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Changes in Census Survey Generate Misguided Criticism

By: WI Budget Project Wednesday April 23, 2014 2:14 pm

Larger Census Bureau Survey Will Be Unchanged

For more, go to www.wisconsinbudgetproject.org

The U.S. Census Bureau is making a long-overdue improvement in the questions they ask about health insurance in their annual Current Population Survey (CPS). Contrary to some recent news reports and commentary, the change in the survey is not going to be a significant impediment to understanding the effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the percentage of Americans who are insured.

Although I think the redesigned survey is a big improvement, any time that significant changes are made in survey questions, there’s a risk that it will be difficult to make good comparisons of the data for the years before and after the changes were made. However, the commentators who have expressed alarm that this will interfere with analysis of the ACA’s effects appear to be unaware of some key facts about when the changes take effect and the full range of Census Bureau products. I appreciate their concerns, but they can rest assured that we will have plenty of good Census Bureau data to use as we analyze and debate the effects of the ACA.

Much of the news coverage last week regarding the CPS changes created an erroneous impression that is summed up in this headline: “Major Changes to U.S. Census Will Make It Nearly Impossible to Track How Obamacare Is Doing.” Not all of the stories went quite that far in criticizing the CPS revisions, but most of the news stories missed the two key reasons why the revised survey questions are not a major problem:

  • The Census Bureau isn’t changing its much larger survey of households, the American Community Survey (ACS), which yields far more reliable data about health insurance coverage, especially at the state level. (The ACS is based on a sample of households that is 30 times larger than the one used for the CPS!)
  • The data being released this fall, based on the new CPS questions, isn’t for calendar year 2014, it’s for 2013, which means that we will have comparable 2013 and 2014 CPS survey results – before and after the major ACA changes took effect.

In contrast to the ACS, the health questions that have long been used in the CPS ask people whether they have been uninsured for all of the last 12 months. But research has shown that the answers people give are often about their current insurance status, not their status over the prior year. The redesigned CPS addresses that problem by asking about coverage at the time of the survey and by looking back to January of the prior calendar year – capturing monthly insurance coverage information up through the month of the survey. The new survey will provide information about marketplace participation, employer coverage offers and worker take-up, and the ability to track monthly transitions over a 15-month period – all welcome improvements on the prior survey. (A summary of the advantages and drawbacks of the changes can be found here.)

I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a downside to changing survey questions. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has occasionally made changes to its annual Family Health Survey, and when those types of revisions disrupt the comparability of the data across years, it’s a significant source of heartburn for researchers and policy analysts like me. However, the Census Bureau’s latest changes are made far less problematic by the fact that the much larger health survey remains the same.

Although I was disappointed that much of the press coverage last week missed a couple of key points that cast a much different light on this story, I was happy to hear commentators arguing for the importance of using good, comparable Census Bureau data. Let’s hope that interest continues. Health care policymaking will be improved if lawmakers from across the political spectrum can set aside their preconceived notions about the ACA and use objective analysis of data to guide their policy choices.

VIDEO: Saying ‘Hell No’ To Obamacare

By: Dennis Trainor Jr Wednesday April 23, 2014 7:15 pm

Originally posted at PopularResistance.org

Recently, Dr. Margaret Flowers initiated an online petition declaring herself a conscientious objector to the Affordable Care Act and asking others to send a message to President Obama that the ACA is a scam.

In this short clip (above), Dr. Flowers states:

The most important question we should be having right now, knowing that insurgence is not protective, is do we want to continue to treat health care as a commodity and people only get what they can afford, or do we want to join the rest of the industrialized nations in the world and treat health care as a public good and create a system where people can get what they need.

You can watch the full interview below:

Dr. Margaret Flowers (@MFlowers8) is a pediatrician from Baltimore who is an organizer at PopularResistance.org, co-directs ItsOurEconomy.us and co-hosts Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio. She is adviser to the board of Physicians for a National Health Program and is on the steering committee of the Maryland Health Care is a Human Right campaign.

Over Easy

By: Ruth Calvo

Over Easy

The community that began with Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner continues. Today we collect news from outside the usual, and renew the discussion.

Brazil is hosting a discussion of the future of the internet, NetMundial, and the U.S. has committed to handing over its dominant position to a community of shareholders. Some problems have been anticipated for that future by some concerned organizations.

‘The real nightmare situation would be the Balkanisation of the internet with governments changing technical standards to suit commercial interests, to remove interoperability between different countries or regions of the world, and to give them the ability to perform things like mass surveillance and the control of content.’ … the US, Australia and several European nations have previously resisted the UN taking on management of the internet, saying responsibility should instead pass to a group that is not dominated by governments.

