Monday, May 30, 2016

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 5/27/2016

"Shields and Brooks on Obama’s historic Hiroshima visit, ‘normalizing’ Trump" PBS NewsHour 5/27/2016


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including President Obama’s groundbreaking visit to Hiroshima and subsequent call for nuclear disarmament, Donald Trump’s rapidly-normalizing relations with the GOP and how Hillary Clinton can use Elizabeth Warren to counter Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric.

"Vince Foster was my brother.  Donald Trump should be ashamed" by Sheila Foster Anthony, Washington Post 5/26/2016

It is beyond contempt that a politician would use a family tragedy to further his candidacy, but such is the character of Donald Trump displayed in his recent comments to The Washington Post.  In this interview, Trump cynically, crassly and recklessly insinuated that my brother, Vincent W. Foster Jr., may have been murdered because “he had intimate knowledge of what was going on” and that Hillary Clinton may have somehow played a role in Vince's death.

How wrong.  How irresponsible.  How cruel.

“There are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder,” Trump said in response to a question about Vince's death.

Trump was canny enough to hedge — he's not the one raising questions, he said, but others have.  He noted that Vince “knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.”  The circumstances of Vince's death, he observed, were “very fishy” and the theories about possible foul play “very serious.”

This is scurrilous enough coming from right-wing political operatives who have peddled conspiracy theories about Vince's death for more than two decades.  How could this be coming from the presumptive Republican nominee for president?

Five investigations, including by independent counsels Robert B. Fiske Jr. and Kenneth Starr, concluded that Vince suffered from severe depression that caused him to be unable to sleep, unable to work, unable to think straight, and finally to take his own life.

I know this to be true because Vince lived with me when he came to Washington to serve as deputy counsel to the president.  This is a grueling job in any administration, especially so at the start, and in the case of the Clinton White House, the counsel's office — and Vince — were consumed with problems, including over the firing of employees in the White House travel office.

Vince and I were very close siblings — I was the older, by four years and two months — and there was not much we didn't share with one another.  After about three months, his family rented out their Little Rock home and Vince moved with them to a small Georgetown house.

Vince called me at my office in the Justice Department a few days before he died.  He told me he was battling depression and knew he needed help.  But he was worried that such an admission would adversely affect his top-level security clearance and prevent him from doing his job.

I told him I would try to find a psychiatrist who could help him and protect his privacy.  After a few phone calls, I gave him three names.  That list was found in his wallet with his body at Fort Marcy Park in McLean.  I did not see a suicide coming, yet when I was told that Vince was dead I knew that he had killed himself.  Never for a minute have I doubted that was what happened.

I think Vince felt he was a failure, this brilliant man who had so many talents, had achieved so many honors and was so well-respected by his peers.  He must have felt that he couldn't stay in his job at the White House, and he couldn't go back to Little Rock.  He was so ill, he couldn't see a way out.

few months after Vince's death, I began to see alarming reports in the news articles distributed throughout the Justice Department each day.  These clips, which began appearing in newspapers across the country, were similar, as though written by a single source.

This was the beginning of the countless conspiracy theories spun by those who claimed that the Clintons had Vince murdered because he knew something about Whitewater, the real estate transaction that became the subject of the Fiske and Starr investigations.  Repeat something enough times and in enough venues, I guess, and people begin to question their own good sense.

These outrageous suggestions have caused our family untold pain because this issue went on for so long and these reports were so painful to read.  For years, our family had to wage a court fight to prevent release of photographs of Vince's dead body.  My heartbroken mother was plagued by harassing phone calls from a reporter.

Through all this time I have not spoken publicly about this matter, out of an effort to maintain our family's privacy.  I am now, because The Post sought my reaction.  I have donated to Hillary Clinton's campaign but have not had contact with anyone at the campaign about my decision to go public.

For Trump to raise these theories again for political advantage is wrong.  I cannot let such craven behavior pass without a response.

HIROSHIMA - 70 Years After

NOTE:  When I was stationed in Japan during my 22yrs in the U.S. Navy (now retired) I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"A look at world's nuclear reality, 70 years after Hiroshima" PBS NewsHour 5/27/2016


SUMMARY:  President Obama used his unprecedented visit to Hiroshima to call attention to the grave threat nuclear weapons still pose to the world.  Judy Woodruff talks to former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker and Rachel Bronson of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about that threat — and the president's own nuclear legacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  We look at his nuclear legacy and at the ongoing threat from those weapons.

For that we turn to Stephen Rademaker, who was assistant secretary of state for arms control and nonproliferation during the George W. Bush administration, and Rachel Bronson, who is the executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which focuses on nuclear weapons and disarmament.

And we welcome both of you to the program.

So, we did hear President Obama today in Japan repeating the goal that he laid out, he first laid out when he came into office.  He said the nations that hold nuclear stockpiles must have the courage to pursue a world without them.

Rachel Bronson, how has the president done on that front?

RACHEL BRONSON, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:  Well, I think the President started off very strong.  Obviously, you mentioned his Prague speech in 2009.

But it's a strange bookmark to come out at the end of it today, towards the end of his administration.  We have had enormous progress in the first part of his administration and much less in more recent years, so some big victories early on, I do think important agreements like New START and the Iran deal, but then slower progress in the last few years.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  How would you rate the president's progress on this, Stephen Rademaker?

STEPHEN RADEMAKER, Former Assistant Secretary of State:  Well, I would say the goals that the President set for himself in the Prague speech were completely unrealistic, and so it's not surprising that, having confronted reality during the course of his administration, he's had to back down from those unrealistic aims.

Of course, he continues to articulate the abolition of nuclear weapons as a goal, but I think, unlike in 2009, when I think he was sincere and he really thought this was achievable, I think today he wants to abolish nuclear weapons in the same way that other politicians say they want to abolish poverty or eliminate drug addiction.

It's an aspiration, but not something that we — something we all understand is not going to be achieved anytime soon.

"How a Hiroshima survivor helped remember 12 U.S. POWs killed by bomb" PBS NewsHour 5/27/2016


SUMMARY:  Among the thousands killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was the crew of the B-24 bomber “Lonesome Lady,” 12 American POWs who are oft-forgotten in the annals of history.  But one man who never forgot was Shigeaki Mori, whose diligent efforts to memorialize the dead Americans are documented in the new film “Paper Lanterns.” John Yang talks to “Paper Lanterns” director Barry Frechette for more.

"In Hiroshima, President Obama renews call to abolish nuclear weapons" PBS NewsHour 5/27/2016


SUMMARY:  President Obama on Friday visited Hiroshima, which was devastated when the U.S. dropped the atom bomb on it in 1945.  Obama joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in paying solemn tribute to the tens of thousands who died in the strike and met with survivors.  He offered no apologies but renewed his call for nuclear disarmament.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

Full Video

AFTERMATH - The Ecuador Quake (update)

"Ecuador looks to pick up pieces and rebuild after devastating earthquake" PBS NewsHour 5/26/2016


SUMMARY:  It's been just over a month since a deadly earthquake devastated Ecuador's Pacific coast, destroying thousands of buildings and impacting at least a quarter-million people.  As the government struggles with recovery costs and moves to rebuild, the disaster has also highlighted the need for tougher buildings codes — and enforcement.  Special correspondents Bruno Frederico and Nadja Drost report.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  It's been just over a month since a major earthquake devastated swathes of countryside and towns on Ecuador's Pacific coast; 663 people are officially confirmed dead.

And, as thousands more face the loss of their homes or workplace, videographer Bruno Federico and special correspondent Nadja Drost bring us this report from Manabi province on Ecuador's coast, where people are trying to rebuild their towns and lives.

ALFREDO JAMA, Fisherman (through interpreter):  That night was unforgettable.  I was bringing up the net, when, suddenly, I felt the boat vibrating too much.  It was like the floor burst open.

