Man on the Spot #18: Global warming, the American work force and immigration

Monarch_In_May

Business Groups See Loss of Sway Over House G.O.P.
By ERIC LIPTON, NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and NELSON D. SCHWARTZ
Published: October 9, 2013 NYTIMES

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

After the 2010 elections, the Chamber and other business interests funneled millions of dollars into Republican redistricting efforts around the country, helping draw overwhelmingly safe Republican districts whose occupants — many among the most conservative House members — are now far less vulnerable to challenges from more moderate Republicans.

Real Estate Boom in Phoenix Brings Its Own Problems
By FERNANDA SANTOS
Published: October 9, 2013 NYTIMES

While developers are wary about getting back to building starter homes — if land cost is too high and construction workers are commanding premium salaries, there are no guarantees for a significant return on their investment, they reason — the luxury market is roaring back, as banks are eager to lend to buyers with unblemished credit and a lot of money for a down payment. One factor is interest rates on mortgages for expensive homes, known as jumbo loans, which recently dipped below those on smaller mortgages, a very rare occurrence, analysts say.

By 2047, Coldest Years May Be Warmer Than Hottest in Past, Scientists Say
Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

To put it another way, for a given geographic area, “the coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past,” said Camilo Mora, the lead scientist on a paper published in the journal Nature. Unprecedented climates will arrive even sooner in the tropics, Dr. Mora’s group predicts, putting increasing stress on human societies there, on the coral reefs that supply millions of people with fish, and on the world’s greatest forests. “Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced,” Dr. Mora said in an interview. “What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”

Stubborn Skills Gap in America’s Work Force
Published: October 8, 2013 Eduardo Porter

The American economy rewards skill very well, but the supply hasn’t responded.”

The United States was the first country to provide for universal high school education. Today, one high school student in five leaves without a diploma, a weaker outcome than in most O.E.C.D. countries. The math and reading scores of American teenagers in O.E.C.D. tests have not improved over the last 10 years. And our college graduation rates have slipped substantially below those of other rich nations.

Schools do not appear to be adding much value. Nor do employers, which do little to train workers. Immigration by less educated workers from Latin America plays some role. But as the O.E.C.D. notes, two-thirds of low-skilled Americans were born in the United States. And the United States has a poor track record in improving immigrants’ skills.
Socioeconomic status is a barrier. Not only is inequality particularly steep, little is done to redress the opportunity deficit of poorer students. Public investment in the early education of disadvantaged children is meager. Teachers are not paid very well, compared with other countries. And the best teachers tend to end up teaching in affluent schools.

Washington as Reader, Not Soldier

‘Take Note!’ at Mount Vernon
By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN
Published: September 27, 2013

But as the new library and an accompanying exhibition make abundantly clear, these influential judgments of Washington as a man of action, marred by bookish ignorance, are deeply flawed. The exhibition, “Take Note! George Washington the Reader” (through Jan. 12), gathers more than 86 items, including Washington’s books, letters and a touch screen that allows us to explore his annotations. It shows that Washington’s actions succeeded partly because of what he read: books informed his approaches to warfare, agriculture, government and slavery.

Ailing Midwestern Cities Extend a Welcoming Hand to Immigrants

By JULIA PRESTON Published: October 6, 2013 NYTIMES

In north Dayton — until recently a post-apocalyptic landscape of vacant, gutted houses — 400 Turkish families have moved in, many coming from other American cities. Now white picket fences, new roofs and freshly painted porches are signs of a brisk urban renewal led by the immigrants, one clapboard house at a time. “We want to invest in the places where we are accepted better,” said Islom Shakhbandarov, a Turkish immigrant leader. “And we are accepted better in Dayton.”

Other struggling cities are trying to restart growth by luring enterprising immigrants, both highly skilled workers and low-wage laborers. In the Midwest, similar initiatives have begun in Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Lansing, Mich., as well as Detroit, as it strives to rise out of bankruptcy. In June, officials from those cities and others met in Detroit to start a common network. “We want to get back to the entrepreneurial spirit that immigrants bring,” said Richard Herman

In Africa, Seeking a License to Kill
By DESMOND TUTU
Published: October 10, 2013 NYTIMES

After the Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo was taken to face justice in The Hague, the country was able to rebuild.
Without this court, there would be no brake on the worst excesses of these criminals. And these violent leaders continue to plague Africa: the Great Lakes, Mali, northern Nigeria and Egypt all give reason for concern. Perpetrators of violence must not be allowed to wriggle free. Moreover, where justice and order are not restored, there can be no healing, leaving violence and hatred ticking like a bomb in the corner. We know too well that long, painful road to healing in South Africa, as do the people of Kenya. As Africa begins to find its voice in world affairs, it must strengthen its commitment to the rule of law, not undermine it. These principles are part of our global moral and legal responsibility, not items from a menu we can choose only when it suits us.

