Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

Urban charter schools are succeeding—so get out of their way

April 6th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Fortune reports:

Here’s an approach to charter schools that should seem obvious—to those on both sides of the acrimonious debate on the future of charters in public education.

In places where charter schools are not achieving results, they should be suspended or at least curtailed until whatever isn’t working can be fixed.

And in cities where charters are making striking gains compared to traditional public schools, enrollment opportunities should be expanded, so that more kids can take advantage of them.

Absolutely. Close down the failing ones, and expand the successful ones.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes(CREDO), at Stanford University, has done that in a new study, and it turns out that charters, in general, are strongest exactly where the need is greatest—in urban areas. In some cities, such as Boston, students are achieving six times the growth in math knowledge as are their traditional school counterparts; in reading, four times as much.

And in NZ the parties of the left are dedicating to closing charter schools down.

CREDO’s new study took an unusual tack. It studied students in multiple areas of the country—and exclusively studied urban areas. Three points emerged. When suburban charters were excluded, the smaller average gains registered in previous studies were suddenly magnified. In other words, charters seem to be remedying a particular defect of schools in the most challenged areas. Second, within those schools, gains were greatest among students—those in poverty, African-Americans, Hispanics, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students—whose performance typically lags. Disadvantaged students gain the equivalent of months (or more) of extra learning for every year in a charter school.

So we may not need charter schools in Epsom, but we do in South Auckland.

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Fighting back with social media

April 5th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Tim Blair reports:

In tiny Walkerton, Indiana – population 2144 – a local pizza shop recently became a target of national hatred:

When asked by local press the hypothetical question of whether or not they’d prefer to have their family owned business, Memories Pizza, cater a gay wedding, the owner said no citing their own religious beliefs as the reason.

Rather than allowing this family to simply have their opinion, which they were asked to give, outraged people grabbed the torches and began a campaign to destroy this small business in small town Indiana.

All for having an opinion that is rooted in faith.

No one was turned away. No one was discriminated against. It was a hypothetical question asked by a news reporter who had questionable motives to begin with.

The hatred and threats were so intense that the pizza shop shut down and the proprietors went into hiding.

The pizza shop said they would serve gay people, just that they wouldn’t want to cater for a gay wedding. They’re entitled to their view, just as people are also entitled to say they’d rather not frequent there.

But people are not entitled to threaten them and talk of burning their shop down. That is the true intolerance.

But it doesn’t end there, and has what I consider a good ending:

Texan journalist Lawrence Jones launched a funding drive for the shop, with the modest initial aim of raising $25,000. Let’s see how that campaign is going:

It has now raised $778,321!! What better way to strike back against intolerance.

Of course threats are now being made against Lawrence Jones, but I think there is a lesson learnt here – you can express disagreement with the policy of a store, and even express a desire to not patronise them. But if you unleash a hate campaign against a small business, well it may backfire – at it has in this case.

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The problem with binding referenda

April 1st, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

For advocates of binding referenda, consider this story from The Atlantic:

California has always done democracy a bit differently than most other states. Every other year, voters in the Golden State cast ballots not just for people to represent them, but for many of the actual laws that govern them. It’s not quite the ancient Athenian model of citizens gathering on a hill to make decisions, but it’s a version of direct democracy deeply-embedded in California’s political culture. Over the years, voters have answered for themselves weighty questions of taxation, same-sex marriage, election laws, and the legalization of marijuana, among many others.

Yet that system is now facing something of a threat from an attorney named Matthew McLaughlin, who wants to use the ballot initiative to authorize the mass murder of gays and lesbians. He has formally proposed the Sodomite Suppression Act, which refers to homosexuality as “a monstrous evil” and an “abominable crime against nature.” It would ban communicating messages of tolerance to minors; bar gays and lesbians, or anyone who voices acceptance, from holding government jobs or public office; and authorize mass murder

His specific proposition:

the People of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.

I suspect he is deeply repressed. At a minimum he is deeply fucked up.

