Posts in the Headlines Category

Floods Strike Again: A Case For Land Conservation

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines, History, Nature

Flash flooding undercut State Highway 60 in Richland County on June 23, 2013, washing the edge of the road away beneath the guardrail..
Wisconsin Highway 60 was among several roads damaged by heavy rains in June 2013. Photo by Richland County Emergency Management via the National Weather Service.

The Summer of 2013 began with floods, washouts, and landslides across the Driftless Area, destroying roadways and inundating homes in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. These events bring significant losses and make dramatic news, but they are not new. To the contrary, the Driftless Area’s rugged landscape owes its very existence to millions of years of erosion by floodwater, and that erosion is an ongoing process. Widespread human construction, by contrast, is a recent development in this environment. The repeated rains and landslides of the last decade make clear that communities in the Driftless Area must plan their land use for the inevitable occurrence of further flooding and erosion.

The Driftless Area is prone to flash-floods and landslides in part because of its unique topography, which has a higher degree of slope than surrounding regions. The following map (view map at high-resolution) is colored by slope to highlight this distinction, with steeper hillsides shaded more brightly than level land. The Driftless Area stands out immediately as the bright swath across the center of the map:

Map of the Driftless Area of the Midwestern United States colored by degree of slope.

The steep terrain of the Driftless Area increases the speed at which run-off collects into drainage channels, ordinarily an advantage, as it dries uplands quickly and prevents water from pooling into stagnant ponds and bogs. During heavy rains, however, water collects more rapidly than some narrow channels can accommodate, leading to sudden flash floods that erode banks and scour new channels. In the meantime, the saturated hillsides — especially those with inadequate vegetation — lose strength and give way, leading to landslides. These are the very processes that created the jagged valleys and steep slopes of the Driftless Area, a landscape forged in unison with running water.

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Wisconsin Census Data Released

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines

The United States Census Bureau today released its first official 2010 population figures for Wisconsin counties, cities, villages, and towns. These are exciting numbers, and not only for comparing rival cities and hometown trends. The census data will be used, among other things, to tweak the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts to ensure equal representation — a process that will no doubt be mired down in gerrymandering and political intrigue. I’ll set that aside for this post, however, and focus on the numbers.

Wisconsin’s population grew from 5.36 million to 5.68 million between 2000 and 2010. That’s an increase of about 6% — slower growth than in most states, so Wisconsin’s rank has slipped from 18 to 20 over the last ten years. That slide in proportion is small enough that Wisconsin will still keep eight congressional representatives and ten electoral votes for the next decade. While overall growth was sluggish, it’s notable that the state’s Hispanic population increased by over 72% in the last ten years. Hispanic residents now make up nearly 6% of the state’s total population.

The map below shows the relative change in the total population of Wisconsin’s counties:

The map shows that Wisconsin’s population growth was spread fairly consistently across the state and carried over into many rural counties, with the exception of the north woods. Fifty-two counties gained population, and twenty had a loss. This is a stark contrast to what happened in Iowa, where 2/3 of the counties saw a population decrease.

Wisconsin’s largest cities remained fairly steady over the last ten years. Milwaukee continued to lose population but at a decreasing rate, and it remains by far the state’s largest city. Near Milwaukee, Racine and West Allis also lost population, while Waukesha grew by 9%. Madison saw its population rise by 25,155 people, a jump of 12%. The only change in ranking was that Janesville overtook West Allis as the state’s 10th largest city.

Wisconsin’s 10 Largest Cities in 2010 and 2000
City 2010 2010 Rank 2000 2000 Rank Pop. Change % Change
Milwaukee 594,833 1 596,947 1 -2,114 -0.35%
Madison 233,209 2 208,054 2 25,155 12.09%
Green Bay 104,057 3 102,313 3 1,744 1.70%
Kenosha 99,218 4 90,352 4 8,866 9.81%
Racine 78,860 5 81,855 5 -2,995 -3.66%
Appleton 72,623 6 70,087 6 2,536 3.62%
Waukesha 70,718 7 64,825 7 5,893 9.09%
Oshkosh 66,083 8 62,916 8 3,167 5.03%
Eau Claire 65,883 9 61,704 9 4,179 6.77%
Janesville 63,575 10 59,498 11 4,077 6.85%
West Allis 60,411 11 61,254 10 -843 -1.38%

Here in Southwest Wisconsin, every county except Crawford gained population. A number of factors likely contributed to Crawford County’s loss, but the major back-to-back floods on the Kickapoo River in 2007 and 2008 no doubt played a role: Gays Mills in Crawford County lost over a fifth of its residents; Soldiers Grove lost nearly one in ten. The county seat at Prairie du Chien also experienced a slight decline.

