Tuesday, March 24, 2015

@selc_org & @BWRiverkeeper : Federal Court Requires Corps to Rectify Error on Water Impacts of Coal Mining Permit along Alabama’s Black Warrior River

 
Birmingham, AL – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) must rectify an error the agency made in assessing the impacts on water resources from coal mining activities under a controversial permit that authorizes unlimited mining material to be dumped into streams and wetlands in the Black Warrior River basin.  

Beginning in May 2012, the Corps granted permits for limitless filling of streams and wetlands at 41 mines in the Black Warrior basin through a general approval, known as Nationwide Permit 21, rather than requiring individual review of each site as is now standard for surface coal mining activities.

The groups charge that the Corps has not fully accounted for cumulative environmental impacts allowed by the use of this permit. Over two years after the permit was issued, and a few days before oral argument in the court of appeals, the agency admitted that it had made an error in calculating the impacts of mining activities authorized by the permit, which severely undermined the agency’s finding that activities under this permit had minimal cumulative impacts.

The Court has allowed the Corps an additional year to study and calculate the actual impacts to water resources allowed by Nationwide Permit 21– a period of time during which unlimited stream filling can continue under previous authorizations unless the district court orders activities to be stopped.  Because the Court focused solely on this late-breaking error, it did not address the groups’ main argument, which is that it is irrational for the Corps to allow these mines to fill unlimited lengths of streams, despite its 2012 finding that a 300-foot limit on stream filling is “necessary” to prevent more than minimal cumulative environmental impacts.

 “We are disappointed that the Court allowed the Corps an entire year to analyze environmental impacts that should have been considered more than five years ago, before this permit was issued,” said Catherine Wannamaker from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Giving the Corps more time to justify a permit that should have never been used in the first place does not serve the public interest.  We feel strongly that all 41 permits should have been put on hold during the Corps’ reevaluation, and we are considering next steps at this time.”

One judge on the panel disagreed with the majority and argued for vacating all  41 permits, explaining that “[t]he scope of the mistake is much broader” than a simple math error, and that “the issuance of a nationwide permit . . . based on a faulty and unsupported minimal impacts analysis”  is a clear violation of the Clean Water Act
“These 41 grandfathered permits should never have been granted, because they rely on the Corps’ unsupportable and undocumented assumption that burying and disturbing tens of miles of streams has only minimal cumulative effects,” said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Director at Public Justice. 

After suspending the use of Nationwide Permit 21 in 2010 for mining in other Appalachian states due to concerns of its impacts on water quality, the Corps strengthened the permit conditions on environmental impacts when reissuing it in 2012. However, the Corps included an arbitrary “grandfather” provision authorized by the previous version of the permit that allows the unlimited fill of streams and wetlands to continue under previous authorizations until 2017.

After estimating the provision would be used rarely, the Corps has approved around 80 total projects across the country through this loophole, over half of which are in the Black Warrior basin, a major source of drinking water for Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and other Alabama communities.

The court found that the conservation groups were justified in taking time to fully investigate and prepare their claims, contrary to arguments made by the intervening coal companies that the duration of the groups’ investigation caused them monetary harm. 

“This permit allows far too much damage to wetlands and streams along the river and its tributaries,” said Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper.  “The Black Warrior is home to many rare and important aquatic species and is used heavily for swimming, recreation, fishing, paddling, and boating. Protection of clean water and its upland sources are vital to downstream uses.”

When the permit was reissued in  May 2012, over 145,000 linear feet of streams (approximately 27 miles) in the Black Warrior basin were authorized for fill of mining material under Nationwide Permit 21, even though the Corps has recognized in other contexts that stream  fills can compromise water quality and wildlife habitat.

“Streams and wetlands play an integral role in protecting the overall health of the river by filtering out pollution and sediment,” said Michael Senatore, from Defenders of Wildlife. “Continuing to dump massive amounts of rock, soil and chemical waste into these delicate water bodies could ultimately cover and permanently destroy them, resulting in catastrophic habitat loss for fish and wildlife and serious impacts for downstream communities that rely on the Black Warrior watershed for their drinking water.”

Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Public Justice filed a lawsuit in November 2013, charging that the Corps’ issuance of Nationwide Permit 21 fails to comply with federal requirements for surface mining without the detailed study and analysis of cumulative impacts required by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.  The case is Black Warrior Riverkeeper v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 14-12357 (11th Cir.).

In two prior lawsuits brought by Public Justice against the Corps in Kentucky and West Virginia, federal courts have already declared Nationwide Permit 21 to be in violation of these laws. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Japanese Power Utility Finally Admits Fukushima Meltdown

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in March 2011. Unit 1 reactor is on far right. Image from Wikipedia/Wikicommons.
Large Japanese electricity utility Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) confirmed on Thursday, March 19 that nearly all fuel in one of four damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has melted and fallen into the containment building

With the design of the Fukushima Daiichi plants, the containment building was a very simple shell protecting the reactor from the elements, but provided no real protection in the event of a nuclear accident. Instead, the nuclear reactor was enclosed in primary and secondary containment vessels, which sat atop a thick concrete pad at the base of the containment building.

