Blogs

Anyone Up For an NCLB Rewrite?

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

With No Child Left Behind up for a re-hash this year, dissident voices are gaining traction and even supporters are acknowledging that its language needs some tweaking.

The nonprofit Educator Roundtable, a division of the Vermont Society for the Study of Education, has collected nearly 30,000 signatures for a petition asking to completely dismantle NCLB. One blogger is inviting educators to picket the annual national school board conference on Saturday in San Francisco. An Education Week blogger was dumbfounded that only 20 states have tried to roll back all or parts of the law.

California Congressman George Miller, the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee who helped author NCLB, told Tavis Smiley that after five years, the law is only in its "infancy" in terms of meeting the needs of poor and minority students.

According to reports, there have been successes. Total federal funding for No Child Left Behind rose 34% between 2001 and 2006. Funding for schools serving low-income students rose 45%. States and school districts also allegedly have unprecedented flexibility in how they use federal funds, in exchange for greater accountability for results.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has a plan. She says we've learned some things "organically" over the years, and that now is the time for a growth model that charts progress over time with annual assessment systems. She also says it's time to turn attention to high schools, which are becoming increasingly "critical."

At this point what isn't critical when it comes to education reform?

—Gary Moskowitz

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The Deep Freeze Is Thawing. So's The Crap We Put There

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 7:27 PM EDT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts wide-ranging thawing of the Arctic permafrost. This is likely to have significant implications for infrastructure including houses, buildings, roads, railways and pipelines. A combination of reduced sea ice, thawing permafrost and storm surges also threatens erosion of Arctic coastlines with impacts on coastal communities, culturally important sites and industrial facilities. One study suggests that a three degree C increase in average summer air temperatures could increase erosion rates in the eastern Siberia Arctic by up to 15 feet a year. But you've heard all this, right? What's worse is that in some parts of the Arctic, toxic and radioactive materials are stored and contained in frozen ground. Thawing will release these substances in the local and wider environment with risks to humans and wildlife. The report predicts significant clean-up costs. How optimistic. I predict no clean-up at all. Only a Super-Duper Fund. --Julia Whitty

Using Niacin To Foil Drug-Screening Tests? Don't. Bad Medical Juju Follows

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 7:13 PM EDT

Taking excessive doses of niacin (vitamin B3) in an attempt to defeat drug screening tests could send you to the hospital. Or worse. Researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and The University of Pennsylvania reported that two adults and two adolescents suffered toxic side effects from taking large amounts of niacin. Both adults suffered skin irritation. Both adolescents suffered potentially life-threatening reactions, including liver toxicity and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), along with nausea, vomiting and dizziness. One teen also had disrupted heart rhythms. All four recovered after treatment in emergency rooms. The report appeared online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.--Julia Whitty

Say Good-By to Arctic Foxes?

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 6:52 PM EDT

Arctic foxes failed to retreat to cooler climes when global temperatures rose in the past. A new study dampens hope that species will be able to adapt to climate change by moving towards the poles this time around, reports Nature. Comparing DNA from living arctic foxes with DNA extracted from fossils indicates that, at the end of the last ice age, foxes that lived in mid-latitude Europe simply died out rather than move north. The same could be happening now. Today, Alopex lagopus, is restricted to northern tundra in Scandinavia and Siberia, while 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, it lived in what's now Belgium, Germany and southwestern Russia. So will Arctic foxes join polar bears and half of all Earth's species threatened by the mass global extinction already underway, and hugely amplified by global warming? Maybe, says the latest installment of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. Will our species ever do one righteous thing about it? --Julia Whitty

Najaf Estimates Split along Liberal/Conservative Reliable/Unreliable Divide

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 5:41 PM EDT

Jonathan blogged on Monday about the disturbingly wide range of estimates of the number of Iraqis who attended an anti-American rally in Najaf that day. Dutiful wonks at ThinkProgress, to the rescue! ThinkProgress points out that credible sources like The New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters, AP, and the Wall Street Journal all put attendance in the "tens of thousands" (which, at least according to strict Mother Jones rules, means at least 20,000). Mother Jones also reports, in our Iraq 101 package, that Muqtada al-Sadr, who called for the rally, has "tens of thousands" of followers. The military, however, put attendance at 5,000-7,000, and conservative bloggers jumped on that figure.

ThinkProgress claims that a photo used to support lower estimates is, in fact, cropped. Check it out: It sure looks cropped.

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ThinkProgress then shows another photo, of a side road not included in the allegedly cropped photo.

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Problem is, neither of these photos have credible sources. The conservative blog Gateway Pundit, in a post including the photo in question, claims ThinkProgress's photo was taken before its photo, and therefore may well show some of the same people, not additional attendees as it claims. I'm gonna say touché on that one, but ThinkProgress has a solid record—and when you pair it with The New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters, AP, and the Wall Street Journal and, ahem, Mother Jones, its reliability veritably trounces Gateway Pundit's. One caveat: It does seem a little bit odd that all the sources have used precisely the same wording in providing their estimates—but this is Iraq, and it's not like the Park Service is out there counting.

As for why Mother Jones believes papers of record and not the military, see below.

