Thursday, September 27, 2007

Senate Passage of Hate Crimes Bill Moves Bill Closer Than Ever To Becoming Law


WASHINGTON– In an historic step toward equality for GLBT Americans, the U.S. Senate voted to pass the Matthew Shepard Act, which updates and expands the federal hate crimes laws to include bias motivated violence based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability, and provides new resources and tools to assist local law enforcement in prosecuting vicious crimes.

"For over a decade our community has worked tirelessly to ensure protections to combat violence motivated by hate and today we are the closest we have ever been to seeing that become a reality," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Congress has taken an historic step forward and moved our country closer to the realization that all Americans, including the GLBT community, are part of the fabric of our nation. The new leadership in Congress fully understands that for too long our community has been terrorized by hate violence. And today, the US Senate has sent a clear message to every corner of our country that we will no longer turn a blind eye to anti-gay violence in America."

The Senate in a bipartisan vote of 60 to 39 accepted cloture which ended debate on the bill and then moved to approve the Matthew Shepard Act by a voice vote -- attaching it as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Defense Authorization bill.

On May 3rd, the House of Representatives passed a companion bill, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592), with a strong bipartisan margin of 237 to 180. Twenty-six state Attorneys General, including 23 from states with anti-hate crimes laws already on the books, as well as 230 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations support the Matthew Shepard Act and the LLEHCPA because, despite progress toward equality in almost all segments of our society, hate crimes continue to spread fear and violence and local law enforcement often lack the tools and resources to prevent and prosecute them. Some of these supporting organizations include the National Sheriffs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 26 state attorneys general, the National District Attorneys Association, the NAACP, the Episcopal Church, the League of Women Voters, the Anti-Defamation League, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the YWCA of the USA and the United Methodist Church.

The President has threatened to veto the legislation, calling it "unnecessary." According to the FBI, 25 Americans each day are victims of hate crimes–that means approximately one hate crime is committed every hour. One in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation. It’s time to update the law to protect everyone, and this year marks our best chance yet to get it done.

"Hate crimes terrorize entire communities and violate America’s core democratic principles that all citizens are created equal and are afforded equal protection under the law," continued Solmonese. "On behalf of the millions of Americans who have waited too long for these critical protections, we urge President Bush to sign the bill when it arrives on his desk."

The hate crimes amendment was introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR). It confers authority on the federal government to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against victims solely because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability when local officials are unwilling or unable to do so. It also expands existing federal hate crimes law to improve prosecution of bias-motivated crimes based on race, religious, national origin and color and provides additional resources to local law enforcement.

IBM to further develop Cell processor technology at IUPUI

Sept. 27, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS -- IBM announced today it will establish a worldwide center for developing products and applications using its advanced Cell chip technology at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis -- the first such IBM facility on a college campus.

IBM plans to staff the new 2,000-square-foot Future Technology Solution Design Center located in the university's Informatics and Communications Technology Complex with five professionals who will develop new products and applications based on advanced Cell processor technology.

IBM's investment in the facility is roughly $3.8 million, including equipment and staffing costs, with lab space and datacenter support leased from the university. Academic institutions and business customers will have access to the center to design, test and optimize new devices based on IBM's "supercomputer on a chip" technology.

"We chose Indiana for this center because of the close proximity of leading institutions like IU, IU School of Medicine and Purdue, as well as its well-earned reputation as a hot bed of life sciences expertise," said Robert Eades, manager of the center. "We believe we can couple this expertise with the advanced capabilities of our Cell technology to benefit not only medicine, but a broad range of industries and applications."

The Cell processor is an advanced chip developed in partnership by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, with up to nine processor cores that allow it to operate at speeds of up to 5GHz. Its ability to process large amounts of information, coupled with its high bandwidth communication capabilities, allow developers to place massive amounts of processing power into relatively small devices, improving performance easily and economically.

"This is a great new opportunity for Indiana and for our growing life sciences industry," said Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman. "IBM's commitment will allow the next generation of computing technology to evolve in Indiana."

Home to the IU School of Medicine, the nation's second-largest medical school, the IUPUI campus offers the new center access to researchers and life sciences leaders in the state to identify possible uses and applications for the new high-speed computing technology.