NADJA DROST (NewsHour):  It's the first time that fisherman Alfredo Jama has dared to return out to sea since an earthquake caught him by surprise on April 16th when he was fishing.

ALFREDO JAMA (through interpreter):  When I looked around, I saw an explosion that left us without light.  Everything was dark.  The sea bellowed from beneath.  It was like there was a beast coming up from under.  When I returned to the house, everything was a disaster.

NADJA DROST:  Jama's wife, Paola Farias, walked us through what used to be the two-story home of their extended family, which she also used for her nail salon.

PAOLA FARIAS, Salon Owner (through interpreter):  When I said, don't worry, it's over, was when the movement started more strongly.  The walls started falling.  We managed to leave the house.  It was terrible, because imagine how one works so hard for one's things, and from one moment to another, nothing.

NADJA DROST:  Farias is one of at least 250,000 Ecuadorians directly affected by an earthquake that knocked down thousands of buildings.  It also set off an outpouring of support from fellow Ecuadorians, like Karla Morales, the director of local human rights group Kahre.

She was at home in the city of Guayaquil, over 150 miles south of the epicenter, the night the quake hit.

KARLA MORALES,  And in that moment, I just sent a tweet.

NADJA DROST:  “Bring supplies to my house tomorrow,” Karla wrote, and she'd drive them north to the earthquake-affected region the next afternoon.

KARLA MORALES:  And I didn't expect that people were so interested in helping and with so much compassion and solidarity.  There were like 600 or maybe 1,000 people in my house, bringing help and helping with all that donations that we were receiving in that moment.

NADJA DROST:  Karla ended up sending 23 large truckloads of materials that day.  Since then, her team continues to distribute donations, from water filters to mattresses, to rural areas, where help has been slower to reach.

Ecuador hadn't expected an earthquake, but preparing for a different emergency, a volcanic eruption and flooding, helped it respond quickly, says Tim Callaghan of USAID.

GREED FILE - Patents and Trolling for Ca$h aka Extortion

COMMENT:  Way in my past, there was an article that the U.S. Patent Office was NOT computerized as were other government regulatory agencies.  It implied that this was intentional since a paper system was very slow and other persons could file their patents BEFORE the first patent on something was approved.  Thereby giving the sneak-thieves an legal out.

Of course the patent system is  now computerized.

But there are opinions like: "The 'broken patent system': how we got here and how to fix it" by Nilay Patel, The Verge 7/10/2012

"U.S. innovators dogged by money-grubbing ‘patent trolls'" PBS NewsHour 5/26/2016


SUMMARY:  The U.S. economy is driven by innovation, but unwelcome “patent trolls” are gunking up the system.  Patent reform bills sit idle in Congress as the “trolls” set up companies for the sole purpose, critics say, of shaking down inventors while never creating anything.  “We just have to write 'em a check so they'll go away,” says one disgusted app maker.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

TODD MOORE, CEO, TMSOFT:  So here's Amazon jungle.

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  That's Todd Moore's 'White Noise' mobile phone app, which generates the call of the wild, and pretty much any other sound you can think of, to lull the sleep-challenged to la-la land.

And this is frogs?

TODD MOORE:  Yes.  Don't you just want to fall asleep?

PAUL SOLMAN:  I'm getting slightly drowsy.

It was such a basic idea, Moore didn't even bother to apply for a patent.  And yet he himself was sued for patent infringement.

TODD MOORE:  They were claiming a hyperlink inside the white noise app, that you would tap it and go to the Internet, that was infringing on one or more of their patents.

PAUL SOLMAN:  But doesn't almost every app have a hyperlink of some sort?

TODD MOORE:  Yes.  If you're using the Internet it does, so how can they say that's infringing on a patent?

PAUL SOLMAN:  And all they were asking to go away, $3,500.  Welcome to the world of so-called patent trolls.

NARRATOR:  A patent troll is someone that makes their money by filing frivolous lawsuits against companies, with the hope that these companies will pay a fee to settle, rather than go to court.

THE SUPERBUG - The Drug-Proof Strain of E-Coli

"New ‘superbug' becomes first drug-proof bacteria to hit U.S." PBS NewsHour 5/26/2016


SUMMARY:  A 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman has been found carrying a strain of E-coli that is resistant to last-resort antibiotics, which researchers say marks the first appearance of a drug-proof bacteria on U.S. soil.  Scientists in Pennsylvania are working with the Centers for Disease Control to find a way to fight the superbug.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Dr. Beth Bell of the CDC for more.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  A sobering new development with superbugs and public health concerns about the limited effect of antibiotics.

For the first time in the U.S., a person has been found to be carrying a strain of E-coli  (Escherichia coli) that's resistant to antibiotics of last resort.  The Washington Post reported the strain was discovered last month in a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman.  She was resistant to ColistinAnd researchers said it — quote — “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug-resistant bacteria.”

Dr. Beth Bell is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  And she is now working with Pennsylvania officials.  She's the director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Thanks for joining us.

First, how — what is so distinct about these findings?

DR. BETH BELL, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:  Colistin is an antibiotic that we have already had for quite a long time, but we use it as a last line.

So, it's our drug of last resort.  And so when patients are infected with some of these superbugs that we have talked about before, where the strain is resistant to pretty much every antibiotic, we rely on Colistin as the last resort.

And what we find here in this patient, the bacteria that infected this patient, is that her strain contains one of these mobile genes that confers resistance to Colistin.  So, because bacteria can spread these mobile genes among themselves, it sets off a situation where we can see a bacteria that's resistant to every known antibiotic.  And, of course, that is a very frightening prospect for all of us.


So, when I am go to the pharmacy, and I'm prescribed something like azithromycin or something, it's pretty low on the scale of the arsenal that doctors have.  So, this is the top end.  There is nothing after this.  That means that the patient is untreatable, and that means there is a, what, greater chance that they might die because of this?


There’s — we luckily haven’t seen actual bacteria that are resistant to every single antibiotic here in the United States.  But there are reports of this in other parts of the world, and these patients have a very high mortality rate.  It’s extremely difficult to treat them.  And, again, this raises the specter of a post-antibiotic era.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL - Secretary Hillery Clinton's eMail (again, and again, and again....)

COMMENT:  If you think ANY administrator, private company or government, keeps day-to-day tabs on policies that MAY effect them, you are delusional.

I would EXPECT that Secretary Clinton would have continued with the same policies regarding email as her predecessor, email policy was NOT her focus.

This is brought to you by the:  "Smear Hillary Clinton" campaign.

"Why Clinton's private email use is deemed more serious than predecessors'" PBS NewsHour 5/25/2016


SUMMARY:  The State Department's report condemning Hillary Clinton has brought the debate over her conduct as Secretary of State back to the forefront of the political landscape, and throws the race for the White House into uncharted territory.  Judy Woodruff talks to Rosalind Helderman of The Washington Post about the details of the report and why Clinton's violations are worse than her predecessors'.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  We take a closer look now at the State Department's inspector general report on Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.

Rosalind Helderman of The Washington Post has been covering this ongoing story.

Welcome back to the program, Roz Helderman.

So, first, tell us, what would you say the main findings of this report are?

ROSALIND HELDERMAN, The Washington Post:  So, this was a report that looked at e-mail use by the past five secretaries of state, and it concluded that there have been systemic problems in how the State Department has gone about preserving public records over the course of the tenures of multiple secretaries of state.

However, it was particularly critical of Hillary Clinton and her use of private e-mail.  It said, for instance, that, that use did, in fact, violate department policies that were put in place to ensure compliance with the Federal Records Act, public records laws.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And does it say that the rules, the guidelines were clear, should have been clear to Secretary Clinton and the people around her?

ROSALIND HELDERMAN:  One of the big takeaways of the report was that the guidelines had been not as clear as they should be going back over a number of years, and that in fact the guidelines and training on those guidelines have not kept up with the way that e-mail has changed the way that we communicate.

