Friday, July 31, 2015

ETHICS - Pro-Birth vs Pro-Life

"Catholic Nun Explains Pro-Life In A Way That Will Stun Many (Especially Republican Lawmakers)" by Leslie Salzillo, Daily KOS 7/30/2015


In one simple quote, Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. sums up the hypocrisy in the 'pro-life' movement:

I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that makes you pro-life.  In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.  And why would I think that you don't?  Because you don't want any tax money to go there.  That's not pro-life.  That's pro-birth.  We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

This quote applies well to many Republican lawmakers and anti-choice extremists who continue to introduce/pass misogynist laws restricting a woman's reproductive rights.  At the same time, the GOP works to shut down women's health clinics, with a special vengeance towards Planned Parenthood (#StandWithPP).  You don't hear of these Right Wing anti-choice extremists adopting children from unplanned pregnancies.  But you do hear of them cutting government programs like school lunches for children, cutting government financial and heath care aid to families who are homeless and/or in need, and blocking free college education.  No, the goals of these hypocrites seem to be more about controlling women's bodies and women's futures.  It's good to hear Sister Chittister, a Benedictine nun, define the GOP double talk so well.

An outspoken advocate for women, Sister Joan Chittister is an author of 50 books and a lecturer.  Holding a Ph.D. from Penn State University, she is also a research associate in a division of Cambridge University.  Other subjects of her writing includes women in the church and society, human rights, peace and justice, religious life and spirituality.  She has appeared in the media on numerous shows including Meet the Press, 60 Minutes, Bill Moyers, BBC, NPR, and Oprah Winfrey.  You can visit Joan Chittister's website (here).


"The FBI Built a Database That Can Catch Rapists — Almost Nobody Uses It" by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica 7/30/2015


For roughly 30 years the FBI has virtually ignored a system meant to help cops track the behavioral patterns of violent criminals

More than 30 years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a revolutionary computer system in a bomb shelter two floors beneath the cafeteria of its national academy.  Dubbed the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, or ViCAP, it was a database designed to help catch the nation’s most violent offenders by linking together unsolved crimes.  A serial rapist wielding a favorite knife in one attack might be identified when he used the same knife elsewhere.  The system was rooted in the belief that some criminals’ methods were unique enough to serve as a kind of behavioral DNA — allowing identification based on how a person acted, rather than their genetic make-up.

Equally as important was the idea that local law enforcement agencies needed a way to better communicate with each other.  Savvy killers had attacked in different jurisdictions to exploit gaping holes in police cooperation.  ViCAP’s “implementation could mean the prevention of countless murders and the prompt apprehension of violent criminals,” the late Sen. Arlen Specter wrote in a letter to the Justice Department endorsing the program’s creation.

In the years since ViCAP was first conceived, data-mining has grown vastly more sophisticated, and computing power has become cheaper and more readily available. Corporations can link the food you purchase, the clothes you buy, and the websites you browse.  The FBI can parse your emails, cellphone records and airline itineraries.  In a world where everything is measured, data is ubiquitous — from the number of pieces of candy that a Marine hands out on patrol in Kandahar, to your heart rate as you walk up the stairs at work.

That’s what’s striking about ViCAP today, the paucity of information it contains.  Only about 1,400 police agencies in the U.S., out of roughly 18,000, participate in the system.  The database receives reports from far less than 1 percent of the violent crimes committed annually.  It’s not even clear how many crimes the database has helped solve.  The FBI does not release any figures.  A review in the 1990s found it had linked only 33 crimes in 12 years.

Canadian authorities built on the original ViCAP framework to develop a modern and sophisticated system capable of identifying patterns and linking crimes.  It has proven particularly successful at analyzing sexual-assault cases.  But three decades and an estimated $30 million later, the FBI’s system remains stuck in the past, the John Henry of data mining.  ViCAP was supposed to revolutionize American law enforcement.  That revolution never came.

Few law enforcement officials dispute the potential of a system like ViCAP to help solve crimes.  But the FBI has never delivered on its promise.  In an agency with an $8.2 billion yearly budget, ViCAP receives around $800,000 a year to keep the system going.  The ViCAP program has a staff of 12.  Travel and training have been cut back in recent years.  Last year, the program provided analytical assistance to local cops just 220 times.  As a result, the program has done little to close the gap that prompted Congress to create it.  Police agencies still don’t talk to each other on many occasions.  Killers and rapists continue to escape arrest by exploiting that weakness.  “The need is vital,” said Ritchie Martinez, the former president of the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts.  “But ViCAP is not filling it.”

Local cops say the system is confusing and cumbersome.  Entering a single case into the database can take an hour and hits — where an unsolved crime is connected to a prior incident — are rare.  False positives are common.  Many also said the FBI does little to teach cops how to use the system.  Training has dropped from a high of about 5,500 officers in 2012 to 1,200 last year.

“We don’t really use ViCAP,” said Jeff Jensen, a criminal analyst for the Phoenix Police Department with 15 years of experience.  “It really is quite a chore.”

The FBI has contributed to the confusion by misrepresenting the system.  On its website, the FBI says cases in its database are “continually compared” for matches as new cases are entered.  But in an interview, program officials said that does not happen.  “We have plans for that in the future,” said Nathan Graham, a crime analyst for the program.  The agency said it would update the information on its website.

The agency’s indifference to the database is particularly noteworthy at a time when emerging research suggests that such a tool could be especially useful in rape investigations.

For years, politicians and women’s advocates have focused on testing the DNA evidence in rape kits, which are administered to sexual assault victims after an attack.  Such evidence can be compared against a nationwide database of DNA samples to find possible suspects.  Backlogs at police departments across the country have left tens of thousands of kits untested.

But DNA is collected in only about half of rape cases, according to recent studies.  A nationwide clearinghouse of the unique behaviors, methods, or marks of rapists could help solve those cases lacking genetic evidence, criminal experts said.  Other research has shown that rapists are far more likely than killers to be serial offenders.  Different studies have found that between one-fourth to two-thirds of rapists have committed multiple sexual assaults.  Only about 1 percent of murderers are considered serial killers.

Studies have questioned the assumptions behind behavioral analysis tools like ViCAP.  Violent criminals don’t always commit attacks the same way and different analysts can have remarkably different interpretations on whether crimes are linked.  And a system that looks for criminal suspects on the basis of how a person acts is bound to raise alarms about Orwellian overreach.  But many cops say any help is welcome in the difficult task of solving crimes like rape.  A recent investigation by ProPublica and The New Orleans Advocate found that police in four states repeatedly missed chances to arrest the former NFL football star and convicted serial rapist Darren Sharper after failing to contact each other.  “We’re always looking for tools,” said Joanne Archambault, the director of End Violence Against Women International, one of the leading police training organizations for the investigation of sexual assaults.  “I just don’t think ViCAP was ever promoted enough as being one of them.”

The U.S. need only look north for an example of how such a system can play an important role in solving crimes.  Not long after ViCAP was developed in the United States, Canadian law enforcement officials used it as a model to build their own tool, known as the Violent Criminal Linkage Analysis System, or ViCLAS.  Today, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintains a database containing more than 500,000 criminal case profiles.  The agency credits it with linking together some 7,000 unsolved crimes since 1995 – though not all of those linkages resulted in an arrest.  If the FBI collected information as consistently as the Mounties, its database would contain more than 4.4 million cases, based on the greater U.S. population.

Instead, the FBI has about 89,000 cases on file.

Over the years, Canada has poured funding and staff into its program, resulting in a powerful analytical tool, said Sgt.  Tony Lawlor, a senior ViCLAS analyst.  One critical difference, in the U.S., reporting to the system is largely voluntary.  In Canada, legislators have made it mandatory.  Cops on the street still grumble about the system, which resembles the American version in the time and effort to complete.  But “it has information which assists police officers, which is catching bad guys,” Lawlor said.  “When police realize there’s a value associated with it, they use it.”