"Location matters, and locating this IBM applications center on the IUPUI campus brings together people and technology to advance Indiana," said Brad Wheeler, IU vice president for information technology and chief information officer. "This is a natural fit and an important public-private partnership for the state."

While IBM has partnerships with universities around the world, this is the first time it has located a technology development center staffed by IBM professionals on a college campus.

"To advance computing we are going to have to be more creative about how we use parallel programming," said Gerry McCartney, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Purdue University. "By placing the Future Technology Solution Design Center along Indiana's I-65 research corridor, IBM will be able to work with scientists and engineers from Purdue, IUPUI, and IU-Bloomington to optimize their research so that it will run on the next generation of supercomputers."

IBM has already logged advances in life sciences using the new technology. A partnership with the Mayo clinic has allowed development of a Cell-based system to quickly analyze and compare 3D MRI images from the same patient taken months apart to evaluate the effectiveness of cancer treatment. This comparative process that once took seven hours can now be performed in seven minutes or less using the new Cell-based system.

Future applications in the medical field could include a global database of medical images that would allow doctors around the world to compare samples in real time -- allowing a doctor in New York to consult a specialist in San Francisco to more accurately and promptly diagnose a patient's condition.

Cell processors also can be used in other applications requiring the processing and sharing of large amounts of data, particularly image-processing applications. For example, products based on Cell are being developed for use in sonar and radar applications by Mercury Computers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Broadband Crisis Cripples Small Businesses

Consumer Groups Urge Congress to Improve Internet Access for all Americans

WASHINGTON - September 26– In testimony before the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship today, Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott will call on lawmakers to confront the lack of broadband competition that is hurting America’s small businesses in the global marketplace.

“The market failures of small business broadband come at a great economic expense,” Scott said. “American small business owners are at a huge competitive disadvantage to their counterparts in Europe and Asia, where broadband is widely available at much higher speeds and lower prices. Our entrepreneurs and innovators deserve better.”

Scott will testify at a hearing titled “Improving Internet Access to Help Small Business Compete in a Global Economy” on behalf of Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America. Federal Communications Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps will also testify.

A live webcast of the hearing will be available at

Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, authored a guest post on the blog inviting regular citizens to recommend ways to bring universal, affordable, high-speed Internet access to small businesses and all Americans.

“Without national broadband access, we’re throwing sand in the gears of our economy, placing a technological ceiling of job growth, innovation and economic production,” Senator Kerry wrote. “We need to make universal deployment a national priority.”

Every international ranking shows that the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in broadband availability, price and speed. Small businesses in other countries are able to choose among dozens of competitive business-class broadband options, while American small businesses have only their local monopoly telephone company.

The lack of competition in the broadband market is so severe that most small businesses are unable to purchase the kind of broadband service most suited to advance their competitive interests. Many small businesses — especially in rural areas — do not have any high-speed Internet connectivity.

“How can rural towns and cities hope to spark economic growth and attract new businesses when many lack a basic broadband connection?” Scott asks. “Until we have real broadband competition for everyone, our rural communities will continue to languish on the wrong side of the digital divide — at an enormous economic and social cost.”

Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America will call on Congress to adopt a national broadband platform with policy initiatives that safeguard Network Neutrality; facilitate the collection of broadband data; open unused TV “white spaces” for wireless broadband use; ensure spectrum auctions produce real competitors not vertical integration; protect the rights of local governments to offer broadband services; transition Universal Service Fund programs to broadband; and spark broadband marketplace competition.

“Faith in the great American spirit of entrepreneurship is not a substitute for policy changes that would restore America’s technological edge in the global economy,” said Scott.

Burmese Junta's Record Suggest Potential for Violent Crackdown, Rights Group Says

NEW YORK - September 25 - With hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in peaceful protests against the military regime in Burma, the junta’s record for oppression of dissidents makes the potential for a violent crackdown there a “cause for extreme concern,” according to a leading human rights group.

