Lazy Saturday Reads: Immigration Facts and Ferguson Fears

Vivien Leigh reads

Good Afternoon!!

 

President Obama’s executive action on immigration tops the news today. Ferguson is a close second. I’ll be focusing mostly on those two stories in this post.

Immigration

Before I get started, I want to point you to a new post by Darren Hutchinson of Dissenting Justice. It will give you some reality-based ammunition to deal with crazy wingnut friends, relatives, and Facebook and Twitter followers.

FACTS: President Obama’s Immigration Policies Are Absolutely LEGAL.

ATTENTION: Before you can argue that the government has violated a law, you must actually READ the law.

FACT: Congress has the exclusive power to pass laws regarding immigration (U.S. Const. Article I, Section 8, Cl. 4).FACT: Executive Power of the US is vested in the President, which means the President, not Congress, executes the immigration laws (U.S. Const. Article II, Sect. 1, Cl. 1)….

FACT: Consistent with the Constitution, the INA gives the Executive Branch (President, Homeland Security, Attorney General, and Secretary of State) the power to enforce immigration laws (8 U.S.C. Sect. 1103-1104)….

FACT: The Executive Can “Cancel” the Removal of Certain Deportable Individuals. 
The INA allows the Attorney General to cancel removal (deportation) or adjust the status of certain categories of undocumented individuals. The statute explicitly spells out the criteria for doing so. Thus, the statute provides an “intelligible criteria” for the Attorney General to follow. (8 U.S.C. Section 1229b(a)-(b))….

The Executive Can Give Temporary Protected Status to Certain Deportable Individuals. The INA also allows the Attorney General to grant “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) to deportable individuals from certain countries that the Attorney General has placed on a TPS list. As required by Supreme Court doctrine, the INA gives SPECIFIC guidelines – or an intelligible principle – for the Attorney General to follow when determining whether to give TPS designation to a country. The statutory factors include serious conditions in the individual’s home country, like armed conflict; natural disasters; a request for temporary protected status by the country; or “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that preclude the safe return of the individual, so long as TPS does not conflict with the interests of the US.
(8 U.S.C. Sections 1254a-i)

Those are the highlights. There’s more at the link. I plan to save Hutchinson’s post for future reference. I’m thinking of printing it out in case I get in a political argument with my brother over Thanksgiving dinner.

jimmy stewart reads in bed

Obama has been vilified from day one by people who obviously have never read the Constitution or any U.S. laws dealing with their various political hobby horses, and I’m sick and tired of it.

You all know I not a fan of Obama when he ran for president in 2008, and I still think he’s a conservative technocrat who is far to willing to support privatization of public services. But he is the President of the United States now. I support his efforts to reform immigration laws. He’s only taking executive action because Congress is full of stupid and irrational people who are too lazy or stubborn to cooperate with him. Sadly, the DC media is largely made up of wealthy, privileged people who got their jobs because through nepotism and/or because they attended elite universities and are too lazy or stupid to provide accurate information to the public. Therefore, people who don’t focus on politics like we do get false information from TV news or “journalists” who do not understand what journalism is.

Rant over.

A few more links on the immigration story:

Washington Post Wonkblog, Flow chart: Who qualifies for Obama’s immigration offer?

The president’s executive action would delay deportation for the undocumented mother of a child born in the U.S. on Thursday — but not an undocumented mother who gave birth here one day later. Similarly, the president has offered deferrals to children brought to this country by their parents before their 16th birthday — but not a few weeks after.

Such deadlines serve a purpose: They’re meant to discourage new immigrants from coming in the future, or to dissuade women already here from giving birth with the goal of securing deferrals. But they also show that the president’s action falls far short of a comprehensive solution. It offers, instead, a fragmented answer that will leave many immigrants disappointed.

Check out the flow chart at the link for details.

liz-taylor_steve-mcqueen

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, Bringing perspective to Obama’s move on deportations.

Now that President Obama has announced his executive action to temporarily shield millions from deportation, confirming the administration’s view that this move is well within his authority, the battle now shifts to a political fight over the policy itself, and over whether it violates “political norms.” Is this action so provocative an affront to Congress that it sets a precedent for future GOP presidents to use discretion to selectively enforce laws liberals like?

Embedded in the legal opinion that the Office of Legal Counsel released to justify the move is an important nugget that should, in theory, help take the steam out of the idea that this move is a flagrant violation of political norms.

Obama’s action temporarily shields from deportation the parents of children who are U.S. citizens and legal residents, and also expands the program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) to protect people brought here illegally as children. But it excludes parents of DACA recipients.

The reason for this offered by the OLC memo is that protecting parents of legal residents is in line with Congressional intent, as expressed in statute, while protecting DACA parents isn’t:

[T]he parents of DACA recipients are differently situated from the parents of U.S. citizens and LPRs [Legal Permanent Residents] under the family-related provisions of the immigration law. Many provisions of the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] reflect Congress’ general concern about separating individuals who are legally entitled to live in the United States and their immediate family members….But the immigration laws do not express comparable concern for uniting persons who lack lawful status (or prospective lawful status in the United States with their families…Extending deferred action to the parents of DACA recipients would therefore expand family-based immigration relief in a manner that deviates in important respects from the immigration system Congress has enacted.

This legal opinion probably precludes any future expansion of this program to cover parents of DACA recipients. And it underscores two things: First, that the proposal is heavily focused on providing relief from humanitarian hardship endured by U.S. citizens and permanent residents, a longtime intention of Congress, as expressed in statute. Second, it shows that the proposal’s legal rationale is tightly circumscribed to reflect that Congressional intent.

Follow me below the fold for much more . . .
Read the rest of this entry »


Wednesday Reads: Bang the drum, slowly.

d615f40c2c872220010ba12ab5f1cc89Good Late Morning

I have this “thing” set up so that I get an email every time Congress votes…for instance…

Yesterday’s Keystone Vote came through like so:

113 Congress – Session 2

On Passage of the Bill

S.2280
A bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 12:55PM
Roll Call Number: 280
Required For Majority: 3/5

Vote Result: Bill Defeated

Vote Counts
59 YES
41 NO
0 Abstentions

2d63249a437314c55c144c987624866eDemocratic Party: 14 YES, 39 NO, 0 Abstentions
Republican Party: 45 YES, 0 NO, 0 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

Now…it is just a little annoying sometimes…what with the same shit over and over.

Take a look at a few bills from the past couple days:

113 Congress – Session 2

On the Cloture Motion

S.2685
A bill to reform the authorities of the Federal Government to require the production of certain business records, conduct electronic surveillance, use pen registers and trap and trace devices, and use other forms of information gathering for foreign intelligence, counterterrorism, and criminal purposes, and for other purposes.

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 02:26PM
Roll Call Number: 282
Required For Majority: 3/5

DM2000072109:SAED:APR1956 - Drum Cover  ( Baileys Archives)Vote Result: Cloture Motion Rejected

Vote Counts
58 YES
42 NO
0 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 52 YES, 1 NO, 0 Abstentions
Republican Party: 4 YES, 41 NO, 0 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

 

Let me know if you see a trend.

113 Congress – Session 2

On Agreeing to the Amendment

H R 1422
Stewart of Utah Part A Amendment No. 1

DM2000080701:SAED:JAN1952 - Drum CoverVote Date: November 18, 2014 at 12:33PM
Roll Call Number: 523
Required For Majority: YEA-AND-NAY

Vote Result: Agreed to

Vote Counts
232 YES
184 NO
18 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 9 YES, 184 NO, 8 Abstentions
Republican Party: 223 YES, 0 NO, 11 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

2d654bf4406773286596c8342cf10a9bA couple more…why not?

113 Congress – Session 2

On Motion to Recommit with Instructions

H R 1422
EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 12:52PM
Roll Call Number: 524
Required For Majority: RECORDED VOTE

Vote Result: Failed

Vote Counts
195 YES
225 NO
14 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 194 YES, 1 NO, 6 Abstentions
Republican Party: 1 YES, 224 NO, 9 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

113 Congress – Session 2

On Agreeing to the Resolution

b80902d0fb68076e6590bba5eb63f1afH RES 756
Providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 1422) EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act; providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 4012) Secret Science Reform Act; and providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 4795) Promoting New Manufacturing Act

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 08:30AM
Roll Call Number: 522
Required For Majority: RECORDED VOTE

Vote Result: Passed

Vote Counts
227 YES
192 NO
15 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 0 YES, 192 NO, 9 Abstentions
Republican Party: 227 YES, 0 NO, 7 Abstentions

 

266ae38a2c7c71a48f17d62d9ccba459 The beat goes on…

113 Congress – Session 2

On the Nomination

PN1515
Leslie Joyce Abrams, of Georgia, to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 01:28PM
Roll Call Number: 281
Required For Majority: 1/2

Vote Result: Nomination Confirmed

Vote Counts
100 YES
0 NO
0 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 53 YES, 0 NO, 0 Abstentions
Republican Party: 45 YES, 0 NO, 0 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

0981187fbe709bdf799529ed4e2e5979Holy shit, how did she get through there?

But it isn’t all total opposite when it comes to party breakdown in the voting results.