The fear isn’t that McLaughlin’s proposal would ever pass—he is highly unlikely to secure anywhere close to the 365,880 signatures needed merely to get the referendum on next year’s ballot, much less to secure a majority at the polls. And the courts would immediately throw out the law, as they have with a number of less extreme measures that Californians have approved. But the mere possibility that McLaughlin could get formal clearance from state officials to begin collecting signatures for a genocidal proposition is raising questions about California’s permissive ballot initiative system.

The NZ CIR Act doesn’t seem to have any prohibitions on questions, so presumably someone here could also submit a proposed question for approval, and then gather signatures for it.

Overall I much prefer representative democracy.

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Was Bowe Bergdahl really worth five terrorists?

March 26th, 2015 at 10:33 am by Lindsay Addie

The Washington Post reports that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who the Obama Administration swapped for five terrorists is to be tried for desertion.

Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s attorney, told The Washington Post that his client was handed a charge sheet on Wednesday. Army officials said in a statement that Bergdahl has been charged with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place. His case has been referred to an Article 32 preliminary hearing, which is frequently compared to a grand jury proceeding in civilian court.

Bergdahl is unlikely to face the death penalty if found guilty but could face a long prison sentence. Also it is worth noting that although Bergdahl isn’t the only US soldier who has deserted in either Iran or Afghanistan. His case is different because he  allegedly deserted from a battlefield.

Bergdahl’s case has prompted questions over whether the Obama administration handled the prisoner swap legally. Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security, also provoked criticism when she said after Bergdahl’s recovery that he had served “with honor and distinction.” She later acknowledged the remark was controversial, and said she was referring to the soldier’s decision to enlist in the first place.

“That, in and of itself, is a very honorable thing,” she said.

This is a big faux pas by the Obama administration and Susan Rice for uttering these words. Doing some proper check-ups on Bergdahl first would have probably avoided this embarrassing mess. His fellow soldiers have been saying for ages that he was a deserter.

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Boston charter schools

March 24th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Boston Globe reports:

Boston charter school students outperformed their counterparts at traditional public schools and at charter schools in other urban areas by a striking margin over a recent six-year span, a Stanford University study found.

The strides at Boston charter schools — in both math and reading — equaled what students would have learned if they had been in school hundreds of additional days each year, researchers said in the report, released Wednesday.

The disparity held true for black, Hispanic, and low-income students in both math and reading, and was particularly strong for black and Hispanic students who live in poverty.

As you read this, remember that the two parties that most go on about poverty, are the two who want to abolish charter schools.

In Boston, the average yearly academic growth for charter school students was more than four times that of their traditional school peers in reading. In math, the academic growth was more than six times greater.

Exceptional.

This month, Los Angeles administrator Tommy Chang was named as the next superintendent of Boston Public Schools. Chang, a former charter school principal, has a reputation for giving schools more freedom to hire and develop budgets, and said he plans to narrow the achievement gap with a focused effort to improve classroom instruction.

Make every school a charter school! Give public school boards the ability to become a charter school and fully manage their own budgets and staffing.

The study compared standardized test scores of charter school students with the scores of Boston Public Schools students with similar demographic backgrounds.

It found that the average academic growth of charter school students surpassed public school students in both mathematics and reading, and at each level from elementary to high school.

So they compare like with like.

Jon Clark, co-director for Brooke Charter Schools, which has schools in Mattapan, East Boston, and Roslindale, said charter schools provide a longer school day and give students intensive personal attention.

Principals have the freedom to hire a staff and craft a budget as they see fit, he said.

That’s the key – local flexibility and control.

Clark rejected the “cherry-picking” argument and said the success charter schools have shown with low-income black and Latino students is the true indicator.

“If you really care about the achievement gap, you can’t look at these numbers and dismiss them,” he said.

But they do.

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US politics cartoon of the week – 23.3.15

March 23rd, 2015 at 3:29 pm by Lindsay Addie

Middle eastern politics and terrorism was the prevalent theme with the cartoonists this week.

This cartoon is by Gary Varvel (whose cartoons are consistently funny and thought provoking).

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© Gary Varvel – found at Real Clear Politics. Lots more of Varvel’s work can be found here.

The obvious dislike between Obama and Netanyahu must be music to the ears of Israel’s enemies in the Middle East. This is something I find very troubling as Israel and USA need to stand together now more than ever. In my opinion ISIS and friends are winning the war on terror. It pains me to admit it, but ISIS and friends are more organised than America and its allies. It is certainly reminiscent of the 1930’s when fascism was growing.

