A Cruel Shell, BP and ExxonMobil Game

The Natural Resources Defense Council asks those of us who care about our Mother Earth to contribute to a worthy cause, a plea to the people for a clean environment.  Perchance, we can help advance the message.

Help Expose Bush’s Big Lie and Save Our Coasts!

Please help run this powerful new ad in The Washington Post and turn the tide in Congress against legislation that would sacrifice our fragile coasts to Big Oil and the threat of catastrophic spills.


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NRDCActionFund.org

With our economy sinking and oil prices soaring, George Bush is offering snake oil: a plan to sacrifice more of our coasts to oil drilling on the chance it will produce a few weeks’ worth of oil and reduce gas prices by a few pennies a gallon…in 2028. Imagine America forever tethered to Bush’s failed energy policy. It’s like giving him five more terms.

It’s a cruel Shell game.  And BP game.  And ExxonMobil game.

Over the past five years, the number of domestic drilling permits has nearly doubled. But because of rising worldwide demand, oil prices have skyrocketed. More drilling off our coasts is not the answer. Once destroyed they can never be replaced. The only winners will be the oil companies.

Want gas at $1 a gallon?

America needs a bold new approach to energy, from more fuel efficient vehicles to plug-in hybrids and electric cars. A cleaner electric grid powered by renewables.

Existing technologies could have us driving at the equivalent of a buck a gallon for gas!

Tell your Representative and Senators to stop the giveaway of our coasts. Tell them you won’t stand for billions more for oil companies-and snake oil for the rest of us.

[The Advertisement will be] Paid for by supporters of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund.

Thank you for your consideration and contribution.


Farewell To Privacy. Hello To Arms

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copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

The Courts and Congress have come to believe there is reason for fear.  Enemies are everywhere.  Those who wish to do us harm are in our homes.  They talk to us on our telephones.  Some sashay in through our computers.  “Evil doers” are ubiquitous in the United States.  Our open society places the public at risk.  We, the people, must defend ourselves.  Thus, the Supreme Court and Congress have given the government and us the means.  The highest judicial body in the nation has made it possible for the common man to protect himself with a pistol; Legislators provided the President ethereal firearms.  Indeed, individuals and the Commander-In-Chief were bequeathed more than either had asked for.  In 2008, we have entered the Summer of Separation.  In the United States we say, “Farewell to privacy.  Hello to arms.”

Absorbed in fear, Americans have detached themselves from the original intent of the United States Constitution.  We the people have embraced weaponry and rejected our right to privacy.  The populace, with assistance from Congress willingly chose to forfeit the Fourth Amendment.  authentic freedoms were  disemboweled.  If the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act  (FISA) stands, and there is no reason to think a Bill signed into law by the President of the United States and each House of Congress would not be fully implemented, the press and the people will no longer have unfettered access to information.  Nor can they disseminate data without intense scrutiny.  Chris Hedges, a twenty year veteran Foreign Correspondent for The New York Times, speaks to a truth that he lived and now fears will die.

The new FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance.  It allows the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants.  The court will not be told specifics about who will be wiretapped, which means the law provides woefully inadequate safeguards to protect innocent people whose communications are caught up in the government’s dragnet surveillance program.

The law, passed under the guise of national security, ostensibly targets people outside the country.  There is no question, however, that it will ensnare many communications between Americans and those overseas.  Those communications can be stored indefinitely and disseminated, not just to the U.S. government but to other governments.

This law will cripple the work of those of us who as reporters communicate regularly with people overseas, especially those in the Middle East.  It will intimidate dissidents, human rights activists, and courageous officials who seek to expose the lies of our government or governments allied with ours.  It will hang like the sword of Damocles over all who dare to defy the official versions of events.  It leaves open the possibility of retribution and invites the potential for abuse by those whose concern is not with national security but with the consolidation of their own power.

Trepidation has long been a tool for intimidation.  A frightened fellow or female will happily adopt a policy or a pistol to relieve apprehension.  Perhaps, that it why after the events of September 11, 2001, Americans, panicked and the power elite prospered.  As the Twin Towers fell, the people cried out for protection.  Congress gleefully approved the Patriot Act; and as a nation, we pursued a course of action that was and is contrary to Constitutional principles.  Even early on, Americans said,  “Farewell to privacy.  Hello to arms.”

