Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The West Memphis Three
Thanks to Lewberry for e-mailing this NYTimes story about the latest development in the case of the West Memphis Three, in which 3 then-teenagers were convicted of murder in a circus-like legal process that was documented in one of the best, most haunting films I've ever seen, Paradise Lost. I believe I've mentioned here before (maybe more than once, sorry), it's the only film I've ever watched that compelled me to immediately rewind it and watch again as soon as it was over. Anyone who has the slightest interest in criminal law - from a prosecutorial side or a defense side - should have to watch it (maybe in a triple feature with The Thin Blue Line and Brother's Keeper). A sequel confuses things even further.

At any rate, the defense has made new filings based on scientific testing that has never been done before, that may yet offer the possibility of a new trial. If you've seen the film, you will be interested, and surprised, by some of the new assertions. If you haven't, you should.
The Private School Factor
In comments to my post from last night, lamenting the finding that now more than 50% of public school students in the South are poor, Lewberry raises a sensible possible explanation:
I'm willing to bet that one of many reasons for the rise in the percentage of public school children in poverty is that children from low income families are just about the only kids left in public schools.
So, his hope, and mine too (I would have guessed the same ) is that we're not getting so dramatically poorer, as much as those with any means are fleeing the public school system. That might be a more palatable explanation, if only it were true. Findings from the National Center for Education Statistics show just the opposite: since 1985, when private school students made up 12.35% of the elementary and secondary school population, their enrollment has steadily declined as a percentage of the total student population. If I was as handy as Kevin Drum, I'd prepare a helpful chart, but for now we will just have to visualize...
2006---11.12% (projected)
This decline is mitigated somewhat by home-schooling which has steadily increased over that same span. If anything, that may flatten this line. But the truth is clear, and sad. The middle class is not fleeing to private schools. It's shrinking, and getting poorer. And in the South, the region with the smallest percentage of private school students (not the largest - as would be the case if the private school factor were to blame), the numbers are staggering and unacceptable.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Debate Thread and a Thought
There's a presidential debate tonight on MSNBC for the Democrats. I've been leaning Obama, though I like the policy positions of Edwards and if I thought he had a legitimate chance to win the nomination I would consider him. Lately, I have to admit, Obama has made my preference for him less of a positive conviction and more of a response to the reality that he is the only non-Hillary candidate with a chance. I had hoped not to be in his corner only out of default.

On another front, here's the news I'll be using to frame tonight's debate in my own mind. We've just learned that in Tennessee now, the number of public school children who are so poor as to qualify for school lunch assistance has topped 50% for the first time - at 53%. That's right - more than half of Tennessee's public school children are impoverished. In fact the entire South is above 50%. It's absolutely astounding in America. It's devastating that we can be so completely surrounded by need and still demand such little change to do something about it. More than half.

It's just plain wrong - embarrassingly so. CEOs rake in hundreds of millions - and that's just in failure. Meanwhile most Americans have trouble meeting their mortgage, trying to get by with little or no health coverage, and that's often with more than one job. Forget about actually having the time and skill and patience to raise children that have their heads on straight and a chance at going to college. It's insane. It's profane.

What I'm getting at is that tonight I want to look for the candidate whose leadership and policies have the best chance of attending a significant decline in that number. It's complicated for sure, and not wholly in the realm of Presidential influence, for sure. But this way of being is just not sustainable. It's got to stop somewhere, sometime. With apologies to the Gulf Coast state, we are all becoming Mississippi. 20 years ago, only that state was above 50% and now, the entire Southeast, plus WV, NM, CA, and TX. If you want to know where we're headed, MS is now at 75%, LA at 84.

You can read the entire report - if you really think you want to - here.
Another Red Sox World Series championship. How long before we can claim the Yankees are cursed? Seriously, what's the calculation here? I mean, they haven't won since 2000. And they sure as hell aren't winning next year. What a drought!!

Monday, October 29, 2007

What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Hardback Writer
Bruce Handy reviews a new book about The Beatles for the NYTimes. He starts by wondering what's the point in yet another book about the Fab Four.
So what on earth does Jonathan Gould think he’s doing by adding to the flood with “Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America” — aside from guaranteeing himself a floor audience of completists and getting to write off bootlegs on his tax returns? Is there anything left to say, any detritus left unpicked through?
It’s not so much a new take as it is a more diligent take, a grand sifting. Happily, the effort paid off: Gould has written a scrupulous, witty and, at times, appropriately skeptical study, which drew me back into a subject I thought I was sick of.

