Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shoes vs. barefoot

I know, many people across the world already know this and don't need any study to tell them. But it's still interesting: new research today on potential advantages of running barefoot over running with shoes.

Oops. WashPost taked down a blog entry. Revises. Reposts.

Erik Wemple caught the Post taking down a blog post they had. It was by education writer Bill Turque, who's been leading the reporting on the Rhee stuff in the last week (and generally). The text of Turque's original post is at the bottom of Wemple's piece. Turque wrote about how Team Rhee had stonewalled him, but gave their side of the story late Monday to one local tv reporter and the Post edit board. He wrote about how the edit board is tight with Rhee, and that it's not surprising they took that strategy. And that the whole episode is an example of how the editorial and news side of the paper is separate.

It was explaining things, but also stating some truths that are uncomfortable for the editorial board. The post was a bit edgy-- it said that the editorial board's "support for the chancellor has been steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring." And he said that with the Post edit board, DCPS "has a guaranteed soft landing spot for uncomfortable or inconvenient disclosures--kind of a print version of the Larry King Show."

A new, revised post was put up later Wednesday evening. Most of it is the same, but those quotes I mentioned and a few others were taken out.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn dead at 87

Howard Zinn died of a heart attack today (Boston Globe initial obit). A sad day.

Will high-speed rail funds be spread too thin?

The stimulus bill included $8 billion for high speed rail projects, and congress added an additional $2.5bil to also be spent in coming years.

That's well and good, but one problem is that $10.5 billion by itself isn't enough to do that much.

Where will this money go? Probably toward some of the corridors shown on this popular map. In the next day or few, we'll find out where the federal DOT is giving the money. They've been mulling the decision for months.

A lot of folks in the transportation world have been warning that the administration shouldn't spread the money too thin. If it tries to give money toward too many of these projects, none of them may actually happen. They say it should focus on just a couple or few. The Midwest network gets the most talk, along with Florida and California (the California thing is already some steps further to becoming a reality than many of the others).

Word is starting to get out this week on which projects might win. Brad Plumer worries that DOT is in fact going with the wrong approach, citing a Bloomberg report that the funding will go toward 13 separate projects across 31 states. If that's indeed the plan, it's not good.

Of course, part of the reason for doing that is that they want to get money into all these different states for political purposes (see: history of Amtrak).

Obama is going to Florida on Thursday, presumably to promote the Tampa-Orlando train. Which is well and good, and maybe they know what they're doing, but it's worrying that this is for a train that, as it stands, would not actually go into Orlando itself. That's not good. Sure, the train will be partially for the tourists, going to Disney and to the airport, etc. But not going into the city misses part of the whole point and is not a good model.

But maybe we will be surprised and the announcements this week (something in the SOTU as well as details the next day) will not in fact be what Bloomberg reported. Obama has said a lot of the right things on rail, and DOT head Ray LaHood, while not the person anyone wanted or expected for the job, has been not bad so far. We'll see.

Update: Brad Plumer has much more on the pros and cons of the Florida plan.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rhee update

So the story is this. Here's the letter from Rhee to members of the council. Says:
One teacher against whom serious allegations of sexual misconduct had been made was terminated in the RIF. This teacher was immediately put on administrative leave and removed from the school as soon as the allegations came to our attention. This person was not in the classroom at the time of the RIF, and DCPS referred the case to MPD.
The investigation was still pending at the time of RIF.
Why it took till now to say this...?

Of course, if the investigation was still pending at the time of the layoffs, then presumably the situation should not have been a factor in the layoff. Given this, a problem remains with the quote Rhee gave Fast Company:
"I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?"
So they did take it into consideration?

Giving birth while shackled

A good article in the Philadelphia Weekly, by Daniel Denvir, is bringing attention in Pennsylvania this week to the issue of pregnant inmates being shackled during labor. It can be a leg or both legs, and/or an arm. Sometimes the shackles are removed after transportation to the hospital and reapplied after birth, but often not. It's hard to know exactly how often this is happening.

A 2006 Amnesty International report examined the state laws as well as written department policies on the matter, finding that only two states, California and Illinois, had laws on the use of shackles on pregnant women. Most of the states had at least some written policy, but 23 of those and the Federal Bureau of Prisons allowed the use of restraints during labor.

