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(09-09) 04:00 PDT Washington -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California proposed legislation Friday to crack down on animal rights activists who make threats or commit violence against people engaged in research using animals.
The bill, which the Democrat introduced with Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, would toughen federal criminal penalties for causing physical harm to people or making threats to researchers or their families. It would also boost penalties for causing economic harm to companies or universities engaged in research using animals that are frequently destroyed in the course of lab work.
Proposed penalties in the bill, which is a modification of legislation Inhofe had previously offered, include life in prison for incidents in which someone is killed.
It's unlikely the measure will reach the Senate floor this year, with just about a month left before Congress expects to recess for the fall campaign.
The killing of animals for research, along with nonlethal practices that activists say amount to animal torture, has spurred some to violence, including an August 2003 bombing outside the Emeryville laboratories of Chiron Corp., another bombing a month later at Shaklee Corp. in Pleasanton, ongoing threats against UCSF researchers and the firebombing this year of the home of a UCLA researcher.
"The deplorable actions of these eco-terrorists threaten to impede important medical progress in California and across the country,'' Feinstein said in a statement Friday.
Her staff said the senator got involved in the issue after Californians targeted by animal rights groups contacted her office.
Inhofe has held hearings into the issue, one of which in October 2005 featured an exchange with Dr. Jerry Vlasak, a Southern California trauma surgeon who is a leader of the North American Animal Liberation Front.
The senator asked Vlasak if he stood by his earlier statement about animal researchers that "I don't think you'd have to kill, assassinate too many. I think for 5 lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million or 10 million nonhuman lives.''
"You're advocating the murder of individuals, isn't that correct?'' Inhofe asked.
"I made that statement, and I stand by that statement,'' Vlasak said, saying animal researchers are engaged in "speciesism."
"These animals are being terrorized, murdered and killed by the millions every day,'' he added.
CONFERENCE LOOKS AT CONNECTION BETWEEN ANIMAL CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE (US ) By Katharhynn Heidelberg, Daily Press News Editor
Jan 17 - MONTROSE - By now, the link between animal cruelty and sensational crimes perpetrated by the Jeffrey Dahmers of this world is legendary. It's also real, and a problem that must be addressed - even if violence against animals might not lead a person to commit serial murder, it often escalates to violence against humans.
"You cannot extricate one (type of violence) from another," Diane Balkin, a Denver-area prosecutor, told those gathered for "The Link" training session at the Montrose Pavilion Monday. "This is a matter of public safety."
The training was jointly sponsored by the Dolphin House Child Advocacy Center and Montrose County Animal Services to highlight the link between animal cruelty, domestic violence and child abuse.
Animal abuse - defined under state and local statutes as physical/sexual abuse, endangerment, neglect, medical neglect, hoarding (having more animals than one can adequately care for) and abandonment - results in death for an estimated 62 percent of known animals victims each year nationwide. According to Balkin's statistics, 71 percent of these are domestic pets, followed by livestock (18 percent); wildlife (4 percent) and exotic animals (2 percent). More than half of known cases involve intentional abuse or torture and 43 percent involve neglect to the point of starvation or failure to provide care.
Beyond the harm to animals is harm to humans and attendant social ills, Balkin and fellow presenter Kay Dahlinger, chief probation officer in Aurora, stressed.
For instance, though not every person who abuses animals becomes a serial killer, Balkin said every known serial killer has a history of harming animals. A history of arson is also statistically common among violent offenders who abuse animals and animal abusers are five times as likely as others to commit violent crimes. Most high school shooters - though according to Balkin, the evidence for Columbine High School murderers Eric Klebold and Dylan Harris remains anecdotal - have had a history of hurting animals.
A survey of battered women revealed that 82 percent had to live with threats against family pets as a means of control or retaliation. In approximately 62 percent of these cases, at least one pet was killed.
Up to 70 percent of women do not leave their abusers because crisis shelters will not accept pets and they don't want to leave the animal at the offender's mercy. Dahlinger told conference attendees of a woman who did leave her abuser, only to return when he sent photos of her pet's ears being cut off.
In Montrose, Animal Control Officer Mike Duncan is willing to provide shelter to animals threatened by an abusive spouse until the victim can leave a crisis shelter. The Denver area has safe havens specifically for pet protection in such cases.
The correlations between animal cruelty and familial abuse are clear, Balkin reported. "Quite frankly, it is more rare to see one (form of abuse) in isolation," she said.
"It's power and control. Often, a pet is used as a tool to keep a child quiet. ...In more cases than you can imagine, there is threatening of an animal. That is a form of domestic violence."
