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Undernews for December 29

Undernews for December 29

Since 1964, the news while there's still time to do something about it


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Morning line: Why the infatuation with high speed rail?
Sam Smith

For some time I've been trying to figure out why the Obama admnistration has placed so much emphasis on high speed rail and so little on the ordinary kind, which would serve a far broader and less wealthy segment of the country. Was it just another example of class theft? Was it the companies behind the contracts?

Such factors play a role, but it has recently occurred to me that the real reason may not have anything to do with passenger service at all. It may be that Obama wanted to appear to be doing something grand in the transportation field while at the same time doing nothing that would offend the trucking lobby. High speed rail would be perfect as it minimizes any advantage to conventional and badly needed freight rail service.

There is absolutely no transportation or environmental reason not to improve conventional frieght and rail service but if you can find an alternative that makes the yuppies and the truckers happy at the same time, why bother?
Local heroes: Judge bans police GPS tracking wihtout warrant
Delaware Online - In what may set a Delaware precedent, a Superior Court judge has gutted a criminal case against a Newark man who was pulled over with 10 pounds of marijuana because police used a GPS tracking device without a warrant to follow him for nearly a month...

While police have long been allowed -- without a warrant -- to follow suspects as they drive from place to place, Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden wrote earlier this month that using a GPS device is different.

"The advance of technology will continue ad infinitum," she wrote. "An Orwellian state is now technologically feasible. Without adequate judicial preservation of privacy, there is nothing to protect our citizens from being tracked 24/7."
Israeli government to hire internet trolls
Ynet News, Israel - The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an “Internet warfare” squad.

The Foreign Ministry intends to hire young people who speak at least one language and who study communication, political science, or law – or alternately, Israelis with military experience gained at units dealing with information analysis.

Beyond the fact that these job requirements reveal a basic lack of understanding in respect to the dynamics of the online discourse – the project’s manager argued that “adults don’t know how to blog” – they are not too relevant either. An effective talkbacker does not need a law degree or military experience. He merely needs to care about the subject he writes about.

The sad truth is that had Israeli citizens believed that their State is doing the right thing, they would have made sure to explain it out of their own accord. Without being paid.
How Israel abuses Palestinians
Irish Times - Israel is discriminating against Palestinians living in the occupied territories by depriving them of water, electricity and roads while providing a luxurious lifestyle for Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to a report by Human Rights Watch...

Between 2000-2007, 94 per cent of Palestinian requests for building permits there were rejected. Consequently, when Palestinians constructed, repaired or renovated homes, mosques, clinics, schools, animal pens, wells, cisterns, water pipes and electricity poles, the Israelis often issued stop work or demolition orders....
Getting tired of the shouting?
Politicus USA - Fox News declined 5% in 2010 ... MSNBC was down 9% ... CNN suffered a stunning 36% drop in total viewers ...

Keith Olbermann’s total drop in viewership was 2% higher than MSNBC’s network average, (11% vs 9%). In contrast, Rachel Maddow lost less of her audience than MSNBC as a whole. Maddow only declined by 6% compared to the network’s 11%. ...

Olberman is still MSNBC’s most watched host. Overall, he is the 11th most watched cable news program, but Rachel Maddow was right behind him at 13th, and Lawrence O’Donnell was 14th.
The real question behind Obama's birth certificate
We can't find any evidence that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. Not only has a short form birth certificate been released but there were two Hawaiian newspaper announcements at the time. And, in truth, we don't give a damn.

The real question should be: why not release the long form? To be sure, Hawaii law says it is not a public record, but that wouldn't prevent Obama from getting hold of it and releasing it.

Here's our best guess: either it's modern government bureaucracy gone a bit mad or there is something on that long form Obama didn't want released. Not his birthplace but something else. Maybe not even important, but - like Hillary Clinton's college thesis - the urge for secrecy may well have overwhelmed the matter itself.

Oh what tangled webs we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.

