Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday 01-31-11

Too Religious to Home-School?

Brenda Voydatch leafs through her daughter’s school books inside her single-story home in Meredith, New Hampshire.

"These are her math and science books,” she says.

Like many parents who home-school, Voydatch believes in the importance of teaching the basics of reading and writing. But she also believes in the importance of a religious education.

“I believe it’s a parents fundamental right to teach a child the beliefs within their home,” she says as she looks up at the painting of Jesus holding a child. “I believe that’s every parent’s right.”

It was that religious education that led to her ex-husband’s objections. It also led to a New Hampshire judge to order Brenda’s 11 year-old daughter Amanda to attend public school.

It’s an order her attorney, John Anthony Simmons, calls a clear Constitutional violation.

“The judge,” explained Simmons, “said that Amanda reflected her mother’s rigidity in matters of Faith, and that because of that rigidity she needed to be ordered into government run schools. “

Voydatch had home-schooled Amanda between 1st and 4th grades. Then came the judge’s order in 2009 which sent the then-9 year-old to public school. Voydatch has been fighting the ruling and Simmons argued the case in front of the New Hampshire Supreme court in early January.

But not everyone sees it as a Constitutional case, including the attorney for Brenda’s ex-husband.

“It’s not really about religion,” says Joshua Gordon. It’s simply about two parents who differ about child-rearing philosophy. He says the two parents disagree about what’s best for Amanda:

“One wants the child very isolated and cloistered and the other wants the child to be worldly and be exposed to all the experiences one ought to have as an adolescent.”

He says it’s a “marital case…a divorce case” not a “religious case.”

Simmons disagrees. He says Voydatch and her ex-husband had already agreed to home-school Amanda. He says the disagreement emerged over Brenda’s religious beliefs.

“This case is clearly about religion,” he said. “And if this case isn’t about religion I don't know what case is.”

The New Hampshire Supreme Court is expected to release an opinion in the next few weeks.

When does telling on someone go wrong, most of the time?

Report of armed man leads to lockdown at Wal-Mart

Kirksville, Mo. — A report of an armed man acting erratically in the Wal-Mart parking lot Wednesday led to the store being temporarily locked down before Kirksville Police responded to and diffused the situation with no injuries.

According to Kirksville Police Chief Jim Hughes, a passerby stopped a Kirksville Police officer and said they had seen an individual acting erratically in a truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot shortly before 2:30 p.m. The passerby believed the individual had a gun to his head.

"We don't take these things lightly," Hughes said, "especially nowadays."

KPD responded to control the scene and ordered a lockdown of the store both to keep shoppers in and prevent the individual from entering the store.

After identifying the vehicle and person in question, Hughes said a decision was made on the scene for police to attempt contact. They were able to communicate with him and he voluntarily exited the vehicle. No weapon was found and the individual was taken into custody without incident less than 20 minutes after police arrived on scene.

The individual was talking on a cell phone at the time of the incident. It's likely that is the object the passerby identified as a gun.

Hughes said no crime was committed and no additional information, including the person's name, would be released.

Wal-Mart security offered full cooperation, Hughes said. The Adair County Sheriff's Office also responded and offered assistance, but Hughes said the incident was resolved prior to their active involvement.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday 01-30-11

Good news for once

Unexpected text message blows up suicide bomber in safe house
Jan. 27, 2011 (12:15 pm) By: Matthew Humphries

If proof were needed that suicide bombers are not the most intelligent
people in the world, then this case in Russia is a perfect example.

A range of triggers can be used for setting off the explosives strapped to
a bomber’s body, with cell phones being one of those choices. The bombers
don’t work alone, and a handler likes to be in control of the actual
detonation in case the person carrying the bomb has a change of heart at
the last minute. So a cell phone trigger allows them to watch from a
distance while ensuring the blast happens.

A planned detonation was to happen in Red Square, central Moscow on New
Year’s Eve. The woman who would be the bomber is thought to be from the
same group that successfully bombed Domodedovo International Airport
earlier this week.

The mistake the woman and her terror group made was to use an existing
active cell phone as the trigger. While preparing her suicide belt at a
safe house a few hours before the terrible act was meant to happen, her
mobile operator sent her a Happy New Year text. That was enough to trigger
the detonation killing her and making a real mess of the house.

It doesn’t look as though anyone else was hurt, and her husband is in jail
serving time for being a radical Islamist terrorist. The mistake she made,
and the automated text she received, probably saved tens, if not hundreds
of lives.

Should i say i'm surprised it took this long, or so much for competition?

TSA shuts door on private airport screening program

Washington (CNN) -- A program that allows airports to replace government screeners with private screeners is being brought to a standstill, just a month after the Transportation Security Administration said it was "neutral" on the program.

TSA chief John Pistole said Friday he has decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports, saying he does not see any advantage to it.

Though little known, the Screening Partnership Program allowed airports to replace government screeners with private contractors who wear TSA-like uniforms, meet TSA standards and work under TSA oversight. Among the airports that have "opted out" of government screening are San Francisco and Kansas City.

The push to "opt out" gained attention in December amid the fury over the TSA's enhanced pat downs, which some travelers called intrusive.

Rep. John Mica, a Republican from Florida, wrote a letter encouraging airports to privatize their airport screeners, saying they would be more responsive to the public.

At that time, the TSA said it neither endorsed nor opposed private screening.

"If airports chose this route, we are going to work with them to do it," a TSA spokesman said in late December.

But on Friday, the TSA denied an application by Springfield-Branson Airport in Missouri to privatize its checkpoint workforce, and in a statement, Pistole indicated other applications likewise will be denied.

"I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time," Pistole said.

He said airports that currently use contractor screening will continue to be allowed to.

Pistole said he has been reviewing TSA policies with the goal of helping the agency "evolve into a more agile, high-performance organization."

Told of the change Friday night, Mica said he intends to launch an investigation and review the matter.

"It's unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we've had over the last decade," Mica said Friday night. "The agency should concentrate on cutting some of the more than 3,700 administrative personnel in Washington who concocted this decision, and reduce the army of TSA employees that has ballooned to more than 62,000."

"Nearly every positive security innovation since the beginning of TSA has come from the contractor screening program," Mica said.

A union for Transportation Security Administration employees said it supported the decision to halt the program.

"The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before 9/11," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive federalized screening system and work force."

Advocates of private screeners say it is easier to discipline and replace under-performing private screeners than government ones.

But Congress members have differed over the effectiveness of private screeners.

Mica said tests show that private screeners perform "statistically significantly better" than government screeners in tests of airport checkpoints. But the Government Accountability Office says it "did not notice any difference" during covert checkpoint testing in 2007. Both groups failed to find concealed bomb components, the GAO said.

Test results are not publicly disclosed.

On Friday, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, lauded Pistole's decision.

"Ending the acceptance of new applications for the program makes sense from a budgetary and counter-terrorism perspective," he said in a statement.

Better not go to sleep around your doctors, what is going on?

Medical students are performing intrusive exams on unconscious patients
"Examinations performed without consent"
Students face ethical dilemma - study
"Most people would not be pleased"
AUSTRALIAN medical students are carrying out intrusive procedures on unconscious and anaesthetised patients without gaining the patient's consent.

The unauthorised examinations include genital, rectal and breast exams, and raise serious questions about the ethics of up-and-coming doctors, Madison reports.

The research, soon to be published in international medical journal, Medical Education, describes - among others - a student with "no qualms" about performing an anal examination on a female patient because she didn't think the woman's consent was relevant.

Another case outlined in the research describes a man who was subjected to rectal examinations from a "queue" of medical students after he was anaesthetised for surgery.

“I was in theatre, the patient was under a spinal (anaesthetic) as well and there was a screen up and they just had a queue of medical students doing a rectal examination,” a student confessed.

“[H]e wasn’t consented but because ... you’re in that situation, you don’t have the confidence to say 'no' you just do it.”

The author of the study, Professor Charlotte Rees, voiced concerns about senior medical staff ordering students to perform unauthorised procedures, leaving the students torn between the strong ethics of consent in society and the weak ethics of medical staff.

Of students who were put in this position during the research, 82 per cent obeyed orders.

“We think that it is weakness in the ethical climate of the clinical workplace that ultimately serves to legitimise and reinforce unethical practices in the context of students learning intimate examinations,” writes Prof Rees.

The study consists of 200 students across three unnamed medical schools in Britain and Australia. Not all participants agreed to carry out the intimate examinations without permission from the patient.

