NEWS ARCHIVE - CONTROVERSIES

Can FBI Crime Statistics Really be Trusted?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Can FBI Crime Statistics Really be Trusted?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is supposed to be the authority on crime statistics. But the FBI’s numbers are only as good as those provided by local law enforcement, and apparently the bureau hasn’t been verifying what police file with Washington.
 
Of the 17,000 law enforcement departments that send in crime numbers, less than 1% have been audited by the FBI over the last five years, according to an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
 
Among the 30 largest cities’ police departments, nearly two-thirds have not been audited since 2007.
 
In the case of departments in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Seattle, Memphis, El Paso and Austin, the FBI has never audited these reports since the bureau began reviewing crime statistics 15 years ago.
 
“That lack of scrutiny allows cases of undercounting of crimes, such as in Milwaukee where thousands of violent assaults were not included in the crime rate since 2006, to go unnoticed and gives the public a false sense of the true level of crime,” wrote Ben Poston in the Journal Sentinel.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
FBI Crime-Reporting Audits Are Shallow, Infrequent (by Ben Poston, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
 
Federal Court Again Rules that Genes Can be Patented
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Federal Court Again Rules that Genes Can be Patented
The biotech industry breathed a sigh of relief last week when a federal court again upheld companies’ ability to patent human genes.
 
Civil libertarians have challenged the industry, starting with Myriad Genetics, arguing that to own a patent involving human genetic material is the same as patenting “products of nature,” which is illegal.
 
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won its first case in 2010, when it sued to nullify Myriad Genetics’ patents on the BRCA-1 BRCA-2 genes, which can help detect breast cancer.
 
The company last year appealed to a federal appellate court and won a decision affirming its patents.
 
It was then the ACLU’s turn to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the high court refused to hear the case and bumped it back to a federal appeals court. There, a three-judge panel upheld the previous appellate decision that left Myriad Genetics’ patents in place.
 
In a 2-to1 decision, the judges ruled that “isolated” human genes are patentable.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
U.S. Court Upholds Status Quo on Gene Patents (by Amanda Wilson, Inter Press Service)
Federal Court Approves Patenting of Human Genes (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
 
In Wake of Mass Killings, States Still Don’t Comply with Gun Database of Mentally Ill
Monday, August 20, 2012
In Wake of Mass Killings, States Still Don’t Comply with Gun Database of Mentally Ill
In the wake of recent mass killings in Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas and Louisiana, 67 survivors and family members of victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting last week sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney demanding that they announce plans to improve the flawed U.S. background check system. As AllGov reported last November, that system regularly allows guns to be sold to disturbed and/or criminally dangerous people, including the shooters at the Virginia Tech (VT) and Tucson mass shootings.
 
The 13-year-old, FBI-run National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is supposed to tell gun dealers if a customer is ineligible to buy a gun because of a history of mental illness or a criminal record. But the Virginia Tech survivors’ letter points out that the database is missing millions of records because many states haven’t bothered to submit the relevant mental health records.
 
Updating a November 2011 report with new FBI data, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) recently found that 21 states and the District of Columbia have reported fewer than 100 mental health records to NICS: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
 
“I think that those states are doing a disservice to their citizens,” said Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was hurt in the Virginia Tech shooting. “They're not doing what they can to protect public safety and to keep firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.” Haas, who has become an advocate for stricter gun control, points out that VT gunman Seung-Hui Cho should have been in the NICS database, but was not. Since then, Virginia has submitted more than 170,000 records of people with mental illnesses.
 
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in July found that some states weren’t submitting records because of bureaucratic and technical barriers, while other states contend their laws prohibit the record sharing. State submission of records to NICS is voluntary.
-Matt Bewig
 
To Learn More:
States Aren’t Submitting Records To Gun Database (by Jeff Brady, All Things Considered-NPR)
 
Lawsuit Claims One-Third of California Drinking Water Contaminated with Cancer-Causing Chemical
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Lawsuit Claims One-Third of California Drinking Water Contaminated with Cancer-Causing Chemical
The movie Erin Brockovich  made the chemical carcinogen chromium-6 infamous in 2000. A state law was passed in California the following year requiring formulation of a standard limiting its presence in drinking water by 2004.
 
Eight years later, two environmental groups have sued the state not only for its failure to put a standard in place; but for not even having agreed on one.
 
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court this week, pressing the government to accelerate the process. The state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggested a “goal” in 2011, but it is up to the California Department of Public Health to set the standard.
 
The department’s website says it will release a draft recommendation next year on its way to a 2015 final determination.
 
