Articles on this Page
- 02/19/14--06:59: _AT&T reveals govern...
- 02/19/14--08:42: _Deadly clashes in U...
- 02/19/14--09:12: _Twitter Chat: Is an...
- 02/19/14--10:22: _VIDEO: Members of P...
- 02/19/14--11:09: _How social impact b...
- 02/19/14--13:06: _Study shows gun vio...
- 02/19/14--14:16: _‘House of Cards’ fi...
- 02/19/14--14:32: _Tongue tied in Afgh...
- 02/19/14--14:45: _Google to expand Go...
- 02/19/14--15:33: _Raising health and ...
- 02/19/14--15:38: _Watch out for falli...
- 02/19/14--15:39: _Nations inflamed by...
- 02/19/14--15:43: _Looking to the past...
- 02/20/14--07:57: _Al-Jazeera journali...
- 02/20/14--08:17: _UPDATE: Medic repor...
- 02/20/14--08:32: _Nebraska judge stri...
- 02/20/14--09:00: _Study uncovers six ...
- 02/20/14--09:29: _Report: U.S. drone ...
- 02/20/14--09:57: _The social impact b...
- 02/20/14--10:10: _In Oscar-nominated ...
- 02/19/14--08:42: Deadly clashes in Ukraine spur talks of international sanctions
- 02/19/14--09:12: Twitter Chat: Is anything private online?
- 02/19/14--10:22: VIDEO: Members of Pussy Riot attacked by Russian militia
- 02/19/14--11:09: How social impact bonds put private profit ahead of public good
- 02/19/14--14:16: ‘House of Cards’ finds popularity in China
- 02/19/14--14:32: Tongue tied in Afghanistan
- 02/19/14--14:45: Google to expand Google Fiber technology
- 02/19/14--15:33: Raising health and air quality concerns in Texas’ fracking frontier
- 02/19/14--15:38: Watch out for falling ice
- 02/19/14--15:39: Nations inflamed by Arab Spring yield different fates
- 02/19/14--15:43: Looking to the past to understand Arab Spring struggles and success
- 02/20/14--07:57: Al-Jazeera journalists facing trial in Egypt plead not guilty
- 02/20/14--08:17: UPDATE: Medic reports that 70 killed in Ukraine protests
- 02/20/14--09:00: Study uncovers six basic types of Twitter conversations
- divided, Polarized Crowd: Polarized discussions feature two big and dense groups that have little connection between them. The topics being discussed are often highly divisive and heated political subjects. In fact, there is usually little conversation between these groups despite the fact they are focused on the same topic. Polarized Crowds on Twitter are not arguing. They are ignoring one another while pointing to different web resources and using different hashtags.
- unified, Tight Crowd: These discussions are characterized by highly interconnected people with few isolated participants. Many conferences, professional topics, hobby groups, and other subjects that attract communities take this Tight Crowd form.
- fragmented, Brand Clusters: When well-known products or services or popular subjects like celebrities are discussed in Twitter, there is often comment from disconnected participants (the “isolates” who are participating in a conversation cluster are on the left side of the picture on the left). Well- known brands and other popular subjects can attract large fragmented Twitter populations who Tweet about it but not to each other. The larger the population talking about a brand the less likely it is that people are connected to one another. Brand mentioning participants focus on a topic, but tend not connect to each other.
- cohesive, Community Clusters: Some popular topics may develop multiple smaller groups, which often form around a few hubs each with its own audience, influencers, and sources of information. These Community Clusters conversations look like bazaars which host multiple centers of activity. Global news stories often attract coverage from many news outlets, each with its own following. That creates a collection of medium-sized groups – and a fair number of isolates (the left side of the picture above).
- inward facing hubs and spoke, Broadcast Network: Twitter commentary around breaking news stories and the output of well-known media outlets and pundits has a distinctive hub and spoke structure in which many people repeat what prominent news and media organizations tweet. The members of the Broadcast Network audience are often connected only to the hub news source, without connecting to one another. In some cases there are smaller subgroups of densely connected people – think of them as subject groupies – who do discuss the news with one another.
- outward facing, Support Network: Customer complaints for a major business are often handled by a Twitter service account that attempts to resolve and manage customer issues around their products and services. This produces a hub and spoke structure that is different from the Broadcast pattern. In the Support Network structure, the hub account replies-to many otherwise disconnected users, creating an outward hub. In contrast, in the Broadcast pattern, the hub gets replied to or retweeted by many disconnected people, creating an inward hub.
In the company’s first-ever published transparency report, AT&T released information Wednesday about government and law enforcement requests for customer information. The report documents more than 300,000 requests for user data in 2013.
By releasing the report, which AT&T says it intends to make a semi-annual habit, the company hopes to provide its customers with more information about their private data is shared between their communications providers and government authorities.
“We take our responsibility to protect your information and privacy very seriously,” AT&T stated, “and we pledge to continue to do so to the fullest extent possible and always in compliance with the law of the country where the relevant service is provided.”
Nearly 75 percent of the requests were connected to criminal subpeonas. Other requests were tied to national security demands.
Of the limited data that the communications giant could legally reveal, AT&T said that it received 2,000 to 2,999 national security letters in 2013 and as many as 999 court orders in the first half the year; issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the court which seeks to protect Americans from being monitored by their own government.
Verizon published a similar transparency report in January, and stated that it had received more than 320,000 federal, state and local requests for customer data.
The post AT&T reveals government requested data more than 300,000 times in 2013 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Violent and deadly clashes in Ukraine have earned several calls for action from Western nations.
The United States, Reuters reports, urged Ukraine’s government to pull its riot police from Independence Square in the country’s capital of Kiev, where dozens were killed in violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement Tuesday. White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that the U.S. wants the Ukrainian government to call a truce with the protesters and hold discussions with the government opposition.
Several European Union states are also considering sanctions against Ukrainian officials. The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland will travel to Kiev Thursday in order to examine the situation in the capital and determine if sanctions are necessary before a meeting in Brussels. If sanctioned by the EU, Ukraine officials’ assets would be frozen and they would be forbidden travelling anywhere within the 28 nations that make up the union.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. was also in the discussion of sanctions against, but said there was still time to reach a compromise. “President Yanukovich has the opportunity to make a choice,” said Kerry. “The choice is between protecting the people that he serves … and (the) choice for compromise and dialogue versus violence and mayhem.”
The post Deadly clashes in Ukraine spur talks of international sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
More than 70 percent of adults who go online use a social networking site of some kind. The popularity of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and others, makes it easy to forget how new social media is. Social media norms and rules, especially ones regarding privacy, are still evolving.
Just how much privacy can we expect when we use the Internet? Anyone who has ever been shopping online, only to check Facebook and see an ad from the retailer site they just visited, will probably think, “not much.”
According to a 2013 Pew Research Internet Privacy survey, 21 percent of Internet users have had an email or social networking account compromised, 12 percent have been stalked or harassed online and 11 percent have had important personal information stolen, such as their Social Security number, credit card or bank account information.
So, how do you decide what to share online? What does online privacy mean to you? What’s the best way for concerned individuals to protect their privacy online? Join PBS NewsHour here and on Twitter on Feb. 20, from 1 to 2 p.m. EST, for a very public chat on online privacy. Use the #NewsHourChats to tweet comments and questions.
Video by the Associated Press
In a video posted by the Associated Press, members of the punk group Pussy Riot were attacked by Cossack militia after attempting a performance under a Sochi Olympics sign. Within moments of the group starting to perform, several security officials began attacking the members of the group with horsewhips, throwing them to the ground and trashing their instruments. No arrests were made.
Alexander Tkachev, governor of Russia’s Krasnodar region — which includes Olympic host Sochi — promised to conduct a probe and prosecute the attackers involved in the incident.
Three members of Pussy Riot were found guilty of hooliganism in August 2012 after running into Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral in March of that year, performing a song urging the Virgin Mary to “drive away” Russian President Vladimir Putin. In December 2013, Putin granted amnesty to the members.
In January, the NewsHour talked with journalist Masha Gessen, who corresponded with Pussy Riot and chronicled their rise as human rights figures in her book “Words That Will Break Cement.”
The post VIDEO: Members of Pussy Riot attacked by Russian militia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s Note: Last spring, Making Sense asked what Goldman Sachs, Rikers Island and a private charitable foundation could possibly have in common. As we explained in a two-part series, which you can watch below, they’re all part of a new private-public partnership working to reduce recidivism in New York City.
