2010 - %3, January

Joe Sacco's Gaza Strips

Fri Jan. 8, 2010 5:06 AM PST

Cartoonist-slash-reporter Joe Sacco is back with his densest work yet, a 418-page plunge into a little-known episode of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the 1956 shooting of 386 Palestinian refugees by Israeli soldiers in Rafah and Khan Yunis, impoverished towns in the Gaza Strip. As in earlier works such as Safe Area Goražde, Sacco combines rich black-and-white illustrations and extensive interviews to unravel a tortuous history. Footnotes in Gaza is heavy, but never feels like homework. Read an interview with Sacco at motherjones.com/joe-sacco.

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Eco-News Roundup: Friday, January 8

| Fri Jan. 8, 2010 5:05 AM PST

Ka-Boom: EPA study reveals blowing up mountains is pretty hard on mountains.

Dead System Walking: Major law institute finds death penalty corrupt, but changes unlikely.

Cat Crash: Fifteen percent of endangered cougars in Florida lost to car crashes. [MongaBay]

Winds of Change: Cape Wind turbine farm suffers setback, big energy companies cheer.

Retirement, Sort of: Sen. Byron Dorgan's retirement plans include private sector energy work.

Autism Risk: Study finds clusters of autism...in kids of white, highly-educated parents. [Planet Ark]

Whole Truth: Whole Foods CEO John Mackey believes in organic lettuce, but not global warming.

 

 

 

 

Merrick Alpert on Linda McMahon: Bad Medicine for Connecticut

| Fri Jan. 8, 2010 5:00 AM PST

 When Chris Dodd announced his retirement this Wednesday, the media hullabaloo focused on Richard Blumenthal. With a massive lead over every Republican in the field, the Connecticut Attorney General, who announced his candidacy directly after Dodd's statement, already represents the Democrats' most promising chance to hold Dodd's seat. But Merrick Alpert, who launched his primary challenge to Dodd last May, has pledged to hold on for dear life. "When you step out there and commit, you commit," he told me, citing his faith in vigorous Democratic primaries.

Though Alpert initially focused much of his campaign on Dodd's missteps, he claims that the senator's retirement and Blumenthal's presence does not change the race. "I'm not running against anyone, I'm running for the Senate," he said and quickly shifted the topic to former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, one of the leading Republicans in the field. "When you see someone taking $50 million of world wrestling money to buy an election, the issue of clean government is ripe for discussion. She's trying to buy an election. That, to me, is disgraceful and just not acceptable."

If the Blumenthal news is bad for Alpert, who polled 30 points behind the unpopular Dodd, it's even worse for McMahon, who showed a slight lead over Dodd but trails Blumenthal by more than 30.

But instead of going after Blumenthal, Alpert, a lifelong Democrat who worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore, was eager to add to his list of McMahon criticisms, saying "she's bad medicine for Connecticut." In between brief exchanges with supporters during his 5-day, 90-mile walk through Connecticut, he said over the sound of car honks that McMahon "is as phony as the place that she made her money. In none of her ads does she ever mention world wrestling. You would think that she and her husband owned a deli when in fact they made a fortune on lingerie wrestling matches. I'm not looking to explain that to my kids."

Hail, Teach for America?

| Fri Jan. 8, 2010 4:35 AM PST

The Atlantic has a story in its January/February issue promisingly titled "What Makes a Great Teacher?" What indeed? As someone who follows education reform closely and occasionally writes about it, I clicked through to the article, eager to see what the writer, Amanda Ripley, had to say on one of the most puzzling, beguiling, confounding questions in all of education. What I found was far from inspiring or groundbreaking, and to be honest felt less like journalism and honest inquiry into teacher performance and more like, well, a Teach for America press release.

I guess the story's subhead should've clued me in:

For years, the secrets to great teaching have seemed more like alchemy than science, a mix of motivational mumbo jumbo and misty-eyed tales of inspiration and dedication. But for more than a decade, one organization has been tracking hundreds of thousands of kids, and looking at why some teachers can move them three grade levels ahead in a year and others can't. Now, as the Obama administration offers states more than $4 billion to identify and cultivate effective teachers, Teach for America is ready to release its data.

What follows is nearly 6,000 words that mainly focus on the Teach for America's long-term data collecting on the performances of its teachers and their students, all in hopes of answering, as the story's title suggests, a crucial question: What distinguishes good and great teachers, the ones whose students excel in the classroom and are eager to learn everyday, from the rest of the pack? (Teach for America, or TFA, for the few stragglers still unfamiliar with the program, is a nonprofit organization that takes a class of smart, talented college graduates each year; puts them through TFA's five-week summer training program; then places them in low-income schools throughout the country where they teach on a two-year contract.) The promise of The Atlantic story is it will reveal the results of TFA's exhaustive, long-term teacher data and offer rigorously tested, refined, definitive predictors on what makes a good teacher.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 8, 2010

Fri Jan. 8, 2010 4:34 AM PST

LAKE PLACID, NY—A New York Army National Guard Soldier from the 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry keeps his head down while serving as brakeman on a sled speeds down the Mount Van Hoevenberg bobsled track during the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge in 2009. (US Army photo by Lt. Col. Robert Bullock.)

Need To Read: January 8, 2010

| Fri Jan. 8, 2010 4:30 AM PST

Today's must-reads would like to introduce you to me:

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Old DDT Migrating North

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 7:09 PM PST

Here's the trouble with emissions. They've got killer hangovers. Take DDT. Not only is it still with us, it's actually increasing in the western North Atlantic—despite 30 years of restrictions on its use.

