SDB Evening News Reads for 083111: Chaz, Chickens, Moths and Jack the Ripper

After a rather depressing morning news blog post I wanted to keep today’s evening news reads light…or at least try to.

Many of you may have heard that the recent selection of “stars” for Dancing With The Stars is turning into a showdown of anti-gay sentiment.  ABC receives complaints about Chaz Bono’s addition to ‘DWTS’ – MSN TV News

Dancing With the Stars” aims for provocative casts, and Chaz Bono’s addition to the show has already yielded strong reaction — some of it ugly.

Bono, the only child of Sonny Bono and Cher, was born a woman but legally changed his gender and name last year. The announcement Monday that he would join the highly rated ABC dance competition immediately made him one of the highest-profile transgendered people in the world.


But for everyone who vented disgust — or questioned whether Bono would dance with a man or a woman — there were many who defended Bono and accused his critics of bigotry.

Bono’s casting is only the latest to make a lighthearted reality show the impetus for deeper discussions about values, tolerance, bigotry and politics.

The question now is, will America vote Bono off because of his transgender, or will they keep him on the show, no matter if he is a good dancer or not.  Any voting would be seen as a statement about the perception of attitudes towards GLBTs in America.

Here are a couple of perspectives for you to think about.

First, is this article posted by David Wiegand from the San Francisco Chronicle.  Dancing With the “Normal” Stars : Culture Blog!

Ok, I gotta admit, this really took me by surprise. I really didn’t just fall of the turnip truck and know all too well that bigotry, stupidity and rank ignorance not only still exist in 21st century USA, but fester in every state of the union.

But the reaction that ABC got when it announced that Chaz Bono would be among the celebrities on the new “Dancing With the Stars” season had my jaw dropping to the floor.

Chaz Bono, who was born Chastity to Sonny Bono and Cher.

Kevin Scanlon/New York Times

Chaz Bono, who was born Chastity to Sonny Bono and Cher.

Homophobia itself is ugly and uninformed, of course, but those who spew anti-gay epithets often do so because they believe sexual orientation is a “choice” and, as such, some kind of mental abberation, despite what people like, oh I don’t know, doctors and pyschiatrists have said repeatedly for decades.

But just looking at some of the comments from “DWTS” fans on the show’s ABC page is nothing short of a reminder of how blindly ignorant so many people remain in this country.

Wiegand gives some examples of the bigot laden remarks and comments on the DWTS fan page, and then goes on to express how he feels about it:

I should be angry. I should be mightily pissed off, and to an extent, I am. But even more than that, I’m sad — not just that this kind of “thinking” still exists in a supposedly educated society, but because it says so much about the fractiousness of our culture and why we can’t make progress on so many issues that have nothing to do with sexuality or gender.

Faith is not a bad thing. Faith can be empowering, uplifting, reassuring — all of the things that can make human beings want to better their lives.

But it can also be used not just as a crutch, but an excuse to avoid having to open the mind to any new idea or thought. The same people who think that upper casing the “H” in “his” and the “W” in “word” reaffirms their fear-based ignorance to the facts about transexualism, are equally incapable of opening their minds to new thoughts and ideas on other issues.

And, of course, it’s ultimately their fear and tenacious adherence to their beliefs that politicians use to get elected and to keep us from finding solutions to all kinds of issues.

And, for the record, ignorance, alas, is not only the stock in trade of the right. Liberals are just as capable of this kind of intractable “thinking.”

I won’t presume to speak for God, upper or lower case. I’m just one person who finds all of this quite sad.

On Huffington Post, there is this article from Hayley Rose Horzepa: Chaz Bono Joins Dancing With the Stars: Will This Impact the Public’s Perception of the Transgender Community?

She discusses her attitude and experiences with a transgender friend of hers who when through the same gender reassignment surgery as Chaz Bono, and ends her post with this conclusion:

So will Chaz Bono’s gig on Dancing with the Stars offend some people? Most definitely. What’s more important is the courage that Chaz lends and will continue to lend to other transgenders who haven’t yet gained the courage to be themselves. His appearance on Dancing could make a big difference in a lot of lives.

People like Chaz and Jordan serve as inspirations for all; like them, we should always speak the truth within our hearts and strive to honor the unique thumb print within our spirits in a bold and unapologetic way.

Personally, I lump the DWTS show in with all the other crappy reality shows that have taken over the airwaves. I’ve never seen it, nor will I be tuning in this time, but the reaction Chaz Bono has received to being announce as a contestant is interesting indeed. Is it a surprise? Nope, and  people like Wiegand, who believe homophobia, bigotry and hate are not going to express themselves like we see on the DWTS fan site, are living in a blind delusion. Just look at the group of anti-gay presidential candidates that are participating in their own version of dancing with the wingnuts…or is it nitwits?

And that is all I gotta say about that.

Recent forensic technologies are giving a possible face to the suspect of Jack the Ripper.

BBC News – Is this the face of Jack the Ripper?

Clockwise from top left: Newspaper report on Ripper murder, new e-fit of suspect Carl Feigenbaum, drawing of police discovering a victim and a letter to the police signed Jack the Ripper

On this day 123 years ago, Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim. But who was this serial killer? This new e-fit finally puts a face to Carl Feigenbaum, a key suspect from Germany.

Creepy huh?

More than 200 suspects have been named. But to Ripper expert Trevor Marriott, a former murder squad detective, German merchant Carl Feigenbaum is the top suspect.

Convicted of murdering his landlady in Manhattan, Feigenbaum died in the electric chair in New York’s Sing Sing prison in 1894. His lawyer suspected him of the Ripper murders too.

No photos of Feigenbaum exist. So Marriott has produced this new e-fit for BBC One’s National Treasures Live, created from the description on the admittance form when he was in prison on remand in New York.

Just give the article a read, it goes into detail what theories and deductions Marriott has made by while investigating Feigenbaum for connections to the Ripper murders.

