|The solar wind is clipping along at a brisk 408 km/sec and The sun is peppered with spots, but not one of the eight numbered sunspot groups on the solar disk has the type of unstable magnetic field that poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity is low. NOAA forecasters estimate a 15% chance of M-flares today, decreasing to only 5% tomorrow. On Wednesday morning, Oct. 8th, there will be a total lunar eclipse. Observers across the Pacific side of Earth can see the normally-pale full Moon turn a beautiful shade of red as it passes through the sunset-colored shadow of our planet. The Moon first dips into Earth's shadow at approximately 9:15 UT (2:15 a.m. PDT), kicking off the partial phase of the eclipse. Totality, when the Moon is fully immersed, begins at 10:25 UT (3:25 a.m. PDT) and lasts for nearly an hour.
The Global Warming that Wasn’t
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Dr Peiser said: "What has happened is that the public has become more skeptical because they were told we are facing Doomsday, and suddenly they realize ‘Where is the warming that we were promised?’"
"They say we can predict the climate and the reality is that they can’t."
Because of this so-called "global warming hiatus", Dr Peiser says climate change is not as pressing of an issue as it once was, a fact that should be embraced by the scientific community.
"The reality is that they are quite relieved in a way, and we should all be relieved that it isn’t such a big problem at present.
"We might have much more time than many people once told us."
However, the reason behind the current pause in rising temperatures remains a mystery, and there are said to be more than 30 theories attempting to decipher what caused this stability.
Some scientists suggest the heat may have gone into the ocean, but Dr Peiser remains unconvinced by this theory.
"Something is clearly balancing out the warming effect of the CO2 [carbon dioxide]," he explained.
"It might be natural factors, it might be the ocean, no one knows for sure.
"It [the warming] could start anytime - and that is an indication that we don’t fully understand the climate.
"That’s a reality that most climate scientists are reluctant to admit."
A host of world leaders gathered last month to discuss the topic of global warming at the UN Climate Change Summit.
US President Barack Obama said it was an issue "that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other" - but Dr Peiser could not help but notice there were a few faces missing from the meeting.
A handful of countries - including China, India and Canada - did not attend the summit, something that did not surprise Dr Peiser.
We the People Vote for Mayberry
Residents of an Idaho town are asking their city council to return an armored vehicle to the federal government and just say no to militarization.
John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, said he was contacted by a group of residents from Nampa, Idaho, and asked to urge their elected leaders to send the town’s military-grade equipment back where it belongs — to the Pentagon. Of particular concern is a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, acquired with grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The discussion of whether local police need machine guns, night-vision scopes or an armored vehicle needs to engage the entire community, and should not be unilaterally decided by the federal government, the military, or law enforcement, Whitehead said.
“Whenever this kind of armament is brought into a community, it should only be done with the knowledge and consent of the citizenry,” Whitehead, a constitutional attorney based in Charlottesville, Virginia, said in a statement released to WND.
Law enforcement agencies across the country have quietly returned more than 6,000 unwanted or unusable items to the Pentagon in the last 10 years, according to a report by Mother Jones.
And the trend seems to be gaining steam since the August unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. That’s when many Americans got their first glimpse of camouflage-clad cops roving the streets in tanks and armored vehicles, blurring the lines between police and soldiers.
Recently, in response to a local outcry over aggressive policing tactics, San Jose, California’s police department announced plans to return its MRAP, and the Los Angeles school system police department has agreed to return its three grenade launchers.
Whitehead said military recycling programs carry hidden costs and result in heightened risk for the community by transforming local police into extensions of the military.
The Rutherford Institute’s letter to Nampa Mayor Bob Henry can be read here:
While local police departments often argue that MRAPs and other military hardware are essential “tools” in the fight against drug crimes, the reality is that violent crime nationwide is at a 40-year low, Whitehead says in the letter.
“Most of this equipment is not only largely unnecessary but is completely incongruous with the security needs of smaller communities,” the letter states.
Nampa, in Canyon County, Idaho, has a population of just over 97,000.
Whitehead says 17,000 local police departments are equipped with military equipment ranging from Blackhawk helicopters and machine guns to grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear and armored vehicles. Some have tanks and others have drones.
