WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress closed in Friday on approving a short-term spending bill for the Homeland Security Department that would avert a partial agency shutdown hours before it was to begin.Almost makes you wonder why we go to the polls and elect Republicans, don't it?
The legislation also leaves intact Obama administration executive actions on immigration that Republicans have vowed to overturn. But Republicans insisted that passing a short-term bill preserved their ability to keep fighting them.
An early vote in the House clearing the way for final passage of the bill was approved easily, 240-183.
"The House must pass this bill in short order to keep the lights on at the Department of Homeland Security in the near term," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky. "Hopefully, this will buy us this additional time that we clearly need."
But Senate Republicans had already admitted defeat. As debate proceeded in the House, the Senate voted 68-31 to approve a full-year bill free of contentious immigration provisions. Some House Republicans predicted that they would eventually end up doing the same thing.
For now, the three-week stopgap measure would allow lawmakers to keep the Homeland Security Department running at a time of heightened threats worldwide — even if it does little more than postpone the fight for another day.
"It's the best solution that we have available to us right now," said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. "Nobody wants to shut down the Department of Homeland Security."
The bill would extend current funding levels for the department until March 19. Without action, DHS would begin to shut down at midnight Friday, furloughing 30,000 workers. Another 200,000 would be deemed essential and continue to report to work, albeit without pay.
In a complicated series of votes occurring simultaneously on both ends of the Capitol, the House prepared to vote on the three-week plan and send it to the Senate, while the Senate held a series of votes including approval of a "clean" bill to fund DHS through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, without immigration provisions.
Once the House had acted on the three-week measure, the short-term bill was expected to also pass the Senate and gain Obama's signature.
Adding an element of drama, House Democrats announced plans to oppose the three-week stopgap measure, forcing Speaker John Boehner to pass it with exclusively Republican votes. But the bill appeared to command enough support to pass, even though it faced opposition from the right and the left.
Some of the most conservative Republicans said they couldn't support the legislation because it would not stop Obama's immigration policies granting work permits and deportation stays to millions of immigrants who live illegally in the United States. The argument advanced by leadership-aligned lawmakers that a federal judge has already put those policies on hold was unpersuasive to this group.
"I am not going to vote under any circumstances to fund illegal conduct," said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. "It does not make any difference whether the funding is for three weeks, three months or a full fiscal year. If it's illegal, it's illegal."
Some of the more establishment-minded lawmakers, by contrast, said the House should not be wasting its time with a stopgap bill but should accept the inevitable and vote to fund the department through the rest of the year with no strings attached. Since Senate Democrats have refused to agree to a spending bill rolling back Obama's immigration policies, and Obama has threatened to veto any such legislation, these lawmakers argued the House would have to retreat in the end anyway.
"The only question is when — tomorrow or in three weeks," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. "Some folks just have a harder time facing political reality than others."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who has been on Capitol Hill every day lobbying lawmakers to fund his department, sent a plea to congressional leaders Thursday asking them to pass a full-year bill, not a stop-gap measure. "A short-term continuing resolution exacerbates the uncertainty for my workforce and puts us back in the same position, on the brink of a shutdown just days from now," Johnson wrote.
Friday, February 27, 2015
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh entered the fight over hydraulic fracturing in Maryland on Wednesday, urging state lawmakers to pass a bill with liability standards so tough that critics and some supporters consider it a de facto fracking ban.
In the absence of "gold standard" regulations to monitor the industry, Frosh said, Maryland would need to find another way to protect residents and the environment.
"If we're not going to have those regulations adopted, then it makes sense to have strict liability," Frosh said. "I'm not sure it's a de facto ban. But it poses to drillers: if this really is safe, go ahead and do it."
Legislation moving through a Senate committee would set some of the toughest legal standards in the country for drillers. If anyone near a gas well became sick, the drillers would carry the burden of proving their innocence.
The legislation also would require that drillers carry at least $5 million in insurance coverage. It would provide very limited protection for trade secrets and impose triple damages for negligence. Business representatives said the cumulative effect would be to outlaw fracking in the state.
"The standards detailed in the bill are so stringent that it is safe to assume no company would be interested in doing business here," Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, wrote in testimony to lawmakers.
Frosh, who until this year was chairman of a key Senate committee, pushed for fracking protections as a lawmaker. Wednesday marked the first time he threw his weight behind legislation as attorney general.
Environmentalists told lawmakers that the policy was the best alternative to an outright ban, which has been proposed for several years but never made it out of committee.
The lead sponsor of the measure said the bill was not a ban but a legal framework to hold drilling companies responsible for health and environmental consequences.
"If companies are loathe to come to a state because they will be held responsible for damage done, that's good to know before they come," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the Baltimore County Democrat who wrote the bill.
Unions and trade associations said the legislation would be too onerous, particularly at a time when natural gas prices are falling and potential drillers in Maryland would have to compete against those in about two dozen states with rules that are less strict.
The Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association told lawmakers the bill "would absolutely stop drilling anywhere in Maryland forever. … This law would make owners of drilling operations guilty when accused."