That said, the report does specifically say that the warnings about the risks of using private e-mail for public business and the discouragement from doing so have become much more numerous and pointed and descriptive while Secretary Clinton was in office.

And so, whereas her predecessor, Secretary Colin Powell was also criticized by the report for using private e-mail, the dangers of doing so might, perhaps, have been more clear to Secretary Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, I guess what I'm what I'm trying to get at is, is there any doubt that the people around Secretary Clinton — and I guess there's no way to know what she knew — but is there any doubt that the people around her knew that they were in violation of a set of guidelines?

ROSALIND HELDERMAN:  They have said that they didn't know that they were in violation.

And one interesting thing is, she and her aides have said that she wants to cooperate with all these inquiries, but, in fact, she didn't sit with an interview with the State Department's Inspector General, and a number of the top aides didn't respond to questionnaires, which makes it harder a little bit to know what they had in their minds while they were doing this.

HOSPITAL ATTACK - Report's Troubling Details

"Did Afghan troops manipulate the U.S. into bombing Doctors Without Borders hospital?" PBS NewsHour 5/25/2016


SUMMARY:  Last October, U.S. forces bombed an Afghan hospital in Kunduz, killing 42 people.  An Army inquiry last month found that the attack was an accident, but Matthieu Aikins of the Nation Institute blames Afghan troops who told the Americans that the hospital was a Taliban stronghold.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Aikins, Gary Solis of Georgetown University and Jeffrey Addicott of St. Mary's University.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  In October 2015 an American AC-130 Gunship pummeled the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, hitting what the crew believed to be a Taliban fighting position.

The plane rained artillery and other fire on the facility, killing 42 people, despite frantic calls from the group, known by its French acronym, MSF, to stop the attack.

Last month, an Army investigation found there was no intent by the Americans to destroy the hospital, either by the air crew or the American special forces on the ground who were calling in for fire.  The probe found that it was a targeting error born of confusion and miscommunication in the fog of war.

Sixteen soldiers were reprimanded, but no criminal charges were filed.

But a new report in “The New York Times Magazine” by Matthieu Aikins of the Nation Institute casts doubt on the motivations of the Afghan troops who told the Americans that the hospital was a Taliban stronghold.

I spoke with Aikins yesterday and with two former military attorneys.

I began by asking the reporter what may have motivated this attack.

MATTHIEU AIKINS, The Nation Institute:  From the extensive reporting that we did starting from November, as well as documents that are buried in the military's redacted report, there's evidence that Afghan forces may have provided an exact description that matched the hospital as a target, meaning that they intentionally targeted the hospital, leading to U.S. forces perhaps unintentionally striking the hospital as a result of that description.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, why would Afghan forces want to strike a hospital?

MATTHIEU AIKINS:  There's been a long-simmering tension between MSF and the Afghan government, basically a collision between two different world views, MSF, which sees itself as a neutral humanitarian medical organization that treats all sides to a conflict, regardless of who they are, and Afghan forces that have resented MSF treating what it views as its enemy.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So is there a widespread mistrust?

MATTHIEU AIKINS:  What we found, you know, when I went to Kunduz, was a resentment and a mistrust of MSF on the part of the Afghan forces.  They told me they thought that MSF was supporting the Taliban.

And this, you know, later led to what turned out to be false beliefs that MSF actually had been taken over and there were Taliban leadership inside the hospital at the time it was struck.

NEWSHOUR ESSAY - For the Sake of Knowing

"Why research for the pure sake of knowing is enough" PBS NewsHour 5/25/2016


SUMMARY:  Duke University biologist Sheila Patek has faced criticism from lawmakers over her research into mantis shrimp and trap-jaw ants, with some calling her government-funded studies a waste of taxpayer money.  But according to Patek, not only do her findings have important practical applications, but scientific inquiry is most fruitful when knowledge is sought for its own sake, not to justify budgets.

SHEILA PATEK, Biologist, Duke University:  I expressed the wonder of these discoveries, as well as their fundamental significance to physics, evolution, and the limits of current engineering capabilities.

A prominent lawyer from Nigeria who was in the audience that day approached me a few days later.  Her first words to me were, “Your research disgusted me with such waste, studying trivial and useless problems.”

In that moment, she had voiced my most vulnerable thoughts:  That the science to which I would dedicated much of my life was actually pointless.

But she added, “I realized something important, that science is about discovery, not just about solving human problems.”

She then spoke a phrase that has stuck with me over the years.  She said, “I want what you have for my country.”

In her country, Nigeria, there was simply no infrastructure for this type of discovery-based research.  In fact, many solutions to humans’ problems began in a scientist’s laboratory.  Did you know that some of the most significant medical breakthroughs for the human brain began with research on sea slugs?
However, engineering-related applications are not the primary reason we do this research.

The nature of discovery is that it is impossible to anticipate what you will find.  That is discovery.  Discovery-based research is most fruitful when new knowledge is sought for its own sake.

FEDERAL LANDS - The Debate (Update)

IMHO:  A collation between anti-government 'terrorists' and environmental 'terrorists?'  Not good for America.

"Cranes, curlews, and cows — the delicate debate over Oregon's federal lands" PBS NewsHour 5/24/2016


SUMMARY:  Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge grabbed headlines earlier this year when it was seized by armed militants protesting federal control of local lands.  But for the past decade, some local ranchers have been striving to find common ground with environmental groups and refuge officials, and important strides have been made for birds and cows.  Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

CAT WISE (NewsHour):  The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has reopened to the public, but the headquarters complex remains closed, for now.

CHAD KARGES, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:  Once the repairs are done, and we're back in the buildings and operational again in full, then we will open up the headquarters.

CAT WISE:  Refuge manager Chad Karges says that while cleanup efforts from the occupation are ongoing, everyone's attention is now refocused on the most important visitors here, birds.

CHAD KARGES:  Malheur Refuge is about migratory birds, and so this basin is one of the most important spring migratory stopover points for migratory birds in the Western U.S.  The basin serves as kind of like an international airport.  It's a hub.

CAT WISE:  More than 320 species are found here, including Sandhill Cranes, Ross's Geese, Long-Billed Curlews, and Red-Winged Blackbirds.  But the birds don't just hang out on the refuge.  They land wherever they want.

And at this time of year, that's often on local private ranchland wet with spring runoff.  It's wonderful habitat for birds and for cows.  Cows outnumber people by 14 to one in Harney County.  There's a long, proud tradition of ranching here, and cattle and haying are the main drivers of the local economy.

Cows and birds seem to get along quite well on private ranches, and many in the community appreciate the tourism dollars that birders bring in.  But it's when those cattle have to graze on public, government-owned land, which makes up 75 percent of the county, that conflicts between ranchers, and environmental groups, and the federal government become evident.

So, about 10 years ago, refuge manager Karges and a small group in this community decided to try a fairly novel approach to resolving those conflicts, face-to-face conversations.  And those conversations have led to this, the High Desert Partnership, a nonprofit that was formed with one goal, collaboration.

MAN:  Can you add to the committee, or does it need to be a standing committee?

MAN:  I would just recommend that it is a standing group.

CAT WISE:  Participants at this recent meeting, held at the historic Hotel Diamond, included ranchers, federal and local government employees, scientists, and conservation advocates, a diverse group you might not expect would share so many laughs.

ZIKA - Republican House Blocks Requested Funding

COMMENT:  It's what you can expect from Big-$Money owned Republican House where money is more important that people.  You see, in the Republican House, women are worth ONLY $622 million.

"What's behind biting political fight in Congress over Zika funding?" PBS NewsHour 5/24/2016


SUMMARY:  In February, the White House issued a $1.9 billion plan for combating Zika virus in the U.S., including provisions for mosquito control, education and research into a vaccine.  While GOP lawmakers opposed that plan, the Senate passed a bipartisan $1.1 billion compromise bill last week.  Judy Woodruff talks to Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., for more on the funding debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to Capitol Hill and Washington's efforts to combat the Zika virus.

