October 20, 2014

France moves towards reversing reliance on nuclear energy

Christian Science Monitor -   French President Francois Hollande has promised to limit the growth of the country’s nuclear power, many older reactors have been targeted for decommissioning, and Greenpeace and other environmental groups have been relentless in their anti-nuclear campaigning. But until now, it seemed unlikely that France would ever truly rethink its love affair with nuclear power.

Last week, it did. On Oct. 10, France’s parliament voted to begin moving to undo decades of nuclear growth and to reduce its importance to the country’s energy mix. Over the next 11 years, France will reduce the amount of electricity coming from nuclear by one-quarter -- from 75 percent to 50 percent. To do that, estimates are that as many as 20 of France’s 58 reactors would have to be closed.

The vote was part of a package of legal reforms in France’s long-awaited energy transition law, a main pillar of which was slowing nuclear power production and then maintaining it at the new lower level before progressively lowering it over the next 10 years.

Mexican judge cancels Monsanto planting permit

Nation of Change - Honoring the complaints of a small group of beekeepers in the state of Yucatán, who complained that Monsanto’s planned planting of thousands of hectares of GM soybeans made to withstand Round Up would demolish their honey industry by decimating bees – a judge in Mexico has removed Monsanto’s planting permit.

Though Monsanto will surely appeal the ruling, it will at least stall the growing season and give the bee-keepers time to gather additional support for their cause.

If the permit had been honored, Monsanto would have been able to plant seeds in seven states, covering more than 253,000 hectares of land. (This amounts to almost a million acres.) Mayan farmers, beekeepers, and activist groups like Greenpeace, the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas, and the National Institute of Ecology have been vocally protesting this action.

The judge was apparently convinced that the scientific data showing a link between Round Up, GMOs, and lowered honey production is very real. The Yucatán peninsula grows vasts amounts of honey, and in fact is the third largest exporter of honey to the world. The area includes Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán states. More than 25,000 families build their livelihoods on honey production. Almost all of the honey grown there is exported to the EU and amounts to over $54 million in Mexican money annually.

The judge ruled that honey production and GM soybeans could not co-exist.

Great thoughts of Republicans

Political Wire - Anthony Culler (R), who is challenging Rep. James Clyburn's (D-SC) for Congress, referred to same-sex couples as "gremlins" and "bullies" in a Facebook post, according to The Hill. Culler decried same-sex marriage as "a pestilence that has descended on our society, against our will, by those in the courts and government that do not value the traditional family. Same sex couples that seek to destroy our way of life and the institution of marriage are NOT cute and cuddly but rather (for those of you that are old enough to remember the movie), Gremlins that will only destroy our way of life."

Loudoun County [VA] Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R) warned supporters in a fundraising email hat the advancement of gay rights may force businesses to implement "hiring quotas" for gay people, allowing LGBT individuals to "terrorize daycare centers, hospitals, churches and private schools."

What's happening

Some clinical thoughts on Ebola

James Risen on the mercenaries of endless war

70% Favor Legalizing Over-The-Counter Birth Control

Black brown alliance in Kansas affecting state's politicis

President Barack Obama, who didn't support same-sex marriage until May 2012, now says the Constitution guarantees the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples. 

Poll: Conservatives much more likely to vote

Washingon Times - Conservatives are twice as likely as their liberal counterparts to go to the polls Nov. 4. .

“Although overall turnout among the public is likely to be around 40 percent, 73 percent of those who hold consistently conservative attitudes are likely to vote in the midterm, as are 52 percent of those with mostly conservative views,” reports the Americans Trends Panel, a substantial new gauge of the upcoming midterm election by the indefatigable Pew Research Center.

“Voters on the left are less politically engaged this election: 58 percent of those with consistently liberal views and just 32 percent of those with mostly liberal attitudes are likely to turn out,” the research says.

The survey of over 3,100 Americans also finds vexed Republicans to be particularly motivated.

