Monday, November 27, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 11/24/2017

"Shields and Brooks on sexual misconduct plaguing politics, GOP tax plan pushback" PBS NewsHour 11/24/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including more allegations of sexual misconduct in the worlds of politics and the media, a New York Times report suggesting Michael Flynn may be cooperating in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, and some surprising opposition to the Republican tax plan.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  But first, another week of sexual misconduct allegations plagued the political and media worlds.  And with Congress returning next week, we look ahead to Republican efforts on taxes and more.

And for all that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, let’s start, Mark, with the sexual allegations cascading across new names this week.  It’s crossing party lines, Al Franken among the Democrats.  Congressman Joe Barton, not sexual harassment, but a personal relationship, pictures have emerged.

What are we — we know that politicians and people in the media aren’t perfect, never have been, but what are we learning now from all this?

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  Well, I think we’re learning, Judy, the dimensions of it.

I mean, this isn’t the pass at the office Christmas party after two drinks, “Would you like a ride home, Sally?”  I mean, this is abusive stuff, and it’s male-directed, it’s male-dominated, it’s male power.

I’m embarrassed for my gender to read this stuff.  I’m appalled.  Quite frankly, I have not led a cloistered life, but men exposing themselves, just this is a form of human depravity and abuse that is unrecorded and unreported.  And I think it’s — I think we’re seeing a sea change in attitudes in this country.

The one encouraging aspect is, generationally, younger men find the harassment — they agree more with women about the prevalence of it and the unacceptability of it.  And for that, I’m cheered and encouraged.

But I have to say, it’s not a party thing.  Obviously, it’s not an ideological thing.  It’s a power thing, and it’s a male thing overwhelmingly.

Judy Woodruff:  David, do you think we may be seeing a turn, a change in people’s willingness to put up with this?

David Brooks, New York Times:  Yes, well, certainly the willingness of people to come out, the encouragement of people to come out, the instinctive siding with the people who come out, which I think is the right posture.

I think we are seeing a change.  And what interest me is, I was wondering, would we — Harvey Weinstein, that probably would have happened.  But if Donald Trump were not President, would it have had these massive ripple effects, so it becomes a big national change?

And I think the reaction to Trump is part of the deal here.  And we have talked about Trump maybe polluting our national culture, but it could be the reaction to Trump is also making us hypersensitive and making us want to correct the national culture.

And so you could be a — see a reaction to — the Trump wave, I think, has lowered norms and the standards, but a lot of people would say, no, we’re not happy with this, we’re going to raise norms and standards.

And so I hope this is part of that larger reestablishment of what is decency.

RWANDA - Empowering Women

"This all-women’s college is training Rwanda’s future leaders" PBS NewsHour 11/24/2017


SUMMARY:  The first all-female college in Rwanda is making strides in empowering women from all backgrounds to become the nation’s next business leaders, part of an effort to leave behind an image of a violent country, wracked by genocide.  At the Akilah Institute, students prepare for well-paying jobs and financial independence and learn gender equality.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.

Fred de Sam Lazaro (NewsHour):  But the statistic that makes this country unique in the world reflects the role of women in all of this.  Half of this country’s Supreme Court justices are female, and so are two-thirds of its members of parliament.

EGYPT - ISIS Attack on Muslims

A reminder that ISIS is not just an enemy of the West, but an enemy of the world.

"Militants target Muslims in Egypt’s deadliest modern attack" PBS NewsHour 11/24/2017


SUMMARY:  Attackers unleashed mayhem and carnage on a crowded mosque in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Friday.  At least 235 people were killed by militants who detonated explosives and shot worshippers as they tried to escape.  Judy Woodruff learns more from Declan Walsh of The New York Times.

NEWSHOUR SHARES - Hawkeyes Football Fans

"Football fans in Iowa find a way to bring joy to young patients at a nearby hospital" PBS NewsHour 11/23/2017



SUMMARY:  For some families at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the world outside.  The Kohn family has spent more than 300 days in the children’s ward, while their young son waits for a heart transplant.  But Hawkeyes football fans have found a way to show they care through a simple, yet powerful, gesture.

BRIEF BUT SPECTACULAR - Daniel Lubetzky, Kindness

"Kindness requires action, says entrepreneur and author Daniel Lubetzky" PBS NewsHour 11/23/2017


SUMMARY:  Daniel Lubetzky, founder and CEO of the “Kind” snack company, believes kindness requires courage and action.  After law school, Lubetzky founded a company to bring people of conflict regions together through business ventures, and it all started out with a jar of sun-dried tomato paste.

MIDDLE EAST - Saudi Arabia vs Lebanon

"How a rift between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon could mean trouble for the entire region" PBS NewsHour 11/23/2017


SUMMARY:  Earlier this month, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri shocked the region by announcing his resignation.  Now back home from Saudi Arabia and his Middle East tour, Hariri says he’s postponing his resignation at the behest of president Michel Aoun.  Special correspondent Jane Ferguson joined Judy Woodruff to discuss the regional implications of Saudi-Lebanese tensions.

CRANBERRIES - Worth the Trouble?

"Why your Thanksgiving cranberries might be more trouble than they’re worth for local growers" PBS NewsHour 11/23/2017

NOTE:  I drink Ocean Spray cranberry juices daily.


SUMMARY:  The price of cranberries has been sinking for more than five years due to overproduction.  Families like the Rhodes, who own Edgewood Bogs in Massachusetts, are used to periodic cycles of oversupply and falling prices, but new bogs in western U.S. states in Canada are making farmers especially vulnerable.  Paul Solman reports on how small growers are surviving in a changing cranberry market.

STUDENTS - On 'Fake News'

IMHO:  'Fake news' is what dictators (or want-to-be) call ANY news that questions their authority or truthfulness.

"This is what students think about ‘fake news’ and the media" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2017


SUMMARY:  In an era marked by cries of “fake news,” teaching media literacy skills to young consumers is more important than ever.  How do schools teach students consuming and sharing news responsibly?  PBS Newshour's Student Reporting Labs talks to students about how they experience news and what they think about journalism today.

SOLAR ENERGY - Kenya, Power to the People

"In remote Kenyan villages, solar startups bring light" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Some 1.3 billion people around the globe don’t have access to an electric grid.  But solar startup companies say harnessing an abundant resource -- the sun -- can light up some of the world’s most remote areas.  In this Kenyan village, rooftop panels are becoming a cheap, popular and promising source of light.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.

MANHATTAN TRANSFER - Nutmeg and New York City

"How nutmeg made its way from 15th-century infamy to the Thanksgiving table" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Now a Thanksgiving staple, nutmeg, used to be worth its weight in gold.  The spice, originally grown only on the island of Banda Rhun, was so attractive to the Dutch East India Company that it traded its ownership of land that is now New York City for sole control of its trade.  Why was our favorite eggnog garnish so valuable to 15th-century explorers?  Special correspondent Mike Cerre has the answer.

SYRIA - Civil War Ending? In Favor of a War Criminal with Russian Support

"Putin says the end of the Syrian civil war is in sight.  Is he right?" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the end of Syria’s civil war was in sight as he hosted Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Sochi Summit, a meeting that didn’t include the U.S.  As Syrian opposition members prepare to meet, many wonder, what’s next?  Judy Woodruff hears from former State Department official Vali Nasr and Faysal Itani of the Atlantic Council.