The ViCAP program eventually emerged from the fallout shelter where it began.  It set up shop in an unmarked two-story brick office building in a Virginia business park surrounded by a printer’s shop, a dental practice and a Baptist church.

In a lengthy interview there, program officials offered a PowerPoint presentation with case studies of three serial killers who were captured in the past eight years with the help of the ViCAP program.  They called the system “successful.”

“We do as good a job as we possibly can given our resources and limitations,” said Timothy Burke, a white-haired, 29-year agency veteran who is the program manager for ViCAP. “ As with anything, we could always do better.”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

GEORGIA - Jim Crow is Back

"Georgia is Segregating Troublesome Kids in Schools Used During Jim Crow" by Marian Wang, ProPublica 7/29/2015

A Department of Justice investigation found that Georgia is giving thousands of kids with behavioral issues a subpar education and putting them in the same run-down buildings that served black children decades ago.

Georgia has been illegally and unnecessarily segregating thousands of students with behavioral issues and disabilities, isolating them in run-down facilities and providing them with subpar education, according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some of the students in the program were schooled in the same inferior buildings that served black children in the days of Jim Crow (laws).  The investigation found that many of the buildings lack gyms, cafeterias, libraries, labs, playgrounds and other amenities.

"It's a warehouse for kids the school system doesn't want or know how to deal with," a parent told the Justice Department of the program.  The Justice Department detailed its findings in a letter earlier this month to Georgia's governor and attorney general.

Federal law mandates that schools educate students with disabilities in the "least restrictive environment" in which they can learn and thrive.  More broadly, public entities must serve people with disabilities in the "most integrated setting."

But what the Justice Department found in Georgia is something that persists across the country:  Schools continue to inappropriately segregate students with a range of behavioral needs and disabilities.

Children are often placed in more restrictive settings because traditional public schools show little flexibility in working with students who may need more support.

In Georgia, schools were quick to move children out of mainstream classrooms, the Justice Department noted.  In some cases, students were recommended for placement after a single incident or a string of minor incidents, such as using inappropriate language with a teacher.  Parents reported feeling pressured into agreeing to the placements.

In fact, many students who were placed in what's called the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, or GNETS, didn't actually need to be there, the Justice Department said.  Most could have stayed in their neighborhood schools if they'd been given more behavioral or mental-health support.  "Nearly all students in the GNETS Program could receive services in more integrated settings, but do not have the opportunity to do so," the letter said.

What's more, because the state has set up a system that tilts toward providing services in segregated settings, the letter said, Georgia "undermines the availability of these services in more integrated settings."

A spokeswoman for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal referred questions to the Georgia Department of Education, whose spokesman referred questions to the Attorney General's Office.  Daryl Robinson, counsel to the Georgia Attorney General, told ProPublica, "We don't have any comment at this time."

This isn't the first time that the GNETS has drawn scrutiny.  In 2010, a state audit found that the programs "are not held accountable for student performance" and questioned their cost effectiveness.  Earlier, in 2004, a 13-year-old boy in the program hanged himself while held for hours isolated in a room.

Advocates have long been critical of the quality of services offered by the network.

"We have seen many, many clients whose behavior gets significantly worse in GNETS," said Leslie Lipson, an attorney with the Georgia Advocacy Office.  "We've seen kids who are significantly behind their peers for no other reason than lack of instruction.  We've seen students who are great football players or involved in student government or band who are sent to GNETS and have no opportunities to be part of their community."

The Justice Department threatened the state with a lawsuit if the problems are not corrected.  It called on the state to redirect services, training and resources to move students with behavioral challenges back into general-education schools.

In particular, it suggested increasing access to mental health services by locating mental health clinics "at or near schools" to provide services to students who would otherwise be at risk of being referred to more restrictive, segregated settings.

HUMOR - Faux News, Crazies Today

"Texans Celebrate Victory Over the Union & Obama’s 'Jade Helm' Attack" by Michael Egan 7/27/2015

Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas celebrate their first victory over the Union since the Civil War:  Obama’s “Jade Helm 15? blitzkrieg has been thwarted.

Wacko, TX — Church bells rang throughout Texas today and people danced in the streets celebrating the state’s first military victory over the US Government since the Civil War, as they defeated Obama’s evil “Jade Helm 15? attack.

“We done seen ’em damn Yankees off this time!” exulted newly elected Gov. Greg Abbott from his command headquarters, in an undisclosed desert location somewhere near the previously unlisted bunker-town of Wacko, TX.

Waving messages of congratulation and support from Sen. Ted Cruz and other Tea Party inebriates, Abbott continued:  “Obama was preparing to invade us but I put the Texas State Guard on alert to protect our guns, women and children.  They seen ’em off pretty damn quick!”

The governor paused to drape himself defiantly in not one but two Confederate flags and several Remember the Alamo! stickers.

Abbot went on to note that under the guise of conducting the “Jade Helm 15” military exercises, Obama and his “thugger friends” had been planning a lightning “Hitler-style blitzkrieg” attack followed by the declaration of martial law throughout the state.

Forcibly disarmed inebriates would be imprisoned in the five Wal-Marts recently closed for so-called renovation, and compelled to become Muslims.  Their women and children would be sold off to Boko Haram, and the men dressed in orange jump suits and beheaded on national TV.

The objectives included the annexation of Texas by the United States and the proclamation of Sharia Law.

Abbott said however that Jesus had given the Lone Star state its first military victory since the 1860s.  In the aftermath, Texas would be rededicating itself to God, the Holy Constitution and the return of its gold from wherever the Federal government had concealed it.

“We believe in the Three G’s,” the governor said.  “Guns, Gold and Geesus, not necessarily in that order.”

Abbott warned that from now on any protests by “the thuggers and their thugger-loving liberal friends” would be confronted by freedom-loving armed vigilante groups, the police and the National Guard.

“Just like in Dallas,” said Abbott, referring to last May’s “Solidarity With Baltimore” demonstration.  Silenced and intimidated by Texans Against Gun Grabbers (TAGG), a paramilitary organization wearing fatigues and armed with AR-15s, frightened demonstrators were quickly driven off the streets.

“Sorry, but our armed citizens were only there to ensure the demonstration did not turn into another Baltimore,” Abbott explained, quoting TAGG’s organizers.

“Nor will the rest of Texas,” he continued.  “We’re well on the way to seceding again, and this time, No More Mister Nice Guy!  Till then your thugger friends better keep their seat belts fastened and make sure they signal when they change lanes.

“And no damn integrated pool parties.”

"What Term Best Describes Donald Trump?  Google It" by John Glynn 7/28/2015

When Donald Trump came up in a search for “Top 10 Assholes of All Time,” Google apologized, saying the truth can be hard to swallow.

Google has apologized after photographs of Donald Trump recently appeared in image search results for “Top 10 Assholes of All Time.”

Images of the American business magnate, investor, television personality and weird hairdo extraordinaire appeared alongside a ruthless gangster, a murderer, one dictator and Bill O’Reilly in the search results.

Google said it was sorry “for any confusion or misunderstanding, even though Donald Trump is — and will always be — a horrible person.” Larry Page, Google’s CEO, blamed the results on a British website that had published an image of Trump with misleading metadata, the information often used by sites to represent various content.

“These results do not accurately reflect the company’s opinions, and we are sorry.  Mr. Trump is more of a douchebag than an asshole, so his image should have appeared on a different top 10 search,” said Page.

“Sometimes, the way images are described on the internet can provide strange results to specific queries,” Page added.  “For example, in recent times, a Google search for soft balls brought up images of Tom Brady.  We apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding, I’m sure this is a distressing time for Mr. Trump.  He’s probably pulling his hair out… hopefully.”

Along with the founder of Trump Entertainment and Bill O’Reilly, other results for the search query “Top 10 Assholes” include Muammar Gaddafi, Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden, and John Mayer.

Page said numerous news articles with images of Donald Trump pictured alongside other “like-minded assholes'” were also to blame.  “Look, when you hang around with Usher, Michael Kors, Matt Lauer, and Rudy Giuliani, what the hell do you expect?”