Donald Cabana, Warden Who Loathed Death Penalty, Dies at 67
By BRUCE WEBER NYTIMES
Published: October 13, 2013
“But in the end,” he went on, “my experience with condemned prisoners was always that once strapped to the chair, they came around somehow with something, if only something simple as ‘Tell the victim’s family I’m sorry,’ ‘Tell my mother I’m sorry,’ something that indicated something bad had happened, I was there and I was part of it.

“But not so with this young man. When I performed my ritualistic function of asking if he had a final public statement, this young man looked me in the eye with tears streaming down his cheeks, and he said: ‘Warden, you’re about to become a murderer. I did not kill that policeman, and dear God, I can’t make anyone believe me.’ ” Mr. Cabana continued: “Well, you know, we read about that sort of thing, and of course the average person who reads that, the average legislator probably who reads that, says, ‘Well, what do you expect him to say?’ I must tell you that four days ago I had a rather gut-wrenching meeting with a former high official who is now convinced the young man was, in fact, telling the truth. And I must say to you that however we do it, in the name of justice, in the name of law and order, in the name of retribution, you — and when I say you, I mean, generically, Americans — do not have the right to ask me, or any prison official, to bloody my hands with an innocent person’s blood.”

Haiti’s Imported Disaster
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: October 12, 2013

Haiti’s cholera epidemic, now entering its fourth year, has killed more than 8,300 people and sickened more than 650,000. It is a calamity, though one fundamentally different from the earthquake, hurricanes and floods that have beset the fragile country since 2010. It is, instead, a man-made disaster, advocates for Haitian victims contend, asserting the epidemic is a direct result of the negligence of United Nations peacekeepers who failed to keep their contaminated sewage out of a river from which thousands of Haitians drink.

The United Nations has refused to accept blame, though the evidence of its peacekeepers’ recklessness is overwhelming. Haiti had been free of cholera for a century until October 2010, when the outbreak began near a peacekeepers’ base that had been leaking human waste through broken pipes into a tributary of the Artibonite River; the peacekeepers were from Nepal, and so was the cholera strain.

Monarchs Fight for Their Lives
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Published: October 12, 2013

Monarchs have the misfortune to rely exclusively on a plant that farmers all across the Midwest and Northeast consider a weed. There is a direct parallel between the demise of milkweeds — killed by the herbicide glyphosate, which is sprayed by the millions of gallons on fields where genetically modified crops are growing — and the steady drop in monarch numbers. To anyone who has grown up in the Midwest, the result seems very strange. After decades of trying to eradicate milkweed, gardeners are being encouraged to plant it in their gardens, and townships and counties are being asked to let it thrive in the roadside ditches. What looks like agricultural success, purging bean and corn fields of milkweed (among other weeds), turns out to be butterfly disaster. This is the great puzzle of species conservation — it has to be effective at nearly every stage of a species’ life cycle. And this, too, is the dilemma of human behavior. We live in a world of unintended consequences of our own making, which can never be easily undone.

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Man on the Spot #17: Affordable health care, AIDS in S. Africa, corn disease

 

Dorothea Lange, Wikipedia Commons

Dorothea Lange, Wikipedia Commons

Hey ‘Starry Night,’ Say ‘Cheese!’
By DEBORAH SOLOMON
Published: September 28, 2013

Nonetheless, the vogue for digital photography is a constructive development that, for the most part, enhances our experience of art. First, there is the eye factor. A visitor who photographs van Gogh’s “Starry Night” echoes, however wanly or casually, the basic mission of visual art: to celebrate the act of looking. When you gaze through a lens, you are likely to consider the world more deeply. You frame space and take note of composition, the curve of a line, the play of light and shadow. As the photographer Dorothea Lange noted, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

We are at the tipping point where art museums are poised to become copying centers whose every single artwork can be reproduced in digital form a million times every day.
I say hooray. When we photograph, e-mail, tweet and Instagram paintings, we capitalize on technological innovation to expand familiarity with an ancient form. So, too, we increase the visual literacy of this country. Much can be gained. Nothing can be lost. A photograph of a painting can no more destroy a masterpiece than it can create one.

