John Murtha's Kingdom Of Pork

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill November 17, 2005 in Washington DC. Murtha called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
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Most people outside of Western Pennsylvania may known Rep. John Murtha as the guy who first called for the troops to come home. But the Wall Street Journal presents a withering portrait of the congressman today as "old-fashioned political boss" who, as the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, has dubiously funneled billions of taxpayer dollars to his hard-luck hometown.

No one could say the hamlet of Johnstown, population 27,000, couldn't use the cash. The small town 60 miles east of Pittsburgh was once the world's largest steel producer. But by 1983, its unemployment rate was more than 24 percent. Today, thanks to Murtha's ability to bring home defense contracts through earmarks on appropriations bills, it's around 5 percent.

But the Journal asserts that "Johnstown's good fortune has come at the expense of taxpayers everywhere else." Defense contractors have found that if they open an office there and hire the right lobbyist, they can get lucrative, no-bid contracts. Over the past decade, Concurrent Techologies Corp., a defense-research firm that employs 800 people, got hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to Murtha despite poor reviews by Pentagon auditors. The National Drug Intelligence Center, with 300 workers, got $509 million, though the White House has tried for years to shut it down as wasteful and unnecessary, the paper reports.

Murtha refuses to apologize. At a breakfast fundraiser this summer in Johnstown, he said that bringing federal dollars there "is the whole goddamn reason I went to Washington." And this is about the most G-rated thing that the Congressman -- who "curses like the Parris Island drill sergeant he once was" -- utters in the whole article.

Germany Wants To Spy On Suspects' Laptops

For all the hoopla over warrantless wiretapping, Americans have relatively little paranoia about the government peeking onto their hard drives. Even if our phone conversations are open to snooping, at least our personal files are private - right?

Such confidence may be short-lived. A story in the Los Angeles Times about the German government's attempts to get the authority to secretly spy on suspects' computers leaves open the door doubt about just what the U.S. government has been up to on this front, too.

Germany is one of several European countries seeking authority to plant secret Trojan viruses into the computers of suspects that could scan files, photos, diagrams and voice recordings, record every keystroke typed and possibly turn on webcams and microphones in an attempt to gain knowledge of attacks before they happen.

Counter-terrorism officials say such technology would be "very, very helpful" in nabbing terror plotters, but many German citizens are skeptical. In Berlin, T-shirts with the photograph of the interior minister with the logo "Stasi 2.0" - a reference to the former German Democratic Republic's secret police - have suddenly become popular.

German intelligence agencies had already been conducting these kinds of online searches but were forced to cut it out in February, when the Federal Court of Justice Ruled it illegal. Now the government is awaiting a decision from the Constitutional Court. Depending on the outcome, it might propose new legislation to make the practice legal by the end of the year.

Already, Romania, Cyprus, Latvia and Spain have laws that allow "online searches," according to a report from Germany's Interior Ministry. Switzerland and Slovenia appear to also allow them, and Sweden is in the process of adopting similar legislation.

In the U.S. the FBI is known to have implanted software to identify target computers. "But it is unknown, and the FBI won't say, whether the government has tried to surreptitiously search the contents of hard drives," the paper reports.

"I'm not aware of that technique being used in the United States," said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. "But it's also not clear, given the current view of the president on his powers to conduct electronic surveillance, that it hasn't been used."

Goodbye Gayborhoods?

A moment of silence, please. Actually, scratch that. Let's have a moment of raucous noise to mark the passing of America's best Halloween party, since silence - awful, depressing silence - will be what settles spookily over San Francisco's Castro District tomorrow night for the first Oct. 31 since 1978.

In the cancellation, the New York Times sees a sign of the times.

Specifically, the fabulous street party was nixed this year because in recent years it has become a something of a nightmare, drawing over 200,000 people, many of them "costumeless outsiders." Last year, nine people were wounded when a gunman opened fire at the celebration.

But more generally, the cancellation has brought soul-searching to San Francisco's historic gay village that goes beyond concerns over crime. The Times cites "population shifts, booming development and a waning sense of belonging" that's being felt in gay enclaves across the nation, from Key West, Fla. to West Hollywood.

For several years now, young gay men and lesbians bypassed the Castro for cheaper neighborhoods like the Mission and Outer Sunset, or father, "missoring national trends where you are seeing same-sex couples becoming less urban, even as the population becomes slightly more urban," said Gary Gates, a demographer at University of California, Los Angeles.

At the same time, cities not widely considered gay meccas hav seen sharp increases in same-sex couples, including Fort Worth, El Paso, Albuquerque, Louisville and Virginia Beach, according to Gates.

"Twenty years ago, if you were gay and lived in rural Kansas, you went to San Francisco or New York," he said. "Now you can just go to Kansas City."

Meanwhile, the Castro is becoming filled with strollers, pushed by both gay and straight parents. The city is shutting down transportation to Castro on Halloween, and has launched a Web site, homeforhalloween.com, that lists' "fun" alternatives, including a Halloween blood drive and a "Monster Bash" - in San Mateo.

Boooooo.

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