“The current military regime in Burma has a bloody history. The massive, nonviolent protests in the streets of 1988, like those we saw yesterday, ended with some 3,000 people dead at the hands of the Burmese army,” said Betsy Apple, Director of the Crimes Against Humanity program at New York-based Human Rights First. “Why should we expect anything different today?”

“We can foresee the danger of violence here, which is why it’s critical for the United Nations Security Council and those with particular influence on Burma—namely China and ASEAN—to demand a peaceful resolution to these protests,” she added.

The current protests began in early August, when the Burmese junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), decided to double the price of fuel, making some of the world’s poorest people even poorer. In a series of smaller protests, a number of monks, revered in the largely Buddhist country, were beaten. This led to a series of protests culminating in as many as 100,000 people marching in the streets of Rangoon on September 24.

“The SPDC’s propensity toward violence, particularly against democracy activists, members of Burma’s ethnic nationality groups, and women, is quite well known,” said Apple. “It’s no secret that the regime has committed serious abuses, including torture, killings, rape, and forced labor, against its people. It seems unlikely that the junta will just ignore the peaceful protests, and unlikelier still that they won’t bring in troops with guns.”

China has strong economic ties to the SPDC and to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member. It is critical that China use its strong relationship with the military regime to urge calm, demand respect for human rights, and urge the SPDC to commence the long-overdue process of democratization. ASEAN countries also should exercise their influence over Burma’s junta to call for a peaceful resolution to the protests and an end to the oppressive military regime. Finally, the international community should demand the immediate release of Nobel Peace prize winner and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as all political prisoners. The U.S. tightened economic sanctions on Burma on Tuesday, September 24, and other countries should send an unequivocal signal to the junta as well that continued repression will not be tolerated.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Environmental Groups Say Carbon Credit Company Made False Claims to SEC

September 21 - Several environmental organizations have filed a letter with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to express concern about potentially illegal statements made by the "eco-restoration" firm Planktos, which is planning a massive iron dump into the Pacific ocean near the Galapagos Islands in a scheme designed to produce carbon offset credits that can be sold for profit.

The International Environmental Law Project, the International Center for Technology Assessment, Fishwise, Greenpeace, the ETC Group, and Friends of the Earth today notified the SEC that Planktos' recent SEC filings contain false information regarding the applicability of U.S. environmental laws to its activities. Additionally, the groups' letter said statements made by Planktos CEO Russ George may mislead investors about the financial and environmental benefits of selling the carbon offset credits that Planktos claims it will be able to generate.

"Scientists warn that large-scale iron fertilization schemes such as the one that Planktos is pursuing are risky and could disrupt ocean ecosystems in harmful ways, yet Planktos misleads the public by portraying itself as a 'green' company," said Ian Illuminato of Friends of the Earth.

"It appears as though Planktos is misleading its investors too, and we've alerted the SEC to that fact. In recent SEC filings, Planktos has been less than forthcoming about the legal obstacles its scheme faces in the U.S. and about the potential market value of any carbon offsets that it might manage to generate," said ICTA Staff Attorney George Kimbrell.

Planktos' planned experiment is to spread iron dust into the ocean to create plankton blooms that suck carbon from the atmosphere and therefore mitigate global warming. Leading biochemists and oceanographers have cast doubt about how much of the absorbed carbon will actually remain in the ocean in a lasting way, which it is intended to do. They also warn of unintended consequences of such manipulation of ocean ecosystems. However, Planktos portrays itself as a savior of the oceans and atmosphere and stated in an information statement filed with the SEC on June 20, 2007 that its process "will sequester tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide."

A copy of the letter filed with the SEC is available at

To read more about the controversy surrounding the Planktos iron dumping scheme, see recent reports from the Washington Post ( and a Wall Street Journal blog (

Major Health Care Proposals Ignore the 'Big Leak,' Says Health Insurance Expert

September 21 - “Universal health care is getting the attention it deserves, but unfortunately the proposals receiving the most attention ignore the ‘Big Leak,’” which is the enormous non-benefit costs incurred by health care providers who must match their billions of billings with thousands of differing private health care plans,” says Merton C. Bernstein, a founding member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and the Coles Professor of Law Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis. “Putting everyone under the Medicare umbrella would eliminate that leak,” he says.