Weekend Box Office
1. Saw IV (how long can this tradition keep going?)
2. Dan in Real Life
3. 30 Days of Night
4. The Game Plan
5. Why Did I Get Married?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fascinating, And a Little Scary
60 Minutes ran a piece on the disappearing bees. Not sure which part was more amazing - their sudden plight or the way we depend on them to keep our corporate produce system awash in cheaply produced food.

And, the current episode of Nature on PBS is all about "Colony Collapse Disorder", focusing on the same beekeeper 60 Minutes interviewed.
Less Promising, More Doing
Please, Barack. (Link fixed)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fake Reporters
Our regular press corps is fake enough, but FEMA has taken things a step further. I guess it's one way to make sure you don't look bad, just stage the press conferences. Geez, the press coverage sure is more positive when you get to write the questions too. Brownie, why didn't you think of this!?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Depends on Who Does It...
Kevin points to a pretty despicable recent statement by Giuliani on the most talked-about Cheney-endorsed torture method, water-boarding, and whether it's acceptable:
It depends on how it's done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it.
Polling Young Voters
A new Rasmussen poll - looking ahead toward a general election - has an interesting result from likely young voters. Hillary Clinton leads the way, and Giuliani is in third. Guess who comes in second with 28%?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things I've read today that you should too:

Glenn Greenwald: Obama and Clinton are mushy wafflers. We expected this out of Hillary. I certainly didn't expect it from Obama.

The World Series starts tonight, and Slate's Eriq Gardner says the Rockies are tbe best defensive team in baseball history. I guess we'll see about that.

Kevin Drum says a Giuliani presidency is a "disaster waiting to happen."

How can you not read a blog post called "Phone Sex and Mortgage Servicing"?

Meet Undercover Black Man (David Wells). His post titled "Mis-identified Black Person of the Week", is one of the best I've read in a long time. (via Freakonomics)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Here's hoping Californians stay safe. My experience from watching the house next door to my brother's go up in flames was truly horrifying: its power, the arbitrariness of the wind that carries it where it likes, the speed and certainty of destruction. There's not much scarier than fire. And all reports seem to be that it's only getting worse and less controlled.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Torture Doesn't Work
And that's just the smartest reason not to coerce confessions. Read this horrible FBI interrogation story of the wrongly accused.
What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Weekend Box Office
1. 30 Days of Night
2. Why Did I Get Married?
3. The Game Plan
4. Michael Clayton
5. Gone Baby Gone

We're getting close to the season for Oscar contenders to start being released. My understanding is that Ben Affleck's directorial debut (#5 in the list) is quite a good one. Why am I not sold? Which films are you anticipating?

Free Culture, Please
At Christopher Corbell's blog(!), Music Libre, he links to depressing news from Slashdot. An online provider of public domain music has had to turn out the lights, thanks to pressure from publishers. The assault on fair use and the public domain continues. One of the handful of annoying things about living in Nashville is that - with a few notable exceptions - we're pretty much national headquarters for the shrill, bullying, self-righteous, deceitful, screeching anti-creative, music profiteering racket. Here's hoping Chris's posts keep coming (In the words of Christopher Walken, kind of, we need more Corbell.)

And while I've got Corbell on the brain, as if the cosmos were purposefully aligning, last night I watched a few minutes of Battleship Potemkin on TCM (thanks for the heads-up Farge! Silent Russian movie really know your way to a guy's heart). What a great film, eh? But of course its major contribution was paving the way for the brilliant homage, Battleship Pumpkin. That film, by the way, was created by Article 27 Productions, the round-about inspiration for the title of this blog.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Willing to filibuster over FISA. A real filibuster. Of course, it may not come to that, if the Judiciary Committee will fix the bill first. But if they don't and Dodd has to take to the floor to stand in the way, Obama and Clinton should both have to answer why they won't stand with him.

[UPDATE: Obama is on board supporting Dodd's filibuster. Too bad we're not talking about Dodd being on board supporting Obama's, but it's something - and a good thing.]
Americans Love Taxes
Or else they really really think SCHIP expansion is a good idea. In a comment I left to the post below, I alluded to a recent poll that gets more and more astonishing the more I think about it. Worth a link. Check out the Republican numbers.
What's Wrong With Huckabee?
I don't get it. Religious Right types are claiming they don't like their choices for president, and are threatening to go with a third-party candidate if Giuliani wins. They can't seriously think a third-party religious conservative has a chance to win, can they? So it's more about principle, right? In that case, why not just throw their lot behind Huckabee? He's a bona fide religious conservative who, admittedly, has very little chance to win the nomination.