Companies have drilled for natural gas in the United States for more than half a century. But techniques developed within the past decade allow drilling first down and then horizontally, enabling drillers to tap reserves once thought too costly to extract.
The new techniques have led to a boom in extraction from the Marcellus Shale deposit, which stretches beneath the Appalachian Mountains. It's also led to spills, fires, and explosions — and complaints from neighbors whose drinking water became contaminated.
While some states have welcomed the drilling, others, including New York, have banned it outright. In Maryland, there are no active natural gas drilling operations and no pending applications.
Maryland had a de facto moratorium on fracking that ended when Gov. Martin O'Malley left office in January.
O'Malley, a Democrat, put all permit applications on hold during a nearly four-year study that ultimately resulted in proposed regulations late last year.
Environmentalists said some of O'Malley's rules would be ineffective; drilling companies said some parts would be too onerous. The rules are still going through Maryland's lengthy regulation approval process.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has not said whether he would go forward with the regulations as written. But he has said that he believes fracking can be done safely and would bring jobs to economically depressed Western Maryland.
Most previous attempts at a ban have been blocked in the Senate's Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee by its chairwoman, Democratic Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore.
Zirkin's legislation is moving through a separate panel: the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which Zirkin chairs.
Conway called Zirkin's bill "a way to get around the fact that I won't ban it."
She offered, in triplicate, a prediction about the fate of the legislation if it did reach the floor of the Senate.
"It's never going to pass," she said. "It's never going to pass. It's never going to pass."
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Democrats think they have their teeth in a new way to get a piece of hide out of Governor Larry Hogan over the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). Their target is because Governor Hogan has proposed two major changes that will bankrupt the TTF for new projects, one is stopping the gas tax increase where it’s at now, and the other is restoring cuts made by Governor Martin O’Malley to the Local Highway User Revenue allocation.
The unspoken argument is that if Hogan stops the gas tax it basically is the end of the Purple and Red line, two projects that will cost $3 billion each, one for the Washington suburbs and the other for Baltimore. The spoken defense is that the people spoke during the last election by passing a constitutional amendment to prevent raids of the Transportation Trust Fund. Democrats also got the equivalent of a House of Card style kid being shot during a teacher’s strike when a piece of road debris fell off a bridge and into the windshield of a grandmother’s car.
The stopping of the gas tax is pretty straight forward. There are two components of the gas tax, one is a hidden sales tax of 5% that was being phased in, that is currently at 3% and the second is that the gas tax’s base rate of 30 cents per gallon is indexed to inflation so that it will go up in perpetuity to keep up with the rising cost of construction. The base tax rate just went up by 3.5 cents at the first of the year and went up .5 cents last July. This indexed portion of the gas tax goes up no matter what without a vote. What Governor Hogan is proposing is to stop it all where it’s at, and if the legislature wants to increase it to fund a transportation project, then they can have a separate vote. Democrats argument against stopping the gas tax is that it’s such a small tax that the average driver won’t notice (they’ll be saving $80 a year) yet it would do so much good (the Purple and Red lines).
The second phase that is the rhetorical target is the restoration of the local highway user revenues. Prior to FY2010, counties would get a share of local highway user revenues which comes from the gas tax and other fees. It used to be 30% and Governor O’Malley dropped the local share down to 9.6%, 7.7% of which is dedicated strictly to Baltimore City, 1.5% to all the counties, and .4% to all the municipalities in Maryland. This has been the biggest complaint from local governments and during the campaign Hogan promised to restore it. His legislation will follow through with that promise and eventually get the local share back to its 30%. Democrats have targeted this as a “raid” on the Transportation Trust Fund because it is altering the amount of money that goes to the fund, even though the money will still be used for transportation programs, just ones decided by local governments rather than state governments.
Democrats keep pointing to the fact that Hogan promised during the campaign not to raid the Transportation Trust Fund. Of course he technically can’t raid the TTF because the voters passed a constitutional amendment that prevents money being transferred out of the TTF, but the rhetoric from the Democrats that this is a raid sounds much better for them. When challenged they like to accuse Republicans of only being FOR the raid because Hogan is a Republican, rather than acknowledging that this isn’t a raid.
Senate President Mike Miller summed the whole thing up best though, Larry Hogan will regret stopping the gas tax increase because the system is unsustainable. Inflation occurs and roads, busses and rail get more expensive to maintain and build. 30 cents per gallon will not do as much as 30 cents per gallon will in 20 years. But Hogan also has to balance this with his ideology and legitimate belief that good government is actually voting for things, the desires of his base, and telling voters he tried, because in reality, all he can do is try, Mike Miller isn’t letting this go anywhere.
Monday, February 23, 2015
When it comes to rape cases at college campuses, should "no mean no" or should "yes mean yes"?
Maryland lawmakers will debate this week whether to require colleges to consider a sexual encounter an assault unless both participants clearly agree to it at every stage. This "affirmative consent" — popularly known as "yes means yes" — would replace the current standard used in such cases. The discussion comes as campuses across the country deal with a spike in sexual violence.
