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Current location: Georgia
Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 01:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

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Friday TOON Roundup 2 - This machine mocks Fascists

Friday TOON Roundup 1 - Dishonoring your God

Poor clients pay just to apply for a public defender

by E. Tammy Kim

Newly elected Mayor Ras J. Baraka, a former high school principal and son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, ran on promises of compassionate reform. He would strengthen the public schools, alleviate poverty and use community policing to bring peace to his majority-African American hometown. But in November, a few months into his term, Baraka quietly helped pass a law that criminal justice advocates say will hurt the city’s most vulnerable: He quadrupled the fee Newark Municipal Court can charge poor defendants applying for free legal representation.

The fee hike, from $50 to $200, is the latest notch in the national trend of charging “user fees” to fund struggling courts. The Sixth Amendment and a long line of Supreme Court cases promise a lawyer to every person accused of a crime, even those who cannot pay. In practice, though, indigent clients often do pay for their attorneys, particularly in lower-level courts.

Around the same time as the fee increase in Newark, New Jersey’s superior courts raised a raft of fees to file and respond to civil cases. And the Office of the Public Defender, or OPD, which works in the superior courts, announced that it would charge a flat fee per case, instead of an hourly sum, to encourage more clients to pay.

Baraka’s office has said that judges can waive the $200 application fee if they determine a client cannot pay, and that the increase brings the city’s municipal court — the busiest in the state — in line with those of other jurisdictions. Legal groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Bar Association, however, warn that public-defender application fees can deter the accused from seeking counsel.



Most MS Patients Who Received Stem Cell Transplants Still in Remission Years Later

Most of the multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who took part in the cutting-edge stem cell study HALT-MS are still in remission years later. The phase 2 study has demonstrated impressive results by rebuilding the immune system using a patient’s own stem cells.

Studying 24 study volunteers who underwent stem cell transplants between 2006 and 2010, Dr. Richard A. Nash of the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute in Denver and his colleagues recently published their findings in JAMA Neurology.

Researchers found that more than 86 percent of the patients remained relapse free after three years, and nearly 91 percent showed no sign of disease progression.



Happy Birthday, Stephen Hawking!

He's 73 today.

Defiant D.C. Politicians Push Ahead With Pot Legalization

Congress recently passed legislation intending to stop the District of Columbia from becoming an East Coast outpost of marijuana legalization, but district politicians are moving forward with efforts to open recreational pot stores anyhow.

Councilman David Grosso, an independent, quietly introduced legislation Tuesday to tax and regulate sales of marijuana like alcohol. Four Democratic colleagues on the 13-member D.C. Council are co-sponsoring the bill.

“I think we’re on the path to seeing this bill enacted,” Grosso tells U.S. News, noting that “by moving this bill forward, we’re directly confronting Congress.”

Grosso introduced a similar bill in 2013, and it passed two council committees last year. In November, district voters overwhelmingly endorsed legalization, with 70 percent approving Initiative 71, which would cast off all penalties for possession of up to 2 ounces of pot for adults 21 and older.



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)

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