As the war thundered on, the public worked to avoid greater anxiety.  People purchased more guns for personal safety sake.  They feared the government might not be able to shield them from all potential harms.  Indeed, this attitude has been ubiquitous in American history.  The Wild West outlook often overrides logic or Constitutional law.  In America, there have been many Summers of Separation.

When humans think weaponry is the solution, as they do in a country where there are ninety guns per every one hundred U.S. residents, they will grab a pistol when faced with any problem.  The availability of petroleum has become a paradox.  Prices for fuel and food are high.  The cost for shelter is higher.  Homes are in foreclosure.  Job security is but a myth.  Employer provided benefits are elusive.  The cost for Health Care coverage is out of reach; yet, the gun that could end it all is close.

Immigration is also an issue that irks many in America.  When migrants flee to the States in search of financial freedom, the native-born feel further threatened.  The divide between the races causes much resentment.  Income inequity offers reason for rage.  Economic slavery causes tempers to rise.  In 2008, the effect of all these predicaments troubles the populace.   The American public is aggravated.  Currently, people feel less safe, less strong, and more scared.  Millions ponder.  Force can seem the great equalizer.  Hence, gun ownership is great.  The Small Arms Survey, released in August 2007 reveals Americans have a ready arsenal.

With fewer than five per cent of the world’s population, the United States is home to roughly 35-50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns.

The report went on to state that the common folk are better equipped with weaponry than law enforcement or the military might be.  Civilians who reside in cities, suburbs, and those who dwell in the countryside possess the vast majority of total firearms owned in the United States.  Citizens in a country built on might will use firepower to retain what they believe is their right. If they are refused the privilege to pack heat, Americans will seek recourse by any means.

Special-forces policeman Heller, a resident of Washington District of Columbia certainly did.  The lawman, aware that anyone on the street might be armed sought solace in a piece of hardware.  Mister Heller applied to register a handgun he wished to keep at home; the District denied his request since, at the time, the District of Columbia forbade civilian handgun ownership.  Disgruntled, and prepared for battle, as Americans often are, Officer Heller filed a legal suit.  He stated his Second Amendment Rights were violated.  The Supreme Court agreed.

A review of the actual Second Amendment which states Americans have the Right to “bear arms in times when a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free State,” or research might have led the Justices to decide otherwise.  Nonetheless, in a summer steeped with separation from acumen, the Supreme Court ruled civilian gun ownership is a right.

The Administration, policymakers, and pundits think the decision wise.  After all, it is a dangerous world.  Americans need to be prepared to fight the ominous foe  Fifteen years ago,   near half of American households understood this.  People built arsenals.  Thirty-one percent of adult Americans owned a firearm in 1993.  Still, that armory was not enough to protect the citizenry from attack.  Years later, the munitions stored,  while likely larger, were no better protection.

Crimes occurred outside the home, on the streets of any given community and , just as predicted, some transgressions traumatized those within four walls. Few Americans ponder the weightier aspects of artillery in the American home.

Earlier this year (1997), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a mind-boggling report showing that the U.S. firearm-related homicide rate for children was 16 times higher than the combined rate for children in 25 other industrialized countries.  Meanwhile, the U.S. child rate of firearm related suicide was 11 times higher. . .

Last year, Congress nearly slashed the budget for the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), which collects and monitors firearm injury data and funds related research as part of its mission.  As a result of new funding mandates, CDC this year has been forced to dramatically reduce its firearm-related injury research, and CDC-funded gunshot injury surveillance programs will come to an end in several states.

All this comes at a time when gunshot injuries are expected to soon outstrip automobile accidents as the number one cause of injury death in the U.S., costing an estimated $20 billion yearly in medical costs and lost productivity.  Surprisingly little medical research monitors the kinds of firearm injuries that occur or the types of guns used.  While the CDC samples unshot injury data from 91 hospitals around the country, there is no comprehensive national surveillance system to accurately track how many people are wounded by guns each year..

Surveillance is the sham used to explain what Federal officials think a greater priority.  Those who have more power than a weapon might wield understand the statistics on civilian gun wounds would not please or appease Americans.  Information on gun injury might shift the fear factor.  If the people are to remain focused on foreign forces, then FISA, the Bill that keeps on giving to the politically powerful, will remain safe, and after all, is that not the truer issue.  As foreign correspondent Christopher Hedges reminds us . . .

