Monday, October 30, 2006

Eye on the DOJ for 10/30: DOJ Files Voting Rights Suit Against Philadelphia

Eye on the DOJ for 10/30: DOJ Files Voting Rights Suit Against Philadelphia

Hrm. Voting issues all around these days, huh? Now it looks like Philadelphia isn’t providing enough material and assistance for voters who don’t speak English. Come on, Philadelphia. Get it right.
The Justice Department announced that it filed a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia, alleging violations of the rights of Hispanic and Spanish-speaking voters under two key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

"The right to vote is a fundamental guarantee for all American citizens," said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "In light of the serious problems faced by minority language citizen voters in Philadelphia, we hope that city officials and the Justice Department can reach an agreement quickly to begin essential remedial measures in time for the 2006 federal elections."

The Voting Rights Act requires that certain jurisdictions with a substantial minority-language voter population provide all voting materials and assistance in the minority language as well as in English. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, charges that the city failed to provide Spanish-language assistance at the polls to the majority of its Spanish- speaking voters in recent elections.

The Voting Rights Act also assures voters who need assistance in voting, such as those unable to see or read the ballot, the right to receive that assistance from a person of their choice, other than the voter's employer or union representative. The complaint charges that the city prevented Spanish-speaking voters from receiving assistance from the persons of their choice, even in cases where bilingual assistance was otherwise unavailable.

The Civil Rights Division works to ensure compliance with all of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act with respect to all citizens of all racial groups in all areas of the United States. Since 2002, the Civil Rights Division has filed over three-fourths of all cases to protect the right of voters needing assistance in the history of the Act, and over 60 percent of all minority language cases than in the entire previous history of the Voting Rights Act. As a result of this work and other lawsuits brought, since 2002, the Department has brought a majority of all cases it ever has filed under the substantive provisions of the Voting Rights Act to protect Hispanic and Asian voters, and the first cases ever filed to protect the voting rights of Filipino and Vietnamese voters. During this time period, the Division has filed successful Voting Rights Act lawsuits across the country, with cases in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.


Looks like somebody in Congress actually cares that the DOJ is slowing investigations of the excesses of Government contractors in Iraq. Of course, it’s probably too little, too late given the proximity of the election, but I’m happy to see that some elected officials have actually noticed the stonewalling at all. Maybe it’s an election strategy, but hell, I don’t care. If it gets any publicity at all, it’s worth it.
Washington, DC –U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) today contacted the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding reports that the Department may be stalling the process of prosecuting claims of contractor abuse in the reconstruction of Iraq. In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Johnson expressed his concern and urged the Department to take immediate and concrete steps to retrieve wasted funds. Johnson is also cosponsoring a measure designed to prevent such delays.

“Reports that the Department of Justice may actually be slowing down efforts to combat contract abuse are especially troubling considering the millions of taxpayer dollars that have been squandered due to abuse and inadequate oversight in the reconstruction in Iraq,” Johnson said. “Rather than mucking up the works, the Department of Justice should be aggressively pursuing claims of fraud and abuse.”

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that a number of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of whistleblowers using the False Claims Act, which allows individuals to recoup ill-gotten funds by government contractors. However, before any claim filed under the False Claims Act can move forward, the Bush Administration must make a formal decision whether or not to be a party to the lawsuit. According to press reports, the Administration has made a formal decision in only one case, raising concerns that the DOJ is deliberately preventing cases from moving forward.

Additionally, Johnson is co-sponsoring an amendment offered by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to the Fiscal Year 2006 Iraq Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill. This amendment would require the DOJ complete their review of each lawsuit within one year. After the one year period, the allegations become public, and the cases can proceed forward.


Hey, remember the Anthrax case? That little old thing from the days after September 11th that has now faded on the horizon, that was used as a specter of domestic terrorism for so long and has now been quietly and conveniently forgotten, for whatever reason? Well, it seems that Congress and the FBI are now butting heads over the investigation, and the lack of progress over it. I’ve always wondered what was happening with it…
WASHINGTON - Congress and the FBI are now openly battling over the pace and direction of the anthrax investigation.

Late Monday, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a damning six-page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting a briefing on the FBI investigation, now five years old. The letter faults the agency for its handling of the case, saying "the FBI has little in the way of results to show for its work."

Meanwhile, in an unusual move, the FBI's top lobbyist has informed members of Congress that the bureau will no longer brief them on the case. The FBI's Assistant Director for Congressional Affairs wrote, "After sensitive information about the investigation citing congressional sources was reported in the media, the Department of Justice and the FBI agreed that no additional briefings to Congress would be provided."

FBI critics consider the letter rich irony, since the FBI itself is under attack for leaking key details of the case to the media.

In the fall of 2001, someone mailed anthrax-laced letters to two U.S. senators and to a number of media organizations, including NBC News. The finely milled anthrax spores were remarkably buoyant, and five people who inhaled them were killed.

After the anthrax incident, Dr. Steven Hatfill was publicly branded a “person of interest.” He’s never been charged with any crime and has since brought a libel and defamation suit against columnist Nicholas Kristof and The New York Times.

On Oct. 20, a federal magistrate judge ruled that The New York Times must reveal the names of the confidential sources on whom Kristof relied for a series of columns about the anthrax case. The judge revealed that two of Kristof's unnamed sources were FBI agents.

Meanwhile, the FBI recently installed a new team of top investigators to head up the anthrax case. Sources familiar with the case tell NBC News that the new managers are looking anew at all possible suspects, with a much broader focus than before. The sources say that the previous head of the case, inspector Richard Lambert, was moved to a new position within the FBI, in part because he had focused too much on Hatfill.

Grassley's letter picks up on that, stating that Lambert's transfer to a Tennessee FBI office "raises questions about why he was replaced [and] the focus of the FBI's investigation under his leadership." Lambert now is the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's field office in Knoxville, Tenn.