113 Congress – Session 2

On Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass

H R 5162
An Act to allow a certain parcel of land in Rockingham County, Virginia, to be used for a child care center

Vote Date: November 17, 2014 at 01:54PM
Roll Call Number: 520
Required For Majority: 2/3 YEA-AND-NAY

Vote Result: Passed

Vote Counts
378 YES
1 NO
55 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 171 YES, 0 NO, 30 Abstentions
Republican Party: 207 YES, 1 NO, 26 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

1309b4e6df0c0b3b2bc0e452cc126e4aYou know, I don’t really care anymore. When it comes to the next two years…all these emails just tick off a familiar beat. Like a tribal drum banging away, spreading word of the doom ahead.

Mitch McConnell: I’m Not a Scientist—Except on Keystone XL Pipeline | New Republic

Mitch McConnell Is Not A Scientist, Except When He Is | Wonkette

McConnell’s looming apocalypse: GOP conservatives plan budget showdown – Salon.com

But the real article that got me going on all this shit was the headline on this one:

DM2001071603:SAED:COVER:JUN1951- Childen. (© BAHA)Republicans: Keystone pipeline down, but not out | Boston Herald

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising the new Republican majority will quickly resurrect Keystone XL pipeline legislation killed by Democrats, potentially setting up an early 2015 veto confrontation with President Barack Obama.

“I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone jobs bill early in the new year,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday, shortly after the bill fell one vote short of the 60 votes needed to advance. He was joined by incoming Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who said the fight wasn’t over.

46ab8a3cc89a6bd989f09e06a3cadb17Keystone “jobs” bill?

Give me a fucking break…

Republicans are likely to have enough votes to assure the bill’s passage in January, when they will have at least 53 seats — 54 if Cassidy wins the Louisiana runoff.

“If you look at new Congress, you can count four more (GOP seats) right away, and there may be others,” Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, the lead sponsor of the bill, said after the 59-41 vote Tuesday. “You can see we’re well over 60.”

Hoeven acknowledged that Republicans would need 67 votes to override a veto, but said one possibility is to include Keystone in a larger energy package that may not prompt a veto threat.

85ac030586abe19ad48cf7f5f8e6cae5The vote was one of the last acts of this Senate controlled by the Democrats. It is expected to complete its work by mid-December.

Cassidy, Landrieu’s Republican opponent, said Louisiana families “need better jobs, better wages and better benefits,” and the pipeline would provide them.

Democratic divisions were on vivid display in a bill that pitted environmentalists against energy advocates.

While Obama opposes the measure, likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has repeatedly refused to take a position. Most recently, her spokesman did not respond to two requests over the weekend to do so.

Ho hum…

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the measure is something “the president doesn’t support because the president believes that this is something that should be determined through the State Department and the regular process that is in place to evaluate projects like this.”

Ugh…You know, if he was still in the senate, I bet Obama would be the only abstention.

e7b7afacd23f608835ca7561648e8fdfThe rest of today’s links in dump format…since this post is so damn late. (And my internet is so damn slow.)

The Grinch Who Taxed the Internet | Commentary : Roll Call Opinion

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seems poised to take one last shot at changing how online purchases are taxed. Reid has signaled he’ll bring the unpopular Marketplace Fairness Act up for a vote by tacking it onto the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which is headed for certain renewal.

Passed in 1998 with bipartisan support, the ITFA bars states from taxing access to the Internet and imposing discriminatory Internet-only taxes. The legislation will expire on December 11 and pressure from the tech sector is on for its renewal. While the ITFA has proven enormously popular and indisputably successful, it has little to do with online sales taxes.

326fb5c8e368594019f91a51982eb5a5The 7 Numbers You Need to Make Sense of the 2014 Midterms – NationalJournal.com

Men and women’s politics were further apart in 2014 than they’ve been in any U.S. election in two decades.

That’s one of many hard truths laid bare by the midterms, which generated a huge collection of data—from election returns to exit polls to financial disclosures—to help us make sense of two things: what exactly happened in the November elections and what it means going forward.

The top lines are obvious: Republicans took the Senate, padded their lead in the House, and grabbed contested wins in gubernatorial races. But here are seven numbers that illustrate what was going on beneath the surface.

0fa6447567f97d0c8c0f35fef9f10805Beyond the Stereotyped South – NYTimes.com

Sometimes the hardest place to photograph is in your own backyard: When everything is familiar, it’s a challenge to make things look interesting. Yet, Tamara Reynolds has done just that in “Southern Route,” looking hard at the American South, which she calls home, and offering a searing, honest portrayal of the country’s most stereotyped region.

She knows that for some, the South evokes images of poverty and obesity, memories of racism and slavery, or words like “hillbilly” and “redneck.” The area that divided the country 150 years ago is stuck between pride and progress. Ms. Reynolds looks beyond these generalities to capture the genuine spirit of Southerners.

Although there is evidence of stereotypes, she said in her artist statement, “I have also learned that there is a restrained dignity and a generous affection that Southerners possess intrinsically.”

513a055353ac85270ff8bc12d970c6c2Take a look at those pictures at the link.

Can they do something about all these women coming forward about Bill Cosby raping them? Bill Cosby: Netflix postpones comedy special following Janice Dickinson’s claims star ‘raped me too’ – News – TV & Radio – The Independent

Another woman comes forward to accuse Cosby of rape | theGrio

The Grio story is terribly graphic.

Meanwhile, in news around the world:

03e64b3b9dafe343db093b50c324c339allAfrica.com: Gambia Must Stop Wave of Homophobic Arrests and Torture

The arrest, detention and torture of eight people since the beginning of the month as part of a crackdown on “homosexuality” by the Gambian authorities reveals the shocking scale of state-sponsored homophobia, Amnesty International said.

“These arrests took place amid an intensifying climate of fear for those perceived to have a different sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“This unacceptable crackdown reveals the scale of state-sponsored homophobia in Gambia. Intimidation, harassment, and any arrest based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity is in clear violation of international and regional human rights law. The Gambian authorities must immediately stop this homophobic assault”.

Amnesty International considers people who are arrested and detained solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to be prisoners of conscience. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.

74234567ed311d0961ecd9849952de73More at the link.

Japan’s 311 mph super maglev train takes passengers for run

Japan’s magnetically levitating maglev train, faster than Japan’s bullet train, is doing test runs with passengers, members of the public, in central Japan. The world’s fastest maglev train, the 311 mph (500 km/h) Series L0 (pronounced “L zero”) prototype, made its first public run.

The trains will enter service between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027, barring any setbacks, said Gizmodo. One hundred passengers traveled a 27-mile route between the cities of Uenohara and Fuefuki on the Shinkansen train earlier this month, reaching speeds of up to 311 miles per hour. The train’s use of maglev technology reduces friction. The Central Japan Railway Company is running eight days of testing for the experimental maglev. The Daily Mail said selection of those lucky enough to experience the trial runs will be by lottery. A total of 2,400 people will take the high-speed ride over eight days. Almost 300,000 people had applied for the passes, said the Daily Mail. As the video of a recent trial run indicated, guests saw the stats on monitoring screens and snapped away with their cameras.

When completed in 2027,said Katie Amey in the Daily Mail, “their exceptional speed capacity will cut the travel time by half, linking Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station with Nagoya in about 40 minutes, a journey which currently takes approximately 80 minutes.” The are expected to eventually consist of 16 carriages and carry up to 1,000 passengers at a time, she said.

2ce38884f4d88b3076350cdec7c2a133Geez…no thank you.

Italian police record a mafia oath ceremony for the first time – Europe – World – The Independent

Italian police have released video of recruits for the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate taking a loyalty oath – the first time such a ritual has been recorded, authorities claimed.

The footage was filmed secretly near a farmhouse in northern Italy, although the Carabinieri paramilitary police in Milan did not reveal how they were able to capture the ceremony without being discovered by the syndicate.

Police said the video shows a meeting of suspected mobsters in Castello di Brianza in northern Italy and that one of the recruits was just 17 years old.

The video also shows members taking a loyalty oath where they have to swear “under the splendor of the moon” and are reminded that traitors are expected to kill themselves and thus must keep an extra bullet on them at all times.

As four men huddle, one man repeats the loyalty oath: ”Right in this holy evening, in the silence of the night, under the light of the stars and under the splendour of the moon, I create the holy chain…the holy society.”

But did they get to record the secret handshake? /snark.

And finally…the photos for this post come from the African magazine, Drum.

Apartheid Exposed in Drum Magazine – Slide Show – NYTimes.com

Miriam Makeba posing for Drum Magazine

Miriam Makeba posing for Drum Magazine

Apartheid was an inescapable fact of daily life in 1950s South Africa. But when the staff of Drum magazine got to the Johannesburg offices, the feeling was of having ‘‘walked into a different world, a world outside South Africa,’’ says Jürgen Schadeberg, the art director there in the 1950s. Inspired by the American magazines Life and Look, Drum’s documentary portrayals of black urban life, arts, politics and culture were revolutionary. Some of those images will be part of a major exhibition that opens at the International Center of Photography this month called ‘‘Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life.’’ ‘‘It was dangerous and difficult work,’’ Schadeberg says, recalling how the secret police kept the magazine under surveillance. ‘‘What we tried to show was how unjust apartheid was.’’

405babfdb2772a28da080fc28671ae13

  • YEAR DRUM WAS FIRST PUBLISHED: 1951
  • PEAK CIRCULATION IN SOUTH AFRICA: 100,000
  • COUNTRIES IT HAS BEEN DISTRIBUTED IN OUTSIDE SOUTH AFRICA: NIGERIA, GHANA, TANZANIA, KENYA, UGANDA AND RHODESIA (NOW ZIMBABWE AND ZAMBIA

 

Well, that’s all folks!