A Way of Life Is Ending. Thank Goodness.

Powerful drugs are helping to reduce AIDS deaths in South Africa and elsewhere.

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: September 28, 2013

In a time of depressing news worldwide, about dysfunction and crisis from Syria to our own Congress, here’s one area of spectacular progress.

The share of people in the developing world who live in extreme poverty has been reduced from 1 in 2 in 1980 to 1 in 5 today, according to the World Bank. Now the aim is to reduce that to almost zero by 2030.

There will still be poverty, of course, just as there is far too much poverty lingering in America. But the extreme hanging-by-your-fingernails subsistence in a thatch-roof hut, your children uneducated and dying — that will go from typical to essentially nonexistent just in the course of my adult life.

The drop in mortality understates the gains, because diseases don’t just kill people but also leave them disabled or unproductive, wrecking the economy. Poor people used to go blind routinely from disease or were unable to work for want of reading glasses. Now they are much less likely to go blind, and far more likely to get glasses.

These achievements aren’t just the result of work by Western donors or aid groups. Some of the biggest gains resulted from economic growth in China and India. When the poor are able to get jobs, they forge their own path out of poverty.

‘Affordable Care’ or a Rip-Off?
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Published: September 28, 2013

For those who balk at the new bills, it is useful to remember that those high co-payments are largely a function of the uniquely high price of medical services in the United States — everything from drugs to scans to operating room time.

In a country where even minor medical procedures cost two or three times more than elsewhere in the developed world, cost-sharing is far more likely to be a burden. A healthy 60-year-old in California with a chronic condition like asthma who needs little more than asthma medicine and an outpatient hernia operation could easily pay $7,000 in premiums plus a $2,250 deductible plus $3,000 for the 20 percent hospital co-pay. When my husband recently developed a blood clot in his leg after a bicycling injury, the generic heparin shots to treat the condition cost $1,400 at the pharmacy. Though the medicine is nothing new, our insurer considered it a specialty drug because of its price. Under some states’ silver plans, that would require a 50 percent, or $700, co-pay before getting this potentially lifesaving treatment.

Does that seem affordable, or not?

G.O.P Draws its weapons to fight health care law
NY Times
Represenitive Devin Nunes, Republican of California likened the hard-line, conservative members of his conference to “lemmings with suicide vests.”
“It’s kind of an insult to lemmings to call them them lemming,so they’d have to be more than just a lemming, because humping to your death is not enough,”He said.

A Surface Calm, Punctured by Artillery and Weary Arguments
By ANNE BARNARD
Published: September 28, 2013

One recent evening at a Damascus restaurant, two longtime friends who took opposite sides early in the uprising lamented where it had ended up. The government opponent denounced Damascus intellectuals for ceding leadership of the rebellion to armed groups. The pro-government friend, surprisingly, was more forgiving, noting the government of President Bashar al-Assad had cracked down quickly on peaceful activists.

“They were never given the space to act,” she said.

On both sides, flashes of emotion telegraph deepening frustration. Walking past a wall scrawled with the slogan “Assad only, Assad forever,” one government supporter spluttered: “This is wrong. Syria is for my children — for everyone equally, not just for one person.”
Resentment between those who fled and those who stayed also suffuses the opposition.

At another gathering, a government critic complained that the exile opposition had gutted the movement by luring young activists to Turkey to work fruitlessly, if lucratively, to set up an alternative government.

The critic’s daughter said she had lost hope that their dreams of democracy would be achieved. “Not in our lifetime,” she said.

The critic, appalled, said: “No! Maybe not in my lifetime. But in yours,” adding, “We’ll see.”

The young woman shook her head. “We’ve been seeing,” she said.

