Thursday, January 28, 2016

DOMESTIC TERRORISM - Oregon Occupation

"FBI:  Several militants arrested, one dead in Oregon occupation" by PBS Oregon Staff, PBS NewsHour 1/27/2016

The FBI and Oregon State Police have arrested several people in connection to the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  One person was killed.

Ammon Bundy, Ryan C. Bundy, Brian “Booda” Cavalier, Shawna Cox and Ryan W. Payne were all arrested Tuesday night along Highway 395 between Burns and John Day, Oregon, police said.

Everyone arrested Tuesday night will face felony charges, according to law enforcement.

Officials said one person suffered non-life threatening injuries.  The injured person was reportedly transferred to a local hospital.

The arrest of Ammon and Ryan Bundy along with three others took place around 4:30 p.m. PST.  Shots were fired during the arrest.

Law enforcement said no additional information will be released at this time about the deceased person.

In a separate event in Burns, Oregon State Police arrested Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Arizona.  They did not give details about the nature of the arrest.  The FBI have also confirmed that Peter Santilli, age 50, of Cincinnati was arrested in Burns.

St. Charles Health System in Bend confirmed a helicopter had been dispatched to Harney County and is on standby awaiting to transport patients to its level II trauma center.  The hospital is on lockdown.

Ammon Bundy and a group of armed activists and militiamen stormed the empty headquarters of the remote wildlife refuge in Oregon on Jan. 2 to protest the impending imprisonment of two ranchers convicted of arson on federal land.

"Militia members hold out at Oregon reserve after highway arrests" PBS NewsHour 1/27/2016

KENYA - The Wildlife Preserves' Army

"Why wildlife preserves in Kenya resemble war zones" PBS NewsHour 1/27/2016


SUMMARY:  With rhinoceros horn now more valuable than gold on the black market, poaching has reached unprecedented levels.  Some wildlife preserves in Africa resemble war zones, as rangers struggle to keep pace with poachers, who may have ties to terrorist groups.  Daphne Matziaraki and James Pace-Cornsilk, students at UC Berkeley, traveled to Kenya to learn more.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Rhino and elephant poaching has reached unprecedented levels, as the black market price of rhino horn and ivory tusk has skyrocketed.

University of California Berkeley students Daphne Matziaraki and James Pace-Cornsilk traveled to Kenya and found that the trafficking networks are often connected to international terrorist groups and, on the ground, the situation resembles war.

NARRATOR:  Ol Jogi Conservancy in Northern Kenya is home to 46 eastern black rhinos.  There are 500 left in the world.

JAMIE GAYMER, Manager, Ol Jogi Conservancy:  We had two rhinos, I believe, to have been shot with a firearm, and one of those rhinos had its horns cut off.

NARRATOR:  Jamie Gaymer manages this rhino sanctuary and protects the surrounding 58,000 acres of land from a major threat, poachers.

JAMIE GAYMER:  The enemy who are trying to come and poach our rhinos are becoming more advanced, investing in higher-tech equipment, automatic weapons.  Perhaps their own intelligence is quite well-established, and we have to evolve our security in order to combat that.

NARRATOR:  Black market buyers from Asia and the United States have driven the price of ivory to $1,000 per pound, and rhino horn used in traditional Chinese medicine and seen as a status symbol to $45,000 per pound, making it more expensive than gold.

JAMIE GAYMER:  I don’t know the definition of war, but certainly there is a very advanced enemy who are putting us under considerable threat.

COMPUTERS - Game of GO: AI 5, Human Master 0

"Google artificial intelligence beats champion at world’s most complicated board game" by Nsikan Akpan, PBS NewsHour 1/27/2016


An artificial intelligence program developed by researchers at Google can beat a human at the board game GO, which some consider to be the most complicated board game in existence.  And this AI program — dubbed AlphaGo — didn’t defeat any ol’ human, but the European Go champion Fan Hui in a tournament last October by five games to nil.  The findings, published today in the journal Nature, represent a major coup for machine learning algorithms.

“In a nutshell, by publishing this work as peer-reviewed research, we at Nature want to stimulate the debate about transparency in artificial intelligence,” senior editor Tanguy Chouard said at a press briefing yesterday.  “And this paper seems like the best occasion for this, as it goes- should I say, right at the heart of the mystery of what intelligence is.”

Known as wéiqí in Chinese and baduk in Korean, GO originated in China over 2,500 years ago.  The board consist of a 19 by 19 grid of intersecting lines.  Two players take turns placing black and white marbles on individual intersection points.  Once place, the stones can’t be moved, but they can be captured by completely surrounding an opponent’s marble.  The ultimate objective is control more than 50 percent of the board, but since the board is so intricate, there are numerous possibilities for moves.

“So Go is probably the most complex game ever devised by man.  It has 10^170 (that's 10 followed by 170 zeros) possible board configurations, which is more than the numbers of atoms in the universe,” said study author and AlphaGo co-developer Demis Hassabis of Google DeepMind.

Here's my take on Artificial Intelligence:  The danger portrayed in many SiFi movies can come about IF we forget that to goal of ALL life is to survive.  Couple this with an intelligent being and you get a being that will do what it needs to survive.  Now comes true AI, this 'being' will also do ANYTHING it needs to survive, and if it sees humans as a threat ........?

EDUCATION - Workforce Training or College?

"Should more kids skip college for workforce training?" PBS NewsHour 1/26/2016

I have long advocated that collage MAY be a scam because it is so money driven.  Especially for private collages.  There has been evidence that some non-college vocations can pay as much, or more, than a college vocation.

For me, my vocational training was the U.S. Navy, which gave me training in electronics and management ('Leadership' in Navy terms), which gave me a very well paying carrier after I retired (22yrs) from the Navy.


SUMMARY:  Of all the U.S. high school students who graduate high school and go on to college, a large proportion will never earn their degree.  How can educators better train those who may struggle in trying to pick a course of study?  One solution may lie in putting greater emphasis on high school vocational training, but critics disagree.  Special correspondent John Tulenko of Education Week reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The NewsHour has long been committed to covering that topic.  And starting tonight, we will be expanding our coverage on Tuesdays with a new feature series called Making the Grade.  We will provide in-depth reporting on education issues at every level, from early childhood and preschool, all the way through high school and beyond with the world of higher education.

We will explore the most fundamental concerns in schools, communities and workplaces, and we will also cover plenty of approaches you may not have heard about yet.

Tonight, we focus on vocational education.  There’s a growing recognition of its value for some students.  But how do you determine when it’s working for the long haul?

Special correspondent John Tulenko of Education Week has our story.

JOHN TULENKO (NewsHour):  This year, more than a million students will graduate from high school, and most will go on to college.  It ought to be something to celebrate, but, in fact, nearly 40 percent of those who go to four-year colleges and some, 70 percent of students at community college, will never earn their degree.