Two separate bills under debate this week would try to give more clarity to the role college administrators should play in evaluating sexual assault.
One bill, introduced by Democratic Del. Aruna Miller of Montgomery County, would require colleges to more actively investigate reports of alleged sexual assault, and it would give schools until Oct. 1 to come up with more detailed policies. The measure would require schools to investigate any allegations under the "yes means yes" affirmative consent standard as well as clearly educate the student body about it.
California made national news last year when it became the first state in the country to require schools receiving public aid to use the "yes means yes" standard. Lawmakers said it made clear that silence or lack of resistance did not mean it was OK to proceed with sex.
In Maryland, the first stage of the debate will play out Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee.
That afternoon, lawmakers will again consider whether to legalize marijuana in this state. Similar measures have been introduced and defeated in committee over the past few years, but advocates say they expect to win approval eventually.
As more information is available about legal pot in Colorado and Washington state, advocates in Maryland believe it's only a matter of time until more states join in.
Gov. Larry Hogan has said he does not favor legalization of marijuana. Advocates this year are nonetheless focusing on a pitch he might like: Legalized pot would generate millions for state coffers at a time when Hogan wants to grant tax breaks. The bill is even called the "Marijuana Control and Revenue Act."
The somewhat delicate state of bipartisanship in Annapolis may be tested when committees take up the first of Hogan's bills, including two that deal with education.
Hogan has said he welcomes any reasonable suggestions on where to find more money for schools, as Democrats have called for. In the meantime, committees will consider Hogan's bill to ease restrictions on charter schools and grant them more funding.
Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller last week suggested a compromise: Lawmakers would pass the charter schools bill in exchange for more funding for K-12 education. So far, no one has publicly agreed to that deal.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
The following locations are open as warming centers today, February 20, 2015
Havre De Grace Recreation Center
351 Lewis Lane
Havre de Grace, MD 21078
Open until 5:00pm
Edgewood Senior Activities Center
1000 Gateway Rd
Edgewood, MD 21040
Open until 3:30pm
Fallston Senior Activities Center
1707 Mountain Road
Fallston, Maryland 21047
Open until 3:30pm
McFaul Senior Activity Center
525 West Macphail Rd
Bel Air, MD 21014
Open until 3:30pm
Please note that meals will not be provided but citizens are more than welcome to bring in their own ready to eat food.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
A team of prominent researchers suggested Thursday that limited airborne transmission of the Ebola virus is "very likely," a hypothesis that could reignite the debate that started last fall after one of the scientists offered the same opinion.
"It is very likely that at least some degree of Ebola virus transmission currently occurs via infectious aerosols generated from the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, or medical procedures, although this has been difficult to definitively demonstrate or rule out, since those exposed to infectious aerosols also are most likely to be in close proximity to, and in direct contact with, an infected case," the scientists wrote. Their peer-reviewed analysis was published in mBio, a journal of the American Society of Microbiology.
The paper's lead author, Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, touched off a small furor and was condemned by some experts last Sept. 11 when he raised the same possibility in an op-ed piece in the New York Times as concern over the spread of the deadly disease was increasing rapidly.
Less than a month later, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian infected with Ebola in his home country, died in a Dallas hospital, but not before two nurses who treated him became infected, sparking fears about how prepared U.S. hospitals were to handle the disease. Public health authorities reassured Americans they were in no danger of contracting the hemorrhagic disease from casual contact with others. Ebola is transmitted by contact with infected body fluids -- mainly blood, feces and vomit -- experts around the world have said. This is why health care workers and people who had contact with victims were most likely to become infected in the current epidemic, they said.
"There was almost a rush to ensure the public that we knew a lot more than we did," Osterholm said in an interview Wednesday night, repeating a theme he has raised many times before. "But we're saying you can’t rule out respiratory transmission."
Osterholm's September opinion piece focused on the possibility that the virus could mutate and eventually become airborne, a theory that other experts widely dismissed as extremely unlikely. In contrast, Thursday's review examines the idea that minuscule droplets of body fluid containing the virus could hang in the air and be inhaled by others, providing an unrecognized, if minor, pathway for the virus.
This time Osterholm was joined by Gary P. Kobinger of Canada's Public Health Agency, Pierre Formenty of the World Health Organization's pandemic response unit and Clarence J. Peters, of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, among many others.
The paper, titled 'Transmission of Ebola Viruses: What We Know and What We Do Not Know," takes pains to note that respiratory transmission of Ebola is unproven and that contact with infected body fluids is by far the most common way that the virus is passed from one person to another. Indeed, as health experts and aid workers have persuaded West Africans to adopt safe burial practices and isolate people infected by the virus, the disease has virtually disappeared in Liberia, though it is still more prevalent in Sierra Leone and Guinea.
As of Wednesday, Ebola had sickened 23,253 people, killing 9,380 of them, all but a handful in the three West African countries, according to the World Health Organization.
