Pentagon Cyber-Command about to be put in place. Remind you of anything?

Spencer S. Hsu tells us today in the Washington Post  that “A Pentagon Cyber-Command Is in the Works”. The story is dry and factual. But……anyone think of Isaac Asimov? Or something more recent perhaps?

The Obama administration is finalizing plans for a new Pentagon command to coordinate the security of military computer networks and to develop new offensive cyber-weapons, sources said last night.

Planning for the reorganization of Defense Department and intelligence agencies is underway, and a decision is imminent, according to a person familiar with the White House plans.

The new command would affect U.S. Strategic Command, whose mission includes ensuring U.S. “freedom of action” in space and cyberspace, and the National Security Agency, which shares Pentagon cybersecurity responsibilities with the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The Pentagon plans do not involve the Department of Homeland Security, which has responsibility for securing the government’s non-military computer domain.

But President Obama must approve the changes and Congress must be notified of them before they can be implemented, said this source, who has spoken with several White House and military officials. This individual spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is still “in motion.”
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The Wall Street Journal first reported on the plans last night.

One question is whether the new command’s leader would be a military commander with a four-star rank. The NSA is currently led by Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who has three stars.

News of the proposal comes on the heels of a 60-day White House review of cybersecurity efforts. Federal agency deputies are expected to meet Friday to consider the recommendations of the review team.

Tornado coming. You have seven minutes to get out.

I read this story this morning by Kari Lydersen in The Washington Post.  Apparently the current tornado warning system in the States gives ordinary people an average of  13 minutes warning. That means some people only get 7 minutes to get out. Presuming you are fit and able of course.

When a tornado is about to cut a devastating swath through an American town, those in its path get a warning lead time of 13 minutes on average to try to reach shelter.

“If you live in a trailer community, is 13 minutes enough to wake your family and get them bundled up and outside?” asks tornado researcher Joshua Wurman, head of the nonprofit Center for Severe Weather Research. And “if you are elderly or handicapped, you’re going to have a hard time getting to a shelter in 13 minutes,” he said.

And that’s the average; many times people are warned about six or seven minutes earlier. That is because although scientists know that certain kinds of “supercell” thunderclouds can spin off tornadoes, they know very little about the exact conditions that indicate a tornado will occur and whether it will be a mild twister or a violent killer.

In the mid-1990s, a two-year study called Vortex had a phalanx of scientists chasing tornadoes around the Great Plains, inspiring much public fascination, daredevil amateur tornado-chasers and the 1996 movie “Twister.”

Vortex (which stands for Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment) resulted in significant advances, including the revelation that tornadoes can occur on smaller time and space scales than previously thought and that sometimes they do not show up on radar. Knowledge gained from the study led to an increase in average warning times, but it did not unlock the secrets of exactly when and why tornadoes form.

As a result, predictions about tornado occurrence are successful only about a quarter of the time.

“Sometimes people will choose not to take shelter even if they’re told to,” said Yvette P. Richardson, a meteorology professor at Pennsylvania State University. “In general, the more we can reduce the false-alarm rate, the more seriously the public will take warnings.”

Now comes Vortex2, a five-week tornado-chasing project beginning next month that scientists hope will finally provide the knowledge to accurately predict when and where a tornado will develop.

“Ultimately we’d like to get to the point where we can put sufficient data into our models so we know when a tornado will happen,” said Stephan P. Nelson, a program director in the atmospheric sciences division of the National Science Foundation, which, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provided the $12 million funding for Vortex2. “Then you can get first responders to be better prepared — police, fire, medical personnel, even power companies. Now, that’s not even remotely possible.”

As part of Vortex2, about 80 veteran scientists and graduate students will chase storms across a wide swath from South Dakota to Texas and from eastern Colorado to Iowa and Minnesota, with their nerve center in Norman, Okla.

They will be armed with a host of tools, including lasers that measure raindrops, Doppler radar mounted on trucks, high-tech balloons, unmanned aircraft and instruments on tripods anchored in the tornadoes’ path.

“We’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it,” said Wurman, who has chased 141 tornadoes over 14 years. “We’ll have a whole potpourri of instruments surrounding the storm, all measuring different things in different ways.”

