Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Senators Ask EPA to Set Chromium 6 Standard

LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have called on the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the public from hexavalent chromium following a report that found the carcinogen in the tap water of 31 cities across the country.

In a letter obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, Boxer, who chairs the Senate environment and public works committee, said she plans to introduce legislation with California colleague Feinstein that would set a deadline for the EPA to establish an enforceable standard for the chemical also known as chromium 6. The committee will also hold a hearing on the issue in February.

The letter was sent after the release of a study by the Environmental Working Group that analyzed drinking water in 35 cities across the country. The five cities with the highest levels of chromium 6 were Norman, Okla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Riverside, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; and San Jose, Calif.

The chemical is commonly discharged from steel and pulp mills, metal-plating plants and leather-tanning facilities, the group said in the report.

"There are no enforceable federal standards to protect the public from hexavalent chromium in tap water," read the letter to EPA chief Lisa Jackson.

The EPA currently tests for total chromium levels but the letter said the tests do not show precise amounts of chromium 6. In addition, the agency's chromium standard is outdated because it was set nearly two decades ago, the letter said.

EPA spokesman Jalil Isa could not immediately comment on the letter. However, the agency did issue a response to the study.

"Ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans is a top priority for EPA," the statement said. "The agency regularly reevaluates drinking water standards and, based on new science on chromium 6, had already begun a rigorous and comprehensive review of its health effects."

In September, the agency released a draft of a scientific review. When the assessment is finalized in 2011, the agency will determine whether new standards need to be set.

Studies show that chromium 6 can cause cancer in people and has also been found to cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract, lymph nodes and liver of animals.

The federal government's current total chromium standard is 100 parts per billion. California has set a goal for safe limits for chromium 6 at 0.06 parts per billion.

The public became aware of the dangers of chromium 6 as a result of the hit movie "Erin Brockovich" in 2000, which followed a case in which Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. was accused of leaking the contaminant into the groundwater of Hinckley, a small desert town.

The utility subsequently agreed to a $333 million settlement with more than 600 residents who blamed the contamination for a variety of health problems including cancer.

Hyundai, VW Top Insurance Industry Safe Car List

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Recognizes 66 Vehicles with Its "Top Safety Pick Award" for 2011 Model Year

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recognized 66 vehicles on Wednesday with its "top safety pick award" for the 2011 model year, the most-ever awarded by the Virginia-based group. The number was more than double the 27 vehicles selected last year.

Hyundai Motor Corp. and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp., and Volkswagen AG and its Audi brand received the most awards with nine, followed by eight awards apiece by General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. The awards, used in advertising to attract car buyers, bolster Hyundai and Volkswagen as they attempt to build a larger foothold in the United States.

Hyundai's Genesis sedan, Sonata midsize and Santa Fe and Tucson sport utility vehicles picked up awards, while Kia was recognized for the Optima midsize car, the Forte and Soul small cars, and the Sorento and Sportage SUVs. Volkswagen won plaudits for the Jetta and Jetta SportWagen, the Golf and GTI small cars and the Touareg and Tiguan SUVs. Audi's A3 and A4 sedans and Q5 SUV also made the list.

Subaru and Chrysler received five awards apiece while Volvo and Mercedes had four. Subaru was the only automaker to win awards in every vehicle category in which it competes. Nissan and Honda had two awards each and Mitsubishi and BMW had one.

Hyundai said the award was particularly sweet for the Sonata, which also received the top score of five stars in the government's crash test program. The combination put Sonata "in a safety position unsurpassed in the industry," said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America.

Mark Barnes, Volkswagen of America's chief operating officer, said the recognition for VW was a "testament to our commitment to engineering safe vehicles."

GM's winners include the Chevrolet Malibu, Cruze and Equinox; Cadillac CTS and SRX; Buick LaCrosse and Regal and GMC Terrain. Chris Perry, vice president of Chevrolet marketing, said the award would build on "the already strong global safety reputation of the Cruze."

Ford's picks include the Ford Taurus, Fusion, Fiesta, Explorer and Flex; and the Lincoln MKS, MKZ and MKT. Ford vice president Sue Cischke said the Explorer, which arrived at dealer showrooms earlier this month, offered a good example of the company's safety improvements, including inflatable seat belts and technology that helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle along tough curves.

Toyota, which has grappled with several high-profile recalls during the past year, scored with the Toyota Avalon, Corolla, Sienna, Highlander and Venza; the Lexus RX; and the Scion tC and xB. Toyota said its eight safety picks were "reflective of our ongoing commitment to developing safe and reliable vehicles for our customers."

The vehicles were chosen for protection in front, side and rear crash tests. To qualify for the award, the insurance industry group also requires the vehicles to have anti-rollover electronic stability control, or ESC, and receive top scores in roof strength tests.

Institute president Adrian Lund credited automakers for "quickly rising to meet the more-challenging criteria for `Top Safety Pick."' He said several automakers have requested tests for new models coming out early next year and Lund predicted more winners would be added.

FCC's Split Vote on Network-Neutrality Rules Only Inflames Debate

The rancor in Washington over network neutrality is about to enter a new phase: all-out political and judicial warfare. Federal Communications Commission approval today of ambitious new regulations for Internet service has triggered a heated debate over the government’s role in regulating cyberspace—providing ample fodder for an empowered Republican Party as it prepares to take control of the House next month.

The rules were adopted on a 3-2 partisan vote, with the agency's three Democrats backing passage and the two Republican commissioners strongly opposed. The regulations are designed to ensure that the Internet is not dominated by major telecommunications and cable companies. They prohibit anti-competitive blocking and degrading of competing online services and are enforceable by the agency.

Dismissing the regulations as an unnecessary government intrusion in the marketplace, Republicans in both chambers vowed to try to block them, while industry and watchdog critics sharpened their legal daggers as they made plans to challenge the rules in court.

President Obama touted net neutrality during his presidential bid and is a friend of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. He said the decision “will help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice, and defending free speech.” Genachowski proclaimed that the vote signals “a very good day” for innovators, consumers, and the Internet’s future. “It is essential that the FCC fulfill its historic role as a cop on the beat to ensure the vitality of our communications networks and to empower and protect consumers of those networks.”

But in an effort to halt the regulations, Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, announced that she will introduce a “resolution of disapproval” under the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress a limited amount of time after a federal agency issues a rule to review it and pass a resolution to block it. “We have an Internet that is working. It does not need the heavy hand of government,” she said during a floor speech. Asserting that Congress must take a stand, she added: “We have not delegated this authority to the FCC.”

"Today is a sad day for innovation in this country," echoed Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Communications Subcommittee. "As the rest of the world forges ahead, the United States will face a technological 'Lost Decade.'” Mocking the agency’s action, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said the FCC really stands for “Fabricating a Crisis Commission.”

Also critical was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who called net neutrality “a first step in controlling how Americans use the Internet by establishing federal regulations on its use.” He added: “This would harm investment, stifle innovation, and lead to job losses.”

On the House side, presumptive Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that bureaucrats should not be regulating the Internet. “The new House majority will work to reverse this unnecessary and harmful federal government power grab next year,” he vowed.

