEN IFILL:  The agreement also means the Senate will likely vote, McConnell said, in the next day or so on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.

That was welcome news to Minority Leader Harry Reid.

SEN. HARRY REID, Minority Leader:  Let’s get out — get rid of this quickly.  Let’s get Loretta Lynch confirmed quickly and move on to other matters.

GWEN IFILL:  The human trafficking bill and the nomination had been blocked for months.  Initially, there was bipartisan backing for the bill that sets up a fund for victims of trafficking.  But an impasse developed when Democrats objected to language that would expand prohibitions on abortion funding.

Republicans, in turn, insisted they wouldn’t take up the Lynch nomination until the human trafficking bill passed.  Today’s deal tweaks the abortion language in a way that both sides say they can accept.  It also comes several days after President Obama blasted the delay of the Lynch nomination.

MEDIA - Comcast Time Warner Cable Behemoth Dead

"Why Comcast Walked Away" by Leticia Miranda, ProPublica 4/23/2015

A Comcast Time Warner Cable behemoth could have spelled trouble for consumers and online innovators.

Update, April 24, 2015:  This story has been updated to reflect Comcast's official announcement that the merger has been terminated.

Today, Comcast announced that the company is walking away from its proposed $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.  Comcast had recently met with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.  The deal had been troubled for weeks.

The Justice Department and FCC had reason to carefully evaluate the merger, which was first announced in Feb. 2014 and had been expected at the time to be completed by the end of 2014 or early 2015.  If the two companies had joined, they would have controlled just under 30 percent of the country’s pay TV market and, by one measure, roughly 57 percent of the broadband Internet market (Comcast put the figure at 35 percent).

Comcast’s argument that the merger would have minimal competitive harm seems to have unraveled.  Here’s some of what could have gone wrong.

TV program stifling

Comcast is already the largest video and TV service distributor in the country, according to the Leichtman Research Group.  With a wider geographic footprint, it could have used its weight to push out competition on TV airwaves, according to critics of the merger.  In fact, it already has.  Comcast refused to carry Univision’s sports network, Deportes Univision, one of the largest sports networks in the country and a competitor to Telemundo, which is owned by NBCUniversal and Comcast.  Randy Falco, Univision’s CEO, said in an earnings call in Apr. 2014 just after the merger was proposed that he feared “this type of anticompetitive conduct would continue."  Comcast responded by saying it “has had an extraordinary, long-standing commitment to Hispanic programming,” adding through its merger with Time Warner Cable it is “committed to bringing high-quality Hispanic content to millions of additional Americans.”  Just five months later, Comcast announced that it would offer Univision Deportes to its Xfinity TV subscribers in certain urban Latino markets.

John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge, expressed concerned that these practices would expand if Comcast merged with Time Warner Cable, bringing the combined company the ability to reach 33 million cable subscribers.  “In a world of lots of smaller video distributors, no one of them has the ability to single-handedly dictate terms like that since a video programmer could walk away,” he wrote in an email.

Monopoly on broadband Internet service

Aside from TV, Comcast would have a number of mechanisms to squeeze out online companies.  A typical household requires at least 25 mbps of Internet speed to go about their daily online routines.  That might include watching an HD video over Netflix while also posting pictures to Instagram as another person in the home works on their laptop.  Comcast and Time Warner Cable are two of the country’s major providers of broadband service of this speed.  If they were to merge, there would be few other Internet service providers that could compete, leaving many content companies like Google’s YouTube with only one option to reach their subscribers, according to FCC filings by opponents of the merger.  In this scenario, a merged Comcast/Time Warner Cable behemoth could leverage its interconnection points, which is where services like YouTube connect to stream video to their customers.  Comcast could keep YouTube from offering services over its network, degrade their traffic or charge them a high fee to connect to Comcast customers.  DISH Network wrote to the FCC that such chokeholds “over the broadband pipe would stifle future video competition and innovation, all to the detriment of consumers,” adding that the merger would consolidate “too much power in the hands of too few.”  Comcast argued that it would “bring significant benefits to Time Warner Cable customers, including higher Internet speeds and greater reliability.”

