Man on the Spot #27: A better way to teach, knee surgeries, gun laws and more

Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

beeing-there-the-search-for-pesticides-effect-on-declining-bee-colonies-moves-to-the-fields_1European Agency Warns of Risk to Humans in Pesticides Tied to Bee Deaths
Published: December 17, 2013
New York Times
LONDON — European food regulators said on Tuesday that a class of pesticides linked to the deaths of large numbers of honey bees might also harm human health, and they recommended that the European Commission further restrict their use.

Common Knee Surgery Does Very Little for Some, Study Suggests
Published: December 25, 2013
A popular surgical procedure worked no better than fake operations in helping people with one type of common knee problem, suggesting that thousands of people may be undergoing unnecessary surgery, a new study in The New England Journal of Medicine reports.

In Public Housing, Units Languish in Limbo
Published: December 15, 2013
New York Times
“The city and state have capital they invest in stadiums and parks and museums and all sorts of public development,” said Victor Bach, a policy analyst with the Community Service Society of New York, an anti-poverty group. “It’s a matter of political will.” The empty apartments wear the indignities of abandonment: broken windows, missing deadbolts, ripped plaster, graffiti on the walls. Some are further defiled by people and birds.

Target Struck in the Cat-and-Mouse Game of Credit Theft
Published: December 19, 2013, New York Times
Security experts say the Target hack is a reminder of security problems facing many retailers that won’t easily go away: There are weaknesses in the way payment information travels between retailers and banks. There is plenty of money to be made on the black market selling stolen credit card numbers, which can go for as little as a quarter or as much as $45 each. And American companies have been reluctant to adopt smart-chip cards, a type of credit card widely used in Europe that provides better security.

Police Salaries and Pensions Push California City to Brink
Published: December 27, 2013 New York Times
The city, Desert Hot Springs, population 27,000, is slowly edging toward bankruptcy, largely because of police salaries and skyrocketing pension costs, but also because of years of spending and unrealistic revenue estimates. It is mostly the police, though, who have found themselves in the cross hairs recently. Police officers here, as in many California cities, can retire as young as 50 with 30 years of service and receive 90 percent of their final salary every year — drawing those pensions for decades. Police unions say the fault lies with state and local politicians who failed to adequately fund the pension system over the years, and inflated benefits during boom years. Others wonder whether such salaries and pensions were ever affordable, particularly in cities as small and struggling as this. In Desert Hot Springs, for example, for every dollar that the city pays its police officers, another 36 cents must be sent to Calpers to fund their pensions.

$40 Million in Aid Set for Bangladesh Garment Workers
Published: December 23, 2013 New York Times
Eight months after the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,100 workers and leaving hundreds of families bereft and financially adrift, several prominent retailers and labor groups have joined with the Bangladesh government to create an estimated $40 million compensation fund to aid the victims’ families. So far, four retailers — Bonmarché, El Corte Inglés, Loblaw and Primark — have pledged to contribute to the fund, which is intended to compensate the families of those who died last April 24 in what was the deadliest disaster in garment industry history. The new fund is considered a landmark in compensating families of garment industry victims, in terms of both the amount to be paid and the sophistication of the arrangements. No United States-based retailers have signed on.

OBIT_MAYERPaul Mayer, 82, Ex-Priest and Peace
Published: November 29, 2013 New York Times
Paul Mayer, a Jewish-born former Roman Catholic priest who was at the forefront of peace and social justice campaigns for five decades, for a time working closely with the radical pacifist priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan, died on Nov. 22 at his home in East Orange, N.J. He was 82. Mr. Mayer continued a life of extravagant disregard for conventions. In 1972 he toured villages in North Vietnam that the Communist authorities said had been carpet-bombed by American planes. He visited Cuba many times to deliver medical supplies, in defiance of the United States trade embargo.

A VULNERABLE AGE: Winning Veterans’ Trust, and Profiting From It
Published: December 23, 2013 New York Times
Every veteran that can qualify for a benefit represents another potential customer for retirement communities, a fact V.A. benefit specialists emphasize in marketing materials. On its website, Veterans Financial, of Villanova, Pa., says that “free educational workshops” can be a critical element to “increase and maintain resident census.” Emphasizing its success, the company says: “we have had more than 40,000 attendees at our workshops throughout the United States.” The Academy of VA Pension Planners, the Georgia firm, puts it more bluntly: “The financial benefit to your potential clients and residents helps your facility keep occupancy near or at 100 percent.”

