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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Walkupy marchers to reach Durham on Wednesday

Posted by on Tue, Dec 20, 2011 at 11:14 AM

A cadre of Occupy Wall Street marching from Washington, D.C., to Martin Luther King’s gravesite in Atlanta will reach Durham on Wednesday.

DCmarch2GA, also dubbed #Walkupy or Occupy the Highway, will spend two days in the Bull City resting and holding teach-ins after churning down Highway 70 from Raleigh.

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    A cadre of Occupy Wall Street marching from Washington D.C. to Martin Luther King's gravesite in Atlanta will reach Durham on Wednesday.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

N.C. clergy to call for Lowe's to apologize for pulling All-American Muslim ads

Posted by on Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 3:15 PM

An interfaith group of North Carolina clergy members will deliver a petition at Lowe's headquarters in Morrisville Mooresville on Tuesday demanding that the home improvement giant apologize for removing ads from TLC's All-American Muslim TV show.

The petition, which organizers say has 200,000 signatures, will be presented at 11:30 a.m. at 1000 Lowe's Boulevard.

TLC's reality show follows a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan. Lowe's pulled advertising last week after pressure from groups who claimed that the show is doing damage by not presenting Muslims as extremists, Huffington Post reports.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

New report says chimps shouldn't be used in biomedical research

Posted by on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 at 4:07 PM

The year 2012 could be a good one for chimpanzees who are research subjects in biomedical labs after a national report recommended the primates should no longer be used in those settings.

According to a report published Dec. 15, the National Institutes of Health should prohibit the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research except under stringent circumstances, "including the absence of any other suitable model and inability to ethically perform the research on people," according to a press release by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, which conducted the study.

"In addition, use of these animals should be permissible only if forgoing their use will prevent or significantly hinder advances necessary to prevent or treat life-threatening or debilitating conditions, said the committee that wrote the report. Based on these criteria, chimpanzees are not necessary for most biomedical research."

The committee based its findings in part on the genetic and behavioral similarities between chimpanzees and humans.

While the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in the past, most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary, the committee concluded. However, the committee said that it is impossible to predict whether research on emerging or new diseases may necessitate using chimpanzees in the future.

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    A national report released today concludes that in general, chimpanzees should not be used in biomedical research.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DSS board releases minutes from Perry's hiring

Posted by on Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 1:58 PM

After a lengthy meeting this morning, the Durham Social Services board voted to unseal minutes from a July 27 closed session during which they agreed to appoint Gail Perry as the interim director of Durham County Social Services.

The minutes—a brief few paragraphs—reflect that members of the board nominated three different people to replace Gerri Robinson, the former director of social services for Durham County. Robinson had been fired earlier in the meeting.

According to the minutes, former board member Carolyn Carver-Tann nominated former board member Gloria Green. Current board Chairman Stan Holt nominated Toni Pedroza, who at the time was a former employee of the social services department. And County Commissioner Joe Bowser, who is also on the DSS board, nominated Perry.

In a 2-to-1 vote, the board appointed Perry, the minutes show. Perry recused herself from voting on the matter.

The details of the vote had been questioned by the public, elected leaders and the media. Perry's appointment was controversial because she had just been appointed as a representative on the board, and the July 27 meeting was her first meeting.

In a closed session during that meeting, board members voted to fire Robinson. Minutes from that closed session remain sealed. Although it's known that Perry was part of a 3-1 vote to fire Robinson, it's unclear what discussion and any questions board members may have settled before they voted.

The Indy, as well as other media, had requested that the minutes from the closed session be unsealed under state law, which allows government entities to release personnel information if it is "essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of county services or to maintaining the level and quality of county services."

To date, the DSS board has considered releasing two sets of closed session minutes from July 27, and one set of closed session minutes from Sept. 1. So far, only the closed session minutes of Perry's appointment have been released.

The Board of County Commissioners have hired a New Bern attorney, Jimmie Hicks Jr., to investigate several questions surrounding Robinson's firing and Perry's hiring, including whether Perry should have abstained from voting to terminate Robinson.

It was unclear Wednesday when Hicks' report would be complete.

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    Perry was among three nominees to replace Robinson.

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Perdue to veto Senate Bill 9, restores Racial Justice Act

Posted by on Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 11:30 AM

Gov. Beverly Perdue just announced her veto of Senate Bill 9, which essentially repealed the Racial Justice Act.