The technology available this time is far superior. The inaugural Vortex used Doppler radar on planes, which would pass over a tornado at about five-minute intervals. Now radar mounted on trucks, which can get within two miles of a tornado, will provide uninterrupted data.

“We will be able to distinguish between rain, hail, dust, debris, flying cows,” said Howard Bluestein, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma and member of the Vortex2 steering committee.

Two ingredients are necessary to form the supercell thunderstorms that spawn tornadoes: a source of buoyant energy, namely warm and moist air near the ground, and a rotational force generated by winds at the surface blowing at a different speed or direction than winds high in the atmosphere.

A typical thundercloud develops as warm air rises into colder air masses above, then usually dissipates quickly once rain falls. Supercell thunderstorms, by contrast, can last for hours and can move rapidly, tracking over 100 miles. Supercell thunderstorms may also create “mesocyclones,” swirling winds embedded within the larger thunderhead that can be as much as six miles in diameter.

About five to 10 percent of these storms actually spin off tornadoes, which are typically about 500 feet in diameter. Scientists know what forms a mesocyclone, but they are largely lost when it comes to understanding which ones will spawn tornadoes and how violent they will be.

“A number of things have to happen sequentially and at the same time and in the right order,” said John Monteverdi, a meteorologist at San Francisco State University who has been chasing tornadoes for 24 years. “You have to start knocking the dominos down to find out what happens in that last stage. I think we’re getting close, and this project should help.”

Risky though it appears, members of the project note that their crews have never logged a death or severe injury. But they say amateur tornado-chasers who follow scientists around with video cameras are endangering themselves and others. Not only do these adrenalin junkies put themselves in harm’s way, the scientists say, they often speed and park their cars in the middle of the road, endangering other motorists and distracting highway patrol officers.

Scientists warn that it is only a matter of time before a major tornado sweeps through a densely populated urban area and causes horrific damage and loss of life.

Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, in particular, are in regions prone to violent tornadoes. Wurman said in a 2007 study that a tornado cutting through Chicago could kill 13,000 to 45,000 people and cause tens of billions of dollars in damage.

“Tornadoes have a great beauty to them sometimes,” Wurman said. “There’s a great elegance to the vortex itself. But when you see it going toward a town or city, there’s a quick change in your impression, and it’s like a tiger: Something beautiful becomes deadly.”

Antisocial media. Would you like some snot with that fast food?

Two employees of Domino’s video themselves horribly messing up food they are about to deliver to people and post it on YouTube. The result isn’t very funny – and it’s not even interesting viewing. However, it does totally wreck Domino’s carefully nurtured brand image, according to this story published in the New York Times. The thing about “social media” like YouTube is that it gives everyone a voice and the chance to publish their views to millions of people. I think anyone who works on the internet knows the downside of this. How many times have we had to consider how to deal with people who think it’s funny to be totally obscene to other undeserving people for no good purpose. Call me conservative. I don’t think I am. I’m certainly no fan of fast food. I’m certainly no defender of “big name brands” at all costs. I’m not sure where this leaves me with my view of social media – other than that perhaps we should rename it antisocial media. Or perhaps – media that reflects society like it really is, and it’s too much to bear.

When two Domino’s Pizza employees filmed a prank in the restaurant’s kitchen, they decided to post it online. In a few days, thanks to the power of social media, they ended up with felony charges, more than a million disgusted viewers, and a major company facing a public relations crisis.

In videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere this week, a Domino’s employee in Conover, N.C., prepared sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose, nasal mucus on the sandwiches, and violating other health-code standards while a fellow employee provided narration.

The two were charged with delivering prohibited foods.

By Wednesday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. References to it were in five of the 12 results on the first page of Google search for “Dominos,” and discussions about Domino’s had spread throughout Twitter.

As Domino’s is realizing, social media has the reach and speed to turn tiny incidents into marketing crises. In November, Motrin posted an ad suggesting that carrying babies in slings was a painful new fad. Unhappy mothers posted Twitter complaints about it, and bloggers followed; within days, Motrin had removed the ad and apologized.

