29 Jan 2015

New study suggests Right-to-Work Law is doing more harm than good

As support for right-to-work laws seems to be dwindling in the state Legislature, a study by the Economic Policy Institute has found that states enforcing the laws have lower standards of living in comparison to Wisconsin.
The study compared different economic factors such as household income, median hourly wage and poverty rate, among others between Wisconsin and right-to-work states. Household income in Wisconsin is $55,285 and $49,220 in right-to-work states, which is a significant gap that suggests wages are lower and poverty rates higher in the latter.
Right-to-work is a provision that allows a person to be employed in a private sector firm without having to belong to a union and follow the union’s rules, Barry Burden, University of Wisconsin political science professor said.
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt said right-to-work laws are the wrong step for Wisconsin and that he agrees with the study’s findings. He said Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector and economic organizations are geared toward high performance levels and do not need right-to-work laws to govern them. Moreover, he said the study also highlights the decline in wages and benefits in right-to-work states, reducing the public’s overall income.
“Right-to-work laws affect the general public because more downward pressure is put on wages and benefits as a result and then everybody’s wages and benefits go in the wrong direction, making it a general economic issue,” Neuenfeldt said. 
According to the study, the right-to-work laws have also negatively affected the status of other social aspects such as infant mortality rates, teen pregnancy rates and violent crime rates, amongst others. Violent crime rates, for instance, are 370.5 per 100,000 people in right-to-work states in comparison to 237 per 100,000 people in Wisconsin.
Neuenfeldt said the lower incomes in right-to-work states, demonstrated in the study, have negative implications for such aspects of society.
“You want to have a system that offers a hand up for people to get out of poverty so that many of those other statistics start to decline, instead of incline like they do in right-to-work states,” Neuenfeldt said.
However, Burden said there might have been other state-specific factors involved that could have affected these aspects as well, and that it is difficult to generalize it to just the right-to-work laws.
Burden said Wisconsin has higher average levels of education and income than Alabama, which is a right-to-work state. He said while it may be due to the fact it is a right-to-work state, it is likely because each state has different demographics.

School Made 11-Year-Old Girls Pull Down Their Pants for Disgusting Inspection: "The district superintendent has called these actions "not appropriate" and promised an investigation."

Parents are furious with administrators at a public school in Gustine, Texas, after learning that their kids were subjected to a partial strip-search and a humiliating, feces-related inspection.
School officials a Gustine Elementary routinely find that the gym floor has been smeared with human waste, and in an effort to unmask the culprit they went way too far. Boys were sent to one room, girls to another—and then administrators ordered both groups to pull down their pants. One parent told myfox8.com that the officials were checking  "to see if they could find anything," pertaining to the crime, which obviously implies a significant breach of the students' privacy, let alone basic dignity.
Indeed, 11-year-old Eliza Medina told local reporters that she felt violated, but didn't have a choice in the matter: "I felt uncomfortable and I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to, but I had to because all the kids had to."
The district superintendent has called these actions "not appropriate" and promised an investigation. He did clarify, however, that the kids only had to drop trow a little.
Medina claimed it was more than a little: "To like, where your butt is."
While the specific details of this story are uniquely disgusting—as far as I can recall—there's nothing unusual about a public school treating its students like inmates rather than autonomous human beings. Zero tolerance rules have gradually promoted a school environment where young people's fundamental rights are routinely disrespected. And every day brings more stories of kids who were abused by school authorities forinoffensive behaviorpointless adherence to protocol, or artistic expression.