Hopefully some use of new technology that produces a bubble that then has an image projected onto it, that will finally burst, leaving a chosen scent behind, will help put this together. (I vote for scent of coriander, a favorite of mine.)

Hundreds of deaths in South Sudan have shown ethnic hatred breaking out in the power struggle there. The U.N. has sought to keep peace, and been overpowered in its attempts.

More than 200 civilians were reportedly killed and more than 400 wounded while sheltering in a Mosque on 15 April after rebels retook Unity state capital Bentiu from government forces, in what the chairperson of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, described as a ‘dastardly act.’

This was followed by an attack two days later on civilians sheltering inside a UN base camp in Jonglei state capital Bor, which left more than 40 dead and scores wounded.

Further north in Darfur, efforts by the African Union have failed to ease violence against the population there.

The peacekeepers, though, have been bullied by government security forces and rebels, stymied by American and Western neglect, and left without the weapons necessary to fight in a region where more peacekeepers have been killed than in any other U.N. mission in the world. The violence that once consumed Darfur, meanwhile, has returned with a vengeance, resulting in civilian casualties and the large-scale flight of terrified men, women, and children.

(snip)

Some officials say the mission’s failings are beyond repair, but that the political leadership in African capitals and on the U.N. Security Council is unlikely to shut it down while violence is surging in Darfur. ‘That would require them to do something about it,’ one U.N.-based diplomat said.

Reconciliation in Palestine between Hamas and Fatah gives new angles to ongoing peace negotiations with Israel, including ‘some easing of the blockade that Cairo has imposed on the group and on the Gaza Strip’.

The Palestinian public and its two rival factions – Hamas and Fatah – understand that the internal rift serves Israel first and foremost, and that the disconnect between Gaza and the West Bank is congruent with Israeli policies. The vast majority in Fatah and all the other PLO member groups are convinced that a fair agreement signed by Israel of its own free will is no longer possible. Only Abbas and some of his close associates continue to believe in negotiating.

The reconciliation, therefore, is a way to strengthen the Palestinians internally in preparation for the next confrontations with Israel (popular, diplomatic, political, and perhaps even military, if and when Israel chooses the military escalation option).

Reconciliation is also consistent with the increasing demands to hold public elections for the PLO’s legislature.

Pirates in the Malacca Strait have stolen a large oil cargo and removed crew from a tanker engaged in shipping there. Some evidence indicates the theft may have been abetted by members of the crew.

Eight Indonesian pirates in a fishing vessel boarded the Naniwa Maru No. 1 at about 1 a.m. local time on Tuesday off the coast of western Malaysia, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said.

The pirates pumped about 800,000 gallons of the 1.18 million gallons of diesel carried by the tanker into two waiting vessels and made off with three Indonesian crew members, including the captain and chief engineer, the agency said.

Enjoy Take Your Kids To Work Day.

Never.Give.Up.

Ted Cruz Celebrates Earth Day Cruz-Style

By: Elliott Saturday March 3, 2012 9:00 am

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are as few as 3200 of these majestic animals left in the wild. A hundred years ago it’s estimated there were 50,000 to 80,000 just in India.

The idea that he’s psyched to walk all over a slaughtered endangered animal is all you really need to know about the quality of the man.

Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday April 23, 2014 7:22 pm

 

Have you heard about the Cowboy-Indian Alliance?

A colorful Tipi with the Washington Monument in the background

One of several tipis erected along the National Mall by the Cowboy-Indian Alliance (CIA).

That’s the group occupying the National Mall in D.C. in tipis to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline until April 27. From Counterpunch:

An unlikely alliance of white ranchers and Native American activists, known as the Cowboy Indian Alliance, has erected the tipi encampment in the nation’s capital to protest plans for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Alliance (with the ironic acronym ‘CIA’) brings together Native Americans with white ranchers and farmers–the archetypal enemies of the American West–to protect their common land and water.

The Cowboy Indian Alliance may seem like an unprecedented type of environmental movement–multiracial, rooted in struggling rural communities, and often more effective in its grassroots organizing than traditional urban-based white upper/middle class environmental groups–but it is also part of a long, proud tradition that has been conveniently covered up in American history. Our history books present Manifest Destiny as inevitable and uncontested in the 19th century, so we never read about the white Wisconsin settlers who opposed the forced removal of Ho-Chunk and Ojibwe, the Washington settlers put on trial for sympathizing with Coast Salish resistance, or other atypical stories that highlight the ‘paths not followed’ of cooperation rather than conflict.

[...]

