Archive | June 2015

The Achievement Gap in Wisconsin is the Worst in the Nation for African-American Children

achievment gap

In March 2014, a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that black children face enormous barriers to educational achievement in Wisconsin; in fact, the report classified the state as the worst in the nation for African-American children generally.

The Capital Times’ Editorial Board Agrees: Pope Francis Right to Ring Alarm Bells on Climate Change

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Madison Capital Newspaper’s Editorial Board of The Capital Times endorsed Pope Francis’ June 18 Encyclical on Climate Change last week, citing the pope’s recommendation for “cultural revolution” to correct what the pope also said is a “structurally perverse” economic system, exploiting the poor to benefit the rich, turning Earth into an “immense pile of filth”, the pope said.

The following appeared verbatim in The Cap Times’ newspaper and on Madison .com on June 24, 2015 as an opinion and commentary of The Cap Time’s Editorial Board:

Pope Francis is Absolutely Right about Climate Change

“I would like to enter a dialogue with all people about our common home,” writes Pope Francis in the remarkable encyclical on climate change that he has addressed to “every person living on this planet.”

The pope will bring that dialogue to the United States in September and, to our view, he cannot arrive soon enough. Francis is adding to the debate about environmental challenges and responses a sense of urgency that has, for the most part, been missing from the discussions of climate change among the political and economic elites in the United States.

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” explains the Catholic leader, who argues that the scientific and practical proof of global warming is as undeniable as it is unsettling.

“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” Francis argues. “In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.”

The pope’s message must be heard in the United States — especially in Washington, especially on Wall Street — as it challenges the superstitions and fantastical thinking of those who still try to deny the human role in creating climate change. And in addressing the crisis.

Some of the deniers are so out of touch with reality that they do not understand what the pope is talking about. Rick Santorum, a clueless conservative who is waging another doomed-to-fail campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, rejected the new encyclical with a bizarre announcement that the pope should “leave science to the scientists.”

Santorum has company in the reality-free zone. A supposedly more serious contender for the Republican nomination, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who like Santorum is Catholic, says, “I don’t get economic policies from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”

Bush’s fellow front-runner for the Republican presidential nod, Scott Walker, has what Mother Jones magazine refers to as an “inglorious history of anti-environmentalism” in Wisconsin, where the governor recently refused to join a chorus of objection to a move by the Republican-controlled state Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to bar its staffers from engaging in official discussions about climate change. (No thanks to Walker, that idiotic policy was subsequently changed.) And when Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing group funded by the Koch brothers, asked politicians to sign a document devised to restrict government action to address climate change, Walker signed the pledge “to oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”

The ignorance revealed in the statements and actions of political careerists like Santorum, Bush and Walker is such that they may be beyond redemption — at least as regards the climate change debate. They do not seem to understand that the pope is relying on science; Janos Pasztor, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for climate change, says of the pope’s stance: “We have a situation in which science and religion are totally aligned.” Nor do they seem to understand that Francis is not taking a political stand; he is making a moral statement that recognizes an environmental and social circumstance that is denied only by those who persist in placing politics above the facts.

“We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental,” writes Francis.

That crisis is “aggravated,” the pope explains, “by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.” But it is made worse by indifference of political and economic elites to the condition of those who are already being harmed by climate change, especially the poor who cannot retreat from the disasters that are already playing out and that will grow worse without a radical change of course.

Instead of recognizing that the poor will be the first and the most harmed victims of the environmental catastrophe that is in the making, corporate-aligned political and economic elites in the United States are so neglectful that, the pope writes, “when all is said and done, (the poor) frequently remain on the bottom of the pile.”

Ultimately, of course, we will all be on the bottom of the pile — unless our political and economic responses to climate charge are altered.

Polling shows that, despite massive misinformation campaigns financed by fossil-fuel companies and self-interested billionaires, the American people are beginning to recognize this reality. According to CNN, more than 70 percent of Americans believe the planet is growing warmer, while roughly half now attribute that warming to human causes.

The politicians may resist for a bit longer, but the people are ready for honest leadership on the environmental and economic issues that are arising in an age of considerable climate change. They are ready to ask, as Pope Francis does, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” They are ready for the insight that says, again as the pope does, “The question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal.”

What the pope proposes is more than mere awareness, however.

Francis seeks action — a “bold cultural revolution” that “(rejects) a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that the problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.”