From serial killers to chickens? Yup…14 Fun Facts About Chickens | Surprising Science

Chickens at a Florida farmhouse museum (courtesy of flickr user Kristine Paulus)

Why chickens? Well, I think we need a break from natural disasters, and chickens are a good distraction (how can the Chicken Dance not amuse?).

1 ) The chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, is a domestic subspecies of the red junglefowl, a member of the pheasant family that is native to Asia. Genetic studies have found that the grey junglefowl also contributed to the chicken’s evolution.

2 ) This bird was probably first domesticated for the purpose of cockfights, not as food.

3 ) Chickens aren’t completely flightless—they can get airborne enough to make it over a fence or into a tree.

4 ) These birds are omnivores. They’ll eat seeds and insects but also larger prey like small mice and lizards.

They will also eat their own…but that is another story.

Because they are chickens. Although chickens will happily eat chicken and other meat products. After butchering a chicken you can leave the skeleton in the pen and they will pick the bones clean. If done on a large scale, making chicken feed from chickens (especially the brain and spinal cord) can lead to an outbreak of encephalopathy, similar to mad cow disease.

Would that be called mad chicken disease?

I am sure this link makes all of you having chicken for dinner tonight happy that you read this post first. (Sorry bout that.)

This next article was something I found last week, it just seems like a good time to bring it up now.  College students stumped by search engines, research finds | The Lookout – Yahoo! News

Researchers with the Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries project watched 30 students at Illinois Wesleyan University try to search for different topics online and found that only seven of them were able to conduct “what a librarian might consider a reasonably well-executed search.”

The students “appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school,” Lynda Duke and Andrew Asher write in a book on the project coming out this fall.

At all five Illinois universities, students reported feeling “anxious” and confused when trying to research. Many felt overwhelmed by the volume of results their searches would turn up, not realizing that there are ways to narrow those searches and get more tailored results. Others would abandon their research topics when they couldn’t find enough sources, unaware that they were using the wrong search terms or database for their topics.

The researchers found that students did not know “how to build a search to narrow or expand results, how to use subject headings, and how various search engines (including Google) organize and display results.” That means that some students didn’t understand how to search only for news articles, or only for scholarly articles. Most only know how to punch in keywords and hope for the best.

I can tell you, this is a very distressing to see this struggle first hand. Granted my own kids are 12 and 13, but to watch them look for answers to homework questions is just frustrating…considering the fact that both of their parents are history majors, and very capable of conducting research using both the “old school” and “high-tech” methods.

This can be a problem because Google organizes results in part on how many other sites link to a page. That means scholarly articles are rarely at the top of basic search results for any topic. Asher points out that searching for “How Google Works” turns up an April Fool’s prank by Google engineers in its top results.

A survey last year of 1,000 college students backed up the somewhat counterintuitive finding that the millennials (sometimes defined as those born between 1980 and 1995) are actually not that good at the Internet. Most students said they trusted whatever website was the first result for their search on Google. Other students said they trusted most the “sponsored” links that appear at the top of the page, which are actually paid advertisements.

That just makes me cringe…

I’ll just take this great opportunity to link to this article I saved a few weeks ago, Crazy: 90 Percent of People Don’t Know How to Use CTRL+F – Alexis Madrigal – Technology – The Atlantic

This week, I talked with Dan Russell, a search anthropologist at Google, about the time he spends with random people studying how they search for stuff. …90 percent of people in their studies don’t know how to use CTRL/Command + F to find a word in a document or web page! I probably use that trick 20 times per day and yet the vast majority of people don’t use it at all.


It makes me think that we need a new type of class in schools across the land immediately. Electronic literacy. Just like we learn to skim tables of content or look through an index or just skim chapter titles to find what we’re looking for, we need to teach people about this CTRL+F thing.

Google itself is trying to teach people a little something with their campaign, but the ability to retrieve information via a search engine is actually much bigger than the search engine itself. We’re talking about the future of almost all knowledge acquisition and yet schools don’t spend nearly as much time on this skill as they do on other equally important areas.

Cool isn’t it? And don’t forget about the Google Scholar search engine:

Google Scholar

About Google Scholar

It is an excellent research tool.

One last link for you today:  BBC News – Species flee warming faster than previously thought

Comma butterfly (Credit: Martin Warren)
Warmer weather has brought the British comma dancing around Scottish nettles for the first time

Animals and plants are shifting their natural home ranges towards the cooler poles three times faster than scientists previously thought.

In the largest study of its kind to date, researchers looked at the effects of temperature on over 2,000 species.

They report in the journal Science that species experiencing the greatest warming have moved furthest.

The results helped to “cement” the link between climate change and shifts in species’ global ranges, said the team.

The research included studies,

Analysing the range shifts of more than 2,000 species – ranging from butterflies to birds, algae to mammals – across Europe, North and South America and Malaysia over the last four decades, they show that organisms that experience the greatest change in temperatures move the fastest.

The team found that on average organisms are shifting their home ranges at a rate of 17km per decade away from the equator; three times the speed previously thought.

Organisms also moved uphill by about 1m a year.

… it seemed that species were able to seek out cooler habitats as long as there was not an obstacle in their way, like a highway.

And what happens to the animals that reach the end of that highway…damn, and I wanted this post to be lighthearted.

Well, after those species reach the top of the mountains, they have nowhere else to go…so they die.

On Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, Dr Thomas’ graduate student, I-Ching Chen, has been following the movement of Geometrid moths uphill as temperatures increase. Their natural ranges have shifted by 59m in 42 years.

These moths “don’t have options; they are being forced up, and at some point they will run out of land,” reflected Dr Thomas.

The British scientist said that it was really too early to start generalising about the characteristics of the species that had shifted their distribution to stay within their optimal temperature range.

“But we know that the species which have expanded the most and fastest are the species that are not particularly fussy about where they live,” he told BBC News.