DAVID WHEELER, Principal, Southeastern Regional:  It’s the shame of our nation, when you look at, a student comes out of high school, not knowing what they want to do, goes to college, drops out.  Now they’re in debt, without a job, and not knowing what they want to do.  They’re worse off than they were, you know, as little as a year before.  And that’s all preventable, all of it.

JOHN TULENKO:  One solution, principal Dave Wheeler says, lies in schools like his, Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School, south of Boston.

Here, in addition to the regular school subjects, students learn skilled trades and professions, and, if they choose, instead of college, they can go directly into the work force.

"The only girl in school to spark an interest in welding" PBS NewsHour 1/27/2016

(welding is workforce training)


SUMMARY:  Kalei Kipp is the only girl in the welding program at her high school.  Why don't more women go into that profession?  Our Student Reporting Labs report as part of Outside the Box, a series on the ways that young people are challenging traditional gender stereotypes.

EGYPT - Opposition Today

"5 years since uprising, Egyptian opposition demoralized by crackdown" PBS NewsHour 1/25/2016

IMHO this is just more evidence that the 'Arab Spring' is in deep freeze, considering has happened in Egypt and other Arab nations.


SUMMARY:  It's been a tumultuous five years since Egyptians took to the street in mass protest.  Now Egyptians are marking a somber and tense anniversary of a day that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the election and then military-led removal of Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent rise of the current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.  Hari Sreenivasan talks with special correspondent Nick Schifrin.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Five years ago today, Egyptians took to the streets in protest against the government of Hosni Mubarak.  Eighteen days later, Mubarak was gone, a landmark of what became known as the Arab Spring.

But these five years on have been tumultuous and difficult in Egypt, with a presidential election in 2012 that brought Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and the military-led removal and imprisonment of Morsi in 2013, and the subsequent election of the general who unseated Morsi, the current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

Egyptians today are marking a somber and tense anniversary.

For more, we turn to Hari Sreenivasan.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Joining me now is NewsHour special correspondent Nick Schifrin in Cairo.

Nick, you have reported from the region multiple times over the past few years.  Here are you on this anniversary.  What did you see today?

NICK SCHIFRIN (NewsHour):  Yes, Hari, we saw an absolute crackdown in what usually is one of the world’s busiest cities, an extraordinary amount of police guarding stations, guarding government buildings, but also guarding anywhere where demonstrators might actually come together.

And we saw that especially in Tahrir Square this afternoon.  We were there for a little while, met a few hundred people.  The only people allowed in Tahrir Square today were pro-Sissi demonstrators.  And we spoke to them.  And a few of them told me that they believe only President Sissi could defend this country against terrorism.

And where was the opposition?  Well, take a look at this.  This is 21-year-old Sanaa Seif.  She’s a prominent activist.  And, today, she walked alone, just her.  Her jacket says “The Revolution Continues.”

But, Hari, the revolution didn’t continue today.  The opposition was too scared to come out on the streets.  The Muslim Brotherhood, which has officially been called a terrorist organization, has really been — cracked down.  And so, today, at least on the streets, there was zero opposition to President Sissi.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Now, you point out that there’s two different factions that oppose Sissi, the young people that were calling for a revolution five years ago and the Muslim Brotherhood.  What’s happened to them over the years?

NICK SCHIFRIN:  Well, Hari, what is amazing about the revolution from five years ago is that those two groups were together.  There was so much hope and such a feeling that a cross-current of Egypt were going to come together and really depose Mubarak.

It was secular activists.  It was more conservative religious Muslim Brotherhood.  It was even members of the government.  And what has happened is that this crackdown that this government has really undergone has taken away not only that hope, but also the feeling that all of those groups are combined.

And just to give you a sense of how big the crackdown is, there are now 40,000 prisoners, political prisoners, in Egyptian jails.  And just in the last 10 days, there were 5,000 raids in Cairo.  These are raids that lead to arrests or perhaps just some pointed questions.  But that is a raid every two minutes in Cairo.  That sends a very direct signal.

And that is why we saw no opposition on the street.  And that is why one opposition activist put it this way.  There might be freedom of speech in Egypt, but there is no freedom after speech.  And many activists right now are saying that this government is the same kind of government they risked their lives to escape five years ago.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

ABORTION - Texas Grand Jury Decision

"ABORTION OPPONENTS INDICTED OVER VIDEOS" U-T News Service, San Diego Union-Tribune 1/26/2016

NOTE: This is from the on-line print paper, so no links

Group targeted Planned Parenthood

A Houston grand jury investigating undercover footage of Planned Parenthood found no wrongdoing Monday by the abortion provider, and instead indicted antiabortion activists involved in making the videos that targeted the handling of fetal tissue in clinics and provoked outrage among Republican leaders nationwide.

David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs.  Another activist, Sandra Merritt, was also indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.  It’s the first time anyone in the group has been charged criminally since the release of the videos, which began surfacing last year and alleged that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue to researchers for a profit in violation of federal law.  Planned Parenthood officials have denied any wrongdoing and the allegations have not been supported in numerous congressional and state investigations triggered by the release of the videos.

The footage from the clinic in Houston showed people touring the facility while pretending to be from a company called BioMax, which procures fetal tissue for research.  Planned Parenthood has previously said that the fake company sent an agreement offering to pay the “astronomical amount” of $1,600 for organs from a fetus.  The clinic said it never entered into the agreement and ceased contact with BioMax because it was “disturbed” by the overtures.

Organ-buying charges

In a statement announcing the indictment, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson did not provide details on the charges, including what record or records were allegedly tampered with and why Daleiden faces a charge related to buying human organs.  Her office said it could not disclose more information, and a court spokesman said it was unclear whether copies of the indictments, which typically provide more insight, would be made public Monday.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Anderson, an elected Republican, said in her statement.  “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us.”  In a statement Monday night, Daleiden said: “The Center for Medical Progress uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press, and follows all applicable laws.  We respect the processes of the Harris County district attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well.  Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see.”  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said Monday that the inspector general of the state’s Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas attorney general’s office have been investigating Planned Parenthood’s actions.

“Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation,” Abbott said in a statement.  “The state of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue.”

The state attorney general, Ken Paxton, said in a statement: “The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry.  The state’s investigation of Planned Parenthood is ongoing.”

The Texas video was the fifth released by the Center for Medical Progress.  The videos provoked an outcry from the anti-abortion movement and prompted numerous investigations of Planned Parenthood by Republican-led committees in Congress and by GOP-led state governments.  Congressional Republicans unsuccessfully called for cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood.

Cleared by states’ probes

Officials in 11 states have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing after investigating claims that they profited from fetal tissue donation, officials said.  The states are Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington.  Officials in eight other states— California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia — declined to investigate, citing a lack of evidence.  Planned Parenthood has said a few clinics in two states used to accept legally allowed reimbursement for the costs of providing tissue donated by some of its abortion clients.  In October, Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer accept reimbursement and would cover the costs itself.

