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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Dems thwart changes to Wall Street reform law

House Democrats on Wednesday thwarted a package of legislation that would have made changes to the 2010 Wall Street reform law.

The measure — one of the first to be considered in the new Congress — was brought up under a fast-track procedure typically considered for noncontroversial legislation that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. But Democratic opposition led to its defeat, by a vote of 276-146.

The package was comprised of 11 bills that were previously considered in the last Congress. It included provisions to delay for two years a portion of Dodd-Frank's so-called Volcker Rule, which prevents banks that make loans and deposits from engaging in speculative activity.

Other parts of the bill were less controversial, such as provisions to allow the Securities and Exchange Commission to establish a pilot program to allow certain companies to increase the minimum price variation at which securities can be quoted.



Unforgivable: The Governor and the Teenager


Bob McDonnell, the disgraced ex-governor of Virginia, appealed for the mercy of the court, and he received it. A former Presidential prospect with a career in state politics, McDonnell, along with his wife, Maureen, was convicted in September of trading the powers of his office for loans, shopping sprees, golf trips, a Rolex, and use of a Ferrari and a country home—a pattern that unfolded in the course of eleven months, netting his family a range of pleasures worth a hundred and seventy-seven thousand dollars, until federal prosecutors took notice.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for ten to twelve years. Michael Dry, an assistant United States attorney who prosecuted the case, called the series of abuses “unprecedented in Virginia’s two-hundred-and-twenty-six-year history,” and sought six and a half years. McDonnell’s defense attorneys asked for no prison time. They proposed instead six thousand hours of community service and in court presented eleven witnesses, including another former governor and an N.F.L. star, who argued for leniency. The witnesses said that McDonnell cared little for material possessions; the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates reported that the conviction itself would be a sufficient deterrent to others; the governor’s sister said her brother was already so grieved that he had trouble eating and was losing weight. While pleading for the judge’s grace, even McDonnell’s lawyer choked up.

By the time the U.S. district judge James Spencer rendered his sentence, he sounded almost as pained. “It breaks my heart, but I have a duty I can’t avoid,” Spencer said. In a lengthy preamble, he compared himself to the Roman prefect who reluctantly condemned Jesus Christ. “Unlike Pontius Pilate, I can’t wash my hands of it all,” Spencer said. “A meaningful sentence must be imposed.”

He sentenced McDonnell to two years, a term of such impressive leniency that McDonnell’s first words outside the courthouse in Richmond were ones of thanks to the justice system. Dry, the prosecutor, left the court without comment, “his face twisted in anger,” as a reporter put it. For comparison purposes, prosecutors had argued that McDonnell’s deeds went on far longer than those of Phillip A. Hamilton, a former Virginia lawmaker convicted, in 2011, of bribery and extortion and sentenced to nine and a half years, and that McDonnell’s office was higher than that of Hamilton. (Another former governor, Rod Blagojevich, of Illinois, is serving fourteen years.)



A Cyberattack Has Caused Confirmed Physical Damage for the Second Time Ever

Amid all the noise the Sony hack generated over the holidays, a far more troubling cyber attack was largely lost in the chaos. Unless you follow security news closely, you likely missed it.

I’m referring to the revelation, in a German report released just before Christmas (.pdf), that hackers had struck an unnamed steel mill in Germany. They did so by manipulating and disrupting control systems to such a degree that a blast furnace could not be properly shut down, resulting in “massive”—though unspecified—damage.

This is only the second confirmed case in which a wholly digital attack caused physical destruction of equipment. The first case, of course, was Stuxnet, the sophisticated digital weapon the U.S. and Israel launched against control systems in Iran in late 2007 or early 2008 to sabotage centrifuges at a uranium enrichment plant. That attack was discovered in 2010, and since then experts have warned that it was only a matter of time before other destructive attacks would occur. Industrial control systems have been found to be rife with vulnerabilities, though they manage critical systems in the electric grid, in water treatment plants and chemical facilities and even in hospitals and financial networks. A destructive attack on systems like these could cause even more harm than at a steel plant.