More broken promises

Comcast agreed to conditions to facilitate past mergers, but its record of complying with them raised concerns among critics.  The FCC slapped several conditions onto its approval of Comcast’s 2011 merger with NBCUniversal.  For one thing, the agency required Comcast to “visibly offer and actively market standalone retail broadband Internet access service.”  But just a year later an FCC investigation found that the company was not visibly marketing the standalone service and required it to pay a $800,000 fine and extend the service offer for another year.  Comcast also defied what are called “neighboring” conditions.  Bloomberg complained to the FCC that Comcast placed Bloomberg TV in the outer dial away from most other business networks and its own channel, CNBC, in the lower dial with other business news where viewers would be more likely to come upon it.  Comcast argued that the condition only applied to future news neighborhoods, not channels that existed prior to its merger.  The FCC ruled against Comcast and ordered it to place Bloomberg TV in its neighborhood lineup of business news.  Even then, Comcast said this was “not a compliance issue, it’s an interpretive issue.”  Comcast also violated its own voluntary agreement to respect the FCC’s 2010 net neutrality rules.  In February 2014, Comcast was found slowing Netflix traffic over its network which pressured Netflix into a paid agreement to ensure its traffic reached its customers at a normal speed.  David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, said at a telecommunications summit three months later that paid prioritization for traffic was completely legal.  “Whatever it is,” he said.  “We are allowed to do it.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

EARTH DAY - Patent Potential, Changing the World

"He Holds the Patent that Could Destroy Monsanto and Change the World" by Jason, PRNFM 4/15/2015

If there’s anything you read – or share – let this be it.  The content of this article has potential to radically shift the world in a variety of positive ways.

And as Monsanto would love for this article to not go viral, all we can ask is that you share, share, share the information being presented so that it can reach as many people as possible.

In 2006, a patent was granted to a man named Paul Stamets.  Though Paul is the world’s leading mycologist, his patent has received very little attention and exposure.  Why is that?  Stated by executives in the pesticide industry, this patent represents “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed.”  And when the executives say disruptive, they are referring to it being disruptive to the chemical pesticides industry.

What has Paul discovered?  The mycologist has figured out how to use mother nature’s own creations to keep insects from destroying crops.  It’s what is being called SMART pesticides.  These pesticides provide safe & nearly permanent solution for controlling over 200,000 species of insects – and all thanks to the ‘magic’ of mushrooms.

Paul does this by taking entomopathogenic Fungi (fungi that destroys insects) and morphs it so it does not produce spores.  In turn, this actually attracts the insects who then eat and turn into fungi from the inside out!

This patent has potential to revolutionize the way humans grow crops – if it can be allowed to reach mass exposure.

Read more

EARTH DAY - An Apology to the Future

"Fox News & Sarah Palin Denounced In Stunning Earth Day Video" by Leslie Salzillo, Daily KOS 4/22/2015

In this visually beautiful and mesmerizing piece, 27 year-old Prince Ea apologies to future generations for what we are doing, and not doing, to the planet today.  The six-minute video contains so many great thought-provoking quotes, it's bound to be shared for many years.  So far, in less than 48 hours, his video has garnered over 35 million views on Facebook.

Here are some excerpts:

"Dear Future Generations, I think I speak for the rest of us when I say, 'Sorry.'  Sorry that we left you with a mess of a planet.  Sorry that we were so caught up in our own doings - to do something."

"Let me tell you, trees are amazing.  We literally breathe the air they are creating.  They clean up our pollution, our carbon, store and purify our water, give us medicine that cures our disease, food that feeds us…"

"I'm sorry that we put profits above people, greed above need, the rule of gold above the Golden Rule.  I'm sorry we used nature as a credit card with no spending limit…"

The majority of the video focuses on what we as a people are doing to hurt the environment and what we as a people can do differently.  Interestingly, Prince Ea chooses to zero in on the 'environmentally-challenged' Fox News and Sarah Palin, and he basically shames them.

