California must step up to save salmon, experts tell legislators...Matt Weiser
California has most of the laws and regulations it needs to protect dwindling salmon populations. What it lacks is money and willpower to do it, a panel of legal and fishery experts told legislators Tuesday.
Illegal water diversions, pollution, habitat degradation and a lack of basic data all threaten the state's salmon. The situation is so grave that two-thirds of the state's native salmon and trout species face imminent extinction threats.
One is the Central Valley fall-run chinook, which has supported the West Coast's commercial salmon fishing for decades but last year set a historic population low. As a result, all salmon fishing in California is likely to be banned for a second straight year.
A stream of legal and environmental experts told the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee at a special hearing Tuesday that California's salmon are in peril largely because state government has not had the nerve or resources to help.
"There is, indeed, a salmon crisis in California," said Holly Doremus, a UC Davis expert on state environmental laws. "We think it's important to note that this is not new. It's as if we've waited until we've had a heart attack to seek medical attention rather than take preventive action."
The reasons are not sexy and don't make good political theater. Rather, they deal with the nuts and bolts of government neglected amid budget cuts and infighting.
Doremus and Richard Frank, a UC Berkeley legal scholar, said a big problem is a starvation diet imposed on the Department of Fish and Game for nearly two decades.
The agency has about 200 field-level game wardens to police the entire state – the lowest per-capita wildlife enforcement in America. This means, for example, that hundreds of illegal stream diversions go unnoticed every year, literally depriving salmon of habitat.
Fish and Game also does not have enough technical staff to review timber harvest plans and other land-use changes. This means erosion into streams and more habitat loss.
"The bottom line is that California wildlife laws are both robust and legally adequate," said Frank, director of UC Berkeley's Center for Environmental Law and Policy. "The single largest problem with respect to fisheries is a lack of adequate fiscal and personnel resources at the Department of Fish and Game."
This shortcoming has also crippled the state's ability to gather data on its salmon.
Oregon, Washington and Idaho all fund robust data gathering efforts so policymakers know where to spend habitat restoration and enforcement money most effectively. California has no comprehensive salmon monitoring.
"To revive this patient, we must know something about them," said Charlotte Ambrose, coastal salmon recovery coordinator at the National Marine Fisheries Service. "We desperately need statewide monitoring in place and, most critically, a statewide database for information management."
One area where more regulatory power may be needed is water resource management.
Vicky Whitney, deputy director of the state Water Resources Control Board, said officials know little about the amount of water consumed by so-called "riparian" water rights holders.
Riparian rights, usually attached to properties that border streams, are the most senior category of water entitlement in California.
Riparian rights holders must annually report to the state how much water they divert. But Whitney said only about 10 percent do so, and her agency does not have the power to enforce compliance.
The water board also has never had the power to regulate groundwater – a rarity among the 50 states.
These loopholes exist because state leaders have never been willing to fight the political wars needed to end them.
"It indicates a general failure of management of fisheries on a large scale," said UC Davis fisheries professor Peter Moyle, who recently finished a study warning that 20 of California's 31 salmon and trout species risk extinction. "Maybe we should be surprised the salmon are here at all."
Obama on science...Alex Breitler's blog
"Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security."
Read all of his memo to department and agency heads here.
The White House
MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES...Office of the Press Secretary...Press Release...3-9-09
SUBJECT: Scientific Integrity
Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.
The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public. To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking. The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.
By this memorandum, I assign to the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (Director) the responsibility for ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch's involvement with scientific and technological processes. The Director shall confer, as appropriate, with the heads of executive departments and agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget and offices and agencies within the Executive Office of the President (collectively, the "agencies"), and recommend a plan to achieve that goal throughout the executive branch.Specifically, I direct the following:
1. Within 120 days from the date of this memorandum, the Director shall develop
recommendations for Presidential action designed to guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch, based on the following principles:
(a) The selection and retention of candidates for science and technology positions in the executive branch should be based on the candidate's knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity;
(b) Each agency should have appropriate rules and procedures to ensure the integrity of the scientific process within the agency;
(c) When scientific or technological information is considered in policy decisions, the information should be subject to well-established scientific processes, including peer review where appropriate, and each agency should appropriately and accurately reflect that information in complying with and applying relevant statutory standards;
(d) Except for information that is properly restricted from disclosure under procedures established in accordance with statute, regulation, Executive Order,
or Presidential Memorandum, each agency should make available to the public the scientific or technological findings or conclusions considered or relied on in policy decisions;
(e) Each agency should have in place procedures to identify and address instances in which the scientific process or the integrity of scientific and technological information may be compromised; and
(f) Each agency should adopt such additional procedures, including any appropriate whistleblower protections, as are necessary to ensure the integrity of scientific and technological information and processes on which the agency relies in its decisionmaking or otherwise uses or prepares.
