03/11/2015 archive

Dispatches From Hellpeckersville- Gifted

I don’t remember if I mentioned it here, but a month or so ago one of Baboo’s teachers asked him why he wasn’t in the gifted program. He told her he didn’t know. He came home and asked me, well I didn’t know either. Turns out that public schools test for that in second grade. Baboo wasn’t in public school in second grade, so he had a Terra Nova test instead of whatever they took. So–I was advised to call the guidance counselor, as surely, Baboo is gifted.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Zoë Carpenter: Conservatives Have a Plan for Climate Change: Pretend It Doesn’t Exist

Within a few decades, the seawaters around southern Florida are expected to rise by as much as two feet. Local officials anticipate billions or trillions of dollars of damage to infrastructure. By some estimates, Miami has more to lose from climate change than any other city in the world. But state leaders have a plan to deal with the problem: don’t talk about it.

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed Sunday that under Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has barred its employees from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in reports, emails, and other official communications. Although the DEP denies such a policy exists, former employees from various offices around the state said it was communicated verbally after Scott took office and installed a new director at the agency.

Michelle Chen: A Broken Compensation System Is Leaving the Most Vulnerable Workers in Pain

In the toughest industries, the cardinal rule of prevention, “safety first,” often gets papered over by an unspoken law of the workplace: the most dangerous jobs are done by those who can’t afford safety. The hidden cost of the extra risks they bear quietly-the broken bones, severed thumbs and stained lungs-place an underlying drag on the most vulnerable segments of the economy. An analysis by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shows the toll society pays for employers’ and regulators’ malign neglect.

  Changes in state-based workers’ compensation insurance programs have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive the full benefits…to which they are entitled…. This cost-shift has forced injured workers, their families and taxpayers to subsidize the vast majority of the lost income and medical care costs generated by these conditions.

The double injustice of paying for the physical suffering imposed by your employer is no accident; it’s calculated cruelty. The Workers’ Compensation system has been gradually eroded to limit employer liability, while disenfranchised, precarious workers often have little choice but to accept an inadequate award or none at all.

Amy B. Dean: A rising Silicon Valley doesn’t lift all boats

Collective bargaining and good public policy is needed for California’s tech corridor to foster widely shared prosperity

Silicon Valley is the center of innovation in our economy. But are the profits it generates bolstering a strong middle class?

This question is as relevant today as it was in the 1990s, when the dotcom boom began. In fact, tech billionaires have since increased their lobbying in Washington and Sacramento, and now play an increasingly influential role in political debates. Last month, the Capital and Main website released a series of articles on inequality in California. The state “is the home to more superrich than anywhere else in the country,” the authors noted. “And it also exhibits the highest poverty rate in the nation, when cost of living is taken into account.”

The report added that Silicon Valley’s digital innovation has led to “unprecedented” rise in productivity levels. “But virtually all of the economic benefits went to those at the top,” it said.

A Michele Dickerson: Why does America continue to subsidize housing for the wealthy?

Many people in the US have given up on the American dream of owning a house: US homeownership rates have now dropped to the lowest point in almost 20 years. But the government shouldn’t be focusing on trying to raise that rate – for now, their priorities should lie with increasing affordable housing.

For too long, well-off, high-income homeowners have benefited from generous government support. All the while, ordinary Americans are struggling to pay the rising rent. It is time to stop prioritizing home sales – increasingly out of reach for many Americans – and help everyday people attain a much more basic, and pressing need: affordable housing.

Since the Great Depression, US housing policies have aimed almost exclusively at encouraging Americans to become homeowners. Housing policies favor and heavily subsidize homeownership because it is said to help create strong communities and build family wealth. But it would be a mistake to continue with this approach now.

Trisha Pritikin: Fukushima victims speak. Will anyone listen?