Posted by crimnos @ 11:31 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Congress Watch for 10/26: Severe Election Problems Possible in 10 States; Stem Cell Debate heats up; Green Party candidate drops out

Congress Watch for 10/26: Severe Election Problems Possible in 10 States; Stem Cell Debate heats up; Green Party candidate drops out

It wouldn’t be Congress without elections, and it wouldn’t be a U.S. election without electoral problems, now would it? It seems that we’ve had nothing but voter problems since 2000, and now a new report is stating that 10 states are at risk for disputed and damaged elections which will directly impact the outcome and credibility of the next Congress.

Two weeks before the midterm elections, at least 10 states, including Maryland, remain ripe for voting problems, according to a study released yesterday by a nonpartisan clearinghouse that tracks electoral reforms across the United States.

The report by says those states, and possibly others, could encounter trouble on Election Day because they have a combustible mix of fledgling voting-machine technology, confusion over voting procedures or recent litigation over election rules -- and close races.

The report cautions that the Nov. 7 elections, which will determine which political party controls the House and Senate, promise "to bring more of what voters have come to expect since the 2000 elections -- a divided body politic, an election system in flux and the possibility -- if not certainty -- of problems at polls nationwide."

In a state-by-state canvass, the 75-page report singles out places, such as Indiana and Arizona, where courts have upheld stringent new laws requiring voters to show poll workers specific forms of identification. It cites states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have switched to electronic voting machines whose accuracy has been challenged. And it points to states such as Colorado and Washington, which have departed from the tradition of polling sites in neighborhood precincts.

Here’s something I didn’t expect. When Jessica from Cellar Door sent me a message a few days ago with the Michael J. Fox stem cell ad, I admit I was clueless about just what was going on, but it didn’t take me long to learn about what had happened and what was about to happen. It took very little time for the dialog of the election to shift gears, and now it seems to be splitting the Republican party right down the middle. I don’t think that was the intended effect, but it’s very, very interesting to watch.
Michael J. Fox, staring straight into the camera, boldly shows the effects of 15 years spent battling Parkinson's disease. He wants people to see what the illness has done to his body so they will support research that involves the use of human embryonic stem cells.

What Rush Limbaugh, the outspoken conservative radio show host, saw as Fox "acting" or not "taking his medicine," as he said publicly, was ignorance, say Parkinson's experts.

"It was ignorant and inappropriate," said Dr. Michele Tagliati, director of the Parkinson's Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. "This movement is a side effect of years spent on these medicines. But patients with Parkinson's can't afford not to take their medicines."

The movement disorder causes tremors, rigidity and balance problems. Half a million Americans suffer from Parkinson's. Fox was diagnosed in 1991 and went public about his illness in 1998. He started a foundation that has raised millions.

Christopher Reeve, who also started a research foundation soon after the riding accident that left him paralyzed, appealed to the public with an ad that had him standing on two legs, a feat of the cameras and not science. At the time, he said he did it to be provocative and interest people in supporting the science.

Now this is interesting…don’t hear much information on Green party candidates these days, but I just learned that the Connecticut Green Party candidate Richard Duffee decided to withdraw from the race, with the Party stepping forward and supporting Democratic nominee Diane Farrell.

Farrell, according to a poll this week, is running neck and neck with the Republican incumbant, Christopher Shays, who has been in Congress 19 years. Libertarian candidate Phil Maymin is also on the ballot.

Although Duffeee's withdrawal comes just two weeks before the Nov. 7 election, officials in the Westport Town Clerk's office said they will not have to reprint the absentee ballots that are to be sent out soon. Instead, officials will cross out Duffee's name on the ballot.

Duffee said this week, "Republican threats to the future and to our form of government are so serious that it is more important to bring the House of Representatives under the control of the Democrats than to run a Green candidate for Congress in the Fourth District.

"Our decision is a vote of confidence in Diane Farrell's seriousness about putting some brakes on Bush's imperial presidency and at least returning us to the rule of law." said Duffee, a former law professor.

By Connecticut law, Duffee alone has the right to take his name off the ballot. He chose in July to allow the Fairfield Greens to make that decision in caucus as the campaign developed.

"I would like to thank the Green Party and Richard Duffee for their decision today," said Farrell. "I would also like to mention the valuable voice brought to the table by Richard Duffee in this year's debates, especially on topics such as human rights, the War in Iraq and socio-economic issues affecting our country, and I believe that the Green Party should be included in future debates here in Connecticut's Fourth district."

"We share a common belief that the Bush administration has led us astray, especially as it pertains to the War in Iraq, energy policy, education and environmental issues," Farrell said.

Farrell met with members of the Fairfield County chapter of the Green Party on Saturday and explained her position on issues of concern to the Greens.

Duffee said that the Greens decided to back Farrell because she appeals to a larger audience than the Greens at the present time and she can be most effective in reversing the current war policies on Iraq.

"Our decision to back Diane Farrell is not a decision to become Democrats," Duffee said. "Nearly all of us became Greens because we believed that the Democratic Party does not adequately serve the public interest because it is not sufficiently committed to resist corporate pressure."

Posted by crimnos @ 11:09 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Large and Small for 10/25: Halloween Pet Safety Tips, Adopting Black Cats at Halloween, Gay Marriage in the Animal Kingdom, Animal Populations Falling

Large and Small for 10/25: Halloween Pet Safety Tips, Adopting Black Cats at Halloween, Gay Marriage in the Animal Kingdom, Animal Populations Falling Fast, Seabed Microbe May Curb Global Warming, and Religion Expands its Role in Global Warming

With Halloween just around the corner, I wanted to share the following tips for pet owners everywhere:
Halloween's traditions of candy, costumes and trick-or-treating can be a potentially dangerous and distressing time for pets, warns the Ontario SPCA. Extra caution should be taken to protect pets from Halloween hazards, including keeping pets safely indoors to shelter them from children's "pranks" or other cruelty-related incidents - particularly black cats, the most frequent victims of abuse at Halloween.