“Medicare’s single-payer system would reduce non-benefit spending by doctors, hospitals, clinics, laboratories and health care insurers by about $300 billion a year, providing funds to insure everyone without additional outlays.”

Bernstein is available to discuss current universal health care proposals as well as the Medicare-for-all option. His current comments on health insurance follow:

Health insurance companies, unlike Medicare, deal with vast administrative costs:

“Hundreds of private insurers offer innumerable differing plans,” Bernstein says.

“Those differences usually reflect marketing considerations rather than medical goals. In contrast, Medicare has one set of charges in a region. That helps explain Medicare’s low administrative costs — about 2 percent of benefit outlays. In addition, Medicare does not have the marketing and advertising costs that add significantly to private insurer outlays. In dealing with Medicare, medical care providers need master only one set of rules and schedule of charges — a clear gain in efficiency.”

Giving patients a choice:

“Some contend that their proposals offer patients a choice,” he says. “To start, patients don’t choose their coverage, their employers do. Even when there are several plans on offer, the employer chooses which ones to include. Further, the employer chooses who administers the plans. That’s where much of insurance competition occurs — who can offer the lowest cost to the employer/chooser; that turns on who can produce lowest benefit payout.

“The choice patients cherish most is who will be their doctor and which hospital will provide care. Many private insurance arrangements limit those choices. Under Medicare, the patient chooses.”

Proposed plans rely on tax breaks and other subsidies:

“The major proposals depend upon tax breaks and other subsidies to make coverage appear more affordable,” Bernstein says. “This merely shifts costs to other plan participants or taxpayers. This increase total costs and thereby make the programs themselves less affordable.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

CREW Releases Third Annual Most Corrupt Members of Congress Report

WASHINGTON - September 18 - Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its third annual report on the most corrupt members of Congress entitled Beyond DeLay: The 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and two to watch). This encyclopedic report on corruption in the 110th Congress documents the egregious, unethical and possibly illegal activities of the most tainted members of Congress. CREW has compiled the members’ transgressions and analyzed them in light of federal laws and congressional rules.

Sixteen members have been replaced from last year’s list of 25.

CREW also has re-launched the report’s tandem website, The site offers short summaries of each member’s transgressions as well as the full-length profiles and all accompanying exhibits.

Members of the Senate:
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK)

Members of House:
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA)
Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL)
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA)
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA)
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)
Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-CA)
Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV)
Rep. Timothy F. Murphy (R-PA)
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA)
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM)
Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ)
Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY)
Rep. David Scott (D-GA)
Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL)
Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-NM)

Dishonorable Mention:
Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID)
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)

“Every year CREW creates this compendium of corruption to expose and hold accountable those members of Congress who believe they are above the law,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW said today. “With the third edition of Beyond DeLay it has become abundantly clear that many public officials believe that the rules don’t apply to them.”

Sloan continued, “Nevertheless, Congress persists in abdicating its constitutional responsibility to police itself, opting to ignore the ethical and legal transgressions of its members. Luckily for the public, at least the Department of Justice still believes that political corruption is worth pursuing.”

Several members in the study are already under federal investigation including: Reps. Calvert, Doolittle, Feeney, Jefferson, Lewis, Miller, Mollohan, Murphy, Renzi and Young, as well as Senator Stevens.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Smog Poses Greater Health Risk Because of Global Warming-New Study

More Bad Air Days for Southern, Eastern U.S. Cities

WASHINGTON - September 13 - People living in ten mid-sized metropolitan areas are expected to experience significantly more 'red alert' air pollution days in coming years due to increasing lung-damaging smog caused by higher temperatures from global warming.

The analysis[1] was prepared by researchers at Yale, Johns Hopkins and Columbia universities, in collaboration with researchers at State University of New York at Albany, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The study uses data from the 2007 journal Climatic Change, which looks at climate change, ambient ozone, and public health in U.S. cities. It was released today by NRDC and some of the nation's top medical experts.