In Grant County, Cassville fell below 1,000 people, and the county seat Lancaster experienced a slight decline, but Platteville’s population jumped from 9,989 to 11,224. Fennimore’s population skipped ahead of both Mineral Point and Darlington.

La Crosse, the largest city in the region, remains almost unchanged in size with only a slight decline, but it’s largest suburb Onalaska grew by nearly 20%.

The table below includes figures for several cities and villages in Southwest Wisconsin. Click on a column header to sort the table by that column.

Cities and Villages in Southwest Wisconsin
City or Village 2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
Black River Falls 3,622 3,618 4 0.11%
Boscobel 3,231 3,047 184 6.04%
Cashton 1,102 1,005 97 9.65%
Cassville 947 1,085 -138 -12.72%
Darlington 2,451 2,418 33 1.36%
Dodgeville 4,693 4,220 473 11.21%
Fennimore 2,497 2,387 110 4.61%
Gays Mills 491 625 -134 -21.44%
La Crosse 51,320 51,818 -498 -0.96%
Lancaster 3,868 4,070 -202 -4.96%
Mineral Point 2,487 2,617 -130 -4.97%
Onalaska 17,736 14,839 2,897 19.52%
Platteville 11,224 9,989 1,235 12.36%
Prairie du Chien 5,911 6,018 -107 -1.78%
Reedsville 1,206 1,187 19 1.60%
Richland Center 5,184 5,114 70 1.37%
Soldiers Grove 592 653 -61 -9.34%
Sparta 9,522 8,648 874 10.11%
Spring Green 1,628 1,444 184 12.74%
Tomah 9,093 8,419 674 8.01%
Trempealeau 1,529 1,319 210 15.92%
Viroqua 4,362 4,335 27 0.62%
Westby 2,200 2,045 155 7.58%

You can dig for even more census data at the Census Bureau’s American Factfinder website. What do you make of the new figures? As always, feel welcome to comment below.

Wisconsin Assembly Vote on Budget Repair: District by District

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines

By now just about everyone has heard about the contentious Wisconsin Assembly vote early Friday morning that approved Governor Scott Walker’s contentious “budget repair” bill in mere seconds — without even allowing time for the entire assembly to vote! Since I couldn’t find a map of the vote anywhere else, I decided to make one myself. Now it is easy to see whose representatives have been listening, whose have not, and whose weren’t given a chance to represent their constituents at all.

A Map of Wisconsin Assembly Districts shaded by vote on Gov. Walker's proposed budget repair

You are welcome to copy and share this map. If you want more information, you can access the full vote roll from the Wisconsin State Legislature website. They also offer detailed and numbered maps of the state assembly districts.

Edit: The map has been corrected to show that Janet Bewley (D) of District 74 (Ashland) did not get in a vote. I apologize for any confusion caused earlier.

To Be Fair, We Must Level Up

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines, History

Citizens surround the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison to protest Governor Scott Walker's budget proposals.
Protesters in Wisconsin on February 19, 2011.
Photo © 2011 Mark Danielson. Obtained under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

The protests this month in Madison have incorporated much discussion of fairness — something that people on all sides claim to be seeking. The debate reminds me of a quote by Dr. Samuel Johnson, a British scholar best known for compiling A Dictionary of the English Language in the 1750s. Dr. Johnson was a staunch conservative in an era when conservatism meant defending aristocratic privilege, and he once disparaged an egalitarian movement in England by remarking, “Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves.”

These words struck me as a very legitimate criticism. Why is it that those who stand up for fairness so often fixate on cutting down those who are better off, rather than lifting up all of society?

Make no mistake: Dr. Johnson was on the wrong side of political history. At the cusp of the American Revolution, for example, he wrote that “there can be no limited government” and that “since the Americans have made it necessary to subdue them, may they be subdued … When they are reduced to obedience, may that obedience be secured by stricter laws and stronger obligations!” This does not mean that all of Dr. Johnson’s observations lack merit. His comment about levellers seems enduringly and unfortunately relevant. It is, however, something we can change. When we work towards fairness, we should strive to level up, not to level down.

