Archive for April 22nd, 2009
National and state wildlife protection groups say South Carolina is trying to use a phony homeland security designation to dodge a new federal regulation aimed at protecting one of the most endangered species of whales.
The S.C. House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to take up Tuesday afternoon a measure placing the state’s harbor boat pilots within the South Carolina Naval Militia, a new agency whose creation coincides with the imposition of the federal rule to safeguard the North Atlantic right whale.
That federal regulation, developed under the Endangered Species Act, sets a new speed limit of 10 knots per hour — 11.5 mph — for boats 65 feet or longer to prevent them from striking right whales, scarcely 300 of which remain on the planet.
An average of two North Atlantic right whales are struck and killed each year, mostly by larger boats traveling at higher speed.
"That may not seem like many, but with only 300 right whales left, it’s a lot," said Connie Barclay, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We absolutely must do something to stop the number of ship strikes."
A Spartanburg couple operating a 31-foot boat six miles east of Hilton Head struck a 40-foot right whale March 31, putting out a mayday call when their blood-stained craft began to sink. The stricken whale’s fate is unknown.
"Even one death of a female of calf-bearing age seriously undermines the ability of this species to survive," said Hamilton Davis, project manager of the Coastal Conservation League.
The federal rule partially exempts law enforcement personnel and their vessels, a status Port of Charleston officials and their S.C. General Assembly allies hope to obtain via the new state regulation moving through the legislature.
Senior officials with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, which developed the federal regulation, are skeptical…
South Carolina is the only state along the Atlantic seaboard that is fighting the federal rule, which took effect in December after years of development and the filing of 10,252 public comments…
Interesting article on how the US has adopted "disappearing" people. It begins:
Last week, we pointed out that one of the newly released Bush-era memos inadvertently confirmed that the CIA held an al-Qaeda suspect  named Hassan Ghul in a secret prison and subjected him to what Bush administration lawyers called "enhanced interrogation techniques." The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul, and his whereabouts today are secret.
But Ghul is not the only such prisoner who remains missing. At least three dozen others who were held in the CIA’s secret prisons overseas appear to be missing as well. Efforts by human rights organizations to track their whereabouts have been unsuccessful, and no foreign governments have acknowledged holding them. (See the full list. )
In September 2007, Michael V. Hayden, then director of the CIA, said  "fewer than 100 people had been detained at CIA’s facilities." One memo  (PDF) released last week confirmed that the CIA had custody of at least 94 people as of May 2005 and "employed enhanced techniques to varying degrees in the interrogations of 28 of these ".”
Former President George W. Bush publicly acknowledged the CIA program in September 2006, and transferred 14 prisoners from the secret jails to Guantanamo. Many other prisoners, who had "little or no additional intelligence value," Bush said, "have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments."
Bush did not reveal their identities or whereabouts — information that would have allowed the International Committee for the Red Cross  to find them — or the terms under which the prisoners were handed over to foreign jailers. The U.S. government has never released information describing the threat that any of them posed…
Why not? It looks relatively easy. Except that I can’t find anyplace that sells pork belly.
Excellent post by John Cole of Balloon Juice:
I’m Not a Lawyer or a Constitutional Scholar
And as such, will probably not understand the legal intricacies of this case that was debated in the Supreme Court yesterday. However, I can state that as someone with an IQ over room temperature, the fact that we are debating whether it is appropriate for school authorities to strip search kids is a sure sign that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with this country and our sense of perspective, and I blame the war on drugs.
*** Update ***
Government by old men afraid of Advil is disgusting:
On the courthouse steps after argument today, Redding is asked what she’d have wanted the school to do differently. “Call my mom first,” she says. You see, we now have school districts all around the country finding naked photos of teens and immediately calling in the police for possession of kiddie porn. Yet schools see nothing wrong with stripping these same kids naked to search for drugs. Evidently teenage nakedness is only a problem when the children choose to be naked. And the parents? They are always the last to know.
Where is the outrage? Oh, yeah. They are too busy protesting the fact that Bill Gate’s taxes are going to go up 3%! Tyranny!
Via Balloon Juice, this section from the transcript of Anderson Cooper’s 360 Degrees show:
COOPER: All right, Ed, thanks. We will be no doubt talking about this a lot tomorrow.
Digging deeper now with former Clinton staff and CNN contributor Paul Begala, also former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
We spoke late this afternoon, before these new developments came to light indicating that some of these harsh techniques may have yielded results.
COOPER: Ari, you said it’s basically opening up a Pandora’s box for the president, leaving — leaving the door open to a possible prosecution.
