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“All Risk And No Reward”: Exxon Oil Spill In Arkansas Raises Concerns About Keystone XL Pipeline

Environmentalists and Nebraska farmers are upping the pressure on President Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline following an oil spill that took place over the weekend.

The rupture occurred in central Arkansas, about 20 miles north of Little Rock, as Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of Canadian tar sands oil — the same Alberta crude the Keystone pipeline would carry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling it a “major spill” as officials from the EPA and Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are currently conducting an onsite investigation while ExxonMobil continues its cleanup efforts.

The company said more than 12,000 barrels of oil and water, or 185,000 gallons, had been recovered by Sunday. Reports say the line gushed for 45 minutes before being stopped and 22 homes were evacuated.

The Arkansas accident was the second Canadian crude oil spill in less than a week, as last Wednesday a train derailed and leaked 30,000 gallons of crude in western Minnesota.

The 20-inch Pegasus pipeline runs from Illinois to Texas and carries 90,000 barrels of crude per day. TransCanada’s 36-inch Keystone XL Pipeline would stretch 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with the pipeline system that would carry the tar sands oil to refineries in Texas along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A Media Matters report states that “Keystone is all risk and no reward for America. The fact that Canadians don’t want Keystone built across their own country tells us everything we need to know about the risks.” The report cautions about TransCanada’s poor safety record, citing 12 oil spills in the first year of operation of another section of the Keystone pipeline. However, TransCanada promises that new technology from its Calgary control room can better monitor pipeline pressure and shut off a leak within 15 minutes. But environmentalists say the tar sands pipeline is more vulnerable to leaks because “the diluted bitumen, or dilbit, from the oil sands can separate under pressure or high temperature and create explosive natural gas, heavy compounds, and corrosive acids.”

In an interview about the Arkansas spill, Keystone XL opponent and founder of climate action group 350.org, Bill McKibben, said “the power of the fossil fuel industry in Washington is enormous. They have all the money. The only thing we can stack up on the other side is the power of movements. We’ve been building them as fast as we can. We’ve had the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years about anything, about this pipeline. We had 40,000 people on the Mall last month in D.C. in the largest climate rally ever. I don’t know if it’s going to be enough, but we’re fighting it as hard as we can.”

The president is expected to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by this summer.

 

By: Josh Marks, The National Memo, April 1, 2013

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Big Oil, Environment | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Racket With Standardized Test Scores”: Treating Test Scores The Way A Corporation Might Treat Sales Targets Is Wrong

It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform — requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores — is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket.

I mean that literally. Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of the Atlanta public schools, was indicted on racketeering charges Friday for an alleged cheating scheme that won her more than $500,000 in performance bonuses. Hall, who retired two years ago, is also accused of theft, conspiracy and making false statements. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Also facing criminal charges are 34 teachers and principals who allegedly participated in the cheating, which involved simply erasing students’ wrong answers on test papers and filling in the correct answers.

In 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named Hall “National Superintendent of the Year” for improvement in student achievement that seemed, in retrospect, much too good to be true. On Georgia’s standardized competency test, students in some of Atlanta’s troubled neighborhoods appeared to vault past their counterparts in the wealthy suburbs.

For educators who worked for Hall, bonuses and promotions were based on test scores. “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated,” according to the indictment.

But there was a sure-fire way to meet those targets: After a day of testing, teachers allegedly were told to gather the students’ test sheets and change the answers. Suddenly a failing school would become a model of education reform. The principal and teachers would get bonuses. Hall would get accolades, plus a much bigger bonus. And students — duped into thinking they had mastered material that they hadn’t even begun to grasp — would get the shaft.

State education officials became suspicious. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote probing stories. There seemed to be no way to legitimately explain the dramatic improvement in test scores at some schools in such a short time, or the statistically improbable number of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets. But there was no proof.

Sonny Perdue was Georgia’s governor at the time, and in August 2010 he ordered a blue-ribbon investigation. Hall resigned shortly before the release of the investigators’ report, which alleged that 178 teachers and principals cheated over nearly a decade — and that Hall either knew or should have known. Those findings laid the foundation for Friday’s grand jury indictment.

My Post colleague Valerie Strauss, a veteran education reporter and columnist, wrote Friday that while there have been “dozens” of alleged cheating episodes around the country, only Atlanta’s has been aggressively and thoroughly investigated. “We don’t really know” how extensive the problem is, Strauss wrote, but “what we do know is that these cheating scandals have been a result of test-obsessed school reform.”

In the District of Columbia, for example, there are unanswered questions about an anomalous pattern of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets during the reign of famed schools reformer Michelle Rhee, who starred in the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” and graced the cover of Time magazine.

Our schools desperately need to be fixed. But creating a situation in which teachers are more likely than students to cheat cannot be the right path.

Standardized achievement tests are a vital tool, but treating test scores the way a corporation might treat sales targets is wrong. Students are not widgets. I totally reject the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn. Of course they can. But how does it help these students to have their performance on a one-size-fits-all standardized test determine their teachers’ compensation and job security? The clear incentive is for the teacher to focus on test scores rather than actual teaching.