Also why is Obama so bent on agreeing to a deal with Iran? It seems like a very risky strategy to me.

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Fiorina vs Clinton

March 22nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The National Journal reports:

“Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe,” said Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard. “But unlike her, I’ve actually accomplished something. You see, Mrs. Clinton, flying is not an accomplishment; it is an activity.”

Ouch.

Fiorina, the only Republican woman actively considering a run for the White House, is taking on Clinton more forcefully and directly than any other GOP contender. It’s a deliberate strategy meant to make headlines, differentiate her from the pack, and elevate her position on the national stage. And in the process, it’s winning her friends, as Fiorina assumes an attack role that many Republican strategists think male GOP candidates need to avoid.

Smart. A female candidate can attack another female candidate without risking gender based attacks.

But Fiorina’s offensive is in a class of its own, and for one reason: She’s a woman, so she can.

“She tweets about women’s rights in this country and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic human rights,” Fiorina said at CPAC. “She tweets about equal pay for women, but won’t answer basic questions about her own office’s pay standards—and neither will our president. Hillary may like hashtags, but she doesn’t know what leadership means.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if both parties’ nominees were women!

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Why charter schools do or don’t work

March 22nd, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

David Osborne at USA News reports:

The critics also love to repeat that charters perform no better than other public schools. This statement may have been true in 2009, if one accepts the critics’ favorite study, from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes or CREDO. But a closer look at those results reveals a deeper truth. Where charter authorizers do their jobs, charters vastly outperform traditional public schools, with far less money. Where authorizers fall down on the job, letting failing charters live on just like traditional schools, the average charter performs no better, and sometimes worse.

So the key is to be selective with whom you authorise and move swiftly on failing schools.

In 2003 Ohio gave non-profit organizations both the right to authorize charters and a financial incentive to do so, opening the floodgates to mediocre schools.

In Massachusetts, by contrast, the state board was careful who got a charter and closed schools where kids were not learning. CREDO found that the typical charter student in Boston gained the equivalent of 12 extra months of learning in reading and 13 extra months in math every year, compared to demographically similar students in traditional public schools.

So the debate in NZ should not be about whether to allow charter schools. It should be about what is the authorisation policy.

New Orleans, with 92.4 percent of students in charters, is probably the fastest improving city in America. Graduation rates, ACT scores and college-going rates have all soared. If current trends continue, in fact, New Orleans may become the first major city to outperform its state. CREDO found that charter students in the city gained more than four months of additional learning in reading and five months in math, compared to their peers in traditional schools.

In Washington, D.C., where Congress created a Public Charter School Board, 45 percent of public school students attend charters. Among cities tested by the National Education Assessment Program (which do not include New Orleans), D.C. is now the fastest improving. CREDO found that charter students gained the equivalent of 72 days of extra learning per year in reading, 101 in math, compared to traditional public students.

If we could get those sort of results in South Auckland and Northland, it would be exceptional.

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US politics cartoon of week 9.3.15

March 9th, 2015 at 3:46 pm by Lindsay Addie

I haven’t had the time to keep up with has been going here at Kiwiblog but I imagine the topic of the cartoon has been discussed already.

Hillary Clinton’s email server at her home is now a real problem for her as Gary Varvel observes.

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© Gary Varvel – Found at Real Clear Politics

Now I’m not a Clinton hater and think that Bill Clinton despite his obvious faults was a better POTUS than G W Bush and Barack Obama. But that said the Clinton’s would have to be the equal of Richard Nixon when it comes to playing dirty, tricky, sneaky political games to keep ahead. If a GOP Secretary of State did what Hillary has done and set up their own email server they would have been crucified by the US media.

As for Hillary as a presidential candidate, she looks more and more like in political terms she’s over the hill. If I was a Democrat I’d be concerned.

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Apple case shows need for patent reform

March 5th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Apple has been ordered to pay nearly $US533 million by a federal jury that found the company’s iTunes music store uses software that infringes on patents held by a Texas company.

An attorney for plaintiff Smartflash LLC praised the verdict. Apple immediately announced plans to appeal and said the case shows the need for Congress to reform the US patent system.

