March 2, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Coronavirus: Nasa images show China pollution clear amid slowdown (BBC, 29 February 2020)

The space agency noted that the decline in air pollution levels coincided with restriction imposed on transportation and business activities, and as millions of people went into quarantine.

"This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event," Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

She added that she had observed a decline in nitrogen dioxide levels during the economic recession in 2008, but said that decrease was more gradual.

Nasa noted that China's Lunar New Year celebrations in late January and early February have been linked to decreases in pollution levels in the past. But it said they normally increase once the celebrations are over.

"This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer," Ms Liu said.

"I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimise spread of the virus."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The new kingmakers: Israel's Arab citizens (Naomi Chazan, MAR 2, 2020, Times of Israel)

The campaign against Arab voters is not new. It has always been an oft-subsumed part of Israeli elections. If, however, it was long considered beyond the pale (see the prohibition against racist candidates in the wake of the Meir Kahane phenomenon in the 1980s), it has gathered momentum and considerable traction during the past two decades. Avigdor Liberman unabashedly adopted the election slogan: "no loyalty, no citizenship" ten years ago. Netanyahu's infamous appeal to his supporters on election day in 2015 to go out to vote because "the Arabs are going to the polls in droves" continued this trend with impunity. Throughout the past year, the Likud has flirted openly with Kahane's successors in the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, providing them with that formal legitimacy that had eluded them previously. The ultra-nationalist Yemina party headed by Naftali Bennett contains anti-Arab provocateurs-turned-ministers (Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz) who spout hatred against non-Jews on a daily basis.

The greatest - and by far the most cynical - offender remains Netanyahu himself. Over the course of the last twelve months he has not missed an opportunity to demonize the elected representatives of Israel's Arab community, to question their loyalty, to drive a wedge between them and their voters, and to openly delegitimize them. In November, he went so far as to state that the Arab Members of the Knesset are "seeking to destroy the state". Nary has a day gone by without either he or one of his minions heaping abuse on the Arab citizens of the country. And then came the announcement of the Trump "deal of the century" with a clause intended to sanction the transfer of the entire triangle containing 300,000 residents to Palestinian hands (a revival of the transfer notion first raised by the late minister Rehavam Ze'evi).

Sadly, this noxious trend has been compounded by Netanyahu's mantra of the last few weeks: "It's either Bibi or Tibi" (a reference to Ahmed Tibi, one of the leaders of the Joint Arab List and a highly-regarded veteran parliamentarian). Benny Gantz and the Blue-White party, fearful of the effect of this barrage on soft-right voters, succumbed to the hate campaign and announced that he would not form a coalition with the Arab List, thus further fueling the rising ire in the Palestinian-Arab public.

The assault on Israel's Arab citizens is backfiring: at stake is not only the honor of an entire community, but also the value of equality of rights that lies at the core of any democratic society. That is why the anger it has evoked in large segments of this community - and among many Jewish voters who have refused to sit quietly as this campaign has progressed - is now being translated into a massive effort to increase turnout rates. The objective is to realize what Netanyahu fears the most: a high participation that can deny him and his cohorts another term.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Are America's rising high school graduation rates real--or just an accountability-fueled mirage? (Douglas N. Harris, Monday, March 2, 2020, Brookings)

One of the greatest apparent achievements in U.S. education in the past two decades century has been the steep rise of the U.S. high school graduation rate. For decades, the percentage of 18-24 year-olds who completed high school with a regular diploma or GED hovered around 85%. Since 2001, however, there has been a sharp increase, arguably the fastest rise since the early 1900s. Between 2001 and 2016, the percentage of 18-24 year-olds with a credential increased to 93%--an 8-percentage-point increase.  [...]

The uptick started in the early 2000s, just after No Child Left Behind (NCLB) passed into law. In addition to the law's well-known focus on test scores, NCLB also gradually added accountability for high school graduation. At first, the attention to graduation was relatively limited, but, in 2007, states were required to set specific targets that schools had to reach in order to make "adequate yearly progress" and use a common metric, called the average cohort graduation rate. The pressure was on to raise graduation rates. [...]

