Monday, January 30, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
by Michael Grabell ProPublica,
We're seeking anyone who has had personal experience with certain X-ray devices. Please see the bottom of the story  for information on how you can contribute.
U.S. law enforcement agencies are exposing people to radiation in more settings and in increasing doses to screen for explosives, weapons and drugs. In addition to the controversial airport body scanners , which are now deployed for routine screening, various X-ray devices have proliferated at the border, in prisons and on the streets of New York.
Not only have the machines become more widespread, but some of them expose people to higher doses of radiation. And agencies have pushed the boundaries of acceptable use by X-raying people covertly, according to government documents and interviews.
While airport scanners can show objects on the surface of the body, prisons have begun to use X-rays that can see through the body to detect contraband hidden in cavities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is in the process of deploying dozens of drive-through X-ray portals to scan cars and buses at the border with their passengers still inside.
X-ray scanners have been tested at ferry crossings, for visitor entries at the Pentagon and for long-range detection of suicide bombers at special events. And drawing the ire of privacy groups, Customs and the New York Police Department have deployed unmarked X-ray vans that can drive to a location and look inside vehicles for drugs and explosives.
Most federal health regulations for medical X-rays do not apply to security equipment, leaving the decision of when and how to use the scanners almost entirely in the hands of security officials.
Although the 9/11 attacks provided the impetus and prompted the spending to develop such equipment, most of the machines have been deployed only in the last few years. New attacks and ever-tighter security measures have made law enforcement officials more willing to expose the public to X-ray devices that were once taboo.
When the body scanners were introduced in prisons in the late 1990s, the Food and Drug Administration convened an advisory panel. Several of the outside scientists warned  that once the longstanding practice of X-raying humans only for health reasons was ended, it was just a matter of time before the machines would become acceptable in airports, courthouses and schools.
"This is exactly what I was afraid was going to happen back when we had the FDA meetings," said Kathleen Kaufman, who as director of Los Angeles County's radiation management program served on the advisory panel.
The FDA has little authority to regulate the use of electronic products emitting radiation. Because security scanners are not classified as medical devices, the agency doesn't approve them for safety before sale. And it can go after only the manufacturers for excessive radiation -- not the users of the machines for deploying them too frequently or in other questionable ways.
Handicapping its power even more, the FDA ultimately went against the advisory panel's recommendation to adopt a federal safety standard for the new security devices. Instead, it followed congressional direction to use industry standards wherever possible and let the scanners fall under voluntary guidelines  set by a nonprofit group made up largely of manufacturers and agencies that wanted to use the X-ray machines.
It is difficult to estimate the long-term health risks of low levels of radiation. At higher levels, ionizing radiation -- the energy used in the scanners -- has been shown to damage DNA and mutate genes, potentially leading to cancer. A comprehensive study  by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the more radiation a person gets, however little at a time, the greater their lifetime risk of dying from cancer.
The manufacturers counter that their machines emit extremely low levels of radiation, hundreds of times less than a chest X-ray. Humans are constantly exposed to background radiation from radon in the ground and cosmic rays in the atmosphere. In comparison, the radiation from security devices is trivial, they say.
Moreover, the X-ray scanners have produced a number of success stories, intercepting immigrant smugglers, unearthing tons of cocaine and other drugs, preventing contraband in jails and adding a layer of protection to the nation's transportation system, according to the agencies that use them.
But the rapid expansion raises serious questions about whether the United States is sacrificing safety in the name of security.
"Because of the wide proliferation of these things, we don't know who's using them and how frequently," said Peter Rez, an Arizona State University physicist who has criticized the use of the machines. "It's not that the radiation from these machines is very high. It's 'Does the benefit outweigh the risk?'"
X-rays on Wheels
The device, which was deployed by the military to detect car bombs in war zones, uses X-rays that are designed to find organic materials such as drugs and explosives. The rays scatter back to a detector rather passing through an object as in a medical X-ray. The van can scan while driving alongside a line of vehicles or while parked as they pass by.
According to a company presentation  obtained by a civil liberties group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) , a backscatter van delivers a radiation dose about twice that of an airport body scanner.
Customs and Border Protection has purchased 75 backscatter vans for use at border crossings, ports, Border Patrol checkpoints and even the Super Bowl, according to agency records. Customs spokeswoman Jenny Burke said passengers must exit the vehicle before the scan.
While the Transportation Security Administration hasn't bought them, it tested them at a Delaware ferry crossing in 2004 and at a Long Island ferry crossing in 2009, spokesman Greg Soule said. In the first test, passengers weren't in the vehicles. But in the second test, passengers remained in the vehicles but could opt out, he said. Another TSA test in 2009 was conducted in northern New Jersey on empty commuter train cars in a rail yard.
The X-ray vans have also shown up on American streets. In 2010, Homeland Security officials conducted an exercise scanning tractor-trailers on Interstate 20. And the New York Police Department uses the vans.
The NYPD has declined to release details about the use of the machines.
ABC News reporters Richard Esposito and Ted Gerstein provide one of the few accounts of the backscatter van in a book  they wrote chronicling a year inside NYPD's bomb squad. Describing the security ahead of President Bush's motorcade to the 2004 Republican convention, they wrote that every vehicle entering the street in front of the hotel was ordered to drive between two unmarked white vans, which X-rayed each vehicle for bombs.
Such covert use of radiation, if done without informed consent, would violate the industry standard.
"The institution operating the system shall inform each person being screened that the system emits radiation," the standard  states. It also requires that people be told the radiation dose and that there be a visible indicator when X-rays are emitted.
Joe Reiss, AS&E's vice president of marketing, said although the vans are designed for covert use, the vans comply with the standard because they have two lights that flash  when a scan is in progress.
Kevin Barry, an NYPD bomb squad detective who retired in 2002, said that when he was there, the police ensured that the area was clear of people any time they used X-ray equipment and that officers wore film badges to monitor radiation exposure.
"They're very cognizant of the fact that if there's a radiation issue that they have to monitor the health issue," he said.
But even if a violation were discovered, there is little the FDA can do because the standard is voluntary and not a federal regulation.
The FDA, which said it doesn't regulate the "use" of security scanners emitting radiation, referred questions to New York State, which also said it does not regulate the scanners and referred questions to the New York City Department of Health, which also said it does not regulate the devices.
Customs and Border Protection is also installing 35 drive-through X-ray portals  purchased with economic stimulus money, according to a company report  posted on the government's stimulus website, Recovery.gov .
A test system was installed at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego in 2008 and portals will soon be deployed in El Paso and Laredo, Texas, and elsewhere on the Southwest border, according to contract documents  obtained by the privacy group EPIC.
The portals, made by AS&E, can scan cars and buses from the top and sides as their drivers pass through at 3 mph.
The scanners' X-rays have to penetrate metal and glass. But according to Customs and the company, the radiation dose is equivalent to an airport body scan.
The dose is low because Customs officers do not need as high a resolution to see bulk explosives or drugs as a TSA screener would need to see a tiny detonator or a razor blade, said Rez, the Arizona State physicist. He estimated the dose by analyzing the images with a computer program.
The company says the portal is safe for everyday use. But Burke, the Customs spokeswoman, said it won't be used on every driver crossing the border -- only those who raise suspicion and require additional inspection. Passengers will be allowed to opt out and have a Customs officer drive it through the portal for them.
Ginger McCall, director of EPIC's Open Government program, is skeptical.
"You know what else started out as a secondary screening mechanism?" she asked. "Airport backscatter machines. The TSA said 'don't worry' to the American public. 'These are only going to be used as secondary screening devices.' And look how that turned out."
"Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance"
There are now about 250 X-ray body scanners in airports nationwide. But government agencies are exploring additional uses for the technology.
In 2010, the military brought two TSA body scanners to the Pentagon visitors' entrance, where they were tested by Defense Department staff. But plans were put on hold pending TSA testing of new privacy software that wouldn't show an image of a person's body.
"There's now technology which makes it look like a cartoon figure," said Chris Layman, spokesman for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. "We wanted to make sure that if we did this, all the privacy concerns are taken care of."
The Department of Homeland Security has funded research for walk-through X-ray body scanners that could be used at special events, and for long-range X-ray scanners to detect suicide bombers in crowds, according to documents obtained by EPIC.
Using similar backscatter technology, the walk-through scanner would speed up checks that now require people to stand with their hands over their heads while scanned. In tests of the long-distance scanner, according to contract documents, officials wanted to see whether it could identify people with metal and dense plastic from up to 30 feet away.
"Customers need a greater capability than what is currently available for detecting IEDs on people," Homeland Security officials wrote in a statement of work for a technology dubbed the "Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance Platform." "This is especially relevant at high-volume public areas and entrances to important infrastructure."
The radiation dose for such a scanner was listed in 2006 as 10 times higher than that of an airport scanner.
Intelligence released last summer that terrorist groups are considering implanting bombs  in their bodies has raised concerns that the TSA would one day deploy X-ray scanners that can see into the body. In the past, the agency has declined to say whether it had ever considered the technology, known as "transmission X-rays."
But other Homeland Security documents, also obtained by EPIC and provided to ProPublica, show that in 2010, Homeland Security's science and technology division entered into an agreement with the FDA to test such technology.
"Transmission X-ray devices are being considered by DHS for passenger screening," the statement of work says. "The proposed use of transmission methods for routine passenger screening may have significant health & safety implications and requires special study and evaluation."
John Verrico, a spokesman for the department's science and technology division, said the proposed tests never went forward and the discussion of transmission X-rays was ultimately removed from the final statement of work.
"Transmission X-ray systems have not been tested," he said in an email. "Personnel have viewed vendors' demonstrations at their locations to evaluate the maturity of the equipment and the state of the technology."
"Treating People Like Luggage"
Such machines, however, were introduced in prisons in 2011.
A transmission X-ray body scanner, the RadPRO SecurPASS , is sold by Virtual Imaging , a Florida subsidiary of Canon USA. In the last year, it has been installed at the Cook County Jail in Chicago; several jails in Florida and Alabama; and the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, a temporary detention center for inmates being transported across the country.
The dose has two settings. The standard setting delivers a radiation dose about 10 times higher than that of an airport body scanner. But to produce a better image, the operator has the ability to switch to a higher exposure, said Kris Kessler, creative marketing manager for Virtual Imaging.
That dose is still a fraction of the radiation received in a chest X-ray or cross-country flight. But it's more than 50 times higher than that of an airport scanner.
Even with the standard setting, the quality of the image produced by the SecurPASS is so good that people don't have to take off their jackets or shoes, as they do before going through the airport scanners, Kessler said.
"It's almost like we're treating people like luggage," he said.
The device has already made some interesting finds. One inmate was found to have swallowed 10 pouches of heroin, Steve Patterson, then the Cook County Sheriff's Office spokesman, told ProPublica last year. Another inmate, he said, was found to have kidney stones.
Jails use the SecurPASS mostly on prisoners as they leave and come back from work detail, Kessler said. But some facilities are considering using it on employees as well, he added, to prevent them from bringing in contraband.
Dennis Wolfe, Virtual Imaging's national sales manager for security products, said he has had conversations with the TSA and that a test lasting several months was overseen by Homeland Security science and technology staff in 2010 and 2011. The department denied that.
The device, which was initially used to prevent theft in diamond mines, has already been used at London's Heathrow Airport to scan suspected drug mules. (Customs officials in the United States and other countries can, with a traveler's consent, order a medical X-ray, which would deliver a higher radiation dose.)
For now, however, Virtual Imaging is focusing on corrections facilities.
Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said the system is running a pilot test of various scanners but has not made a decision.
Still, Wolfe said he expects many federal prisons and larger jail systems to be using the SecurPASS in the next few years. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist," he said. "If somebody's hiding something up their butt, which technology are you going to use?"
The rapid growth of X-ray scanning for security and the limited authority granted to regulators make it difficult to keep track of the equipment.
Two airport body scanners, for example, were recently auctioned off by the General Services Administration. A new scanner typically sells for $170,000. But these scanners, which had been in storage, were sold for a total of $600 .
Under FDA regulations, sellers would normally be required to keep records of who purchases their X-ray products. But because the FDA never adopted a mandatory safety standard for the airport body scanners, this rule does not apply.
To help determine the extent of the use of these devices, we're seeking stories from those who have had personal experience. Please share your stories in a private email to email@example.com .
We are especially interested in the following:
- Have you seen the NYPD backscatter vans? If so, where and how were they being used?
- Have you gone through a Z Portal at the border? What was your experience?
- If your car was scanned by a backscatter van by Customs or Border Patrol, were you asked to get out of the car or did you remain inside?
- If you work in a prison or jail with an X-ray body scanner, how are they used?
- Have you seen these technologies anywhere we didn't mention in the story?
- Do you know of other security X-ray products that are being used or developed?
Any information is appreciated.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
by Cora Currier
President Barack Obama's previous State of the Union speeches have pushed passage of such hallmark initiatives as the stimulus bill, health-care reform, the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays. But some big ideas from previous SOTU addresses have been abandoned.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler has done a line-by-line analysis of some of the specific promises made in the 2010  and 2011  addresses, and how they've held up. Here we track the evolution of a few of Obama's promises in the SOTU addresses â€” and why he's struggled to keep them.
Energy and Infrastructure
Obama's speeches have pushed investment in alternative energy technology and major green infrastructure projects as a linchpin of his overall economic recovery plan, but Republicans in Congress have stymied these ambitions. Obama's 2009 speech claimed the stimulus bill would double the U.S. supply of renewable energy in three years and vowed to invest $15 billion in research and development for alternative energy and fuel-efficient cars. In 2010, U.S. energy from renewables averaged around 8 percent , unchanged from 2009 ; an updated figure is not yet available.
In his 2010 speech, Obama appeared to acknowledge Republican interests, mentioning â€œtough choicesâ€ on new nuclear power plants and offshore oil and gas exploration. But that year's climate-change bill languished in the Senate  over disagreements on carbon caps and new efficiency standards.
Obama's 2011 speech kept to the theme of technological advance under the rubric â€œWinning the Future.â€ He vowed that by 2035, 80 percent of the country's electricity would be from clean energy and again called for increased funding for research and development. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce bluntly called the 2035 goal â€œimpossible.â€  Obama's plan to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years has made essentially no progress . The one project that did begin â€” in California â€” since has stalled.
Obama's energy goals have run up against a Congress hostile to costly projects in general and particularly suspicious of environmental regulation. The bankruptcy of solar-panel maker Solyndra Inc. , which had received a $535 million federal loan guarantee, furthered the case of critics who argued that spending on clean energy was wasteful.
In every SOTU to date, Obama has called for a tax on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans â€” in other words, an end to the George W. Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year. Obama agreed to temporarily extend the Bush tax cuts in 2010  as part of a deal with Republicans that also extended jobless benefits. Last year, Obama and congressional Democrats abandoned plans  for a millionaire's surtax in return for Republican backing to extend a payroll tax cut.
Then there is tax reform. Each year, Obama has called for a simplifying the individual tax code and for a lower corporate tax rate. Cutting the 35 percent corporate tax rate has support from some Democrats and Republicans  as well as many corporations and business groups . But as Marian Wang explained last year , any effort to overhaul the tax code inevitably means opposition â€” from groups that benefit from loopholes and tax breaks that reformers hope to repeal.
In his 2009 SOTU, Obama pronounced the closing of Guantanamo Bay a centerpiece of his foreign policy. â€œIn words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun,â€ he said. As ProPublica's coverage has shown, the administration continued to make periodic calls for Guantanamo's closure  but could not overcome opposition to it. In March 2011, the administration revised its stance on Guantanamo , allowing for military trials of prisoners there to resume instead of moving them to federal criminal courts.
The DREAM Act
In last year's SOTU, Obama spoke at length about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and he expressed support for legislation to grant legal residency to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. The DREAM Act failed to pass Congress in 2010 or 2011 . Without a new immigration policy, the administration changed enforcement strategy , and exercises â€œparticular careâ€ in deciding on deportations, especially in the cases of students and young people. According to The New York Times, this approach has been applied unevenly and has caused confusion  among enforcers and immigrant families alike.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
by Kim Barker ProPublica
Sure, thereâ€™sthe GOP symbol, but the real elephant in the room at any of the Republicandebates since December has been the super PAC, the turbocharged politicalaction committee able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money onpolitical ads â€” as long as that spending isnâ€™t coordinated with aparticular campaign.
Jon Huntsmanâ€™scampaign  would probably not have lasted as long asit did without Our Destiny. Now that Rick Perry is out of the race, throwinghis support to Gingrich, the real question is what will happen to the war chestof Make Us Great Again .
But those arejust the super PACs youâ€™ve already heard about â€” the ones that candidatesgrouse about at debates, with Romney calling one Winning Our Future ad thatportrayed him as a corporate raider  â€œprobably the biggest hoax since Bigfoot.â€
As thecountdown continues to the South Carolina primary Saturday, itâ€™s worth taking astep back and considering all the confusing names, and all the confusing moneythat might be spent in the coming months. Itâ€™s also worth considering how wegot to this new frontier, which even campaign operatives say is messy: Twoyears ago on Saturday, the Supreme Court, in its ruling on Citizens United vs.FEC, cracked open the door for superPACs. Two months later, a federal appeal courtâ€™s decision in Speechnow.orgvs. FEC threw it wide open. Now,registering as a super PAC is as simple as sending a letter and a form to theFEC.
So far, atleast 283 super PACs  have registered, although60 are run by one Florida man, Josue Larose,  and seem to serve no other purpose but piling up paperwork forthe FEC. And so far, super PACs have spent more than $29 million  on thepresidential race. (You can follow the money with our PAC Track application .) Althoughitâ€™s not yet clear how that compares with overall spending by the candidatesthemselves, reports indicated that super PAC spending in Iowa outstripped thecandidates' by 2-to-1, said Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center .
More spending,likely the most ever in an election season, is on the horizon. And even thoughsome super PACs seem to be parodies (like comedian Stephen Colbert's Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,  which has probably done more to deliver â€œsuper PACâ€ into theAmerican lexicon than any politician), the groups insist they are real.
â€œThereâ€™s allkinds of games going on,â€ said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofitpushing to rein in super PACs. â€œSome group has put up a website telling you howto get around disclosure. Look, we have huge problems on our hands, and we getto celebrate the cause of many of these problems on Jan. 21, the secondanniversary of the Citizens United decision. We have to deal with them as bestwe can.â€
Hereâ€™s arundown of some new super PACs and examples of how confusing things can get:
The Patriot SuperPAC,  which registered with the FEC on Tuesday,boasts a website  promising to be the â€œfuture home of something quite cool.â€ Itwill work to defeat  President Barack Obama, but it shouldnâ€™t be confused with theconservative Patriot PAC , which promises to be the â€œpoint of the spearâ€ and asks peopleto sign a petition without providingthe text . Nor should either be mistaken for the Patriot Majority USA PAC , which supports Senate Democrats.
Protecting OurVote PAC  registered on Jan. 13, with one of thebest signatures  in any super PAC filing. Its mission is unclear: The websitesimply says, Protecting OurVote PAC . American Sunrise registered as a super PAC the same day, organized in part by Lora Haggard, theformer chief financial officer for onetime Democratic presidential candidateJohn Edwards.
Some peopleregistering super PACs appear to be confused themselves. Patricia McBride ofWasco, Calif., registered Citizens FireupSuper PAC  on Jan. 9 to support or oppose Obama butneglected to say which angle sheâ€™ll take. McBride also wrote that she wished toestablish the super PAC as a (c4), which is shorthand for a 501(c)4, the IRS code for a social-welfare nonprofit.Although 501(c)4s are allowed to make certain political expenditures, they are notallowed to be super PACs. Regardless, the FEC appears to have registered thegroup.
On Jan. 5, asuper PAC called â€œa SuperPACâ€  registered with the FEC, with a website at www.asuperpacforhire.com , which includes a way to donate. It also features theexplanation: â€œHaveyou ever wanted a message to get out to the voting public about a candidaterunning for federal office but didn't want the mess of production, compliance,or disclosure paperwork?Â a SuperPACwants to get the TRUTH out too.â€
Treasurer Matthew Balazikof Frederick, Md., said the group is real. Ads on its website , which proclaim â€œPaidfor by a SuperPAC,â€ target Democrats whoâ€™ve turnedRepublican.
â€œWeâ€™re prettyconservative around here,â€ Balazik wrote in responseto an email. â€œWe believe fundamentally that you should be able to speakpublically (sic) and anonymously so long as you do not violate anyone elseâ€™srights.â€
When asked if anyonehad tried to hire a SuperPAC super PAC, Balazik wrote simply: â€œThatâ€™s a good question.â€
On Jan. 4, â€œThe Internetâ€  registered as a super PAC. Unfortunately, its website  doesnâ€™tappear to be working, but it does raise the specter of ads proclaiming, â€œpaidfor by The Internet.â€
The previous week, Cain ConnectionsPAC registered as a super PAC, with no website, days after Herman Cain had droppedout of the Republican race. Its mission is unclear.
Earlier in December, the AmericanCrosswinds PAC â€” sounding remarkably similar to the Republican fundraisingjuggernaut AmericanCrossroads super PAC â€” registered as a super PAC, although it has no website and noemail address.
On Dec. 1, Feel the Heat PAC  registered from a Washington P.O. box â€” just like manyreal super PACs. Its website  never got up and running, and reception must have been cool: OnTuesday, it terminated itself . The Restore TrustPAC,  started by the same person, had similarissues.
Also in December, Americans for a BetterTomorrow, Today â€” clearly a play on Colbertâ€™s super PAC, Americans for aBetter Tomorrow, Tomorrow â€” registered with the FEC. On Dec. 12, itannounced it wanted to be a super PAC, with a typo : â€œAmericans for a BetterTomorrow, Toady.â€
Todd Bailey, who formed the super PAC, saiditâ€™s working for the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has decried the CitizensUnitedruling and the effect of moneyon politics. In other words, a joke on a satire is operating in earnest,apparently under the theory, â€œif you canâ€™t beat 'em, join 'em.â€
â€œThereâ€™s atool thatâ€™s been created that everyoneâ€™s using,â€ Bailey said. â€œYou have to makea choice. Either stand on sidelines, or get in the game and use a tool thatyouâ€™re really not comfortable with.â€
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Brace yourselves for another descent into the world of Columbia's very own Roomdance. Â Hot on the heels of theÂ Vulpine Creep EPÂ comesÂ Sewn Inside, a full-length dose of sensual depravity. Â Would you expect anything less? Â Sewn InsideÂ will be released via Post-Echo onÂ Thursday, March 1st, 2012.Â Â In the meantime, satisfy your Roomdance fix with the latest single from the new album, "Circling Approaches"- streaming below.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Two federal court rulings in 2010 paved the way for the ascent of â€œsuper PACs,â€ political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political races, as long as theyÂ donâ€™t coordinate with a specific candidate. And so far, theyâ€™reÂ spending heavilyÂ on the Republican race. This app, part of our long-term investigation into "dark money," keeps track of where super PACs are spending their cash to influence the presidential race.
Top Spenders in S.C.
|Winning Our Future||$2,752,908|
|OPPOSING Â Â Â Mitt Romney||$2,752,908 (100%)|
|Restore Our Future, Inc.||$1,992,186|
|OPPOSING Â Â Â Newt Gingrich||$1,681,617 (84%)|
|OPPOSING Â Â Â Richard J. Santorum||$209,032 (10%)|
|SUPPORTING Â Â Â Mitt Romney||$101,537 (5%)|
|Red White And Blue Fund||$950,842|
|SUPPORTING Â Â Â Richard J. Santorum||$950,842 (100%)|
|Citizens for a Working America PAC||$455,000|
|SUPPORTING Â Â Â Mitt Romney||$455,000 (100%)|
|Santa Rita SuperPAC||$317,541|
|SUPPORTING Â Â Â Ron Paul||$317,541 (100%)|
|Priorities USA Action||$96,555|
|OPPOSING Â Â Â Mitt Romney||$96,555 (100%)|
|SUPPORTING Â Â Â Ron Paul||$39,406 (100%)|
|Americans For a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Inc.||$36,600|
|SUPPORTING Â Â Â Herman Cain||$15,000 (41%)|
|OPPOSING Â Â Â Mitt Romney||$21,600 (59%)|
|Strong America Now Super PAC||$14,200|
|SUPPORTING Â Â Â Newt Gingrich||$14,200 (100%)|
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R) is currently South Carolina's only senator to openly support The Stop Online Piracy Act.(SOPA)
Since 2008, Sen. Graham has received over $88,000 in campaign contributions from the entertainment and computing industries.
Sen. Graham's contact information is below, as well as an in depth analysis by Propublica on which legislators support SOPA.
Thanks for supporting columbiacitypaper.com and internet freedom. -Paul Blake
|Office||290 Russell Senate Office Building|
Financial Contributions by Industry
This reported campaign contributions information comes from the OpenSecrets/Center for Responsive Politics API (read more about their campaign-contributions-per-industry API). You can also visit the OpenSecrets profile for Sen. Graham.
Timeline: Sen. Graham and PIPA
A list of statements and legislative actions made by Sen. Graham relating to PIPA. Contact Dan Nguyen if you have additions or corrections.
See a complete list of actions and statememts by members of Congress
Which Legislators Support SOPA and PIPA?
by Dan Nguyen, ProPublica
In the next few weeks, among the most talked-about legislation will be the "Stop Online Piracy Act ” commonly referred to as SOPA which, if passed, would give the Justice Department the authority to block access to foreign websites deemed to be dedicated to copyright infringement.
Both SOPA and its Senate version, PIPA (officially known as the PROTECT-IP Act), have widespread bipartisan support among lawmakers. But the proposed law has become a pitched battle between entertainment companies who believe SOPA will curb the illegal distribution of movies and music and online media companies like Google and Facebook, who fear that the bills will be burdensome to implement and are tantamount to censorship.
Though the controversy involves companies that trade in information, it's been surprisingly difficult to find out basic facts like where each member of congress stands and what financial backing they've received from interests who have the most to gain or lose.
Over the holidays, I made a news app SOPA Opera as an online resource to collect the facts about which member of congress support SOPA, and to shine a light on the debate and process behind a bill that may have major ramifications on how the government regulates communication and commerce online. Today SOPA Opera is moving to ProPublica, where we'll continue to update it.
SOPA Opera's tally of congressional supporters and opponents is based on factors including whether they've sponsored the legislation, whether they've voted for it in committee and their public statements about it. For each legislator, we're tracking what they've said or done so far about SOPA. We're also tracking campaign contributions to each legislator from the entertainment and Internet industries (using data from the Center for Responsive Politics).
Check out SOPA Opera.
Our SOPA Opera uses a combination of legislative data and research to fill out the biographical information and position of each member of Congress. The websites and APIs we consult include:
- OpenSecrets / Center for Responsive Politics Their extensive campaign finance database contains categorized spending from Federal Election Commission reports.
- OpenCongress An invaluable site that takes the archaic data from the U.S. legislative site and formats it for modern web consumption.
- New York Times Congress API an extensive API that contains the boilerplate biographical information and historical legislative data.
- GovTrack.us Another comprehensive resource about the legislative record.
- Library of Congress THOMAS The official clearinghouse for legislative information.
How are the positions of the members of Congress determined?
- Co-sponsored the bill (or one of its precursors).
- Voted to move the bill (or one of its precursors) forward in committee.
- Has defended the law in public.
- Supports amendments or competing legislation that would undermine the bill.
- Withdraws sponsorship of the bill.
- Speaks out against the bill (e.g., Sen. Rand Paul'sÂ dontcensortheinternet.com).
The majority of members of Congress are listed as having an unknown position and this may be the case up until they cast a vote.
Campaign Finance Information
Using the API and data from OpenSecrets and the Center for Responsive Politics, we included the reported campaign contributions (as categorized by OpenSecrets) from the "Movies/Music/TV" and "Computers/Internet" industries for the 2008 to 2010 election cycles. 2012 is not yet available through the OpenSecrets API yet. The totals here may differ compared to other SOPA-tracking sites because of the different timespans involved.
While many other groups, including labor unions and pharmaceutical companies, are also joining the SOPA/PIPA debate. We focus on the entertainment and computing industries because they have so much at stake financially and therefore have the biggest incentive to use money to influence politicians.
Monday, January 16, 2012
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a Texas redistricting case that could have major implications for minority voters -- as well as determine which party is likely to control Congress after the 2012 elections.
Here's our guide to why the case matters, why it could pose a challenge to part of the Voting Rights Act , and what impact the Court's ruling could have on voters across the country.
Our update on Mondayâ€™s oral arguments is here .
How did this case end up in front of the Supreme Court?
At its most basic, the case is contesting which district maps Texas will use in the 2012 elections.
This seems like a dry question, but it's not. Thanks to population growth, Texas is gaining four seats in Congress, and how the district lines are drawn is likely to determine whether those additional seats will be won by Democrats or Republicans -- and how big an impact minority voters will have in deciding who the new representatives will be.
Because those four seats could help determine which party controls the House of Representatives, the Texas case is being closely watched across the country.
At least three of the four  new congressional districts were drawn in a way that seemed likely to favor Anglo Republican candidates -- even though Latinos and African-Americans accounted for most of the state's population growth .
The legislature's maps immediately faced legal challenges from minority groups who argued that the lines were drawn to purposefully weaken the ballot power of Latino voters -- as well as from the Department of Justice, which argued that Texas' state house and congressional map plans  are illegal because they diminish the ability of minority voters to elect the candidate of their choice .
Because the ongoing legal battle over the legislature's maps was interfering with the state's election schedule , the federal district court in San Antonio drew an alternate set of maps for the state to use .
Rather than use these court-drawn maps, the state of Texas appealed the case to the Supreme Court , arguing that the state court overstepped its bounds, and that, because of the time-crunch, the legislature's original plans should be used for the 2012 elections  -- even though the federal government has yet to give the plans "preclearance."
The Problem with 'Preclearance'
This is where the case bumps up against the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of the 1965 act  requires that certain states with a history of racial discrimination -- including Texas -- get federal "preclearance," or approval , before implementing any laws that affect voting.
The Texas legislature's original plans haven't received preclearance yet -- and it's unlikely that they will before this year's elections.
While most states simply ask for preclearance from the Department of Justice, Texas has taken the less-common, more-expensive route of asking for approval from a panel of federal judges in Washington.
In denying summary judgment on the case, those judges have already concluded that "the State of Texas used an improper standard  to determine which districts afford minority voters the ability to elect their preferred candidate of choice."
But the final ruling on preclearance is unlikely to come soon enough to get Texas' already delayed election season  underway.
By asking the Supreme Court to use the state legislature's maps before they have received federal preclearance, Texas is essentially trying to perform a temporary end-run around the Voting Rights Act's "preclearance" requirement.
Texas is arguing that this move is perfectly legal , and would not affect the state's "undisputed obligation" to get federal preclearance before using its new maps "on a permanent basis."
Nina Perales, the director of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund , told the Washington Post  that this move "flips Section 5 completely on its head," and argued the state was trying to squeeze in one more election cycle before having to reckon with the growing power of Latino voters.
Updated 1/10/2012: How is the Court likely to rule?
The fact that the Supreme Court decided to hear the case at all makes it seem unlikely  that the justices will simply endorse the maps drawn by the federal court in San Antonio.
During oral arguments yesterday , several members of the Court suggested that the San Antonio court may have overstepped its bounds in the way it drew its interim maps -- particularly in its creation of new minority districts.
But the Court also made it fairly clear that it was not interested in overturning Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act -- at least, not at the moment.
â€œThe constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act is not at issue here, right?â€ Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. asked at one point.
Only Justice Antonin Scalia said that the San Antonio court should temporarily implement the Texas legislature's plan.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan emphasized that Section 5 banned the use of a plan that had not received federal approval, and Chief Justice Roberts seemed to agree, noting, â€œYou cannot assume that the legislatureâ€™s plan should be treated as if it were precleared.â€
But the consensus of the court seemed to be that it was just as problematic for the San Antonio court to assume that the legislature's map was an illegal gerrymander, and then redraw the map on the assumption that all of the minority groups concerns were legitimate.
Justice Samuel Alito suggested that the judicial branch had no business getting involved in making policy via map lines. "To say they are going to apply neutral districting principles is a subterfuge,â€ he said. â€œThere is no such thing.â€
Justice Alito suggested that the best solution might simply be to wait for the Washington, D.C., court to either grant or deny preclearance on the Texas legislative maps -- and to delay Texas' primary schedule again in the meantime.
Justice Kagan suggested a compromise plan, in which Texasâ€™ court-drawn interim maps would more closely resemble the maps drawn by the legislature.
Attorneys for both sides said this plan would be preferable to simply implementing their opponentsâ€™ maps.
As the Washington Postâ€™s Aaron Blake noted last month, such a compromise would still set a new precedent . â€œCurrently, court-drawn maps are drawn with deference to the last constitutionally-approved map available (i.e. the existing map). Changing the standard would give state legislatures greater power over the final product, even in the event that their maps are invalidated,â€ he wrote.
Updated 1/10/12: Earlier Speculation on the Court and the Voting Rights Act
At minimum, the Supreme Court will have to rule on what maps Texas should use in its upcoming election.
As Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog put it , "The Court must either draft maps of its own, accept -- even grudgingly -- something that already exists, or find a streamlined way to get the District Court in San Antonio to craft a plan that minimally alters the state's maps."
But there's been speculation that the Court could also use the case as an opportunity to address the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the part that requires certain states to obtain preclearance of plans that affect minority voters.
The Washington Post's Aaron Blake called this "the Nuclear Option ." One of the key elements of preclearance is that it places the burden of proof on the state governments to prove that their plans are not discriminatory, rather than requiring minority groups to organize and pay for expensive legal challenges. By invalidating the Section 5 preclearance requirement, the Supreme Court "would allow these states greater freedom to draw their maps and increase the burden on minority groups and others who may fight the maps in court," Blake wrote.
The Supreme Court seemed to come close to overturning Section 5 two years ago , in another case from Texas . That decision made it clear that the Court had serious reservations about the limits the Voting Rights Act places on a state's sovereignty.
In that ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote  that "the Act now raises serious constitutional concerns," and that it "differentiates between the States in ways that may no longer be justified."
This time around, the conservative Cato Institute  has submitted an amicus brief to the Texas case asking the Court to review the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that the statute "no longer serves its original purpose ."
But some experts doubt that the Supreme Court will tackle Section 5's constitutionality in the Texas case.
Richard Pildes , a New York University law professor, told MSNBC , "The court recognizes that it must act more quickly than usual, given the time pressures involved with primary elections looming shortly down the road. For all those reasons, the court is likely to focus on the narrowest issues needed to resolve the particular legal issues presented."
Cato isn't alone in its opposition of the Voting Rights Act. Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, the Republicans' point man for congressional redistricting, has long opposed the act , calling it "outdated, unfair and unconstitutional." In a speech opposing  the extension of the act in 2006, Westmoreland argued that Georgia's record of voter equality "can stand up to any other state in the nation" and that the Voting Rights Act's renewal would "keep my state in the penalty box for 25 more years based on the actions of people who are now dead."
But the Voting Rights Act also has strong, bipartisan support. President George W. Bush gave it high praise . Executives from Wal-Mart, AT&T, Pfizer, Coca-Cola, Disney  and other large corporations wrote to Bush urging him to reauthorize the law and describing it as a cornerstone of American society. The Senate ultimately approved the 2006 extension of the act 98-0, and the House 390-33 .
Although the Supreme Court may have decided not to tackle the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in the Texas case, it may soon have other opportunities to address the issue.
A case in which a county in Alabama is challenging the constitutionality  of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is scheduled for oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals on January 19.
The Department of Justiceâ€™s move to strike down South Carolinaâ€™s Voter ID law  under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act may also spark a case that could make its way to the Supreme Court.
Fr. Jones shoots the breeze with Claire Boucher of Grimes about her new album, sonic manifestations of the brain, and the infamous Lana Del Rey SNL performance.
CB: Donâ€™t worry about it, donâ€™t worry about it.
FR: Okay, so where does the name Grimes come from?
CB: Thatâ€™s a secret. I canâ€™t say.
FR: Alright, if you say so. Visions is coming out in February and you just signed to 4AD from Arbutus. Can you talk a little more about Visions? Where does the album title come from?
CB: Itâ€™s sort of a referenceâ€¦ it sounds so pretentious. Iâ€™m going to sound like such an asshole.
FR: Trust me. Itâ€™s fine.
CB: Itâ€™s partially a reference to Hildegard who I wrote my thesis on when I was still at the university. Sheâ€™s a really major inspiration for me. When I was writing the album, I sort of did a lot of thingsâ€¦ medieval and spiritual techniques like fasting and stuffâ€¦ to see what would happen. Iâ€™ve done it a little bit in the past to be productive. But I did it this time in an incredibly intense way. And it was an incredible experience- I kind of went crazy and so the album is about that. Visions is about that. I was thinking of a title and itâ€™s like realizing myâ€¦ vision? Maybe that sounds stupid but itâ€™s the sonic manifestation of my brain. I see music as such a visual thing. It doesnâ€™t exist in my head without something else.
FR: â€œSonic manifestation of the brainâ€ is a great sound-byte by the way. What is the difference between this and your previous albums? You had three releases it felt like in the same twelve month time period. This one though is getting tons of hype. Not that your others one didnâ€™t deserve hype- I love Geidi Primes and Halfaxa. But the difference between this and the others in regards to the sound and recording process, how can you compare them?
CB: I think hi-fi counts for more than anyone realizes. My other albums are super ghetto. When I listen back, it sounds really amateur. I can definitely see how it could be confusing for a lot of people to hear music like that. With this album- my manager is a sound engineer and when I finished â€œVanessaâ€, he sat down with me and we produced it like it was a pop song. It was a tutorial on production in general. He was like, â€œWeâ€™re pushing vocals up.â€ And I was like, â€œNo! No more vocals!â€. But he promised me that it would be more successful if we make the vocals louder. I sort of had this â€œbreaking experience brain discoveryâ€ because I love pop music- but there was a final step in realizing that what I was doing was actually really different than that. Maybe thatâ€™s not a good way of explaining it. I think with this record I really knew what I was doing and I feel like I was more able to craft this while walking the line between something more familiar in a pop way- but also pushing the boundaries enough. This is how I would want to do it instead of a big mistake that might sound good but is ultimately just throwing stuff around to see if it sounds good which is kind of what the other albums were.
FR: Right. I could tell with Geidi Primes- itâ€™s very experimental. But your stuff on the Darkbloom album felt like it was moving in more of a pop sensibility and direction. Are we going to get a video for this new album- for â€œGenesisâ€ maybe?
CB: There will be a video for every song I think if I can pull it off.
CB: Iâ€™ve shot three so far. Iâ€™m shooting another one in a couple weeks and Iâ€™ve made one out of found footage. So there are five that will be done really soon. Hopefully, I can finish the rest in April. â€œGenesisâ€- my friend has a VHS recorder and Iâ€™m going to get a bunch of girls and they will all be like angels going into buildings and setting off fireworks, breaking stuff, and doing graffiti.
FR: So sort of like the â€œVanessaâ€ video?
CB: Way more violent and way more urban. Way more psychedelic.
FR: Sounds like itâ€™s way more depraved too- which is good.
CB: Iâ€™m touring with Born Gold and theyâ€™re actually also playing in my band so theyâ€™re going to drum for me and play keyboards. But I try to switch it up every tour. I always have some friends with me so I just choose some random friends and see what their capabilities are and what they can do.
FR: Do you have any particularly favorite places to play?
CB: I fucking love Miami. I donâ€™t know why- I think I have the most fans in Miami. I donâ€™t know. People in Miami are really cool. Everyone is wearing spiky shit. There seems to be this weird thing happening in Miami. One of the best shows Iâ€™ve ever played though was in Mexico City. That was really fun. Every place is different because there are different kinds of crowds. Like Baltimore- that was really fun. In Detroit I played in a bowling alley. That was great.
FR: You described the new album as a cross between Aphex Twin and TLC. Thatâ€™s a hell of a breed. Do you have any other influences that drive your work?
CB: I have a lot of influences. As far as the music I was listening to most when I was making this album- it was definitely a lot of Outkast and stuff. I know a lot of those producers are really influenced by Aphex Twin. I listened to IDM and New Jack Swing mostly- which are more similar than people would think.
FR: Iâ€™ve read you have a background in ballet. I was wondering if your history in dance is reflected in your music.
CB: I remember first getting into music because of ballet I think. Itâ€™s hard to say. One of the videos I just did is a pretty intensive ballet video. I donâ€™t know if ballet and the music I make now is super related. But I definitely love ballet, the intensity of ballet. I think ballet gave me a work ethic, an intense worth ethic. And I think thatâ€™s how itâ€™s most influenced my music.
FR: Did you see Black Swan?
CB: Yes. I really like Black Swan.
FR: The way the music industry is nowâ€¦ itâ€™s changed dramatically in the past ten years from Napster all the way to Spotify. Where do you see the music industry going in the next decade?
CB: It seems to me that indie and mainstream are colliding and there will be some sort of compromise in between. I feel more and more films are going to be become more radical with their soundtracks and publishing like what happened with Tron and stuff. Itâ€™s going to be way more feasible for artists to make a living off working in film. Iâ€™m definitely trying to score films, thatâ€™s something Iâ€™m interested in- the idea of a pop score. I feel like that is going to happen more. Itâ€™s hard to say. I wish people would buy records more but I think they are buying records more. Iâ€™ve noticed that on touring, people are asking for vinyl way more. I hate the idea of selling music but we need to make a living off it so itâ€™s a really hard contradiction. Ideally you want to give people something so theyâ€™re really getting something for their money- which is why I like the idea of artists working in more film and multimedia. I donâ€™t know- I like the idea of commission. Letâ€™s say you score a film with a budget and they pay you, you can probably live off that for like three years if the movie has a really great soundtrack.
FR: Going back to vinyl- vinyl encourages the listener to be more patient. Iâ€™m as guilty as anybody with an ipod on shuffle just having one song after another. I feel like vinyl is more enjoyable in that regard.
FR: Have you been following this Lana Del Rey thing? Did you see her on Saturday Night Live?
CB: Yeah. I watched that.
FR: What is your take on that whole thing?
CB: Well, I donâ€™t want to say anythingâ€¦. Let me think. I just feel like she is not necessarily in control of whatâ€™s going on and I feel as a prominent female performer, itâ€™s very important to be strong. I just kind of get the Britney complex coming from this thing like sheâ€™s really unsure or something and her lyrics are really depressing and posturing to men in her life and stuff. I just feel like itâ€™s derivative and unhealthy. Okay, wait. Iâ€™m going in a bad direction.
FR: I get it. Itâ€™s all very tragic.
CB: It just really shot home the concept to me that sex sells which is really depressing. The whole Lana Del Rey situation is dark. Itâ€™s justâ€¦ itâ€™s just dark.
- Fr. Jones
[caption id="attachment_4321" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Former SC Republican Chair, C. Kenneth Powell, reflects on a less vicious political era"][/caption]
Interview with C. Kenneth Powell (Former SC Republican Chair)
One thing I noticed about todayâ€™s politics versus how it used to be.Â Â Today politics is vicious and personal, which was not the case before.
The media has a big role to play; you do not see many good stories any more. They have a big influence. They are educating people on the wrong things sometimes. I always tried to be honest with the media.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
It's that time of year when wags and pundits are supposed to gaze into their crystal ball and Â declare what the coming year holds. I don't have a crystal ball â€“ never claimed to. But I don't need one to tell you that 2012 is going to a year of hard, mean politics in a state that is famous for bare-knuckled elections. And it all starts with the GOP primary.
Since South Carolina Republicans made themselves the first primary in the South in 1980, they have achieved a perfect record: No candidate has won the Republican presidential nomination without first winning the S.C. primary. This conservative little state salvaged the campaigns of Ronald Reagan, in 1980, and George W. Bush, in 2000, sending them to the White House when it looked like they might be headed for early retirement. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of this state in pushing the right wing tilt of U.S. politics over the last 30 years.
That right wing tilt has finally led the Republican Party to the logical and inevitable terminus, to the very brink of its own sanity. This year it looks like the Grand Old Party has finally stepped over that brink and S.C. has led the parade all the way.
The late William F. Buckley said he had spent his life separating the kooks from the conservatives. Today, the Republican Party has been taken over by the kooks; driven by the hype and hysteria of the Tea Party and the psychotic intransigence of Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge; and personified by the likes Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. The GOP is dominated by gay-bashing, Jesus-loving Â nuts, who deny evolution and global climate change, and think President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim.
In recent years Republicans have demonstrated their true loyalties, fighting to remove environmental regulations on polluters, FCC regulations on broadcasters, SEC regulations on Wall Street bankers, fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. They call themselves the party of personal freedom. They love personal freedom so much that they support legislation to protect Americans' right to use obsolete incandescent light bulbs, but they would amend the Constitution to take away a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices.
The circus of GOP presidential candidates has been crisscrossing the country in an interminable series of televised debates, where we have seen the party faithful applaud Rick Perry's record of executions in Texas and a proposal to let uninsured people die for lack of healthcare. The flying circus will soon be landing in the Palmetto State to campaign for the January 21 primary.
A recent NBC News-Marist poll shows former House speaker Newt Gingrich leading the field of seven candidates in this state. Let me say that again. The serial divorceÂ´ and serial adulterer, who was fined $300,000 by the House Ethics Committee, who last month was found to have received $1.6 million to lobby for the federal mortgage giant Freddie Mac â€“ yes, that Newt Gingrich is the favorite of S.C. Republicans. Â This says many things about S.C. GOPers; one of those things is that they â€“ like their great-great-granddaddies in 1860 â€“ have a death wish.
A victory in S.C. would probably launch Gingrich on to the GOP nomination. But, you see, Newt Gingrich cannot win the White House. Normal, rational, ethical people will be repulsed by his Â arrogance, his personal behavior, his unpredictable mouth. The same poll that showed Gingrich leading in the GOP primary race showed him losing to President Obama in the general election, 46 percent to 42 percent. If Obama can challenge Gingrich in S.C., imagine what he will do in the more deliberative regions of the country.
The possibility of Newt Gingrich carrying the GOP flag in next fall's election has Democrats absolutely giddy. They love Newt so much that they are planning to cross over and flood the GOP primary next month just to make sure he gets the win. This, of course, will lead to outraged squealing and squirting by aggrieved GOPers, demanding strict party registration in future primaries.
Oh, where will it end? Where will it end?
The other political story to watch next year is Gov. Nikki Haley. It is hard to imagine how she has run afoul of so many rules and institutions in less than a year. Her mishandling of the Savannah River dredging may prove to be an epic fiasco. And now she has been found deleting office emails in violation of state law. This on top of a raft of other charges and suspicions.
â€œI believe she is the most corrupt person to occupy the governor's mansion since Reconstruction,â€ John Rainey, a longtime Republican fundraiser and power broker said recently.
Will we see the Legislature or the attorney general move against her in 2012?