Here is her official statement:

“I am—and always will be—a strong supporter of the death penalty. I firmly believe that some crimes are so heinous that no other punishment is adequate. As long as I am Governor, I am committed to ensuring that the death penalty remains a viable punishment option in North Carolina in appropriate cases.”

“However, because the death penalty is the ultimate punishment, it is essential that it be carried out fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race. I signed the Racial Justice Act into law two years ago because it ensured that racial prejudice would not taint the application of the death penalty.”

“I am vetoing Senate Bill 9 for the same reason that I signed the Racial Justice Act two years ago: it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.”

“Finally, it is important to be clear that the Racial Justice Act does not allow anyone to be released from prison or seek parole. Both my own legal counsel and legal experts from across the State have assured me that even if an inmate succeeds on a claim under the Racial Justice Act, his sole remedy is life in prison without the possibility of parole— and even that would only occur if a judge first finds that racial discrimination played a significant role in the application of the death penalty."

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

N.C. DOT holds public hearing Tuesday on new billboard law

Posted by on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 at 9:23 AM

The N.C. Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 13, regarding a new state law that allows billboard companies and other outdoor advertisers to clear more trees around their signs.

The law has already been passed. But members of the public can now weigh in on how billboard owners should contribute to planting new trees, shrubs and other vegetation on the sides and medians of highways to help make up for what they removed.

Previous rules allowed billboard owners to trim trees within 250 feet of their signs to allow a clear view from roadways. The new state law, which took effect Sept. 1, maintains the 250-foot maximum on locally controlled roads or highways within city limits. But advertisers may now cut a swath up to 340 feet in front of signs on interstates and state-controlled access roads, even if they're inside city limits. Outside of city limits, the cutting zone expands to 380 feet. (Read an analysis from the N.C. League of Municipalities that summarizes the changes, PDF)

Early versions of the bill, which was passed last summer by the N.C. General Assembly, would have overruled local ordinances, including those banning digital billboards. But thanks to outcry from the public, the N.C. League of Municipalities and environmental groups, language that would have taken away local rights on signage were stripped from the bill before it passed.

Under the new law, billboard companies still must also follow local ordinances, such as those governing sign appearance and tree preservation. When they start cutting out trees, the billboard companies must also submit plans to the N.C. DOT to install new plants to compensate for the ones they removed.

How these plants will be replaced, and how close they have to be to the site that was cleared appears to be determined. According to a public hearing notice, the the N.C. DOT has to establish temporary rules on how to comply with the new law, including the replanting program, and it's on those temporary rules that the N.C. DOT is seeking public input.

Once established, the N.C. DOT will enforce the temporary rules while working on longer-term permanent guidelines.

The public and elected leaders across the state can chime in between now and Dec. 23 with input into how these billboard companies should compensate for tree-cutting, including what types of plants they should be required to replace.

Tuesday's hearing will be held in room 100A of Wake Commons, 4011 Carya Drive, in Raleigh.

Can't make the hearing? The public may submit comments to Helen Landi, 1501 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C., 27699-1501, fax them to (919) 733-9150, or email Landi at

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    Billboard companies may cut more trees, but also must plant new vegetation, law says.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Study examining safety of Durham railroad crossings

Posted by on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 at 3:45 PM

The N.C. Department of Transportation is accepting public comments on a study that the agency hopes will make several Durham railroad crossings safer.

In the past 10 years, four people have died in accidents involving trains at railroad crossings in Durham County, according to the Federal Railroad Association.

The Durham Traffic Separation Study is an analysis of 18 public railroad crossings between Neal Road and Cornwallis Road. The N.C. DOT will issue its recommendations next year.

According to the N.C. DOT, improvements could include upgrading or installing new signals or gates, building an overpass or underpass (known as grade-separated crossings), or closing a crossing altogether.

"The best solution is to remove the possibility of a car coming in contact with a train." says Jahmal Pullen, the Engineering Services Manager of the N.C. DOT Rail Division. This is generally done, he says, by creating a grade-separated crossing or closing the crossing.

However, overpasses and underpasses are expensive and require a lot of land to build, Pullen says. "It's hard to find sources of funding," he says, adding money to pay for the changes has not been determined.