For War Crimes


"Donna Brazile: Bailing out DNC gave Clinton campaign control, ‘made my job impossible’" PBS NewsHour 11/21/2017


SUMMARY:  Donna Brazile, a veteran political consultant who became the DNC's interim chair during the 2016 campaign, had a front-row seat to what happened and offers her take in a new book, "Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House."  Brazile joins Judy Woodruff for a conversation about Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, and more.

INTERNET - Net Neutrality's Future Threatened, Price of Access

"How will rolling back net neutrality affect consumers?  You’ll have to read the fine print." PBS NewsHour 11/21/2017

The bottom line is $Big profits of mega telecoms that sacrifice FREE consumer choice.  Note the key word.

The telecoms want to charge customers more for what we get at a standard rate now.


SUMMARY:  The Trump administration could potentially change how consumers access video, music, web stories and other online content by rolling back many of the net neutrality rules passed by the Obama administration.  FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the government should stop "micromanaging" the web.  What does that mean for consumers?  Jeffrey Brown takes a closer look with Kim Hart of Axios.

ZIMBABWE - End of a Monster's Reign

Mugabe is a monster who ruined his country.

"Zimbabwe celebrates a rebirth as Mugabe gives in to resignation pressure" PBS NewsHour 11/21/2017


SUMMARY:  In Zimbabwe, it's as if a 37-year shadow has been lifted.  Robert Mugabe, the leader who once liberated his country from white minority rule, is no longer their president after a titanic battle of wills and a military intervention.  John Ray of Independent Television News reports from Harare.

"The future of Zimbabwe without Mugabe" PBS NewsHour 11/21/2017

NOTE:  There are reports that the military is installing a 'Mugabe-Inforcer' as president, not good.


SUMMARY:  How did the 37-year rule of Robert Mugabe shape Zimbabwe?  From early high hopes to current economic turmoil, Judy Woodruff discusses the evolution of the country under his leadership -- and what comes next -- with former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Johnnie Carson and Blessing Zulu of Voice of America.

ART - From Gitmo

"The art of the Guantanamo Bay detainees" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2017


SUMMARY:  A new exhibit in New York shares art from an unlikely place, Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.  Current and former detainees have created work that represent their experiences as prisoners -- even episodes of torture -- often using whatever nontraditional materials they can find.  Special correspondent Arun Rath reports.


"The GOP tax plan: Who does it help and hurt?" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2017

'Tell a lie often enough and they will believe you.'  The Republican Tax Plan IS a giveaway for the rich.


SUMMARY:  One of the biggest questions surrounding the Republican tax overhaul is who benefits from the changes.  Democrats have decried it as a giveaway to the rich, but GOP defenders insist it will cut most middle class taxes and boost jobs.  Lisa Desjardins reports; and Judy Woodruff talks to Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum and Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

$BIG MERGER - Blocked, AT&T - Time Warner

Another stab at making Trump TV 24/7 propaganda channel?

"What would the AT&T-Time Warner merger mean for consumers?" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2017


SUMMARY:  The Justice Department is suing to block a $85 billion merger between media and telecom giants AT&T and Time Warner, in the first major antitrust case taken up by the Trump administration.  Some observers have openly wondered if the decision is influenced by President Trump's ongoing battle with CNN.  Lisa Desjardins learns more from David Shepardson of Reuters.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

ICE - Extreme Digital Vetting

IMHO:  ICE today, Trump's Gestapo Storm Troopers (it's not what they do, it is HOW they do their job).  This program means they will see ordinary American citizens who happen to have social media contacts with visa holders.

"Extreme Digital Vetting of Visitors to the U.S. Moves Forward Under a New Name" by George Joseph, ProPublica 11/22/2017

ICE officials have invited tech companies, including Microsoft, to develop algorithms that will track visa holders’ social media activity.

The Department of Immigration & Customs Enforcement is taking new steps in its plans for monitoring the social media accounts of applicants and holders of U.S. visas.  At a tech industry conference last Thursday in Arlington, Virginia, ICE officials explained to software providers what they are seeking, algorithms that would assess potential threats posed by visa holders in the United States and conduct ongoing social media surveillance of those deemed high risk.

The comments provide the first clear blueprint for ICE’s proposed augmentation of its visa-vetting program.  The initial announcement of the plans this summer, viewed as part of President Donald Trump’s calls for the “extreme vetting” of visitors from Muslim countries, stoked a public outcry from immigrants and civil liberties advocates.  They argued that such a plan would discriminate against Muslim visitors and potentially place a huge number of individuals under watch.

ICE officials subsequently changed the program’s name to “Visa Lifecycle Vetting.”  But, according to the ICE presentation, the goal of the initiative — enhanced monitoring of visa holders using social media — remains the same.

Speaking to a room of information-technology contractors, hosted by the Government Technology & Services Coalition, Louis Rodi, Deputy Assistant Director of ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ National Security Program, said the agency needs a tool equipped with “risk-based matrices” to predict dangers posed by visa holders, with the social media of those considered a threat under continuous surveillance throughout their stay in the U.S.

“We have millions and millions and millions of people coming every year, and subsequently departing, so we have to be smart about it,” said Rodi to a room of representatives from companies like Microsoft, Accenture, Deloitte and Motorola Solutions.  “And I’m sure there are tools out there that can help.”

For this targeted group of visa holders, ICE’s online monitoring of public social media posts would be large-scale and non-stop.  “Everything we’re dealing with is in bulk, so we need batch-vetting capabilities for any of the processes that we have,” said Rodi.  Alysa Erichs, ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ acting Deputy Association Director for Information Management, told attendees that ICE hopes to get automated notifications about any visa holders’ social media activity that could “ping us as a potential alert.”

ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell stressed to ProPublica that the Department of Homeland Security has not actually begun building any such program.  “The request for information on this initiative was simply that — an opportunity to gather information from industry professionals and other government agencies on current technological capabilities to determine the best way forward,” Cutrell wrote in an email.  The program would require clearance from numerous DHS units, including the Privacy Office and the Principal Legal Advisor, before it could be implemented, according to a federal official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In his speech, Rodi referred to meetings ICE has had with companies but did not mention any frontrunners.  The major tech companies present at the conference, including Microsoft, Accenture and Deloitte, either declined to comment or didn’t respond to ProPublica's request to comment about their level of interest in providing technology for the vetting program.  Microsoft has opposed Trump’s immigration policies, and several Microsoft researchers have publicly called for ICE to stop spying on visitors’ social media.

ICE is already monitoring some social media at eight Homeland Security Investigation posts internationally, Rodi said, and the plan is to expand to more sites.  In response to a question posed by ProPublica from the audience, he stated that the department was open to other social media monitoring techniques, such as link analysis (which helps authorities map out applicants’ online connections), so long as they solely rely on public posts.

The ICE officials emphasized the Trump administration’s strict stance.  “This administration is big on immigration enforcement, so we’re not going to look the other way like we have in the past when we have overstays,” said Rodi.  “Maybe it’s an administrative violation — it’s still a crime.  These people need to pay.  They can’t get away with it.”

