Tag Archives: illegal

Poachers target rare bird’s ‘ivory’ beak in Southeast Asia

Some call it “ivory on wings,” part of the bill of a critically endangered bird in Southeast Asia that is sought by poachers and carved into ornaments for illegal sale to Chinese buyers.

The helmeted hornbill isn’t getting as much attention as the beleaguered African elephant at a global wildlife conference this week in South Africa.

But the killing of elephants by the tens of thousands for their tusks is intertwined with a surge in the slaughter of the rare bird whose beak part is a coveted substitute for ivory.

“It’s all part of the rising demand for ivory,” said Richard Thomas, spokesman for TRAFFIC, a conservation group based in Britain.

Poaching of the helmeted hornbill has soared since around 2010, particularly in Indonesia. The timing roughly coincides with an increase in elephant poaching that has caused a sharp drop in elephant populations. Last year, the helmeted hornbill was designated as critically endangered on an international “red list” of threatened species.

Delegates are discussing protections for elephants, helmeted hornbills and other vulnerable wildlife at a meeting in Johannesburg of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES . The 12-day meeting of the U.N. group, which regulates wildlife trade, ends Oct. 5.

The helmeted hornbill is a bird of lore, featuring in an ancient belief that it sits by a river between life and death. Its feathers have been used in traditional ceremonies. During breeding, the female is sealed into a nest, relying on the male to provide food.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.

In a CITES document , Indonesia asked for more collaboration among law enforcement agencies from countries where helmeted hornbills live, as well as “end market” nations — a reference primarily to China.

China, the world’s main ivory consumer, has already said it plans to close its domestic ivory market.

A large lump on top of the beak of the helmeted hornbill is made of keratin, a protein also found in rhino horn and other animal and human parts. It has a red tinge is softer than elephant ivory, making it an attractive material for carvers who have fashioned belt buckles, snuff boxes, pendants and images of Chinese deities from it over many centuries.

The upper part of the bill, also known as a casque, is solid, unlike the hollow casques of other hornbill species. Its price on the illegal market is higher than that of elephant ivory. A casque weighs up to 350 grams (0.7 pounds); the average weight of an elephant tusk is five kilograms (11 pounds), though a big male’s tusk can weigh 10 times as much.

At least 2,170 heads and bill parts of helmeted hornbills were confiscated from the illegal trade in Indonesia and China between 2012 and 2014, TRAFFIC said.

Investigators found helmeted hornbill products being sold openly in Laos, a major transit point for wildlife traffickers that borders China, according to a TRAFFIC report released this month. Sale locations included a luxury hotel and convention center in central Vientiane, the capital, it said.

Indonesia said it has arrested more than 20 people in the helmeted hornbill trade and sentenced most of them. Penalties include up to five years in jail and a heavy fine.

On Saturday, rangers in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park arrested a suspected helmeted hornbill poacher with a rifle and silencer, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, a group based in New York. The suspect had just entered the forest and did not have any bird parts.

“This species needs to be on people’s radars,” said Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of species conservation at WCS.

Illegal logging in Indonesia is shrinking the habitat of the helmeted hornbill. Conservationists fear poachers will focus on the Malaysian population once supply dries up in Indonesia.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.
The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.

 

Ignoring budget woes, Oklahoma makes abortion a felony

Oklahoma lawmakers have moved to effectively ban abortion in their state by making it a felony for doctors to perform the procedure, an effort the bill’s sponsor said is aimed at ultimately overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The bill, which abortion rights group Center for Reproductive Rights says is the first of its kind in the nation, also would restrict any physician who performs an abortion from obtaining or renewing a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma.

It passed 33–12 on May 19 with no discussion or debate; a handful of Republicans joined with Democrats in voting against the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, an anti-abortion Republican, has until May 26 to sign the bill into law or veto it. Spokesman Michael McNutt said she also could also allow the bill to become law “without approval” after the five-day period has elapsed. He also said she will withhold comment until her staff has time to review it.

Dahm made it clear that he hopes his bill could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Since I believe life begins at conception, it should be protected, and I believe it’s a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception,” Dahm said.

But abortion rights supporters — and the state’s medical association — have said the bill is unconstitutional. Sen. Ervin Yen, an Oklahoma City Republican and the only physician in the Senate, described the measure as “insane” and voted against it.

“Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission year after year to restrict women’s access to vital health care services, yet this total ban on abortion is a new low,” Amanda Allen, an attorney for the New-York based center said in a statement. “The Center for Reproductive Rights is closely watching this bill and we strongly urge Gov. Fallin to reject this cruel and unconstitutional ban.”

The Senate came as the Oklahoma Legislature nears a May 27 deadline for adjournment and is still grappling with a $1.3 billion budget hole that could lead to deep cuts to public schools, health care and the state’s overcrowded prison system.

“Republicans don’t have an answer for their failed education policies, failing health care policies and failing fiscal policies, so what do you do in that situation?” said Senate Democratic leader Sen. John Sparks. “You come up with an emotional distraction. That’s what this bill is.”

Nearly every year, Oklahoma lawmakers have passed bills imposing new restrictions on abortions, but many of those laws have never taken effect. In all, eight of the state’s separate anti-abortion measures have been challenged in court as unconstitutional in the last five years.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case over an overturned Oklahoma law that would have required women to view an ultrasound of her fetus before an abortion is performed. That same year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a law that would have effectively banned all drug-induced abortions in the state.

In 2014, the state Legislature approved a law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, but a challenge is pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Also on May 19, the Oklahoma House approved a bill that requires the state Department of Health to develop informational material “for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society,” but lawmakers didn’t approve any funding for it. The measure, which now goes to the Senate, requires the health department to produce information about alternatives to abortion and the developmental stages of a fetus, but the bill’s sponsor says it cannot be implemented without any funding.

Trust Women, a Wichita, Kansas-based abortion rights foundation that’s building an abortion clinic in Oklahoma City, says it’s “dismayed” by the passage of the procedure-performing bill, but is undeterred in its plans to open the center.

“Trust Women stands firm on our decision to open a clinic in the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without a provider,” founder and CEO Julie Burkhart said in a statement. “Women need the services we will offer.”

California police targeted gays in sting operations

A judge who said police improperly targeted gay men in sting operations has dismissed charges of lewd conduct and indecent exposure against a man who was arrested in a public bathroom.

Superior Court Judge Halim Dhanidina ruled Rory Moroney’s arrest in 2014 was based on discriminatory enforcement and prosecution, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported.

If convicted, Moroney would have been required to register as a sex offender for life.

Moroney, 50, was arrested after a detective acting as a vice unit decoy said he exposed himself in a bathroom at Recreation Park in the Los Angeles suburb.

Moroney said the detective, who smiled, nodded and made eye contact in the restroom, appeared to be interested in sex.

During the trial, police indicated they had arrested about 55 men for lewd conduct in the past two years.

Police said they based lewd-conduct operations on complaints, but the judge said there was little evidence of such complaints at the men’s restrooms where most stings took place.

“The presence and tactics of the decoy officers actually caused the crimes to occur,” Dhanidina ruled.

“The arbitrary enforcement of the law as seen in this case undermines the credibility of our legal system, eroding public confidence in our ability to achieve just results,” the judge said in his closing remarks.

“This judge knows discrimination when he sees it,” said Bruce Nickerson, one of Moroney’s defense lawyers. “His ruling is powerful because it sends a message far beyond this case. It sends a message to police departments throughout the state who do these decoy operations for lewd-conduct cases.”

In 1996, Nickerson won a decision from the California Supreme Court that police in Mountain View discriminated against gay men in lewd conduct arrests.

The Long Beach Police Department said in a statement that it is taking the court ruling seriously “and will evaluate how we respond to these kind of complaints.”

Police Chief Robert Luna said the department is “100 percent committed to civil rights and equality for all people, including the LGBTQ community” and has many openly homosexual employees.

City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said his office would review the ruling before commenting.

Illegal loggers clear-cut 24 acres of winter grounds for monarch butterflies

Studies found that illegal loggers clear-cut at least 24 acres in the monarch butterflies’ wintering grounds in central Mexico this year, a Mexican environmentalist said.

Writer and activist Homero Aridjis said the illegal logging went on unchecked between April and August and occurred in one of the most important areas of the reserve.

Earlier, Mexican officials had said that the reserve lost about 22 acres due to illegal logging in one area this year and that a number of arrests were made.

Illegal logging had fallen to almost zero in 2012. The butterflies depend on the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City to shelter them against cold and rain.

Aridjis called on authorities to stop all illegal logging in the butterfly reserve.