The Cowboy Indian Alliance represents not only a common stand against an oil pipeline, but (like previous alliances) has become a way to build connections between land-based communities that last beyond the immediate threat of oil spills and climate change. Equally important, these unlikely alliances begin the process of decolonizing Native lands and shifting white hearts and minds. Ihanktonwan Nakota elder Faith Spotted Eagle, a leader in past and current alliances to protect treaty lands, concludes, ‘We come from two cultures that clashed over land, and so this is a healing for the generations.’

Representatives of the movement answered questions on Reddit today:

we feel as a lakota people and many other nations his decision to delay was a good decision. it affects us none but gives us hope that the people are being heard. I view it as a decision to give the people time to get their opinions and beliefs heard. I myself am from the Kul wicasa oyate/Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Im here to support everyone that is standing for their beliefs and the protection of mother earth. Wicahpi Ksapa

The pipe line crosses 22 rivers in our section of south dakota. The proposed pipe line is set to cross the 2 major intakes that supply rural communities with water. Our hydrologist tell us that in South Dakota the saturated soil near water production wells create a cone depression that can draw oil that is spilled directly into the Aquifer. This poison the aquifer the land and the people. – Aldo Seoane

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Joe Biden Turns Fracking Missionary On Ukraine Trip

By: Steve Horn Wednesday April 23, 2014 1:39 pm

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Caricature of Joe Biden

Joe Biden: Global fracking evangelist.

During his two-day visit this week to Kiev, Ukraine, Vice President Joe Biden unfurled President Barack Obama’s “U.S.Crisis Support Package for Ukraine.”

A key part of the package involves promoting the deployment of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Ukraine. Dean Neu, professor of accounting at York University in Toronto, describes this phenomenon in his book “Doing Missionary Work.” And in this case, it involves the U.S. acting as a modern-day missionary to spread the gospel of fracking to further its own interests.

With the ongoing Russian occupation of Crimea serving as the backdrop for the trip, Biden made Vladimir Putin’s Russia and its dominance of the global gas market one of the centerpieces of a key speech he gave while in Kiev.

“And as you attempt to pursue energy security, there’s no reason why you cannot be energy secure. I mean there isn’t. It will take time. It takes some difficult decisions, but it’s collectively within your power and the power of Europe and the United States,” Biden said.

“And we stand ready to assist you in reaching that. Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas. It would be a very different world you’d be facing today.”

The U.S. oil and gas industry has long lobbied to “weaponize” its fracking prowess to fend off Russian global gas market dominance. It’s done so primarily in two ways.

One way: by transforming the U.S. State Department into a global promoter of fracking via its Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program (formerly theGlobal Shale Gas Initiative), which is a key, albeit less talked about, part of President Obama’s “Climate Action Plan.”

The other way: by exporting U.S. fracked gas to the global market, namely EUcountries currently heavily dependent on Russia’s gas spigot.

In this sense, the crisis in Ukraine — as Naomi Klein pointed out in a recent article — has merely served as a “shock doctrine” excuse to push through plans that were already long in the making. In other words, it’s “old wine in a new bottle.”

Gas “Support Package” Details

Within the energy security section of the aid package, the White House promises in “the coming weeks, expert teams from several U.S. government agencies will travel to the region to help Ukraine meet immediate and longer term energy needs.”

That section contains three main things the U.S. will do to ensure U.S. oil and gas companies continue to profit during this geopolitical stand-off.

1) Help with pipelines and securing access to gas at the midstream level of production.

“Today, a U.S. interagency expert team arrived in Kyiv to help Ukraine secure reverse flows of natural gas from its European neighbors,” the White House fact sheet explains. “Reverse flows of natural gas will provide Ukraine with additional immediate sources of energy.”

2) Technical assistance to help boost conventional gas production in Ukraine. That is, gas obtained not from fracking and horizontal drilling, but via traditional vertical drilling.

As the White House explains, “U.S. technical experts will join with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and others in May to help Ukraine develop a public-private investment initiative to increase conventional gas production from existing fields to boost domestic energy supply.”

3) Shale gas missionary work.

“A technical team will also engage the government on measures that will help the Ukrainian government ensure swift and environmentally sustainable implementation of contracts signed in 2013 for shale gas development,” says the White House.

ExxonMobil Teaching Russia Fracking

Obama: Remaking the Middle East as The American Gulag

By: GREYDOG

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

A National Guard member fires a rifle in the desert of Iraq

A county-by-country guide to American hegemony

During the beginning of his first term in office President Obama promised “to remake the Middle East into a region of prosperity and freedom.” Six years later the reality is totally the contrary: the Middle East is ruled by despotic regimes whose jails are overflowing with political prisoners. The vast majority of pro-democracy activists who have been incarcerated, have been subject to harsh torture and are serving long prison sentences. The rulers lack legitimacy, having seized power and maintained their rule through a centralized police state and military repression. Direct US military and CIA intervention, massive shipments of arms, military bases, training missions and Special Forces are decisive in the construction of the Gulag chain from North Africa to the Gulf States.