One student refused to take part in an examination of a woman who was “part spread-eagled on the bed and the nurse is (sic) pulling down her jeans at the same time and it was all very complicated and you could see her, she was about seventeen”.

Carol Bennett, the CEO of the Consumer Health Forum, said the report was a "poor reflection on these medical schools that they are setting these examples".

"Most people would not be pleased about having medical procedures performed on them without it even being mentioned to them," she told

"Patients should never be examined without consent, particularly by a third party."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday 1-29-11

Lawmaker says race played role in GOP's 2010 wins

Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia is saying his party's November election losses were partly due to voter antagonism toward a black president.

Moran, a 20-year House veteran, made the remarks Tuesday to the Arab television network Alhurra (ahl-HUR'-ruh) after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

Referring to widespread Republican wins in congressional and state contests, Moran said "a lot of people in this country, I believe, don't want to be governed by an African-American." He said that was particularly true of a liberal president.

As some groups criticized the remarks, Moran's spokeswoman Anne Hughes issued a statement defending him, saying it's no secret the U.S. "continues to struggle with racial equality." She says Moran thinks it's better to discuss than to ignore such issues.

School defends experiment to separate black students in a bid to boost their academic results

A high school has defended its decision to segregate students by race and gender.

The scheme, at McCaskey East High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, separates black students from the rest of the school pupils, and then further breaks it down into black females and black males.

The separation is only for a short period - six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month - but it has drawn criticism for raising the spectre of racial segregation.

Today the school's principal defended the policy.
Bill Jimenez said the school noticed that black students were not performing as well as other students, and that research had shown that same-race classes with strong same-race role models led to better academic results.

Mr Jimenez admitted that no other students were divided by race at the school, but he added that academic data dictated the school take a different approach with its black students.

He told 'One of the things we said when we did this was, "Let's look at the data, let's not run from it. Let's confront it and see what we can do about it".'

The idea came from Angela Tilghman, an instructional coach at McCaskey East.
She said statistics had shown about a third of McCaskey's African-Americans scored proficient or advanced in reading on last year's Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, compared with 60 per cent of white students and 42 per cent of students overall.

In mathematics, only 27 per cent of black students scored proficient or advanced
She said research had shown that grouping black students by gender with a strong role model could boost both academic achievement and self-esteem.
Some students, staff and parents were against the segregation, saying that it ran against everything the school stood for - with students from diverse backgrounds.
But it was something Mr Jimenez thought was worth trying.

In all segregated classes, mentors track their students' grades, test scores and attendance.
One such mentor is Michael Mitchell, who hopes to inspire his black male students during their short daily meetings.
He said he often quoted the Reverend Martin Luther King, who said: 'Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.'
Mr Mitchell recently used the quote when he found that some of his students were failing gym.
He said: 'They're all young. They're all strong. They're all athletic. But they're failing because they chose not to participate.

'That's an example of "conscientious stupidity". You can do but you choose not to do. These are the things we need to get away from.

Only on the Left Coast

Lancaster Mayor Wants To Broadcast Bird Songs

LANCASTER (AP) — It may sound like a bird-brained idea, but the mayor of Lancaster wants to brighten up the Mojave Desert city by broadcasting recorded bird songs.

R. Rex Parris proposed the idea during his State of the City talk on Monday.

The Antelope Valley Press says Parris wants to play the bird chatter from loudspeakers on Lancaster Boulevard. The mayor says there’s science to show that listening to birdsong makes people happier.

On other topics, the mayor says Lancaster must continue its drive to become a research capital for solar and alternative energy.

Parris is known for his flamboyant ideas. He got a law passed giving the city the right to castrate pit bulls, ordered city officials to learn Mandarin in a bid to woo Chinese business, and riled some people by saying he was growing Lancaster into a Christian community.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday 1-28-11

Be on the look out for:

Lautenberg's Bills
Sen. Frank Lautenberg introduced the following three gun control bills yesterday. While the text of the bills is not available yet, I am presuming that S. 32 is a clone of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy's HR 308 and that S. 34 is a reiteration of Lautenberg's proposal to ban anyone on the Do Not Fly list from buying a firearm (or explosives).

S.32 : A bill to prohibit the transfer or possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Lautenberg, Frank R. [NJ] (introduced 1/25/2011)
Cosponsors (9)
Committees: Senate Judiciary
Latest Major Action: 1/25/2011 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

S.34 : A bill to increase public safety by permitting the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected dangerous terrorists.
Sponsor: Sen Lautenberg, Frank R. [NJ] (introduced 1/25/2011)
Cosponsors (8)
Committees: Senate Judiciary
Latest Major Action: 1/25/2011 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
S.35 : A bill to establish background check procedures for gun shows.
Sponsor: Sen Lautenberg, Frank R. [NJ] (introduced 1/25/2011)
Cosponsors (10)
Committees: Senate Judiciary
Latest Major Action: 1/25/2011 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
The co-sponsors of the bills above read like a who's who of gun banners in the Senate. Senators Boxer, Feinstein, Durbin, and Schumer are all co-sponsors of the bills along with an assortment of other lesser gun banners.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday 1-27-11

Google Comes Under Fire for 'Secret' Relationship with NSA

Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group largely focused in recent years on Google's privacy practices, has called on a congressional investigation into the Internet giant's "cozy" relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama's administration.

In a letter sent Monday, Consumer Watchdog asked Representative Darrell Issa, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to investigate the relationship between Google and several government agencies.

The group asked Issa to investigate contracts at several U.S. agencies for Google technology and services, the "secretive" relationship between Google and the U.S. National Security Agency, and the company's use of a U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration airfield in California.

Federal agencies have also taken "insufficient" action in response to revelations last year that Google Street View cars were collecting data from open Wi-Fi connections they passed, Consumer Watchdog said in the letter.

"We believe Google has inappropriately benefited from close ties to the administration," the letter said. "Google is most consumers' gateway to the Internet. Nonetheless, it should not get special treatment and access because of a special relationship with the administration."

Consumer Watchdog may have an ally in Issa, a California Republican. In July, he sent a letter to Google raising concerns that White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin, the former head of global public policy for Google, had inappropriate e-mail contact with company employees.

A Google spokeswoman questioned Consumer Watchdog's objectivity. Some groups have questioned the group's relationship with Google rival Microsoft, and Consumer Watchdog's criticisms of online privacy efforts have also exclusively zeroed in on Google, with the group rarely mentioning Microsoft, Facebook and other Web-based companies in the past two years.

"This is just the latest in a long list of press stunts from an organization that admits to working closely with our competitors," said the Google spokeswoman.

But Consumer Watchdog gets no funding from Microsoft or any other Google competitor, said John Simpson, consumer advocate with the group. "We don't have any relationship with Microsoft at all," he said. "We don't take any of their money."

Consumer Watchdog has decided to focus on Google's privacy practices because the company's services serve as a gateway to the Internet for many people, Simpson said. If the group can push Google, "without a doubt the dominant Internet company," to change its privacy practices, other companies will follow suit, he said.

"Google's held itself to be the company that says its motto is, 'don't be evil,' and they also advocate openness for everyone else," he said. "We're trying to hold them to their own word."

Consumer Watchdog, in January 2009, suggested that Google was preparing a lobbying campaign asking Congress to allow the sale of electronic health records. Google called the allegations "100 percent false and unfounded."

In September, Consumer Watchdog bought space on a 540-square-foot video screen in New York's Times Square, with the video criticizing Google's privacy practices.

In April, Consumer Watchdog officials called for the U.S. Department of Justice to break up Google. They appeared at a press conference with a representative of the Microsoft- and Open Book Alliance.

Consumer Watchdog's latest complaints about the relationship of Google and the Obama administration are outlined in a 32-page report.

The paper questions a decision by NASA allowing Google executives to use its Moffett Federal Airfield near Google headquarters. Although H211, a company controlled by Google top executives, pays NASA rent, they enjoy access to the airfield that other companies or groups don't have, Simpson said.

The paper also questions Google contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies, suggesting that, in some cases, Google contracts were fast-tracked. The paper also questions Google's relationship with the U.S. National Security Agency and calls for the company to be more open about what consumer information it shares with the spy agency.

When asked if other companies, including broadband providers, should disclose what customer information they share with the NSA, Simpson said they should, too.