The case involves three patents that Smartflash holds for software used in storing data files and managing access through an online payment system. The outcome will likely add fuel to a broader debate over the federal patent system and complaints that it’s easily abused by companies that make most of their revenue through patent lawsuits.

“Smartflash makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has no US presence and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented,” Apple said in a printed statement.

The statement added: “We rely on the patent system to protect real innovation and this case is one more example of why we feel so strongly Congress should enact meaningful patent reform.”

I agree with Apple.The US should follow NZ and not allow patents for software. You have scores of companies that file patents on as much software as possible, just so they can then sue someone who comes along with a similar idea. As in this case, they never produce anything with their patents – they just use them for lawsuits.

It is likely the decision will be overturned on appeal, but it is a shame so much money is wasted on endless patent lawsuits between IT companies.

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Agassi’s charter schools

March 4th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

His campaign began 14 years ago, with the establishment of the Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy in a run-down part of Las Vegas, and is still expanding.

By the end of this year, Agassi hopes to have extended his tally of charter schools (which are similar in spirit to our own free schools) to more than 100, spread from Nevada to Tennessee.”

The USA has dropped to 29th in the world when it comes to educating our children,” Agassi told The Daily Telegraph. “The demand for good schooling is huge, but the infrastructure is not there.

“Rather than wait for the government to do the job, I wanted to create a model that would be scalable and sustainable.

The idea is to find partners on each job, investors who aren’t looking to give their money away, but neither do they insist on having an annual return of 20 per cent.

I’m in an exciting place where I can raise $175 million of funding in 15 minutes of phone calls, and the total we have gathered so far is well north of $1 billion.”

Superb. And from Wikipedia:

In 2001, Agassi opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy[151] in Las Vegas, a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children in the area. He personally donated $35 million to the school.[152] In 2009, the graduating class had 100 percent graduation rate and expected a 100 percent college acceptance rate.

Also:

In 1997, Agassi donated funding to Child Haven for a six-room classroom building now named the Agassi Center for Education. His foundation also provided $720,000 to assist in the building of the Andre Agassi Cottage for Medically Fragile Children. This 20-bed facility opened in December 2001, and accommodates developmentally delayed or handicapped children and children quarantined for infectious diseases.

Those charter school funders are really evil aren’t they.

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Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress

March 4th, 2015 at 10:11 am by kiwi in america

Today at 11am EST Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his third speech to the US Congress joining Winston Churchill as the only other foreign leader in history to have addressed a Joint Session of Congress three times. On the eve of final negotiations between the US (and other powers) and Iran over a proposed nuclear deal with Iran, Netanyahu came to lay out the case for rejecting the deal proposed.

Unlike his two previous addresses, this one was shrouded in controversy in that the invitation by Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner was not sanctioned by the Obama Administration. Various administration proxies have used time in the run up to the speech to criticize Netanyahu (who faces a Knesset election in Israel in 2 weeks’ time) of politicizing the negotiations with Iran. The intense opposition from the Obama administration has seen 37 Democrat Representatives and Senators boycott the speech – an action itself unprecedented.

Netanyahu acknowledged the controversy and paid as much tribute to Obama as he could muster given how fraught their relationship has become but he wasted no time laying out why the proposed deal with Iran is bad. A good percentage of his speech was a lesson in recent Iranian history and of the many acts of terrorism perpetrated by Iran on Middle Eastern states, US interests and Israel. Netanyahu has stated many times that the greatest threat to world peace is militant jihadist Islam married to nuclear weapons. As Prime Minister of the state of Israel, job One is the protection of the Jewish state.  Whilst many world leaders saw the replacement of the belligerent Ahmadinejad with the more demur and softly spoken Rouhani as President of Iran as a sign of the softening of the Iranian regime, Netanyahu lays out the actions and statements of Rouhani since assuming power as evidence that the jihadist and terrorist mindset of the Islamic republic has not changed.