Geometrid moths (Credit: I-Ching Chen)

Well, at least the moths aren’t too particular about their surroundings.

Alrighty then, that is all I got for you today. What are you reading about in the news this evening? Feel free to link to whatever you like in the comments below.

Idaho Woman Challenges State’s Anti-Abortion Laws

Remember Jennie Lin McCormack of Pocotello, Idaho, who was prosecuted for inducing her own abortion a few months ago? The case was later dropped for lack of evidence, but McCormack has now filed a lawsuit challenging Idaho’s 1972 law that makes it a crime for a woman to terminate her own pregnancy, as well as a new “fetal pain” law that bans abortions after 20 weeks, according to Reuters.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first federal court case against any of several late-term abortion bans enacted in Idaho and four other states during the past year, based on controversial medical research suggesting a fetus feels pain starting at 20 weeks of development.

Modeled after a 2010 Nebraska “fetal pain” law yet to be challenged, similar measures were considered in at least 16 states this year as anti-abortion groups made good on sweeping Republican gains from last year’s elections.

When McCormack realized she was pregnant in 2010, she was desperate to have an abortion. She already had three children and could not afford to support another on her tiny income of $200-$250 per month. But she couldn’t afford a surgical abortion either, so she asked her sister to order some pills on line that would help induce abortion. A woman named Brenda Carnahan, the fetus fetishist sister of one of McCormack’s friends turned her in to police.

More from Reuters:

The 1972 Idaho law discriminates against McCormack and other women of limited means in southeastern Idaho, which lacks any abortion providers, by forcing them to seek more costly surgical abortions far from home, the lawsuit says.

The newly enacted Idaho law banning late-term abortions was not yet in effect when McCormack terminated her own pregnancy using abortion pills she obtained from an online distributor at between 20 and 21 weeks of gestation on December 24, 2010, according to her lawyer, Richard Hearn.

But Hearn, also a physician, argues that both the 1972 law and the newly enacted Idaho statute pose other unconstitutional barriers to abortion. He cited, for example, the failure to exempt third-trimester pregnancies (25 weeks or more) in cases where a woman’s health, not just her life, is at risk.

This is obviously a very important case for women to keep an eye on. Someone needs to challenge the slew of new state laws that have sprung up since the 2010 midterm elections.

The Big Smokey?

So, I have to go to the Daily Mail to really get some good coverage of this since the US  corporate media isn’t quite up to getting to news anywhere in the Great Fly Over.  New Orleans has spent 4 days now in a blanket of nasty white smoke from what was one and now is two marsh fires.  The second marsh fire is more threatening and is supposedly the result of arson.

This incredible image that looks straight out of Star Wars shows how smoke from a raging marsh fire in New Orleans has surrounded the iconic Superdome, as an emergency is declared in the city.

Helicopters are dropping water from 500-gallon baskets, hundreds of acres of land have been burned and now a second marsh fire has started in what is turning into a city-wide disaster.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spotted a second marsh fire during a flight over one that has hazed the metro area with smoke for three days and he has now declared an emergency.

Okay, as of yesterday, we’re beginning to get some attention. It’s not exactly as bad as when I was screaming to every media outlet I could about the BP Oil Spill that all of them ignored for weeks.

Haze from the fire was reported as far west as the Baton Rouge metro area, the National Weather Service said. It expanded its smoke alert from New Orleans and six suburban parishes to 23 parishes, including towns 100 miles from New Orleans.

As of Tuesday morning, the original fire had burned all but about 537 acres — about eight-tenths of a square mile — of the trees, shrubs and grass on a 1,552.5-acre area surrounded by canals, said Ryan Berni, spokesman for Landrieu. It started in the center of the area and has been spreading outward.

“It would take an armada of helicopters” to drop water on it and douse it, said state Rep. Austin J. Badon, Jr., D-New Orleans, who flew over the fires separately from Landrieu.

Landrieu said he was told that each basket of water, when it hits earth, covers an area about the size of a pickup truck.

Along the East Coast, some 40 hot spots in the Great Dismal Swamp were still smoldering even after Hurricane Irene dumped 10 to 15 inches of rain on the area, according to a news release posted Tuesday on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. That fire that lightning started on Aug. 4 has burned more than 6,000 acres in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

Some New Orleans schools had canceled outdoor activities because of smoke which has spread across the metropolitan area for three days. Meteorologists expected the smoke to move north over Lake Pontchartrain by evening, but to settle over the metro area again overnight.

I’ve had a nearly constant headache and sick feeling since Sunday when I went out to walk the dog through what looked like white fog.  The smell definitely will let you know that this is not fog.  It’s an acrid, nasty smoky smell and its full of particulates.  We’ve had unhealthy air now for several days and the hospitals are filling up with people whose respiratory  ailments cannot handle the excess stress.

What I really want to point your attention to is an appearance by Tulane Professor Melissa Harris Perry as the Guest host of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.  I can’t pick up the video at the moment so you’ll have to go check it out yourself here.  She explains how this health disaster might be better managed than it is being handled now if we had marsh buggies or the funds to get to big planes to drop substantial amounts of water on the fire.  We don’t have any of those because the state doesn’t have money at the moment.  Yes, a lot of that is due to the fact that our Governor is obsessed with getting his ass ready to run for President 4 years from now and has even vetoed the cigarette tax in the state since it could be used against him as a possible tax increase by the Grover Norquist crowd.

This brings me to the larger topic of Eric Cantor who is insisting that any disaster aid to any of the victims of the flooding in Irene or any place else right now including tornado ravaged Joplin Missouri be offset by spending cuts.  Also, nasty little neoconfederate Ron Paul wants to eliminate FEMA. I have no idea what it’s going to take to get these folks to understand simple things like economies of scale and public goods that exist because the private sector can’t or won’t do it, but you’d think these kinds of disasters would be no-brainers on just the it’s our country and their our people argument.  Cantor isn’t busily cutting off his own but others while Ron Paul thinks the recent response to Galveston flooding was a lot more worse than the horrible Galveston hurricane of 1900 where thousands died.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) insistence that federal disaster aid be offset elsewhere in the budget runs directly counter to his position in the past when the money went to help his district.

