Friday, April 16, 2010

The Solution: Non-Violent Teachings

(Left) Prutzman, (Right) Brooks at the Trenton City library
photo by: Delonte Harrod

It is said that violence destroys a community; it is known within the state of New Jersey that Trenton is no stranger to crime, poverty, and a poor education system. As of late, the ugly snake of has raised its head once again. In the last couple of weeks a 7 year-old girl was raped at a party in the West section of the city. Up until this point, Trenton High is only graduating an estimated 120 students this year; out of 357 students in the current senior class, 237 students failed the standardized tests required by the state of New Jersey. Other reports indicate that students have one more chase to take the HSPA test in April, to give these students a winning shot at graduating.

However, a community activist Daryl Brooks says that he has the solution to Trenton’s problems. On April 13, Brooks held a press conference at the Trenton Public Library on Academy St., announcing his initiative to move forward with a plan that will teach non-violence skills to students in grades K-12.

“There is too much violence in our school system, elementary school, junior high school and now in high school were now Trenton High School is becoming a kind of a police community…more students are becoming more violent than ever,” said Brooks.

His philosophy is “if you teach these kids how to be non-violent and understand how to deal with conflict” they will be better students. Brooks has teamed up with non-violent activists Priscilla Prutzman, who heads a non-profit organization located in Nyack, New York and Hal Flemington who is a member of the Trenton Meeting of Friends, a Quaker Organization to face these issues. These individuals stand alongside Brooks supporting him in his crusade to drop the rate of violence that pollutes schools and neighborhoods in Trenton.

“We are talking about giving young people tools to resolve conflict without violence… in all the world this is being done,” said Flemington.
Prutzman agrees and her pedigree proves she and her organization’s “Creative Response to Conflict” have worked with school systems in New York City and in Newark, New Jersey. “We are trying to create a safe and welcoming school environment where students can learn.” She also makes the claim that violence affects the way a student learns and the rate of retention in schools: “When students drop out of school it’s because of bullying,” said Prutzman.

Prutzman lays out some of the skills that they would like to teach to these students: “students need social and emotional learning skills, skills of getting along with each other, cooperating with each other, skills of communicating with each other, listening, speaking in a way that other people can hear what is being said, basic conflict and resolution and problem solving tools….. the skills are out there and students will make more progress in this type of environment.”

The pioneers of this program have a desire to see others in the community get involved and show support. They are hoping for cooperation from politicians, churches, and other community activists. The funding of this program will most likely come from federal dollars in the form of grants, and private donations. When Prutzman was challenged about the validity of the non-violent teachings at other high schools her response, “I have seen a decrease in violence!”

Obama orders hospitals to grant gay visitation rights

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama ordered hospitals to grant visitation rights to gay and lesbians, including for non-family visitors.

Obama's memorandum to the Department of Health and Human Services banned discrimination in visits to any hospital receiving federal funding for Medicare and Medicaid social insurance programs for the elderly and the poor.

The move sought to end a common practice by hospitals that only allow family members related to the patient by blood or marriage and instead allow visits regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It enables patients to confer medical power of attorney to their gay partners, authorizing them to act and make decisions about the patient.

The memo issued new rules to ensure that hospitals "respect the rights of patients to designate visitors."

"Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides -- whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay," Obama wrote in his memo to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"Uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives -- unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated."

The president's decision was likely to place him back in the middle of a heated same-sex marriage debate as gay couples seek to have their unions recognized.

Gays can be legally wed in the US capital Washington and in the states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Obama has also called for repealing the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that bars gays from serving openly in the military but has moved cautiously since taking office a year ago.

He has extended partial federal benefits to same-sex partners of US government workers but he is under pressure from activists to deliver on his campaign promise on ending the military ban.

Opponents say the military is already under strain as it fights two wars and that large numbers of service members could quit if the change is introduced.

Steelers reportedly open to trading Big Ben reports that the Steelers have held internal discussions and are willing to listen to trade offers for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

According to the source, Steelers ownership remains dismayed and embarrassed by Roethlisberger’s actions in a Georgia college town this offseason and finds his string of off-the-field incidents troubling. The team has been closely monitoring the public backlash against Roethlisberger.

“The Rooneys are livid,” the source said.

The Steelers’ front office has talked internally about possible trade scenarios that could be feasible and what makes sense for the team. According to a source, if other teams called about Roethlisberger, the Steelers would intently listen.