If they're not flocking to him, they are not going to rally around a third-party guy either. So we should take all that talk for what it is: idle threats. Like the rest of us here in the real world, they will have to make the best choice they can from the candidates with a chance. And once the general election comes around, the anti-Hillary factor will carry far more weight than any concerns that Giuliani doesn't, you know, agree with their most important, defining beliefs.

Here's my sincere but unsolicited advice to conservative Christians who think they must vote for the guy with the best anti-abortion credentials: stop whining about the losers at the top and get behind Huckabee. Loudly. He could use the money. And, no, it won't work. But if you'd try harder to be organized and committed to a candidate, you'll feel better about what you ultimately have to do (and will do--stop acting like you're above it all. We know better): hold your nose and vote for the better of the two left standing at the end. Take it from me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

13 votes short
The President's veto of SCHIP expansion holds up. The Senate handily defeated Bush's veto, but the House got only 273 of the needed 286. Roll call is here.
One Less Candidate
Senator Brownback (R-KS) is dropping out. Will this effect the race? Huckabee is hopeful he will get his religious conservative supporters, but then again, does Brownback really have supporters?

Here's hoping some more drop out on both sides before the NH primary.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Web Site Worth a Bookmark
The Daily Green - News, Tips, Commentary for those of us trying to keep up with the state of the environment and struggling with how to live a greener life.
New CNN Poll
I'm still not a believer, but just throwing this out there for any of you who are.
"If [see below] were the Democratic Party's candidate and [see below] were the Republican Party's candidate, who would you be more likely to vote for: [see below], the Democrat, or [see below], the Republican?" If unsure: "As of today, who do you lean more toward?"

Rudy Giuliani (R) 47
Hillary Clinton (D) 49
Neither 3

Rudy Giuliani (R) 46
Al Gore (D) 52
Neither 2
[UPDATE: Of course, Gore is still saying no way.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More GOP Child-Bashing
Well, it's come down to this and I think it's a good thing this is out in the open. I hope Democrats trumpet this from now until next November and beyond. Republicans are primarily moralists who believe that no American should be having a family without first securing a well-paying job that offers good health insurance. And they also believe that no employer should be required to offer either good-paying jobs or health insurance.

Yet another working family has come under attack by Republicans, this time a couple with a 2-year-old whose heart problems were addressed thanks to the SCHIP program. Apparently, employees without family health benefits shouldn't be having children. I wonder how many American families this standard would disallow? Is this what they mean by the culture of life?

You see, it's not just the homeless, and those on welfare they will attack as being lazy. In the Republican view, anyone who hasn't had all of the benefits and good fortune that help guarantee entry into the right corporate environment is of poor moral character and deserving of any misfortune life should bring.
Failing Schools
Today's NYTimes offers a No Child Left Behind update, as many states are entering the all-important 5th year of evaluation, when "failing schools" may be labeled "chronically failing" and the law recommends strong measures for fixing them - things like shutting down schools, firing teachers and administrators, having the state take over a school's operation, things like that. So what do you do when your failing schools number more than, say, one or two?
[M]ore than 1,000 of California’s 9,500 schools are branded chronic failures, and the numbers are growing. Barring revisions in the law, state officials predict that all 6,063 public schools serving poor students will be declared in need of restructuring by 2014, when the law requires universal proficiency in math and reading.
And it's not just in Cali:
In Florida, 441 schools could be candidates for closing. In Maryland, some 49 schools in Baltimore alone have fallen short of achievement targets for five years or more. In New York State, 77 schools were candidates for restructuring as of last year.
Yet so far, education experts say they are unaware of a single state that has taken over a failing school in response to the law. Instead, most allow school districts to seek other ways to improve.
And why is that? Because the mandate remains unfunded by the federal government and most other remedies have built-in obstacles. You want to fire the crappy teachers? Too bad. Labor agreements have precedent under NCLB. You want to shut down the worst school or 2? Where will you put all the kids? Who will pay for a new school, or wants to argue for overcrowding others? Want to identify which teachers are struggling the most to prepare students for the tests? You can't. Only school-wide results are available for administrative scrutiny.

So, let's review. Schools are teaching to tests that - for many reasons - their students can't pass, so parents and school administrators are forced to choose from a variety of supposed options that aren't realistic possibilities, and aren't funded even if they were. So the school districts - who didn't ask for, and likely don't want, these state-imposed, test-based standards - are required to come up with an acceptable plan - required, that is, by the same federal government whose own suggestions are completely unworkable. Sounds great, huh?