It (the law) is about using terrorism (at home or abroad) as a pretext to permit wholesale spying and to silence voices that will allow us to maintain an open society.

Thankfully, when prized pistols are in question, it is easy to silence voices of dissent.  Physicians were not asked to speak before the Supreme Court shot down a ban on gun sales.  Had they had the opportunity Americans and the Justices might have heard  . . .

Doctors worried by Supreme Court gun ruling

By Maggie Fox

Reuters

Wed Jul 9, 2008 7:44pm EDT

Washington (Reuters) – Last month’s Supreme Court ruling striking down a strict gun control law in the U.S. capital will lead to more deaths and accidental injuries, the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine said on Wednesday.

They joined a growing clamor from medical doctors, especially emergency room physicians, who fear a surge of accidental deaths, murders, and suicides if handguns become more easily available than they already are.

The ruling struck down a law in Washington that forbade personal ownership of handguns.  The court made explicit, for the first time, that Americans had rights as individuals to own guns.

It won praise from President George W. Bush, Republican presidential candidate John McCain and guns rights advocates (and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama)

Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted with the 5-4 majority on the decision, said citizens may prefer handguns for home defense because they “can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police.”

Perchance, Justice Scalia would be comforted to know, that with thanks to his cohorts  in the Legislative Branch, when a city dweller or a rural resident telephones for assistance, he or she can be comforted by the thought the authorities are very close by.  Indeed, public officials may be plugged into the individual’s phone, and computer.  In the Summer of Separation, as powerbrokers in one part of Washington said , “Hello To Arms,” those on the other side of the Hill proclaimed, “Farewell To Privacy.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act established thirty years ago was all but rescinded.  The court system created to help public officials in a crisis is no longer needed to swiftly serve warrants when an investigation is requested.  The Constitution has been compromised.

Lawmakers are already justifying their votes for making major changes to that proven regime by saying that the bill is a reasonable compromise that updates FISA technologically and will make it somewhat harder to spy on Americans abroad. But none of that mitigates the bill’s much larger damage. It would make it much easier to spy on Americans at home, reduce the courts’ powers, and grant immunity to the companies that turned over Americans’ private communications without a warrant.

It would allow the government to bypass the FISA court and collect large amounts of Americans’ communications without a warrant simply by declaring that it is doing so for reasons of national security. It cuts the vital “foreign power” provision from FISA, never mentions counterterrorism and defines national security so broadly that experts think the term could mean almost anything a president wants it to mean.

The President is abundantly pleased.  The present Commander-In-Chief is now assured ultimate power.  Future potential Chief Executives, one of whom voted to support this conciliatory commitment to telecommunication companies, will forever retain the “right” to be spy on the citizenry.   In the Summer of Separation, cognitive and Constitutional dissonance is secure.  Congress and the courts assured us of this.

Congress cast aside the Fourth Amendment,  The Supreme Court rescinded the essence of the Second Amendment.  Our countrymen are now be free to carry a gun, and chat on an open line with the trigger cocked.  Former President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt  told us “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.”  Perhaps, the prominent predecessor could not have predicted a day when citizens would be convinced to embrace fretfulness, to forego freedom, and to sing, “Farewell to privacy.  Hello to Arms.”

References and Rights . . .

Foreclosure Prevention Act For Whom?

copyright © 2008 Forgiven. The Disputed Truth

Ok, call me crazy but I thought a foreclosure prevention bill is suppose to be designed to help average folks stem off foreclosures. So will someone tell me how a foreclosure prevention bill would contain bail-out money for automakers, airlines, alternative energy producers and other struggling industries? What do these clowns in Washington have to do to prove to the American public where their loyalties lie. Why is it that when average Americans seek help from their government they are treated to: rely on capitalism and the free enterprise system, but when these CEO’s, who get million dollar bonuses whether their companies succeed or not, make bad business decisions it is ok for the government to bail them out. Who says we are capitalist? I guess the poor are, but the rich sure as hell aren’t.