Four years later, Japanese police and prosecutors have yet to conduct a thorough investigation

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan triggered a tsunami that led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. While immediate health consequences are yet to be determined, more than 159,000 people were evicted from areas deemed too radioactive for human habitation. The World Health Organization has warned about “increased risk of certain cancers” for people in the most contaminated areas.

In the U.S. the disaster led to the creation of a federal task force and new safety and security standards at nuclear plants. On the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, Americans may be surprised to learn that no one in Japan has been held accountable. In fact, Japanese police and prosecutors have yet to conduct a thorough investigation.

The Fukushima victims are demanding criminal prosecution of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and relevant government officials for criminal negligence for not safeguarding the reactors and the often catastrophic mishandling and misinformation during and after the disaster.

Lori Gruen: Let clowns be clowns and elephants be elephants

Ringling Bros. finally bows to public distaste for its exploitation of highly intelligent, social animals

the use of elephants in its circus shows by 2018. “There has been a mood shift among our consumers,” said Alana Feld, the company’s vice president of entertainment.

After more than 125 years using elephants and decades of defending its elephant shows against growing criticism, the most popular circus has finally recognized that public sentiment has swung against it. Satisfying its customers is, of course, what all businesses do, and the circus has acknowledged that it is getting harder and more expensive to fight various laws banning the use of exotic animals in towns across the U.S. How did this mood shift happen? Why have people changed their views about elephants used for entertainment?

Part of the credit for changing attitudes is due to the tireless animal activists who appear regularly, rain or shine, to protest when the circus comes to town. They hand out flyers and carry placards with information about the tragic conditions that the elephants have to endure while traveling to entertain audiences.

The Breakfast Club (I Can Climb The Highest Mountain)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Bomb attack on Madrid’s commuter trains; Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic found dead; Mikhail Gorbachev becomes leader of Soviet Union; General Douglas MacArthur leaves Philippines in WWII.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Noted: Being a Christian is a choice, being gay is not. God made the gays. Christians, not so much.

Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III


Republicans are drawing more and more of their support from an increasingly shrinking pool of White Males and Evangelical Christians.

This is why Rand Paul and his Libertarians (I really wish they had chosen a better self-identification like ‘Selfish Randian Nutjobs’ just as I wish Corporatist Democrats had used anything except ‘Liberal’ since they’re nothing but ‘Bootlicking Billionaire Courtiers’) are so important to the future of the Party because they’re the only ones in the room that don’t have a foot in the grave.

Likewise the impassioned debate about Immigration (where mainstream Business Republicans are eager to toady to their Masters who want cheap and easily exploitable Labor and which is being spun as ‘outreach’ to more socially conservative demographics)  and their Voter Suppression (about which there is hardly any debate).

They’re desperate and they know that they have a constantly declining ability to influence national policy before they literally die out.

Just so the NRA-

American gun ownership and hunting rates at record lows, survey says

Associated Press

Tuesday 10 March 2015 10.48 EDT

The number of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun is lower than it’s ever been, according to a major American trend survey that finds the decline in gun ownership is paralleled by a reduction in the number of Americans who hunt.

According to the latest General Social Survey, 32% of Americans either own a firearm themselves or live with someone who does, which ties a record low set in 2010. That’s a significant decline since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when about half of Americans told researchers there was a gun in their household.

The drop in the number of Americans who own a gun or live in a household with one is probably linked to a decline in the popularity of hunting, from 32% who said they lived in a household with at least one hunter in 1977 to less than half that number now.

(Guns) are concentrated in fewer hands than they were in the 1980s, the General Social Survey finds. The 2014 poll finds that 22% of Americans own a firearm, down from a high of 31% who said so in 1985.

The survey also finds a shrinking gender gap in personal firearm ownership as a result of a decline in the percentage of men who own one, from 50% in 1980 to 35% in 2014.

Maximalist Second Amendment advocacy is a failing ideology and as with Marriage Equality and Cannabis Prohibition you could see a rapid evolution in attitudes in a very short time.

And they know that this ground, once lost, will never be theirs again.