On Monday, Amazon.com apologized for a “ham-fisted” error after Twitter members complained that the sales rankings for gay and lesbian books seemed to have disappeared — and, since Amazon took more than a day to respond, the social-media world criticized it for being uncommunicative.

According to Domino’s, the employees told executives that they had never actually delivered the tainted food. Still, Domino’s fired the two employees on Tuesday, and they were in the custody of the Conover police department on Wednesday evening, facing felony charges.

But the crisis was not over for Domino’s.

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” said a Domino’s spokesman, Tim McIntyre, who added that the company was preparing a civil lawsuit. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

In just a few days, Domino’s reputation was damaged. The perception of its quality among consumers went from positive to negative since Monday, according to the research firm YouGov, which holds online surveys of about 1,000 consumers every day regarding hundreds of brands.

“It’s graphic enough in the video, and it’s created enough of a stir, that it gives people a little bit of pause,” said Ted Marzilli, global managing director for YouGov’s BrandIndex.

The Domino’s experience “is a nightmare,” said Paul Gallagher, managing director and a head of the United States crisis practice at the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. “It’s the toughest situation for a company to face in terms of a digital crisis.”

Mr. McIntyre was alerted to the videos on Monday evening by a blogger who had seen them. In the most popular video, a woman who identifies herself as Kristy films a co-worker, Michael, preparing the unsanitary sandwiches.

“In about five minutes it’ll be sent out on delivery where somebody will be eating these, yes, eating them, and little did they know that cheese was in his nose and that there was some lethal gas that ended up on their salami,” Kristy said. “Now that’s how we roll at Domino’s.”

On Monday, commenters at the site Consumerist.com used clues in the video to find the franchise location in Conover, and told Mr. McIntyre about the videos. On Tuesday, the Domino’s franchise owner fired the employees, identified by Domino’s as Kristy Hammonds, 31 and Michael Setzer, 32. The franchisee brought in the local health department, which advised him to discard all open containers of food, which cost hundreds of dollars, Mr. McIntyre said.

Ms. Hammonds apologized to the company in an e-mail message Tuesday morning. “It was fake and I wish that everyone knew that!!!!” she wrote. “I AM SOO SORRY!”

By Wednesday evening, the video had been removed from YouTube because of a copyright claim from Ms. Hammonds. Neither Ms. Hammonds nor Mr. Setzer were available for comment on Wednesday evening, said Conover’s chief of police, Gary W. Lafone.

As the company learned about the video on Tuesday, Mr. McIntyre said, executives decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down. “What we missed was the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations,” he said.

In social media, “if you think it’s not going to spread, that’s when it gets bigger,” said Scott Hoffman, the chief marketing officer of the social-media marketing firm Lotame. “We realized that when many of the comments and questions in Twitter were, ‘What is Domino’s doing about it’ ” Mr. McIntyre said. “Well, we were doing and saying things, but they weren’t being covered in Twitter.”

By Wednesday afternoon, Domino’s had created a Twitter account, @dpzinfo, to address the comments, and it had presented its chief executive in a video on YouTube by evening.

“It elevated to a point where just responding isn’t good enough,” Mr. McIntyre said.

Man sprays his own toxic waste over food in shops

This story is from this week’s  Birmingham Post. I had driven past the Air Balloon pub near Cheltenham just yesterday where this chap did some of  his dirty work. I had to think why this story had caught my attention. Something about the way cats and dogs behave….something about a personal statement about our society….I don’t know. Nowt as strange as folk as the people in Yorkshire say.

An unemployed chemist was jailed for nine years today for contaminating food and wine by spraying his own urine and faeces in supermarkets in Gloucestershire.

Algerian Sahnoun Daifallah also sprayed the slurry over children’s books and in a pub as he carried out his foul campaign by concealing a 1.5 litre weed killer container in a lap top bag modified to allow the nozzle to poke out. And it was revealed that he intended to bring his campaign to Birmingham.

Daifallah, 42, was last month found guilty of four counts of contaminating goods at Tesco, Morrisons, Waterstones bookstore and a pub in Gloucestershire on May 14 and 16 last year.  The incidents caused £700,000 of damage to products and in lost businesses when the stores had to close.