“Hostility toward the opposing party is a key marker of polarization and a strong motivator for voting, the analysis says, noting that 65 percent of Republicans with a very unfavorable view of the Democratic Party in the current survey are likely to vote. Forty nine percent of Democrats who have reciprocal feelings about the GOP are also likely to vote.

Good Stuff: Seattle's approach to drugs

ACLU - Seattle is trying something different.

Since 2012, the city's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program cuts out the criminal justice middleman. Instead of jailing people struggling with addiction, officers connect people directly with the treatment and services that can actually help them get sober.

Instead of wasting time and money with a court hearing and saddling people with a criminal record before they can access treatment and services, LEAD doesn't waste time. And unlike drug courts, LEAD participants who relapse are not threatened with jail time and expulsion from the program.

For decades, this country has been waging a failed war on drugs. Drug use hasn't gone down. Drugs are just as available as they used to be. Instead of solving our drug problem, we've become a society that seemingly disregards millions of lives – particularly the lives of black and brown people.

Although the majority of people who use and deliver drugs in Seattle are white, the black drug arrest rate was 13 times higher than the white drug arrest rate in 2006. Aggressive over-policing has ravaged communities. Large swaths of the population have been locked up. And billions of dollars have been wasted that could have been much better spent on interventions that could have actually changed the course of people's lives.

Drug addiction has become one of the many social problems that we've relegated to the criminal justice system. But as with homelessness and mental illness, handcuffs and jail cells haven't made things better and have cost much more than the treatment and services that can. It doesn't have to be this way. America can safely reduce our reliance on incarceration. Several states have reduced their prison populations while crime rates have dropped.

Addiction should not be a crime.

The woes of standardized teaching

This is one of the best analyses of standardized teaching that we've run acros
Jacky Boyd , Crunchy Moms -  To be fair, standardized testing does have some positives:
  • Pretesting.  A short assessment quickly assesses if students already know material.
  • Memorized facts.  What’s 7×8? Where’s the cell nucleus in this diagram? Standardized tests show memorization of facts.
  • Comparing scores.  Comparing scores has its place, but a student’s place within a class, school, state, or nation is less important than what student, parents, and teachers know about the student.
  • Cheap, compared to paying humans to double score complex assessments.
  • Less scoring error and bias.
  • Some students excel at this type of assessment.
Teachers can choose other assessments to evaluate progress, including: Essays; informal writing; presentations; portfolios; observations; discussions; practice problems; experiments; self assessments; reflections; and creating artwork, music, or machines.  Effective educators assess varying formality and format.
A sampling of the aforementioned assessments can foster the qualities listed below, all of which extensive standardized testing inhibits:
  • Collaboration.  On a standardized test, that’s cheating, but work in classrooms and work places is often collaborative.
  • Revision.  Standardized testing gives few opportunities to learn from mistakes.  It dismisses the tremendous merit in redoing work until it’s the best possible.
  • Curiosity.  Excepting for the Hermione Grangers out there, tests squash curiosity.  Furthermore, the prescribed scope and sequence disallows teachers to follow student curiosity.
  • Deep understanding.  Standardized tests cover set material.  Out of fairness to students, teachers must teach all that material before the test date, often resulting in breadth over depth.
  • Authentic learning situations.  Instead of writing, talking, or creating to learn, students repeat the same tasks to display what they have learned. Tests aren’t authentic learning situations, and thus do not mirror how students will utilize their learning to solve real problems.
  • Multiple perspectives.  Extensive testing teaches students to look for the one right answer, rather than explore possibilities.
  • Unmeasurable learning.  A standardized test will never measure if a teacher has challenged a student the most deeply.
Other problems with standardized testing:
  • A perfect test will never exist.  Test writers take years to write a standardized test, but even still, it will never fully be rid of all biases because it cannot adapt.
  • Snap shot of one day.  Maybe a student is distracted by a family situation, a runny nose, or the fidgety kid next to him.  Maybe a student masters the material a week, or day, or hour later.  That’s irrelevant to a standardized test.  The score is final.   While a teacher gives students multiple opportunities to show mastery, a standardized test is limited to the few minutes the child works on that particular question.
  • Special education concerns.  Standardizing assessment directly conflicts with special education students’ legal rights to tailor education to their needs.
  • Loss of differentiation and teacher autonomy.  To achieve high scores, some states and districts micromanage content through scripted lessons or Common Core aligned textbooks.
  • Funding and teacher evaluations.  How well students preform on one type of assessment shouldn’t affect a school’s funding or a teacher’s pay or job security.  Such connections only increase the anxiety and stress, and lead educators to make poor choices out of panic.  
  • Emotional cost.  High stakes testing causes anxiety and stress for students.  It is physically exhausting.  Then, add the negative emotions associated with poor performance.  While teens can own responsibility for failure, Kindergarteners should not.
  • Data mining.  I haven’t seen conclusive evidence data mining will occur with Common Core testing, but the possibility is scary.
  • Cost.  These tests need to be purchased by schools and are not cheap.  That money could be used locally for salaries, building improvements, or learning materials and programs.
  • Power.  A handful of companies make the tests, and these companies also make the textbooks.  Who are we letting choose the curriculum for our schools?  What authority do these individuals have and how are they held accountable for their work?
For all these reasons, I’m happy when standardized testing and I do not cross paths.  In a position that forced me to merely teach to a test, the real test would be of my integrity.  I’d be forced to become Mr Keating in Dead Poet’s Society: A teacher who stands up for students and true learning, but quickly becomes unemployed.

