Lazy Saturday Reads: Time to Put Our Problems into Perspective

Volcano Cambuco, Chile

Volcano Cambuco, Chile

Good Morning!!

Today is a good day to put things in perspective and meditate on how fortunate we are here in the United States, despite our serious social and political problems. Elsewhere, dramatic, uncontrollable earth changes are happening with disastrous results.

A disastrous earthquake hit Nepal this morning, with hundreds reported dead so far.

From the NY Daily News: 7.9-magnitude earthquake hits Nepal, kills 792 people, triggers Mt. Everest avalanche.

A 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Nepal killed at least 792 people, destroyed homes and landmarks and triggered an avalanche on Mt. Everest Saturday, officials said….

The devastation first struck Nepal’s densely populated Kathmandu Valley, sweeping through the capital Kathmandu before rippling outward.

“Almost the entire country has been hit,” Krishna Prasad Dhakal, deputy chief of mission at Nepal’s Embassy in New Delhi, told Reuters.

Nepal’s tourism jewel, Mt. Everest, was shaken by the country’s worst earthquake in 80 years, setting off an avalanche that killed eight and injured at least 30, officials said.

Here’s some shocking video from YouTube:

 

This was truly a giant earthquake. [Update: As I write this, USA Today is reporting 876 confirmed dead.]

The earthquake sent aftershocks in all directions, killing 20 in India, six in Tibet, two in Bangladesh, and two Chinese citizens at the Nepal-China border. The rumbling was also felt by some in Lahore, Pakistan and Lhasa.

A 6.6.-magnitude aftershock hit Nepal about an hour after the initial earthquake, and smaller aftershocks continued every few minutes as emergency responders rushed to save citizens and treat them in overcrowded hospitals….

The cosmic quake also injured dozens more and destroyed several centuries-old temples and towers, including the Dharahara Tower, one of the Nepal’s most famous landmarks, which dates back to the 1800s. People were trapped underneath it after it crumbled.

Nepal is going to need a lot of help and soon if lives are to be saved.

USA Today: Nepal quake occurred at major plate boundary.

Saturday’s catastrophic earthquake in Nepal occurred because of two converging tectonic plates: the India plate and the overriding Eurasia plate to the north, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Tectonic plates are the large, thin, relatively rigid plates that move relative to one another on the outer surface of the Earth.

Plates are always slowly moving, but they get stuck at their edges due to friction. When the stress on the edge overcomes the friction, there is an earthquake that releases energy in waves that travel through the earth’s crust and cause the shaking that we feel.

At the location of Saturday’s earthquake, about 50 miles to the northeast of the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, the India plate is converging with Eurasia at a rate of about two inches per year towards the north-northeast, driving the uplift of theHimalayan mountain range.

Although a major plate boundary with a history of large-to-great sized earthquakes, large quakes in this area are rare in the documented historical era, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. Over the past century, just four events of magnitude 6.0 or larger have occurred within about 150 miles of Saturday’s earthquake.

One, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake in August 1988 about 150 miles to the southeast of Saturay’s quake, caused nearly 1,500 fatalities, USGS said.

The largest event, a magnitude 8.0 known as the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake, occurred in a similar location to the 1988 quake. It severely damaged Kathmandu, and is thought to have caused around 10,600 deaths.

 

This photo from CNN shows emergency rescue workers in Kathmandu rushing an injured person to a hospital.

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The Guardian is posting live updates on the situation in Nepal.

 

I may be living in dignified poverty in a country filled with out-of-control religious fanatics and right wing haters, but at least I’m alive and well, with a roof over my head, heat, running water, electricity, and food to eat. I even have a Heaterator in my house for those cold days!

On Wednesday, Chile experienced a massive volcanic eruption that also set off earthquakes.

Gizmodo reported it live, with photos and gifs from news sites and Twitter.

Calbuco, a stratovolcano in southern Chile, began erupting yesterday [Wednesday] at 7pm local time. First spewing massive ash clouds then, at 10pm, erupting explosively as its fragile structure collapsed inwards….The Calbuco volcano in southern Chile is erupting for the first time in 42 years…

See more photos at Cruel Buzz:

15 Breathtaking pics of volcano eruption in Chile that forced 4000 to evacuate.

I’m including some of these amazing photos in this post.

From ABC yesterday: Chile Volcano Eruption: Inside a Ghost Town as Volcanic Ash Rains Down.

A volcano that was dormant for 42 years in Chile has erupted twice this week in a magnificent display. But the stunning twin blasts captured on photo and video has forced about 4,000 residents in towns nearby to evacuate as ash blanketed their neighborhoods.

The city of Ensenada, at the foot of the Calbuco volcano, was one of the most thickly covered in ash – which caused roofs to collapse and raised concerns about possible water contamination, respiratory illnesses and more grounded flights.

Chile’s national geology and mining service also warned people to prepare for a possible third and “even more aggressive eruption.”

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The LA Times: Calbuco volcano: Two earthquakes caused by fracturing rock, officials say.

A missing hiker was found alive late Thursday as ash from Chile’s Calbuco volcano continued to fill the air, piling on roadways and closing borders in the region.

The volcano first erupted Wednesday, marking the first such activity in more than 42 years, billowing a huge ash cloud over the sparsely populated, mountainous area in southern Chile.

