Monday Reads

washington's birthdayGood Morning and Happy President’s Day!

Some of you have a long weekend so I hope you’re enjoying it!  Here’s some news to think about today.  Republicans are trying to intimidate the nonpartisan and highly respected CBO after it showed yet another one of their tax schemes for their donor corporations does exactly the opposite of what Republicans say it will do. So, we’ve got yet another example of trying to suppress the studies since the facts don’t match the memes.

Last month, another non-partisan agency, the Congressional Budget Office, released an analysis showing that one of the GOP’s favorite corporate tax ideas would end up pushing jobs overseas. Again, instead of reexamining their ideas, Republicans are attacking the messenger:

The Congressional Budget Office is defending a recent report on how U.S. multinational corporations are taxed, after a top Republican criticized the analysis as biased. […] “This report purports to provide an even-handed review of different policy issues related to the taxation of foreign source income,” [House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave] Camp (R-MI) wrote to [CBO Director Doug] Elmendorf last month.

However, a closer analysis of the report reveals that it is heavily slanted and biased in favor of one specific approach to the taxation of foreign source income – and relies heavily on sources that tend to support that conclusion while ignoring sources that support a different conclusion,” he added.

Elmendorf defended the report, saying it “presents the key issues fairly and objectively and that its findings are well grounded in economic theory and are consistent with empirical studies in this area.”

The GOP’s idea — known as a “territorial” tax system — would permanently exempt U.S. corporations from paying taxes on profits they make overseas. CBO found such a system would result in “increasing incentives to shift business operations and reported income to countries with lower tax rates.”

A horrifying tale of treatment of homeless women comes from a Florida woman who went undercover to learn more about the experience.  Alternet has some details but be sure to read her account that’s written in a local magazine.  Florida has one of the highest populations of homeless and many women and children are among their ranks.

Renee Miller, a  Tallahassee woman who works with a Christian group that helps the homeless, went undercover to check out a local shelter after hearing reports of abuse. She claims that immediately upon arrival she was sexually propositioned by a staff member:

He said, “Okay, well here is my number. Call me and we can hook up later tonight.”

Did I just get propositioned by a staff member? I was infuriated but did not want to break my cover.

I answered, “Nah, man, I just need some food and some sleep.”

“You don’t want to sleep in there. It’s dangerous. You can come sleep at my place. We can stop at McDonald’s.”

Seriously, a staff member – a person with some authority – was propositioning me – no, better yet, PREYING on a woman he KNOWS is in a vulnerable situation. A woman comes to The Shelter to escape the insecurity of the streets, not to be thrown to the wolves. Now I know why he let me stay and kicked the older woman out. He didn’t want to get in her pants.

I wanted to stall him so I asked for a drink of water. He came back with his own half-drank bottled water for me.

He propositioned me again. He said, “It’s not safe in there for women. You are better off coming home with me. I get off at 11:45. Just meet me in that parking lot over there.”

I wanted him to leave me alone so I told him I would go with him later.

He asked me to be discreet and don’t tell anyone I was going.

Eventually, she got so creeped out by the staffer that she called police to safely escort her out, she says.

Here’s the link to Renee’s first hand account.

LincolnThe Economist explains the links between the US’s declining upward mobility and the incredible differences between the amount of monies and time spent on early childhood education in other countries and the US.

But it is most acute in America. Back in its Horatio Alger days, America was more fluid than Europe. Now it is not. Using one-generation measures of social mobility—how much a father’s relative income influences that of his adult son—America does half as well as Nordic countries, and about the same as Britain and Italy, Europe’s least-mobile places. America is particularly exposed to the virtuous-meritocracy paradox because its poor are getting married in ever smaller numbers, leaving more children with single mothers short of time and money. One study suggests that the gap in test scores between the children of America’s richest 10% and its poorest has risen by 30-40% over the past 25 years.

American conservatives say the answer lies in boosting marriage; the left focuses on redistribution. This newspaper would sweep away tax breaks such as mortgage-interest deduction that help richer people, and target more state spending on the poor. But the main focus should be education policy.