2. Each agency shall make available any and all information deemed by the Director to be necessary to inform the Director in making recommendations to the President as requested by this memorandum. Each agency shall coordinate with the Director in the development of any interim procedures deemed necessary to ensure the integrity of scientific decisionmaking pending the Director's recommendations called for by this memorandum.
3. (a) Executive departments and agencies shall
carry out the provisions of this memorandum to
the extent permitted by law and consistent
with their statutory and regulatory authorities
and their enforcement mechanisms.
(b) Nothing in this memorandum shall
construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(c) This memorandum is not intended to, and
does not, create any right or benefit, substantive
orprocedural, enforceable at law or in equity, by
any party against the United States, its
departments, agencies, or entities, its officers,
employees, or agents, or any other person.
4. The Director is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
Source:The White House
San Francisco Chronicle
House defeats wilderness bill...MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer
The House Wednesday defeated a bill to set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness.
Majority Democrats agreed to amend the bill to clarify that it wouldn't impose new restrictions on hunting, fishing or trapping on federal land. The amendment was sought by the National Rifle Association.
A majority of House members supported the bill, but the measure was defeated because it did not receive the needed two-thirds vote. The vote was 282-144 in favor — two votes short of approval.
Democratic leaders vowed to bring the bill back, but did not say when or in what form.
"There are a lot of good bills, sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, contained in (the lands bill) that deserve passage," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. "We will continue to determine the best course of action to advance these measures."
House debate on the bill turned contentious, as Republicans complained that the measure — one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in 25 years — would cost up to $10 billion and block oil and gas development on millions of acres of federal property.
They also said it should not have been brought up under special rules that blocked most amendments and required two-thirds support for passage. Such rules are usually reserved for non-controversial bills.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., called the Democratic rules "an extreme abuse of the process." He said the bill — a collection of more over 170 individual bills — was "a 1,200-page monster piece of legislation" that could criminalize collecting rocks on federal land, among other problems.
Democrats disputed that and said the bill was among the most important conservation measures debated in the House in many years.
When headlines read that banks are failing, "it's important for Americans to know that "our national parks are still beautiful, our national battlefields are still sacred and our national rivers are still wild and scenic," Rahall said.
The defeated measure would have conferred the government's highest level of protection on land ranging from California's Sierra Nevada mountain range to Oregon's Mount Hood, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.
Land in Idaho's Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and Zion National Park in Utah also would have won designation as wilderness, and more than 1,000 miles of rivers in nearly a dozen states would have gained protections.
The bill also would let Alaska construct the road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge as part of a land swap that would give the state a seven-mile easement through the refuge. In exchange, the state was expected to transfer more than 1,000 acres to the federal government, much of it designated as wilderness.
On the Net: The bill is S. 22. Congress: thomas.loc.gov/
EPA proposes nationwide emissions report...Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed establishing a nationwide system for reporting greenhouse gas emissions, a program that could serve as the basis for a federal cap on the buildup of carbon and other gases linked to global warming.
The registry plan, which would cover about 13,000 facilities that produce 85 to 90 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas output, was drafted under the Bush administration but stalled after the Office of Management and Budget objected to it because EPA based the rule on its powers under the Clean Air Act.
"Our efforts to confront climate change must be guided by the best possible information," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement. "Through this new reporting, we will have comprehensive and accurate data about the production of greenhouse gases. This is a critical step toward helping us better protect our health and environment - all without placing an onerous burden on our nation's small businesses."
Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., had inserted language in a 2007 spending bill instructing EPA to develop a national greenhouse gas reporting system.