A second, more powerful eruption hit around 1 a.m. Thursday, creating swarms of lightning storms. Stunning photos captured the phenomenon, known as “dirty thunderstorms,” which illuminated the night sky.

The eruption rained down as much as 15 to 20 inches of ash in the nearby town of Ensenada, officials said, closing schools and canceling flights. Several surrounding towns, including Alerce, Colonia Rio Sur and Correntos, were also evacuated.

About 7 p.m. local time, two earthquakes associated with fracturing of rock occurred. The largest happened less than 3 miles east of the main crater, with a magnitude of 3, officials said in a 9 p.m. update. An additional “minor” eruption is possible, officials said.

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According to the article, no deaths have been reported so far, and officials say they don’t have food or water shortages; but this eruption was huge.

Volcanic ash was falling in the Argentine resort city of Bariloche, about 68 miles east of Calbuco, the Associated Press reported. Officials there were analyzing the ash to see if it posed a threat to drinking water.

Officials closed several border crossings between Argentina and Chile, after “poor environmental conditions” made the roads impassable.

From Reuters early this morning: Chile volcano prompts new evacuations, flights to Argentina canceled.

Chilean volcano Calbuco, which erupted without warning on Wednesday, is still puffing out ash and smoke on Friday, prompting new evacuations and leading airlines to cancel flights to Argentine capital Buenos Aires, some 1,400 kilometers east.

Calbuco, considered one of the most dangerous along Chile’s chain of around 2,000 volcanoes, erupted twice in 24 hours on Wednesday and Thursday, sending up a spectacular 17 kilometer-high (11 miles) cloud and coating nearby towns in a thick layer of gray ash.

Authorities have set up a 20 kilometer (12 mile) cordon around Calbuco, which is located in the scenic Los Lagos region, around 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of capital Santiago.

An increase in volcanic activity caused potentially deadly lahars, a mix of water and rock fragments that flow down a volcano’s slopes and river valleys, prompting authorities to evacuate an additional 2,000 people.

“This is a complex (volcanic) process that could last for weeks,” said Rodrigo Alvarez, head of Chile’s mining and geological service.

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Of course we do face catastrophic risks here too. Remember that all that volcanic activity under Yellowstone National Park?

The Christian Science Monitor reports: Scientists find huge magma reservoir in Yellowstone ‘supervolcano’ (+video).

Scientists and tourists have always known that Yellowstone National Park featured lively geologic wonders – regular small earthquakes and two-thirds of the world’s geysers, including Old Faithful – all constituting what’s known as a “supervolcano.”

Now, seismologists at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City have made a new discovery about Yellowstone’s subsurface plumbing, specifically a reservoir of hot, partly molten rock more than four times larger than the shallower magma chamber that scientists already knew about. To give that some perspective, the newly discovered reservoir would fill the Grand Canyon 11 times, compared with 2.5 times for the shallower chamber.

“For the first time, we have imaged the continuous volcanic plumbing system under Yellowstone,” says Hsin-Hua Huang, a postdoctoral researcher in geology and geophysics at the university and the study’s lead author, in a statement. “That includes the upper crustal magma chamber we have seen previously plus a lower crustal magma reservoir that has never been imaged before and that connects the upper chamber to the Yellowstone hotspot plume below.”

The researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Science this week, emphasize that Yellowstone’s plumbing system is no larger – nor closer to erupting – than before. Now, however, they have used advanced techniques to make a complete image of the system that carries hot and partly molten rock upward from the top of the Yellowstone hot-spot plume – about 40 miles beneath the surface – to the magma reservoir and the magma chamber above it.

But the deeper chamber does mean that the shallow chamber can be replenished again and again.

If that thing blows, we can all kiss our asses goodbye. But we can’t just cower in our houses in fear, can we? We have to face today’s current events, and they can be pretty awful.

Of course, as I wrote at the outset, we do have some serious political and social problems in the good old USA.

I for one am very glad I don’t live in Missouri. Remember the black woman who was elected mayor of the small town of Kinloch? The racism seemingly runs deep in that place, which isn’t far from Ferguson. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

Alleging voter fraud, Kinloch refuses to swear in new mayor and alderman.

KINLOCH • Betty McCray, Kinloch’s newly elected Mayor, arrived at City Hall on Thursday morning with an entourage and the intention to fire multiple city employees.

But before she could enter the building, McCray was told she was the one who was out of job.

In the parking lot, McCray was met by a half-dozen police officers and City Attorney James Robinson, who held a manila envelope under his arm containing articles of impeachment.

“You can’t come in as mayor,” Robinson said. “You have been suspended.”

McCray refused to take the envelope, saying, “You may be the attorney now, but I promise you, you won’t be later.”

Robinson also told Alderman Eric Petty, an ally of McCray’s, that the board had drafted articles of impeachment against him. Petty, too, refused to accept them.

“We won,” he said. “It’s time for them to move on.”

Can you believe that? I guess it’s time for the Justice Department to investigate another Missouri police force.

Kinloch, the first city in Missouri to be incorporated by African-Americans, is situated between Ferguson and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. It once thrived with more than 10,000 residents. Then in the 1980s, the airport began buying homes for a noise-abatement program, purchasing roughly 1,360 properties. The city’s population plummeted, and poverty and blight took hold.