Prominent GOP members pledged to pursue a similar resolution to Hutchison’s and use other avenues to block the rules. In a conference call, incoming Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said his panel’s first hearing next year will be on this topic, with more sessions to follow. Upton spoke along with incoming Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore. “We are going to be exploring every option to try to reverse this order,” Upton said. The lawmakers noted that there is bipartisan opposition to the FCC’s rules.

National Journal reported earlier today that Verizon, the nation’s second-largest telecommunications carrier, may sue the FCC in an effort to overturn the rules. In a statement, the company said it was “deeply concerned” by the new framework, which it said would “yield continued uncertainty for industry, innovators, and investors.”

“Lawsuits could come from both sides: companies that feel the FCC has gone too far and entities that don’t think the FCC went far enough,” Jeff Silva, a telecom analyst with Medley Global Advisors, said in an interview. During a press conference, Genachowski said he’s confident that legal challenges would fail. “We have a legal basis for the rules we adopted today that is very strong, that gives us the authority we need, and I’m confident we’ll win in court,” he said.

The commission’s action received some qualified praise from powerful Democrats, including Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. “While many champions of the open Internet would have preferred a stricter decision—and I myself have real reservations about treating wireless broadband differently from wired broadband—I think today's decision is a meaningful step forward,” he wrote. Critics have complained that the rules are weak for wireless carriers even though Americans are fast gravitating to mobile broadband service.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the FCC’s action represents a floor, not a ceiling. “If the rule’s protections prove insufficient and consumers and innovation suffer, they will need to be strengthened, and I will vigorously support that effort,” he said in a statement.

But there also was criticism from the left. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., dismissed the safeguards as “inadequate” to protect consumers or preserve the free and open Internet. He’s particularly disappointed that the rules permit Internet toll lanes for companies willing to pay for faster transmissions—under limited circumstances—and decried what he sees as insufficient protections for mobile service.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.., former chairman of a powerful House subcommittee that shapes telecom policy, had a mixed reaction, saying the new rules don’t contain everything he wanted. “Still, it does represent a step forward in the process of preserving the Internet as a vibrant marketplace.”

Several prominent watchdogs, including Free Press and Public Knowledge, complained that the agency missed its opportunity to fully preserve the Internet’s much-heralded openness. In an interview, Andrew Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director for the Media Access Project, said the public-interest law firm is “very displeased” with the rules and might sue the FCC “over its failure to adequately cover wireless services” under the restrictions. He thinks there’s a “good chance” the entire plan will be overturned in court because the FCC “has used the wrong legal authority on which to base this.”

Addressing the concerns about mobile carriers, Genachowski emphasized to reporters that wireline and wireless services are different, with the latter facing unique congestion challenges that require more flexibility in managing traffic on networks.

Industry reaction, meanwhile, was mixed, with some key supporters of an earlier version of Genachowski’s plan—including AT&T and CTIA, the main wireless industry association—reserving final judgment until they’ve seen the fine print about the newly adopted rules.

“Though a final view must await a careful reading of the FCC’s order, we believe the Chairman’s compromise can provide . . . certainty while taking steps to preserve flexibility for investment and innovation,” AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi said in a blog post. The U.S. Telecommunications Association said it opposes the expansion of regulatory powers while Comcast and Sprint offered tepid support.

The satellite television provider DISH Network and the Computer and Communications Industry Association said they wish the FCC had gone further, while the Information Technology Industry Council, whose members include Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Intel, said the regulations would spur investment and innovation.

The FCC's two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, made clear that they’re unhappy with several provisions, including the less stringent rules for wireless carriers.

“To be clear, we do not anchor ourselves on what I believe to be the best legal framework,” Copps told the packed audience in the FCC meeting room. “Nor have we crafted rules as strong as I would have liked. But with today’s action, we do nonetheless appear to steer ourselves back toward a better course.” In his vote, Copps concurred, which is the weakest form of approval. Clyburn approved in part and concurred in part, while Genachowski cast a yes vote.

The FCC met amid heavy police security both inside and outside the agency, as the debate over the future of the Internet drew national attention on the Drudge Report and elsewhere in the media during the run-up to the vote.

The agency’s two Republicans were blunt in their negative assessments of the effects of the new regulations, warning that the rules amount to government overreach, could dissuade investment and could encourage other countries to tighten their control over the Web. “Not only is today the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, but it marks one of the darkest days in recent FCC history,” Commissioner Robert McDowell, the agency’s senior GOP member, said in a lengthy denunciation. “The FCC is capable of better—today is not its finest hour.”

Echoing the sentiment, Meredith Attwell Baker said she fears that the government will now play “too big a role” in shaping tomorrow’s Internet. “The FCC literally has no power to act until and unless Congress gives it power.”

Obama, Latino lawmakers take pragmatic view on immigration

OA path to legal status for illegal residents might not happen soon, the president agrees in a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. But he says he's not giving up.

President Obama and Latino lawmakers agreed Tuesday that chances are dimming for passageof an immigration overhaul that would provide a path to legal status for millions of illegal residents, according to people familiar with the private session.

Instead, the president and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus concurred that, until after the 2012 election, a more realistic goal would be to stave off legislation targeting illegal immigrants.

That said, Obama told the group, he was not giving up on an immigration overhaul, which he promised to accomplish during his 2008 presidential campaign. He said he would mention the issue in his State of the Union address next month, a move that Democrats hope might pressure Republicans into accommodating the fast-growing Latino voting bloc.

"The reality is, we're no longer on the House side in charge of the agenda,'' said Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D- Texas), who attended the meeting. "We would never have had a vote on the Dream Act if the Republicans were in charge. So we need to understand that.''

The Dream Act, which died over the weekend when the Senate failed to cut off debate, was an attempt to offer a path to legal status for young undocumented immigrants who met certain criteria. It would have allowed those brought to this country before age 16 to attain legal residency and perhaps eventually citizenship if they had lived here more than five years and attended college or served in the military.
Opponents derided it as a form of amnesty. Experts estimated that about 1.2 million immigrants could have benefited.

Proponents of a new immigration system fear that once Republicans take control of the House next month, they will put together a package of laws that stress tough enforcement.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, helped pass legislation in 1996 that increased penalties against illegal immigrants. The bill, signed by President Clinton, limited the discretion of U.S. immigration judges and increased the time immigrants could be detained while awaiting a hearing.

In the last few weeks, Smith stated that immigration enforcement would be one of his priorities and that he intended to "enact policies that will better secure our borders and discourage illegal immigration, human smuggling and drug trafficking."

Amid concern about such efforts, Obama told the five Latino lawmakers who met with him in the Oval Office that he would veto certain punitive legislation if need be.

Democrats will still control the Senate. But with power realigned in the Capitol, prospects for a comprehensive immigration overhaul are far dimmer than at any point in the last two years, when Democrats controlled both chambers.

For starters, an immigration overhaul would go through Smith's Judiciary Committee. In a statement, Smith said it is "pointless'' to take up immigration bills granting "amnesty'' until the border is better secured.

More delays in passing an immigration bill pose risks for both parties. As a candidate in 2008, Obama said he would deal with the issue in his first year in office. Now he faces the reality that his promise might not be met before 2013.

As for the GOP, some seasoned Republican operatives warn that it is self-defeating for the party to take an uncompromising stance on immigration given the growing numbers of Latino voters.