More Hunger for the Poorest Americans
Published: December 24, 2013 New York Times
This is a harsh season for Americans struggling to afford food. Last month, the long lines at food pantries across the country grew longer with the expiration of the boost to food stamp benefit levels included in the 2009 economic stimulus plan. Those lines are apt to grow even longer thanks to the refusal of House Republicans to renew extended unemployment benefits as part of the recent budget deal. And if that isn’t sufficient pain for the neediest, Congress is getting ready to make another big cut to nutrition aid when it returns in early January.


When Sheriffs Ignore Gun Laws They Don’t Like
Published: December 24, 2013 New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Sheriffs Refuse to Enforce Laws on Gun Control” (front page, Dec. 16):
Sheriffs in Colorado and upstate New York justify their refusal to enforce gun control laws enacted by their legislatures by appointing themselves constitutional arbiters. Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County, Colo., is quoted as saying: “In my oath it says I’ll uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Colorado. It doesn’t say I have to uphold every law passed by the Legislature.” A former Arizona sheriff, Richard Mack, is quoted as saying, “The Supreme Court does not run my office.” Even if these sheriffs were all constitutional scholars, it would be a frightening precedent for law enforcement personnel to choose to ignore the most fundamental constitutional rule of all: the separation of powers.

A Better Way to Teach
Published: December 24, 2013 New York Times
The new Program for International Student Assessment data, when you look under the hood — as you have — makes clear that the nations that outperform us take an entirely different approach, an approach I’ve seen firsthand while visiting places like Finland, Singapore and Canada. Instead of testing, imposing sanctions and letting the market sort it out, those countries pour their time, energy and resources into valuing and preparing teachers and giving them the time, tools and support to help kids learn and grow.

Clemency on Drugs

Published: December 24, 2013 New York Times
As it is, the war on drugs is nothing more than a jobs program for the law enforcement establishment, built upon the human wreckage of poor and minority men who have been targeted, profiled and selectively prosecuted.

Delbert Tibbs, Who Left Death Row and Fought Against It, Dies at 74
Published: December 7, 2013 New York Times
“I’m a Southern boy,” Mr. Tibbs said in an interview with the oral historian Studs Terkel for his book “Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith,” published in 2001. “My rationale to them for being in the state was just that I wanted to roam across the country, which is typical of writers and artists and so forth, but it’s not typical of black people. It’s all right for Jack Kerouac, but not for Delbert Tibbs.”

In Death Penalty’s Steady Decline, Some Experts See a Societal Shift
Published: December 19, 2013 New York Times
Eighty death sentences were imposed by American courts this year, compared with a peak of 315 in 1994, and 39 executions took place, compared with 98 in 1999, according to an annual accounting released on Thursday by the Death Penalty Information Center, a private group in Washington. A societal shift is underway,” said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the information center, which opposes capital punishment.

A Dealer Serving Life Without Having Taken One
Published: December 21, 2013 New York Times
The federal judge, James B. Zagel, explained to the court that he was adhering to the mandatorily harsh sentencing guidelines of the day. “To put it in simple terms,” the judge said before imposing sentence, “it’s too high.” If it were 1986 or today, Mr. Webster would probably be sentenced to serve about 25 years. But he was sentenced in 1996, during a period when sentencing guidelines gave federal judges virtually no discretion in assessing punishment. “That was at the peak of mandatory sentencing,” said Vanita Gupta, the deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. Turkeys at Thanksgiving had a better chance at mercy.

National_Monument_of_PakistanOP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Pakistan’s Persecuted Christians
Published: December 23, 2013 New York times
While militant groups are frequently the culprits in attacks on Christians, a general anger against the United States has caused large numbers of people to target Christians, whom they associate with America, as scapegoats. Christians have been especially vulnerable in cases concerning the blasphemy laws, which easily convert into a tool of oppression against them. Cases like that of the 11-year-old Christian girl arrested last year after being accused of burning pages of the Quran in Islamabad gain nationwide publicity — easy causes célèbres for those who are opposed to United States foreign policy in Pakistan or who believe that Islam is under siege from the West.

In a Car-Culture Clash, It’s the Los Angeles Police vs. Pedestrians
Published: December 25, 2013 New York Times
“L.A. needs jaywalking,” said Nelson Algaze, a Los Angeles architect who was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, lives in Manhattan Beach and works downtown. “It’s so stupid. What it does is it inhibits the vitality of Los Angeles. When you go to New York, when you go to Chicago, when it’s safe to cross the street, you just cross the street. You just do it.” “You can always tell someone from California in an East Coast city, because they are the ones waiting at a crosswalk,” Chief Beck said, adding, “Jaywalking seems to be a sport every time I go there.”

