Saturday, June 20, 2009
Right now, the best source of up-to-the-minute reports of the evolving in situation in Iran are coming from people there sharing via social networking. We think twitter looks like perhaps the best source right now. We're going to be picking up selected tweets that appear to provide the best insight into what is happening. *Remember*, this is social networking! Verifiability is always an issue. Read with a cautious eye. -- ma/TO
Lisa Boscov-Ellen on water as a commodity; David bacon on the plight of migrant workers; US accepts blame for civilian deaths on Afghanistan; Mark Weisbrot on the 2010 congressional elections; US Navy prepares to stop North Korean ship; unemployment figures rise in May; and more...
Friday, June 19, 2009
Game Changer in Iran
Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione and board member Reza Aslan explain how the drama being played out on the streets of Iran and behind the scenes may bring fundamental change to international relations including the nuclear impasse and to the country itself, on the Rachel Maddow Show. Watch the interviews here.
Leonard Pitts Jr., The Miami Herald: "Modern conservatism is defined by an Alice-through-the-looking-glass incoherence: small government except when it is growing larger than ever, fiscal restraint except when we are spending like Michael Jackson in a Disney gift shop, foreign-policy pragmatism except when we are trying to transform the Middle East. Indeed, sometimes it feels as if it is no longer defined by principles at all, nor by energy and ideas, but rather, by a limitless ability to feel put upon and slighted."
Thursday, June 18, 2009
'Greg Vadala and Edward Epstein, Congressional Quarterly: "The Senate adopted a resolution Thursday offering a formal apology for slavery and the era of 'separate but equal' Jim Crow laws that followed. After the clerk finished reading the resolution (S Con Res 26) in full, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, the measure's sponsor, noted that Congress has never before issued a formal apology for slavery."
GREEN IS GOOD
by Meg White
You'd be hard-pressed to find two words more closely associated with America than "disposable" and "plastic." Does it follow then, that banning single-use plastic bags is un-American?
If so, you'll have to add "treason" to my list of transgressions this month: I'm going without.
More on that in a bit. First, let's take in the latest news regarding a ban on disposable plastic bags. The head of the United Nations environmental program made waves earlier this month when he suggested a global ban on throw-away plastic bags. From McClatchy:
"Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme.
His remarks accompanied a UNEP report on the global challenge of marine pollution identified plastic as the most pervasive litter in the world's oceans.
As I mulled over the virtual uproar over banning plastic bags worldwide, my stomach growled. I went to the fridge and grabbed my lunch, which was wrapped in a plastic grocery bag. Opening up the bag, my sandwich posed another layer of plastic to navigate, this one brought to you by your friends at Ziploc.
Am I part of the problem? I asked myself. Should I try out a ban on myself?
The phrase "ban on plastic bags," however, is misleading. Media reports that breathlessly gush about a citywide or countrywide "ban" are usually referring to a tax on single-use plastic bags, as is the case in Ireland. The country was the first to institute what it called the "plastax" -- a surcharge on each plastic bag that now amounts to the equivalent of about 33 American cents -- in 2002.
It may not be a ban, but it tends to have the same effect. The New York Times reported last year that in Ireland "plastic bags became socially unacceptable -- on par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after your dog."
Though, in the hometown of The Gray Lady, you're more likely to face a fine for ignoring Fido's output than Filene's. Earlier this month New York City ditched a proposal to add a five-cent tax to plastic bags.
The idea is catching on elsewhere, however. African countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda have restricted and/or taxed the use of plastic bags. San Francisco banned plastic bags from large grocery stores and pharmacies in favor of recyclable paper or compostable bags in 2007. From Philadelphia and Seattle to China and Australia, everyone seems to be getting in on the act. Even Los Angeles, the city where nothing is more natural than plastic, will ban the bags by 2010.
My fair city hasn't quite gotten the memo yet. Despite attempts to institute a plastic bag ban in Illinois and Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley's vision of the greenest city in the world remains his own personal delusion (although, the Chicago City Council was able to ban the tiny plastic bags used by drug dealers last year, which clearly impressed me).
But I can rail against Chicago's greenwashing program only so long before finding ways in which I can be more environmentally friendly without municipal aid. Feeling that a citywide ban on single-use plastic bags is far from reach, not to mention a worldwide one, I thought I'd try it out myself.
Unsure about my ability to live without plastic, and aware of the efficacy of wide-open scrutiny, I thought I'd try it Super Size Me style: For the next month, I'm going without disposable plastic bags.
