Month: July 2006

Child Labor in the Children’s Garden

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It was not until 1938 that minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children were regulated by federal law. Mandatory school attendance laws passed and progressives believed that they had ended an era of child exploitation.

Well, there is a new war on childhood to combat and this one begins in kindergartens that were intended, ironically, to remove children from the onerous world of adult work. Thanks to the current obsession with high stakes testing, the “children’s garden” looks more and more like a factory where children are subjected to worksheets and robotic drills.

The misguided “educators” who believe that the current era of education reform-by-testing will close the achievement gap, are finding that they must begin earlier and earlier to impose a rigid instructional orthodoxy in hopes of displacing the seemingly intractable effects of poverty, the chief reason there is an achievement gap to begin with. Here is how the New York Times describes a kindergarten class in a New York charter school:

Nowhere are the demands greater than at Achievement First East New York Charter School in Brooklyn, which holds classes through this month. On a recent Friday morning, 20 kindergartners in uniforms of yellow shirts and blue jumpers or shorts, many yawning and rubbing their eyes, filed into the classroom of Keisha Rattray and Luis Gonzalez. Some sat in plastic chairs lined up before the teachers for phonics and grammar drills, while others sat at computer screens, listening through headphones to similar exercises.

The classroom has no blocks, dress-up corners or play kitchens. There is no time for show and tell, naps or recess. There is homework every night. For much of the day, the children are asked to sit quietly with their hands folded as their teachers drill them in phonics, punctuation and arithmetic.

The demands of testing that comes down from Federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation have even caused schools to eliminate kindergarten “nap time.” According to the Charlotte Observer,

For decades, boys and girls have arrived at kindergarten with a must-have from the supply list: A comfy mat for nap time.Today, they can leave their tiny mats at home.Across the nation, academic pressures in public schools are getting pushed down to kindergarten.Not even 5-year-olds have time for naps anymore.The national move away from naptime and to making kindergarten a more studious environment can come at a price, some educators say. Young children can be hurried into academics too soon, they worry.

Nowadays, “You really don’t have time for naps,” said Linda Morris, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ assistant superintendent for elementary curriculum. “Kindergarten has become much more academic than even 10 years ago.”Schools now have to meet stricter achievement standards set by the states and by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Students in the Carolinas don’t start taking achievement tests until third grade, but teachers start assessing them in kindergarten and first and second grades.

There’s just not enough time in the day, said Wally Zahler, elementary education director for the Catawba County Schools.His system evaluates kindergartners three times a year in math, reading and writing. Teachers have 61/2 hours a day to bring students up to grade level.

But kindergarten shouldn’t be first grade “pushed down to kindergarten,” said Sarah Lynn Hayes, director of curriculum support in the Rock Hill school district.”They can decide that learning is not fun, that learning is just something the teacher wants me to do, and to make Mom and Dad happy,” she said.

All of this is contrary to everything we know about healthy human development.

Constructive play helps children develop social skills while laying an important foundation for reading and math, said Dominic F. Gullo, a professor of elementary and early childhood education at Queens College.

For example, he explained, children who set up a pretend post office or a restaurant in what is called a “dramatic play area” learn how to take turns, how to speak clearly to one another, and how to make up their own stories — stories that are the foundation for writing.Playing with blocks teaches children the basics of math as they learn that two small blocks put together have the same length as one long block. Children who never learn to play with one another — who rely on grown-ups to resolve disputes — never learn the self-regulation and teamwork for their adulthood.

Although this trend toward a more “academic” kindergarten can be found everywhere, it has made the deepest inroads among schools that educate the poor. It becomes part of a “hidden curriculum” leading to schools that reproduce the inequalities that plague American society. After all, poor, working class children need to be trained to work at mind-numbing jobs where they follow orders and spend the work day engaged in repetitive tasks. The earlier that training begins, the better. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy—fit for the dull job that is planned for him in a dull world he will never be asked or enabled to understand.