"I understand the NSA is a super-secret spook organization," he said. "But given Google's very special situation where it possesses so much personal data about people, I think that there ought to be a little more openness about what precisely goes on between the two."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday 1-26-11

So i guess if you own a gun (or have a legal and registered gun) then you need the SWAT team?
When given a description of the circumstances that led to the Calvo raid—in which drugs were sent to an address whose residents had no criminal background or registered weapons—McSwain said a SWAT team wouldn’t necessarily be used. “We would go through the risk assessment,” he says. “Unless there is a reason to believe that the warrant service would be high risk, we would not automatically assume the risk.”
excerpt from the article

Unnecessary Roughness
Why does Prince George’s County use SWAT teams for so many nonviolent offenses?

By Kris Coronado
Walking around Cheye Calvo’s living room in the Prince George’s County town of Berwyn Heights, it’s hard to believe that 2½ years ago it was a scene of violence. Calvo stands by the fireplace in a green L.L. Bean sweatshirt, jeans, and cocoa-colored Crocs.

“Want to see them?” he asks, gesturing to a crimson wooden box to the left of the mantle. On top of it are a framed picture of two black Labradors, a figurine of two dogs, and a stuffed toy puppy. He opens the box, revealing two gallon-size Ziploc bags. Calvo takes one in his left palm—“Payton”—and lifts the second into his right. “Chase,” he says. “You know by size.”

At seven years old, Payton was slightly larger than four-year-old Chase. Calvo had both dogs cremated in August 2008 after they were killed in a botched drug bust by the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office and the Prince George’s County Narcotic Enforcement Office.

“You always think, ‘At least he went peacefully,’ ” Calvo says. “That’s the consolation you use when someone passes. Well, my dogs didn’t go peacefully.”

Neither will Calvo.

The 39-year-old Berwyn Heights mayor is bringing his grievance with the county back into the spotlight with a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and police department. Unless the case settles before then, court proceedings begin on Monday, January 24. Though Calvo is seeking damages, he says the suit isn’t about financial restitution but about shedding light on and changing both departments’ policies when it comes to the use of SWAT teams and treatment of animals.


What happened on the evening of July 29, 2008, at Calvo’s home was well covered by local and national media: After walking his dogs, Calvo brought in a package addressed to his wife, Trinity Tomsic, thinking it was a shipment of gardening supplies. He was wrong. The package contained 32 pounds of marijuana that had been intercepted by Prince George’s police and then delivered to his home. Calvo was upstairs changing when he heard his mother-in-law, Georgia Porter, scream. The Prince George’s Sheriff’s Office SWAT team had burst through the front door and fatally shot both dogs. Tomsic came home to find Calvo and Porter handcuffed, pleading their innocence.

About a week later, then-sheriff Michael A. Jackson and police chief Melvin C. High (now the county sheriff) held a press conference in which they announced that a FedEx driver had been delivering large quantities of marijuana—totaling 417 pounds—to unsuspecting recipients so an accomplice could retrieve it before the addressees arrived home. Nevertheless, High was reluctant to clear Calvo and Tomsic from any wrongdoing and both departments continued to defend their officers’ actions.

While what happened to Calvo is upsetting, it’s more common than you might think.

SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams were created in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s in response to high-profile incidents such as the 1966 University of Texas massacre—in which a sniper shot and killed 16 from atop a university tower—as well as the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965. SWAT teams were used to defuse situations that would put the public at high risk, such as terrorist threats, hostage situations, or riots. In contrast to regular-duty officers who work their beats armed with semiautomatic pistols or revolvers, these paramilitary-style units are heavily armed—often with submachine guns.

What was once considered a worst-case-scenario tactic, however, has become commonplace among American police forces: According to a 2005 study by Eastern Kentucky University criminologist Peter Kraska, SWAT deployments in the United States went from about 3,000 in 1980 to 30,000 in 1996 to 40,000 by 2001.

A report released by the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center last August documents the use of SWAT teams in the state between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. The so-called “SWAT bill,” pushed for by Calvo and signed into law by Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, requires the state’s police departments to report SWAT deployments—and the reasons for them—to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention every six months.

Of the 1,618 SWAT deployments in Maryland, the Prince George’s County Police Department had 23.1 percent, totaling 373. Of those, 200 were for nonviolent crimes. While Prince George’s has an estimated 834,560 residents, Montgomery County—population 971,600—had only two deployments for nonviolent crimes.

Prince George’s police spokesperson Captain Mistinette Mints says the county’s two SWAT teams are used to serve all search warrants. Says Mints: “It is our policy that [the special-operations department] execute each search warrant due to the fact that they are the most trained and best equipped; thus there would be less chance for injury to officers or residents.”

According to a June 2010 pre-trial deposition of Wilbert Yarbrough Jr.—a former officer on the Prince George’s Sheriff’s Office SWAT team who shot one of Calvo’s dogs—his special-ops training consisted of a three-week course. In this “SWAT school,” he and fellow officers learned diversionary tactics as well as how to clear a room and handle suspects. When asked if the school taught him how to deal with situations involving domestic pets and animals, Yarbrough said he couldn’t recall.

Substance abuse is a big problem for Prince George’s—some of the 13 murders in the first 11 days of January were attributed by authorities to a “drug nexus” in the county—yet other municipalities with high drug-crime rates don’t have nearly as many SWAT deployments for misdemeanors.

Baltimore County (population 789,814) and Baltimore City (637,418) had 53 and 64 nonviolent deployments respectively. That may be an unfair comparison, says Baltimore City Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi: “We have a dedicated unit that does drugs and violent crime—that’s all they do. Our guys are specially trained in drugs because it’s Baltimore.”

But when sending a SWAT team is an option, Guglielmi says, his department always uses a risk assessment to determine whether that’s an appropriate use of force. Guglielmi was reluctant to go into the specifics of the checklist—it’s not something he wants would-be criminals to know—but he says it takes certain factors into consideration: whether a suspect has a criminal background, whether he or she has weapons, and whether the incident poses a threat to the general public.

This is also the case in Montgomery County, says Captain Darryl W. McSwain, director of the police department’s Special Operations Division. All of the county’s search warrants are reviewed by an executive officer, and if a SWAT team is being considered, the SWAT sergeant or special-operations-division deputy director looks for details—the location of the incident, whether the suspect has a violent history, gang affiliations, prior arrests, firearms—that may indicate the need for a SWAT team. Low-risk warrants are served by detectives and patrol officers who are not as heavily armed.

When given a description of the circumstances that led to the Calvo raid—in which drugs were sent to an address whose residents had no criminal background or registered weapons—McSwain said a SWAT team wouldn’t necessarily be used. “We would go through the risk assessment,” he says. “Unless there is a reason to believe that the warrant service would be high risk, we would not automatically assume the risk.”


Discrepancies in local department policy result from the fact that no Maryland state law mandates or provides guidelines for SWAT-team behavior, leaving it up each jurisdiction to do as it sees fit. All of Prince George’s search warrants are issued by SWAT—a team outfitted with shields, helmets, heavy vests, and a battering ram.

“This is the crux of this issue,” says Radley Balko, author of the 2006 Cato Institute report “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America.” Says Balko: “Even if [SWAT teams] get the address they’re looking for every time, you’re sending cops dressed up like soldiers to break people’s doors down usually in the middle of the night for a nonviolent offense. That’s not an image most people in a free society would see—I guess they do now.”

It’s an image Charles and Wanda Harris would like to forget. In another Berwyn Heights living room—just a couple of blocks from Calvo’s home—the Harrises recounted the events of the early morning on March 23, 2009.

“It was about 6 AM when they were beating on the door,” says Wanda, a 50-year-old with glasses and long dark hair loosely pulled to the side with a scrunchie. “I couldn’t imagine who was beating on the door. I come around the door and look out the glass pane to a gun [barrel] in my face [and someone] saying, ‘Open the door.’ ”

The Prince George’s Police SWAT team was searching for a gun it believed belonged to the Harrises’ 20-year-old son, Charles III. A day earlier, the couple’s 16-year-old niece, who had been living with the family since her mother passed away in 1996, called police to say her cousin had pulled a gun on her.

“We don’t even have a gun in the house,” says the elder Charles, shaking his head. “Never had a gun in the house. My son is a good kid. Never had any problems with them or the police or anything.”

The niece had lied to help her 25-year-old sister, who was living in DC, obtain custody of her. It worked: The younger Charles was charged with assault in the first and second degrees and use of a deadly weapon. A warrant was issued for his arrest. Despite the fact that neither he nor anyone else in the family had a criminal background, the Harrises saw no other option than to have him turn himself in that day. They didn’t have enough money for a lawyer and didn’t realize that his bail would be set at $300,000. Charles—a graduate of Bladensburg High School who’d taken honors classes and run his father’s cleaning business for six months while his father was laid up by acute anemia—remained in jail at Upper Marlboro for almost a month until the family could afford bail, which defense lawyer James Zafiropulos (whom they later hired) got knocked down to $1,800.