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: A Little Bit of This and That

l-arlesienne-portrait-of-madame-ginoux-1888-1

Good Morning!!

I have a mixed bag of reads for you this morning–a little bit of politics, education, historical mystery, and science. The paintings and drawings included in this post are by Vincent van Gogh.

Last night President Obama announced that he’s sending 1,500 more troops into Iraq, supposedly  to serve as “advisers” who will train troops to fight the Islamic State. The Independent reports:

Barack Obama has authorised the US military to send up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq on top of the current total of around 1,400 to bolster efforts to combat Isis.

American soldiers would not take a frontline role, the White House said, but conduct “training missions” with Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers around Baghdad and Erbil.

The move comes less than a fortnight after the last British and American troops left Afghanistan and despite international condemnation of Isis’ atrocities, the public are still wary of another interventionist war.

The announcement had nothing to do with Tuesday’s election, according to “White House officials.” From the New York Daily News:

“It was really not driven at all the political calendar,” a senior White House official told reporters.

The official said that the decision to escalate the U.S. mission followed requests “over the last several weeks” by Pentagon officials, and political developments in Iraq.

Administration officials said the new deployment will expand the U.S. mission by placing American military advisors and trainers in western and northern of Iraq, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are directly fighting ISIS extremists.

Until now, U.S. troops have been mostly confined to Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Erbil.

The White House emphasized that American soldiers will not directly engage ISIS fighters.

And so, the endless war continues.

Old-Man-Reading

Today President Obama will officially announce his nomination of US Attorney Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. From NPR:

Lynch, whom the White House describes as “a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country,” will be introduced at the White House Saturday, alongside current Attorney General Eric Holder.

The plan comes after NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported Thursday that Lynch, a lead federal prosecutor in New York City, could be nominated within days.

“Lynch, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked her way up the ladder in Brooklyn,” Carrie said, “a huge office that handles everything from old-school Mafia busts to new forms of cybercrime.”

And from the LA Times, Attorney general pick Loretta Lynch would be first black woman in post.

President Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, the White House said Friday, a historic choice that would make her the first black woman to hold the post….

Obama will make the official announcement Saturday with Lynch and Holder at the White House before he leaves Sunday on a weeklong trip to Asia. The White House had originally planned to wait until Obama returned to Washington, but apparently changed its plans after numerous news organizations reported she was the likely pick.

The choice of Lynch reflects a typical middle-of-the-road path for Obama; she is a nominee who might be confirmed without great controversy if no fault is found in her resume. Liberals had pushed for Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, but he is unpopular with Republicans. Many in the legal community had hoped for scholarly Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr.

Let’s hope she gets confirmed quickly, while Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate. A little more about her:

Lynch is the rare U.S. attorney who has not sought the limelight in what is normally a high-profile job with political potential. She rarely gives news conferences or interviews and recently ducked a gathering with Justice Department reporters in Washington. Her reputation in liberal legal circles is as someone who is not politically sophisticated.

A relative unknown outside her district, she came to prominence in New York in the late 1990s as the supervisor of the team that successfully prosecuted two police officers for the sexual assault with a broomstick of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Three other officers were acquitted.

More recently, she has spent time in Washington as chairwoman of the attorney general’s advisory committee of U.S. attorneys, an The Novel Reader Van Goghinfluential job that brought her in close contact with Holder.

Diane Ravitch has an interesting piece at The New York Review of Books, The Myth of Chinese Super Schools. It’s a review of a new book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, by Yong Zhao.

On December 3, 2013, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced yet again that American students were doing terribly when tested, in comparison to students in sixty-one other countries and a few cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Duncan presided over the release of the latest international assessment of student performance in reading, science, and mathematics (called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA), and Shanghai led the nations of the world in all three categories.

Duncan and other policymakers professed shock and anguish at the results, according to which American students were average at best, nowhere near the top. Duncan said that Americans had to face the brutal fact that the performance of our students was “mediocre” and that our schools were trapped in “educational stagnation.”

He had used virtually the same rhetoric in 2010, when the previous PISA results were released. Despite the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandated that every child in every school in grades 3–8 would be proficient in math and reading by 2014, and despite the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, the scores of American fifteen-year-old students on these international tests were nearly unchanged since 2000. Both NCLB and Race to the Top assumed that a steady diet of testing and accountability, of carrots for high scores and sticks for low scores, would provide an incentive for students and teachers to try harder and get higher test scores. But clearly, this strategy was not working. In his public remarks, however, Duncan could not admit that carrots and sticks don’t produce better education or even higher test scores. Instead, he blamed teachers and parents for failing to have high expectations.

Duncan, President Obama, and legislators looked longingly at Shanghai’s stellar results and wondered why American students could not surpass them. Why can’t we be like the Chinese?, they wondered. Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.

still-life-french-novels

Like many other failed policies, the obsession with testing began under Ronald Reagan.

P0licymakers and legislators are convinced that the best way to raise test scores is to administer more standardized tests and to make them harder to pass. This love affair with testing had its origins in 1983, when a national commission on education released a report called “A Nation at Risk.”

President Ronald Reagan had hoped his commission would recommend vouchers and school prayers, but that did not happen. Instead, the report recommended a stronger curriculum, higher graduation requirements, more teacher pay, and longer school hours, as well as standards and testing at transitional points, like high school graduation. The main effect of the report was caused by its alarmist rhetoric, which launched a three-decade-plus obsession with the idea that American public schools are failing and that the way to fix them is to raise test scores.

And succeeding presidents have continued the “testing mania.” Ravich writes:

At this juncture comes the book that Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, members of Congress, and the nation’s governors and legislators need to read: Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao, born and educated in China, now holds a presidential chair and a professorship at the University of Oregon. He tells us that China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism. The imposition of standardized tests by central authorities, he argues, is a victory for authoritarianism. His book is a timely warning that we should not seek to emulate Shanghai, whose scores reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old. Indeed, the highest-scoring nations on the PISA examinations of fifteen-year-olds are all Asian nations or cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea, Macao (China), and Japan.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Will the book make a difference to U.S. political leaders? Probably not, but Ravich’s long review is well worth reading.

Vanity Fair has a fascinating article by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, authors of a 2011 Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Vincent van Gogh. In an appendix to the book, Naifeh and Smith included a summary of their research on the death of the famous painter. After years of study in the van Gogh archives, the authors suspected that the artist did not commit suicide, as is commonly believed, but was very likely killed accidentally by a teenage bully named René Secrétan.

Man reading van gogh

In 1890, René Secrétan was the 16-year-old son of a Paris pharmacist whose family summered in Auvers. In Paris, René’s lycée education admitted him to bourgeois society. In Auvers, it gave him license to bully. He said he modeled his behavior on his hero, Wild Bill Cody, whose Wild West Show René had seen in Paris the year before. He bought a souvenir costume (fringed buckskin, cowboy hat, chaps) and accessorized it with an old, small-caliber pistol that looked menacing but often misfired.

He found an easy target in the strange Dutchman named Vincent. By the time René arrived for the summer, Van Gogh was already the object of rumor and ridicule. He trudged through town with his mangled ear and awkward load, setting himself up to paint anywhere he pleased. He drank. He argued fiercely in an unintelligible tumble of Dutch and French.

Unlike René, whose father was a powerful figure in the summer community, Vincent had no friends. Using his brother Gaston, an aesthete, as his front man, René artfully slipped into the vacuum. He cozied up to the lonely painter at his café conversations with Gaston about art. He paid for another round of drinks. Afterward, René would mock the strange Dutchman to amuse his merry band of mischief-minded summer boys.

René let Vincent eavesdrop on him and his friends when they imported “dancing girls” from Paris. He shared his pornography collection. He even posed for some paintings and a drawing. Meanwhile, he conspired with his followers to play elaborate pranks on the friendless tramp they called Toto. They put hot pepper on his brushes (which he often sucked when deep in thought), salted his tea, and sneaked a snake into his paint box.

There it was, all in the files: the details mostly in a late-life narrative from the cowboy himself, René. But every detail checked out with the other eyewitness accounts from Auvers. And it didn’t say anything new, really. Vincent had faced similar bullying and ridicule in every place he ever painted.

And there was this: a long-neglected account by a woman from a distinguished Auvers family who had broken with the community omertà to say that Van Gogh was far from the wheat field at the time the fatal shot was fired. He was, according to her, on the road that led to the Secrétan family villa.

Of course the “experts” (Naifeh and Smith call them the “Flame Keepers”) came out of the woodwork to denounce the new theory. In response Naifeh and Smith asked a well known forensic expert, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, who testified at the trial of George Zimmerman, to analyze the evidence. Read the article to find out what conclusions he drew.

Finally a couple of science stories:

man-standing-reading-a-book-1882

From Discovery News, 9,300-Year-Old Bison Mummy Found in Siberia.

The still-furry beast is one of the most complete frozen mummies ever found. It literally freezes in time the appearance and anatomy of a steppe bison (Bison priscus), whose species went extinct shortly after the end of the Ice Age.

It’s been named the “Yukagir bison mummy,” after the region where it was found.

“The exceptionally good preservation of the Yukagir bison mummy allows direct anatomical comparisons with modern species of bison and cattle, as well as with extinct species of bison that were gone at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary,” co-author Evgeny Maschenko from the Paleontological Institute in Moscow was quoted as saying in a press release.