A Christmas Manners Quiz
Published: December 23, 2013 New York Times

YOU arrive for Christmas dinner. Your mother has left your father for a woman and you are meeting her for the first time.

Do you say, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you”?

Do you tweet, “ #Mom Is Gay.  She’s going to hell”?

Do you text your best friend, “If I survive Xmas, it will be a miracle”?

The Gospel According to Mary
Published: December 23, 2013 New York Times
Earlier this year, the book landed on my desk, which is how I stumbled across Taussig and his work. Those early Christian texts can seem quite astonishing. Several of them are told from the point of view of a woman, something that is not true of any of the New Testament. The Gospel of Mary, for instance, tells the story of Mary Magdalene, “who is portrayed as one of Jesus’s closest associates,” as Taussig writes in an introduction to that gospel, and has been given teachings from Jesus that she passes on to his male disciples. A second book that is written mostly in the female voice is “The Thunder: Perfect Mind.” A poetic work, what is particularly amazing about it is that the female voice is that of the deity Herself.

TV Message by Snowden Says Privacy Still Matters
497px-Edward_Snowden-2Published: December 25, 2013 New York Times
“A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all,” Mr. Snowden said in a Christmas Day message shown by Channel 4. “They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.” “Privacy matters; privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be,” he said. “Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information,” Mr. Snowden said. “The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.”

Russia Sends Vehicles to Syrian Port to Aid in Removal of Chemical Weapons Stockpile
Published: December 23, 2013 New York Times
In order to make the removal of the weapons possible, the government must secure the area. That task has led opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in recent weeks to note bitterly that the American goal of fulfilling the chemical weapons agreement requires military victories by the Syrian government, which the United States nominally opposes. It is the latest way in which Syrians opposed to the government feel abandoned by global powers, which they accuse of caring more about ridding the world of Syria’s chemical weapons than about the widespread killings of civilians by conventional weapons in the war.

As Violence Rises, Journalists in Iraq Face Renewed Risks
Published: December 23, 2013 New York Times
“To work as a journalist is tantamount to suicide,” he said. “The government and the security forces are incapable of protecting us. They haven’t been able to catch one person involved in any of the killings so far.” Journalists in Iraq must also deal with intimidation. In Baghdad, one journalist, Halem Hassan, said that after reporting on corruption recently he was visited at his home by an official whom he had written about and whose bodyguard threatened to kill him if he continued. “I am a simple man; I have only my pen,” he said. “No one can protect me from those people; they have all the power.”

Despair at Guantánamo
Published: December 27, 2013 New York Times
The improved transfer policy helps, but a petty policy change at the prison this month shows how perverse the situation has become. The military says it will no longer report the number of prisoners on hunger strike, according to a report in the Miami Herald. A spokesman for the facility said the military “will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public.” The numbers of detainees being force-fed by prison authorities, which dropped into the teens in recent months, offered the world a window into the prison, which has been shrouded in secrecy even though its motto is “safe, humane, legal, transparent detention.”

Homeland Security’s New Chief
Published: December 25, 2013
The Senate has confirmed Jeh Johnson, once the Pentagon’s top lawyer, to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Johnson brings a sharp legal mind and reputation for probity to the job. He will need both to manage the department, a daunting agglomeration of agencies and missions and chronic management problems. Every year the Government Accountability Office publishes a “high-risk list” of federal agencies and departments that it considers “most in need of transformation.” Homeland security has appeared on that list, year after year, for failing to become “a single, cohesive and effective department that is greater than the sum of its parts.” It has many parts: 22 agencies were folded into homeland security in 2003; today the department has more than 240,000 employees handling terrorism prevention, disaster response, immigration (legal and illegal) and many other things. Staffing vacancies are high. Morale is low.

Tobacco Firms’ Strategy Limits Poorer Nations’ Smoking Laws
Published: December 13, 2013
In Africa, at least four countries — Namibia, Gabon, Togo and Uganda — have received warnings from the tobacco industry that their laws run afoul of international treaties, said Patricia Lambert, director of the international legal consortium at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. “They’re trying to intimidate everybody,” said Jonathan Liberman, director of the McCabe Center for Law and Cancer in Australia, which gives legal support to countries that have been challenged by tobacco companies. In Namibia, the tobacco industry has said that requiring large warning labels on cigarette packages violates its intellectual property rights and could fuel counterfeiting.

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