If adopted by the end of the year, the new rule could produce greenhouse gas statistics by the end of 2010. The EPA requirements would apply to large industrial sources that emit 25,000 metric tons or more a year, including oil and chemical refineries; cement, glass, pulp and paper plants; manufacturers of motor vehicles and engines; and confined animal feeding operations. The threshold of 25,000 metric tons is about equal to the annual emissions of just more than 4,500 passenger cars.
Most small businesses would fall below the emissions threshold and would not be required to report, EPA officials said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who has co-sponsored legislation with Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine that would establish a national greenhouse gas registry, called the proposal "a crucial building block to the policy changes we need to make."
UC to raise tuition nearly 10% by July...Jim Doyle
In the face of a significant budget shortfall, the University of California plans to increase tuition at its 10 campuses by nearly 10 percent by July, in time for the summer session.
The tuition hike is planned for the summer sessions only, but UC officials have signaled that a permanent increase, beginning in the fall, will be necessary to help cover the state's decision to slash $115.5 million from UC over two years.
A planned 9.3 percent increase for the summer, if extended to the 2009-10 academic year, would raise basic tuition for undergraduate students from $7,126 a year to about $7,789. In addition, various student services fees are expected to rise.
The proposed increases were divulged Tuesday, the same day UC Berkeley officials announced plans to lay off an undetermined number of employees, significantly decrease the hiring of new faculty members and provide an opportunity for employees to reduce their work hours in return for reduced salaries. Campus officials also have instituted a hiring freeze for new nonfaculty positions.
Other UC campuses are likely to adopt similar plans.
The governing UC Board of Regents, which has sole authority to set systemwide fees at the university's campuses, is expected to approve the tuition increases in May, although a formal proposal has yet to be put before the board.
"The regents could go with zero percent or could go with 20 percent," said Ricardo Vázquez, a spokesman for the 220,000-student UC system.
Students raise concerns
Student leaders, pointing out that tuition hikes are becoming habitual, voiced concern that lower-income families could be frozen out of the UC system.
"We need to ensure that there's no sticker shock for lower- and middle-income families," said Lucero Chavez, president of the UC Students Association. "We have parents who are being laid off or are taking furloughs. ... The less income we have at home, the less we have to contribute."
However, she added, it's difficult to argue against a fee hike in light of the state's budget crisis.
Victor Sanchez, a student leader at UC Santa Cruz, said past tuition increases have cut into the system's ability to attract and retain low-income students.
"With these increasing fees, a lot of students are being pushed out of the system," Sanchez said. "It has a vast effect on students, particularly on the diversity of the UC system. A lot of my friends are dropping out of school simply because they cannot afford the cost of a UC education."
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said the Berkeley campus faces a budget shortfall of "somewhere between $60 million and $70 million" for the 2009-10 fiscal year. About half of the budget gap is due to a withdrawal of state funding, and roughly half from the rising cost of utilities, salaries and health benefits.
The chancellor said the school plans to permanently reduce its budget by 8 percent in part by student tuition and campus-based fee increases for student services. The campus also plans to cut costs through hiring freezes and possible employee furloughs.
"We intend to maintain a robust undergraduate curriculum," Birgeneau said Tuesday in conference call with reporters. "We also hope to maintain our academic excellence overall. We're not going to be able to achieve that unless every single person and every single department pitches in."
No pay cut for chancellor
The chancellor said one potential cost saving has been considered and rejected: a significant cut in the chancellor's salary and the salaries of his senior deputies.
"Obviously this is one of the things that we have considered," Birgeneau said. "Further reductions of senior administrators' salaries would make us less able to compete with other universities ... seriously damaging our ability to attract outstanding people."
The chancellor's compensation package includes a base salary of $436,800 a year, plus a generous package of benefits.
Birgeneau said his deputies have responded generously to his call that they make private donations to the university's financial-aid programs for students in need. Frank Yeary, a vice chancellor and former international investment banker, donated his entire annual $200,000-a-year salary to the university.
The chancellor said middle-class families will bear the brunt of the tuition increase.
Under the proposal, families earning more than $100,000 would pay the full fee increase. Families earning from $60,000 to $100,000 would pay half the fee increase, or about 4.65 percent. Families earning less than $60,000 would not be subject to the fee increase.
Birgeneau said decisions have not been made yet on which student services fees will be raised. Last year, the UC system average was about $880 in student fees.