Whether or not the use of such sophisticated military equipment is justified, many local police feel compelled to use it once they have it.
The misuse of military gear by police is a growing problem that has been documented in books such as Cheryl Chumley’s “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming Our Reality:” and Radley Balko’s “Rise of The Warrior Cop.”
Heavily armed SWAT units were introduced in the 1980s for the purpose of handling highly volatile hostage situations and confrontations with active shooters. But now they are rolled out for the most routine police procedures such as serving warrants.
SWAT raids, which numbered about 3,000 a year in the early 1980s, now occur over 80,000 times per year across America, according to research by Professor Peter Kraska, chair of the graduate program at the School of Justice at Eastern Kentucky University and author of the book “Militarizing The American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and Police.”
WND previously reported on an incident in rural Habersham County, Georgia, in which a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a home where they believed a drug dealer was hiding out. The grenade landed in the crib of a 19-month-old boy and blew open his face. The toddler spent five weeks in the hospital following the May 28 incident which the local sheriff called “a mistake.”
Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was permanently scarred by a SWAT team in Habersham County, Georgia.
Little “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh has had to undergo multiple reconstructive surgeries, including the reattachment of his nose, and is still badly scarred. The drug dealer was arrested later that same night at a different house and the family maintains they have no involvement in illegal drugs. A Habersham grand jury has been meeting for the past week to consider a possible criminal indictment against the Sheriff’s Office.
“While we all want our law enforcement officers to be able to do their job, which is to maintain the peace and uphold the Constitution, and we want them to be safe and protected while doing so, we cannot afford to sacrifice our freedoms in the process,” said Whitehead, author of “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.”
He believes it will take local citizen activists stepping up to roll back the police state.
“The American police force is not supposed to be a branch of the military but exists for a sole purpose: To serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community,” he said. “Thus, it now falls to local governing bodies to restore the rightful balance between the citizenry and those appointed to safeguard their freedoms.”
Local police agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in the Pentagon’s 1033 “recycling” program, and the share of equipment and weaponry delivered to local communities each year continues to expand.
Since 1990, the 1033 program has transferred $4.2 billion worth of military weaponry and equipment from the Pentagon to domestic police agencies, much of it in the name of fighting the war on drugs.
The MRAP is an intimidating part of this “recycling” program. Weighing in at 20 tons, an MRAP is built to withstand everything from small arms fire to IED bomb blasts that were common during the Iraq War but unlikely to be encountered during domestic policing.
And, as many small cities have discovered, the costs of maintaining an MRAP can quickly add up.
“While supposedly acquired for little up front, these $733,000 battering rams come with hidden costs that can add up to tens of thousands of dollars yearly in maintenance and repair,” Whitehead said.
However, as Whitehead notes in his letter to the city council, when Homeland Security launched its 1033 surplus military equipment program, it laid the groundwork for a transformation of local law enforcement into extensions of the military, “upsetting a critical balance established by our Founding Fathers who warned against establishing a standing army that would see American citizens as potential combatants.”
For the sake of greater transparency, accountability, and oversight when it comes to police acquisition and deployment of military-grade equipment, Whitehead said The Rutherford Institute is recommending that the Nampa City Council adopt a policy of direct oversight to ensure that if local law enforcement acquires such weapons, they do so with the blessing of the community
18 Months After NSA is Outed
It's been a year and a half since Edward Snowden revealed to the world just how much private information the National Security Agency has been collecting on just about everyone. The massive spying operation raised privacy and Constitutional concerns and set off alarms with reports that some employees had used the system to keep tabs on their love interests.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the government has done little to reform the program and reassure the public. Even relatively weak legislation that fails to address core concerns has stalled in Congress.
Action has come, however, from Silicon Valley. The new Apple iPhone 6 includes an encryption program that could take years to break. Even more important, Apple won't have access to the password. That way, it will be impossible for government officials to pressure the digital giant to violate their customer's privacy.
The importance of that protection was recently revealed in court documents showing that government officials threatened Yahoo with a $250,000 daily fine if they didn't turn over user data to the NSA. The fine was set to double every week.