When police searched his house they found stockpiles of the mixture and plans to spread the muck in other cities including Bristol and Birmingham.

Daifallah, who had fantasies about biological weapons to cause public alarm, was also found guilty of having an offensive weapon, namely a catapult with marbles.

Judge Carol Hagen said security agencies had labelled Daifallah, who has a degree in industrial chemistry, a very high risk to public safety. She sentenced him on Tuesday at Bristol Crown Court to concurrent sentences of three years, five years and two of nine years for the contamination offences and 12 months for possession of a weapon.

She told him that during the seven day trial, in which he had represented himself, she found him to be “arrogant and inflexible” in his thinking.
She added that she had wanted to jail him indefinitely but the law would not allow her to.

“Your actions showed a callous disregard for public safety and you caused considerable alarm and anxiety,” she said. “You caused substantial police and forensic involvement given that the nature of the substances were not known.”

Proceedings to deport him have begun.

Daifallah first visited the Air Balloon Pub near Cheltenham at 12.45pm on May 14 where police were called after he made offensive comments to a barmaid.

When officers arrived Daifallah was no longer there but he had left a trail of stench behind him which was his ‘calling card’.

He then moved on to Waterstones bookstore in Cirencester where he sprayed the brown substance all over a toilet in the coffee shop.

Staff noticed the smell but it was not until after he had left that they discovered a 20 metre area of 38 shelves, from the classics to the children’s section, had been doused in the foul substance.

In total 706 books were contaminated, most of them in the children’s section.

Two days later at 11am Daifallah visited the Tesco store in Quedgley where a shopper saw him reach into his bag and produce a jet of brown fluid over the frozen chips.

He then moved on to the wine section where a member of staff saw a fine vapour come out of his bag and on to the wine, leaving the brown substance over the shelves.

Daifallah then drove four miles to the Morrisons store in Abbeydale where an employee in the wine section noticed him acting strangely and gagged at the overpowering stench.

Both supermarkets were cordoned off and shoppers were locked in for safety reasons while the source of the contaminant was traced. The stores were closed for two days for cleaning and shoppers reported skin rashes and nausea.

Police officers called by staff at Tesco identified Daifallah on CCTV and arrived at his home in Bibury Road, Gloucester, while he was still spraying in Morrisons.

On searching the flat they found several bottles of the noxious mixture and several plastic sachets containing excrement marked with the names of cities on them.

They also found messages scrawled over the walls referring to biological weapons, smuggling uranium into Britain and micro-organisms being spread.

One of the messages said: “The ants get out to every direction to get food, then they bring it back to Tesco and Asda. If you poison those then you kill the ants.”

A map of Gloucester with ‘Contaminated 83% Ammonia’ written on it was also found in his bedroom.

His house was sealed off for two weeks while forensic scientists worked out what was in the packages.

Daifallah was questioned by police about another four incidents in February last year when brown liquid was sprayed at four pubs in Stroud.

If you want to lose weight, just hang out in a cold room.

Today’s story is about fat that eats fat. Scientists thought this brown fat, or so it is called, disappeared from our bodies after childhood…………but no, according to the New York Times. What’s it got to do with cold and shivering? Read on…

Illustration showing where brown fat deposits appear in babies.

