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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

4th annual "No Pants" Metrolink ride turns heads

Wednesday, 15 January 2014 03:55 Published in Local News
   The 4th Annual "No Pants" Metrolink Ride is being called a success.  
   St. Louis' Improve Anywhere held its fourth annual event last night.  Participants ditched their pants and hopped on the Metrolink near Forest Park.  They rode downtown to an after party at Pi Pizza.  
   Organizers say the event is aimed at creating a buzz, celebrating public transit, and serving as a reminder that we all need to laugh.
   "No Pants" subway day began in New York 12 years ago.  Similar events are now held in hundreds of cities and 26 countries.

Major change unlikely despite open-Internet ruling

Wednesday, 15 January 2014 02:42 Published in National News
   NEW YORK (AP) — Don't expect major changes to how you access your favorite websites and services despite a federal appeals court's decision to set aside rules meant to ensure equal access to entertainment, news and other online content.
   Major cable providers already have pledged not to do the kinds of things the rules were designed to ban. And the rules didn't apply fully to wireless providers anyway, even as Americans are increasingly using mobile devices to access Internet content.
   Under so-called net neutrality rules adopted in 2010 by the Federal Communications Commission, wired broadband providers such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon were barred from prioritizing some types of Internet traffic over others. That means a cable company couldn't hinder access to Hulu and other Internet video services, even though they compete with the company's own TV services. Under some interpretations, a broadband provider also couldn't charge services such as YouTube and Facebook for preferential treatment, such that users could reach those services faster than those that don't pay.
   The anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules were designed to preserve an open Internet and ensure that startups and nonprofits had as much of a chance to reach an audience online as established companies such as Google.
   Broadband providers had flexibility to deal with congestion and unwanted traffic, such as spam, but their traffic-management policies had to be disclosed. Otherwise, providers must ensure access to all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks.
   On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed that the FCC had authority to create open-access rules. But in a setback for the Obama administration's goal of Internet openness, the court ruled that the FCC failed to establish that its 2010 regulations don't overreach.
   The judges said those regulations treated all Internet service providers as common carriers — a general term for airlines, utilities and other transporters of people or goods for the general public on regular routes at set rates. But the court said the FCC itself already had classified broadband providers as exempt from treatment as common carriers, which set up a legal contradiction.
   The decision empowers leading Internet providers to decide which Internet services — such as Netflix movies, YouTube videos and news stories — they would allow consumers to access over their networks. In some cases, Internet providers can demand that Google, for example, pay them to ensure that YouTube videos are accessible to all their consumers, or Google could pay extra to ensure that YouTube videos are delivered faster.
   FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the commission will now consider its options, including an appeal, to ensure that networks on which the Internet depends provide a free and open platform.
   The FCC also could draft new rules, or Congress could change the 1996 telecommunications law that gave the commission different authority depending on whether a company was a common carrier or not.
   Even if the ruling stands, the effect on wired broadband access is expected to be minimal.
   Concerns about discrimination grew in 2007 after The Associated Press ran tests and reported that Comcast Corp. was interfering with attempts by some subscribers to share files online through a service called BitTorrent. Although Comcast said it did so because BitTorrent was clogging its networks, public interest groups grew worried that broadband providers were becoming gatekeepers of online content. After all, the files exchanged through BitTorrent included video, something that threatens Comcast's cable TV business.
   Comcast's actions drew rebuke from the FCC and a pledge by all of the major broadband providers including Comcast not to discriminate. The 2010 rules were meant to ensure that such open access continued. Still, critics worried that restrictions on how providers manage their networks would discourage investments.
   Verizon, which filed the case against the FCC, said Tuesday's court decision "will not change consumers' ability to access and use the Internet as they do now."
   It said the decision "will allow more room for innovation, and consumers will have more choices to determine for themselves how they access and experience the Internet. Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet."
   Wireless is where there's less certainty.
   The 2010 rules barred Verizon and other wireless carriers from blocking competing services, such as Internet calling applications and websites run by rivals. They also had to allow access to all legal websites though a phone's Web browser, regardless of whether they are competitors.
   But carriers were allowed to block stand-alone apps — a common way of accessing services on mobile devices — as long as the apps didn't directly compete with them. The rules also gave wireless carriers more leeway to manage data traffic because there's less capacity over the airwaves.
   And the rules said nothing about charging customers for access. Last week, AT&T announced a "1-800" toll-free equivalent for wireless data. Websites that pay for the service will be toll free for AT&T's wireless customers, meaning the traffic won't count against a surfer's monthly allotment of data. AT&T said the practice complies with the FCC's rules because, apart from the billing, traffic from the sponsoring sites will still be treated the same as other traffic on the network.

