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82 Percent of US Schools May be Labeled 'Failing'

no child left behind, schools
© The Berkeley Daily Planet
The number of schools labeled as "failing" under the nation's No Child Left Behind Act could skyrocket dramatically this year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday.

The Department of Education estimates the percentage of schools not meeting yearly targets for their students' proficiency in in math and reading could jump from 37 to 82 percent as states raise standards in attempts to satisfy the law's mandates.

The 2002 law requires states to set targets aimed at having all students proficient in math and reading by 2014, a standard now viewed as wildly unrealistic.

"No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now," Duncan said in a statement. "This law has created a thousand ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed."

Duncan presented the figures at a House education and work force committee hearing, in urging lawmakers to rewrite the Bush-era act. Both Republicans and Democrats agree the law needs to be reformed, though they disagree on issues revolving around the federal role of education and how to turn around failing schools.

A surge in schools not meeting annual growth targets could have various implications. The most severe consequences - interventions that could include closure or replacing staff - would be reserved for those schools where students have been failing to improve for several consecutive years.


US: Senate Democrats Push Facebook on Privacy

© The Associated Press
Franken (left), Schumer, Whitehouse and Blumenthal wrote to Facebook about privacy.

Democrats on the Senate's newest privacy panel are urging Facebook to "reverse" a plan that would allow app developers the ability to request access to users' addresses, phone numbers and other contact information.

It's the strongest signal of concern yet coming from Capitol Hill, where other members have questioned Facebook's new feature since the social network disabled it amid controversy in January.

This time, the letter is from Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The lawmakers stress that access to a user's contact information threatens a person's other sensitive data - including his or her e-mail address and family members' names.

The members are calling on Facebook to "reconsider this policy," or at least "block this feature for Facebook users between 13 and 17 years of age."

Franken and his colleagues are also asking Facebook to disclose to users clearly how this information can be abused. They would like to require - if "operationally possible" - that all apps still be available to users who decline to grant apps access to their contact information.

"The changes Facebook is contemplating would allow countless application developers to access a vast repository of personal information with just one or two clicks from a user's mouse," wrote Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee's new privacy panel, which Franken chairs.


US: Dearborn Republican Sues Facebook for Shutting Down Account During Election, Foiling his 'Attempt to Overthrow the Dingell Dynasty'

Dearborn attorney Majed Moughni says he lost his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. John Dingell last year, in part, because he lost his Facebook account.

Moughni, who finished fourth in the Republican primary with only four percent of the vote, filed a lawsuit against the social networking website last month in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Feb. 24, The Detroit News: "In an attempt to overthrow the Dingell Dynasty, (I) devised a plan to use Facebook to accumulate thousands of friends, who in turn would spread the message and overseat the longest-serving member of Congress," the suit states.
Instead, his Facebook page was yanked June 10.

It came as Moughni, 40, was using the site to criticize Dingell for questioning a blown call that cost Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga a perfect game, rather than focusing on important issues.

"I had no chance without Facebook," said Moughni, 40. "They disorganized us in the middle of our campaign and we lost. Facebook took us off the market. They took us off the face of the earth."


Yemen: Anti-Government Protesters May Have Been Hit With Nerve Gas, Doctors Say

© Agence France-Presse
Yemenis protest against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, where demonstrators were allegedly fired on with nerve gas by government forces.
Doctors from the scene of violent anti-government protests in Yemen's capital said that what was thought to be tear gas fired by government forces on demonstrators may have been nerve gas, which is forbidden under international law.

Military personnel opened fire on Tuesday night and used what was originally assumed to be tear gas to disperse a group of demonstrators who were trying to bring additional tents into the protest area outside Sanaa University.

At least two people were killed in a fresh round of clashes across the country, where anti-regime protests have been raging since late January, medical and security officials said.

One protester died of gunshot wounds early Wednesday when police opened fire on student demonstrators near the university in the capital Sanaa overnight, a medical official said.

According to witnesses, the soldiers fired warning shots into the air before shooting gas - and in some cases live bullets - into the crowd, killing one and injuring at least 50.

Green Light

Saudi prince Questions Ban on Women Driving

© Bloomberg News /Landov
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal
  • Saudi women should be allowed to drive, senior prince says
  • Royal family is facing calls for change
A senior Saudi prince questioned the need for a ban on women driving on Wednesday and said lifting it would be a quick first step to reduce the Islamic kingdom's dependence on millions of foreign workers.

The Gulf Arab state is a monarchy ruled by the al-Saud family in alliance with clerics from the strict Wahhabi school of Islam. Women must be covered from head to toe in public and are not allowed to drive.