"As a practical political issue and as a principled position, the majority of the party needs to speak up against a very small minority that are coming at this from a jingoistic or racist perspective," Rob Stutzman, a longtime Republican strategist based in California, said in an interview. "It's time to really condemn and put that behind us.''

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he believes some Republicans grasp the political risks.

"There are Republican senators who view the exclusion of Hispanic voters to be very short-sighted politically, and they are looking for a way to meet the needs of the Hispanic community without antagonizing their political base,'' Durbin said.

During the waning days of the lame-duck Congress, Republicans and Democrats failed to find an immigration compromise. Democratic senators had offered to negotiate on the Dream Act — for example, by lowering the age limit for those who would qualify.

But a counter-offer never came, according to an Obama administration official familiar with the negotiations.

In the end, only three Republican senators backed a procedural move that would have brought the Dream Act to a vote. Five Democrats voted against it. The final tally was 55 to 41, five votes short.



Lindsay Lohan Under Investigation for Battery

Though Lindsay Lohan seemed to be bettering herself in rehab, reports are now surfacing that the actress is under investigation for battery after an allegedly heated exchange with an employee at the Betty Ford Center.

Just two weeks before she is scheduled to finish treatment, the staffer reportedly involved in the altercation says she plans to take Lohan to court, according to TMZ.

Lohan and the woman reportedly got into a “hand-to-hand” fight when the staffer asked the starlet to submit to a drug and alcohol test after she’d been out at a bar, according to a Palm Desert Police Department spokesperson.
Police are investigating the situation as a misdemeanor, but the district attorney has yet to decide if they will press charges, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Judge for the Los Angeles Superior Court previously told Lohan that she could be sent back to jail for another six months if she faces any other charges while on probation. Lohan’s lawyer was unavailable for comment when EW reached out.


Police: Man kills bride, best man, self at wedding

A bridegroom fatally shot his new wife, his best man and then himself after announcing to horrified guests that he had a "surprise" for them, authorities said Monday.

Witnesses reported that 29-year-old Rogerio Damascena, a sales manager in Camaragibe, outside the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, did not give any previous indication that anything was wrong at his wedding reception, police investigator Joao Brito said.

Brito would not speculate on a possible motive, saying family members were in shock and he had not interviewed them yet.

Brito did say the killings are believed to be premeditated because of the groom's announcement and because he had hidden a gun in his father's pickup truck.

Twenty-five-year-old bride Renata Alexandre Costa Coelho and best man Marcelo Guimaraes were both killed in Saturday's murder-suicide. A brother of the bride was treated at a hospital and released.

The website Globo.com quoted a sister of the bride who left before the shootings as saying she didn't believe it was a crime of passion.

"My sister was a wonderful person who loved and wanted to be loved," Lucia Helena Coelho was quoted as saying.

"He was happy, she was happy, the party was beautiful. His family adored her and doesn't understand this," Coelho told Globo.com. "He revealed himself as a sociopath who fooled the entire family and killed his best friend, who was ... the best man."

The Internet Splits in Two

Today’s FCC ruling on net neutrality shifts billions in profits and boils down to one fact: There will soon be a fast Internet for the rich and a slow Internet for the poor.

The Federal Communications Commission approved a set of net neutrality rules today, and nobody is happy. While liberals claim the FCC has caved to pressure from carriers, right-wingers are calling the new rules a government takeover of the Internet.
In their tea-addled brains, the new rules represent yet another example of creeping socialism taking over every aspect of our lives. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is "Julius Seizure." Cue the black helicopters.

U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski speaks to the media on the importance of net neutrality December 1, 2010 at the headquarters of the FCC in Washington, DC.

No matter what you think about the new rules, however, they signal an important turning point in the development of the Internet. We are going from Phase One, where everything is free and open and untamed, into Phase Two, which is all about centralization, consolidation, control—and money.

Because don’t kid yourself. Money is driving all of this. As in: Hey, we’ve created this marvelous new platform for communicating with each other. We’ve demonstrated that very large sums of money can be generated by sending stuff over these wires. Now let’s figure out who gets what.

Today’s new FCC rules grant two big concessions to carriers. First, the rules will apply to wired broadband connections, but they will pretty much leave wireless alone. Second, carriers remain free to create “fast lanes” on the Internet. They can charge Internet companies to ride on the faster pipes, and perhaps also charge consumers more money to get access to those speedy services.

The first 15 years of the Internet, where it was all about peace and love and freedom, are drawing to a close.

That is a huge deal. It means we are entering an age in which we will have two Internets—the fast one, with great content, that costs more (maybe a lot more) to use, and then the MuggleNet, which is free but slow and crappy. Cable TV vs. rabbit ears.

On wireless—which eventually will be the more important platform—that disparity will be even more evident. The rich will get great stuff. The poor will get, well, what the poor usually get, which is not much.

Oddly enough this bifurcation resonates beyond just the speed of our Internet connection. It also is happening to information itself. We could be heading into a world where the rich get better information, from a wider choice of sources, while the poor get less.

That’s already happening, to some extent. If you’re a trader on Wall Street and can afford a Bloomberg terminal, you get better information sooner than the poor schlumps who are home trying to play at being day traders.

It will happen even more as news organizations, like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and The New York Times, start putting content behind pay walls.

And so the digital divide widens into an information divide, which of course has huge implications for politics, economics, and even democracy itself.

Consider that in the 2008 election both sides were struggling to reach so-called low information voters. What happens when access to information becomes even more restricted? Where your ability to become informed is based upon your ability to pay?
That’s the world we’re heading into. The first 15 years of the Internet, where it was all about peace and love and freedom, are drawing to a close.

The ultimate irony is that we are creating an information age where some of us—many of us—will get less information instead of more.

In his terrific new book, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, Columbia University professor Tim Wu describes the way every new communication platform starts out with a phase where there is openness and innovation, and where lots of amateurs (today we call many of them “hackers”) try out different things and spout lots of utopian rhetoric about making the world a better place.

Then, about 15 years in, things start to close down and become more centralized. The new platform becomes dominated by a small number of companies in the hands of powerful visionaries with an urge for empire-building. This also happened in telegraph, movies, radio, telephone—and now it’s happening to the Internet.

Steve Jobs is building an empire around selling music, movies, and news to people who own iPhones and iPads. Mark Zuckerberg is building an empire around the gathering and selling of the personal data of a half a billion people.

Now the carriers get their slice of the action. A lot of people hate the carriers, but try, for a moment, to see the world through their eyes. For 15 years they have sat around watching hundreds of billions of dollars of market value get created on the end of their wires (Google, eBay, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook) while all they get is a puny monthly subscriber fee.

The carriers won’t say this publicly, but I’m sure they resent being denied a share of the wealth being created on the platform that they’ve been so kind as to build and maintain for the rest of us. What they also won’t say publicly, or at least not in this blunt a fashion, is: If you want us to keep building out more bandwidth, then start sharing the loot. Otherwise you can go build your own high-speed network.

Obnoxious? Certainly. But also persuasive. The FCC’s compromise probably represents the best deal anyone could get.

What this means for society remains to be seen. But I’m pretty sure those of us who have been around for Phase One of the Internet are going to look back on these last 15 years as the good old days.

Dan Lyons is technology editor at Newsweek

I wish The Sanctimonious old fart had of acted better during his Senate years!