The Billboard of Bush’s Base

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Like many Canyon County residents, I drive by this billboard frequently. It is located right off I-84 on the the blighted eyesore known as “Farm City.” The property is owned by a notorious crank who sees himself as a political Libertarian. I used to laugh at the pathetic old fool’s fulminations. It served as an example of free speech. No matter how outlandish your views, if you could afford to erect a billboard on your property, you could say pretty much anything.

Lately it has occurred to me that, rather than representing the wild rants of the radical right, this billboard represents the views of Bush’s base. This is a strange sort of Libertarianism that rejects all government intervention unless, of course, it protects us from our enemies (terrorists, gays, non-Christians, immigrants, minorities, unions, pro-choice advocates, feminists, etc) This is more than just “anti-science.” This is the quietude of those who await the “Rapture.” This is the reckless idiocy of those who see the present crisis in the Middle East as proof of the Biblical prophecies of Armageddon. This is the unvarnished racism of those who view anyone “different” as “un-American.” This is the ostrich-like behavior of those who refuse to believe human behavior has done anything to cause global warming. In short, the billboard reflects the agenda of the Bush Administration.

Western National Parks Endangered by Global Warming

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According to a report just released by the National Resources Defense Council, global warming has put at immediate risk the 12 National Parks in the West, where temperatures have risen twice as fast as the rest of the nation over the past 50 years. Rising temperatures, drought, wildfires and diminished snow pack have all resulted in endangered wildlife and threatened recreational activities.
The report describes the relationship between global warming and the dramatic increase in mortality among the Yellowstone grizzly bear population.

The bears feed on whitebark pine seeds, but global warming has encouraged beetles to infest whitebark trees that grow at high altitudes where grizzlies feed; cold weather would normally kill the beetles but this has not occurred in recent years.This in turn forces the bears to move to lower altitudes to look for food to fatten up for the winter, making them more likely to move into areas where there are people and that leads to an increase in grizzly mortality.

The 12 National Parks identified in the report are:
Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico;

– Death Valley National Park, California;

– Glacier National Park, Montana;

– Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah and Arizona;

– Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California;

– Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming;

– Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado;

– Mount Rainier National Park, Washington state;

– North Cascades National Park, Washington state;

– Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado;

– Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho;

– Yosemite National Park, California.

Burying the education report was not political

With Education Secretary Margaret Spellings joining them in a show of support, Congressional Republicans proposed Tuesday to spend $100 million on vouchers for low-income students in chronically failing public schools around the country to attend private and religious schools.
According to the New York Times:

The proposal comes as Republicans are showcasing issues intended to energize their party’s conservative base before the midterm elections.
Congressional leaders said it would probably be taken up only next year, when Congress is supposed to update the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.

This announcement comes a week after the Department of Education quietly released their own report showing that students in private schools did no better, and in some cases did significantly worse, than their public school counterparts. Again, from the New York Times:

Opponents of school vouchers seized on those findings. Citing the report, Ralph Neas, president of the liberal nonprofit group People for the American
Way, said: “The goal of this movement isn’t to help students. It’s to achieve
vouchers at any cost.

Ms. Spellings, at the news conference, called the report’s sample small and its results “basically inconclusive.”She said she had learned of the study — put out by a branch of the Education Department — only through the
newspapers on Saturday and had not read it. She said that the Education Department had not tried to bury the report, as a teachers union leader had
charged.

Let me see if I understand. The Education Secretary claims that she had not heard the results of the most extensive and expensive study ever conducted comparing public schools with private and charter schools- not a study conducted by some private organization, but a study commissioned by the Education Department itself. As is invariably the case with the Bush administration, one is left with two choices, either gross incompetence or lying. Or, of course, the more likely alternative, all of the above.

A study of schools you won’t hear much about

The most energetic supporters of the Bush Administration’s educational reform legislation, No Child Left Behind, are people and organizations who are opposed to the whole idea of public schooling. Their political agenda is to promote charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools as alternatives to failing traditional public schools. No Child Left Behind is supposed to “reform” education by punishing public schools that don’t make “yearly annual progress” on problematic standardized tests by providing the parents of those students with vouchers to attend private schools where they can receive a “quality” education. Through this privatization process schooling will be gradually transferred to the marketplace where competitive forces will lead to true educational reform.