The pope is absolutely right when he argues that the “invisible forces of the market” will not steer us out of the ditch into which market fundamentalists have steered the planet and its people. But enlightened thinking about the environment along with new approaches to the economy will. This is the promise, and the possibility, that Pope Francis will bring to the United States.

Thousands More Heat Deaths from Record Heat Wave in Pakistan on top of Neighboring India’s nearly 2,200 heat deaths.

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Unclaimed heatwave victims in Karachi on June 26, 2015.

Hot and humid weather came to Karachi Pakistan just weeks after torrid temperatures caused nearly 2,200 deaths in neighboring India, raising fears that South Asia could be seeing some of the devastating effects of human-caused climate change, the Associated Press reported. The worst of the heat peaked Saturday, when the high temperature hit 112.6 degrees in Karachi; the heat index topping out at a dangerously high 121 degrees.

“The deadly heat wave that has killed several hundred people in Karachi, Pakistan, is clearly a harbinger of things to come with the changing climate,” Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh and a prominent climate scientist, told the Associated Press earlier this week.

The death toll in Pakistan’s deadliest heat wave on record now topped 1,100, causing morgues to overflow, Reuters reported Friday.

“By Friday, at least 1,150 people have died in the government-run hospitals,” said Anwar Kazmi of the Edhi Foundation, a private charity that runs a network of ambulances and morgues.

The New York Times reported the heat wave has sent more than 14,000 people into government and private hospitals in Karachi, the nation’s largest city.

The hot weather comes just weeks after torrid temperatures caused nearly 2,200 deaths in neighboring India, raising fears that South Asia could be seeing some of the devastating effects of human-caused climate change, the Associated Press reported.

Pakistan’s previous deadliest heat wave was in 1991, when 523 people died, EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, reported.

The worst of the heat peaked Saturday, when the high temperature hit 112.6 degrees in Karachi; the heat index topping out at a dangerously high 121 degrees.

“Since the monsoon has been slower to get into northwestern India, Karachi has been tremendously dry with intense heat,” stated AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani.

Cooling monsoon rains are likely to arrive in Pakistan by mid-July, which should mean the region won’t see any more temperatures this summer as high as were recorded last weekend, meteorologist Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground said.

The Pakistan heat wave will join this year’s heat wave in India as one of the 10 deadliest in world history.

“The deadly heat wave that has killed several hundred people in Karachi, Pakistan, is clearly a harbinger of things to come with the changing climate,” Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh and a prominent climate scientist, told the Associated Press earlier this week.

“Even if this particular event cannot be unequivocally attributed to human-induced climate change, we can certainly expect such heat waves with greater frequency in future,” he said.

There is widespread scientific consensus that climate change generally makes extreme weather events such as flooding, droughts, and heat waves much more frequent and more intense.

A major report this week from The Lancet finds that climate change significantly increases the fatal risks of these types of events. The report, which was backed by the World Health Organization, diagnosed climate change as “a medical emergency” with the power to undo 50 years of progress in global health. In a landmark document released last week, Pope Francis aimed to focus the world’s attention on the matter of how climate change impacts the poor. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” he wrote. According to NOAA and NASA, this year is on track to supplant last year as the warmest year on record.

Republican Brewhaha on Wisconsin Highway Funding Symptomatic of Larger Problem

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposed borrowing plan for highway construction the next two years has finally hit the skids! GOP lawmakers said as much in a letter to the governor yesterday. Not only is the governor’s proposed $1.3 billion transportation borrowing plan too high, said the 33 Assembly Republicans who signed the letter, but also any reduction to $800 million must include reductions in the massive Milwaukee area freeway projects already under construction.

The Republicans lawmakers, who are in the majority in both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature, are negotiating among themselves over the reduction in bonding to $800 million according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website Monday.

Allthingsenvironmental emailed the Republican dominated Joint Finance way last March after the governor’s proposed biennial budget for 2015-17 hit the streets sending them the following message:

Bad things can happen to good people. It happens all the time, and has occurred all throughout history. So when bad things, or threats, are predicted to occur or seem reasonably likely to occur, it’s best for one to take action, and involve others in removing the oncoming threat, before it gets realized and significant damage to life and our environment occurs.
Governor Walker’s biennial budget plan for Wisconsin for the next two years contains numerous threats to the people of Wisconsin and the state of Wisconsin’s natural resources. Some of those threats could have devastating and harmful impacts if they are allowed to occur without any attempts to prevent or ameliorate them.
Governor Walker’s budget plan as written will cause a great deal of harm for many thousands of Wisconsin’s people and their families. Some people who have worked their entire life at University of Wisconsin or UW-extension will likely lose their jobs, and the public who those people serve will lose out as well. Wisconsin’s elderly and disabled population, and families having children enrolled in Wisconsin’s excellent public school system will also suffer loses. Many hard working and dedicated school teachers and educational assistants serving special needs children will be without a job next fall if this budget is not revamped.
The governor’s budget also hurts those who watch over and protect our precious natural resources, both now and in the coming years, by cutting positions and land stewardship funds.
But really the worst thing about the governor’s budget is not what’s in it but rather what’s NOT IN IT BUT SHOULD IN IT. For example, despite Wisconsin’s aging population and increasing number of people who prefer not to drive, or who can’t drive because of the high cost of owning, maintaining and driving an automobile, the Walker budget proposes nothing new to help with mobility in the state, transit in particular. Rather, it borrows hundreds of millions of dollars to expand an already too large highway system at great environmental harm to the state, and for no good reason.
Numerous observations demonstrate that the climate of the Great Lakes Region, including Wisconsin’s climate, is changing. Average temperatures are getting warmer and extreme heat events are occurring more frequently. Total precipitation is increasing and heavy precipitation events are becoming more common. Winters are getting shorter and the duration of lake ice cover is decreasing over time. As a state, we should already be doing as much as we can to drastically cut back on our burning of fossil fuels but we seem to be doing almost the opposite. This tragedy grows in magnitude the longer it takes for our country and other countries to wean themselves off burning fossil fuels. There are many other unintended consequences of living in a fossil fuel burning dependent society.
But ironically, rather than then increasing substantially the funding of transit systems and the funding of positive financial incentive programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encourage walking and use of nonmotorized travel by state residents and businesses, the governor’s budget promotes more highway expansion.  Instead, the state should reward those who drive less (miles), don’t fly, and minimizing their use of fossil fuel derived energy over the year. Use the money that Governor Walker’s budget borrows to fund a bigger highway system and a big new professional basketball arena instead – expenditures that not only subject state taxpayer to great financial risks but also promote adding millions more tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere including promoting jet airplanes flying of visiting teams and fans to the games.
Wisconsin Public Radio (part of state’s UW-extension) plans vacationing trips to Scotland and Australia, trips that not only release hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere but also give nothing back to the state’s own tourism businesses.
Governor Walker’s budgets include more trade promotions with foreign countries despite the fact that shipping products and working with foreign business interests similarly add millions and millions more tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
My plan would increase Wisconsin families’ and individuals’ annual income for polluting less and reducing the global warming threat, rather than adding to it.
Governor Walker’s plan is to require a monthly drug test of food share (too low to begin with) recipients and proof of their having worked at least 80 hours at a place of employment before their receiving the meager food share benefits. It would do nothing to curb the rising income and employment inequalities and racial disparities in the state. The numbers of families and children living in poverty already will not be helped by Governor Walker’s budget. It is a fact that children of families living in poverty start their lives with a handicap because of many reason but the worst is that they do not receive adequate nutrition before and after they enter their school years. The governor’s budget insufficiently funds Wisconsin public schools and the families that live in poverty are disadvantaged in those schools from day one. Yet the governor’s budget does nothing to make up for previous cuts to public schools and add more financial stress for them by requiring them to pay vouchers for children attending private schools.
The budget should also refund the planned parenthood clinics the state had before Scott Walker took office. Certainly we ought not be adding to our human population pressures on the environment if we don’t have to.
Thank for the opportunity to submit my comments on the proposed state budget. For addition background on my concerns expressed here, please visit my blog at: www.allthingsenvironmental.com.

So it’s not just the governor’s highway plan part of the 2-year budget that’s unsustainable. It’s virtually everything Scott Walker has done as governor, starting January 2010 with his Act 10 that destroyed collective bargaining in public employee unions, having appeared out of the blue.

Meanwhile, as probable presidential candidate Scot Walker heads his way to yet another Wisconsin taxpayer funded speaking engagement, this time in California, the brewhaha simmering among his fellow Republicans is beginning to reach the boiling point. One has to wonder how many frequent flyer miles the governor and his security people have racked up over the past 5 years? A lot? Yes, but undoubtedly not even close to the millions of tons of greenhouse gases his jets, autos and motorcycles have emitted to the atmosphere for the next generation to be burdened with.