Specter assails ideological 'cannibalism' in Senate in farewell speech

Sen. Arlen Specter began his goodbye speech after 30 years in office Tuesday morning by declaring "this is not a farewell address but rather a closing argument."

And argumentative he was. The Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat berated his colleagues for stripping the "world's greatest deliberative body" of its collegiality. In a bitter, at times angry, speech, Specter accused leaders of both parties of abusing the Senate's "cerebral procedures" in the service of partisan rancor and gridlock.

Referring to the 2010 election cycle in which he and more than a half-dozen colleagues were defeated in party primaries, Specter condemned senators for campaigning against one another.

"Collegiality can obviously not be maintained when negotiating with someone simultaneously out to defeat you - especially within your own party," Specter said. "In some quarters, 'compromising' has become a dirty word. Some senators insist on ideological purity as a precondition."

Specter, 80, surveyed the wreckage of Republicans defeated by tea party insurgents in primaries this year. He said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.) was rejected in a Senate primary in favor of "a candidate who thought it necessary to defend herself as not being a witch" - a reference from the Senate floor to defeated Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell that caused a few colleagues to smile and hold back laughter.

"Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism," Specter added.

Specter's speech stood in stark contrast to the soaring, valedictory odes to the Senate that Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and other veteran legislators have delivered in recent weeks. And it was not lost on anyone that, unlike Dodd and Gregg, Specter - who earned the nickname "Snarlin' Arlen" - is not exiting on his own terms.

A moderate Republican since his first election to the Senate in 1980, Specter switched parties in spring 2009 when it became clear to him that he would lose reelection in a GOP primary. But as a Democrat, he faced a surprisingly strong primary challenge from insurgent Rep. Joe Sestak, who beat Specter to the nomination but lost in the general election to Sen.-elect Pat Toomey (R).

"Civility is a state of mind," Specter said. "It reflects respect for your opponents and for the institutions you serve together. . . . This polarization will make civility in the next Congress more difficult - and more necessary - than ever."

Specter cited the unlikely write-in victory by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as evidence that America still wants to be governed by the center. Specter has seen his coalition of moderate senators shrink drastically. In his speech, he rattled off a roll call of moderate Republicans who ate lunch together - "a glorious tradition," he said. Almost all those colleagues are gone from the Senate.

"That's a far cry from later years, when moderates could fit in a telephone booth," he added.

Specter told senators he was not retiring. "I do not say farewell to my continuing involvement in public policy, which I will pursue in a different venue," he said.

And indeed, Specter retook the floor shortly after giving his farewell to offer his thoughts on the nuclear arms treaty.

Death Penalty Down in U.S.

States are continuing a trend of executing fewer prisoners and juries are wary of sentencing criminal defendants to die, according to year-end figures compiled by a group that opposes the death penalty.

The 46 executions in 2010 constituted a nearly 12 percent drop from the previous year’s total of 52, according to the group, Death Penalty Information Center, which produces an annual report on execution trends. The overall trend shows a marked drop when compared with the 85 executions in 2000.

Jurors, too, show a continuing preference for the alternative of punishing criminal defendants with sentences of life without parole. Juries handed out 114 death sentences in 2010, slightly higher than the 112 death sentences last year, and 50 percent fewer for the current decade than in the 1990s — before the widespread availability of life without parole sentences for juries in capital cases.

“There’s just a whole lot more concern about the accuracy of the death penalty, the fairness and even the costs — all are contributing,” said Richard C. Dieter, the author of the report and the executive director of the center, which is in Washington. The availability of the alternative to the death penalty, Mr. Dieter said, also means that “prosecutors know it’s going to be a harder sell and are seeking it less.”

The states continue to condemn far more prisoners to death than they actually execute.

There are 3,261 people on death row in the United States; California has the largest population, with 697, while New Hampshire and Wyoming have one apiece. A majority of Americans support the death penalty, with 64 percent of those surveyed by Gallup in October 2010 favoring it and 29 percent opposed.

One contributing factor in the low number of executions nationwide is the shortage of a drug used for executions — they were postponed or canceled in Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Hospira, the company that makes sodium thiopental, the drug, has said that it expects to resume production in the first quarter of 2011.

The legal director of a group that supports the death penalty, Kent S. Scheidegger, said Mr. Dieter’s group had interpreted facts selectively. Mr. Scheidegger, of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said that at least half the drop in death sentences could be attributed in part to a smaller number of murders in recent years, a fact that he and his group argue is a result of the nation’s high rates of incarceration.

Runners-up to Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year

-- The runners-up to Merriam-Webster's 2010 Word of the Year - austerity - with definitions from the publisher's collegiate dictionary and, when applicable, the news event or story that generated the interest in the word:

- Pragmatic (adj.): relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters; practical as opposed to idealistic.

U.S. elected officials began to talk about more "pragmatic" solutions to the nation's problems after the Nov. midterm elections.

- Moratorium (noun): a legally authorized period of delay in the performance of a legal obligation or the payment of a debt.

The Obama administration issued a "moratorium" on deepwater oil drilling following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

- Socialism (noun): any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Socialism was in the news on and off around a number news stories, including those concerning federal bailouts and Democratic-backed federal health care legislation.

- Bigot (noun): a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown referred to voter as a "bigot" with a wireless microphone still on, former CNN host Rick Sanchez suggested Daily Show host Jon Stewart was a "bigot," and former NPR senior analyst Juan Williams got fired after he said on the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor" that he wasn't a "bigot," but got nervous when he saw certain Muslims on airplanes.

- Doppelganger (noun): a ghostly counterpart of a living person; comes from a German word that translates as "double goer."

ABC "Good Morning America" host George Stephanopoulos called "Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert "Julia Roberts' doppelganger." Roberts played Gilbert in the book's film adaptation. "Doppelganger" was also used in the popular television show, "The Vampire Diaries."

- Shellacking (noun): a decisive defeat.

President Barack Obama said he and his party took "a shellacking" from voters frustrated over the pace of economic recovery, a day after Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives and lost ground in the Senate.

- Ebullient (adj.): having or showing liveliness and enthusiasm.

A number of media outlets used "ebullient" to describe events around the rescue of the Chilean miners in October.

- Dissident (adj.): disagreeing especially with an established religious or political system, organization, or belief.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xialbo, who not able to attend the ceremony in Oslo, Norway, because he remained a political prisoner in China, was often referred to as a "dissident."

- Furtive (adj.): done by stealth; surreptitious.

A man shown on surveillance video shedding his shirt near a car bomb in Times Square in May was described by police as "looking furtively" as he walked quickly from the scene.

A probable carcinogen in your glass of water!?

Probable carcinogen hexavalent chromium found in drinking water of 31 U.S. cities

An environmental group that analyzed the drinking water in 35 cities across the United States, including Bethesda and Washington, found that most contained hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen that was made famous by the film "Erin Brockovich."

The study, which will be released Monday by the Environmental Working Group, is the first nationwide analysis of hexavalent chromium in drinking water to be made public.

It comes as the Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to set a limit for hexavalent chromium in tap water. The agency is reviewing the chemical after the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, deemed it a "probable carcinogen" in 2008.