This privatization scenario is based upon the assumption that private schools outperform public schools. Numerous studies had indicated, in fact, that students attending private schools outscored students in public schools. Those studies were flawed, however, because they did not take into consideration factors like race, ethnicity, income and parents’ education, all of which are likely to have an impact on student achievement.

Consequently, the head of the National Center for Educational Statistics, Bush appointee Robert Learner, commissioned the Center to conduct a study comparing private schools and charter schools with public schools that would account for the demographic factors not considered in the previous studies. Although the results were delivered to the Department of Education last year, they waited until this Friday to release the results with no news conference and without any comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Why no fanfare? Because the results of the report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, found that public school students outperformed their private school counterparts in all areas except eighth grade reading. The study reported that fourth graders attending public school were nearly half a year ahead of comparable private school students. Additionally, it found that students in conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind their counterparts in public schools in both math and reading.

Suddenly the privatization solution to the “failures” of public education appears to be like democracy in Iraq, an illusion not a solution. The Bush administration treats “bad news” the same in both cases- it buries it. The AFT guessed correctly that the results of the education study would receive little press play.

…we can surmise that in the topsy-turvy worldview of the Bush Administration, when students in public schools outperform students in charter schools and private schools, it’s bad news to be buried at the bottom of the news cycle.

Actually, the results of the charter school comparisons still haven’t been released. I can only assume that is because those results will show charter schools fairing even more poorly than private schools when compared to public schools.

Melting Ice Cube Theory

melticecube.JPGFor years politicians, environmentalists, the timber industry and the forest service have argued over forest management. Should old growth cutting be allowed? Should all wildfires be suppressed or should naturally occuring fires be allowed to burn out? This issue has become increasing urgent as the number and intensity of fires has increased. This week the new philosophy of controlled burns was implemented for the first time in the Boise National forest with the “eight mile ridge” fire near Lowman.

While the concerns of policy makers has been on coping with the dramatic increase of wildfires in both numbers and intensity over the last two decades, little attention has been given to the reasons for the tremendous increases. While some fires are cause by human activity, most wildfires in National forests are lightening caused.

As the latest fire season begins in the Intermountain West, a new study conducted by scientists from The University of Arizona and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography been published in the Journal Science. The study shows a direct connection between global warming and wildfires. The researchers used the files of the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service to analyze 1,166 fires of more than about 1,000 acres. Beginning about 1987, there was a change from infrequent fires averaging about one week in duration to more frequent ones that often burned five weeks or more, they reported. The length of the wildfire season was extended by 78 days.

The researchers said the changes appear to be linked to annual spring and summer temperatures, with many more wildfires burning in hotter years than in cooler years. They also found a connection between early arrivals of the spring snowmelt in the mountainous regions and the incidence of large forest fires. An earlier snowmelt, they said, can lead to an earlier and longer dry season, which provides greater opportunities for large fires.

This has been described as the melting ice cube effect. Although temperatures have risen gradually, around 1987 they reached the tipping point. The results have been much like an ice cube that remains frozen until temperatures rise above 32 degrees fahrenheit. Then, the ice cube melts rapidly.

According to Thomas Swetnam, one of the researchers from The University of Arizona:

I see this as one of the first big indicators of climate change impacts in the continental United States. We’re showing warming and earlier springs tying in with large forest fire frequencies. Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away. But it’s not 50 to 100 years away, it’s happening now in forest ecosystems through fire.

For those of us who hoped global warming would not have an immediate impact on our lives, this should be a wake-up call. We need to put pressure on politicians to begin immediate action. The Idaho congressional delegation is beyond hope. Craig, in particular, is so deeply indebted to the logging and extraction industries and to the corporate polluters that he will never do what is necessary to protect the environment. They have to be replaced with politicians who use science to inform policy.