New Sheriff beats his boss in election sues him for protecting crooked cops

Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry's (D) lawsuit against his former boss is underway as the civil jury trial began Monday morning with jury selection at the circuit courthouse in La Plata.
Jurors were presented two witnesses Jan. 26, who testified about Berry's allegations that then-Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) interfered with internal investigations during Coffey's 2006 and 2010 political campaigns and demoted officers who did not support him.
Berry defeated Coffey in the Democratic primary, and ran unopposed in the November general election.
In March 2013, Berry, then an operational patrol commander for the Charles County Sheriff's Office, filed a lawsuit alleging Coffey interfered with internal investigations of officers who supported the former sheriff's 2006 and 2010 campaigns. In addition, the lawsuit alleges Coffey demoted those who supported his opponents, including Berry, who had been promoted in 2006 to the commander of the agency's internal affairs unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Before jury selection Monday, circuit Judge Maureen Lamasney stated that the court would hold the jurors through Jan. 30 for the potential length of the trial.
The trial began Monday afternoon with opening arguments from attorney Matthew M. Bryant, who represents Berry, along with attorney Timothy Maloney.
“We're going to prove Troy Berry was demoted November 2010 by Mr. Coffey because Mr. Berry exercised his right to support [Coffey's] opponent,” Bryant told the 10-person jury. “[The case] is about the fundamental right of an employee to exercise their constitutional rights. At the end of the day, it's about requiring the police to follow the law.”
During his opening argument, Coffey's attorney Jason L. Levine told the jury “this lawsuit is about politics [and] not about Rex Coffey's politics but Troy Berry's politics.”
Levine also said that “Troy Berry thinks Rex Coffey's an idiot” and that Coffey demoted Berry because he did not provide Coffey with investigation updates and did not support Coffey's objectives as the county's sheriff.
Former Charles County State's Attorney Leonard C. Collins Jr. was the first witness called to the stand and questioned by Bryant.
After Collins stated he had concerns with an officer's ethics in 2008, he said he sent Coffey a letter.
“I was concerned the sheriff's office was hosting officers who had integrity issues without notifying the state's attorney's office,” Collins said. “That would jeopardize criminal convictions.”
Collins said Coffey did not respond to his letter. Collins also said he sent another letter in 2009, regarding another incident with an officer, to which Coffey allegedly did not respond.
The following year, Berry, working as an internal affairs investigator, reported an incident to Collins about an officer who allegedly stole a drink from a convenience store.
In a July 2014 videotaped deposition shown in court late Monday and Tuesday morning, Coffey said he was displeased that Berry went behind his back.
In the deposition, Coffey said, “All I've wanted was for Mr. Berry to disclose me of the information he was taking to the state's attorney's office.”
When Maloney asked Coffey on the tape if there were any specific disclosures, Coffey stated he did not recall.
“If I knew I was going to be sued, I would've written those down,” Coffey said in the deposition.
Five days after Coffey's 2010 campaign victory, Maloney said in the video, Coffey called both officer David Saunders and Berry, then a captain, into his office one at a time. Maloney said that, during each meeting, Coffey showed them a 2006 campaign advertisement in the Maryland Independent, regarding Coffey's then-opponent, Fred Davis, and a list of Davis' supporters, including Berry and Saunders.
Coffey stated he showed Berry and Saunders the ad, saying, “I put all this behind me.” He also said the purpose of Berry's demotion was “not to hurt him but to get him away from the command staff,” and “I lost trust in [Berry's leadership].”

A California school district will release 66 students from a Riverside County high school by the end of the school day because they have not received immunization for measles

Nearly 70 students from a Riverside County, Calif., high school will miss up to seven days of classes because they haven't been immunized for measles.
Since the 66 Palm Desert High School students haven't been immunized, they need to avoid classes until Feb. 9 unless they confirm they've received immunization or show proof of resistance as determined by a Titer test, according to the Desert Sands Unified School District
Health officials throughout the country have been concerned about a measles outbreak tied to Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., before Christmas.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 68 people from 11 states reported to have measles, as of Jan. 23. Most of the cases were tied to the Disneyland outbreak.
In 2014, the CDC reports there were 644 cases from 27 states. That is the largest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000.
And in Arizona, health officials believe a woman who has recently been diagnosed with measles may have exposed as many as 195 children at a children's center to the disease.
Earlier this month, health officials in Orange County, Calif., where Disneyland is located, told 24 unvaccinated students to stay home for three weeks — the incubation period for measles — after learning that an infected student attended Huntington Beach High School. 
Health officials checked all students' immunization status Tuesday after a girl was sent home Monday because of a suspected case of measles. She was later cleared to return to class Tuesday.
The 66 students didn't need to be quarantined, but they couldn't leave campus until their parents arrived to take them home.
"We need to arrange for parents to make that kind of transportation arrangement," said district spokeswoman Mary Perry. "You can't send them to the door and make them leave."
Several students said Wednesday that they weren't worried about catching the measles since they were already immunized. However, they said they felt bad for the students who were sent home.
"It's the start of a second semester. This is not a good time to be missing school," said freshman Michael Wallace.
There haven't been any reports of possible cases of measles elsewhere and "at this point, all efforts are focused on the high school," Perry said.
It wasn't immediately clear, however, why the students weren't immunized.