Links: Washington DC

The club: how Washington really works

TUNES FROM A DC MUSICAL: Sam & Kathy Smith, along with Becky Brown, wrote a musical revue of DC history that was performed by the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop in 1978. The Washington Times listed the show as one of the "Sure Things" for the week. Mayor Marion Barry attended one performance Unfortunately, no recording was made, but years later Sam made a rough recording of some of the tunes for a curiuous reporter.

THE ATTICA THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN One year after Attica, there was a prisoner revolt at the Washington, DC Jail during which the director of DC Corrections and a number of guards were taken hostage. But, unlike Attica, no one was killed. Perhaps this is why so few remember what happened on a night when judges, politicians, U.S. Marshals, prisoners, and hostages all gathered in Courtroom 16 to see what could be done - brought together by a single judge who wasn't afraid o talk when others wanted to shoot.
1960s & 1970s
1980s & 1990s
New century
DC Statehood

Pocket paradigm

There is a lusty tradition in American politics of citizens of disparate sorts, places, and status coming together to put power back in its proper place. At such times, the divides of politics, the divisions of class, the contrasts of experience fade long enough to reassert the primacy of the individual over the state, democracy over oligopoly, fairness over exploitation, and community over institution. This could be such a time if we are willing to risk it, and one of the soundest way to start is to trade a few old shibboleths for a few new friends. - Sam Smith


Journalism consists largely in saying "Lord Jones died" to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive. -- G. K. Chesterton

Why the Maine Greens should endorse a Democrat for governor

Sam Smith – With 37,000 registered voters – or close to 4% of the total – The Maine Green Independent Party could determine the outcome of this year’s gubernatorial race if it had the heart to do it. Unfortunately, the Green Party too often sees itself more as a conventional religion than a pragmatic political organization and thus has put faith ahead of works. To actually support a Democratic candidate has been seen as a betrayal of the party’s virtue and not to be considered.

This is, however, is in sharp contrast with a more successful period of third party politics in the 1880s and 1890s when parties like the People’s and the Populists saw putting the names of selected Democratic candidates on their ballots as part of a movement known as fusion politics. Back in 2008, David Morris explained how it worked in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
A little more than a hundred years ago, Minnesota and the rest of the nation allowed third parties to grow without simply being spoilers. The process is called fusion politics. Third parties can ally (fuse) themselves with major parties (or vice versa). In the 1880s and 1890s third parties like the People's Party and the Populist Party allied with the Democratic Party and won a number of elections. Which led the minority Republican Party, when it controlled state legislatures, to pass laws that banned fusion. One Republican Minnesota legislator was clear about his party's goal: "We don't propose to allow the Democrats to make allies of the Populists, Prohibitionists, or any other party, and get up combination tickets against us. We can whip them single-handed, but don't intend to fight all creation."