Irish court rules against anti-abortion laws

The Belfast High Court, in a judicial review case, found laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of serious malformation of the fetus and sexual crime are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Judge Mr Justice Mark Horner told Belfast High Court that women’s human rights were being breached by current laws: “In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their Convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the Article Eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal fetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”

It is illegal in Northern Ireland for an abortion to be carried out, except when the life or mental health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who performs an illegal abortion could be jailed for life.

The judicial review was taken by Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and was joined by Amnesty International and Sarah Ewart, whose first pregnancy was given a fatal fetal diagnosis. She had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as Northern Ireland laws did not permit her to receive medical treatment within the region.

Grainne Teggart, campaign manager for Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign said: “Today’s High Court decision is a hugely significant step towards ensuring the right to access abortion for women and girls in Northern Ireland who have been raped, are victims of incest or whose pregnancies have been given a fatal fetal diagnosis.

“Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion date back to the 19th century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe.

Teggart continued, “Northern Ireland’s abortion laws must be brought into the 21st century and into line with international law as a matter of urgency.” 

Ewart said, “I hope that today’s ruling means that I, and other women like me, will no longer have to go through the pain I experienced, of having to travel to England, away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me, to access the healthcare I needed.”

“I, and many women like me have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women’s behalf.

“I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare.”

Trial against Wisconsin gun shop enters final week

The trial over a civil lawsuit brought by a pair of seriously wounded police officers against a Wisconsin gun shop that they say has sold hundreds of weapons used in crimes is nearing its conclusion.

The potentially precedent-setting case hinges on whether gun shop owners should be financially responsible for a crime committed with a weapon purchased at their store.

The issue recently surfaced in the presidential campaigns after Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would push for a repeal of a George W. Bush-era gun law that Badger Guns’ defense lawyers say shields their client from liability claims.

Plaintiffs say the shop acted negligently by selling a firearm to a straw buyer in a transaction they should have known was illegal.

Here are key points from the proceedings, which will enter their final week Monday:

THE SHOOTING

Milwaukee Police Officer Bryan Norberg and former Officer Graham Kunisch were shot after they stopped Julius Burton for riding his bike on the sidewalk in the summer of 2009. Surveillance video shows the officers scuffled with Burton and slammed him into a wall before he shot them both in the face.

A bullet shattered eight of Norberg’s teeth, blew through his cheek and lodged into his right shoulder. He has remained on the force but says his wounds have made his work difficult. Kunisch was struck several times, losing an eye and part of the frontal lobe of his brain. He says the wounds forced him to retire.

THE SUSPECTS

Burton fled, but was later arrested in a home where authorities found the Taurus .40-caliber handgun used in the shooting. He got the weapon a month before the confrontation, giving $40 to Jacob Collins to make the purchase from Badger Guns in the suburb of West Milwaukee. Burton pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and is serving an 80-year sentence; Collins served a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to making a straw purchase for an underage buyer.

THE SHOP

The gun shop’s defense lawyers have denied wrongdoing and say the owner, Adam Allan, can’t be held financially responsible for crimes connected to a weapon that his shop sold. The clerk who made the sale has testified that he doesn’t remember the transaction.

Badger Guns has since closed, and a gun shop called Brew City Shooters Supply operates in the same location. Badger Guns was previously known as Badger Outdoors. All three entities have been run by Allan family members.

Authorities have said more than 500 firearms recovered from crime scenes had been traced back to Badger Guns and Badger Outdoors, making it the “No. 1 crime gun dealer in America,” according to a 2005 charging document from an unrelated federal case. A former federal agent has also said the shop had failed take necessary precautions to prevent straw purchases. Norberg and Kunisch cite these details and say they show a history of negligence.

THE CAMPAIGN

Clinton took up gun control days after the mass shooting on an Oregon college campus, saying Congress should undo the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Republicans, who control the U.S. House and Senate, generally oppose stricter gun control laws.

THE EFFECT

If the jury sides with the officers, it could create a pathway for similar cases to move forward. The shop owners would have the option to appeal. Norberg and Kunisch are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Coalition backing local ID card in Milwaukee

A coalition of progressive community organizations and public officials on Oct. 5 are announcing their support for legislation creating a local identification card to be available to all people in the city of Milwaukee.

The program would be established through a city-county partnership.

Milwaukee IDs will benefit many undocumented and under-documented people, including immigrants, formerly incarcerated people, the elderly, transgender people, foster youth, homeless people and low income people.