In the event of a meltdown, the thick concrete pad is the only barrier between highly radioactive molten fuel and groundwater.
While there has been suspicions that nuclear fuel did melt its way through the containment vessel and to the base of the containment building, until Thursday there was no definitive proof meltdown had occurred. 

The implication of the findings is that it will be very difficult to remove the highly radioactive molten fuel from Unit 1. As well, the molten fuel must continue to be cooled with water until it is removed. 

Holes and fractures in the concrete base of the reactor building also means that groundwater continues to seep in and become irradiated before draining into the Pacific Ocean, causing an ongoing nuclear disaster.

Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility was severely damaged following the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011.



Following the earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex lost power and the ability to cool fuel in the reactors. The lack of cooling caused a series of hydrogen explosions that severely damaged four of the six reactors at the Daiichi complex.

The resulting release of radioactivity and fears of even an even bigger disaster prompted the evacuation of towns located within a 30-km radius of the plant.

Meanwhile, the lack of power meant water could not be pumped in to cool the nuclear fuel in the reactors. The fuel rods in the reactor vessel started to melt, eventually pooling on the bottom of the reactor vessel.

Eventually the molten fuel melted through the primary and secondary containment vessels, and pooled on the concrete pad at the base of the reactor.

Ever since March 11, 2011, there have been questions about the state of the nuclear fuel in the containment vessels of the four damaged reactor buildings. The interiors of the reactor buildings remain highly radioactive and lethal for human beings to enter. 
The amount of debris and destruction within the reactor buildings plus flooding has made entry by robots and remotely-operated vehicles challenging.

"How meltdown occurred according to experts."       [Image shows presumed current location of molten fuel in the basement of Unit 1 containment building, separated from water table by the concrete bad supporting the reactor building.]

The location of the molten fuel was achieved using a technique called muon scattering tomography. Muons are elementary particles associated with cosmic radiation reaching the Earth from outer space. 

While muons penetrate most matter, the particles change direction when encountering certain elements, in this case the uranium in nuclear fuel. Researchers used this characteristic to check for the presence of fuel in the Unit 1 reactor.

However, the behavior of the muon particles indicated that no fuel remains in the reactor itself.



"NHK image: A study was conducted in February 2012 searching for the melted remains of nuclear fuel in Unit 1.>>The study showed that no fuel remains could be found in the reactor (indicating the fuel had melted through the bottom of the reactor into the basement of the reactor).<<       [Captions, from top left: Muon scattering tomography used to analyze interior of Unit 1 reactor; No fuel can be detected within interior of the reactor; (Simulation) Very little nuclear fuel remains in reactor or containment vessel; Nuclear reactor and containment vessel; white areas indicate absence of any fuel.]"
As has been predicted, most of the molten fuel has settled on the concrete pad that supporting the containment vessels in the base of the containment building.



"How meltdown occurred according to experts."     [Image shows presumed current location of molten fuel in the basement of Unit 1 containment building, separated from water table by the concrete bad supporting the reactor building.]


Friday, March 20, 2015

One-Year Crew Set for Launch to Space Station; NASA TV to Air Live Coverage

 
The prime crew members for International Space Station Expedition 43 take a break in training for a crew portrait. From left are Flight Engineers Scott Kelly of NASA, Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos. Kelly and Kornienko will be spending an entire year in space on board the ISS.
Image Credit: 
Roscosmos/GCTC



The first one-year crew for the International Space Station is set to launch Friday, March 27. NASA Television will provide extensive coverage of the launch and the crew’s arrival to the orbital laboratory.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend a year living and working aboard the space station and will launch with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. The trio will become part of the station’s Expedition 43 crew.

NASA TV coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. EDT March 27, with launch scheduled for 3:42 p.m. (1:42 a.m. Saturday, March 28 in Baikonur) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The trio will ride to space in a Soyuz spacecraft, which will rendezvous with the space station and dock after four orbits of Earth. Docking to the space station's Poisk module will take place at 9:36 p.m. Friday. NASA TV coverage of docking will begin at 8:45 p.m.

Hatches between the Soyuz and the station will be opened at approximately 11:15 p.m., at which time Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA and his crewmates, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency), will greet Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka. Hatch opening coverage begins on NASA TV at 10:45 p.m.

Kelly and Kornienko will spend a year on the space station to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space. Data from the expedition will be used to determine whether there are ways to further reduce the risks on future long-duration missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars.

The crew will support several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science -- research that impacts life on Earth. Data and samples will be collected throughout the year from a series of studies involving Scott and his twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. The studies will compare data from the genetically-identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight.

Padalka will spend six months aboard the outpost, during which he will become the first four-time station commander and record holder for most cumulative time spent in space.

For the full schedule of prelaunch, launch and docking coverage, visit:
For more information about the one-year crew, visit:
For more information about the International Space Station, visit:
Follow the space station crew members on Instagram:
Follow the space station via Twitter at:

Monday, March 16, 2015

#NewsBham: Pro Marriage Equality Rally in Support of LGBT Rights Planned for March 22nd in Dothan

Equality For The Wiregrass Rally in support of the LGBTQ community including those in favor of same-sex marriage and equality is scheduled for March 22nd at the Dothan Civic Center..