Today, Kinloch, which has fewer than 300 residents, is marked by pilfered coffers, shady land deals and increasingly bitter fights over the last remnants of political power.

During the past five years, the city has seen the imprisonment of a former mayor on federal fraud and theft charges, the hiring of a convicted felon as city manager, the selling of a previous city hall building to an alleged drug dealer and the unseating of at least two aldermen.

WTF do they need so many police officers for 300 residents?!

We’ll have to keep an eye on that story.

A few more reads for you, links only:

Washington Post: So far, NBC News finds Brian Williams embellished at least 11 times.

Paul Krugman on Clinton Rules.

Charles Pierce on his long-time nemesis, the goggle-eyed homonculus: Watching Scotty Blow, con’td, Road Trip. In which Scott Walker learns the difference between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Vice: Thousands Gather in Istanbul to Demand Turkey Recognize Armenian Mass Killings as Genocide.

NewJersey.com: Stephen A. Smith rips Patriots’ Tom Brady: You had time for George Bush, but not Barack Obama? For once, I have to agree with this perennial Patriots-hater.

Boston Globe: Tom Brady’s White House Absence: The 10 Most Interesting Theories.

Right now I’m wondering if I can even root for Brady next season–especially after I heard he was spotted at an Apple store in NYC last night.

Raw Story: Tennessee Gov. Haslam signs bill allowing handguns in parks.

Talking Points Memo: 2009 Memo Describes Concerns About Oklahoma Deputy’s Training.

ABC News: Each Death in Baltimore Makes Mistrust Harder to Overcome.

New York Times First Draft: Christie’s Wife Leaves Wall Street Job. So the scandal-plagued NJ governor must be planning to run for the GOP nomination.

USA Today: How the Comcast, Time-Warner Deal Unraveled. YAY!!!! One for the good guys.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a nice weekend.

 

 

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Saturday Reads: We’re Having A Heat Wave Edition

iceblock

Good Morning!!

The long weekend continues, and so does the heat wave here in Greater Boston. This is our second heat wave of this summer. I know these are just normal temps for you hardy souls in the South, but for us Northerners, it’s quite a shock to the system.

From The Boston Globe: As heat wave hits, region falls under a sultry spell.

The torpor-inducing temperatures, expected to last through Sunday, will feel hotter than the last, said Bill Simpson, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Friday’s high was 95 degrees with 55 percent humidity, he said, but the heat index, which combines temperature and relative humidity to measure how hot it feels, hit nearly 100. There will be no relief until Monday, he said, when temperatures should cool to the mid- to low-80s.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino issued a heat advisory through the weekend, urging residents to stay hydrated and in the shade or air conditioning….

To stave off the heat, many turned to ice. The number of convenience stores and restaurants needing extra ice rose “exponentially” since the beginning of the heat wave, said Charlotte Ploss, sales manager at Brookline Ice & Coal, which specializes in ice delivery. The phones there rang nonstop Friday morning and afternoon, sometimes with customers requesting ice for the second or third time of the day.

One supermarket ordered 4 tons of ice, Ploss said. A restaurant called for so many ice refills that Brookline Ice & Coal offered use of a company trailer, which holds 3,000 pounds of ice. Because the restaurant does not have enough space for the trailer, its owner is parking it in his driveway, she said.

So what else is going on? The President of Venezuela has offered asylum to Edward Snowden. From Reuters via the NYT:

CARACAS — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered asylum to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on Friday in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret U.S. spy programs.

“In the name of America’s dignity … I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to Edward Snowden,” Maduro told a military parade marking Venezuela’s independence day.

“He is a young man who has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the United States spying on the whole world.”

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How Snowden would get to Venezuela from Moscow if he accepts the offer no one knows as yet.

There are no direct commercial flights between Moscow and Caracas, and the usual route involves changing planes in Havana. It is not clear if the Cuban authorities would let him transit….

One alternative flight plan would involve an aircraft taking off from Moscow, refueling in Vladivostok, and then continuing east over the Pacific to South America.

Nicaragua has also said it would consider offering Snowden asylum. Both Venezuela and Nicaragua have questionable human rights records; but no doubt, Snowden supporters will find ways to explain all that away.

The Washington Post has a feature on Sarah Harrison, “the woman from Wikileaks” who accompanied Snowden to Moscow and is reportedly still there.

Harrison began working with WikiLeaks in August 2010 on the internal vetting of confidential U.S. documents supplied by Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, which the site later released. At some point that year, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Harrison and Assange became intimately involved. They cautioned that the relationship was not Harrison’s prime motivation in championing the WikiLeaks cause.

“She is firmly committed to what WikiLeaks is trying to do; she believes 100 percent in the mission,” one of the people said. “Any suggestion that her relationship with Julian is what has compelled her to do the things she has would be a totally wrong assumption.”

Although those who know her as an Assange confidante describe her as more comfortable behind the scenes, Harrison now finds herself in the spotlight. She has raced across continents to aid Snowden, assisting in his flight from Hong Kong and his search for asylum from Moscow. On Friday, Venezuela and Nicaragua offered Snowden asylum. All the while, she has has maintained a low profile and refrained from public statements.

