Friday, September 30, 2011

The 2011 International Guam Film Festival

This weekend the 1st Guam Film Festival will showcase local and international films to the masses on Island. Go support the event! Their website can be found here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Japan Sizes Up Task of Fukushima Waste Disposal

Published on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 by Reuters

by Yoko Kubota

TOKYO - Japan faces the prospect of removing and disposing 29 million cubic metres of soil contaminated by the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years from an area nearly the size of Tokyo, the environment ministry said in the first official estimate of the scope and size of the cleanup.

Protesters hold placards during the anti-nuclear march in Tokyo, Japan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Six months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered reactor meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan's northeast coast, the size of the task of cleaning up is only now becoming clear. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)Six months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered reactor meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan's northeast coast, the size of the task of cleaning up is only now becoming clear.

Contaminated zones where radiation levels need to be brought down could top 2,400 square km (930 square miles), sprawling over Fukushima and four nearby prefectures, the ministry said in a report released on Tuesday.

Tokyo Metropolitan prefecture has a total area of 2,170 square kilometers (840 square miles).

The environment ministry has requested an additional 450 billion yen in a third extra budget for the year to next March that the government aims to submit to parliament in October, Kyodo news agency reported.

The government has so far raised 220 billion yen ($2.9 billion) to be used for decontamination work, but some experts say the cleanup bill cost reach trillions of yen .

If a 5 cm (2-inch) layer of surface soil, likely to contain cesium, is scraped off affected areas, grass and fallen leaves are removed from forests, and dirt and leaves are removed from gutters, it would amount to nearly 29 million cubic metres of radioactive waste, the document showed.

This would be is enough to fill 23 baseball stadiums with a capacity of 55,000 spectators, and the government must decide where to temporarily store such waste and how to dispose of it permanently.

Japan has banned people from entering within a 20 km (12 mile) radius of the plant, located about 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo and owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co . Some 80,000 people were forced to evacuate.

The government aims to halve radiation over two years in places contaminated by the crisis, relying on both the natural drop in radiation as time passes and by human efforts.

The ministry's estimate assumes that cleanup efforts should be mainly in areas where people could be exposed to radiation of 5 millisieverts (mSv) or more annually, excluding exposure from natural sources.

The unit sievert quantifies the amount of radiation absorbed by human tissues and a mSv is one-thousandth of a sievert. Radiation exposure from natural sources in a year is about 2.4 mSv on average, the U.N. atomic watchdog said. ($1 = 76.655 Japanese yen)

(Editing by Ed Lane)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

'American Teacher': A Film on Education That Gets It Right

Published on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 by The Answer Sheet Blog

Every policymaker should be required to see the new film “American Teacher,” which powerfully reveals the huge challenge that the country faces in attracting and keeping the best teachers to help improve public education.

Director Vanessa Roth’s new film, co- produced by Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari and narrated by Matt Damon, notes that while “most people agree that a teacher is the most important in-school factor to school success,” you’d never guess this from what many teachers experience in our public schools.

Instead of focusing on this problem we’ve gotten lost in misdirected answers and foolish debates about improving public education. The answer is charter schools! The problem is charter schools! Blame the teacher unions! Fire bad teachers! And some movies, like “Waiting for Superman ,” have fallen into the same traps.

American Teacher takes a different approach. It compellingly shows how we lose many of our best teachers, and suggests how we can change this pattern.

The film follows a handful of teachers, each dedicated and highly effective both pedagogically and interpersonally. They are:

  • A first-grade teacher in Brooklyn who works 10 hours every day and who spent $3,000 of her own money to provide classroom supplies during her first year. (Ninety percent of public school teachers have been found to spend their own money to provide necessary supplies.)
  • A middle school teacher, who has 40 desks in her packed classroom along with with students sitting on cabinets. She says, “I feel like I give everything I have, but it’s never enough. …And if I had three of me I might be able to get it done.”
  • A gifted social studies teacher and coach in a Texas school who has a starting salary of $27,000 and eventually has to take a night warehouse job to help support his wife and two children.
  • A gifted young African-American teacher, with a bachelors degree from Harvard University and a masters degree from Columbia University, who has to explain to family and friends why she chose teaching. “You could do anything! Why teaching?!”