Prior to SWAT’s arrival that morning, police had given no indication they’d need to search the residence for the alleged gun. They ransacked the younger Charles’s room—pulling out drawers of clothes, breaking bowling trophies he’d won as a child. They found nothing, and charges were dropped that July.

It’s been nearly two years since the incident, but it still reverberates throughout the family’s lives. “After going through this, he can’t get himself together,” Wanda says of her son. “He just can’t.”


Calvo hopes his lawsuit will prevent more scenarios like this from happening by shedding light on Prince George’s Police Department and Sheriff’s Office policies. He believes that more transparency could lead to a change in tactics regarding the deployment of SWAT teams.

He’d also like rules and guidelines written into each department’s general orders and standard operating procedures when it comes to the treatment of animals.

“It’s very clear these agencies do not believe there’s any obligation to use nonlethal means to subdue animals,” Calvo says. “They’ve been fairly explicit in that point. They talk about eliminating the dogs. So we believe that there needs to be general orders put in place that protect animals. That doesn’t mean you never use lethal force, but you have to consider nonlethal options and deploy them when possible.”

Whether he wins or loses in court, Calvo isn’t going to stop fighting. The SWAT law expires on June 30, 2014, so he’ll need to make the rounds with Maryland lawmakers once again.

“I’d rather lose publicly where people know what justice looks like or how justice does or does not exist than quietly go away,” he says. “One way or another, the story is going to be told.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday 1-24-11

Hawaii law bars release of Obama birth info

HONOLULU – A privacy law that shields birth certificates has prompted Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie to abandon efforts to dispel claims that President Barack Obama was born outside Hawaii, his office says.

State Attorney General David Louie told the governor that privacy laws bar him from disclosing an individual's birth documentation without the person's consent, Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said Friday.

"There is nothing more that Gov. Abercrombie can do within the law to produce a document," said Dela Cruz. "Unfortunately, there are conspirators who will continue to question the citizenship of our president."

Abercrombie, who was a friend of Obama's parents and knew him as a child, launched an investigation last month into whether he can release more information about the president's Aug. 4, 1961 birth. The governor said at the time he was bothered by people who questioned Obama's birthplace for political reasons.

But Abercrombie's attempt reached a dead end when Louie told him the law restricted his options.

Hawaii's privacy laws have long barred the release of a certified birth certificate to anyone who doesn't have a tangible interest.

So-called "birthers" claim Obama is ineligible to be president because they say there's no proof he was born in the United States, with many of the skeptics questioning whether he was actually born in Kenya, his father's home country.

Hawaii's health director said in 2008 and 2009 that she had seen and verified Obama's original vital records, and birth notices in two Honolulu newspapers were published within days of Obama's birth at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu.

Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo again confirmed Friday that Obama's name is found in its alphabetical list of names of people born in Hawaii, maintained in bound copies available for public view.

That information, called index data, shows a listing for "Obama II, Barack Hussein, Male," according to the department's website.

"The index is just to say who has their records within the department. That's an indication," Okubo said. "I can't talk about anyone's records."

The Obama campaign issued a certificate of live birth in 2008, an official document from the state showing the president's birth date, city and name, along with his parents' names and races.



Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday 1-21-11

Taking Tests Really Does Help You Learn

Taking tests aren't just a 'passive mechanism for assessing' how much students know, says new research the January 20th New York Times reports on.

The research, published online in Science, found that the basic practice of having students take tests on material learned resulted them retaining about 50 percent more than students who used other methods that have, of late, been championed by educators. These other study methods are (1) simply studying the material over and over--if you have a Latin vocabulary quiz, reading through the list of Latin words and English definitions repeatedly and (2) drawing 'detailed diagrams' which document, in a more creative fashion, what students have learned---to return to my vocabulary quiz example, this might mean having students make 'word maps' that, like flow charts, show connections of meanings and, too, English words that are related to the Latin words.

'Concept Mapping' vs. 'Retrieval Practice'

200 college students had to read several paragraphs about a scientific subject (how the digestive system works, for instance). As the New York Time describes the research, there were two experiments:

In the first experiment, the students were divided into four groups. One did nothing more than read the text for five minutes. Another studied the passage in four consecutive five-minute sessions.

A third group engaged in “concept mapping,” in which, with the passage in front of them, they arranged information from the passage into a kind of diagram, writing details and ideas in hand-drawn bubbles and linking the bubbles in an organized way.

The final group took a “retrieval practice” test. Without the passage in front of them, they wrote what they remembered in a free-form essay for 10 minutes. Then they reread the passage and took another retrieval practice test.

After a week, all four groups took a short-answer test that 'assessed their ability to recall facts and draw logical conclusions based on the facts.'

The second experiment honed in on the methods of concept mapping and retrieval practice testing. When each student completed an exercise using both methods, making the diagrams while reading led to the students retaining more detail in the short run.

But after a week, the students who had used 'retrieval practice' did much better when tested. Indeed, they 'even did better when they were evaluated not with a short-answer test but with a test requiring them to draw a concept map from memory.' In other words, the 'retrieval practice' method in which students were more frequently tested, was more effective.

The Benefits of Testing, Testing, Testing

As to why 'retrieval practice' proved more effective in these experiments: Scientists suggest that the very act of remembering information leads to the creation of 'cues and connections'---to familiar patterns and ways of thinking-- that the brains later recognizes. Further the very 'struggle' to recall something in a testing situation actually helps us to 'reinforce it in our brains,' even though it might make one feel less confident.

A Quiz Every Week

For the past couple of years, I have been giving the students in my Latin and ancient Greek classes a quiz every week, either on vocabulary words or on learning grammatical forms (how to conjugate verbs, for instance). For learning these ancient languages, I have found it helps to have the students have such frequent, regular testing. Because there is a weekly quiz, the students are constantly having to work on remembering material, and get in the habit of memorizing. Over time, they become more comfortable with taking the quizzes as they have taken so many.

The few times when students have not had a weekly quiz---sometimes because I've wanted to focus more on going over material---they have struggled more to learn vocabulary and grammatical forms. While foregoing a quiz initially seems like a welcome relief, the pace of learning in the class gets off-kilter, without the students having had that weekly chance to see how much they indeed know, or do not.

While the main content of each quiz is on material covered in the previous week or two, I always throw in a few extra credit questions about random facts of ancient history and mythology that I've mentioned in passing. It's proved a good way to encourage students to pay attention at all times as anything said in class could be on the test.

More Testing Makes Things Stick in Students' Memory

Noting how having students take more tests may seem like '"a waste of time"' in the short term, Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College, points out in the New York Times that retrieval practice appears to '“make things stick in a way that may not be used in the classroom........It’s going to last for the rest of their schooling, and potentially for the rest of their lives.”

ATF to Issue New Ruling on Monday regarding New Restrictions on Shotgun Importation
January 19th, 2011
Today, the ATF announced at the 2011 SHOT Show that a new ruling would be issued on Monday, January 24, 2011, regarding the importability of certain shotguns. ATF informed the audience at the ATF Townhall meeting that they wanted to ensure that they were properly and justly enforcing the requirements of a shotgun being for a “sporting purpose.”

This is definitely concerning given the huge demand for certain shotguns like the Saiga platform, which has seen a noticeable increase in demand. While ATF would not comment on which shotguns will be named in this ruling, I would not be surprised to hear that the Saiga is going to be mentioned in the ruling, given the large capacity magazines and feeding devices that are now available.

Some may remember that ATF determined that the USAS-12 was a Destructive Device because it had “no sporting purpose,” and had a barrel diameter of more than 1/2 inch. The determination that it had no sporting purpose was largely because of the semi-automatic shotgun having large magazine and drum feeding devices, for which, ATF said there would be no sporting purpose.

When I inquired whether this ruling would encompass any DD determinations, the response was that it would not; however, I believe the affect will be that certain US-made shotguns may end up becoming DD’s by this new ruling.

This video has some cool tools, also at the end are some rulings from the ATF

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday 01-21-11

California Declares Fiscal Emergency
Jerry Brown, California’s governor, declared a state of fiscal emergency on Thursday for the government of the most populous US state to press lawmakers to tackle its $25.4 billion budget gap.

Democrat Brown’s declaration follows a similar one made last month by his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Republican governor.