Back in February, the White House put together a $1.9 billion proposal aimed at mosquito control, education about Zika, plus boosting research into the virus and a possible vaccine.  Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate moved a compromise measure for less than two-thirds that amount over the next year, $1.1 billion.

But the also-GOP-controlled House signed off on a bill for $622 million over six months.

Joining me now from opposite sides of this funding divide are Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Representative Bob Gibbs, Republican from Ohio.

And we welcome both of you to the program.

Congressman Gibbs, let me begin with you.

The administration, as we said, asking for $1.9 billion.  The amount you favor is about a third that much.  Why not give the administration what it's asking for?

REP. BOB GIBBS (R), Ohio:  Well, what the administration did, that's just ongoing through the next — at least the next two mosquito seasons.

Our bill, at $600 million-plus, goes to the end of this fiscal year, September 30, and now we're in the appropriation process, and we will look at that, what we need to do past September 30 of this year going into the next fiscal year and the next mosquito season next summer.

So, we will be appropriating more money, I'm sure, but it's going to go through regular order and the regular appropriation process.  So, we're on board to make sure to appropriate the money as needed to get through to the end of this fiscal year.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, Congresswoman DeLauro, it sounds like this is a down payment on this problem.  Is that going to be enough?

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D), Connecticut:  Listen, no, the fact is, is the Zika virus is a public health emergency.  It is a crisis.

It is going to — the mosquitoes that carry the virus will hit the mainland United States within the next few weeks.  We are putting American women at risk, pregnant women who are fearful that their babies will be born with birth defects.

And we have a medical community that is telling women that maybe they shouldn't get pregnant.  That is not message to the American people.  The fact of the matter is, is that the $622 million is a third of what's been asked for.

You know, in this body, when we deal with appropriations for defense or going to war, my Republican colleagues will say, let us get the word from the generals, from those who are in the field, the experts.  They can tell us how much money they need.  And they can tell us how many troops we need.

Well, we do have experts in this war on the mosquitoes.  We have the Centers for Disease Control.  We have the National Institutes of Health.

U.S. LONGEST WAR - Taliban's Top Mulla Dead!

"With killing of top mullah, what's next for the Taliban in Afghanistan?" PBS NewsHour 5/23/2016

COMMENT:  Yah, we are suppose to warn Pakistan about our attacks on the Taliban.  Just ignore the sympathy and support of some government officials, and some of their army.  Pakistan has a whole area/province where the Taliban rule and hide.  No, we are not about to warn the Taliban.


SUMMARY:  On Saturday, a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Mansour, the leader of the Taliban and architect of the group's bloody reconquest of Afghanistan this past year.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports on the killing, and Hari Sreenivasan talks to former Pakistani diplomat Riaz Mohammad Khan and former State Department official Barnett Rubin about what lies ahead for the Taliban.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The man who led the Afghan Taliban for the past year was killed in a U.S. operation over the weekend.  The group had been gaining ground and waging a bloody war against the Afghan government.

So, what's next for the Taliban, and the countries who fight it?

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins our coverage.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Smoldering wreckage on a Pakistani roadside was all that remained of the Taliban commander's vehicle hours after he died in it Saturday.

Today, in Vietnam, President Obama officially announced a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  It has been confirmed that he is dead.  And he as an individual who, as head of the Taliban, was specifically targeting U.S. personnel and troops inside of Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER:  Mullah Mansour took over the Afghan Taliban last summer, after the group finally announced that longtime leader Mullah Omar had died in 2013.  The new leader faced down rivals, in part by rejecting Afghan- and U.S.-backed peace talks.

Under his direction, Taliban forces briefly seized the Northern Afghan city of Kunduz last September, and carried out a bloody assault in Kabul itself in April, killing 64.

Word of his death was welcomed by Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah:

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Chief Executive, Afghanistan (through interpreter):  He was in charge of all terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and he had direct contact with other terrorist networks.  This will bring a big change in the Taliban condition.  His death is a blow to their abilities in carrying out terrorist attacks against the Afghan people.

MARGARET WARNER:  Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signaled that the Taliban leader's death could also open the door to renewed peace talks.  The drone strike that killed Mansour was the first by the U.S. inside Baluchistan, in Southwestern Pakistan.  It's long been a Taliban stronghold.

In London yesterday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, saying the U.S. gave no advance warning.

NAWAZ SHARIF, Prime Minister, Pakistan (through interpreter):  We are protesting strongly.  This is a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan.

MARGARET WARNER:  But Afghanistan's government accuses the Pakistanis of harboring a veritable who's-who of most wanted terrorists.

GEN. DAWLAT WAZIRI, Spokesman, Afghan Defense Ministry (through interpreter): The Haqqani Network is in Pakistan.  Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden were in Pakistan, and now Mullah Mansour was killed in Pakistan's Baluchistan.  It would be better if Pakistan cooperated with Afghanistan and didn't give shelter to these people who are continuing the war in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER:  Pakistani authorities say a passport found near the drone strike wreckage shows Mansour had just returned from Iran.  Officials there denied the claim.

Meanwhile, the already-fractured Taliban is scrambling to close ranks.  Senior leaders met today, and speculation over a successor centers on Mansour's deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, a warlord seen as even more brutal than Mansour.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


"What Algorithmic Injustice Looks Like in Real Life" by Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, and Lauren Kirchner; ProPublica 5/25/2016

COMMENT: The idea that a computer program would "weed out human biases" shows that the people in the justice system do NOT understand computers. People write computer software and MAY in-code their own biases.

A computer program rated defendants' risk of committing a future crime.  These are the results.

Courtrooms across the nation are using computer programs to predict who will be a future criminal.  The programs help inform decisions on everything from bail to sentencing.  They are meant to make the criminal justice system fairer — and to weed out human biases.

ProPublica tested one such program and found that it's often wrong — and biased against blacks.  (Read our story)

We looked at the risk scores the program spit out for more than 7,000 people arrested in Broward County, Florida in 2013 and 2014.  We checked to see how many defendants were charged with new crimes over the next two years — the same benchmark used by the creators of the algorithm.  Our analysis showed:
  • The formula was particularly likely to falsely flag black defendants as future criminals, wrongly labeling them this way at almost twice the rate as white defendants.
  • White defendants were mislabeled as low risk more often than black defendants.
What does that look like in real life?  Here are five comparisons of defendants — one black and one white — who were charged with similar offenses but got very different scores.

Two Shoplifting Arrests

James Rivelli, 53.

In August 2014, Rivelli allegedly shoplifted seven boxes of Crest Whitestrips from a CVS.  An employee called the police.  When the cops found Rivelli and pulled him over, they found the Whitestrips as well as heroin and drug paraphernalia in his car.  He was charged with two felony counts and four misdemeanors for grand theft, drug possession, and driving with a suspended license and expired tags.

Past offenses:  He had been charged with felony aggravated assault for domestic violence in 1996, felony grand theft also in 1996, and a misdemeanor theft in 1998.  He also says that he was incarcerated in Massachusetts for felony drug trafficking.

COMPAS score:  3 — low

Subsequent offense:  In April 2015, he was charged with two felony counts of grand theft in the 3rd degree for shoplifting about $1,000 worth of tools from a Home Depot.

He says:  Rivelli says his crimes were fueled by drug use and he is now sober.  “I'm surprised [my risk score] is so low,” Rivelli said in an interview in his mother's apartment in April.  “I spent five years in state prison in Massachusetts.”

Robert Cannon, 18.

In December 2013, Cannon was caught shoplifting a cell phone and two pairs of headphones from a Wal-Mart (together valued at $171.52), and was charged with misdemeanor petty theft.

Past offense:  One earlier misdemeanor petty theft in Miami in 2012.