The remarkable specimen still has its complete brain, heart, blood vessels and digestive system. Some of its organs have significantly shrunk over time, but that’s to be expected given its advanced age.

The researchers, led by Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, conducted a necropsy on the remains. The investigation determined that the bison showed a relatively normal anatomy. A clue to its demise, however, is a lack of fat around its abdomen. This suggests that the bison died from starvation, but the scientists aren’t sure of that yet.

Compared to today’s bison in America, the Ice Age bison sported much larger horns and a second back hump. Steppe bison like this now-frozen one were commonly featured in Stone Age cave art, often shown being hunted by humans.

The Daily Mail article has a number of photos of the specimen and the researchers.

And from The Atlantic, a brief article on The Resurrection of the Dodo.

Alas, the poor dodo. All that remains of this extinct flightless bird’s legacy are a single complete skeleton and a synonym for “dimwit.”

But from those bones, researchers may now be able to recreate the 3-feet tall bird. Using a 3-D laser, paleontologists from the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts made the first ever full 3-D dodo scans. The team presented the scans for the first time Thursday at theSociety for Vertebrate Archaeology’s annual conference in Berlin.

The scans showed that dodos had kneecaps, which were previously unknown structures within the dodo, Live Science reported. Leon Claessens, lead author on the scanning mission, told Live Science that information gleaned from the scans will help provide insight into how the bird moved. The team will also look at the bird’s large jaw in order to better understand how it worked and what type of prey it caught.

So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Veteran’s Day weekend!


Thursday Reads: How Senate Democrats Blew It and Blamed Obama

NYC-Morning-coffee-shop

Good Morning!!

I’m still feeling incredibly depressed about Tuesday’s elections. It almost feels like I’m grieving over a death. Yesterday I was in shock. Today I’m feeling sadness mixed with some anger. How did this happen? Why did voters do this?

Just two years ago, President Obama was reelected decisively. Now midterm voters have elected Republicans, and not just in Congress. They’ve reelected far right governors in Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Ohio, and Maine; and they’ve put Republicans in state houses in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland!

Well there’s certainly no shortage of pundits and journalists willing to explain it all to us. Last night I read quite a few of these postmortem analyses. The main thing I learned was that it’s not just Republicans who hate Obama. Senate Democrats loathe him so intensely that they’ll cut their own throats to get back at him. So much so that Harry Reid sent his right hand man out to leak all the details to The Washington Post the weekend before Tuesday night’s devastating losses.

From Zachary Goldfarb at Wonkblog: Harry Reid’s top man tears apart the White House.

You almost never see this in politics. David Krone, the chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), launches a major attack on the White House in this blockbuster story by my colleagues Philip Rucker and Robert Costa….[The story] signals that the chilly relationship between President Obama and Senate Democrats is now entering a deep freeze.

Senate Democrats aren’t likely to care at all about Obama’s attempts to burnish his legacy in his final two years. They’re going to be laser-focused on winning the Senate back.

As he looks toward his final two years, Obama is looking toward a Congress with few friends, and many enemies, on both sides of the aisle.

So nice to know that Democratic Senators have our backs. Oh wait. It’s not about people or issues for them, just their own survival. And they’ll backstab the president and the American people in order to protect their precious domain. Why on earth did they fight tooth and nail to crown him as their nominee in 2008? It was most likely about campaign money then too.

Here’s the WaPo story in question, Battle for the Senate: How the GOP did it. The story is all about how Mich McConnell–who’s some kind of political genius according to Rucker and Costa–directed the Republican wipeout. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s the part about Krone and Senate Democrats:

After years of tension between President Obama and his former Senate colleagues, trust between Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue had eroded. A fight between the White House and Senate Democrats over a relatively small sum of money had mushroomed into a major confrontation.

At a March 4 Oval Office meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and other Senate leaders pleaded with Obama to transfer millions in party funds and to also help raise money for an outside group. “We were never going to get on the same page,” said David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff. “We were beating our heads against the wall.”

The tension represented something more fundamental than money — it was indicative of a wider resentment among Democrats in the Capitol of how the president was approaching the election and how, they felt, he was dragging them down. All year on the trail, Democratic incumbents would be pounded for administration blunders beyond their control — the disastrous rollout of the health-care law, problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, undocumented children flooding across the border, Islamic State terrorism and fears about Ebola.

“The president’s approval rating is barely 40 percent,” Krone said. “What else more is there to say? . . . He wasn’t going to play well in North Carolina or Iowa or New Hampshire. I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean that the message was bad, but sometimes the messenger isn’t good.”

Harry Reid with top aide David Krone

Harry Reid with top aide David Krone

And so Democratic candidates distanced themselves from Obama. And they lost bigtime. On Sunday Krone gave the Washington Post writers his notes from White House meetings and blabbed all the details, presumably in order to put the blame for losing the Senate on on the president.

With Democrats under assault from Republican super-PAC ads, Reid and his lieutenants, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), went to the Oval Office on March 4 to ask Obama for help. They wanted him to transfer millions of dollars from the Democratic National Committee to the DSCC, a relatively routine transaction.

Beyond that, they had a more provocative request — they wanted Obama to help raise money for the Senate Majority PAC, an outside group run by former Reid advisers.

Obama and his advisers worried about the legality of his doing this and how it could affect his reputation. Krone thought they were “setting the rules as they saw fit….For some reason, they hid behind a lot of legal issues.”

The disagreements underscored a long-held contention on Capitol Hill that Obama’s political operation functioned purely for the president’s benefit and not for his party’s, although Obama allies note that the president shared with the Senate campaigns his massive lists of volunteer data and supporters’ e-mail addresses, considered by his advisers to be sacred documents.

All year, Obama traveled frequently to raise money for the party. On June 17, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough offered to increase Obama’s appearances at DSCC fundraisers and to give donors access to the president through a “Dinner with Barack” contest and high-dollar roundtable discussions.

But Krone said McDonough told him there would be no cash transfer to the DSCC, because the DNC still had to retire its 2012 debt. On Sept. 9, Reid pressured Obama to take out a loan at the DNC to fund a DSCC transfer, Krone said. The DNC did open a line of credit and sent the DSCC a total of $5 million, beginning with $500,000 on Sept. 15 and following with $1.5 million installments on Sept. 30, Oct. 15 and Oct. 24.

None of that was good enough for Krone. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.

Please read the whole article. It describes how the Republicans developed their strategy and carried it out, and how Democrats f**ked up. Basically, Democrats ran away from Obama and tacked to the right, while Republicans tried to hide their real policies and ran to the left. The inside story on how the DSCC handled (or didn’t handle) Alison Grimes is in there too. I’m not going to excerpt from it, but here’s another must read WaPo article about Krone’s backstabbing: Midterm disaster rips apart awkward ties between Obama and Senate Democrats.

McConnell-Laughing

Sally Kohn writes at The Daily Beast, How’d the GOP Win? By Running Left. Kohn notes what we’ve all been talking about here. Voters put Republicans in office everywhere, yet they voted for questions on the minimum wage (Arkansas, South Dakota, Nebraska), required sick leave (Massachusetts); and they also voted down efforts to restrict abortion.

Across the issues, there’s evidence to suggest that Republican candidates won in part by masquerading as moderates, embracing the sorts of Democratic positions—or at least rhetoric—that enjoy wide voter support, even in red states. Republican candidates in states like Georgia and Virginia lamented high poverty rates. Victorious Republican Gov. Nathan Deal boasted of his progress in reducing the number of incarcerated black men in Georgia. Cory Gardner and others hammered on stagnant wages for the middle class. Republican James Lankford, who won the race for the Senate in Oklahoma, began a debate with his opponent by railing against income inequality.

Republican Bill Cassidy, who heads to a run-off for the Senate against Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, also lamented on the campaign trail that “income inequality has increased.” Thom Tillis, the Republican victor in the North Carolina Senate race, hammered Democrat Kay Hagan for supporting a sales tax that “harmed the poor and working families more than anyone else.” The winner in the Illinois governor’s race, Republican Bruce Rauner, suggested that taxes should target businesses instead of “low-income working families.”

“You’d expect to hear that kind of talk from Democrats, or maybe socialists,” wrote Slate’s William Saletan. But no, it was Republicans who managed to pull off this stunning electoral jujitsu in contorting their rhetoric to be entirely unrecognizable from their actual conservative policies and beliefs.

In other words, Republican candidates obscured their real positions (and they were trained to do it–see the WaPo article I wrote about above), while Democrats did everything possible distance themselves from President Obama and refused to defend even his successes. Alison Grimes wouldn’t even say she voted for him in 2012, even though she was an delegate at the Democratic convention!

I love this piece by Tommy Christopher at The Daily Banter, Democrats Ran Away From Obama and It Cost Them Dearly On Election Day.

The 2014 midterm election was never going to be kind to Democrats, with a map that favored Republicans to pick up at least some seats in the Senate, and a 2010 redistricting spree that practically guarantees a GOP majority in the House for, well, ever. But with an avalanche of good news about health care and the economy, and a Death Star-sized advantage on the issue of immigration reform, Democrats rolled up their sleeves and ran as hard away from that as they could. So, how’d that work out for them? [….]

Things really could not possibly have gone worse for the Democrats. When the dust settles, Republicans will probably hold 54 Senate seats, if Democrat Mark Warner (D-Va.) can hold off a surprise challenge by Ed Gillespie, and may also flip Angus King (I-Maine). If Warner falls, then there could be a 56-44 Republican majority. In the House, Republicans look to pick up 25 seats, and in the states, Democrats lost in solidly blue states like Maryland and Illinois.