In the years since then, I believe a few states have made new laws, and it's likely some have changed their policies. The biggest development was perhaps when the 8th circuit -- that's the most crazy conservative one -- ruled that Shawanna Nelson had her constitutional protections violated (Nelson had been featured in a 2006 NYT article). The case was brought by the ACLU, which said the 8th circuit was the first to make such a ruling.

The practice persists, it seems, because there has been little pressure to fix it. It's obscure, and until there's a case in the local press, the state legislators don't think of the problem. Once the problem is raised and pushed, few of them will actively oppose it.

Written DOC policies alone aren't enough. Tina Torres, the woman in the Weekly article, demonstrates the point. She was theoretically protected by a policy against shackling, but that policy wasn't followed.

An actual law will make it more likely to be followed (though even that is imperfect; I believe there have been reports from California of women still being shackled, if I'm not mistaken).

Pennsylvania has moved a big step in the right direction: today, less than a week after the article, the bill proposing to outlaw the practice passed unanimously out of a state senate committee.

Paging Mark Udall

Colorado Senator Mark Udall, in a press release:
"Government should live by the same budgeting rules that hardworking Colorado families follow every day."
Which are...?

Would it really be a good idea to treat the federal budget the same as an individual's budget?

Also, the good people of Colorado are, thankfully, allowed to take out loans and spend the money. As can the federal government. So Udall's line doesn't even make sense in the direction he wants it to.

"Spending freeze," wooo

As quickly as the Administration proposed this "spending freeze" thing last night, they have been quick to say that, well, there are some caveats and it's not exactly a spending freeze. Which is good.

Still, it's terrible, economically and politically, and the left is doing a good job going after it relentlessly today. Start with this short piece by Chris Hayes on the politics.

Update: and via Ezra Klein the lovely video compilation of Obama making the case against a spending freeze during the general election debates.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Michelle Rhee's latest scandall is growing

It was Friday morning that the Post's Bill Turque first noted a Michelle Rhee quote where she alleged that teachers she had fired had had sex with students. In the days since, the story is growing and there's still no word from the department.

As Turque put it Monday evening:
The vacuum created by Rhee's silence was handily filled by Rhee's chief antagonists on the D.C. Council.
There were 266 teachers who were laid off. None of them were ever formally accused of any such crime. Rhee's people say they will be announcing something Tuesday morning.

Mike DeBonis of City Paper further explores the mandatory reporter law angle:
Under D.C. law, certain people whose jobs put them into contact with children are called "mandatory reporters." Put simply, it means that if they suspect that a child under their care is being abused, they are required by law to tell the police or the Child and Family Services Agency.

Among those with mandatory reporting responsibility are "school officials."
Update: Team Rhee tries to set the tone for Tuesday by giving tidbits to NBC4 late Monday.

Well said

Today's summary from the blog Veryln Klinkenborg, In Summary:
Verlyn Klinkenborg is in California and it's raining.
Crazy, I know.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haiti and the Twitter

Foreign Policy magazine looks at how Twitter and the Twitterhadeen did on Haiti, and says that while there have been some successes, there hasn't really been that much original reporting that didn't appear elsewhere.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Michelle Rhee asserts that teachers had sex with children

Bill Turque, the Post reporter covering DC schools, has a good catch today:
Now we have Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's assertion, in the February issue of Fast Company magazine, that some of the 266 educators laid off in the October budget reduction had had sex with students, while others had hit them.


"I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?" she asked.


Exactly how many of the laid off teachers had sex with children?

Exactly how many had hit children?

Why did it take a budget-driven reduction in force to get rid of them?

Did the District try to bring criminal prosecution against these educators before laying them off?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

About the Gitmo suicides (homicides?) from 2006

Dahlia Lithwick says: "Why aren't we talking about the new accusations of murder at Gitmo?"

I think one small part of the answer is that the top papers are still reluctant to write on something when someone else (in this case Harpers, a few days ago) beat them to the story. They want to first confirm all of it themselves, then come up with their own bit of additional information to add to the story, and then they'll publish something. Problem is, that leaves their readers in the dark.

Byron Calame had a good piece on this in 2007 when he was NYT public editor, "Reporting the News Even When a Competitor Gets There First."

Note: This post has been updated to fix embarrassing spelling errors. (h/t AER).

