Tuesday Reads: A Little Bit of This and That

mishmash

Good Morning!

Texas has been experiencing really bad weather for the past few days. From the Houston Chronicle:

Texas storms leave multiple dead, 12 missing.

Recovery teams were resuming the search early Tuesday for 12 members of two families who are missing after a rain-swollen river in Central Texas carried a vacation home off its foundation, slamming it into a bridge downstream.

The hunt for the missing picked up after a holiday weekend of terrible storms that dumped record rainfall on the Plains and Midwest, caused major flooding and spawned tornadoes and killed at least eight people in Oklahoma and Texas. More than 1,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed in Texas, and thousands of residents are displaced.

Authorities were also searching for victims and assessing damage just across the Texas-Mexico border in Ciudad Acuna, where a tornado Monday killed 13 people and left at least five unaccounted for.

Scene from Houston last night

Scene from Houston last night

More on the flooding in Houston from the Chronicle: Heavy rains flood freeways, close schools, delays bus service.

Houston motorists woke Tuesday morning to swamped freeways and closed roads as heavy thunderstorms raked the region overnight, making the morning commute dangerous and even impossible for most.

The 610 Loop as well as Katy, North and South freeways were underwater in spots throughout the area. Other major roads blocked by high water include Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway near downtown.

No injuries have been reported, but dozens of vehicles were stranded in high water throughout the city. In many cases, the water came up to to the driver’s side windows of the abandoned cars, Other vehicles are almost submerged.

Firefighters with the Houston Fire Department were dispatched to several water rescues throughout the city. Areas along Brays Bayou near the 610 Loop were particularly hard hit with several rescues during the early morning hours Tuesday. Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway are closed.

According to the National Weather Service homes were reportedly flooded in the Larchmont subdivision about six miles southwest of the city early Tuesday morning. Some homes in Rosenberg were threaetened as more than three feet of water rose in the Greenwood subdivision a few hours before dawn Tuesday.

See some amazing photos posted on Twitter at News.Mic: 17 Photos of the Devastating Floods That Hit Houston. More photos at ABC 13. The Weather Channel is providing live updates.

Houston flooding

Houston flooding

NBC News reports that other states could be affected by the storms: Houston, Texas, Hit by Unprecedented Flooding; Seven States At Risk.

Flash-flood watches and warnings were issued across seven states early Tuesday as an unprecedented downpour of torrential rain triggered “extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening” conditions in Houston.

More than 30 million Americans were told to brace for dangerous thunderstorms — including flooding, hail and possible tornadoes — as meteorologists warned the weather that has centered on Texas and Oklahoma since Saturday could expand to other areas.

At least 12 people were still missing, eight people have been killed, and countless more evacuated amid the deluge that has inundated Texas and Oklahoma with record-breaking floods since Saturday.

In Houston, more than 80,000 people were without power and the flood waters closed roads including Interstate 10 and Interstate 45. Houston was among 24 counties where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on Monday.

I hope RalphB and his family are safe. Dakinikat could also be in the path of the damaging weather. New Orleans is expecting thunderstorms for the next few days.

In other news, there has been a shooting at a Walmart in Grand Forks, North Dakota–where the University of North Dakota is located. My Dad got his Masters degree there.

Scene outside Grand Forks Walmart early this morning

Scene outside Grand Forks Walmart early this morning

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: 2 fatally shot inside Grand Forks Wal-Mart; Air Force member involved.

The shooting occurred shortly before 1:05 a.m. in the supercenter store on 32nd Avenue, just east of Interstate 29, according to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) near Grand Forks.

Grand Forks police said officers discovered “multiple victims” inside the store and one of them was taken to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks for injuries that are not considered life-threatening.

The AFOSI said there were three people involved and one was an airman. The base is about 20 miles west of the store.

Neither police nor Air Force personnel released details about whether the airman was the shooter or one of the victims. There is also no immediate information about what prompted the violence, but Deputy Police Chief Mike Ferguson added, “the Police Department does not believe there is any further on-going immediate public safety risk at this time.”

There isn’t a lot of information about the incident as yet. From the Fargo Forum: 

In a press conference at the Grand Forks Police Department, Zimmel said there was no active shooting when officers arrived on scene.

Zimmel said at this time, police believe the shooter is among the dead. Only one person involved in the incident is believed to have had a gun, Zimmel said.

Police are still investigating the motive behind the shooting, whether it was targeted or random….