But some Durham residents have expressed concern over the possibility of closing some crossings. Eric Heidt has lived in the Old West Durham neighborhood for two years. He says that many of his neighbors use the nearby crossings at Anderson Street and Swift Avenue to access other parts of the city, including Duke Hospital and the Durham Freeway.

"In an era when cities are trying to create better connections, and become more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, to close either of these two rail crossings would be a setback to good urban design," Heidt says. Those crossings, he continues, "provide essential connectivity to other parts of the city."

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    Public can comment on possible railroad crossing closures in Durham through Jan. 6.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Former commissioner Cousin takes lead of Durham Committee

Posted by on Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 12:41 PM

the Rev. Philip Cousin Jr.

The Rev. Philip Cousin, a former Durham county commissioner and member of the Durham school board, was elected Thursday as the new chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Cousin, the pastor of St. Joseph's AME Church, replaces Lavonia Allison, who has served as chairwoman of the influential committee for the past 14 years. Allison announced late last month she wouldn't be seeking another term.

Long-time Committee member Larry Hester also sought the position. Neither Cousin nor Hester could be reached for comment.

According to a statement from the Committee, Randal Rogers will serve as the first vice chairman and former County Commissioner Deborah Giles will serve as the second vice chairwoman. Wanda Waiters will be installed as the third vice chairwoman.

Other positions are as follows:
Executive Secretary: Paulette Morrison-Danner
Recording Secretary: Pauline Fitzpatrick
Economic Committee Chairwoman: Kimberly Moore

Education Committee Chairwoman Debra Bryson

Health Committee Chairperson: Terry Morris

Additionally, Andre Vann, an archivist at N.C. Central University, was elected as the chairman of the political action committee, and state Board of Transportation member Chuck Watts will serve as the vice chairman of the political committee.

Keith Bishop, who files state finance reports for the political committee, will serve as chairman of the Legal Redress Committee.

Cousin may make recommendations for other positions that have yet to be filled. The officers will be installed in January.

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    Influential group chooses Cousin to replace outgoing Allison.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Study: N.C. among 10 states with highest HIV infection, death rates

Posted by on Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 2:50 PM

North Carolina is among the 10 U.S. states with the highest rates of new HIV and AIDS diagnoses and HIV-related deaths, according to a study released this week by the Southern HIV/ AIDS Strategy Initiative (SASI). The analysis, which is based on data from 2009 from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), also found that the South had the highest rates of both new HIV diagnoses and HIV-related deaths in the country.

Other findings in the report include:

— Nearly half of people living with HIV in the U.S. reside in the South

— 8 of the 10 states with the highest rates of new HIV and AIDS diagnoses are in the South, including North Carolina

— 9 out of the 10 states with the highest rates of HIV-related deaths are in the South, including North Carolina

— 99.5% of people on waiting lists for AIDS drug assistance programs live in the South

This analysis uses the U.S. Census definition for the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

HIV is an incurable and deadly virus that attacks the body's immune system. AIDS is the final stage of the HIV disease. More than 34 million people in the world live with HIV, more than 1 million in the U.S.

There are about 35,000 people are living with HIV/ AIDS in North Carolina. High rates of HIV in North Carolina are partly caused by the high proportion of rural areas in the state, said Carolyn McAllaster, the director of the project. Residents in rural areas often have limited access to medical facilities and reliable transportation, she said.

The Triangle has more resources to help HIV patients than rural parts of the state. Both Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have infectious disease clinics, and the Duke AIDS Legal Assistance Project in Durham provides free legal assistance to low-income patients.

While limited access to services is a major barrier to treatment and prevention, the report also identifies social conservatism as another contributing factor to the disproportionate prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the South.

“Stigma is probably still one of the largest factors that impact people who are living with HIV and thinking about getting tested,” McAllaster said. “You would think in 2011 we would be past the stigma, but we’re really not.”

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Report: N.C. among country's top air polluters

Posted by on Wed, Dec 7, 2011 at 2:56 PM

North Carolina ranks 11th nationwide in hazardous air pollutant emissions, according to a report released today by the Environmental Integrity Project.

The report focuses on six toxic heavy metals—arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel and selenium—as well as hydrochloric acid gas. North Carolina ranked 11th in the nation for emissions of nickel, fifth for selenium and sixth for hydrochloric acid gas.

Long-term exposure to toxic chemicals can cause respiratory disorders, damage to the nervous and circulatory systems and a variety of cancers.

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