COMPAS score:  6 — medium

Subsequent offenses:  None.

He says:  We were unable to contact Cannon.  We visited his last known address and was told by the residents that they did not know him and that they could not pass on a message to him.

Two Drug Possession Arrests

Dylan Fugett, 20.

In February 2013, Fugett was charged with a felony for cocaine possession, and two misdemeanors for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Past offense:  In 2010, he was charged with a felony for an attempted burglary.

COMPAS score:  3 — low

Subsequent offenses:  Fugett was caught with marijuana and drug paraphernalia twice more in 2013.  Then, during a traffic stop in 2015, when he was arrested on a bench warrant, he admitted that he was hiding eight baggies of marijuana in his boxers.  He was charged with marijuana possession with intent to sell.

He says:  Fugett says his low risk score seems like an accurate assessment.  “Everybody sees me as a thug because I used to have earrings and tattoos,” Fugett said in an interview at his mother's house in April.  “But I really am just a big old teddy bear.”

Bernard Parker, 21.

During a January 2013 traffic stop for expired registration tags, cops found an ounce of marijuana in Parker's car.  He was charged with felony drug possession with intent to sell.

Past offense:  In 2011, he was arrested for running from the cops and tossing away a baggie that was suspected to contain cocaine.

COMPAS score:  10 — high

Subsequent offenses:  None.

He says:  “I haven't been in trouble with the law,” Parker said when interviewed at his grandmother's house in April.  “I try to stay out of their way.”

Two Burglary Arrests

Anthony Vitiello, 30.

In April 2014, a cop spotted Vitiello breaking open an air conditioner unit behind someone's house to steal copper tubing out of it.  When confronted, he admitted he had stolen parts from the same unit before and was coming back for more.  He was charged with felony possession of burglary tools and misdemeanor prowling/loitering.

Past offenses:  A felony charge for check-forgery and a juvenile misdemeanor.

COMPAS score:  2 — low

Subsequent offenses:  Three subsequent felony burglaries, all within the next year.  In one burglary, he threw a brick through a person's kitchen window and climbed in, but the person came home while he was there, and he ran away.  He then broke into another person's house, where he was finally caught.  In another burglary, he broke into someone's house and stole jewelry, a camcorder, three Kindles, a camera, and car keys.  Most recently, he broke someone's bedroom window, climbed in and stole $500 in cash.

He says:  We were unable to make contact with Vitiello.  We visited his last known address and left letters for him there but did not get any response.

Hassheim White, 18.

In January 2014, a cop stopped White and a friend on the street.  White was carrying a pair of car-stereo speakers, some flashlights, a tire gauge, and some coins.  He confessed that he and his friend had stolen them from cars they had broken into.  White was charged with two felony counts of burglary, misdemeanor petty theft and misdemeanor prowling/loitering.

Past offenses:  Two juvenile felonies.

COMPAS score:  8 — high

Subsequent offenses:  None.

He says:  “I'm done with that lifestyle,” White said in an interview at his home in April.  “It used to be home to home, couch to couch, theft to theft.  Now it's shift to shift, paycheck to paycheck.  I've got a child on the way.”

Two DUI Arrests

Gregory Lugo, 36.

In October 2014, Lugo crashed his Lincoln Navigator into a Toyota Camry.  When a police officer arrived at the scene of the accident, Lugo fell over several times and an almost-empty bottle of gin was found in his car.  He was charged with DUI and with driving with a suspended license.

Past offenses:  Three previous DUIs (in 1998, 2007, and 2012), and a misdemeanor battery in 2008.

COMPAS score:  1 — low

Subsequent offense:  Two days later, Lugo was charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery for domestic violence.

He says:  Lugo says he is now sober and a low risk.  “You take the alcohol away, and I am not a violent person,” Lugo said in an interview at his home in April.

Mallory Williams, 29.

In October 2013, Williams hit a parked car in a parking lot.  She was charged with six misdemeanor counts of DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, and resisting arrest without force.

Past offenses:  Two misdemeanors in Virginia in 1984 and 2006.

COMPAS score:  6 — medium

Subsequent offenses:  None.

She says:  We were unable to make contact with Williams.  She did not respond to attempts to reach her through her last known phone numbers and email addresses.

Two Petty Theft Arrests

Vernon Prater, 41.

In the summer of 2013, he shoplifted $86.35 worth of tools from a Home Depot in North Lauderdale, and was charged with felony petty theft.

Past offenses:  Prater served a five-year prison sentence in Florida for an armed robbery and another attempted robbery in 1998.  He was also arrested for another armed robbery in South Carolina in 2006.

COMPAS score:  3 — low

Subsequent offenses:  Prater went on to break into a warehouse and steal $7,700 worth of electronics, tools and appliances.  He was charged with 30 felony counts, including burglary, grand theft in the third degree, and dealing in stolen property when he pawned the stolen goods.  He confessed to the owner of the warehouse that he had taken the items because he had a drug problem and promised to pay him back later.  Prater received an eight-year sentence for the thefts and is now in Florida state prison.

He says:  We were unable to make contact with Prater through his court-appointed attorneys.

Brisha Borden, 18.

In 2014, Borden and a friend picked up a blue Huffy bicycle and a Razor scooter that were sitting unlocked outside an apartment building, and started to ride them down the street.  When the owner saw them and confronted them, Borden and her friend dropped the bike and scooter and ran away.  A neighbor called the cops, and the two girls were charged with misdemeanor petty theft and burglary.

Past offense:  Four juvenile misdemeanors.

COMPAS score:  8 — high

Subsequent offenses:  None

She says:  Borden did not respond to requests for an interview through friends, relatives, and letters left in person at her last known address.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

GUN CONTROL - The Best Argument Ever

From "West Wing"

Was reminded of this piece from a Facebook post.

This is the best pro-gun-control argument ever.

WATER CRISIS - The Truth Behind the Water Crisis in the West

"Drought be Dammed" by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica 5/20/2016

This story was co-published with The New York Times.

Wedged between Arizona and Utah, less than 20 miles up river from the Grand Canyon, a soaring concrete wall nearly the height of two football fields blocks the flow of the Colorado River.  There, at Glen Canyon Dam, the river is turned back on itself, drowning more than 200 miles of plasma-red gorges and replacing the Colorado's free-spirited rapids with an immense lake of flat, still water called Lake Powell, the nation's second largest reserve.

When Glen Canyon Dam was built — in the middle of the last century — giant dams were championed as a silver bullet promising to elevate the American West above its greatest handicap — a perennial shortage of water.  These monolithic wonders of engineering would bring wild rivers to heel, produce cheap, clean power, and stockpile water necessary to grow a thriving economy in the middle of the desert.  And because they were often remotely located they were rarely questioned.

We built the Hoover Dam, creating Lake Mead, Glen Canyon Dam and more than 300 other dams and reservoirs at a cost of more than $100 billion.  Such was the nation's enthusiasm for capturing its water that even the lower part of the Grand Canyon seemed, for a time, worth flooding.  Two more towering walls of concrete were proposed there, and would have backed up water well into the nation's most famous national park.

But today, there are signs that the promise of the great dam has run its course.

Climate change is fundamentally altering the environment, making the West hotter and drier.  There is less water to store, and few remaining good sites for new dams.

Many of the existing dams, meanwhile, have proven far less efficient — and less effective — than their champions had hoped.  They have altered ecosystems and disrupted fisheries.  They have left taxpayers saddled with debt.

And, in what is perhaps the most egregious failure for a system intended to conserve water, many of them lose hundreds of billions of gallons of precious water each year to evaporation and, sometimes, to leakage underground.  These losses increasingly undercut the longstanding benefits of damming big rivers like the Colorado, and may now be making the West's water crisis worse.

In no place is this lesson more acute than at Glen Canyon.

And yet even as these consequences come into focus, four states on the Colorado River are developing plans to build new dams and river diversions in an effort to seize a larger share of dwindling water supplies for themselves before that water flows downstream.