The event is scheduled to coincide with an anti-same sex rally being held at the civic center at the same time.
 

On the Facebook invite there is a list with a number of rules regarding the peaceful, constructive nature of this event. Anyone interested in attending should visit the event page for further details, for links and to contact the coordinators for further details. 
https://www.facebook.com/events/622127754555289/ 

There is a planning meeting scheduled a day before the rally. 

The Memphis Baptist Church in Dothan is planning the  "I Stand for Biblical Marriage" Rally at the same time. The event information is listed here for anyone interested: https://www.facebook.com/events/1410724342565359/ 

CIA Money Landed in Al Qaeda's Hands: Report

2010 ransom transaction between terror group and Afghan government used cash that came from monthly US donations, NY Times investigation finds
 

About $1 million of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's money, given to a secret Afghan government fund in 2010, ended up in al Qaeda's possession after it was used to pay part of a ransom for a diplomat kidnapped by the terror group, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

The CIA regularly bankrolled that coffer with monthly cash deliveries to the presidential palace in Kabul, as it has done for more than a decade. Along with another $4 million total provided by several other countries, the Afghan government paid off a $5 million ransom demanded by al Qaeda in exchange for freeing Afghan general consul Abdul Khaliq Farahi, kidnapped in Pakistan in 2008.

As a previous Times investigation revealed in 2013, the CIA provided monthly cash deliveries to support then-President Hamid Karzai's relatives and aides and to solicit influence over domestic politics—but just as often, it "fueled corruption and empowered warlords."

Letters regarding the payment were found in the 2011 Navy SEAL raid which killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. They were submitted as evidence during the trial of Abid Naseer, who was convicted this month of supporting terrorism and planning to bomb a shopping center in Manchester, England.

According to those communications, al Qaeda planned to use the money to buy weapons, support family members of the group's fighters being held in Afghanistan, and other operational needs.

The cash flow was "no well-laid trap," the Times writes. It was just another example of how the U.S. regularly "financed the very militants it is fighting."

The CIA's monthly deliveries to Karzai's palace, which ranged in amounts from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million, were also used to finance "the loyalty of warlords, legislators and other prominent — and potentially troublesome — Afghans, helping the palace finance a vast patronage network that secured Mr. Karzai’s power base," the Times continued.

While the cash flow has allegedly slowed since President Ashraf Ghani took office in September, it has not stopped. And Afghan officials did not elaborate on what restrictions, if any, the U.S. has put on how it may be spent.

The CIA declined to comment to the Times on their story.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

#NewsBham: Suspects Flee Attempted Home Invasion in Vestavia Hills Leading to "soft lockdown" at Cahaba Heights Elementary

Vestavia Hills Police Department reported an attempted home invasion today. At approximately 11:40am in the 4400 block of Dolly Ridge Rd. A homeowner reported two male suspects, wearing ski masks and at least one of which was armed with a handgun, entered his home through an unlocked back door.

Upon encountering the homeowner, the suspects fled on foot.
Vestavia police established a perimeter in response to witness accounts of the suspects direction of travel and attempted tracking via K-9.



Police were unable to locate the suspects, and as a precaution Cahaba Heights Elementary was placed on "soft lockdown."

#NewsBham: Alabama House of Representatives Passes #HB56, So Called Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act

Alabama House of Representatives voted 69 yay to 25 nay with 1 abstention today passing HB56, a bill that would allow officials, based on their own beliefs, without threat of legal action, to discriminate against anyone for whom they wished not to solemnize a marriage

The bill will now move to the Alabama Senate.

HB56 

164963-1 
By Representative Hill (J) 
RFD: Judiciary

 First Read: 03-MAR-15

PFD: 02/27/2015


164963-1:n:02/27/2015:FC*/mfc LRS2015-802

SYNOPSIS:        

This bill would enact the Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act by amending Section 30-1-7, Code of Alabama 1975, relating to persons authorized to solemnize marriages.

This bill would specify that those authorized or permitted to solemnize marriages pursuant to Alabama law are not required to solemnize the marriage of any person.

This bill would also specify the rights of those associated with religious organizations, institutions, and societies as related to marriage recognition and solemnization.

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT

To enact the Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act; to amend Section 30-1-7, Code of Alabama 1975, relating to persons authorized to solemnize marriages; to specify that those authorized to solemnize marriages pursuant to the laws of this state are not required to solemnize the marriage of any person; and to specify and further establish the rights of those associated with religious organizations, institutions, and societies as related to marriage recognition and solemnization.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA:

Section 1. This act may be known and shall be cited as The Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act.

Section 2. Section 30-1-7, Code of Alabama 1975, is amended to read as follows: "§30-1-7. 13

"(a) Generally. Marriages may be solemnized by any licensed minister of the gospel in regular communion with the Christian church or society of which the minister is a member; by an active or retired judge of the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Court of Civil Appeals, any circuit court, or any district court within this state; by a judge of any 19 federal court; or by an active or retired judge of probate.