It doesn’t look like walking around saying “Barack who? and convincing President Obama to break his promise on immigration did Democrats any good at all. But the exit polls from Tuesday’s election strongly suggest that those moves did manage to hurt Democrats in states they desperately needed to carry (well, all of them). While Republicans gained with there bread-and-butter, white voters, Democrats lost support from 2012 among black voters (-4%), Hispanic voters (-7%), unmarried women (-7%), and unmarried men (-6%). As CNN’s last pre-election poll indicted, Obama was not a factor for 45% of voters, while another 19% said their vote was cast in support of the president. Only 33% said they cast their vote in opposition to the president. That number is consistent with every poll ever of Republican opposition to Obama.

Read the rest at the link.

This headline at Politico is a laugh riot: Voters want the GOP to fix the economy. Good luck with that. Follow the link to read Politico’s take on that if you want to.

I do think 2014 voters were frustrated with the economy. Although there have been many improvements, they’ve been slow to develop and have mostly benefited the wealthy. Americans aren’t seeing their wages go up, and most of the news jobs are low-paying and/or part-time.

Obama had a chance at the beginning of his first term to be another FDR. He could have fought for a bigger stimulus and instituted programs New Deal-type programs by executive order, as Roosevelt did during the Great Depression. Instead, Obama chose to invest his mandate in passing a Republican health care bill.

Obama has learned a few things over the past six years, and he has done some good things; but the truth is he was never the liberal his clueless 2008 supporters thought he was. As I said many times back then, Obama has no real ideology that I can discover. He’s a DLC-type technocrat. Remember when he claimed he was never a member, but the DLC had his picture posted prominently on their website? He has always believed in privatizing government programs and he was never truly committed to women’s reproductive rights. Just go back and read his book, The Audacity of Hope. I read it in 2008, and I immediately knew that Obama was not my kind of Democrat. But he was elected by people who bought the book, but apparently never read it.

But that’s all water under the bridge. He’s the President of the U.S. now, and I’ve done my best to support him. He’s done some good things, and I think he’s done a lot more for me than Harry Reid and his pals in the Senate.

That’s it for me this morning. What stories are you following? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and I hope you’ll have a pleasant Thursday.


Wednesday Reads: Safe…or not safe?

8785b62ad983646e2a97b9280b2a18baGood Morning

Sorry this is so late, I just could not get it together this morning. Let’s continue to blame it on the DISH blackout of my favorite and sanity saving Turner Broadcasting channel: TCM.

Starting off this post with a contradiction…at least I think it is.

New York City’s public transport system ranked world’s safest for women | Al Jazeera America

Compared to 15 of the world’s largest capital cities, New York City has the safest public transportation system for women and Bogotá has the most dangerous, according to a survey published Tuesday by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 women in the 15 most populous world capitals and New York City to gauge women’s experiences with harassment and violence while riding public transportation. Survey questions focused on how safe women felt taking public transportation after dark, perceived risk and experience with verbal and physical harassment, the likelihood of bystander assistance and trust in authorities handling reported cases.

Cities were then scored and ranked in order of how safe their public transport systems are for women.

I always felt safe in the NYC subway system myself. But then that was back in 2000…while in DC a few years ago, that subway scared the crap outta me.

New York City led the pack with Tokyo and Beijing coming in second and third. Latin American cities ranked the lowest, with Bogotá being the worst, and Mexico City and Lima not too far ahead.

“Public transport is a nightmare,” explained Beatriz Rodriguez, 26, a domestic worker and resident of Bogotá. “Mobile phones are frequently stolen, and you can be a victim of harassment as I’ve been.”

“At first I thought what I felt against my back was a bag, but when I turned around, I realized it was a man rubbing up against me, exposing himself,” she lamented. “It’s disgusting to have to face this on your way to work.”

Safe transport

The survey’s findings reveal far-reaching consequences for women, especially those who live in low- or middle-income areas where they “tend to be more reliant on public transport and on non-motorized means,” said Mary Crass, head of policy at the International Transport Forum, an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) think-tank.

“When there is not frequent, reliable, accessible transport, this can affect women and anyone’s ability to access opportunity and notably employment in urban areas, which can make a big difference for women in particular,” she added.

In the United States, a record 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are the sole or primary source of income for the family. Single mothers, with a median annual income of $23,000, are more likely to be dependent on public transportation to commute to their jobs, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In New York City 30 percent of women surveyed reported having experienced verbal or physical abuse while riding the city’s public transportation system, while in Mexico City more than 60 percent reported such violence.

Now I am glad that AJam mentioned the NYC verbal abuse because this is the subject of my next link:

Watch This Woman Receive 100 Catcalls While Walking Around For A Day

What is the scariest part of this video…is the dude who follows her around for a while and does not let up.

 

Ten hours of walking around New York City, 100 catcalls and one huge problem.

Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative makes viral videos for a living and decided to use his craft to shine a light on street harassment, a pervasive issue affecting females around the world. Partnering with actress Shoshana B. Roberts and Hollaback, a nonprofit movement launched by activists to end street harassment, Bliss packaged his production as a PSA and offers viewers a different perspective on the problem.

“I felt like no one had ever really shown what it’s like to experience street harassment, more or less,” Bliss told The Huffington Post. “No one has — from a third-party perspective, on the outside looking in — been able to step back and look at it and watch it happen in front of them.”

81fdbbffe84fb39d68085fa029214848 His intent, he said, was to offer an “unbiased” look at what many women experience on a daily basis. “No messaging. No judgement. Let people view it as it is and talk about,” he added.

During filming, Bliss attached a GoPro camera to his back with a chest strap; he wore a yellow backpack, sunglasses and earbuds to look unassuming while walking five to 10 feet ahead of Roberts, who held two microphones in her hands. The actress wore simple clothes for the shoot: jeans and a black, crew-neck T-shirt.

“It was completely intentional that she wore what she wore,” Bliss said. “I wanted to fight back against the ‘Oh, she’s wearing blah blah blah.’ I didn’t want to give ammunition to anyone who may detract from this video. If she wanted to wear something that showed more skin, I definitely think that guys would have been louder and more vocal about this.”

Well, this is where you get down to it…

In 10 hours of walking, Roberts faced more than 100 instances of street harassment. Responses ranged from catcalls — “beautiful,” “sexy,” “God bless you” — to angry remarks.

“Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more,” one man said.

“You don’t wanna talk? Because I’m ugly? We can’t be friends, nothing? You don’t speak?” another persisted.

Multiple men walked with Roberts for extended periods of time. One remained silently at her side for five minutes.

“I was going in blind without expectations, especially as a guy,” Bliss told HuffPost. “I was very surprised that we had so much interaction, some of it being as aggressive as it was, [like] the stalking that was involved repeatedly from different groups. That blew my mind. It made me sick to my stomach. I felt something I had never really felt before, almost feeling as if I were in her shoes. I didn’t experience it personally, but I was in such close proximity to it.”

Roberts was not immediately available for comment when contacted by HuffPost, but she told Hollaback, “I’m harassed when I smile and I’m harassed when I don’t. I’m harassed by white men, black men, Latino men. Not a day goes by when I don’t experience this.”

Read more about the group called HollaBack:

Hollaback! You have the power to end street harassment  A non-profit and movement to end street harassment powered by local activists in 79 cities and 26 countries 

Since this post is so damn late, I will give you a quick trip through the rest of today’s links.

Bill Cosby has another actress giving details of abuse: Actress Details Years of Alleged Rape and Manipulation by Bill Cosby

How I wish Obama had never opened the Birth Control religious conscience can of worms…New birth-control rules found too demanding : SCOTUSblog

There is a shit can of worms that should be opened here in Georgia. I am talking about a whole mess of voters that seem to be totally fucked over: BREAKING: Court Refuses To Intervene In Case of 40,000 Missing Voters In Georgia | ThinkProgress

When I saw this next headline, I immediately thought of Brawndo…it’s got electrolytes. But seriously: BBC News – UN urges salt-damage solution to reduce threat to crops

About 2,000 hectares of fertile land are lost each day due to damage caused by salt, according to a UN analysis.

The total area now affected is equivalent to the size of France – 62 million hectares – which has increased from 45 million 20 years ago.

In other “science” news: Vaccine ‘success’ raises hopes of saving koalas from chlamydia  Now that is something hopefully one day we will have a vaccine for humans.

Sticking with science stuff: Pope reminds Catholics: evolution, Big Bang are true | Ars Technica

Pope Francis took a stroll yesterday from the Vatican guest house apartment where he lives over to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to unveil a bust of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The bust itself is rather Teutonically foreboding, but the most interesting bit of the unveiling came when Francis made a short speech to assembled members of the Academy. Though only a few paragraphs long (and currently available only in Italian; the translation below is unofficial), Francis’s remarks focused largely on evolution—still a controversial doctrine in parts of the worldwide Christian church.

“When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we are in danger of imagining that God was a magician, complete with a magic wand capable of doing anything,” Francis said. “But he was not. He created beings and let them develop in accordance with the internal laws that He has given to each one.”

Tell it to the right-wing bible thumping nuts who think the world is only 6,000 years old.

More at the link.

And hey…since we’ve got articles on birth control in humans…chlamydia in koalas…how about A battle for ant sperm?