The Latest on Shaun Hansen

You may remember that back in March Shaun Hansen, former co-owner of the Sandpoint, Idaho based tele-marketing firm Mylo Enterprises, was indicted on charges of conspiring to commit telephone harrassment in connection with a Democratic “get out the vote” campaign during the 2002 election in New Hampshire. The jamming scheme helped secure the victory of Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) over Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. According to a March 27th press release from the Justice Department:

Hansen, 34, is charged with conspiracy to commit telephone harassment and aiding and abetting telephone harassment.The indictment alleges that Hansen was contacted by others involved in the scheme and asked to assist in making harassing phone calls to five telephone numbers associated with the New Hampshire Democratic Party and one number associated with the Manchester Professional Firefighters Association on Election Day, November 5, 2002. Hansen allegedly agreed that, in return for $2,500, employees of Mylo Enterprises would place repeated hang-up calls to those numbers on that day. The indictment charges that, at Hansen’s direction, employees of Mylo Enterprises in Idaho placed several hundred hang-up calls to those New Hampshire telephone numbers on that morning before the scheme was discontinued.

A report from Raw Story claims that Hansen’s lawyer has filed a motion contending that the Bush Administration gave approval to the harrassment scheme.

His lawyer’s motion signals that Hansen intends to argue that he was entrapped because the Administration allegedly told his superiors the calls were legal. The filing indicates, however, that Hansen does not have firsthand knowledge of Administration intervention.

“Mr. Hansen may assert that the government, or an agent therof, actually induced the offenses with which Mr. Hansen is charged, and was not otherwise prediposed to commit,” Hansen’s lawyer Jeffrey Levin writes.”Mr. Hansen may asserts [sic] the defense of “derivative entrapment” in which the government uses a private party as its agent,” Levin adds.

Hansen is a small player in what appears to be a “dirty tricks” operation orchestrated by the White House. Phone records show during the period of time when the scheme was being planned and carried out, hundreds of phone calls were made from the New Hampshire Republican Party to the White House Office of Political Affaris by James Tobin, Bush’s presidential campaign chairman for the New England region in 2004. Tobin has already been conviced of phone jamming, but denies that the calls to the White House were to discuss the jamming scheme. Former Mississippi Governor and Chairman of the Republican National Committee Haley Barbour has also been implicated in the jamming scheme. He was part owner of an organization called GOP Market place who subcontracted the actual placement of the hangup calls to Mylo Enterprises. Nixon had the “plumbers,” Bush apparently had the “jammers.”

Widgets on the Left

I realize that not everyone owns a Mac. In some cases, people actually prefer the Windows OS. In most cases, they use Windows either because the choice was made by their employer or they chose a PC for their personal computer because it was less expensive. I use both Windows and Mac machines at home and at work. My computer of preference is a Mac, but there are a couple of applications I use regularly that are not cross platform. Now that the latest Macs use the Intel Core Duo processor, I no longer have to choose between Windows and Mac operating systems. I can run both on the same machine.

One of the reasons I prefer the latest MAC OS (Tiger) is because of the Dashboard. Dashboard hosts these cool little single purpose, mini-applications called Widgets. When I first began using Tiger, I thought the Widgets were fun, but not really very useful. Over the last year, developers have created some wonderful new Widgets that I use daily. In fact, I now think the Dashboard is one of the indispensable features of Tiger.

How do I use them? Well, for one thing, there are Widgets that make it quite easy for a Liberal to keep up with the latest news. For example, there is no radio station in southern Idaho that carries Air America. Fortunately, there is a Widget that streams Air America with one click.

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There are also Widgets for the BBC, and NPR. It is great to be able to listen to any of these three wherever I happen to be with my laptop.

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One Widget that I use every day is News Reader. News Reader lets you choose the RSS feed from all of your favorite On-Line news sources including news papers, news magazines, blogs and special interests web sites. I can scan feeds from the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, CNN, Huffington Post, The Nation, Google news, Yahoo news, Common Dreams and Truthout all from the same Widget.

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This Widget has saved me untold hours of surfing. If I see an article I want to read, I click on the headline and it opens the page in my browser.
There are also magazines on the left, like The Progressive, that have their own Widgets.

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Of course, there are plenty of Widgets that are useful no matter what your political persuasion. Here are a few of my favorites:
Flight Tracker-

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Best price for gas-

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Nearest WiFi Hotspots-

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Craig’s List-

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Current Movies-

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In each case, you put in the relevant information (i.e. Zip Code) and the current information for your specific time and place appears.