Andy Legg, who was in the store at the time, told a WDAZ reporter he heard “popping sounds” going off in the store and that he and a group of customers were herded to a section of the store by authorities. Legg said he and the group later exited the building passing a Walmart employee covered in blood. Legg says he’s not sure of the person’s condition but that it “didn’t look good.”

Shortly after 4 a.m., a police SWAT team, using a special robot, began searching a car in the parking lot.

Johnson

Remember Charles C. “Chuck” Johnson, the right wing a-hole and twitter troll? His account has once again been suspended by Twitter after he threatened activist Deray Mckessen. From re/code:

Notorious Twitter troll Chuck Johnson was placed in time-out Sunday — at least temporarily — and it looks as though the company’s new policy on violent threats was the reason.

Twitter suspended Johnson, who has a long history of Internet trolling, for what appears to be a threat against civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. Johnson tweeted this morning asking people to donate money for “taking out” McKesson, who responded, saying that he took Johnson’s comments as a “serious threat.”

The account suspension is nothing new for Johnson. But what’s worth noting is that this appears to be an example of Twitter’s new policy on threats coming into play. The company changed the policy’s wording last month so that it no longer included phrases like “direct” and “specific.” Essentially, those qualifiers were limiting the types of tweets Twitter could act upon.

Not anymore. This looks like the kind of threat that may have slipped through the system a few months back. So this is good for Twitter, a company that has struggled mightily when dealing with bullying and threats.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on Johnson’s suspension, so there’s no way of knowing how long he’ll be blocked from the service.

From Raw Story: ‘Hate is organized in America': Black activist fights back after death threats from pro-cop blogger.

In a statement to Re/code, Johnson accused Twitter of “censorship.”

“I was speaking metaphorically about exposing DeRay in much the same way Slate was speaking metaphorically when they talked about ‘taking out’ a Supreme Court justice,” he wrote.

But in an interview with CNN on Monday, Mckesson said that Johnson should have known better.

“For someone who considers themselves a journalist, I firmly believe that he understands the power of his words,” Mckesson explained. “And his words are his words. ‘Take out’ functions in a certain way. And if I got on any media outlet and said something to the effect of ‘take out the police,’ nobody would think that I was talking about an exposé.”

“I was proud that Twitter took the action to move so quickly, and remember that racism doesn’t exist only in the extremes,” he continued. “It’s not just slavery and the n-word. It functions in these subtle ways too. He, again, knew very clearly what he was doing by using this language.”

29-deray-mckesson-wolf-blitzer.w529.h529.2x

And from Pando Daily’s David Holmes: Here’s the remarkable letter Chuck Johnson’s attorney sent to Twitter threatening legal action.

For at least the fourth time in his sad, shameful, misogynist, racist career, Twitter has suspended the rightwing blogger Chuck Johnson….

…Johnson is outraged over the suspension, tweeting under a new account @citizentrolling– which a few minutes prior to my writing this sentence has now also been suspended — that Twitter is guilty of “censorship” and writing that the company’s enforcement of its policies exhibits a clear political bias against rightwingers like himself.

“Twitter doesn’t seem to have a problem with people using their service to coordinate riots,” Johnson wrote. “But they do have a problem with the kind of journalism I do.”

I’m struggling to know where to begin in describing the lunacy of Johnson’s argument. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t engage at all with Johnson who has failed to build a career through producing quality journalism or analysis and instead — in what must be an overwhelmingly sad discovery — has found that the only thing anyone will pay him for anymore is to spew hatred at the most vulnerable members of society, in particular rape victims. But his complaints raise some important misconceptions about Twitter, free speech, and who controls what can or can’t be said in the new digital content paradigm.

Now it appears that Johnson is threatening legal action against Twitter for loss of income that would otherwise be generated by his hateful tweets. Johnson emailed me the letter his attorneys sent to Twitter demanding the reinstatement of his accounts, attached in full below. What makes it so absurd is the notion that Twitter is somehow guilty of “censorship” or that the company owes him a living.

Read the letter at the Pando link.

Sigh . . .  When will “journalists” finally figure out that Hillary Clinton is a separate person from her husband and there is no reason for her to feel bound by decisions Bill Clinton made back in the 1990s?

Melinda Henneberger at Bloomberg Politics: Will Hillary Clinton Run Against Her Husband’s Welfare Legacy? I’m not even going to quote from the article. It’s just a rehash of 20-year-old events. Get a clue, Melinda. Hillary is not Bill, and over the past 20 years there has been a lot of water under the bridge. Hillary is not bound by things she or her husband said and did in the distant past.