Federal law allows fetal tissue to be collected and used, but not for profit.  Medical ethics prohibit altering the timing, method or procedures used to terminate a pregnancy purely to obtain fetal tissue.  Planned Parenthood called Monday’s indictments the latest in a string of victories since the videos were released, and pointed to the 11 state investigations that cleared the nation’s largest abortion provider.

“This is absolutely great news because it is a demonstration of what Planned Parenthood has said from the very beginning: We follow every law and regulation and these anti-abortion activists broke multiple laws to try and spread lies,” said spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Before the Texas video was released, Melaney Linton, president of the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic, told state lawmakers last summer that it was likely to feature actors — pretending to be from a company called BioMax — asking leading questions about how to select potential donors for a supposed study of sickle cell anemia.  Linton said the footage could feature several interactions initiated by BioMax about how and whether a doctor could adjust an abortion if a patient has offered to donate tissue for medical research.

Despite the lofty name of the Center for Medical Progress, public filings suggest only a small number of people are affiliated with the nonprofit, none of whom are scientists or physicians engaged in advancing medical treatments.  The people named as its top officers are longtime anti-abortion activists with a history of generating headlines.

This month in federal court in San Francisco, Planned Parenthood sued the center, Daleiden and other abortion opponents involved in the videos.  The suit accused them of engaging in a three-year criminal enterprise to target the group.

“These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda,” Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement Monday.

“These anti-abortion extremists spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, lying and breaking the law,” said Ferrero.  “When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up.  “As the dust settles and the truth comes out, it’s become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we’re glad they’re being held accountable.”

U.S. SUPREME COURT - Juvenile Mandatory Life Terms

"PAROLE RIGHTS EXPANDED FOR YOUNG MURDERERS" by Adam Liptak, San Diego Union-Tribune 1/26/2016

NOTE:  This is from the on-line print paper, so no links.

Supreme Court rules 2012 decision banning mandatory life terms be applied retroactively

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that its 2012 decision banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile killers must be applied retroactively, granting a new chance at release for hundreds of inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murders they committed in their youth.

The vote was 6-3, and the majority decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s leading proponent of cutting back on the death penalty and other harsh punishments for entire classes of offenders.  His opinion strengthened the 2012 decision, which merely required new sentencing where life without parole had been imposed automatically, without taking into account the defendant’s youth.

Monday’s opinion indicated that life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders should be exceedingly rare.  Kennedy also gave states a second option — instead of re-sentencing the affected prisoners, they could make them eligible for parole.

The case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, No. 14-280, concerned Henry Montgomery, who was 17 in 1963 when he murdered an East Baton Rouge police officer.  He is now 69.

Kennedy said there was evidence that Montgomery deserved to be released, describing “his evolution from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community” and noting that he was a coach on the prison boxing team, had worked in the prison’s silkscreen program and had offered advice to younger inmates.

There are more than 2,000 people serving sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed when they were not yet 18.  Many of them automatically received those sentences for murders, without individualized consideration of their youth and other factors.  It’s not clear how many cases in San Diego County could be affected by the federal ruling.

California law already allows people serving life in prison without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles to petition the court for re-sentencing.  A few defendants have done so, including Oscar Ernesto Rubi Jr., who was convicted of killing a 55-year-old man during a 1993 robbery attempt in Imperial Beach, and Brae Hansen, who conspired in 2007 with her brother to kill her stepfather in Rolando.  Rubi was resentenced to 29 years to life in prison; Hansen to 26 years to life.

In the 2012 decision, Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that automatic life sentences for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Life-without-parole sentences would remain permissible, the court said, but only after individualized consideration.  But the court did not say whether the decision was merely prospective or whether it required new sentencing hearings or other review for offenders who had already exhausted their appeals.

The decision followed two others concerning harsh penalties for juvenile offenders.  In 2005 in Roper v. Simmons, the court eliminated the juvenile death penalty.  In 2010 in Graham v. Florida, the court ruled that sentencing juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole was also unconstitutional, but only for crimes that did not involve killing.

The question of whether the 2012 decision should be applied retroactively turned on whether it was substantive or procedural.  New substantive decisions apply retroactively, while new procedural ones generally do not.

There was some reason to think the 2012 decision was procedural, because it required new sentencing procedures rather than banning the punishment of life without parole for all juvenile killers.

But Kennedy said the decision had been grounded on the diminished culpability of all juvenile offenders, who are, he said, immature, susceptible to peer pressure and capable of change.  Very few, he said, are incorrigible.  But he added that as a general matter the punishment was out of bounds.

“A sentencer might encounter the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible and life without parole is justified,” he wrote.  “But in light of ‘children’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change,’ Miller made clear that ‘appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.’  “As a result,” Kennedy wrote, “Miller announced a substantive rule of constitutional law.”  He added that complying with Monday’s ruling should not be especially burdensome.  “A state may remedy a Miller violation by permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole, rather than by resentencing them,” he wrote.  “Allowing those offenders to be considered for parole ensures that juveniles whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity— and who have since matured — will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment.  “Prisoners like Montgomery,” Kennedy wrote, “must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”  Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Kennedy’s majority opinion.

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, and Thomas filed a separate dissent.

Scalia wrote that Kennedy had twisted the language in the Miller decision to make it sound categorical when it merely required a new sentencing procedure.  “To say that a punishment might be inappropriate and disproportionate for certain juvenile offenders is not to say that it is unconstitutionally void,” Scalia wrote.

He added that it would be very difficult for juries and judges to decide if defendants were incorrigible many years after their crimes.

“What the majority expects (and intends) to happen,” he said, is for all states instead to allow the affected prisoners to apply for parole.

Monday, January 25, 2016

KARATE - Master Mahiro Takano

Karate Master Mahiro Takano, all of 7 years old!

Her music video:  (she is so good)

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 1/22/2016

"Brooks and Marcus on GOP backlash to Trump and Cruz, Clinton-Sanders practicality debate" PBS NewsHour 1/22/2016


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including a new divide opening up between American conservatives over the popularity and electability of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, plus former Gov. Sarah Palin’s Trump endorsement and a new campaign ad from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

...and, the best political add I've seen so far...


"Why the world could use a Muslim Jedi" PBS NewsHour 1/22/2016


SUMMARY:  How can we relieve anti-Muslim discrimination?  Haroon Moghul says that adding a Muslim character to a certain science fiction franchise (Star Wars) might go a long way in changing perceptions (Islamophobia) and offering a vision of a more united future.

THE DARK SIDE - 9th Planet? Home of the 'First Order'

First Order

"We can’t see this possible 9th planet, but we feel its presence" PBS NewsHour 1/22/2016


SUMMARY:  Most of us grew up thinking there were nine planets in the solar system, but that changed when Pluto got downgraded in 2006.  Now there's news that there might be a ninth planet after all.  Researchers have found evidence of a planet with a mass 10 times that of Earth.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Nine planets in the solar system, right?  That’s what most of us grew up thinking.  Well, that ended in 2006, when Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet.

But now comes news that there might be a ninth planet after all.  Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (aka Caltech) found evidence of a planet with a mass 10 times that of Earth.