Netanyahu made six key points:

  1. The leopard has not changed its spots – Iran remains an implacable enemy of Israel AND the US.
  2. The allure of using Iran to combat ISIS is a mirage – that in the case of ISIS, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy and that to adopt such a strategy might mean the battle against ISIS is won but the war against militant Islam is lost because Iran is by far the more dangerous of the two due to its armies, missiles and quest for nuclear weapons enabling Iran to strike far beyond just the Mesopotamian reach of ISIS.
  3. The proposed deal doesn’t impede Iran from getting nuclear weapons – it provides a pathway to such weapons. The proposed inspection regime is similar to the one that failed to contain North Korea from obtaining the bomb because rogue regimes and dictatorships never comply with agreements or feel compelled to honour treaties.
  4. No deal is not worse than this deal – the option to this bad deal is a better deal; one that continues to contain and constrain Iran.
  5. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal nation it should act like a normal nation – it should renounce terror in the Middle East and globally and it should cease to threaten to annihilate Israel. It should be allowed to continue a nuclear programme only if it behaves like other nations that seek peace.
  6. After acknowledging in the gallery Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (a holocaust survivor), Netanyahu reminded the world that if necessary Israel would act alone. He repeated the cry “never again” and said that the Jewish people after 100 generations could now finally defend themselves.

Netanyahu is a bold and uncompromising figure. It was an open and direct challenge to Obama’s attempt at a legacy-making historic deal with Iran. Such a defiant challenge to a sitting US President has left some Israelis and many US Jews nervous of the damage to US relations. Whilst it is easy to dismiss this speech as a re-election ploy, it is important to note that Obama has shifted the stance of the US on a nuclear Iran from a “no options are off the table” to prevent Iran obtaining the bomb to a wishy washy regime that has enough holes that a duplicitous state anxious to get its own way can easy thwart. There is a sense amongst progressive elites that a nuclear Iran is inevitable and to cut the best deal possible.

This attitude was reminiscent of the prevailing elite opinion in Britain in the 1930’s as Hitler rose to, and gained in, power. Churchill’s warnings were dismissed as the ranting of an out of touch political has-been past his prime….until he was proven right. In the midst of an Israeli media firestorm of opposition, the taunts of his political opponents in Israel and the best efforts of Obama’s water carriers to denigrate the speech and Netanyahu’s “unhelpful” world view, he went over all their heads straight to the only people who can stop Obama doing a bad deal – the US Congress. Judging by the rapturous reception he got, he stands a good chance of succeeding hence why Obama was so implacably opposed to the speech. Netanyahu came across as confident, factual and determined whereas Obama as cerebral, inconsistent (shifting red lines) and the appeaser he has become.

Finally Netanyahu announced what I had long believed to be his bottom line – that if the US won’t lead the charge to prevent Iran getting nukes, that Israel would act alone militarily to at least blunt and delay what is rightly seen as an existential threat to the very existence of Israel.

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Union membership by US state

March 3rd, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A good interactive graphic at NPR showing the change in union membership for each state from 1964 to 2014.

The overall rate has fallen from around a third to under 10%.

The three most unionised states today are New York on 25%, Alaska 23% and Hawaii 22%.

24 states have a union density of 10% to 20%.

16 states have a density of 5% to 10%.

Eight states have a union membership rate of under 5%, with the lowest being North Carolina at 2%.

The biggest declines over 50 years have been Michigan and Indiana which have both had 30% drops.

The only state to increase is Hawaii from 21.7% to 21.9%.

Would be interesting to explore why some states have declined so much, and others have not.

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Has Walker won Wisconsin?

February 24th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Walker has pointed to the unions’ membership troubles as a victory – presenting himself as a conservative warrior unafraid of taking on big battles against liberal interests.

Walker administration budget analysts said forcing public employees to contribute more to retirement plans and health insurance helped local governments save US$3 billion (NZ$3.9b). He also credited the 2011 law with saving homeowners money on property taxes while giving school districts the ability to make reforms that boosted third-grade reading levels and high school graduation rates.

“We took the power away from the big government special interests and put it firmly in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers,” Walker told Iowa Republicans recently. “That is what we need more of in this great country. The liberals don’t like that.”

Union officials declined to release precise membership data but confirmed in interviews that enrolment is dramatically lower since the new law was signed in 2011.

The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third. The American Federation of Teachers, which organised in the college system, saw a 50 per cent decline. The 70,000-person membership in the state employees union has fallen by 70 per cent.