Student play cancelled by principal for fear of annoying Mayor Bloomberg and his school chancellor
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post - Fourteen students from two New York City schools -- Jamaica High and Queens Collegiate -- wrote an impressive play about school reform under Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, based on the classic play "Antigone." They were rehearsing to perform the play -- complete with music, visual projections and lights -- when they were told that their principals had decided not to allow them stage it. The play, titled "Declassified: Struggle for Existence (We Used to Eat Lunch Together," was banned.

According to a teacher who was working on the project with the students, the principals sent word that they were uncomfortable with criticism of Klein and Bloomberg, and they would not allow the Dec. 17 scheduled performance to go on in the Jamaica High auditorium.

Eight years of business-driven reform under Klein were centered around standardized tests used to grade schools, and many of the troubled ones were either broken up into smaller schools or closed. Klein repeatedly pointed to rising test scores as evidence of his achievement, but recent revelations that the scores rose because the tests got increasingly easy to pass burst that success bubble. . .

Excerpt from the play:

Tireseus enters.

Chancellor: Tireseus, what are you doing here?

Tireseus: I had some time off from teaching and thought I'd check in on my old friend. You don't look so good brother.

Chancellor: It's all these letters I'm getting. Listen to this....


"Dear Chancellor Klein. We the undersigned students, parents, staff members and friends of the Jamaica High School Community urge you not to phase out or turnaround this 118 year old historical institution. Jamaica High School has been treated very unfairly by the Department of Education and deserves support rather than phase out."

Holding up the letter.

Chancellor: Do you really think I've been unfair?

Tireseus: Sounds like your conscience is what's doing the disturbing.

Chancellor: Don't talk in codes.

Tireseus: You took away 30% of the school's teaching staff which increased class sizes, and you gave half the space in the building away to new smaller schools. Would you call that fair treatment?

Chancellor: We can't continue to invest in failing schools.

Tireseus: Do you really think closing schools is the answer?

Chancellor: The school is failing.

Tireseus: Or maybe you are failing the school. Why not give them what they need to succeed?

Chancellor: But schools must be held accountable.

Tireseus: And what about you, Chancellor? Who's holding you accountable? The gods have given us the use of reason, but do we use it right? Do I? Do you?

Chancellor: Why am I standing out here like a target? Why is every arrow aimed at me?

Tireseus: Isn't it your policy that is upsetting so many students and teachers?

Chancellor: Who's got you in their pocket? Are you working for the teachers union now?

Tireseus: Honest advice is not a thing you buy.

Chancellor: All of you so-called seers: you have your price.

Tireseus: Rulers too have a name for being corrupt.

Chancellor: The decisions I take are not up for sale.

Tireseus: Are you so sure about that?

Chancellor: Get out of my office.

Tireseus: Fine, but know this: where you are standing now is a cliff edge, and there's a cold wind blowing.

Tireseus exits.
Why Maine didn't grow faster
Al Diamon, Down East Magazine - Last winter, a U.S. Census worker showed up in my isolated neighborhood with plastic bags full of fun facts and even funner forms. I had just finished shoveling my front porch, so I walked down to meet her.

“Are there more houses up there?” she asked, pointing toward the part of our road that doesn’t get plowed. “My map shows two more places.”

“Yes,” I said, “but there’s nobody there in the winter.”

She eyed the six-foot snowdrifts blocking the way. “I still have to leave these packages for them,” she said. “It’s a rule.”

I’m big on following the rules. Well, some rules. Although none that come readily to mind.

“There won’t be anybody there until summer,” I said. “How about you give that stuff to me, and I’ll pass it on to them then?”

Of course, by summer, the population counting would be long over. But I could tell by the way the census worker looked at those deep drifts covering the road – not to mention a couple of trees that had fallen, partially blocking access – that giving me the forms was an appealing option, rules or no rules.