"Hey Fox News, If you don't think climate change is a threat, I dare you to interview the thousands of homeless people in Bangladesh.  See while you were in your penthouse nestled, their homes were literally washed away beneath their feet due to the rising sea levels."

"And Sarah Palin.  You said you loved the smell of fossil fuels.  Well, I urge you to talk to the kids of Beijing who are forced to wear pollution masks just to go to school."

He goes on for a minute or two more apologizing to the future, stops the music, and then makes a incredibly proactive quote.

"Cut the beat."

"I'm not sorry.  This future, I do not accept it.  Because an error does not become a mistake, until you refuse to correct it."

Here is the video:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


"Rapid Rise in Super PACs Dominated by Single Donors" by Robert Faturechi and Jonathan Stray, ProPublica 4/20/2015

Super PACs that get nearly all of their money from one donor quadrupled their share of overall fund-raising in 2014.

The wealthiest Americans can fly on their own jets, live in gated compounds and watch movies in their own theaters.

More of them also are walling off their political contributions from other big and small players.

A growing number of political committees known as Super PACs have become instruments of single donors, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal records.  During the 2014 election cycle, $113 million – 16 percent of money raised by all super PACs – went to committees dominated by one donor.  That was quadruple their 2012 share.

The rise of single-donor groups is a new example of how changes in campaign finance law are giving outsized influence to a handful of funders.

The trend may continue into 2016.  Last week, National Review reported that Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination would be boosted not by one anointed Super PAC but four, each controlled by a single donor or donor family.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling helped usher in the era of super PACs.  Unlike traditional political action committees, the independent groups can accept donations of any dollar size as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaign of any candidate.  Previously, much of the focus in big-money fundraising was on “bundlers” -- volunteers who tap friends and associates for maximum individual contributions of $5,400 to a candidate, then deliver big lump sums directly to the campaigns.  Former president George W. Bush awarded his most prolific bundlers special titles such as “Ranger” and “Pioneer.”

While bundling intensified the impact of wealthy donors on campaigns, the dollar limits and the need to join with others diluted the influence of any one person.  With a Super PAC, a donor can single-handedly push a narrower agenda.  Last year, National Journal profiled one such donor – a California vineyard owner who helped start the trend by launching his own Super PAC and becoming a power player in a Senate race across the country.

Beyond the single-donor groups, big donations are dominant across all kinds of Super PACs, according to the analysis.  Six-figure contributions from individuals or organizations accounted for almost 50 percent of all Super PAC money raised during the last two cycles.

“We are anointing an aristocracy that’s getting a stronger and stronger grip on democracy,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the influence of money on politics.

ProPublica’s analysis identified 59 Super PACs that received at least 80 percent of their funding from one individual during the 2014 cycle.  They raised a total of $113 million, compared with the $33 million raised by the 34 such groups that existed in 2012.

Donors who launch their own PACs are seeking more control over how their money is spent.  And many have complained about the commissions that fundraising consultants take off the top of their donations to outside groups.  But the move carries risks if the patron is new to the arena.

(see table at bottom)

In one cautionary tale, a reclusive 89-year-old Texas oilman with no political experience launched Vote2ReduceDebt, one of the nation’s highest-spending conservative Super PACs.  A ProPublica investigation found that much of the donor’s millions went to entities run by the group’s consultants or their close associates.  The Super PAC imploded as principals traded allegations including self-dealing, faked campaign events and a plot to siphon the PAC’s money to a reality TV show.

Bill Burton, a former Obama administration official who helped found Priorities USA, the juggernaut Super PAC affiliated with the president’s reelection campaign, said he expects donors to face more problems if they continue to go it alone.

