U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: May 24, 2015

Charles McQuillan / Getty Images


1.Ireland legalizes same-sex marriage by popular vote
Irish voters overwhelmingly said “yes” to same-sex marriage on Saturday, with 62.1 percent in support of amending the constitution to legalize gay marriage. The results make Ireland the first nation in the world to legalize gay marriage with a popular vote. John Lyons, one of just four openly gay members of the country’s 166-member parliament, credited young voters with shifting Ireland’s historically conservative constitution in a more liberal direction. “This says something about modern Ireland,” Lyons said. “Let’s never underestimate the electorate or what they think.”

Source: The Washington Post

2.Cleveland cop acquitted in 2012 killing of unarmed black couple
An Ohio judge on Saturday acquitted a white Cleveland police officer in the 2012 killing of two unarmed black people following a high-speed chase. Officer Michael Brelo was one of more than a dozen officers who fired 137 rounds into the vehicle — Brelo himself fired at least 15 times through the windshield after climbing onto the car’s hood — after receiving reports of gunfire during a 20-mile chase. The shooting left driver Timothy Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams, dead. However, Judge John P. O’Donnell ruled prosecutors did not “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that Brelo fired the fatal shots and “knowingly caused the deaths.” Protesters likening the deaths to other recent police killings of unarmed black people took to the streets of Cleveland following the verdict for nonviolent demonstrations.

Source: The New York Times

3.ISIS kills at least 400 in captured Syrian city
The Islamic State has killed at least 400 people — most of them women and children — since taking control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, according to state television. ISIS seized control of Palmyra last week, and reports suggested the militant group was sweeping through the city and leaving behind a trail of decapitated bodies. The city’s capture raised fears ISIS would soon destroy and loot Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old ruins.

Source: Reuters, The Guardian

4.Gloria Steinem leads activists across Korean border
An international coalition of female activists led by feminist Gloria Steinem on Sunday crossed the highly militarized border between North and South Korea in an effort to spotlight the need for reconciliation between the two nations. The group, WomenCrossDMZ, consisted of about 30 participants including Steinem and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire and Leymah Gbowee. “We feel very celebratory and positive that we have created a voyage across the DMZ in peace and reconciliation that was said to be impossible,” Steinem said.

Source: CNN

5.Flooding forces evacuations in Texas, Oklahoma
At least one person died and dozens of states of emergency were declared following widespread flooding across Oklahoma and Texas over the weekend. A firefighter in Claremore, Oklahoma, died while trying to rescue a colleague who became trapped in a storm drain, though the trapped firefighter was able to make it out safely. Flooding in the region forced more than 1,000 evacuations, with officials warning that even more rain on Sunday could trigger potentially “historic” flooding.

Source: USA Today, NBC

6.Burundi opposition leader killed in drive-by
The leader of a Burundian opposition party on Saturday was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in the capital of Bujumbura. Zedi Feruzi, the leader of the party Union for Peace and Development-Zigamibanga, and a bodyguard were shot dead by unidentified gunmen, just one day after a grenade attack killed at least two civilians in the same city. Burundi has been rocked by unrest — including a failed coup — for weeks since President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would run for a third term.

Source: Al Jazeera

7.Malaysia uncovers mass graves of suspected migrants
Malaysia has uncovered around 30 mass graves believed to hold the bodies of hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh. The graves were discovered near the border with Thailand along a route typically used for human smuggling. Malaysian Home Minister Zahid Hamidi told reporters authorities were working to verify the remains, adding that police also discovered 17 abandoned camps they believe smugglers used.

Source: BBC

8.Warriors rout Rockets, move one game from NBA Finals
The Golden State Warriors on Saturday trounced the Houston Rockets 115-80 to take a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals and move within one win of the championship round. Along the way, guard Stephen Curry set an NBA record by nailing his 59th three-pointer of the postseason to move one ahead of Reggie Miller’s former all-time mark of 58 triples in one postseason. On the other side of the playoff bracket, the Cleveland Cavaliers will on Sunday host the Atlanta Hawks with a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead in that series.

Source: Yahoo Sports

9. Indy 500 gets underway Sunday
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing is set to get underway Sunday with the 99th annual Indianapolis 500. A field of 33 drivers, led by New Zealander and race favorite Scott Dixon, will zip around 200 laps for a total of 500 miles. The race’s qualifying was marred by a handful of violent crashes, though there were no fatalities.