After a brief tussle with her conscience, she handed the packages over and departed. I took them inside and threw them in the wood stove.
What non-partisan snow snow removal looks like

We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who are united in the belief that we do not have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America. - Michael Bloomberg's new group No Labels
Bloomberg mad about how someone handled snow removal
Sanitation workers deny slowdown
New born baby dies
Woman waits 30 hours for ambulance
At one point fire department had 1400 call backlog. Said Bloomberg at the time: "This city is going on. It's a day like every other day," Bloomberg said, suggesting people go out and shop or take in a Broadway show. "There's no reason [for] everybody to panic."
Lower priority emergency calls put on 12 hour hold

European Commission can't tell art from a light fixture
The Art Newspaper - In an astonishing move, the European Commission has reversed a decision made in a UK tax tribunal, and refused to classify works by Dan Flavin and Bill Viola as “art”. This means that UK galleries and auction houses will have to pay full value added tax, which goes up to 20% next year and customs dues on video and light works, when they are imported from outside the EU. The decision is binding on all member states. . .

In its ruling a Flavin work is described as having “the characteristics of lighting fittings. . . and is therefore to be classified. . . as wall lighting fittings”. As for Viola, the video-sound installation, says the document, cannot be classified as a sculpture “as it is not the installation that constitutes a ‘work of art’ but the result of the operations (the light effect) carried out by it”.

Art lawyer Pierre Valentin commented: “To suggest, for example, that a work by Dan Flavin is a work of art only when it is switched on, is comical. The national courts of two member states (the UK and the Netherlands) have considered the classification of video and light installations and both have concurred that they should be classified as art under Chapter 97 of the Common Customs Tariff."
The rise of fuck

Change in the frequency the word fuck in books from 1800 to the present
according to Google's Ngram. Current rise began around 1960
Nancy Pelosi thinks Democrats don't need new policy, just a different sales pitch
Washington Post - Midway through Philip Rucker and Paul Kane's story about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's transition to minority leader comes an interesting bit of news. The California Democrat, vilified by Republicans in the last election, has turned to director Steven Spielberg for help rebranding House Democrats:

"Lawmakers say she is consulting marketing experts about building a stronger brand. The most prominent of her new whisperers is Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood director whose films have been works of branding genius. Lawmakers said Spielberg has not reported to Pelosi with a recommendation.
Meanwhile. . .
NYC lesson plan

Student play cancelled by principal for fear of annoying Mayor Bloomberg and his school chancellor

Police blotter

A West Gardiner man, who is identified by state prosecutors as being a Bath Iron Works employee, will spend 21 days in jail after allegedly claiming he didn't have to pay income taxes because he's the governor of Maine. - Brunswick Times Record


The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communes of the '60s and '70s, by Richard Fairfield

The real GOP platform

GOP Representative Bill Flores: "Republicans in the House as a whole want to get rid of the EPA."

Republicans in Arizona have gotten a bill passed that bans the teaching of ethnic studies in the state

Two sentence summary of bank bailout

Here's proof that Washington totally caved to Wall Street when it mattered most, from Bloomberg: Lawmakers spurned changes that would wall off deposit-taking banks from riskier trading. They declined to limit the size of lenders or ban any form of derivatives. The last two years have been the best ever for combined investment-banking and trading revenue at Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. - Business insider

Why Bush's book sold so well

A reader writes: There have been books by right-wingers in the past that were shown to have artificially inflated sales due to pressure on conservative organizations to buy lots of copies that end up lying around unread. That may well be the case here

An engineer explains holiday shopping hassles

And why a single line is best

Personal to Bob Woodward et al

All you folks who won Pulitzers and big book contracts based on state secrets being revealed to you owe it to us to stand up for Wikileaks and against the move for new sedition laws.

Worst journalism of the week

CNN's Jessica Yellin completely mangles the Wikileaks story. Fortunately Glenn Greenwald is there to straighten her out

In a follow up article, Greenwald asks: "Bob Woodward has become a very rich man by writing book after book filled with classified information about America's wars which his sources were not authorized to give him. Would Yellin ever in a million years dare lash out at Bob Woodward the way she did Assange?"

Furthermore. . .
22 stats illustrating the collapse of the middle class

Democratic Congress approves largest military budget since World War II

NY Times publishes secret material- just like Wikileaks. You gonna prosecute it, too, Mr. President?

Army discriminating against aetheists

First hand report on Private Manning's condition

Bookstores struggle to adapt
Is it just us, or are kids getting really stupid?


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