But the ruling family has been facing calls from activists and liberals, empowered by protests across North Africa and the Middle East, to allow some political reforms in the absolute monarchy that has no parliament.

Using social media, activists have called on King Abdullah to allow women to participate for the first time in municipal elections expected later this year.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of King Abdullah and advocate of his reforms, said the kingdom could send some 750,000 foreign drivers home if women could drive.

"A lot of Saudi women want to drive their car in line with strict regulations and wearing a headscarf. But now they need a driver ... This is an additional burden on households," he said.


United Arab Emirates: Two suicides, mystery death within 14 hours

The Sharjah Police have launched investigations into two cases of suicide and the mysterious death of an elderly man, all of which were reported in a span of 14 hours in different areas of the emirate.

The deceased are Indians and working in companies based in Sharjah and Dubai. According to the police, they were informed at 6.45pm on Wednesday about the death of a worker in his room at a labour camp in Industrial Area 4.

The police found the worker's body hanging on a cord from the ceiling fan. He was identified as Sandy K., 28, who was working for a contracting company based in Dubai.

His co-workers told the police that the deceased had been going through some financial problems.

The body was shifted to Al Kuwaiti Hospital.


Michigan Republicans seek power to dis-incorporate whole cities, dismiss elected officials

Republicans in Michigan have come up with a revolutionary solution to the state's growing budget crisis: claim the right to auction off entire municipal entities, like cities, counties, school districts and water systems.

In a new bill being pushed by Governor Rick Snyder (R), the governor, or a company hired by the governor, would have the power to declare municipal entities insolvent. Amid the fiscal emergency, the governor or the governor's agent would then be empowered to appoint an emergency manager to oversee all financial matters.

Under language in the bill, that individual would be able to cancel any and all contracts - including collective bargaining rights for unions - and outright dis-incorporate whole cities, dismissing lawfully elected officials in the process.

In short, "they want a corporate monopoly state," author Naomi Klein explained during an appearance on Wednesday's Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.

This video is from The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Wednesday, March 9, 2011.


Duke of York made private visits to the President of Azerbaijan

The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and his wife Mehriban, on a visit to London in 2009
The Duke of York made private visits to the President of Azerbaijan, whose country is one of the most corrupt in the world, after forging links with him in his role as trade envoy.

The disclosures will add to questions over the Duke's relationships with the leaders of dubious regimes. He visited the Azerbaijan president eight times in five years, with two of the visits described as "entirely private".

The Duke's repeated visits to the state - ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world - were in the face of allegations of the torture of political opponents and rigged elections by the regime of President Ilham Aliyev.

Such has been the regularity of the Duke's visits that local media in Azerbaijan have speculated that he has business links to the oil-rich state, including a golf resort on the Caspian Sea. However, Buckingham Palace has denied this.

As recently as Monday of this week, Amnesty International demanded an end to the torture of activists demanding reforms in Azerbaijan similar to those seen in Tunisia and other parts of the Middle East.

The Duke is referred to on his visits as "the dear guest" and, in June 2009, he chartered a private jet and flew to the country for three days at an estimated cost to taxpayers of £60,000.


European Parliament spends £600,000 on body scanners that have never been used

© PA
MEPs led the campaign to stop the use of the scanners in the Parliament yet they are in use in 70 airports across Europe, including London Heathrow
The European Parliament spent £600,000 on six body scanners that were never used because MEPs argued it would be an infringement of privacy.

The body scanners, bought in 2005 at a cost of £100,000 each, are "rotting" in the basement of the building in Brussels and have never been used.

When the scanners, which create an image of a person's nude body, were eventually delivered to the Parliament in the autumn of 2005 MEPs objected to them being used in the building on privacy grounds.

Nikki Sinclair, a British independent MEP, said the Parliament tried to sell the machines but failed to do so.

They are now so old that they are considered to be technically out of date and may be scrapped altogether.


BBC staff arrested and tortured in Libya by Gaddafi forces

Journalists subjected to mock execution in ordeal which represents most serious incident against international media

Journalists working for the BBC in Libya have been arrested, tortured and subjected to a mock execution by security forces of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

The shocking account of their experiences, including being held in a cage in a militia barracks while others were tortured around them, was made available to media colleagues in Tripoli after the men had been released and left the country.

At one point during their captivity the men say they had shots fired past their heads as they were led into a barracks.

One of the men was attacked repeatedly with fists, boots, rifle butts, a stick and piece of pipe. He also described trying to help other victims of torture whom they saw, some of whom had had their ribs broken during beatings.