"The air in many of our nation's cities is already unhealthy. Hotter weather means more bad air days for millions of Americans," said NRDC Climate Center’s Science Director Dan Lashof. "People with asthma are especially at risk, but everyone is adversely harmed by breathing unhealthy air. This research provides another compelling reason to establish enforceable limits on pollution."

The study, "Heat Advisory: How Global Warming Causes More Bad Air Days," projects that higher temperatures mean more smog for a given level of precursor emissions. Smog is formed when pollutants from cars, factories, and other sources mix with sunlight and heat.

On 'red alert' days -- everyone -- particularly children and people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses -- is advised to limit prolonged outdoor exertion. For people with asthma, smog pollution can increase sensitivity to allergens. The Environmental Protection Agency's blue ribbon panel of science advisers has concluded that the current ozone standard of 84 parts per billion (ppb) needs to be substantially reduced to between 60 and 70 ppb in order to protect public health.

"EPA should reduce the ozone standard to within the range recommended by its science advisers. A standard at the lower end of that range will save more lives. During warmer months high ozone levels already create breathing problems for children, elderly, and those with respiratory diseases," said Physicians for Social Responsibility's
Environment and Health Programs Dr. Director Kristen Welker-Hood. "We know that global warming will lead to higher temperatures, especially in urban areas, and as this study shows, we can expect more and more suffering related to unhealthy air the longer we wait to address global warming."

In Washington, D.C., for instance, residents would see a 24 percent drop in clean air days per summer.

The report looks at the following cities located in the eastern and southern half of the U.S.:

* Asheville, NC
* Cleveland, OH
* Columbus, OH
* Greenville, SC
* Memphis, TN
* Philadelphia, PA
* Raleigh, NC
* Virginia Beach, VA
* Washington, DC
* Wilmington, NC

These cities are highlighted because of their size, population and geographical differences. Federal policy makers representing these areas will be faced with critical decisions about reducing global warming emissions and it is important that they be made aware of the health implications of hotter temperatures.

Scientists say average temperatures will rise as much as 10 degrees F by the end of the century unless we start cutting global warming emissions.

Researchers project that, unless action is taken to curb global warming, by mid-century people living in a total of 50 cities in the eastern United States would see:

A doubling of the number of unhealthy ‘red alert’ days
A 68 percent (5.5 day) increase in the average number of days exceeding the current 8-hour ozone standard established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
A 15 percent drop in the number of summer days with “good” air quality based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria because of global warming

Scientists say the Earth is warming faster today than at any time in history. Globally, 11 of the last 12 years rank among the 12 warmest on record since 1850. Better technology in our cars, trucks and SUVs, and cleaner, more efficient energy choices like wind and solar power will help reduce carbon emissions that cause global warming as well as smog forming emissions like nitrogen oxide (NOx) gases, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur oxide (SOx) gas and particulates.

Monday, September 10, 2007

ACLU Condemns Phone Companies’ Role in FBI Datamining

Reaffirms No Amnesty for Telecoms

WASHINGTON - September 10 - The American Civil Liberties Union today condemned reports that telecommunications companies datamined their customers' records at the request of the FBI. The requests, first reported by the New York Times, asked phone companies to identify the "communities of interest" of customers being scrutinized by the FBI and were brought to light in documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The FBI has since ceased the demands.

"For years, the FBI was not only asking telecom companies to do its investigative work, but also asking them to sidestep the Fourth Amendment," said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel. "The fact that telecoms complied with the FBI’s intrusive demands is shocking. It sets an extremely risky precedent to hand out such broad and vague authority to telecom companies. Ceding investigative powers to private companies will have disastrous effects not only for Americans’ privacy, but for their safety."

These revelations come at a time when broad telecom amnesty is being debated on Capitol Hill for the companies’ role in the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program. The ACLU noted that this is not the first time these companies have asked for immunity from criminal prosecution. There has been a sustained below the radar lobby effort to get amnesty since the administration’s surveillance program was revealed at the end of 2005. The first concerted effort was made through a lobbying push at the end of the 109th Congress with a section of the Protecting Consumer Phone Records Act. The section would have preempted stronger state privacy laws and eliminated the rights of independent state agencies to investigate the companies’ role in warrantless spying. In April of this year, an immunity provision was included in the administration’s first FISA "modernization" proposal. Further attempts to attach immunity to other legislation were beaten back by privacy groups.