The federal government restricts the amount of "total chromium" in drinking water and requires water utilities to test for it, but that includes both trivalent chromium, a mineral that humans need to metabolize glucose, and hexavalent chromium, the metal that has caused cancer in laboratory animals.

Last year, California took the first step in limiting the amount of hexavalent chromium in drinking water by proposing a "public health goal" for safe levels of 0.06 parts per billion. If California does set a limit, it would be the first in the nation.

Hexavalent chromium was a commonly used industrial chemical until the early 1990s. It is still used in some industries, such as in chrome plating and the manufacturing of plastics and dyes. The chemical can also leach into groundwater from natural ores.

The new study found hexavalent chromium in the tap water of 31 out of 35 cities sampled. Of those, 25 had levels that exceeded the goal proposed in California.

The highest levels were found in Norman, Okla., where the water contained more than 200 times the California goal. Locally, Bethesda and Washington each had levels of 0.19 parts per billion, more than three times the California goal.

The cities were selected to be a mix of big and smaller communities and included places where local water companies had already detected high levels of "total chromium."

"This chemical has been so widely used by so many industries across the U.S. that this doesn't surprise me," said Erin Brockovich, whose fight on behalf of the residents of Hinkley, Calif., against Pacific Gas & Electric became the subject of a 2000 film. In that case, PG&E was accused of leaking hexavalent chromium into the town's groundwater for more than 30 years. The company paid $333 million in damages to more than 600 townspeople and pledged to clean up the contamination.

"Our municipal water supplies are in danger all over the U.S.," Brockovich said. "This is a chemical that should be regulated."

Max Costa, who chairs the department of environmental medicine at New York University's School of Medicine and is an expert in hexavalent chromium, called the new findings "disturbing."

"At this point, we should strive to not have any hexavalent chromium in drinking water" or at least limit the amounts to the level proposed by California, Costa wrote in an e-mail.

Hexavalent chromium has long been known to cause lung cancer when inhaled, but scientists only recently found evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals when ingested. It has been linked in animals to liver and kidney damage as well as leukemia, stomach cancer and other cancers.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry, says the California goal is unrealistic because some water supplies have naturally occurring hexavalent chromium that is higher than .06 parts per billion.

In a written statement, the group's senior director, Ann Mason, said that "even the most sophisticated analytical methods used by EPA are not able to detect the extremely low levels that California wants to establish."

The group supports a "uniform, national standard for hexavalent chromium in drinking water, based on sound science," Mason wrote. "Research is underway to provide EPA with critical data that will allow for a more informed risk assessment of hexavalent chromium. This data will be complete by mid-2011. Given the potential impact on drinking water supplies, EPA should incorporate this data in its assessment."

Brendan Gilfillan, an EPA spokesman, said that the agency was aware of the new study by the Environmental Working Group and that the findings will be considered as the agency reviews total chromium in drinking water, work that is expected to be completed next year.

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said that water utilities across the country are resistant to the regulation.

"It's not their fault. They didn't cause the contamination. But if a limit is set, it's going to be extraordinarily expensive for them to clean this up," Cook said. "The problem in all of this is that we lose sight of the water drinkers, of the people at the end of the tap. There is tremendous push-back from polluters and from water utilities. The real focus has to be on public health."

Monitoring America

Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

Other democracies - Britain and Israel, to name two - are well acquainted with such domestic security measures. But for the United States, the sum of these new activities represents a new level of governmental scrutiny.

This localized intelligence apparatus is part of a larger Top Secret America created since the attacks. In July, The Washington Post described an alternative geography of the United States, one that has grown so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

Today's story, along with related material on The Post's Web site, examines how Top Secret America plays out at the local level. It describes a web of 4,058 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 935 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks or became involved in counterterrorism for the first time after 9/11.

The months-long investigation, based on nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents, found that:

* Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.

* The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.

* Seeking to learn more about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

* The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.
Counterterrorism on Main Street
In cities across Tennessee and across the nation local agencies are using sophisticated equipment and techniques to keep an eye out for terrorist threats -- and to watch Americans in the process. Launch Gallery »

The need to identify U.S.-born or naturalized citizens who are planning violent attacks is more urgent than ever, U.S. intelligence officials say. This month's FBI sting operation involving a Baltimore construction worker who allegedly planned to bomb a Maryland military recruiting station is the latest example. It followed a similar arrest of a Somali-born naturalized U.S. citizen allegedly seeking to detonate a bomb near a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. There have been nearly two dozen other cases just this year.

"The old view that 'if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won't have to fight them here' is just that - the old view," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told police and firefighters recently.

The Obama administration heralds this local approach as a much-needed evolution in the way the country confronts terrorism.

Top Secret America is a project two years in the making that describes the huge security buildup in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Today’s story is about those efforts at the local level, including law enforcement and homeland security agencies in every state and thousands of communities. View previous stories, explore relationships between government organizations and the types of work being done, and view top-secret geography on an interactive map.

However, just as at the federal level, the effectiveness of these programs, as well as their cost, is difficult to determine. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.

The total cost of the localized system is also hard to gauge. The DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010. At least four other federal departments also contribute to local efforts. But the bulk of the spending every year comes from state and local budgets that are too disparately recorded to aggregate into an overall total.

The Post findings paint a picture of a country at a crossroads, where long-standing privacy principles are under challenge by these new efforts to keep the nation safe.

The public face of this pivotal effort is Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, which years ago built one of the strongest state intelligence organizations outside of New York to try to stop illegal immigration and drug importation.

Napolitano has taken her "See Something, Say Something" campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation's capital for "Terror Tips" and to "Report Suspicious Activity."

She recently enlisted the help of Wal-Mart, Amtrak, major sports leagues, hotel chains and metro riders. In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists.

"This represents a shift for our country," she told New York City police officers and firefighters on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary this fall. "In a sense, this harkens back to when we drew on the tradition of civil defense and preparedness that predated today's concerns."

From Afghanistan to Tennessee

On a recent night in Memphis, a patrol car rolled slowly through a parking lot in a run-down section of town. The military-grade infrared camera on its hood moved robotically from left to right, snapping digital images of one license plate after another and analyzing each almost instantly.

Suddenly, a red light flashed on the car's screen along with the word "warrant."

"Got a live one! Let's do it," an officer called out.

The streets of Memphis are a world away from the streets of Kabul, yet these days, the same types of technologies and techniques are being used in both places to identify and collect information about suspected criminals and terrorists.

The examples go far beyond Memphis.

* Hand-held, wireless fingerprint scanners were carried by U.S. troops during the insurgency in Iraq to register residents of entire neighborhoods. L-1 Identity Solutions is selling the same type of equipment to police departments to check motorists' identities.

* In Arizona, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Facial Recognition Unit, using a type of equipment prevalent in war zones, records 9,000 biometric digital mug shots a month.

* U.S. Customs and Border Protection flies General Atomics' Predator drones along the Mexican and Canadian borders - the same kind of aircraft, equipped with real-time, full-motion video cameras, that has been used in wars in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan to track the enemy.

The special operations units deployed overseas to kill the al-Qaeda leadership drove technological advances that are now expanding in use across the United States. On the front lines, those advances allowed the rapid fusing of biometric identification, captured computer records and cellphone numbers so troops could launch the next surprise raid.

Here at home, it's the DHS that is enamored with collecting photos, video images and other personal information about U.S. residents in the hopes of teasing out terrorists.