Illinois Burning

Energy Superpower Ambitions of US and Canada

America is literally on fire: How out-of-control oil spills are destroying our population centers

David Dayen, Salon

Tuesday, Mar 10, 2015 06:30 AM EST

It’s a good bet that someplace in North America is on fire right now, raging so out of control that officials have to let it burn itself out. And it happened because highly flammable oil was placed on a train for shipping, and something went drastically wrong. Because so much oil is transported by rail these days, the probabilities of catastrophe have elevated significantly. We haven’t ruined a major population center yet only through dumb luck; and we haven’t cracked down on this treacherous practice only because of the enormous power of the industry.

Those who respond to oil train derailments by claiming that the Keystone XL pipeline would solve the problem neglect the fact that a pipeline would not be able to carry even half of what flows from the Bakken region. More important, because of the collapse in oil prices, new infrastructure like a pipeline has ceased to make economic sense, relative to the existing infrastructure of transporting by rail.

Perhaps the scariest part of all of this is the perilous financial state of the oil industry today, which if anything will increase the danger. Energy companies are rapidly going bankrupt, as they cannot service debt with lower oil revenue. Companies on the edge will have to cut costs to keep afloat, and when costs are at issue, traditionally safety goes out the window.

According to a report in Reuters, the White House considered a provision to remove these volatile gases (known in the industry as “light ends”), but ultimately punted, letting North Dakota rules govern. Federal officials were concerned about their jurisdiction to dictate treatment of light ends. But critics believe the federal government relying on North Dakota – a conservative state not exactly known for its strict adherence to regulations – increases the risk of shipping oil by rail. That’s especially concerning when you consider that the trains travel all across the country, and that some Bakken shale comes from neighboring states like Montana. For their part, the White House denied they held off on improving oil train safety.

Increased domestic oil production is always depicted as an unalloyed good, with no discussion of the costs, like turning trains into bombs nationwide. There’s reason to believe that no tank car is safe enough to carry something this volatile, and that the risks exceed what the public should reasonably bear. DoT has nonchalantly predicted 10 derailments a year on oil trains, with billions in damages. If anything that’s an underestimate.

One reason the planet continues to boil is that oil companies have been allowed to externalize their costs onto government. Oil appears “cheaper” than solar or wind, because these costs never come into account. But solar power doesn’t blow up while being carried through a major city on a train. And if we want to seriously talk about what kind of energy we can afford in the future, that has to enter the conversation.

On This Day In History March 11

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 11 is the 70th day of the year (71st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 295 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1851, The first performance of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi takes place in Venice.

Rigoletto is an opera in three acts  with the Italian libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo. It is considered by many to be the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi’s middle-to-late career.

Composition history

Verdi was commissioned to write a new opera by the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1850, at a time when he was already a well-known composer with a degree of freedom in choosing the works he would prefer to set to music. He then asked Piave (with whom he had already created Ernani, I due Foscari, Macbeth, Il Corsaro and Stiffelio) to examine the play Kean by Alexandre Dumas, père, but he felt he needed a more energetic subject to work on.

Verdi soon stumbled upon Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse. He later explained that “It contains extremely powerful positions … The subject is great, immense, and has a character that is one of the most important creations of the theatre of all countries and all Ages”. It was a highly controversial subject and Hugo himself had already had trouble with censorship in France, which had banned productions of his play after its first performance nearly twenty years earlier (and would continue to ban it for another thirty years). As Austria at that time directly controlled much of Northern Italy, it came before the Austrian Board of Censors. Hugo’s play depicted a king (Francis I of France) as an immoral and cynical womanizer, something that was not accepted in Europe during the Restoration period.

From the beginning, Verdi was aware of the risks, as was Piave. In a letter which Verdi wrote to Piave: “Use four legs, run through the town and find me an influential person who can obtain the permission for making Le Roi s’amuse.” Correspondence between a prudent Piave and an already committed Verdi followed, and the two remained at risk and underestimated the power and the intentions of Austrians. Even the friendly Guglielmo Brenna, secretary of La Fenice, who had promised them that they would not have problems with the censors, was wrong.