Last week Google apologized after searches that included the term “toxic” brought up images of Fox News. Five years ago, rather embarrassingly, Google’s search auto-complete system also suggested the television channel when typing the words “fecal matter.”

"Donald Trump’s War Record" by Roger Freed 7/21/2015

Report:  McCain is a wuss, and The Donald’s military experience can easily Trump him

After Donald Trump’s scathing attack on Senator John McCain’s war record the Investigation’s Department here at Humor Times did a little digging into Trump’s own military record.  It turns out that the great Donald also has a legacy of war experience.

Here is what we have uncovered:

As a young child, Donald Trump on 10 separate occasions was involved in fierce snowball fights, one even causing injury to his right leg as he was hit by a devious ice-ball.

At study hall in the second grade Trump was involved in a vicious rubber band fight suffering a red eye from a particularly well aimed rubber band.

At age eleven Trump watched every episode from all five seasons of the television show Combat.

In middle school Trump got into a fist fight with a student wearing a German military coat.  Donald suffered a Dutchman’s Rub and a wedgie from the conflict.

At age sixteen Trump partook in a high school play portraying a World War I soldier returning from Europe with amnesia about his battlefield experience.  He was really bad at it.

As a young stockbroker on Wall Street at age 22 he actually gave a dollar to a veteran soliciting donations on the street and got a red artificial poppy to put in his lapel.

While stuck in a hotel in Newark one night due to bad weather Donald Trump watched the entire length of the movie The Great Escape.  Later he went further and actually read an article about it.

Trump will actually be nice to veterans in uniform he meets at his properties and will only be a little bit condescending to them.

Once, after watching a documentary about Hitler on the History Channel, Trump thought secretly to himself “That guy did have some good ideas.”

While visiting Europe Trump did a tour of Omaha Beach where D-Day took place and questioned a local Realtor about the possibility of buying it up to build a casino.

Donald Trump actually owns a few guns like the ones they use in real wars.

While visiting Nagasaki in Japan while on a business trip Trump was heard to comment “Nice how they fixed it up.”

But above and beyond all the aforementioned war experiences it must be noted and emphasized that DONALD TRUMP WAS NEVER CAPTURED UNLIKE THAT PANSY JOHN MCCAIN!!!

(Authors side note — Donald Trump’s real war record goes like this:  he got out of the draft during the Vietnam War first by getting a college deferment, then later another deferment for having a bone spur in his foot, then got a high number in the draft lottery.  That is getting close to Dick Cheney’s record of five draft deferments.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

MEDIA - When Photoshop Misleds?

"What happens when Photoshop goes too far?" PBS NewsHour 7/26/2015


SUMMARY:  A New York exhibit chronicles prominent cases of images altered by journalists and asks:  If seeing is believing, how often are you, the viewer or reader, being misled?  Saskia de Melker reports.

SASKIA DE MELKER (NewsHour):  When you don’t like those people or objects in the background, you just remove them.

Using a filter, after the snap, to make a regular photo look vintage, is as easy as a mouse click.  So is removing a light post that seems to be shooting out of someone’s head by using Photoshop.

But in the world of photojournalism, these alterations are the subject of intense debate.  And using Photo­shop can land you in hot water.  Like it did for The Economist when it removed people from this beach photo of President Obama.

Or for an Orthodox Israeli newspaper when it cut out the female leaders in this photo.

MICHAEL KAMBER:  People do that all the time on their Facebook page.  That’s fine.  We’re the [photojournalist] professionals.  We have to maintain standards and ethics.  We have to make sure that these photos are an accurate representation.

SASKIA DE MELKER:  Photographer Michael Kamber has covered conflicts around the world for the New York Times.  His latest project, though, is curating an exhibition at the Bronx Documentary Center called “Altered Images”, which explores news and documentary photos that have been manipulated.

WAR ON ISIS - Turkey Enters 'Game'

"What does Turkey’s new military action against ISIS mean?" PBS NewsHour 7/25/2015


SUMMARY:  For the first time, Turkey is joining United States-led airstrikes in Syria, targeting Islamic State extremists.  The U.S. and NATO have pressured Turkey for months to join the military coalition against ISIS, and the country's prime minister says both military operations in Syria and Iraq will continue.  Reuters reporter Ayla Jean Yackley joins Hari Sreenivasan from Istanbul to discuss Turkey's new military actions.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  The U.S. and NATO have pressured Turkey for months to join the military coalition against ISIS. So what does Turkey’s new military action mean?

Reuters” reporter Ayla Jean Yackley joins me from Istanbul to discuss that.

So, what was it that pushed Turkey into this fight?

AYLA JEAN YACKLEY, REUTERS:  Well, as you mentioned, earlier this week, there was a suicide bomb attack in a town called Suruc, across the border from Syria, and that sent shock waves throughout the country.  That was not the first attack by Islamic State on Turkish territory, but it was by far the most significant and deadliest, and it had to be a factor in Turkey’s decision to move closer in alliance with its ally, the United States.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  We talked about two set of targets here that Turkey is focusing on — ISIS and Kurdish separatists.  They called them a terrorist organization.  You know, one person’s terrorist organization is another person’s freedom fighter, right?

So, what’s happening across that front?

AYLA JEAN YACKLEY:  The PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) is also deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, as well as the European Union.

But the PKK, or at least forces allied with the PKK, in northern Syria have been coordinating with the United States in its campaign against Islamic State.

But Turkey’s never changed its stance towards the PKK.  It has been involved in a peace process with the PPK, in which there’s been very slow-moving talks between the two sides since late 2012.  However, it’s still very much considers them a threat to [Turkish] national security.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 7/24/2015

"Shields and Brooks on guns, Iran, and whether Clinton’s emails will turn into scandal" PBS NewsHour 7/24/2015


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the recent wave of mass shootings, selling the Iran nuclear deal to Congress, and whether Hillary Clinton needs to worry about the latest round of email allegations.

GI BILL - For-Profit University Swindle

aka 'Greed Files'

"Are for-profit universities taking advantage of veterans?" PBS NewsHour 7/24/2015


SUMMARY:  Since 2009, the G.I. Bill has paid up to $21,000 a year of college tuition for those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Much of that money, though, goes to for-profit schools, which award degrees some employers don’t recognize.  Aaron Glantz of the Center for Investigative Reporting and “Reveal” reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The G.I. Bill represents America’s promise to its military veterans.  Since 2009, it has paid the cost of college tuition for those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, up to $21,000 a year in taxpayer dollars.

Today, 40 percent of that money is flowing to for-profit schools, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  But when veterans finish their studies, some employers and graduate programs don’t recognize or value those degrees.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and "Reveal," Aaron Glantz reports:

AARON GLANTZ, Center for Investigative Reporting:  Three years ago, President Obama said he would stop for-profit schools from taking advantage of service members and veterans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  They are trying to swindle and hoodwink you.  And, today, here at Fort Stewart, we’re putting an end to it.

AARON GLANTZ:  The President was responding to reports that for-profit colleges enjoyed virtually unrestricted access to bases, where they enrolled new students and profited from taxpayer money.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We’re going to up our oversight of improper recruitment practices.  We’re going to strengthen the rules about who can come on post and talk to service members.

AARON GLANTZ:  President Obama signed an executive order that placed restrictions on for-profit schools to weed out deceptive recruitment practices.  Three years after the President’s executive order, no school receives more G.I. Bill money than the University of Phoenix, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The University of Phoenix is a large for-profit college chain with about 200,000 students, a majority of whom take classes online.  We wanted to know whether the University of Phoenix was complying with the spirit and the letter of the rules President Obama put in place, and whether the for-profit college had gained an advantage through its relationship with the military.

GUNS IN AMERICA - Mass Shootings

"Shooting at movie theater kills two, injures nine" PBS NewsHour 7/24/2015


SUMMARY:  A shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, has left two dead, and nine injured.  The shooting comes in the wake of two recent mass shootings; one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where four Marines and a sailor were killed; and another in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine members of the Charleston AME church were killed.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  We take a deeper look now at last night’s deadly shooting in Louisiana and the broader questions raised after tragedies involving guns.