While we need to work to improve the data, we can also swing too far in the other direction--and too-easily dismiss the measures we have now. Yes, there are many ways to manipulate high school graduation measures, and some of this did occur. But, even in the worst-case scenarios laid out here, the evidence suggests that the accountability helped increase the national high school graduation rate--and produced some real and important knowledge and skills for students. Given the value of high school degrees generally, this is a great accomplishment.

At a time when the past two decades of accountability reforms are increasingly seen as a failure, our analysis suggests that graduation accountability has been a meaningful success story.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ensuring Civics Education for the Next Generation (Rob Bluey,  March 02, 2020, Daily Signal)

Bluey: Well, it is great to have you here in our studio. The Bill of Rights Institute is an organization that develops educational resources and programs for both teachers and students all across this great country. Tell our listeners more about your work and who you are reaching.

Bobb: The Bill of Rights Institute has been around for two decades. We're focused on supporting teachers in the really vital work of civics education.

There are hundreds of thousands of teachers that every day get up and think about, how do we give students a notion of freedom and opportunity? How do we teach them about the founding principles and address all of the current events that are in the news as well?

Civics was really a preoccupation of the Founding Fathers. They thought of it not as something that was the responsibility of the federal government so much, but the responsibility of communities.

Lately, I've been thinking about a quotation that Thomas Jefferson had when he said, "Citizenship is not just about voting one time a year, it's really an everyday thing. It's an everyday responsibility."

If you think of that idea, that notion of everyday citizenship, today we've sometimes reduced it to just voting and for kids kind of recycling or figuring out ways that you can get the government to do something and mobilize people.

I think the notion that we're really trying to do in the Bill of Rights Institute is very different. That's to say to students, "You have rights, you have responsibilities. What are you going to do to a noble civil society?"

Bluey: It seems that there is a growing interest and even a concern in our country over the lack of civics education. So you're certainly addressing that.

Just recently I read that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to have a test that high school students take. I know there's students in Rhode Island who are suing the state and the governor because they feel like they have a lack of civics education.

Tell us why it is that you're sensing this reaction from students or parents all across the country and how you're going about responding to it?

Bobb: There is a huge interest. I think it's really encouraging. ... We're really focused at the Bill of Rights Institute on reaching high school students, middle school students; supporting the teachers that every day take up the task of instructing students in American history, civics, and what's come to be known as social studies.

Students feel polarization in a different way than adults do. One of our students who attends a weeklong constitutional boot camp we run called the Constitutional Academy--it's here in the Washington D.C. area--said, "I wonder, can I disagree with my friends and will they still be my friends?"

So, one of the things I think that we're seeing is that teachers and students and then parents in the community are trying to grapple with, what is this thing, you can kind of feel it in the air that really bespeaks the division?

People are wondering, how do we get beyond that? Not to just some kind of kumbaya moment because I think the key thing here is, how do we learn to disagree amicably?

The Constitutional Convention was a remarkable meeting, it laid down some ground rules that said, "We're going to lay out a charter of our freedoms, we're going to take inspiration from the declaration."

For four months, the members of that convention debated things. They came out with what, sometimes by our textbooks, is characterized just as a bundle of compromises. ...

It's the same thing that we've seen happen this week on Capitol Hill, but, in fact, there was something really higher going on there, because what they were saying is, "Human beings have rights."The purpose of government is to protect those rights.

What I think we're feeling now is that many people are awakening to the fact that we've neglected this subject area in our schools, but even more, we've neglected to take it up as families, as communities ...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Germany hits record 61 per cent renewables for month of February (Joshua S Hill, 2 March 2020, Renew Economy)

Renewable energy sources provided a record 61.2% of Germany's net public electricity generation in February, according to figures provided by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), which also showed that wind energy provided nearly half of the country's electricity during the month.