Source: Sports Illustrated

10.Olsen twins won’t return for Full House reboot
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will not take part in Netflix’s ballyhooed reboot of the classic sitcom Full House. Known for taking turns in the role of Michelle Tanner, the youngest daughter in the titular house, the Olsens will sit out Fuller House to focus on their careers outside acting, a rep for the twins told Variety. “It has been exciting to see how they have built their professional careers, and I support their choice to focus on their fashion brands and various business endeavors,” executive producer Robert L. Boyett said, adding that the two “are still very much considered family.”

Source: Variety

U.S. Politics


Rainbows Are Forming Over Ireland After The Same-Sex Marriage Vote ~ BuzzFeed


U.S. Politics

Gay Marriage Appears Headed for Approval in Ireland


When Same-Sex Marriages Became Legal

About 20 countries have already legalized same-sex marriages. Here is a list of when each did.

DUBLIN Ireland appeared poised on Saturday to become the world’s first nation to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote, with early vote counts showing strong and broad support for a measure that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago in what traditionally had been a Roman Catholic stronghold.

Not long after counting began at Dublin Castle, a government complex that was once the epicenter of British rule, the leader of the opposition, David Quinn, the director of the Iona Institute, conceded the outcome in a tweet: “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done.”

Both proponents and opponents said the only remaining question was the size of the victory for approval. Ronan Mullen, an Irish senator and one of only a few politicians to oppose the measure, predicted the win would be “substantial.” The official results will be announced this afternoon.

The referendum changes Ireland’s Constitution so that marriages between two people would be legal “without distinction as to their sex.”

That the vote even came to pass barely two decades after Ireland decriminalized homosexuality, accentuated the cultural change afoot and the church’s declining influence after a series of scandals. But the vote is also the latest chapter in a sharpening global cultural clash. While marriage equality is surging in the West, gay rights are under renewed attack in Russia, in parts of Africa, and from Islamic extremists, most notably the Islamic State.

Though 84 percent of the Irish are Catholic, church attendance has faded, and the once-lockstep solidarity with church teachings has eroded, a result of rising secularism and reaction to the pedophile scandals that have rocked the church.

Continue reading here

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: June 11, 2014

A stunning defeat. 
A stunning defeat. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The Week

Eric Cantor suffers a stunning primary defeat, insurgents take over Iraq’s No. 2 city, and more

1. Tea Party-backed challenger upsets Eric Cantor in GOP primary
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suffered a stunning primary defeat Tuesday at the hands of David Brat, a Tea Party-backed economics professor. Brat defeated the No. 2 House Republican soundly after criticizing him for not being conservative enough. Brat also called Cantor soft on immigration. The upset was one of the biggest yet in the battle for control of the Republican Party. [The New York Times]


2. Iraq’s second largest city falls to insurgents
Al Qaeda-linked insurgents took over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, on Tuesday, marking a major setback two years after U.S. troops left the country. A half million people fled the city after a five-day outbreak of violence in oil-rich northern Iraq increased fears that the military was caving to the insurgents. White House spokesman Josh Earnest condemned the violence, calling the situation “extremely serious.” [Fox News]


3. Student dies in Oregon school shooting
A teen with a rifle entered Reynolds High school in suburban Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday and opened fire, killing a student — Emilio Hoffman, 14 — and injuring a teacher. The gunman was killed, too, police said. It appeared that he shot himself, although police did not confirm it. The group Everytown for Gun Safety said the shooting was the 74th incident involving guns since the deadly 2012 Newtown, Conn., rampage. [Los Angeles TimesThe Oregonian]


4. Obama calls for “soul-searching” over gun violence
President Obama on Tuesday said that Americans “should be ashamed” that even the mildest restrictions on guns can’t pass Congress despite the nation’s “off the charts” gun violence. The comments came after a flurry of high-profile shootings, including the murder of two Las Vegas police officers and a civilian on Monday, and a Portland school shooting on Tuesday. “The country has to do some soul-searching about this,” Obama said. [BBC News]


5. California court throws out rules on public school teacher tenure
A Los Angeles County judge on Tuesday struck down California rules on tenure for teachers. The plaintiffs argued that the rules made it too hard to fire ineffective public school teachers. Judge Rolf Treu concluded that tenure did have a negative effect on the education of children, primarily black and Latino students, saying it violated “students’ fundamental right to equality of education” under the state’s constitution. [The Christian Science Monitor]


6. VA scandal sparks rare bipartisanship in Congress
The scandal surrounding Veterans Affairs health-care waiting lists appears to have brought bitterly divided Republicans and Democrats together. After an audit released this week revealed that the problem was worse than previously believed, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and left-leaning-independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) quickly found common ground on a proposal to give rural veterans vouchers to see private doctors if VA physicians can’t see them promptly. [Arizona Republic]