"(b) Pastor of religious society; clerk of society to maintain register of marriages; register, etc., deemed presumptive evidence of fact. Marriage may also be solemnized by the pastor of any religious society according to the rules ordained or custom established by such society. The clerk or keeper of the minutes of each society shall keep a register and enter therein a particular account of all marriages solemnized by the society, which register, or a sworn copy thereof, is presumptive evidence of the fact.

"(c) Quakers, Mennonites, or other religious societies. The people called Mennonites, Quakers, or any other Christian society having similar rules or regulations, may solemnize marriage according to their forms by consent of the parties, published and declared before the congregation assembled for public worship. 

"(d) No one authorized or permitted to solemnize marriages pursuant to this section or any other provision of Alabama law is required to solemnize a marriage for any person or persons.

"(e) Protection of freedom of religion in marriage. Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901; and Amendment 622 to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as

Section 3.01 of the Official  Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended (the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment):

"(1) No licensed or ordained minister or any priest, rabbi, or similar official of any church, synagogue, society, or religious organization is required to solemnize or recognize any marriage.

"(2) A licensed or ordained minister or any priest, rabbi, or similar official of any church, synagogue, society, or religious organization shall be immune from any civil claim or cause of action, or any criminal prosecution, based on a refusal to solemnize or recognize any marriage under this section or any other provision of Alabama law.

"(3) No state agency or local government may base a decision to penalize, withhold benefits from, or refuse to contract with any church, synagogue, society, or religious organization on the refusal of a person associated with such church, synagogue, society, or religious organization to solemnize or recognize a marriage under this section or any other provision of Alabama law.

"(4) No church, synagogue, society, or religious organization is required to provide accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, services, or goods related to the recognition, solemnization, or celebration of a marriage.

"(5) A church, synagogue, society, or religious organization shall be immune from any civil claim or cause of action, or any criminal prosecution, based on its refusal to provide accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, services, or goods related to the recognition, solemnization, or celebration of a marriage.

"(6) For purposes of this section, a church, synagogue, society, or religious organization includes, but is not limited to, churches, synagogues, temples, nondenominational ministries, interdenominational and ecumenical organizations, mission organizations, faith-based social agencies, and other entities whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion or a particular religion.

"(7) For purposes of this subsection, the recognition, solemnization, or celebration of a marriage includes services or provisions that are related to or designed to relate to solemnizing, recognizing, celebrating, strengthening, or promoting marriage, such as religious counseling programs, courses, retreats, and workshops.

"(8) Nothing in this section shall be construed to eliminate, reduce, alter, or otherwise modify any additional,  broader, or other constitutional freedoms and protections of  religion or religious liberties for any person or church,  synagogue, society, or religious organization as established under the United States Constitution or the constitution of this state." 

Section 3. The provisions in this act are severable  from the remainder of the act, and any that lack enforceability shall not affect the enforceability of other provisions.

Section 4. This act shall become effective upon its passage and approval by the Governor, or its otherwise becoming law.

#NewsBham: Two Police Officers Shot in Overnight Protests at #Ferguson Police Department

Pic: Loavesofbread
Two police officers were shot Wednesday night (Thur morning) around 1:20AM.  

The protests were in response to the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson which occured on Wednesday. 

According to Christine Byers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the officers shot were from St. Louis County Police Department and Webster Groves Police Department.
 

The incident was captured on social media. In the video below, one man can be heard shouting "Acknowledgement nine months ago would have kept that from happening!" The shots came from "on the hill behind us" according to one voice on the video.
 



One video shows officers carrying the shooting victims away in protective formation.





Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The 3 Biggest Myths Blinding Us to the Economic Truth




1. The “job creators” are CEOs, corporations, and the rich, whose taxes must be low in order to induce them to create more jobs. Rubbish. The real job creators are the vast middle class and the poor, whose spending induces businesses to create jobs. Which is why raising the minimum wage, extending overtime protection, enlarging the Earned Income Tax Credit, and reducing middle-class taxes are all necessary.

2. The critical choice is between the “free market” or “government.” Baloney. The free market doesn’t exist in nature. It’s created and enforced by government. And all the ongoing decisions about how it’s organized – what gets patent protection and for how long (the human genome?), who can declare bankruptcy (corporations? homeowners? student debtors?), what contracts are fraudulent (insider trading?) or coercive (predatory loans? mandatory arbitration?), and how much market power is excessive (Comcast and Time Warner?) – depend on government.

3. We should worry most about the size of government. Wrong. We should worry about who government is for. When big money from giant corporations and Wall Street inundate our politics, all decisions relating to #1 and #2 above become rigged against average working Americans. 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License from http://robertreich.org/

Sanders: Iran Letter Shows GOP Senators Just 'Itching for War'

Potential presidential candidate says attempt to undermine ongoing nuclear negotiations was an 'unspeakable' breach
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a luncheon at the National Press Club on Monday, March 9, 2015 in Washington. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is considering running for the 2016 Democratic nomination as a liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton, focusing on income inequality and climate change. (Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has blasted 47 Republicans in the U.S. Senate for sending a letter this week to Iranian leaders and said the incident goes to show that some of his colleagues are simply "itching for war" when it comes to Iran.