There are literally thousands of free Widgets available for downloading. Currently, I have 36 Widgets on my dashboard. Some I use daily, others very infrequently. One of the minor complaints I had about Widgets, as I began to collect more and more, is that I had to open Dashboard and then cycle through before finding the Widget I wanted. Now, thanks to software developer, Mesa Dynamics, that is no longer a problem. They have a nifty utility called “Amnesty” that lets you organized your Widgets and embed the most frequently used ones on your desktop. It is not necessary to use Dashboard at all.

Before I finish this post, let me share one of my favorite Widgets. I happen to be a fan of old “B” movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Many of those old features are available on the Internet Archives web site. I used to go to the site quite frequently and download movies. This was quite a time consuming and memory consuming process. Then, I discovered the Archives Classic Movies Widget. Every week there is a new selection of 10 to 12 full length movies from the Archive vaults to watch with the click of your mouse. I just finished wasting 90 minutes watching Pat O’Brien in the 1933 thriller, The World Gone Mad. It was just the escapist entertainment I needed to keep me from obsessing about the real “world gone mad” under the incompetent leadership of Bush and his lackeys.

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Shell Game

shell-game.jpgThe Bush Administration, with the willing help of its stooges in Congress and the media, are playing the shell game again. In order to distract us from the latest horrific news from Iraq, they parade out one phony traitor or betrayer of American values after another. Orrin Hatch wanted us to believe that a Constitutional amendment to stop those treasonous flag burners was the most important thing that Congress could spend its time on. The President addressed the nation to discuss the trumped up issue of illegal immigration. His solution is to send the National Guard to protect the borders. Of course, 40 of the 50 states need their National Guard units for real crises and have refused to send them for border silliness. As of this week, Bush has been unable to find 1/2 of the necessary troops.

And, of course, there are the usual scapegoats like gay couples who seek marital rights and those defeatist “cut and run” Democrats who hate America and the troops.

Why do they do it? Because it works. The American public becomes mesmerized by the moving shells, the sleight-of-hand fear mongering, that keeps us constantly anxious. We want someone to protect us from evil and we appear to be more than willing to give up our civil rights for that protection.

The latest “traitors” are the press, particularly the New York Times, who made the mistake of informing the American public about the Bank Record/SWIFT program. The Sunday cable news and the right wing bloggers have been heating up the rhetoric daily. The idiocy peaked when the House Republican leaders introduced a resolution condemning The New York Times for publishing the story.

What we found under one shell this morning was another Bush lie. At his press briefing last Monday the following exchange took place:

Q Sir, several news organizations have reported about a program that allows the administration to look into the bank records of certain suspected terrorists. My questions are twofold: One, why have you not gone to Congress to ask for authorization for this program, five years after it started? And two, with respect, if neither the courts, nor the legislature is allowed to know about these programs, how can you feel confident the checks and balances system works?

THE PRESIDENT: Congress was briefed. And what we did was fully authorized under the law. And the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America. What we were doing was the right thing. Congress was aware of it, and we were within the law to do so.

The administration is required by law to inform all members of the intelligence committee on all intelligence programs. Yet, Sen. Diane Feinstein, a member of the Intelligence Committee, told George Stephanopoulos that she was not briefed until it was clear that the New York Times was publishing the story.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The White House said they briefed the Congress on this matter and there is no law called into question. Do you believe that a law is called into question and that this program might have been illegal?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I’m on the Intelligence Committee. I can tell you when I was briefed and when the committee was briefed — and that was when it became apparent that the New York Times had the story and was going to run it. And that’s when and why they came to us and briefed us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you knew nothing about it before the New York Times was asking questions?
FEINSTEIN: That’s correct.

Of course, this continuing shell game works as long as the “punter” (gullible public) is willing to play. According to the latest Time Magazine poll, the President’s approval rating continues to fall to 35%, down from 37% in March . I think we can assume that the Bush team will become more and more strident as the November elections approach. Let’s hope the public refuses to play.