I was inspired by a number of things. Writing about the giant floating "islands" of garbage, mostly plastic, was one such inspiration. And the idea of 100,000 marine animals dying each year because I left my tote at home is troubling, if a little overly dramatic. If you're still feeling cynical, try staring at the ever-whirling tally of the number of plastic bags that have been consumed this year -- around a half million every minute -- at the top of this Web site.
Now, this is not going to be easy for me. I don't have a vehicle, so stowing a reusable tote in my trunk is not an option. I'm also too squeamish to wash out Ziploc-style bags to turn them into something re-usable. Can I survive a month without Ziploc?
The single-use plastic bag is about as old as I am, having been introduced 25 to 30 years ago in this country, depending upon whom you ask. For those of us who don't remember a time before the option of "paper or plastic," the task may be more daunting. But I figure if I can keep in mind that such a time did exist, and humanity made it pretty far without plastic bags, the task will be measurably easier.
In order to track my progress, I'm going to use the following self-tax system: I will charge myself (to be deposited in a glass change jar for each infraction) 10 cents every time I throw away plastic that is not commonly banned, such as the aforementioned Ziploc, plastic wrap or garbage liners. And I will charge myself the symbolic 33 cents the Irish pay if I catch myself using one of those naughty single-use bags, even if it is a second or third use. I'll be dropping off my massive collection of single-use plastic bags this Saturday at my local co-op, which does not buy bags but relies on neighbors such as myself to drop their bags off to be re-used by customers.
And as a part of BuzzFlash's effort to show that action on the Internet is more than just signing petitions, I encourage you to take up this challenge along with me. Go for the next month without plastic bags.
I'll report back to the BuzzFlash community every week to let you guys know how it's coming. I urge you to play along at home, as they say. Keep score with me, and maybe we'll save up enough in self-inflicted taxes to donate to a worthy environmental cause (suggestions welcome). But I'm hoping my change jar will be relatively empty a month from now.
So stay tuned for my bag-less updates. And in the meantime, join in the discussion by commenting below.
GREEN IS GOOD
President Obama announced his 10 year plan for Afghanistan. It includes an additional 21,000 U.S. military forces deployed in Iraq and diplomatic engagement of Pakistan. He is still trying to force political and social change through the Pentagon.
We have a better plan: focus on diplomatic cooperation and humanitarian aid, mitigate civilian causalities by scaling back military force.
The United Nations, U.S. and British generals, peace groups, and 19 members of Congress agree:
“The war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily and success is only possible through political means including dialogue between all relevant parties.”
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
We now have a chance to wrestle control of the Internet's future away from Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T and other telco giants.
Rep. Eric Massa has just introduced a bill in Congress, called the Broadband Internet Fairness Act, that will restrict telcos' ability to charge outrageous rates for using the Internet. This bill would be the first step toward guaranteeing an open, fast and accessible Internet for all Americans.
Please visit the URL below to tell your member of Congress to support this important piece of legislation:
Monday, June 15, 2009
Larry Abramson, NPR News: "For schools, computers for students are essential, but they are also expensive. With budget pressures increasing, schools are looking for ways to cut technology spending. Here's a tale of two school districts, and how they are trying to trim their tech budgets without hurting learning."
Sent: Monday, June 15, 2009 8:44 AM
Subject: California Crisis Slams K-12 Hard
From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record], June 10, 2009, Vol. 28, Issue 33, Pages 1,19. See http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/06/10/33california.h28.html?r=2134720591
California Crisis Slams K-12 Hard
By Lesli A. Maxwell
California educators, already reeling from billions of dollars in spending cuts to public schools this year, are scrounging for even more ways to save money in the final weeks of the academic year as the state's finances continue to melt down.
This time around, educators say they won't be able to avoid direct hits to the classroom.
Class sizes will grow, if they haven't already, even in the early grades. More teachers will be let go. Summer school programs will be canceled. New textbooks won't be ordered. And, in some districts, the required 180 days of instruction may shrink by as much as seven days.
Cuts to education spending have been so deep in California that some school finance experts say schools are experiencing their first year-to-year reduction in per-pupil spending since the Great Depression.
The state already ranks near the bottom nationally in its per-pupil expenditures. That spending level is likely to plummet even more in the wake of a new round of proposed cuts to education and health and welfare programs that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says are necessary to solve the latest budget crisis: a $24.3 billion deficit that could grow bigger.
State lawmakers began grappling with the latest batch of proposed cuts last week, as education advocates, students, and parents from around the state pleaded for schools to be spared this time. In February, K-12 and community colleges saw their aid under Proposition 98-a minimum school funding guarantee approved by California voters in 1988-slashed by $7.3 billion for the current year. K-12 spending this year still makes up 37 percent of California's $91.4 billion overall budget.