Meanwhile, most public schools continue to serve primarily the poorest and least supported of students. The best-prepared students in the best circumstances to succeed academically continue to attend private schools, or gravitate to magnet and charter schools where they can be conveniently surrounded by other kids with already-sharp minds and involved parents, which is great for them - and an understandable choice I would probably make myself. But what's left for standard community public schools? Just curious - If we distributed *all the kids* from private, magnet, and charter schools among our neighborhood public schools, I wonder how those schools would perform?
Red Sox on Thin Ice
It's not do or die tonight but it's pretty close. Here's the problem: Hitters besides Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell need to get on track. If the team only is a threat one out of every 3 innings they will have a hard time. With Wakefield pitching for the first time in a while, that makes things even more nervous. They could come back from 3-1, especially with 2 left at home...but let's not let it come to that.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

Weekend Box Office
1. Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married
2. The Game Plan
3. Michael Clayton
4. We Own the Night
5. The Heartbreak Kid

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Reason #674 to Keep a Ready Supply of Frozen Vegetables
Because when you slam your own finger in your car door - somehow - and you have exactly zero ice at home - because you're a lazy moron who never refills the trays - you can use your bags of frozen veggies to keep swelling down. A sadly true story, and your home-based medicine tip of the day.
Gore Derangement Syndrome
Read Paul Krugman

Friday, October 12, 2007

Income Equality
The IRS has released stats for 2005. Of all income earned, the wealthiest 1% raked in 21.2% of it. The 50% of Americans in the lower half pulled in...wait for it...12.8% Yes, that discrepancy is a new record. But really, more tax cuts please for rich people - dividends, capital gains, inheritance... How long until the poorer half of us account for single digits in share of the country's wealth?
Gore Wins
Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world's leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.
Funny DKos diary title: "BREAKING: SCOTUS Declares Bush the Nobel Peace Prize Winner"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Time Magazine on "The Swift-Boating of Graeme Frost"
That is how they treat the personal face of our public policies: with disdain and contempt, ridicule and harassment. This has really gotten me sick - it's one thing to disagree, but why be such assholes? The Frosts are now public figures because of one radio address? Even a child?

God forbid a kid or a working family ever decides to get involved in the policies of our government. Sometimes our public discourse is a deranged, disgusting, seething, neurotic morass of self-loathing. It's no wonder people don't bother to vote or pay attention. The message of Republicans to the American people couldn't be clearer: This is what advocating will get you.

I've asked the local paper to stop running Malkin's column - which they picked up after outrage forced them to stop running Coulter's. If they don't, I'll cancel my daily subscription, which I should probably do anyway. If you want more of the story, read this. For some typical Malkin hypocrisy, there's this.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Friday's A Big Day
Yeah, the Red Sox start the series with the Indians. It would be great if they won, but it's much less important now that a Yankee victory isn't at stake. No, the big countdown is Al Gore and his shot at the Nobel Peace prize, to be announced on Friday. I'm not sure that I buy that the committee would go this way - picking global climate concern over war and peace issues. Still, I root for Gore to win anything and everything he can. It won't propel him into the presidential race, I'm convinced of that. And it's hard to blame him - who needs the personal attacks and ridicule that he gets. It's one thing to take him on for his votes, and public policy positions of the present and future. But of course, that's not what Republicans want to talk about. They prefer making fun of environmentalism, and a caricature of his persona.

If you get in Al, I'll give you money and my vote and my time. But my advice is to save yourself the grief. Sounds like you're thinking that way too. If I thought Americans were poised to look past - or, indeed punish - all the bullshit, I'd feel differently. But I don't.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Republicans Attack 12-year-old
Every now and then Republicans screw up in a way that makes me think: "this is the end for them. Americans will leave them in droves for this atrocity. There will hardly be any Republicans left." Of course, it never happens that way. And I guess if starting a war with the wrong country won't do it, probably nothing will. Still, here's another one.

Monday, October 08, 2007

What have you been watching, listening to, reading?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Today's Scripture Reading
From the Book of Manny:
And the Lord sent a child among us to snatch the ball from a sure out, to keep the Red Sox inning alive and Lo-well delivered to send in the tying run.

And then He did send Manny to just be-eth Manny and pound the game-winner over the Green Monster.

And earlier that night He sent a swarm of small insects to invade the stadium where the Yankees were playing, as the evil empire was leading by a run, and this saddened the Lord greatly. The pests descended upon mighty, young Chamberlain, who handleth not the distraction, and proceedeth to cough up a walk and 2 wild pitches sending the game into extra innings. And the Indians won. And it was good.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Still Have Larry Craig To Kick Around
Republicans are so funny. Remember all that Bill Clinton self-righteousness? Now, admitting to using prostitutes (Vitter), being named in court as a bribe recipient (Stevens), and trying to hide an arrest and guilty plea for lewd behavior (Craig) still leaves them able to to their jobs "effectively." So, no problem. Despite his resignation announcement, wide-stance Larry is sticking around.