Pope Calls for Swift Actions to Save the Planet from Environmental Ruin

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“The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophe”.
Pope Francis, June 18, 2015

In his long-awaited encyclical on the environment and climate change publicly released last week, Pope Francis called for swift action to save the planet from environmental ruin, urging world leaders to hear “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” He called for a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a “throwaway” consumer culture, and an end to “obstructionist attitudes” that sometimes put profit before the common good. Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical “imperative” for believers and nonbelievers alike that should supersede political and economic interests.

A major theme of the encyclical is the disparity between rich and poor. “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet,” he said.

“Our house is going to ruin, and that harms everyone, especially the poorest. Mine is therefore an appeal for responsibility, based on the task that God has given to man in creation: “till and keep the garden” in which he was placed. I invite everyone to accept with open hearts this document, which follows the church’s social doctrine”, the pope said.

In a transcript of the pope’s encyclical on the DemocracyNow.org website, Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical imperative, for believers and nonbelievers alike, that should supersede political and economic interests. He also dismissed those who argue that technology will solve all environmental problems and that global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth.

A major theme of the encyclical is the disparity between rich and poor. “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, we destroy the planet.”

Climate change is already happening, and its effects have already been disastrous on the poorest countries and the poorest people, who don’t have the means to defend themselves from it. They are also part of the human population who have the least responsibility for what is happening, being that they consume less fossil fuels.

Author Naomi Klein said on Democracy Now Thursday that “this encyclical, we can’t overstate the importance of it, the impact that it will have. It’s hard to respond to a document that runs close to 200 pages, when it was just released in non-draft form a few hours ago. We’re all still digesting it, Amy. But it is very clear that a door has just been opened, and a gust of wind is blowing through, where it is now possible to say some very powerful truths about the real implications of climate change, really the root causes.”

“And I think a lot of the discussion about the encyclical in the U.S. media cycle has focused and will continue to focus on the impact on Republicans and on climate deniers, many of whom are Catholic. And it is certainly a challenge to that demographic in the United States, because the pope is coming out so clearly on the side of climate science in saying this is real and this is happening. But I think that it’s too easy to say that this is just a challenge to Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush. Frankly, it is also a challenge to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and to large parts of the green movement, because it is a rebuke of slow action. It very specifically says that climate denial is not just about denying the science, it’s also about denying the urgency of the science. The document is very strong in condemning delays, half-measures, so-called market solutions. It very specifically criticizes carbon markets, the carbon offsetting, as an inadequate measure that will encourage speculation and rampant consumption.

“And I think probably the most significant part of it, the big picture, is the foregrounding of the culture of frenetic consumption in the wealthy world and among the wealthy. And this is really significant, because I think large parts of the climate change discussion tries to have it all ways and say, “No, we’ll just have green growth. We’ll just have—we’ll consume green products.” And, you know, this goes a lot deeper than that and says, no, we need to get at the underlying values that are feeding this culture of frenetic consumption that is entirely unsustainable.”

In the encyclical, the pope states that: “In a corrupt culture, we can’t believe that laws will be enough to change behaviors that affect the environment.” Naomi Kline responds: Well, I think, when he’s referring to corruption, I believe he’s referring to the influence of polluting companies, of multinational corporations, which he also goes after in the encyclical. And I think this is one of the most significant things about the document. One might expect of a religious document about climate change to erase difference, right? to say, “Well, we’re all in this together,” and certainly it talks about the Earth as our common home. But it also recognizes explicitly the power dynamics in capitalism, which is to say that there are forces within the system that are actively working against change. And that is probably what he’s referring to when he’s talking about how there may be laws, but the laws aren’t enforced. And, you know, indeed the laws are also inadequate, which is also addressed in the document, and it has some very specific calls for another level of environmental law, which is a part of the document that I haven’t been able to look at, you know, closely enough.

And another thing I have to say is, you know, I am—I have accepted this invitation to speak at a conference which is about digging more deeply into the document, because there’s an understanding that it does take time to digest a document of this length, this multilayered, and it requires that kind of deeper analysis. And I think that this intervention, five months ahead of U.N. climate conference in Paris, is tremendously significant. It’s going to push political leaders to go further. It’s going to be a tool for social movements.