In the “social impact investing” model, private investors lend to a social service nonprofit with a successful track record. The nonprofit uses the loan to expand their programming, while the investors receive an interest-paying bond in return. Payout of the bond is based on the outcome of the nonprofit’s programming.
And here’s where the third player in this triangular investing model comes into play. A key part of the social service’s success is saving taxpayer dollars. In New York City, for example, Goldman Sachs and the Rockefeller Foundation invested in the Osborne Association’s cognitive behavioral therapy program for young offenders at Rikers Island, with the hopes of breaking the cycle of recidivism and keeping young people from returning to jail. Reducing repeated incarceration should save the city money, and so it’s with that money that the city would be expected to pay back the investors’ loan.
As the Rockefeller Foundation’s Judith Rodin explained in our first segment, the model is a win for everyone involved, including government and the taxpayers.
But what if it’s not? Mark Rosenman, professor emeritus at the Union Institute & University, was our skeptic in both stories.
Mark has returned now to Making Sense arguing that social impact investing is getting much more glory than it deserves.
But first, an update on the Rikers Island program. The New York City Department of Correction says they won’t know about the program’s effect on recidivism until 2015. But they report that, as of December, fights among the adolescents are down 36 percent and uses of force are down 27 percent since Osborne’s therapy program went to scale in January 2013.
Next, we’ll hear from Social Finance’s Jane Hughes and Alisa Helbitz, who have championed social impact investing. Goldman Sachs declined to respond.
–Simone Pathe, Making Sense Editor
Not long ago, New York City and Goldman Sachs began to experiment with a new financial instrument — social impact bonds (SIB) — to reward private capital for financing a nonprofit program that might otherwise have been passed over for municipal funding.
There has been some excitement about this notion, as deficit-strapped governments, underfunded charities and too-limited foundations see a potential new source of program dollars, especially one rife with sanctified market aphorisms.
Unfortunately, the SIB model is being touted much more broadly as the next best thing without any critical examination of the assumptions behind it or the funding crisis which drives it.
What, for example, would happen if taxes were cut to the point that government is hard pressed just to fund defense, public safety, entitlements and its own operations, and so has to turn to private investors who demand a profitable return to finance critical public infrastructure and nonprofit services? If some have their way, we’re likely to find out.
In fact, we’ve already begun to face exactly that situation. Over 57,000 children have lost Head Start services because of tax cuts and the sequester while Goldman Sachs has launched a “social impact” investment fund to provide private capital as an alternative to public funding for early childhood education and for many other nonprofit program areas experiencing government shortfalls.
We know Head Start saves government at least $7 for every dollar spent on it. If Goldman and Morgan Stanley have their way, we’ll soon have to pay them and their clients a portion of those savings for having replaced taxpayer funding for such programs with private capital investments.
Let’s call it what it is: private profit crowding out a public good. But how did we get here?
Conservatives’ agenda has long been to reduce taxes in order to benefit the wealthy while also compelling a reduction of services for most of us. As right-wing activist Grover Norquist — the force behind politicians’ anti-tax pledge — famously said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
Rather than see government gather and allocate tax revenues for nonprofit programs and other services, conservatives (at least the compassionate ones) used to prefer a return to alms, to voluntary philanthropic donations to help meet public needs. In fact, while he was running for president, Mitt Romney argued that charitable contributions were the equivalent of taxes, a position supported by the libertarian Cato Institute and others.
Yet, where conservatives formerly might have seen charity, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley now see new profit centers. While they try to reduce or completely avoid the taxes which they and their clients might otherwise pay, they both have launched funds for investors to make a profit by replacing government funding for nonprofit programs.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. A couple of decades ago, when the nonprofit sector approached 5 percent of GDP, it was clear that the market would eventually find ways to peel off the potentially more profitable areas of charitable activity. First it was nonprofit health care, with everything from medical insurance programs to hospitals and clinics being converted to for-profit status. Next came higher education — colleges, universities and vocational schools were acquired by, or started up by, for-profit corporations.
While these were by far the largest, most obvious and lucrative targets for profit-seeking investors, one had to wonder how long other program areas such as human services and anti-poverty efforts would be spared the seeming imperatives of capital. One need wonder no longer.
Goldman, with the blessing of Bloomberg Philanthropies, pioneered the SIB concept here in the United States and is already asserting, without any evidence, that it will achieve positive outcomes for the participants in a municipal prison-based nonprofit program designed to reduce recidivism among the city’s juvenile offenders — and save the government money.
To be clear, that program and a host of others that might be financed through such “social impact investing” quite likely will produce salutary outcomes, and the nonprofit organizations that offer them are increasingly desperate for dollars in the face of government cut-backs and short-falls. But the question our society must face is how we wish to fund these efforts.
Where is the wisdom in developing new investment opportunities that further enrich the wealthy and financial institutions while costing government much more than if programs were funded with tax dollars or even through interest-bearing government bonds (which likely would cost well under half of what these profit-seeking social investments are projected to yield, and which Goldman’s executives refuse to cap).
Don’t citizens have a reason to be suspicious when those most likely to profit from these new social investment schemes are the ones creating the financing imperative by working to reduce the tax revenues that would otherwise fund the programs in question? The same people, in fact, who in many cases are pushing to create tax breaks for these investment schemes themselves.
Although Goldman’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein claims to be in favor of increased taxes, he arranged for the early distribution of $65 million in stock to himself and his top colleagues so that they could avoid a new higher tax rate. If Goldman, Morgan Stanley and other financial institutions are truly concerned about financing much-needed social programs, why don’t they give up their prodigious tax avoidance and new financing schemes and instead support a Wall Street sales tax that would raise hundreds of billions of dollars each year for public purposes?
While they’re at it, why don’t they support reforms that prevent Nike, Apple, Microsoft and other multinationals from using offshore tax havens to stash their profits and from avoiding paying over $90 billion in taxes that would otherwise flow to the Treasury? For that matter, another 235 companies have parked more than $1.3 trillion more in profits abroad, thereby avoiding U.S. taxes on those profits. The practice is so ingrained that when former Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., offered doing away with it as a tradeoff for reducing corporate tax rates, business lobbyists threw a fit.
In fact, the share of federal tax revenue from corporations has fallen by two-thirds since the 1950s as a result of loopholes and corporate tax breaks; their actual taxes have dropped to about 10 percent since the recession although their profits doubled in less than 10 years.
Many individuals also subscribe to the concept of tax avoidance — including the more than 35,000 wealthy American households that paid no income tax at all in 2009 (the most recent year for which complete data is available). If they and individuals subject to the so-called “Buffett Rule” — a proposal to apply a minimum marginal tax rate of 30 percent on individuals’ income over a million dollars each year — truly wanted to advance the public good, they would support the administration’s proposal, resulting in an additional $40 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years. That’s more than four times the amount that Goldman and Morgan Stanley together hope to leverage through the nascent “social impact” industry.
Yes, there are things to like about impact investing, including its clear focus on outcomes and the idea that more of us should be paying attention to social and environmental problems.
But the actual implementation of these financing schemes is not without problems — such as the difficulty of accurately assessing positive social outcomes and appropriately attributing them to funded intervention programs; the tendency to conflate “paying for success” and related concepts only with programs that are so financed; the focus on remediation at the expense of prevention; and creating ways of profiting a new industry of wealthy intermediaries.
Still, the fundamental problem with all of these schemes is the question of how we as Americans wish to meet and fund public needs.
Do we really want to provide funding for critical public goods only when it puts money in our pockets, or do we want to preserve and even strengthen the idea that we together have a collective obligation to provide the tax revenues that pay for those services, advance the common good and benefit ourselves and one another? Is seeking a financial return for ourselves more “American” than working together through government, nonprofits and philanthropy to serve the neediest among us, as well our own communities and the general public?
Can there to be any realm of our national life where the market doesn’t rule, where we agree to put public good ahead of private profit?
The post How social impact bonds put private profit ahead of public good appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
A study claims to have new evidence that proves tighter gun control laws can reduce gun violence. After the repeal of a 2007 Missouri law — a law that required potential gun buyers to be vetted and licensed by a local sheriff — Researchers in Missouri tracked changes to the homicide and non-negligent manslaughter rates.