One of the Caltech astronomers, Mike Brown, joins us now.  And I will add that he is also known as the chief culprit in lowering Pluto’s status.  His memoir is titled “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.”

So, sort of making amends here I guess, Mike Brown?

MIKE BROWN, California Institute of Technology:  You know, it’s — I don’t think of it that way.  I think of it as, this is something I have been working at for 20 years, and Pluto was just collateral damage along the way.

JEFFREY BROWN:  All right, so let’s be as clear as we can about what you have done here.  You have not seen this new planet, right?  This is something you surmise.  Explain to us.

MIKE BROWN:  Yes, that’s absolutely right, and it’s important to know that we — no one has actually seen this planet yet.

What we have done is felt it, or, more precisely, we have seen its gravitational effect on the most distant things in the solar system.  And from those gravitational effects, we can tell that it must be out there.  And this is the same way that Neptune, for example, was discovered, by its gravitational effects on Uranus.  So, there’s a long history of this sort of astronomy.

JEFFREY BROWN:  You’re seeing gravitational effects on several — I gather, six small bodies out there?

MIKE BROWN:  There is actually quite a big collection.

There are six that are doing one thing.  There are five more that are doing something else.  And then there’s another eight doing something.  When you put them all together, it’s a pretty big population that are going in directions and moving in ways that they shouldn’t be doing unless there is something organizing the whole pattern.

CAT WORLD - Strays

"Why activists are fighting over feral felines" PBS NewsHour 1/22/2016


SUMMARY:  With an estimated 80 million feral cats in communities across the United States, there is growing a controversy on how to deal with them.  Euthanizing cats has been the traditional approach, but many animal rights activists believe that approach is cruel and inhumane.  Adithya Sambamurthy of "Reveal" for the Center for Investigative Reporting has the story.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  And now a story about cats, not the ones living in homes, but stray and feral cats that live outside.

By some estimates, there are 80 million feral cats in this country.  And the question of how to control them is sparking controversy.  Animal rights activists, who want to save stray cats, say there is an alternative to euthanizing feral cats, a method they say will control the cat population that’s more humane and effective.  But will it work.

Adithya Sambamurthy from our partner “Reveal” at the Center for Investigative Reporting has the story.

ADITHYA SAMBAMURTHY, Reveal:  Americans have long been obsessed with cats in commercials, cartoons and, of course, on the Internet.

But for every cat in our homes, there’s a stray one on the loose, roaming parking lots, alleyways, fields and backyards.  They’re everywhere, and, increasingly, it’s a problem.

Take Antioch, California, about 40 miles east of San Francisco.  The town is home to about 17,000 strays, one cat for every six citizens.

At the local animal shelter, Monika Helgemo is overwhelmed.

MONIKA HELGEMO, Animal Shelter:  This one’s here obviously is saying, pet me, pet me.  This cat here, see the ears go back?  That’s a feral cat.

ADITHYA SAMBAMURTHY:  Feral cats like this one are basically wild animals, and so they’re not candidates for adoption.

MONIKA HELGEMO:  We will do what we can and see if we can find a place for her and go live her life.  If not, we’re going to end up having to put her to sleep, euthanize her.

ADITHYA SAMBAMURTHY:  Antioch is typical.  There are an estimated 80 million stray and feral cats in the U.S.  Traditionally, the only way to deal with this overpopulation was to euthanize them.  More than a million cats are killed in animal shelters every year.  And that’s made some cat lovers so mad, they have gotten organized.

MAKING SEN$E - Hotbeds of Genius

"Hotbeds of genius and innovation depend on these key ingredients" by Sandy Petryowski, PBS NewsHour 1/21/2016


Are there really genius clusters?  What is the secret sauce of creative genius?  For his new book, “The Geography of Genius,” best-selling author Eric Weiner traveled the globe from Athens to Silicon Valley to find out why certain places have turned out so many talented individuals at certain times in history.

Weiner says several elements are often at play.  “In order for genius to happen, you need to have almost a chemical reaction going on, you need to have molecules banging against each other, and the more molecules you have, the better,” Weiner told PBS NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman.

“Those collisions are more likely to happen in a city than they are in the countryside.  Silicon Valley is one exception to that rule, it was essentially suburbia when it grew up, but it’s probably the exception that proves the rule.  All of these other golden ages sprang out of urban centers.”

The key to the cultivation of genius is openness to innovation, and to outsiders.  Genius magnets attract talent from far and wide.

“Take Vienna,” Weiner said.  “Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, none of them were from Vienna, they moved there and once they moved there they further magnetized the city, but there always has to be that initial seed in the first place.”

SPY GAMES - Alexander Litvinenko

"Russian security service blamed for defector’s high-profile death" PBS NewsHour 1/21/2016


SUMMARY:  The findings of a British inquiry into the demise of former Russian spy and high-profile defector Alexander Litvinenko were released Thursday, concluding that Litvinenko's 2006 death by polonium poisoning was the result of a Russian government operation, likely personally approved by President Vladimir Putin.  Chris Ship of Independent Television News begins our coverage.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The death by poisoning of a former Russian spy in London was thrust back into the headlines today, as a British inquiry into his killing released its report.

Alexander Litvinenko fled Russia nearly 20 years ago and accused the former chief of Russia’s spy agency, now-President Vladimir Putin, of corruption.  In 2006, he met two Russian spies at a London hotel, and three weeks later, he was dead.

Chris Ship of Independent Television News begins our coverage.

CHRIS SHIP, Independent Television:  We were reminded today that the radioactive poison inside Alexander Litvinenko's body was so strong, he had to be buried in a lead-lined coffin.  Today, the Russian security service the FSB was blamed for his killing.  And the orders, concluded the man who led the inquiry, most likely came from the top, the very top, he said.

SIR ROBERT OWEN, Litvinenko Inquiry Chairman:  The operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr. Patrushev, then head of the FSB, and also by President Putin.

"What the Litvinenko assassination accusation means for the Kremlin" PBS NewsHour 1/21/2016


SUMMARY:  A British investigation is pointing the finger at the Russian state and President Vladimir Putin for the 2006 assassination of a former spy and defector.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Steven Lee Myers of The New York Times and Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "NeuroTribes" Explores Autism

"Author explores life on the expanding autism spectrum" PBS NewsHour 1/19/2016


SUMMARY:  The rate of diagnosed cases of autism has more than doubled since 2000 and researchers have spent millions looking for causes and cures.  In "NeuroTribes," author Steve Silberman explores the history behind this dramatic increase, arguing it's just always been much more common than we realized.  William Brangham sits down with Silberman to discuss his work.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now the first of two looks we’re taking at the history of autism.

There seems to be more and more instances of it, but in this edition of the “NewsHour” Bookshelf, science writer Steve Silberman argues that the rise of autism is not some mysterious byproduct of the modern world, but instead a result of our growing understanding of the full range of the disorder.