That’s a huge decline in just a few years. The reforms pushed by Walker were:

  • public servants to pay 50% of the cost of their pension payments, up from 0%
  • public servants to pay 12% of their health insurance premiums, up from 6%
  • A referendum needed to approve any public sector wage settlement greater than CPI
  • Unions must collect their own fees, rather than employers
  • Non union members no longer required to pay fees to unions

Walker survived both a recall election and the Wisconsin State Supreme Court upheld his laws as constitutional.

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US politics cartoons of the week 23.2.15

February 23rd, 2015 at 5:53 pm by Lindsay Addie

I’ve been rather tied up by ‘real life’ to read any of the goings on here at Kiwiblog over the last week let alone post but here are couple of cartoons that tickled my funny bone.

The first relates to the US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf saying that one issue with the ISIS terrorists is that they’re unemployed. They do have a job, it is killing anyone who doesn’t agree with their fanatical ideology.

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© Michael Ramirez: found at Real Clear Politics

The second cartoon is about Vice President Joe Biden getting over friendly with the new US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter’s wife at an event in Washington DC last week. Whatever his motivations this did have a bad look.

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© Gary Varvel: found at Real Clear Politics

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How significant is the guilty plea?

February 16th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

Kim Dotcom’s long-running legal battle has suffered a blow after one of his co-accused pleaded guilty – and will now testify against his former colleagues.

In one of the biggest developments since Dotcom’s Coatesville compound was raided three years ago, computer programmer Andrus Nomm pleaded guilty to internet piracy in a Virginia court on Friday.

The 36-year-old struck a plea bargain deal with the US Justice Department, admitting he personally downloaded copyright-infringing files. Nomm will serve a year and a day behind bars. …

The US Department of Justice claims Nomm’s guilty plea was a major blow to Dotcom’s case. But that was last night rejected by his legal team. His attorney, Ira Rothken, told the Herald on Sunday the guilty plea did not serve as a precedent.

“If Mr Nomm testifies in a truthful manner … we expect that his testimony will help the defence.

I can’t imagine that there would be a plea deal, if the testimony would help the defence.

What will be interesting is whether it may affect the extradition hearing? Does the fact one person has pleaded guilty to the charges, make it harder for the NZ court to find that the charges are not valid? Remember the NZ court does not have to find likely guilt – just that the charges are valid, and would be an offence in NZ.

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US politics cartoons of the week: 16.2.15

February 16th, 2015 at 2:34 pm by Lindsay Addie

Whilst the standing down of Brian Williams from NBC continues to tickle the funny bone of the US cartoonists I’ve chosen one cartoon about Obama’s Iraq policy and the other about Jeb Bush.

The first is by Michael Ramirez and highlights an issue with Obama’s foreign policy and the lack of properly defined endgame. The word overcautious comes to mind.

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© Michael Ramirez: found at Real Clear Politics

 

The other cartoon by Andy Marlette makes fun of Jeb Bush’s strategy of seemingly trying to win the GOP presidential nomination by hoovering up the big $’s early on from the key GOP donors. He hasn’t as yet convinced me that his policy ideas are winners. He is a winner in the piling up the campaign funds contest though.

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© Andy Marlette: Found at Real Clear Politics

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Monday Motivator – Grace & Awe

February 16th, 2015 at 10:20 am by Richard Hume

Monday Motivator 36

 

It has been a busy start to the year having just finished an exhibition and rolled out a new website in conjunction.

This photograph featured quite prominently in the exhibition – just over two meters in length framed – and now has a new home having just finished the install in a clients home.

It was taken at Antelope Canyon in Arizona which is an amazing place to visit and photograph.

Click on the image for a larger view of this photograph.

Cheers

Richard [richardhume.com]

YouTube: Timeless – A Panoramic Journey

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Jon Stewart leaving Daily Show

February 12th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Even though his politics are on the left, I love watching Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. He has a satirical genius which is somewhat compulsive.

It isn’t clear if Comedy Central will seek to continue The Daily Show with a new host, or wind the show up when Stewart retires.

As Stewart billed The Daily Show as being a fake news show, maybe his replacement should be NBC’s Brian Williams!