With a Milwaukee ID, community members would be able to access city resources, open bank accounts, cash checks, obtain prescription medicine from the pharmacy, identify themselves to law enforcement and, according to a news release, “more fully participate in the life of the city.”

“In many cases, a lack of a government-issued ID is a barrier to domestic violence victims who are attempting to escape abusers,” said Tony Gibart, public policy director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. “First, court documents, such as petitions for divorce, must be notarized, and notaries usually require the presentation of a government-issued ID. Second, applications for federal immigration protections for undocumented victims of domestic violence and their children require possessing a government-issued ID. Providing the opportunity for people to easily obtain a local ID would address these problems.”

A news conference to announce the campaign was scheduled to take place at city hall at 6 p.m. on Oct. 5. Participants were to include representatives from the We Are All Milwaukee coalition for Milwaukee IDs, including Voces de la Frontera, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin and the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.

 

 

White House to appeal ruling blocking immigration order

The White House says the Justice Department will appeal a federal judge’s ruling which temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

On Feb. 16, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas issued a temporary injunction, giving a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit that aims to permanently stop the orders.

The ruling puts on hold Obama’s orders that could spare as many as five million people who are in the U.S. without legal papers from deportation.

In a statement, the White House said the ruling “wrongly prevents” the president’s “lawful, commonsense policies” from taking effect.

The White House said that the Justice Department, legal scholars, immigration experts and the federal district court in Washington have determined that Obama’s actions are well within his legal authority.

Illegal abortion: Back to the future?

Forty-two years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that most restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional. The reasonable compromise of Roe v. Wade has been under attack ever since. 

The Roe v. Wade decision cited an individual’s right to privacy and a physician’s right to practice medicine without government interference “in the absence of compelling state interests.” The court defined state interests as including the health of a woman and the potential life of a fetus after six months’ gestation. 

The ruling allowed a woman to decide for herself during the first trimester whether to terminate her pregnancy. During the second trimester, regulations related to clinical settings could be imposed in the interests of protecting the woman’s health. In the third trimester, when viability of the fetus (ability to live outside the womb) was assumed, the state could restrict abortion except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman.

This wise decision is being shredded out of existence through public funding cuts; parental and spousal notification laws; mandatory waiting periods; compulsory, unscientific “counseling”; bogus, invasive screening procedures; onerous restrictions on abortion clinics; intimidation of patients and clinic personnel; assassinations of doctors.

What awaits us if abortion is again criminalized?

In the decades before Roe, up to 1.2 million American women obtained illegal abortions every year. Five thousand women — mothers, daughters, sisters, wives — died annually as the result of illegal abortions, whether self-induced or performed by any unqualified hack looking to make a buck. 

Thousands more women were injured seriously enough to require medical care. 

The results of desperate do-it-yourself and back-alley abortions could be perforated uteruses, internal burning and scarring from caustic substances like lye, and life-threatening sepsis.

“Pro-life” activists display big, colorful pictures of fetuses to dramatize their position. Pre-Roe legalization advocates had more horrific pictures to share: gruesome photos of women’s dead bodies, naked, contorted, bleeding out, abandoned in basements and alleyways.

The highly publicized ordeal of Sherri Finkbine in 1962 spurred public concern.

Finkbine, the mother of four children, worked as “Miss Sherri,” the host of the local version of Romper Room in Phoenix. Suffering from nausea and insomnia with her fifth pregnancy, she took a drug her husband had obtained in Europe — a toxic drug later banned for use by pregnant women: thalidomide.

Finkbine felt worse as her pregnancy progressed and tests revealed the fetus to be seriously deformed. Finkbine requested a therapeutic abortion (the only type available and rarely granted). An Arizona hospital first assented, then reneged. Finkbine appealed to a judge, who dismissed her case. She had to travel all the way to Sweden to finally obtain an abortion.

By 1970, only two states allowed abortion in the first months of pregnancy. Outside New York and Hawaii, only women who could afford the cost of travel to those states could obtain abortions. Women who self-aborted or obtained illegal abortions were criminals, risking prosecution, endangering themselves and living in fear and shame.

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, safe, legal abortion saved thousands of women’s lives. Since 1980, abortion rates have declined due to more effective contraception and access to family planning services. 

In Wisconsin today, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislators are destroying both family planning and abortion services. To resist these backward, damaging efforts, go to www.ppawi.org and get involved. 