I grant that there are limits. We cannot all rise to be aristocrats, for there would then be no one left to serve our feasts or plow our fields. That dependence on servitude is where the truth becomes manifest: real unfairness comes not so much when some people have more than others, but rather when some people have more than others through coercion — when one class lives high by exploiting the labor of others.

People who legitimately seek fairness and equality will work, not to bring people down, but to raise people up by leveling the distribution of power, eliminating the privileges that give one class, race, or gender the power to exploit or to hold down the rest. That is the way to level up.

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Rural Iowa is now even more rural.

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines

It’s official: 66 of 99 counties in Iowa lost people between 2000 and 2010, even while the overall state population increased by 4.1% owing to the growth of large cities and especially suburbs — continuing a decades-long trend. These details from Census 2010 were released today by the U.S. Census Bureau:

Iowa is the first state in the region for which detailed Census 2010 data has been released. The Census Bureau plans to release data on a rolling state-by-state basis to be completed by April 1. I’ll be sure to note the release of data for Wisconsin here at Acceity when that arrives. In the meantime, the Iowa returns offer something to think about.

Tale of Two News Feeds

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines, Internet, Media

Protests in Egypt continue to make headlines across the globe today, but not everyone is getting the same story. Take a look at this morning’s (8:00am CDT) top story from the web feeds of two leading news agencies on opposite sides of the Atlantic: the AP in the United States, and the BBC in the United Kingdom.

AP “Top Headlines” Feed (archived | live):

Gangs free militants, foreigners try to flee Egypt
“Gangs of armed men attacked at least four jails across Egypt before dawn Sunday, helping to free hundreds of Muslim militants and thousands of other inmates as police vanished from the streets of Cairo and other cities.” (article)

BBC “Top Stories” Feed (archived | live):

Protesters dominate central Cairo
“Anti-government protesters take over the centre of the Egyptian capital Cairo, as armed citizens’ groups form to counter widespread looting.” (article)

These stories naturally each go on at length, but I’ve only copied the headline and summary broadcast by each organization’s RSS/Atom feed. Often, this is all that subscribers glance at anyway.

Although both reports are rooted in fact, the difference in emphasis is startling. The AP headline, “Gangs free militants, foreigners try to flee Egypt,” stresses chaos, danger, and crime. The less sensational BBC headline, “Protesters dominate central Cairo,” stresses the scope of protest — a human right. You might say that the BBC emphasizes “civil” and the AP emphasizes “disobedience.”

The summaries show even more contrast. The AP raises the familiar American terror of “Muslim militants” freed by “gangs of armed men”, whereas the BBC recognizes “armed citizens’ groups.” These are not instances of using different terms to refer to the same thing; the focus is on different facts altogether. The facts are, however, related: the AP establishes that “police vanished from the streets,” stressing a descent into chaos, while the BBC confirms that “citizens’ groups form to counter widespread looting,” stressing the people’s positive attempts to maintain order.

What I’ve described is only one isolated example of the disparate perspectives that can arise between two supposedly neutral and objective news agencies. The Internet’s deleterious effects on our attention spans might exaggerate these differences, for when news writers compress complicated stories into one-sentence blurbs for syndication, they’re likely to concentrate their biases too. Thankfully, the Internet also provides readers with mechanisms for dealing with bias: we can subscribe to a dozen feeds like this from around the world and gain diverse perspectives on every issue, we can click “read more” for the full story, and we can discuss the news on blogs or social networks. The Internet gives us more tools for making sense of the world than ever before — and more reason to use the tools it gives us.

Senators Announce Plans to Privatize Elections

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines

Excerpted from a 2013 Newspaper:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bipartisan group of 37 senators today announced support for the “Restoring Freedom in American Democracy Act,” introduced last week by senators Lewis Clark (R-Missouri) and Candy Cain (D-Nevada). If passed, the legislation would hand over responsibility for conducting federal elections to private companies. Supporters of the bill say it will help reduce government spending and ensure fairer, more efficient elections. Critics call the measure unconstitutional and fear it could disrupt voter rights.

“It’s time we end this socialist system of state-run elections and take government out of our God-given right to vote,” said Sen. Clark to cheers on Capitol Hill. “America needs to live up to its ideals of freedom and open its elections to the free market.”

The proposed bill would create a streamlined process for companies to secure authority to register voters, print ballots, operate polling places, and tabulate federal election results on a state-by-state basis. Officials hope competition between polling companies in each state will encourage greater efficiency on election day.

“We’ve all experienced long lines at the polls and late nights waiting for results on MSNBC,” explained Sen. Cain. “We can each remember the mess between Bush and Gore in Florida in 2000, or between Palin and Obama in 2012. The states just don’t do a very good job of running elections, and taxpayers will save money by allowing businesses to take over the polls.”

Wall Street welcomed the introduction of the bill, which coincided with the IPO of VoteRight, Inc. “Investors are very interested in this opportunity,” said Chuck Burgess, CEO of VoteRight. “Over 100 million people voted last year,” he added giddily, “and that could translate into more than a billion dollars in registration fees and ballot charges as voters enter the private polling market.”

Critics attacked the idea of for-profit polling companies, alleging that fees could prevent poor people and minorities from voting. That didn’t bother Joe Montgomery, a mechanic from Oklahoma City. “I don’t see why my tax dollars should go to print ballots for people who aren’t contributing to the system,” said Montgomery. “I’d rather pay up front to cast my vote than pay taxes that subsidize voters who don’t agree with me, politically.”

Others weren’t so sure. “What about rural voters?” asked Audrey Teasdale, a rancher in South Dakota. “It’ll never be profitable for businesses to set up polls out here. I’ll have to drive hours just to find an open polling place.”

Chuck Burgess tried to allay concerns. “VoteRight will bring new frontiers of customer convenience to the election market,” he said. “Consumers will be able to vote over the phone with a credit card, or buy as many ballots as they want in the mail. We can keep fees low by letting candidates bid for advertising space. Most people will be able to afford two or three votes each election day. That’s a better deal than they’re getting now, really.”

Americans in several cities are planning silent vigils to protest the legislation. Asked about their concerns, they said nothing.

Sen. Clark was unfazed by the opposition. “Real Americans want this reform, because they’ve seen that elections in our country have been a scam for too long.” Clark won election in Missouri in 2012 with over 60% of the popular vote. “I love America, but the current system is broken. I was shocked, absolutely horrified, when I first learned that when we vote for government officials, we trust the government itself to certify the results! It just doesn’t make sense. That kind of thing needs to be done by reliable, independent businesses operating in a competitive atmosphere.”

Clark’s remarks led at least one opponent, Bernard J. Wolfe, a 58 year old government worker in Kansas City who asked to remain anonymous, to call the senator “that good for nothing son of a bitching sell-out pig.” Most citizens, however, seem indifferent to the proposed changes.

“I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” said Kelly White, a student at Kent State University in Ohio. “Like no one I know votes anyway.”

Secret Iraq War Logs reveal Civilian Casualties, Ignored Abuse

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines

A 2007 photograph shows a North Carolina memorial for U.S. casualties in the Iraq War. Since then, the American death toll has risen from 3883 to 4426, and classified death counts revealed by WikiLeaks put the total documented deaths from 2004 to 2009, including civilians, at 109,032.

Photo © Nils Fretwurst. Obtained under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License via Wikipedia.

Nearly 400,000 classified U.S. military documents made public today by WikiLeaks show that the United States lied about civilian death counts and made a policy of not investigating torture allegations during the Iraq War.

Major global newspapers including the New York Times, The Guardian, and Le Monde had early access to the classified material. The British Bureau for Investigative Journalism has also created a detailed website about the Iraq War Logs.

Although the Pentagon previously denied that it kept records of civilian deaths, the classified war logs document the deaths of 66,081 Iraqi civilians from 2004 to 2009, out of a total 109,032. These numbers fit estimates by the Iraq Body Count project, which the New York Times reminds us is an organization that the “Bush administration repeatedly derided as unreliable and producing inflated numbers.” The Times also notes that as late as this summer, the Pentagon reported an official death count far lower than the numbers now revealed in the classified war logs.

The leaked documents also reveal that the U.S. made a policy of ignoring incidents of prisoner abuse and torture committed by Iraqi security forces. American Troops were required to report such abuse to their superiors, but military officials were not required to investigate reports of torture unless Americans had actually taken part. This led the U.S. to cover its eyes to over 1000 reports of abuse by the very Iraqi security forces that the U.S. has been backing up and training to take control of the country.