Welcome To Lavenham (14 pics)

Lavenham is a village and civil parish in Suffolk, England. It is well known for its unique architecture.  

You Probably Couldn’t Survive In Oymyakon, The World’s Coldest City (21 Pics)

As New England braces for what many have called a “historic snowstorm”, one city in particular has it even worse, and just about every single day. People in Oymyakon, Russia face frigid temperatures like no other place on Earth. Located just a few hundred miles from the Arctic Circle, Oymyakon is the world’s coldest permanently settled area, nestled deep in the Russian tundra.

New Zealand photographer Amos Chapple recently made an expedition to the region to document the daily life of its inhabitants. Chapple found that the residents of Yakutsk, the nearest city in the region, were surprisingly wealthy and described the city as cosmopolitan. The affluence comes from the plentiful resources around Yakutsk including oil, gas, and diamonds. But is it worth it?

The photos below document the obstacles of life in such bitter conditions (the average January temperature is a bitter -34 °Fahrenheit) as well as the strength and determination of the people who live there.

28 Jan 2015

To Protect His Son, A California Father Asks School To Bar Unvaccinated Children

Carl Krawitt has watched his son, Rhett, now 6, fight leukemia for the past 4 1/2 years. For more than three of those years, Rhett has undergone round after round of chemotherapy. Last year he finished chemotherapy, and doctors say he is in remission.
Now, there's a new threat, one that the family should not have to worry about: measles.
Rhett cannot be vaccinated, because his immune system is still rebuilding. It may be months more before his body is healthy enough to get all his immunizations. Until then, he depends on everyone around him for protection — what's known as herd immunity.
But Rhett lives in Marin County, Calif., a county with the dubious honor of having the highest rate of "personal belief exemptions" in the Bay Area and among the highest in the state. This school year, 6.45 percent of children in Marin have a personal belief exemption, which allows parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated against communicable diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and more. 
Carl Krawitt has had just about enough. "It's very emotional for me," he said. "If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, OK, that's your responsibility, that's your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies, then ... your action has harmed my child."
Krawitt is taking action of his own. His son attends Reed Elementary in Tiburon, a school with a 7 percent personal belief exemption rate. (The statewide average is 2.5 percent). Krawitt had previously worked with the school nurse to make sure that all the children in his son's class were fully vaccinated. He said the school was very helpful and accommodating.
Now Krawitt and his wife, Jodi, have emailed the district's superintendent, requesting that the district "require immunization as a condition of attendance, with the only exception being those who cannot medically be vaccinated."
Carl Krawitt provided me with Superintendent Steven Herzog's response. Herzog didn't directly address their query, instead saying: "We are monitoring the situation closely and will take whatever actions necessary to ensure the safety of our students." 
Typically, a response to health emergencies rests with county health officers. During the current measles outbreak, we've already seen that unvaccinated students at Huntington Beach High School in Orange County were ordered to stay out of school for three weeks after a student there contracted measles. It's one way to contain an outbreak.
But those steps were taken in the face of a confirmed case at the school.
When I called Marin County health officer Matt Willis to see what he thought of keeping unvaccinated kids out of school even if there were no confirmed cases, he sounded intrigued. "This is partly a legal question," he said.
But he was open to the idea and said he was going to check with the state to see what precedent there was to take such an action.
Right now, there are no cases of measles anywhere in Marin and no suspected cases either. Still, "if the outbreak progresses and we start seeing more and more cases," Willis said, "then this is a step we might want to consider" — requiring unvaccinated children to stay home, even without confirmed cases at a specific school.
Rhett has been treated at the University of California, San Francisco, and his oncologist there, Dr. Robert Goldsby, said that he is likely at higher risk of complications if he were to get measles.

