January 7th, 2011
By Todd Starnes
Published January 07, 2011 | FoxNews.com
The words “mother” and “father” will be removed from U.S. passport applications and replaced with gender neutral terminology, the State Department says. “The words in the old form were ‘mother’ and ‘father,’” said Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services. "They are now ‘parent one’ and ‘parent two.’" A statement on the State Department website noted: “These improvements are being made to provide a gender neutral description of a child’s parents and in recognition of different types of families.” The statement didn't note if it was for child applications only. The State Department said the new passport applications, not yet available to the public, will be available online soon. Sprague said the decision to remove the traditional parenting names was not an act of political correctness.
The words “mother” and “father” will be removed from U.S. passport applications and replaced with gender neutral terminology, the State Department says.
“The words in the old form were ‘mother’ and ‘father,’” said Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services. "They are now ‘parent one’ and ‘parent two.’"
A statement on the State Department website noted: “These improvements are being made to provide a gender neutral description of a child’s parents and in recognition of different types of families.” The statement didn't note if it was for child applications only.
The State Department said the new passport applications, not yet available to the public, will be available online soon.
Sprague said the decision to remove the traditional parenting names was not an act of political correctness.
“We find that with changes in medical science and reproductive technology that we are confronting situations now that we would not have anticipated 10 or 15 years ago,” she said.
Gay rights groups are applauding the decision.
“Changing the term mother and father to the more global term of parent allows many different types of families to be able to go and apply for a passport for their child without feeling like the government doesn’t recognize their family,” said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Equality Council.
Her organization lobbied the government for several years to remove the words from passport applications.
“Our government needs to recognize that the family structure is changing,” Chrisler said. “The best thing that we can do is support people who are raising kids in loving, stable families.”
But some conservative Christians are outraged over the decision.
“Only in the topsy-turvy world of left-wing political correctness could it be considered an ‘improvement’ for a birth-related document to provide less information about the circumstances of that birth,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins wrote in a statement to Fox News Radio. “This is clearly designed to advance the causes of same-sex ‘marriage’ and homosexual parenting without statutory authority, and violates the spirit if not the letter of the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, agreed. “It’s part of an overall attempt at political correctness to diminish the distinction between men and women and to somehow suggest you don’t need both a father and a mother to raise a child successfully,” said Jeffress. “(This decision) was made to make homosexual couples feel more comfortable in rearing children.”
Chrisler recounted the day she and her female partner tried to get her twin sons passports.
“Even though my partner was their legal mother, had adopted them after I gave birth to them, she still had to put her name in the father field, and that is both discriminatory and makes us feel like second-class citizens,” she said.
Sprague said she would not use the word discriminatory to describe the old passport form.
“I would prefer to use the word imprecise,” she said. “It just didn’t capture the reality of their situation. Clearly, we want to be sensitive to the feelings of other people, but we are also very conscious of our need to introduce the greatest degree of precision to the process.”
Perkins, meanwhile, accused the State Department of disrespecting the law and called on Congress to “take their oversight rule very seriously and intervene in both these circumstances.”
The new gender-neutral passport application will be rolled out in February.
January 7th, 2011
WASHINGTON — First, the blackbirds fell out of the sky on New Year's Eve in Arkansas. In recent days, wildlife have mysteriously died in big numbers: 2 million fish in the Chesapeake Bay, 150 tons of red tilapia in Vietnam, 40,000 crabs in Britain and other places across the world.
Blogs connected the deadly dots, joking about the "aflockalypse" while others saw real signs of something sinister, either biblical or environmental.
The reality, say biologists, is that these mass die-offs happen all the time and usually are unrelated.
Federal records show they happen on average every other day somewhere in North America. Usually, we don't notice them and don't try to link them to each other.
"They generally fly under the radar," said ornithologist John Wiens, chief scientist at the California research institution PRBO Conservation Science.
95 mass die-offs
Since the 1970s, the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin has tracked mass deaths among birds, fish and other critters, said wildlife disease specialist LeAnn White. At times the sky and the streams just turn deadly. Sometimes it's disease, sometimes pollution. Other times it's just a mystery.