In the summer of 2004, after Tropical Storm Gaston slammed into Richmond, Cantor was on the front lines of efforts to secure millions of dollars in federal assistance to clean the wreckage and repair damaged infrastructure. Although the funding was not offset, Cantor cheered its arrival.

“The magnitude of the damage suffered by the Richmond area is beyond what the Commonwealth can handle,” Cantor said in a news release at the time, “and that is why I asked the president to make federal funds available for the citizens affected by Gaston.”

That episode is raising eyebrows this week, after Cantor told Fox News that disaster aid in the wake of Hurricane Irene should not be funded with borrowed money. Instead, Cantor said Monday, all federal assistance should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

“Yes, we are going to find the money. We are just going to have to make sure there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so,” Cantor told Fox. “Just like any family would operate when it’s struck with disaster, it finds the money to take care of a sick loved one or what have you, and then goes without trying to buy a new car or [putting] an addition onto the house.”

Yes, Eric, even if the metaphor worked–which it doesn’t–most families do find the money.  They get loans and grants from the Federal Government just in case you didn’t know.  But, back to that metaphor,  when I can print money that every one universally accepts or when I can sell bonds that every one in the world wants at nearly zero interest rates, I’ll get back to you with some support for your lunacy. I can tell you how devastated my grandparents were by the 1927 flood too and how it took them decades to recover because they had no help and were dirt poor too. They had exactly one porcelain pig cream pitcher to show for their first decades of marriage and work and had to crawl out of poverty yet one more time after that flood.

I have no idea what it is going to take to get these neanderthal Republicans out of the 1900s and into the 21st century where we know that evolution is a scientific theory because there is tons of proof and no holes, where we know there is a role for the federal government in creating jobs and jumpstarting a bad economy, where we know that global warming exists and that climate science isn’t a hoax.  I imagine that it’s going to take something of a miracle to get the Koch brothers money and the religious right’s tentacles out of our government, but whatever ever it takes, it’s a battle we need to wage.

Here’s a good example of the problem from Matt Yglesias who for some reason keeps getting lumped in with liberals. It’s a pretty good indicator that progressive is a misnomer and more than just Neanderthal Republicans can jump the shark on public goods.

Suzy Khimm asks, sensibly, “Why are we subsidizing the building of homes in flood-prone areas?”

As she explains, the National Flood Insurance Program offers sub-market insurance rates to people who want to build houses in very flood prone areas. It’d be as if we had a special program to offer subsidized health insurance to people who refuse to wear seatbelts. Sounds nuts? And yet there it is. But I do think it’s important to note that this kind of program, generally the worst kind of thing the federal government does, tends to be totally uncontroversial politically. The National Flood Insurance Program Reextension Act of 2010 was sponsored by a bipartisan group, it passed the filibuster-ridden Senate by unanimous consent on September 21, it passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote on September 23, and was signed into law by President Obama a week later. The lead sponsor of the current Flood Insurance Reauthorization is Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi. Amidst fierce ideological debate about the size and scope of the federal government, in other words, there’s no serious budget-cutting move to stop subsidizing people from living in dangerous flood zones.

Risk Theory is not the easiest topic to study unless you love calculus and probabilities.  This is the theoretical basis for insurance and it does explain a lot of things like moral hazard or information asymmetry. Risk theory and basic microeconomics also explains why some public goods are necessary because the private sector won’t provide them or they provide them at such a cost that nearly no one can afford them.  The deal is this.  FEMA does provide flood insurance.  It also provides a plan to folks who repeatedly live in areas that flood with a that plan buys them out or makes them do something to offset the risk–called hazard mitigation–so that these kinds of repetitive losses do not recur on our tax dollars or any one else’s money. But then, journalist memes and lore are so much more fun that facts!! FEMA also provides flood insurance because no private company will do it at a reasonable cost.  Private insurance is basically a Mafia-type gambling activity.  They only provide insurance when there’s a distinct house advantage.  For example, my Allstate homeowner’s insurance policy for which I pay more than I ever used to now has a wind and rain deductible that exactly equals my loss during Katrina.  That’s the only claim I’ve ever had in the 11 years of living here. Also, sit down with me and a beer some time and let me tell you all the things that they were supposed to cover which they never did. FEMA flood insurance provides a small sum of money that would barely cover the rebuilding cost of my small house, should it have flooded.  I know that no one back east that has the insurance is going to get an amount close to rebuilding their house.  Yet, what little they do get will stop them from going into complete personal devastation and that’s the point.  A sum of $250,000 will get you back on your feet a lot quicker than the fisting you’ll get from the good hands people, believe me.

So, my rant is not that an act of lightening set a marsh on fire or that some idiot arsonist compulsively made life a lot worse for a lot more folks for some reason.  It isn’t that that mother nature shouldn’t send floods or prairie fires or hurricanes.  It’s that in a huge country, there are huge risks.  Huge risk pools are only possible when you opt in the population and you go around the private sector that wants to cherry pick its way to executive bonuses.  Economies of scale in standardized processing, ratings, policies and administration is only possible at the public good level.  Same deal goes with health insurance which is something every other developed nation figured out a long time ago.  However, they obviously don’t have to deal with lobbyists and neanderthals and neoconfederates like we do.

Wednesday Reads: Bully Teachers? No, Bully Gov. Walker…

Good Wednesday Morning.

Let’s start this morning’s post off with a bang…Or should I say long skirts and tea bags?