By 1907, fusion had been banned in 18 states. Today, it is legal in only seven states: Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina and Vermont.
Even today there are some precedents, one of which is benefiting the Green Party, as reported in the New York State of Politics:
[Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie] Hawkins yesterday picked up the support of a third New York City-based liberal Democratic Club – the Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform (based in Brooklyn).
“Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform is dedicated to endorsing candidates who support the average Brooklynite,” the club’s president, Raul Rothblatt, said in a statement released by the Hawkins campaign.

“We have straight-forward values: People should get paid fairly for their work. Right now, our state government seems more interested in enriching people who get overcompensated for their work.”

“The current governor’s policies are closer in line with the GOP than with our Democratic Party values.”

“We also feel the governor failed to live up to his campaign promises of fighting corruption. The failure of the Moreland Commission is just the most egregious example of why voters in Brooklyn are angry with Governor Cuomo.”
The PHDR endorsement comes on the heels of decisions earlier this week by the Village Independent Democrats and Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club – both Manhattan-based organizations – to support Hawkins.
Fusion politics is not permitted in Maine today, but nothing would prevent the Green Party’s steering committee or a coalition of Greens from endorsing Democrat Mike Michaud in return for his support on some key Green issues. And even without such formal endorsement, Maine Greens should realize that they could hold the key to this election if they care to use it. I, for one, intend to vote for Michaud and won’t feel any less Green for having done so. I just hope there are lots of others who feel the same way.

New Republic calls Review editor 'idiotic'

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2006 - The New Republic, purveyor of cheap paradigms to the Washington elite, has included some of your editor's comments on the current crisis in its "Idiocy Watch," described as "our attempt to keep up with all the dumb and outrageous things being said and written about America and the terrorists."

The words in question - "The World Trade Center disaster is a globalized version of the Columbine High School disaster. When you bully people long enough they are going to strike back," - were delivered in a speech to a Green Party conference.

For a two sentence summation of a half century of Middle East policy it's not all that bad. It certainly compares favorably to the deadly and disastrous advice the New Republic has been giving on the subject. Hear, for example, what comforting words NR's Martin Paretz had to say back in 1982. He advised Israel to deliver Palestine a "lasting military defeat" that would "clarify to the Palestinians in the West Bank that their struggle for an independent state has suffered a setback of many years." Then "the Palestinians will be turned into just another crushed nation, like the Kurds or the Afghans," and the Palestinian problem - which "is beginning to be boring" - will be resolved."

The New Republic staff, rather than describing as "idiots" those urging a rational response, could better use their time apologizing for their part in creating the crisis that America now faces. And while they're it, they might explain how those crushed Afghans came back to life.

October 19, 2014

What's happening

12% of the US population controls 60% of the Senate

Florida Supreme Court: Police Can't Grab Cell Tower Data Without a Warrant

Furious over the Philadelphia School Reform Commission's move to unilaterally cancel its teachers' contract, 3,000 people shut down North Broad Street on Thursday, vowing more disruptive action if the panel's action is not undone. 

How Burlington builds a sustainable community

Catholic bishops keep dissin' gays

USA Today - Catholic bishops rejected a landmark change in the rigid stance on gays and divorcees, revealing enormous gaps within the church at the end of a two-week meeting.

The synod's final statement failed to include remarkably conciliatory language revealed a week ago that would have welcomed the "gifts and qualities" of gay Catholics and called on pastors to "avoid any language or behavior" that could discriminate against divorced Catholics.

The failure to reach a consensus on broader-reaching language is a failure for the more tolerant tone Pope Francis has struck since taking the role of pontiff more than a year ago. Last year, the pope made waves when, in response to a question about whether gays could be good Christians, he asked, "Who am I to judge?"