“One of two things is going to happen,” he said.  “We will either see widespread flaunting of coordination rules or we will see some pretty spectacular failures to the tune of millions of dollars.”

The single-donor Super PACs identified by ProPublica span the political spectrum.  Among the top conservative donors were Richard Uihlein, a packaging supplies businessman, and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.  Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg spent heavily on both sides but leaned Democrat.  Hedge fund titan Tom Steyer dominated on the left.

In 2012 the largest single-donor Super PAC was former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Ricketts’ Ending Spending Action Fund, which raised over $14 million, 89 percent of which came from Ricketts.  It was the ninth-largest Super PAC by spending.  In 2014 Steyer’s Nextgen Climate Action was the largest Super PAC, raising almost $78 million, 85 percent from Steyer.  (Steyer’s wife, Kat Taylor, is a member of ProPublica’s board of directors, and the couple has donated to ProPublica.)

In addition to the Super PACs dominated by a single individual, dozens more received the great majority of their funding from one corporation, labor group or advocacy organization.  In 2014, those PACs represented 8.6 percent of super-PAC fundraising.

PACs dominated by one donor could run afoul of disclosure laws, according to Larry Noble, the former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission.  Under the rules, political ads must include disclosures about who funded them.  Noble said election law would require groups funded by one person to list that donor’s name, not just the name of the PAC – though he couldn’t recall the FEC addressing such a case.

Naming the Super PAC instead of the donor in the ad, Noble said, also allows the groups to delay disclosing where their money comes from until the next FEC filing date – potentially weeks after the ad runs.

“It defeats the purpose of the law to allow someone to hide behind a Super PAC if they are the only funder,” Noble said.

“They want to make it more authoritative, like there’s more support.  It looks better to say the ad is from Americans for Good Government than from John Smith…  That just makes a mockery of the law.”

Top Single-Donor PACs in 2014

Super PAC Largest Donor Contributions Lean $ raised from largest donor % raised from largest donor
NextGen Climate Action Committee Thomas Steyer Democrat $66,900,000 86%
Independence USA PAC Michael Bloomberg Democrat $17,431,931 100%
Vote 2 Reduce Debt (V2RD) Kenneth Davis Jr. Republican $2,892,526 97%
Values Are Vital Ronald Firman Republican $2,148,300 80%
CE Action Committee Thomas Steyer Democrat $1,825,000 92%
Liberty Principles PAC Inc* Richard Uihlein Republican $1,780,000 100%
Americans For Progressive Action Thomas Jordan Republican $1,700,000 100%
Americans For Common Sense (AFCS) Angelo Tsakopoulos Republican $1,347,000 98%
American Principles Fund Sean Fieler Republican $1,138,724 84%
CounterPAC Jim Greer Republican $852,123 91%
Americas PAC Richard Uihlein Republican $670,000 89%
New Hampshire Priorities Peter Taul Republican $562,000 88%
American Alliance Sheldon Adelson Republican $500,000 86%
Our America Fund Richard Uihlein Republican $500,000 97%
Character Counts Political Action Committee Gary Davis Republican $445,000 100%
Space PAC Martine Rothblatt Democrat $425,000 99%
Kansans For Responsible Government Willis Hartman Republican $285,100 97%
Protect The Harvest Political Action Committee Forrest Lucas Democrat $250,000 94%
US Jobs Council Robert Mercer Republican $200,000 91%
Spirit Of Democracy America Charles Munger Jr. Republican $149,375 82%

* Uihlein provided virtually all funding eligible for federal races during the 2014 cycle.  Liberty Principles received significant contributions from other donors for state and local races in Illinois, which was the group's focus.
Source:  ProPublica analysis

Monday, April 20, 2015

IN PICTURES - Humor and Beauty

UKRAINE - U.S. Trainers

Russia, "waaaaa, someone is playing in my sandbox."  Of course the world is supposed to ignore the Russian 'trainers' and Russian tanks, etc, now in Eastern Ukraine.