Church releasing sex abuse files on Chicago clergy

Wednesday, 15 January 2014 02:38 Published in National News
   CHICAGO (AP) — The Archdiocese of Chicago will hand over thousands of pages of documents involving clergy sex abuse on Wednesday to victims' attorneys, who will make them public next week as part of a yearslong attempt to hold the church accountable for how it handled abuse allegations, including concealing crimes and putting priests in a position to continue molesting children.
   The nation's third-largest archdiocese agreed to release the files as part of settlements with abuse victims, and will include complaints, personnel documents and other files for about 30 priests with substantiated abuse allegations.
   The documents are similar to disclosures made in other dioceses in the U.S. in recent years that showed how the church shielded priests and failed to report child sex abuse to authorities. Chicago officials said most of the abuse occurred before 1988 and none after 1996.
   "Until there is public disclosure and transparency ... there is no way people can learn about it and make sure it does not happen again," said Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman, who has represented about 200 abuse victims of clergy abuse in the Chicago area. He said he has been working to get the church to release the documents since 2005.
   Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Burritt said neither Cardinal Francis George nor archdiocese attorneys were available for comment Tuesday.
   George, who has led the archdiocese since 1997, released a letter to parishioners Sunday in which he apologized for the abuse and said releasing the records "raises transparency to a new level." He also stressed that much of the abuse occurred decades ago, before he became archbishop.
   "I apologize to all those who have been harmed by these crimes and this scandal, the victims themselves, most certainly, but also rank and file Catholics who have been shamed by the actions of some priests and bishops," George wrote to parishioners.
   George said all of the incidents were reported to civil authorities and resulted in settlements with victims.
   In fact, the archdiocese has paid millions of dollars to settle sexual abuse claims, including those against Father Daniel McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church and a teacher at a Catholic school. The next year, the archdiocese agreed to pay $12.6 million to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack.
   Files on McCormack will not be among those released; they have been sealed by a judge because of pending court cases, Pearlman said. He said he and St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeff Anderson will re-release the McCormack documents that they have.
   Many of the accused priests are dead, and the documents will include only 30 of 65 priests for whom the archdiocese says it has credible allegations of abuse.
   Even so, victims and their lawyers said publicizing the documents is crucial to shedding light on how the archdiocese handled accusations against priests — some of whom were moved from parish to parish after they were accused of molesting children — and to help victims and the Catholic Church as a whole heal and move forward.
   Joe Iacono hopes records related to the priest who abused him more than 50 years ago are among those released.
   "For me, it's going to empower me again ... and hopefully it will help others out there struggling to come forward and get help," said Iacono, 62, a Springfield resident who was abused in the early 1960s while he was a student at St. John Vianney Catholic School in North Lake, Ill.
   He said Father Thomas Kelly, who now is dead but whom the church has acknowledged abused children, took an active interest in a group of boys, lifting weights with them and inviting them to spend the night at the rectory.
   "It was his way of weeding us out and separating us from the rest of the class and making us feel special (so he could) take liberties with us," said Iacono, who said he tried to forget about the abuse until his daughter was born years later.
   Iacono, who met with George and was invited to speak to a priests at a seminary about his ordeal, said he also hopes the release "opens the eyes of parishioners ... that we need to hold (church leaders) accountable for their behavior and not allow this to happen again."

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