The Vatican downplayed Saturday's developments, with Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi stressing at a briefing that the document — which sets guidelines for pastors to follow in their ministries — was a work in progress that could be tweaked and discussed over the next year.

Morning Line

In our moving average,  Romney has a 6 point lead over  Ryan, Huckabee, and Jeb Bush who are all statistically tied for second place. Ryan, Christie, Huckabee and Paul are all behind Clinton by single digits. Clinton has an easy lead among Democrats. It is possible for the GOP to pick up 19 electoral votes based on the current moving averages of polls, but in 2012 Obama won by 126 electoral votes.

DC police using unconstitutional spy device, may be spying on Congress

Jason Leopold, Vice-     Back in 2003, the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC was awarded a $260,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to purchase surveillance technology called Stingray — a contraption the size of a suitcase that simulates a cell phone tower and intercepts mobile phone calls and text messages.

The rationale behind the DHS grant to MPD and other law enforcement agencies was to help them secure new antiterrorism technology from private corporations. But the grant fell a little short, because the MPD couldn’t come up with the extra several thousands dollars it needed to train officers how to use and maintain Stingray — so the device sat unused in an “Electronic Surveillance Unit equipment vault” at the department for more than five years.

In 2008, the DC police decided to dust off and upgrade its Stingray tracking device after the department secured another federal grant. But officials appeared to no longer see it as a way to combat terrorism, fears of which had decreased significantly since 2003. Instead, they sought to use it for routine investigations involving drug trafficking and common criminals.

The details of the MPD’s use of Stingray have been shrouded in secrecy. Although there was suspicion the department was utilizing the technology, documentary evidence to support the notion never surfaced.

But through an open records request, VICE News obtained dozens of pages of purchase orders, invoices, and memos between the DC police department and Harris Corporation, the Florida-based company that manufactures Stingray, which confirms for the first time the technology is in use in DC....

The ACLU has heavily scrutinized law enforcement agencies’ use of Stingray devices over the past year, arguing that Stingrays seriously encroach on individual privacy rights: “When its used to track a suspect’s cell phone, [it] also gather[s] information about the phones of countless bystanders who happen to be nearby.”

In an op-ed published last June, Nathan Wessler, an attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said Stingrays were “initially the domain of the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies,” but that the use of the tracking device has now “trickled down to federal, state, and local law enforcement.”

To date, the ACLU has identified 44 law enforcement agencies in 18 states that use Stingrays. According to Wessler, what’s unique about the use of Stingrays in Washington, DC compared with their use in Sacramento, California or Tallahassee, Florida is the type of communications that are being swept up.

As Wessler told VICE News:
An inherent attribute of how this technology functions is that it sweeps in information about large numbers of innocent bystanders even when police are trying to track the location of a particular suspect. If the MPD is driving around DC with Stingray devices, it is likely capturing information about the locations and movements of members of Congress, cabinet members, federal law enforcement agents, and Homeland Security personnel, consular staff, and foreign dignitaries, and all of the other people who congregate in the District…. If cell phone calls of congressional staff, White House aides, or even members of Congress are being disconnected, dropped, or blocked by MPD Stingrays, that’s a particularly sensitive and troublesome problem.

Wessler said the Fourth Amendment rights of tens of thousands of DC residents are likely violated whenever DC police uses Stingray, which sends out a more powerful signal than a cell tower and forces all mobile devices to report back serial numbers and locations.

“It is very accurate when trying to track locations,” Wessler said.

The memo from the commander of the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division says the intelligence police gather through the use of Stingray “can readily be shared between MPD and our Team DC Federal partners (FBI, DEA, ICE, U.S. Marshals Service, United States Attorney’s Office) as well as our neighboring state and local law enforcement agencies.”

“Upon request, this equipment can also be used to assist these agencies with the location and apprehension of any of their targeted offenders,” the memo said.

Hints of anarchy