The report, soon to be published in the Journal of Urban Health, analyzed the data and found there was immediate spike in gun violence and murders, with more than 60 additional gun-related murders per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012.
“Coincident exactly with the policy change, there was an immediate upward trajectory to the homicide rates in Missouri,” Daniel Webster, one of the lead authors of the study, told the BBC. Webster is also the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. He believes that the study confirms that strict firearm laws lead to less gun deaths.
Many states have worked to tighten their gun control laws after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., but gun and ammunition sellers reported sales had been increasing throughout the past two years. Sellers attributed the spike in gun sales to President Barack Obama’s re-election, CNN reported. Obama spoke out against assault weapons during his 2012 presidential campaign and continued to push for stricter gun control regulations into his second term. Gun sales spiked again after the shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Unlike 2013, guns sales have plummeted in the first few weeks of 2014. According to a CNN Money report, gun industry analyst Rommel Dionisio said, “Retail (gun) inventories, which had been in short supply last spring, have largely returned to normal now.” Outdoor-gear retailer Cabela’s Inc. reported gun and ammo sales were down 50 percent from this time last year. FBI background checks are also down about one-third from January 2013.
The Congressional Research Services estimates that there are over 300 million guns in circulation in the United States.
The post Study shows gun violence surged in Missouri after repeal of gun control laws appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Netflix’s original series “House of Cards” follows main character Frank Underwood’s ascent to power from House Majority Whip to Vice President of the United States. The show’s plot line delves deep into the bitter heart of American politics, intensely covering subjects like campaign finance fraud and the threat of a government shutdown.
It can be difficult for even a politically aware U.S. citizen to follow the show’s twists and turns, but that hasn’t stopped millions of Chinese — including some leaders in the Communist Party — from tuning in. According to The Washington Post, “House of Cards” has been the most-watched show on China’s Netflix equivalent, Sohu, since it was made available on Friday.
“Of course people in China are curious, because you could never see this kind of show about the Chinese government. It would never get past the censors,” said one fan of the show Tuesday at a panel held by Sohu.
The show has been viewed 24.5 million times in China, the Post writes. Sohu says that the largest proportion of these numbers come from government-sector employees and residents of Beijing including Wang Qishan, “one of the seven most powerful leaders in China” and the head of China’s disciplinary committee.
“I was not aware that Chinese leaders are watching the show,” “House of Cards” writer Kenneth Lin told the Post. “I think that has a lot to do with the show’s ability to tap into something very true about power, ambition and human nature.”
Interestingly, this popularity has sparked in a country that recently banned an episode of NBC’s “The Blacklist” for featuring a Chinese villain and critiquing China’s family planning policies. Season two of “House of Cards” prominently features a corrupt Chinese businessman named Xander Feng who enters into an uneasy alliance with Underwood, and frequently focuses on American/Chinese relations.
“‘House of Cards’ is a show about power at the highest levels. If you want to tell that story with relevance today, you simply have to include China,” said Lin.
But the show has thus far escaped Chinese censorship.
“Many Chinese people — including officials — are watching it now and we have had no problem,” Sohu chief executive Charles Zhang said to CNN.
And the show’s dark depiction of the American political situation seems to encourage feelings of kinship among some Chinese viewers.
“After watching ‘House of Cards,’” wrote one Chinese social networking user, “I see that the U.S. is also very dark. It’s the same everywhere. Where there are people, there is struggle.”
Another wrote, “I’m just amazed that their propaganda ministry isn’t mad about this.”
Sardar Khan cradles his infant son in one arm as he considers a thick stack of his life’s most important documents on a glass table before him. The documents include medical records, letters of recommendation from U.S. military officers and five passports–one for Khan and each member of his family.
Khan is 26, an Afghan native, and has spent seven years working as a translator for the U.S. Army. He is proud of his work, but fears that it has put him and his children in danger. And the visa program designed to help Afghans like him escape such danger, he says, has done little to secure his safety.
“I am living in a village where everybody knows me … who I am, who I am working for, where my house is, these things,” Khan says. “They are just waiting for a small chance, like if the security gets a little bit worse. I am really concerned about my babies especially. I love them more than my life.”
Khan says he applied for a U.S. visa in 2012, under a program designed to help Afghans like him escape the country. He had an interview with the U.S. Embassy in early 2013 and has been waiting for an answer ever since. The process has left him emotionally and financially drained.
“We did this much paperwork to…get an interview scheduled,” he says, holding the documents aloft.
“It cost me around $5,000 U.S. that I spent for a better future.”
With a counterinsurgency strategy heavily reliant on building trust with local villagers, it’s hard to overstate the importance of Afghan employees, particularly translators, to the U.S war effort. Translators accompany U.S. military and special forces in everything they do, from night raids and helicopter insertions to route clearance, and they are often unarmed. They’re also critical to the work done by the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. government supported NGO’s.
Working for the U.S. means they are also targets. Taliban checkpoints are often set up expressly for the purpose of catching men like Khan. Translators casually swap stories of Afghan employees of the U.S military who have had limbs or heads cut off by insurgents.
Shafiq Naziri, who has been working as a translator for U.S. special forces since 2006 and waited five years to get his visa approved, bluntly describes this reality:
“If the bad guys arrest you, there’s no question that they will behead you,” Naziri says. “They will put your head on a stick on the side of the street.”
Now, with the U.S. scheduled to largely withdraw from Afghanistan later this year, Afghans still waiting on visa applications fear their time is running out.
Critics describe the process of applying for a visa as opaque, prohibitively complicated and painfully slow, putting the applicant’s lives at risk with each passing month that their visas aren’t approved.
“It has been a disastrous program,” said one former USAID official.” It’s embarrassing.”
But the State Department says they’ve implemented a set of changes to revitalize the process.
In the last five months, the State Department has issued close to 400 visas under the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program for people like Khan, whose work made them targets of insurgents. That’s nearly as many visas issued in the program’s previous four years combined.
Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jarrett Blanc acknowledges there were problems with the program’s efficiency, but says the rate of approval has “sped up immensely.”
The current version of the visa program started in 2009 when Congress passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act, creating 7,500 available visas for endangered Afghan employees of the U.S. military and government. Prior to that, about 1,000 visas had been available to these Afghans. But by the end of 2013, the State Department, which runs the program, had only issued 2,028.
A closer look at the numbers reveals the sluggish pace of the process. In 2011, only three visas were approved under the law. By 2012, that number had climbed to 63. (In both of those years, a few dozen Afghans received visas under a separate program.)
But new efforts may breathe more energy into the program. The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, creates closer oversight from both inside the State Department and Congress. And the State Department says that they have increased staffing at the embassy in Kabul to review the remaining 8,000 applications more quickly.
Jarrett Blanc has helped manage elections in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He’s been a foreign affairs fellow, scholar or analyst of one kind or another at the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Open Society Institute. He also has deep ties to, and a personal relationship with Afghanistan.
Blanc says that at least some of the blame lies with the Afghan applicants themselves.
“A lot of those (applicants), not quite half of them, control their own timing.” Blanc says. “So they’ve started the application, or perhaps they’ve gotten past the first step, but they need to finish their own paperwork before we can take the next step with them.”
Blanc says that there was a key bottleneck at the start of the process, where the Chief of Mission committee in embassy Kabul determined if each individual applicant had met minimum requirements for a visa, and was therefore eligible to move to the next part of the approval process.
“We increased the number of committees that meet to review these cases and entirely cleared the backlog (at this step),” Blanc said. In the past, this part of the process could take “weeks or months.” Now, all applications will be reviewed within two weeks of submission.
Longtime critics of this program and its predecessor for Iraqi employees of the U.S. government, say the changes aren’t nearly enough.
Kirk Johnson worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Fallujah, Iraq, coordinating rebuilding efforts there after the U.S. invasion. When he saw his Iraqi colleagues become targets of of assassinations because of their work for the U.S. government, he started The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. He wrote a book “To Be a Friend is Fatal” about what he views as the U.S. failure to help Iraqis who worked for the American government.
“We say to our employees, ‘Sure, we’ll help you,’” Johnson says. “‘Here’s a slip of paper. See if you can live for three years while we look it over.’”
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), helped write the 2009 visa law.
“We could not have done what we did, as successfully as we did, in Afghanistan without their help,” he says.
