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While You Were Sleeping 

Since September 11, civil liberties advocates have criticized and challenged the FBI’s increased usage of national security letters, noncompulsory documents sent to American banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions asking for access to financial records of US citizens. Recently, it has been discovered that the Pentagon and the CIA have also been issuing these letters to obtain financial information. “There’s a strong tradition of not using our military for domestic law enforcement. They’re moving into territory where historically they have not been authorized or presumed to be operating,” says Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, a former general counsel at the National Security Agency.

The two agencies have made several attempts to gain the authority to issue mandatory letters but have been rebuffed by Congress. While the military has been using the letters sporadically for years, the rate increased substantially in late 2001 when intelligence officials concluded that the USA Patriot Act strengthened their authority to issue the letters. (The Patriot Act, however, does not specifically mention military intelligence or CIA officials in connection with the letters.) Military expert Eugene Fidell finds the practice disturbing, because the military doesn’t have the same checks and balances when it comes to the civil rights of Americans. “Where is the accountability?,” asks Fidell. “That’s the evil of it—it doesn’t leave fingerprints.”
Source: New York Times

On January 12, morning disc jockeys from KDND in Sacramento held a contest called “Hold your wee for Wii,” in which contestants would drink as much water as they could without relieving themselves. The survivor would be rewarded with a Nintendo Wii gaming console. When a caller warned them that the stunt was potentially fatal, one DJ replied, “They signed releases, so we’re not responsible. We’re OK.” Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old mother of three, participated in the contest held at the studio that morning, hoping to win the console for her children. She came in second place, winning the consolation prize, tickets to a Justin Timberlake concert. Strange reportedly ingested nearly two gallons of water and complained during an on-air interview of a severe headache. She was found dead in her home later that afternoon. Preliminary autopsy reports indicated that she died of water intoxication—a condition that causes the brain to swell, occluding it from regulating vital functions.
Source: USA Today

In 1928, over 450 out of every 100,000 adults were institutionalized in the US. Of those institutionalized, 150 were imprisoned and 300 were held in mental hospitals and asylums. By the year 2000, that ratio flipped dramatically. Of the roughly 620 per 100,000 adults institutionalized in the US, 600 were in prisons. According to a Justice Department study released last September, 64 percent of prisoners across the country reported mental health problems within the past year. Bernard E. Harcourt, a professor of law and criminology at the University of Chicago and author of Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age, contends that individuals who once received mental health treatment are now “getting a one-way ticket to jail.”
Source: New York Times

Some of America’s most respected law firms are providing pro-bono representation to the “enemy combatant” detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. Responding to this lawerly largesse, Charles “Cully” Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, told Federal News Radio in mid-January that American corporations should stop doing business with law firms that represent these prisoners. During an interview with the Washington Post, Stimson warned that, “CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms.” The comments sparked intense criticism from the legal community. A letter signed by the American Association of Jurists, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the National Lawyers Guild was written to President Bush calling for Stimson’s immediate dismissal. Stimson later apologized, saying that he hopes his comments won’t reflect his core belief that the legal system works best when both sides have equal representation.
Source: Washington Post

The upcoming report by the International Panel on Climate Change, an international network comprised of climate experts, will be released this month. Recent studies, which will be noted in the report, indicate that there is growing evidence that human activity, not natural phenomena, has caused the most recent warming. For example, average nighttime temperatures have risen markedly in recent years, a change that is unlikely due to variations in the sun, but rather because of greenhouse gases that trap radiating heat from the Earth’s surface even after sunset.
Source: New York Times

Newly elected Governor Eliot Spitzer is not the highest-paid state employee in New York. His $179,000 salary is dwarfed by various professors from the SUNY system, particularly Dr. Alain E. Kaloyeros, the highly-touted SUNY Albany educator and chief administrative officer of its College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Kaloyeros makes the highest base salary of any state employee, earning $525,000 a year. “My daytime job is to compete with MIT, Stanford,” says Kaloyeros. “My compensation is designed to reflect that job.”

Dr. Robert C. Lowery, professor and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at SUNY Brooklyn makes a base salary of $400,000. Though his paycheck is smaller than Kaloyeros, Lowery makes more for his clinical work. Last year, he earned over $1.3 million.
Source: New York Times

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