Saturday, February 27, 2010

Arrested for doodling

The story sounds unbelievable, but it is a true tale of zero tolerance gone awry. Credit to one of Durham sharp outgoing females for sending this story the Clarion Content's way. Here goes. 12-year-old Alexa Gonzalez was arrested for doodling on her school desk. No curse words. No hate. She wrote, "I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/10 :)" with a green marker.

Surely vandalism. Surely the kind of thing that a kid she should get in trouble for and learn is wrong. Meritorious of a trip to the principal office and some detention, maybe even a suspension for a repeat offender, but that is not what happened in Forest Hills, New York.

There the obviously deranged principal called the cops on a kid who had never been in trouble with the school system. He had her hands cuffed behind her back, and tears gushed as she was escorted from school by the police in front of teachers and her classmates. Off the record several teachers from the school told news outlets, "it was a mistake."

Unfortunately, according to the CNN story it is a mistake that is becoming all too common. Zero tolerance policies across the country have school administrators calling in the cops at the drop of a hat. CNN reports that in 1998, New York City placed school security officers under jurisdiction of the New York City Police Department creating the the NY Police Department's School Safety Division. Today, that department has more employees than New York City schools have guidance counselors. Ridiculous.

And this wrong headed approach has consequences. Students shunted into the criminal justice system early are far more likely to remain there. Expulsion leads to life long consequences that all of society pays the price for. The cops are not the answer to discipline problems in America's schools. Parents and communities need to take responsibility and intervene long before it is necessary to involve the cops and the courts.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Check it out for real

This question pictured above is posed by a billboard along I-35 near Wyoming, Minnesota. It is not exactly the center of civilization when one gets to the point in Minnesota where they start naming towns after Wyoming.

According to National Public Radio the push is on to find out who paid to have it put up. The hope is that this will resolve the debate about the billboard's message. Surely, it is ironic?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Update: The Falkland Islands

We always wondered why that war happened. And suddenly, we have an inkling. As it always is, the Benjamins were at the root of the equation. Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, before Britain seized back control in a short war that cost the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British service personnel. This week an explanation for the war better than we had ever heard before surfaced.

Desire Petroleum towed an oil rig to the Falkland Islands over the last several weeks. The oil rig was towed over 8,000 miles from Scotland to the Atlantic Ocean's deep waters off the coast of South America. The BBC reports that the Falklands have the equivalent of 60 billion barrels of oil in total. Only a fraction is currently commercially extractable. Argentina says the move violates its sovereignty, but it has already ruled out renewed military action and is trying to pressure Britain into negotiations.

The Falklands Legislative Assembly, which sold the license to explore for oil to Desire Petroleum, asserted that it had "every right" to develop "legitimate business" in off-shore oil.

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary said British oil exploration in the area was "completely in accordance with international law".

The Brits damp squib of a Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, also said the British government had "made all the preparations that are necessary to make sure the Falkland Islanders are properly protected."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Your school did what?

This is one of those stories that is hard to believe even after one reads it. The Lower Merion School District of Ardmore, Pennsylvania has supplied more than 1,800 of its students with laptop computers. It didn't tell the students that the district had the ability to remotely activate webcams in the laptops and photograph students in their homes and bedrooms.

The jig was up when Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko of Harriton High School asserted publicly that student Blake Robbins had been "engaging in improper behavior in his home." Her evidence was photographs taken of the student remotely by the district's secret laptop embedded camera. Needless to say, Robbins' parents sued the school district. The lawsuit alleges, "many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress."

Tech News World reports the school district has rapidly backpedaled. "The district has now deactivated the feature, however, and has no plans to reactivate it "without express written notification to all students and families," wrote Superintendent Christopher McGinley in a statement issued on Thursday."

No kidding? Suddenly it has dawned on them that it was not a good idea to be secretly photographing high school kids in their homes? Didn't anybody in the district see "American Pie?"