Zabitullah Tahery is one of the lucky ones. After an anxious four-year wait for his visa, the 27-year-old former military interpreter and his family arrived in Charlottesville, Va. on Oct. 7, 2013. He recalls those four years.
“I had to wait and wait, wait, wait,” Tahery said. “I used to email and let them know the situation…but the response was always the same: Just wait… My life was in danger,” he added. “The Taliban believed I helped the Americans and betrayed my people.”
Long wait times were not what members of Congress had in mind when the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program was created.
“It’s frustrating to those of us in Congress,” says Sen. Cardin. “We passed this in 2009 … We expected 1,500 (visas to be granted) a year. It’s been far, far lower than that.”
The program was modeled on the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program, which also has a massive backlog, with 18,325 visas yet to be handed out to Iraqis who worked for the U.S. military and government.
Katie Reisner, National Policy Director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance project, says that both programs were well intentioned, but suffer from a lack of proper implementation.
“Congress passes laws, but they’re broad with respect to day-to-day programming. The agency has to implement that law,” she says. “The State Department did not even write those rules until two years after the law passed. They were in no rush.”
Sen. Cardin also holds the State Department responsible for the delays.
“We make it clear that it is the State Department’s responsibility to make sure that (this is) done in a timely way,” Cardin says. “We’ve got to hold accountability, and accountability is with the State Department to get through the process.”
To that end, Congress has added additional oversight. The latest National Defense Authorization Act, passed in December, includes language co-authored by Sen. Cardin that calls for the Secretary of State to name a Special Immigrant Visa Coordinator “responsible for overseeing the efficiency and integrity” of the process at embassy Kabul. It also creates an appeals process for applicants who have been rejected.
The State Department’s Jarrett Blanc wants to focus on the future. “What was going on in 2013 and 2012, that’s not the most important question. The most important question is, have we studied this process and have we learned how to move forward?”
Tahery very likely was the beneficiary of the improvements to the system that Blanc touts. But now that he is safe, he fears for the others left behind. As his 18-month-old daughter dances on his living room carpet, clapping along to the Afghan music videos streaming on the flat screen TV, he considers their fate.
Interpreters especially, he said, are concerned about the U.S. Army leaving Afghanistan.
“What’s going to happen to them?” Tahery said. “Maybe the bad guys will come back and kill them.”
Additional reporting and video in Kabul by Bethany Matta.
Fiber technologies provide Internet and television service at higher speeds than traditional copper cable. And Google claims that its Internet service is 100 times faster than the basic broadband network.
The company identified nine metro areas in the western and southern United States where it plans to expand Google Fiber, but has yet to identify the specific cities that will receive its fiber optic technology.
“We’re going to work side-by-side with city leaders on a two-part joint planning process to evaluate whether we can bring Google Fiber to a community,” the company posted on the Google Fiber website.
The process includes an evaluation of the plausibility of fiber construction based on the city’s geography and construction policies as well as a study of the potential costs for construction.
Google Fiber is currently used in Kansas City, Mo., Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. In Kansas City, a Google Fiber plan that includes television and Internet costs $120 a month.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, as shale and natural gas fracking booms in Texas, there are new questions about its possible connection with air quality and health problems.That’s the focus of a new report jointly done by the Center for Public Integrity, Inside Climate News, and The Weather Channel. It specifically looked at drilling in a huge area known as the Eagle Ford Shale Play, where, as you can see, the oil wells are in green dots, gas wells in red.
It examined almost 300 health complaints in the region potentially linked to fracking. The industry is disputing the report.
Jim Morris is one of the journalists who worked on it for the Center for Public Integrity.
Welcome to the program.
JIM MORRIS, Center for Public Integrity: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just a little bit of background. How much drilling of this kind is going on in this South Texas area and why did you decide to look at the air quality issue?
JIM MORRIS: There are about 8,000 wells that have already been drilled in the Eagle Ford Shale, which is about 20,000 square miles. Another 5,000 or so have been permitted or online.
We chose to look at the Eagle Ford specifically because it has not been part of the national conversation on fracking. And we looked at air because so much focus has been put understandably on contaminated water that we felt it was time to look at air pollution.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what were your main findings?
JIM MORRIS: The main findings were that there are all manner of toxic chemicals that are associated with oil and gas production that appear to be making people sick, benzene, which can cause cancer, sulfur dioxide, which causes severe lung problems, hydrogen sulfide, which can cause a variety of chronic conditions and also it can be lethal in high enough doses.
All this comes out during drilling, processing. It even comes out of pipelines.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So you — it is emitted, and you said it can cause problems. Is it causing problems?
JIM MORRIS: Well, we looked at — first of all, not enough study has been done and not enough monitoring has been done. And I can come back to that.
But we looked at nearly 300 complaints filed by residents of the Eagle Ford Shale with the state of Texas. And the vast majority of those had to do with health problems that appear to be related to air emissions, nausea, chronic headaches, nosebleeds, severe asthma attacks. Those symptoms are consistent with symptoms we have seen from other shale drilling areas, somewhat older plays, as in Pennsylvania, for example.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So is there a proven connection between the chemicals that you are describing and what these people are complaining about?
JIM MORRIS: Well, yes, the science certainly shows that a number of these chemicals cause the sorts of conditions these people are complaining about.
Now, if you are talking about the relationship between benzene and leukemia, obviously, that’s not something you are going to see for many, many years. And, again, not enough study has been done and not enough monitoring of the air is being done by the state of Texas.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me just read to you what the industry is saying back. As we reported a moment ago, they’re rejecting this.
I’m just going to read — this is from the Independent Petroleum Association of America. They say, in part — quote — “After eight months of research, the best this team could come up with was a rehash of what some anti-fracking activists claimed last year and a couple of old regulatory memos which they completely misread.”
Now, that’s just part of what they say.
JIM MORRIS: Mm-hmm.
The industry wasn’t very happy that we were down there. And, in fact, the industry — neither the industry nor the regulatory agency in Texas, which is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, would sit down with us in Austin or talk to us in the field when we were down in the Eagle Ford. We made eight trips down there. So I would dispute his characterization.
And I would say that we looked at permits, very complex stacks of paper on air permits, for example, did the numbers, ran all this by experts, by scientific experts, by some of the state’s own permitting engineers. So, to say this is some sort of a rehash of anti-fracking propaganda is just — is just silly.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What they go on to say is, “What the report largely ignored is that tens of thousands of families in the Eagle Ford are,” in their words, “living better lives because of oil and gas development.
JIM MORRIS: You know, I don’t know that they can necessarily back that up.
I mean, we did report, for example, that the tax base in Karnes County, Texas, which was the sort of focal point of our reporting, increased 28-fold between 2008 and 2013. We quoted the county judge who said this is the greatest things that’s ever happened to her county. So we certainly acknowledge that there are economic benefits.
But our focus was the environment and specifically air pollution.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, finally, the other thing they say is that the state regulators are now in the process of changing the rules to deal with health concerns. And they’re saying that they have already responded to complaints, that the industry is responding to this.
JIM MORRIS: Well, let me — I don’t know how the industry has responded. Let me tell you briefly how the state has responded.
Of the 300 complaints, they found 164 violations. Only two fines were levied by the state for those 164 violations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just quickly, where do you go from here with this?
JIM MORRIS: We’re going to be following it up aggressively.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Jim Morris with the Center for Public Integrity, we thank you.
JIM MORRIS: Thank you.
The post Raising health and air quality concerns in Texas’ fracking frontier appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Video by ClickOrlando
“Those icicles have been known to kill people!”
One may be able to quote that line from 1983’s “A Christmas Story” by heart, but a healthy fear of icicles may not be the wrong state of mind if you’re a city dweller.
As temperatures warm and the winter’s accumulation of snow and ice begin to thaw, danger lurks in the form of ice falling from skyscrapers onto unsuspecting pedestrians below. Falling from great heights, ice and frozen snow can easily turn from picturesque winter scenery into deadly projectiles that pose serious threats to the safety of those below.
In New York, streets around the new One World Trade Center were closed off as ice began to fall from the 1,776-foot tall tower, traveling at speeds of up to 100 mph. In Chicago, the AP reported pedestrians outside the 100-story John Hancock Center in January scurrying past the building with items held above their heads to shield from falling ice.