William Brangham spoke with him recently in New York.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  The most recent federal data shows one in every 68 American children is diagnosed with autism.  Fifteen years ago, it was one in every 150 children.

In his book “NeuroTribes,” Steve Silberman explores the history behind that dramatic increase.  NeuroTribes” has been lauded as one of the best scientific books of the past year.  It won the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and made the best-of lists for over half-a-dozen newspapers and magazines.

Silberman says the genesis of the book came more than 15 years ago, after he wrote this story ("The Geek Syndrome") for “Wired” magazine about autistic kids in Silicon Valley.  After it ran, Silberman was swamped with e-mails from others who were struggling with the disease.

STEVE SILBERMAN, Author, “NeuroTribes”:  People were wrestling with very profound day-to-day problems with finding health care, finding employment, finding schools for their kids.

Meanwhile, the entire world was having a conversation about autism, but it was a completely different conversation.  It was about whether or not vaccines caused autism.    And that dominated virtually every mention of autism in the media.  Certainly, if there was an article about autism that didn’t mention vaccines, the comment thread on the Internet would be about vaccines.

And so I started to think that there was a disjunction between the problems that autistic people and their families were dealing with every day of their lives and what the whole world was talking about.

I learned that what happened has less to do with the slow and cautious progress of science than it does with the seductive power of storytelling.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Silberman's deep dive into the world of autism took him back to the very first researchers who tried to define and diagnose the condition.

STEVE SILBERMAN:  The true discover of autism was a guy named Hans Asperger in Vienna in the mid-1930s, and he and his colleagues discovered what we would now call the autism spectrum.  It was a very, very broad condition with many different manifestations ranging from kids who couldn’t talk at all and would need help every day of their lives to one of his former patients became an astronomy professor, actually, but he was still autistic.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Silberman argues it was this broadened definition of autism, that coupled with better diagnostic tools and better public education, that explains the dramatic rise in the number of diagnosed cases, not the repeatedly debunked theory that vaccines cause autism.

"Telling the story of parents and activists who fought for autism acceptance" PBS NewsHour 1/20/2016


SUMMARY:  The story of autism is many stories -- from doctors, to parents, to the afflicted themselves.  Journalists Caren Zucker and John Donvan examine that history in their new book, "In a Different Key: The Story of Autism."  Jeffrey Brown sits down with the authors to discuss the evolving definition of the diagnosis and the constant of parental love.

U.S. SUPREME COURT - Obama's Immigration Executive Action

"Fate of Obama’s immigration actions goes to Supreme Court" PBS NewsHour 1/19/2016


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court will consider whether President Obama overstepped his authority by deferring deportation and securing work rights for 4 million undocumented immigrants, an action opposed by 26 states.  Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal offers background, while Judy Woodruff gets views from the Immigration Law Center’s Marielena Hincapie and Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  It’s official, the Supreme Court will hear a case this term that could decide the fate of one of President Obama’s major immigration moves.  It would defer deportation for more than four million undocumented immigrants and permit them to work legally in the U.S.

Lower courts have sided with the 26 states that sued the federal government over the program, and those courts have put the program on ice for now.

But the White House said today the administration is confident the high court will rule in its favor.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:  The kinds of executive actions that the president took a little over a year ago now to try to bring some much-needed reforms and greater accountability to our broken immigration system were clearly consistent with the precedent that was established by other Presidents, and clearly within the confines of his authority as President of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But that is the issue that 26 states dispute.  Texas is one of those states, and its attorney general, Ken Paxton, said today in a statement — quote — “There are limits to the President’s authority, and those limits enacted by Congress were exceeded when the President unilaterally sought to grant lawful presence to more than four million unauthorized aliens who are in this country unlawfully.”

For more on the case, we turn to our regular, Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal.”

And, Marcia, welcome.

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:  Judy, thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, some background first.  This order the President made has been challenged almost from the very beginning, hasn’t it?


The executive action came in November of 2014.  Less than a month later, 26 Republican-led states challenged it in federal district court.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And what was the basis?

MARCIA COYLE:  The states are making a number of claims here.  One, they claim that the action violates the take care clause of the federal Constitution.  That’s in Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution.  And it says the President must enforce — I’m sorry — must faithfully enforce the laws.

They also claim that his action is arbitrary and capricious, his action violates the notice and public comment requirement of the Administrative Procedure Act.  That’s a law that governs how agencies go about making rules and regulations.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, we know the justices don’t ever, I guess, give a reason for taking up a case, but why is it thought that they’re doing this?

MARCIA COYLE:  Well, I think it was understood that they probably would take this case.  You have a federal court, a federal appellate court blocking a major federal government program.

The top lawyer for the administration in the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General of the United States, went to the Supreme Court after the injunction was issued and said, please take this case and resolve these legal questions.

And I think it was a given that the court would step into it.

HUMOR - If My Dog Could Talk

STARTING EARLY - An Expanding Health Program, Bipartisan Supported

"How home visits for vulnerable moms boost kids’ brainpower" PBS NewsHour 1/19/2016

CAUTION:  Remember, just because this bill was bipartisan supported does NOT mean much, until it is funded in an Appropriations Bill which comes later.  Such bills are actually killed or weakened when they do not get the needed funding.  I expect that the money-before-people Republicans will not properly fund this bill, but they will go home and brag about voting for the bill.

The media really needs to concentrate on reporting funding of any Congressional Bill, since many politicians will vote for a bill but later vote against funding it.


SUMMARY:  A rapidly expanding medical program for low-income first-time mothers combines social services with the latest in brain science.  The Nurse-Family Partnership provides in-home advice on health and parenting, which can lead to improved cognitive development and language skills for their children, who are showing up to school better prepared for learning.  Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Next, a look at a political rarity, an expanding health program supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

KIMBERLY HIRST, Registered Nurse:  I have a book for you guys today.

CAT WISE (NewsHour):  In Aurora, Colorado, registered nurse Kimberly Hirst is checking in on 19-year-old Sinai Herrera and her 2-year-old son, Caleb.

SINAI HERRERA:  One, two, buckle my shoe.

CAT WISE:  The visits are part of a rapidly expanding program called the Nurse Family Partnership.  The partnership combines old-fashioned social services with the latest brain science, all to help low-income first-time mothers and their children.

KIMBERLY HIRST:  Time and time again, I see these young girls drop out of school, so they’re at risk for that and living in poverty forever.

CAT WISE:  The regular visits begin in pregnancy and continue until the children are 2 years old.  Nurses offer advice on health, parenting, and self-sufficiency.

KIMBERLY HIRST:  It’s really so much more educational, rather than clinical.  And so I feel like sometimes I’m, like, a life coach.

CAT WISE:  Improved outcomes, like a 48 percent reduction in child abuse and an 82 percent increased employment for mothers, have been so significant that Congress recently voted to infuse home-visit programs with $800 million in new funding.

But while the Nurse Family Partnership is focused on health and poverty, another outcome is catching the attention of early learning experts.  Kids from the program are showing up at school better prepared.