The Steelers could envision several trade scenarios, but they’re skeptical about other teams taking on Roethlisberger, given his baggage. However, they also realize his contract is tradeable in an uncapped year, with the bonuses already paid and Roethlisberger signed for six more years at a manageable salary for a franchise quarterback ($8.05 million in 2010, $11.6 million per year from 2011 to 2014, and $12.1 million in 2015).

The article goes on to say that the Steelers are “enamored” with Sam Bradford, but unless the Rams are willing to trade them the top overall pick then Pittsburgh won’t have the opportunity to draft the Oklahoma product.

It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the Steelers are actually willing to trade Big Ben or if they’re just trying to put a scare into him. It’s not like teams can walk into the supermarket and shop for franchise quarterbacks down aisle 10, so Pittsburgh knows the risk it’s taking if it does part with Roethlisberger. It could be a move that essentially changes the dynamics of their franchise and considering he’s only 28, I doubt the Steelers are ready to go down that road right now.

That said, there’s no question that the organization is peeved about this situation. They traded Santonio Holmes for a roll of toilet paper, so clearly they’re not opposed to make bold moves to send a message. While they won’t give up Big Ben for peanuts, if they’re offered fair (or even slightly less than fair) value I think it’s a very real possibility that Roethlisberger’s days in Pittsburgh are numbered.

Posted by Anthony Stalter

Kevin Durant Responds to Phil Jackson's Criticism

Posted By Eric Freeman

Yesterday, we noted how Phil Jackson is already starting to make noise about Kevin Durant's superstar calls, as if a young player shouldn't be capable of earning the respect of the league's referees until he walks through the fires of the playoffs and comes out on the other side a better man. I'm pretty sure it's like those old commercials for the Marines.

Now Durant has fired back at the Zen Master with a defense of his treatment. From Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
"If you watch our games, you wouldn’t question it. The NBA should put us on national TV more, I guess.” When asked whether Jackson’s comment fired him up more, Durant, "Yeah, it does.”

"Because it’s taking away from what I do,” Durant said. "That’s a part of my game, getting to the free-throw line and being aggressive. If you say that I get superstar calls or I get babied by the refs, that’s just taking away from how I play. That’s disrespectful to me. I don’t disrespect nobody in this league. I respect every coach, every player, everybody. I never say anything bad about anybody else or question why they do this or do that. So for them to say that about me, I don’t even want to use no foul language.
I would hope that it's obvious that one doesn't win the scoring title by accident or conspiracy, and that Durant is actually pretty fantastic at getting to the line. But when you're an up-and-comer, especially one who isn't on ESPN or TNT every week, it's hard to get credit for what you do from the rest of the league.

Durant has earned the calls he gets, because he's an elite scorer who can fill the basket in just about every way possible. Even if the Thunder aren't on TV very often, the rest of the league should know that, just based on the handful of times they've played OKC this season.

However, it's also worth keeping in mind that distrust of superstars getting to the line is a constant suspicion, even for players who you'd think would have convinced the rest of the league of their greatness. Remember a few years ago, when the Jazz and their fans claimed Kobe Bryant was getting to the line too much? That uproar occurred even though Kobe was taking as much contact as any non-big man in the league.

Perhaps the real message of this story is that Durant will need to develop a thicker skin, because these comments from the opposition won't go away any time soon. It's nothing personal, just another attempt by Phil Jackson to get any edge he can in the postseason.

Snake used as "weapon"

Troy Smith, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, was charged with assault and battery charges after allegedly using a 4 foot long ball python as a weapon. The victim is Jeff Culp, 47, who was staying in a hotel room near Smith's room. From WSOC (Wikimedia Commons image):

Culp and his wife Nancy are staying at the Executive Inn on Anderson road. On Tuesday night, Culp said he asked his neighbors a few doors down from him to turn down their music. Culp exchanged words with one of them, and said a while later, that neighbor, Smith, came back holding a python.
"He just walked up and tapped me on my shoulder, and stuck the snake in my face."

But it was worse than that. Culp said Smith pinched the snake's head so its mouth opened, then touched his face with it, and even stuck it partially into his mouth.

The incident nearly made Culp sick. "I fell down and crawled back here into my room. I took a shower for three hours last night. I just can't stand those things touching me," he said.

Crist Bucks Party In Teacher Pay Veto

Gov. Charlie Crist defied Republican party leaders Thursday, vetoing one of their top priorities - a measure that would link teacher pay to student achievement.

After several days of wavering, Crist pulled the trigger, chastising lawmakers for rushing the bill through the process and ignoring input from thousands of teachers who called and wrote to them about potential kinks in the legislation.