Animal cruelty can be the result of a trickle-down effect of violence in the home, Balkin added. Children who see abuse or who are abused have been known to learn the behavior and in turn take out their frustrations on the one family member they can exert control over - the dog or cat.
There is also a sexual component to animal abuse, from bestiality, to taking "trophy" photos or videos that allow the offender to relive his or her crime.
Balkin told of "Samson," a Chow dog whose 17-year-old owner killed and sodomized him with a tree branch before leaving the dog's body in a public place with a makeshift cross and note that declared: "A work of the next king. It's pure art."
The boy had been sexually abused, but his mother apparently wrote off his history of fire-setting "because the fires were small."
Animal cruelty is also nothing new. It has been documented as far back as the 1700s, when woodcuts show a character who begins abusing dogs in the school yard, progresses to other crimes, and finally, is executed for murdering his lover. In the United States, a concerted effort to protect animals was begun in 1866 when Henry Burgher founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Colorado's animal cruelty statutes date back to 1889 and were so comprehensive that the language of today's statutes is almost identical.
The key difference: 2002's legislation making knowingly or intentionally killing or torturing an animal a felony - a change made following outcry over the matter of Westy, a cat set on fire and thrown from a vehicle in Westminster, Colo. (Westy, though horrifically injured, survived and was adopted).
It's frequently such cases that have turned the tide of public and legislative perception, Balkin said. In 1992, only seven states had felony animal cruelty statutes; by 2003, 41 states, including Colorado, had it on the books.
"The days of 'boys will be boys' or, 'it's just a dog or a stray cat' are over," Balkin said.
A Hotchkiss attendee said, however, that she still encounters that mindset. "Over and over again," she said she saw the attitude "that, 'They're just dogs.'"
In what often begins as misguided love of animals, others condemn pets to what Balkin called a fate worse death by hoarding or "collecting" them to the point that they overrun the home.
She pointed to a Cortez hoarding case in which a destitute elderly couple kept dozens of cats in a fifth-wheel trailer at a local campground. Graphic photos showed rescue members wading through feces and discarded food cans, along with the bones of starved or cannibalized cats, and kittens found dead in a freezer. Some 39 cats were recovered alive, though many had to be euthanized. The couple was declared unfit for pet ownership and prosecuted.
Balkin said it was important to follow awareness of animal cruelty with action. "I have impressed upon Denver that if there's any indication it's (abuse) intentional, go for state prosecution," she said. Penalties are tougher under state law than under most municipal codes. Conviction can also result in a mandatory evaluation and treatment.
"The earlier we intervene, the better off the community is and the (abusive) individual," Balkin said. "The way we break this cycle is education, intervention and collaboration."
One out-of-town attendee said, however, that prosecutors weren't always receptive. The unidentified woman said that despite the evidence she'd presented in her local jurisdiction, they had showed little interest and cited existing case overload.
Dahlinger acknowledged a collaborative effort is more difficult to achieve in smaller communities, but said it was worth the effort. In Aurora in 1999, for instance, her office realized the lack of communication between emergency and law enforcement agencies was affecting the way animal abuse cases were addressed. She worked to bring the agencies together and they formed a specific action plan as to agency response.
"Once you get collaboration going, you will be besieged with calls," Dahlinger said. "The reason you have to collaborate is, you have to arrest, you have to prosecute and you have to do something with the offender after. ...It isn't just a cat or a dog anymore. It's a victim."
Kay Alexander, director of Dolphin House, said she would like to see Montrose develop a specific action plan for addressing the problem, but that some agencies are already working toward that end. "We have a ways to go, but the time is appropriate because of the groundwork that's been laid," she said.
"We need to make sure we've got that community willingness to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
Television channels must not show any psychological or physical violence against humans or nonhuman animals in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian Council for Electronic Media (CEM) (which is in charge of controlling the contents displayed in the media) has banned violence from television from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. CEM has commented that the rule is an attempt to stop the negative influence that television can have on children.
This will include giving information in detail regarding crimes, as well as broadcasting images that might promote the consumption of drugs, among other images.
Those channels that break this new rule would have to pay a fine which could be of up to 7 600 euros. The Association of Bulgarian Broadcasters (ABBRO) has accused this decision to be an interference of the CEM in their work which means actual censorship and goes against the right of the public to be informed and the media to do their job freely.
This measure does not forbid harming animals, but simply doing it in such a way that can be violent (at least for children). In any case, it is interesting to note the fact that the CEM has implicitly assumed that it is not only humans that can be the victims of violence, since other animals can be so as well, which implies that they are sentient beings as humans are.
Harold German Bustamante
RBI- Rainbow Bureau of
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