Some analysts argue that gathering social media data is necessary.  ICE already has a tool that searches for connections to terrorists, according to Claude Arnold, a former ICE Homeland Security Investigations special agent, now with the security firm Frontier Solutions.  But, he said, potential terrorist threats often come from countries, such as Iraq or Syria, that provide little intelligence to U.S. authorities.  As a result, in Arnold’s view, social media information is all the more important.

Privacy advocates take a darker view.  “ICE is building a dangerously broad tool that could be used to justify excluding, or deporting, almost anyone,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology.  “They are talking about this as a targeted tool, but the numbers tell a different story.”

Bedoya noted that the program outline originally anticipated that the monitoring would identify 10,000 high-risk visa holders a year.  That suggests the pool of people under social media surveillance would be many orders of magnitude larger.  (ICE officials did not address this point at the conference.)

Last week, a coalition of academics and technologists warned in a public letter that ICE’s interest in using big data algorithms to assess risk is misguided, given how rare it is for foreign visitors to be involved in terrorist attacks in the U.S.  That means there’s little historical data to mine in hopes of using it to design a new algorithm.  The letter cited a Cato Institute analysis that found that the likelihood of an American dying in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in any given year was 1 in 3.6 million in the period between 1975 and 2015.

Cathy O’Neil, one of the signatories to that letter and author of “Weapons of Math Destruction,” told this reporter in August that any algorithm a company proposes would come built-in with some very human calculations.  “At the end of the day, someone has to choose a ratio,” she said.  “How many innocent false positives are you going to keep out of the country for each false negative?”

Thus far, social media monitoring of visa applicants has not identified any potential threats that wouldn’t have turned up in existing government databases, Rodi acknowledged.  “We haven’t found anything that would preclude someone from getting a visa through social media alone,” he said.  “But, you never know, the day may come when social media will actually find someone that wasn’t in the government systems we check.”

That argument doesn’t placate those who believe ICE’s vetting is already exhaustive.  Social media surveillance would be difficult to carry out without collecting collateral data on thousands of American citizens in the process, said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel to the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program.

“Generally, with surveillance technologies, they are adopted for national security purposes overseas, but are then brought stateside pretty quickly,” she said, citing practices first honed overseas, such as intercepting cellphone calls.  “So once there’s some kind of dragnet surveillance tool or information collection tool in place for one purpose, slippage can happen, and it will expand and expand.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

TRANSPLANTS - Americans Last?

"Some U.S. Hospitals Don’t Put Americans First for Liver Transplants" by Charles Ornstein (ProPublica) and Lee Zurik (Fox 8 WVUE New Orleans), ProPublica 11/20/2017

At a time when there aren’t enough livers for ailing Americans, wealthy foreigners fly here for transplants.

Earlier this fall, a leader of the busiest hospital for organ transplants in New York state — where livers are particularly scarce — pleaded for fairer treatment for ailing New Yorkers.

“Patients in equal need of a liver transplant should not have to wait and suffer differently because of the U.S. state where they reside,” wrote Dr. Herbert Pardes, former chief executive and now executive vice president of the board at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

But Pardes left out his hospital’s own contribution to the shortage: From 2013 to 2016, it gave 20 livers to foreign nationals who came to the United States solely for a transplant — essentially exporting the organs and removing them from the pool available to New Yorkers.

That represented 5.2 percent of the hospital’s liver transplants during that time, one of the highest ratios in the country.

Little known to the public, or to sick patients and their families, organs donated domestically are sometimes given to patients flying in from other countries, who often pay a premium.  Some hospitals even seek out foreign patients in need of a transplant.  A Saudi Arabian company, Ansaq Medical Co., whose stated aim is to “facilitate the procedures and mechanisms of ‘medical tourism,’” said it signed an agreement with Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans in 2015.

The practice is legal, and foreign nationals must wait their turn for an organ in the same way as domestic patients.  Transplant centers justify it on medical and humanitarian grounds.  But at a time when President Donald Trump is espousing an “America First” policy and seeking to ban visitors and refugees from certain countries, allocating domestic organs to foreigners may run counter to the national mood.

Even beyond the realm of health care, some are questioning whether foreigners should be able to access limited spots that might otherwise be available to U.S. citizens.  For instance, public colleges compensate for reductions in state funding by accepting more foreign students paying higher tuition, and critics say in-state students are being denied opportunities as a result.

Dr. Sander Florman, director of the transplant institute at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said he struggles with “in essence, selling the organs we do have to foreign nationals with bushels of money.”

Mount Sinai has not performed any transplants on patients who came to this country specifically for that purpose, but it has done so for international patients here for other reasons.

Between 2013 and 2016, 252 foreigners came to the U.S. purely to receive livers at American hospitals.  In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, the majority of foreign recipients were from countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel and United Arab Emirates.  Another 100 foreigners staying in the U.S. as non-residents also received livers.

All the while, more than 14,000 people, nearly all of them American citizens, are waiting for liver transplants, a figure that has remained stubbornly high for decades.  By comparison, fewer than 8,000 liver transplants were performed last year in the United States — and that was an all-time high.  The national median wait time for a liver is more than 14 months, and in states like New York, the wait is far longer.  (The wait for livers varies from one state to the next, depending on such factors as the number of organ donors, and the resourcefulness of organ procurement agencies.)

Many patients die before reaching the front of the line.  In 2016, more than 2,600 patients were removed from waiting lists nationally because they either died or were too sick to receive a liver transplant.

Most transplant centers only serve American citizens or residents, either by happenstance or by design.  Foreign transplants are concentrated among a handful of centers, including New York Presbyterian, Memorial Hermann -Texas Medical Center in Houston (31 such transplants from 2013 to 2016), Ochsner (30), and Cleveland Clinic in Ohio (21).

“When you take people from other parts of the world and provide an organ transplant to them rather than someone who’s here, there’s a real cost, there’s a real life that’s lost,” said Jane Hartsock, a visiting assistant professor of medical humanities and health studies at the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts.  Hartsock and her colleagues wrote a journal article published last year saying foreigners should be last in line for a transplant.

New York Presbyterian said it does not advertise its transplant program to foreign patients and that the majority of the transplants it performed on foreign nationals traveling to New York for that reason — 11 of the 20 — were on children under 18.

In a statement, the hospital and its academic partner Columbia University said they follow federal guidelines.  “We strongly support efforts that aim to address the critical issue of equitable distribution of livers for transplant and are working closely with a wide range of stakeholders to help increase the number of organ donor registrations in New York State.”

A spokeswoman for the Cleveland Clinic, Eileen Sheil, said her hospital does not actively seek out foreign national business and has a “thoughtful and ethical approach that is well within the rules and aligned with our overall mission for taking care of patients.” Ochsner similarly said, “patients seek out Ochsner’s expertise because of our relentless commitment to provide the highest-quality, complex care.” Memorial Hermann did not respond to requests for comment.

To be sure, the proportion of available livers that go to foreigners is tiny — slightly less than 1 percent of liver transplants nationwide from 2013 to 16.  The figure appears to be dropping further in 2017.  Even if all recipients were Americans, wait times would still be substantial.  Moreover, foreigners queue up on the waitlist like everybody else — although it may be easier for them, since they aren’t rooted in any particular state, to choose a hospital in an area with a shorter wait, such as Ochsner.  And some Americans discouraged by the lengthy wait in this country have gone abroad for transplants.