“The snow starts to melt and the liquid drips off and makes bigger and bigger icicles, or chunks of ice that break off skyscrapers,” New York National Weather Service meteorologist Joey Picca told the AP. “Be very, very aware of your surroundings.”
Besides blocking off routes to pedestrians, cities like New York have attempted to prevent potential injuries with proactive methods. The Department of Buildings in New York City asked building owners to clear off snow buildups and to block off sidewalks were falling ice could be a problem. Failure to comply could garner owner penalties of around $1,000.
Jeffrey Brown looks at the mixed product of these last years.
JEFFREY BROWN: It was just over three years ago that demonstrations engulfed Tunisia, inspired by a street vendor who set himself ablaze to protest corruption and intimidation.
In the process, he ignited a revolution across the region. But the uprisings and protests from Morocco to Oman, what came to be known as the Arab spring, have yielded decidedly mixed results.
The best may be in Tunisia itself, where Secretary of State John Kerry visited yesterday, praising the nation’s progress.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: I want to congratulate Prime Minister Jomaa and the Tunisian people on the very difficult road that they have navigated and the successful way in which they have moved through a very difficult transition to democratic rule.
JEFFREY BROWN: The transition began when the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali gave way to more unrest, as Islamists and secular groups competed for influence. The economy worsened. Assassinations of two powerful left-wing politicians eroded trust between parties. And attacks by an al-Qaida-linked faction stoked fears of a takeover by radical Islamists.
Despite it all, last month, the National Assembly approved a new constitution now being hailed as one of the Arab world’s most progressive.
RACHED GHANNOUCHI, President, Ennahda Party (through interpreter): Our people succeeded in making a peaceful revolution that enlightened the world. We succeed to avoid a civil war between us. But we achieved consensus.
JEFFREY BROWN: There’s been no such consensus in Libya, Tunisia’s neighbor to the east. Two well-armed militias have demanded the interim parliament resign. Today, they extended their deadline to Friday.
The prime minister dismissed the ultimatum.
ALI ZEIDAN, Prime Minister, Libya (through interpreter): From the time that the armed groups issued this declaration, I have found in most of the people the will of understanding, enthusiasm and preparedness to defuse this crisis and to contain this matter.
JEFFREY BROWN: Just this Monday, Tripoli marked three years since a day of rage against longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The revolt, aided by NATO airstrikes, ultimately toppled Gadhafi’s government and ended in his death at the hands of rebels.
In Egypt, the revolution that forced out President Hosni Mubarak has also given way to new upheavals. The Muslim Brotherhood took power in elections after Mubarak’s ouster. But, last year, demonstrators rose up against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and a military coup removed him from office. Now it appears Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will run for president this year, even as a crackdown expands to include secular groups.
ABDEL MONEIM ABOUL FOTOUH, former presidential candidate (through interpreter): What is happening now is a counterrevolution against the January revolution, the pure revolution which the Egyptian people united to fight for freedom.
JEFFREY BROWN: Islamist militants continue their own fight, using violence, including Sunday’s bombing of a tourist bus in the Sinai Peninsula.
And Egyptians, Libyans and others in the region need only look to Syria for the worst-case scenario, all-out civil war. By one estimate, more than 140,000 Syrians have died, and millions more have been displaced, since the uprising there began in March 2011.
The post Nations inflamed by Arab Spring yield different fates appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
And, Tarek, let me start where you.
Every country is different, of course. We can’t go through all those differences. But what can be said so far about the factors that go into success or failure?
TAREK MASOUD, Harvard University: Well, it’s a great question, Jeff.
I mean, I think one thing is that we have known for a long time that there are certain prerequisites to getting democracy. You are much more likely to get and keep democracy is if your country is pretty well economically developed, if you have a highly literate population.
And if you look across the Middle East, that kind of — those kinds of prerequisites are lacking. So it’s not surprising to me that Tunisia seems to be the only bright spot. And it really is on a bright spot in comparison to the grim stories in Egypt and Libya and Syria and elsewhere.
But it’s a bright spot, I think it, because, compared to those other countries, was just much more developed. It has a much more modern, kind of literate population, much more educated population. And I think that’s a big part of the story here.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right so, let me ask Mary-Jane Deeb the same question.
To what degree could one translate what is perhaps a success story in Tunisia so far to other places?
MARY-JANE DEEB, Library of Congress: Well, you know, each country is different. And that’s the basis of the differences in the outcomes of the Arab spring.
Tunisia had a constitution in 1861.
JEFFREY BROWN: 1861?
MARY-JANE DEEB: 1861.
And so whilst Libya, you know, is relatively a new state, if you want, in modern terms, and Egypt, on the other hand, has certain basic institutions, such as the army, which plays a very important role. Therefore, each model is different.
And is it the organization of the state and the society that has affected the outcome of the Arab spring in each case.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, Hisham, in a place like Libya, we see there are some tentative moves towards creating a constitution, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. Egypt, we talked about what is going on. How do you — do you see some general theme here?
HISHAM MELHEM, Washington Bureau Chief, Al-Arabiya Television: If you look at these homogeneous societies, a country like Tunisia would reform traditions going back to the 19th century.
In fact, just as an anecdote, Tunisia was the first country to outlaw slavery in the Muslim world, and it outlawed slavery 17 years before the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States 1863, after the Antietam — the Battle of Antietam. There is a tradition of secularism in Tunisia.
There is — women are highly educated compared to women in the rest of Africa and the Arab world. Tunisia is a small country, homogeneous country, and, most importantly, Tunisia had a small armed forces. This armed forces never had a tradition of shooting at civilians in the street, the way the Syrian military had, the Iraqi military had, the Yemeni military and Algerian military.
That accounts for the development of Tunisia. Tunisia probably is the only country that is going to make that transition. Egypt was close because Egypt also is a homogeneous state mainly. But the Islamists in Tunisia — in Egypt and the fact that you don’t have strong a democratic movement, and a dearth of democratic tradition, led Egypt to this state.
So, on the one hand, you have the persistence of the old order and the lack of democratic forces that believe in pluralism.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, Tarek, it’s another big question here, but, so, therefore do you look at — we have heard talk about the economy. We have heard talk about the rise of Islamist movements.
We haven’t even brought in Syria yet. I raised it in the — in our opening segment. What do you look at most to help you determine what we might be talking about next year at this time or five years from this time?
TAREK MASOUD: Oh, well, you know, it’s hard to know.
I mean, so there are two different approaches that we could take to kind of try to divine the futures of these countries, right? The one approach is the really pessimistic approach I just shared with you, where I said, we will just look at their level of economic development. And we know, from looking at all kinds of countries across history, that the odds are not really good for any of these Arab countries in terms of their ability to achieve democracy.
But we could also — I mean, we could take maybe a more hopeful view and look at the actual players in each country and think about, well, are the players, are they clever enough or smart enough or do they have the political will to kind of overcome some of these obstacles and do the necessary compromise that will get them to some kind of more inclusive democratic order?
And, again, so, when you look at all of these places, these things just don’t seem to be present. So, in Egypt, you know, it seems to me that the best predictor of Egypt’s future is Egypt’s past. Egypt from 1952 has basically been governed by the military. And that seems to be what is happening again.
If you look at, say, a country like Libya, well, when Gadhafi was in charge, basically, what he tried to do was dismantle any semblance of a state and just bribe the different tribes that lived in Libya with oil money. And, sure enough, the biggest problem that you have in Libya right now is that Gadhafi legacy of having no state. And so you don’t really have much of an army. You don’t have much of the apparatus of a nationally unified state.
So that’s what we would expect to be the problem in the future. And, you know, Yemen, for example, similar kind of story. So, really, if you look at Tunisia and why is Tunisia such a hopeful story, well, if you look at the last 50 years, particularly during the Bourguiba period, the dictator who preceded Ben Ali, he was a kind of liberalizing, modernizing autocrat.
And, so, again, it is not kind of surprising that that country is going in a slightly more liberal and modern direction. So, I look to the past.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, Mary-Jane Deeb, you can pick up on that, but I also want you to bring in Syria, because how much is that — we look at it all the time on its own. How much of it is an outlier what’s happened in the Arab spring, or how much of it is really almost defining what will come?
MARY-JANE DEEB: Well, you know, three years ago, when we were looking at what was happening in the region, I remember saying it’s a house of cards. It begins in one country, and then it moves to the next.