Washington – The Senate proclaimed a fierce bipartisan resolve two weeks ago to help American homeowners in danger of foreclosure. But while a bill that senators approved last week would take modest steps toward that goal, it would also provide billions of dollars in tax breaks – for automakers, airlines, alternative energy producers and other struggling industries, as well as home builders.

The tax provisions of the Foreclosure Prevention Act, which consumer groups and labor leaders say amount to government handouts to big business, show how the credit crisis, while rattling the housing and financial markets, has created beneficiaries in the power corridors of Washington. NY Times

These representatives of the people have made the argument that they don’t want to bail-out consumers who have made bad credit choices. Let’s say for the sake of argument that some mom and pops did overextend their budgets and purchased homes a little out of their budgets. These people made bad decisions concerning thousands of dollars, while these CEO’s have made bad decisions in the millions of dollars. I can never understand how so many Americans have bought into the false narrative that the government safety net for them is bad, but that it is ok for corporations. It is this same mentality that allowed so many Americans to bite the bullet during the Depression while their rich counterparts continued to live high on the hog. We are being treated to a similar situation today, while many Americans are facing dire economic straits the hedge-fund managers, CEO’s, and other Wall-Streeters have not only lost any buying power they have actually increased their wealth.

Congressional Democrats are also hearing from consumer advocates and other groups who say that the Senate bill does little to help Americans in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.

“The Senate legislation gave corporations and Wall Street billions in tax breaks,” Terence M. O’Sullivan, the president of the Laborers International Union of North America, said at a news conference on Tuesday to denounce the bill.

“Tax breaks for corporate home builders won’t help stabilize the housing market, won’t create jobs and won’t prevent a single foreclosure,” he continued. “If anything, this multibillion-dollar windfall will make things worse.” NY Times

It doesn’t seem to matter who is in the White House or who is in the majority in the House the results are the same. The moneychangers continue to rob from the public coffers with little resistance or oversight from those elected to protect us. Instead of bickering about who is bitter and who isn’t, who has more experience, or who is out of touch maybe our candidates could discuss  how they are going to deal with coming economic meltdown and the continuing transfer of wealth from the average American to the super-rich. What a campaign about issues? God forbid.

Senator McCain has made it clear that he has no intention of changing course on the war or the economy. And instead of focusing on the real enemy of the American people the Democrats are arguing about the most insignificant things in an effort to distance themselves from each other. They need to be distancing us from the ill-fated policies of Bush and his clone McSame. But who wants a campaign that deals with issues, when we can have the “Desperate Candidates” soap-opera?  In the meantime the folks who need foreclosure relief the most will lose out to the likes of American Airlines, Goodyear, and General Motors all of whom I guess are subject to foreclosure.

There are many more wrong answers than right ones, and they are easier to find ~ Michael Friedlander

English Language Learners [ELL] at Risk; Florida State Bill [SB] 286

copyright © 2008 Candace Harper, Associate Professor [University of Florida, College of Education, School of Teaching and Learning]

On Thursday, SB 286 passed with little opposition in the Florida Senate. Legislators who voted for the bill either don’t understand the English language and literacy learning needs of the .25 million English language learners (ELLs) in Florida schools, or they simply don’t care. In either case, if this bill passes in the House of Representatives and becomes law, it will result in our failure to prepare Florida teachers to meet ELLs’ very real needs to learn to read in English and to succeed in school. Whether SB 286 has been motivated and propelled by ignorance or by negligence, it represents a giant step backwards for our students.

The fact is that Florida teachers of reading to ELLs need more ELL-specific professional development than some apparently think. I use the case of “Holly” to illustrate. Soon after SB 286 was introduced in the Senate, a reading teacher named Holly wrote in to one of Florida’s major newspapers to assert that, based on her experience, teachers do not need special preparation to teach reading to ELLs. Holly stated that she had not pursued the ESOL professional development required by the state because, she explained, “If I had wanted to become an ESOL teacher, I would have done so.”

Indeed, Holly claimed that she was “proud to be a reading teacher.” Holly went on to report that last year she had been assigned to teach reading to two classes of Haitian students. In spite of the fact that these recent arrivals spoke “almost no English,” Holly noted emphatically that she “was NOT teaching these students English. We focused on phonics.”