Other precautions the Ontario SPCA recommends to help keep pets safe this Halloween include:

Ensure your pets are wearing collars with ID tags. If for any reason they escape and become lost there is a greater chance they will be returned to you if they are clearly identified with a tag, ideally combined with a microchip. For many pets the best way to spend Halloween is resting in a secure area within the house with a favourite toy, comfortable bedding and soothing music, where they won't have a chance to be spooked by strangers and dart outdoors.

Use decorations, such as pumpkins, fake cobwebs and decorative corn with caution. If ingested, many decorations can cause your pet gastrointestinal upset and even result in intestinal blockage. Lighted pumpkins or standing candles pose an additional risk. Pets, especially curious kittens, may knock candles over, cause a fire and/or get burned. Move electric lights, wires and cords or liquid potpourri beyond your pet's reach. If electric cords or lights are chewed, pets can receive a life-threatening electrical shock or damage their mouth from shards of glass; and exposure to both heated and cool liquid potpourri product can result in severe damage to the skin, mouth and eyes.

Keep candy out of your pet's reach. Chocolate, depending on the amount ingested, can be toxic to many animals including dogs, cats and ferrets. Generally the less sweet the chocolate the more dangerous it could be. In fact, as little as ¼ ounce of baking chocolate can cause diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate in a 10-pound dog. As well, if candies or gum containing the sweetener xylitol are ingested in large quantities it can produce a sudden drop in blood sugar for pets, resulting in depression, incoordination and seizures.

Keep candy wrappers away from pets. If ingested, aluminum foil and cellophane candy wrappers can cause vomiting and produce intestinal blockage.

Maintain your pet's normal diet and prevent access to alcoholic beverages. Even changing you pet's diet for one meal can give your cat or dog severe indigestion and diarrhea, and alcohol ingestion can cause your pet to become very ill and weak - and may even cause your pet to go into a coma or to suffer respiratory failure.

Don't dress your pet in a costume unless you know he (or she) enjoys it. Confining costumes can cause stress and injury to pets if it restricts their movement, hearing or ability to breath, bark or see, and small or dangling pieces may be chewed off and cause choking or intestinal obstruction. Never leave your costumed pets unsupervised.

"While Halloween is a time of fun and excitement for kids and adults, it can be distressing and potentially dangerous for our pets," says Keri Semenko, Acting Director of Animal Sheltering and Wildlife Services for the Ontario SPCA. "Far too often the Ontario SPCA hears stories of animals being abused or exposed to avoidable dangers at Halloween. Keep your pets secure and safe inside the home, choose decorations with caution, and explain to children why they shouldn't share their treats with pets. With a little caution Halloween can be a safe and enjoyable holiday for everyone."

Members of the public are urged to report anything suspicious related to animals to their local Ontario SPCA branch or affiliated humane society. Cruelty to animals is a crime and abuse causing pain and suffering should not be dismissed as a prank.

If you suspect your pet may have ingested a toxic product or substance contact your local veterinary clinic immediately.


A commonly-known issue in rescue group circles is that of black cat adoptions: they lag behind almost every other animal in adoption rates, mostly because of the stupid superstitions that revolve around them. Some places go so far as to put a ban in place on their adoptions on Friday the 13ths or around Halloween. That’s why it’s encouraging to see the San Mateo, California Animal Shelter encouraging adoptions of the cats during this period:
There are superstitious souls who fear black cats are bad luck.

And there are well-meaning souls who worry that people are particularly cruel to the dusky critters around Halloween.

Some humane agencies go so far as to ban adoption of black cats close to the holiday to prevent them from becoming haunted house props or targets of teenage pranks.

But the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA is encouraging people to adopt the agency's 16 or so black cats near Halloween. It's hard to find homes for them during the rest of the year.

``It's just perplexing to shelter workers across the country -- black cats and dogs stay longer in the shelter than light-colored ones,'' said PHS spokesman Scott Delucchi. ``No one knows exactly why.''

The Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals plans a one-week moratorium on black cat adoptions starting Wednesday.

``We've seen all kinds. Sometimes people see a dead animal and just assume it was a satanic cult,'' said SPCA LA President Madeline Bernstein. ``Sometimes it's a cat that's been eaten by a coyote.''

Other times, she said, the agency has heard reports from police of ritual or mock-ritual killings of black cats at Halloween. Corroborating those accounts, however, is difficult.
Bernstein said commercial haunted houses will pick up a cat from a city shelter for about $30 and dump it when business stops.

“When you look at the follow-up after the holiday and you look at the number of cats that are returned,” she said, “you realize you can be a little bit prophylactic.”

Delucchi said local stories of black cat abuse appear to be tall tales, and worries of mass abandonment after Halloween are equally overblown.

“I don't know that it's really based on anything except fear,'' he said. ``In San Mateo County, we don't see cats turning up Nov. 1 that have been harmed. As far as we know, it hasn't been realized.''

At the Peninsula Humane Society shelter, would-be adopters pay $70 and go through up to an hourlong orientation before they become pet owners.

Delucchi said it's unlikely someone would go through the screening hassle to snag a black cat for some unsavory short-term use, so the agency puts its faith in its usual adoption process, rather than risk throwing up roadblocks between potential pet owners and abandoned animals.

``You really can't afford to be that restrictive,'' said Delucchi, noting that holidays are an optimal time to link people and pets. ``If your goal is to find homes and find good homes, we feel we have the right approach. We have to trust people.''

I just wanted to include this because it’s cool: there’s finally an exhibit on homosexuality and bisexuality in the animal kingdom, showing that this is not an unnatural thing in humanity. This finally exposes the trump card of religious fundamentalism: if God created these animals, then why could God not also create humans in this mold?
Two male giraffes in unequivocal pose, a lesbian swan couple, two male whales stimulating each other: a new exhibit in Oslo displays examples of animal homosexuality.