“Quite frankly it reminds me of what happened with the health care bill in Washington where members of my party criticized the Democrats for sort of jamming something down their throat, and then here, about a month later after that happened, the very same thing happens here in education,” Crist said.

The legislation (SB 6) would have based teacher pay raises on a performance appraisal determined by local school districts. Half of that appraisal would be based on student learning gains on standardized exams. The Department of Education would have been charged with developing metrics to measure learning gains.

Teachers have protested that many of the accomplishments they make with students cannot adequately be tested. Many teachers showed up at committee meetings over the last month and told stories of children who have special needs or have a difficult home life. Some warned that teachers would be less likely to go to problem schools out of fear that they would be unsuccessful with students who are in unstable environments.

Crist’s veto flies directly in the face of Republican Party Chairman Sen. John Thrasher, who sponsored the bill, and several other leading Republicans who declared it a priority. Thrasher told reporters after the veto that it was disappointing and it appears there will likely be no attempts in the final two weeks of the legislative session to pass a measure to get around the veto. But he also acknowledged that it often takes more than one year to pass legislation and said it could pass next year - when Crist will no longer be governor.

“We made the best effort we could make in the House, in the Senate,” Thrasher said. “And I’m confident that this is an idea that’s going to sweep across America. I am confident of that.”

Democrats as well as the Florida Education Association, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and the Florida School Boards Association had been lobbying hard against the bill, but even some representatives of education community were shocked at the public outcry over the legislation.

Crist alone received 65,259 phone calls and E-mails in opposition and 3,090 in support. A spokesman for the governor reported that there were an additional 50,902 E-mails that have not yet been categorized.

His decision drew quick praise from Democrats, but derision from many of his fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Larry Cretul, Senate President Jeff Atwater and former Gov. Jeb Bush, who publicly and vocally twisted arms to garner support for the legislation. The bill also received substantial backing from the business community.

“I am disappointed by the veto of Senate Bill 6,” Bush said in a release. “By taking this action, Gov. Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade, which includes raising student achievement across the board, narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, and improving graduation rates.”

Crist said despite his support for the general concept of merit pay, he had several problems with the bill, specifically how learning gains for special needs children are measured and potential encroachment on constitutional rights on local control for school boards.

“SB 6 places teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs and their teaching certification without a clear understanding of how gains will be measured and without taking into account circumstances beyond the teacher’s control,” Crist said.

Many Democrats walking around the Capitol after the announcement were jovial in response to the governor’s decision. Incoming House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders and current Leader Franklin Sands said it was the caucus position that members would not publicly gloat about the victory. “Only privately,” Sands added.

Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, noted that the measure could return in some form in the future, though likely not this legislative session.

“Obviously it’s a victory, but I’m not uncorking champagne,” he said. “Because frankly it’s almost a sad statement that we had to fight this hard to stop something so wrong headed. We shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

Written by William

National Day of Prayer Declared Unconstitutional

By Howard M. Friedman

In an important decision yesterday, a Wisconsin federal district court held that the federal statute which designates the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer violates the Establishment Clause. In Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Obama, (WD WI, April 15, 2010), the court, in a 66-page opinion, concluded that 36 USC Sec. 119 goes beyond mere acknowledgement of religion. It endorses and encourages citizens to engage in prayer. Examining the legislative history of the law, the court said:

This legislative history supports the view that the purpose of the National Day of Prayer was to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, and in particular the Judeo-Christian view of prayer. One might argue that members of Congress voiced secular purposes: to protect against "the corrosive forces of communism" and promote peace. That is true, but the references to these purposes do nothing to diminish the message of endorsement. If anything, they contribute to a sense of disparagement by associating communism with people who do not pray. A fair inference that may be drawn from these statements is that "Americans" pray; if you do not believe in the power of prayer, you are not a true American. Identifying good citizenship with a particular religious belief is precisely the type of message prohibited by the establishment clause.

Conceding that much of the controversy had resulted from activities of the private National Day of Prayer Task Force, the court said that "government officials, including former Presidents, have sometimes aligned themselves so closely with those exclusionary groups that it becomes difficult to tell the difference between the government's message and that of the private group."

The court concluded with this explanation of its holding:
Although the law does not always point in the same direction on matters related to the establishment clause, my review of that law requires a conclusion that 36 U.S.C. §119 is unconstitutional.

I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination. Rather, it is part of the effort to "carry out the Founders' plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society." .... The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.