RAN director to lead Sierra Club

The Sierra Club named its new executive director today: Michael Brune, the director of Rainforest Action Network.

Sierra Club is not the most moderate of the big enviro groups; it's no EDF or anything. But it's not super radical either.

Bringing in Brune surely says something. It's not a cautious choice; it's a good choice. RAN is quite radical, and effective. They win, and on a small budget.

How those more radical ideas will interface with Sierra Club, well, that will be fascinating to watch.

Update: the Grist interview.

MA fallout

This isn't anything crazy new and different, but I think the best analysis I've seen of where we stand now and what Dems and the White House need to do is this piece on TAP by Tim Fernholz.

Monday, January 18, 2010

OMG No Blackberrys in the Cabinet Room! WaPo, LAT, Roll Call Get Confused Over Old Policy, Flip Their Shit

Wednesday's meeting between President Obama and House Democrats about healthcare was long and intense. And secretive!

The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reported:
For Wednesday's session, Pelosi, Hoyer, Reid and other key Democrats gathered in the Cabinet Room just off the Oval Office -- no cellphones or BlackBerrys were allowed, a restriction that left aides on Capitol Hill starved for information.
The LAT's Janet Hook and Noam Levey said:
At Obama's request, senior Democratic lawmakers surrendered their BlackBerries and cellphones when they began meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Roll Call's Emily Pierce and Steven Dennis declared:
Everyone was asked to leave their cell phones and BlackBerrys at the door, the source said.
But at the AP, more careful heads prevailed. Erica Werner cooled things down with the actual story:
Lawmakers shed cell phones and Blackberries, standard procedure for a meeting in the room they occupied.

That's right, in fact the White House once posted a photo of a collection of Blackberrys outside the Cabinet Room. They featured it in a video, too. Reuters once published a photo of the basket. TIME had a photo, too, captioned "All who enter the Oval Office, Roosevelt Room and Cabinet Room are asked to leave their mobile devices in baskets like these, stationed around the West Wing."

Look, I bet this story happened by accident: the Democratic 'aide' who was noted as the source in two of the stories was probably someone in Pelosi or Reid's office who didn't know the deal. Perhaps all they knew was the boss didn't get to have hir blackberry in a many-hour meeting, and that seemed unusual to the aide. Who knows.

But a meme is a meme, and is there always time to make sure it's right? Not for the Post's Dana Milbank. On Sunday, he took the story one step further, using the episode as one of his examples of 'panic' for the WH and the Dems:
Skittish White House aides took the unusual step last week of confiscating their fellow Democrats' cellphones and BlackBerrys as administration officials negotiated a health-care deal with lawmakers in the Cabinet Room.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti odds and ends

Bill Quigley: Ten Things the United States Can and Should Do for Haiti

Brian Concannon: Working with the Haitian Government: Excluding the Government Now Will Prove Problematic in the Future

A response to David Brooks' column.

Wyclef's foundation

If you want to read about problems with Wyclef's foundation, there's the story on The Smoking Gun and an extensive follow-up by Gawker, which is a bit heavy on one anonymous source but seems plausible.

Even if some of the criticisms turned out to be overblown, the question, as many have noted, remains: why donate to some celebrity organization that does not have a proven record of delivering aid when there is no shortage of organizations that do have proven records?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Eugene Robinson is being icky

Eugene Robinson is being icky, and I care because he is supposed to be a relatively liberal or progressive columnist (one of the very few to appear in the Post).

Here's what's bothering me.

1. On Wednesday he wrote about following Haiti news on Twitter (a shorter version of that piece appeared in print Thursday). He writes:
I went looking for information on Twitter because of the role it played last summer during the massive anti-government protests in Iran. While the Iranian government managed to block traditional news sources, it couldn’t stop the steady flow of tweets coming from demonstrators in the streets of Tehran, men and women armed only with mobile phones and uncommon courage.
Oh yes, all those men and women on the streets, tweeting in ENGLISH.

Look, there were some tweeters reporting real actual news in Tehran. But not very many. We're talking possibly a few dozen; possibly way fewer than that. Almost all of the tweeting was by people not actually there. This has been rehashed over and over again. But Robinson still manages to get it wrong.