7. FAA approves first commercial drone flights over land
The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that it had granted permission for the first commercial drone flights over U.S. soil. The FAA authorized oil giant BP and drone-maker AeroVironment to use a hand-launched Puma drone to survey pipelines and other facilities in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. The first flight was Sunday. The approval marked the FAA’s latest attempt to loosen restrictions on unmanned aircraft. [The Washington Post]


8. Ireland launches investigation of mass grave at home for unwed mothers
Ireland’s government announced on Tuesday that it would investigate high mortality rates and evidence of abuse at homes for unmarried mothers decades ago. Researcher Catherine Corless concluded recently that 796 children, most of them infants, had died of malnutrition, pneumonia, and other causes at a home run by a Catholic religious order between 1925 and 1962. The babies were buried in an unused septic tank. [The Associated Press]


9. Ted Cruz formally ditches Canadian citizenship
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has received notice from Canada, the country of his birth, that hisrenunciation of his Canadian citizenship has officially taken effect. Cruz’s American mother and Cuban father, who later gained U.S. citizenship, lived in Alberta when he was born, giving him dual citizenship. Cruz is a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and the move could preempt questions about his eligibility. [The Dallas Morning News]


10. Women’s moles might hint at breast cancer risk
The number of moles a woman has on her skin might be an indicator of breast cancer risk, according to two new studies. American and French scientists have found that women with more moles are at higher risk — 35 percent higher than women with no moles, one study found, if they have 15 or more moles on a single arm. Still, researchers say more research is necessary to explain the link. [CBS News]


Education in the U.S

U.S. adults lag behind counterparts overseas in skills

Factory town
Tesla workers cheer on the first Tesla Model S cars sold during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., in 2012. The high-tech electric cars sell for more than $60,000 each. American workers sometimes lag behind their foreign counterparts in certain basic skills such as math and problem-solving.
(Photo: Paul Sakuma, AP)


No surprise here.  The Obama administration has tried to carry out programs like the National Core Standard.  Resistance from the far right has limited the program to most states but Texas and Arkansas are adamantly against the program.   Many other states run by Republican governors have also limited the program dramatically.

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. 

U.S.A. Today

Americans trail adults in other countries in math, literacy, problem-solving.

Americans have been hearing for years that their kids are lagging behind the rest of the developed world in skills. Now it’s the adults’ turn for a reality check.

A first-ever international comparison of the labor force in 23 industrialized nations shows that Americans ages 16 to 65 fall below international averages in basic problem-solving, reading and math skills, with gaps between the more- and less-educated in the USA larger than those of many other countries.

The findings, out Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Education, could add new urgency to U.S. schools’ efforts to help students compete globally.

The new test was given to about 5,000 Americans between August 2011 and April 2012. The results show that the typical American’s literacy score falls below the international average, with adults in 12 countries scoring higher and only five (Poland, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy) scoring lower. In math, 18 countries scored higher, with only two (Italy and Spain) scoring lower. In both cases, several countries’ scores were statistically even with the USA.

States like Arkansas and Texas have consistently refused government initiatives to improve the education process in the United States.  Far Right-Wing politicians are adamantly opposed to these initiatives.  Hence, we are far below standard when  compared to other nations.  This has to change…

The new test was given to about 5,000 Americans between August 2011 and April 2012. The results show that the typical American’s literacy score falls below the international average, with adults in 12 countries scoring higher and only five (Poland, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy) scoring lower. In math, 18 countries scored higher, with only two (Italy and Spain) scoring lower. In both cases, several countries’ scores were statistically even with the USA.

TEST YOURSELF: Could you solve these problems?

The oldest Americans in the sample turned in a higher-than-average performance in reading, with 9% of test-takers between 55 and 65 years old scoring at the top proficiency level, compared to just 5% worldwide. In math, however, they were even with the 7% international average.

The problem, the new findings suggest, is with younger U.S. workers, who lag in nearly every category.

The results are “quite distressing,” says Harvard University’s Paul Peterson, co-author of Endangering Prosperity, a recent book on education and international competitiveness. “Other countries have been catching up for some time,” he says. “At one time, we had a really significant lead, but those people are disappearing from the workforce.”

“Adults who have trouble reading, doing math, solving problems and using technology will find the doors of the 21st century workforce closed to them,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan says. “We need to find ways to challenge and reach more adults to upgrade their skills.”

Other findings:

• Average literacy scores ranged from 250 in Italy to 296 in Japan. The U.S. average: 270.

• Average math scores ranged from 246 in Spain to 288 in Japan. The U.S. average: 253.

