Lazy Caturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

It’s a winter Saturday, a good day to stay in a comfy bed for awhile, relax, and catch up on the latest news. So let’s see what’s happening out there today.

First up, the all-important weather forecast. I know you won’t be surprised to learn there are more winter storms on the way. From the Weather Channel: Winter Storm Maximus Brings Snow, Ice to Midwest, South, East, Rockies Through Monday.

Winter Storm Maximus, the 13th named storm of the winter season in the U.S., will have deposited a wintry mess from coast to coast by the time it is finally over Monday.

This storm will have multiple waves of snow, sleet and freezing rain sweeping west to east across the country.

First, snow will taper off over parts of the southern and central Rockies. A few additional inches of snow are expected over the mountains of Colorado and northern New Mexico. This storm will drop snow in the west, parts of the South and Midwest and then move into upstate New York and Northern New England. It’s not yet clear what we’ll be getting in the northeast, but right now we are expecting a warm weekend, and the storm shouldn’t interfere with the Super Bowl tomorrow.

another wave of wintry precipitation kicks off early Sunday in the Southern Plains, spreading to the Ozarks and the Mid-South region Sunday afternoon, then sweeping quickly through the Tennessee Valley, Appalachians and East Sunday night and Monday.

Snow accumulations look most likely in a stripe from northwest Texas into parts of Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virgina, and Virginia with several inches of accumulation possible. Parts of northwest Texas and southern Oklahoma near the Red River could measure up to around six inches of snow.

“Maximus” will be closely followed by Winter Storm Nika, which will bring “widespread” snow and ice to the Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast. Tomorrow is Ground Hog Day, but whether or not the sleepy rodent sees his shadow, it looks like winter is going to continue unabated.

In Georgia, where people are still trying to recover from their state government’s failure to prepare for a winter storm that had been predicted for two days beforehand, investigators are still trying assign blame for the massive f&ck-up.

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From the Atlanta Journal-Contitution: Storm debacle ‘case study’ of emergency management failure.

After two inches of snow turned Georgia into a national punch line, the state’s top disaster responder was cast as one of the debacle’s chief enablers. But the performance of state emergency management director Charley English is only part of larger-scale breakdown of the emergency management system, records and interviews reveal.

Records show there were failures up and down the line before and during Tuesday’s storm.

The performance of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency Tuesday is “a case study in how things can go badly,” said Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

It’s also a case study in what can happen if you keep electing Republicans who hate government and don’t believe it has a role in public problem-solving. According to the article, Gov. Nathan Deal and other government officials had plenty of warning that the storm was going to hit Atlanta, yet they did next to nothing to prepare. Read all the gory details at the link.

At The National Memo, Joe Conason provides an example of how government has worked well in two blood-red states: Universal Pre-K? Ask Republicans In Georgia And Oklahoma — And Then Ask Grover Norquist.

Among the biggest policy mistakes of the past 50 years is our continuing failure to provide quality early childhood education to all of America’s kids. For children, families, and society as a whole, the benefits of “universal pre-K” are not only significant and well documented, but offset the financial cost many times over. Although we’ve been aware of these basic facts since the early Sixties, most politicians have preferred to squander billions of dollars on malfunctioning weaponry, catastrophic wars, and petroleum subsidies….

Even if there were no economic upside to starting the education of every child at three or four years of age, the obvious social benefits would vital for any country that aspires to cultivating a vibrant democratic republic. Citizens who can read and do math (and perhaps take an interest in science!) are more likely to succeed at self-government. They are also far more likely to succeed in life.

Enhancing personal opportunity is how universal pre-school generates universal public savings — estimated by a large cohort of studies to lie somewhere between 7 and 17 dollars for every single dollar spent.  Human brains mostly develop well before age five, so children who attend quality pre-school enter kindergarten with social skills, confidence, and knowledge that boosts achievement for many years.

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So what happened in Georgia and Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, where every child has been entitled to free pre-school since 1998, a well-known study by Georgetown University educators found substantially improved cognitive skills and test scores among Tulsa students who had attended public pre-K. The program made the difference between falling below national norms and moving up to achieve them. In Georgia, first to implement universal state-funded pre-school almost 20 years ago, painstaking research has likewise showed gains in math and reading that lasted through eighth grade, especially among underprivileged rural and urban children.

What about Grover Norquist? According to Conason he sends his own kids to D.C.’s free public pre-school program, despise his avowed opposition to taxes of any kind. Maybe some of those right wing Congresspeople should have a talk with him about early childhood education.