Your modern Republican Party.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

If you're like me, you wouldn't be upset if the SCHIP proposal was expanded to reach families of 4 making $83,000. The President often complains that this dollar amount would be covered and amounts to a public subsidy of middle-class families who don't need it. I, of course, think the government should cover everyone so it doesn't scare me one bit. Except that it's not true. The bill wouldn't do that at all. An NPR report yesterday lays out all of the details, and in a refreshing display of honest journalism says quite simply the President is wrong. And not just about that number. (my emphasis)
"I believe in private medicine," Bush told an audience in Lancaster, Penn., on Wednesday morning. "I believe in helping poor people, which was the intent of SCHIP, now being expanded beyond its initial intent. I also believe that the federal government should make it easier for people to afford private insurance. I don't want the federal government making decisions for doctors and customers."

But SCHIP isn't the kind of program where government officials make medical decisions. Under SCHIP, children are enrolled in private health insurance.

"Typically, children have a choice from among competing private health-insurance companies," says Stan Dorn, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "There's no federally specified benefits package. There's no individual entitlement."

The president also complained that the bill would cover too many children who don't need federal help. "This program expands coverage, federal coverage, up to families earning $83,000 a year. That doesn't sound poor to me," the president told the Lancaster audience.

Dorn says that's not exactly right, either. "This bill would actually put new limits in place to keep states from going to very high-income levels. SCHIP money would no longer be available over 300 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $60,000 for a family of four."

The president gets to make the $83,000 claim because New York had wanted to allow children in families with incomes up to four times the poverty level onto the program. That is, indeed, $82,600. The Department of Health and Human Services rejected New York's plan last month, and under the bill, that denial would stand. White House officials warn, however, that the bill would allow a future administration to grant New York's request.
So, let's review. The bill actually establishes a new lowered cap at 3 times the poverty level. It enrolls children in private health insurance. Bush claims it would be a government run program that would cover children 4 times the poverty level, even though only the White House can authorize that kind of waiver, and they don't. (Why not just say the bill covers up to $166,000?? After all, if the President granted a state a waiver up to 8 times the poverty level, then it would.) But because someday some President might say yes to New York's request *to use their own block grant money to cover some middle-class kids*, that amounts - in the President's mind - to saying the bill would cover know, the bill that, explicitly, does not.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

This is Good News
David Obey (D-WI) chairs the House Appropriations Committee. And he says he won't send up a funding bill that lacks a timetable for troop withdrawal. But he has another idea that's long overdue: a war surtax, to ensure that the generation of idiots that brought us this horrendous war is the one that pays the bill for it. Apart from the military, we've been asked to sacrifice zero. It's time that changed, so that the country feels the toll of the decision that was made. Asking my nieces and nephews, and their eventual kids, to pay for this disaster truly does add insult to injury.
Go Sox!
Red Sox start play today - 5:30 central. Plus hockey season gets under way - 2 games on the VS network. Preds open up tomorrow night. Woohoo!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

SCHIP Update
In an earlier post I said GOP presidential candidates should be asked if they agree with the President's veto. One has weighed in now. Romney says Bush is right to veto and he'd do the same thing.

How about the others?

Monday, October 01, 2007

What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

New Album Marketing Strategy
Radiohead's new album is coming out soon and they have a pretty good idea for selling it:
Radiohead, the respected British rock act, said that the band would sell its new album, at least initially, exclusively as a digital download and allow fans to decide how much to pay for it, if anything. In a statement yesterday, the band said it had begun taking orders for the album, “In Rainbows,” which will be available beginning Oct. 10.
In Radiohead’s plan, fans will choose their own price for the digital version of the 10-song “In Rainbows,” which it said would be sold as a download without copy restriction software, known as digital-rights management. In effect, the band is asking fans to establish a monetary value for music, even when widespread piracy means that it would be available free.

Early reaction suggested that listeners would pay, but less than they would for a CD in stores. The blog carried a poll in which the plurality of voters — almost 40 percent — said they would pay from $2.05 to $10.12.
And, hey, why not? You can set the price you are willing to pay here. I'll bet they make tons.

Weekend Box Office

1. The Game Plan
2. The Kingdom
3. Resident Evil
4. Good Luck Chuck
5. 3:10 to Yuma