Not every school system will become so mired in an alleged pattern of wrongdoing that officials can be charged under a racketeering statute of the kind usually used to prosecute mobsters. But even absent cheating, the blind obsession with test scores implies that teachers are interchangeable implements of information transfer, rather than caring professionals who know their students as individuals. It reduces students to the leavings of a No. 2 pencil.

School reform cannot be something that ostensibly smart, ostentatiously tough “superstar” superintendents do to a school system and the people who depend on it. Reform has to be something that is done with a community of teachers, students and parents — with honesty and, yes, a bit of old-fashioned humility.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 1, 2013

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Education Reform, Educators | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Don’t Let Senators Off The Hook”: There Is No Logical Way To Argue Expanding Background Checks Infringes On Constitutional Rights

Every Senator who is refusing to support expanded background checks — Republican or Democrat — needs to be asked a simple question: Do you support the current background system, or do you see it as an infringement on the rights of the law-abiding?

Every one of them will answer with a Yes, because they are taking refuge behind the idea that the current law needs to be strengthened in various ways but not expanded. Once they are on record confirming they don’t view the current system as a threat to Constitutional rights, the arguments against expanding it dissolve into incoherence.

The Senators who are threatening to filibuster Obama’s gun proposals (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee) have said that they will “oppose any legislation that infringes on the American people’s right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to any additional government surveillance.”

But even libertarian Tea Party chieftain Rand Paul has allowed that current background checks “work.” And on the Sunday shows yesterday, other Republican Senators, such as Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake, said they could support improving the current system through better data sharing by states on the mentally ill and other such moves, while opposing expanding checks to private sales. As Steve Benen notes, this means “leaving the massive gun show loophole in place.”

That’s true, and I’d add one other point: It means these Senators view the current background check law as constitutional. Which means there is no logical way to argue that expanding background checks is an infringement on Constitutional rights. Here’s why: The compromise background check expansion being negotiated would simply build on current law, which requires gun dealers (who would conduct the checks on private sales) to keep records on those sales; it explicitly forbids the creation of a national registry; and it requires the feds to destroy info collected on legit gun transfers within 24 hours. None of this — none of it — would change. If the current law is not an infringement on constitutional rights, then neither is an expanded one.

To be fair, in their Sunday appearances, Graham and Flake didn’t argue against the proposal on Constitutional grounds, as the four Tea Party Senators have. But they both dissembled about the plan, with Graham falsely suggesting a father-son gun transfer could be targeted (the compromise proposal under discussion exempts family members), and Flake lamenting new “paperwork requirements” (which would be identical to current ones).

All these Senators should be pressed on whether they support the law requiring private citizens who purchase guns from federally licensed dealers to undergo a check. When they confirm that they do, they need to be pressed on why applying that same system to private sales — in which private citizens who buy guns from another private citizen must undergo a check — is objectionable, particularly since for the buyers, nothing changes, and since these Senators themselves concede we need to do a better job preventing criminals and the mentally from buying guns.

Senators holding out against expanded checks need to be pushed hard on this stuff. This is an important proposal, with American lives potentially at stake.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, The Plum Line, April 1, 2013

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Libertarian Doesn’t Mean Liberal”: Christian Right Interest In Libertarianism Is A Sign Of Hardening Ideological Bonds

An exchange between New York‘s Kevin Roose and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., casts an interesting light on the big media meme that conservatism is being increasingly dominated by “libertarians” at the expense of the Christian Right. Asked about rumored weakening of opposition to marriage equality, Falwell the Younger had this to say about political trends at Liberty, one of the Christian Right’s primary training camps:

As you know…most of our faculty, staff and students are very conservative politically and theologically. I do not see that changing at all. For example, in Liberty’s voting precinct, Romney won 93% of the vote and that precinct had, by far, the highest turnout in the area. Students still are very much pro-life and pro-traditional marriage just like they have always been and the ones who voted for Romney indicated those two issues were the main reasons they supported Romney over Obama. The only shift I have noticed in recent years has been more support among conservative Christians, especially young ones, for libertarians. In Virginia, only Romney and Ron Paul were on the ballot in the Republican primary and Ron Paul won at the campus precinct. So, if anything, our students are becoming more conservative on the issue of limiting the size and scope of government while remaining conservative on the social issues.

What Falwell is describing, of course, is the world-view that dominates the Tea Party Movement: hard-core opposition to government “interference” in the economy combined with hard-core conservative cultural views. But it’s a world-view that’s been aborning for a long time. For the gazillions of words written about the steadily growing influence of the Christian Right within the conservative movement and the Republican Party over the last few decades, far less has been written about the equally important incorporation of “libertarian” economic and role-of-governnent extremism by the Christian Right itself.