The transplant figures in this article do not include transplants involving living donors, meaning a relative or friend who donates part of his or her liver to a patient.  No one interviewed for this story said it is inappropriate for a foreign national to come to the U.S. for a procedure with a living donor.

There’s also an important distinction between giving an organ to a foreigner who happens to be in the U.S. — someone on a student visa or even an undocumented immigrant — and giving one to someone flying over just for surgery.  Someone in the first group would be eligible to donate an organ if something happened to them in this country; someone in the latter group would not because livers must be transplanted quickly and there wouldn’t be enough time to ship them.

“If you live in the United States, no matter what your [citizenship] status is, you could potentially be an organ donor if you get hit by a car or something happens to you,” said Dr. Gabriel M.  Danovitch, medical director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who previously led the UNOS international relations committee.  “But if your home is somewhere else, a long way away, there’s no way that you can be a donor or your family or your friends could be donors.

“And in some respects, when you then come to the United States, you are using up a valuable resource that is in great shortage here.”

Foreign patients generally are not entitled to the same discounts as those with private insurance or Medicare, the federal insurance program for seniors and the disabled.  In 2015, for instance, the average sticker price for a liver transplant at New York Presbyterian was $371,203, but the average payment for patients in Medicare was less than one-third of that, $112,469, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs Medicare.  In the case of Saudi Arabia, its embassy in Washington often guarantees payment for patients.

The topic is emerging now because the nation’s transplant leaders will meet next month to consider rewriting the rules governing how livers are distributed, giving programs in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other areas greater access to organs from people who die in nearby regions.  The proposal by a committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing, the federal contractor that runs the national transplant system, faces opposition from programs and regions that stand to lose organs.  Pardes’ comments were posted in an online comment forum devoted to the proposal, which does not address the issue of transplants for foreigners.

UNOS said it has worked to get better data on foreigners that receive transplants in this country but ultimately, federal law doesn’t prohibit these transplants.

“This is an individual medical decision that the individual transplant hospital makes,” spokesman Joel Newman said.  “If we addressed citizenship or residency as a particular reason for whether to accept a patient or not, then that would open up the door to lots of other non-medical criteria — religion, race, political preference, any number of things that as a community we have decided from an ethical standpoint not to consider.”

UNOS has the authority to ask questions of transplant centers about surgeries on foreign nationals, but Newman said UNOS committees are still trying to figure out what information they would want, and, in any event, the transplant centers don’t have to answer the questions.

The federal rules governing the transplant system, written more than three decades ago, say organ allocation decisions must be based on medical criteria, which would exclude consideration of a person’s nationality or citizenship.  While centers can perform as many transplants on foreigners as they want, many programs have tried to keep them below 5 percent of all transplants for each organ type.  Until several years ago, 5 percent was the threshold above which UNOS could audit a program.  No programs were ever formally audited, and the cutoff was eventually eliminated.

It’s time to revisit the rules, some lawmakers say.

“As a general rule, you’ve got to take care of Americans first as long as you have more demand than supply,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La) whose state is home to Ochsner, a leader in transplants for foreign nationals.  Kennedy said he would favor curbing transplants for foreigners, while creating a national board that could make exceptions.  “But what you don’t want to get into, it seems to me, is subjective areas like well, ‘If this person could live an extra few years, what could they contribute to society?’”

There have been scandals in the past about foreigners and organ transplants.  In 2005, a liver transplant center in Los Angeles shut its doors after disclosing that its team had taken a liver that should have gone to a patient at another hospital and instead had implanted it in a Saudi national.  The hospital said its staff members falsified documents to cover up the incident.

The University of California, Los Angeles, came under fire in 2008 for performing liver transplants on a powerful Japanese gang boss and other men linked to Japanese gangs, and then receiving donations afterward from at least two of the men.  The hospital and its surgeon said they do not make moral judgments about patients.

Further complicating matters is a 2008 document endorsed by transplant organizations around the world, called the Declaration of Istanbul, which seeks to eliminate organ trafficking and reduce transplant tourism internationally.  One concern was that patients went to China and received transplants using organs from prisoners.  (China said it was stopping the practice in 2015, but experts question whether that has happened.) Another concern was that if a country’s wealthiest or most powerful residents could get transplants overseas, its leaders may not have an incentive to set up a system of their own.

The non-binding declaration also says that there should be a ban on “soliciting, or brokering for the purpose of transplant commercialism, organ trafficking, or transplant tourism.” It was endorsed by UNOS and other national transplant groups.

Former Ochsner employees say they recall Saudi nationals coming for transplants, some wealthy and some not.  A New Orleans bar posted a photo on Facebook in 2015 of a young man who brought his mom from Saudi Arabia for a transplant.

Ochsner said in a statement that it was proud of its liver transplant program, which is the nation’s largest.  It said that it is willing to accept donated organs that other centers turn down for medical reasons, expanding its ability to help patients while keeping its survival rate high.  And it noted that the median waiting time for its patients is only 2.1 months, far below the national median.

“UNOS does not have any restrictions preventing transplant for international patients and they are subject to the same guidelines as domestic patients,” the statement said.

Still, many American candidates for livers don’t make Ochsner’s waiting list.  It refused to put Brian “Bubba” Greenlee Jr.  on its list right after Christmas in 2015, because of his “poor insight into his drinking and lack of proper social support,” his medical records show.  He had cirrhosis and died weeks later at age 45.

His sister, Theresa Greenlee-Jeffers, said Ochsner led her brother to believe that he would get a new liver.  Her brother had stopped drinking and she had volunteered to take care of him after a transplant, but then the hospital suddenly reversed course.

“His last Christmas, he was given false hope that he was going to get a transplant.  That’s not OK.  You don’t play with somebody’s emotions like that,” Greenlee-Jeffers said.

Ocshner did not answer questions about Greenlee’s care but said in its statement, “Not every patient is a candidate for transplant.” It said its criteria are similar to those of other liver transplant centers.

“At Ochsner, we are caregivers, dedicated to providing our patients with high-quality care, improved outcomes and the gift of a second chance at life,” its statement said.

Greenlee-Jeffers wonders if Ochsner excluded her brother and other Americans to make room for foreigners willing to pay more.  “It’s not OK,” she said.  “We need to take care of our people here at home first.  We don’t have enough of this to go around.”

CENSORSHIP - At a Public Health Journal?

"Sudden Shift at a Public Health Journal Leaves Scientists Feeling Censored" by Lisa Song, ProPublica 11/20/2017

Claiming overreach by a new publisher, the journal’s editorial board asks for disciplinary action from the National Library of Medicine.

For much of its 22-year existence, few outside the corner of science devoted to toxic chemicals paid much attention to the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

But now, a feud has erupted over the small academic publication, as its editorial board — the scientists who advise the journal’s direction and handle article submissions — has accused the journal’s new owner of suppressing a paper and promoting “corporate interests over independent science in the public interest.”

More is at stake than just the journal’s direction.

IJOEH is best known for exposing so-called “product defense science” — industry-linked studies that defend the safety of products made by their funders.  At a time when the Trump administration is advancing policies and nominees sympathetic to the chemical industry, the journal seems to be veering in the same direction.