William Brangham starts us off.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Police and emergency responders quickly descended on the Grand 16 movie theater after gunfire erupted during a showing last night of the comedy “Trainwreck.”

WOMAN:  We were buying popcorn at the concession stand when a whole group of people, teenagers mainly, running out, telling everyone to run for their life.  And then we saw a lady with blood all over her leg.  I just grabbed my child.  I mean, we just all ran.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  The gunman, identified as 59-year-old John Russel Houser, opened fire on the crowd just 20 minutes into the film.  Investigators this morning characterized Houser as a drifter.

JIM CRAFT, Lafayette, Louisiana, Police Chief:  It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and then escaping.  What happened is that the quick law enforcement response forced him back into the theater, at which time he shot himself.

"Why is it so difficult to stop mass shootings in the U.S.?" PBS NewsHour 7/24/2015


SUMMARY:  Following recent mass shootings, NewsHour begins a series called “Guns in America” where we will talk with people intimately involved in the gun control debate.  Tonight we speak to author and advocate Mark Kelly, husband of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011, and Meghan Hoyer, part of the team at USA Today producing “Behind the Bloodshed:  The untold story of America’s mass killing.”

BAD POLITICS - Republican Doctrine

"Colorado program that reduces teen pregnancy in jeopardy" PBS NewsHour 7/23/2015


SUMMARY:  For six years, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative has been providing free long-term birth control to teens and low-income women.  The program has reduced unplanned teen pregnancies by 39 percent, and the abortion rate by 42 percent.  The group has been lobbying for state funding, but Republican lawmakers have said no.  Special correspondent Mary McCarthy reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next, a Colorado birth control program is losing its funding, despite a remarkable track record.

Special correspondent Mary MacCarthy has our report from Denver.

MARY MACCARTHY (NewsHour):  Victoria Garcia was just 22, with big career plans, when she found out she was pregnant.  The news, she said, was jolting.

VICTORIA GARCIA, Colorado:  Motherhood wasn’t a stage in my life that I was ready for.  I was in college.  I was focused on school and getting my degree.

MARY MACCARTHY:  Garcia said she had wanted to use a long-acting birth control method, but couldn’t afford it.

VICTORIA GARCIA:  When you’re young and you’re in college and you’re barely making ends meet with food and rent and other menial costs, $500 or $550 for an IUD or an implant out of pocket is — it’s outrageous.  It’s too much.

MARY MACCARTHY:  Garcia had the baby, a son, Liam, and still managed to graduate from college.  She credits her mother and husband for helping her.  But there’s something else she says that had been critical for her success.

VICTORIA GARCIA:  The day I got my IUD placed, the midwife handed this card to me and she said, you don’t have to come back until January 2022.  This IUD has been life-changing for me.  It really has.


"Alice Waters teaches slow food values in a fast food world" PBS NewsHour 7/23/2015

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now, another in a series of interviews we’re calling Brief But Spectacular.

Tonight, we hear from Alice Waters, the chef and owner of the famed Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California.  She’s a pioneer in the movement for a food economy that she says can be good, clean, and fair.

Here, Waters talks about the benefits of working in the kitchen, and how to inspire young people to grow and cook their own food.

ALICE WATERS, Chef:  When you eat fast food, you not only eat the food that is unhealthy for you, but you digest the values that comes with that food.  And they’re really about fast, cheap, and easy.

It’s so important that we understand that things can be affordable, but they can never be cheap, because, if they’re cheap, somebody’s missing out.  The fast food culture tells us that, you know, cooking is not something important, and it can be in the basement, it can be in the back, when, in fact, it’s the most important work that we do.

I think it is the unrealistic values of a fast food culture that are really making us very unhappy, that we’re all going a little crazy.  We spend as much searching for our cell phone than we do preparing a meal.

I think that the very best way to teach slow food values in a fast food culture is through edible education.  And so I created a project called the Edible Schoolyard.  Our public school system is our last truly democratic institution.  It’s the one place where we can reach every child.

The idea is to bring them into a new relationship to food and agriculture.  And they’re learning about history of a foreign country, and they’re cooking the food of that place.

Probably the greatest lesson I have learned from the Edible Schoolyard project is that, when children grow food and they cook it, they all want to eat it.

I’m Alice Waters.  And this is my Brief But Spectacular take on edible education.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And you can see more Brief But Spectacular takes on breaking barriers, racism, poetry, and more.  Those are on our Facebook page.

JUSTICE IN AMERICA - Sandra Bland Arrest

aka 'Don't Smoke in Texas While Black'

"Should Sandra Bland have been arrested?" PBS NewsHour 7/22/2015


SUMMARY:  New video of Sandra Bland's traffic stop shows the aggressive arrest before she died in police custody in Texas.  Gwen Ifill learns more about the investigation into Bland’s death and the officer’s conduct from Alana Rocha of The Texas Tribune.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  So how does that disputed video change our understanding of what happened?  And where does that promised thorough investigation stand?

For that, we turn to Alana Rocha, multimedia reporter for The Texas Tribune.  I spoke with her a short time ago.

Alana Rocha, thank you for joining us.

This story seems divided into two parts, the story about the disputed video and of course, three days later, the dispute over how she died.  Let’s talk about the video first.  What is at the root of that dispute over what we saw on that video?

ALANA ROCHA, The Texas Tribune:  Well, her initial reason or the officer’s initial reason for pulling her over was simply changing lanes without signaling.

She tried to explain to him, when she was saying why she was frustrated, that she saw him coming behind her, and she wanted to get out of the way and maybe she just wasn’t thinking and didn’t signal.  But she’s obviously frustrated, expresses that to him.  He obviously doesn’t like her attitude and uses unnecessary force is what DPS is saying, that he, you know, violated protocol in that stop.

GWEN IFILL:  Is there any way, looking at that video, that you can determine — I know you have had a chance to look at more of it than we were able to show on the program — that she did anything that we see on tape that was illegal?


I mean, I think that him asking her to put out the cigarette was the straw that broke the camel’s back, if you will, and you hear him put down his clipboard after she refuses that request and says, “I’m in my car, I’m within my rights.”

We have talked to legal experts since that video came out yesterday saying she is within her rights to be smoking in her car.  But they also say that when a law enforcement officer asks you to do something, whether it’s right or not, sometimes it’s best to just comply.  And she doesn’t.

WAR ON ISIS - Americans Volunteering Against ISIS

"Why some Americans are volunteering to fight the Islamic State" PBS NewsHour 7/21/2015


SUMMARY:  The State Department estimates that more than 150 Americans, including some U.S. military veterans, have packed their bags and flown to Iraq and Syria to volunteer with forces fighting against the Islamic State militant group.  Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports on what’s driving these soldiers.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Tonight, an exclusive story from Iraq on American citizens, civilians, fighting the Islamic State group.  Many are former U.S. military, but some have never seen a battle before.

Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports.

MARCIA BIGGS (NewsHour):  American boots are back on the ground in Iraq.  This time, they’re volunteers, U.S. military veterans on the front lines against the Islamic State, and among them, one woman; 25-year-old Samantha Johnston was a private in the Army for two years before, she left to be a stay-at-home mom to her three children.

When the Islamic State dominating the news last year, she says she sat in her North Carolina home, watching videos of their atrocities and felt compelled to join the fight.

SAMANTHA JOHNSTON, American volunteer:  Something inside of me just snapped, and I couldn’t allow myself to sit down and do nothing, when all of these children here are in trouble, and I, and me and my family are just living happily in America.

MARCIA BIGGS:  She made contact with other volunteers through social media sites.  And three months ago, she packed her bags and flew to Iraq, where she volunteered with the Kurdish army, the Peshmerga, in the fight against I.S.  She says she’s become close to the Kurdish soldiers in her unit, even listing herself on Facebook by a Kurdish name.