Democrats who control the legislature declined to act on Schwarzenegger’s declaration, saying they would instead wait to work on budget matters with Brown, who served two terms as California’s governor in the 1970s and 1980s.

Brown was sworn in to his third term early this month and has presented lawmakers with a plan to balance the state’s books with $12.5 billion in spending cuts and revenue from tax extensions that voters must first approve.

Brown has said he wants lawmakers to act on his plan by March.

His fiscal emergency declaration is meant to underscore that target, an official said.

Brown’s declaration, which is largely procedural, says it affirms Schwarzenegger’s December declaration, giving lawmakers 45 days to address the state’s fiscal troubles.

The 72-year-old governor also wants the legislature to back a ballot measure for a special election in June that would ask voters to extend tax increases expiring this year to help fill the state budget’s shortfall.

Brown needs a handful of Republican votes to put the measure to voters.

Republican leaders in the legislature have said they doubt those votes will come.

By contrast, Darrell Steinberg, the state senate president pro tem, told Reuters on Thursday he is backing Brown’s budget plan and that he would press other lawmakers to do so as well: “I think the Brown framework is the right framework ...We intend to meet the March deadline.”

If you wonder about your soil you can get it tested at almost all of the Extension Agencys

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thrusday 1-20-11

D.C. expanding public surveillance camera net

Big Brother may already be watching you in the District, and he will soon have a lot more eyes trained in your direction.
The city's homeland security agency is planning to add thousands of security cameras from private businesses around the nation's capital and the Metro system to the thousands of electronic eyes that authorities are already monitoring 24/7.

D.C.'s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency has already centralized the feeds from more than 4,500 cameras operated by the District's department of transportation and school system. Those feeds are watched around the clock by officials from those departments who sit together in homeland security's Joint All-Hazards Operation Center.

By bringing feeds from thousands more cameras to the central watching room through links to cameras at businesses such as banks, corner stores and gas stations, the District is joining other big cities like London, New York and Baltimore that in recent years have turned to cameras to fight crime and terrorism. But critics worry the District's government might be going too far.

"The D.C. effort to link public and private watching capabilities might be viewed as excessive," said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who studies the balance between security and civil liberties. "It would make it hard to find a place in the city where people aren't being watched by cameras."

"It sounds like Big Brother to me," Maryland resident James Dewitt said Wednesday on the streets of downtown Washington, referencing George Orwell's novel foreseeing a society oppressed by a government that tracks everyone. "We're heading to '1984.' It's 2011, but we're heading to 1984."

Robyn Johnson, a spokeswoman from HSEMA, told
The Washington Examiner that "the program has not expanded to include private businesses." But, "We continue to explore this in a deliberative way."
A plan for 2011 submitted to the city administrator by HSEMA says the agency plans to centralize cameras at private businesses and those run by Metro and the D.C. Housing Authority. The plan doesn't have a timeline, and Johnson said there isn't one.

Homeland security says the centralized camera system is designed to be used to raise "situational awareness" during "developing significant events" like the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009 or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

When it was started in spring 2008, the program immediately met resistance from the D.C. Council. Some council members worried that the closed-circuit television system was put together too quickly and without consideration of how effective it would be in reducing crime or preventing terrorism.

At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson, who oversees the homeland security agency, still has those concerns.

"My concern about these cameras has always been that there's no evidence they reduce crime," Mendelson said. "If HSEMA intends to put more staff on to monitor these cameras, it would not be a good use of resources."

Mendelson added that "although one doesn't have much of a right of privacy on a Metro platform ... it could change when you're inside a bank, and if HSEMA were looking at a bank statement."

Johnson said the agency is developing regulations to protect civil liberties.

Homeland security currently operates under the same series of regulations the D.C. Council adopted for the cameras used by the police department, which are run separately from HSEMA's cameras.

Those regulations make it illegal for a camera to be focused on literature being carried by someone in a protest. They also prevent footage from being stored for more than 10 days, unless it captured a crime being committed or questionable police action.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday 01-19-11

Scientists fight bugs with poo(

Reuters) - Once a year, every year, Professor Thomas Borody receives a single-stem rose from one of his most grateful patients. She is, he says, thanking him for restoring her bowel flora.

It's a distasteful cure for a problem that's increasingly widespread: the Clostridium difficile bug, typically caught by patients in hospitals and nursing homes, can be hard to treat with antibiotics. But Borody is one of a group of scientists who believe the answer is a faecal transplant.

Some jokily call it a "transpoosion." Others have more sciencey names like "bacteriotherapy" or "stool infusion therapy." But the process involves, frankly, replacing a person's poo with someone else's, and in the process, giving them back the "good" bugs they desperately need.

Borody's grateful patient, Coralie Muddell, suffered months of chronic diarrhoea so bad she would often embarrass herself in public, and had even stopped eating to try to halt the flow.

The technique that cured her has had a success rate of around 90 percent in the experimental cases where it has been used so far. Now scientists are taking it to the next level, with randomized controlled trials to establish if it can really be a viable option when antibiotics have failed.

With rates of hospital-acquired C.difficile infection rising in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world, that could save lives as well as reducing expensive days of extra care. "There's rising recognition of how effective this is," Borody, a Sydney-based gastroenterologist, told Reuters.


There's little doubt this treatment has an image problem. Feces, including important bowel flora, is transferred from a volunteer donor -- screened to limit possible other infections -- into the colon of the infected patient. The treatment can be administered by a colonoscope or an enema, or by the mouth or the nose.

"I used to be frowned upon and called 'the doctor who makes people eat shit'," says Borody, whose scientific papers have included such titles as "Flora Power" and "Toying with Human Motions." But he is also deadly serious. One of his published studies reported that in patients with recurrent C.difficile infection, 60 out of 67 -- 90 percent -- of those who received faecal transplants were cured.

Alex Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota Medical School in the United States, agrees that the science is not to be sniffed at. "The data are very strong," he said in a telephone interview. "There is no question that it works."

Khoruts published a study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in 2009 that showed a single infusion of feces reversed the absence of bacteroides -- a group of bacteria vital to the body's ability to withstand infections with C.difficile.

Khoruts often sees patients who have taken course after course of antibiotics. As soon as the treatment stops, the infection returns. It doesn't take much for these sufferers to listen to a new treatment idea, even if it involves feces.

"The patients I see don't have any qualms about it," he says. "By the time I see them, they've often been sick for anywhere from six months to two years, so they're quite desperate. Nothing really scares them."

The main aim, he says, is to keep the poo pure.

"What we try to do is preserve it as close as possible to how it was in the donor. There's no in-between culture or enrichment. We want to transfer as much as we can intact."

The donor feces is filtered to remove some larger particles and then "simply goes through a blender," says Khoruts, with a saline solution to liquefy it before it is administered.

He favors methods which avoid going in through the mouth or the nose, which he says may make patients gag.

Borody's clinic, at the Center for Digestive Diseases in New South Wales, acknowledges that using a nasojejunal tube -- which goes in through the nose, down the throat and into the stomach -- is not the most attractive method, but argues it is the most reliable way of killing the C.difficile bug and its spores once and for all.


Repellent as faecal transplants may seem, if C.difficile trends continue, demand could rise rapidly.

A Europe-wide study published in The Lancet late last year found the incidence of C.difficile infections in hospitals in the region had risen to 4.1 per 10,000 patient days in 2008 from 2.45 per 10,000 patient days in 2005.

The infections can have a range of consequences, from severe diarrhoea to blood poisoning, colitis and death.

A 2008 report from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) found that on any single day in U.S. hospitals, there could be 7,000 infections with C.difficile and up to 300 deaths.

The most commonly used antibiotic for C.difficile is metronidazole, and some more severe forms are treated with vancomycin, traditionally seen as the antibiotic of last resort. Like other bacteria, C.difficile can develop resistance to vancomycin, giving it "superbug" or multi-drug-resistant traits that make treatment extremely difficult or impossible.

Khoruts cites data from 1958, when some of the first scientific papers on the use of faecal transplants were published. That showed the death rate for patients with a type of infection called fulminant C.difficile colitis was 75 percent.

"Then if you go forward to 2010 -- 52 years later, with the best current medical care and new antibiotics -- the mortality is still 50 percent," he says. "So we really can't say standard medicine has done that well in 50 years."


Khoruts now fears that unless the medical establishment embraces the technique, "the majority of people who could benefit from this procedure are not going to get it." Borody says "poo is the only answer." So why is it not catching on?

Scientific literature over half a century has documented the use of faecal transplants, but the technique has remained on the fringes of medicine. Some experts say a lack of robust trial data may be holding people back -- as well as the obvious and natural aversion to feces as a medicinal product.

