Democratic Congress: A High Pork Diet

A report from the Center for Investigative Reporting exposes the hypocrisy of Democratic claims that the $463.5-billion spending bill they passed in February was “earmark-free,” or free of any specific pork-barrel project money for their home states. But within days of the bill passing, Democrats deluged federal agencies to fund their pet projects directly, according to the report. In fact, documents show that agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce received 122 spending requests from 52 senators and 205 representatives in January through April — exactly when Democrats were reaping the publicity benefits of their “earmark-free” appropriations policy. Congressmen say these requests differ from earmarks because agencies can “just say no,” but experts say the agencies, already dependent on Congress to fund their budgets, are likely to feel pressure to accede to them. Source:
“Lawmakers try to save their earmarks”
Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2007

Little Progress for Gun Opponents

Lawmakers raced to propose tougher gun control laws following the Virginia Tech and Montreal school shootings, but each has drawn criticism — and not just from the usual suspects. New rules in Virginia forestall people who have been referred for mental health counseling from buying a gun. The rules are meant to close a “loophole” in the law that let Seung-Hui Cho buy his weapons. But mental health advocates worry it stigmatizes all mentally ill people as violent instead of dealing with a lack of state- run mental health treatment programs.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are looking at tightening state gun laws but aren’t likely to pass restrictions like Virginia’s. An aide to the governor points out that the man who killed five girls in an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County last year had no history of mental illness, and the state could not have stopped him from buying a gun.

Domestic Spying Expansion Would Exonerate AT&T

The Justice Department wants to further loosen domestic spying laws under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to permit the monitoring of U.S. residents suspected of receiving terrorist communications. The FISA “update” would also grant legal immunity to telecom companies that cooperate with the government — such as AT&T, which faces five major civil liberties suits for opening its networks to the National Security Agency. The ACLU said proposed immunity for telecom companies (which would be retroactive to September 11, 2001) amounts to a “get out of jail free card,” according to Democrats shot down the proposal, noting that the White House refuses to release details about the NSA program or issue a document proving the surveillance is legal. The FBI also refuses to reveal how many “national security letters” it issued in 2006 and 2007 to access personal data.

Packed Into Prisons, With No Relief in Sight

Crowded jails from the Mexican border to North Carolina have prisoners packed into cells, sleeping in day rooms and struggling with overflowing sewers and waste water. There’s plenty of money in Arizona for boosted border patrols, which capture more illegal immigrants who are then charged with felonies. But the Christian Science Monitor reports that funding is in short supply for overwhelmed courts and jails along the border. The federal caseload in Arizona increased 94 percent between 1996 and 2006 — so many new cases that attorneys are forced to spend less time on each suspect. In the Navajo Nation, most lawbreakers never do time in local jails, which are overcrowded and plagued by sewage overflows.

LAW & JUSTICE: Doubts Follow Hewlett Packard, Marijuana Verdicts

Former HP chair Patricia Dunn had spying charges against her dismissed, in part to ease her battle with ovarian cancer. On the same day, Angel Raich, a California resident suffering from a brain tumor, lost her appeal in a suit against federal drug laws that make her use of doctor-prescribed marijuana a prosecutable offense. San Francisco Chronicle columnist David Lazarus says the dismissal of Dunn’s charges, and the sentencing of three other defendants to 96 hours community service, amounts to a slap on the wrist for commonplace business spying. Critics said the case was shaky, and that then-California Attorney General Bill Lockyer pursued the HP spying scandal to boost his campaign for state treasurer — a charge Lockyer’s camp denies. The Raich case is equally convoluted.

Mining in South Africa: Apartheid’s Legacy

Two Italian companies are suing South Africa over a law that requires firms to sell to black investors to redress abuses of black laborers under the apartheid system. The companies say that their purchase of granite operations there occurred in 1994, after the fall of apartheid. The legacy of institutionalized racism has also taken a particularly bitter turn in the struggle over South Africa’s diamond mines, where the ethnically mixed residents of the diamond-rich Richtersvelders province are enraged by a government deal to sell mine holdings there to de Beers. The land, which was appropriated by the state in the 1920s, is claimed by residents in lieu of a $26 million settlement. But South Africa’s public enterprises minister says his primary concern is the well-being of the government-owned Alexkor mining company.

Outnumbered, But United, in Germany and Pakistan

The more than three million Muslims living in Germany are on the brink of overcoming ethnic and religious differences to form a new advocacy group that would give them, for the first time ever, a “united voice,” Deutsche Welle reports. In Pakistan, one of the heartlands of Islam, Hindus are taking similar steps, forming the Sindh Minority Alliance in the face of “growing incidents of kidnapping, extortion and other torture cases,” the Times of India reports. Sources:
“German Muslims want unified voice”
Deutsche Welle, March 5, 2007
“Pakistani Hindus form party in Sindh”
The Times of India, March 5, 2007

Intolerance Seeks, and Gains, New Footholds

Extremists worldwide are harnessing unemployment, social unrest, gender conflict and simple bigotry to advance their crusades. In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen — an accused racist who calls for an end to immigration and tax cuts for native French only — may again be set to upset the presidential elections. Though he has not yet declared his candidacy, his support in the polls is greater than ever. Hungary, shocked by riots last year after its socialist president confirmed that he had lied during the election, faces renewed violence with an attack on a police station, and mobilization of “skinheads and football hooligans” in advance of its March 15 independence holiday, Inter Press Service reports. In Pakistan, a woman social welfare minister was shot to death in front of a crowd by an unrepentant religious fanatic.

HATE SPEECH: Talkin’ Crimes of Old Europe

Germany’s push for new hate-crime laws across Europe is creating fissures in the growing European Union. Some former Soviet bloc nations want to include a provision that makes denial of Nazi and Communist war crimes equivalent. But the measure, advanced by Estonia, Poland and Slovenia, has been criticized by a Slovakian minister who says it’s impossible to equate fascism and communism. The E.U. Observer reports that Poles are also lobbying to ban the phrase “Polish death camps,” because, say advocates, such camps were built and operated by occupying Nazi forces. Meanwhile, a prominent Polish politician has drawn charges of anti-semitism after claiming in a booklet that there are “biological differences” between Jews and gentiles, reports.

The Future of File Sharing

By Martin Leatherman,
People reading last week’s headlines regarding MGM’s victory over Grokster and Streamcast in the U.S. Supreme Court may have thought that file-sharing services were doomed. Not so fast, some say. An article in Computer World said the coverage of the Supreme Court ruling was off-base. The ruling wasn’t against file sharing software, or even file-sharers themselves. Grokster and Streamcast lost the lawsuit because they openly supported piracy.