Amid Bloodshed in Pakistan, a Stock Exchange Soars
By DECLAN WALSH
Published: October 3, 2013

Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

In Karachi, where most big companies and banks have their headquarters, about 2,500 people died violently last year. But the bloodshed is concentrated in the city’s working-class areas, allowing the wealthy to continue with life as normal — with some adjustments like layers of security barriers and heavily armed private security forces.
“As far as the killings go, forget about it — that’s part of life,” said Zain Hussain, chief executive of the stock brokerage firm Taurus Securities. “It’s something that I am immune to, and so are most investors.”

 

Goss Wilt photo by Iowa State Extension.

Goss Wilt photo by Iowa State Extension.

A Disease Cuts Corn Yields

By STEPHANIE STROM
Published: September 30, 2013

No one is certain why Goss’s wilt has become so rampant in recent years. But many plant pathologists suspect that the biggest factor is the hybrids chosen for genetic modification by major seed companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta.

“My theory is that there were a couple of hybrids planted that were selected because they had extremely high yield potentials,” said Dr. Robertson, whose research is financed by Monsanto and the Agriculture Department. “They also may have been highly susceptible to Goss’s wilt.”

About 90 percent of the corn grown in the United States comes from seeds that have been engineered in a laboratory, their DNA modified with genetic material not naturally found in corn species. Almost all American corn, for instance, is now engineered to resist the powerful herbicide glyphosate (often sold as Roundup), so farmers can kill weeds without killing their corn.

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Man on the Spot #16: Guns, Toxins, Food, Climate Change

 

Barrett Brown / Wikipedia

Barrett Brown / Wikipedia

A Journalist-Agitator Facing Live in Prison Over a Link

By DAVID CARR
Published: September 8, 2013

Barrett Brown makes for a pretty complicated victim. A Dallas-based journalist obsessed with the government’s ties to private security firms, Mr. Brown has been in jail for a year, facing charges that carry a combined penalty of more than 100 years in prison.

Project PM first looked at the documents spilled by the hack of HBGary Federal, a security firm, in February 2011 and uncovered a remarkable campaign of coordinated disinformation against advocacy groups, which Mr. Brown wrote about in The Guardian, among other places.

In Gun Debate, Divide Grows as Both Sides Dig In for Battle

By ERICA GOODE
Published: September 15, 2013
Tom Diaz, the author of “The Last Gun” and a longtime advocate of stricter gun laws, said he thought the depth of that passion among gun owners had often been underestimated by “an elitist movement with good intentions.” Ultimately, he said, stronger gun laws will come not from Washington or New York but from ordinary people who decide it is time to make changes.

“I think that in the long term, the nation is going to reject this unbridled kind of gun culture,” Mr. Diaz said. “But I think it’s going to take a long time. Colorado is a true test for those actually in the trenches, but it might also be a wake-up call — nothing is easy, and pouring money in from Bloomberg is not a magic solution.”

In the Shadow of ‘Old Smokey,’ a Toxic Legacy
Contaminants from an incinerator that is long gone linger in Miami soil.

By NICK MADIGAN
Published: September 22, 2013

Miami officials discovered contamination two years ago at the site of Old Smokey, now a training center for firefighters, but they did not alert residents of the area. A report on the findings remained under wraps until a city employee revealed its existence this year to a University of Miami law professor, Anthony V. Alfieri, who directs the law school’s Environmental Justice Project.

Once the presence of toxins was made public, officials scrambled to commission tests of soil samples in the immediate area. They later expanded the investigation to include 7 parks, 17 private properties, 4 churches and 12 green spaces in the West Grove and in adjoining Coconut Grove, as well as in Coral Gables, a separate municipality.
Bodies Pile Up in Texas as Immigrants Adopt New Routes Over Border
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: September 22, 2013

Three days before the woman was found on El Tule Ranch, the ranch manager, Lavoyger Durham, proudly showed off his personal contribution to addressing the problem: a 55-gallon blue plastic drum holding one-gallon water jugs. The water station is topped with a 30-foot pole and a large blue flag.

Mr. Durham, 68, said it was the first water station in Brooks County, and he has plans for several more. He would prefer for the government to erect a double-layer border fence. But in the meantime, he does not want to see people continue to die on the ranch. He estimates he has found 25 bodies on the property in the last 23 years.

“I’m trying to expose the killing fields of Brooks County,” Mr. Durham said. “If dead human beings don’t catch your attention, what the hell else is going to? We’re just trying to be human about it.”