The open letter (pdf) in question—sent on Monday and addressed to the  "Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran"—warned that its signatories would "consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement" that could be jettisoned following the next congressional and presidential elections in 2016. Despite the rhetoric of the letter, there is no evidence showing Iran has an active nuclear weapons program and the nation's leadership has repeatedly stated that it has no current ambitions for such a program.

Widely regarded as an unorthodox attempt to sabotage ongoing diplomatic efforts regarding Iran's research and uranium enrichment program for its civilian nuclear program, Sanders was among those publicly criticizing the nature and content of the letter as well as the nearly 50 senators—including the top Republican leadership and presidential hopefuls—who signed it.

"[M]y Republican friends seem to be itching for that war," Sanders told reporters on Tuesday following an event in Washington, D.C. "When you sabotage the effort to reach a peace agreement by the leader of the United States of America — the man who is charged with dealing with foreign policy — that, to me, is really unspeakable."

Making reference to the disastrous and costly wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he added, "Apparently, some of my Republican colleagues do not believe that two wars are enough... I think that is a very, very tragic position to hold."

Sanders has made it clear he is considering running for president in 2016 as a progressive challenger to Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Politico adds:

Four potential 2016 GOP hopefuls — Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — all signed the letter.
The White House and several congressional Republicans and Democrats have criticized the letter as an attempt to politicize the issue and purposefully derail the president’s foreign policy goals.
Asked whether he would urge his Democratic colleagues to continue to support the president on a potential deal if negotiators fail to agree by the March 24 deadline, Sanders said: "The devil is in the details. We’ll have to see what happens. But I think what the American people want, what I certainly want, is to do everything that we can to reach a peaceful agreement with Iran."
Sen. Sanders also appeared on MSNBC on Tuesday evening to further discuss his thoughts on the matter:





This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License from Common Dreams
 

#NewsBham: AL Wildlife Division Looking for Participants in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey

Do you spend 10 or more days each year turkey hunting in Alabama? If so, you can help contribute to the conservation and management of Eastern wild turkey in the state and possibly win a new shotgun in the process.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) is encouraging turkey hunters who hunt for at least 10 days during turkey season to participate in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey. Hunters who participate in the survey will receive a copy of Full Fans & Sharp Spurs, the Alabama Turkey Project annual report, and be automatically entered to win a new shotgun from the Alabama Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

“Hunter participation in this survey is very important to the future of turkey hunting in Alabama,” said Steve Barnett, leader of the WFF Alabama Turkey Project. “The more hunters who participate, the better. However, we only need data from people who are hunting for at least 10 days during the season. The more days spent hunting, the more useful that information will be.”

Participation in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey provides WFF biologists valuable information on statewide and regional trends in gobbling activity, hunter effort, harvest rates, age structure and sex ratios. This knowledge ultimately helps the WFF make management decisions that link the interests of sportsmen with the wise use of the state’s turkey resource.

“This survey allows hunters a unique opportunity to contribute directly to the conservation and management of turkey in Alabama,” Barnett said.

To participate in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey, contact WFF at 334-242-3469. WFF staff will provide hunters with information about how to complete the survey.  Hunters may also contact Steve Barnett or Joel Glover by email at steve.barnett@dcnr.alabama.gov and joel.glover@dcnr.alabama.gov for more information about the survey.

For information about Alabama’s spring turkey hunting season, visit  outdooralabama.com/spring-turkey-season.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com

Contact: Wildlife Section :334-242-3469 

#NewsBham- "Armed Adult Male" Deceased After Shot by Hoover Police

Hoover Police shot a 53 year old male yesterday after responding to a domestic dispute. According to the officers the man was armed. The two officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

At 5:34 p.m. on Tuesday the Hoover 911 Center received a call reporting a domestic disturbance at a residence on Valley Street. Responding officers were unable to locate any of the parties involved. The witness who called 911 then reported that prior to officers arrival, 3 vehicles left the house where the incident was occurring. At 6:07 p.m. an officer located those same 3 vehicles at nearby Shades Mountain Plaza. Three individuals were interviewed who were involved in the earlier disturbance, including an adult female with minor injuries.

Officers then returned to the house on Valley Street to interview the 4th individual. As officers approached the residence they encountered an armed adult male. Two officers fired rounds, striking this subject. He was transported to UAB Hospital where he was pronounced deceased.

The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office was contacted and responded to the scene. Investigators with the State Bureau of Investigation also responded and assumed the role as the lead agency investigating the shooting incident. The two officers involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The deceased individual is a 53 year old male. Any additional information, including his identity will be provided by the State Bureau of Investigation, Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office or the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

iSpy: How the CIA Targeted Apple

New documents and reporting by The Intercept detail sustained attempt to break encryption of iphone and ipad

New reporting by The Intercept published Tuesday reveals a decades-long effort by the Central Intelligence Agency, alongside partners both inside and outside of government, to crack the digital security systems of the Apple's signature iPhone and iPad products.