How is that opening a Pandora’s box?
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, number one, we didn’t release any Clinton memos. Clinton didn’t release any previous President Bush top-secret memos.
The problem that I have with all of this is, now that the White House is doing this to its predecessor, what will future White Houses do, depending on how the world turns under Barack Obama? Something will go wrong during Barack Obama’s presidency. Do you really want to be in a position where whoever follows him says, it was your fault; you must have done something; there’s this top-secret memo we will find somewhere that makes you look or sound culpable?
COOPER: Paul, is this a slippery slope, a Pandora’s box?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first up, the president was compelled to release them by a lawsuit, a lawsuit that his lawyers, the Justice Department and the White House counsel, decided they could not successfully defend.
We have a Freedom of Information Act. I know it’s — it’s an adjustment, but we now have a White House that lives under the rule of law and obeys the laws. So, he released them because he was compelled to release them.
This is very different from the Bush administration, which selectively leaked national security information, top-secret information, in order to build what I think the record shows was a dishonest case for war, or, in the case of Valerie Wilson, to destroy the career of a covert CIA agent.
That’s the politicization of intelligence information and — and top-secret information. This was the president obeying the law.
The dialogue goes on, so you may want to read more.
Extremely interesting. In two parts.
What if criminals exerted their ingenuity in legitimate enterprises? Some seem to be quite clever, as this collection of posts illustrates: devices attached to ATM machines that skim the information from your card as you use the ATM. The posts describe how to detect them and give examples. From the link:
This is very cute, but note the following:
More @ http://www.cutebreak.com – As cute as the slow loris is, it is considered an endangered species and not really suitable as a pet. Not only are they illegal to own, but they have sharp teeth and wild-like behaviors. For example, the loris marks its territory with urine… constantly… for the span of its entire life. This is not a habit that can be changed like house training a cat or dog.
Take a look at this review of The Pork Shop. I very much want to try their jalapeño bacon.
The above is still sometimes said about the US medical "system." Kate Michelman’s experience shows otherwise:
It was a crisp and brilliant autumn day last October when the medical and financial crises with which my family had successfully, if barely, coped for seven years became a catastrophe.
My husband had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2002, a year after our daughter was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. His balance had deteriorated until he fell two or three times at home last summer. In the face of his diminishing physical condition, a single fall could result in disastrous injury. We scheduled an appointment with his neurologist in Washington.
We pulled up to the main entrance of the hospital after the two-hour drive from our home near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. My husband opened his door, grabbed the roof of the car and began to pull himself out as I walked around to help him. I was too late. In an instant–time slowed enough for me to see the danger but raced ahead too fast for me to reach him–he lost his grip and fell to the concrete, shattering his hip, breaking his femur and causing internal bleeding that kept him in the hospital for months.
My husband is a retired college professor, and what the teaching profession lacks in salary it often makes up for with generous benefits. His health insurance would cover most of the emergency costs related to the fall–the surgeries, the hospitalization, the drugs. But in the astronomical sums the cost of medical care often entails, "most" is not a reassuring word. Months later, as his discharge from the hospital drew near, I sat in my living room looking at the bills piling up on the table. The co-pays, uncovered care and other costs had already reached $8,000, and we had virtually nothing left.
Seven years of caring for my husband and our daughter, who had no insurance at the time of her accident, had all but exhausted our savings. As my husband’s condition deteriorated, I was caught in a trap. We needed my income, but the kind of political consulting work that was my forte was incompatible with the demands of caring for him. It was simply not possible for me to be available for him 24/7 and simultaneously to work overtime, traveling for days or weeks on the campaign trail, to bring in the income that would keep us afloat.
The fraying financial thread by which we were already hanging …
Continue reading. And write to Congress that we need a national single-payer healthcare system.
Marci Hamilton of FindLaw has an interesting post:
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the valiant attempts by Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) to save the child sexual-abuse victims in the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) group situated at the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch outside Eldorado, Texas. In this column, I’ll take stock of related events since then, and explain the lessons they teach.
The authorities’ concerns were triggered by a call to a hotline, and confirmed when they entered the compound to discover a significant number of underage mothers – who were, plainly, victims of statutory rape — and clear evidence of bigamy involving underage persons, a first-degree felony in Texas. Not only did CPS have clear visual evidence of these crimes, but it also had written records showing that girls had been married off to much older men, even after those men had taken other spouses, and some disturbing pictures, including one particularly disgusting one of their prophet, Warren Jeffs (who is now in jail on other charges), passionately kissing a 12-year-old girl who was sitting on his lap.
