Police commissioner asked FBI in to investigate corrupt coppers

Commissioner Bealefeld and Grayling Williams

Tucked behind a liquor store, opposite a flooring company, Majestic Body Shop was an unremarkable sight amid a blur of commercial properties just east of the city limits. But the police cars that always seemed to be parked at the repair shop caught the eyes of passing drivers. The F.B.I. noticed as well — agents were videotaping Majestic and tapping its phone.

What the investigation revealed was startling: a bribery racket suspected to involve kickbacks to dozens of Baltimore police officers.

The scheme to divert cars damaged in traffic accidents to the body shop in return for payoffs resulted in one of the widest police corruption scandals in Baltimore history. This week, a 10th officer will be sentenced to prison, one of 14 officers who pleaded guilty to federal extortion charges. One trial ended in conviction, another officer pleaded guilty in state court and at least 14 suspended officers still face departmental discipline and possible state charges.

…The sheer number of officers involved stunned department veterans and civilians alike.

In the aftermath, Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III — who invited the F.B.I. to investigate the force — brought in Grayling G. Williams, the Department of Homeland Security’s former counternarcotics chief, to head the division charged with rooting out corruption…

Mr. Bealefeld, 49, who recently announced plans to retire in August after 31 years on the force, will almost certainly be remembered for reducing the city’s crime and murder rates as well as for his aggressive anticorruption efforts, including the Majestic case. He acknowledged that the corruption cases during his five years as commissioner had been trying, but said “it comes with the territory…”

When the time came last year to make arrests in the case, Mr. Bealefeld and federal agents lured the 17 officers facing federal charges to the police academy, where Mr. Bealefeld confronted them and stripped them of their badges before agents led them away in handcuffs. To ensure that future officers knew about it, he summoned two academy recruits to watch…

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose predecessor stepped down in a plea deal related to corruption, said the Majestic case had been a “double-edged sword,” revealing graft to prove that the city did not sweep it under the rug.

“I understand the risks in all of that,” she said, “but I know that in the long run, it’s the best thing for the city.”

It’s what you have to do. Hopefully, not too often.

Obama explains his evolution on gay marriage — finally

Click on photo for the video [probably a commercial, first] – hopefully

Obama became the first U.S. president to back the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, a reversal from views expressed during the 2008 campaign, when he said he opposed same-sex marriage but favored civil unions as an alternative…

In making his announcement, Obama completes what he had described as an “evolution” in his views on this issue, hastened by growing fervor this week involving gay rights. The growing pressure was capped Tuesday by North Carolina voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment banning not only same-sex marriages, but civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, as well.

Obama’s shift not only speaks to a broad swath of the electorate, which has exhibited increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage in opinion polls, but also gay and lesbian voters who compose a core part of Obama’s base, and have been major fundraisers for his re-election…

Obama explained that he had hesitated in fully supporting same-sex marriage because he thought civil unions would be sufficient.

“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” he told ABC.

The president had found himself under increasing pressure this week to state his position unequivocally after Vice President Joe Biden voiced support for same-sex marriage.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”

While the White House emphasized that Biden’s position wasn’t representative of the entire administration, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s pronouncement Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in support of same-sex marriage added to pressure on the president…

I was going to link to the original interview with Robin Roberts of ABC-TV; but – at least at this moment – ABC seems to have pulled it from public access. It appears and reappears, of course – there are hundreds of copies, edited and unedited – posted on YouTube and elsewhere. I imagine the full deal will be reposted sooner or later.

The nutballs on the religious right are going bonkers as you would expect. Here’s how I feel:

Many times over the course of our history as a nation, we have taken the lead before the rest of the world on one or another issue. Public education, world governance and respect for human rights, civil rights for citizens regardless of gender or color or religion. Then, we spend at least as much time battling back against the fearmongers who crap their drawers over questions of freedom for everyone, equal opportunities.

Frankly, I didn’t think Obama would have the courage to get off the fence on this one. Too many politicians afraid to lead – choose hiding in the middle as the best course when facing an election. If there are controversial questions, many will run and hide in the past, many sit in the middle of the road relying on old-fashioned sophistry to protect their gig.

I’m pleased to see him move. I’m pleased to see him stand up for civil rights for the whole population of the United States of America.

Pacific garbage patch changes insect mating habits — what’s next?

Researchers pulling netting, plastics from the Pacific Ocean

Marine insects in the Pacific Ocean are changing their reproduction habitats in response to environmental changes from the accumulating amount of rubbish in the north Pacific subtropical gyre, also known as the great Pacific garbage patch…

The patch has increased in size 100 times since the 1970s, including its swath of microplastic particles of less than 5mm diameter. The marine insect Halobates sericeus, a species of water skater, is now using the microplastic debris as a surface to lay its eggs, said a study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography…”We’re seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic.”

Miriam Goldstein was part of a graduate student team, the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (Seaplex), which travelled to the patch to study its environmental impact in 2009. The study compared the group’s findings to data from the early 1970s.

The Seaplex team found that water skaters typically lay their eggs on floating objects like seashells, bird feathers and pumice, but the change to plastic could have “ecosystem-wide consequences”. The insects are an important link on the marine food chain, plus predators like crabs rely on their eggs as a source of food.

Increased quantities of microplastic could…mean population growth of the water skaters, and more pressure on their prey zooplankton and fish eggs, according to the study.

Debris from the patch has had an impact on other marine life, including ingestion by fish and invertebrates at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tonnes per year, according to Scripps. It also transports pollutants and has introduced alien species into new areas.

As long as cruise ships aren’t diverted from their money-making schedule I can’t imagine that anyone with authority will feel challenged by this discovery. Conclusions about health and safety of any species – including our own – doesn’t really mean much to our politicians, short-sighted pundits and, most critical, the investing class that accepts news and information redefined as entertainment.

IBM sees a boom in cost-effective retrofits for skyscrapers

America’s skyscrapers, many built before World War Two, are showing their age. IBM’s “building whisperer,” Dave Bartlett, believes many of these buildings could use a diet.

Bartlett, who leads IBM’s smarter building initiative, is known as the “building whisperer” because he views buildings as living organisms, an approach that can help identify problems and suggest cost-effective ways of making buildings healthier and more energy-efficient.

Bartlett is bullish about demand for building retrofits, a market that electrical service companies and other participants see growing by double-digits for several years…

Getting a building in shape is a lot like eating right. Under this approach, dubbed “the physiology of buildings,” a heating and cooling system is akin to the respiratory system; elevators and corridors are a circulatory system; and a building’s smart sensors with sophisticated computer monitoring are the nervous system.

Each system affects others: water meters in bathrooms work together with security systems to analyze occupancy, affecting how quickly the building breathes in fresh air. Lighting, by heating a space, affects how much power is used for cooling. With the right data, an owner can decide whether replacing air conditioners makes better sense than a new roof.

The interaction of those systems adds up to an ecosystem that can be measured and improved, like a visit to the doctor or a gym membership. Bartlett, who studied biology, eventually sees buildings forming part of a wider ecosystem that brings nature into cities, making them more literally “green.”

Continue reading

Driving drunk with your kids strapped to the hood of the car

This adventure started, not so surprisingly, at a liquor store yesterday — Belmont Beverage in Fort Wayne, Ind. Witnesses say they saw the car leave the parking lot with four children (ages 4-7), not just not secured in car seats (which would be bad enough), but instead strapped to the hood of the car…

Witness Tom Nowak told station INC: “With one of those straps you crank on a semi to hold down lumber, they were strapped with that thing, wiggling and wobbling down the street.”

I’m stunned; seriously stunned. The kids, of course, were all for it, and told the station that Aaron Stefanski (the father of three of the children) and Jessica Clark (who is mother of the fourth child) asked them if they wanted to do it, and they said, “yes, because it sounded like fun.”

Why these parents thought it would be fun or a good idea is anyone’s guess. I’m sure the alcohol didn’t help, but wow. The things that could have happened to these children are unimaginable.

Fortunately they’re fine as plenty of witnesses saw it happening (how could you miss such a spectacle?) and called the police before anyone got hurt. A U.S. Marshall pulled them over after a few blocks, and Stefanski was arrested. He’s been charged with Operating While Intoxicated and Neglect of a Dependent, which doesn’t sound nearly severe enough for something that could have killed four children.

Why am I not surprised? Having spent a brief – but truly stupid – portion of my youth investigating the result of drinking way too much of various alcoholic beverages, I recall some of the dumb things I did. Sometimes I wish I didn’t remember.