8c3319c725bc93094041cefc7d5d811eAnd a little something on:  Spiders and transgenic goats lead to new silk road | Al Jazeera America

For scientists around the world, a multibillion dollar prize has been hiding from them in cobwebs floating just above their office desks.

It’s the hunt for spider silk — and an efficient way to make a lot of it — that has evaded researchers for the last two decades. But why are they after spider silk?

As Professor Randy Lewis of Utah State University puts it, it’s the “ancient biomaterial of the future.” Spiders have made their silk for 400 million years, and we’re just now beginning to realize just how strong, absorbent and useful it is.

The other story about the goats: From spiders to goats in search of silk | Al Jazeera America

There is a new app that looks like it will be beneficial: UK charity launches app to scan for suicidal tweets

And if you don’t feel suicidal now…take a look at this funny thread from TBogg: It’s a Very Duggar Wedding Registry: What would Jesus buy?

The reality that these Duggar people are out there, and they have a following…and that following votes, should be enough to get you tweeting things that could trigger that new Twitter app.

 

Finally, from Medievalist.net: The Re-medievalization of Halloween

From punkin chunkin to the newfound popularity of witches, the festival of Halloween is reaching back to the Middle Ages for its traditions. Is this a good thing for medievalists?

This is the question raised by M.J. Toswell in her paper, “The Dangers of the Search for Authencity? The Ethics of Hallowe’en”, which appears in the latest issue of Studies in Medievalism. The Western University professor examines how the popular North American holiday is in recent years seeking to give “a veritably medieval experience.”

 

Interesting read…give it a look.

All I know is that I am so ready to get medieval on DISH’s ass!

heracliteanfire:</p><br />
<p>‘Marginalia of the earliest known illustrated example of a witch on a broomstick in the 1451 manuscript, Hexenflug der Vaudoises (Flight of the Witches), authored by Martin Le France (1410-1461).’ (via Letterology: Halloween Heresy)<br /><br />
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<p><a href=heracliteanfire: ‘Marginalia of the earliest… | Illumanu

‘Marginalia of the earliest known illustrated example of a witch on a broomstick in the 1451 manuscript, Hexenflug der Vaudoises (Flight of the Witches), authored by Martin Le France (1410-1461).’ (via Letterology: Halloween Heresy)

 

Whats going on in your neck of the woods?


Friday Reads: Economic Anemia

Good Morning!

MuslinVoodooDoll-2Since I’m in the middle of revamping my course for Graduate Finance Students in International Finance and reviewing textbooks and the usual stuff, I thought I’d focus on the economy for the morning.

One of the most awful results of the Reagan years has been the creation of mainstream paranoia over policy using  data evident from the scientific method, intellectuals and academics that spend years researching and learning theory and empirical evidence, and the idea that government can’t ameliorate issues through policy but is somehow a potential enemy of the governed.

This kind of paranoid drivel used to be the realm of militia types like Clive Bunday and John Birchers like the Koch Brothers and father.  It had no place in mainstream discourse until Reagan started pumping up the idea that poor people game the government and the government games every one else.   Its now spread to Christian extremists, the NRA, and most of the Republic Party.

Let me give you the latest example of someone who is possibly going to be a Senator from Iowa.  Joni Ernst is doing the Sharon Angle thing of declaring any government issue she doesn’t like her potential enemy and any one supporting that view as a potential target of her nice little gun that she carries with her everywhere. 

Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, said during an NRA event in 2012 that she would use a gun to defend herself from the government.

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Ernst made the remark a little more than a month after gunman James Holmes allegedly killed 12 people and injured 58 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Ernst’s campaign did not respond to The Huffington Post’s request for comment about the remark on Wednesday evening.

Earlier this year, Ernst released an ad in which she points a gun at the camera and vows to “unload” on Obamacare.

We’ve also experienced this massive attempt to rewrite secondary school textbooks and curricula to reflect the deeply held philosophical and religious views of these folks rather than theory or empirical evidence brought about by hundreds of years of research and scholarship.  This also ignores primary documents that show just the opposite to be factual.

But, facts be damned, there’s children’s minds to warp.  Biased ideas are not at the center of legitimate academic pursuit. Folks that follow agendas tend to live at the edges of universities and most departments are quite embarrassed by them. I spent time in a department where one research professor’s favorite pursuit was proving that iqs and brain sizes among varying races were the reason for underachieving groups in an economy.  All DNA evidence shows that race is a social construct but this guy spent a life time trying to show the relationship between brain sizes of races and incomes and jobs.  So, most time when you see folks that believe this stuff, they reside some where on the fringes.  However, since the Reagan years, there’s been a major attempt by right wing religious zealots to teach propaganda and there’s been a rather significant increase in the level of ignorance on things from incoming freshmen.

This is happening even in economics where you would think that paranoia about “communism” would’ve gone away since the fall of the USSR.  Not true, however.  They prefer to fear imagined boogey men and to set up  imagined fairy tale rescuers over doing policy that’s be proven effective in years of empirical study.

The standards’ authors are clearly fans of the free enterprise system, consistently emphasizing the advantage of American capitalism over other structures.

For example, the high school standards state that students should be able to “understand how the free enterprise system drives technological innovation and its application in the marketplace.” The middle school standards clearly promote free enterprise capitalism over other economic systems, saying that students should be able to “compare and contrast free enterprise, socialist, and communist economies in various contemporary societies, including the benefits of the U.S. free enterprise system.” Finally, the standards connect capitalism with the conservative ideal of limited government, asking students to be able to “explain why a free enterprise system of economics developed in the new nation, including minimal government intrusion, taxation, and property rights.”

It really takes very little time spent in economics to realize that political constructs are not economic constructs. For example, the United States economy was founded on Mercantilism which began with monopolies, charters, grants and largess of royalty and aristocracy.  The concepts of Capitalismimages (3) and of Communism had the same roots and they were a lot more philosophical than ever real.  Even, now, we have a modified market system.  There has never EVER been a “free market” system or “communism” in an economic sense.  Socialism is just one end of a modified market system and still relies heavily on private ownership of the majority of factors of production.  Most facets of government policy are to make a market behave closer to a free market model because it can’t possibly d0 so under one factor, characteristic, or situation that exists. I mean really, who wants to leave the market for uranium to the free market?  That’s just an extreme example.

The problem is that dogma has overtaken reality among folks that now find themselves in office.  It’s bad for the country.  It’s bad for business. It’s bad for nearly every one.  The one thing that’s becoming abundantly clear since the Clinton Presidency and definitely during the Obama Presidency is that the Democratic Party is the party of Wall Street and Big Business.  It’s not the Republicans.  No where is this more evident than economic reports written by the private sector.  Today’s Republicans scare the shit out of big business and finance.  The last few battles to keep the federal government and the deficit funded has nearly caused market meltdowns twice. You also don’t see them complain about increasing the minimum wage or decreasing the current level of income equality.  NO REALLY.   This means Chris Christie is really going to have some ‘splaining to do over this statement. 

Labor Secretary Tom Perez on Thursday panned New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s comments that he’s “tired” of the minimum wage debate.

“Chris Christie’s got his head in the sand if he’s getting tired about the minimum wage,” Perez said according to Bloomberg Politics.

President Barack Obama and Democrats have led the push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, and the issue has made its way onto the campaign trail this year.

“Chris Christie needs to talk to his economists, who will tell him that 70 percent of GDP growth is consumption,” Perez said Thursday.

The criticism came just days after Christie said he was “tired of hearing about the minimum wage” at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference on Tuesday.

“I really am,” the Republican governor and potential 2016 hopeful said. “I don’t think there’s a mother or a father sitting around the kitchen table tonight in America saying, ‘You know, honey, if our son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all of our dreams would be realized.'”

“Is that what parents aspire to for our children?” Christie asked. “They aspire to a greater, growing America, where their children have the ability to make much more money and have much great success than they have, and that’s not about a higher minimum wage.”

Before the Labor secretary chimed in, the remark drew fire from other Democrats, and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest even quipped during a briefing Wednesday that people living on a minimum wage are those who are really tired.

Christie also used his time at the podium to make a 2016 prediction.

“I am convinced that the next president of the United States is going to be a governor,” Christie said. “We’ve had this experiment of legislating .. and getting on-the-job training in the White House. It has not been pretty.”

voodoo-doll-670So, this kind’ve talk is really making the economists of Wall Street and of huge corporations very nervous.  They’re quite aware that today’s Republican Party is tanking the economy.

Even though Republicans depict themselves as the party for business and banks, it turns out that the GOP’s economic policy is detrimental to their bottom lines and continued existence; particularly rising costs and stagnant wages since the Bush-Republican Great Recession. What both bankers and retailers really want instead of tax cuts, deregulation, and more Republican austerity and budget cuts are better incomes for all Americans that will lead to increased consumer confidence and greater purchasing power to trigger higher business profits. What they have learned after thirty years of “trickle-down” is that the trillions of dollars taken by the 1%, especially since 2009, have failed miserably to stimulate the economy. Instead, they demand more buying by the masses that Wall Street firms and analysis of 65 of the nation’s top retailers claim will only happen with, as President Obama preaches, growing the economy from the middle-out.

For example, in a report last month titled Inequality and Consumption, Morgan Stanley economists said, “Despite the roughly $25 trillion increase in wealth since the recovery from the financial crisis began, consumer spending remains anemic. Top income earners have benefited from wealth increases but middle and low income consumers continue facing structural liquidity constraints and unimpressive wage growth. To lift all boats, further increases in residential wealth and accelerating wage growth are needed.” Republicans completely disagree and either resist consideration of raising the minimum wage or promote abolishing it altogether. According to the Republicans, increasing income inequality must continue and it is crucial that they convince the population that no wage is too low. It is a belief the Koch brothers espouse but it is rapidly losing favor in circles whose survival depends on a population of consumers.