"We are increasingly discovering the intrinsic role telecom companies played in the administration’s unwarranted and illegal surveillance of Americans," said Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. "Congress should not even begin to consider blanket amnesty before investigating just how deeply these companies were entrenched with the government’s spying program. This is about accountability. The law was clear and if telecom companies placed their bottom line over the constitutional rights of their customers, they need to face the consequences."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Federal Judge strikes down part of Patriot Act

The AP reported today that:

NEW YORK - A federal judge struck down parts of the revised USA Patriot Act on Thursday, saying investigators must have a court's approval before they can order Internet providers to turn over records without telling customers.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero said the government orders must be subject to meaningful judicial review and that the recently rewritten Patriot Act "offends the fundamental constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers."

The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the law, complaining that it allowed the FBI to demand records without the kind of court order required for other government searches.

The ACLU said it was improper to issue so-called national security letters, or NSLs — investigative tools used by the FBI to compel businesses to turn over customer information — without a judge's order or grand jury subpoena. Examples of such businesses include Internet service providers, telephone companies and public libraries.

Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, said prosecutors had no immediate comment.

Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case for the ACLU, said the revised law had wrongly given the FBI sweeping authority to control speech because the agency was allowed to decide on its own — without court review — whether a company receiving an NSL had to remain silent or whether it could reveal to its customers that it was turning over records.

In 2004, ruling on the initial version of the Patriot Act, the judge said the letters violate the Constitution because they amounted to unreasonable search and seizure. He found that the nondisclosure requirement — under which an Internet service provider, for instance, would not be allowed to tell customers that it was turning over their records to the government — violated free speech.

After he ruled, Congress revised the Patriot Act in 2005, and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals directed that Marrero review the law's constitutionality a second time.

The ACLU complained that Congress' revision of the law didn't go far enough to protect people because the government could still order companies to turn over their records and remain silent about it, if the FBI determined that the case involved national security.

The law was written "reflects an attempt by Congress and the executive to infringe upon the judiciary's designated role under the Constitution," Marrero wrote.

The complete story may be found here:

Burma: Constitutional Convention Reinforces Military Rule

NEW YORK - September 5 - The conclusion of Burma’s National Convention on Monday shows that Burma’s military intends to ignore public sentiment and remain in power indefinitely, said Human Rights Watch today.

“The end of the national convention heralds neither reform nor change in Burma,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It merely marks the end of a long, drawn-out chapter of faits accomplis designed by the military to stay in power.”

The National Convention began in 1993 and has met haphazardly for over a decade, even failing to meet at all between 1996 and 2003. The convention followed an election in 1990 that had been overwhelmingly won by a pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). In July, Human Rights Watch set out its serious concerns about the convention in “Burma: Constitutional Convention a Facade for Military Rule”, and to view the Chronology of the National Convention.

Street demonstrations – very rare under Burma’s repressive government – during the past two weeks were sparked by sharply increased fuel prices, which were hiked in mid-August. More than 150 activists have been arrested by authorities, and the low-key conclusion to the convention was likely a further response to the popular unrest.

The convention has still not produced a written constitution. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has drawn up a list of “Fundamental Principles” and “Detailed Basic Principles” that will serve as the basis of a future constitution. Some of the clauses in the “Principles” are those designed to ensure the continued primacy of the military in Burmese politics. For example, in Chapter 1, State Fundamental Principles, Article 2 (f) allows “for the Tatmadaw (Burmese armed forces) to be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the State.” Article 10 (d) states that “necessary law(s) shall be enacted to make citizens’ freedoms, rights, benefits, responsibilities and restrictions effective, firm and complete.” The future president, who must possess “military vision,” also has sweeping emergency powers that grant the office the right to seize national or local control in the event of a threat against the national sovereignty “by wrongful means such as violence or insurgency” (Chapter 11, Article 8).

“This long convention process has excluded the majority of the Burmese population, it has muzzled the delegates who were permitted to attend, and it has ignored their concerns, suggestions and proposals, along with those of many civil society groups and ethnic nationalities,” said Adams. “The constitution that comes out of this will be a constitution by the generals for the generals, who rule Burma for their own benefit.”