Holly’s instruction ignored the fact that her students did not have the oral language foundation they needed to take advantage of phonics instruction in English. In fact, Holly appeared to understand very little about teaching reading to ELLs. Her own account of her instructional practices with these students reveals a general misconception among teachers who are inadequately prepared to teach ELLs-the belief that teaching reading (or teaching any of the other language arts or any content area) to ELLs is little more than “just good teaching.”  Below I provide several examples of how and why Holly’s generic reading instruction was likely inappropriate and inadequate for her ELL students.

First, unless these middle school students were completely illiterate in their native language (Kreyol or French), there was probably very little need to “teach” them phonics.  Those languages use basically the same alphabet as English and have few distinctive sound contrasts with English, so Haitian students who are already literate in their home language can transfer their phonemic awareness and knowledge of phonics to English.  These prior literacy skills allow them to “read” (decode) English aloud without understanding any of the words, just as most readers of this blog can “read” the words in the following Kreyol sentence without understanding what they mean:

“M byen kontan pou m te eksplike w kòman fet la te ye pou mwen.”  ?[English translation: I’m very happy to have told you about my holiday.]

In order to read the Kreyol sentence above with understanding we have to know what the individual words mean and we have to know something about the sentence structure.  For example, we have to recognize verb tense markers, contractions, and definite articles.  Basically, we have to know a little Kreyol-not just be able to sound out the printed words.  Phonics instruction must build on (not replace) oral language development, including vocabulary.  That is my first point.

Second, Holly wrote that she found it “exciting” to hear these middle school students reading grade-level texts aloud.  However, if the skill of decoding has already been established in the native language, reading aloud in a second (alphabetic) language is no great breakthrough and is of little real value for ESOL students without diagnosed language or learning disabilities.  In fact, reading aloud can be counterproductive for ESOL readers because they tend to focus on the pronunciation of unfamiliar words rather than on their meaning.  The main goal of reading at this grade and English proficiency level should be comprehension.  That is my second point.

Third, Holly commented that these students would “probably never pass the FCAT reading test.”  In spite of the low expectations reflected in this statement, ESOL students at this grade level do in fact have time to catch up in learning the English language and academic content of school.  But they have no time to spare.  Focusing on phonics instruction and reading aloud are a waste of precious time for students who need intensive oral language development in English and in reading and writing in the academic register of school.  If adolescent ELLs have any hope of passing the FCAT and eventually graduating, their teachers need to provide reading instruction that is appropriate for these students’ age/grade level and targeted to their second language and literacy needs.  They should not be delivering generic, remedial reading lessons that lead to barking at print and not much else.  That is my third point.

Finally, Holly said that over time, as the students (somehow) learned English, their reading comprehension began to catch up with their phonetic reading skills.  Of course!  Naturally.  What is surprising is that Holly credited herself for having played a key role in this process.  It is a shame that she did not make more informed contributions to her students’ progress in reading English.  That could have been accomplished by building on their existing literacy skills, helping them to develop their vocabulary in English through meaning-based language and literacy techniques, and drawing their attention to bilingual strategies such as recognizing cognates and using the “key word” approach.  Teaching reading to ELLs is NOT the same as teaching struggling readers who are already proficient in English.  That is my fourth point.

A recent review of existing research in second language reading (August & Shanahan, 2006) supports the following conclusions: 1) phonics instruction for ELLs may be necessary, but is not sufficient, 2) oral language development in English (including vocabulary) should accompany decoding instruction, 3) phonics instruction for ELLs who are already literate should target contrastive differences between English and students’ native languages, and 4) reading aloud is not a sound instructional technique for ELLs who have already learned to decode (especially those in the upper grades) nor is it a valid and reliable measure of their reading fluency or comprehension. Holly was either blissfully unaware of or purposefully negligent in providing reading instruction targeted to her ELL students’ specific second language and literacy needs.

In sum, teaching (reading) to second language learners is NOT the same as teaching (reading) to native English speakers.  All teachers of reading to ELLs (not just ESOL teachers) need to understand this complex issue and know how to provide instruction that meets their needs.  If the Florida legislature approves the proposed reduction in ESOL professional development, the inappropriate and inadequate one-size-fits all reading instruction described by Holly will be the most we can expect from Florida teachers of ELLs.

[*Thanks to Mercedes Pichard for providing the Haitian Kreyol example.]