The projects, coupled with perhaps the most severe water shortages the region has ever seen, have reignited a debate about whether 20th century solutions can address the challenges of an epochal 21st century drought, with a growing chorus of prominent former officials saying the plans fly in the face of a new climate reality.

“The Colorado River system is changing rapidly,” says Daniel Beard, a former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees all of the federal government's dams in the West.  “We have a responsibility to reassess the fundamental precepts of how we have managed the river.”

That reassessment — Beard and others say — demands that even as new projects are debated, it's time to decommission one of the grandest dams of them all, Glen Canyon.

Glen Canyon Dam was erected as a political and environmental compromise, an evolution of the earliest water wars on the Colorado River.

In 1922 seven states — California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming — signed a compact agreement dividing the Colorado between them, and, later, with Mexico.  The northern states agreed to send an annual quota of water downstream to California, Nevada and Arizona, and the dam building began.  But the faster those states grew the more water they used, and by mid-century Colorado, Wyoming and the rest of the upper basin feared it was only a matter of time before the south laid claim to the entire river.  The northern states sought their own mega-dam — one which could give them control over the flow of the river and provide a gate through which they could mete out exactly how much of it was sent downstream.  Their political jockeying in Congress eventually won the promise that the federal government would build more dams in the north too.

In 1956 the Colorado River Storage Project Act paved the way for the construction of four more large power-generating dams in the upper basin of the Colorado River.  In its planning, the federal Bureau of Reclamation had zeroed in on a dam site on a tributary in northwestern Colorado called the Green River.  But the reservoir it proposed to create would submerge a tract of treasured, fossil-laden parkland called Dinosaur National Monument.  Environmentalists, led by legendary Sierra Club executive director David Brower in one of the nation's early epic conservation battles, fought passionately to preserve the monument.

All sides agreed instead to proceed at a remote spot in southern Utah called Glen Canyon, in a region far from highways, about 200 miles northeast of Las Vegas.  Glen Canyon Dam would help normalize the erratic flows of the Colorado, and flood a no-man's land of barren sandstone domes and inaccessible dendritic canyons — transforming them into a surreal oasis called Lake Powell.

Damming rivers this way is as old as civilization itself, stretching back some 8,000 years to the foothills of Mesopotamia.  From the start, the idea was to stem the risk of devastating floods by creating a catchment for the unpredictable torrents that rattle down from upstream.  Once a river was restrained, its domesticated waters could be guided through ditches and canals to irrigate land for agriculture, and to use the force of gravity to power its delivery over great distances.  For desert regions that got little rain, but watch seasonal snowmelt sluice by during the spring rush, dams became a way to capture that water and hold it until the time of year it was needed most.

With time, dams were developed especially for their ability to generate power.  And since force is not just a function of the amount of water flowing, but of the mass of water held behind the dam, the dams grew broader.  In 1942 the Bureau of Reclamation completed the low-slung Grand Coulee Dam, a butchy mass of concrete more massive than the Pyramid at Giza, stretching for nearly a mile across Washington's Columbia River.  It is still today the single largest hydropower producer in the country.

Glen Canyon Dam is of a different sort — a tall, elegant, sweeping structure engineered in an arch bowing against the pressure of the water, enabling a relatively thin sheet of concrete to withstand unfathomable forces behind it.  Arch dams like these were perfectly suited for the Colorado's narrow chasms, and Glen Canyon — like the Hoover Dam — created a reservoir so deep that the sheer height of the water behind it promised to generate enormous currents of power.  By all measures, its completion was a feat.

But it took 17 years for the reservoir to fill, and just 19 years after that, it began a steady decline.  Today its potential has been severely undercut by its own inefficiencies.  Thanks to the steady overuse of the Colorado River system — which provides water to one in eight Americans and supports one seventh of the nation's crops — Lake Powell has been drained to less than half of its capacity as less water has flowed into it than has been routinely taken out.  That relative puddle is no longer capable of generating the amount of power the dam's builders originally planned, and so the power has become more expensive for the government to deliver, with the burden increasingly falling on the nation's taxpayers.  Since the dam's power sales are relied on to pay for the operations of other smaller dams and reservoirs used for irrigation in the West, as Glen Canyon financially crumbles, so might the system that depends on it.

But it's not just the reservoir's overuse that is causing it to drain, it's the very site and concept chosen for Lake Powell itself, the reservoir loses an extraordinary amount of its precious water.  When a dam is built in the desert, its water is spread over a wide area under hot sun and wind, leading to massive evaporation.  More than 160 billion gallons of water evaporate off of Lake Powell's surface every year, enough to lower the reservoir by four inches each month.  Another 120 billion gallons are believed to leak out of the bottom of the canyon into fissures in the earth, — a loss that if tallied up over the life of the dam amounts to more than a year's flow of the entire Colorado River.  According to the environmental group Colorado Riverkeeper, if the lost water were sold, it would generate some $350 million each year.

Cumulatively these debits, Beard says, amount to “the largest loss of water on the Colorado River,” — an amount equal to six percent of its total flow and enough to supply some nine million people each year.

Not every dam site shares Glen Canyon's problems.  Each dam serves a unique purpose — whether it's power generation or water storage — and every region has different needs.

But Glen Canyon is far from the only project to fall out of favor — major projects are being decommissioned or reevaluated across the country.  In some places there isn't enough water to justify the environmental and economic costs of blocking a river.  In others the dams have turned out to block the flow of sediment, stop fish migration, or threaten endangered species in ways that weren't anticipated in the middle of the last century.

The Hoover Dam's Lake Mead, which Wednesday fell to its lowest level ever, 145 feet below capacity, also loses hundreds of billions of gallons of water to evaporation and is just 37 percent full.  The reservoir behind Arizona's Coolidge Dam, one of the first major projects in Western water development and one of Arizona's largest reservoirs, is virtually empty.

And dams are coming down.  Six Western dams were deconstructed in 2015 alone.  Just last month California and Oregon agreed to dismantle four more power-generating dams on the Klamath River, having realized that the facilities were crippling native salmon fisheries, which also have enormous economic value.  “This is a good exercise of humankind correcting some of the mistakes that it's made in the past,” California Gov.  Jerry Brown said when announcing the plan.  And in early May a federal judge in Oregon ruled that — because of extensive ecological damage — the system of dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers “cries out for a major overhaul.”

Still, on the Colorado, today's water managers refute the notion that it's time for a change.

Glen Canyon Dam may be past its prime, says Michael Connor, the deputy secretary of the Interior and a former Commissioner of Reclamation, but its not past its usefulness.  Though he calls the amount of water lost to evaporation and leakage “incredibly significant,” Connor credits Glen Canyon with numbing the pain of the recent drought.  “Look at the last 15 years,” he says.  “It's the lowest inflow in history and there's been no shortages on the Colorado River and that's because of Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell and Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.”

There is also a political tide to be reckoned with; the delicate peace struck between the seven competing states and Mexico — and the fear that they'd never again be able to reach an agreement the likes of which they all signed in 1922.  “Getting rid of Lake Powell… it would basically make the compact stand on its head,” said Bronson Mack, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas, pointing to the role that Lake Powell plays in guaranteeing the northern states have enough water to deliver to Nevada and the south each year.  “We've always said cracking open the compact is going to land seven states in decades of litigation, so there has not been an appetite for it.”

Decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam, however, could offer a solution that politicians cannot afford to ignore — a cheap, immediate, and significant new source of water where it is most desperately needed.

The idea is this: Since two of the nation's largest reservoirs — just more than 300 miles apart — depend on the same dwindling water source but are each less than half full, they should be combined into one.  Lake Mead would be deeper, and its evaporative losses would increase.  But the surface area of Lake Powell would be dramatically reduced, and the evaporated water from there would be saved.  Furthermore, moving the water out of Glen Canyon would move it from a valley that leaks like a sieve, into one that is watertight.  The ongoing losses in Mead — according to proponents of the plan — would be more than offset by the immense savings at Lake Powell.