In the past eight months, the USGS has logged 95 mass wildlife die-offs in North America and that's probably a dramatic undercount, White said. The list includes 900 some turkey vultures that seemed to drown and starve in the Florida Keys, 4,300 ducks killed by parasites in Minnesota, 1,500 salamanders done in by a virus in Idaho, 2,000 bats that died of rabies in Texas, and the still mysterious death of 2,750 sea birds in California.
On average, 163 such events are reported to the federal government each year, according to USGS records. And there have been much larger die-offs than the 3,000 blackbirds in Arkansas. Twice in the summer of 1996, more than 100,000 ducks died of botulism in Canada.
"Depending on the species, these things don't even get reported," White said.
Weather — cold and wet weather like in Arkansas New Year's Eve when the birds fell out of the sky — is often associated with mass bird deaths, ornithologists say. Pollution, parasites and disease also cause mass deaths. Some are even blaming fireworks for the blackbird deaths.
So what's happening this time?
Blame technology, says famed Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson. With the Internet, cell phones and worldwide communications, people are noticing events, connecting the dots more.
"This instant and global communication, it's just a human instinct to read mystery and portents of dangers and wondrous things in events that are unusual," Wilson told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Not to worry, these are not portents that the world is about to come to an end."
Wilson and the others say instant communications — especially when people can whip out smart phones to take pictures of critter carcasses and then post them on the Internet — is giving a skewed view of what is happening in the environment.
The irony is that mass die-offs — usually of animals with large populations — are getting the attention while a larger but slower mass extinction of thousands of species because of human activity is ignored, Wilson said.
AP Researcher Julie Reed Bell contributed to this report.
January 7th, 2011
D.C. fire and police and inspectors with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are responding to an incident involving a suspicious package at a U.S. Postal Service facility at 3300 V St. NE.
There are no immediate details on the incident or whether anyone was injured or how many people were in the facility at the time. The facility has been evacuated, according to a inspection service spokesman.
“We are working aggressively to determine whether the situation is related or involved to anything else that we’ve been working on in the last two days, said Postal Inspection Service spokesman Mike Romano.
The location screens and handles mail and packages sent to federal government agencies. It was set up in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2001 anthrax scare.
On Thursday, separate packages containing incendiary devices and addressed to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and his secretary of transportation flashed, smoked and produced an odor when they were opened, causing minor injuries to two employees and putting officials around the Washington region on alert.
-- Ed O'Keefe
WTOP is reporting that at least one package ignited at a Northeast D.C. postal facility.
Law enforcement officials are looking into a possible incendiary parcel at a Brentwood Post Northeast D.C. post office, according to a city official.
The post office is at 900 Brentwood Rd. NE.
An alert by District government said there is police activity in the area of the post office. V Street NE is closed between Bladensburg Road and South Dakota Avenue NE.
By Washington Post editors | January 7, 2011; 3:58 PM ET
January 7th, 2011
New Castle, Delaware -- Neighbors of the former Pentagon official whose body turned up New Year's Eve morning in a garbage truck in Wilmington, Delaware, expressed bafflement Thursday over what authorities have pieced together about the mysterious and bizarre final hours of John P. Wheeler III.
"I think, 'Gosh! What's he doing? I've never seen him like that before,' " neighbor Phoebe Dill told CNN after viewing video from a security camera. It showed the 66-year-old man, who once headed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, stumbling around a parking garage shortly before 7 p.m. December 29. He's holding a shoe in his left hand and is wearing a dark suit, without a tie.
Occasionally, he touches a wall as if to stabilize himself.
"Obviously, something was wrong."
Phoebe Dill's husband, Robert, said he, too, was flummoxed. "I've been running it around in my head; I can't even put the pieces together. I have absolutely no idea."
The police have not been able to determine how Wheeler got from his office building in Wilmington to Newark, New Jersey, about five miles away. Authorities believe the garbage truck picked up his body around 4:30 a.m. on December 31 from one of 10 commercial Dumpsters in Newark before driving to the landfill.
Authorities have declined to describe the condition of Wheeler's body but have said his death was a homicide.