Citing top-secret documents leaked to journalists by Edward Snowden, the latest reporting by Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley reveals the determination of researchers working for the U.S. spy agency to break through Apple's encryption system for its widely used portable devices, bothg of which operate on the company's iOS operating platform.

According to the Scahill and Begley:
The security researchers presented their latest tactics and achievements at a secret annual gathering, called the “Jamboree,” where attendees discussed strategies for exploiting security flaws in household and commercial electronics. The conferences have spanned nearly a decade, with the first CIA-sponsored meeting taking place a year before the first iPhone was released.
By targeting essential security keys used to encrypt data stored on Apple’s devices, the researchers have sought to thwart the company’s attempts to provide mobile security to hundreds of millions of Apple customers across the globe. Studying both “physical” and “non-invasive” techniques, U.S. government-sponsored research has been aimed at discovering ways to decrypt and ultimately penetrate Apple’s encrypted firmware. This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption.
In addition, the report makes reference to attempts by CIA operatives to create a "modified version" of Apple's proprietary app development software, called Xcode, upon which outside app developers can create new tools for both iPhone and iPad. The reporting says it remains unclear how unwitting developers might be tricked into using the altered version—one researcher quoted in the document described this process as "whacking" the code—but according to the documents, if installed, a backdoor service in the code would "force all iOS applications to send embedded data to a listening post."

In addition, the CIA researchers claimed the software, could perform these functions as well:


 — “Entice” all Mac applications to create a “remote backdoor” allowing undetected access to an Apple computer.

— Secretly embed an app developer’s private key into all iOS applications. (This could potentially allow spies to impersonate the targeted developer.)
 
— Disable core security features on Apple devices.

Scahill in Begley point out that Apple is among the tech companies that has most consistently and publicly resisted the government's efforts to exploit the encryption of private computer systems and personal devices. "Perhaps more than any other corporate leader," they write, "Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has taken a stand for privacy as a core value, while sharply criticizing the actions of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies."

The new report also makes clear that private defense contractors are playing an outsized role in providing research and other assistance to government agencies in developing and executing these clandestine programs. For this program aimed at Apple's encryption, weapons and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is singled out as a significant player, which owns the Sandia Lab that hosted the Apple hacking "jamboree" and whose researchers apparently contributed to the program.

"Lockheed Martin’s role in these activities should not be surprising given its leading role in the national surveillance state," William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and author of Prophets of War, told The Intercept. "It is the largest private intelligence contractor in the world, and it has worked on past surveillance programs for the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA. If you’re looking for a candidate for Big Brother, Lockheed Martin fits the bill."

Though Scahill and Begley acknowledge the documents "do not address how successful the targeting of Apple’s encryption mechanisms have been nor do they provide any detail about the specific use of such exploits," the existence of these efforts, they argue, does reveal the "ongoing campaign aimed at defeating the tech giant’s efforts to secure its products, and in turn, its customers’ private data."

Read the full article here. And the documents themselves can be viewed here.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Singapore Blogger Who Criticized Court Case of Anti-Gay Sex Law Fined for ‘Scandalizing the Judiciary’

Photo of Alex Au from his blog
A Singaporean blogger was fined S$8,000 (US$5,843) by the High Court on March 5, 2015 for writing a blog post two years ago that allegedly accused the Chief Justice of manipulating the court proceedings related to the petitions against Section 377A, the law which criminalizes sex between men.

Alex Au Wai Pang is a 62-year old writer who blogs at Yawning Bread. He is also a prominent member of Singapore's LGBT community. Alex said he will appeal the decision of the court.

The case involves an article that Alex wrote entitled “377 wheels come off Supreme Court’s best laid plans”, which discussed the “strange calendaring” of petitions challenging Section 377A in the High Court. Prosecutors said the article “unfairly suggested that the Chief Justice had acted impartially” and therefore it “risked undermining public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore”. The court agreed with the prosecution and ruled that the article “crossed the legal boundary and constitute scandalizing contempt”.

Alex and his lawyers argued through their written submissions to the court that the article did not violate any law:

The [government] has had to twist Mr Au’s words out of context and to editorialize to impute sinister innuendo into his article where none exists. In so doing, [it] has mischievously ignored the caveats in Mr Au’s article that clearly flag out to his readers that he is theorizing, as opposed to making statements of fact.
Many criticized the decision of the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) to charge Alex. A statement signed by 170 people in December 2013 described the case as a threat to free speech:

The AGC’s action, rather than enhancing confidence in the judiciary, might weaken public confidence. It also implies that the public is not allowed to form opinions on judicial processes.
But the AGC reminded them that free speech is not absolute:

As important as the right to free speech and expression is, the Constitution recognizes that our society as a whole must be safeguarded against statements without basis which injure the reputation of persons or lower confidence in the administration of justice.
The case of Alex is cited by various political groups as the latest manifestation of the systematic harassment suffered by activists and critics of the government. Reacting to the court decision, the Reform Party urged the public to be vigilant about their rights:

Alex Au has already declared his intention to file an appeal. People we have to unite and fight to keep our rights, those few that we have left, if we are not to lose them for ever.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, advised Singapore to repeal the archaic law of “scandalizing the judiciary.” He also frowned upon the court decision to convict Alex:

Singapore’s courts, like any other public institution, are strengthened, not weakened, by open debate on issues of general concern. The prosecution of Alex Au for speaking out is just one more example of Singapore’s willingness to misuse law to gag its critics.
The issue should embolden Singaporeans to step up the pressure in demanding the abrogation of two colonial-era laws: Section 377A and the crime of “scandalizing the judiciary.” It should also inspire activists and other concerned citizens to broaden the campaign for greater media freedom and stronger protection of human rights.