To try to address this, a team of specialists in The Netherlands is recruiting around 100 sick and healthy people into a randomized controlled trial -- considered the gold standard in science -- to see if the method can be proven.

Although the study is still under way, Ed Kuijper of the Leiden University Medical Center, one of those working on it, says the early signs are that faecal transplants will be shown to be effective in patients with recurrent, or relapsing C.difficile infections.

Tackling the image problem is more challenging; but both Khoruts and Kuijper say scientists are "not very far away" from being able develop a kind of artificial feces that might help.

This laboratory-grown poo would be like a super pro-biotic, they say, but more powerful by far than any yoghurt drink you can buy in a supermarket. It would have the qualities of donor poo without the marketing issues.

"It would be a good idea if synthetic poo would work," says Borody. But he has doubts -- and until he sees some good results with artificial feces, he's sticking with the real thing. "We'd like to get away from poo, but it works the best."

Women searching far and wide for o.b. tampons after they mysteriously disappear from store shelves

The recent disappearance of a popular tampon brand is really cramping the style of city women.

Drugstore shelves have been mysteriously empty of o.b. nonapplicator tampons since late fall, leaving the feminine hygiene product's devotees puzzled and peeved.

The popular product is in such short supply that eBay users are bidding up to $76 for three packs, which usually sell for just $8.79 a pack.

And loyalists are taking to blogs and Twitter to figure out where their beloved o.b. tampons might be.

"This month, they were gone, gone, gone," said freelance writer Janessa Wilson, 40, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a user for decades.

"I searched everywhere I could, maybe a dozen drugstores, but I couldn't find any."

Johnson & Johnson, the company that makes the o.b. tampons, shed little light on the mystery, saying only that it experienced a "temporary supply interruption" that led to stores being out of stock.

The company wouldn't explain the manufacturing or distribution glitch, which began in the fall, any further.

And the federal Food and Drug Administration said it was not aware of any product recall, or health and safety concerns, related to the shortage.

Debbie Stoller, editor in chief of the popular feminist magazine BUST, says many women who use nonapplicator tampons do so for environmental reasons, so it was notsimply a matter of changing brands.

"It has been a big deal because it's one of the only nonapplicator tampons you can buy," she explained. "People who choose to use this are a little bit politicized around it. They feel very strongly about these tampons."

Maura Weiler, on the website, described being so loyal to the brand that she tried to buy a box from a colleague after checking her local Target and Walgreens stores with no luck.

"But alas, we learned [the tampon box] was empty before [her colleague] could come up with an asking price," she wrote.

Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Yukela Williams apologized to customers about the inconvenience, adding that women should expect to see the product on store shelves soon.

"Thank God - and goddesses," Wilson said to that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday 01-16-11

Global food chain stretched to the limit

Strained by rising demand and battered by bad weather, the global food supply chain is stretched to the limit, sending prices soaring and sparking concerns about a repeat of food riots last seen three years ago.

Signs of the strain can be found from Australia to Argentina, Canada to Russia.

On Friday, Tunisia's president fled the country after trying to quell deadly riots in the North African country by slashing prices on food staples.

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.."We are entering a danger territory," Abdolreza Abbassian, chief economist at the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said last week.

Story: Tunisians drive president from power in mass uprising
The U.N.'s fear is that the latest run-up in food prices could spark a repeat of the deadly food riots that broke out in 2008 in Haiti, Kenya and Somalia. That price spike was relatively short-lived. But Abbassian said the latest surge in food stuffs may be more sustained.

"Situations have changed. The supply/demand structures have changed,” Abbassian told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. last week. "Certainly the kind of weather developments we have seen makes us worry a little bit more that it may last much, much longer. Are we prepared for it? Really this is the question."

Price for grains and other farm products began rising last fall after poor harvests in Canada, Russia and Ukraine tightened global supplies. More recently, hot, dry weather in South America has cut production in Argentina, a major soybean exporter. This month's flooding in Australia wiped out much of that country's wheat crop.

As supplies tighten, prices surge. Earlier this month, the FAO said its food price index jumped 32 percent in the second half of 2010, soaring past the previous record set in 2008.

Prices rose again this week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut back its already-tight estimate of grain inventories. Estimated reserves of corn were cut to about half the level in storage at the start of the 2010 harvest; soybean reserves are at the lowest levels in three decades, the USDA estimates, in part because of heavy buying by China. The ratio of stocks to demand is expected to fall later this year to "levels unseen since the mid-1970s," the agency said.

Story: Wholesale prices post biggest gain in a year
"I haven't seen numbers this low that I can remember in the last 20 or 30 years," said Dennis Conley, an agricultural economist at the University of Nebraska. "We are at record low stocks. So if there any kind of glitch at all in the U.S. weather, supplies are going to remain tighter and we might see even higher prices."

Advertise AdChoicesHigher oil prices are also pushing up the cost of food — in two ways. First, the added shipping cost raises the delivered price of agricultural products. Higher oil prices also divert more crops like corn and soybeans to biofuel production, further tightening supplies for livestock feed and human consumption. Conley estimates that more than a third of the corn produced in the U.S is now used to make ethanol.

Despite tightening supplies, the rise in food prices has been much tamer in the developed world. On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that food prices at the consumer level rose just one-tenth of one percent. On Thursday, the government reported that the food component of the Producer Price Index rose just 0.8 percent in December. For all of 2010, food prices at the producer level rose 3.5 percent.

The reason for the modest price rise in the U.S.? People living in developed countries eat more processed foods, so raw materials make up a much smaller portion of the total retail cost.

"In this country, a much higher proportion of your food dollar is spent on processing, advertising and promotion and marketing," said Tom Jackson, a senior economist with Global Insight. "There’s not really that margin built in between the farmer and the consumer in the developing countries."

Food price spikes hit less-developed countries much harder because a greater share of per capita income — half or more — goes to pay for food. U.S. consumers, on the other hand, spend an average of about 13 percent of disposable income on food.

The impact of higher prices is blunted somewhat in countries that subsidize food to stabilize costs, but the trend in prices may make those subsidies unsustainable. Last month, Iran deployed squads of riot police to maintain order after slashing subsidies for food and gasoline. In September, 13 people were killed in street fighting in Mozambique after the government cut subsidies it could no longer afford, sparking a 30 percent rise in bread prices.

Though strong global demand and tight supplies are bringing misery to some poor countries, the price surge is a sign of improving conditions in emerging economies. That’s because increased demand is caused in part to rapidly rising standards of living, according to David Malpass, president of economic research firm Encima Global.

"Some of the gains in prices in Brazil and India are because people are better off," he said "So we have to expect some inflation in those countries as people earn more and more per year."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday 1-14-11

Maine Gov. Paul LePage on NAACP: "Tell 'em to kiss my butt."

SANFORD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- While attending a meeting for business leaders in Sanford, Governor Paul LePage spoke out about why he would not attend Martin Luther King ceremonies on the upcoming holiday.

LePage has declined invitations from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The organization has already expressed its displeasure with the governor's plans to not attend the events.

"They are a special interest. End of story...and I'm not going to be held hostage by special interests. And if they want, they can look at my family picture. My son happens to be black, so they can do whatever they'd like about it," said LePage.

LePage has an adopted son who is from Jamaica.

Raw video of LePage's remarks can be seen at right.

When LePage was asked if his non-participation is more than one instance, and rather a pattern, he replied, "Tell 'em to kiss my butt. If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them."

Dan Demeritt, LePage's Director of Communications, says the governor has personal commitments on Sunday and he is attending the funeral of a state trooper on Monday.

MORE: LePage Saturday morning radio address

In an email to NEWS CENTER, Demeritt wrote, "This is about a special interest group taking issue with the Governor for not making time for them and the Governor dismissing their complaints in the direct manner people have come to expect from Paul LePage."

This isn't the first time LePage has caused a stir with his comments. During the campaign, while speaking in front of a group of fishermen, then-candidate LePage said if he were elected governor, headlines would read "Governor LePage tells President Obama to go to hell." At the time LePage said he regretted his choice of words, but stood behind the intent.

Demeritt also said as mayor of Waterville, LePage gave the welcome address at the MLK breakfasts in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday 01-13-11

We are on the road to recovery...

Jobless claims jump, wholesale food costs surge
U.S. jobless claims jumped to their highest level since October last week while food and energy costs lifted producer prices in December, pointing to headwinds for an economy that has shown fresh vigor.