Read the rest at the link.

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In Chile, another human rights issue has arisen once again–the right of girls and women to control their own bodies. USA Today reports: Child’s pregnancy sets off Chile abortion debate.

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The case of a pregnant 11-year old girl who was raped in Chile by her mother’s partner has set off a national debate about abortion in one of the most socially-conservative countries in Latin America.

Chileans were outraged on Friday after state TV reported that the girl is 14 weeks pregnant and was raped repeatedly over two years. Police in the remote southern city of Puerto Montt arrested her mother’s partner, who confessed to abusing the fifth grader. The case was brought to their attention by the pregnant child’s maternal grandmother.

Doctors say the girl’s life and that of the fetus are at high risk. But in Chile, ending the pregnancy is not an option.

Chile allowed abortions for medical reasons until they were outlawed in 1973 by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The current government of conservative President Sebastian Pinera has opposed any loosening of the prohibition.

One has to assume that Republicans here in the U.S. are applauding this horror, since they keep trying to limit women’s autonomy with nightmare legislation in numerous states. The latest is Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker just signed a draconian new anti-abortion bill. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:

Madison — Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Friday requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, and abortion clinics responded by immediately suing state officials over the measure.

The law — signed Friday by Walker in a private ceremony — would cut the number of clinics offering abortions in Wisconsin from four to two, and one of the remaining clinics would have to dramatically cut the number of abortions it provides, according to the operators of the clinics.

“When women don’t have access to safe, legal abortions, there are health consequences and women die,” said Teri Huyck, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin….

Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services filed the lawsuit in federal court in Madison. They brought it against Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dave Ross and the members of the state Medical Examining Board — all of whom have authority to enforce the law or issue sanctions.

It will be heard by U.S. District Judge William Conley. It was unclear whether he would take action before the law takes effect Monday.

The National Journal is bullish on the latest jobs report. The Really Great News From the June Jobs Report: the April and May Numbers

Happy jobs day! First, the immediate good news: The June report showed the U.S. economy added 195,000 in June, strongly beating expectations in the 150,000-165,000 range. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, was unchanged at 7.6 percent.

But now for the really good news: We were quite wrong about job gains in April and May. Initial reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a jobs gain of 149,000 in April and 175,000 in May. In the latest reports, those numbers were revised upward to 199,000 in April and 195,000 in May. That’s a combined gain of 70,000 jobs from earlier reports. So, since April, it turns out that the economy has actually gained nearly 200,000 new jobs a month.

They admit the unemployment situation is still pretty horrible overall. Read about it at the link.

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Here’s a wacky story out of Texas: Gun owners march on Houston police station with shotguns and assault rifles.

A group of gun owners and gun rights advocates celebrated Independence Day on Thursday by marching on the headquarters of the Houston Police Department while carrying an array of shotguns and assault rifles. According to the Washington Examiner, the group was organized via Facebook and numbered about 25 attendees.

“It’s Independence Day — where it all started,” said shotgun toting protester Jenn Kroll, to the Houston Chronicle. “What better day to show our rights?”

“If you don’t use your rights, they can take them away,” Ed Aldredge of Sugar Land said. Aldridge brought along his 11-year-old son, Austin, who carried a .22-caliber rifle.

No mention in the story about how Houston police reacted to the march.

Violence continues in Egypt where the army and Morsi supporters are battling each other. From BBC News:

More than 30 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in Friday’s violence following the ousting of Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, it has emerged.

At least 12 died in Alexandria, and eight in two separate clashes in Cairo, the Health Ministry said….

Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, is in detention.

Some senior figures of his Muslim Brotherhood movement have also been held.

Early on Saturday, state media reported the Brotherhood’s deputy leader Khairat el-Shater had been arrested at his Cairo home on suspicion of incitement to violence.

The Tamarod [Rebel] movement – which organised recent anti-Morsi protests – accused the ousted president of pursuing an Islamist agenda against the wishes of most Egyptians, and of failing to tackle economic problems.

So…quite a bit of news for a long holiday weekend. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Moody’s: Dump the Debt Ceiling

Reuters reports that the ratings agency Moody’s is once again involving itself in the debate over the federal debt by suggested the U.S. eliminate the debt ceiling. Here’s the argument:

The United States is one of the few countries where Congress sets a ceiling on government debt, which creates “periodic uncertainty” over the government’s ability to meet its obligations, Moody’s said in a report.

“We would reduce our assessment of event risk if the government changed its framework for managing government debt to lessen or eliminate that uncertainty,” Moody’s analyst Steven Hess wrote in the report….

“…the current wide divisions between the House of Representatives and the Obama administration over the debt limit creates a high level of uncertainty and causes us to raise our assessment of event risk,” Hess said.

Moody’s suggested that the U.S. could use Chile as a model for fiscal responsibility:

“Elsewhere, the level of deficits is constrained by a ‘fiscal rule,’ which means the rise in debt is constrained though not technically limited,” Moody’s said, adding that such rule has been effective in Chile.

I’m sure that will go over well with the Tea Party types.

Moody’s argues that dumping the debt ceiling would be far better than the current “compromise” plan which would force Democrats to vote three times on raising the borrowing limit during the lead up to the 2012 presidential election. From CNN Money:

On Monday, Moody’s threw some cold water on a backup plan that is gaining momentum among lawmakers as the chances of a compromise deal fade.