Analysis: GOP paralyzed by immigration reform

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s startling primary loss last week to a tea party-backed opponent illustrates how the GOP finds itself paralyzed by immigration reform. The policy most party leaders agree is best for the Republican Party’s future is risky for most House Republicans seeking re-election in the fall.

Almost all represent districts that are home to few minorities and they are in greater danger of losing to a primary challenger than to a Democrat in the general election. That leaves little incentive for the GOP-controlled House to even touch an immigration overhaul that would to grant citizenship to many of the 11 million people living in the country illegally.

Economics professor David Brat hammered Cantor, R-Va., for purportedly backing “amnesty” for people in the U.S. illegally during his primary challenge. He called his unexpected victory a wake-up call that “immigration reform is DOA.” Others, however, said it was Cantor’s reluctance to act on immigration reform that hurt him at the polls.

After Cantor’s defeat, Republicans are left in a quandary before the 2016 election — what to do about an issue that’s often a winner in primaries but could cripple the party in a White House race before a more diverse electorate.

“Pain can be a good teaching tool sometimes,” said Mario H. Lopez, a Republican and executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Fund. “It may take another White House beat-down before some folks understand what kind of cliff they’re walking over.”

Many people involved in the immigration debate have similar predictions about what will happen next: The House takes no action on an immigration overhaul, President Barack Obama makes good on his promise to ease deportations by executive action later this summer, and that inflames the GOP even more, dooming any bill in 2015.

When the next presidential race gets underway, a broad field of the GOP’s presidential candidates will be competing for the support of primary voters who are far more opposed to an immigration overhaul than most Americans.

To some Republicans, that brings back memories of 2012, when Republican Mitt Romney adopted tough-on-illegal-immigration rhetoric to win the Republican presidential primaries. On Election Day, Hispanic and Asian voters overwhelmingly backed Obama.

The lone policy recommendation of GOP’s post-mortem on Romney’s loss was to pass immigration reform. While 14 Republican senators voted for an immigration overhaul that chamber passed last year, the measure was declared dead on arrival in the House. Republican lawmakers, many of whom were focused on the midterms, sought to avoid angering their base.

Immigration skeptics argue that’s the right way for the party to appeal to the working class.

“There aren’t enough rich people and there aren’t enough businesspeople to elect people to office,” said Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, which advocates for less immigration and believes those in favor of an overhaul are catering to financial elites who want to import cheaper workers into the U.S. “They have to have wage-earners.”

Immigrant rights groups complained that Cantor was part of the reason the overhaul died in the House, but as majority leader he opened the door to narrower measures that would grant citizenship to people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. That was enough to fuel his primary challenger.

It wasn’t immigration alone that doomed Cantor. The Virginia congressman sowed resentment by spending too much time focused on national issues as majority leader and not enough tending to his district. Others note that South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a chief architect of the Senate’s immigration overhaul, easily won his primary against a batch of tea party challengers.

And yet, the message appears clear to Republicans in Congress. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner said a bill probably wouldn’t be possible this year.

“Perception is reality in politics, and the perception among Republican members of Congress is going to be that (Cantor) lost because he took a somewhat squishy stance on immigration,” said Republican pollster Glen Bolger, who expects similar caution among 2016 hopefuls.

“You’ll see the volume turned way down on that,” Bolger said. “You’re going to see a lot more caution and a lot less risk-taking.”

Among the 2016 prospects taking care with the issue is Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has received a tepid reaction from some Republican activists for a proposal that would let some people living in the U.S. illegally receive citizenship. He told reporters this week the immigration debate has become too charged.

“We’re trapped in this rhetoric and we have to get beyond that,” Paul said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio changed course on immigration in the wake of a backlash from GOP activists that followed his work as one of the eight co-authors of the Senate overhaul. He now argues the country shouldn’t consider creating a citizenship pathway until it secures its southern border.

“That was true before last night,” Rubio said the day after Cantor lost. “That’s especially true now.”

Matt Schlapp, a Republican consultant who worked for President George W. Bush, said the varying politics of immigration doom the prospects for any near-term action. After this year’s midterms, Democrats are sure to spend the next two years beating up on Republicans for the lack of movement, which in turn will lead the GOP to dig in deeper.

“If we have divided government, the politics have to work for both parties,” Schlapp said. “Until we get these things worked out, this just isn’t going to happen.”