Study Sees a Higher Risk of Storms on the Horizon
By MICHAEL WINES
Published: September 23, 2013

The eastern and central United States likely will see a greater risk of severe weather by the middle of this century as rising temperatures trigger atmospheric changes that favor storms, a new study by climate scientists from Stanford and Purdue universities concludes.

Thunderstorms are forecast to increase in the eastern and central United States.
By the century’s final 30 years, the study forecasts, the eastern United States could experience severe thunderstorms an average of nearly 7.5 spring days, an increase of almost 42 percent. A 15 percent increase is forecast during June, July and August.

The largest single increase, an average of more than 2.4 days, was likely from March through May across parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Free to Be Hungry
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: September 22, 2013

The word “freedom” looms large in modern conservative rhetoric. Lobbying groups are given names like FreedomWorks; health reform is denounced not just for its cost but as an assault on, yes, freedom. Oh, and remember when we were supposed to refer to pommes frites as “freedom fries”?

The right’s definition of freedom, however, isn’t one that, say, F.D.R. would recognize. In particular, the third of his famous Four Freedoms — freedom from want — seems to have been turned on its head. Conservatives seem, in particular, to believe that freedom’s just another word for not enough to eat.

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Man on the Spot #15: Corruption, the GOP, city elections, Syrian attack

 miami-lakes-mayor-michael-pizzi-and-sweetwater-mayor-manny-maronoArrests of 3 Mayors Reinforce Florida’s Notoriety as a Hothouse for Corruption

By NICK MADIGAN
Published: September 1, 2013
“There’s a certain psychology to some of the people who run for office here — they don’t think they’re going down the wrong track, but there’s a slippery slope,” she added. “There’s a lack of self-awareness, an immaturity, a brazenness, of feeling like a big shot. So when they’re arrested, they’re very surprised.”
“Maybe it’s the heat,” said Ruth Campbell, 93, a former City Council member here and the curator of the Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum.
At City Hall on Friday, in a frame that contained photos of city officials, Mr. Bateman’s likeness had been concealed behind a paper copy of the city’s crest. But a day earlier, a group of his supporters rallied a couple blocks away, and Mr. Bateman, out on bond, showed up, shook hands and vowed to fight the charges.
Protesters in Washington against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that lifted corporate political spending restrictions.
Published: September 3, 2013
Tempest in the City: A new Public Theater production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” debuts on Sept. 6 and features more than 200 actors, only 6 professional.
Published: August 30, 2013
“The Tempest,” which will be at the Delacorte Theater in the park on Sept. 6-8, is the first production of Public Works, an effort by the Public Theater to open its stages to New Yorkers who may feel excluded from the theater world. Tickets are free, first come first served. The cast includes more than 200 people from five community organizations and seven independent performing groups — cabdrivers, a gospel choir, Mexican folk dancers, Japanese taiko drummers, a gypsy brass band and a bubble-blower. On this day, the second rehearsal, the room looked more like an exercise in fear.
“A lot of terror comes with this,” said Zeus Walton, 56, who wore a large print blouse and used a cane to support herself. “They looked terrified.”

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
By LEE SIEGEL
Published: September 1, 2013
But then Michael R. Bloomberg slipped into office, in the numb wake of 9/11, with all the spirit of a hostile takeover. Technocratic micromanagement and passive-aggressive triangulation became the norm.
Commanding personalities have been replaced by apologies for having a personality and mechanical parroting of reformist ideas. New York, that breeding ground of idiosyncrasy, has become crowd-sourced. Today’s mayoral hopefuls are transparent products of handlers and flash polls. The city’s synthetic politics roll on blandly, surreally out of sync with its furiously contradictory realities.
Their timid uniformity reflects the city’s general atmosphere. In Mr. Bloomberg’s hyper-rational New York — control the citizenry and let the bankers run free — standing out has about the same status as cigarette smoke.
A family crossed the border into Turkey on Saturday as people across Syria, including rebels and government troops, scurried to prepare for American strikes.
By ANNE BARNARD and HALA DROUBI
Published: August 31, 2013
“It is just so clear — they are playing us like puppets, but they all want him to stay,” she said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. “Obama is full of talk. He’s so weak and useless.”
For another Homs resident, Abu Bassam, 31, the only possible response was black humor.
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