The plan, crafted by Sens. Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, would allow the debt ceiling to be increased, while shifting the political blame for that action from Congress to the White House….

“Without more substantial deficit reductions being included in such a plan, it would be negative for the long-term outlook,” the report said.

But overall, Moody’s said “the U.S. would be better off if the debt ceiling were eliminated entirely.”

The McConnell-Reid plan would also establish a new Catfood Commission with the power to produce legislation that could not be amended by Congress.

I’m sure Moody’s would be OK with that, but I’m sure not. Maybe Congress needs to dump the McConnell-Reid catfood-for-everyone-but-the-rich-plan and get rid of the debt ceiling instead.


Sunday Reads: Women’s World Cup, Whitey Bulger, Teacher Cheaters, Chilean Miners and Camel Farts?

Eat your Cheerioats this morning?

Good morning!

Many of our readers know this past week has been an absolute frustrating hell…and it is only going to continue.  So if you don’t mind, I won’t mention anything about the smoke and mirror show going on now in Washington.  Today’s Sunday Reads is going to be on the light side…as far as the political news stories are concerned.  You won’t find any in this post… So sit back and enjoy the interesting links I have found for you today.

First thing…the Women’s World Cup…Hurray for US Women’s Soccer!

Yes, some excited news out of Germany.  The US Woman’s team is in the finals against Japan.  Women’s World Cup – This Time, a Show Worth Watching – NYTimes.com

In cities across Germany, 16 teams have been competing for the sixth World Cup title (men have had 19) and — thanks to a buzzer-beater against Brazil and some true grit against France — the Americans meet Japan in Sunday’s final in Frankfurt.

For those of you who are more into soccer, there is a good analysis of the players on both teams here on Sports Illustrated:  U.S. women favored against Japan in Women’s World Cup final – Georgina Turner – SI.com

The game is scheduled to start today at 2:45pm EST and 11:45am PST, ESPN will be covering the game live.

Now, yesterday Boston Boomer asked in the comments when the next spectacular trial will be starting, aside from the Michael Jackson one, or actually his doctor’s involuntary manslaughter trial. (Starts in September…) The next trial I am looking forward to is the one in Boston…Here is a real engrossing article about the sons of one of Whitey’s 19 murder victims.  In Whitey Bulger Case, a Voice for the Victims – NYTimes.com

Heads turned as the lanky man made his way to the courtroom pews reserved for those who suffer because of the criminal Whitey Bulger. The face of an altar boy masked his rage, and a shirt of powder-blue covered his tattoos, including one evoking the Celtic cross that adorns his father’s gravestone.

“Tommy’s here,” one of the many reporters whispered, and others nodded, for it was like saying that all of Boston had just walked into Federal District Court to bear witness.

Tommy Donahue, a union electrician, 37 years old, with one good eye and the nickname of Bagga — as in bag of bones — attends nearly every Bulger-related hearing as the representative of the 19 people Mr. Bulger is accused of killing, especially Michael Donahue, his father. He then tells the news media assembled outside exactly what he thinks, his every word accented with Dorchester distrust.

“To be honest with you,” Mr. Donahue often begins, as if to suggest that in this uncomfortable summer of Bulger, honesty needs to be stipulated.

Tommy Donahue and his family are seeking some closure in the murder of their father and husband, Michael Donahue.

Now that Mr. Bulger’s return has exhumed a damning past never properly buried in the first place, a half-blind electrician from Dorchester is once again speaking out. And everyone in Boston knows that in this matter, Tommy Donahue has standing.

In the late afternoon of May 11, 1982, a union truck driver, the son of a Boston police officer, found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s how a wise guy later summed it up, in the oops philosophy of the underworld: wrong place, wrong time.

Give the rest of the article a read. This family has been through a horrible experience, they deserve some justice.

Meanwhile, back in my own state of Georgia, there has been a huge scandal involving cheating in schools.  But it wasn’t the kids cheating…it was the teachers and school administrators.  Atlanta schools created culture of cheating, fear – CBS Atlanta News

Teachers spent nights huddled in a back room, erasing wrong answers on students’ test sheets and filling in the correct bubbles. At another school, struggling students were seated next to higher-performing classmates so they could copy answers.

Those and other confessions are contained in a new state report that reveals how far some Atlanta public schools went to raise test scores in the nation’s largest-ever cheating scandal. Investigators concluded that nearly half the city’s schools allowed the cheating to go unchecked for as long as a decade, beginning in 2001.

Administrators – pressured to maintain high scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law – punished or fired those who reported anything amiss and created a culture of “fear, intimidation and retaliation,” according to the report released earlier this month, two years after officials noticed a suspicious spike in some scores.

The report names 178 teachers and principals, and 82 of those confessed. Tens of thousands of children at the 44 schools, most in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, were allowed to advance to higher grades, even though they didn’t know basic concepts.

One teacher told investigators the district was “run like the mob.”

“Everybody was in fear,” another teacher said in the report. “It is not that the teachers are bad people and want to do it. It is that they are scared.”