A modelling study published in Geophysical Research Letters finds substantial quantities of the pesticide still being released from the World Ocean. And though most DDT use today occurs in the southern hemisphere, concentrations are growing in the northern hemisphere as the old stuff cycles between oceans and atmosphere.

In fact, this study's computer model, simulating DDT circulation between ocean and atmosphere from 1950 to 2002, suggests the regurgitation of old DDT from the ocean is now greater than from ongoing sources of DDT.

Plus the stuff's migrating north and has been since the 1960s. Says the paper:

"The sea region that has been representing the most significant (secondary) DDT source is the western N Atlantic (Gulf stream and N Atlantic Drift regions)."

More bad news for a heavily populated part of the world and all the marine life left in those once heavily populated waters.
 

Blowing Up Mountains: Not a Great Idea

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 3:25 PM PST

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday gave the green light to a new mountaintop removal coal mining permit in West Virginia, after last year calling for a time-out on new permits for the controversial mining process that requires blasting the tops off mountains to reach the coal seams inside.

The approval of Patriot Coal Corp.'s permit to proceed was a huge disappointment to local activists and environmental groups who hoped the Obama administration would approach mountaintop removal (MTR) with more attention to the environmental and health impacts, as it promised last year. And now, just days after the EPA approved this new project, a team of scientists has published a scathing new peer-reviewed study on the impacts of mountaintop removal in the journal Science that makes the case for why MTR should be put on hold indefinitely.

The study, the most comprehensive analysis of studies on mountaintop removal to date, documents both the environmental devastation the process brings to sites in Appalachia and the human health impacts in surrounding communities. The report's twelve authors, representing a wide range of scientific backgrounds from public health to ecosystem studies, recommend that the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers put a hold on all new mountaintop mining permits until further studies and recommendations for impact mitigation can be conducted.

"The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion one can reach is that mountaintop mining has to be stopped," said lead author Margaret Palmer, director of the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Maryland, at an event unveiling the report on Thursday. Palmer called the evidence of the harmful impacts "strong and irrefutable," and noted that there is no indication that mitigation efforts are successful in reversing the damage.

The public health implications are among the most startling findings in the report. Lower birth weights and higher rates of mortality, lung cancer, and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease are found in areas where mining is heaviest. Michael Hendryx, director of the Rural Health Research Center at West Virginia University and a co-author of the report, said studies have found an average of 11,000 more premature deaths per 100,000 residents in the counties with the most mining.

Geithner's Other AIG Rescue

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 2:42 PM PST

Via Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic, a report by Bloomberg turns up some grisly facts about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's tenure at his former employer, the New York Fed—namely, how the New York Fed told AIG to keep mum about its swaps deals with other banks that would benefit if AIG got bailed out.

According to emails obtained by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the New York Fed cut from a draft of an AIG regulatory filing mention that banks like Goldman Sachs and Societe Generale had swaps agreements with AIG and would benefit from AIG's rescue via a "backdoor bailout"—a troubling omission at a time when AIG's fate was up in the air and full disclosure was critical. Bloomberg quotes Issa as saying, "It appears that the New York Fed deliberately pressured AIG to restrict and delay the disclosure of important information." Taxpayers, he added, "deserve full and complete disclosure under our nation's securities laws, not the withholding of politically inconvenient information."

Indiviglio uses the latest revelation in the AIG counterparty saga to not only insist that the overly opaque Fed doesn't deserve any more authority (as I did yesterday), but to even question Geithner's position as Treasury Secretary. Without a doubt, that Geithner's New York Fed tried to cover up AIG's exposure is embarassing at the very least; it's also more broadly indicative of the Fed's belief that it can get away with almost anything behind closed doors. Is that the kind of regulator, as some have proposed, that should be tasked with overseeing financial institutions and markets?

Uganda and "Kill the Gays"

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 2:27 PM PST

Flickr/eye2eye (Creative Commons).Flickr/eye2eye (Creative Commons).Over at Digby's place, tristero highlights this section of my post on Uganda's proposed "Kill the Gays" law:

...it's been hard for [Andrew] Sullivan to find examples of the National Review or the Weekly Standard or the American Conservative or Commentary denouncing the Ugandan law. The writers at those magazines may disagree with Sullivan on a lot of things, but I suspect they think it's pretty obvious to most Americans that executing gay people is wrong.

But not all conservatives think executing gay people is wrong, tristero says:

I doubt - except when I'm in a particularly unforgiving mood - that any American evangelical directly told anyone in Uganda to sponsor a "kill the gays" law. But the concept is far more common among American christianists than Nick Baumann realizes, and I have no doubt that the language those evangelicals did, in fact, use in Uganda, made capital punishment for homosexual behavior sound like a reasonable idea....

There's a larger point here: Christianists, and the modern GOP, are far more radical than many people, no matter how well-meaning and intelligent, realize. Buffoons they certainly are, but they are very, very powerful buffoons. The Ugandan law is a direct outgrowth of radical American christianism and its high-level reach within our national politics.

There are a lot of good points in there, and the whole post is worth a read. Part of what I was trying to get at in my post is that one reason conservative writers might be reluctant to make detailed arguments against the Ugandan law is that doing so would force them to confront the more unpleasant parts of their coalition. It's not good politics (or particularly pleasant) to be seen associating with people who need to be convinced that gays shouldn't be executed or that slavery is bad. The reason that most people don't realize how radical some "Christianists" are is that smart politicians keep their most controversial views and associations close to the vest. It's not good politics if you're known to be associated with an organization whose members (according to Jeff Sharlet) were supposedly behind the Ugandan "kill the gays" bill. In other words, there's a reason that the Family is a secret organization.

Kevin is traveling today.