As evidence, the research notes that Ebola virus has been found on the outside of face masks worn by health workers caring for victims of the disease. It also points out that the virus has been passed between animals via respiration. And the authors say that Ebola can infect certain cells of the respiratory tract, including epithelial cells, which line body cavities, and macrophages, a type of white blood cell that consumes pathogens.
The paper notes that breathing, sneezing, coughing and talking can release droplets of fluid from the respiratory tract that travel short distances and most likely cause infection by settling on a mucous membrane. Those actions also release smaller airborne particles capable of suspension in mid-air that can be inhaled by others. Technically, both qualify as aerosols, the paper says.
The debate has centered on whether Ebola can be transmitted via those smaller particles. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt Medical Center who did not take part in the study, praised it for raising the issues "in a thoughtful fashion" and predicted it would be "very, very widely read."
He said he could imagine the possibility of respiratory transmission of Ebola from close-in contact, perhaps a distance of three or four feet. Even so, Schaffner said, it would be rare; as the study points out, it has never been demonstrated in humans.
The common mode of transmission--contact with body fluids--"those are the highways of transmission," Schaffner said. "Could respiratory transmission occur? Yes. But it's probably a byway, a little trail in the forest."
Asked why many more people who were near Ebola victims had not become infected, Osterholm said the Ebola virus may be much less contagious than other diseases spread by respiration, such as measles. He likened it to tuberculosis, which is more difficult to contract this way.
In an e-mail, Kobinger said that "we hope that this review will stimulate interest and motivate more support and more scientists to join in and help address gaps in our knowledge on transmission of Ebola (and other filoviruses). Important policies and biosafety regulations must be evidence-based, not [by] using opinions and beliefs as guiding principles."
The review itself points out that "to date, investigators have not identified respiratory spread (either via large droplets or small-particle aerosols) of Ebola viruses among humans. This could be because such transmission does not occur or because such transmission has not been recognized, since the number of studies that have carefully examined transmission patterns is small."
But it concludes by adding: "The West Africa Ebola epidemic surprised even the most astute infectious disease experts in the global public health community; we should not assume that Ebola viruses are not capable of surprising us again at some point in the future."
Thursday, February 19, 2015
February 24, 2015
7 pm – 9 pm
Knights of Columbus Hall
23 Newport Drive
Forest Hill, MD. 21050
DON’T BE LEFT OUT IN THE COLD
This month promises another fantastic lineup of speakers. Our meetings are on the must attend list for all Harford County conservatives and patriots.
Institute on the Constitution – This organization has been on the front lines when it comes to spreading the word about preserving our freedoms and liberty. Karen Delimater, of IOTC, will discuss the Maryland Constitution. Information we all need about if we’re to do battle with the establishment in Annapolis.
The drama continues in Carroll County. Last month Eugene Peterson, 3rd Vice Chair MD GOP, let us know about the abuses of power being played out in Carroll. This month, Christina Trotta, will provide an update. That knowledge of the Maryland Constitution will come in handy for this!
Have you ever wondered how preferential tax treatment for a favored few impacts the overall economic health of a community? Roy Whiteley, founder of Marylanders for Fair Property Taxation, will discuss problems with the current assessment practices as well as the effect of tax give aways on your bill.
What’s up with the Rain Tax? Hard to believe, but a newly elected Harford County Delegate is refusing to support the Rain Tax repeal? Seems like some people weren’t listening in November! Join us and hear more on this topic.
Children Welcome – Separate Room in Back
Visit our website http://www.harfordliberty.org
The top speed on some Maryland highways could go to 70 miles per hour under a bill passed by the Senate Thursday.
The measure carried by a vote of 39 to 7, with dissenters warning increasing speed limits could cause more crashes and traffic fatalities.
Sen. George C. Edwards, a Garrett County Republican and the bill's sponsor, said the bill authorizes but does not require the State Highway Administration to raise speed limits on some interstates and expressways. Most interstate highways are built to handle vehicles going 70 miles per hour, he said, noting that neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia already have that as their top speed.
"Most people go what they consider a safe speed," Edwards said.
But Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, warned that speed is often a factor in traffic crashes and fatalities. He argued that many drivers already go up to 75 or 76 mph now on highways with 65-mph speed limits, believing they can go that fast and avoid getting a speeding ticket. Raising the limit to 70 mph will encourage those drivers to go 81 or 82 mph, Brochin predicted.
"I just think it's too fast," Brochin said. "Speed kills."
If passed by the House, Maryland would join 22 other states in setting a 70 mph maximum speed. A dozen permit 75 mph, while a few allow 80 or 85 mph.
Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, joined rural senators in speaking in support of higher speed limits, noting that the top speed on the Intercounty Connector in the Washington suburbs is only 60 miles per hour.