George Breslauer, the Berkeley campus' executive vice chancellor and provost, said maintaining UC Berkeley's undergraduate curriculum will be a priority at the campus, with a focus on avoiding "great bottlenecks in (student) access to courses."
Inside Bay Area
Judge rules against water district on wells...Julia Scott, San Mateo County Times
MONTARA — The future growth of the urban Midcoast has been thrown into doubt by a recent federal court ruling that prevented a Coastside water supply agency from taking possession of three groundwater wells on which its customers rely.
The Montara Water and Sanitary District, serving 5,000 residents of Montara and Moss Beach, lost a bid to seize title of the wells under a portion of the Half Moon Bay Airport by eminent domain in a ruling by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in late February.
The Federal Aviation Administration intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of San Mateo County, which has owned the wells and run the airport since 1948. The judge ruled that the U.S. government will own the wells from now on, cutting off the water district's hopes of pumping more, better-quality water from the wells to feed a growing population.
Midcoast residents, who live south of Devil's Slide, have always depended on well water — their own or the district's — rather than a connection to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir like their neighbors in Half Moon Bay.
The lack of reliable groundwater has kept the water district from adding any new customers for more than 30 years.
Meanwhile, at least four private wells have failed and one is failing, said Paul Percovic, president of the board of directors of the Montara Water and Sanitary District.
"We have always had a goal of developing new water sources," he said. "Without these, any likelihood of having the moratorium lifted in the short term has been shot down."
He would not say whether the board plans to appeal the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, although it has less than a month to decide.
The district took the unusual step of beginning eminent domain proceedings against the county in 2007, when the county refused to hand over title of the wells, which line a patch of grass along the outer boundary of the airport near Highway 1.
The district had discovered that the contract with which it had leased the land since 1948 could be canceled on six months' notice. That caused the district to lose a loan from the California Department of Health Services for some important water treatment upgrades.
Chief Deputy County Counsel Deborah Penny Bennett said the water district never needed to take the county to court; neither the county nor the FAA "ever had any interest in cutting off the supply of water to the coast."
Furthermore, Bennett said, the lawsuit itself set a troubling precedent.
"If the Montara Water and Sanitary District can come along and take a piece of the county's property such as the Half Moon Bay Airport, an important public resource, what's to stop other agencies from doing the same?" she asked, rhetorically. "The whole idea underlying this was very problematic."
Losing the lawsuit will not likely result in any loss of well access at the airport, which provides the district with approximately 60 percent of its raw drinking water.
It's unclear whether the district will still be required to pay the county an annual extraction fee of $60,000 or whether the FAA will charge more, which could result in higher water rates for customers.
The airport well water does contain pollutants, including nitrates and tricresyl phosphates (the latter comes from a gasoline additive used by old airplanes).
The water district had hoped to win the lawsuit and begin treating the water with a more state-of-the-art facility than the one in place, as well as build two storage tanks to hold extra water the district was hoping to coax out of the ground.
Two years ago, district directors celebrated the commissioning of a new well in the lower reaches of Montara Mountain that, together with the airport wells and some smaller stores of river water, would have brought new homes onto the system for the first time since 1975.
Instead the future looks to be status quo — perhaps with the addition of a few homes whose own wells have failed and need a rescue, according to Percovic.
The district is also exploring other sources of freshwater such as building a desalination plant, or a less-expensive alternative such as taking part in a coastwide water recycling effort.
Salinas vote blunts Wal-Mart plans
Ordinance limits retail stores 90K square feet or larger to 5K square feet or less of nontaxable goods...JIM JOHNSON, Herald Salinas Bureau
Super-heated debate over a proposed Super Wal-Mart raged at the Salinas City Council meeting Tuesday.
But scores of opponents and supporters who packed the council chambers to weigh in on an ordinance aimed at restricting combined retailers, such as the controversial Arkansas chain, had little effect on the council's decision.
By a 5-2 vote, the council approved the ordinance it offered preliminary support to a week earlier in a move that set off a firestorm of disagreement throughout the community.
Mayor Dennis Donohue and Councilwoman Janet Barnes were the lone dissenters on the proposal, which was backed by Councilwoman Jyl Lutes.