Equal Pay for Equal Work? Not for Medicaid Doctors

New Report Analyzes the Great Divide Between Medicare and Medicaid Payments to Doctors in 10 States and the District of Columbia

WASHINGTON, D.C. - September 5- Doctors in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia who treat Medicaid patients are paid far less than doctors in many other states who provide identical services to the same patient group, according to a new Public Citizen report. Compared with their colleagues in other states, doctors in those five jurisdictions also earn much less under Medicaid than under Medicare.

The bottom line: Patients in states with low Medicaid reimbursement rates may have more difficulty finding care because doctors have a financial disincentive to treat Medicaid patients and may even limit the number of Medicaid cases they accept. This reality is particularly harsh in those five jurisdictions, which account for more than 13.5 percent of all Medicaid beneficiaries.

In the report, available here, Public Citizen exposes the disparity among what Medicaid pays doctors for services in 10 states and the District of Columbia, as well as the disparity between Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates within those jurisdictions. The organization selected these jurisdictions for its analysis of reimbursement disparity between Medicaid and Medicare by identifying the states designated in a 2003 study as the five worst and six best (two were tied.) Public Citizen then obtained 2007 Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates for 11 primary care procedures in those states.

The results reveal stark evidence of the great divide in doctor reimbursement. Except for Alaska and Wyoming, which pay physicians more under Medicaid than under Medicare, Medicaid fees tend to be lower than Medicare fees throughout the nation. But some states pay at or near parity (including Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware and North Carolina), and their average fees were used to compare fees in the low-paying states.

In New York, doctors are paid $20 for an hour-long consultation with a Medicaid patient, while in higher-paying states, doctors receive an average of $157.92 for the same service – a difference of greater than sevenfold. The difference within a state between Medicaid and Medicare fees is just as dramatic. For this hour-long consultation, a physician in New York could earn $196.47 from Medicare, almost 10 times more than from Medicaid. Similarly, for a 15-minute visit, physicians treating Medicaid patients in New Jersey earn $20.60, less than half what their counterparts receive in the higher-paying states ($49.20) and less than a third what they would earn if they were treating a Medicare patient ($65.65).

Under Medicaid, doctors in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island earn a miserly 31 cents for every dollar paid to their colleagues in the higher-paying states for an hour-long consultation with a new or established patient. Again, the differences within each of these states are significant when Medicaid and Medicare fees are compared; in these same two states, the fee for the same service is 3.7 times higher under Medicare.

“Fee differences between Medicare and Medicaid in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia consign Medicaid reimbursement to second-class status in those states and its beneficiaries to lower-tier care,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen. “As long as Medicaid fee schedules shortchange providers, the program and its clientele will be considered less worthy, and access to care will be restricted for the poorest, neediest Americans.”

Even the reimbursement amount for an electrocardiogram, which is usually performed by a technician under a physician’s supervision, varies considerably. In Washington, D.C., this procedure earns a fee of $16 under Medicaid and $29.29 under Medicare, a 1.8-fold difference. “Geography may not be destiny, but in the Medicaid program, it can affect providers’ incomes,” said Annette Ramirez de Arellano, co-author of Public Citizen’s study. “Price discrimination not only has been allowed but actually enshrined in the fee schedule that governs Medicaid, one of our major health programs.”

Medicare, which mainly treats people 65 and over, and Medicaid, which treats primarily the poor, have historically been worlds apart in terms of physician reimbursements. Medicare fees are established nationally, with justifiable geographic adjustments among states, while Medicaid fees vary widely from state to state.