For more than 30 years, scientists have been intrigued by brown fat, a cell that acts like a furnace, consuming calories and generating heat. Rodents, unable to shiver to keep warm, use brown fat instead. So do human infants, who also are unable to shiver their muscles to stay warm. But it was generally believed that humans lose brown fat after infancy, no longer needing it once the shivering response kicks in.
That belief, three groups of researchers report, is wrong.
Their papers, appearing Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that nearly every adult has little blobs of brown fat that can burn huge numbers of calories when activated by the cold, like sitting in a chilly room that is between 61 and 66 degrees.
Thinner people appeared to have more brown fat than heavier people, younger people more than older people; people with higher metabolic rates had more than those whose metabolisms were more sluggish, and women had more than men. People taking beta blockers for high blood pressure or other medical indications had less brown fat.
“The thing about this brown fat is that it takes a very small amount to burn a lot of energy,” said Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, head of the section on obesity and hormone action at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
The fat really is brown, researchers say, because it is filled with mitochondria, cells’ tiny energy factories. Mitochondria contain iron, giving the tissue a reddish brown color.
The hope is that scientists may find safe ways to turn peoples’ brown fat on, allowing them to lose weight by burning more calories. But researchers caution that while mice lose weight if they activate brown fat, it is not clear that people would shed pounds — they might unwittingly eat more, for example. The data on global patterns of obesity are not good enough to say whether living in a cold climate makes people thinner.
The best evidence for the effects of brown fat is from earlier studies in mice, said Leslie P. Kozak, a professor of molecular genetics at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center of Louisiana State University.
Recently, Dr. Kozak put mice predisposed to obesity in a cold room, 41 degrees, for a week. The animals activated their brown fat. As a result, they lost 14 percent of their weight, which constituted 47 percent of their body fat, while eating a high-fat diet with two and a half times more calories than they had consumed at room temperature. “That’s just by going out in the cold, without any drug treatment,” Dr. Kozak said. But, he cautioned, mice, small animals with a comparatively huge surface area, are easily chilled. “Put the mouse in the cold,” he added, “and it becomes a heat producing machine.”
Jan Nedergaard of the University of Stockholm did the opposite of Dr. Kozak. He and Barbara Cannon, also at the University of Stockholm, studied mice that were genetically engineered so their brown fat could not burn calories. The animals became fat.
“Until very recently, we would have said that it is doubtful that differences in brown fat really could contribute to obesity,” Dr. Nedergaard said. Now, he said he had changed his mind, at least for mice.
The key to finding brown fat in humans was PET scans, which pinpoint areas where cells are actively burning glucose. Because brown fat rapidly burns glucose to produce heat, it lights up in the scans. In two of the three studies, investigators also studied samples of brown fat that were removed from a few subjects, confirming that the cells had a protein, UCP-1, that is unique to brown fat.
Brown fat in adult humans was in an unexpected place. Infants have it mostly as a sheet of cells covering their backs. Rodents have it mostly between their shoulder blades, just down from the neck. But in adult humans, it showed up in the upper back, on the side of the neck, in the dip between the collarbone and shoulder, and along the spine.
That may be one reason it was missed for so long, Dr. Kahn said.
“There was an interest in looking at humans 20 or 25 years ago with different scanning techniques, but people were always looking between the shoulder blades,” he said. And since there is so little brown fat — just a few grams of tissue — it can be hard to find, Dr. Kahn added.
His study, one of the three published Thursday, involved 1,972 people who had had PET scans for a variety of reasons. The scans showed brown fat in 7.5 percent of the women and 3 percent of the men — an underestimate, Dr. Kahn says, because the people had not deliberately activated brown fat by getting cold.
Dr. Kahn and his colleagues also examined biopsy samples taken from the necks of two patients. They concluded that what looked like brown fat in their scans was indeed brown fat.
A second study, led by Wouter D. van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, involved 24 healthy young men. Ten were lean, the rest overweight or obese.
The scans showed no brown fat when the men had been in a room that was a comfortable temperature. But after they were in a chilly room for two hours, scans showed brown fat in all but one, an obese man.
A third study, led by Dr. Sven Enerbäck of the University of Goteborg in Sweden, involved five healthy adults. Each had two PET scans — one after being in a room at a comfortable temperature, the other after being in a chilly room for two hours. The investigators saw brown fat in their chilled subjects. Three participants allowed the researchers to remove some white fat and some brown fat to demonstrate that what looked like brown fat in the scans really was that elusive substance.
The studies, investigators say, should stimulate research on safe ways to activate brown fat. It is known to be activated not only by cold but also by catecholamines, hormones that are part of the fight or flight response. That is why beta blockers, which block catecholamines, can suppress brown fat activation.
Epinephrine, or adrenaline, and ephedra, a herbal supplement containing epinephrine, can stimulate brown fat, said Dr. Rudolph Leibel, co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at the Columbia University Medical Center. But, he added, the drugs have too many side effects to be used for weight loss. While caffeine can boost ephedra’s effects, Dr. Leibel said, it is easy to eat your way out of a brown fat effect.
Brown fat, he said, “fits the fantasy — I eat what I want and burn it off.”
That, however, is still a fantasy, Dr. Leibel added.
If a drug that stimulates brown fat could be developed, said Dr. Claude Bouchard of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, it would be the first obesity drug to affect energy expenditure rather than appetite.
Then there is the notion of simply hanging out in a cold room.
“We’re thinking of opening a frosty spa,” Dr. Kozak joked.