In an effort to keep from losing funding, you know that no kid left behind bill that really does not work as well as those politicians say it does…teachers and administrators were cheating on standardized test.  School systems in Washington DC, Philadelphia and Los Angeles are currently under investigation for cheating.

Experts say the cheating scandal – which involved more schools and teachers than any other in U.S. history – has led to soul-searching among other urban districts facing cheating investigations and those that have seen a rapid rise in test scores.

In Georgia, teachers complained to investigators that some students arrived at middle school reading at a first-grade level. But, they said, principals insisted those students had to pass their standardized tests. Teachers were either ordered to cheat or pressured by administrators until they felt they had no choice, authorities said.

One principal forced a teacher to crawl under a desk during a faculty meeting because her test scores were low. Another principal told teachers that “Walmart is hiring” and “the door swings both ways,” the report said.

Another principal told a teacher on her first day that the school did whatever was necessary to meet testing benchmarks, even if that meant “breaking the rules.”

Wow, The article is a long one, but give it a read, it is hard to imagine all these students for the last 10 plus years getting passed on through the system. What kind of jobs and productive lives could these people have if their education was nothing but a farce.

HuffPo has the latest here: Teachers Implicated In Atlanta Cheating Scandal Told To Resign Or Get Fired

The 178 educators implicated in the Atlanta Public Schools’ cheating investigation received letters in their mailboxes Friday from interim Superintendent Erroll Davis. The message: Resign by Wednesday, or get fired.

The announcement comes after Davis replaced four area superintendents and two principals as a result of the investigation into alleged cheating by teachers, revealed early this month. APS Human Resources Chief Millicent Few resigned Monday. Investigators accused Few of illegally ordering the destruction or altering of important documents that evidenced the cheating.

According to the article, the entire process could take months.  Some teachers have retained lawyers to fight for their jobs.

Another long read for you:  Los 33: Chilean miners face up to a strange new world | World news | The Observer

The rescue of 33 miners from Chile’s San José mine after 69 days trapped underground was a triumph shared with the whole world. But the transition back to normality is proving difficult for both the men and their families

These miners have just filed a lawsuit against the mining company and country of Chile for negligence. It is the start of a long legal battle as the men and their families are still trying to adjust and heal from the trauma of being buried alive, 2,000 feet down for 69 days.

Moving on to something very cool…check out this eye candy: The Maddow Blog – Lost afternoon: British tattoo history

Jezebel ran a great set of photos yesterday related to Great Britain’s first professional female tattoo artist, Jessie Knight, including the one above, likely dating back to the early 1930s.

Some neat pictures at the link…I have five tattoos myself, so seeing some history about woman tattoo artist is cool as hell.

From Minx’s Missing Link File:  The website this next link comes from, called Geekosystem, is a sister site to Mediaite.  I could have posted so many cool geeky science articles but this one popped out at me.  I don’t know, perhaps it was the photo of the  majestic animal…with her head held high, or perhaps it was the phrase “farting camels” that struck my childish, immature heart-strings? Anyway, here it is:  Australia Considering Camel Kill To Reduce Global Warming | Geekosystem

Farting camels make global warming worse, death to the camels! It would be nice if there was something (anything?) that we could blame for climate change, other than human actions. But, farting camels? What seems like a ridiculous farting farce, is actually a real plan being considered by officials in Australia to kill camels for their alleged role in global warming.

The idea is that killing camels, who release methane gas when they fart, would solve global warming in Australia because their farting has a serious impact on the country’s carbon emissions. The International Society of Camelid Research Development (ISOCARD), has called the proposed camel-cull “stupid,” and an “abomination of science,” in addition to declaring that it would make camels scape-goats for a man-made problem.

Sound a bit far fetched to you? Well, what if I told you that there was money to be had…or at least carbon tax credits for Australia’s big corporations. See, one dead camel equals a tax credit based on the amount of carbon fart emissions that the average camel puts out.

Australia still relies on coal for power and has one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. The government has set plans to start taxing the country’s biggest polluters, but these companies will be able to buy carbon credits to offset their emissions.

So far, it remains to be seen what will happen to the camels, but ISOCARD seems ready to fight for feral camels, who in all their farting glory, are not a major player in Australia’s carbon emission problem.

I don’t know, but I can bet there will be some pissed off animal lovers down in Australia if this plan goes through.

Easy like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  Another one from Down Under…this one has nothing to do with camelid flatulence. The Earth/Sky website is freaking awesome!  Check this video out:  Astonishing time lapse video of the Australian night sky | Earth | EarthSky

This beautiful collection of images depicts the Milky Way from the Southern Ocean Coast in Australia and was posted on Vimeo by Alex Cherney. Complete description can be found here.

Here is a direct link to the video: http://vimeo.com/terrastro/oceansky

Well, that is it for me…post links to whatever you like below in the comment section. Hell, post some of your thoughts if you don’t have a link…

Hope you have an awesome Sunday.


SDB Evening News Reads for 060611: D-Day, for real…

Yes, today is the 67th anniversary of the allied invasion of France.  (If you read Sunday Reads, you would see that I mistakenly thought June 6th  was yesterday…that is what happens when you forget to write the morning blog post, and end up writing it at 3 o’clock in the morning.)

Starting this evening news reads with some cool pictures. The volcano erupting in Chile has been giving photographers quite a show.