David Olds, the project’s founder and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, says the educational benefits are no surprise.

IRAN DEALS - The New vs Old Sanctions

"New Iran sanctions appear as old sanctions lift for nuclear deal compliance" PBS NewsHour 1/18/2016


SUMMARY:  Many sweeping sanctions ended with the news that Iran's nuclear program has complied with a landmark agreement.  But a new round of limited sanctions were announced Sunday in response to an October missile test that violated a United Nations ban.  In addition, Iran released four Iranian-Americans in a trade for seven Iranians held in the U.S. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The new sanctions aimed at Iran’s ballistic missile program sparked fresh criticism from Tehran, after a weekend of milder words.

HOSSEIN JABERI ANSARI, Spokesman, Iranian Foreign Ministry (through interpreter):  The Islamic republic of Iran, as it has made clear in the past, will respond to such acts of propaganda and harassment by following its legitimate missile program more seriously and boosting its defensive and national security capabilities.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The limited sanctions announced Sunday followed a missile test in October that violated a United Nations ban.  Far more sweeping sanctions are ending, after Saturday’s announcement that Iran’s nuclear program has complied with a landmark agreement.

President Obama hailed the accord’s formal implementation in a Sunday appearance at the White House.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Under the agreement, Iranian technicians removed the reactor core at the Arak nuclear site, effectively ending its production of plutonium for a possible weapon.  The regime also cut the number of centrifuges at its Fordow and Natanz sites for enriching uranium.  And it shipped tons of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia.

As the nuclear deal came to full power, Iran released four imprisoned Iranian-Americans.  They include Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and Pastor Saeed Abedini.  Rezaian, Hekmati and Abedini are now undergoing physical and psychological evaluations at the U.S. military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.  Family members gathered there today to be reunited.


"The invisible catastrophe sickening families in California" PBS NewsHour 1/18/2016


SUMMARY:  Porter Ranch seems like a picturesque Southern California town, but an environmental disaster has been unfolding there for several months.  Natural gas has been spewing from an underground storage facility, causing health issues for residents and forcing temporary relocations for thousands of households.  Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now we turn to the natural gas leak in Southern California.

Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles, many of whom have been suffering from health impacts since the leak began in late October.  Relief well drilling efforts continue at the site, but Southern California Gas Company, which owns the well, says it could be late February or March before they are able to stop all leaks.

Special correspondent Cat Wise recently visited Porter Ranch, and she filed this report.

CAT WISE (NewsHour):  On the surface, it seems a serene, picturesque Southern California town, with gated communities and views.  But Porter Ranch, which is home to 30,000 residents in Northern L.A., is anything but serene these days.

An invisible environmental disaster is unfolding in the hills above the community, where natural gas, seen in this infrared video taken by an environmental group, is now spewing out from one the country’s largest underground gas storage facilities called Aliso Canyon.

STEVE CONLEY, University of California, Davis:  This one leak is roughly equivalent to the entire Los Angeles Basin.  It will change California’s emissions for the year, substantially.

CAT WISE:  Steve Conley an atmospheric scientist with the University of California, Davis, owns one of only a handful of planes in the country with specialized equipment that can measure gas leaks from the air.

For the last several months, he’s been flying the skies over Porter Ranch to monitor methane emissions for the state.  Methane, a greenhouse gas, is the main component of natural gas.  And it’s extremely potent.  It’s more efficient at trapping radiation and heat than carbon dioxide.

STEVE CONLEY:  That first flight, we measured something like 44,000 kilograms per hour.  The best number that I have come up with to give people a perspective, it’s close to 100,000 pounds an hour.  Every month, it’s the weight of an aircraft carrier.

My first thought was tapping the instruments, there’s something wrong, because we have never seen anything like that on any of our flights in the past.

NEWSHOUR SHARES - Martin Luther King Jr's Nobel Speech

"When MLK Jr. lamented ‘we have not learned the simple art of living together’" PBS NewsHour 1/18/2016


SUMMARY:  In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, the Nobel Prize Foundation released the full audio recording of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1964 Peace Prize acceptance speech.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Finally, our NewsHour Shares of the day, something that caught our eye that we thought might be of interest to you too.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Nobel Prize Foundation released the full audio recording of his 1964 Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Here is an excerpt:

VOICE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.:  We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.

Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external.  The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion.  The external is that complex of devices,

And in the hearts of men, we will come to that great and glad day when men all over the world will be able to join hands, black and men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Muslims, and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, free at last, free at last.  Thank God all mighty, we are free at last.

Thank you.


(full 52:42)

COLBERT - 'The Original Material Girl' Is Back

aka Sarah Palin

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

AT THE MOVIES - "The Martian"

I just watched "The Martian" DVD..... wow, wow!

I became aware of "The Martian" on a TV interview with a astrophysicist where he said this was the most accurate SiFi move he's ever seen.  Well I agree.... with one 'small' got-ya.

I am a SiFi fan and every book I've read about Mars does NOT have long-term human habitats on the surface, they are buried or underground.  It is because of the storms.

But otherwise "The Martian" is outstanding!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

MEMORIAM - Glenn Frey

Glenn Frey, of the Eagles, died 1/18/2016
(for those who don't know, Glenn Frey is playing the double guitar)

I love the entire "Hotel California" album.

In tribute:

Is the "Life in the Fast Lane" logo cool or not?

HEALTH CARE - The Bernie Sanders Plan

"Medicare-for-All Plan Detailed by Sanders:  Improves Health Care, Cuts Costs" (press release) 1/17/2016

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday detailed a Medicare-for-all plan to provide better health care for all Americans at less cost.

“Universal health care is an idea that has been supported in the United States by Democratic presidents going back to Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman,” Sanders said.  “It is time for our country to join every other major industrialized nation on earth and guarantee health care to all citizens as a right, not a privilege.”

The proposal would expand Medicare, the popular and successful health care program for seniors, and build on the success of the Affordable Care Act, which Sanders helped craft.  Patients would be able to choose their own doctors and receive comprehensive care for everything from hospital stays to emergency room visits to primary and specialty care.

Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan would save $6 trillion over the next 10 years compared to the current system, according to a detailed analysis by Gerald Friedman, an economist at University of Massachusetts at Amherst who is a leading expert on health care costs.

In a nation that now spends $3 trillion a year on health care – nearly $10,000 per person – Sanders’ plan would save consumers money by eliminating expensive and wasteful private health insurance.  The plan would save taxpayers money by dramatically reducing overall health care costs and bringing down skyrocketing prescription drug prices which are far greater in the United States than in any other country.

The typical family earning $50,000 a year would save nearly $6,000 annually in health care costs, Friedman calculated.  The average working family now pays $4,955 in premiums for private insurance and spends another $1,318 on deductibles for care that isn’t covered.  Under Sanders’ plan, a family of four earning $50,000 would pay just $466 per year to the Medicare-for-all program.

Businesses would save more than $9,400 a year in health care costs under Sanders’ plan.  The average annual cost to the employer for a worker with a family who makes $50,000 a year would go from $12,591 to just $3,100.