At the beginning of the summer of 1850, rumors started to spread that Austrian censorship was going to forbid the production. They considered the Hugo work to verge on lèse majesté, and would never permit such a scandalous work to be performed in Venice. In August, Verdi and Piave prudently retired to Busseto, Verdi’s hometown, to continue the composition and prepare a defensive scheme. They wrote to the theatre, assuring them that the censor’s doubts about the morality of the work were not justified but since very little time was left, very little could be done. The work was secretly called by the composers The Malediction (or The Curse), and this unofficial title was used by Austrian censor De Gorzkowski (who evidently had known of it from spies) to enforce, if needed, the violent letter by which he definitively denied consent to its production.

In order not to waste all their work, Piave tried to revise the libretto and was even able to pull from it another opera Il Duca di Vendome, in which the sovereign was substituted with a duke and both the hunchback and the curse disappeared. Verdi was completely against this proposed solution and preferred instead to have direct negotiations with censors, arguing over each and every point of the work.

At this point Brenna, La Fenice’s secretary, showed the Austrians some letters and articles depicting the bad character but the great value of the artist, helping to mediate the dispute. In the end the parties were able to agree that the action of the opera had to be moved from the royal court of France to a duchy of France or Italy, as well as a renaming of the characters. In the Italian version the Duke reigns over Mantova and belongs to the Gonzaga family: the Gonzaga had long been extinct by the mid-19th Century, and the Dukedom of Mantova did not exist anymore, so nobody could be offended. The scene in which the sovereign retires in Gilda’s bedroom would be deleted and the visit of the Duke to the Taverna (inn) was not intentional anymore, but provoked by a trick. The hunchback (originally Triboulet) became Rigoletto (from French rigolo = funny). The name of the work too was changed.

For the première, Verdi had Felice Varesi as Rigoletto, the young tenor Raffaele Mirate as the Duke, and Teresina Brambilla as Gilda (though Verdi would have preferred Teresa De Giuli Borsi). Teresina Brambilla was a well-known soprano coming from a family of singers and musicians; one of her nieces, Teresa Brambilla, was the wife of Amilcare Ponchielli.

The opening was a complete triumph, especially the scena drammatica, and the Duke’s cynical aria, “La donna è mobile”, was sung in the streets the next morning.

The Daily/Nightly Show (Women’s Rights)

Amish Comedy

Well it’s somehow appropriate that on a night Jon is hosting Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, two of the names mentioned by The Great Mentioner as potential replacements for Jon (the other being Amy Schumer) the topic is Women’s Rights, but it’s not surprising given that it’s Women’s History Month.

It’s an extremely broad subject and as usual Larry’s site is singularly unhelpful.  He doesnt have the topic up, you have to glean it off the segment subjects, and forget about listing the panelists.  It’s rare when he does.

For my part I consider myself a raging feminist and it comes down to this-

Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

I’ve always tried to treat people the way people should be treated.


I always did hate this house.

This Week’s Guests-

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are the two principal writers and characters of the TV series Broad City, now in it’s second season and renewed for a third.

Broad City follows Ilana and Abbi, both are self-professed Jewish feminist women who perpetually experience misadventures of carelessness and frivolity in New York City. Ilana seeks to avoid working as much as possible while pursuing her relentless hedonism and Abbi tries to make a career as an illustrator, often getting sidetracked into Ilana’s hijinks.

At least the episodes I’ve seen are much raunchier and cruel than the synopsis.  Think of a cross between Sex and the City an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  Unlike the gross out and violent prank comedy that fills so much of what’s considered the ‘cutting edge’ it’s actually funny at points if you don’t think about the human misery and degradation that drives many of the plots, kind of like Seinfeld on steroids.

Your web exclusive two part extended interview with John Lewis along with the real news below.