Incidents that the United States ignored included reports of “men and women blindfolded, beaten with cables, their genitals electrocuted, fingernails ripped out, sodomised with bottles and hoses” (IraqWarLogs.com) and “prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks” as well as “rape and even murder” (The Guardian). Despite knowledge of this widespread torture, the United States transfered at least 9,250 detainees to Iraqi supervision as late as 2010, despite a written 2008 campaign pledge that “Barack Obama will end the use torture without exception” (PolitiFact.com). The lack of real change from the Obama Administration is not surprising given Obama’s choice to maintain Bush appointee Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.

When Britain’s Bureau for Investigative Journalism sent a letter to the Pentagon asking for comment on the allegation that “the US Government handed over detainees to Iraqi authorities, knowing of concerns that torture was rife in Iraqi detention facilities,” the Pentagon replied only to say:

“We strongly condemn the unauthorised disclosure of classified information and will not comment on these leaked documents other than to note that ‘significant activities’ reports are initial, raw observations by tactical units. They are essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story. That said, the period covered by these reports has been well-chronicled in news stories, books and films and the release of these field reports does not bring new understanding to Iraq’s past.” (IraqWarLogs.com)

As an American citizen, I abhor that my country has tacitly allowed these sickening human rights violations to take place by under-reporting casualties and failing to investigate clear reports of torture and abuse. I cannot and will not give my support to any politician or official who enables this disgusting degradation of human life to continue.

Media Management: The Pentagon & WikiLeaks

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines, Media

Recent publicity suggests that the Pentagon is in the midst of a P.R. campaign to shape media coverage in advance of an imminently expected release of secret Iraq War documents from the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

Founded in 2006, Wikileaks became a household name in April 2010 when it released classified video footage of U.S. troops firing unprovoked at Reuters journalists and even children from an Apache helicopter in Iraq. In July, WikiLeaks followed by publishing the Afghan War Diary, a cache of tens of thousands of reports on military incidents during the War in Afghanistan.

U.S. Military representatives criticized WikiLeaks over these releases, declaring them a security risk and even suggesting that WikiLeaks “might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” WikiLeaks and its supporters have countered that the Pentagon certainly has blood on its hands, and that the documents may even help save lives by prompting public discussion about bringing an end to America’s ongoing wars.

Now WikiLeaks is preparing to release a new and even larger set of documents pertaining to the Iraq War. The leak is widely expected this week and may come as early as today. Interestingly, the Pentagon appears to have engaged in a preemptive public relations campaign over the weekend to try and shape press coverage in advance of the release. If so, it’s a fascinating example example of government media management.

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Steve Jobs: “not a sweatshop”

· Posted by Joshua in Headlines

Apple iPhone 3GS
Apple iPhone 3GS.
Photo © 2009 Renato Mitra, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 2.0.

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs spoke in California today and briefly defended working conditions at the Chinese factories that manufacture Apple’s high end consumer electronics. Here, though, are the numbers:

The U.S. retail price of Apple’s iPhone 3GS, 16GB:
$199.001
The starting monthly salary of the workers who build the iPhone and iPad for Apple at a Foxconn manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China:
$131.77 (¥900)2
That salary expressed as an hourly wage for Foxconn employees who work six twelve-hour shifts a week:
$0.46 (¥3.13)3
Number of suicides and suicide attempts at Foxconn factories so far this year:
134
Amount by which Foxconn has now pledged to increase wages for assembly line workers:
30%5 (at the base rate, that is ¥270 or $39.53/month)
Price of stock in Apple Inc. on NASDAQ at the close of trading on June 2, 2010:
$263.956
Amount by which the stock price in Apple Inc. has risen so far this year:
$49.947
Date when Apple surpassed Microsoft as the world’s largest technology company by market capitalization:
May 27, 20108

Apple is not the only client of the Taiwan based Foxconn Technology Group. Devices sold by Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia and others are also built at the very same Foxconn plants. It is Apple, however, that makes the greatest pretense at exclusivity — exacting the highest prices from American consumers, dispersing the wealth to Wall Street traders, and remaining content with the abysmal wages at its Chinese assembly lines. It is just one more reminder of who bears the burden for our cozy material lifestyle.

UPDATE (June 7, 2010): Under increased pressure, Foxconn has announced a 70% wage increase for its production line workers, on top of the aforementioned 30% increase — if workers can pass a three month performance review. Investors seem to dislike the idea of boosting employee wages, and shares in Foxconn’s parent company have fallen swiftly at the news. Read more: BBC News.

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