"Normally," says Geir Söli with a smile, "natural history museums just show pretty boring things: rocks, stuffed birds and the like." Not so with the Norwegian zoologist's latest project. After three years of preparation, Söli and his colleagues from the Natural History Museum in Oslo have just inaugurated the world's first exhibit on animal homosexuality.

"Against Nature?" is the name of the exhibition in the red brick building on the edge of Oslo's Botanical Gardens. The question mark at the end of the title is of particular importance to exhibit director Söli. He wants to qualify the argument that homosexuality is against nature because, he says, the facts paint a different picture: homosexual behavior has been observed in at least 1,500 species, and in roughly 500 of these cases the findings have been well documented. "And that's only the tip of the iceberg."

All too often, Söli says, zoologists have simply ignored the homosexuality of their research subjects. Against the backdrop of a 4-meter-tall image of two giraffes in an unmistakable pose, Söli explains how the whole thing usually worked: In a study on giraffes in Africa, for instance, scientists classified the mere sniffing of a female by her male counterpart as "sexual interest." But when one male giraffe mounted another, the scientists recorded this as a "territorial fight" -- even when they observed an ejaculation -- because what must not be, cannot be.

Around 2,300 years ago, Aristotle had already described the remarkable behaviour of a group of hyenas: males flirting with males, females pleasuring females. But the idea of gay marriage in the animal kingdom never really fitted into the scientists' world view, and so was all too often ignored.

Not too far way, in Göteborg's Natural History Museum, an exhibition has been running since the beginning of June entitled "I love U," which presents, in laid back Scandinavian style, the mating and reproduction of all kinds of animals, including people. With a faint hint of Abba, the Swedish exhibitors illustrate "the winner takes it all" with a model of an egg surrounded by sperm. It's all about reproduction here -- up to now the only purpose for sexuality in the animal kingdom -- at least according to the traditional version.

The Oslo exhibit documents how reality has now caught up with the scientists: they observed whales, for example, rubbing up against each other with erect penises; a female dolphin gliding her fin into her partner's genital tract; or two male seagulls building a nest together. Scientists even discovered, to their great surprise, that approximately one out of ten couples in some king penguin colonies were homosexual.

The Joy of Animal Sex

"Biological Exuberance" is the name of a book published seven years ago by the biologist Bruce Bagemihl, which summarizes these types of cases. And "exuberance" is indeed the explanation for these observations, says Bagemihl. His somewhat controversial theory forms the cornerstone of the Oslo exhibition: animals enjoy sex, whatever the constellation may be. Geir Söli contends that this is especially true of more developed species like whales, dolphins, or primates. There is evidence everywhere of homosexual behavior.

Incidentally, the exhibit also shows cases where with a few tricks, homosexual animal couples can even raise offspring. Scientists have recently reported on parenthood among homosexual flamingos, vultures and storks, by means of borrowed eggs and "one-night stands." They have also found evidence of some same-sex relationships that last an animal's lifetime. "You can say what you will about homosexuality, but you can't say that it is contrary to nature," says Geir Söli, thereby answering in passing the question in the exhibit's title.

So far, there haven't been any large-scale protests against the exhibition -- it simply fits in too well with liberal Norway, where the government, by way of special subsidies, encourages the country's museums to get involved in the public debates. And so it should come as no surprise that it is above all families who crowd the dimly lit museum halls on the weekends. The merry sound of hollering children is constantly reverberating throughout the museum. "I am pleased that families continue to come here," Söli says. "We don't have any shocking images here, we don't want to hit anyone over the head."

Alarming news yesterday from the World Wildlife Federation (WWF): humanity is eating up the planet’s resources as if we were living on three planets, not just one. What does this mean for the ecosystems? Terrible, catastrophic things:
The group said the world's natural ecosystems were being degraded at a rate unprecedented in human history. On current projections, this means that as a whole, humanity will need at least two planets' worth of natural resources by 2050.

The report said humanity's ecological footprint was 25 per cent greater than the planet's annual ability to provide everything from food to energy and recycle all human waste in 2003. The figure has increased from 21 per cent five years ago.

James Leape, WWF's director general, said: "We are in serious ecological overshoot. The consequences of this are predictable and dire.

"For more than 20 years, we have exceeded the earth's ability to support a consumptive life-style that is unsustainable and we cannot afford to continue down this path.

"If everyone around the world lived as those in America, we would need five planets to support us."

WWF said forests and fisheries will eventually be harvested to such a degree that they might disappear altogether.

The report showed there was a one-third decline in the populations of more than 1,300 fish, bird and animal species between 1970 and 2003.

It said the loss of natural habitat to farming has been particularly acute in the tropics. Pollution, tree-felling and over-fishing were major factors elsewhere, with climate change-causing fossil fuels the fastest-growing factor.


Here’s some cause for hope and a potential ally in the battle against global warming. Could we create more of these to help scrub out the methane in the air?
Bacteria that live in volcanically heated mud deep under the sea off the coast of Norway feed on methane, a gas that is partly to blame for climate change, a Franco-German team of scientists have discovered.

The newly-discovered creatures were found in the Haakon Mosby Mud Volcano, a place in the Barents Sea where hot methane gas from deep under the earth seeps into the slime. The bacteria have evolved to live in conditions that would be lethal to other life forms.

The research was published Thursday in the British science journal Nature. Micro-organisms that consume methane have been discovered before, but the discovery helps science better understand how methane reaches the atmosphere.

Methane is a useful fuel, but when it escapes unburned into the air, it is a greenhouse gas that leads to nearly 25 times as much global warming as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

The research, which was led by Antje Boetius of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in the German city of Bremen, established that the three species of methane-eating micro-organisms found consumed 40 per cent of the escaping methane.