Longer Skirts and No Coffeemakers: How Gov. Scott Walker Wants WI School Boards to Save Money | Crooks and Liars

Instead of union contracts, Wisconsin teachers now have to abide by local handbooks suggested by Gov. Scott Walker. What does refusing to allow workers to help a sick colleague or longer skirts have to do with saving money? And just listen to the nasty wingnuts in the audience at the New Berlin school board meeting. Via the Blue Cheddar blog:

The “tools” Walker has handed to local governments are supposedly meant to help cut costs. However the changes to the New Berlin school workplace approved August 29 don’t look like mere cost-savings to me. New Berlin Education Association President Diane Lazewski agrees in MJS: “I would be surprised to see any other handbook as punitive as ours,” I should note that all details aren’t available until 9/8 and changes occur 10/1 according to a document from the blog Teachers Against Walker

Update: This 51 page Draft of School District of New Berlin Employee Handbook – Parts A and B states that it goes into effect 9/1/11

A few of the changes:

A ‘sick bank’ which allows teachers to donate sickleave to seriously ill colleagues will be eliminated.
–No set pay for overtime; only stipends
–Elementary teachers work an added 205 hours without added pay.
–Secondary teachers work an added 95 hours without added pay.
and there are odd restrictions such as
–Dress Code: Skirts below knee, no sweatshirts, no jeans, no large logos, no open shirts, etc. and
–The loss of all microwaves, refrigerators, and coffeemakers.

I called a young teacher, E., from Racine just before the meeting. E. said New Berlin’s handbook is the worst of a new crop of handbooks he’s seen. Handbooks now serve in lieu of contracts for public school employees where contracts have expired.

So now that the handbooks replace the union contract, what kind of review process do you think is allowed under the new law?

Greenfield aside, teacher protests over benefits, handbooks seem rare – JSOnline

When I interviewed School District of Greenfield Superintendent Conrad Farner a few weeks ago for the handbook story, he said that they interpreted the new law to mean that allowing teachers to review handbook drafts or offer input on the changes being made would fall under the definition of collective bargaining. That was illegal under the new law, Farner had said.

The teachers cannot even review the handbooks…It really is unbelievable that these school boards have free rein when it comes to any new handbook regulations that affect the teacher’s salary, health care and planning.

Morning State News Briefs: | Pierce County Herald | Ellsworth, Wisconsin

As police looked on, hundreds of people on both sides cheered-and-booed last night as the New Berlin School Board unanimously approved a new employee handbook for its teachers. Like others throughout Wisconsin, it was developed without teacher input under the new state law which limits most public union bargaining. But New Berlin became a lightning rod after teachers in nearby Greenfield argued with their school board last week over a new employee handbook – and police were called to settle things down. Last night’s meeting in New Berlin was moved to the district’s auditorium. Teachers from other districts came in support of New Berlin’s union, while taxpayers held up signs saying “Collective Bullying – Stop Union Bullies Now.” Union president Diane Lazewski said she believed the work rules set by the school board are more restrictive than others throughout the state. They include longer work-days, new limits on sick leave benefits and post-retirement health benefits, no more pay for substitute teachers while they prepare for classes, and two evaluations per year without prior notice. School Board member Art Marquardt said his panel was not trying to be punitive. But he said the elected officials are now the dominant voice instead of the union and quote, “That’s hard for some people to swallow.”

What the hell is wrong with these people? The teachers are the bullies? No, the Koch Brothers and Gov. Scott Walker are the ones forcing the teachers into this ridiculous regulation of handbooks.  Of course, now that the teachers are “at-will” employees, they can be fired with no cause or reason…and with the new Wisconsin school year starting in the next couple days, let’s see if this gets any attention in the MSM. It really is a sad state of affairs for these Wisconsin educators, but I feel that what they are going through is only a preview for many other school districts in states that are looking to do away with collective bargaining and teacher unions.

The estimated death toll has been released by the Libyan Rebels.  Rebel leaders put Libya death toll at 50,000 – Africa, World – The Independent

An estimated 50,000 people have been killed in Libya since the start of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, according to the rebels’ military leadership.

Details of the death toll come as the Transitional National Council (TNC) gave Gaddafi supporters – increasingly pushed back to loyalist strongholds such as Sirte – four days to surrender or face a full-scale military assault.

I would not be surprised if that number goes up.  The stories of mass graves are very disturbing to read.

In a few days a new exhibit will be opening at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  ‘September 11: Remembrance and Reflection’ at National Museum of American History | History News Network

SOURCE: WaPo (8-16-11)

Within weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Smithsonian Institution began collecting a wide range of artifacts recovered from the three sites where the hijacked planes went down.

In an exhibit opening Sept. 3, the National Museum of American History will let visitors get much closer for a more intimate experience. The museum plans to depart from the usual glass-covered displays and assemble the objects on open, uncovered tables.

September 11: Remembrance and Reflection” contains about 60 objects from the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa.

We still have the suit and shoes my husband was wearing when he ran when the second tower fell…that was the first thing he did when he got home that night, he took the suit off and put it in a big black plastic trash bag.  It was covered in the dust from the towers, and no doubt the incinerated remains of the victims of the attack. If you are in the DC area, please go take a look at the new exhibit, and let us know what you thought of it.

I guess Obama is making some changes in the ATF, due to the Fast and Furious scandal.  A.T.F. Chief Is Replaced After Failed Gun-Trafficking Inquiry –

The Obama administration on Tuesday replaced two top Justice Department officials associated with an ill-fated investigation into a gun-trafficking network in Arizona that has been at the center of a political conflagration.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the resignation of the United States attorney in Phoenix, Dennis K. Burke, and the reassignment of the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kenneth E. Melson.

The two officials became the highest-profile political casualties yet in the fallout from a disputed effort to take down a weapons-smuggling ring based in Arizona and linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Give the NYT link a click to get the update on the investigation into this “operation” if you haven’t kept up with it.