More Prisoners Were Found Innocent in 2014 Than Ever Before, And We're Barely Even Looking

The University of Michigan's National Registry of Exonerations announced in a report released Tuesday that a record 125 people across the United States were in 2014 exonerated of crimes they were falsely convicted of, beating 2013's 91 people.
Much of the increase came from Texas, where investigators freed 33 people falsely convicted of drug offenses in Harris County (Houston). Other people were exonerated thanks to increased use of "prosecutorial Conviction Integrity Units," special investigative teams which review convictions and discovered 59 innocent people in prison in 2014 alone.

"Judging from known exonerations in 2014, the legal system is increasingly willing to act on innocence claims that have often been ignored: those without biological evidence or with no perpetrator who can be identified because in fact no crime was committed; cases with comparatively light sentences; and judgments based on guilty pleas by defendants who accepted plea bargains to avoid pre-trial detention and the risk of harsher punishment after trial," the NRE said in the report.
How is this happening? It basically turns out that the number of people exonerated increases the more the government actually makes an effort to look for them. From 1989 to 2014, the NRE recorded 1,535 exonerations, with a clear upward trend over time.

Aggressive law-enforcement and prosecutorial tactics appear to play a role, too: 47 of the 125 exonerees had pled guilty to the crimes they were accused of, while about 46% had been sentenced for crimes that had never been committed in the first place.
Just 13% of non-drug-related crimes involved a suspect that had pled guilty at trial. That's likely because prosecutors routinely threaten defendants facing drug charges with what Human Rights Watch calls"extraordinarily severe prison sentences," forcing them into plea deals. In Harris County, all 33 drug convicts were found to have committed no crime at all.
DNA evidence has not played a major role, remaining at average levels.
"The big story for the year is that more prosecutors are working hard to identify and investigate claims of innocence," author and Michigan law professor Samuel Gross said in a statement. "And many more innocent defendants were exonerated after pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit."

How many innocent people are there? It's hard to tell. The Innocent Project estimates that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the country are innocent, and since the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with an estimated 2.4 million state, federal and county prisoners in 2014, that would mean somewhere between 55,000 and 120,000 of them were innocent.
Other researchers have pegged the number of innocent death row prisoners at about 4.1%, or one in 25, with the actual innocence rate among the many prisoners serving long-term sentences even higher. By that metric, the U.S. has likely sentenced over 200 innocent people to death since 1978.
There are just 15 Conviction Integrity Units around the country, which have so far generated 90 exonerations since 2003 (according to the NRE, more than half of which happened in 2014). There's no telling what would happen if every jurisdiction had a CIU, but the U.S. locks up an awful lot of people, so there would probably be more than enough suspect cases to keep them busy.

Two weeks after Zuckerberg said ‘je suis Charlie,’ Facebook begins censoring images of prophet Muhammad