The ordinance was designed to limit retail stores 90,000 square feet or larger to 5,000 square feet or less of nontaxable merchandise, essentially groceries. It is generally considered to be an attempt to head off Wal-Mart's plans to open a second Salinas store, this one in the former Home Depot at the Harden Ranch Plaza shopping center.
Wal-Mart, which has a store in the Westridge shopping center off Davis Road, bought the Home Depot building last fall. City officials said company representatives indicated they wanted to devote as much as 30,000 square feet of the 100,000-plus-square-foot building to nontaxable items.
Lutes said Tuesday the ordinance wasn't "specifically aimed at Wal-Mart," drawing catcalls from the audience, and said the giant retailer could still open a new store at the Home Depot site.
prevents an urban supercenter from opening up," Lutes said, arguing that such a store would create a negative "ripple effect" on the rest of the city's businesses by dominating the market and exacerbating traffic congestion.
But Barnes ripped the ordinance as "bias targeting one particular business," and argued that it sent the wrong message to other businesses.
Donohue reiterated his concerns that the ordinance was unnecessary and the city's concerns about combined retailers such as Wal-Mart could have been resolved differently.
Donohue suggested that Wal-Mart officials hadn't handled the issue well and underestimated the council's independence.
"This city is not a dot on anyone's map," he said. "No matter how big you are or how small we are."
After the council offered its initial support for the new retail restrictions last week, council members reported being inundated by calls and e-mails from opponents and supporters of the ordinance.
Councilman Steve Villegas said he received more than 100 e-mails on his City Hall account. He received a call from well-known commercial property owners Al and Tony Sammut expressing concerns that Wal-Mart might pull out of its Westridge site if the ordinance passed. Company spokesman Aaron Rios denied suggesting that would occur.
Other council members indicated they were pressured to oppose the ordinance. The Grower-Shipper Association ran a full page advertisement in the Salinas Californian opposing the ordinance. Top agri-businessmen Jim Bogard, Rick Antle and Steve Taylor showed up at Tuesday's meeting to argue against the ordinance.
In the end, the council majority sided with groups such as LandWatch Monterey County, California Healthy Communities and the UFCW Local 5 union, which argued that Wal-Mart's allegedly predatory business practices and low-wage jobs would subtract more than it added in additional tax revenue. In an emotional attack on the retailer, Councilman Sergio Sanchez ripped Wal-Mart officials' "arrogance" and called the company "unscrupulous," "greedy" and a "terrible employer."
Rios said Wal-Mart would "consider its options" in the wake of the ordinance.
Los Angeles Times
Obama budget puts nuclear waste on hold
His move to kill the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada renews nagging questions about what should be done with the radioactive waste steadily accumulating in 35 states...Michael Hawthorne
Reporting from Chicago — In a pool of water just a football field away from Lake Michigan, about 1,000 tons of highly radioactive fuel from the scuttled Zion Nuclear Power Station are waiting for someplace else to spend a few thousand years.
The wait just got longer. A lot longer.
President Obama's proposed budget all but kills the Yucca Mountain project, the controversial Nevada site where the U.S. nuclear industry's spent fuel rods were to spend eternity. There are no other plans in the works, so for now the waste will remain next to Zion and 103 other reactors scattered across the country.
Obama has said there are too many questions about whether storing waste at Yucca Mountain is safe. His decision fulfills a campaign promise, but it also renews nagging questions about what should be done with the radioactive waste steadily accumulating in 35 states.
During his confirmation hearings, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the waste could safely remain at nuclear plants while another plan is worked out. Reversing course from previous administrations satisfies critics in Nevada, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but triggers another round of political maneuvering and regional bickering in Congress.
"We are drifting toward a permanent policy of keeping extremely toxic waste next to the Great Lakes, and that cannot stand," said U.S. Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.), who echoed industry officials in calling for an independent panel of scientists and engineers to find a solution. Obama, too, is calling for more study.
More than 57,000 tons of spent fuel rods already are stored next to reactors, just a few yards from containment buildings where they once generated nuclear-heated steam to drive massive electrical turbines.
The lack of a permanent solution poses a serious challenge to the industry's plans to build more than 30 new reactors. Existing nuclear plants produce 2,000 tons of the long-lived waste each year, most of which is moved into pools of chilled water that allow the spent -- but still highly lethal -- uranium-235 to slowly and safely decay. Uranium-235 has a half-life of nearly 704 million years -- meaning that half its atoms will decay in that time.