Lastly, there are 20 new endangered crocodiles in the world today.  Rare Siamese crocodiles hatched in Lao PDR

A recently hatched Siamese crocodile at the Laos Zoo, part of an effort by the government of Lao PDR and the Wildlife Conservation Society to replenish the wild population of this critically endangered species. (Credit: M. Douangmyxay/WCS Laos Program)
 Working with the government of Lao PDR, the Wildlife Conservation Society has helped to successfully hatch a clutch of 20 Siamese crocodiles, a species threatened across its range by hunting, habitat fragmentation and loss, and other factors.
Hatched from eggs taken from the wild and incubated at the Laos Zoo, the baby crocodiles represent a success for a new program that works to save the Siamese crocodile and the wetlands and associated biodiversity of Laos’ Savannakhet Province.

Isn’t that a cute little critter?

I always thought the sound those baby alligators and crocodiles make is such an endearing cry…

…but just wait until they start to answer back!

Well, I know it is a lame morning post, but I am on my third day with this massive migraine, and the exhaustion is getting to me.

If you have any links be sure to share them…see you later in the comments.

SDB Evening News Reads for 083011: Obama and the Job Creators…Family Planning is Pro-life?

Good Evening!

We are almost done with the month of August, and I am looking forward to those cooler days of September and that feeling you get when fall is in the air. There are some updates on the death toll of Irene, and news outlets are beginning to report or speculate on what Obama’s job speech is going to propose. So let’s get to these news links…
As I mentioned, there is a New Irene death toll: 35 killed by the destructive storm –

Click here to see more pictures of Hurricane Irene. The death toll from Hurricane Irene, later downgraded to a tropical storm, rose dramatically Monday as at least 35 people were reportedly killed by the storm that ripped its way up the East Coast and into New England.

Vermont has 19 towns that are completely isolated due to flooding.  CNN was reporting that FEMA is finally distributing supplies and the National Guard is starting to patrol hard hit areas.

I found this next article interesting, and I think you will too.  Justice Ginsburg: If I Were Nominated Today, My Women’s Rights Work For The ACLU Would Probably Disqualify Me | ThinkProgress While giving a speech yesterday at Southern Methodist Law School, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had this to say:

Justice Ginsburg During Her Time As Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project

If she were nominated to the Supreme Court today, her background as a civil rights attorney would likely prevent her from being confirmed:

“Today, my ACLU connection would probably disqualify me,” she said.

It’s worth noting exactly what kind of work Justice Ginsburg did for the ACLU before she was confirmed to the federal bench. As director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg was literally the single most important women’s rights attorney in American history. She authored the brief in Reed v. Reed that convinced a unanimous Supreme Court to hold for the very first time that the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection applies to women. And her brief in Craig v. Boren convinced the Court to hand down its very first decision holding that gender discrimination laws are subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny. It is possible that modern doctrines preventing gender discrimination would simply not exist if Ruth Bader Ginsburg hadn’t done the work she did for the ACLU.

And yet, in today’s era of rampant right-wing filibusters, that alone would disqualify her for a seat on the federal bench.

Yes, but in the era of blatant abuses of legal and judicial ethics…you have Justice Clarence Thomas running rampant in the Supreme Court, and no one is holding him accountable.

Obama is getting ready for his pre-game speech about creating jobs for America…so here are a few links about that:

11 Proposals Obama Could Make in His Big Jobs Speech – Catherine Hollander – Politics – The Atlantic

  • Creating an “infrastructure bank.” President Obama has called on Congress to create an “infrastructure bank” that would make loans to support highway and rail construction projects. The idea has support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce but faces high hurdles in Congress, The Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Renewing payroll-tax cuts. The White House and Congress agreed in December to a one-year cut in the level of Social Security payroll taxes paid by employees, from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for most workers. Speaking in Cannon Falls, Minn., earlier this month, Obama called for extending the tax cut beyond December, saying it would put money in consumers’ pockets and in turn boost businesses and hiring. “All we need to do is renew it,” he said. “It’s already in place.”
  • Implementing a new-hire tax credit. Businesses would receive a $5,000 credit for hiring a new employee, and part of that employee’s salary would be subsidized. Labor economist Alan Krueger, who was nominated on Monday to head the White House Council of Economic Advisers, supports the idea, NPR reports. And the White House is reviewing it, according to Reuters.
  • Extending jobless benefits. Some argue that extending jobless benefits does little to alleviate unemployment because it discourages people from looking for work. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, on the other hand, called it “one of the most direct ways to infuse money into the economy, because people who are unemployed and obviously aren’t earning a paycheck are going to spend the money that they get. They’re not going to save it; they’re going to spend it.”
  • Creating a tax credit for hiring returning veterans. In early August, Obama proposed $120 million in tax credits for businesses that hire Americans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a comprehensive plan to boost employment support for veterans. One aspect of the program would be a “reverse boot camp” to help former service members transition back into a civilian labor market. Obama also said he will challenge businesses to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans and their spouses by the end of 2013.
  • Ratifying pending trade deals. Finalizing long-stalled pending free-trade agreements with Korea, Panama, and Colombia would create a stronger platform for exports and in turn boost hiring in the United States, proponents say. Opponents argue they would outsource jobs. Voting on the trade agreements was stalled by debt-ceiling talks this summer but is expected to be on the congressional agenda this fall.
  • Reforming the patent process. The Senate is scheduled to vote in September on whether to take up the patent-reform bill passed by the House in June. The bill is meant to help move the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office move through a backlog of applications and would establish a post-grant review process. “If we could reform how that system works and cut some of the red tape, we could have entrepreneurs like Google and Microsoft right now, all across the country,” Obama said this month. “But we’ve got to make this investment, and Congress could make that decision to make it happen.”
  • Providing aid for teachers. The White House is reviewing a plan to provide aid to cities and towns to help them grow the number of teachers on their payrolls, Reuters reports. Proponents say the decline in state and local workers contributed to the rising national unemployment rate; opponents charge that the plan would amount to unnecessary spending.
  • Improving rural broadband connections. President Obama has called for broadband and wireless coverage of 98 percent of the country (about 68 percent is currently covered). The initiative would be aimed at opening isolated businesses to farther-flung markets, which could boost rural hiring. “The days are gone where any business is going to succeed just by selling right where they’re located,” Obama said on his Midwest tour.
  • Providing job training for long-term unemployed. Obama has praised a Georgia program that provides eight weeks of unpaid training at a local company for people receiving unemployment benefits. The Wall Street Journal reports that a similar program is likely to be included in the president’s new jobs initiative. Macroeconomic Advisers called such a plan expensive and “unrealistic” to quickly replicate nationwide.
  • Funding school renovations. The White House is reviewing an initiative to fund school renovations, Reuters reports. The plan is popular among Democrats, who say it would create construction jobs while improving communities. Republicans would likely resist the initiative because it involves new spending.