The DHS helped Memphis buy surveillance cameras that monitor residents near high-crime housing projects, problematic street corners, and bridges and other critical infrastructure. It helped pay for license plate readers and defrayed some of the cost of setting up Memphis's crime-analysis center. All together it has given Memphis $11 million since 2003 in homeland security grants, most of which the city has used to fight crime.

"We have got things now we didn't have before," said Memphis Police Department Director Larry Godwin, who has produced record numbers of arrests using all this new analysis and technology. "Some of them we can talk about. Some of them we can't."

One of the biggest advocates of Memphis's data revolution is John Harvey, the police department's technology specialist, whose computer systems are the civilian equivalent of the fancier special ops equipment used by the military.

Harvey collects any information he can pry out of government and industry. When officers were wasting time knocking on the wrong doors to serve warrants, he persuaded the local utility company to give him a daily update of the names and addresses of customers.

When he wanted more information about phones captured at crime scenes, he programmed a way to store all emergency 911 calls, which often include names and addresses to associate with phone numbers. He created another program to upload new crime reports every five minutes and mine them for the phone numbers of victims, suspects, witnesses and anyone else listed on them.

Now, instead of having to decide which license plate numbers to type into a computer console in the patrol car, an officer can simply drive around, and the automatic license plate reader on his hood captures the numbers on every vehicle nearby. If the officer pulls over a driver, instead of having to wait 20 minutes for someone back at the office to manually check records, he can use a hand-held device to instantly call up a mug shot, a Social Security number, the status of the driver's license and any outstanding warrants.

The computer in the cruiser can tell an officer even more about who owns the vehicle, the owner's name and address and criminal history, and who else with a criminal history might live at the same address.

Take a recent case of two officers with the hood-mounted camera equipment who stopped a man driving on a suspended license. One handcuffed him, and the other checked his own PDA. Based on the information that came up, the man was ordered downtown to pay a fine and released as the officers drove off to stop another car.

That wasn't the end of it, though.

A record of that stop - and the details of every other arrest made that night, and every summons written - was automatically transferred to the Memphis Real Time Crime Center, a command center with three walls of streaming surveillance video and analysis capabilities that rival those of an Army command center.

There, the information would be geocoded on a map to produce a visual rendering of crime patterns. This information would help the crime intelligence analysts predict trends so the department could figure out what neighborhoods to swarm with officers and surveillance cameras.

But that was still not the end of it, because the fingerprints from the crime records would also go to the FBI's data campus in Clarksburg, W.Va. There, fingerprints from across the United States are stored, along with others collected by American authorities from prisoners in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are 96 million sets of fingerprints in Clarksburg, a volume that government officials view not as daunting but as an opportunity.

This year for the first time, the FBI, the DHS and the Defense Department are able to search each other's fingerprint databases, said Myra Gray, head of the Defense Department's Biometrics Identity Management Agency, speaking to an industry group recently. "Hopefully in the not-too-distant future," she said, "our relationship with these federal agencies - along with state and local agencies - will be completely symbiotic."

The FBI's 'suspicious' files

At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia database, it is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.

If the new Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, or SAR, works as intended, the Guardian database may someday hold files forwarded by all police departments across the country in America's continuing search for terrorists within its borders.

The effectiveness of this database depends, in fact, on collecting the identities of people who are not known criminals or terrorists - and on being able to quickly compile in-depth profiles of them.

"If we want to get to the point where we connect the dots, the dots have to be there," said Richard A. McFeely, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore office.

In response to concerns that information in the database could be improperly used or released, FBI officials say anyone with access has been trained in privacy rules and the penalties for breaking them.

But not everyone is convinced. "It opens a door for all kinds of abuses," said Michael German, a former FBI agent who now leads the American Civil Liberties Union's campaign on national security and privacy matters. "How do we know there are enough controls?"

The government defines a suspicious activity as "observed behavior reasonably indicative of pre-operational planning related to terrorism or other criminal activity" related to terrorism.

State intelligence analysts and FBI investigators use the reports to determine whether a person is buying fertilizer to make a bomb or to plant tomatoes; whether she is plotting to poison a city's drinking water or studying for a metallurgy test; whether, as happened on a Sunday morning in late September, the man snapping a picture of a ferry in the Newport Beach harbor in Southern California simply liked the way it looked or was plotting to blow it up.

Suspicious Activity Report N03821 says a local law enforcement officer observed "a suspicious subject . . . taking photographs of the Orange County Sheriff Department Fire Boat and the Balboa Ferry with a cellular phone camera." The confidential report, marked "For Official Use Only," noted that the subject next made a phone call, walked to his car and returned five minutes later to take more pictures. He was then met by another person, both of whom stood and "observed the boat traffic in the harbor." Next another adult with two small children joined them, and then they all boarded the ferry and crossed the channel.

All of this information was forwarded to the Los Angeles fusion center for further investigation after the local officer ran information about the vehicle and its owner through several crime databases and found nothing.

Authorities would not say what happened to it from there, but there are several paths a suspicious activity report can take:

At the fusion center, an officer would decide to either dismiss the suspicious activity as harmless or forward the report to the nearest FBI terrorism unit for further investigation.

At that unit, it would immediately be entered into the Guardian database, at which point one of three things could happen:

The FBI could collect more information, find no connection to terrorism and mark the file closed, though leaving it in the database.

It could find a possible connection and turn it into a full-fledged case.

Or, as most often happens, it could make no specific determination, which would mean that Suspicious Activity Report N03821 would sit in limbo for as long as five years, during which time many other pieces of information about the man photographing a boat on a Sunday morning could be added to his file: employment, financial and residential histories; multiple phone numbers; audio files; video from the dashboard-mounted camera in the police cruiser at the harbor where he took pictures; and anything else in government or commercial databases "that adds value," as the FBI agent in charge of the database described it.

That could soon include biometric data, if it existed; the FBI is working on a way to attach such information to files. Meanwhile, the bureau will also soon have software that allows local agencies to map all suspicious incidents in their jurisdiction.

The Defense Department is also interested in the database. It recently transferred 100 reports of suspicious behavior into the Guardian system, and over time it expects to add thousands more as it connects 8,000 military law enforcement personnel to an FBI portal that will allow them to send and review reports about people suspected of casing U.S. bases or targeting American personnel.

And the DHS has created a separate way for state and local authorities, private citizens, and businesses to submit suspicious activity reports to the FBI and to the department for analysis.

As of December, there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far.

Of those, 103 have become full investigations that have resulted in at least five arrests, the FBI said. There have been no convictions yet. An additional 365 reports have added information to ongoing cases.

But most remain in the uncertain middle, which is why within the FBI and other intelligence agencies there is much debate about the effectiveness of the bottom-up SAR approach, as well as concern over the privacy implications of retaining so much information on U.S. citizens and residents who have not been charged with anything.

The vast majority of terrorism leads in the United States originate from confidential FBI sources and from the bureau's collaboration with federal intelligence agencies, which mainly work overseas. Occasionally a stop by a local police officer has sparked an investigation. Evidence comes from targeted FBI surveillance and undercover operations, not from information and analysis generated by state fusion centers about people acting suspiciously.