Public demand for action on privacy issues led Google to quickly announce that it, too, would offer smartphone users additional protection. The Washington Post notes that this "is part of a broad shift by American technology companies to make their products more resistant to government snooping."
Many government officials are aghast at the notion that a private company would offer such privacy protections to consumers. The head of the FBI suggested it might prevent officials from finding a kidnapped child. Others raise concerns about terrorists.
A number of security experts dismiss those concerns, particularly because the agencies can access so much other information. But discussing only the law enforcement angle misses the larger point. The privacy issue is not just about catching bad guys; it's about the threat to good guys as well.
Seen from that perspective, the cost of giving government agencies easy access to everyone's smartphone data is extraordinarily high. Smartphones carry all the details of our daily lives in the form of pictures, texts, contact lists, emails and more. That includes fond memories and great moments, but embarrassing gaffes and painful mistakes are also recorded.
In the wrong hands, such information could be used for a variety of nefarious purposes. To grasp the potential harm, your imagination doesn't have to stretch beyond those NSA officials spying on love interests and ex-spouses.
In fact, it's easy to imagine that giving government agencies unrestricted access to the digital lives of more than 300 million Americans would lead to far more crimes being committed than solved.
Seen from that perspective, the iPhone 6 is providing a valuable public service.
This entire episode highlights an often overlooked part of the public policy debate in America. Change does not come from political leaders or the political process. It comes from popular culture and technology. Politicians lag behind. By the time any NSA reform legislation passes Congress, technology advances will have already addressed the key issues.
In the case of the privacy debate, those key issues eventually come back to what kind of society we want to live in
Common Core is full of Common Criminals
A new front has opened in the Common Core wars — over testing contracts.
The high-stakes battle is undermining one of the Obama administration’s most prized initiatives: its vision, backed by more than $370 million in federal funds, of testing students across the country on a common set of exams in math, reading and writing.
The administration wants children in Mississippi to be measured against the same bar as children in Massachusetts or Michigan. But now a testing revolt is spreading across the country, adding to a slew of troubles for the Common Core initiative, which began as a bipartisan effort but has come under fire from parents and teachers across the political spectrum.
(Also on POLITICO: Jindal lawyer backs Common Core cut)
Four years ago, about 40 states expressed interest in using shared tests. But at least 17 already have backed away from using them this spring, including several of the most populous states, such as New York, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Often, the pushback has come from state legislators furious at the expectation that they would appropriate tens of millions for a test developed with federal funds and controlled by a faceless consortium — without a chance to consider competing products. “Alarm bells were going off in everyone’s district,” Michigan state Sen. Phil Pavlov said.
More defections may loom in a half-dozen states, among them Louisiana, Missouri and perhaps New Jersey.
Even states that are still officially committed to the shared exams are flexing their independence. Several are using the federally funded exams just for third through eighth grades and using different tests for high school.
(Sign up for POLITICO’s Morning Education tip sheet)
The rebellion ensures that “the Common Core will certainly be an Obama legacy — though probably not the one he had in mind,” said Frederick Hess, an education policy analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Indeed, Common Core opponents are gleeful at the prospect of fanning concerns about the exams to drive more states away from the standards.
“We’re really at the beginning of public scrutiny of these testing consortia,” said Emmett McGroarty, a leader of the anti-Common Core movement at the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank. “This is by no means over. It will continue to snowball.”
Even some Obama allies are angry at the administration’s decision to pour money into developing new exams years before most teachers began introducing the academic standards into their classrooms. They say it made the Common Core feel scary and punitive rather than an exciting new way to challenge students to achieve.
(Also on POLITICO: Jindal lawyer backs Common Core cut)
The National Education Association this week will consider launching a lobbying push to dramatically reduce federally mandated testing — which could undercut the administration’s Common Core goals even further. The other big union, the American Federation of Teachers, has also been outspoken on the issue.
“The federal government has a lot of blame here,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “This fixation on testing is just wrong.”
Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the administration invested in developing new exams “in response to governors, school chiefs and educators who wanted to move away from the bubble tests of the past.” She noted that Secretary Arne Duncan has called for “a common-sense middle ground on testing and test prep.”