“There are many scientists who work for corporations who are honest scientists,” said David Michaels, the former head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Obama.  “What we’re concerned about here is the ‘mercenary science’ … that’s published purely to influence regulation or litigation, and doesn’t contribute to public health.”

“I think the IJOEH articles were threatening to that whole industry,” said Michaels, now an environmental and occupational health professor at George Washington University.  While Michaels has never served on the journal’s editorial board, he has published an article in the journal and peer-reviewed others.

The journal was one of the relatively few places that provided an outlet for “scientists whose work is independent of the corporations that manufacture chemicals,” he said.  “The silencing of that voice would be a real loss to the field.”

Last Thursday, the journal’s 22-member editorial board, along with eight former board members and the journal’s founding editor-in-chief, wrote a letter to the National Library of Medicine requesting disciplinary action against the academic journal’s new publisher, Taylor & Francis Group.  In particular, they asked the Library of Medicine to rescind the journal’s listing in the Medline index, which could drastically reduce its scientific influence.

Academic journals are often judged by the reputations of those on their editorial boards, and this list includes a Columbia University dean, the president of the International Commission on Occupational Health and a scientist who helped establish the cancer classification system used by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

UK-based Taylor & Francis, one of the largest publishers of academic journals, acquired IJOEH and 169 other journals in 2015 by purchasing the journal’s original owner and publisher, Maney Publishing.  According to the board’s letter, Taylor & Francis has done the following since taking over:
  • Selected a new editor-in-chief, Andrew Maier, without consulting the editorial board.  Board members said it’s “highly unlikely” that they would have approved of Maier.  Their letter said he had a tendency to reach scientific conclusions “highly sympathetic to parties with an economic interest in favorable outcomes,” which is at odds with the journal’s mission.
  • Withdrew a peer-reviewed article by the journal’s former editor-in-chief David Egilman that criticized Union Carbide Corporation’s efforts to oppose workers’ claims of asbestos exposure.  “Suppression of an accepted paper is a direct assault on academic freedom,” the board members wrote to the Library of Medicine.
  • Flagged three additional studies approved for publication under Egilman as “raising potential concerns,” according to a May 8 email the publisher sent to the board.
A Library of Medicine representative said they’re reviewing the board’s appeal.

Officials at Taylor & Francis declined to speak with ProPublica about the accusations in the letter and did not answer most of the questions we submitted in writing, referring us instead to two emails the publisher sent to the board in May.

In one, Ian Bannerman, manager director of Taylor & Francis Journals, insisted the company had no obligation to consult the board in choosing the journal’s new editor.  “The responsibility for selecting and appointing an Editor-in-Chief lies with Taylor & Francis as the owner of the journal,” he wrote.

In the other, Bannerman responded to a question from the board about the publisher’s plans for “repositioning” the journal by saying Taylor & Francis would aim to boost its online readership, citation levels and “rapidity of publication.”

“We do not see this as ‘repositioning’ the journal as such,” Bannerman wrote, “but we do see it as a change of tack — putting in place long-term plans and goals for the journal’s future development, enhanced by our expertise in marketing, online publishing, and bibliometric analysis.”

A Struggling Endeavor

Joseph LaDou, the founding editor-in-chief of IJOEH, launched the journal in 1995 after years of struggling to publish his own research.  While studying the health hazards of workers making microelectronics for Silicon Valley in the 1980s, he couldn’t find a single U.S. journal to take his paper, he said, and ended up publishing in a Scandinavian public health journal.  So when a Philadelphia-based publisher offered him a chance to start a journal for similar types of studies, he jumped on board.

The journal’s financial situation was always precarious.  LaDou said he put $50,000 to $75,000 of his own money into IJOEH each year.  Egilman, who became editor-in-chief in 2007, said he also paid out of pocket to keep the publication going.  (Both editors worked on the journal part time and earned their income from university positions or from private practice as occupational health experts).

One of the biggest expenses was paying for help writing and editing manuscripts from developing countries, LaDou said.  Among the international studies IJOEH published were a paper on how cooking fuel smoke affects respiratory health for women in Cameroon and another on a worker safety program for stevedores working in Cuba’s Port of Havana.

“I can’t think offhand of [another] pro-worker occupational safety and health journal,” LaDou said.  “Some are better than others — less controlled — but there’s nothing to replace what IJOEH was doing, particularly on an international scale.”

Most occupational health experts work for industry in some way because there’s little independent funding, said Celeste Monforton, an environmental and occupational health lecturer at Texas State University.  There are few academic positions, and the collapse of workers’ unions over the past few decades further decimated the number of labor-related jobs.

“There’s very little investment in occupational health research or looking at exposure to toxics,” said Monforton, who has never published in IJOEH or served on its board.  Most of what’s known about toxics comes from original research funded by the federal government in the 1970s and 1980s, when scientists could coordinate with unions to study large groups of workers, she said.

Those studies focused on long-known hazards such as benzene, asbestos or beryllium, setting the stage for stronger workplace regulations.  The results prompted a backlash from scientists working in “product defense,” who re-analyzed individual studies to conclude the product was less harmful than the government determined, Monforton said.

If journals are judged by the size of their readership, LaDou’s was a perpetual underdog.  “It was never a large subscription,” he said.  “You’re up against such a powerful machine in the industry-supported journals …  I think the reputation of the journal was that of a non-industry publication that was widely respected, but only by a small segment of the readership community.”

Taylor & Francis has finally figured out a way for this journal to make money, he alleged.  “By selling its soul.”

‘A Change of Tack’

In the first months after Taylor & Francis purchased the journal in June 2015, neither the editorial board nor its editor-in-chief noted a major change.

Then, in early 2016, former board member Barry Castleman learned the publisher hadn’t renewed Egilman’s editing contract, which expired in December 2016.

Taylor & Francis hired Maier in early 2017 without consulting board members for their input, as is customary for scientific journals.

Maier is an environmental health professor at the University of Cincinnati and runs a program for research fellows at TERA (Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment), a consulting firm that analyzes chemical safety.  TERA often works for industry clients such as the American Chemistry Council.  Concerns about its conflicts of interest gained national attention after President Trump nominated Michael Dourson, TERA’s founder, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety program.

In 2010, Maier co-authored a study on the risks of diacetyl, a butter flavoring that can cause lung damage in workers.  Maier’s paper recommended an exposure limit of 200 parts per billion — up to 40 times higher than federal guidelines recommend.  Egilman criticized Maier’s results in a 2011 IJOEH paper for not being protective enough.  Maier has said that he has a research partnership with the federal scientists who suggested the lower limit.  “This ongoing close relationship …does not suggest that government parties find my work lacks scientific credibility,” Maier said in a letter to the board.

Egilman said he didn’t expect to continue as editor-in-chief once his contract expired, but he and the board should have helped choose the new editor.

The publisher disagrees.  Bannerman said Taylor & Francis sought advice from “a number of people we know in the field,” including one member of the IJOEH board.  Bannerman explained the conversation with the board member occurred before the publisher began considering Maier.

The dispute over Maier’s hiring was first reported by Retraction Watch, a publication that tracks retractions in the academic publishing world, which went on to publish several items about unrest at the journal this spring.

Maier didn’t respond to a request for comment, but he wrote to the editorial board in May to address their concerns.  He said more than 80 percent of his research funding comes from his university and the government.