Privacy lawyer, Parry Aftab, told Tech News World, "I have seen Trojan horses used by stalkers so they could turn on webcams remotely, but this is the first time I've ever heard of a school with the audacity to do something like this. There are criminal trespassing laws possibly at work here, and maybe wiretapping as well. This is not Nazi Germany or Cold War Russia... They have no authority over what students do in their own homes."

It is amazing that nobody in the district saw this coming. How could it not be obvious what a bad idea this was? It just goes to show how much American's general expectations of privacy have eroded. School administrators thought that this was good policy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A very different picture

When our lead political editor was a Cold War kid, this picture consisted of three white males, every year, year, after year. The picture has changed for sure. Has America come as far down the road? Surveys of racism indicate that it has declined. The pollsters believe our attitudes toward women have changed, too. Do we believe them? Have moved as far forward as a society as the picture makes it look like we have?

Sunday, February 14, 2010


United, but for how long?

The European Union is probably ruing its successive expansions today. From the once six member coal buying cooperative that was supposed to align France and Germany, the EU, then the European Coal and Steel Community, has expanded into a massive and unwieldy conglomeration of states doing a messy sort of intergovernmentalism dance. Issues of control and sovereignty are unclear and got worse recently with the passage of the Lisbon Treaty. A document that creates a parallel hierarchy within an area that already has way more bureaucracy than it needs.

The crisis of the moment for the European Union is the Greek economy. The Greek government, which faced severe riots last year, is in trouble again. Habitually allowing your citizens to cheat the tax man, along with having a retirement age of 58 for full pension will tend to scramble the finances. Greece worsened the problem by lying about it until the very last minute, keeping unpaid bills off of the books. The question is now whether Germany and France will let Greece face sovereign debt default or intervene. Most commentators are arguing intervention will come in time to stop default, even if it is through gritted teeth. Germany raised its own retirement age to 67 and cannot be very happy paying for Greeks to retire nine years younger.

The elephant in the closet is what does this mean for the rest of Europe. Without a much stronger political union continued bailouts are unsustainable, the citizens of the richer member states simply will not put up with them. Greece is only first on the list of those needing bailed out. Similar problems, profligacy combined with state sponsored financial shenanigans abound in Italy, Spain and Portugal. The problems are long-term and structural, too much black market economy, too much corruption, declining populations and a lack of governmental will leading to stasis and gridlock. This is to say nothing of the newest members of the EU, though not the currency union, Romania and Bulgaria, who's scale of governmental corruption and economic decay mimic more closely the worst economies of Latin America, rather than the best of Europe.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Intense Weather

He is not the only one wondering, "What's up with the weather?"

As the Clarion Content wrote last week on the front page, extreme weather is a part of a trend of increased global weather turbulence; from the snowstorms that have been dumping on the Eastern seaboard, to the massive rainstorms and deadly accompanying mudslides in Southern California. This weather is an an outcome of global warming scientists have long anticipated. A warmer planet is a planet with more turbulent weather, weather turbulence means bigger, more intense storms of all sorts, mostly because polar ice cap melting has significantly increased the amount of moisture in the atmosphere.

The signs of warming are everywhere. It is not just the extreme weather. One of the early advocates of population control, localized economy and an awareness of global warming, Bill McKibben writes in the Washington Post today, "in the mountains of the Northeast, for instance, lakes freeze later than they used to, and sometimes not at all: Lake Champlain remained open in winter only three times during the 19th century, but it did so 18 times between 1970 and 2007." So while the American South is getting slugged with snow, other formerly colder locales are getting unseasonably warm weather.

McKibben notes that cross-country skiing races in the Green Mountains of Vermont have been canceled. Canada has been trucking snow into Vancouver, the site of the Winter Olympics. Despite that logistical effort, it was just announced this morning that the men's downhill skiing competition at the Vancouver Olympics has been postponed indefinitely due to slushy conditions.