Chile volcano eruption – in pictures | World news | guardian.co.uk

A volcano dormant for decades erupted in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic chain in south-central Chile, belching an ash cloud more than six miles high over the Andes and into a ski resort in Argentina.

The women’s world cup series is starting this month in Germany.  Here is a link to the speech Hillary gave at The Launching of the Women’s World Cup Initiative.

I wonder what she would think about this recent news about the Iran’s women’s team, and there disqualification from the Olympics.  According to this article from Guardian, the football players game uniforms do not adhere to the Olympic rules, and therefore makes them unable to play.

Iran’s women footballers banned from Olympics because of Islamic strip | Football | guardian.co.uk

Iran's women's football team

The Iranian women’s football team were banned from playing, moments before an Olympic qualifier against Jordan, because of their strip. Photograph: Ali Jarekji/Reuters

Iran‘s dream of competing in the London 2012 Olympic women’s football tournament have been crushed by an unexpected ruling that their Islamic dress broke Fifa rules, said a football federation official in Tehran.

Iran is complaining to the world ruling body after its women were banned from playing, moments before an Olympic qualifier against Jordan last week, due to their full-body strip that includes a head scarf.

The uniforms were previously approved by the Olympic committee. However, when the women went out on the field to play their qualifying game against Amman, the officials said their headdress went beyond the head scarf length approved by Fifa.

“Fifa’s decision in March 2010 which permitted that players be allowed to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck, was still applicable.
“Despite initial assurances that the Iranian delegation understood this, the players came out wearing the hijab, and the head and neck totally covered, which was an infringement of the Laws of the Game. The match commissioner and match referee therefore decided to apply correctly the Laws of the Game, which ended in the match being abandoned.”

Any thoughts on that? Be sure to comment down below…

Trump was barking his false assertions on Fox and Friends this morning.  Honestly, what is it about this guy that makes people weak in the knees…well not all people, but a lot of them.  Trump Says “I Don’t Send” Jobs “Overseas,” But His Clothing Line Is Made In China | Media Matters for America

On the June 6 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, real-estate mogul and Fox News contributor Donald Trump boasted: “I employ a number of people that happen to work in this country. I don’t send it overseas.” However, Trump’s clothing line is reportedly made in China, Mexico and Bangladesh.

What an jackass Trump is, of course none of the Foxy Friends pointed out his deceptive claims…Just like no one is waving a red flag about Bachmann and her outrageous statements. Except of course, for MoJo here and here.

And speaking of asses, Wonk the Vote had an awesome article about dumbasses early this morning, if you missed it, check it out.

Moving away from asses of both the dumb and jack variety… a h/t to Suburban Guerrilla for this link to an interview with a nuclear scientist as he talks about the concerns of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Be sure to check it out, especially those who live along the West Coast.

This next article is very disturbing, especially for those of us who have siblings or relatives that are developmentally disabled. Boy’s Death Highlights Crisis in Homes for Disabled – NYTimes.com

…on a February afternoon in 2007, Jonathan, a skinny, autistic 13-year-old, was asphyxiated, slowly crushed to death in the back seat of a van by a state employee who had worked nearly 200 hours without a day off over 15 days. The employee, a ninth-grade dropout with a criminal conviction for selling marijuana, had been on duty during at least one previous episode of alleged abuse involving Jonathan.

“I could be a good king or a bad king,” he told the dying boy beneath him, according to court documents.

In the front seat of the van, the driver, another state worker at O. D. Heck, watched through the rear-view mirror but said little. He had been fired from four different private providers of services to the developmentally disabled before the state hired him to care for the same vulnerable population.

The article goes on to say that there is a culture of abuse that is accepted and ignored when it comes to many employees and supervisors of these care centers. Proof of the abuse can be found on employee Facebook pages, as one employee of Sunmount Developmental Center in the Adirondacks, bragged about beating a “retard.”

The most damning accounts about the operations come from employees — thwarted whistle-blowers from around the state — and the beleaguered family members of residents.

Dozens of people with direct experience in the system echoed a central complaint about the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities: that the agency fails to take complaints seriously or curtail abuse of its residents.

As a direct caregiver states:

“You report stuff, and then you get retaliated against. They want everything kept quiet. People that are outspoken attract the heat. I don’t know who to talk to when I see a problem. Nothing ever gets done.”

I don’t know what to say about it. Having a brother with Down Syndrome my sensitivity about the abuses discussed in this article is intensified. With all the people unemployed or underemployed it seems that these centers would be able to find good employees…yet, the good employees that try and protect the people they are supposed to be caring for, by alerting the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities about abuse, are ignored. Sad, Sad, Sad.

We have to end this post on an up note.  Many of you may remember that Playing for Change is something that I have written about many times.  Our own Dakinikat has even played guitar with Grandpa Elliot, and one of her neighbors is Washboard Chaz.

Acting Locally, Riffing Globally | Mother Jones

Not many New Orleans buskers who’ve been working the streets as long as Grandpa Elliott has (60 years) will ever perform for a crowd of 15,000—in Morocco no less. But film producer Mark Johnson and his Playing For Change Foundation has been making such unlikely events happen. For the past decade, Johnson has been globetrotting with recording equipment and a vision: to bring far-flung musicians together, sometimes through technology, sometimes face-to-face.