SAMANTHA JOHNSTON:  They became my family.  And I plan to stay here for as long as I can, as long as they need me to be here.

AMERICA - Kids in Poverty

"Why minority kids are being left behind by the economic recovery" PBS NewsHour 7/21/2015


SUMMARY:  Child poverty is worse now than it was before the Great Recession, despite strides toward economic recovery.  That's according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which found that rates were most severe for African-American and Native American children.  Gwen Ifill talks to Annie E. Casey Foundation President Patrick McCarthy and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The economy may be recovering from the great recession, but a new report finds many have been left behind, especially children.

The findings from the Annie E. Casey Foundation show 22 percent of U.S. children were living in poverty in 2013.  That’s compared to 18 percent in 2008.  Those rates were nearly double among African-American and Native American children, with problems most severe in the South and the Southwest.

Some of those conclusions also echo a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center.  It found black children were almost four times as likely as white children to be living in poverty.

Joining me to discuss the cause and the effect of these sobering numbers are Patrick McCarthy, the president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center.

Mark Hugo Lopez, why these populations in particular, why are they suffering?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ, Pew Research Center:  Well, when you take a look at unemployment rates particularly, you will see that, for African-Americans in June, unemployment was 9.6 percent.  For whites, it was 4.5 percent.

That’s almost — the unemployment rate for African-Americans is almost double that of whites.  And that’s an important part of explaining the story of why many children live in poverty.  Many of their parents either are not fully employed, are unemployed or can’t find work.

GWEN IFILL:  Now, Patrick McCarthy, some people might think this wasn’t surprising.  We know in some ways that minority populations are at a disadvantage, yet when you look at the numbers overall, in fact, fewer white children are in poverty.

Why are the numbers heading in the wrong — opposite directions?

PATRICK MCCARTHY, President, Annie E. Casey Foundation:  Well, I think there’s a number of reasons that we have to look at here.

The economy, as it’s recovered, certainly has produced jobs for some populations, but we know that the recession took out a lot of lower-skilled jobs and low-wage jobs that had been held by African-Americans and Latinos.

And as the economy has recovered, although a lot of the jobs that had been restored are low-wage jobs, the folks who lost their jobs, who have had kind of a precarious grasp of those jobs, are having a much harder time getting employed again.

BOOK - 'Girl in Glass'

aka The Greed Files

"Being shamed by a CEO turned this mom into a health privacy advocate" PBS NewsHour 7/21/2015


SUMMARY:  Deanna Fei was thrilled when her daughter, born premature at 25 weeks, came home from the hospital.  Then, her husband’s boss – the CEO of AOL – claimed he was trimming workers’ retirement benefits because the company had spent too much money on medicals bills from “distressed babies.”  William Brangham talks to Fei about the experience and her new memoir, “Girl in Glass.”

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now, when one family’s personal drama sparked national headlines.

Deanna Fei’s premature baby girl had survived a long, arduous stay in the hospital, when she and her family were thrust into controversy.  It happened when the CEO of AOL, where her husband worked, said he would cut benefits for all workers because of high medical costs for cases like hers.

She describes the experience in a new memoir called “Girl in Glass:  How My ‘Distressed Baby’ Defied the Odds, Shamed a CEO, and Taught Me the Essence of Love, Heartbreak, and Miracles.

William Brangham talked with her recently in Brooklyn, New York.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Deanna Fei was just 25 weeks pregnant, hard at work on her second novel and months away from her delivery date.  She’d been researching translations for a plot twist where one of her main characters would have a miscarriage.

That night, her own contractions came out of nowhere.  Rushing to the hospital with shooting pains in her womb, the translation of the word, “calamity” was still on her computer screen.

DEANNA FEI, Author, “Girl in Glass”:  The pain just got worse and worse and worse.  And I found myself desperately thinking, like, could this be Braxton Hicks contractions, you know, the false labor?

But it felt nothing like that.  And by the time I got to the hospital, I was fully dilated.  And the doctors had to perform an emergency C-section.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Nothing in Fei’s own history predicted a calamity like this.  She and her husband, Peter Goodman, had always been the lucky types, traveling the world together, pursuing careers in writing and journalism.

During a trip to India in 2010, they made an offhand prayer to the Hindu gods to bless them with their first child, and nine months later, a chubby boy named Leo was born, healthy and right on time.  This second pregnancy, which was a surprise, came almost a year after Leo’s birth and had been going just as well, until those pains started.

DEANNA FEI:  All that was in my head was, I think I lost my baby.  I had a miscarriage.  And when the nurses and doctors said things like, congratulations, would you like to take a picture of her, I almost felt like it was a kind of farce.  And both my husband and I had this feeling of, this isn’t how a baby gets born.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  She was a baby girl, weighing just one pound, nine ounces, barely a quarter of her brother’s birth weight.

One doctor described her skin as — quote — “gelatinous.”  Because she’d arrived so early, she had few of the normal functions or immunities babies develop in utero, so she had to live enclosed in this glass incubator in a neonatal intensive care unit.  Her parents were even reluctant to give her a name at first.

VIOLENCE IN AMERICA - The Killing Season

"Gangs and guns fuel Chicago’s summer surge of violence" PBS NewsHour 7/20/2015


SUMMARY:  In Chicago, the number of shooting deaths has climbed in 2015 after falling the last two years.  Vonzell Banks was one of the victims -- a 17-year-old church choir drummer, who got caught in the crossfire during a family outing over the July 4th weekend.  Special correspondent Chris Bury reports on what’s driving the violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  In Chicago this summer, police are dealing with an unsettling spike in violent crime, after a drop in the homicide rate over the last two years, this weekend, 11 dead and 34 injured.

More now from special correspondent Chris Bury.

CHRIS BURY (NewsHour):  In Chicago, this is the season of sorrow and grief.  Every summer, tears flow as the body count climbs with the temperatures.  This is the killing season.

Many of those killed are kids filled with promise, including Vonzell Banks, just 17.  For his family, the pain is unbearable.  But so many young people like him are dying that the whole city is grieving, too.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, Chicago:  Do you think it’s too much for a city to let parents see their kids graduate?

CHRIS BURY:  Even Chicago’s hard-charging mayor, Rahm Emanuel, had to choke back his tears.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL:  I will tell you this as a father of three.  This is not natural.  This is not right.  They deserve better.

CHRIS BURY:  By all accounts, Vonzell Banks deserved better, too, playing by the rules, staying out of trouble, spending time at church.  They called him drummer boy for his talent keeping the beat for the choir.

For his pastor, Derail Smith, the pain is personal.  He watched Vonzell grow up.

REV. DERAIL SMITH, Pastor, Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer:  He was brought up in a traditional type family where it was yes, sir; yes, ma’am; and thank you very much, and I appreciate you, those type of things.

So, therefore, there was never any indication for me to see that he had any type of interaction with drugs or with any type of violence.  He wasn’t that, no, not at all.

HEALTH - Flying Eye Hospital

"Flying Eye Hospital delivers new outlooks to patients around the world" PBS NewsHour 7/20/2015


SUMMARY:  Since 1982, the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital has traveled from country to country, performing surgeries and training local medical staff.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro meets up with the flying hospital in Vietnam.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (NewsHour):  So, well before the plane arrives, Orbis has alerted local eye care providers, who in turn alert likely patients.

For 8-year-old Thuy, it’s a rare chance at surgery for her strabismus, or lazy eye.

WOMAN (through interpreter):  We took her to see the doctor four years ago.

MAN (through interpreter):  We were afraid to even ask how much it would cost.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  Thuy’s father is disabled.  Her mother earns less than $2 a day gathering and selling recyclables.

CHILD (through interpreter):  I hope the doctors can help me.  I don’t want to be cross-eyed anymore.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  Strabismus is common, affecting perhaps 4 percent of all people.  Patients can lose sight in the wayward eye, and depth perception.  There also are painful psychosocial effects, says Dr. O’Hara.