Finally, I’m very interested in and glad to see this. Not too long ago, I recall reading an article that talked about how the millennial nuts were embracing global warming as an agent of the coming of Christ and the end times. Now it seems that churches are remembering that, if they are supposed to focus on caring for others, that caring for others entails caring for the environment, as the world will keep on going and people will be harmed by global warming. I applaud these churches, even if I don’t agree with their views. Great work!
Religious groups have not always been at the forefront of environmental activism, but a new movement is gaining steam across this country. As the United States government continues to hem and haw about the state of global warming (they still can't decide if it actually exists), religious groups are positioning themselves to lead America to a greener future.

Organized religion has often been accused of focusing on the needs of humans while neglecting the state of the planet. However, an unprecedented wave of ecological awareness is now taking hold and changing that image. Last winter, 86 evangelical Christian leaders signed a statement acknowledging human effects on the changing climate and imploring Congress to legislate carbon dioxide emissions standards. This was just one step in a growing trend.

A Michigan coalition of congregations is working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by taking localized steps, such as investing in fluorescent light bulbs and more efficient appliances, and powering a church with solar panels. These actions have been generally positive and the 124-member group has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 14,000 tons. Locally, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis just announced a new parishioner-run task force. The committee will look for options to fight global warming through individual choices and local policy changes.

These programs stand to make a large impact on global warming. While government action would go a long way toward decreasing carbon dioxide emissions, it is important to remember that individual efforts make a difference. If everyone took little steps to reduce energy usage, we could see significant results.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:24 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Get Local for 10/24: More Maryland Election Woes (Diebold Source Code Stolen in Maryland!)

Get Local for 10/24: More Maryland Election Woes (Diebold Source Code Stolen in Maryland!)

Maryland. What the hell. Let’s get this straight. First you completely screw up the primary, now it looks like the Diebold Source Code has been stolen from under your noses?
The FBI is investigating the possible theft of software developed by the nation's leading maker of electronic voting equipment, said a former Maryland legislator who this week received three computer disks that apparently contain key portions of programs created by Diebold Election Systems.

Cheryl C. Kagan, a former Democratic delegate who has long questioned the security of electronic voting systems, said the disks were delivered anonymously to her office in Olney on Tuesday and that the FBI contacted her yesterday. The package contained an unsigned letter critical of Maryland State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone that said the disks were "right from SBE" and had been "accidentally picked up."

Lamone's deputy, Ross Goldstein, said "they were not our disks," but he acknowledged that the software was used in Maryland in the 2004 elections. Diebold said in a statement last night that it had never created or received the disks.

The disks bear the logos of two testing companies that send such disks to the Maryland board after using the software to conduct tests on Diebold equipment. A Ciber Inc. spokeswoman said the disks had not come from Ciber, and Wyle Laboratories Inc. said it was not missing any disks.

Diebold spokesman Mark Radke and Goldstein said that the labels on the disks referred to versions of the software that are no longer in use in Maryland, although the Diebold statement said the version of one program apparently stored on the disks is still in use in "a limited number of jurisdictions" and is protected by encryption. The statement also said the FBI is investigating the disks' chain of custody.

Michelle Crnkovich, an FBI spokeswoman in Baltimore, said she had no knowledge of an investigation.

In an unrelated development, Maryland state auditors said in a report yesterday that the State Board of Elections is not properly controlling access to a new statewide database of registered voters or verifying what changes are made to it. The report comes at a time of heightened concern over the security and effectiveness of electronic voting systems.

Legislative auditor Bruce Myers said it was unusual to allow "across-the-board access" by local election officials to a sensitive database, but Lamone defended the board's practices. In a letter released with the Office of Legislative Audits report, she wrote that the board "is unaware of any allegations of the falsification of additions or deletions to the system."

The FBI investigation into the disks could focus further scrutiny on the security of Maryland's electronic voting system.

Now let’s figure out exactly WHY Maryland residents wouldn’t be inspired with confidence?
The number of Marylanders requesting absentee ballots already exceeds the number cast in the last gubernatorial election. With three weeks left before the general election, ballot requests are still coming.

A new law that took effect this year has removed all restrictions on use of absentee ballots. They previously were available only to people who could not make it to the polls on election day.

That new availability, fallout from the problem-plagued primary election and questions about the reliability of the state's voting system from some political leaders, appears to have spurred demand.

If the flood of requests continues, it could swamp election officials with extra work and delay the outcome of closely contested elections next month. Absentee ballots are not counted until local election officials canvas their results.

This surprised the hell out of me. I mean, I dislike the Ehrlich Administration as much as anyone else, but apparently Ehrlich’s been underfunding predominantly black colleges and universities and is now facing a lawsuit over it. I don’t know the merits of the case, but the fact that it’s been brought at all speaks volumes:
In a move that hails back to the education battles of the last century, a local coalition filed a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court Oct. 5, alleging the state of Maryland had not fulfilled its obligations under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to equitably fund and enhance historically Black colleges and universities with an eye to removing vestiges of legal segregation.

The Maryland Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education names Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and Higher Education Secretary Calvin Burnett as two major defendants. The suit was filed on the heels of a report sent to USDE's Office for Civil Rights by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which claimed that the state had lived up to the terms of its desegregation commitment. The coalition said it tried contacting OCR to address the matter but was ignored.

'The coalition enthusiastically embraces this action to resolve the matter of the lack of parity and equity between historically Black colleges and universities and traditionally White institutions and is resolved in making this a launching pad for a national discussion,' said coalition President David Burton. 'Previous actions to address this matter did not result in responsive action that satisfied our understanding of current law; therefore, a lawsuit is in order.'

The suit is based on premises laid out in the Supreme Court decision in {United States v. Fordice}, the higher education equivalent of {Brown v. Board of Education}. The law prohibits states from duplicating programs already established in HBCUs at proximate traditionally White institutions and requires equitable funding of Black and White state schools among other requirements. The intent of the law is to build up and raise HBCUs to a level playing field to draw White, Black and other students and complete the process of integration. Successful examples of that process are Howard University's School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's hospitality management program.

