Hysterics? Violation of posse comitatus? Or just plain politics as usual? As Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday signed a new law that will put in place tougher penalties for selling guns to minors, he also announced he's got a new idea to help combat the violence that Chicago is experiencing: he's talking to the Illinois State Police and the National Guard to see if they could help.
Even the Feds need some help keeping track of the Little Sisters of the Poor: Maryland State Police officers conducted surveillance on local peace activists and groups opposed to the death penalty, including some in Takoma Park, for more than a year during the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), documents released this morning show. The 46 pages released to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland through a lawsuit seeking public information on the activities of the State Police Homeland Security and Intelligence Division reveal undercover agents monitored private organizing meetings, public forums and rallies outside the State House in Annapolis. The agents used aliases to attend these events and to join listservs, logging information about protest activities into a database, the records show. Reports of the surveillance were shared with numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Anne Arundel County Police Department. The logs did not contain reports of illegal activity. The records show that undercover agents collectively spent 288 hours on surveillance activities over 14 months from March 2005 to May 2006. The groups monitored include the Coalition to End the Death Penalty, which has many members from Takoma Park, and the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, a peace group that has been vocal in opposing the Iraq war.
Trials can start next week: The first war crimes trial at Guantanamo Bay can begin Monday, a federal judge has ruled, saying civilian courts should let the military process play out as Congress intended. U.S. District Judge James Robertson on Thursday rejected an effort by Osama bin Laden's former driver, Salim Hamdan, to postpone his trial. Hamdan argued he would suffer irreparable harm if his was tried before he could challenge the legality of the process. Robertson's ruling is a victory for the Bush administration, which plans to use the military commission process to prosecute alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others charged in the 2001 attacks.
Hope you don't have the munchies when you're in Rome: Cappuccino by the Trevi Fountain? Gelato on the Spanish Steps? Such small delights have run afoul of the guardians of Rome. City Hall has banned snacking near its famous monuments in the historical center. Violators face an $80 fine. Officials say they want to preserve artistic treasures and decorum in a city that has millions of visitors every year. The ordinance also bans the homeless from making makeshift beds and takes to task people who loiter in central areas at night, who, "often drunk, not only leave all manner of litter on public grounds and in the fountains, but also disturb the peace."
Hear, hear: Just as John F. Kennedy set his sights on the moon, Al Gore is challenging the nation to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years, an audacious goal he hopes the next president will embrace. The Nobel Prize-winning former vice president said fellow Democrat Barack Obama and Republican rival John McCain are "way ahead" of most politicians in the fight against global climate change. Rising fuel costs, climate change and the national security threats posed by U.S. dependence on foreign oil are conspiring to create "a new political environment" that Gore said will sustain bold and expensive steps to wean the nation off fossil fuels.
Tell me again why the US Department of Homeland Security is worried about Europe--don't they have enough to screw up in our country? European terrorists are trying to enter the United States with European Union passports, and there is no guarantee officials will catch them every time, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday. Chertoff's comments on Capitol Hill comes as the country is entering a potentially vulnerable period with the presidential nominating conventions coming up next month; the presidential election in November; and the transition to a new administration in January - all of which may be attractive targets for terrorists. In his last scheduled appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee, Chertoff said that the more time and space al Qaeda and its allies have to recruit, train, experiment and plan, the more problems the U.S. and Europe will face down the road. "The terrorists are deliberately focusing on people who have legitimate Western European passports, who don't appear to have records as terrorists," Chertoff told lawmakers. "I have a good degree of confidence we can catch people coming in. But I have to tell you ... there's no guarantee. And they are working very hard to slip by us." They could paint themselves orange, self-identify themselves as terrorists, and the morons who Chertoff has put in place would still insist on doing evil, crazy shit like this to people who travel.
We've been to Texas--there's a hell of a lot of wind there: Texas officials gave preliminary approval Thursday to the nation's largest wind-power project, a plan to build billions of dollars worth of new transmission lines to bring wind energy from gusty West Texas to urban areas. Texas is already the national leader in wind power, and supporters say Thursday's move by the Public Utility Commission will make the Lone Star State a leader in moving energy to the urban areas that consume it. "We will add more wind than the 14 states following Texas combined," said PUC Commissioner Paul Hudson. "I think that's a very extraordinary achievement. Some think we haven't gone far enough, some think we've pushed too far."
THIS is significant--UBS is Phil Gramm's baby, and UBS needs to be barred from doing business in this country: An official of the Swiss bank UBS announced that it was halting its offshore banking services for US citizens after it came under scathing criticism for facilitating massive tax evasion. The official, Mark Branson, UBS' chief financial officer of global wealth management, also said the bank is cooperating with the US government to identify US clients who might have committed tax fraud. Branson told the Senate Permanent Subcommittee of Investigation that the bank "genuinely regrets" failures in complying with US regulations and will stop offering offshore banking to Americans. "We have decided to exit entirely the business in question," Branson told the panel of senators. "That means UBS will no longer provide offshore banking and securities services to US residents through its bank branches. Such services will only be provided to residents of this country through companies licensed in the United States," he said. In addition, he added, "we are working with the US government to identify the names of US clients who may have engaged in tax fraud." What does that mean? It means a whole hell of a lot of rich Republicans are either going to plea bargain, flee the country, or spend time in prison, and let's all pray for this. Pray harder! You're not into it!
I can't stop saying "Dogmosh" over and over and over again:
The U.S. Attorney's office says a Jordanian national who received more than 38,000 fake Viagra pills from Egypt, sold some and stored the rest in Glen Burnie has been sentenced. A federal judge in Baltimore sentenced 27-year-old Iyad Dogmosh to four years in prison on Thursday. He was charged with trafficking more than $400,000 of the fake medication. Dogmosh pleaded guilty in August to selling about 2,000 counterfeit Viagra pills.
Intel Dump's Phillip Carter is on leave: Last week I began working for the Obama campaign as its national veterans director. Although I have been open on this blog about my support for Obama, my new job requires me to recuse myself from blogging for the duration of the campaign. Intel Dump will continue to reside here at washingtonpost.com, with one or more guest-bloggers filling my shoes for the next four months.
Curacao slaves: Each Cuban worker got two pairs of overalls, a set of sturdy boots, a helmet and food commensurate with how hard he worked. Their labor fixing up American cruise ships at a Curacao dry dock was valued at $6.90 an hour. But the 108 Cuban shipyard hands who worked double shifts in a joint venture between the Cuban government and the Curacao Dry Dock Company did not get to spend their wages. Their earnings were applied to the Cuban government's debt with the company, court records show. Documents reviewed Wednesday by The Miami Herald in an ongoing 2006 lawsuit filed in Miami by the workers offer a rare glimpse at employment terms normally kept secret between the Cuban government and the firms with which it does business. The documents appear to offer proof that the government's joint ventures abroad sometimes involve unpaid labor. Instead of a salary, the men got money for food and 400 Cuban pesos a month -- about $18 at the current exchange rate.
We're worrying about it, too: Underneath the booming Russian economy, fueled by large supplies of oil and natural gas, inflation is slamming many ordinary Russians. While the strengthening ruble has helped — it's gained some 9 percent against the dollar since last July — inflation shows no sign of slowing. Inflation last year in Russia was 11.9 percent, according to state statistics. In the United States, where inflation concerns are rampant, that figure was just under 3 percent in 2007. "The impact is serious, it's one of the most difficult problems we have," said Tatiana Stanovaya, the head analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow research center. "If the prices continue rising, the ruling power risks losing the confidence of a very large part of the population."