We will proceed by documenting the scale and scope of political repression in each US backed police state. We will then describe the scale and scope of US military aid buttressing the “remaking of the Middle East” into a chain of political prisons run by and for the US Empire.

The countries and regimes include Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan and Turkey . . . all of which promote and defend US imperial interests against the pro-democracy majority, represented by their independent social-political movements.

Egypt:  Strategic Vassal State

A longtime vassal state and the largest Arab country in the Middle East, Egypt’s current military dictatorship, product of a coup in July 2013, launched a savage wave of repression subsequent to seizing power. According to the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights, between July and December 2013, 21,317 pro-democracy demonstrators were arrested. As of April 2014, over 16,000 political prisoners are incarcerated. Most have been tortured. The summary trials, by kangaroo courts, have resulted in death sentences for hundreds and long prison terms for most. The Obama regime has refused to call the military’s overthrow of the democratically elected Morsi government a coup in order to continue providing military aid to the junta. In exchange the military dictatorship continues to back the Israeli blockade of Gaza and support US military operations throughout the Middle East.

Israel:  The Region’s Biggest Jailer

Israel, whose supporters in the US dub it the “only democracy in the Middle East,” is in fact the largest jailer in the region.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselm, between 1967 and December 2012, 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned at some point, over 20% of the population. Over 100,000 have been held in “administrative detention” without charges or trial.  Almost all have been tortured and brutalized. Currently Israel has 4,881 political prisoners in jail. What makes the Jewish state God’s chosen … premier jailer, however, is the holding of 1.82 million Palestinians living in Gaza in a virtual open air prison. Israel restricts travel, trade, fishing, building, manufacturing and farming through air, sea and ground policing and blockades. In addition, 2.7 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (West Bank) are surrounded by prison-like walls, subject to daily military incursions, arbitrary arrests and violent assaults by the Israeli armed forces and Jewish vigilante settlers engaged in perpetual dispossession of Palestinian inhabitants.

Saudi Arabia: Absolutist Monarchy

According to President Obama’s ‘remaking of Middle East’ Saudi Arabia stands as Washington’s “staunchest ally in the Arab world”. As a loyal vassal state, its jails overflow with pro-democracy dissidents incarcerated for seeking free elections, civil liberties and an end to misogynist policies. According to the Islamic Human Rights Commission the Saudis are holding 30,000 political prisoners, most arbitrarily detained without charges or trial.

The Saudi dictatorship plays a major role bankrolling police state regimes throughout the region. They have poured $15 billion into the coffers of the Egyptian junta subsequent to the military coup, as a reward for its massive bloody purge of elected officials and their pro-democracy supporters. Saudi Arabia plays a big role in sustaining Washington’s dominance, by financing and arming ‘jailer-regimes’ in Pakistan, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt.

Bahrain: Small Country – Many Jails

According to the local respected Center for Human Rights, Bahrain has the dubious distinction of being the “top country globally in the number of political prisoners per capita.” According to the Economist (4/2/14) Bahrain has 4,000 political prisoners out of a population of 750,000. According to the Pentagon, Bahrain’s absolutist dictatorship plays a vital role in providing the US with air and maritime bases, for attacking Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. The majority of pro-democracy dissidents are jailed for seeking to end vassalage , autocracy, and servility to US imperial interest and the Saudi dictatorship.

Iraq: Abu Ghraib with Arab Characters

Beginning with the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 and continuing under its proxy vassal Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens have been tortured, jailed and murdered. Iraq’s ruling junta, has continued to rely on US military and Special Forces and to engage in the same kinds of military and police ‘sweeps’ which eviscerate any democratic pretensions. Al-Maliki relies on special branches of his secret police, the notorious Brigade 56, to assault opposition communities and dissident strongholds. Both the Shi’a regime and Sunni opposition engage in ongoing terror-warfare. Both have served as close collaborators with Washington at different moments.

Protecting Classrooms From Corporate Takeover

By: Amy B. Dean Wednesday April 23, 2014 6:37 am

What Families Can Learn from Teachers’ Unions

Teachers have always held a cherished role in our society—recognized as professionals who know how to inculcate a love of learning in our children. But the “education reform” movement represented by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top blames teachers for the problems in our public schools.

An abandoned classroom with dusty desks & tables, and half-packed desk contents.

Why do American schools think they can “fire their way to excellence?”