The shift to universal health care would be paid for with a 2.2 percent health care premium (calculated under the rules for federal income taxes); a 6.2 percent health care payroll tax paid by employers; an estate tax on the wealthiest Americans and changes in the tax code to make federal income tax rates more progressive.

Under the plan, individuals making $250,000 to $500,000 a year would be taxed at a rate of 37 percent.  The top rate, 52 percent, would apply to those earning $10 million or more a year, a category that in 2013 included only the 13,000 wealthiest households in the United States.

Additional savings would be achieved from reducing outlays for taxpayer-supported health care expenditures.

Sanders laid out his health care plan and progressive tax reform proposals here in South Carolina where he and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley were to take part on Sunday night in a nationally televised debate in their contest for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

"Bernie Sanders’s health-care plan is the biggest attack on the rich of this campaign" by Max Ehrenfreund and Jim Tankersley, Washington Post 1/17/2016

Last fall, the Wall Street Journal estimated Bernie Sanders' single-payer health care plan would cost the government a whopping $15 trillion over a decade.  Sanders' campaign objected - loudly - over that price tag.  On Sunday evening, just before the Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina, Sanders finally released details of his plan, including a headline price tag.  It was $14 trillion.

Sanders' chief Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has long claimed his plan would have to raise taxes on the middle class.  We now know it would.  We also know that, by Sanders' accounting, the plan would actually put more money into the pockets of all but the very richest Americans.

That's because the planned tax increases would be more than offset by a decline in how much most Americans pay for their health care — their premiums, their deductibles, their co-pays, all of it — per Sanders' math.

There are still lots of questions about how the middle class would fare under his new plan.  But it's clear they would definitely do better than the rich.

Employers would put up about half of what Sanders’ staff think the campaign would cost.  They’d pay a new payroll tax of 6.2 percent, equal to the amount employers already pay to Social Security.  That tax would raise $630 billion a year, the campaign projects.

Most Americans would have to pay a “premium” – although unlike a premium for a conventional insurance plan, this fee would increase with the household’s income.  That premium amounts to a 2.2 percent increase in taxes on earnings that would raise about $210 billion a year.  With the standard deduction, it would apply to households earning at least $28,800 a year, according to the campaign.

The rich would pay through the nose.  In addition to the premium, Sanders would increase the marginal rate on those earning at least $250,000 a year.  Those earning between that amount and $500,000 would pay 37 percent on any income in that range.  Income between $500,000 and $2 million would be taxed at a rate of 43 percent; income between $2 million and $10 million would be taxed at a rate of 48 percent.

Here’s the kicker:  Income above $10 million would be taxed at a rate of 52 percent.  With that big number, Sanders makes good on his promise last June to propose a marginal tax rate above 50 percent – although it would only apply to about 13,000 of the country’s richest households, according to the campaign.

Besides those marginal increases, which the campaign estimates would yield $110 billion a year, Sanders would also tax the rich by treating income from investments the same as earnings from wages and salaries.  Currently, income from investments, including dividends and capital gains, is taxed less heavily.  Taxing these sources of income at the same rate would raise $92 billion a year, according to Sanders’s campaign.  He’d also expand the estate tax, raising $21 billion a year.

In exchange for all of that, Americans wouldn’t have to pay deductibles or co-pays any longer, or premiums to private insurers.  Would they come out ahead?

Here are a few points to consider.

  • On paper, employers pay half of the cost of the plan through increased payroll taxes.  In practice, many economists say that businesses effectively make workers pay increased payroll taxes by refusing to raise their wages.  If they did so under Sanders’s plan, workers would have to take their reduced earnings into account as well.
  • Some economists are likely to predict that Sanders’s plan would also harm the middle class by reducing economic growth.  When taxes on work are increased and the tax on investment is raised to the same level, the reasoning goes, people will be discouraged from applying themselves on the job and from taking risks in the marketplace.  The result would be fewer opportunities for work.  It is difficult to know whether that scenario would materialize.  Other economists argue that the effects of increased taxes on economic growth are minimal.
  • Taxing income and capital might also be a good tool to curb the excesses of the financial sector - including the lucrative practice of converting labor income into capital income for the purposes of helping higher-earning taxpayers reduce their tax bills.
  • There's a chance the Sanders plan could boost corporate profits a lot more than it boosts workers.  Companies could, conceivably, stop providing health insurance to their employees - and instead of passing those savings on to workers, bank them as cost-savings.  If they did that, and also passed on the costs of the new payroll tax to workers, most Americans would see their actual take home pay go down.  By Sanders' math, the typical worker would then still wind up with about 6 percent more to spend every year than he or she would have.  But that's before you account for any potential effects of growth on salaries.
  • If you like your health plan, would you get to keep it under President Sanders?  That’s also unclear.  Sanders advertises his plan as “Medicare for All” – but part of the reason Medicare is so efficient and inexpensive is that the federal government doesn’t pay doctors as much to treat patients on Medicare.  For that reason, many doctors won’t treat Medicare patients.  Sanders doesn’t say at what rate health-care providers would be compensated under his plan, and that’s a huge unanswered question for your doctor.  If your doctor chose not to participate in Sanders's program, you might have to buy a private insurance plan and pay separately for that coverage along with the increased taxes.
  • Sanders has now proposed a lot of major tax increases on the wealthy.  He has proposed the 2.2 percent premium, the expanded estate tax, the elimination of special treatment for capital gains, and the increased marginal rates mentioned above.  He also has laid out an additional 6.2 percent hike in payroll taxes and a 6.2 percent surcharge on capital gains for those earning at least $250,000 a year to fund his plan for Social Security.  And he wants to impose a tax on financial transactions.  It seems probable that such a tax would be paid mainly by the rich employees and investors whose bread is buttered on Wall Street.

Monday, January 18, 2016

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 1/15/2016

"Shields and Brooks on Trump vs. Cruz, Clinton’s concern over Sanders" PBS NewsHour 1/15/2016


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the rivalry between Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz in the latest Republican presidential debate and Hillary Clinton’s attacks against Sen. Bernie Sanders.


Mansion House Hospital

"In ‘Mercy Street,’ Civil War trauma meets modern medical drama" PBS NewsHour 1/15/2016


SUMMARY:  "Mercy Street," a new original series on PBS, tells the story of a one-time hotel turned Union army hospital, and is based on memoirs and letters of real Civil War medical staff.  Jeffrey Brown takes a look at how its creators combined a historical saga with a medical drama.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Spring 1862: The carnage on the Civil War goes on, and some of the wounded and dying are brought here to Mansion House Hospital.

ACTOR:  Ah.  You must be the new nurse.  I am Dr. Hale, chief operating surgeon.

JEFFREY BROWN:  “Mercy Street” is a dramatized account based on memoirs and letters of doctors and nurses who served at a Union facility that also took in a handful of Confederate soldiers.