It is important to clarify what this decision does not prohibit. Of course, "[n]o law prevents a [citizen] who is so inclined from praying" at any time.... And religious groups remain free to "organize a privately sponsored [prayer event] if they desire the company of likeminded" citizens.... The President too remains free to discuss his own views on prayer.... The only issue decided in this case is that the federal government may not endorse prayer in a statute as it has in §119.

AP reporting on the decision quotes a White House spokesman as saying that the President still plans to issue a proclamation to recognize a National Day of Prayer next month. The court in its decision stayed its injunction for the 30-day period during which an appeal may be filed, and for the peridod during which any appeal is pending. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Paul Ballard and Ira "Chip" Lupu for the leads.]

China earthquake death toll rises to nearly 800

Monks pray for the dead as rescuers work after an earthquake in China. Photograph: Guang Niu/Getty Images The death toll following a major earthquake in western China has risen to at least 791, with another 294 people missing, rescue teams in Qinghai ...

Meteor treats viewers to spectacular light show

"OBAMA'S DEAL" Frontline PBS Documentry

On March 23, 2010, after a bruising year of debate, negotiation and backlash, President Barack Obama finally signed the health reform bill that he had promised more than a year before. But at what cost to his popularity and to the ideals of bipartisanship and open government that he'd campaigned on?

In Obama's Deal, veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk (Bush's War, Dreams of Obama) takes viewers behind the headlines to reveal the political maneuvering behind Barack Obama's effort to remake the American health system and transform the way Washington works. Through interviews with administration officials, senators and Washington lobbyists, Obama's Deal reveals the dramatic details of how an idealistic president pursued the health care fight -- despite the warnings of many of his closest advisers -- and how he ended up making deals with many of the powerful special interests he had campaigned against.

"The stakes couldn't be much higher," former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) tells FRONTLINE about what was involved in the landmark health care legislation. "We're talking about almost 20 percent of our gross domestic product today, $2.5 trillion. Literally tens, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on lobbying. Every special interest has their oar in the water."

To navigate the process of health reform, President Obama turned to his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a consummate deal maker, who helped stock the West Wing with an all-star lineup of congressional insiders. But almost immediately, a key member of the team was forced to step down, and the country's greatest champion of health reform, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), was sidelined with incurable brain cancer. The administration's hopes for reform rested with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the powerful head of the Senate Finance Committee, who also happened to be one of the Senate's top recipients of special interest money from the health care industry.

The White House encouraged Baucus to quietly negotiate deals with the insurance lobby, drug companies and other special interest groups, despite promises to run a different kind of White House. "The president said that having people at the table is better than having them throw stuff at the table," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer tells FRONTLINE.

But the deals were often controversial. FRONTLINE investigates how, near the start of the health care reform process, Baucus and the White House negotiated a secret $80 billion deal with Billy Tauzin, the former Louisiana congressman who had become the pharmaceutical industry's top lobbyist.

"People who thought that the pharmaceutical industry was still reaping profits that were excessive were unhappy with that deal and were particularly unhappy that it got cut behind closed doors," says the co-chair of Obama's transition team, John Podesta.

The pact with Tauzin was only the beginning of a series of deals designed to win over potential opponents. The most notorious agreement, known as the "Cornhusker Kickback," was concluded only days before a vote on the health care bill in the Senate. In exchange for the support of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the White House and Senate leaders agreed to spend $100 million to benefit Nebraska.

The administration argued the deals were necessary to secure health reform. But the deals backfired. "It's not a pretty process," says David Gergen, who's been an adviser to four different presidents, both Republican and Democratic, over the last several decades. "There is deal making -- that's the way it's been done for a long time. But those deals done in your front parlor can be pretty smelly. The public was already up to here with what they were seeing in Washington, and I think it just put them over the side."

The backlash grew across the country. The president's approval ratings sunk, the Democrats lost control of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, and the push for health care reform was suddenly in peril.

"The grassroots of America had turned against this," Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) tells FRONTLINE. "Health care was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back."

At the White House, the president was forced to come to terms with what looked to be his most significant failure as president, before a last push this winter -- and a last round of high-stakes, round-the-clock deal making -- finally pushed the bill through.

"The process was messy, and so it turned people off," says Communications Director Pfeiffer. "It ended up being behind closed doors. It was filled with partisan wrangling, people yelling at each other across the table. We ended up having a process that represented a lot of what the American people hated about Washington."

"There is a realism that it has come with a cost," veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz observes. "We don't know what's going to happen in the November elections. We don't know what's going to happen in 2012. But there's no question that this health care battle has put his party at risk. And how they deal with that is the next chapter. But this was a historic moment."

To watch "OBAMA DEAL" clicK here..