“As for the future, I do not suggest any major changes in mission or scope of the journal,” he wrote.  “The same types of scientific articles should continue to find a home in IJOEH.”

‘In-House Review’

Taylor & Francis’ decision in March 2017 to withdraw Egilman’s paper, published about a year earlier, was just as controversial as appointing Maier — possibly more.

Journal publishers rarely interfere in editorial decisions, said Arthur Frank, an IJOEH board member and professor at Drexel University’s School of Public Health.

“I have never, ever been in a setting where the publisher, without engaging the editorial board, made a decision unilaterally to appoint a new editor, and also made decisions to retract an article,” he said.  “Publishers are in the business of printing the journal.  They’re not in the business of deciding what goes into the journal.”

Egilman’s paper critiqued consulting firms that conduct research that attempts to re-create historical worker exposure data for use in toxic tort litigation.  Such studies are expensive and are typically commissioned by companies to defend themselves in court, said Michaels, the former OSHA administrator.

Part of Egilman’s article examined a 2005 study co-authored by consultant Dennis Paustenbach, which simulated historical exposures to conclude that the workers who manufactured Bakelite (an asbestos-containing plastic) for Union Carbide would not have been exposed to asbestos levels that violated health guidelines.  Egilman also focused on Paustenbach’s role in promoting similar types of studies, pointing to a conference speech in which Paustenbach said they often made the difference between winning and losing court cases.

“My point was that OFTEN, litigation in the United States is scientifically unwarranted,” Paustenbach wrote in regards to his speech.  “When anyone is inappropriately accused of a wrongdoing, they deserve a defense …  We are only hired in cases that border on being ‘almost without foundation.’ So it is not surprising that most of our results show that the plaintiff claims are incorrect.”

While Egilman has served as an expert witness for plaintiffs injured by asbestos products — and is well-known for having leaked pharmaceutical company documents to a lawyer representing plaintiffs who alleged an antipsychotic drug gave them diabetes — he has also worked on the defense side.  In his paper’s disclosure, he said he consulted for Union Carbide in the company’s 1984 toxic gas leak that killed thousands of residents in Bhopal, India.

It’s unclear what prompted Taylor & Francis to withdraw Egilman’s paper.

Egilman provided ProPublica with a copy of an August 2016 email a Taylor & Francis employee sent to a third party that said Paustenbach “has been in touch to request that we retract Egilman’s critique article.” It was part of a longer email chain that discussed Paustenbach’s 2005 paper and Egilman’s 2016 paper.

In an email to ProPublica, however, Paustenbach denied requesting the retraction, and copied a Taylor & Francis manager in his response.  Paustenbach said the publisher began considering a withdrawal months before that August 2016 email, and that he had been primarily concerned with correcting falsehoods in Egilman’s paper.

“I have no axe to grind with Dr. Egilman,” Paustenbach said.  “I believe in the importance of a lively discussion of legitimate scientific facts or beliefs.  At times, I find that Dr.  Egilman doesn’t deal in facts …  Egilman’s article was so flawed as to be an embarrassment to any scientist; and perhaps that is why they did not publish it.”

ProPublica reached Sara Shuman, the journal’s former deputy editor who handled the paper’s submission process.  She said Egilman’s paper was peer reviewed by at least two scientists.  The journal uses a double-blind system to ensure that the author and peer reviewers don’t know each others’ identities, and Shuman acted as the intermediary.

Egilman was informed about the decision to withdraw his article in a March 2017 email from the publisher: “Due to an omission of oversight, the manuscript was not subject to our in-house review prior to its publication.  Subsequently we have reviewed the content, and decided to withdraw it from publication.”

In a May 25 email to the board, Bannerman, the Taylor & Francis director, said the paper “was inadvertently published before the review process was completed, and was subsequently decided to be unsuitable for publication.”

The publisher declined to define “in-house review” or comment further.

“We have said all that we can about our reasons for withdrawing this article,” a company spokesperson said.  The company publishes more than 2,500 journals, and our “role is to give the communities these journals serve a voice and a space to engage in debate about their research fields.  We do not have any strategy to align our titles to be for or against any particular agenda.”

Egilman said the publisher never contacted him to discuss their concerns.

Maier, the new editor-in-chief, told the board he wasn’t involved with the decision.  “I have no involvement or decision authority on any manuscripts that were accepted or published prior to my tenure with IJOEH,” he wrote in a letter.

Board members said the incident, compounded by what they considered the unsatisfying explanations for it, had spurred them to action.

“The idea of summarily withdrawing a paper that’s already been reviewed and published without any explanation is outrageous,” said Castleman, the former board member.  “The implication is there was some kind of horrible scientific conduct that must have happened.”

Pressing On

In addition to its complaint to the National Library of Medicine, the board has appealed to the Committee on Publication Ethics, a UK-based charity that sets journal ethics guidelines.

The board’s letter alleged instances in which Taylor & Francis violated COPE guidelines, including one that states, the “relationship of editors to publishers … should be based firmly on the principle of editorial independence.”

COPE’s co-chairman Chris Graf, director of research integrity and publishing ethics at a large journal publisher called Wiley, said COPE doesn’t comment on individual cases.  COPE has no regulatory authority and doesn’t conduct investigations, but can advise publications facing ethical issues.

On Thursday, the president of the Collegium Ramazzini, an international academy of occupational and environmental health experts, said his organization “strongly supports” the board’s letter to the Library of Medicine.  The academy is an invitation-only group of 180 scientists who work to bring public health research to policymakers.  Nearly half of the IJOEH board members are part of the academy, as are Michaels and Monforton.  The group also includes Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and former OSHA administrator Eula Bingham.  The organization is named after Bernardino Ramazzini, a 17th-century physician who’s often called the “father of occupational medicine.”

Taylor & Francis has offered to hold a teleconference with the editorial board, but Castleman said the board first wants more answers in writing.

“Had they been more forthcoming, we would have certainly been willing to talk to them,” he said.  “It’s very cumbersome trying to find a convenient time for so many people all over the world to agree to be available for such a conference.  I felt that they were just fobbing us off, stonewalling our plain questions.”

When ProPublica inquired about the status of the three other articles Taylor & Francis had considered withdrawing, the publisher said those studies “are no longer on hold and the authors are aware of their status” — but didn’t explain whether that meant the articles had been withdrawn.  Egilman said one of them was a separate article he wrote on Union Carbide, and that he withdrew that paper from IJOEH two months ago so he could submit it to another journal.  He said something similar had happened to another paper, about cigarette filters that contained asbestos.

Through the tumult, the journal has continued to publish, though the rate has slowed considerably this year.  The IJOEH website shows the journal publishes four issues a year, with 10 to 12 articles per issue.  Yet only five papers have been published in all of 2017.  Three of the five were approved by Egilman and the other two by Maier.  Both are about how employees’ mental health affects stress and well-being.

The journal’s “first full issue of 2017 will be published before the end of the year,” said a Taylor & Francis spokesperson, “with other issues to follow in early 2018.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 11/17/2017

"Shields and Brooks on sexual misconduct in politics, Republican tax goals" PBS NewsHour 11/17/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including allegations of sexual misconduct against and very different responses by Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and Sen. Al Franken, President Trump’s criticism of Franken despite his own history being accused by women, plus the GOP tax plans.