“The people who seek to privatize the public sector are looking for any excuse to criticize teachers,” says Bob Peterson, veteran fifth-grade teacher and president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). “We must take responsibility for our profession. If we don’t step up to the plate, public education is going to be destroyed.”

At heart, this is a debate between competing visions of teachers’ roles in public education in America. Teachers, through their unions, are defending the idea that they are best-equipped to teach children to become lifelong learners. Education “reformers,” though, cite studies—such as one from the Goldwater Institute from 2004—that show that students at privately run charter schools outperform kids in public schools and say that public education would improve if public schools simply looked more like privately run schools. In privately run schools, teachers lack a collective voice, their working conditions are subject to the whims of school administrators, and they can be fired at will. This contrast with the empowered rank and file of unionized public school teachers could help explain the claims of “reformers” that traditional public school teachers are too sheltered, that they can’t be dismissed easily enough, and that their unions need to be eliminated. Firing and replacing teachers based on students’ scores on standardized tests, then, is part of the reformers’ vision for the schools.

Everyone agrees that great teachers are key to a good education. But reform advocates such as former Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee say that schools can fire their way to excellence. In September 2013, according to a report on the public policy website Next City, Rhee spoke at Temple University. Exemplifying the rhetoric of the reformers, Rhee said, “Not everyone can do this job. If you have a pulse and pass the criminal check, a lot of school districts will just stick you in the classroom.” But Rhee’s approach is to evaluate teachers by giving their students standardized tests. This approach offers, at best, an imprecise evaluation, failing to measure the intangibles that make great teachers. The result is that some of the best teachers get taken out, along with a few bad ones.

Peterson and other educators say that, unsurprisingly, the reformers’ approach undermines those who have devoted their professional lives to educating kids. In 2010, Rhee fired 241 D.C. public-school teachers in a single day, but failed to achieve the promised turnaround in standardized test scores. The achievement gap between black and white elementary students is now wider than ever, as education writer Dana Goldstein and others have noted since Rhee’s departure from D.C.

Across the country, teachers’ unions are fighting back against the work of people like Rhee by working to educate children holistically. This means taking into account all the factors that influence students’ chances for success: families, homes, communities, and often the effects of poverty. In Milwaukee, Peterson is working with his union to emphasize teacher professionalism and social justice in the community. In New York City, as part of a union-based program, 16 schools have reinvented themselves as hubs for community services. In St. Paul, teachers visit parents in their homes to build engagement with families.

Rethinking Milwaukee Schools

Peterson’s organizing efforts in Milwaukee focus on highlighting how the interests of teachers—for instance, having paid time for class preparation—align closely with those of students. Peterson is a longtime fifth-grade teacher and former editor of the progressive education magazine Rethinking Schools. He was elected president of the MTEA representing a caucus of teachers who advocate funding and fixing public schools. His organizing efforts focus on using the union’s clout not merely to protect teachers’ jobs but to champion the common interests of teachers, students, parents, and the community.

As a first change, the union actively encourages teachers to work for social justice in their communities. “In the way past, our union didn’t really do much outreach to the community except when we needed support for our issues,” Peterson says. “That’s changed.” Recently, Peterson says, MTEA teachers turned out to support immigrants’ rights groups in the city alongside a grassroots organization called Voces de la Frontera and provided adult advising and mentoring for its youth arm, Youth Empowered in the Struggle. Union members also joined picket lines in spring 2012 in support of striking Palermo’s pizza factory workers. These are not actions that seem directly related to education. For MTEA teachers, addressing such stressors as legal status, support in the community, and economic insecurity is critical to student success. “We are really trying to change the narrative in the community,” he says, “from ‘teacher unions just defend bad teachers’ to a narrative where we are seen as the go-to people when it comes to public education.”

In the schools, the union’s focus is on making clear how, in Peterson’s words, “our teaching conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” The union’s negotiating team recently won a 50 percent increase in paid class preparation time for MTEA teachers, allowing the teachers to accommodate the more complex curriculum material that will boost their students’ achievement.

A final leg of the union’s efforts, Peterson argues, is to “reclaim our profession in our classrooms.” Teachers “should be child-driven and data-informed,” Peterson says, using a broad set of data to measure the success of the whole child, rather than measuring learning strictly with standardized tests. In one example, the union lent its voice to the effort to overhaul Milwaukee’s ailing early childhood education system and convened a joint task force with school officials to lay the groundwork for improvements in the city’s pre-K through third-grade programs. Recognizing the strong evidence that improved early childhood teaching makes for improved long-term outcomes for all kids, the union has assigned early childhood education experts to the task force.

Weaving Schools into the Fabric of the Community