A lot of the language of the climate justice movement has just been adopted by the pope—I mean, even of phrases like “ecological debt.” The pope is talking about the debt that the wealthy world owes to the poor. I mean, this is a framing that comes originally from Ecuador, from the movement against drilling in the Amazon. And, you know, this is a phrase that was never heard in mainstream circles until just now, actually. I mean, I’ve never seen such a mainstream use of that term.

So, it is very important in that way. But, I mean, I have to say, on a personal level, that as thrilled as I am that the Vatican is leading in this way and that this pope is leading in this way and bringing together the fight against poverty with the fight to act on climate change, that doesn’t mean that there’s a complete merger between the climate justice movement and the Vatican here. I mean, obviously there are huge differences that remain over issues like marriage equality, reproductive rights and freedom, to name just a few.”

Nathan Schneider, columnist with the Catholic weekly, America, who has been covering Catholic engagement with climate change, talks about what the encyclical means for the Catholic community and the number of languages it’s been released in and how large the document is: “Well, this is really the first Third World encyclical. You know, this is coming from a pope who was shaped in really significant ways by economic crises during the Cold War in Argentina and being in the middle of a battleground between the First and Second World powers. It was drafted by a cardinal from Ghana. So this is coming from the side of the world that we don’t normally hear from. And it’s very much in line with things that popes have been saying for decades, you know, going back to Paul VI, then John Paul II, Benedict XVI. So, a lot of the content is actually not so new for Catholics, but the emphasis and that—the language of climate debt, the language—the recognition that there is a divide here between the rich countries and the poor. And this is a cry from the developing world, from what has been labeled the Third World, for change.”

“The pope is calling here for us to change how we live, how we—what we do with our resources. You know, this is not just moving from one kind of consumerism to another. This is a kind of spiritual renewal and also a material renewal, that—in which we turn ourselves toward an economy that’s sustainable, that’s life-giving, both for humanity and the rest of the world.”

Source: Democracynow.org

Dolphins Dying by the Thousands as a Result of 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

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The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. Following the event through 2012, more than a thousand dolphins washed up dead along the Gulf, in three major strandings. That’s four to five times higher than the region’s usual rate of dolphin deaths.

“We found that dolphins dying after the oil spill had distinct adrenal gland and lung lesions that were not present in the stranded dolphins from other areas.”

Kathleen Colegrove of the University of Illinois was the lead veterinary pathologist of the latest in a series of studies analyzing the die-off. She and her study co-authors took part in a telephone press conference on May 20th.

“Now, surprisingly, one in three dolphins that stranded in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had a thin adrenal gland cortex. And when looking at just the Barataria Bay dolphins, half of them had this lesion.”

Barataria Bay got an especially high dose of oil.

“This prevalence was significantly higher than in the reference population, in which less than one in 10 had this lesion. Now, this thinning of the adrenal gland cortex was a very unusual abnormality for us, that has not been previously reported in dolphins in the literature…now, aside from chemical exposure, conditions that can cause the adrenal gland to become thin include things like cancer, autoimmune disease, fungal infections and tuberculosis. And we did not find any evidence of these alternative causes in the dolphins.

“Now, in addition many dolphins dying after the oil spill again in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had evidence of significant lung disease…in fact, these dolphins had some of the most severe lung lesions I have ever seen in wild dolphins from throughout the U.S.”

The study is in the journal PLoS ONE. [Stephanie Venn-Watson et al, Adrenal Gland and Lung Lesions in Gulf of Mexico Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Found Dead following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill]

BP disputes the link between the dolphins and the oil spill. But the study’s lead author, Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation contends:

“The evidence to date indicates that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and associated compounds caused the adrenal and lung lesions which contributed to the increased deaths as part of this unusual mortality event.”

story by Steve Mirsky

Baking in Alaska: Anchorage is hotter than Los Angeles

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Temperatures in Alaska’s biggest city hit 83 degrees on Monday and Tuesday, records for both calendar days and just two degrees shy of the June record set in 1969. Temperatures could again hit 80 on Wednesday. In Los Angeles, temperatures on Monday and Tuesday didn’t crack 80.

The normal high for Anchorage is just 63 degrees, as measured between 1981 and 2010, according to the National Weather Service.

Despite this heat wave, cooler-than-normal temperatures in the first 10 days of the month means it probably won’t go down as one of the hottest Junes on record for much of the state. Contributing to the warmer weather in recent years have been sea surface temperatures far above normal as well as earlier melting of winter ice.

Alaska glaciers sending 75 billion tons of water into sea each year.