During yesterday's debate on a hate crimes bill that passed the House, U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said the murder of the bill's namesake, Matthew Shepard, was "a hoax" used to advance legislation. The Matthew Shepard bill, named after the gay 21-year old student who was beaten to death in Laramie, Wy., would provide new federal protections to victims of crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
NBC-17 reports that Foxx said on the House floor:
"We know that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn't because he was gay," Foxx said during debate. "The bill was named for him, the hate-crimes bill was named for him, but it's really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills."
In 1998, Shepard was found unconscious and tied to a fence, and died five days later of head trauma, after being beaten by two men who lured Shepard out of a Laramie bar and, police say, pretended to be gay. One man, Russell Henderson, pled guilty to murder and kidnapping, while a second defendant was convicted of second-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping. Aaron McKinney, who pled not guilty, had originally sought to use a "gay panic" defense, saying that Shepard's advances drove him to murder, which the judge rejected. In an attempt to establish intent, prosecutors argued that McKinney had conspired to murder Shepard, after robbing him of $20. The jury did not recognize the robbery as an explanation for premeditated murder. In announcing Henderson's conviction, the judge said the murder was ''part because of his life style, part for a $20 robbery.''
The News & Observer reports that Foxx's statement, which she has since said was "a mistake based on what I believed were reliable accounts," was offensive to "gay rights activists." But, really, it's offensive to anyone, of any sexual orientation, who understands the basic facts of the case.
Update: Over at Dependable Erection, Barry Ragin has has a slightly more concise analysis of Foxx's statement.
The Senate Health Committee passed House Bill 2, which would prohibit smoking in most indoor public spaces. Gone, though is the provision that passed in the House that exempted businesses that don't employ or serve minors, such as nightclubs. See the House version here:h2v5 And the Senate committee version here: h2v6
It now goes to the full Senate, where it will receive a second reading tomorrow when the currentsenatecalendarat 11 a.m.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, known as the ATSDR, has withdrawn its 1997 public health assessment of Camp Lejeune and its drinking water because, according to the agency, "it could no longer stand behind the accuracy of the information concerning the drinking water exposure pathway evaluation."
The alert came via a press release from U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, who chairs of the House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Miller called for the agency to review those other health assessments and withdraw those that could not stand up to a rigorous scientific review.
The ATSDR is a sister agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Camp Lejeune community activists have long contended ATSDR's 1997 study was flawed. That study found that residents' exposure to detected levels of toxic chemicals including benzene, PCE (perchloroethylene) and TCE (trichloroethylene) weren't hazardous. However, in a Investigations Subcommittee report, it was learned that ATSDR has lost many of the critical scientific documents and data it used to reach its conclusions. (Depending on the length of time and the degree of the exposure, high levels of these chemicals can cause respiratory and neurological illness; some studies have suggested there is a link to cancer.)
The ATSDR is often called in to make health and exposure assessments at sites where there is suspected or confirmed contamination. One local example is Ward Transformer , a Superfund site in western Wake County. wardtransformer031405-nc
In many cases nationwide, the ATSDR's conclusions have been suspect. The agency was most recently responsible for failing to evaluate the dangers of formaldehyde in trailers for Hurricane Katrina survivors. There have also been questions about the validity of ATSDR reports on Superfund sites in San Antonio, Texas and Bloomington, Ind.
Read the Investigations subcommittee report about the integrity of other ATSDR studies: atsdr-staff-report-03-10-09
Here is a link to public health assessments the ATSDR has conducted in North Carolina.
The U.S. hasn't licensed a new nuclear reactor in many years. But Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corp., Perdue noted with satisfaction, is already leading the charge, as it were, for two new nukes in Texas:
The company is the prime contractor for the construction of two nuclear reactors planned for Texas, near Houston. These facilities, subject to a license application pending before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, have the potential to be among the first new reactors built in the nation in more than 30 years.
And forget Texas when it comes to bidness-friendly states, Perdue says:
“North Carolina is a world leader in providing the knowledge-based workforce, design and research support vital to the development of the energy sector,” Gov. Perdue said. “Our state’s business-friendly policies and unparalleled quality of life continue to attract top global companies and high-paying jobs.”
So when it comes to nukes, Charlotte's the place to be, she quotes the Toshiba CEO as saying:
“Charlotte is becoming the place to be in the U.S. for nuclear engineers,” said Fuyuki Saito, president and chief executive officer of Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corp. “The quality of the workforce, quality of life and strong support we have received from state and local officials make Charlotte a perfect fit for our new center.”
The full statement from the Governor's Office is below:
Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, which operates several huge hog slaughtering and pork processing plants in North Carolina, has farms in the Mexican state linked to the swine flu outbreak.
However, no health and safety officials have linked the disease to the farms.
Grist magazine's N.C. food editor Tom Philpott is reporting that Smithfield subsidiary Granjas Carroll raises 950,000 hogs annually in Veracruz, Mexico, where the outbreak originated. Several Mexican media outlets are reporting on Smithfield's industrial hog production in Veracruz, quoting residents concerned about the air and water pollution from the farms and lagoons. A respiratory disease outbreak in the small town of La Gloria, Veracruz, has reportedly affected 60 percent of the town's 3,000 people, according to the blog Biosurveillance.
Hat tip to Facing South, which tipped me to the Grist article.
Meanwhile, the BBC has a story in which many people in Mexico are reporting that the situation is far worse than the Mexican government has let on.
If you have something to say about the way the state spends its money—or your money, actually—then here’s your chance to comment.
A public hearing on the state budget is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28, from 6-9 p.m. at the N.C. Museum of History, 5 E. Edenton St., in Raleigh.
You can listen to the hearing online at ncleg.net or watch a live broadcast at several community colleges. The list is below.