2. In "A terrorism designation Cuba doesn't deserve" earlier this month, Robinson wrote about how the US government was making a political move to include Cuba in its list of 14 nationalities that would be targeted for further screening for people on incoming flights. Good point. But he wrote it implying he thought it was a good thing that we were dividing up the world into the 'likely terrorists' and not so likely terrorists. His problem was just that Cuba was on it. Which is funny and stuff until the next Timothy McVeigh appears.

And Robinson referred to Cuba as "one of the most tightly locked-down societies in the world" which is, you know, not so true.

DC Metro Manager Meets With Bloggers. Later Resigns

DC Metro Manager John Catoe announced today that he will be resigning. It's not that surprising given all the messes of the last year.

Separately, Catoe and other staff met with a group of local bloggers yesterday, including those who are plenty critical of them (i.e. the blog Unsuck DC Metro). Here's the write-up from Greater Greater Washington. No super-juicy tidbits or anything, though UDCM notes:
Catoe acknowledged what riders know – that under post-accident manual control, Metro is struggling to maintain proper timing and spacing of trains. Trains bunch up, which creates gaps, and forces trains to hold to make schedule adjustments. The daily total of trains remains the same, he said, but during peak hours, the timing problems mean fewer trains are getting through. So even though ridership is down since the accident, service is worse.
I think the blogger meeting is most interesting just in terms of government transparency and the influence and thus growing access of the new media, pajamas media, twitterhideen, whatever you call them.

GGW concludes:
The participants were still brimming with questions when Mr. Catoe had to leave for his next meeting, but Metro's PR Director Lisa Farbstein suggested there could be more blogger roundtables in the future. Based on the way the glimpses bloggers received into the more human side of Metro and its General Manager seem to have softened some of his fiercest critics' anger, that'd be a very smart move.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is Palestine Note?

Electronic Intifada has a hard piece by Yaman Salahi taking on Palestine Note, its upstart competition (?) that is apparently tight with the PA.

More on Google and China

The NYT has heavy coverage, including a front-pager today.

At TechCrunch, Sarah Lacy weighs in with "Google’s China Stance: More about Business than Thwarting Evil." She says that (1) Google's business in China wasn't really going that well, (2) yesterday's move is so severe as to pretty much burn any bridges with the Chinese government, and (3) the move did accomplish good PR here in the U.S.

Just one last post on the DC snowball thing, I swear

Reason senior editor Radley Balko had a good article last week summing it all up.

Balko writes this about Assistant Chief Pete Newsham, who heads the MPD's investigative services bureau:

Newsham's rush to clear Baylor's name came before the slightest bit of investigation. Newsham also quickly deferred to Baylor's stellar reputation and years of service, distinguishing the noble public servant from the unruly yahoos making accusations against him. That would be fine if Newsham was Baylor's attorney. But he isn't. He's in charge of the MPDC unit responsible for investigating officer misconduct. And here he was disseminating clear and provable lies.

Forget the gun-waving Baylor. This is the real scandal. You'd be awfully naive to think the only time Newsham has publicly lied to defend a MPDC officer accused of misconduct was coincidentally the one time the officer's accusers were tech-savvy hipsters armed with cell phones and video cameras. D.C. Police Chief Kathy Lanier's investigation into the incident ought to go well beyond Baylor. From where did the false information Newsham perpetuated originate? Why was Newsham, whose position is that of a trusted liason between the department and the public, so quick to use bad information to defend a fellow officer? Shouldn't this incident call his judgment into question in other cases? Is he still fit for the job?

And in response to the Washington Post's Marc Fisher, he writes:

Instead of turning his nose up at new media and social networking, Fisher should be asking himself whether, if it weren't for Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and alternative weeklies like the City Paper, the Post would have ever gotten this story right. Or whether the Post would have eventually given credence to Baylor's accusers had this happened not on a busy U-Street intersection teeming with wired gentrifiers, but in D.C.'s poorer, blacker Southeast quadrant, where confrontations with the police are more common yet less covered, and where corroborating video would be less likely.

Stewart-Yoo analysis

The view on the blogotubes seems to be that while Jon Stewart knew a bunch, he didn't know enough to handle someone as slick as John Yoo.