Well, I for one would appreciate that rural broadband initiative…

Over at Naked Capitalism, Edward Harrison has this to offer.  ECRI: “It’s Too Late” for Obama on Jobs « naked capitalism

Economic Cycle Research Institute co-founder Lakshman Achuthan was on Tech Ticker yesterday discussing the outlook for the economy. Business Insider does a good write-up of his commentary, highlighting the fact that the ECRI has yet to signal a double dip. However, I wanted to add a few comments as well. ECRI’s underlying message is this: we are in a decade-long post-credit crisis struggle which will mean high unemployment even if policy makers focused on jobs (which they have not, I would add).

I agree with this forecast. When I began Credit Writedowns in March 2008, I wrote:

I am cautious about the long-term outlook for the global economy and the U.S. economy in particular. The likely outcome for the next decade is one of sub-par global growth with short business cycles punctuated by fits of recession.

Achuthan explains that this too is the root cause of why he thinks the jobs picture is going to difficult for the US. In essence, Achuthan is saying he expects a series of what I have been calling Shiller Double Dip Recessions. This dovetails with my view of an austerity-induced initial dip followed by the recession-punctuated lost decade thereafter.

I will defer the discussion on this ECRI outlook to Dakinikat, but these last paragraphs sound familiar to me…

If you listen to the Republican voices in Congress and the Republican contenders for US President, this is what you will hear – and will continue to hear. I believe this will mean recession – and recessions cause tax receipts to plunge and outlays to increase, making the deficit larger. Does focusing on deficit reduction reduce deficits? No, an expansionary fiscal contraction will prove illusive. Focusing on deficit reduction will increase the deficit.

This is looking more like Hoover every day. So, the President will have to hang his re-election hat on being able to claim that he prevented an even worse economic environment, hoping the economy doesn’t double dip.

Emptywheel is getting tired of saying the same thing again and again as well…

How Are Americans Feeling about Their Own Circumstances Now, David Plouffe? | emptywheel

Perhaps I’m getting tiresome with this point, but sorry, I’m going to make it again.

Two months ago, David Plouffe dismissed the possibility that the unemployment rate would have any effect on Obama’s reelection chances. He (correctly) noted that people judged the President’s performance on the economy by their assessment of how the economy is doing for them.

Problem is, he claimed that people’s perception of how they were doing was improving.


Only, people’s impression of the economy isn’t improving over time. In fact, they’re pretty pessimistic about the economy.

She goes on to cite a report from the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® which:

…had improved slightly in July, plummeted in August. The Index now stands at 44.5 (1985=100), down from 59.2 in July. The Present Situation Index decreased to 33.3 from 35.7. The Expectations Index decreased to 51.9 from 74.9 last month.


Says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center: “Consumer confidence deteriorated sharply in August, as consumers grew significantly more pessimistic about the short-term outlook. The index is now at its lowest level in more than two years (April 2009, 40.8).


Consumers’ short-term outlook deteriorated sharply in August. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased to 11.8 percent from 17.9 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen surged to 24.6 percent from 16.1 percent. Consumers were also more pessimistic about the outlook for the job market. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased to 11.4 percent from 16.9 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs increased to 31.5 percent from 22.2 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes declined to 14.3 percent from 15.9 percent.

Emptywheel then ends this post hoping Plouffe starts to call the real consumer confidence situation what it really is, and not keep on claiming everything is hunky dorie…when it’s not.

Dak, what do you think about the possible proposals that Obama is going to push…cough, cough. (Excuse me, I got some of those bilateral job creators stuck in my throat there.)

I will end with this from RH Reality Check: Conservative Columnist Supports Family Planning as “Pro-Life” | RH Reality Check

It’s not often that I agree with Michael Gerson, the conservative former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush, advocate for abstinence-only policies in U.S. global AIDS programs, and columnist for the Washington Post.

Today, however, I am in near full-agreement with him on a piece he published in today’s Post.

Gerson just returned from a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo sponsored by CARE during which he and others saw firsthand the struggles of women who live in societies in which they have little control of whether, when and whom they marry, and whether, when and how many children they bear.  In these settings, women bear more children than they want and can afford to raise, infant and child mortality rates are high, and complications of both pregnancy and unsafe abortion are the leading cause of deaths among women ages 15 to 49.  Medical care is largely inaccessible.

Reproductive and sexual health and rights advocates have always argued that ensuring that women have unfettered access to family planning information and counseling and consistent contraceptive supplies is a “pro-life” strategy, because voluntary family planning dramatically improves the quality of life and survival rates of both children and their mothers, and by extension, families and societies.

But the anti-choice movement in the United has moved from opposing abortion per se to opposing all forms of birth control, an agenda it was always suspected to have in the first place.  As such, this movement, led largely by male religious leaders, Congressmen or virulently anti-choice male activists opposes support for family planning services and birth control methods both at home and abroad.