Written by Mong Palatin for Global Voices

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wisconsin Workers Rally As Anti-Worker Bill Nears Walker's Desk

'Right-to-Work is an attack on worker wages and the ability of workers to join together as a union to have a meaningful check on corporate power and greed,' declares Wisconsin AFL-CIO
By
Deirdre Fulton, staff writer




As the Wisconsin Assembly began debate on anti-worker legislation that would prohibit private-sector employees from being required to join a union or pay dues under union contracts, opponents of the so-called "right-to-work" bill protested at the Capitol building on Thursday, saying the measure is aimed at keeping wages low and dismantling the labor movement.

The session was expected to last up to 24 hours, as lawmakers on both sides of the issue voiced their positions on the American Legislative Exchange Council-inspired bill.

As debate continued during the afternoon, however, the public gallery was ultimately cleared of people following exclamations of protest against the bill from angry constituents. As the Capital Times reports:

Shortly after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, began speaking on behalf of the bill, protesters began shouting down at lawmakers, "Right-to-work is wrong for Wisconsin," among other chants. 
A handful of individuals were removed before Capitol Police ultimately cleared the entire gallery, while protesters shouted, "Shame."
Subsequently, journalist John Nichols tweeted:

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Vos said Thursday morning that, though some of his fellow GOP lawmakers would vote against the bill, it would "easily pass" in a house where 63 of the 99 members are Republican.
 
Anti-union Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican considering a run for president in 2016 and who recently compared protesters to ISIS, said Wednesday that he expected to sign the bill by Monday. If enacted, Wisconsin would become the 25th state with this sort of anti-worker law on the books.

While proponents say the measure would promote job growth and "worker freedom," opponents counter that the bill is bad for workers and the economy at-large.

"Right-to-work legislation would provide no discernible overall economic advantage to Wisconsin, but it does impose significant social and economic costs," wrote Marquette University economics professor Abdur Chowdhury in an analysis (pdf) prepared for the 440-member Wisconsin Contractor Coalition. "The benefits of right to work enjoyed by some prospective employers are overshadowed by the costs borne by other employers and the state as a whole...Citizens and potential investors in Wisconsin are all better served by economic development policies that lead to decent wages and working conditions."

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO calls the anti-worker bill and the political machinations surrounding it an "injustice to the people of Wisconsin."

"Right-to-Work is an attack on worker wages and the ability of workers to join together as a union to have a meaningful check on corporate power and greed," the statewide union declared at its blog.

WisconsinEye is providing live coverage of Assembly proceedings.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Will the Democratic Nominee for 2016 Take on the Moneyed Interests?



It’s seed time for the 2016 presidential elections, when candidates try to figure out what they stand for and will run on. 

One thing seems reasonably clear. The Democratic nominee for President, whoever she may be, will campaign on reviving the American middle class. 

As will the Republican nominee — although the Republican nominee’s solution will almost certainly be a warmed-over version of George W. Bush’s “opportunity society,” seeking to unleash the middle class’s entrepreneurial energies by reducing taxes and regulations. 

That’s pretty much what we’ve heard from Republican hopefuls so far. As before, it will get us nowhere. 

The Democratic nominee will just as surely call for easing the burdens on working parents through paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave, childcare, elder-care, a higher minimum wage, and perhaps also tax incentives for companies that share some of their profits with their employees. 

All this is fine, but it won’t accomplish what’s really needed. 
The big unknown is whether the Democratic nominee will also take on the moneyed interests – the large Wall Street banks, big corporations, and richest Americans – which have been responsible for the largest upward redistribution of income and wealth in modern American history. 

Part of this upward redistribution has involved excessive risk-taking on Wall Street. Such excesses padded the nests of executives and traders but required a tax-payer funded bailout when the bubble burst in 2008. It also has caused millions of working Americans to lose their jobs, savings, and homes.

Since then, the Street has been back to many of its old tricks. Its lobbyists are also busily rolling back the Dodd-Frank Act intended to prevent another crash.

The Democratic candidate could condemn this, and go further — promising to resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act, once separating investment from commercial banking (until the Clinton administration joined with Republicans in repealing it in 1999). 

The candidate could also call for busting up Wall Street’s biggest banks and thereafter limiting their size; imposing jail sentences on top executives who break the law; cracking down on insider trading; and, for good measure, enacting a small tax on all financial transactions in order to reduce speculation.  