There is no better encapsulation of the problems facing teachers than the story of this teacher, named Rhena, who also exemplifies the best practices and habits of a great teacher. She has great energy, knows her subjects, motivates kids, and works closely with their families. She makes it clear just how challenging and complex teaching is today:

“So little of what I do is …instructing in the classroom. So much of what I do is in the role of a counselor or a social worker or a parent when they need one, or a friend when they need that. Dealing with all of those other social and emotional and personal issues so we can just get down to the work of learning is a huge part of what… many teachers do that I don’t think people always realize.”

Certainly most policymakers don’t.

Most good teachers work 10 hour days that include early morning tutoring or planning and afternoon tutoring, coaching or club advising. Many have papers to grade at night. They average close to 50 hours a week at school and 15 hours after school. Many work on weekends. And more than 30% also have after school jobs.

The stories of these teachers are in some instances heart-breaking.

The Brooklyn first-grade teacher gets six weeks of maternity leave and then has to go back to work to make ends meet.

The Texas teacher, continually unavailable to his wife and children, loses his family, his home is foreclosed, and he eventually has to take an even longer night job.

Another superb African-American teacher who helped many inner-city students go on to college has to quit to go into the family business because he can’t support his family with the low salary. Students use the words “shocking” and “devastating” to describe his departure.

Forty-six percent of all teachers quit before their fifth year, driven from the profession by a combination of low salaries, long hours, a lack of support, and the lack of prestige given to the profession. Almost all leave despite a love for teaching. Almost all miss it. And, of course, many potentially excellent teachers don’t choose this as a career because of these same obstacles.

The deputy superintendent of South Carolina nails it when he says: “When you have teachers who have to have second jobs…. teachers that are living at the poverty level. Then I think there is something wrong … And as a society we need to really change that culture. We need to flip it around to say that being a teacher is the most important job in our society.”

Although the film doesn’t see this as THE solution to the problem, it introduces us to Zeke Vanderhoek’s new Equity Project Charter School in New York City. He pays the best teachers $125,000, cuts almost all other costs, most of them administrative, and thus gives the kids who need it the most the best teachers possible. Vanderhoek says that the high salaries change the perception of what it means to be a teacher.

As the film shows, Rhena becomes one of 600 applicants for eight teaching positions at this school. She is selected and leaves her traditional public school in New Jersey, a loss deeply felt by the children and parents. But after a number of years of low salary and long hours, this is an understandable choice.

“We still struggle to provide the status, the salaries, the respect, and the training that teaching as a full profession requires and deserves,”said Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, an expert on teacher training and one of our most prominent educational leaders.

Finally, the film notes that the top-performing countries on international standardized tests in math, science, and reading share a number of characteristics. They selectively recruit for teacher training programs. Training is government funded. The pay is much higher than in the United States. Professional work environments are excellent. And the cultural respect for teachers is very high. In Finland, teaching is the most admired job among top college students. Few teachers leave the profession.

“American Teacher” spells out the cost to teachers who stay in troubled, low-paying schools as well as to the students when good teachers leave — and it continually makes the point that the most disadvantaged kids are the ones who suffer the most as a result. But it goes beyond spelling out the problem by showing things that we can do to change the dynamic.

The film will open in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, in San Francisco on October 7th and in New Orleans on October 14th. It will also screen in Rockville, Md., on Oct. 12; in Charlottesville, Va., on Oct. 13, and many other cities. You can check the screenings here.

You can also check the Teacher Salary Project website for additional information and updates on showings:


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

McCain hits appropriation for Guam military buildup


UNITED States Senator John McCain said on the Senate floor that it was incredible to him that the Senate

Senator John McCain

Appropriations Committee would prioritize and appropriate $33 million to purchase school buses for Guam’s school children, build Phase One of a repository for Guam’s cultural artifacts, and fund a facility for Guam’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

The Committee last week passed H.R. 2219, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which included the $33 million for Guam.

“That legislation should reflect the will of the Defense Authorization bill, but runs directly contrary to it in many areas,” said McCain.

The $33 million is for operation and maintenance funds, that is, money used to maintain the readiness and combat capability of U.S. troops.

The $33 million and the $40 million appropriation expected next year “to complete these facilities, is, at least in theory, supposed to help promote Guam’s cooperation as part of the plan to move 8,700 Marines and 9,000 family members from their current bases on Okinawa to Guam,” said McCain.

But McCain warned that the plan to move the Marines, which will require spending between $18 and $23 billion on Guam to build up its capabilities as a permanent base, “is so much in doubt that both the Armed Services Committee and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee have stopped funding Guam military construction projects until the Department of Defense provides a master plan and considers alternatives that may provide the needed Marine forward presence at much less expense.

“In the face of all the doubt about the scope and timing of the eventual buildup, the Appropriations Committee put a premium on buying school buses, an artifact repository, and a mental health clinic in Guam. Those simply are not my idea of top Defense priorities in the fiscal environment we face.”

Bordallo response

Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo criticized McCain for his comments.

“Senator McCain’s views are out of step with the Department of Defense, the House, and the State Department, and they are not consistent with his previous stance on infrastructure funding for Guam,” said Bordallo.

“During last year’s debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate expressed concern about infrastructure funding and requirements in Guam. This $33 million address critical civilian infrastructure needs and provides funding for the Department of the Navy to fulfill certain obligations agreed to in the Programmatic Agreement.”

Bordallo said McCain’s comments are not consistent with recent developments in Japan.

“For the first time, the government of Japan has a concrete plan on how to achieve tangible progress in Okinawa next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has expressed his government’s support for moving forward with the realignment. The buildup in Guam is an absolute necessity for the United States to ensure regional stability, and Congress must provide the resources necessary to ensure that it is a win-win for both our military and Guam’s civilian community,” said Bordallo.

Guthertz response

Senator Judi Guthertz, Guam buildup chair, also responded, saying McCain’s remarks are “irresponsible and suggest his memory is failing.”

“He has forgotten many promises that were made to pave the way for the buildup,” she said.

“Now I know the Marines will enjoy being on Guam,” McCain said. “I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary for them to have a repository for cultural artifacts.”

Guthertz said, “If Senator McCain or his staff had bothered to look into why these decisions were made, rather than firing off cheap media shots, they would understand, unless they have been totally brainwashed by the Tea Party,” Guthertz said.

The funding for these projects came about when the Department of Defense offered to fund the museum in view of widespread concern that the massive development planned for the buildup would destroy archaeological and culturally significant artifacts on the island. It is supported by a 2010 Programmatic Agreement signed off by both the government of Guam and the military.

Guthertz said the “sniping at the construction funds for the mental health facility was particularly outrageous since the Environmental Impact Statement process made it quite clear that the arrival of Marines and their dependents envisioned in the original buildup plans would push present mental health facilities in Guam past the breaking point.”

Guthertz accused McCain of not caring “one bit about the U.S. citizen civilians on Guam, who have been assured by the DOD that impacts on the civilian community would be mitigated in exchange for their support of the buildup.”

McCain said in the Senate, the process of authorizing prior to appropriating money for the federal government was a “fundamental problem of this body,” and “it is time this process be stopped.”

McCain said this was because “a handful of senior appropriators, and their unelected staffs, dictate the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars – often in a manner that directly contravenes the will of those committees that still authorize spending.”

The solution, said McCain, is to not authorize appropriation bills and any funding proposed for unauthorized projects which should be subject to the scrutiny of the authorizing committees and reflect the will of their members.

“We are all to blame for this problem. The fact is that routine passage of authorizing legislation simply doesn’t occur as it should. And far too often, even routine passage of appropriations legislation has devolved into passage of a single ‘omnibus’ bill. This also must stop.”

McCain said at a time when the government is facing a $14.7 trillion national debt, “the Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing a Defense spending bill that uses a budget gimmick totaling over $10 billion to mislead the American people about the savings the Committee claims to achieve.”

“And while the Department of Defense is struggling to find more than $400 billion in cuts directed by the President, the Appropriations Committee is still conducting business as usual by rewarding special interests and funding pet projects that have little or nothing to do with our national defense,” he said.

McCain listed roughly 580 items that were changed by the Appropriations Committee which are differences from the bill adopted unanimously by the Armed Services Committee in June in the Department of Defense Authorization bill. The list is 45 pages long and represents $20 billion in changes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

As the Drone Flies...

Published on Monday, September 26, 2011 by

The fast developing predator drone technology, officially called unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, is becoming so dominant and so beyond any restraining framework of law or ethics, that its use by the U.S. government around the world may invite a horrific blowback.

First some background. The Pentagon has about 7,000 aerial drones. Ten years ago there were less than 50. According to the website, they have destroyed about 1900 insurgents in Pakistan's tribal regions. How these fighters are so clearly distinguished from civilians in those mountain areas is not clear.

Nor is it clear how or from whom the government gets such "precise" information about the guerilla leaders' whereabouts night and day. The drones are beyond any counterattack--flying often at 50,000 feet. But the Air Force has recognized that a third of the Predators have crashed by themselves.

Compared to mass transit, housing, energy technology, infection control, food and drug safety, the innovation in the world of drones is incredible. Coming soon are hummingbird sized drones, submersible drones and software driven autonomous UAVs. The Washington Post described these inventions as "aircraft [that] would hunt, identify and fire at [the] enemy--all on its own." It is called "lethal autonomy" in the trade.

Military ethicists and legal experts inside and outside the government are debating how far UAVs can go and still stay within what one imaginative booster, Ronald C. Arkin, called international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement. Concerns over restraint can already be considered academic. Drones are going anywhere their governors want them to go already--Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and countries in North Africa to name a few known jurisdictions.

Last year a worried group of robotic specialists, philosophers and human rights activists formed the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) ( They fear that such instruments may make wars more likely by the strong against the weak because there will be fewer human casualties by those waging robotic war. But proliferation is now a fact. Forty countries are reported to be working on drone technology or acquiring it. Some experts at the founding conference of ICRAC forshadowed hostile states or terrorist organizations hacking into robotic systems to redirect them.

ICRAC wants an international treaty against machines of lethal autonomy along the lines of the ones banning land mines and cluster bombs. The trouble is that the United States, unlike over one hundred signatory nations, does not belong to either the land mines treaty or the more recent anti-cluster bomb treaty. Historically, the U.S. has been a major manufacturer and deployer of both. Don't count on the Obama White House to take the lead anytime soon.

Columnist David Ignatius wrote that "A world where drones are constantly buzzing overhead--waiting to zap those deemed threats under a cloaked and controversial process--risks being, even more, a world of lawlessness and chaos."

Consider how terrifying it must be to the populations, especially the children, living under the threat of drones that can attack through clouds and dark skies. UAVs are hardly visible but sometimes audible through their frightful whining sound. Polls show Pakistanis overwhelmingly believe most of the drone-driven fatalities are civilians.

US Air Force Colonel Matt Martin has written a book titled Predator. He was a remote operator sitting in the control room in Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada watching "suspects" transversing a mountain ridge in Afghanistan eight thousand miles away. In a review of Martin's book, Christian Cary writes "The eerie acuity of vision afforded by the Predator's multiple high-powered video cameras enables him to watch as the objects of his interest light up cigarettes, go to the bathroom, or engage in amorous adventures with animals on the other side of the world, never suspecting that they are under observation as they do."

For most of a decade the asymmetrical warfare between the most modern, military force in world history and Iraqi and Afghani fighters has left the latter with little conventional aerial or land-based weaponry other than rifles, rocket propelled grenades, roadside IEDs and suicide belted youths.

People who see invaders occupying their land with military domination that is beyond reach will resort to ever more desperate counterattacks, however primitive in nature. When the time comes that robotic weapons of physics cannot be counteracted at all with these simple handmade weapons because the occupier's arsenals are remote, deadly and without the need for soldiers, what will be the blowback?

Already, people like retired Admiral Dennis Blair, former director of National Intelligence under President Obama is saying, according to POLITICO, that the Administration should curtail U.S.-led drone strikes on suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia because the missiles fired from unmanned aircraft are fueling anti-American sentiment and undercutting reform efforts in those countries.

While scores of physicists and engineers are working on refining further advances in UAVs, thousands of others are staying silent. In prior years, their counterparts spoke out against the nuclear arms race or exposed the unworkability of long-range missile defense. They need to re-engage. Because the next blowback may soon move into chemical and biological resistance against invaders. Suicide belts may contain pathogens--bacterial and viral--and chemical agents deposited in food and water supplies.

Professions are supposed to operate within an ethical code and exercise independent judgment. Doctors have a duty to prevent harm. Biologists and chemists should urge their colleagues in physics to take a greater role as to where their know-how is leading this tormented world of ours before the blowback spills over into even more lethally indefensible chemical and biological attacks.