A ‘big time’ concern
Planning for Common Core tests began in earnest in 2010, when the Education Department granted $186 million to each of two consortia — groups of states that agreed to work together to develop high-tech exams that would be far more challenging than the typical fill-in-the-bubble multiple choice. The two consortia, known as PARCC and Smarter Balanced, paid testing companies to do most of the work in consultation with state officials and educators.
(Also on POLITICO: The fall of teachers unions)
As plans solidified, complaints began to simmer.
For one thing, the tests would be long. And there would be a lot of them.
PARCC estimates its exams will take eight hours for an average third-grader and nearly 10 hours for high school students — not counting optional midyear assessments to make sure students and teachers are on track.
PARCC also plans to develop tests for kindergarten, first- and second- graders, instead of starting with third grade as is typical now. And it aims to test older students in 9th, 10th and 11th grades instead of just once during high school.
Cost is also an issue. Many states need to spend heavily on computers and broadband so schools can deliver the exams online as planned. And the tests themselves cost more than many states currently spend — an estimated $19 to $24 per student if they’re administered online and up to $33 per student for paper-and-pencil versions.
(Also on POLITICO: Finland's low-tech take on education)
That adds up to big money for testing companies. Pearson, which won the right to deliver PARCC tests, could earn more than $1 billion over the next eight years if enough states sign on.
States can make minor modifications in the Pearson contract. For instance, the contract anticipates a shift to grading student essays by computer algorithm, assuming the technology pans out, but lets states pay more to have them scored by a human reader. PARCC officials, however, said they expected member states to adopt the contract largely intact.
That lack of local control is a “big time” concern, Arizona state Sen. Chester Crandell said.
Then he repeated it, voice rising: “Big time, big time.”
He’s not alone in that frustration.
In January, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear withdrew from the PARCC consortium, citing a state law that “requires a fair and equitable” competitive bid process. Tennessee and Arizona soon followed. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has announced plans to do the same.
Those states could, in theory, still pick the PARCC exam after examining bids from several companies.
But it’s unclear if they will be able to do so because a legal dispute in New Mexico has tied the PARCC testing process in knots. The dispute could drag on for months, derailing the timetable for delivering the common exams and driving away still more states.
Arkansas, for instance, plans to go its own way on testing if the dispute isn’t resolved by mid-July, said Kimberly Friedman, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education.
The other consortium has had defections, too. In Michigan, state Sen. Pavlov led a bipartisan effort to cancel the state’s plans to administer the Smarter Balanced test next spring. Instead, the state will seek bids for a new exam.
Pavlov said he wants Michigan officials, not a distant consortium, to oversee the tests and have the power to demand changes if problems arise with the way the questions are phrased or exams are scored. “Our priority has to be to put Michigan kids first,” he said.
Yet some teachers complain that kids could end up the losers as political jockeying over the tests intensifies. In Michigan, second-grade teacher Julie Brill says she and her colleagues are expected to spend the coming year teaching Common Core standards — while preparing kids for a non-Common Core test that measures different skills entirely. “It’s just so crazy,” she said.
And in Florida, which broke with PARCC last year, third-grade teacher Mindy Grimes-Festge says she’s glad to be out of a Common Core test she believed was designed to make children fail — but she has only the most minimal information about the replacement exams.
Common Core is a set of national math and English standards, which most states, including Oregon and California, have adopted because of the funding incentives and strong-arm tactics used by the Obama Administration. There have been many “big picture” criticisms of Common Core: the lack of transparency and public input when Common Core was developed, the middling quality of Common Core, the high cost of implementing Common Core, and nationalization of education under Common Core. Yet, these critiques are now being overshadowed by the anger of parents at how Common Core is negatively affecting the learning of their children.
Columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan has written that Common Core’s Achilles heel is implementation: “implementation―how a thing is done day by day in the real world―is everything.” Take, for example, new Common Core-aligned curricula and associated teaching methods.