"U.S. troops are in Ukraine for training and the Kremlin isn’t happy about it" PBS NewsHour 4/19/2015

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Turning now to Europe:  About 300 American military trainers have arrived in Ukraine, prompting an angry response from the Kremlin.

For more about this, we are joined now via Skype from Moscow by Andrew Roth.

He has reported the story for The New York Times.

So, what are the American advisers doing on the ground?

ANDREW ROTH, The New York Times:  Hi, Hari.  The American advisers who came in, they’re from the 173rd Airborne, which is based in Italy.

And they have come to train Ukraine’s National Guard, about 1,000 members of the National Guard who were engaged in combat in the east of the country.  And they’re going to be working on what they said were sort of military training, as well as specifically focusing on the officer corps.

So, this is a very new unit in the National Guard, so their officers, a lot of them haven’t had much training yet at all.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, this is short of supplying any arms or weapons to Ukraine. The United States has refused to do that, right?

ANDREW ROTH:  So far, they have.  So, the United States has supplied some what is called nonlethal aid to Ukraine.

That involves — that includes promises to supply Humvees, both armored and unarmored, drones.

But they haven’t yet agreed to supply lethal aid, weapons, in particular anti-tank weapons that both people who are on the front lines, soldiers who are on the front lines…


ANDREW ROTH:  … as well as officials in Kiev, desperately want.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  OK.  So what’s the reaction been in Moscow, where are you?

ANDREW ROTH:  The reaction in Moscow has been strong negative suggestions by President Putin’s spokesmen that this could destabilize the situation in the country.

We interpret that to mean new conflict or a new outbreak of violence in the southeast, although there have been a lot of terrorist acts in several cities in Ukraine as well.

But the Kremlin has really drawn a red line at supplying lethal aid.

So, I think that it’s not absolutely certain that the arrival of these military trainers is going to change the — the situation in the southeast.

What seems far more important to them is that countries like the United States and Europe and even Israel don’t supply weapons to Ukraine.  That seems to be their real red line.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Andrew Roth of The New York Times, joining us via Skype from Moscow, thanks so much.


FBI - Overstated Evidence in '80s and '90s

COMMENT:  FBI personnel are human beings and 'to error' is human.  FBI testimony can be just as faulty as eye witness testimony when not backed by hard science.

"Report:  FBI investigators overstated evidence against criminal defendants" PBS NewsHour 4/19/2015


SUMMARY:  The Justice Department and FBI formally acknowledged that FBI forensic investigators routinely gave flawed testimony overstating evidence against criminal defendants during the 1980s and 1990s.  In more than a dozen cases, defendants were later executed or died in prison.  Spencer Hsu of The Washington Post joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington to discuss.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  News from Washington tonight that, for nearly two decades, during the 1980s and ’90s, top FBI forensic investigators routinely gave flawed testimony, overstating the evidence they had against criminal defendants.

In more than a dozen cases, the defendants were later executed or died in prison.

Spencer Hsu broke the story in today’s Washington Post. He joins us now.

So, you said that this is a watershed moment in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals.  Break this down for us.

SPENCER HSU, The Washington Post:  What has been found has been, as you say, that, for more than two decades, nearly every examiner and nearly every criminal trial in which FBI experts gave testimony against criminal defendants, they overstated the strength or the significance of a match.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, you said that about a quarter of all the wrongful convictions, the people who have been exonerated later on, the testimony of hair examiners or bite mark comparisons have actually helped sway juries or judges.

SPENCER HSU:  That’s right.

Out of about 329 DNA exonerations, a quarter, more than a quarter have involved invalid forensic science.  One of the issues here is that, unlike DNA, which has a — was developed, you know, by scientists for scientists, a lot of the earlier pattern-based techniques, comparing hair, fiber, bite marks, even tracing bullets to — being fired from specific weapons, were developed in the lab by law enforcement.