Standard and Poor’s (S&P) rating agency concurred with Morgan Stanley’s economists in their August report, How Increasing Income Inequality Is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, And Possible Ways To Change The Tide, and strongly advised the federal government to create “a path toward more sustainable growth, that in our view, will pull more Americans out of poverty and bolster the purchasing power of the middle class. A rising tide lifts all boats…but a lifeboat carrying a few, surrounded by many treading water, risks capsizing.” To “lift all boats,” S&P suggests a “high degree of rebalancing” that includes increased “spending in the areas of education, health care, and infrastructure to help control the income gap that, at its current level, threatens the stability of an economy still struggling to recover.” Contrary to wisdom of real economists concerned with America’s economic survival, Republicans across the country have been laser-focused on their austerity crusade to cut spending on education, infrastructure, and healthcare including the cruel heartlessness of refusing free Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Despite the call from both banks and businesses to increase the minimum wage and spending on essentials for a robust recovery, congressional Republicans have obstructed and outright blocked each and every attempt by the President and Democrats to stimulate the economy. Despite trailing every developed nation on Earth in infrastructure, Republicans consistently refuse the President’s calls to increase spending on desperately-needed infrastructure repairs including roads, bridges, public buildings, and sewers that numerous economists, including some highly respected conservatives, say is crucial for job-creation, increased consumer spending, and a vibrant recovery. Increased consumer confidence, and spending, is something all economists agree is for the good of the country’s economy but can only happen if incomes rise for the majority with higher wages and more well-paying jobs.

I’ve said this a million times but it’s true.  If you have an economy that’s 70% reliant on consumer spending for growth and 99% of the population has stagnant to falling real income, you’re going to run into trouble.  Especially since a huge part of that 99% spends high levels, all of, or beyond black-voodoo-dolltheir income and wealth levels.  Years and years of evidence has shown that consumers are the real job creators.  No business hires workers if no one is buying their goods and services.  Rich people–especially with some of the horrid changes we’ve had in the tax code during the Dubya years–are spending more and more of the income and wealth on gambling paper for paper profits.  This does not create anything of value in a real economy but it sure creates asset bubbles and the potential for financial meltdowns.   One has only to survey retailers to figure out the relationship between incomes of the middle and working classes and their bottom lines and their hiring plans.

Former Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon, whose company had seen consumer traffic drop for six straight quarters and same-store sales drop for five quarters, explained in July 2014 that “we’ve reached a point where it’s not getting any better but it’s not getting any worse—at least for the middle (class) and down.” Kip Tindell, CEO of the Container Store, put retailers’ feelings best when he said, “consistent with so many of our fellow retailers, we are experiencing a retail ‘funk.’” The culprit is obvious: low wage and income growth for the middle class. Median household income in 2013 stood 8 percentage points below its 2007 prerecession level.

The simple fact of the matter is that when households do not have money, retailers do not have customers. The failure of incomes to keep up with the growing cost of college, child care, and other middle-class staples leaves even less money for retail spending. A previous analysis by the Center for American Progress shows that this so-called “middle-class squeeze”—stagnant incomes and the growing cost of middle-class security—leaves the median married couple with two kids with $5,500 less to spend annually on food, clothes, and other essentials that retailers sell.

Or, as officials of J.C. Penney—whose sales fell 9 percent in 20136—put it when listing the risks to its stock value: “the moderate income consumer, which is our core customer, has been under economic pressure for the past several years.”

Moreover, retail spending—which includes spending on everything from clothing to groceries to dining out—has broad implications for the entire economy since it accounts for a large fraction of consumer spending, which itself makes up 70
percent of U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP.

Even Walmart is concerned even while not paying living wages, not providing good benefits, and not creating an environment where a worker feels secure about his/her future.  Now the weird thing is that fringe economists are still overly scared about inflation and high taxes.  These things, however, are not at the top of any one’s concerns that would be invited on any Fox News program.   Here’s a headline from Forbes: “Want a Better Economy? History Says Vote Democrat!”.  In 2012, a number of books evaluated the results of the economy under Democratic vs Republican administrations.  The results are startling.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is attributed with saying “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.“ So even though we may hold very strong opinions about parties and politics, it is worthwhile to look at historical facts. This book’s authors are to be commended for spending several years, and many thousands of student research assistant man-days, sorting out economic performance from the common viewpoint – and the broad theories upon which much policy has been based. Their compendium of economic facts is the most illuminating document on economic performance during different administrations, and policies, than anything previously published.

The authors looked at a range of economic metrics including inflation, unemployment, corporate profit growth, stock market performance, household income growth, economy (GDP) growth, months in recession and others. To their surprise (I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Goldfarb) they discovered that laissez faire policies had far less benefits than expected, and in fact produced almost universal negative economic outcomes for the nation!

From this book loaded with statistical fact tidbits and comparative charts, here are just a few that caused me to realize that my long-term love affair with Milton Friedman‘s writing and recommended policies in “Free to Choose” were grounded in a theory I long admired, but that simply have proven to be myths when applied!

  • Personal disposable income has grown nearly 6 times more under Democratic presidents
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 7 times more under Democratic presidents
  • Corporate profits have grown over 16% more per year under Democratic presidents (they actually declined under Republicans by an average of 4.53%/year)
  • Average annual compound return on the stock market has been 18 times greater under Democratic presidents (If you invested $100k for 40 years of Republican administrations you had $126k at the end, if you invested $100k for 40 years of Democrat administrations you had $3.9M at the end)
  • Republican presidents added 2.5 times more to the national debt than Democratic presidents
  • The two times the economy steered into the ditch (Great Depression and Great Recession) were during Republican, laissez faire administrations

The Obama economy is actually surprisingly good given that a large number of good economic policies have not been enacted due to Republican political kung fu.images (4)

It was no joke on Thursday when I asked Austan Goolsbee, a pretty fair amateur comic, to rattle of key economic indicators that are trending in very positive ways right now.
“Jobs created. Weekly U.I (jobless) claims. Unemployment rate. Auto Sales. Gas Prices,” said Goolsbee, former head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and a onetime winner of the annual “D.C.’s Funniest Celebrity” contest.

And, yet, as a headline in Politico.com also noted Thursday, “Economic Anxiety Dominates 2014.” So what’s really and truly up? What explains the disconnect between seemingly very strong numbers and the lack of love for Obama and the Democrats?

“You can’t brag about the economy because people can’t feel it,” said Thomas Bowen, a Chicago-based Democratic political and policy consultant.

“I’m sure (some) Democrats have polled this: ‘The recovery isn’t working for you.’ That’s why they’re not running on the economy improving.

Not long after, I was driving past a state unemployment office along a rather somber commercial strip on Chicago’s Northwest Side. The parking lot was full. And then I mulled the folks I know working part-time involuntarily or sticking with jobs they don’t especially like out of fear of the limited alternatives.

“You’re talking about indicators in the last six months,” said Bowen. “But look at the start of the recession until today. We’re just getting out of the hole from jobs losses. And the jobs aren’t the same. They’re not higher paying construction jobs.” “Not all indicators equate with average folks,” said Anna Greenberg, a Washington-based Democratic pollster.

“Wages and salaries are stagnant,” she said. “Yes, the stock market is up and the jobless rate down. But the cost of living is up and you may not have more money.”

images (5)So, a lot of economists like me remain very confused.  It’s not like there’s not support by people and businesses for good policy like infrastructure projects, improving the terms of student loans so more folks can access higher and continuing education, and a reasonable minimum wage.  The cities and states that have raised the minimum wage are even those that are doing well among states.   States that have raised their minimum wages have better job growth.

New data released by the Department of Labor shows that raising the minimum wage in some states does not appear to have had a negative impact on job growth, contrary to what critics said would happen.

In a report on Friday, the 13 states that raised their minimum wages on Jan. 1 have added jobs at a faster pace than those that did not. The data run counter to a Congressional Budget Office report in February that said raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as the White House supports, could cost as many as 500,000 jobs.

The Associated Press writes:

“In the 13 states that boosted their minimums at the beginning of the year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January through June. The average for the other 37 states was 0.61 percent.

“Nine of the 13 states increased their minimum wages automatically in line with inflation: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Four more states — Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — approved legislation mandating the increases.”

The AP notes: “[The] state-by-state hiring data, released Friday by the Labor Department, provides ammunition” to the camp in favor of raising the minimum wage.

“Economists who support a higher minimum say the figures are encouraging, though they acknowledge they don’t establish a cause and effect. There are many possible reasons hiring might accelerate in a particular state.

” ‘It raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster,’ said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The job data ‘isn’t definitive,’ he added, but is ‘probably a reasonable first cut at what’s going on.’ “

So, it just appears that there’s a huge portion of the United States electorate and elected that would rather live in their dream world of imaginary beings and dogma than have their lives made better by using what we know and what we’ve learned.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads

man-reading-newspaper

Good Morning!!

So much has been happening in the news for the past couple of weeks, it’s hard for me to decide what to write about.

I guess I might as well begin with the latest breaking outrage–the attack on Canada’s Parliament yesterday.

Reuters reports: Canada’s parliament attacked, soldier fatally shot nearby.