JEFFREY BROWN: But we were talking about it in a positive way then.
MARY-JANE DEEB: We were. We were looking at those who were actually rebelling, those who were asking for change and reform. And we were saying the young people in the city of Cairo have learned from this, the people in Tunisia, and so did the Libyans.
But what we didn’t point out was that the governments were learning also from the experience of the others. So Tunisia and the Tunisian president fell easily. The one in Egypt took a bit longer, but he fell. And then you see the resistance building up in Libya, then even more resistance in Syria.
And the stakes are even higher in Syria than elsewhere, where, really, the focus was one individual, one leader, if you want. In Syria, it is the fate of two million people, the Alawites. And so the stakes are so much higher in Syria than they are in the other countries, that compromise is perhaps more difficult.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Hisham Melhem, not only did governments learn, but Islamic movements, militants learned as well.
HISHAM MELHEM: Not all of them.
The Ennahda movement in Tunisia learned from the Egyptian experience, what happened — what the people of Egypt did to Islamists and what the Egyptian military did to the Islamists. And that is one reason why they were more forthcoming and more willing to accommodate the secular forces in Tunisia.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, we’re just in our last minute. So, tell me what — so what are you looking at?
HISHAM MELHEM: What I am looking at is that at the Arab east is going to be engulfed in a long nightmare that is going to last for years. Syria is going no longer…
JEFFREY BROWN: Years?
HISHAM MELHEM: Years and probably decades.
Syria is no longer a Syrian war — a civil war. It’s a regional war where Islamists, Shia from all the way to Central Asia to Iraq, to Lebanon, to Iran definitely are fighting an entrenched Islamist, Sunni-dominated now forces that are being supported also by Sunni governments.
It is not an exaggeration to talk about one continuum front, sectarian front that is bloody from the Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean, from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon. And the whole Arab world and the Arab east mostly, up in North Africa, is involved in this war.
The war in Syria is not going to remain in Syria. It is going to threaten Southern Europe. This is not a landlocked country like Afghanistan. And we saw what — the terrible consequences of the war in Afghanistan when the West left the Afghans to their own devices.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK.
HISHAM MELHEM: It is no longer a moral issue. It is a strategic issue for the United States…
HISHAM MELHEM: … to do something.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. All right, very sobering, indeed.
Thank you, all three, once again.
Mary-Jane Deeb, Hisham Melhem, and Tarek Masoud, thanks.
MARY-JANE DEEB: Thank you.
The post Looking to the past to understand Arab Spring struggles and success appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Three Al-Jazeera journalists facing trial in Egypt pleaded not guilty on Thursday to terrorism-related charges. The high-profile case was adjourned until March 5 after the 40-minute hearing.
The journalists have been held in Cairo’s maximum security Torah Prison, facing charges including “joining a terrorist organization, aiding a terrorist organization and threatening national security.” The Egyptian government arrested the men in December for reporting seen as bias toward the now-illegal Muslim Brotherhood.
Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed could face five to 15 years in jail if found guilty.
The journalists’ arrests have garnered international condemnation from rights groups who say Egypt’s transitional military government is stifling press freedoms.
“Journalists should not have to risk years in an Egyptian prison for doing their job. The prosecution of these journalists for speaking with Muslim Brotherhood members, coming after the prosecution of protesters and academics, shows how fast the space for dissent in Egypt is evaporating,” said Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director Joe Stork.
But the Egyptian government claims international news networks have misrepresented their crackdown on supporters of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and secular anti-military protesters.
Father of detained journalist Mohamed Fahmy, acting Al-Jazeera bureau chief, said the charges are baseless.
“From my point of view, this trial is politicized. My son and his co-workers are good patriots and they work professionally,” Mahmoud Fahmy told the Associated Press.
Greste’s brother said he hopes his brother is mentally prepared for what is to come.
“Obviously, we are all hopeful that he will be released very soon. But he understands that if he gets his hopes up, and has any kind of expectations about today and that they don’t go his way, then it’s going to be extremely tough for him to get himself of that hole emotionally. So he has been prepared for today but he is also prepared for an outcome that perhaps we don’t want,” Andrew Greste told journalists.
Al-Jazeera has demanded the immediate release of its staff members, condemning the charges. The Qatar-based network says the journalists were only doing their jobs.
The three men are among 20 journalists facing similar charges in Egypt. Those not present in court will be tried in absentia.
The post Al-Jazeera journalists facing trial in Egypt plead not guilty appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Updated 11:17 a.m. EST:
The Associated Press is reporting that at least 70 protesters have been killed Thursday in clashes with police in the Ukrainian capital. The news agency was unable to independently confirm this toll based on reports from Dr. Oleh Musiy, the coordinator for the protesters’ medical team.
10:21 a.m. EST:
At least 22 people have been killed Thursday, according to Associated Press reports, continuing the latest wave of violent protests in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. On the third day of clashes that have left more than 50 dead and hundreds injured, anti-government protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines, while government snipers shot into the crowds.
Ukraine’s interior ministry says that 67 police troops have been captured by the protesters who are calling for a regime change precipitated in November by President Viktor Yanukovych’s pledged loyalty to Russia.
Russian news agencies have reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin will send an envoy to Ukraine, at the request of Yanukovich, to try to mediate talks between the government and opposition.
Thursday’s violence comes only hours after a truce was announced.
Citing her support for the protesters, Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska withdrew from Olympic competition in Sochi, Russia. The 24-year-old athlete told the AP: “I don’t want to participate when in my country people die.”
The PBS NewsHour examined the root causes of the unrest On Tuesday with Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution and Adrian Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council:
We will update this post throughout the day.
The post UPDATE: Medic reports that 70 killed in Ukraine protests appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
President Barack Obama has yet to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would stretch 1,179 miles, and carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. But a court decision Wednesday could set back construction in Nebraska, even if the White House gives TransCanada approval to move forward.
A Nebraska judge struck down a law that allowed the pipeline “guarantees” to land along the approved route, The Associated Press reported. A 2012 law had allowed Gov. Dave Heineman, R-Neb., to approve proposed route and gave eminent domain powers to Calgary-based TransCanada if property owners who denied the company access to their land.
Three landowners sued, saying the state’s Public Service Commission should have made that decision, and Judge Stephanie Stacy agreed, ruling the law “unconstitutional and void.”
Opponents of the pipeline say that this ruling will delay any decision from the Nebraska Public Service Commission by at least a year. They also say the State Department will have to wait to finalize their process until the commission releases a decision on the proposed route.
This just the latest action that Nebraskans have taken to fight the controversial Keystone XL. Since 2011, state residents and leaders have been divided over environmental fears and the potential 20,000 jobs that would be created if the pipeline was constructed through the state.
Mr. Obama denied permits for the pipeline’s construction in 2012, because he claimed he did not have time to properly review TransCanada’s proposals.
In January 2014, the State Department released a report that conclude the project would have no major environmental impact.
Jeffrey Brown talked to Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin about next steps for the Keystone XL oil pipeline project after the State Department released the positive environmental impact statement in January.
The post Nebraska judge strikes down law allowing Keystone pipeline construction to move forward appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
You pull up your phone to check Twitter, see a couple of tweets that interest you, so you retweet or reply. We’ve all done it, or at least all of us tweeters. What you may not know, though, is that it’s possible to map the dialogue formed from those tweets, retweets and replies into different types of social and conversational structures.
The Pew Research Center and the Social Media Research Foundation analyzed thousands of twitter conversations going back to 2010. They found these conversations occoured based on the structure of the individual’s Twitter network. For example, the subjects and content that a person tweets about, the people they follow, the people who follow them and the way they network creates a structure of social activity. In a recently released report Pew reports that they uncovered six distinct patterns for these structures.
“These are data-driven early steps in understanding Twitter discussion structures that contribute to the emerging science of social participation,” Ben Shneiderman professor of computer science at the University of Maryland and a report-co-author said. “This new field is emerging right before our eyes and could eventually have a large impact on our understanding of everything from health to community safety, from business innovation to citizen science and from civic engagement to sustainable energy programs.”
Does the last conversation you had on Twitter represent one of these types of networks the researchers mapped?
This isn’t to say every tweet falls into one of the structures or that more structures couldn’t emerge. However, the six structures they discovered occurred regularly.