Here’s a bit of mixed news: while Maryland hate crimes are on the decrease, religiously-motivated crimes are on the rise, according to FBI data. According to Southern Maryland Online:
The numbers of total hate crime incidents slid 20.4 percent from 2004 to 2005 alone, following a decade-long trend, the data show. In 1995, Maryland agencies reported 353 hate crimes, the vast majority of them racially motivated. By the end of 2005, that number had dwindled to 195.

The 2005 data does not include a recent spate of hate crimes in Charles County, where police are investigating at least a dozen instances of racially motivated graffiti and vandalism, or hate crimes in Montgomery County this month involving swastikas spray-pained on vehicles and on a new section of the King Farm development in Rockville.

While Maryland's falling incidence rate outpaced a 6 percent decline nationally in hate crimes last year, the state's police agencies reported the 10th highest incidence of hate crimes among the 48 states that contributed to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

Interesting news.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:54 AM :: (0) comments

Monday, October 23, 2006

Civil Rights Watch for 10/23: DOJ appeals Wiretapping case, Allies Keep Gitmo Open, Probe into Gitmo Abuses Begins

Civil Rights Watch for 10/23: DOJ appeals Wiretapping case, Allies Keep Gitmo Open, Probe into Gitmo Abuses Begins

Due to personal commitments, today’s entry is presented with minimal commentary; tomorrow’s entry should resume as normally scheduled.

U.S. govt appeals court's NSA wiretapping decision
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration on Friday appealed a federal judge's ruling this summer that a controversial post-September 11, 2001, domestic spying program was illegal.

The U.S. Justice Department, in documents filed with a federal court in Cincinnati, argued that President George W. Bush had acted within the law in authorizing the surveillance of domestic wiretaps of international telephone calls.

In its appeal, the government stated that the federal judge's ruling "dismantles a tool that already has helped detect and disrupt al Qaeda plots."

It stated that U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision directly conflicts with the Supreme Court's direction to "proceed with great caution in resolving challenges in this extraordinarily sensitive context."

Nearly a year ago, media reports revealed the existence of the domestic spying by the National Security Agency.

Civil libertarians, including the ACLU, which brought the suit, have argued the government could gain the same type of intelligence information through warrants.

Judge Taylor ruled in August that NSA's five-year-old surveillance program, implemented as part of the government's war on terrorism, violates the civil rights of Americans because the government does not have to present justification for its monitoring in court and obtain a warrant.

In its appeal, the government argued the surveillance program was narrowly targeted and thus did not violate Americans' constitutional rights, while being an effective tool in stopping potential terrorist attacks.

The expedited appeal called for the government to submit its arguments to the appeals court by Friday, with a response due a month later.

U.S. allies impede Guantanamo releases

Britain and other U.S. allies have demanded closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but have also blocked efforts to let some prisoners return home, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

British officials recently rejected a U.S. offer to transfer 10 former British residents from Guantanamo to the United Kingdom, arguing that it would be too expensive to keep them under surveillance, the newspaper said, citing documents made public this month in London.

Britain has also staved off a legal challenge by the relatives of some prisoners who sued to require the British government to seek their release, The Washington Post said.

While all British citizens in Guantanamo were freed starting in 2004, Britain has balked at allowing former legal residents of the country to return, the newspaper said.

Germany and other European allies, which have spoken out against Guantanamo, also have balked at accepting prisoners from the facility, the Post said.

Human rights groups have condemned U.S. practices at Guantanamo, where detainees have been held indefinitely without charge.

Some 335 prisoners have been transferred out of Guantanamo since the prison camp's creation in January 2002 and another 110 of the 440 still at the jail have been declared eligible for transfer or release, the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon has already freed all but a few European citizens from Guantanamo. However, U.S. officials have struggled to persuade Britain, Germany and other allies in Europe to accept prisoners who once had legal residency there, or who are effectively stateless, The Washington Post said.

U.S. Army colonel arrives at Guantanamo to investigate abuse allegations

A U.S. Army colonel arrived at Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday to investigate whether guards at the prison beat detainees, as they allegedly boasted about doing, the spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command said.

Col. Richard Basset will conduct interviews for up to a month at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeast Cuba, said Jose Ruiz.

"He's going to interview everyone he thinks he needs to talk to, to be able to establish the facts," Ruiz said from the Southern Command headquarters in Miami, where Basset is based.

Basset has authority to interview any member of the military Joint Task Force that runs the detention center at Guantanamo regardless of their rank, Ruiz said, clarifying an earlier statement he made that the colonel would not be able to interview senior officers.

Basset will submit his findings to the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the detention center.

Posted by crimnos @ 11:38 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Congresswatch for 10/19: Elves and Orcs and NBA Basketball, oh my!

Congresswatch for 10/19: Elves and Orcs and NBA Basketball, oh my!

Santorum and Kennedy

Someone please tell me what is happening here.

Oh, Rick Santorum-chan! How your antics amuse me. It’s good to be able to lead off Congresswatch with some humor for once.

Santorum defends Iraq war

Bucks County Courier Times

Embattled U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said America has avoided a second terrorist attack for five years because the "Eye of Mordor" has been drawn to Iraq instead.

Santorum used the analogy from one of his favorite books, J.R.R. Tolkien's 1950s fantasy classic "Lord of the Rings," to put an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq into terms any school kid could easily understand.

"As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else," Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

"It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S.," Santorum continued. "You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States."

In an interview with the Bucks County Courier Times editorial board late last week, the 12-year Republican senator from Pennsylvania said he's "a big "Lord of the Rings' fan." He's read the first of the series, "The Hobbit" to his six children.

A spokesman for Democratic opponent Bob Casey Jr. questioned the appropriateness of the analogy.