DR. MARY O’HARA:  We’re keyed to be attracted to symmetry and repulsed by asymmetry on a very subconscious level.  And people who have crooked eyes tend to be down-rated in society.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  Just because of the appearance of that person.

DR. MARY O’HARA:  Right.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  Six-year-old Van doesn’t seem affected by social stigma, at least not yet.

MAN (through interpreter):  Her life is pretty normal.  She gets teased a bit, but her life is pretty normal.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  Van’s parents also struggle to make ends meet and cannot afford surgery.

MAN (through interpreter):  We had been to a doctor three years ago.  They said wait for a charity group to come.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  The next day, they and others gathered at the local eye hospital for screening.  About 75 patients are being screened here at the local hospital.  Some 45 will be chosen for surgery or laser treatment, based on a variety of criteria.  They need to be particularly good teachable cases.  Young patients with good prognoses have priority, as do those in danger of losing their sight altogether.

SPACE - Search For Life

"To find life in the universe, a new initiative to help us hear the signals" PBS NewsHour 7/20/2015


SUMMARY:  Are we alone in the universe?  A new project called the Breakthrough Initiative may help scientists like Stephen Hawking get closer to the answer.  Tech investor Yuri Milner pledged $100 million to help survey one million of the closest stars to Earth for signals from other forms of intelligent life.  Gwen Ifill discusses the project with Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The search for signs of intelligent life in the universe may have been a fruitless one so far, but the effort got a major boost today with a new initiative from scientists Stephen Hawking and others.

Using some of the world’s biggest radio telescopes, the project will spend the next 10 years surveying a million of the closest stars to Earth, trying to find any signals from the 100 closest galaxies.  It’s called the Breakthrough Initiative and it’s funded by Russian billionaire and Silicon Valley tech investor Yuri Milner.  He’s pledged $100 million for the project.

Earlier today in London, physicist Stephen Hawking spoke to reporters about the eternal quest.

STEPHEN HAWKING, Physicist (through computer voice):  It’s time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond Earth.  The Breakthrough Initiatives are making that commitment.  We are alive.  We are intelligent.  We must know.

GWEN IFILL:  Andrew Siemion is director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and is affiliated with the Breakthrough Initiative.  The acronym SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Andrew Siemion, thank you for joining us.

So, aside from Hollywood movies, how hard have we been looking for extraterrestrial life in the universe?

ANDREW SIEMION, Director, Berkeley SETI Research Center:  We have been looking pretty hard.

The modern radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence, this is the experiment to try to detect extraterrestrial technologies by their radio emissions, has been going on for about 55 years.

GWEN IFILL:  This $100 million investment that’s being made, how significant is that and what will it do?

ANDREW SIEMION:  It’s absolutely incredible.  And it’s coming at a very fortuitous time.

In the last couple of years, we have learned that at least 10 percent of the stars in our galaxy have an Earth-like planet, a planet about the size of the Earth that liquid water could exist on the surface.  And at the same time, our computing technology has advanced dramatically.  So we have the opportunity now to pair our knowledge of extrasolar planets and possibilities for life in the universe with incredible advances in computing technology to conduct the most sensitive search for extraterrestrial intelligence that we have ever undertaken in the history of humanity.

OPINION - Iran Regime Opponents Say.....

"Iranian Dissidents Explain Why They Support the Nuclear Deal" by Danny Postel, In These Times 7/22/2015

We know what politicians from the U.S. to Israel think about the Iran nuclear deal.  How about asking some opponents of Iran’s regime?

The debate on the nuclear deal with Iran has revolved mainly around the geopolitics of the agreement.  Is it good for the United States?  Does the deal represent a defeat or a victory for the Islamic Republic?  Does it make Israel more secure, or less?  How will the Saudis respond?  Will they pursue a nuclear program of their own?  What will Washington do to placate its nervous allies in Riyadh (and other Gulf capitals) and Tel Aviv?  What broader implications might the nuclear deal portend for US-Iranian relations, and for the regional politics of the Middle East?

These are hugely important questions, to be sure.  But what does the nuclear agreement mean for internal Iranian politics?  There’s been some excellent reporting on Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif’s diplomatic craftsmanship, which has inspired comparisons—arguably exalted—to Mohammad Mosaddeq, and speculation about whether Hassan Rouhani can parlay the nuclear deal into a domestic agenda, pursuing the kinds of reforms that the Iranians who voted for him in 2013 desperately crave and eagerly await.

But how does this historic development look from the perspective of Iran’s grassroots?  We saw the jubilation in Iran’s streets, the euphoric popular reaction to the news of the deal.  But these scenes lacked context.  What do Iranian dissidents and civil society activists actually think of the nuclear deal?  An in-depth report issued by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran provides a refreshingly vivid sense of what such Iranians have to say, in their own words.

The report, High Hopes, Tempered Expectations:  Views from Iran on the Nuclear Negotiations, features interviews with an array of Iranians—former political prisoners, filmmakers, political scientists, civil rights lawyers, playwrights, journalists, actors, economists, novelists, publishers, theater directors (some of them belonging to two or more of these categories, former political prisoner being the most common).  In other words, these are not big fans of the Iranian government.  Indeed, for personal security reasons some agreed to participate in the report only on condition of anonymity.

And the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran itself is anything but enthusiastic about the Islamic Republic:  the vast majority of its reports, videos and activity document the regime’s brutal repression and condemn its systematic rights violations in unflinching terms.

This report thus provides a vital perspective, one that’s been largely absent in the global debate about the nuclear deal—and in some cases misrepresented (for example, by neoconservative pundits who claim the deal is a gift to the regime and sells the Iranian opposition short).  This report reveals what the regime’s critics, opponents, and victims, inside the country, actually think about this critical issue.

Take a Breath and Demand our Rights

“All of the individuals interviewed felt sanctions and Iran’s international isolation have profoundly hurt Iranian society,” the report’s authors note, “negatively affecting all spheres of economic, political, and cultural life, with especially dire consequences for the lower socioeconomic strata.”

“We hope an agreement is reached and that it is signed, so that our nation can take a breath after all this prolonged pressure.”
Shahla Lahiji (Publisher, Roshangaran and Women Studies Publishers)

“Problems caused by the sanctions are palpable in every home right now.”
Ahmad Shirzad (university professor and former member of Parliament)

“[M]any of our patients have problems obtaining their medication and medications are expensive. …  [M]any of our passenger airplanes have … no repair facilities … and we can’t [get] spare parts.”
Abbas Ghaffari (film director)

“[An agreement] will have its first impact on society’s collective mental state.  While many predict this might be short-lived … the psychological impact of this victory in the different sectors of the society will definitely not be short-lived.  Such a positive impact can even move people to take action to improve their conditions.”
a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

“If we reach an agreement, good opportunities in every area will definitely develop, and we can demand our rights as human beings.”
Mahmoud Dolatabadi (author)

“[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities.  The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups.”
Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour (civil society activist and wife of a political prisoner)

“[Failure to reach a deal will result in] an intensification of anti-West political tendencies in Iran [which] will help the overall anti-Western currents in the region, even if indirectly.”
a civil rights lawyer in Tehran (anonymous)

“Social hopelessness would increase drastically [if the agreement fell through].  People would once again lose their motivation for reforms. …  The failure of the negotiations would equal the failure of moderates and the strengthening of the radical camp. …  The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult. …  [A] continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode … [and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent.”
a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

This last comment echoes the sentiments of Akbar Ganji, one of Iran’s leading democratic dissidents who almost died on a hunger strike behind bars.  “As a former Iranian political prisoner who spent six years in the Islamic Republic’s jails and whose writings have been banned in Iran, I support the [nuclear] agreement,” he has written.  Reaching a nuclear deal, he argued, would “gradually remove the warlike and securitized environment from Iran.”  The Iranian political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam recently made a similar point.

No More Excuses

61 percent of the respondents believe that reaching a deal on the nuclear issue “should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties” and that “the nation’s attention, previously monopolized by the negotiations, could now turn to critical domestic issues, among them, the state of basic freedoms in Iran,” according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

That is, on the real issues in Iran.  Or, to use an old-fashioned phrase, removing the nuclear issue—and the concomitant economic sanctions and threats of external military action—could “heighten the contradictions” within the Islamic Republic.  To wit:

“There are a lot of things that have all been on a waiting list in the hope that first the nuclear issue would be settled.”
Ahmad Shirzad (physics professor and former member of Parliament)

“After the topic of nuclear negotiations dims, [Rouhani] will have to focus on human rights and civil rights, which were parts of [his] initial programs. …  Cultural and political issues must be addressed side by side with economic issues.”
Issa Saharkhiz (journalist and former political prisoner)

“Following the nuclear and economic issues, the Rouhani administration will have to tackle the issue of political freedom.  Political parties, universities, and the media will be serious demands Mr. Rouhani will have to face, and he will have to take visible steps and present them to public opinion. …  [Priorities must include] the serious pursuit of citizenship rights.”
a journalist in Iran (anonymous)

‘Necessary Even if Not Sufficient’

The respondents interviewed for the report harbor no illusion that the nuclear agreement is a panacea that will magically end the regime’s human rights violations or produce democratic pluralism in Iran overnight.  But they do believe, as the report’s authors note, that a resolution to the nuclear issue is “a necessary even if not sufficient requirement for any progress toward greater rights and liberties.”

“As a defense lawyer for individuals who are pursued or imprisoned for political reasons, my work will be positively impacted … and society will enjoy more freedom as a result. …  Unlike those who believe that a decrease in foreign pressure would increase pressure inside the country, I don’t believe this.”
Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht (lawyer)

“If the sanctions are lifted … another impact …  I believe would [be] a big opening in the human rights discourse. … the human rights issue, God willing, will find more flexibility after this agreement … if the nuclear issue is resolved, [many other] issues will be influenced.”
Massoud Shafiee (lawyer)

“Whether lame or legitimate, I hope that after a nuclear agreement there are no more excuses … and that it would be possible to expect, to demand things.”
Hamid Amjad (playwright, theater director, and publisher in Tehran)

The report’s respondents voiced an array of perspectives on the likelihood of these demands actually materializing—some expressed deep skepticism, given the structure of power in the Islamic Republic, while others were more hopeful.  Yet “[s]trong support for the nuclear negotiations and hope for an agreement was unanimous and unequivocal among all of the respondents, and was held regardless of the respondent’s expectations regarding the actual benefits of an accord,” the report’s authors note.

“It is incumbent upon the international community,” the report’s authors conclude, “to reinforce these voices of reason, patience, and hope, by similarly supporting the peaceful resolution of conflict with the Islamic Republic—and by doing everything it can in a post-deal environment to stand by the people of Iran in their efforts to achieve the most basic rights and freedoms.”

Indeed it is.  Thanks to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, we have a much clearer sense of what some of these voices sound like.

Monday, July 20, 2015

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 7/17/2015

"Shields and Brooks on striking a deal with Iran, Planned Parenthood scrutiny" PBS NewsHour 7/17/2015


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including reactions to the Iran nuclear agreement, recent controversy over Planned Parenthood, the entrance of Gov. Scott Walker into the 2016 presidential campaign and more.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome to you, gentlemen.  A lot to talk about this Friday.

Let’s start with Iran.

Mark, we just heard the secretary of state, John Kerry, what he had to say about this nuclear deal.  What do you make of it?

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  I think the president summarized it very well.  He said don’t let the unattainable perfect be the enemy of the obtainable good.

And I think this is obtainable good, the object being a nuclear — a non-nuclear Iran.  And I think this guarantees at least for 10 years that there will be a non-nuclear Iran.  It doesn’t change Iran’s — as the secretary pointed out, its conduct and what it does.  And we hope that that does change.  But this is about dealing with nuclear arms in a very troubled area.

And I think, in this sense, it’s a step, very — a positive step, and one that I think the President is at the top of his game, quite frankly, from Charleston to the press conference this week.  I thought he was compelling in both cases.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  David, what’s your take?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  I’m extremely skeptical.

I start much more than Secretary Kerry, I think, with the belief that this is a theocratic, fascistic regime that wants to, A, be a big power in the Middle East, the dominant power in the region and spread a radically — radical version of sort of religious ideology.  And so I think to give that regime first the $150 billion to up their funding for Hezbollah and other terrorist armies around the region is dangerous.

To legitimize their nuclear enrichment program is dangerous.  To lift eventually the ban on conventional weapons, the embargo on the conventional weapons is dangerous.  And to have a regime that — you know, the inspection regime, people are getting lost in the details.  It is not a bad regime.  I suspect it probably will delay the nuclear program, but it’s their country.

And if they’re ideologically motivated to build this weapon, and they have every incentive to want to do so, I assume they are going to find a way to keep these centrifuges going in some form, and get a breakout after the sanctions are lifted.  So, for all those reasons, I think I’m quite skeptical of what has happened.

TERRORISM - Tennessee Attack

"‘Very few red flags’ to tip off authorities to Tennessee attack" PBS NewsHour 7/17/2015


SUMMARY:  Officials are describing their case on the shooting rampage by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez on members of the U.S. military as a terror investigation.  Hari Sreenivasan speaks to Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, about what we know about the shooter and whether he may have been influenced by groups like the Islamic State, which has called for lone wolf attacks.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now we take a deeper look at what we know about the attack in Chattanooga and the current threats against Americans.

Hari Sreenivasan picks up the story.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Investigators are combing through clues to find out why Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez went on a shooting rampage yesterday in Chattanooga.

Officials describe the case that targeted members of the U.S. military, taking the lives of four Marines, as a terror investigation.

For more, we turn to Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

So, Michael, on the one hand, we have federal authorities saying we do not have a direct link yet to ISIS.  On the other hand, this is exactly the type of attack that ISIS and al-Qaida are trying to inspire around the world.

MICHAEL LEITER, Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center:  That’s exactly right.

And I think federal officials are being appropriately cautious.  It is only 24 hours after the event and much evidence that will be uncovered is not yet open or public.  All that being said, it’s quite clear, I think by all of the indications, that there was some inspiration from al-Qaida or ISIS ideology.

Exactly what those links are back to those organizations, that’s what we still have to figure out.

DRONE TECHNOLOGY - Studying Insects

"How studying insects may lead to smarter drones" PBS NewsHour 7/17/2015

(aka Nature Does Better)


SUMMARY:  When you watch an insect fly in slow motion, you get a whole new perspective on the complexity of movement and engineering.  A new collaborative research project, funded by the U.S. Air Force, is devoted to studying how insects and animals fly so that humans can build smarter, more efficient aircraft.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Have you ever watched a bee fly?  Really watched them closely?  Or studied a butterfly or dragonfly darting around your garden?

With the naked eye, it’s often hard to see how they are flying, with tiny wings that can flap hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of times a minute.  But when you watch in slow motion with the help of a high-speed camera, you get a whole new perspective on the mysterious, and incredibly complex world, of insect flight.

So how does a bee with such a giant body and such tiny wings actually fly?

TOM DANIEL, University of Washington:  It beats its wings really fast, and you can’t even see that.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Tom Daniel is a biology professor at the University of Washington who has long studied bees and all sorts of flying insects.  He says there’s a lot scientists have learned about bees over hundreds of years of study, but there is much more to learn about how exactly they fly.

TOM DANIEL:  The sensory information coming off the wing is probably providing gyroscopic data.  The interesting thing is the wings are moving so fast, they are probably exquisitely sensitive to the rotations.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Whether bees and other insects have built-in gyroscopes in their wings is one of the questions Tom Daniel is now trying to answer…

EDUCATION - Building Good Social Skills

"Kindergarteners with good social skills turn into successful adults, study finds" PBS NewsHour 7/16/2015


SUMMARY:  In a report released today, researchers found that kindergarteners’ social skills, like cooperation, listening to others and helping classmates, provided strong predictors of how those children would fare two decades later.  Judy Woodruff speaks to Damon Jones of Pennsylvania State University about the findings.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  A new study says keeping more children on track to high school graduation, a full-time job and out of the criminal justice system could start in kindergarten.