Some Duggar updates:

Anna and Josh Duggar

Anna and Josh Duggar

Raw Story: GOP ally suggests criminal charges for police chief who released Duggar sex abuse report.

State Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) told KSFM-TV that Kathy O’Kelley, chief of the Springdale police, had harmed Duggar’s sisters and other girls he admitted to fondling as they slept in 2002, when he was 14 years old.

“The law to protect minors’ identities is not a suggestion,” Hester said. “So sad to see the person charged with protecting the community being so reckless and irresponsible. I believe it is unavoidable that the Springdale police chief should be terminated. She has re-victimized these young ladies.”

I guess Hester hasn’t heard of the Freedom of Information Act.

“From every indication I have, the chief and city attorney reluctantly did what they had to do to comply with the state (freedom of information) law,” said Dough Sprouse, the Springdale Mayor.

Hester, sponsor of an Arkansas bill similar to Indiana’s anti-LGBT “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” wondered whether other sex abuse victims should worry that O’Kelley would publicize their identities.

Like he cares even an iota about abuse victims. Give me a break!

Us Weekly: Anna Duggar Shared Cryptic Quote About Forgiveness Days Before Josh Duggar Molestation Allegations Surfaced.

Days before news broke of Josh Duggar allegedly molesting five girls back when he was a teen, the 19 Kids and Counting star’s pregnant wife Anna Duggar shared a cryptic quote about forgiveness with her Instagram followers.

“The three most beautiful and liberating words in the English language are these,” the mother of three wrote on May 17, quoting pastor Lon Solomon on her page. “‘I forgive you.'” (Solomon, a senior pastor at a Virginia megachurch, is the author of a book titled Brokenness: How God Redeems Pain and Suffering.)

Well, she apparently knew all about Josh’s history and still decided to have children with him.

Finally, from TMZ: Josh Duggar Cracks Molestation Joke. Dating Family Is What We Do!

Back in 2008 — long before Duggar’s molestation past came to light — he made a quip during an episode of what was then called “17 Kids and Counting.”

Josh describes a double date scenario with his then-fiancée Anna … he ended up going with 2 of his siblings.

Josh explains, “We chose Jana and John David. We thought why not, have a double date … We are from Arkansas!”

He then broke out in laughter.

Not so funny now …

Not funny then either, IMHO.

So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!


Another Military “Assault Prevention” Officer Investigated for Sexual Assault

military sex assault

This is a breaking news story.

First it was the Air Force sexual assault prevention office, now it’s the Army. From USA Today: Fort Hood assault prevention officer under investigation

WASHINGTON — A sergeant in charge of sexual assault prevention at Fort Hood is under investigation for sexual assault, the Pentagon announced Tuesday night.

The soldier, whose name has not been released, is being investigated for abusive sexual contact, pandering, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.

The soldier has been relieved of his duties and no charges have yet been filed, according to the Pentagon. He oversaw the program at the battalion level, a unit of about 800 soldiers.

The solider is being investigated for among other things forcing a subordinate into prostitution and sexually assaulting two others, according to a Capitol Hill staffer who has been briefed on the case and spoke about it on condition of anonymity.

“Forcing a subordinate into prostitution?” And this guy is in charge of preventing sexual assaults?! Wait, it gets worse.

Two senior Pentagon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation, also confirmed that the sergeant is being investigated for running a prostitution ring.

More from the AP:

The Army said a sergeant first class, whose name was not released, is accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.

He had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army’s 3rd Corps headquarters at Fort Hood when the allegation arose.

I’ll update in the comment thread if I get more information. Meanwhile, use this as an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: Targeting Citizens with Predator Drones while Failing to Protect and Nurture Children

Good Morning!! Yesterday Dakinikat wrote about predator drones being used by local law enforcement in North Dakota. According the the LA Times story Dakinikat referenced,

Michael C. Kostelnik, a retired Air Force general who heads the office that supervises the drones, said Predators are flown “in many areas around the country, not only for federal operators, but also for state and local law enforcement and emergency responders in times of crisis.” Yet Congress never approved the use of drones for this purpose.

…former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who sat on the House homeland security intelligence subcommittee at the time and served as its chairwoman from 2007 until early this year, said no one ever discussed using Predators to help local police serve warrants or do other basic work.

Using Predators for routine law enforcement without public debate or clear legal authority is a mistake, Harman said.

But the article makes clear that law enforcement types are slavering over the possibility of using the sophisticated surveillance technology offered by drones–and without a warrant.