"It's really resource-inefficient," said Philip Mudd, a 20-year CIA counterterrorism expert and a top FBI national security official until he retired nine months ago. "If I were to have a dialogue with the country about this . . . it would be about not only how we chase the unknowns, but do you want to do suspicious activity reports across the country? . . . Anyone who is not at least suspected of doing something criminal should not be in a database."

Charles Allen, a longtime senior CIA official who then led the DHS's intelligence office until 2009, said some senior people in the intelligence community are skeptical that SARs are an effective way to find terrorists. "It's more likely that other kinds of more focused efforts by local police will gain you the information that you need about extremist activities," he said.

The DHS can point to some successes: Last year the Colorado fusion center turned up information on Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-born U.S. resident planning to bomb the New York subway system. In 2007, a Florida fusion center provided the vehicle ownership history used to identify and arrest an Egyptian student who later pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism, in this case transporting explosives.

"Ninety-nine percent doesn't pan out or lead to anything" said Richard Lambert Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI's Knoxville office. "But we're happy to wade through these things."

Expert training?

Ramon Montijo has taught classes on terrorism and Islam to law enforcement officers all over the country.

"Alabama, Colorado, Vermont," said Montijo, a former Army Special Forces sergeant and Los Angeles Police Department investigator who is now a private security consultant. "California, Texas and Missouri," he continued.

What he tells them is always the same, he said: Most Muslims in the United States want to impose sharia law here.

"They want to make this world Islamic. The Islamic flag will fly over the White House - not on my watch!" he said. "My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders."

With so many local agencies around the country being asked to help catch terrorists, it often falls to sheriffs or state troopers to try to understand the world of terrorism. They aren't FBI agents, who have years of on-the-job and classroom training.

Instead, they are often people like Lacy Craig, who was a police dispatcher before she became an intelligence analyst at Idaho's fusion center, or the detectives in Minnesota, Michigan and Arkansas who can talk at length about the lineage of gangs or the signs of a crystal meth addict.

Now each of them is a go-to person on terrorism as well.

"The CIA used to train analysts forever before they graduated to be a real analyst," said Allen, the former top CIA and DHS official. "Today we take former law enforcement officers and we call them intelligence officers, and that's not right, because they have not received any training on intelligence analysis."

State fusion center officials say their analysts are getting better with time. "There was a time when law enforcement didn't know much about drugs. This is no different," said Steven W. Hewitt, who runs the Tennessee fusion center, considered one of the best in the country. "Are we experts at the level of [the National Counterterrorism Center]? No. Are we developing an expertise? Absolutely."

But how they do that is usually left up to the local police departments themselves. In their desire to learn more about terrorism, many departments are hiring their own trainers. Some are self-described experts whose extremist views are considered inaccurate and harmful by the FBI and others in the intelligence community

Like Montijo, Walid Shoebat, a onetime Muslim who converted to Christianity, also lectures to local police. He too believes that most Muslims seek to impose sharia law in the United States. To prevent this, he said in an interview, he warns officers that "you need to look at the entire pool of Muslims in a community."

When Shoebat spoke to the first annual South Dakota Fusion Center Conference in Sioux Falls this June, he told them to monitor Muslim student groups and local mosques and, if possible, tap their phones. "You can find out a lot of information that way," he said.

A book expanding on what Shoebat and Montijo believe has just been published by the Center for Security Policy, a Washington-based neoconservative think tank. "Shariah: The Threat to America" describes what its authors call a "stealth jihad" that must be thwarted before it's too late.

The book's co-authors include such notables as former CIA director R. James Woolsey and former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, along with the center's director, a longtime activist. They write that most mosques in the United States already have been radicalized, that most Muslim social organizations are fronts for violent jihadists and that Muslims who practice sharia law seek to impose it in this country.

Frank Gaffney Jr., director of the center, said his team has spoken widely, including to many law enforcement forums.

"Members of our team have been involved in training programs for several years now, many of which have been focused on local law enforcement intelligence, homeland security, state police, National Guard units and the like," Gaffney said. "We're seeing a considerable ramping-up of interest in getting this kind of training."

Government terrorism experts call the views expressed in the center's book inaccurate and counterproductive. They say the DHS should increase its training of local police, using teachers who have evidence-based viewpoints.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the department does not maintain a list of terrorism experts but is working on guidelines for local authorities wrestling with the topic.

So far, the department has trained 1,391 local law enforcement officers in analyzing public information and 400 in analytic thinking and writing skills. Kudwa said the department also offers counterterrorism training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which this year enrolled 94 people in a course called "Advanced Criminal Intelligence Analysis to Prevent Terrorism."

A lack of useful information

The DHS also provides local agencies a daily flow of information bulletins.

These reports are meant to inform agencies about possible terror threats. But some officials say they deliver a never-ending stream of information that is vague, alarmist and often useless. "It's like a garage in your house you keep throwing junk into until you can't park your car in it," says Michael Downing, deputy chief of counterterrorism and special operations for the Los Angeles Police Department.

A review of nearly 1,000 DHS reports dating back to 2003 and labeled "For Official Use Only" underscores Downing's description. Typical is one from May 24, 2010, titled "Infrastructure Protection Note: Evolving Threats to the Homeland."

It tells officials to operate "under the premise that other operatives are in the country and could advance plotting with little or no warning." Its list of vulnerable facilities seems to include just about everything: "Commercial Facilities, Government Facilities, Banking and Financial and Transportation . . ."

Bart R. Johnson, who heads the DHS's intelligence and analysis office, defended such reports, saying that threat reporting has "grown and matured and become more focused." The bulletins can't be more specific, he said, because they must be written at the unclassified level.

Recently, the International Association of Chiefs of Police agreed that the information they were receiving had become "more timely and relevant" over the past year.

Downing, however, said the reports would be more helpful if they at least assessed threats within a specific state's boundaries.

States have tried to do that on their own, but with mixed, and at times problematic, results.

In 2009, for instance, after the DHS and the FBI sent out several ambiguous reports about threats to mass-transit systems and sports and entertainment venues, the New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center's Threat Analysis Program added its own information. "New Jersey has a large mass-transit infrastructure," its report warned, and "an NFL stadium and NHL/NBA arenas, a soccer stadium, and several concert venues that attract large crowds."

In Virginia, the state's fusion center published a terrorism threat assessment in 2009 naming historically black colleges as potential hubs for terrorism.

From 2005 to 2007, the Maryland State Police went even further, infiltrating and labeling as terrorists local groups devoted to human rights, antiwar causes and bike lanes.

And in Pennsylvania this year, a local contractor hired to write intelligence bulletins filled them with information about lawful meetings as varied as Pennsylvania Tea Party Patriots Coalition gatherings, antiwar protests and an event at which environmental activists dressed up as Santa Claus and handed out coal-filled stockings.

We have our own terrorists

Even if the information were better, it might not make a difference for the simplest of reasons: In many cities and towns across the country, there is just not enough terrorism-related work to do.

In Utah on one recent day, one of five intelligence analysts in the state's fusion center was writing a report about the rise in teenage overdoses of an over-the-counter drug. Another was making sure the visiting president of Senegal had a safe trip. Another had just helped a small town track down two people who were selling magazine subscriptions and pocketing the money themselves.

In the Colorado Information Analysis Center, some investigators were following terrorism leads. Others were looking into illegal Craigslist postings and online "World of Warcraft" gamers.