However, a surge in exports to their highest level in two years helped narrow the U.S. trade deficit in November, an encouraging sign for fourth-quarter economic growth.

Despite a string of recent data that had signaled a pickup in the economy's momentum, the figures on Thursday showed the job market continues to struggle.

The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly to 445,000 from 410,000 in the prior week, a Labor Department report showed. It was the biggest one-week jump in about six months and confounded analyst forecasts for a small drop to 405,000.

The jobs data weighed on U.S. stocks, which were off slightly in late morning. Government debt prices were trading little changed as concerns about Europe's debt struggles helped support the market.

"The jobless number highlights the patchy recovery we've seen in the job market and reinforces that it will be a slow process bringing down the jobless rate," said Omer Esiner, market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington.

The rebound in benefit claims came in the wake of the holidays, which may have hindered new applications and created a backlog. Claims, which peaked around 650,000 in April of 2009, had been on a downward trajectory, dipping below 400,000 for the first time in two years during the week of Christmas.

The four-week moving average of new claims, which strips out short-term volatility to provide a better sense of underlying trends, rose by 5,500 last week to 416,500.

A separate report from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank showed factory activity in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region accelerated less in December than originally reported.


As last year drew to a close, food and energy costs were rising briskly at the wholesale level despite a tame underlying inflation trend.

U.S. producer prices climbed 1.1 percent in December after a 0.8 percent rise in November, according to another Labor Department report. Economists had been looking for a repeat of that 0.8 percent advance in December.

Inflation excluding food and energy, however, rose just 0.2 percent, in line with forecasts. That left the year-on-year gain in core producer prices at 1.3 percent, just below analyst estimates, helping tame inflation fears.

The rising prices producers receive ultimately could put upward pressure on retail prices, acting like a tax on consumers that could slow growth. Up to now, companies have not been able to pass increasing costs onto consumers because of weak demand, but that too has consequences.

"Eventually this means corporate profits could be squeezed," said Robert Dye, senior economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.

A recent spike in global food costs has raised fears of a crisis in the poorer corners of the developing world. World food prices hit a record high last month, outstripping the levels that sparked riots in several countries in 2008, and key grains could rise further, the United Nations' food agency said recently.

On a more positive note, the U.S. trade gap narrowed to $38.3 billion in November from $38.4 billion in October, the Commerce Department reported. Analysts had expected it to widen to $40.5 billion.

November's deficit was the slimmest since January 2010. Exports totaled $159.6 billion, the highest since August 2008 -- just weeks before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers touched off a trade-crushing global panic.

Exports to China in November totaled a record $9.5 billion. Still, they were swamped by rising imports that pushed the politically touchy U.S. shortfall with China to $25.63 billion.

Chinese President Hu Jintao meets with President Barack Obama in Washington next week, and trade issues -- and what the United States calls China's "substantially undervalued" exchange rate -- will be high on the agenda.


The split between weak underlying inflation and high food and energy prices makes it harder for Federal Reserve officials to argue publicly that inflation is not a threat. A fear of inflation being too low has underpinned the Fed's efforts to support the economy by purchasing government bonds.

Another key factor is the bleak jobs picture, not helped by the Labor Department data.

The number of Americans who continued to claim benefits after an initial week of aid did retreat sharply to 3.88 million from 4.13 million, offering some reason for hope.

Still, the total number of Americans on benefit rolls, including those receiving extended benefits under emergency government programs, jumped to 9.19 million from 8.77 million.

Growth hopes push oil within reach of $100
By Jack Farchy and Javier Blas in London

Oil has risen to within reach of $100 a barrel for the first time since the 2008 price spike amid mounting optimism that global economic growth will boost demand.

But the sharp rise has also heightened concerns about the impact of soaring commodity prices on the global economy, particularly in emerging countries, as it comes on top of high costs for agricultural commodities and metals.

The oil surge also comes on the back of supply disruptions such as this week’s outage in a pipeline in Alaska and strong investor inflows in commodities.

Traders said there was a growing consensus that the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries was comfortable with prices near at $100 a barrel. In the past, Saudi Arabia, the cartel’s de facto leader, had said it would work to keep oil prices at $70-$80.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, hit an intraday high of $98.8 a barrel on Wednesday, the highest since September 2008, when oil prices were in the midst of a collapse from their $147-a-barrel record.

“Brent can hit $100 any day now. There’s a lot of upward momentum,” Michael Wittner, at Société Générale, said.

The strength in the rebound in oil consumption last year surprised many, with demand growing at a rate of 2.3m barrels a day, the second-highest in three decades. And oil traders and investors have begun the new year in bullish fettle.

“The consensus demand forecast for 2011 is creeping up day after day,” a senior trader said.

The International Energy Agency, the western countries’ oil watchdog, forecast that consumption would grow this year by a slower 1.3m b/d, but analysts and traders believe it would be much higher, with some pointing to 1.7-2.0m b/d.

But analysts cautioned that Brent could be overbought. While it is flirting with $100, West Texas Intermediate, the US benchmark, is languishing.

On Wednesday, WTI was trading more than $6.50 short of Brent prices at $92.39. The widening gap between the two benchmarks is due to a build-up of inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma, the landlocked delivery point for the WTI contract.

As Cushing has few outlets to evacuate surplus oil, a glut tends to depress the price of WTI relative to other US and international benchmarks.

2011 to top 2010 record of 1 million foreclosures
January 13, 2011 - 1:17pm

NEW YORK (AP) - The bleakest year in the foreclosure crisis has only just begun.

Lenders are poised to take back more homes this year than any other since the U.S. housing meltdown began in 2006. About 5 million borrowers are at least two months behind on their mortgages and industry experts say more people will miss payments because of job losses and also loans that exceed the value of the homes they are living in.

"2011 is going to be the peak," said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac Inc. The firm predicts 1.2 million homes will be repossessed this year.

The blistering pace of foreclosures this year will top 2010, when a record 1 million homes were lost, RealtyTrac said Thursday.

One in every 45 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last year, a record 2.9 million of them. That's up 1.67 percent from 2009.

On Thursday, Freddie Mac reported that fixed mortgage rates dipped this week for the second straight time, extending a sliver of hope for some home owners. .

The average rate on the 30-year mortgage dropped to 4.71 percent from 4.77 percent the previous week. The rate on the 15-year loan, a popular refinance choice, slipped to 4.08 percent from 4.13 percent.

But both are a half-point higher than the lows they reached in November. The 30-year loan rate hit a 40-year low of 4.17 percent and the 15-year mortgage rate fell to 3.57 percent, the lowest level on records starting in 1991.

The dip has led more borrowers to apply for a refinance, but would-be buyers remain hesitant, according to Wednesday's mortgage indexes from the Mortgage Bankers Association. It will take more than low mortgage rates to jumpstart a housing market plagued by high unemployment, falling prices, tighter credit standards.

The glut of foreclosures has compounded the problem and while the pace moderated in the final months of 2010, that isn't expected to last.

Foreclosures are expected to remain elevated throughout the year, pushing home prices down another 5 percent nationally before finally bottoming out.

The number of homes that received at least one foreclosure-related filing in December was the lowest monthly total in 30 months. Total notices fell 1.8 percent from November and 26.3 percent from December 2009, RealtyTrac said.

Banks temporarily halted actions against borrowers severely behind on their payments after allegations of improper eviction surfaced in September.

However, most banks have since resumed foreclosures and the first quarter will likely bear that out, Sharga said.

The pain likely will be the most acute in states that have already suffered the worst. For the most part, it will be states that saw the biggest housing booms: Nevada, Arizona, Florida and California. They will be joined by states hit hardest by the economic downturn, including Michigan and Illinois.

And on Wednesday, Illinois lawmakers approved a 66 percent income-tax increase in a desperate bid to end the state's crippling budget crisis.

More than half of the country's foreclosure activity came out of five states in 2010: California, Florida, Arizona, Illinois and Michigan. Together, these states recorded almost 1.5 million households receiving a filing, despite year-over-year decreases in California, Florida and Arizona.

Nevada posted the highest foreclosure rate in 2010 for the fourth straight year, despite a 5 percent decline in activity from the year before. One in every 11 households received a foreclosure filing last year in the state. In December, foreclosure activity increased 18 percent from November with a 71 percent spike in bank repossessions.

Arizona and California also showed sharp December increases in the number of homes that banks reclaimed, at 52 percent and 47 percent, respectively. Arizona, along with Florida, finished the year at No. 2 and No. 3 for the highest foreclosure rates.