Only two weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a strongly worded #JeSuisCharlie statement on the importance of free speech, Facebook has agreed to censor images of the prophet Muhammad in Turkey — including the very type of image that precipitated the Charlie Hebdo attack.
It’s an illustration, perhaps, of how extremely complicated and nuanced issues of online speech really are. It’s also conclusive proof of what many tech critics said of Zuckerberg’s free-speech declaration at the time: Sweeping promises are all well and good, but Facebook’s record doesn’t entirely back it up.
Just this December, Facebook agreed to censor the page of Russia’s leading Putin critic, Alexei Navalny, at the request of Russian Internet regulators. (It is a sign, the Post’s Michael Birnbaum wrote from Moscow, of “new limits on Facebook’s ability to serve as a platform for political opposition movements.”) Critics have previously accused the site of taking down pages tied to dissidents in Syria and China; the International Campaign for Tibet is currently circulating a petition against alleged Facebook censorship, which has been signed more than 20,000 times.
While Facebook doesn’t technically operate in China, it has made severalrecent overtures to Chinese politicians and Internet regulators — overtures that signal, if tacitly, an interest in bringing a (highly censored) Facebook to China’s 648 million Internet-users.

Now, per the BBC, Facebook has blocked an unspecified number of pages that “offended the Prophet Muhammad” after receiving a court order from a local court in Ankara. A person familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly confirmed to the Post that Facebook had acted to “block content so that it’s no longer visible in Turkey following a valid legal request.” In the past, social media companies that failed to comply with such requests — including Twitter and YouTube — have been blocked in the country, entirely.
Turkey is, in fact, one of Facebook’s more vexing territories, at least where censorship is concerned. The country represents a huge potential audience for U.S. tech companies, with its growing population of young digital natives and its rapidly transforming economy.
But according to Facebook’s latest transparency report, which covered the first six months of 2014, Turkey asked Facebook to censor 1,893 pieces of content in that timespan — the second-most of any country. Many of the requests sprang from local laws that prohibit criticism of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or the president or the Turkish state. (Turkey takes this stuff seriously, too: You may have heard about the teenager who was arrested in December simply for reading a statement that criticized President Tayyip Erdogan.)

Facebook is a global company, of course, and must obey the laws of each country it operates in; the site can’t exactly pick and choose which regulations it finds agreeable, and it’s the site’s long-standing policy to comply with subpoenas, warrants and other government requests, provided they meet what Facebook calls a “very high legal bar.” (The company declined to comment on this particular case.)

Beautiful, Troubling Photos Show Our Planet as Astronauts See It

The Overview Effect is a phenomenon often experienced by astronauts in outer space. Peering down at the earth from far away, people suddenly see our planet as a tiny, fragile oasis in the void. Our world is no longer the biggest thing in our universe, and those who have experienced this say it’s easy to feel an overwhelming need to protect the “pale blue dot.”
In Daily Overview, Benjamin Grant wants to help those of us who will never travel to space have a similar experience. He scrolls through Google Earth, choosing the most visually compelling satellite images of man and nature—congested metropolises, stunning empty wilderness, and monstrous mining operations. He hopes that the pictures will help us understand the beauty of Earth and the serious impact we’ve already had on it. 
“What I’m really trying to get across here is that we’ve entered an important time in human history where our home has been significantly altered,” he says.
Grant has created an effective system for finding the most fascinating images: He ties his searches to current events or environmental issues he’s been thinking about. The final step is a little color correction, which Grant uses to emphasize the image much like a photojournalist would tweak a RAW file coming out of their camera.
“All together a search like that can take 45 minutes to an hour, but it’s worth it because the right image gets across the fact that we’re chopping down massive amounts of trees,” he says.
Grant realizes the images can create conflicting emotions in viewers. These photos of shrinking ice sheets, choked ports, and crowded cities are beautiful enough to hang on your wall. The aerial image of a Kenyan refugee camp is absolutely gorgeous, yet utterly gut wrenching. Grant’s OK with this contradiction because it makes people think.
“When people see the images, they want to know more,” he says.
Grant’s gained quite a following—more than 20,000 followers on Instagram check in daily to see his latest images. He’s been posting one photo a day for over a year now and is talking to DigitalGlobe (which provides much of the imagery to Google) about using its servers so he has direct access to, and permission to use, everything its satellites have ever captured.
Daily Overview is showing at the Deutsches Museum in Munich until January 2016. Grant plans to use such exhibitions and a possible upcoming book to raise money for environmental causes, and hopefully keep inspiring people to care for our planet a little bit more.