Another part of America’s upward redistribution has come in the form of “corporate welfare” – tax breaks and subsidies benefiting particular companies and industries (oil and gas, hedge-fund and private-equity, pharmaceuticals, big agriculture) for no other reason than they have the political clout to get them.  

It’s also come in the guise of patents and trademarks that extend far beyond what’s necessary for adequate returns on corporate investment — resulting, for example, in drug prices that are higher in America than any other advanced nation. 

It’s taken the form of monopoly power, generating outsize profits for certain companies (Monsanto, Pfizer, Comcast, for example) along with high prices for consumers. 

And it’s come in the form of trade agreements that have greased the way for outsourcing American jobs abroad — thereby exerting downward pressure on American wages. 

Not surprisingly, corporate profits now account for a largest percent of the total economy than they have in more than eight decades; and wages, the smallest percent in more than six

The candidate could demand an end to corporate welfare and excessive intellectual property protection, along with tougher antitrust enforcement against giant firms with unwarranted market power.

And an end to trade agreements that take a big toll on wages of working-class Americans. 

The candidate could also propose true tax reform: higher corporate taxes, in order to finance investments in education and infrastructure; ending all deductions of executive pay in excess of $1 million; and cracking down on corporations that shift profits to countries with lower taxes.

She (or he) could likewise demand higher taxes on America’s billionaires and multimillionaires – who have never been as wealthy, or taken home as high a percent of the nation’s total income and wealth — in order, for example, to finance an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (a wage subsidy for low-income workers). 

Not the least, taking on the moneyed interests would necessitate limiting their future political power. Here, the candidate could promise to appoint Supreme Court justices committed to reversing Citizens United, push for public financing of elections, and demand full disclosure of all private sources of campaign funding.

But will she (or he) do any of this? Taking on the moneyed interests is risky, especially when those interests have more economic and political power than at any time since the first Gilded Age. These interests are, after all, the main sources of campaign funding. 
But a failure to take them on prevents any real change in the prospects of the bottom 90 percent of Americans. 

It also robs the Democratic candidate of a potential public mandate to change the prevailing allocation of economic and political power — no less dramatically than it was changed by Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson a century ago, marking the end of that Gilded Age. 

And a failure to take on the moneyed interests sacrifices the potential enthusiasm of millions of voters – Democrats and Republicans alike – who know the game is rigged, and who yearn for a leader with the strength and courage to un-rig it, and thereby give them and their children a fair chance. 



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License from RobertReich.org.

As Bibi Marches on Congress, Obama Says If Iran Talks Fail 'Military Action' Awaits

Obama says Iranians "have been serious negotiators," but called Israeli prime minister's speech to Congress a "distraction" of efforts aimed at finalizing a nuclear agreement
Obama indicates that remaining options would be limited, including additional sanctions or military actions, if ongoing negotiations with Tehran fail. 'Why wouldn't we take that deal?' the president asked, if there are assurances Iran cannot build a covert nuclear weapons program. (Image: Screenshot/Reuters)

Though voicing no overall criticism of Israeli state policy when it comes various issues involving regional politics, its own nuclear weapons program, or its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the number of U.S. lawmakers who now say they will not attend the speech of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday has grown to nearly 60 members of Congress, with high-profile Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken among the most recent to register their objection to the address.

According to The Hill on Tuesday, nearly a quarter of House Democrats will not attend.

Meanwhile, President Obama sat down with the Reuters news agency and offered his most detailed comments yet about the so-called "rift" that has publicly percolated around the prime minister's decision to address the joint session just weeks ahead of Israeli elections. The speech also comes amid tense, high-level talks in Switzerland this week, where Iran and the P5+1 nations (the U.S., U.K., China, Russia, France, and Germany) are in the final stages of trying to reach a deal on monitoring for Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Declaring her reasons for not attending the speech, Sen. Warren said, "It's unfortunate that Speaker Boehner’s actions on the eve of a national election in Israel have made Tuesday’s event more political and less helpful for addressing the critical issue of nuclear nonproliferation and the safety of our most important ally in the Middle East."

For his part, Sen. Franken said he would not attend Netanyahu's speech because it had devolved into a "partisan spectacle" he wants no part of. "I’d be uncomfortable being part of an event that I don’t believe should be happening," Franken said. "I’m confident that, once this episode is over, we can reaffirm our strong tradition of bipartisan support for Israel."

In his remarks to Reuters, President Obama also affirmed the "depth of the U.S./Israeli relationship" – a bond, he said, that would never be broken.

"I don't think it's permamently destructive," Obama told Reuters in reference to Netanyahu's visit, "but I think it's a distraction from what should be our focus. And our our focus should be: how do we stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?"


Obama said that in his mind it's "still more likely than not" that Tehran will back away from finalizing a deal, but added that "in fairness to them, they have been serious negotiators" and acknowledged that internal Iranian politics have their own potent dynamics. That said, Obama continued, "It is more likely we could get a deal now than it was three or five months ago."
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that if the U.S. could find the political will, he was sure "we can have an agreement this time."
Additional Common Dreams reading on the Iran nuclear deal and Netanyahu's visit: