A San Francisco politician wants tougher oversight of local police and the role they play in terrorism investigations following complaints from residents that they were unnecessarily targeted for questioning and surveillance by Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
“I believe that this could be catastrophic in terms of HIV prevention.”—
Michael Weinstein, president the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Weinstein was commenting on drugmaker Gilead’s application for FDA approval to market its HIV treatment medication Truvada as a HIV prevention pill. If Truvada is approved for preventive use, it “would be the first agent indicated for uninfected individuals to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV through sex,” according to a company statement at the time of the filing last month.
Gilead’s application, however, has sparked debate among public health advocates who argue that the wide availability of the drug would discourage safe sex and would, in fact, increase the incidence of HIV.
Our investigation found that the trailers, many of which were proven to be releasing toxic levels of formaldehyde from the particle board walls into the small living space, were being released into the open market with little to no assurance that buyers would be made aware of the possible dangers of long-term exposure to the interior to the trailers — and that the people most likely to buy these units are low-income folks in need of cheap housing in the wake of massive disaster or a housing crisis.
Despite our investigation and frequent indications that people living in the units frequently suffer from respiratory illness and skin problems, we haven’t seen any significant steps toward protecting buyers from potentially harmful housing. In fact, we’ve found that FEMA sold or auctioned these trailers into the open market, and the units are now being used as long-term housing as natural disasters destroy homes and a housing crisis forces some people to downgrade to more affordable lodging.
Most importantly, the tests we’ve run on some of these trailers have shown extremely high levels of formaldehyde, which indicates that dangerous concentrations of the neurotoxin may be present in as many as 50,000 trailers . There has been no effort to track the location of these trailers beyond their initial sale, allowing the potentially toxic units to be easily bought and sold across the country despite the health risks.
For these reasons, The Lens is teaming up with the University of Oxford for Trailertrack, a journalistic and scientific excursion to the southeast United States. Ariella Cohen, an investigative reporter with The Lens, and Nick Shapiro, a medical anthropologist with the University of Oxford, will leave today for Florida to seek out trailers and trailer residents, test the trailers they find for formaldehyde, and learn more about how the units are turning up many miles from New Orleans. The trailertrackers will hit Ocala, Harvey, Tampa and Palm Beach this weekend, and will also visit Texas and Oklahoma in the coming weeks. You can view a map and itinerary here.
We’ll be posting here regularly to keep you informed on the status of the trackers. You can also follow Ariella on Twitter at @cohenlensnola, where she’ll be updating followers on the duo’s progress with the hashtag #trailertrack.
If you have any knowledge about FEMA trailers being sold or lived in near your community, please click here and let us know.
“If Google doesn’t like your name, it can block you; if Facebook doesn’t like your status, it can delete it; and if Twitter gets a takedown request for your message, it will disappear. Our freedom of speech relies on these new information gatekeepers.”—Matthew Ingram questions How much should we trust our new information overlords? on GigaOm. (via onaissues)
Counterterror, disaster response centers not sharing information
Dozens of high-tech command centers built or beefed up throughout the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to promote better information sharing and disaster preparation have struggled to do just that.
A decade later, federal auditors found that two networks – one heavily focused on law enforcement and the other on emergency management – are often unaware of what the other is doing and in the process might be missing critical opportunities to improve efficiency.
Investigations after the hijackings revealed that critical information about what the attackers were planning had not been pieced together, in part because local, state and federal agencies frequently failed to communicate with one another. Hurricane Katrina, meanwhile, exposed weaknesses in how those same bureaucracies responded to both manmade and natural catastrophes. Read more.
Photo via fpra/Flickr: An emergency operations center in Florida
“Candidly, those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”—
Chris Dodd, former U.S. senator and chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, to Fox News last week.
As anti-piracy legislation stalled in Congress last week, the movie industry’s top lobbyist, former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, warned Democrats not to count on Hollywood money if they turn their backs on the industry’s legislative priority. Read more.
Researchers have found higher-than-expected levels of deadly bacteria in what is considered the largest sampling of raw retail meat products in the United States.
A team of researchers at the University of Iowa collected 256 samples of pork from 35 retail stores in Iowa, Minnesota and New Jersey. Samples included pork chops, ground pork, riblets, ribs, sausage, blade steak, cube steaks, pork loin, pork roasts and pork cutlets.
The researchers found that nearly 7 percent of the products tested contained methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
Researchers from the National Pork Board were quick to point out that not all MRSA strains are harmful to people. Indeed, livestock strains of the bacteria show little effect, if any, on people.
Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who played a key role in last January’s protests in Egypt, recounts how he was arrested by Egyptian police, the 11 days he spent in custody, and what he discovered after he was released:
“I felt like I was captured for 11 years, because I’m seeing a new version of Egyptians — all of a sudden, everyone is empowered, passionate.”
Last year, Ghonim set up a Facebook page to memorialize the killing of a young Egyptian man, Khaled Said, at the hands of Egyptian police. On that page, he urged Egyptians to take to the streets. His call helped organized the first protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. He said he wasn’t trying to start a political movement; rather it was a call for human rights.
“Allowing law enforcement records to be forwarded to N-Dex would be a benefit to law enforcement agencies not only in Minnesota, but also across the nation. As we are all aware, criminals are not concerned with geographic or political jurisdictional boundaries.”—Ron Sager, president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, wrote in support of a program, known as the National Data Exchange, that would nationalize criminal intelligence data. Minnesota is weighing whether to link a statewide database with the FBI information-sharing system, despite concerns by privacy and open-government advocates about the accuracy of such data, among other issues. Read the full article.
Private company hoarding license-plate data on U.S. drivers
Capitalizing on one of the fastest-growing trends in law enforcement, a private California-based company has compiled a database bulging with more than 550 million license-plate records on both innocent and criminal drivers that can be searched by police.
The technology has raised alarms among civil libertarians, who say it threatens the privacy of drivers. It’s also evidence that 21st-century technology may be evolving too quickly for the courts and public opinion to keep up. The U.S. Supreme Court is only now addressing whether investigators can secretly attach a GPS monitoring device to cars without a warrant.
A ruling in that case has yet to be handed down, but a telling exchange occurred during oral arguments. Chief Justice John Roberts asked lawyers for the government if even he and other members of the court could feasibly be tracked by GPS without a warrant. Yes, came the answer.
Meanwhile, police around the country have been affixing high-tech scanners to the exterior of their patrol cars, snapping a picture of every passing license plate and automatically comparing them to databases of outstanding warrants, stolen cars and wanted bank robbers. Read more.
Photo Courtesy of Steve Reed: Security guards at the Arden Fair mall in Sacramento see this visual interface after digitally scanning a license plate.
From the Washington Post: “About 12,000 people were slain last year in Mexico’s surging drug violence, according to grim tallies reported Monday by the country’s leading media outlets. Annual indexes of torture, beheadings and the killing of women all showed increases.”
“A circuit judge ruled last month that New Beginnings Baptist Church is the rightful owner of the building that houses the Redneck Shop, which operates a so-called Klan museum and sells Klan robes and T-shirts emblazoned with racial slurs. The judge ordered the shop’s proprietor to pay the church’s legal bills of more than $3,300.”—KKK Store Is Black Church’s Property, South Carolina Judge Finds (via npr)