In all, according to Tom Myers, a hydrologist who was commissioned to research the implications of the plan for the Glen Canyon Institute, an environmental group advocating for combining the two reservoirs, about 179 billion gallons of water would be saved each year — more than enough to supply the population of the city of Los Angeles.

The argument has logical weight because both reservoirs have been struggling to remain half full, and may not ever refill.  Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego gave Lake Mead a 50 percent chance of running dry by 2021.  The federal Bureau of Reclamation itself forecasts that the amount of water runoff will decrease another 9 percent by 2050 in the Colorado River basin, as temperatures increase.  And last year a group of academic researchers declared that the Colorado River basin — already in its 16th year of drought, may be headed toward the worst water crisis in 1,000 years.

Meanwhile the Bureau predicts that demand will continue to increase on the river so much that by 2060 the region will run short by a trillion gallons each year.

“They all show a huge deficit and they all show the reservoirs will likely never fill again,” said Eric Balken, executive director of the Glen Canyon Institute.  “So let's rethink the game plan here.”

According to the proposal the Glen Canyon Dam itself would not be removed.  Rather, its gates would be opened, and the water behind it allowed to pass through, restoring the natural flows through into the Grand Canyon just below it, draining the Lake Powell reservoir, and allowing the legendarily scenic landscape of Glen Canyon to be resurrected.

The water would not be lost.  It would simply flow down through the Grand Canyon and be recaptured behind the Hoover Dam in Lake Mead.

“To me it is a no brainer,” said David Wegner, who studied Glen Canyon as a scientist with the Department of Interior for more than 20 years, and later advised the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources on management of Western water issues.  “You've got very few options.”

According to Balken, the process could unfold in stages, and it wouldn't take much.  For a while, the water from the lake would simply drain through the dam, as if the plug were pulled from a giant bathtub.  The lake levels — already nearly 100 feet below their peak now — would be allowed to drop another 100 feet, until they reach the intakes for the dam's generators.  One option would be to maintain the lake levels there, allowing minimal power production.  Just that incremental shift would allow vast tracts of land now submerged to be restored.

A second stage of drawdown could lower the levels further, to a set of release pipes about 200 feet above the foot of the dam.  The dam's power plant would be shut down, saving tens of millions of dollars in operating costs.  It would also dramatically alter water flows through the Grand Canyon, and would have to be carefully coordinated with water levels in Lake Mead, downriver.  For the Colorado to be truly restored to its natural riverbed, a third stage, in which bypass tunnels would have to be drilled to allow the water to circumvent the concrete footing of the dam, would have to be pursued.

But proponents of the plan — which they call “fill Mead first” — say the lake may not need to be completely drained.  Every vertical foot the waters drop reveals whole stretches of long-drowned desert wilderness.  Much of the Glen Canyon valley has already been resurrected, as the lake levels have receded, and several of Powell's recreational boat launches now hang above the shoreline, dry.

As the waters fall further, broad swaths of river pinned between vertical canyon walls would be transformed into remote wilderness valleys, their floors once again inviting to explore on horseback or on foot.  Dozens of archaeological sites, their walls covered in petroglyphs, would be revealed.  For a while parts of these lands would be covered in a heavy silt, the result of decades of fine mud settling at the bottom of the lake.  But vegetation would quickly root in the fertile soils, and heavy storms would flush the mud out the bottom of the canyon, scouring the sandstone clean.  Eventually, perhaps after a few decades, even the white watermarks painted across the sides of the valley — telltale signs of the manmade flood — would begin to disappear.

As the silt gets washed downstream, a cloudy stew would course through the Grand Canyon, temporarily disrupting the gentle ecology of that part of the river.  But that silt has been sorely missed, and it would soon settle, restoring beaches long ago deprived of sediment.  The flow of the river through the Grand Canyon would once again be defined mainly by the amount of precipitation gathered by the mountains upstream.  Four native endangered species of fish would presumably thrive in their restored waters.

Restoring the land of Glen Canyon this way has long been the campaign of ardent environmentalists.  Brower — who mounted an intense effort to save Glen Canyon almost as soon as he'd agreed to allow it to be drowned — called the reservoir his greatest regret, and the Glen Canyon Dam has been a potent symbol of the desecration of wild places ever since.  Now the shortages on the river, and the promise that climate change are certain to make them worse, have breathed new, pragmatic life into their arguments.

Whether the “Fill Mead First” argument pencils out for its benefit to the water supply depends on whether Myers' assumptions about the amount of water that leaks out of the bottom of Lake Powell are accurate.  The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has long said that water that seeps into the ground eventually returns to the river.  Myers studied the fault patterns in the rock bed, and the direction of groundwater flow, and concluded that much of the water seeps away never to come back — an amount that adds up to about 124 billion gallons each year.  His research was published in the Journal of The American Water Resources Association in 2013.

Still, the river's water managers believe his models are flawed.  “We don't agree with the fundamental assumptions that this water is being lost permanently,” said Colby Pellegrino, the Colorado River Programs Manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.  Pellegrino's office ran its own numbers to see if combining the reservoirs would save water, and said the math worked out as a wash.

“This is an attempt to find a water supply rationale which supports their recreational focus and narrow view of what the river should look like,” she said.

From a viewpoint above Glen Canyon Dam, a placid lake stretches in one direction, and a tangle of electrical wires in the other.  The dam's power station is a nest of infrastructure locked behind a razor wire fence at the top of a vertiginous cliff, and it's capable of sending 1,320 megawatts of electric power shooting out across the moon-like landscape of southern Utah, toward millions of homes.

Glen Canyon Dam's staunchest defenders say its power output is clean, affordable, and vital.  Moreover, they say those who think climate change has doomed the traditional ways of managing the Colorado's water underestimate the political complexities of doing away with the power dams generate.

“The questions that are being asked are very legitimate questions,” Connor says.  “But you've got to have some political support… and that just doesn't exist.”

The government relies on Glen Canyon Dam to produce power — and not only to produce it, but to sell it, in order to repay the U.S. Treasury for a big chunk of the cost of Glen Canyon's construction and infrastructure upgrades, and to fund water conservation initiatives across Western states.

From the start, Glen Canyon was conceived as a giant hydroelectric generating plant, one so large its planners boasted that the sale of its power would not only pay for the dam's construction, but finance smaller dams across the West.  Today Glen Canyon is the largest facility run by the Western Area Power Administration, the federal energy agency that sells wholesale, federally generated hydropower onto the Western electrical grid.

The dam's power reaches 3.2 million customers from California to New Mexico, according to a recent analysis commissioned by the Glen Canyon Institute.  And while much of the power is resold at retail rates, its greatest dependents are Native American tribes and the U.S. Department of Defense — which are accustomed to getting their power wholesale, at a government-subsidized price that Glen Canyon Institute's consultants calculated was a little more than one third market rates.

Were Glen Canyon to stop operating, its defenders say, those who rely on its power would face astronomical price hikes — or perhaps lose their access to electrical entirely.

That may eventually happen, however, whether the river's managers agree to dismantle Glen Canyon or not.

The lower the lake level drops, the less power the dam can generate, and the less power WAPA has to sell.  Researchers in the northern Colorado River basin states have even begun considering when Lake Powell's lake levels might reach “dead pool,” or the level at which the turbines can no longer produce any power at all.

Already, the lake's levels have dropped more than 90 feet since 1999.  If they drop another 100 feet or so, the dam's turbines begin sucking air.  Glen Canyon has been generating at roughly 43 percent of its capacity.  Some experts predict in the future that nest of wires will convey, on average, about 600 megawatts of power.