As we have noted, not all the impacts of warming are bad or harmful for humans, but those who deny the existence of climate change are on more intellectually specious ground every day. As the Clarion Content advocated last week, the focus of the debate must shift to what are the impacts of global warming and which of those impacts it is costs effective to attempt to ameliorate.

Friday, February 12, 2010


The Clarion Content happened across two articles that traipsed down the same path but came from very different views about the right and the left of American politics. (Please don't let label confusion trip you up, the spectrum is as broad as the population is diverse.)

One of the articles was on the BBC News website, the other was on the Washington Post site. Both attempt to trace why and how politicians of the left and right appeal to their constituencies. The BBC article, as one might assume, is written from a view sympathetic to the left. Somewhat more surprisingly the Washington Post is from the right. It is a feature is written by Gerard Alexander an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia. It is part of a lecture he is delivering called, "Do Liberals Know Best? Intellectual Self-Confidence and the Claim to a Monopoly on Knowledge." He is coming from quite a different perspective than the BBC.

It is interesting though that both news organizations chose now to publish articles on the subject. The parallels within the articles fascinate. For example both use the historian Richard Hofstadter to set the scene for the left's perception of the right. In the BBC article titled, "Why do people vote against their own interests?" Hofstadter is paraphrased describing the mixture used to win on the right,"'the paranoid style' of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington."

The BBC wants to explain why the right thinks and behaves the way it does.

Professor Alexander in the Washington Post believes it is the unfair labeling of the right done by the left that has coarsened the debate and diminished the conversation. He, too, cites Hofstadter, "the Manichaean style of thought, the apocalyptic tendencies, the love of mystification, the intolerance of compromise that are observable in the right-wing mind."

Both authors cite the use of the phrase Bolshevik plot to describe the Democrats health care plans. The BBC says
But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform - the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state - are often the ones it seems designed to help.

In Texas, where barely two-thirds of the population have full health insurance and over a fifth of all children have no cover at all, opposition to the legislation is currently running at 87%.
Professor Alexander retorts,
Many Democrats describe their troubles simply as a PR challenge, a combination of conservative misinformation -- as when Obama charges that critics of health-care reform are peddling fake fears of a "Bolshevik plot" -- and the country's failure to grasp great liberal accomplishments.
The parallels of the two pieces don't end there. Both articles cite books by Drew Western and Thomas Frank. The BBC gives them far more play, quoting a Bush-Gore debate excerpt from Western's book that shows the village idiot Bush "aw shucks" style paralleled versus the wooden, wonkish Gore. Bush dumbs down the issue to make his point and in the court of public opinion win the argument.

The BBC buys Franks's proposition about how this works when it says,
The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronizing liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking.

Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America's poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.
And then it quotes from Frank about the vicious cycle he perceives on the right,
"You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining."
Fascinatingly Professor Alexander makes essentially the same argument in the Washington Post. The only difference? The BBC thinks Frank is correct. The professor thinks Frank is belittling right-wing voters and their reasoning.
"...liberal condescension, exemplified in Thomas Frank's best-selling 2004 book, What's the Matter With Kansas? Frank argued that working-class voters were so distracted by issues such as abortion that they were induced into voting against their own economic interests. Then-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, later chairman of the Democratic National Committee, echoed that theme in his 2004 presidential run, when he said Republicans had succeeded in getting Southern whites to focus on "guns, God and gays" instead of economic redistribution."
Their conclusions, despite their different takes on the narratives offered by the left to discern the right, are startlingly similar. Both authors see wellsprings of populism shooting up in America. Both see virulent anger and a distaste for intellectual elitism. The BBC says,
"the ultimate sin in modern politics is appearing to take the voters for granted.

This is a culture war but it is not simply being driven by differences over abortion, or religion, or patriotism. And it is not simply Red states vs. Blue states any more. It is a war on the entire political culture, on the arrogance of politicians, on their slipperiness and lack of principle, on their endless deal making and compromises.