Erin Brockovich chronicled the experience of residents in the small town of Hinckley, who were exposed to chromium-6 when Pacific Gas & Electric used the heavy metal to prevent rust in water towers. The water seeped into the groundwater and caused health problems that included bronchitis, asthma and lung cancer. PG&E settled with Hinckley residents in 1996 for $333 million.
 
There is some evidence that chromium-6 can damage DNA. Other studies have linked it to male reproductive harm, liver toxicity and blood disorders. The chemical is on California’s Prop. 65 list of substances known to cause cancer and reproductive harm.
 
It has long been known as dangerous if inhaled and in 2007 the federal government determined that it’s not OK to eat it either. There is no federal standard for chromium-6.
 
The state EPA suggested a standard of .02 parts per billion (ppb), which would be a significant improvement over levels found in some California cities by the Environmental Working Group. A 2010 study by the group found chromium-6 in 31 cities, including Riverside (1.69 ppb) and San Jose (1.34 ppb), both of which made the top 5 in the United States.
–Ken Broder
 
To Learn More:  
Environmentalists Say Carcinogen Is Rampant in California Water (by Rebekah Kearn, Courthouse News Service)
Suit Presses State on Chromium-6 (by Stephanie M. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle)
We Can't Wait Any Longer for Safe Drinking Water (by Sarah Janssen, Natural Resources Defense Council)
 
Army Suicide Record Set in July
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Army Suicide Record Set in July
Despite the winding down of the Afghanistan war and stronger mental health initiatives, the U.S. Army experienced its worst month in July with suicides.
 
A total of 38 soldiers killed themselves last month, making it the highest monthly total since the Army began releasing such figures in 2009.
 
Of the 38 suicides, 26 were active-duty personnel and 12 were either National Guardsmen or reservists not in uniform at the time of their deaths.
 
If the suicides continue on this pace for the remainder of 2012, the Army would lose about 200 active-duty troops this year, which would represent the highest yearly total in the past 10 years.
 
Army officials were disheartened by the news. They had hoped the reduction in combat deployments, along with new initiatives to improve mental health care, would result in a drop in the suicide rate.
 
July was a bad month not only for the Army but also other branches of the military. The Marine Corps recorded eight suicides, making July its worst month in 2012.
 
The Air Force had six in July, compared with two in June. The Navy had four last month. The Associated Press said the Navy’s June suicide total was not immediately available.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
July Marked Worst Month for Army Suicides (by Greg Jaffe, Washington Post)
Army Suicides Doubled Last Month from June's Total (by Robert Burns, Associated Press)
U.S. Troop Suicides Surge (Again) (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
 
Monsanto and Dupont Spend Big to Fight Labeling Genetically Modified Foods
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Monsanto and Dupont Spend Big to Fight Labeling Genetically Modified Foods
The biggest pesticide and biotechnology companies in the world, led by Monsanto, have already spent $25 million to defeat California’s groundbreaking Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling initiative on November’s ballot. Most of the money has been contributed in the past month.
 
Proposition 37, one of 11 initiatives on the California ballot, would require labels on most processed food by 2014 identifying any ingredients from agricultural products with genetically altered DNA. Food and alcohol in restaurants would be exempt, as would food from animals that have been eating the modified ingredients.
 
No other state has such a law, but because Californians consume about 12% of all food in the country, passage of the law could have a profound affect nationally. About 20 other states are considering similar legislation and polls show that 93% of Americans favor GMO labeling. But the Senate, heavily influenced by lobbyists, trounced (73-26) a GMO amendment to the sprawling congressional farm bill last month.   
 
In the United States, 95% of sugar beets are genetically engineered, as are 94% of soybeans and 88% of feed corn. The European Union and Japan already require that GMOs be labeled.
 
Supporters of the initiative say that transparency would engender trust in the food system among consumers and provide information for future discussion of technology that is still in its early stages. Critics of the labeling law say consumers are being unnecessarily alarmed about technology that has not proved harmful, the law would be costly to implement and it could generate expensive, time-consuming lawsuits.
 
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said GMOs pose no greater health risks than traditional foods.
 
According to the California Secretary of State, the top Prop. 37 contributors so far are:
 
Monsanto—$4.2 million
E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co.—$4.0 million
Pepsico, Inc—$1.7 million
BASF Plant Science—$1.6 million
Bayer Cropscience—$1.6 million
Dow Agrosciences LLC—$1.2 million
Nestle USA, Inc—$1.2 million
Coca Cola North America—$1.2 million
Conagra Food—$1.1 million
–Ken Broder
 
To Learn More:
List of Prop. 37 Contributors (California Secretary of State)
 
 
Office of Legal Counsel Withholds from Public 39% of Its Decisions
Friday, August 17, 2012
Office of Legal Counsel Withholds from Public 39% of Its Decisions
A Department of Justice office responsible for issuing important legal opinions on government policies has been withholding nearly 40% of its memos from the public.
 
The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has not published 39% of its 509 opinions produced since 1998, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group.
 
The Sunlight Foundation says keeping secret this many memos goes against the OLC’s guidelines and those recommended by former Justice Department officials.
 
OLC opinions “provide an important window into how the executive branch interprets laws and constrains agency behavior,” wrote the Sunlight Foundation on its website. “During the Bush administration, the misuse of OLC memos combined with unwarranted secrecy about their existence was a major spark to the controversy over the use of torture during interrogations, among many other issues.”
 
The watchdog group added: “Similar concerns have been raised regarding the Obama administration. While there is undoubtedly a need for some opinions to be closely held, an approximately two-fifths withholding rate (both overall and for the Obama administration) most likely is too high.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
39% of Office of Legal Counsel Opinions Kept from the Public (by Daniel Schuman and Adeeb Sahar, Sunlight Foundation)
 
Justice Department Stops Fighting Release of Legally Innocent Prisoners
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Justice Department Stops Fighting Release of Legally Innocent Prisoners
The U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to stop stonewalling the release of prisoners who were deemed innocent by a federal court ruling.
 
All of the cases involved individuals serving time under a federal law for being caught with a gun after being previously convicted of a crime that resulted in sentences of a year or longer. In North Carolina, some low-level offenders caught possessing a gun were thrown in prison even though their previous crimes resulted in sentences that were less than a year long because other people convicted of the same crime could have received longer sentences.
 
This predicament was reviewed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided North Carolina was not enforcing the federal law correctly. The ruling meant that the low-level offenders should be freed.
 
But the Justice Department was reluctant to abide by the ruling at first. Then, the department decided this week to reconsider its position and drop any legal objections to the prisoners’ release.
 
An investigation by USA Today found at least 60 people who were wrongly imprisoned for having a gun.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
 
TSA Accused of Anti-Black and Hispanic Discrimination
Thursday, August 16, 2012
TSA Accused of Anti-Black and Hispanic Discrimination
Federal airport screeners in Boston have admitted to racially profiling minorities going through checkpoints at Logan International, creating yet another serious problem for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
 
More than 30 TSA workers revealed that the “behavior detection” program at Logan routinely focused on Hispanics, especially those traveling to Miami, and blacks sporting urban attire, such as baseball caps worn backwards.
 
“They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look—if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” one white TSA official told The New York Times.
 
TSA workers targeted so many minorities that it caught the attention of the Massachusetts State Police, who wound up asking the federal agency what was going on at Logan.
 
A TSA spokesman promised there would be “consequences” if the agency determines its workers went overboard in pulling aside Hispanics and blacks.
 
In addition to Boston, TSA workers in New Jersey and Hawaii also have been accused of racially profiling passengers, although in smaller numbers than those reported at Logan.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
Racial Profiling Rife at Airport, U.S. Officers Say (by Michael Schmidt and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times)
Profiling Reports Spur Call for Action (by Jenna Russell and Wesley Lowery, Boston Globe)
 
AT&T Sued over Draconian Lunch Break Rules
Thursday, August 16, 2012
AT&T Sued over Draconian Lunch Break Rules
A group of eleven technicians have sued AT&T over its lunch-break policy that makes eating difficult and forbids many kinds of personal activities other workers take for granted.
 
In a class action lawsuit filed in Southern Indiana, the technicians claim they often skip lunch because of the rules imposed by AT&T.
 
The rules include no reading, no music and no using heat or air-conditioning in company vehicles. If technicians are working underground on cables, they cannot leave the site for lunch and instead must guard their manhole opening.
 
Also, AT&T mandates that technicians traveling from one job to another cannot deviate more than a half-mile from a company prescribed GPS-monitored route to purchase lunch—even if there are no eating establishments along the route. If they travel outside the required route, they can be subject to discipline.
 
If they bring packed lunches, they may eat them in company vehicles, but after finishing eating, they may not remain in the vehicles reading, napping or going online because to do so would allegedly damage the company’s public image.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
To Learn More:
The Worst Lunch Breaks in the World? (by Jack Bouboushian, Courthouse News Service)
Deborah Sturgeon et al. v. AT&T (U.S. District Court, Southern Indiana) (pdf)
 
First 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 out of 198 Next Last
zkar5b55fymouyn5tmh5tl45