The ICC speed limit was raised from 55 mph to 60 mph in 2013. According to an analysis the Maryland Transportation Authority, the crash rate jumped 25 percent afterward.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
BEL AIR, Md., (Feb. 17, 2015) – The Harford County Department of Community Services coordinated the annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count in Harford County on the evening of January 29, 2015. Teams of community volunteers, homeless service providers, county government employees and police officer escorts were joined by County Executive Barry Glassman, County Councilman Mike Perrone Jr. and Councilman Chad Shrodes to conduct the street count. Data was also collected from community partners providing services for the homeless.
Overall results from the Point-in-Time Homeless Count showed a total of 210 homeless persons in Harford County, a decrease from the 2014 total of 223. A breakdown of these numbers indicates that 90 adults and 56 children were sheltered and receiving comprehensive support services on the night of the count, 32 adults and 29 children had been temporarily placed in motels and 3 single adults were found living outside.
“While there is still much work to be done in Harford County, we are pleased that our homeless numbers showed a decrease from last year, in line with national trends such as those reported by the National Alliance to End Homelessness,” said Amber Shrodes, director of the county Department of Community Services.
During the count, street outreach teams distributed donated hats, gloves, coats, blankets, personal care items, food and bus vouchers to the homeless people they encountered. Remaining donations were shared with community shelter providers.
The annual homeless count allows Harford County to secure the federal, state and local funding necessary to serve this vulnerable population. The data collected also allows the community to strategically plan for the future needs of its citizens.
Each year, the Harford County Department of Community Services works with community and faith-based agencies to help families avoid homelessness. When tough times happen to families, the Department works closely with its partners to make sure funding can be accessed at various locations throughout the county. Through these partnerships, homeless individuals and families are able to develop life skills, find employment opportunities and achieve self-sufficiency by obtaining safe, affordable housing. The Department also helps divert individuals with mental health issues away from the criminal justice system and into treatment, which reduces recidivism and increases stability.
There are 13 emergency, transitional and permanent supportive shelters in Harford County, offering a total of 241 beds for homeless adults, children and families. In fiscal year 2014, the shelters provided 386 families, or 538 people, with 40,238 emergency shelter or transitional housing bed nights for an average stay of 75 nights per person. In 2014, the Harford County Department of Community Services provided more than a $1 million in homeless program funding, which assisted such organizations as Alliance, Inc., Faith Communities and Civic Agencies United, Inc. (FCCAU), Associated Catholic Charities Inc./Anna’s House, the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center (SARC), Homecoming Project, Inc., and Harford Family House, Inc.
The Harford County Department of Community Services would like to publicly thank all of the community volunteers, homeless service providers and police officers from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, the Havre de Grace Police Department, the Aberdeen Police Department and the Bel Air Police Department who made this year’s homeless count respectful, safe and successful.
To learn more about homeless services in Harford County, visit http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/services/downloads.cfm?FormID=2342, or call the Department of Community Services at 410-638-3389.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Aberdeen Proving Ground (United States) (AFP) - On a crisp winter's day, a tethered blimp almost as big as a football field slowly rises into the blue Maryland sky, casting its radar eye over greater Washington and well beyond.
The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System, better known as JLENS, is intended to spot low-flying cruise missiles amid thousands of aircraft in this corner of the US east coast.
"This balloon is a radar that covers, oh, (a radius of) 300 miles (485 kilometers) -- about the size of Texas -- to allow us to see threats at a further distance out," said Colonel Frank Rice, commander of air defense operations for the US capital region.
"It provides a downward-looking view and integrates into a much larger air defense system," Rice told AFP as the blimp began to soar 10,000 feet (3,300 meters) above this military test site 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Washington, where JLENS is undergoing a three-year trial.
Not everyone is happy with the bulbous unmarked white helium-filled blimp with a tumor-like radome on its belly, tied to Earth by a single Kevlar-like cable barely more than an inch (2.5 centimeters) thick.
On social media, local residents have wondered aloud if the aerostat -- the correct name for a tethered airship -- isn't Big Brother invading their privacy with its electronic 360-degree sweep.
"The JLENS military surveillance/defense blimp is floating just across the Susquehanna (river) from me," said freelance illustrator Bri Mercedes Weidner on Twitter. "Cool or creepy?"
- Shared concerns -
Civil liberties activists echo those concerns.
"There is a particular visceral reaction to looking up in the sky and seeing someone or something staring back at you," said Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.
Combing through thousands of pages it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the non-profit group found no guarantee that JLENS won't be used for ground surveillance.
Instead, it came across contracts stating that "the technology was specifically designed to integrate very high definition video" to track and identify people and vehicles in a five-kilometer (three mile) radius," McCall told AFP.
From the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a seaside patch of marsh and woodlands filled with white-tailed deer and unexploded World War II ordnance, such an area could include the busy Interstate 95 highway that links Washington with New York.
"It's important that we have ironclad checks and balances so that we can be assured that this powerful technology is not being used for domestic surveillance," lawyer Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington told AFP.
The Pentagon strongly denies that JLENS is equipped to look out for any non-flying targets, stating in an information document that the curvaceous blimps "cannot see people and do not have cameras on board."