INTERNET - Ransomware

"The hack attack that takes your computer hostage till you pay" PBS NewsHour 4/18/2015


SUMMARY:  Ransomware, a type of software that computer hackers use to hold individuals' data hostage by blocking access to files unless they agree to pay a ransom, is on the rise.  And because anyone with an internet connection is vulnerable, the problem highlights a growing threat that consumers face on both their personal computers and mobile devices.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Inna Simone is retired, a mother and grandmother from Russia who now lives outside of Boston.  Last November, her home computer started acting strangely.

INNA SIMONE:  My computer was working terribly.  It was not working, I mean, it was so slow.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  A few days later, while searching through her computer files, Inna saw dozens of these messages — they were all the same.   They read:  “Your files are encrypted.  To get the key to decrypt them, you have to pay $500 dollars.”  Her exact deadline — December 2nd at 12:48 pm – was just a few days away.

All her files were locked — tax returns, financial papers, letters — even the precious photos of her granddaughter Zoe.   Inna couldn’t open any of them.

INNA SIMONE:   It says, “If you won’t pay, within one week or whatever, your fine will double.  If you won’t pay by then, all your files will be deleted and you will lose them forever and never will get back."

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 4/17/2015

"Shields and Brooks on Pacific trade deal politics, Clinton and Rubio on the trail" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2015


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss this week’s news, including the potential domestic and global effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, defining the role of Congress in the Iran nuclear deal, Hillary Clinton’s campaign rollout and Sen. Marco Rubio’s potential in the Republican party.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  So, Mark, let’s talk about something not very exciting, but it’s really important.  It’s that Trans-Pacific Partnership that now we know the White House, the administration, a few Democrats, a lot of Republicans, have come together around, apparently.

Is this a good deal, based on what we know about it?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  Well, supporters of trade agreements, including the President, would argue, with logic, that elevated — these trade agreements have raised the standard of living across the globe.  They have lifted people out of poverty and led to greater economic activity.

They have been a disaster for American workers, a total disaster, beginning with NAFTA.  They have put all the power in the hands of the employer.  The employer threatens, if you don’t go along, if you don’t surrender your bargaining rights, if you don’t surrender your health and pension benefits, if you don’t surrender collective union membership, we will move your job overseas.

And as consequence of NAFTA some 22 years ago, documented by our own government, 755,000 jobs lost immediately…

JUDY WOODRUFF:  North American Trade Agreement.

MARK SHIELDS:  … five million fewer American — five million fewer American manufacturing jobs than there were.

And I just think the pattern, Judy, has been established in our society.  We see it where all — the trade agreements, the investor class capital is protected, whether it’s copyrights or whatever, intellectual property, their investments.  And they just pay lip service to workers’ rights.  And I just — I think it’s one more example.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And the President defended it again today, David, so that means he is siding the investor class?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  Yes, I don’t think so.

I agree with Mark’s first point.  The greatest reduction in human poverty — in human history of poverty has taken place because of this era of free trade.  And it’s been around the globe.  As for the domestic workers, it’s complicated.  It has hurt some people in some of the unions.  There’s no question about it.

The unions were dominant in the 1950s, when Europe was collapsed, when we had basically global dominance, 50 percent productivity gains.  And as the world has globalized, the unions have weakened.  And there have been some worker rights that have been sacrificed.  There’s no question about that.

It’s hurt people with fungible skills that can be replicated by those in China and India and elsewhere.  On the other hand, it has created many new jobs.  The vast field of research on this, on trade research, there are economists who are skeptics, who cite some of Mark’s numbers.

There are some, and I would say the majority are slightly pro-trade, are more pro-trade and think that, net-net, we have had a growth in jobs and there are certain industries devastated, but other industries created.

Finally, costs.  All of us rely and buy goods that come from Asia, from Africa, from Europe.  And those goods are much, much cheaper and our standard of living is much, much better because of these cheap goods that we benefit from and that people with lower incomes benefit from.