The promise of the YFZ raid to free oppressed children, though, was never fully realized. All of the children but one has been returned. As I discussed in a prior column, the Texas appellate courts bear much of the responsibility. They refused to back up CPS’s actions, because they discounted the claims that girls had been victims of statutory rape, if those girls were over the legal age of consent at the time of the raid. The courts’ reasoning was offensive to victims of statutory rape, and made a mockery of Texas criminal law. It was also just another moment when the interests of child sex- abuse victims were trivialized for no good reason.
One Aspect of the Raid that Was Not Widely Covered: CPS Was Simply Following Its Usual Procedures
Most Americans were fascinated by the FLDS/CPS story as it unfolded, but many did not know that CPS’s actions were actually not out of the ordinary, though the context was extraordinary. As with any ordinary child-abuse investigation, once the authorities had clear evidence of abuse (in this case, of statutory rape and child bigamy), they took into custody all of the children who were sharing the same living conditions as the alleged victims, and who, therefore, were also at risk. CPS really had no choice but to bring out all of the children, because many of the adults and children lied about their ages and relationships, and because the FLDS compound was much like a commune wherein family lines and relationships were blurred. It was obvious that the child brides were part of a lifestyle that was being imposed on all of the children, and that not only were the girls at risk of rape, but the boys were also at risk, for they were being groomed to perpetuate the situation – groomed, that is, to be law-breakers.
By some measures, the State’s actions were the most promising step forward yet for the numerous victims within the FLDS. (To get a sense of the depth of the organization’s problems regarding children, read Flora Jessop’s recently-published book Church of Lies.) Twelve of the men from the compound have been indicted for perpetrating child sex abuse, aiding such abuse, or failing to report it. Before those indictments were issued, the most any prosecutor had achieved was to indict a single man from a compound at a given time, and such indictments rarely happened. Essentially, the FBI and the state Attorneys General had simply looked the other way in the states where compounds existed. The FLDS group made it difficult to investigate its crimes of abuse and abandonment of children by living in insular communes, and the authorities found it easier to co-exist with the illegal behavior than to try to stop it.
Thanks to CPS, however, we now have official documents that record the behavior of the FLDS that put children at serious risk. CPS pursued its investigation professionally, and released what should have been a shocking report detailing the problems discovered within this group, including approximately 25% of the pubescent girls being subjected to statutory rape and child bigamy. Unfortunately, the report barely made the national newspapers.
These are extraordinary developments for victims and justice, and CPS and the Texas system (despite the appellate courts there) deserve credit for taking us this far.
The Appallingly Wrong Decisions by the Texas Courts – and the All-Too-Familiar Public Relations Strategy by the FLDS Group
The Texas appellate courts were as wrong as CPS was right. Essentially, the appellate courts told the girls …
New Scientist has a fascinating article on some ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ research that looks at how we justify our choices, even when the thing we’ve chosen has been unknowingly swapped. It turns out, most of the time we don’t notice the change and precede to give reasons for why the thing we didn’t choose was the best choice.
It’s a fantastic use of stage magician’s sleight of hand to make a change outside conscious awareness.
We have been trying to answer this question using techniques from magic performances. Rather than playing tricks with alternatives presented to participants, we surreptitiously altered the outcomes of their choices, and recorded how they react. For example, in an early study we showed our volunteers pairs of pictures of faces and asked them to choose the most attractive. In some trials, immediately after they made their choice, we asked people to explain the reasons behind their choices.
Unknown to them, we sometimes used a double-card magic trick to covertly exchange one face for the other so they ended up with the face they did not choose. Common sense dictates that all of us would notice such a big change in the outcome of a choice. But the result showed that in 75 per cent of the trials our participants were blind to the mismatch, even offering "reasons" for their "choice".
The idea riffs on the well-known psychological phenomenon of change blindness but this is also a lovely example of what Daniel Dennett called "narratization", the ability of the mind to make a coherent story out what’s happening, with you as the main character, even when it’s clear that the outcome was determined externally. In a well-known article, Dennett cites this process as the key to our understanding of the ‘self’.
This was vividly demonstrated in split-brain patients who can be shown images to each independent hemisphere.
Each hand picks out a different picture, because the information is only accessible to the side that controls action for one side of the body, but when asked why they chose the two, they give a story of why the two pictures are related, even though they’re not conscious of initially seeing both pictures.
There’s a great summary in this New York Times piece from 2005, that comes highly recommended.
The New Scientist article covers this new technique for investigating this process with a nifty video of the slight-of-hand in action.