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Johnny Cash's House Burns Down

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 4:21 PM EDT

mojo-photo-cashhouse.jpg Please, no "ring of fire" jokes: the Tennessee house Johnny Cash lived in for more than 30 years with June Carter Cash burned to the ground Tuesday; the cause is still unknown but appears to have been exacerbated by "a flammable wood preservative" (?!!) that construction workers were applying to the house. In addition to hosting a whole variety of famous friends of Cash, the house was also the setting for the emotional video for "Hurt," one of the covers from his American Recordings albums that make you go "Oh, that's how that song's supposed to be."

An Oak Ridge Boy lives down the road and gives a quote that seems like a bit of a dis on current owner of the house... wait for it... Barry Gibb. Again, may I just say, "?!!"? Anyway, the Oak Ridge Boy says "maybe it's the good Lord's way to make sure that it was only Johnny's house." Which is nice, but the image in my mind is more like the good Lord letting Johnny reach down and zap the house himself. Or, come to think of it, Barry Gibb burning down Johnny Cash's house.

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Environmental Fact of the Day

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 2:14 PM EDT

Still unconvinced that your driving habits contribute to global warming? Americans consume more than a quarter of the world's oil but make up less than five percent of its population. Transportation accounts for more than 70 percent of the United States' oil consumption. Trucking accounts for a big chunk of that number, but non-essential individual trips do, too.

Will Cancer Kill Candidate Thompson?

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 1:45 PM EDT

thompson2.jpgFred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee Senator, announced earlier today that he had lymphoma. Thompson claimed that the lymphoma, a form of cancer, was slow growing and probably wouldn't affect either his life span or his quality of life. The fact that Thompson allowed his doctor to speak about his condition makes it pretty clear that the announcement was a final trial balloon before formally announcing a bid for the White House.

It's a cancerous year on the campaign trail, to be sure. Have Americans moved beyond their ban on sick presidents (or presidents with sick wives)? Wait and see—Fred Thompson is.

Rudy Pulls a George Bush Sr. Moment on Price of Bread, Milk

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 11:53 AM EDT

It's no wonder that a guy who makes millions on shady law firm consultations and high-flying speaking engagements is a little out of touch with the common man. Asked by a reporter in Alabama about the prices of a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread, Rudy Giuliani answered:

"A gallon of milk is probably about a $1.50, a loaf of bread about a $1.25, $1.30."

Reality?

A check of the Web site for D'Agostino supermarket on Manhattan's Upper East Side showed a gallon of milk priced at $4.19 and a loaf of white bread at $2.99 to $3.39. In Montgomery, Ala., a gallon of milk goes for about $3.39 and bread is about $2.

Two observations: (1) This is a classic "gotcha!" question that reporters love, and every presidential candidate should be given a commodities rundown with their morning briefing ("Mrs. Clinton, bags of potatoes are down 30 cents, closing yesterday at $3.49."). You have to believe Mitt Romney's and John Edwards' people are scrambling to get this sort of information to their candidates this very second, because reporters are probably salivating about the idea of catching a second candidate looking silly today.

And (2) I'm not sure I would know the exact price of those things. In my mind, living in New York, the answer is "Too much." I remember seeing a gallon of orange juice at almost $10, and I stopped caring completely. "Just take all my money," I say to the checkout counter lady. "I don't care how much anything costs anymore. You win."

Of course, this all recalls a classic George Bush Sr. moment:

His difficulty with grocery items recalled another Republican's supermarket run-in. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush expressed amazement at a high-tech supermarket scanner, prompting critics to argue that he was out of touch with average Americans. The White House cried foul, pointing out that during a grocers' convention Bush had been impressed by a special scanner that could read torn labels.

Via Kos.

George W. Bush: Soft on Crime

| Wed Apr. 11, 2007 11:31 AM EDT

Excellent article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today about the dwindling efficacy of the FBI. The Bush Administration restructured the FBI after 9/11 to focus on national security, but did not eliminate any of the FBI's traditional responsibilities. And to handle all the extra work, the FBI was given no additional money. ("Do more with less," it was told.) The result? You guessed it. Lower prosecution rates. Says one retired FBI official, "we realized we were going to have to pull out of some areas -- bank fraud, investment fraud, ID theft -- cases that protect the financial infrastructure of the country."

The White House and the Justice Department have failed to replace at least 2,400 agents transferred to counterterrorism squads... Two successive attorneys general have rejected the FBI's pleas for reinforcements behind closed doors.

As the quote from the retired official would indicate, it appears the lack of manpower has mainly hit the FBI's ability to prosecute white collar crime. The P-I's findings:

Overall, the number of criminal cases investigated by the FBI nationally has steadily declined. In 2005, the bureau brought slightly more than 20,000 cases to federal prosecutors, compared with about 31,000 in 2000 -- a 34 percent drop.
White-collar crime investigations by the bureau have plummeted in recent years. In 2005, the FBI sent prosecutors 3,500 cases -- a fraction of the more than 10,000 cases assigned to agents in 2000.

The paper looks at specific cases of Native Americans and elderly residents in the Seattle area who were fleeced by sophisticated financial scams -- the sort of thing that has been traditionally part of the FBI's jurisdiction. In the cases examined by the P-I, none of the victims got the help they requested from Bush's FBI.

It's a long, long article. If you're interested, you can read the whole thing here. Also, I can tell you what the FBI was busy doing from 9/11 until the invasion of Iraq: partnering with the Department of Justice to scare the bejeezus out of Americans with show trial terror prosecutions and conveniently timed terror alerts, all of which are documented in the "DoJ/FBI" section of the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.