The real Mansion House, a one-time luxury hotel transformed into an Army hospital, was in Alexandria, Virginia, just south of Washington.  The series was filmed further south in Petersburg, Virginia, as well as in Richmond at a Civil War-period mansion, where we visited last summer as shooting was wrapping up.

Josh Radnor plays Jedediah Foster, a civilian surgeon now caught up in the pain, frustrations and blood of the war.

JOSH RADNOR, “Dr. Jedediah Foster”:  Be prepared.  This may bleed a bit.


JOSH RADNOR:  It’s life and death in a hospital.  Plus, you throw the Civil War on top of it, you have got pretty much the most dramatic situation you could ever imagine.

There’s this feeling that it’s entirely grounded in its time and place, and, at the same time, it feels modern and urgent and vital.  It feels like you’re walking into this, like, bustling, alive, relatable story with people that you recognize somehow.

ACTOR:  This is what happens to traitors.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Alexandria was the only Confederate town occupied by the Union for all four years of the war, and much of the drama here involves the interaction of Northerners and Southerners.

They’re enemies, but also at times forced to work side by side, as with two volunteer nurses, one a staunch New England abolitionist, the other an inexperienced young woman whose life has been upended by occupation.

DIVERSITY - Silicon Valley

"How Silicon Valley is trying to fix its diversity problem" PBS NewsHour 1/15/2016


SUMMARY:  Almost two years after major tech firms began publicizing their diversity numbers, recent figures show that Silicon Valley employees are still overwhelmingly white and male.  Hari Sreenivasan reports on the steps these companies are taking to address their race and gender problems, from software algorithms to education and recruitment initiatives.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Silicon Valley, the home of the California tech industry, has long been criticized for its lack of diversity.  Almost two years after major companies, led by Google and Intel, started to publicize their diversity numbers, the ethnic and gender makeup of the industry’s work force remains almost the same.

Analysis of employees at the leading tech firms that report such figures reveals, on average, 71 percent are men, 29 percent are women, 60 percent identify as white, 23 percent Asian, 8 percent Latino, and 7 percent black.

So, what exactly is Silicon Valley doing to improve its diversity?

Hari Sreenivasan takes a look in the first of two stories.

JOELLE EMERSON, CEO, Paradigm:  Raise your hand if you have heard of unconscious bias before?

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The notion that hidden bias can be methodically stamped out of the workplace has become popular with tech companies across Silicon Valley.

JOELLE EMERSON:  By managing unconscious bias, we make better decisions.  So, unconscious bias acts as a significant barrier to objective, data-driven decision making.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  That was the message being delivered by Joelle Emerson, a former sexual harassment litigator who now spends most of her time helping multibillion-dollar start-ups diversify their work forces.

"Tech giant Google working to diversify staff" PBS NewsHour 1/16/2016


SUMMARY:  American technology companies like Apple, Facebook and Google are striving to improve gender and racial diversity in their workforce.  Having revealed their staffs are predominantly white men, the companies are spending furiously to recruit and keep people who aren’t.  Hari Sreenivasan reports.

WALL STREET - Oil Jitters, 'The Plunge'

WAAAA... I'm only going to make a million this month instead of the billion I expected....

"What plummeting oil prices mean for the U.S. stock market" PBS NewsHour 1/15/2016


SUMMARY:  Another market plunge in China and plummeting oil prices -- which dropped to a staggering $30 a barrel -- fueled a tough week on Wall Street.  Judy Woodruff talks to Bradley Olson of The Wall Street Journal and Liz Ann Sonders of Charles Schwab.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:  There’s no denying that weakness in other markets with whom we do extensive business is going to be a headwind for the U.S. economy.  We’re mindful of that, particularly as the international economy becomes more integrated, and we have to be sensitive to movements that we see in the economies of other countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The U.S. market was also hurt by disappointing reports on several major economic indicators. Industrial production fell for a third straight month in December.  And retail sales unexpectedly dropped a 10th of a percent last month, partly because warmer weather hurt winter clothing sales.

For a closer look at the dramatic drops in both the stock market and world oil prices, we turn to Liz Ann Sonders.  She’s chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab.  And Bradley Olson, he’s national energy reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

And we welcome both of you to the program.

Liz Ann Sonders, what is behind this volatility today in the market?

LIZ ANN SONDERS, Charles Schwab:  Many of the same things, actually, that contributed to the volatility that we saw last year.

You have touched on certainly oil, but it’s more broadly what’s happening in the commodity complex, and not just the huge plunge, in and of itself, but what that says about global growth.  Of course, related to that is China, the weakness there, not only in its equity market, but its economy, its currency.  That is tied into commodity prices.

And then even more importantly was the uncertainty regarding the Fed.  We got past the uncertainty the defined 2015 in terms of will they, won’t they, and if they will, when?  They got the first rate hike.  Now it’s what are they going to do from here?  Are they going to continue to raise interest rates?  What will be the justification?

So, a lot of it really is unfinished business from 2015. It’s just conspired to occur in a condensed period of time, unfortunately, right at the beginning of the year, which I think adds to the angst for investors.

CANCER - 'Moon-Shot' to Cure Cancer?

JFK:  "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win."

Now.... are we ready to cure cancer?

"Can America come together to cure cancer?" PBS NewsHour 1/14/2016


SUMMARY:  In his last State of the Union address, President Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to boost and streamline national cancer research.  What would such an initiative look like?  Judy Woodruff gets insight from Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society and Katie Couric of Stand Up To Cancer.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  For a look at what an initiative might look like, and who would be involved, and how it might go forward, we turn to three people with long ties to cancer research.

Dr. Otis Brawley is chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.  Dr. Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health.  And Katie Couric, in addition to being the well-known journalist and author, she is also one of the co-founders of Stand Up to Cancer.  It’s a charitable group that supports collaborative research.

And we welcome all three of you to the program.

Dr. Brawley, let me start with you.

Is it realistic for the president to say, let’s cure cancer once and for all?

DR. OTIS BRAWLEY, American Cancer Society:  Well, I think the cure analogy is fine.

What’s really going to happen is some cancers, if we intensify our efforts, will be cured.  Many cancers are going to be stalled out to where they become very chronic diseases, like diabetes.  But the end result is, people are going to be better for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Francis Collins, Dr. Collins, do you agree?  I mean, we know there are, what, over 100 — maybe hundreds of types of cancer?  What are people to think about this?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, National Institutes of Health:  Well, I hope they will be inspired and excited about this.

Yes, there are hundreds of types of cancer, but we are at an inflection point in terms of things we are learning about what causes this disease, where good cells go bad, and what could we do about it?  And by bring together immunotherapy, the new way of activating the immune system to tackle cancel, genomics, and making sure that everybody is sharing the data they’re developing in those kinds of studies, the Vice President, a man of great passion and principle, is determined that this is not going to be a tweak on the system.

This is going to be a major acceleration of the effort to discover how to treat and cure, in many instances, cancer.  And goodness knows, we can all get excited about that outcome.