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The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking’

February 10th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Eva Moskowitz writes in the WSJ:

There is a concept called the big lie, which holds that if you repeat a falsehood long enough and loudly enough, people will begin to believe it. Sadly, fearing the success of charter schools in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers and other education-reform opponents have been telling a big lie for years.

The UFT and its backers have kept up a steady drumbeat of false claims against charter schools in New York City: Charters cherry-pick their students, push out those who need extra support, and generally falsify their impressive results.

We hear this here also, even though charter schools in NZ can not pick their students – if there are a surplus of applicants, they must choose by random ballot.

Well, a recent report from New York City’s Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded, nonpartisan agency, proves that these accusations are false.

So what does it say?

The IBO report, released in January, found that—contrary to what some people have come to believe—“students at charter schools stay at their schools at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools.” The IBO reported that charter schools in the city retain 64% of their students, compared with 56% of students retained by district schools. Among special-education students, the IBO found that 53% stay at their charter schools, versus 49% at district schools.

And:

The vast majority of Success Academy students are children of color from low-income families. On last year’s state exam, our schools ranked in the top 1% of all New York state schools in math and the top 3% in English, outperforming schools in affluent areas of the city and wealthy suburbs. On the science exam, 100% of our fourth- and eighth-grade scholars passed, with more than 90% scoring at the highest level.

Success Academy schools have reversed the achievement gap: 94% of African-American students and 96% of Hispanic students passed the math exam, compared with 56% of white students citywide.

Imagine if we could replicate that in South Auckland!

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US politics cartoons of the week – 9.2.15

February 9th, 2015 at 11:52 am by Lindsay Addie

Plenty of topics for the US cartoonists to choose from, anything from the US debt, to ISIS, the measles and Brian Williams!

The first cartoon I’ve selected is about the massive US debt and Obama’s attitude towards it.

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© Gary Varvel: Found at Real Clear Politics

The other cartoon is for all the Cheney haters out there! It compares Brian Williams to Dick Cheney re Iraq. I’m not a Cheney hater but I can still see the funny side of this one.

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© Nick Anderson: Found at Real Clear Politics

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ISIS expands so what is the US strategy?

February 7th, 2015 at 11:15 am by Lindsay Addie

Where are ISIS expanding?

James Schneider over at Fox News (along with contributions from the Associated Press) reports on the worrying current expansion by ISIS (ISIL) into nearly a dozen countries.

Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, delivered a grim assessment earlier this week in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, as he described how the group was surfacing in North Africa.

“With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, the group is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under governed areas,” Stewart said.

ISIS continues to hold a wide swath of territory, bigger than the state of Pennsylvania, in its home base spanning parts of Iraq and Syria, propped up by more than 20,000 foreign fighters from at least three dozen countries. But the terror network’s tentacles, as Stewart indicated, are creeping into other nations; largely those with fragile governments.

“ISIS, like Al Qaeda, has thrived in the failed states where there is a vacuum of power,” said James Phillips, Middle East senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation.

The strategy of terrorist groups moving into failed states is all too common. The current nominee for the role of US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter is concerned where ISIS may go next.

Defense secretary nominee Ashton Carter, who had his confirmation hearing Wednesday, told Congress he is aware of reports that ISIS may try to expand into Afghanistan, and vowed to work with coalition partners to stop the group. He said he would consider changing plans for withdrawing the remaining 10,600 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 if security conditions further deteriorate.

Terrorist groups in other countries are supporting ISIS.

The Islamic State’s ambitions do not stop at Afghanistan, the so-called Graveyard of Empires. Militant groups in Pakistan, the Philippines, Israel and the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Indonesia and Jordan, among other areas, reportedly have pledged formal support for ISIS.

There has been a little bit of good news in Kobani Syria where the Kurdish fighters drove ISIS forces out last week.

Current US strategy

So what is the current US strategy? This question was raised by Senator John McCain (R) during Carter’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I believe I understand our strategy at this time,” Carter explained. “I also have the intention, again if confirmed, to make it my first priority to go there, to talk to our military leaders there, to confer with you … I think a strategy connects ends and means, and our ends with respect to ISIL needs to be its lasting defeat.”

McCain retorted: “Well, it doesn’t sound like a strategy to me, but maybe we can flesh out your goals.”

Hardly a decisive and acceptable answer to a key question regarding US strategy on ISIS. Perhaps the words came out a bit wrong (we’ve all done that) but its still a poor answer.

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NBC Nightly News anchor has a faulty reminiscence

February 6th, 2015 at 9:06 am by Lindsay Addie

Brian Williams the high profile news anchor and managing editor of NBC’s flagship Nightly News program has been left red faced after making false claims about being on a helicopter that was shot at by an RPG. Erik Wemple from the Washington Post explains.

After NBC Nightly News last week posted to Facebook a clip of the anchor reminiscing about having embedded with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, some Facebookers took issue with the particulars. Whereas Williams claimed that he was riding in a helicopter that was forced down after being hit by an RPG, others had a different recollection. “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened,” wrote Lance Reynolds in a Facebook comment responding to the Williams segment.

After digging a hole for himself Williams retracted his story.

In issuing an on-air apology for his “mistake” in misremembering the circumstances of the March 2003 episode, Williams credited “some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert” for debunking his set of facts. “I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft,” he said on Wednesday night’s “NBC Nightly News.”

Wemple then goes on to ask some pertinent questions.

Again: Where were Williams’s crew members, who surely knew that Williams had either “conflated” his Chinook with another Chinook — his explanation — or was using the passage of time to embellish his own exploits — another explanation. And what of other NBC News employees who worked on the story? Why did they remain silent on these matters? Are they still with NBC News?

We put these questions to NBC News and haven’t heard back.

By all logic, NBC News would like to rest on Williams’s apology, ride out the media storm and, eventually, move ahead with things. Yet the fact that personnel aside from Williams knew that his statements on these events were erroneous should prompt an internal probe as to how these falsehoods circulated so freely.

I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that proper internal probe by NBC. I can already hear some critics lamenting journalistic and editorial standards in the US mainstream media.

 

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The town that privatised everything!

February 5th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Joe Kent writes:

Sandy Springs, Georgia may look like any other town in America. It has parks, roads, and beautiful places to live. But there’s one thing that separates this town from every other town: Sandy Springs privatized almost everything.

In 2005, Sandy Springs outsourced almost all functions of the city government (with the exception of police and fire) to a single company, which runs the town. That company is in charge of running all the vital functions of government, from the running the parks, to paving the roads, and even 911 calls!

The town is run very efficiently, with zero backlogs in permit requests. Call the city, and you’ll be surprised to find that you actually get a friendly person on the other line! The city has a 24/7 non-automated customer service hotline which fields about 6,000 calls per month. It also has a state of the art traffic system with cameras and a high tech command center. …

When the project first started, the University of Georgia estimated that the city would need 828 employees. But because the town is managed by a private company, they’ve cut their workforce down to just 471 people.  Besides fire and police, the city only has eight full-time public employees.

Because of this efficiency, Sandy Springs generates huge surpluses. They have no unfunded liabilities. The city specifically decided not to use the traditional pension model – a model which has put almost every government across America in an unsustainable pension crisis. Instead, employees can choose their own 401K package to prepare for retirement, if they wish.

This has given the town of Sandy Springs lots of extra cash to work with – a surplus that they put into building for the future. According to Sharon Kraun, “The city, as a matter of policy, sets aside 25% of revenues into a reserve during each budget planning cycle. Capital improvements have been a major focus during our first eight years, with more than $185 million invested in capital infrastructure.”

This has lead to lots of improvements around the town. The city has repaved 147 miles of streets, 874 storm water projects, and built 32 miles of new sidewalks.

Sounds great. A city of 90,000 with only eight full time staff outside the Police and Fire services.

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Obama’s Budget – 10 news taxes and a half a trillion deficit

February 5th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Politico has details of the 10 new taxes proposed by Obama. They would increase revenue by a staggering $1.8 trillion over ten years. But despite that, his budget still forecasts a US$474 billion deficit.

There is no prospect at all of that budget passing either the House or the Senate.

I’d say that there will be no budget deal, and that the automatic sequestration cuts will occur instead.

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