"We don't even have a camera on top of it that would tell us if there was snow or ice up there," Rice told AFP over the roar of the big ventilation fans that cool the JLENS' electronic innards.
- Not what it's for -
Asked if JLENS could still, in theory, be fitted later on with high-def video gear, Rice acknowledged that "anything's possible -- but that's not what we're using it for."
JLENS also faces a threat of its own -- getting sustained funding from Congress, in competition with other high-price defense technology projects.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office estimated the cost of the JLENS program at $2.8 billion so far. Congress, meanwhile, nearly halved JLENS' $54 million budget for fiscal 2015.
Nearly a decade in development, only two JLENS blimps are operational -- the one now flying, and another that is to go aloft nearby in a matter of months, but which is currently folded up in a shipping container "like a burrito," as one soldier put it.
Together the pair make up an "orbit," with the ground crew of one aerostat assigned to 24/7 surveillance and the other tasked with directing air defense missiles to intercept a cruise missile in mid-flight.
Each blimp can stay aloft up to 30 days at a time, tethered to a dark green mobile mooring station, coming down to Earth only for maintenance -- like a fresh shot of compressed helium -- or extreme weather.
The main JLENS contractor is Raytheon, which ironically also makes the US military's sea-launched Tomahawk guided cruise missile.
On its website, it calls JLENS a relative bargain, at a time when President Barack Obama has asked Congress for $585 billion for defense in his 2016 budget.
- Costs way more -
"A fixed-wing surveillance aircraft is 500-700 percent more expensive to operate than a JLENS during that same time period because of manpower, maintenance and fuel costs," the company says.
Some also question the need to guard against cruise missiles in a post-Cold War era when groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State are perceived as greater security threats to the American homeland.
Rice contends, however, that one never knows what fresh new threat might be lurking over the horizon.
"Technology is growing by leaps and bound for everybody... We're just trying to stay ahead of our adversaries with this capability," he said.
From The Dagger and Harford County government:
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman is pleased to announce the creation of eight Community Advisory Boards to advise his administration on matters of interest to local communities, and to provide better communication between citizens and county government.
“Allowing our communities to come together to have meaningful discussions about issues of local concern should be an important part of our decision-making process,” County Executive Glassman said. “The Community Advisory Boards will certainly not be the only means through which my administration will interact with citizens, but they will serve a key advisory role in matters affecting local communities.”
The eight Community Advisory Boards are: Abingdon, Churchville/Creswell, Dublin/Darlington, Edgewood, Fallston, Jarrettsville/Norrisville, Joppa/Joppatowne and Whiteford/Cardiff/Pylesville/Street.
The Community Advisory Boards will function in much the same way as did the former Community Councils and, prior to that, the Community Planning Councils. They will provide a forum for keeping communities abreast of important projects, programs and events, and will serve as a source of information for both county government and interested citizens.
The boards will consist of five to ten citizens selected by the county executive who collectively represent a diversity of interests and backgrounds. In addition, each board may have one student member who is enrolled in a high school in Harford County. Members will be expected to attend regular board meetings, ranging in frequency from monthly to quarterly. Meeting dates and locations will be determined by the county in consultation with each board.
One change from the most recent past is that citizens who live within the boundaries of an inactive board area are welcome to participate with an active board nearby, and boards will be encouraged to take a broader view of issues pertaining to their communities.
The previous Community Council areas of Abingdon/Emmorton and Bush River will be combined into one Abingdon Community Advisory Board. Within the Bush River area, there are very active community associations in both Riverside and Forest Greens/Perryman, which provide citizens with community-level interaction, and county government will also explore working with those associations to provide improved cooperation and communication. Residents of any portion of the Bush River area are welcome to participate in the Abingdon Community Advisory Board.
While two community areas are joining together, one previously inactive area is being revived. Recognizing sufficient citizen interest, and at the urging of County Councilman Pat Vincenti, County Executive Glassman is planning to establish the Churchville/Creswell Community Advisory Board, serving the areas of Churchville, Creswell and Fountain Green.
Citizens interested in serving as a Community Advisory Board member should visit www.harfordcountymd.gov/cab to download an application or call the Office of Citizens Affairs & Administrative Services at 410-638-4109, ext. 1824 to request an application via email or U.S. mail. Any citizen unsure regarding with which Community Advisory Board he or she should participate should also contact this office. To ensure consideration for the initial round of appointments, citizens should return their applications by February 27; however, applications will be accepted at any time during the term.
Saturday, February 7, 2015
Public health and environmental advocates gathered in Annapolis Thursday to push for a long-term moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, arguing that more time is needed to look into health threats posed by the drilling process commonly called "fracking."Scaremonger, Study, Ban. Repeating the Environmentalist 3-Step.
Regulations that would impose a variety of best practices and safeguards on drilling for shale gas were proposed in the final days of the O'Malley administration, and are out for public comment.
The rules were drawn up by the O'Malley administration as an advisory commission he appointed neared the end of a three-year study of fracking's risks. But critics, including some members of the advisory commission, contend the study gave short shrift to health concerns.
Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, chief sponsor of a bill being introduced to bar fracking for eight years, said no drilliing should be allowed in western Maryland until more research can be done. The Montgomery County Democrat said he had visited northeastern Pennsylvania and spoken with three families there who told him their drinking-water wells had been fouled by drilling nearby.
"There are a lot of concerns that have not been fully studied," said Del. Clarence K. Lam, a Howard County Democrat and physician on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Ann Bristow, a health educator from western Maryland who served on O"Malley's advisory commission, said the study only belatedly tackled fracking's health risks.
Bristow also said she was worried that intensive drilling in the rural, mountainous region could undermine an economy where tourism and outdoor recreation play a large role. She noted that vacation homes built around Deep Creek Lake account for two-thirds of Garrett County's property tax revenues.
Opponents of fracking have unsuccessfully pressed for moratorium legislation before, and they face an added hurdle this year. Gov. Larry Hogan has said he believes fracking can be done safely and he believes it will help the western Maryland economy. The region's lawmakers also want to see drilling go ahead, with what they consider suitable regulations.
Fracking opponents say there are 40 House cosponsors for the moratorium bill and 10 in the Senate. That's well short of a majority in either chamber, much less one that could overcome a gubernatorial veto. But advocates have written House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller seeking their support. Fraser-Hidalgo said he's hopeful more lawmakers will join him.
"This is such a complicated issue," he said. "One step at a time."
Thursday, February 5, 2015
I am sure all of you have heard that Governor Hogan’s new administration reversed their stance on denying RT 924 access to Wal-Mart. Though they did not approve a traffic signal, they did approve right in/right out access.
The SHA’s letter allowing access was sent out on Inauguration Day! With the myriad of tasks involved in establishing a new administration it seems quite odd that reversing a decision regarding Wal-Mart access would be a first order of business.
Time for us to get back to work!
We have to let the Governor know that after supporting his election we are extremely disappointed he would reverse the SHA’s decision.
Things we need to do that will take only a minute of your time.
1) Go to the governor’s website
If that does not work for you go to http://governor.maryland.gov/larry_hogan.html and click on Contact Us at the bottom of the page.
Enter the required info. For “Correspondence Topic” select – Transportation issue. For Subject put – “Bel Air Wal-Mart RT 924 Access.”
In the Message section write your concern as to why the SHA’s decision was reversed on Inauguration Day. If you are pressed for time, simply copy and paste one of the three attached letters into the message section. The letters are correctly formatted for pasting.
2) Call the Governor’s office during work hours at 410-974-3901. A lady will answer who will gladly make note of your complaint and forward to the governor. If calling after hours you can leave a message.
In both cases, the greater our response, the greater our effect.
That’s if for now!
Bel Air South Community Foundation
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
On January 20, the County Council voted to pass a hotel tax of 6% here in Harford County. I voted against the tax for a number of reasons. First,I didn’t think a new tax would be appropriate when we have not yet been through a full year’s cycle of expense review. Second, there was nothing in the bill addressing or exempting those Harford County residents who are living in our motels. Third, I didn’t think creating a dedicated revenue stream to fund tourism was appropriate given there are so many other needs for county funding which need to compete with one another for general fund money. Fourth, I did not like the inequity which arose from allowing municipal governments to keep a portion of the tax revenue raised within their borders while unincorporated communities have no ability to receive or administer their own revenue.
Last but not least, I believe Harford County hotels had a competitive advantage over Baltimore County (and to a lesser extent, Cecil County) hotels. Baltimore County has an 8% hotel tax. Given how easy it is to get prices and book hotel rooms online now, someone travelling down I-95 and looking to spend the night now would have had a good reason to stay here in Harford County instead of Baltimore County. The same holds true for contractors I think. Not everyone staying in Harford County for business is doing business with APG, and I’m sure there are plenty of longer term business travelers who have historically chosen Harford County over Baltimore County for our hotel tax-free lodging.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Baltimore’s spending panel is set to approve a $317,000 contract to turn litter collected from the Inner Harbor into electricity, under an agreement believed to be the first of its kind.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will join officials from the Waterfront Partnership Tuesday to highlight the new partnership. The five-year deal will be voted on Wednesday by the Board of Estimates, a five-member panel controlled by the mayor.
Under the agreement, the city’s Department of Public Works will pay Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co. to dispose of trash collected by the Inner Harbor Water Wheel. The company will be required to use the waste to generate electricity for the city.
The Water Wheel has removed more than 140 tons of trash from Baltimore’s waterways since it was installed in May. Once the agreement is approved, the city will receive an invoice for the trash disposed of since the wheel was turned on. In the past, disposal of the trash was paid for with private money, according to the mayor’s office.
The contraption is believed to be the world’s first hydro- and solar-powered trash-collection device, according to the mayor’s office. It is located between Pier 5 and 6.
The wheel intercepts garbage from the Jones Falls River before it collects in the harbor. The trash it pulls from the water is dumped in an attached bin that is emptied periodically and taken for disposal to Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co.