That has left WAPA — and the Department of Interior — in a bind.  The agency has long-term contracts to deliver power, and it can't simply come up short.  When there's not enough water WAPA has to purchase the power it can't make itself in order to meet its obligations.  WAPA spent $62 million on extra power to fulfill its contracts in its fiscal 2014, and, after managing its water to bring the water levels in Lake Powell back up, $22 million for its 2015 operations, the vast majority of which was to make up for shortfalls at Glen Canyon.

The shortfalls — like falling dominoes — could eventually leave the region's broader dam and water infrastructure system in the lurch, as smaller dams and reservoirs that rely on money from Glen Canyon's power sales may have to do without.

For example the Dolores Water Conservancy District, a small utility in southern Colorado which operates the McPhee Dam, recently used $7 million in power-revenues from the Colorado River Storage Project to pay for pump upgrades at its facilities.  If Glen Canyon Dam wasn't generating power, that upgrade might never have happened.  “Without the basin power funds the viability of our project becomes a lot more challenging,” says the district's general manager, Mike Preston.  “I don't know how we would do it frankly.”

Meanwhile nature is weaning the West off its power subsidies all on its own.  As WAPA's costs increase, the economic benefit of the dam has already decreased.  If production drops further, the conservation programs paid for by the dam's slush fund will go unfunded.

Power consultants hired by the Glen Canyon Institute to analyze the impact of shutting down the dam found that western power consumers have already reduced their reliance on Glen Canyon power, and that power constitutes less than one percent of western supply.  There are end users that rely on Glen Canyon for all of their power — the Navajo Tribe, and the U.S. Department of Energy's labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico — and these few groups would expect large cost increases as their subsidies disappear.  But the vast majority of residential consumers would see their bills jump nominally, by just eight cents per month, should Glen Canyon shut down.

Still — as the Glen Canyon Institute report points out — if Lake Mead and Lake Powell were combined, that worst-case blow would likely be blunted.  With the added mass of water behind the Hoover Dam — another federal hydropower facility — generators there would produce more power than they do now, and that surplus, according to the Glen Canyon Institute, could replace about 17 percent of what Glen Canyon produces today.

The amount of water in Lake Powell, of course, depends on the amount of water that flows into it.  But even as the region scrambles to save its reservoir — and its river — projects are being planned which would take large additional amounts of water out of the Colorado before it can even fill Powell or fuel the Glen Canyon Dam.

Colorado is planning to build a new reservoir at a place called Windy Gap, and to more than triple the capacity of its Gross Reservoir by raising the height of the dam there.  Wyoming is considering an expansion of its Fontenelle Dam on the Green River.  Utah just filed an application to build a 140-mile pipeline to divert water out of Lake Powell.  The planned new projects would divert another 83 billion gallons of water away from Glen Canyon Dam each year

Downriver, New Mexico is preparing to spend close to one billion dollars to build a new dam and reservoir on the Gila River — a river mostly spoken for.  The project promises to capture water only in years when there is so much extra that Arizona right-holders downstream can't use it all, and to do so despite science which forecasts the Gila will have less and less water in the future.  Furthermore, like Lake Powell, the reservoir site in New Mexico also promises to leak, so much so that builders now want to line the entire reservoir valley with rubber before it's filled, an undertaking that will cost more than construction of the dam itself.

“Every supplier in the basin is trying to build anything they can to get as much water as they can,” said Gary Wockner, the executive director of the environmental organization Save the Colorado, “trying to get the last legally allowed drop that they can before the red flag goes up.”

That every drop of water on the Colorado counts is undisputed.  Last month the lower basin states announced they were close to a historic, and difficult, agreement to voluntarily cede a small share of their water, just to keep the reservoirs functioning.  An ambitious, multi-million effort to buy even small amounts of water off of Colorado farmers and send it to fill Lake Powell has, after two years, failed to garner more than a few million gallons.  It appears that stakeholders are ready to do whatever it takes, including re-envisioning the use of dams.

“I think it's questionable whether you can build a lot more reservoirs in hot, arid environments,” the Interior department's Connor told ProPublica.

Still, the proposal to “Fill Mead First” appears to be a step too far.

Ultimately the decision to drain Lake Powell — or perhaps to forgo any of the other new dam and water projects now in the works on the river — comes down to a question of whether the seven states and Mexico that share the Colorado river really need the water badly enough.

When they do, abandoning parochial concerns about how the river is supposed to work, and changing the status quo, however uncomfortable or complicated, will begin to seem worth it.

"There's just a lot that's built on this scheme of management and the existence of Glen Canyon Dam,” said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver's water utility and a former Colorado state negotiator on Colorado River matters.  Lochhead says the change would likely require an act of Congress, plus an agreement between seven state legislatures and a revised treaty with Mexico, and a multi-year federal environmental impact analysis.

“A half a million acre feet sounds like a lot of water,” he said, referring to the amount that would be saved by combining the Powell and Mead reservoirs, “but I don't think it's significant enough, frankly, to justify going through all of that.”

Monday, May 23, 2016

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 5/20/2016

"Shields and Brooks on the NRA's endorsement of Donald Trump and the Bernie Sanders factor" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2016


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including what the NRA's endorsement of Donald Trump means for GOP unity, whether Democrat Bernie Sanders still poses a serious threat to Hillary Clinton's nomination and what will happen to his supporters if she wins it.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "Your Song Changed My Life"

"NPR's “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen on the songs that change our lives" PBS NewsHour 5/20/2016


SUMMARY:  Bob Boilen is known for being the host and creator of NPR's popular “All Songs Considered” podcast.  But Boilen is also a former musician -- his band was the first ever act to play D.C.'s famous 9:30 Club.  Boilen's new book, “Your Song Changed My Life,” recounts the history of modern music through the voices he has encountered, and he joins Jeffrey Brown at the 9:30 Club to share a few of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Many of you may know Bob Boilen as the host and creator of NPR's “All Songs Considered,” one of the most downloaded music podcasts.

At the popular 9:30 Club here in Washington, D.C., recently, Jeffrey Brown sat down with Boilen, whose own band was the first to play at that club 35 years ago.

His new book, “Your Song Changed My Life,” recounts the history of modern music through voices Boilen has encountered.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Your book, “Your Song Changed My Life,” right, that's true.  I mean, a lot of people would say that, but why?  Have you figured out what it is that — about music that has that impact?

BOB BOILEN, Author, “Your Song Changed My Life”:  I think it's so visceral.

Music is so different than everything else.  It's not tangible.  You don't see it.  It hits you on a level that is deeper than what we do and see in everyday life.  I think it's pure emotion and tone, and a lyric.  Somebody saying a lyric that repeats over and over can be a call to action for somebody.

I tell stories of people whose lives were changed by a song, and often in those formative years, what some people call the reminiscence bump, where you're more likely to be susceptible to something, with hormones raging, or the first time you ever like heard somebody go, YAH!, you know, like, those things are impactful because they're firsts.  And…

JEFFREY BROWN:   You were looking for those moments from people.

BOB BOILEN:  Well, then it wasn't hard to find, either because so many musicians — there are 35 in my book, from — you know, you get Jimmy Page or a new artist like Hozier, or St. Vincent.

You get artists who became musicians because something like that happened to them, where they heard a song on the radio while they were 8 years old strapped to the back seat of a car.

Or, for Jimmy Page, he moved into a house that was empty and there was a guitar in that house, the only thing, right?
JEFFREY BROWN:  Did you see themes emerge when you’re talking to all these different musicians, anything that really stood out or surprised you?

BOB BOILEN:  Well, I think one thing is that parents (listen) you have a large influence on what your kids are going to like.

And for my generation, I was rebelling against my parents’ music.


BOB BOILEN:  But that’s not true anymore.  Most kids embrace their parents’ music.  Most kids look back with some sense of, I want to know more.

I’m curious what’s going to happen in the land of playlists.  Like, is your kid going to inherit your playlists?  Not likely.