The public can offer suggestions and coments at the hearing or at any of the community college video sites.
There are other ways as well:
Mail: House Appropriations Committee
Suite 401, LOB
300 N. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Deadline is midnight, April 28 except for mailed comments, which must be postmarked by April 29.
By now, the news has circulated widely that six protesters were arrested at UNC-Chapel Hill on Wednesday night for disorderly conduct at a speech hosted by Youth for Western Civilization, a campus group that opposes "radical multiculturalism" and "mass immigration."
According to the arrest report (PDF, 748 KB), three men, and three women, aged 18 to 30, were arrested for "behaving in a manner that was disturbing to others," and released on $100 bond, or written promise of bond. Their trials are set for June 1 in Orange County District Court in Chapel Hill. Though none were current UNC students, all of the individuals listed Orange County addresses.
"I regret that six protesters had to be arrested, but they gave us no choice," UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement. "They ignored our warnings, and their disruptive behavior was completely at odds with what we expect at Carolina. I want everyone to know that these six people do not represent what Carolina stands for when it comes to freedom of expression.”
Thorp had previously apologized to former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo for a speech last week, also organized by YWC, that was disrupted by protesters, and pepper spray from UNC police. In his statement, Thorpe said that campus police "will pursue criminal charges if any are warranted."
An investigation into the protest has so far led to one student's arrest. Yesterday morning, UNC Police arrested senior Haley Koch, as she walked out of class, for "disturbing the peace at an educational institution" during the Tancredo speech. That charge carried a $1,000 bond, which Koch has posted. She will stand trial on May 25. (See the arrest report here - PDF, 128 KB.)
Despite a plea from Commissioner Mike Nelson to "put the period at the end of the sentence" and move forward with a proposed waste-transfer station in southwestern Orange County, the Board of County Commissioners delayed a final vote on the facility at last night's regular meeting in Chapel Hill.
Instead, commissioners moved to contract with a legal firm for the project, await a final decision by the State Clearinghouse regarding a number of environmental issues with the proposed property and, if necessary, require that county staff develop an Environmental Impact Statement. The commissioners also voted to:
-Rule out the possibility of siting a temporary transfer station at the Eubanks Road landfill;
-Conduct a work session with members of the Solid Waste Advisory Board and representatives from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough; and
-Consult with local fire departments about the potential risks of having a transfer station on a site with no water/sewer access, or a readily available septic system (the conditions of the county's preferred site).
The commissioners may have an additional year to make up their minds. Solid Waste Management Director Gayle Wilson announced that a recent study of the Eubanks Road landfill revealed "an additional year of landfill capacity," due to the University of North Carolina no longer using the landfill, and improvements including a landfill compactor and a ban on curbside cardboard pickup. Originally, the site was scheduled to shut down its municipal solid-waste operation in mid-2011, requiring the county to transfer its waste to another landfill.
Commissioner Pam Hemminger, who told Nelson, "I disagree with you completely," cautioned against making a quick decision for the sake of expediency.
Citing a project budget "all over the map," and a staff report (PDF, 800 KB) that recommends several final-minute changes, including a presumably forcible purchase of just 25 acres--instead of the original, 143-acre site offered for sale by its owner-- Hemminger said, "We are in charge of taxpayer money. I understand the dilemmas and hardships, but I don't think we have fully examined this."
Maybe someone should invite Howard Weaver out for a nice game of golf. The retired McClatchy executive seems to find it hard to keep his hands off the keyboard, and it's a rather sensitive time for employees -- and former employees -- of the newspapers he used to oversee.
After launching a defensive back and forth in the comments thread of Romenesko yesterday with News & Observer reporter Joe Neff, Weaver today raised the topic again on his blog, Etaoin Shrdlu, where he has continued to opine about the newspaper business and McClatchy's role in innovating it -- and, perhaps inadvertently, fed the fire of resentment rising in those who see McClatchy's poor business decisions as the root cause of The N&O's recent layoffs.
While today's post demonstrated sympathy toward those who've lost their jobs, Weaver repeated an earlier assertion that The N&O was in bad shape long before McClatchy came along:
I don’t apologize for expressing the facts as I know them. It simply isn’t helpful to build mythologies based on anger and blame that don’t reflect reality. [...] For example, those who argue that McClatchy took over a thriving N&O and greedily ran it into the ground are misinformed, and perpetuating that myth hurts the cause of reconstruction.
Frank Daniels, Jr., whose family sold the newspaper to McClatchy in 1995, tells the Indy that Weaver is the one perpetuating a myth, at least in part.
"As far as we were concerned, we were doing extremely well. Financials had nothing to do with our decision to sell," Daniels says. "So he’s just mistaken."
It's been a very sad month for those of us who work in journalism, as we watch dedicated people whose work we admire and whose talents we envy lose their jobs. What makes it all the more sad is that they aren't just victims of an economic downturn that will eventually turn back around. It's not at all clear that the jobs they're leaving will ever come back. Even though we understand the root causes -- declining ad revenue, the decoupling of classifieds with newsprint, the crushing debt of corporate owners -- we can't help but wonder at a deeper level why the work we value doesn't have the value it once did.
That, I imagine, is the doubt that hangs over those left in The News & Observer's newsroom today, following the departure of another 31 staffers due to layoffs and buyouts that were announced last month.
An anonymous staffer's mock front page (excerpted above; click the photo for the full page) lists the names of all departing staffers. (Hat tip to Jim Romenesko and NewRaleigh.) They include reporters Joe Miller, Sam Spies and Sabine Vollmer; editors Ned Barnett, Van Denton and Rob Waters; photographer Jason Arthurs; as well as several copy editors and production folks, people whose work was often behind the scenes, but nonetheless essential. There's no dead wood on that list.