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May 25, 2012

“Texas uses fourth grade reading scores to project the number of prison cells they’re going to need 10 years later.”

The best way to get kids reading at an appropriate educational level? Read to them when they are young. Two doctors from Boston founded a program that gave parents two free books a year when they came in for pediatric check-ups. The program was a huge success. It's very cheap ($10 a year, for two books!) but it's also on the chopping block. A $5 Children s Book vs. a $47,000 Jail Cell - Choose One - Forbes
I first heard that astounding pronouncement in 1995 while co-chairing a White House task force on literacy. And though I later learned that the formula for projecting the number of jail cells was more nuanced, it was not inaccurate. Moreover, Texas wasn’t alone in using elementary school reading difficulties as a proxy for serious problems later in life. 60% of America’s prison inmates are illiterate; and 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems. Sadly, the percentage of criminals who have reading/illiteracy problems is not surprising. What is shocking however, is how many kids are at risk of illiteracy. Today, fully 67% of American fourth-graders can’t read at the fourth-grade proficiency level; and 33% score below the basic competency level. (All these statistics are from the NAEP tests — the standardized tests given to all fourth-graders.)

Detroit to turn off street lights in "distressed" neighborhoods

These are neighborhoods the cops already won't go to. The city is effectively ceding control and responsibility for vast swathes of land. Half of Detroit’s Streetlights May Go Out as City Shrinks - Bloomberg
Detroit, whose 139 square miles contain 60 percent fewer residents than in 1950, will try to nudge them into a smaller living space by eliminating almost half its streetlights. As it is, 40 percent of the 88,000 streetlights are broken and the city, whose finances are to be overseen by an appointed board, can’t afford to fix them. Mayor Dave Bing’s plan would create an authority to borrow $160 million to upgrade and reduce the number of streetlights to 46,000. Maintenance would be contracted out, saving the city $10 million a year. Other U.S. cities have gone partially dark to save money, among them Colorado Springs; Santa Rosa, California; and Rockford, Illinois. Detroit’s plan goes further: It would leave sparsely populated swaths unlit in a community of 713,000 that covers more area than Boston, Buffalo and San Francisco combined. Vacant property and parks account for 37 square miles (96 square kilometers), according to city planners. “You have to identify those neighborhoods where you want to concentrate your population,” said Chris Brown, Detroit’s chief operating officer. “We’re not going to light distressed areas like we light other areas.”

May 24, 2012

How your furniture became stuffed with toxic flame retardants

Flame retardants do not make us safer and are chemically linked to PCBs. They migrate out of furniture and mingle with dust and get consumed--especially by babies who play on the floor. They are linked to diabetes, reduced IQ. Care to read more? Are You Safe on That Sofa? - NYTimes.com
It turns out that our furniture first became full of flame retardants because of the tobacco industry, according to internal cigarette company documents examined by The Tribune. A generation ago, tobacco companies were facing growing pressure to produce fire-safe cigarettes, because so many house fires started with smoldering cigarettes. So tobacco companies mounted a surreptitious campaign for flame retardant furniture, rather than safe cigarettes, as the best way to reduce house fires. The documents show that cigarette lobbyists secretly organized the National Association of State Fire Marshals and then guided its agenda so that it pushed for flame retardants in furniture. The fire marshals seem to have been well intentioned, but utterly manipulated. An advocacy group called Citizens for Fire Safety later pushed for laws requiring fire retardants in furniture. It describes itself as “a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders.” But Citizens for Fire Safety has only three members, which also happen to be the three major companies that manufacture flame retardants: Albemarle Corporation, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura Corporation. Citizens for Fire Safety paid a prominent Seattle physician, Dr. David Heimbach, who testified in some states in favor of flame retardants. Dr. Heimbach, the former president of the American Burn Association, told lawmakers stories of children who had burned to death on cushioning that lacked flame retardants.