The vast majority of fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses.

This is happening because, after 9/11, local law enforcement groups did what every agency and private company did in Top Secret America: They followed the money.

The DHS helped the Memphis Police Department, for example, purchase 90 surveillance cameras, including 13 that monitor bridges and a causeway. It helped buy the fancy screens on the walls of the Real Time Crime Center, as well as radios, robotic surveillance equipment, a mobile command center and three bomb-sniffing dogs. All came in the name of port security and protection to critical infrastructure.

Since there hasn't been a solid terrorism case in Memphis yet, the equipment's greatest value has been to help drive down city crime. Where the mobile surveillance cameras are set up, criminals scatter, said Lt. Mark Rewalt, who, on a recent Saturday night, scanned the city from an altitude of 1,000 feet.

Flying in a police helicopter, Rewalt pointed out some of the cameras the DHS has funded. They are all over the city, in mall parking lots, in housing projects, at popular street hang-outs. "Cameras are what's happening now," he marveled.

Meanwhile, another post-9/11 unit in Tennessee has had even less terrorism-related work to do.

The Tennessee National Guard 45th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, one of at least 50 such units around the country, was created to respond to what officials still believe is the inevitable release of chemical, biological or radiological material by terrorists.

The unit's 22 hazardous-materials personnel have the best emergency equipment in the state. A fleet of navy-blue vehicles - command, response, detection and tactical operations trucks - is kept polished and ready to roll in a garage at the armory in Smyrna.

The unit practices WMD scenarios constantly. But in real life, the crew uses the equipment very little: twice a year at NASCAR races in nearby Bristol to patrol for suspicious packages. Other than that, said Capt. Matt Hayes, several times a year they respond to hoaxes.

The fact that there has not been much terrorism to worry about is not evident on the Tennessee fusion center's Web site. Click on the incident map, and the state appears to be under attack.

Red icons of explosions dot Tennessee, along with blinking exclamation marks and flashing skulls. The map is labeled: "Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity.

But if you roll over the icons, the explanations that pop up have nothing to do with major terrorist plots: "Johnson City police are investigating three 'bottle bombs' found at homes over the past three days," one description read recently. ". . . The explosives were made from plastic bottles with something inside that reacted chemically and caused the bottles to burst."

Another told a similar story: "The Scott County Courthouse is currently under evacuation after a bomb threat was called in Friday morning. Update: Authorities completed their sweep . . . and have called off the evacuation."

Nine years after 9/11, this map is part of the alternative geography that is Top Secret America, where millions of people are assigned to help stop terrorism. Memphis Police Director Godwin is one of them, and he has his own version of what that means in a city where there have been 86 murders so far this year.

"We have our own terrorists, and they are taking lives every day," Godwin said. "No, we don't have suicide bombers - not yet. But you need to remain vigilant and realize how vulnerable you can be if you let up."


The Federal Communications Commission appears poised to pass a controversial set of rules that broadly create two classes of Internet access, one for fixed-line providers and the other for the wireless Net.

The proposed rules of the online road would prevent fixed-line broadband providers like Comcast and Qwest from blocking access to sites and applications. The rules, however, would allow wireless companies more latitude in putting limits on access to services and applications.

Before a vote set for Tuesday, two Democratic commissioners said Monday that they would back the rules proposed by the F.C.C. chairman, Julius Genachowski, which try to satisfy both sides in the protracted debate over so-called network neutrality. But analysts said the debate would soon resume in the courts, as challenges to the rules are expected in the months to come.

Net neutrality, broadly speaking, is an effort to ensure equal access to Web sites and cutting-edge online services. Mr. Genachowski said these proposed rules aimed to both encourage Internet innovation and protect consumers from abuses.

“These rules fulfill a promise to the future — to companies that don’t yet exist, and the entrepreneurs that haven’t yet started work in their dorm rooms or garages,” Mr. Genachowski said in remarks prepared for the commission’s meeting on Tuesday in Washington. At present, there are no enforceable rules “to protect basic Internet values,” he added.

Many Internet providers, developers and venture capitalists have indicated that they would accept the proposal by Mr. Genachowski, which Rebecca Arbogast, a regulatory analyst for Stifel Nicolaus, a financial services firm, said “is by definition a compromise.”

The companies have said the rules would provide some regulatory certainty. In private, they have acknowledged the proposal could have been much worse. If approved, they “will give some assurances to the companies that are building Web applications — companies like Netflix, Skype and Google — that they will get even treatment on broadband networks,” Ms. Arbogast said.

But a wide swath of public interest groups have lambasted the proposal as “fake net neutrality” and said it was rife with loopholes. One group, Public Knowledge, said that instead of providing clear protections, the F.C.C. “created a vague and shifting landscape open to interpretation. Consumers deserved better.”

Notably, the rules are watered down for wireless Net providers like AT&T and Verizon, which would be prohibited from blocking Web sites, but not from blocking applications or services unless those applications directly compete with providers’ voice and video products, like Skype.

F.C.C. officials said there were technological reasons for the wireless distinctions, and that they would continue to closely monitor the medium.

Citing the wireless proposal, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, said over the weekend that the F.C.C. was effectively allowing discrimination on the mobile Net, a fast-growing sector.

“Maybe you like Google Maps. Well, tough,” Mr. Franken said on Saturday on the Senate floor. “If the F.C.C. passes this weak rule, Verizon will be able to cut off access to the Google Maps app on your phone and force you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it is not as good. And even if they charge money, when Google Maps is free.”

He added, “If corporations are allowed to prioritize content on the Internet, or they are allowed to block applications you access on your iPhone, there is nothing to prevent those same corporations from censoring political speech.”

Mr. Franken and other critics say the rules come with major caveats; for instance, they would allow for “reasonable network management” by broadband providers. And they would discourage but not expressly forbid something called “paid prioritization,” which would allow a media or technology company to pay the provider for faster transmission of data, potentially creating an uneven playing field.

The F.C.C. officials also said that the order would require transparency about those network management practices. “That sunshine will help deter bad behavior,” one of the officials said. They spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the F.C.C. order has not been made public.

President Obama has repeatedly indicated his support for net neutrality principles, and his chief technology officer, Aneesh Chopra, said on Dec. 1 that the F.C.C. proposal was an “important step in preventing abuses and continuing to advance the Internet as an engine of productivity growth and innovation.”

The two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, acknowledged on Monday that the order was not as strong as they would have liked. But they said it had been improved this month in discussions with Mr. Genachowski, and they said they would not oppose it.

Their votes along with Mr. Genachowski’s would be enough to approve the order at the F.C.C. meeting on Tuesday.

Two Republican commissioners, Meredith Baker and Robert McDowell, are expected to oppose it. Republicans have suggested that the net neutrality rules are an example of government overreach; in an opinion piece on Monday in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. McDowell asserted that “nothing is broken that needs fixing.”

In a statement Monday afternoon, Mr. Copps strongly disagreed. He said he wanted to ensure that the Internet “doesn’t travel down the same road of special interest consolidation and gate-keeper control that other media and telecommunications industries — radio, television, film and cable — have traveled.”

“What an historic tragedy it would be,” he said, “to let that fate befall the dynamism of the Internet.”