Glenn Greenwald had more at his blog yesterday. He says that the so-called “approval” for the use of predator drones on U.S. soil came because Customs administrators included the words “interior law enforcement support” in their budget request! And since Congresspeople rarely read the bills they vote on, no one noticed. So now government agents can spy on us and track us whenever they want, apparently.

Greenwald:

Whatever else is true, the growing use of drones for an increasing range of uses on U.S. soil is incredibly consequential and potentially dangerous, for the reasons I outlined last week, and yet it is receiving very little Congressional, media or public attention. It’s just a creeping, under-the-radar change. Even former Congresswoman Harman — who never met a surveillance program she didn’t like and want to fund (until, that is, it was revealed that she herself had been subjected to covert eavesdropping as part of surveillance powers she once endorsed) — has serious concerns about this development: ”There is no question that this could become something that people will regret,” she told the LA Times. The revelation that a Predator drone has been used on U.S. soil this way warrants additional focus on this issue.

You’d better not be doing anything suspicious on your own property–like smoke a joint in the backyard or something. You could be spotted, raided, and thrown in jail in no time flat, all without a warrant.

Dakinikat sent me a link to this article at the NYT on the relationship between poverty and education: Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?

No one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.

No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s signature education law, did this by setting unrealistically high — and ultimately self-defeating — expectations for all schools. President Obama’s policies have concentrated on trying to make schools more “efficient” through means like judging teachers by their students’ test scores or encouraging competition by promoting the creation of charter schools. The proverbial story of the drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost comes to mind.

The Occupy movement has catalyzed rising anxiety over income inequality; we desperately need a similar reminder of the relationship between economic advantage and student performance.

As a developmental psychologist I can tell you there are tons of studies that show that socioeconomic status (SES) is related to many different variables. This is a fairly complex issue, because poor people are disadvantaged in so many ways. Poor families are more likely to have only one breadwinner–usually a mother–who is probably overwhelmed by stress and worry. That leaves mom with much less energy to spend talking to and reading to her children.

A researcher I know slightly, Catherine Snow of the Harvard School of Education, worked on a number of government-funded longitudinal studies that investigated this. The research showed that very young children who are talked to, encouraged to tell stories about things that happened to them, and are read to in an interactive way are better prepared for literacy and will perform better in school than children who don’t get those kinds of attention. Interestingly, they found that the best predictor of academic success is a child’s vocabulary.

Children in poor families may also be stressed by inadequate nutrition, abuse from stressed-out parents, and perhaps exposure to violence in their neighborhoods. This kind of stress leads to higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which in turn can cause all kinds of problems, including obesity.

Back to the NYT article:

The correlation has been abundantly documented, notably by the famous Coleman Report in 1966. New research by Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University traces the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families over the last 50 years and finds that it now far exceeds the gap between white and black students.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.

International research tells the same story. Results of the 2009 reading tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment show that, among 15-year-olds in the United States and the 13 countries whose students outperformed ours, students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts within every country. Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?

Why does the government ignore this research–much of which has been done with government funding? There has been no effort to deal with the source of the problem–poverty–just bullheaded efforts to force schools to meet unrealistic standards. The authors admit that many in the government want public schools to fail so that education can be privatized and turned into a profit-making corporate enterprise.

The authors offer some suggestions, but since none of our elected officials seems to want to deal with the problem of increasing poverty among children in this country, their ideas come off sounding pretty weak.

This article really hit home with me, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why America as a whole doesn’t seem to care about children. I’ve been trying to write about post about it, but have struggled to put my ideas into words. I might as well just put some of it down here. My thoughts were not only about education, but also about the problems of protecting children from abuse and exploitation.

Children are our future. It’s a cliche because it’s true. We spend billions of dollars on the ridiculous and dangerous Department of “Homeland Security,” and we do very little at the federal level to protect children from poverty (one in four young children in the U.S. live in poverty), violence, abuse, and exploitation.

We are destroying our system of public education by requiring standardized tests instead of teaching children critical thinking. We encourage profit-making charter schools instead of providing more support for public schools.

In my fantasy future government, the President would have a cabinet level department devoted exclusively to children’s issues. This department would focus on designing the very best possible educational system for young children. There would be a strong focus on early childhood education, and especially on educating parents about the best ways to foster future academic success for their children, based on serious research. The department would work with the NIH and NSF to provide research grants to study these educational issues.

In addition, the department could develop ways to deal with the rampant abuse of children–physical, emotional, and sexual–that takes place in this country. The need for this is obvious if you read the news regularly. Children are beaten, raped, and murdered in their own homes every day. They are sexually abused in schools and in organized activities by people who should be protecting and guiding them. And people who hurt and kill children generally receive lighter sentences than those who prey on adults.