Core Connections is a Common Core-aligned math curriculum that is starting to be implemented in classrooms and which emphasizes the use of cooperative learning. The curriculum tells the student: “Learning math [through cooperative teamwork] has an advantage: as long as you actively participate, make sure everyone in your study team is involved, and ask good questions, you will find yourself understanding mathematics at a deeper level than ever before.” While such utopian pronouncements sound impressive, the reality is quite different.
Bryce is a sixth grader at a public school in Northern California. He is a very bright student, achieving several perfect scores on the state’s math exam and consistently receiving A+ grades in math. Yet, Core Connections has had a discernible negative impact on Bryce.
Under Core Connections, Bryce and his fellow students are organized into teams of three to four students. Bryce says that there is unequal participation among team members, with more advanced students being more involved and carrying more of the work.
Further, not all the groups finish at the same time. Those that finish early can’t go on to harder problems, but have to wait until other teams finish. Oddly, Bryce says that his teacher doesn’t want early finishers to read because that’s English language arts, and not math.
Since the teamwork method started, the class usually doesn’t finish math lessons in time, and sometime it cuts into their science time or the math is simply not completed. Bryce emphasized that this situation happens a lot. When asked if the class starts the next day where they left off the day before, he answers “no,” saying that the class simply goes on to the next new concept.
When asked his thoughts on the new teamwork method, Bryce said that he thought that working in teams was distracting: different ideas were talked about at the same time; there was too much noise from other groups; and, worst of all, much of the conversations were not about math.
Whereas his prior math curriculum allowed him to do math at his own pace, so he was doing eighth-grade math while still a fifth grader, now Bryce says he has to spend a lot of time explaining his answers and go at the same pace as his team.
Bryce’s frustrations with the new Common Core curriculum are having a negative impact on his achievement. According to his mother, for the first time Bryce’s grades are starting to falter, which is worrying her greatly.
Bryce’s problems with the new Common Core curriculum are not unique. Children and parents across the nation are up in arms over the confusion inherent in Common Core curricula. A recent PACE/University of Southern California poll found that 41 percent of Californians surveyed were opposed to Common Core, while only 32 percent supported it, a flip from the poll numbers recorded last year.
As Peggy Noonan observes: “Life isn’t lived in some abstract universe; it’s lived on the ground, in this case with harried parents trying, to the degree they can or are willing, to help the kids with homework and study for tests.” Parents seeing their children struggle under Common Core’s liberal teaching methods and philosophy are rebelling, and that rebellion likely spells eventual doom for Common Core.
an underexplored aspect of this problematic national education reform is the massive financial incentive that certain textbook and standardized test companies have to keep the U.S. on board with it. The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss provided a good example of Common Core's crony corporatist side in a recent article.
There are two large, multi-state partnerships tasked with implementing Core-aligned standardized tests, and one of them—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)—recently invited curriculum companies to compete for the contract to design the tests. Textbook giant Pearson won the contract, surprising no one. Pearson, a British company, is the largest publisher of education materials in the world.
A PARCC press release described the selection of Pearson as the result of a "competitive bidding process." But it's hard to tell whether the process was truly competitive, given that Pearson was the only company to even submit a bid.
Now, another corporation is alleging that the process was unfairly biased toward Pearson from the start, according to Education Week:
A protest of the contract was made by the nonprofit corporation American Institutes for Research, which alleged that that the bidding process conducted by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) was biased in favor of Pearson and that is why AIR did not submit a bid which it otherwise would have done, Education Week reported. The protest was made to officials in New Mexico who were serving as a representative of PARCC in making the call for proposals from companies to win the contract.
Judge Sarah M. Singleton of the Santa Fe First Judicial District issued a ruling last week putting the Pearson contract on hold while officials reviewed the contract bidding process.
Keep in mind that the contract is worth so much money that officials haven't even attached a formal price tag. Instead, they have used the phrase "unprecedented in scale."
Common Core's most fervent defenders might not see the problem with any of this. They might even say it's a good thing that the biggest testing company on the planet is the one designing the exams for Common Core.
But it certainly undermines the notion that this is a "bottom up" education reform when state and federal lawmakers are colluding with mega corporations to dictate the tests to local school districts. Students in some states are already serving as guinea pigs for the new testing regime.