Whereas most OECD countries spend more on the education of poor children than rich ones, in America the opposite is true. It is especially bad at early-childhood education, which can have a big influence on results later (see article): only one four-year-old in six in America is in a public pre-school programme. Barack Obama has increased pre-school funding, but deeper change is needed. Because the school system is organised at the local level, and funded mainly through property taxes, affluent areas spend more. And thanks to the teachers’ unions, America has been far less willing than, say, Sweden to open its schools to choice through vouchers.

In higher education stiff fees in America mean that many poor children never get to university, and too many of those who do drop out. Outdated affirmative-action programmes should give way to schemes to help students based on the poverty of the applicant rather than the colour of his skin.

As for the rich strivers, there is nothing that you can, or should, do to stop people investing in their children, but you can prevent them from unfairly adding to their already privileged position. For instance, standardised tests were supposed to favour the brainy, but the $4.5 billion test-prep industry, which disproportionately caters to the rich, indicates that this is being gamed. Intelligence tests should be more widely used. The other great unfairness has to do with the preferences that elite American universities give to well-connected children, either because their parents went to the university themselves or because they have given money. An educational institution should focus on attracting the best people, and then work out how to finance the poorer people in that category.

A new computer program has been developed to reconstruct ancient, dead languages.

Researchers have created software that can rebuild protolanguages – the ancient tongues from which our modern languages evolved.

To test the system, the team took 637 languages currently spoken in Asia and the Pacific and recreated the early language from which they descended.

The work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Currently language reconstructions are carried out by linguists – but the process is slow and labour-intensive.

Dan Klein, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said: “It’s very time consuming for humans to look at all the data. There are thousands of languages in the world, with thousands of words each, not to mention all of those languages’ ancestors.

“It would take hundreds of lifetimes to pore over all those languages, cross-referencing all the different changes that happened across such an expanse of space – and of time. But this is where computers shine.”

A Brit professor specializing in colonial studies compares the life and portraits  of US Slaves portrayed in two recent movies to history.  Those would be, of course, Django Unchained and Lincoln.   It’s an interesting read from AJ.

American slaves and ex-slaves are portrayed by Spielberg as a bunch of nicely dressed Black soldiers, who are nothing but secondary characters in the background of a much bigger stage and plot, where Lincoln, William Seward, Thaddeus Stevens and other white men define their futures without much input from them. The absence of Douglass, a consummate abolitionist whose opinions were always heard and on occasion supported by Lincoln is a historical calamity that excludes probably the most significant African-American protagonist altogether from a history he helped to write.

In Tarantino’s world, on the other hand, slavery and race are exhibited through the lens of violence, blood and death. Django is a slave with attitude and panache. While in Lincoln white men fight for and against slavery mostly in civilised manners and in sanitised quarters, here they are killed left, right and centre, and in true Tarantinesque style, their blood splatters everywhere. More importantly, much more importantly, this is the main difference between these two films. The protagonist of Tarantino’s film is a black man, a slave.

Django Unchained has been criticised because of its violent content, especially considering the recent shootings that have taken place in the US. However, that should not take away credit from Tarantino who, in my opinion, chose an honest path when he decided to portray American slavery as it really was – a nasty, violent business.

Those who find Mandingo fighting or a slave being killed by dogs revolting should know that violent instances like these were by no means extreme or extraordinary events. Across the Americas and on a daily basis, African slaves and their descendants were subject to punishments like these, and to some that were probably even worse.

Environmental groups marched on Washington to convince Obama to nix the Keystone Pipe Line.

The pipeline would bring fossil fuels from Canadian tar sands fields to the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists are painting Obama’s upcoming decision as the litmus test for whether he plans to make good on recent comments about tackling climate change.

Activists at Sunday’s rally said approving the pipeline would taint Obama’s record on climate change. They said they hoped the demonstration would give the president the will to nix Keystone, even when a majority of both the House and the Senate want it built.

“His heart is there. The question is can we change the politics enough so he can do what he knows is right. And I believe that he will,” Van Jones, a former Obama adviser, told The Hill.

The politics surrounding the project are formidable.

So, that’s a few tidbits to get us started today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?