The battle for the legality of gay marriage in the US takes a fresh turn in Iowa

Time magazine reported in a very even-handed manner on a key legal battle in the state of Iowa this weekend with regard to the battles of the Republican-led far right pressure groups against the ongoing march of gay marriage.

When the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that gays can marry in the Hawkeye State, gay marriage became not just a coastal thing. Deep in the rural heartland, a straightforward opinion — written by a justice appointed by a conservative Republican governor — methodically eviscerates one argument after another that for decades has been used to keep marriage the sole preserve of straight couples. “This class of people asks a simple and direct question: How can a state premised on the constitutional principle of equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage?” Justice Mark S. Cady asked.

The answer? It can’t.

“I would say the mood is one of mourning right now,” Bryan English, spokesman for the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center, told the Associated Press, even as he promised to lobby legislators hard to begin an amendment process. But that process, in Iowa, is a lengthy one — and unlike in California, the constitution can’t be amended by a simple vote of the people. Both houses of the legislature must approve it, and most legal experts agree that the process could be put before voters no sooner than 2012. (See TIME’s video: “Iowa: Gay Marriage in the Heartland”)

The decision came at a pregnant moment in what has become one of the defining legal battles of our time. It offers hope to supporters of gay marriage just when they were feeling lowest. Last year’s ruling by the California Supreme Court issued a broad new justification for gay marriage — the Republican-dominated court declared forcefully that California may not discriminate against gays in any way, giving the ruling more legal force and sweep than any decision of its kind ever has. Thousands of couples flocked to clerk’s offices to be wed. Months later, in November, however, that jubilation turned sour, when Californians voted to change the constitution to forbid gay marriage. Soon after, some gay activists from across the country were asking for a time out, arguing that the marriage activists had pushed too fast and too hard — and that the backlash in more conservative states would undo any progress enjoyed in places like San Francisco or Boston. “Marriage was never our issue,” one activist from south Florida told TIME last November. “It was thrust upon us by the other side, and they’ve done a very good job of beating us up over it.”

But after Friday those calculations look timid. Now three states require full marriage for gays, and Vermont is on the brink of becoming the first state where gay marriage would be made legal by lawmakers, rather than the courts — a significant milestone. The Vermont House passed a law allowing gay marriage on Friday, and the Senate is expected to follow suit on Monday. Gov. Jim Douglas has promised to veto it, but an override fight will quickly follow, probably by next week.

There might even be good news in the Iowa decision for gays in California, where activists are fearfully awaiting the justices’ ruling on Prop 8, which is likely to be issued in coming weeks. The Iowa decision cited the California case eight times and borrowed its reasoning again and again. That kind of homage from a sister court — and one that, like California’s, has a long history of breakthrough civil rights decisions — may strengthen the resolve of the majority in the Golden State and turn aside the narrow vote of the people.

But for now, the power of the Iowa decision can be measured on its own terms. It did not speak with the historic sweep of the California court, perhaps because the justices there know Iowa’s court is less often seen as a harbinger of legal trends than California’s. And in one important aspect the decision stopped short of following California’s lead. In California, Chief Justice Ronald George declared that from now on, any laws that discriminate against gays in California are presumptively unconstitutional and will be subject to “strict-scrutiny” analysis by the courts — a burden that is reserved in every other state for cases involving discrimination against religion or immutable characteristics such as race. By extending it to homosexuals, the California court made clear in a way that no other state court has that gays are deserving of fundamental protections.