It’s not clear when the attack in Germany took place. The report, issued by Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (or BSI), indicates the attackers gained access to the steel mill through the plant’s business network, then successively worked their way into production networks to access systems controlling plant equipment. The attackers infiltrated the corporate network using a spear-phishing attack—sending targeted email that appears to come from a trusted source in order to trick the recipient into opening a malicious attachment or visiting a malicious web site where malware is downloaded to their computer. Once the attackers got a foothold on one system, they were able to explore the company’s networks, eventually compromising a “multitude” of systems, including industrial components on the production network.



Ted Rall- Political Cartooning is Almost Worth Dying For

An event like yesterday’s slaughter of at least 10 staff members, including four political cartoonists, and two policemen, at the office of Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, elicits so many responses that it’s hard to sort them out.

If you have a personal connection, that comes first.

I do.

I met a group of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, including one of the victims, a few years ago at the annual cartoon Festival in Angoulême, France, the biggest gathering of cartoonists and their fans in the world. They had sought me out, partly as fans of my work — for whatever reason, my stuff seems to travel well overseas — and because I was an American cartoonist who speaks French. We did what cartoonists do: we got drunk, complained about our editors, exchanged trade secrets including pay rates.

If I lived in France, that’s where I’d want to work.

My French counterparts struck me as more self-confident and cockier than the average cartoonist. Unlike at the older, venerable Le Canard Enchainée, cartoons are the centerpiece of Charlie Hebdo, not prose. The paper has suffered financial troubles over the years, yet somehow the French continued to keep it afloat because they love comics.

much more (even if you dislike/hate Rall's work this is worth reading)


South Carolina Bill Requires All Public School Students To Take NRA-Approved Gun Rights Course

Legislation proposed last month by three members of the South Carolina legislature would require public school teachers in that state to spend three weeks each year extolling the virtues of the Second Amendment — as that amendment is understood by the National Rifle Association. The bill requires all South Carolina public schools to “provide instruction in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution for at least three consecutive weeks during one grading period in each academic year.” Moreover, “the State Superintendent of Education shall adopt a curriculum developed or recommended by the National Rifle Association or its successor organization.”

Three weeks is an absolutely extraordinary amount of instruction time to devote to such a narrow subject, at least at the elementary or secondary school level, even setting aside the political nature of the material. Many high school history teachers publish their course syllabi online, and a ThinkProgress review of Advanced Placement United States History syllabi reveals that teachers typically spend far less than three weeks teaching pivotal events or major aspects of American history.

One South Carolina charter school, for example, devotes just two weeks to “The Slave System and the Coming of the Civil War” and only a week and a half to World War II in its Advanced Placement United States History course. A Maine private school devotes two weeks to “Slavery and Sectionalism” and another two weeks to “World War II and the Origins of the Cold War.” A Kentucky high school devotes only two weeks to the “Roaring 20’s, Great Depression and New Deal,” a period that thrust America into an historic crisis and transformed the nation’s view of the role of government in society.

Nevertheless, the South Carolina bill does not simply require schools to spend more time teaching students the NRA’s view of gun rights than many advanced high school courses spend teaching about subjects such as slavery or World War II; it requires this course to be taught at the elementary, middle and high school level.


EPA Chief: Arguing climate change is 'kind of nuts'

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Wednesday called on the science community to continue to explain the climate change.

McCarthy said that while the vast majority of scientists agree that the climate is changing, the scientific community doesn't always do a good enough job of explaining those changes and their impact to the public. She said it was important to make that point to the general public because the cost of inaction was great.

"Science is under attack like it has never been before," McCarthy said. "Now is not the time for us to hide or to begin to be more quiet. It's the time for us to embrace this challenge.

"That is what has made the United States strong. We have not shied away from difficult decisions. Each and every time we have been able to push the envelope and innovate our way forward."



Thursday TOON Roundup 3- The Rest







Thursday Toon Roundup 2- Violence will not silence them

Thursday Toon Roundup 1- Je Suis Charlie

Mike Luckovich Toon- Aux Barricades!

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