Hari Sreenivasan (NewsHour):  But first to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

It’s a bit like Groundhog’s Day here.  We’re going the cover some topics you probably have never thought of before, sexual harassment and taxes.  But there are developments, after more and more developments of both of these stories.  And we will get to some more stuff, too.

But this week, we saw new women coming out and alleging sexual misconduct by Roy Moore, some of them underage.  And then we had Al Franken’s behavior in 2006, including a disturbing photograph that nobody can deny.

They are not parallel incidents, but the responses have been very different.

David Brooks, New York Times: Yes, I mean, I guess it’s inevitable, death, taxes, and harassment these days.

It seems to me the one failure that we’re seeing among a lot of people is how partisan the reaction would be, starting with the President.  Sexual harassment is not a Republican thing, or it’s not a Democratic thing.  It’s just a thing.  And it’s amazing how many people are reacting depending on which party the person is in, the guy is in, how their reaction is.

I personally, overall, still think this is a good thing.  Our standards are raising.  People who have done misconduct are being punished, an we’re cleaning out the swamp, as they — we’re supposed to say.

Alongside that, I think it’s important to make some distinctions among the different levels of sin here.  It seems to me what Harvey Weinstein did and what Roy Moore did has the highest level of vileness, and should be career-enders.

Then there are other levels of sin which probably should be career-enders, setting a predatory environment, whether it’s Bill Clinton or the guy — some of the journalists who have been involved.

And then I would put Al Franken so far in a different category, frankly.  What he did was callous and narcissistic and insensitive and just pathetic.  But if it’s one time, and if he can apologize, and then do real penance, my first instinct is that it shouldn’t be a career-ender for him.

Hari Sreenivasan:  But, Mark, oftentimes it’s not one time.  Oftentimes, we start to reveal a pattern of behavior that might be in the background, as more people feel empowered to speak up.

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  No, and that’s what we have found so far in these instances.  It’s not usually a single, solitary event.

But I think David makes a very persuasive point about what we have with Roy Moore, quite frankly, the reaction, in the opening news summary, when the governor, Kay Ivey, of Alabama says she has no reason not to believe the women, but she’s still going to vote for Roy Moore.

Now, there is a disconnect there.  And the only explanation can be just blind, unyielding, total partisanship, and I don’t care.

Let’s be very blunt about it.  There were feminists who rallied to Bill Clinton’s support during his long, complicated lying to the American people about a disproportionate power relationship that he had with a 21-year-old intern and adulterous behavior, who rallied to his support because Bill Clinton was pro-choice on abortion.

And there are those now who are ready to skewer Roy Moore — and I’m not going to deny that he needs skewering — for ideological reasons, and because he has proved he’s anti-woman by his political positions.

But if we’re just talking about behavior here, and not blind partisanship, I don’t think that Al Franken’s behavior rises to the level of eviction from the Senate or anything of the sort.

That is not — but for a party that has based an awful lot of its appeal on identity politics, that we are the women’s party, that we believe in women’s rights, that we respect women, and that Republicans don’t, this is a body blow.

And Al Franken has been a major fund-raiser for Democrats, and he has been an aggressive inquisitor on committees and — representing the Democrats.  So, I think it is serious.

I don’t know where it’s going to stop, and — but I think, in the final analysis, we have to come to grips.  It is power.  And it’s been men exercising power, generally speaking, with — almost overwhelmingly speaking, and the women in the position of supplicant, without the resources, without the means of protesting or just bringing to justice to these people.

David Brooks:  If I could add one thing on the — first on the Clinton thing, I think it’s — we just have to look back and say the people who ignored the testimony of Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick helped set the stage for this.

And the Democrats who defended Clinton in those Clintons, they helped set the atmosphere for what we’re seeing and for the behavior that Harvey Weinstein and the rest can get away with.

The second thing to be said is, there is a word for what defenders of Roy Moore are doing, the people who said they were vote for him nonetheless, and — well, two words.  One word is idolatry, and the other word is heresy, because the people who are putting — who are going to sacrifice morality for politics are making an idol out of politics.

They’re saying politics is higher than morality.  And no honest person can possibly believe that.  And if you’re putting politics above personal morality, above the way we treat each other, above the nature of your own soul, you’re just — you’re making an idol out of it.

And that is the ultimate in heresy.  And to see — I saw a tweet from Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, defending Moore, you know, sort of, oh, they’re all a bunch of hypocrites up there.

It’s just appalling.  It’s just — it’s almost mind-boggling that people who — especially people who have been steeped in any faith could make this kind of fundamental error, which is warned against again and again in the Bible, and to be heretics.  They’re heretics.
Hari Sreenivasan:  Let me ask you if you are surprised about something else that’s happened this week, which is the progress of the Republican tax plan.  Do you think that it — what do you think happens in the Senate?

Mark Shields:  I would say, first of all, I think that Paul Ryan, whom I have criticized, certainly did perform as speaker.  He got it through.  He rallied his Republicans, mostly, to it.

There’s just a couple things about it.  I have been going to Republican Conventions since 1976.  I have heard the party time and again solemnly pledge in its compact and covenant with the American people that we will support and fight for a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

I hope that never appears again, because they have proved that they don’t care about that.  All this tax cut is about, this tax thing, is cutting the corporate rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.  That’s all it is.

Everything else is window dressing.  And there are other factors to it that are important, that touch people’s lives.

And, usually, when there’s a tax cut, there is some behavior is required.  For a charitable deduction, you have to give — make a donation to a charity.  For a child care credit, you have to have a child, and there has to be some — there is nothing required of these corporations.

There is not a nickel they have to spend in investment.  There’s not a nickel they have to spend in retraining.  There’s not a nickel they have to spend in anything for their own workers.

And the idea that they’re going to pass this on and increase wages goes back to John Galbraith’s theory of economics, which is, if you stuff enough oats into the horse, that, eventually, a little will pass through to the road, and the sparrow will be fed.  And I just find it absolutely mind-boggling.

And the only other aspect to it that I found fascinating is the Republican Party that has stood for states’ right, and the states that have actually taxed themselves to improve their education and to improve their health care are going to be punished.

Hari Sreenivasan:  Yes.

Mark Shields:  That’s been in the tax code since 1913 that it was inducted.  They’re going to remove it.

Hari Sreenivasan:  So, David, that analogy of trickle-down economics, I have not heard before.

David Brooks:  Still following the biology of that thing.


David Brooks:  No, I wish it was only a corporate tax cut, because I think there’s a lot of good economic evidence that, if you give corporations tax cuts, they have more cash on hand, they do invest, and that there’s a fair bit of data on this.  And so I wish it were that.

And I think there are other good things in the bill.  Capping the mortgage interest deduction is a good thing.  I think maybe adjusting the state and local taxes is a good thing, because 90 percent of the benefit goes to people making over $100,000 a year.

The problem with it is, first, it explodes the deficit.  Second, it is a raw piece of political exploitation, taking the tax code and benefiting our people, at the expense of blue states.  And we shouldn’t turn the tax code into a spoils system.

And, third, it’s taxes the universities and the nonprofits in a way that I think is unconscionable.  So, I’m against it.  But there are some good things in it.  If they fell back to a corporate tax cut, which had sympathy in the Obama administration, it would be a little happier story.