But containment pools never were intended to store all of the spent fuel that a reactor creates. The idea was that the cool water would stabilize the enriched uranium until it could be sent to a reprocessing plant or stored in a centralized location.
Instead, it keeps piling up. Although industry officials insist the waste is safely stored in fenced-off buildings lined with concrete and lead, there are concerns that a leak or a terrorist attack could create an environmental catastrophe. Many of the nation's nuclear plants are close to highly populated areas or next to bodies of water.
As power companies run out of space in their containment pools, they increasingly are storing the waste above ground in concrete and metal casks.
"We continue to ask the federal government to provide a clear solution for what the long-term storage of spent fuel will be," said Marshall Murphy, spokesman for Exelon Nuclear, the owner of all seven nuclear plants in Illinois.
Until now, the solution was Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, which Congress chose in the late 1980s as a permanent repository. Federal officials spent the last two decades -- and billions of dollars -- preparing to bury spent fuel in a series of fortified tunnels drilled into the mountain.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission still plans to hold hearings about Yucca Mountain, but without further funding the project will be a very expensive hole in the ground.
The repository's apparent demise is part science and part politics. Recent studies have shown that water flows through the mountain much faster than previously thought, which raises concerns that radioactive leaks could contaminate drinking water.
Industry critics say the government's inability to come up with a permanent burial ground for highly radioactive waste is another reason the U.S. should wean itself from nuclear power.
"President Obama made the absolutely correct decision," said Dave Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, an industry watchdog. "Unfortunately for the nation, it comes about 15 years and $10 billion too late."
L.A.'s animal terrorists
Animal rights advocates must repudiate the extremists who attack medical researchers -- and those who provide them support...Tim Rutten
On monday in Washington, President Obama heralded the return of what he terms "sound science" to the administration of federal policy.
At that moment in Los Angeles, a joint federal and local law enforcement task force was investigating the latest incident in a 3-year-old terrorist campaign being waged against UCLA medical researchers. This time, a group that calls itself the Animal Liberation Front firebombed a car on Saturday belonging to a neuroscientist whose research into psychiatric disorders involves primates.
This was the latest incident in a long-running war. Since July 2006, extremists who oppose the use of animals in any medical research have attacked UCLA scientists or their property in five actual or attempted arsons and five acts of criminal vandalism. Telephone threats have been made, and researchers' children have been followed to and from school.
There also have been more than 40 demonstrations, many at the scientists' homes -- often in the middle of the night by people whose identity is concealed by hoods -- involving intense harassment, including banging on windows and chanting profanities.
As UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, himself the director of a medical research lab, told me: "Imagine having protesters outside your home on many weekends, screaming to your children and neighbors that you are a murderer, or being pointed to a website that describes you in the most vile terms possible, lists your home address and encourages people to do you harm, or going to bed wondering whether this will be the night that someone tries to burn down your house." (The university has spent more than $1 million in extra security costs since 2006.)
Over the last 100 years, medical research has done more to improve the lot of people around the world than any other human activity. But the UCLA scientists working to extend those benefits aren't the only targets. City officials who deal with animal shelters have been harassed out of their jobs, and their homes and those of their parents have been the scenes of demonstrations. Deputy Chief Michael Downing, who runs the LAPD's Counter-terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, says the campaign "does seem to be escalating," both in terms of the number of incidents and in their violence.
No sensible person dismisses the humane treatment of animals as inconsequential, but what the fanatics propose is not an advance in social ethics. To the contrary, it is an irrational intrusion into civil society, a tantrum masquerading as a movement. It is a kind of ethical pornography in which assertion stands in for ideas, and willfulness for argument, all for the sake of self-gratification. At the end of the day, there is no moral equivalence between the lives of humans and those of animals.
Knowledgeable authorities believe a relative handful of people are actually involved in the terrorist acts. A larger group shows up for the marginally peaceful demonstrations, and a slightly larger one provides various kinds of material support. Behind them is a far larger group of individuals who purport to be peacefully concerned with animal welfare, but say they "understand" how some frustrated confreres can be driven to extremes by society's indifference to what they deem a moral imperative.