Pew’s team identified structures by looking for patterns. If a pattern didn’t fit into a particular structure they created a new one, Marc Smith, the director of the Social Media Research Foundation and main author of the report said.
“We expected the divided structure around political topics, but were surprised by five other patterns and we didn’t find many more,” Smith said.
This report represents a new approach for Pew. Instead of their normal public opinion survey they worked with researchers at the Social Media Research Foundation and used social network analysis to reach their findings.
“These maps provide insights into people’s behavior in a way that complements and expands on traditional research methods such as public opinion surveys, focus groups and even sentiment analysis of texts,” Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center Internet Project said.
Using the software tool NodeXL, a plug-in extension to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, researchers where able to import data from thousands of Twitter networks on hundreds of topics. The tool searched for keywords and hashtags and captured the tweet, usernames, hyperlinks, hashtags and information on the tweet’s author followers and follows. The data was analyzed and visualized in network social structure maps.
Rainie described it as similar to taking a photograph or video of a crowd.
“It gives us a way to take the digital equivalent of aerial photos of crowds and simultaneously listen to their conversations,” Rainie said.
Rainie said the data also pushes back against the notion that social media has disrupted everything and that nothing is the same as before.
“It’s clear that traditional important institutions and people still have the ability to be very influential,” Rainie said.
There are limitations to the data collected. NodeXL only captured public tweets in the English language and couldn’t grab direct messages or content from protected Twitter accounts. Data was also taken for specific periods of times and the researchers note it does not represent the sentiments of the full population of Twitter. Plus, Twitter users are still a relatively small demographic. According to the 2013 Pew Social Media Update only 18 percent of Internet users use Twitter and only 14 percent of the adult population.
Still, while the data is limited in scope, social media communicators everywhere will likely be pour over the results to figure out how to use it to their advantage.
“You could map who am I now, who am I like, who do I aspire to, and how close I am,” Smith said.
In other words an organization that wants to promote a brand name, product or news story might consdier what social media network is the topic most like–or target a network type with a goal. Then they could use network maps of the topic to track the progress of their message across Twitter.
While the researchers looked specifically at Twitter, the tool could be used on other social networks including YouTube, Flickr and Facebook fan pages.
So, when you share this story on Twitter, ask yourself what social conversation you’re taking part in–and are we at PBS NewsHour mapping it to see our impact?
The post Study uncovers six basic types of Twitter conversations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — A U.S. military drone strike in Yemen in December may have killed up to a dozen civilians on their way to a wedding and injured others, including the bride, a human rights group says. U.S. officials say only members of al-Qaida were killed, but they have refused to make public the details of two U.S. investigations into the incident.
Human Rights Watch released a report on the drone strike Thursday, citing interviews with eight witnesses and relatives of the dead as well as Yemeni officials. The report said four Hellfire missiles were fired at a wedding procession of 11 vehicles on Dec. 12, 2013, in Radda in southern Yemen, killing at least 12 men and wounding at least 15 others, six of them seriously.
The report said the procession “may have included members” of Yemen’s al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, “although it is not clear who they were or what was their fate.” Family members and survivors say all those hit were civilians; Yemeni officials told Human Rights Watch that most were militants.
“We asked both the Yemeni and the U.S. authorities to tell us which of the dead and wounded were members of militant groups and which if any were civilians,” report author Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. “They did not reply to this question.”
She added: “While we do not rule out the possibility that AQAP fighters were killed and wounded in this strike, we also do not rule out the possibility that all of those killed and wounded were civilians.”
The New York-based group called on the U.S. government to investigate and make the findings public.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said he would not comment on specific operational details. He noted that the Yemeni government has stated that the targets were “dangerous senior al-Qaida militants.”
U.S. and Yemeni officials said the target of the attack, Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a midlevel al-Qaida leader, was wounded and had escaped.
Al-Badani is on Yemen’s most wanted list and is accused of masterminding a plan for a major attack last summer. When an intercepted message revealed the plot, the U.S. temporarily closed 19 of its diplomatic posts across Africa and the Mideast. Some European missions were closed as well.
Three U.S. officials said the U.S. government did investigate the strike against al-Badani — twice — and concluded that only members of al-Qaida were killed in the three vehicles that were hit.
The officials said the Pentagon can’t release details because both the U.S. military and the CIA fly drones over Yemen. By statute, the military strikes can be acknowledged, but the CIA operations cannot. The officials said that if they explain one strike but not another, they are revealing by default which ones are being carried out by the CIA.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the drone operations publicly.
The continued secrecy surrounding the drone program shows how the Obama administration has been slow to transfer the CIA drones over to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command nearly a year after Obama promised in a May 2013 speech to put the military largely in charge of lethal strikes and thereby make the program more transparent. Congress has objected to the transfer to the military, because the CIA can strike in countries where the military cannot – for instance, in countries that refuse to allow U.S. counterterrorist actions on its soil.
With the drone program in limbo, U.S. officials have simply continued to say nothing of the strikes, wherever they occur.
“The U.S. refusal to explain a deadly attack on a marriage procession raises critical questions about the administration’s compliance with its own targeted killing policy,” Tayler wrote in the report.
Obama’s new guidelines include using lethal force “only to prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively.” It also requires “near certainty” of no civilian casualties.
“When we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly,” said Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman. “In situations where we have concluded that civilians have been killed, the U.S. has made condolence payments where appropriate and possible.” She would not say whether the U.S. contributed any money to families of the dead in this incident.
The local Yemeni governor and military commander called the strike a mistake and compensated the families of those killed and injured.
Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, ordered an independent investigation by an Air Force general and the White House requested another by the National Counterterrorism Center. Both concluded no civilians were killed. Votel’s staff also showed lawmakers video of the operation. Two U.S. officials who watched the video and were briefed on the investigations said it showed three trucks in the convoy were hit, all carrying armed men.
The Human Rights Watch report lists the names and ages of 12 men who witnesses said were killed in the attack, along with the names of six men who were seriously wounded.
The strikes are part of a joint U.S.-Yemeni campaign against AQAP, considered the most dangerous al-Qaida branch. The group is blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosive hidden in the bomber’s underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S. The group also aspires to govern in Yemen, and it seized large areas of the south before the military drove most of them out in the summer of 2012.
According to the nonpartisan public policy institute New America Foundation, the U.S. has launched 99 drone strikes in Yemen since 2002.
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Editor’s Note: Social impact investing sounds like an innovative way of uniting private investors, nonprofits and government to deliver social services with demonstrable outcomes. But who’s profiting from that financing model?
It’s too early to say whether the cognitive behavior therapy program at Rikers Island, which Making Sense profiled last spring (watch below), has reduced recidivism in New York City. That’s the outcome required for the city to repay Goldman Sachs’ investment. But fights among young offenders at Rikers are down since implementation of the Osborne Association’s cognitive behavior therapy program last year.
The problem, social impact bond skeptic Mark Rosenman argues, is not that these programs don’t help young offenders, it’s that banks like Goldman Sachs are also benefiting from these bonds — at the expense of taxpayers. If Goldman paid more taxes, he says, there wouldn’t be a need for private financing in the first place.
And when nonprofit foundations are the primary investors, the efficacy of social impact bonds can really only be assessed on a case-by-case basis, according to a 2013 National Bureau of Economic Research paper. The hypothesized benefit, the paper explains, is that investors will have more agency and more stake in achieving the social goal. But, it cautions, altruistic and financial goals can always conflict.
Here to defend social impact bonds as a way of ensuring efficient use of taxpayer dollars are two of its champions from Social Finance, a nonprofit intermediary that directs investment capital toward social services. Jane Hughes is director of knowledge management at the U.S. branch of Social Finance and Alisa Helbitz is director of research and communication at Social Finance U.K.
And with a last word, Mark Rosenman responds.
–Simone Pathe, Making Sense Editor
As the originator and now global leader of the Social Impact Bond (SIB), also known as “pay-for-success,” market, we believe that it is important to lay out the rationale for SIBs. In a time when demand for social services is rising, but resources are increasingly constrained, SIBs bring additional sources of funding and support for underserved populations who are most in need.
The partners in a SIB — government, private investors, social service providers and a (nonprofit) intermediary like Social Finance — come together to generate social and economic value. Government only pays for successful, measurable outcomes (how many ex-offenders stay out of jail and find gainful employment, for example). If the programs fail to achieve positive outcomes, government owes nothing and investors lose their money.