And when the politicians say to the people protesting: 'But we're doing this for you', that just makes it worse. In fact, that seems to be what makes them angriest of all."
Professor Alexander addresses the issue of race that BBC omits. He almost has to, as the right feels compelled to explain away the en masse shift of the American South from the Democratic column to the Republican. The professor's not very convincing answer is that polls show racism has declined, and Obama won. Those who read the quotes of the Joe Sixpack in the South before the last presidential election will find those arguments a bit hard to swallow.

Professor Alexander cites Jay Leno's man on the street interviews and asks if one really believes that Jay only interviews people from the right, of course not is his conclusion. Yet Alexander says the left dismisses the right as if that were so. He cites everyone from John Stewart to the Daily Kos to the Obama White House as being willing to label the right wing and dismissively ignore their policy proposals. Unfortunately, he is reluctant to admit that the right does the same, claiming rather, "A few conservative voices may say that all liberals are always wrong, but these tend to be relatively marginal figures or media gadflies such as Glenn Beck."

Still he sounds an important warning in his conclusion, one the Clarion Content firmly believes is important to heed,"Perhaps the most important conservative insight being depreciated is the durable warning from free-marketeers that government programs often fail to yield what their architects intend...Even liberals should think twice about the prospect of decisions on innovative surgeries, light bulbs and carbon quotas being directed by legislators grandstanding for the cameras."

Link to the BBC article here. Link to the Washington Post article here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Brrrrrrrr... Cold

Unfortunately for one unknown stowaway the external airborne temperature of Delta Flight 59 from New York to Tokyo's Narita Airport often drops as low as -50C during flight. The Guardian of the UK reported that a long sleeve plaid shirt and jeans were not warm enough to survive the trip for one mysterious male rider who was found inside one of the landing gear compartments dead-on-arrival. A mechanic discovered the body during routine maintenance checks. The body, which has not been identified, has no visible signs of injury save for frostbite.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Obama's Super Bowl Party

Obama watching last year's Super Bowl at the White House

Game on!

A White House Press release yesterday stated:
"On Sunday, the President and the First Lady will host a Super Bowl party at the White House. Attendees will include Members of Congress, Cabinet members, as well as service members who were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan and their families. This event is closed press. A list of expected attendees is below.

Members of Congress:
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA)
Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA)
Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN)
Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN)
Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN)
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT)

Cabinet Members:
Secretary Shaun Donovan
Secretary Arne Duncan
Attorney General Eric Holder
Administrator Lisa Jackson
Secretary Janet Napolitano
Ambassador Susan Rice
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary Eric Shinseki
Secretary Tom Vilsack"
Yeah, but how many televisions will there be? What kind of food are they serving? What is the seating like? How many rooms are they having it in? These are the kinds of questions the Clarion Content wants answered.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Remember it's not just theoretical

Anthem Blue Cross is located in Woodland Hills, CA
#1 Wellpoint Way, Westlake Village, CA 91362

Whatever one thinks of the hash Congress made of the health care bill, it is important to remember that America's health care system is a mess in reality, not just in theory. News out of California served as a reminder of such this week. California's largest for-profit health insurer is substantially raising rates for customers with individual policies.

Folks who have Anthem Blue Cross will see premiums will go up by nearly 40% at the end of March. The company also warned that it may start raising premium more frequently than every twelve months. The corporate scum at Anthem Blue Cross can get away with this as long as they notify the CA State Department of Insurance and show that they are spending at least 70% of premiums on medical care. Where is the Unabomber when we need him? We are quite sure he could deliver a special message to these greedy leaders about how the public feels about this kind of profiteering. Anthem is a subsidiary of WellPoint Inc. According to the Los Angeles Times the company announced an eightfold increase in profit for the last three months of 2009.

Americans who are prisoners of the political gridlock in Washington, D.C. (and in this case Sacramento) will accept a lot under the rubric of democracy, freedom and the American dream, but at some point their frustration will boil over and they will seek solutions outside of the system that has failed them. When frustrations reach a boiling point, it will be difficult to control the (seemingly spontaneous) reaction.