This sort of wink-and-nod morality is all too familiar to anyone who's had contact with the fringe of the antiabortion movement. The truth is that we here in L.A. are just one psychotic sartori away from the night one of these goofballs decides that a researcher's life is worth less than a white rat's or a monkey's and decides to redress the imbalance.
Think that's an overstatement? Here's Jerry Vlasak, a physician who is a frequent spokesman for militant animal rights activists: "Force is a poor second choice, but if that's the only thing that will work ... there's certainly moral justification for that."
The LAPD backs legislation -- carried by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) -- that could give local authorities new tools to investigate and prosecute those who provide material assistance to terrorists. There are serious civil liberties implications to such legislation, and every provision needs to be weighed carefully. As Downing said: "Free speech always should be protected, but when nonviolent struggle turns violent, as this one has, that's terrorism."
At the end of the day, though, two things need to happen: Law enforcement officials need to step up their attention to this investigation, because there's a tragedy in the offing if they don't. And L.A.'s extensive network of animal welfare advocates need to make it clear that they repudiate not only the terrorists but all who provide them material and tacit support of any sort.
Jobless: 4 states above 10%
The state-by-state readings come just days after the government reported nationwide unemployment of 8.1%...Julianne Pepitone
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- As unemployment soared in January, four states' jobless rates climbed higher than 10%, according to federal data released Wednesday.
In January, 49 states and the District of Columbia recorded month-over-month unemployment rate increases, the Labor Department reported. All 50 states and the District of Columbia had higher rates than the previous year.
Nonfarm job totals fell in 42 states, increased in 7 states and the District of Columbia, and were unchanged in Vermont.
Only Louisiana's jobless rate decreased. It fell to 5.1%, 0.4 percentage point lower than the previous month.
The report also included information for Puerto Rico. TheU.S. commonwealth's jobless rate fell 0.5 percentage point from last month, but still stands at a whopping 13%.
The state-by-state unemployment report for January came after the government reported Friday that employers slashed 651,000 jobs across the nation in February and a revised 655,000 jobs in January.
That brought job losses over the last six months to more than 3.3 million. The nation's unemployment rate in February stood at 8.1%, its highest level in 25 years and up from 7.6% in January.
Wednesday's report shows jobless rates in several states soared in January, with four surging through the double-digit percentage level. Michigan, South Carolina, Rhode Island and California led U.S. jobless rates.
Leading states: The jobless rate in Michigan led the pack, soaring 1.4 percentage points to 11.6%. The state lost 69,000 jobs.
The auto industry downturn has hammered Detroit - the state's manufacturing sector accounted for 53,000 of these jobs lost.
Michigan's current unemployment rate is the highest since May 1984, during another rough time for automakers, said Rick Waclawek, a director at the state's labor department.
The state with the second-highest rate was South Carolina, where the jobless rate jumped 1.6 percentage points to 10.4%. South Carolina tied with North Carolina and Oregon for the largest month-over-month rate increase.
South Carolina also tied with North Carolina for the largest jobless rate increases from the previous year, at 4.7 percentage points.
The state with the third-highest unemployment rate, Rhode Island, capped a full year of consecutive job losses for the state. Its unemployment rate climbed 0.9 percentage point to 10.3%.
The unemployment rate in California, the nation's most populous state, was the fourth highest. It climbed 1.4 percentage points to 10.1%.
Lowest rates: Wyoming had the lowest unemployment rate, at 3.7%. That's a 0.5 percentage point increase from December.
North Dakota's jobless rate was second lowest. It climbed 0.9 percentage point to 4.2%.
State budget issues: The job losses have weighed on state budgets. When people lose their jobs, they pay less in personal state income tax, they spend less money, and rely more on public-funded programs.
It's a bitter cocktail for the states. At least 46 of them face shortfalls this year or next, according to Nick Johnson, director of the state fiscal project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
States are leaning on the $140 billion included for them in President Obama's $787 billion package, which is meant to stimulate the economy and promote job growth.
But that's only about 40% of states' combined budget gaps for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next two years, Johnson said.
Chad Stone, chief economist, said the Center is "pretty confident" the stimulus package will start to have an impact over 2009.
"Given the momentum of the downturn, this money will merely slow the decline rather than turn it around," Stone said. "It's going to be hard to see the effect even if it's working well."