Writes Adam Serwer:
It was a sobering reminder that for years, a mostly pliant press has allowed a comedian to do a reporters' job. Yesterday, we were reminded how inadequate a solution that really is.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How far we have come: Google threatens to pull out of China

Google announced this afternoon that it was threatening to shut down operations in China, after it found that someone in China was trying to break into the accounts of human rights activists.
We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.
This is a pretty big deal. Google, like so many companies, wants to do big business in China. And they've been relentlessly criticized for doing so (see i.e. 2006 Amnesty report, Undermining freedom of expression in China: The role of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google). The internet companies have so far held off congressional attempts to rein them in.

Google doesn't explicitly lay blame on the Chinese government today. They may not be sure, or even if they are sure they may be trying to leave room for a continued relationship. Google's retaliation, though, of ending its censored search engine, is one against the Chinese government, so it'd be odd to do that if they thought it was just some random dude who had done this.

Google may yet not be changing its ways. We'll see. But for it to make such a statement today, and to so publicly critique China, is a huge step.

We wouldn't have gotten this far if it weren't for the human rights advocates and the members of congress championing this issue, particularly Republicans Chris Smith (NJ) and Frank Wolf (VA).

This issue could have, and could still, just die away. But the advocates have kept it on the radar. And Google would not want to have the PR disaster that Yahoo did with the Shi Tao case.

What to make of Orszag

So OMB director Peter Orszag has been a bit in the news for his extracurricular activities (see also Jon Stewart's coverage). Seems he was in a relationship, impregnated Claire Milonas, they separated, she had a baby in November, and soon after that he announced his engagement to Bianna Golodryga.

Colbert King has the most interesting commentary I've seen, comparing Orszag's policy on fatherhood with Obama's statements on fatherhood. Thoughts?

Monday, January 11, 2010

That was the Mexican beer that was

Bloomberg reports:
Heineken NV agreed to buy the beer division of Fomento Economico Mexicano SAB, producer of Dos Equis and Mexico’s second-biggest brewer, in an all-stock deal valued at 5.3 billion euros ($7.7 billion) to tap faster sales growth in Latin America.
The company, FEMSA, sells beers including Dos Equis, Tecate, Sol and Bohemia.

The largest Mexican beer company, Modelo, remains with Mexican ownership, although Anheuser-Busch InBev apparently owns a big stake. They sell Corona, Pacifico and Modelo, among others.

The Florida cold

I'm sorry but if I see the slightest hint of a run on grapefruit, I'm going to run to the store and carry what I can. So far so good, though.

WSJ says orange futures were down 12% this morning (after having risen last week), reflecting an apparent assessment that the damage wasn't too terrible.

says this morning's freeze, the coldest yet, may have damaged 5 percent of the orange crop. But they quote someone in the industry saying "Growers won’t know how much damage has been done until a week or two later..."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

NYT Editorializes on Tasers; Good Policy, but Wishful Thinking

The NYT editorialized on Taser policy this morning (a rare event). They noted a recent 9th circuit decision on appropriate use of force.

I'm not familiar with the specifics of the case at hand, but basically we're talking someone who was a passive resister -- who certainly did not pose an immediate threat.

The NYT suggests the right policy, but uses a bit of wishful thinking:
Although the Ninth Circuit’s decision is only binding on a group of Western states and territories, all of the more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the country that use Tasers should follow its guidance. There are questions about how safe Tasers are in the best of circumstances, an issue that deserves greater study. But it is clear that they are too powerful for use on people who do not pose a serious danger to others.
That would be great! But it's not just going to happen like that. I mean, we're talking the 9th circuit here. And some of the other circuit courts have in fact ruled differently -- saying that using force, tasers or otherwise, in a pain-compliance fashion is not a 4th amendment violation.

The ACLU of Florida tried to take such a case to the Supreme Court, in fact, because the 11th circuit ruled against them.

The best research out there suggests that 20%+ of the PD's that use tasers allow for them to be used in pain compliance situations against passive resisters. We're talking 4000 or so PD's. Most of them aren't within the 9th circuit's jurisdiction, obviously. It's unfortunately going to take a lot more to get them to change their policies.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Burj Dubai porn

The Burj Dubai, now called the Burj Khalifa, had its opening today.

From Gizmodo, various photos and videos of the building from the past months. See also this diagram.

About that mess at Newark airport

Regarding that person who ran through the exit at security yesterday evening at Newark Airport, the NYT notes this morning:
While it was unclear who first alerted authorities to the potential breach, the individual was not an employee of the T.S.A., which is in charge of airport security, said an administration official.