This dollar gap has influenced the amount and type of care available to these groups. Physicians may cap the number of Medicaid patients they see because it isn’t financially viable to see more, and they need to reach their target incomes.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pentagon Sued Over Release of Documents on Civilians Killed

Victims Advocacy Group Says Iraqi and Afghan Civilians Deserve Official Recognition

WASHINGTON - September 4 - Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict today affirmed the importance of The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DoD) demanding compliance with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to release documents regarding civilians killed by coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than a year ago, the ACLU submitted a FOIA request for civilian casualty information to several DoD departments but has thus far received documents only from the Department of the Army. In April, the Army released nearly two thousand pages of partial claims files, submitted by civilians against Coalition Forces for death, injury or property damage. Today, the ACLU is releasing an additional 10,000 pages detailing civilian harm received from the Department of the Army. CIVIC noted this is likely a small fraction of the total existing record of civilian casualties held by US Armed Forces and applauded the ACLU for filing a lawsuit to obtain the remainder. Human rights groups have for years been asking for and have been denied these records.

“It’s unfortunate getting this information from the US military had to come down to a lawsuit,” said CIVIC’s executive director Sarah Holewinski. “Is the Pentagon in the dark about US-caused casualties, just as we are? If not, it should release the data and back up its claim to have the best interests of civilians at heart.”

CIVIC noted that keeping detailed records of casualties caused by US and Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is the only way to ensure proper adherence to the Laws of War – the international rules requiring civilian protection and avoidance by all means feasible in combat. “Now is the time for the US to make clear – with hard data – that it avoids civilians, analyzes incidents of harm to improve operations, and appropriately compensates civilians when mistakes happen,” said Holewinski. “If all of that is true there’s no reason for the Pentagon to continue dodging our requests. Every civilian injury and death matters.”

Online Courses Not For Everyone-New Results from Indiana University

From Indiana University News

Online courses aren't for everyone, particularly college freshmen. Freshman taking distance learning classes were twice as likely to receive grades of D or F or to withdraw from the course compared to their counterparts in face-to-face classes, according to research at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Older students fared much better in the online courses. "Freshmen really stood out," said Mark Urtel, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Education in IUPUI's School of Physical Education and Tourism Management. "It's counterintuitive -- people say younger students are the ones who grasp technology, use it most, and know it the best, but it's my opinion that they grasp the technology and use it on their terms, not necessarily ours." Urtel's study is based on students' grades in a course he taught both online and face-to-face. Initially, he noticed patterns in students' grades so he sought funding for further study because of the growing popularity of online courses. Freshmen, he said, are generally under-represented in research involving online courses. And he said online courses also enjoy the perception that they must be better, appropriate or even easy because they involve high-tech approaches. Urtel said distance education courses work well for some students, but freshmen need to be aware of the pitfalls and challenges involved. In his study, 60 percent of freshmen received either a D, F or withdrew from the class. "Given the rapid growth of distance education and on-line learning, some people may assume that it involves technology, it's got to be better," he said. "Our findings, as they relate to freshmen students in particular, suggest otherwise."

Distance education experts at Indiana University offer the following suggestions and considerations:

* First semester freshmen, in general, should not take online courses, Urtel said.
* A student needs to be an organized, disciplined type of person to do well in an online course, said Lesa Lorenzen-Huber, a clinical assistant professor in IU Bloomington's Department of Applied Health Science and Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology. Usually older students do better, although older students with jobs and families can sometimes get easily overwhelmed. If a child is ill and work is demanding, the online course is the easiest thing to let go or procrastinate about because there is not a required time to attend or work on the course.
* A good online course should also be well organized, Lorenzen-Huber said. If you can't easily find your way around after a day or two, it may be the fault of the course design. Or, you may not have the technological expertise necessary for that particular course. There should be good opportunities for student-student and student-professor interaction.
* Investigate what kind of experience an online course is offering, said Elizabeth Boling, chair of the Department of Instructional Systems Technology in the IU School of Education. Online experiences run the gamut from the simplest self-paced study course that feels a lot like going through a workbook on your own and at your own pace, to courses like those in her department's master's degree program that may require students to carry out collaborative project work with peers (who may be located in another state or country), learn and use new media, make frequent contributions to discussions, meet deadlines for assignments and maintain a certain grade point average.
* Think carefully about what you want out of an online course and ask questions about it--or check details online--before enrolling, Bolin said. The highest quality course will not seem like a high quality course if it does not match students' interests or learning style, yet a less-than-polished online tutorial on the students' obscure hobby might be just right.