Wheeler's vehicle turned up near Wilmington's Amtrak station in a different parking garage.
Police have pieced together some of what happened during the days before his death through first-hand accounts and two surveillance videos -- one of which has not been made public -- that paint a picture of a disheveled and confused man wandering between New Castle and Wilmington.
Lt. Mark Farrall of the police department in Newark said Wheeler walked into a pharmacy near his home in New Castle at 6 p.m. December 29, two days before his body was found, asking for a ride to Wilmington.
Pharmacist Murali Gouro, who had filled prescriptions for Wheeler in the past, said he offered to call him a taxi, but Wheeler declined the offer, Farrall said.
Iman Goldsborough, an attendant at the parking lot where the security video that has been released was shot, said the man she now knows as Wheeler wandered into the garage some 40 minutes later carrying a shoe and looking disheveled.
"I'm not drunk, I'm not drunk," he said, according to Goldsborough.
Though temperatures were in the 30s, he wasn't wearing an overcoat. He couldn't remember where he had parked his car and said his briefcase had been stolen, she recalled.
As late as 8:30 p.m. the next day, December 30, security cameras recorded Wheeler in a separate office building in downtown Wilmington, a police statement says.
"We know that he was contacted by several individuals within that building between the hours of 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on the 30th," and that they offered him help, Farrall said. But Wheeler, who appeared confused, declined the offers, according to the police statement said.
Farrall said Wheeler was wearing clothes similar to those he had worn the day before at the parking garage, except this time he was also wearing a dark sweatshirt.
Police said the second video was shot on the ninth and 11th floors of the Nemours office building in Wilmington.
Investigators are searching for Wheeler's briefcase as well as for the crime scene. "If we can find the location where this happened -- that will lead us hopefully to the killer," said Farrall.
Newark police, the lead investigators in the case, are consulting with the FBI, Farrall said.
Farrall said a dispute between Wheeler and a neighbor is being looked at as "one facet of the investigation."
Wheeler's attorney, Bayard Marin, told CNN that his client had been involved in a lengthy legal fight with a couple building a home across the street from his home in a historic district of New Castle, about six miles south of Wilmington. Wheeler opposed the new construction.
The dispute may have become contentious, but "I can't recall a confrontation," Marin said. "Everything seemed to be kept within normal bounds."
Wheeler had worked as a part-time consultant for the MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that provides systems engineering, research and development and information technology support to the federal government.
He had been been working on promoting discussions about cyberdefense among governments, industry and academia, according to a company statement.
The West Point graduate was an advocate for Vietnam veterans and the first chairman of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
He worked in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He served as a special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force from 2005 to 2008.
While in the Army, he served as a staff officer in Vietnam and later helped push for acceptance of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.
CNN's Sheila Steffen, Ross Levitt, Susan Candiotti and Sarah Hoye contributed to this report.
January 7th, 2011
I wondered yesterday whether Robert Gibbs jumped or was pushed and noted that President Barack Obama’s words indicated that it was “not an entirely voluntary departure”.
It’s being reported by John King on CNN right now that Gibbs wanted to be a presidential counsellor – something he’s been putting about for quite a while – but William Daley, the new chief of staff, nixed this because he believed that too many cooks would spoil the presidential broth. So that’s why Gibbs is out.
Additionally, King reports that Valerie Jarrett, whose sole qualification to being a senior counsellor seems to be that she’s a long-time Chicago buddy of Barack and Michelle Obama, will have her wings clipped. Daley, not Jarrett, will be the person speaking to the business community.
It’s no secret that Rahm Emanuel, a Daley protege, clashed with Jarrett. Or that David Plouffe, about to join the White House, was often at odds with her when he was the 2008 Obama campaign manager. Obama is nothing if not ruthless. He dropped Jane Dystel, the agent who approached him to write “Dreams from my Father”, and has previously cut loose long-time advisers. One aide described him as “the most unsentimental man I’ve ever met”.
So the next question is: with Gibbs and David Axelrod gone, how much longer will Valerie Jarrett last?
More From The Telegraphs Toby Harnden