"What we are seeing is a complete disintegration of the support system for kids in our schools that so far had been limited to outside the classroom, but is now going to hit the classroom pretty dramatically," said Scott P. Plotkin, the executive director of the California School Boards Association. "We are talking about short-term disaster and long-term consequences."
Jack O'Connell, California's superintendent of public instruction, described the situation in even more dire terms: "We are strangling public education."
The cuts already made to public schools in the current fiscal year and for the next-and those that are still proposed-would dramatically undermine efforts to improve achievement, Mr. O'Connell said. As one example, he cited the Guadalupe Union School District in Santa Barbara County, where 6th grade classes will grow to 44 students this coming fall.
The recession-battered state and national economies, shrinking tax revenue, and last month's overwhelming defeat of ballot initiatives designed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and the Democratic-led legislature to help balance the budget, have created the latest massive shortfall in California's budget.
Just four months ago, the governor and lawmakers struck a deal to close a $40 billion gap. It depended, in part, on voters' support of a package of six ballot measures that would have raised some taxes temporarily, placed a cap on spending, and allowed the state to borrow billions of dollars from the state lottery and other special funds.
All but one of the measures lost by ratios of nearly 2-to-1, including Proposition 1B, which would have restored $9.3 billion in funds that earlier were carved out of the state's K-12 and community college budgets.
Since the defeat of the ballot measures, Gov. Schwarzenegger has laid out a plan to eliminate another $5.3 billion from schools' budgets over the next 13 months.
"The depth and scope of this recession has forced the governor to put forth proposals that would have been unthinkable even a few months ago," said H.D. Palmer, the spokesman for the California Department of Finance.
For the statewide teaching corps, the cuts are likely to bring widespread job losses, said David A. Sanchez, the president of the 340,000-member California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.
As of March 15, some 25,000 teachers had been issued pink slips warning that their jobs were in jeopardy. Roughly 5,000 of the layoffs were later rescinded, Mr. Sanchez said, but the failure of the ballot measures and the widening budget gap could mean those jobs will be back on the chopping block.
"And as things continue to get worse, we might see an additional 25,000 teachers getting pink slips by August 15," Mr. Sanchez said. "It would be the worst job losses for teachers this state has ever seen."
The cuts have also sparked litigation from the 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which filed a lawsuit against the state early last month that seeks to recover nearly $12 billion for education.
Stimulus Not Enough?
While the governor has said that money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that is slated for California's public schools will reimburse districts for many of the state-level cuts, educators have been worried that the federal economic-stimulus aid will not be nearly enough.
For states to receive money from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund-the largest chunk of stimulus money slated for education-they must assure federal officials that they will spend at least as much on K-12 in the 2010 fiscal year as they did in fiscal 2006, a requirement called "maintenance of effort." Some educators, including Mr. O'Connell, had said they thought all the spending cuts would jeopardize California's share.
Mr. Palmer said that federal education officials had notified the Schwarzenegger administration last week that California would receive all the money it is eligible for.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District-the state's largest district, and the nation's second-biggest, with roughly 700,000 students-budget cuts have caused strife in recent weeks as teachers rallied outside the district's headquarters and high school students walked out of classes to protest teacher layoffs.
District officials expect to lay off as many as 2,300 teachers and other certified staff members before the start of the 2009-10 school year, said Megan Reilly, the district's chief financial officer. If not for the roughly 1,000 teachers who accepted early-retirement packages from the district, that number would have been even higher, she said.
Some 600 central-office personnel will be let go at the end of the month. The district employs
Two options that Los Angeles district leaders are weighing are unpaid furlough days and salary reductions, either of which would have to be negotiated with the unions that represent teachers and other employees.
Already, the district has increased class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade to 24 students, from 20. Late last month, district leaders decided to cancel most summer school programs that have traditionally served more than 200,000 students. Only high school students who still need to take core courses to graduate will be eligible for summer school, a cutback that will save about $34 million, Ms. Reilly said.
But the district must still find ways to save hundreds of millions more by the end of this month and in the new fiscal year that begins July 1. The district has an operating budget of roughly $6 billion.
"We've done what we can to minimize the pain to people, but we are running out of ways to shake the purse without really harming the classroom," Ms. Reilly said.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: S.F.'s Garcia Outlines School Cost-Cutting Tactics
San Francisco schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia shares approaches for maintaining quality in the classroom during lean budget times during a recent Education Week Leadership Forum on "Powering Through the Recession."
thanks to Prof. Lawrence Shirley