So, are there losers?  We are more acutely aware of the losers than we were.  And there are more losers than there were.  But are there winners?  There are a ton of winners.

MARK SHIELDS:  Median household income in the United States was lower in 2012 than it was in 1989.  I’m not saying solely because of this, but largely because of this.

Judy, if you want to see the dominance of capital that I think these trade agreements exemplify and embody, all you have to see is the 2008 crisis, economic crisis in this country.  Millions of ordinary Americans saw their futures, their savings, their homes wiped out.  And they got nothing in the way of relief.

Those who had caused it, who had brought the country to its knees, the big banks and the investment houses of Wall Street, were bailed out by people.  They were made whole.  So, you had a choice.  Who are you going to help and who you going to leave to make out for their own?

We have capitalism for the rich and we have free enterprise, high risk for workers.  And I just think this is what it exemplifies.  That’s what the resistance is about.  Will they defeat the President?  Probably not, because I think Republicans will be with him.  And I think the opposition has been weakened ever since NAFTA, over 22 years.

American workers have lost their clout politically.

DAVID BROOKS:  Global finance — the 2008 crash wasn’t a matter of trade.


DAVID BROOKS:  It was mostly a matter of the interlocking financial network, and which wasn’t about trading goods and services, sort of thing that’s involved in this.

And so I just — I don’t think that’s why the wages have been flat.  Secondly, on why the wages have been flat has not to do with trade.  It has to do with technology.  Trade is a small, small piece of this.  If we were closed in, and you were in a steel factory in Pittsburgh, and they invented all this new technology to forge steel with a fraction of the workers, it wouldn’t matter if we had global trade or not.  The technology was there and the technology was a lot cheaper.  So, technological advance is the lion’s share of why these wages have been flat.

MARK SHIELDS:  I’m not saying that 2008 was caused by trade.  I’m saying the template of the trade agreement of 1993, of — where capital was emphasized and deferred to, and workers were really basically left at the back of the bus, became the dominant model for our economy.

And it is to this day.  It is our politics.  And it was in 2008 on the bailouts.

IRAQ - Tikrit

"Liberated from Islamic State, Tikrit struggles with reconciliation" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2015


SUMMARY:  Tikrit is the first major Sunni city retaken from the Islamic State militants, who were pushed out of that stronghold with the help of U.S. airstrikes and Shia fighters -- some of whom are backed and equipped by Iran.  But the struggle for national reconciliation is far from over, with accusations of looting and revenge attacks.  Special correspondent Jane Arraf reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And we turn now to an on-the-ground report from Iraq.

NewsHour special correspondent Jane Arraf brings us this story from Tikrit.

JANE ARRAF (NewsHour):  This courtyard in Tikrit has become a place of pilgrimage and a reason to fight.  The plaque commemorates what is believed to be one of the biggest massacres in modern Shia history.

Shortly after ISIS took over Mosul and Tikrit last June, it executed hundreds of young air force cadets and army recruits from nearby Camp Speicher.  At least 200 were believed to have been executed here, killed because they were military and they were Shia.

“We have offered our youth, the best of our youth to Iraq and the Iraqi people,” says a representative of one of Iraq’s most revered Shia clerics.  “We have achieved our liberty through the martyrs of Camp Speicher.”

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shia responded to a fatwa by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani calling on them to work with the Iraqi military to fight the Islamic State group.  His representative says they don’t need American help, just more Iraqi assistance.

CHINA - Another Land Grab

China just believes (mistakenly) anything bordering the 'South China Sea' belongs to them AND they do not care what the international community says.

"China expands claim on disputed islands by adding sand" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2015

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to growing tensions in Asia over who controls contested areas in the South China Sea.  China has recently tried to expand its claim by dumping tons of sand to build up small reefs into islands capable of holding military equipment.

MAN:  China would rather use its bullying force against a small country like the Philippines.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Tough words in Manila today, and protests outside China’s embassy, in what’s become a big dispute over a small chain of islands in the South China Sea.