I guess the “idea” that birth control should be offered as a way to protect lives and not offered just so that these women can go out and have a good time is a revelation for Michael Gerson.

Having a “card-carrying” conservative evangelical columnist support family planning as a “pro-life” intervention not only speaks to reality, it is what I hope to be a welcome first  first step in pushing back against anti-choice positions that cost far more lives–those of women and children–than they ever “save.”

Visiting the village of Bweremana, Gerson writes:

[T]he correlation between the number of children and the absence of some of their mothers becomes clear. Kanyere Sabasaba, 35, has had 10 children, eight of whom have survived. Her last delivery did not go well. “I delivered the baby without any problem, but I was bleeding much,” she told me. The case was too complex for the local health center, so Kanyere had to pay for her transport to another medical facility. After the surgery, the doctor performed a tubal ligation. “If I give birth again, I could die,” she said. “The last child is the one who could really kill me.”

As Gerson rightly notes, for women in this part of Congo, the complications of childbirth are as dangerous as the militias in the countryside.

One woman I met had given birth to 13 children, only six of whom survived. Women sometimes deliver in the fields while working. Medical help can be a few days’ journey away. Each birth raises the odds of a hemorrhage, infection or rupture. Those odds increase dramatically when births come early in life, or late in life, or in rapid succession. In Congo, almost one in five deaths of women during childbearing years is due to maternal causes.

And, he notes, “While both the pill and condoms are generally available in larger cities such as Goma, access is limited in rural districts. Determining the pace of reproduction is often a male prerogative instead of a shared decision. Sexual violence can be as close for a woman as gathering fuel in the woods.”

These are all absolutely true and I appreciate and admire Gerson for acknowledging these realities.

Well, yes…I am glad this PLUB has realized the problems his “pro-life-until-birth” ideals cause women in countries like the Congo who suffer inconceivable horrors during their child-bearing years.

The United States was once the global leader in funding family planning worldwide.  But U.S. funding of international family planning programs has remained essentially flat for the last 10 years, and is hamstrung by an increasing number of medically-unnecessary and ideologically-driven restrictions that end up reducing, rather than expanding access to this urgently-needed health intervention.

Gerson argues that support for family planning and contraceptive supplies shouldn’t be the ideological lightening rod it has become because:

“[e]ven in the most stringent Catholic teaching, the prevention of conception is not the moral equivalent of ending a life. And conservative Protestants have little standing to object to contraception, given the fact that they make liberal use of it. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, more than 90 percent of American evangelicals believe that hormonal and barrier methods of contraception are morally acceptable for adults. Children are gifts from God, but this does not require the collection of as many gifts as biologically possible.

In fact, more than 80 percent of the U.S. public writ large strongly supports women’s rights to determine the number and spacing of children they have.

Well, I am sorry, but I have trouble admiring this new-found reality, because it seems that Gerson has just pulled part of his PLUB head out of his ass…

As you can imagine, Gerson then shoves his head back up there when it comes to abortion as an option for women who do find themselves pregnant.

Gerson points to “[s]ome liberal advocates” who think these are intrinsically related.  In regard to self-determination, human rights, and public health, the linkage between a woman’s ability to prevent pregnancy and her ability to safely and legally terminate an unintended and untenable pregnancy are intrinsically linked and women know this. It only becomes ideological when religion and politics intervenes in these basic rights and tries to undermine them.

Gerson states, “support for contraception does not imply or require support for abortion.” Hey, there is no argument with that, but you can see where he is going with this statement…

What Gerson doesn’t clarify is that for the purpose of U.S. policy, contraception and abortion are already kept separate.  U.S. international family planning assistance goes solely to family planning information and supplies; it does not support access to safe abortion care.  Under the Helms Amendment, funding for abortion care is only allowable in cases of rape, incest or the health and life of the mother.  In reality, because of politics, U.S. funding is rarely if ever used even for these “allowable” conditions.  The issue of abortion would come into play if we were talking about repealing the Helms Amendment, …which has nothing to do with current discussions around the scope of U.S. international funding for family planning, unless you are a Congressperson trying to deflect attention from the fact that you don’t want to support family planning and want to ignore the evidence that it saves the lives of women and their children.

So when we talk about ideological fights around family planning, it really comes down to a majority male GOP Congressional leadership that vociferously opposes access to basic services that would enable women to choose the number and spacing of children they want by using basic family planning services.  Abortion is a red herring here, because it is not in the equation.  Gerson himself would have been more forceful if he had clarified that, and he also would have been more honest if in this piece he had reversed his own earlier position supporting the prohibition of integration of family planning into U.S. global AIDS programs, a position adopted by the Bush Administration and, unfortunately, continued by the Obama Administration that dramatically diminishes access to contraceptive supplies to HIV-positive women who desire not to have any more children.

Yeah, it is good Gerson has made the connection between Family Planning and protecting the lives of women and children who live in countries where childbirth can be so dangerous and basic needs like food and healthcare are completely unavailable to the children once they are born. But I do not see this new-found understanding crossing over to the women and children in his own country.

I don’t know, maybe I am being too cynical to give Gerson a pat on the back for his article in the Post…but when you read headlines like these below:

House votes to defund Planned Parenthood 

Planned Parenthood vs. The States: The Legal Battles Rage

Cutting off the money; Planned Parenthood battling to save funding

Birth control plan: Conscience vs. special interests

Planned Parenthood says it will close clinic Friday if funding not restored –

Letter: Defunding the promiscuity of others

Virginia Abortion Clinics Threatened By New Regulations

NC weighing appeal on Planned Parenthood ruling

New Hampshire Defunds Planned Parenthood, Tells Women: If You Want To Party, ‘Don’t Ask Me To Pay For It’ 

…what does Gerson’s statement pronouncing “Family Planning is Pro-Life” really going to do for women in this country?

Well, you know what my answer to that question is…

Catch y’all later in the comments!