The Iowa decision’s precedent is less forceful. (Read the full decision) Iowa decided, instead, that the statute banning gay marriage fails a subordinate level of constitutional analysis, what courts call “intermediate scrutiny,” an approach usually used with cases involving discrimination on the basis of gender, for instance. Because the statute could not even meet that standard, Cady ruled that there was no need to decide whether a higher level of scrutiny should be required in the future.

But in other ways, the Iowa decision was every bit a match for the California ruling. It took up each argument against gay marriage and dispatched them with a minimum of bombast. An exception was the vivid language employed by the court to cement its position that gays have indeed been discriminated against as a class — a traditional test for whether a group deserves the protection of heightened constitutional scrutiny. “The County does not, and could not in good faith, dispute the historical reality that gay and lesbian people as a group have long been the victim of purposeful and invidious discrimination because of their sexual orientation. The long and painful history of discrimination against gay and lesbian persons is epitomized by the criminalization of homosexual conduct in many parts of this country until very recently. School-yard bullies have psychologically ground children with apparently gay or lesbian sexual orientation in the cruel mortar and pestle of school-yard prejudice.”

But the true power of the decision lies not in its equal protection analysis, though it is rooted there. Instead, what sets this decision apart is the frank way in which it raises the issue of religious objections to gay marriage. As the Supreme Court did in Lawrence v. Texas, its seminal 2003 ruling striking down sodomy laws, the Iowa court says that mere moral opprobrium or deeply held values are not enough to warrant legal sanctions or the denial of legal rights. The court then subtly raises the issue of religious opposition to gay marriage, even though the legal briefs by the other side did not.

“Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained — even fundamental — religious belief,” the court said, before adding that religious views are nonetheless mixed on the subject. “As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.”

Religious opponents to gay marriage were not convinced. “We, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Iowa, strongly disagree with the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court which strikes down Iowa’s law defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman,” the bishops said in a statement issued Friday. “This decision rejects the wisdom of thousands of years of human history. It implements a novel understanding of marriage, which will grievously harm families and children.

English, the spokesman for the conservative family group, said he’s already begun lobbying for an amendment campaign to outlaw gay marriage again. “The first thing we did after internalizing the decision was to walk across the street and begin the process of lobbying our legislators to let the people of Iowa vote,” he said.

But until that comes to pass, observers on both sides considering the opinion will likely find the strongest language in the decision to be its final four words: “AFFIRMED. All justices concur.”

Property speculators could make a killing on Death Row

According to the Telegraph Californian authorities are considering selling Death Row to property speculators.

Death Row’ could go up for sale Legislators in California are considering “selling Death Row” which could raise up to $2 billion (£1.4 billion) in much-needed funds thanks to the correctional facility’s prime location and enviable vistas.

The San Quentin State Prison, which was built in 1852, houses more than 5,300 inmates, including 635 prisoners sentenced to death. Situated in picturesque Marin County, it occupies a 435-acre site in one of Northern California’s most desirable locations, and boasts panoramic views over San Francisco Bay.Estate agents estimate that the land would be worth over $2 billion on the open market, and predict there would be considerable interest from property developers keen to build luxury apartments and offices on the site.
 If plans to sell the prison are approved, lawmakers in California will build a new correctional facility – complete with expanded accommodations for the state’s growing Death Row population – with the proceeds, a project that will cost an estimated $1 billion (£700 million). Profits from the sale would go towards stemming the Golden State’s burgeoning budget gap, which is projected to reach $42 billion (£29 billion) within two years.
San Quentin, like many of California’s prisons, suffers from chronic overcrowding. In 2003, $220 million was allocated to finance a new, state-of-the-art Death Row facility on its grounds. Spiralling costs mean the figure would now be closer to $400 million, money critics argue could be better spent during times of economic hardship.
“It makes little sense, at a time of unprecedented state budget deficits, to pour $395.5 million more (if that is indeed the final figure) into a facility that should have been shut down and sold off when Gov Ronald Reagan first proposed it in 1971”, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Despite its reputation as a liberal state, California has the nation’s largest number of condemned prisoners. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, however, only 14 inmates have been executed, as the time between sentencing and death is typically between 20 and 25 years. By contrast, 38 people have died of natural causes while awaiting their fate.