They’re called the Spratlys, about 1,000 miles south of China’s Hainan province.  The archipelago is claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.  But in recent satellite images, it is China that appears to have built up one of the islands, known as the Fiery Cross Reef, constructing an airstrip there.  The island is reportedly large enough for a 9,500-foot runway, which could accommodate military aircraft.

Today in Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman defended the project.

HONG LEI, Spokesman, Foreign Ministry Spokesman, China (through interpreter):  The relevant construction is conducted within China’s sovereign territory.  It is reasonable, understandable and legal, and it is not targeting or affecting any other country.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The U.S. has weighed in on the dispute.  The commander of American forces in the Pacific spoke at a congressional hearing.

ADM. SAMUEL LOCKLEAR, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command:  The implications are, if this activity continues at pace, is that it — it would give them de facto control, I think, in peacetime, of much of the world’s most important waterways.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The U.S. has expressed concerns about China’s land reclamation, which has gotten so tense at points that Chinese ships have blocked vessels from other countries.

"Why the U.S. is worried about China’s land grab" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2015


SUMMARY:  Tensions among some Asian nations are growing after satellite images showed that China has been building up small islands in a disputed area of the South China Sea.  Judy Woodruff talks to retired Adm. Dennis Blair, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, to learn more about the contested area and the U.S. response.

PEOPLE - Lies vs Truth

from wikiHow

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Looking at facial expressions to determine whether a person is lying might just save you from being a victim of fraud.  Or it could help you to know it's safe to trust your heart and get involved with an attractive stranger.  Jury analysts use lie detection when helping to select a jury; the police do it during interrogation.  Even judges use lie detection to determine which side to rule in favor of.  To use these techniques, you'll need to learn how to read the little facial and body expressions that most people don't notice.  It takes a little practice but having this skill can be fascinating!  To get started, read on...

OKLAHOMA CITY - Bombing's 20th Anniversary

"‘There was no playbook’ for handling the Oklahoma City bombing" PBS NewsHour 4/16/2015


SUMMARY:  At the 20th anniversary, we look back at the Oklahoma City bombing.  Public television station OETA shares reflections from survivors and victims’ families, and Judy Woodruff talks to former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, former Director of Homeland Security of Oklahoma Kerry Pettingill and Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for the district of Kansas, for lessons learned from the attack.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, a moment that shocked the nation and changed the way we think about threats at home.

Two minutes past 9:00 on the morning of April 19, 1995, downtown Oklahoma City is torn apart.

MAN:  I went under the table when the ceiling started falling in. And that’s what saved me, I guess.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  A Ryder truck loaded with a diesel fuel and fertilizer bomb blew up next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, cutting it in half; 168 people, including 19 children in its day care center, died.  More than 650 were injured.

On April 21, Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh and another former soldier, Terry Nichols, were arrested, and later formally charged with the bombing.

Two days later, then President Bill Clinton came to comfort the city and the country.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:  For we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  McVeigh and Nichols, members of far right-wing anti-federal-government groups, timed the attack for the two-year anniversary of the fiery end to the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidians.  That breakaway religious sect, in Waco, Texas, had staged a 51-day standoff with law enforcement, which ended with an FBI-led assault on the heavily armed compound; 76 members of the group died that day.

In 1997, McVeigh was found guilty on 11 federal counts of murder and conspiracy.  He was sentenced to death and executed in 2001.  Nichols was later found guilty on federal charges of conspiracy and manslaughter and 161 state counts of first-degree murder.  He is serving multiple life sentences in a Colorado federal prison.

The anniversary will be recognized throughout the coming weekend in Oklahoma City, and there will be much attention on how survivors and families are faring.

Our colleagues at the PBS station OETA produced a documentary called “Resilience” and spoke with many of them.  It was done in conjunction with The Daily Oklahoman newspaper.  Here’s an edited excerpt.