"You have to really question the judgment of a U.S. senator who compares the war in Iraq to a fantasy book," said Casey spokesman Larry Smar. "This is just like when he said Kim Jong II isn't a threat because he just wants to "watch NBA basketball.' "

According to a Harrisburg Patriot-News editorial, Santorum said the North Korea dictator "doesn't want to die; he wants to watch NBA basketball" as a reason why Iran is the bigger nuclear threat.

All this while the GOP is trying their damnedest to save Santorum. Okay, while I understand the idea of trying to hold on to the seat for dear life, I don’t understand why they would exhaust so much effort on a guy who is most likely doomed (and really stupid, judging by the previous article). But I guess they must figure there’s something to salvage. An ’08 run? Hah! Not likely. Maybe it’s because he hates those icky queers. Oh wait, it is!

ROSYLN, Pa. — Keith Hollenberg, a member of the evangelical Assemblies of God church, is worried that one of his political heroes is about to lose his bid for reelection.

So when he saw Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) at a car show here, Hollenberg volunteered to help in what has become an urgent project for social conservatives in Pennsylvania and around the country: keeping Santorum in the Senate.

"I'm a big fan of yours," Hollenberg told him. "Keep on pulling for the right thing."

Santorum, an outspoken advocate of banning same-sex marriage, restricting abortion, and other social conservative causes, is considered this year's most-endangered senator.

It is a four-alarm fire for conservatives, who are bringing water buckets from all corners of the political world. Across Pennsylvania, pastors are preparing to stuff voter guides into their Sunday bulletins. In Washington, D.C., Paul Weyrich, a national conservative leader, hosted a conference call to give a pep talk to Republicans in Pennsylvania. In England, some Santorum fans are planning to cross the Atlantic to help campaign.

"I think it's important for people across the country to recognize how important it is not only to pay attention but to get engaged in this race, whatever way they can," said Colin Hanna, head of Let Freedom Ring, a conservative group based in Pennsylvania. "If Rick Santorum were to lose, it would be cited as a turning point in the social conservative movement."

Santorum is not just a key link between the Republican Party and Christian conservatives. He is also one of President Bush's most unapologetic allies in Congress and a member of the Senate GOP leadership. And he is the apotheosis of a younger generation of Republicans — led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — that transformed the party in the 1990s into a more confrontational, ideological political force.
Oh, and how hilarious is this picture from the same story? That’s a look of trust if I’ve ever seen one! I’m sure my own reaction to Santorum approaching me during dinner would be about the same.


Thanks to George for pointing this one out:

“Nixon’s secret plan to win the war is resurrected from the dead (and the secret is still safe)”

Sen. Conrad Burns said at a debate Tuesday night that President Bush does have a plan for winning the war in Iraq, but he isn’t about to share it with the world.

Democratic Senate candidate Jon Tester replied that Bush’s only plan is to stay the course in Iraq, costing more American lives and billions of dollars, and to pass the war on to the next president who will take office in January 2009.

The two candidates’ answers about the war produced the most sparks at a debate before about 800 people at Montana State University-Billings sponsored by The Billings Gazette and the university. It was the two candidates’ sixth debate; they face off for the final time in Great Falls Friday night.

For the first time, Burns publicly expressed some concern about how effectively the U.S. is waging the war in Iraq. He echoed the views of Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, who recently returned from a trip to Iraq.

“We can’t lose in Iraq,” Burns said. “The consequences of losing is too great.”

Burns, however, said the U.S. does need to change its military tactics there. “If we don’t change, we’ll pay a heavy price, but we cannot afford to lose it,” he said.

Tester said that Burns has finally admitted that his “stay the course” position in Iraq is wrong and welcomed the senator to his own side.

For nearly a year, Tester has called on Bush to develop a plan to remove U.S. troops from Iraq. Burns has criticized Tester’s position as “cut and run.”

“We’re in a quagmire over there,” Tester said.

Burns told Tester firmly not to put him in the Democrat’s camp on the issue.

“I said we’ve got to win,” Burns said. “He wants us to pull out. He wants everyone to know our plan. That’s not smart.

“He says our president don’t have a plan. I think he’s got one. He’s not going to tell everyone in the world.”

Many in the crowd, which was dominated by Tester supporters, openly laughed at Burns’ claim that Bush has a plan.

Tester said Bush’s only plan is staying the course in Iraq at considerable sacrifices to U.S. troops and the federal treasury.

“We went in under false pretenses,” Tester said. “We pulled the troops from Afghanistan and put them in Iraq. Osama bin Laden is still running free.”

The war is costing the U.S. billions of dollars a year that could be better spent on helping middle-class families and small businesses, the challenger said.

Tester said he is not for “telling our opponents what we’re going to do. The fact is, we don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Replied Burns: “We’re not going to tell you what our plan is, Jon, because you’re just going to go out and blow it.”

Finally, looks like Ohio might be going Blue! Or at least Purple. I forgive you for putting Bush in a second time. Besides, some of my best friends live in Ohio.

The bellwether state of Ohio appears to have become hostile terrain for Republicans this year, with voters there overwhelmingly saying Democrats are more likely to help create jobs and concluding by a wide margin that Republicans in the state are more prone to political corruption than are Democrats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS

Ohio is home this year to closely watched races for governor, the United States Senate and a growing roster of competitive House seats, and the state has become one of the most contested battlegrounds of 2006 and one in which voters at this point are strongly favoring Democrats on many issues.

The Democratic candidates for governor and Senate hold commanding, double-digit leads over their Republican opponents in the poll and respondents said they intended to vote for the Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in their district by a 50 to 32 percent margin.

The results raise alarm bells for President Bush and his party across the nation three weeks from Election Day.

The poll found a striking slippage in the president’s standing among white evangelical Christians, a constituency that has provided a strong vote cushion for Republican candidates in recent elections. In November 2004, 76 percent of white evangelical Christians in Ohio voted for Mr. Bush. When asked in this poll whether they approve or disapprove of the job Mr. Bush is doing as president, 49 percent approved while 45 percent disapproved.