The wheel is a part of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, a project intended to make the harbor swimmable by 2020. The Waterfront Partnership, a coalition of businesses, nonprofits and city agencies, is leading the effort.
City officials say the wheel is an important tool to educate the public about how litter thrown on city streets ends up trashing the waterways. Without the wheel, the trash would be collected the public works department skimmer boats, according to information provided to the Board of Estimates.
Baltimore’s under orders by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of the Environment to reduce the amount of garbage floating in the harbor.
from the NY Times
BALTIMORE — THE Obama administration’s whiplash decision last week to allow oil and gas companies to drill along a wide area of the Atlantic Coast is a big mistake.
The facts support a ban on offshore drilling not only in the wilds of Alaska — as the administration has announced — but also along our densely populated, economically vibrant and environmentally diverse Eastern Seaboard.
The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster should remind us that the benefits of drilling do not outweigh the threat to local economies, public health and the environment when an inevitable spill occurs. The spill, occurring off the Louisiana coast less than five years ago, devastated the Gulf of Mexico region — most likely costing over $100 billion in lost economic activity and restoration expenses, disrupting or destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs and causing long-term damage to 3,000 miles of fragile wetlands and beaches. Experts estimate that only 5 percent of the 4.2 million barrels of oil spilled in the gulf was removed during the cleanup; even today, oil from the spill is still appearing on the white sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle.
To allow drilling off the Atlantic Coast is to willfully forget Deepwater’s awful lesson even as the economic, environmental and public health consequences continue to reverberate in communities along the gulf. If a disaster of Deepwater’s scale occurred off the Chesapeake Bay, it would stretch from Richmond to Atlantic City, with states and communities with no say in drilling decisions bearing the consequences. The 50-mile buffer the administration has proposed would be irrelevant. And unlike the gulf, the Chesapeake is a tidal estuary, meaning that oil would remain in the environment for decades.
Furthermore, we shouldn’t be so quick to embrace offshore exploration at a time when climate change is likely to cause increasingly powerful hurricanes, like Sandy in 2012. If a single hurricane has the power to damage or destroy more than 650,000 homes in its path, we should consider what might become of an oil rig.
Even in normal conditions, claims that safety has improved significantly in recent years should not be taken seriously. As recently as last fall, two people were killed in separate explosions off the Louisiana coast while working on offshore oil and natural gas facilities.
Oil prices are at record lows. The United States is the world’s top natural gas producer and third greatest producer of crude oil. There is simply no compelling economic or security reason to expose the communities of the Atlantic Coast to the threats offshore drilling presents.
Moreover, offshore drilling fails to promote what must be our country’s foremost energy policy objectives: achieving long-term energy security, creating sustainable jobs, supporting the development of new energy technologies and fighting climate change.
To be sure, the Obama administration has made laudable and hard-fought progress toward these goals. But we must quicken the pace forward, rather than accept a step back. Today, we rank 13th out of the 16 largest economies for energy efficiency. China is the world leader in clean energy investment, attracting $53.3 billion in 2013 — more than 30 percent more than the United States.
At a time when both Democrats and Republicans agree that creating jobs should be our top priority, we are forgoing at least 2.7 million of them through our inability to enact a clean energy investment strategy. Even though 2014 was the hottest year on record, renewable-energy businesses still aren’t even competing on a level playing field with fossil-fuel companies, which enjoy more than $4 billion in guaranteed federal subsidies each year.
We must make better choices for a more secure and independent energy future. In Maryland, over just eight years, we increased renewable-generation capacity by 57 percent, became a hub for new clean-tech businesses and jobs, and cut emissions by 10 percent. Clear goals, accountability and consistent choices drove better results.
As a nation, we must pursue the imperatives of accelerating cutting-edge clean-energy research, taking away the subsidies that give the advantage to the oil companies of the past over the renewable businesses of the future, modernizing our energy grid, and letting the market drive further innovation by limiting carbon emissions, among other measures.
Clean, inexhaustible sources of energy represent the biggest business opportunity in at least a century. The threat of climate change is real and immediate. Expanding offshore drilling is irreconcilable with the realities of climate science and irrelevant, at best, to taking advantage of the vast economic opportunities clean energy presents. We must move firmly toward a clean energy future.
Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was the governor of Maryland from 2007 until last month.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who was sworn in last week, is set to give his first “State of the State” address next Wednesday to a joint session of the General Assembly, his office confirmed.
The Feb. 4 speech will be broadcast live starting at noon on Maryland Public Television, the station said. A rebroadcast is scheduled at 7 p.m.
Traditionally, governors have used the speeches both to push their agenda for the 90-day legislative session and to talk about broader themes.
“Governor Hogan is greatly looking forward to sharing his long-term vision of economic growth and prosperity — and the bipartisan fashion in which we can achieve these goals — with the people of Maryland,” Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. “It’s time for the change they demanded to be put into action.”
Democratic legislative aides said a decision has not been reached on whether there will be a Democratic response to Hogan’s speech and who might give it.