In a report released today, researchers tracked more than 700 children from kindergarten to age 25.  They found students’ social skills, like cooperation, listening to others and helping classmates, held strong clues for how those children would fare two decades later.  In some cases, social skills may even be better predictors of future success than academic ones.

Damon Jones, a senior research associate at Penn State University, joins me now to talk about the findings.

Professor Jones, welcome.

First, remind us, when and where did this study take place and what was the original purpose of it?

DAMON JONES, Pennsylvania State University:  Well, Judy, our study was aimed at exploring the influential role of socioemotional skills in children in terms of human development in general.

You know, there are a lot of studies that looked at — cross-research disciplines that look at socioemotional skills.  Sometimes, they’re called soft skills, sometimes noncognitive skills.  And what these represent are kind of key characteristics in children representing things like managing their state, having good relationships, being responsible socially, interacting well with adults, and then getting things done.

It’s really key skills in early development that you can see would be very important in being successful in school and in relationships.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, again, this was 20 years ago that the study was begun.


"Criminal justice reform gains bipartisan momentum" PBS NewsHour 7/16/2015


SUMMARY:  On Thursday, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, part of his larger campaign to encourage reform of the American criminal justice system.  Political director Lisa Desjardins reports he’s not the only politician pushing for reform, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are speaking out and offering proposals on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This week, the issue of criminal justice reform, who goes to prison in America, hit a kind of critical mass, with action from President Obama, in Congress and on presidential campaigns.

As part of our Broken Justice series, our Lisa Desjardins lays out the reform movement that both Republicans and Democrats are pushing, and which some in law enforcement want to push back.

LISA DESJARDINS (NewsHour):  It was a symbol intended to spark sweeping change, the first visit ever by a sitting U.S. president to a federal prison.  President Obama’s walk today through the El Reno facility outside Oklahoma City capped off his weeklong push on what he calls a broken criminal justice system.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  These are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made.

LISA DESJARDINS:  Monday, the President commutes sentences for 46 drug offenders.  Tuesday, at the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia, the president speaks to the racial disparity within the prison population.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  African-Americans and Latinos make up 30 percent of our population.  They make up 60 percent of our inmates.  About one in every 35 African-American men, one in every 88 Latino men is serving time right now.  Among white men, that number is one in 214.

LISA DESJARDINS:  President Obama is adding his voice to a bipartisan call for reform of the criminal justice system.

Today, Republican presidential hopeful and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie released his plan to educate prisoners.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, Republican Presidential Candidate:  If we’re going to incarcerate people, then we should make them do something productive, not just sit around watching TV all day.  One solution is to require inmates to try and get their GED before release, so they have some minimum qualifications.

LISA DESJARDINS:  Reforming criminal justice is on the radar of nearly all those who would be President.  In the past few months, 18 of the current 20 presidential candidates have argued for some kind of change.

Up on Capitol Hill, ideas have made it into a group of bills that are moving toward floor votes.  A House Oversight Committee hearing this week reviewed a number of reform proposals, including a bill sponsored by Senate Republican John Cornyn.

WATER - California and Arizona Shell-Game

"Less Than Zero" by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica 6/16/2015


Despite decades of accepted science, California and Arizona are still miscounting their water supplies.

Deep beneath the bleached-out, dusty surface of the drought-stricken West is a stash of water sequestered between layers of rock and sometimes built up over centuries.

Officials in the Colorado River basin states have long treated this liquid treasure as a type of environmental retirement account — an additional supply of water they can raid to get through the driest years and make up for the chronic overuse of the rivers themselves.

In recent years, the withdrawals have taken on even more importance:  At least 60 percent of California’s water now comes from underground, some researchers say.  Arizona, staring down imminent rationing of Colorado River water, pumps nearly half its supply from aquifers.

But in allowing their residents to tap underground resources this way, regulators and legislators in Southwestern states have ignored an inconvenient truth about how much water is actually available for people to use:  In many places, groundwater and surface water are not independent supplies at all.  Rather, they are interconnected parts of the same system.

The science has been clear for the better part of a century.  Drawing groundwater from near a stream can suck that stream dry.  In turn, using all the water in streams and rivers lessens their ability to replenish the aquifers beneath them.  Farmers who drill new wells to supplement their supplies with groundwater are often stealing water from their neighbors who hold rights to the rivers above them.  This understanding has been the foundation of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s water accounting for decades, and was used by the U.S. Supreme Court to decide one of the most significant water contests in history.

Yet California and Arizona — the two states water experts say are facing the most severe water crises — continue to count and regulate groundwater and surface water as if they were entirely separate.

“States have their own take on this.  Or they choose to not address it at all,” said Stanley Leake, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a leading expert on properly accounting for the connection between ground and surface waters in the West.  “In some cases they pretend that there is no connection.”

Leaders in California and Arizona acknowledge that their states have done this, at least in part to avoid the grim reckoning that emanates from doing the math accurately.  There is even less water available than residents have been led to believe.

If these states stopped effectively double-counting their resources, they would have to change laws, upend traditional water rights and likely force farmers and cities to accept even more dramatic cuts than they already face — a political third rail.

“The politics of water are more challenging than any other issue the state faces,” said Fran Pavley, a California state senator who helped draft a much-praised package of state laws passed last year regulating groundwater withdrawals for the first time.

Tucked into Pavley’s package was a little-noticed provision that explicitly prohibits California state regulators from addressing the interconnection between groundwater and surface water in local water plans until 2025, a compromise meant to give local water agencies a leisurely runway to adjust to a new way of counting.

Pavley said the prospect of more immediately acknowledging the overlap between ground and surface waters threatened to derail the legislation entirely, triggering fierce opposition from the Agricultural Council of California, the California Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups.

“Those who have unlimited water supply don’t particularly like the idea of changing that,” she said.  “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Arizona law, too, treats groundwater and surface water as unconnected, as does Arizona’s state water plan, which purports to account for water resources and to estimate how many years of supply remain.  Its authors know better, Arizona’s top water official acknowledged, but rewriting them to be more truthful would be politically impossible and economically damaging.

“We know for a fact that pumping aquifers can dry up rivers,” said Thomas Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, who says his policy is bound by the Legislature and court rulings.  “But it is the law … it would be a huge upset to the economy to do away with that.”

The costs of refusing to acknowledge or adapt to the reality that two seemingly separate sources of water are actually often one are hard to measure but may turn out to be profound, leading hydrologists say.

In a series of articles, ProPublica has been examining the ways in which man’s mistakes in managing water in the West have exacerbated the severity of the drought and have left Colorado River basin states less able to adapt to a changing climate.  There are lots of culprits:  farming subsidies for water-intensive crops, arcane laws encouraging waste, leaky infrastructure, and more.

But none may be more significant than allowing a miscounting of how much water exists in the first place.  Willingly overlooking the science amounts to a fundamental failure of water management, leading water experts say, one that is leading to decisions about how to use it that will deepen and prolong the drought’s painful effects.  In the end, said Rich Juricich, an engineer with the California Department of Water Resources, it may mean that some places run short of the water they need.

Already, damage from the West’s increasing reliance on underground water supplies is proliferating.  In parts of California and Arizona, groundwater levels are being drawn down so quickly that the earth above them is collapsing.  Bridges and canals are buckling.

The more water is extracted from underground, the harder it becomes to restore the region’s rivers and reservoirs — some of which no longer flow through the summer — simultaneously sucking them dry from above and below.

“If you don’t connect the two, then you don’t understand the system,” said John Bredehoeft, a leading hydrogeologist who for many years managed the U.S. government’s western states water program for the U.S. Geological Survey.  “And if you don’t understand the system, I don’t know how in the hell you’re going to make any kind of judgment about how much water you’ve got to work with.”