Ohio is a Republican-leaning but heavily contested state that twice voted to elect Mr. Bush and gave him his Electoral College margin of victory in 2004. But it is not a perfect microcosm of the country, and in particular it has higher levels of economic anxiety, the poll found.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:40 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Large and Small for 10/19: Dog and Cat Fur, Crackdown on Puppy Mills, and Global Warming hits the wallet

Large and Small for 10/19: Dog and Cat Fur, Crackdown on Puppy Mills, and Global Warming hits the wallet

Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania

The weekly Large and Small entry is a completely new feature to the Junkheap, and reflects my own growing interest in animal rights and environmental concerns.

Let’s start with something that seemed like a no-brainer to me, but is apparently a big enough problem that the EU actually required a ban on it: using cats and dogs for their fur. I applaud the ban, but holy shit, who would wear something like that?

ANIMAL welfare campaigners today welcomed a vote by the European Parliament in favour of an EU-wide ban on the sale of dog and cat fur.

MEPs approved the ban as part of the first ever European Community strategic plan on animal protection. Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP John Barrett, recently appointed honorary vice-president of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), said: "This is a historic turning point in the fight to ban this inhumane trade.

"The vote by members of the European Parliament sets in motion an EU-wide commitment to ban the import of dog and cat fur products to the EU."

Mr Barrett said he had lost count of the number of constituents who had contacted him to support his calls for a total ban on the trade.


Here’s some more good news: Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (a Democrat, no less, whoo) has appointed the state’s first prosecutor specializing in regulating all of those damn Pennsylvania puppy mills. Finally there’s going to be some sort of oversight and hopefully measures to make these animals’ lives better and hopefully shut down the abusive breeders.

HARRISBURG - Seeking to end the inhumane treatment of dogs in commercial breeding operations, Gov. Rendell is expected to announce today the appointment a career state prosecutor to lead the embattled office charged with regulating 2,500 kennels across the state.

Jessie Smith, a 20-year veteran of the Office of Attorney General and a former board member of the Harrisburg Humane Society, has been named special deputy secretary of the Bureau of Dog Law, according to administration sources.

Rendell, who pledged in March to take action to improve conditions in the state's "puppy mills," also is expected to announce the appointment of Jeffrey Paladina, a former assistant district attorney, as special prosecutor for dog law enforcement and the establishment of a four-member enforcement team that will be dispatched to problem kennels.

"This is the first step toward a long-term solution to the puppy-mill problem in Pennsylvania," said Bob Baker, an ASPCA consultant who served on a working group that made recommendations to Rendell early this year. "This sends a strong message to breeders to straighten up or there will be action."

Animal welfare groups say the bureau has been unable to stop the worst offenders because it had rarely used its power to suspend or revoke kennel licenses. "The excuse it gave was that it didn't have an attorney to handle that," Baker said.


So, global warming isn’t that important because it doesn’t personally affect you. Right? Wrong. For even the most money-headed of people, global warming can have tangible, real impacts on the most important thing: their bottom line.

Oct. 11, 2006 — U.S insurance rates are already rising because of the impacts of global warming — and consumers should prepare for even higher rates — as flooding, wildfires, and other extreme weather events become more common, a new study says.

It's an important issue for insurers, who have already suffered billions of dollars in losses due to increases in serious weather events that fit the pattern of global warming. Severe weather is on the rise, the report says, costing insurers $92 billion in the 1990s and $23 billion in 2004 hurricane losses alone.

In some cases, insurers have pulled out of high risk markets completely, shifting the burden to taxpayers.

The report, "Climate Change and Insurance: An Agenda for Action in the United States," was released by insurer Allianz Group and conservation group World Wildlife Fund.

While U.S. insurance companies have been good at looking at the historical risk from natural catastrophes, the report says they have been slow to adopt the latest scientific findings in their computer models that project future risk and in turn, set rates.

"U.S. companies have a very sophisticated set of tools, but they look backwards," said Hans Verolme, director of the World Wildlife Fund Global Climate Change Program. "What they do not yet do is take in to account some of the knowledge that has been acquired in the scientific community."

As that new knowledge is taken into account, consumers will increasingly see the focus on global warming reflected in their insurance bills.

"As a general consequence of global warming, insurance prices will go up," said Clement Booth, a board member of Allianz. "There's no question about that."

And insurance agencies are taking notice, and are doing something. What a strange, strange bedfellow for the environmentalist.

NEW YORK – Insurance companies, who like to stay out of the limelight, are becoming leading business protagonists in the assault on global warming.

• Next week, Travelers, the giant insurance firm, will offer owners of hybrid cars in California a 10 percent discount. It already offers the discount in 41 other states and has cornered a large share of the market.

• This fall, Fireman's Fund will cut premiums for "green" buildings that save energy and emit fewer greenhouse gases. When it pays off claims, it will direct customers to environmentally friendly products to replace roofs, windows, and water heaters.

• In January, Marsh, the largest insurance broker in the US, will offer a program with Yale University to teach corporate board members about their fiduciary responsibility to manage exposure to climate change.

The insurance industry's clout is sizable. It's the second-largest industry in the world in terms of assets, and has a direct link to most homeowners and businesses. It insures coal-fired power plants as well as wind farms, so it can influence the power industry's cost structure. With its financial muscle, the industry could help advance the use of new financial instruments designed to allow companies to trade greenhouse-gas emissions in the same way that commodities are bought and sold.

"The insurance industry has the ability to change behavior, policies and communicate with clients," says Nancy Skinner, US director of the Climate Group, which lobbies for business and government action to address global warming.

Some consumers are already noticing a negative effect of this shift. In the past year, some 600,000 homeowners living in a zone that an insurer considers a high storm risk in an era of climate change have seen their policies cancelled or not renewed. This includes coastal areas stretching from Texas to New York. Currently, coastal properties are valued at $7.2 trillion.

Strange bedfellows, but I welcome them.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:50 AM :: (2) comments