The core concept of SIBs — that investors benefit if and only if society benefits — is transformational.
Moreover, SIBs drive government accountability by transferring the risk of failure to investors and by focusing attention on outcomes rather than outputs (how many people enroll in a program, for example) in public services. Rigorous evaluation of outcomes is at the core of the SIB concept. In addition, SIBs are designed to direct resources to social interventions that try to prevent problems from emerging rather than address problems after they have emerged, embodying Benjamin Franklin’s maxim that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
It is also important to highlight what SIBs are not. They are not meant and will never be able to enrich investors or intermediaries. As an intermediary, Social Finance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to mobilizing investment capital to drive social progress.
In the U.K., U.S., Australia, Canada and elsewhere around the world, SIBs and pay-for success enjoy support across the political spectrum. In particular, SIBs are not instruments of enrichment for wealthy investors; they are appropriate for impact investors who seek both financial and social returns on their money, rather than commercial investors who are focused on the financial bottom line.
At the same time, SIBs are not promising solutions to all social problems. They are not appropriate for every area of social welfare activity. They are an attempt to change a very bureaucratic culture of government funding of the social sector and encourage investment into deeply rooted challenges that have either been overlooked or not properly funded before.
SIBs need to have a clearly defined outcome that can be independently measured and attributed to the SIB. That doesn’t mean that less tangible outcomes, such as wellbeing and community cohesion, are any less valuable. It just means that they are more difficult to quantify and assess for an investment contract.
SIBs are not intended to replace public services nor do they allow governments — local, state, federal or central — to relinquish responsibilities for those people they care for. They are intended to complement existing services and bring new funding resources and innovation to overstretched social services. Governments remain the ultimate payor in SIB transactions; they still pay for positive outcomes, but only after these outcomes have been demonstrably achieved.
In the U.S. and UK, we work closely with the existing social providers and the local social services so that we can enhance public sector efficiency and accountability. Moreover, experts estimate the size of the U.S. SIB market over the next few years at $300 million. This is an impressive number, but minuscule relative to the fact that total social expenditures by the government are a towering $5 trillion per annum.
SIBs are multidimensional, complex and challenging to implement — but so are the social problems that they are designed to tackle. While the limits of SIBs are clear, we believe that they can drive social progress by unlocking new forms of investment and by funding social innovation. They are not intended to drive tax relief; rather, they are intended to drive efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
Editor’s Note: Mark Rosenman, emeritus professor at Union Institute & University, was our social impact bond skeptic in last spring’s Rikers Island series. Wednesday on Making Sense, he made the case that private investors exploit the social impact bond model while skirting their own tax burdens. Here he responds to Hughes and Helbitz.
Mark Rosenman: I appreciate Alisa Helbitz’s and Jane Hughes’ sincerity and motivation. I do not, however, appreciate their argument that the best way to address shortages of “funding and support for underserved populations” is for them to pioneer a financing model now being exploited by the likes of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
Further, for them to conflate pay-for-success approaches exclusively with such a model is to deny efficacy to government and philanthropic support and to nonprofits themselves. “Rigorous evaluation of outcomes” does not require a profit motive.
What I argue in my piece is that the creation of new profit-generating models to finance necessary social programs substitutes the pursuit of private gains for the exercise of public responsibility.
It is wrongheaded that financial institutions, banks, investment houses and even nonprofit (as well as for-profit) intermediaries promote market models to meet public needs. This is especially true when, at the same time, many of those very entities and their allies fight to starve government of the tax revenue necessary to meet the needs of “underserved populations” and other social and environmental programs.
And make no mistake about it — those financing Social Impact Bonds (SIB) and similar models do indeed expect a significant return on their investments. If this weren’t the case, why would Goldman Sachs and others refuse to limit their possible income from them to a modest cap or socially-responsible percentage?
While the Social Finance advocates argue that their investment schemes are “aimed at preventing problems from emerging,” that clearly is not the case demonstrated by their initial focus on prisoners’ recidivism. The very nature of such a financing model depends on a pool of people who have already engaged in criminal behavior — behavior that is highly correlated with poverty and other social problems which have in no way been prevented.
If prevention is a goal, why not finance anti-poverty, community development and social and economic justice programs that decrease the likelihood of criminal behavior in the first place? Since the answer given by SIB advocates and advocates for similar models is that such program outcomes are “more difficult to quantify and assess for an investment contract,” then shouldn’t we be promoting funding models that are more appropriate for the needs at hand? Shouldn’t we be generating the public revenue for the social investments and enhanced public institutions necessary to improve lives and address poverty so that fewer people fall into crime in the first place?
I fully agree that we need to “encourage investment into deep
rooted challenges that have either been overlooked or not properly funded
before,” as Helbitz and Hughes wrote in response to my article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. But while social investment advocates argue that their models “are an attempt to change a very bureaucratic culture of government funding of the social sector,” they insist on rigid evaluation mechanisms that have discouraged innovation.
Certainly government and philanthropic funding mechanisms need to be improved significantly, but a private-profit market model isn’t the way to do that.
There is little consolation in the fact that “governments remain the ultimate payor in SIB transactions” when, under many of these schemes, public savings flow to private investors. An example is the Head Start/early childhood education example I cited in my piece that’s diverting public benefit to private financiers.
SIB advocates are working hard so that their scheme might generate $300 million in private investments over the next few years. I’d much rather see their efforts and those of their financial partners (such as Goldman and Morgan Stanley) instead working for a Wall Street Sales Tax that could generate well over $200 billion a year in much needed public revenues for the kinds of programs we all want to see funded.
We don’t need financiers working for private gain from social programs; we need citizens working for greater public revenue and its more effective use by government in funding nonprofit services and programs that reduce inequality and raise the quality of life for all of us.
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The Oscar nominated documentary “The Act of Killing” challenges Anwar Congo, a death squad leader during the mass killings in 1965 Indonesia, to re-enact the horrors of his past. Director Joshua Oppenheimer spoke to the NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown about why Anwar and his friends were so boastful about their actions and what it was like to get a glimpse into the minds of killers.
When Joshua Oppenheimer started working on his film eight years ago about the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia, he had a different vision in mind. He spent two years working with survivors before the army threatened them.
“The survivors then said ‘well if you can’t film us, try and film the perpetrators. You might find out what happened to us,’” Oppenheimer told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown.
So the filmmaker sought out the people in charge of the killings and he found a characteristic rarely seen among those charged with war crimes.
“They were boastful, eager to show what they’ve done, eager to take me to the places where they killed and show how they killed,” said Oppenheimer.
“Normally perpetrators in documentary, by the time you meet, they’ve already been identified as perpetrators, that is to say they have been removed from power and so they deny what they’ve done or they apologize for it. But these men have never been removed from power. They are still in power, they’ve never been forced to admit what they did is wrong.”
Before his new subjects became the leaders of death squads, they were “thugs” who hung out in front of movie theaters. Their love of American cinema is observable throughout the documentary. When Oppenheimer turned the camera on the perpetrators, they wanted to recreate scenes from their past through “The Act of Killing.” Those re-enactments came with a bit of a twist.
“They chose to suggest to dramatize it in the style of their favorite Hollywood films.”
According to the filmmaker, no one suggested to “enhance” the scenes more than the main character, Anwar Congo, who Oppenheimer says was “more boastful than anyone else.”
“I lingered on him because I saw that underpinning his boastfulness … was a shame, a pain, a trauma. I recognized that boasting and guilt are two sides of same coin.”
After acting out a torture scene, Congo and his friends discuss the potential consequences of the film being made public.
While he was filming these former killers as they talked openly about and reenacted the horrors of their past, Oppenheimer forced himself to keep an open mind.
“So many of the stories we tell are based on dividing the world into good guys and bad guys, protagonists and antagonists. These seem like they’ve done bad things so they are bad guys, so we interpret their boasting as sign that monstrous. But what if they are not? Our task as nonfiction filmmakers is to see what’s really there,” Oppenheimer explained.
“I refused to label them as monsters because I felt in doing so I would make it impossible to understand what really happened.”
“The Act of Killing” is nominated for Best Documentary at the 2014 Academy Awards. The film is currently streaming on Netflix. Tune in on March 2 to see how the film fairs.
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