• Only 9% of U.S. adults performed at the highest proficiency level on math. Just three countries — South Korea, Italy and Spain — had a lower average.

• Overall, about one in eight Americans turned in a top performance in reading — seven countries had a higher percentage of top performers. In math, 15 countries had more top performers.

What brought the U.S. average down was a larger-than-average gap in skills between groups, such as those with or without a college degree, and between workers whose jobs do or don’t require advanced math and reading skills.

While those gaps may not show up immediately in productivity totals, Peterson says, in time they’ll have an effect. “There’s a 20-year delay between the quality of the educational system and its impact,” he says. “It’s sort of like watching a car crash in slow motion.”


Economy · Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman: We’re In Big Trouble If Romney Elected

I believe that Nobel Prize winner for economics, Paul Krugman has been right since the beginning of the Obama administration regarding this country’s path toward economic recovery.

At that time, Krugman warned Obama in an editorial, that his stimulus was too small and would only slow down the country’s economic comeback.  As it turned out, he was right and he’s right about the country being in trouble if Romney is elected.

The Huffington Post

If Mitt Romney is elected president, the U.S. will experience an economic disaster the likes of which have been recently seen in Ireland, according to Paul Krugman.

“Ireland is Romney economics in practice,” the Nobel-Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist said on the Colbert Report on Monday. “I think Ireland is America’s future if Romney is president.” (h/t Politico.)

“They’ve laid off a large fraction of their public workforce, they’ve slashed spending, they’ve had extreme austerity programs, they haven’t really raised taxes on corporations or the rich at all, they have 14 percent unemployment, 30 percent youth unemployment, zero economic growth,” Krugman said.

Romney, the likely Republican nominee for president, recently suggested that the government should lay off more firemen, policemen, and teachers, according to CNN.Romney’s campaign website says that if elected president, Romney would aim to slash federal spending at least 18 percent by the end of his first term.

Conservatives like Romney loved Ireland’s economic program before the country fell into a depression, in part because it had “the lowest corporate tax rates,” Krugman said on the Colbert ReportIreland fell into recession again at the end of last year.

After Krugman finished his criticism of Romney’s economic plan, there was a pause as Colbert tried to think of a good retort. “Well the Irish can handle it, OK? The Irish do very well in bleak, depressing times,” Colbert said. “They’ve got those jigs and everything that they do.”

Obama Ireland Trip · President Barack Obama · President Obama

Salon: Our first Black Irish president

It’s true, our first Black President has Irish ancestry in his bloodline.

Joan Walsh of Salon continues…

Obama’s warm words about his Irish family could help him politically at home

The cynical may dismiss it as just another campaign stop, but I found myself unexpectedly moved by President Obama’s visit to Dublin — the overwhelming adulation from the Irish as well as the president’s warm speech, claiming his own Irish heritage and praising the bonds between the two countries.

He introduced himself as “Barack Obama of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way.” He joked about wishing he’d known of his Irish ancestry as a young politician in Irish Chicago, where he wound up bringing up the rear at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, just in front of the garbage brigade. He praised the role of Irish American soldiers in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. And he spoke personally, and movingly, about his grandfather’s grandfather Falmouth Kearny, who left tiny Moneygall during “The Great Hunger” — the more common Irish term for the Famine of 1847-48 — not only praising his courage but acknowledging how “heartbreaking” it must have been to leave Ireland. For the Irish who, generations later, still see themselves as exiles, it was a knowing nod to the only partly voluntary nature of their emigration.


Ground Zero Mosque · Islam · Islamophobia · Park 51 Islamic Center

Nicholas Kristof – “Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry”

Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times  recently wrote this:

Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it. (Throat clearing.) I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.

I’m inspired by another journalistic apology. The Portland Press Herald in Maine published an innocuous front-page article and photo a week ago about 3,000 local Muslims praying together to mark the end of Ramadan. Readers were upset, because publication coincided with the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and they deluged the paper with protests.

So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology for being too respectful of Muslims. “We sincerely apologize,” wrote the editor and publisher, Richard Connor, and he added: “we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.” As a blog by James Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: “Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human.”

I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page isn’t reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good Muslims going inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be “balanced” by a discussion of Muslim terrorists?

Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope Benedict’s trip to Britain be “balanced” by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland? And what about journalism itself?

I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to provide some “balance.” Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers and rapists. For example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide.

I apologize to Muslims for another reason. This isn’t about them, but about us. I want to defend Muslims from intolerance, but I also want to defend America against extremists engineering a spasm of religious hatred.

Continue reading…