The proto-Christian-Right of the old-timey southern conservative evangelicals of the period prior to the establishment of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s often reflected reactionary views on issues remote from central cultural concerns: hostility to labor unions, defense of segregation and neo-segregation (via church-based separatist private schools designed to circumvent school desegregation), celebration of godly “self-made-men” who had accumulated vast wealth, etc. But once the institutional Christian Right entered into what might have once been called a “marriage of convenience,” it has steadily acclimated itself to secular conservative private-property absolutism in all its forms (most notably hostility to environmentalism, often described as “pagan”). And one of the most distinctive features of the Tea Party faith has been the divinization of such views, often via idolatry aimed at the Declaration of Independence, thought to reflect a theocratic charter for America making pervasive property rights, strictly limited government and the “rights of the unborn” and “traditional marriage” the only legitimate governing tenets for the country. Libertarians, of course, share some if not all of this agenda. So a growing warmth for libertarianism within the Christian Right is not a problem for its leaders, and does not necessarily mean a growing warmth for any kind of cultural liberalism.

Indeed, as Falwell notes, this “teavangelical” coalition (as some have called it) has a common enemy:

Rand Paul wrote a column recently about his father’s legacy and he noted that the two universities that gave his father the most enthusiastic reception were UC-Berkeley and Liberty. His point was that there is support on the left and the right for more limited government and expanded individual liberties and freedom. I think he is right and I think the Republicans will continue to lose if they keep running candidates who try to move toward the middle to attract the “independent” voters.

Arguably, then, Christian Right interest in “libertarianism” is a sign of hardening, not softening, ideological bonds. And if, as appears entirely possible, Rand Paul becomes a maximum leader of conservative extremism in all its forms, that could become much more apparent.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 1, 2013

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cheating Our Children”: The Deficit Scolds Are Actually The Bad Guys In This Story

So, about that fiscal crisis — the one that would, any day now, turn us into Greece. Greece, I tell you: Never mind.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a remarkable change of position among the deficit scolds who have dominated economic policy debate for more than three years. It’s as if someone sent out a memo saying that the Chicken Little act, with its repeated warnings of a U.S. debt crisis that keeps not happening, has outlived its usefulness. Suddenly, the argument has changed: It’s not about the crisis next month; it’s about the long run, about not cheating our children. The deficit, we’re told, is really a moral issue.

There’s just one problem: The new argument is as bad as the old one. Yes, we are cheating our children, but the deficit has nothing to do with it.

Before I get there, a few words about the sudden switch in arguments.

There has, of course, been no explicit announcement of a change in position. But the signs are everywhere. Pundits who spent years trying to foster a sense of panic over the deficit have begun writing pieces lamenting the likelihood that there won’t be a crisis, after all. Maybe it wasn’t that significant when President Obama declared that we don’t face any “immediate” debt crisis, but it did represent a change in tone from his previous deficit-hawk rhetoric. And it was startling, indeed, when John Boehner, the speaker of the House, said exactly the same thing a few days later.

What happened? Basically, the numbers refuse to cooperate: Interest rates remain stubbornly low, deficits are declining and even 10-year budget projections basically show a stable fiscal outlook rather than exploding debt.

So talk of a fiscal crisis has subsided. Yet the deficit scolds haven’t given up on their determination to bully the nation into slashing Social Security and Medicare. So they have a new line: We must bring down the deficit right away because it’s “generational warfare,” imposing a crippling burden on the next generation.

What’s wrong with this argument? For one thing, it involves a fundamental misunderstanding of what debt does to the economy.

Contrary to almost everything you read in the papers or see on TV, debt doesn’t directly make our nation poorer; it’s essentially money we owe to ourselves. Deficits would indirectly be making us poorer if they were either leading to big trade deficits, increasing our overseas borrowing, or crowding out investment, reducing future productive capacity. But they aren’t: Trade deficits are down, not up, while business investment has actually recovered fairly strongly from the slump. And the main reason businesses aren’t investing more is inadequate demand. They’re sitting on lots of cash, despite soaring profits, because there’s no reason to expand capacity when you aren’t selling enough to use the capacity you have. In fact, you can think of deficits mainly as a way to put some of that idle cash to use.

Yet there is, as I said, a lot of truth to the charge that we’re cheating our children. How? By neglecting public investment and failing to provide jobs.

You don’t have to be a civil engineer to realize that America needs more and better infrastructure, but the latest “report card” from the American Society of Civil Engineers — with its tally of deficient dams, bridges, and more, and its overall grade of D+ — still makes startling and depressing reading. And right now — with vast numbers of unemployed construction workers and vast amounts of cash sitting idle — would be a great time to rebuild our infrastructure. Yet public investment has actually plunged since the slump began.

Or what about investing in our young? We’re cutting back there, too, having laid off hundreds of thousands of school teachers and slashed the aid that used to make college affordable for children of less-affluent families.

Last but not least, think of the waste of human potential caused by high unemployment among younger Americans — for example, among recent college graduates who can’t start their careers and will probably never make up the lost ground.

And why are we shortchanging the future so dramatically and inexcusably? Blame the deficit scolds, who weep crocodile tears over the supposed burden of debt on the next generation, but whose constant inveighing against the risks of government borrowing, by undercutting political support for public investment and job creation, has done far more to cheat our children than deficits ever did.

Fiscal policy is, indeed, a moral issue, and we should be ashamed of what we’re doing to the next generation’s economic prospects. But our sin involves investing too little, not borrowing too much — and the deficit scolds, for all their claims to have our children’s interests at heart, are actually the bad guys in this story.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 28, 2013

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Deficits, Economic Recovery | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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