It’s looking more and more like the Keystone XL Pipeline will be approved, according to the NYT:

The State Department released a report on Friday concluding that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution, leaving an opening for President Obama to approve the politically divisive project.

The department’s long-awaited environmental impact statement appears to indicate that the project could pass the criteria Mr. Obama set forth in a speech last summer when he said he would approve the 1,700-mile pipeline if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Although the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast, the report appears to indicate that if it were not built, carbon-heavy oil would still be extracted at the same rate from pristine Alberta forest and transported to refineries by rail instead.

The report sets up a difficult decision for Secretary of State John Kerry, who now must make a recommendation on the international project to Mr. Obama. Mr. Kerry, who hopes to make action on climate change a key part of his legacy, has never publicly offered his personal views on the pipeline. Aides said Mr. Kerry was preparing to “dive into” the 11-volume report and would give high priority to the issue of global warming in making the decision. His aides offered no timetable.

If so, there will be pushback from indigenous Americans: Keystone XL ‘black snake’ pipeline to face ‘epic’ opposition from Native American alliance.

A Native American alliance is forming to block construction of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline which still needs final approval from U.S. President Barack Obama after the State Department released an environmental report indicating the project wouldn’t have a significant impact Alberta tar sands production.

Members from the seven tribes of the Lakota Nation, along with tribal members and tribes in Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon, have been preparing to stop construction of the 1,400 kilometre pipeline which is slated to run, on the U.S. side, from Morgan, Mon., to Steel City, Neb., and pump 830,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s tar sands. The pipeline would originate in Hardisty, Alta.

“It poses a threat to our sacred water and the product is coming from the tar sands and our tribes oppose the tar sands mining,” said Deborah White Plume, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which is part of the Lakota Nation in South Dakota. “All of our tribes have taken action to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Read the rest at the link.

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The Economist has an interesting article about the Winter Olympic games and Vladimir Putin’s Russia: Sochi or bust: The conspicuous dazzle of the games masks a country, and a president, in deepening trouble

FEBRUARY 7th sees the opening of the winter Olympics in Sochi on the Black Sea. The message of the games is simple: “Russia is back”. Sochi was planned as a celebration of Russia’s resurgence, a symbol of international recognition and a crowning moment for Vladimir Putin, its president, who for the present seems to have seen off all his challengers.

Appropriately, the opening ceremony will include the image of the Russian “troika-bird” from Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls”. “Rus,” wrote Gogol, “aren’t you soaring like a spry troika that can’t be overtaken? The road is smoking under you, the bridges thunder, everything steps aside and is left behind!…Is this lightning thrown down from heaven? Other nations and states gaze askance, step off the road and give [you] right of way.”

The quote has long been used to justify Russian exceptionalism and moral superiority. Gogol describes Russia as a deeply flawed and corrupt country, but it is precisely its misery and sinfulness that entitles it to mystical regeneration. His troika carries a swindler, Chichikov, and his drunken coachman, but it is transformed into the symbol of a God-inspired country that gloriously surpasses all others.

So, too, with the Sochi Olympics. This grand enterprise, the largest construction project in Russia’s post-Soviet history, is also a microcosm of Russian corruption, inefficiencies, excesses of wealth and disregard for ordinary citizens. The Olympics are widely seen as an extravagant caprice of Russia’s rulers, especially its flamboyantly macho president, rather than a common national effort. The cost of the games has more than quadrupled since 2007, making them, at $50 billion, the most expensive in history. One member of the International Olympic Committee thinks about a third of that money has been stolen. Russia’s opposition leaders say the figure is much higher.

Check it out. It’s a long read, but worthwhile, IMO.

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There’s some good news out of New York City, now that neo-facist Mayor Mike Bloomberg is gone. It looks like the “stop and frisk” policy will end soon: Mayor Says New York City Will Settle Suits on Stop-and-Frisk Tactics.

New York City will settle its long-running legal battle over the Police Department’s practice of stopping, questioning and often frisking people on the street — a divisive issue at the heart of the mayoral race last year — by agreeing to reforms that a judge ordered in August, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday.

In making the announcement, which he said he hoped would end a turbulent chapter in the city’s racial history, Mr. de Blasio offered a sweeping repudiation of the aggressive policing practices that had been a hallmark of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, but that had stoked anger and resentment in many black and Latino neighborhoods. He essentially reversed the course set by Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had appealed the judge’s ruling.

“We’re here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “We believe in ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk that has unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.”

That’s great news, but I wish he had noted that women have also been targeted, often in sexually abusive ways.

I’ll wrap this up and put my remaining links in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same. Please let us know what stories you’ve found interesting today.

Have a great weekend everyone!!


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?