A gunman attacked Canada’s parliament on Wednesday, with gunfire erupting near where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking, and a soldier was fatally shot at a nearby war memorial, stunning the Canadian capital.

The gunman in the parliament building was shot dead, and Harper was safely removed in incidents that may have been linked to Islamic militants.

Witness accounts indicated the man who shot dead the soldier guarding the National War Memorial in central Ottawa, went on to attack the parliament building minutes later. Canadian police said however they could not “at this point” confirm it was the same person….

Witnesses said a flurry of shots were fired after a gunman entered the parliament building, pursued by police.

The assault took place very near the room where Harper was meeting with members of his Conservative party, a government minister said.

“PM (Harper) was addressing caucus, then a huge boom, followed by rat-a-tat shots. We all scattered. It was clearly right outside our caucus door,” Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement told Reuters.

The shooter was later identified as “Michael Joseph Hall, 32, a convert to Islam who was using the name Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.”

On Monday, there had been another incident in Quebec in which a man “deliberately drove a car into two soldiers.” One of the victims died and the other was injured. The suspect, Martin Couture-Rouleau, who was shot and killed by police, was among about 90 people who were being monitored by the Canadian government as possible domestic terrorists.

CNN has a background article on the events in Canada, Canadian shooting: What we know — and don’t know — a day later; and here’s another from The Globe and Mail: Attack on Ottowa: What We Know So Far. One more story from Fox News, Pal says Ottawa gunman wanted to go to Middle East, seemed ‘mentally ill’.

4127~Gromit-Reading-PostersWhite House Fence Jumper Intercepted by Guard Dogs

Back in the USA, there was another White House fence jumper last night about 7:30 ET. From The Washington Post, Another man jumps White House fence, is apprehended on lawn by K-9 squad.

A man jumped the White House fence Wednesday night and was taken into custody after being bitten by a guard dog, officials said, just weeks after another fence jumper made it deep into the executive mansion amid a series of security failures.

Secret Service agents and K-9 units quickly apprehended the latest fence jumper, who authorities identified as Dominic Adesanya, 23, of Bel Air, Md. He was taken to a hospital with injuries from a dog bite, and charges against him were pending, authorities said.

Two of the Secret Service dogs — named Hurricane and Jordan — were taken to a veterinarian and treated for minor bruising they suffered during the incident, according to agency spokesman Edwin Donovan. “Both K-9s were cleared for duty by the veterinarian,” Donovan wrote in an e-mail….

Adesanya has been charged with two counts of assault on a police officer — a charge that stems from his attack on the dogs — along with one count of making threats and four counts of resisting and unlawful entry, Donovan added. All charges except for resisting and unlawful threats are felonies; Adesanya was unarmed at the time of his arrest.

It’s a good thing the dogs were there; they seem to be better at apprehending crazy people than Secret Service agents. A couple more links:

ABC News, Alleged White House Fence Jumper Accused of Kicking Dog.

CNN, Latest White House fence jumper has mental problems, father says.

Cockney CaineBackpage.com and the Indiana Serial Killer

Yesterday, NW Luna posted a link from the Seattle Times about a lawsuit against Backpage.com, Backpage.com asks high court to throw out lawsuit.

A lawyer for Backpage.com told the Washington Supreme Court on Tuesday that a lawsuit filed by three young girls who were sold as prostitutes on the website should be thrown out because Backpage didn’t write the ads, so it is not liable.

But the victims’ lawyer said Backpage doesn’t have immunity under the federal Communications Decency Act because the website markets itself as a place to sell “escort services” and provides pimps with instructions on how to write an ad that works, making Backpage a participant in the largest human-trafficking website in the U.S.

The justices plan to rule on the case at a later date….

Suggesting they might be skeptical about Backpage’s argument, the justices asked lawyer Jim Grant about the website’s content.

“Your client wouldn’t say with a straight face that ‘escort service’ doesn’t mean something else most of the time?” Justice Steven Gonzalez asked.

Justice Charles Johnson asked whether this was an “ostrich issue.”

“We escape liability if we stick our head in the sand and not pay any attention — as long as you don’t affirmatively contribute?” Johnson asked.

Backpage.com is where recently arrested Indiana serial killer Darren Vann found his last victim. The Washington Post reports:

On the Internet, 43-year-old Darren Deon Vann went by the name “Big Boy Appetite.” On the Chicago-centric landing site for Backpage.com, which has become the king of online sex ads, he apparently thought he could be anonymous.

That all changed Monday when Vann, a convicted sex offender,was charged with murdering a woman. Police said they are investigating his alleged role in the killings of six others whose bodies police say he helped find in abandoned homes dotting Gary, Ind., over the weekend.

It’s unclear how many of Vann’s apparent victims were targeted using Backpage, but it was his final act — finding his victim through classifieds on the site — that led police to his doorstep, authorities said.

Like many sex-crime victims whose services were openly advertised on the Internet (sometimes unwillingly), the dead northwest Indiana women seemed to share the commonality that they “might be less likely to be reported missing,” said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, according to the Chicago Tribune. Of the seven women found with Vann’s help — some of them long dead — only one, 35-year-old Anith Jones, had been reported missing.

Police said Vann found the most recent woman, 19-year-old Afrika Hardy, on Backpage a week before he allegedly killed her. He had met her, according to police, by responding to one of the hundreds of ads for “body rubs,” “escorts” or “adult jobs” that populate the site.

An update on the police investigation of Vann and his crimes: From AP via ABC News, Police Track Indiana Slaying Suspect’s Movements.

Investigators are using the cellphone records of an Indiana man already charged in the slayings of two women to pinpoint his movements after he told police he liked to check on the status of bodies he’d previously stashed after a fresh kill, authorities said.

Illinois law enforcement officials told The Associated Press Wednesday that Darren Vann, 43, may have traveled to Chicago’s south suburbs between the time 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy’s body was discovered Friday in Hammond, Indiana, and Saturday when Vann was arrested in nearby Gary. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation.

Indiana police say Vann, a convicted sex offender, has confessed to killing Hardy and six women whose bodies were found over the weekend in abandoned houses in Gary. He has been charged with murder in the deaths of Hardy and 35-year-old Anith Jones, whose body was found Saturday in Gary.

Yesterday, at his arraignment, Vann refused to respond to the Judge’s questions.

A judge ordered Vann be held in contempt of court Wednesday when the former Marine refused to even acknowledge his name during an initial court hearing in Hardy’s slaying.

Magistrate Judge Kathleen Sullivan asked Vann if he understood the reason for the hearing but he just stared back silently.

“Mr. Vann, are you choosing not to take part in this hearing?” Sullivan asked the shackled Vann, who was flanked by two Lake County Jail guards at the lockup in Crown Point.

Sullivan urged Vann’s public defender, Matthew Fech, to tell his client “that he stays in jail the rest of his life until this hearing takes place.” Fech urged Vann to speak, but he again offered no response. Sullivan found Vann in contempt and said she would schedule another initial hearing for next week.

Apparently, Vann was upset because there were so many media people in court. Hey, court hearings are open to the public. When you murder a lot of people, reporters show up. I guess Vann doesn’t understand that he’s no longer a private citizen.

To Kill a MockingbirdSome updates on responses to the Ebola situation . . .

Boston.com, US to Track Everyone Coming From Ebola Nations.

All travelers who come into the U.S. from three Ebola-stricken West African nations will now be monitored for three weeks, the latest step by federal officials to keep the disease from spreading into the country.

Starting Monday, anyone traveling from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will have to report in with health officials daily and take their temperature twice a day.

The measure applies not only to visitors from those countries but also returning American aid workers, federal health employees and journalists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the new step Wednesday.

CDC Director Tom Frieden said monitoring will provide an extra level of safety. Passengers already get screened and temperature checks before they leave West Africa and again when they arrive in the United States.

‘‘We have to keep our guard up,’’ Frieden told reporters on a conference call.

A few more links on Ebola:

WaPo, Dallas nurse Amber Vinson free of Ebola virus.

Newsweek, Ebola’s Missing Vaccine: Europe Is Being Caught Unprepared by the Deadly Outbreak.

Forbes, America Is Beating Ebola: Every Patient Taken To An Elite U.S. Facility Has Survived.

martha-holmes-actress-buff-cobb-reading-comic-books-at-homeMore interesting news stories, in no particular order, links only

Reuters, NOAA employee charged with stealing U.S. dam information.

Buzzfeed, Conservative Cardinal Who Clashed With Pope Francis Confirms He Has Been Ousted.

Eonline, See Bloody Photos From Bristol Palin’s Drunken Fight in Alaska.

Sweden has been looking for a mysterious submarine for the past week or so: Sweden gets two new sightings, as hunt for undersea intruder goes on.

Reuters, Special Report: Traffickers use abductions, prison ships to feed Asian slave trade.

ABC News on University of North Carolina Chapel Hill academic fraud report, Probe: UNC Academic Fraud Was ‘Shadow Curriculum’ (faculty were involved for decades in giving breaks to athletes).

ABC News, The Hilarious Moment When a Guy Told Obama ‘Don’t Touch My Girlfriend’ (I don’t see it as hilarious; it’s part of a pattern of disrespect toward this President).

Crooks & Liars, Conservative think tank say women should stop being worried about date rape and date rape drugs.

Discovery News, 45,000-Year-Old Man Was Human-Neanderthal Mix (how will the fundies deal with this?).

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.