If you would like to purchase the new CD/DVD just click this link here:  Playing For Change | Peace Through Music

That is it for me, what are you all doing this evening?


Social Security: Reform, Refund or Opt-Out? (Part 3)

Lessons from the World

One of the most interesting things about the large number of countries Osaka Asahi Shinbunreforming their public pension programs is how dissimilar many are to the United States.  A large number are in Latin America or are Asia countries that are not experiencing the demographic challenges faced by the United States.  Instead, they reform their systems because the old systems have lost their store of value function.  Privatization is required because the trust between recipients and their governments has broken down.  Chile (1981), Columbia (1993), Peru (1993), Mexico (1997), Bolivia (1997), El Salvador (1998) and Kazakhstan (1998)  have the least future demographic problems, are not developed countries, and have had the largest reforms.[1]  The expected retirement benefits in these countries are now derived from the income produced by an asset portfolio in individual accounts.

The most moderate reforms have happened in countries with high per capita incomes and severe demographic problems.  These countries include Switzerland (1985), the United Kingdom (1986), Denmark (1990), Australia (1992), Argentina (1994), China (1995), Uruguay (1996), Hungary (1998), Sweden (1998) and Poland (1999).  These developed countries have adopted systems that blend defined contribution accounts with a defined benefit.  Germany and Japan have serious demographic problems.  They are also highly developed countries.  They—like the United States—have passed minor reforms.  These countries have less suspicion that their government will not provide secure retirement resources somehow.  Traditional PAYG systems require a “social contract.”  Trust between workers of different generations is higher developed countries than in developing countries.  Trust between households and government is also higher.

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Looking for the Copper Lining

I’ve been earning my creds as a dismal scientist lately.  However, it’s spring, it’s sunny here in the Big Easy where Jazz chile-torresdelpaineFest season is rocking on and I’d just like to share an example of an administration somewhere in the world that’s done the right thing.   I’d like to introduce you to a dismal scientist that’s doing the right thing for his country.  I found the news at Dani Rodrik’s weblog Unconventional thoughts on economic development and globalization and it’s about Chile and the Minister of Finance, Andres Velasco.

When macroeconomists talk about Keynesian policy, politicians only like the one side.  That would be the side where they get to cut taxes and increase spending.  This usually leads to re-election.  However, that’s the one side of fiscal policy.  You get to deficit spend, throw every one tax cuts, and run up your budget when the economy is in a recession.  The other side is that the government should restrain itself and run a surplus during the good times.  We had that after Bill Clinton left office.  Dubya blew it with his rebates for every one.  Then he started a war and kept spending and giving tax cuts when the economy was recovering.  This is a classic no-no because it leaves you very little wiggle room when you need to take care of a recession.  This is especially true when it’s as bad as it is now.  The U.S. generally has a larger national credit card than most countries so we might not hit our limit any time soon although China and taxpayers have been grumbling recently as well as Republicans for whom bellicose grumbling is a fine art.  However, small countries, especially those in Latin America, don’t have the national credibility of European countries or North America.  They can only borrow so much.

Enter Chile, it’s nationally owned copper industry, and its finance minister, a macroeconomist, Andres Velasco.   He andres_velascoactually did the politically unpopular thing of not increasing Chile’s spending or decreasing its taxes during the good times and because of this huge surplus Chile now enjoys, Chile’s in excellent shape to weather the current global economic crisis.

So, here’s Dani’s bragging on his friend and colleague who deserves the accolades and popularity he now enjoys.

Until the current crisis hit, Chile’s economy was booming, fueled in part by high world prices for copper, its leading export.  The government’s coffers were flush with cash.  (Chile’s main copper company is state-owned, which may be a surprise to those who think Chile runs on a free-market model!)  Students demanded more money for education, civil servants higher salaries, and politicians clamored for more spending on all kinds of social programs.

Being fully aware of Latin America’s commodity boom-and-bust-cycles and recognizing that high copper prices were temporary, Velasco stood his ground and decided to do what any good macroeconomist would do:  smooth intertemporal consumption by saving most of the copper surplus.  He ran up the largest fiscal surpluses Chile has seen in modern times.

This didn’t make Velasco very popular.  Last November, public sector workers marched in downtown Santiago, burning an effigy of Velasco.

But by the time the financial crisis hit Chile, Velasco (and the Central Bank governor Jose de Gregorio, another fine macroeconomist) had accumulated a war chest equal to a stupendous 30% of GDP.

The price of copper plummeted 52 percent from Sept. 30 to year-end, and Velasco dusted off his checkbook. In the first week of January, he and Bachelet unveiled a $4 billion package of tax cuts and subsidies…  Velasco’s stimulus spending, includ[ed] 40,000-peso ($68.41) handouts to 1.7 million poor families…

The surpluses accumulated during the good years has given the Chilean government unusual latitude in responding to the crisis.  As a result, the economy is doing much better than its peers.  As Bloomberg reports, “the country’s economy is expected to grow 0.1 percent in 2009, as the region contracts 1.5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.”

And does good economics pay off politically?  Eventually, yes.  Five months after being burned in effigy, Velasco is currently President Bachelet’s most popular minister.

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