"How Microsoft’s CEO has ‘hit refresh’ in business and in life" PBS NewsHour 11/17/2017


SUMMARY:  What are the hard questions that CEOs need to grapple with in order to renew and rethink business?  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his new book, “Hit Refresh,” as well as how he’s learned empathy from being a parent, changes to his perceptions of gender and opportunity and his advocacy for immigrants.

WAR ON ISIS - The Body Count

"Report finds disparities in civilian deaths from U.S.-led ISIS bombing campaign" PBS NewsHour 11/17/2017


SUMMARY:  U.S. bombing played a major role in driving the Islamic State group from cities in Iraq and Syria.  But a report by The New York Times finds that thousands more civilians were killed in those bombing runs than originally admitted by the Pentagon.  Hari Sreenivasan learns more from investigative reporter Azmat Khan.

TAX PLAN - The Republican Grift

  • Noun
  • grift (plural grifts)
  • A confidence game or swindle.
"Who really benefits from GOP’s tax overhaul is battle point as House passes its bill" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2017


SUMMARY:  It's a big step for Republicans' tax overhaul plans, the House voted 227 to 205 to pass its version of the bill.  While a new analysis suggests that the plans would increase taxes for middle and lower-income Americans, Republicans deny that idea.  Lisa Desjardins reports and Judy Woodruff gets perspectives from Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION - Get Ready for 'Trump Network News' 24/7

"How new FCC rules could affect your local news" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2017

aka "Get Ready for State Media (like North Korea)"


SUMMARY:  Longstanding rules that prevented an individual or company from owning broadcast stations and newspapers in the same local market have been abandoned by the FCC.  The sweeping changes come amid wider transformations in the media and digital landscape, and have raised concerns about their impact.  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Keach Hagey of The Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP AGENDA - Consequences of 'America First'

"What limiting foreign trade would mean for the U.S. economy" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2017

My answer, Make America Economic Looser.


SUMMARY:  President Donald Trump ran on a campaign promise that he would “put America first” by pulling out of multilateral trade agreements.  But for many top industries, outsourcing in the global market is essential for business, not to mention vital to Americans’ standard of living.  Is it feasible in the 21st century for America to go it alone?  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

PBS NEWSHOUR - Remembering Gwen, One Year Later

"The words of Gwen Ifill that inspire us every day" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2017


SUMMARY:  Gwen Ifill, an essential member of our NewsHour family, our journalistic North Star, a leader both on-air and off, died one year ago Tuesday.  We remember her with a conversation she had with friend and journalist Michele Norris in 2014.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - “Where The Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir”

"How Amy Tan’s family stories made her a storyteller" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2017


SUMMARY:  Amy Tan was going to write a book about writing.  But what came to her mind instead were memories of childhood, reflections on family treasures, photos, documents.  In “Where The Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir,” Tan explores revelations about her family and how her experiences steered her toward a life as an author.  Tan joins Jeffrey Brown for a conversation.

The Joy Luck Club - Trailer

LAB WORK - After School Club, Rhode Island

"After-school STEM programs inspire kids to keep learning" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2017


SUMMARY:  At an after-school STEM Club in Rhode Island, students are working on an engineering challenge -- because they want to be.  The low-stakes, fun environment offers time for exploration when resources or hands-on activities may be in short supply during school hours, and can help sustain interest as classes get harder.  Special correspondent Lisa Stark of Education Week reports.

NUCLEAR OPTION - Trump Danger?

"Congress questions commander-in-chief’s sole nuclear authority" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2017


SUMMARY:  Senators raised concerns about President Trump's power to launch a nuclear war in a hearing on Tuesday.  U.S. law has long dictated that only a President should carry the responsibility, but that singular authority is now being questioned.  Nick Schifrin takes a look at Congress’ worries and the history of the nuclear command structure.

Nick Schifrin (NewsHour):  The President has the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons.  But that doesn’t mean he can launch a weapon for no reason, whenever he wants, said Duke Professor Peter Feaver, who studied nuclear command for 30 years.

Peter Feaver, Duke Professor:  Where the military wakes up the President and warns him that there is about to be an attack, or that we’re experiencing an attack, he alone would have the authority to make the decision.

But in the other context, where the President is waking up the military, maybe in an extreme funk, saying, I’m angry and I want something done, in that setting, he requires the cooperation of a lot of people.

Nick Schifrin:  That cooperation wouldn’t be forthcoming if his order were illegal, said retired General Robert Kehler, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command.

Gen. Robert Kehler:  The United States military doesn’t blindly follow orders.  A presidential order to employ U.S. nuclear weapons must be legal.  The basic legal principles of military necessity, distinction, and proportionality apply to nuclear weapons, just as they do to every other weapon.

Nick Schifrin:  Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin-

Sen. Ben Cardin:  Do you believe that under — because of legalities, you retain that decision to disobey the commander in chief?

Gen. Robert Kehler:  Yes.  If there is an illegal order presented to the military, the military is obligated to refuse to follow it.

This is something that civilians fail to understand.  Being retired military myself, I know that military personal are obligated to follow all "legal" orders from superiors, BUT are just as obligated to refuse to execute illegal orders (even with the consequences that may come).

U.S. military personal are not robots where anyone can just 'press a button' and say 'kill.'

UCMJ Article 892 - Failure to obey order or regulation

(1) violates or fails to obey any lawful general order or regulation;

(2) having knowledge of any other lawful order issued by a member of the armed forces, which it is his duty to obey, fails to obey the order; or

(3) is derelict in the performance of his duties;

shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

(Aug. 10, 1956, ch. 1041, 70A Stat. 68.)

ALABAMA GOP - The Albatross Roy More

IMHO:  I find it typical that people tend to disbelieve women who make such allegations against men.  It's the chauvinistic prejudice of a male society.  The women's allegations are credible and Roy More's denial typical.

As for the timing, it's the #MeToo movement that has freed women to face their attackers, which is never easy, the strength given by the numbers.

"GOP candidate Roy Moore faces new allegations, new pressure to quit Senate race" PBS NewsHour 11/13/2017


SUMMARY:  The Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell told reporters that he believes the women who have accused Roy Moore of inappropriate actions and that Alabama's GOP candidate must step aside.  While the former state Chief Justice insists he is innocent, McConnell’s condemnation comes as another woman has spoken up.  Lisa Desjardins reports that voters appear to have mixed opinions.

Full announcement (34:21)

"What Alabama voters think of the Roy Moore assault allegations" PBS NewsHour 11/13/2017


SUMMARY:  Another woman came forward on Monday to accuse Senate candidate Roy Moore of assaulting her when she was 16, sparking additional political backlash from his own party.  But allegations of sexual misconduct against teenage girls haven’t seemed to shake Moore supporters in his home state.  Judy Woodruff gets an update from Don Dailey of Alabama Public Television.

"The predicament of the Alabama Senate race for Republicans" PBS NewsHour 11/15/2017


SUMMARY:  GOP lawmakers have called for Roy Moore to step aside from the Alabama Senate race amid allegations of sexual misconduct toward teens.  How does that tension fit into a larger party rift?  John Yang talks to Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Karine Jean-Pierre of, about what’s at stake with the special election and how the GOP tax reform plans are shaping up.