What has prompted me to think about these issues is not only the recent high-profile sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, but the stories that have been breaking recently about child sexual abuse in the Hollywood entertainment industry.

Two men who worked with child actors were recently arrested, Jason James Murphy, who worked on the well-received movie Super-8, and Martin Weiss, a talent agent.

The arrests have led a number of former child actors to come forward and talk about being abused as children. Reuters covered the story last week.

First, it was the Catholic Church. Then Penn State. Now, a new child-abuse scandal in Hollywood is raising questions over the safety of minors in the entertainment business and sparking calls for new child-labor regulations.

Last week Martin Weiss, a longtime manager of young talent, was arrested on suspicion of child molestation after an 18-year-old former client told police he had been abused by Weiss 30 to 40 times from 2005 to 2008.

Weiss’ arrest came just weeks after it was discovered that a convicted child molester and registered sex offender under the name Jason James Murphy was working in Hollywood and helping cast children for movie roles.

TheWrap contacted a wide array of professionals and found a mix of surprise, and those that say that this type of abuse is an ongoing concern, pointing to abuse allegations over the years by actors such as the late Corey Haim and Todd Bridges.

Other former child actors who have talked openly about the problem are Paul Peterson who appeared on The Donna Reed Show, Allison Arngrim from Little House on the Prairie, and Corey Feldman, who appeared on Nightline in August to talk about his own abuse.

“I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia. That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry. … It’s the big secret,” Feldman said.

The “casting couch,” which is the old Hollywood reference to actors being expected to offer sex for roles, applied to children, Feldman said. “Oh, yeah. Not in the same way. It’s all done under the radar,” he said.

“I was surrounded by [pedophiles] when I was 14 years old. … Didn’t even know it. It wasn’t until I was old enough to realize what they were and what they wanted … till I went, Oh, my God. They were everywhere,” Feldman, 40, said.

The trauma of pedophilia contributed to the 2010 death of his closest friend and “The Lost Boys” co-star, Corey Haim, Feldman said.

“There’s one person to blame in the death of Corey Haim. And that person happens to be a Hollywood mogul. And that person needs to be exposed, but, unfortunately, I can’t be the one to do it,” Feldman said, adding that he, too, had been sexually abused by men in show business.

This Fox News article gets a little graphic, so skip over it if you prefer.

Another child star from an earlier era agrees that Hollywood has long had a problem with pedophilia. “When I watched that interview, a whole series of names and faces from my history went zooming through my head,” Paul Peterson, 66, star of The Donna Reed Show, a sitcom popular in the 1950s and 60s, and president of A Minor Consideration, tells FOXNews.com. “Some of these people, who I know very well, are still in the game.”

“This has been going on for a very long time,” concurs former “Little House on the Prairie” star Alison Arngrim. “It was the gossip back in the ‘80s. People said, ‘Oh yeah, the Coreys, everyone’s had them.’ People talked about it like it was not a big deal.”

Arngrim, 49, was referring to Feldman and his co-star in “The Lost Boys,” Corey Haim, who died in March 2010 after years of drug abuse.

“I literally heard that they were ‘passed around,’” Arngrim said. “The word was that they were given drugs and being used for sex. It was awful – these were kids, they weren’t 18 yet. There were all sorts of stories about everyone from their, quote, ‘set guardians’ on down that these two had been sexually abused and were totally being corrupted in every possible way.”

Yes, Virginia, child sexual abuse is common in every strata of our society. It’s not rare, and it’s time we got serious about dealing with it. If we had a Cabinet department of children’s issues, we could address the problem with public education programs. It worked for smoking and littering–why not try it with child abuse?

The department could request that the media show public service announcements to educate parents about nonviolent ways of disciplining their children and about the dangers of hitting or otherwise abusing children. I firmly believe that child abuse is the root cause of many of society’s ills–including domestic abuse, pedophilia, rape, murder, and serial murder. The majority of abused children don’t grow up to be perpetrators, but they often turn their anger on themselves, becoming depressed or suicidal or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

High profile cases like the Penn State and Hollywood casting scandal can often spur changes in societal attitudes. We should seize upon these issues to push Federal, state, and local governments to take positive action to improve the lives of American children.

Now I’ve rambled on too long and haven’t covered many stories. I’ll have to leave it to you to post what you’ve been reading and blogging about in the comments. If you made it this far, thanks for reading my somewhat incoherent thoughts.