One in every 17 Arizona households got a foreclosure filing last year, while one in 18 received a notice in Florida.

California, Utah, Georgia, Michigan, Idaho, Illinois and Colorado rounded out the top ten states with the highest foreclosure rates.

RealtyTrac tracks notices for defaults, scheduled home auctions and home repossessions _ warnings that can lead up to a home eventually being lost to foreclosure.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

11-12-11 Wednesday

Good news for a change

City settles with woman arrested for wearing gun to church
Police drew weapons, pointed guns at open-carrying citizen

The city of Brookfield and four of its police officers have settled a federal lawsuit - and agreed to a judgment against them - with a woman the officers drew their weapons on and arrested last July 4 after she wore her gun to church.

The defendants offered a settlement of $7,500; the plaintiffs, Krysta Sutterfield and the gun-rights group Wisconsin Carry, Inc., accepted the judgment offer in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Sutterfield was arrested after she attended services at Unitarian Universalist Church in Brookfield, her gun holstered at her side. No one reported a disturbance, but someone did call police to report Sutterfield.

Police officers Grant Palick, Mark Tushaus, Ronald Bethia, and Sarah Mork responded; Sutterfield was subsequently arrested as she tried to drive away.

No charges were ever filed. Sutterfield and Wisconsin Carry, Inc., filed the federal lawsuit against the city and the officers in October.

Nik Clark, president of Wisconsin Carry, said he was pleased to announce the judgment on behalf of his group's thousands of members and on behalf of "law-abiding citizens" who legally exercise their right to carry in the state.

"As open-carry is perfectly legal in Wisconsin and the officers were aware she had threatened no one and caused no disturbance, the officers had no reasonable articulable suspicion, which the law requires, to stop and detain our member against her will," Clark said. "In addition, by drawing their guns on a law-abiding citizen who had done nothing wrong, the officers used an unlawful threat of deadly force during their detainment of our member."

Quote of the day


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

01-11-11 Tuesday

Watching television 'damages the heart'

Watching too much television or playing computer games damages your heart regardless of how much exercise you do, scientists have warned.

The risk of heart disease and premature death from any cause doubled for those spending more than fours hours a day glued to a screen, it was claimed.

Metabolic factors and inflammation may be partly to blame, the report said.

Research revealed those who devote more than four hours watching television, surfing the web, or playing compuer games are more than twice as likely to have major cardiac problems.

Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis of University College London's Department of Epidemiology and Public Health said: "People who spend excessive amounts of time in front of a screen - primarily watching TV - are more likely to die of any cause and suffer heart-related problems.

"Our analysis suggests that two or more hours of screen time each day may place someone at greater risk for a cardiac event."

The study was the first to examine the association between screen time and fatal and non-fatal heart attacks - found there was a 48 per cent increased risk of all-cause mortality and an approximately 125% increase in risk of cardiovascular events in those spending more than four hours

The risks were irrespective of factors such as smoking, hypertension, BMI, social class, and even exercise.

The scientists called for recreational guidelines to be issued because a majority of working age adults spend long periods being inactive while commuting or being slouched over a desk or computer.

Dr Stamatakis said: "It is all a matter of habit. Many of us have learned to go back home, turn the TV set on and sit down for several hours it's convenient and easy to do.

"But doing so is bad for the heart and our health in general.

"And according to what we know so far, these health risks may not be mitigated by exercise, a finding that underscores the urgent need for public health recommendations to include guidelines for limiting recreational sitting and other sedentary behaviours, in addition to improving physical activity."

The team found biological mediators also appeared to play a role.

Data indicate that one fourth of the association between screen time and cardiovascular events was explained collectively by C-reactive protein (CRP), body mass index, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol suggesting that inflammation and deregulation of lipids may be one pathway through which prolonged sitting increases the risk for cardiovascular events.

CRP, a well-established marker of low-grade inflammation, was approximately two times higher in people spending more than four hours of screen time per day compared to those spending less than two hours a day.

The next step would be to try to uncover what prolonged sitting does to the human body in the short and long-term, whether and how exercise can mitigate these consequences, and how to alter lifestyles to reduce sitting and increase movement and exercise.

The present study included 4,512 adults who were respondents of the 2003 Scottish Health Survey. A total of 325 all-cause deaths and 215 cardiac events occurred during an average of 4.3 years of follow up.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

This reminds me of the Threat Board we run for about a year, a while back. It was a great awareness tool.

Author Brad Meltzer was recruited in government agency, 'horrified' at how easy it is to attack U.S.

I was a real-life secret agent. I didn't have the hand-grenade cuff links or the poison-dart pen, but in 2004 I was recruited by the Department of Homeland Security for its Red Cell program.

As they described it - and as The Washington Post later reported - Red Cell was the government's way of trying to anticipate how terrorists would next attack the United States. To do that, the government brought together what they called "out-of-the-box thinkers."

As a novelist who writes thrillers with scenes that take place in the underground tunnel below the White House, I was somehow identified as one of those thinkers.

Sometimes I was paired with a psychologist or a philosopher. Sometimes I was contacted alone, via email, and given a target to attack.

I'm not allowed to tell you what the targets were. Or where they were. But I can say that we'd destroy major cities like my hometown, New York. In minutes. And when I went home at night, I felt horrified, because I saw how easy it was to kill us.

But what inspired me more than anything else were the other people sitting next to me in that room. Sure, there were "real" heroes, members of the FBI and CIA, who helped us with vital facts. But there were far more professors and transportation employees, musicians and software programmers - regular people whose names will never be known and whom you'll never hear about.

Let me be clear: Those unseen heroes are everywhere. And they help us every day. And the best part? It's been true throughout our history. Indeed, as I researched my newest thriller, "Inner Circle," I found that back during the Revolutionary War, a secret presidential spy ring was started by none other than George Washington.

Washington called it the Culper Ring, and it was made up of ordinary citizens who operated throughout New York and Long Island. People just like you. Throughout the war, they moved information, gathered secrets about the British and never told anyone about their existence. In fact, even George Washington didn't know all their names. But this ring of civilians was so amazing at transporting secret information for Washington, they helped win the Revolutionary War for us.

And you'll never read about them in most history books.

These days, nearly every New Yorker knows at least one unseen hero. Most of them will remain "invisible" forever. But that invisibility may just be the most beautiful part of the story.

Indeed, most people don't set out to be heroes. Most people are just living their lives - until a moment arrives, and they're called to serve.

But as I saw in the Red Cell program, that's how history always works. History is a selection process. But it doesn't just choose people and moments. History chooses all of us. Every single day.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday 1-10-11

After the vacation, well really not a vaction just a break.

Deepening crisis traps America's have-nots
The US is drifting from a financial crisis to a deeper and more insidious social crisis. Self-congratulation by the US authorities that they have this time avoided a repeat of the 1930s is premature.

There is a telling detail in the US retail chain store data for December. Stephen Lewis from Monument Securities points out that luxury outlets saw an 8.1pc rise from a year ago, but discount stores catering to America’s poorer half rose just 1.2pc.

Tiffany’s, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue are booming. Sales of Cadillac cars have jumped 35pc, while Porsche’s US sales are up 29pc.

Cartier and Louis Vuitton have helped boost the luxury goods stock index by almost 50pc since October. Yet Best Buy, Target, and Walmart have languished.

Such is the blighted fruit of Federal Reserve policy. The Fed no longer even denies that the purpose of its latest blast of bond purchases, or QE2, is to drive up Wall Street, perhaps because it has so signally failed to achieve its other purpose of driving down borrowing costs.

Yet surely Ben Bernanke’s `trickle down’ strategy risks corroding America’s ethic of solidarity long before it does much to help America’s poor.

Devastating fungus ravages common banana crops
January 10, 2011 - 8:10am

WASHINGTON -- A fungus scientists have dubbed "the HIV of banana plantations" has ravaged huge crops of the cavendish variety -- the only kind of banana available in American grocery stores.

The spread of the soil-borne fungus Tropical Race IV has ruined crops across China, the Philippines and Australia, and is expected to spread next to Central America, where American distributors get the fruit.

Two teams of scientists are trying to genetically engineer cavendish bananas that are resistant to the fungus.

There are thousands of kinds of bananas worldwide, but the Cavendish, discovered in a Chinese household garden by a nineteenth-century British Explorer, represents 99 percent of the international market, according to a New Yorker report.

Most other exported varieties won't withstand the international trip or ripen too quickly.

The New Yorker reports in 2008 Americans ate 7.6 billion pounds of Cavendish bananas, which at 60 cents a pound are also very cheap.