Joseph "Little Joe" Van Hecke was recently sentenced in U.S. District Court in Des Moines on federal charges of disposing of stolen weapons and money laundering to a mere seven and a half years in prison. Van Hecke had faced numerous charges, including felony possession of firearms, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, illegal possession of firearms, and trafficking in stolen property. These charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement in April. As a two-time convicted felon, Van Hecke faced life imprisonment under the federal "three-strikes" law. In addition, Van Hecke's three brothers - Stephen, Thomas, and Michael - are also facing felony weapons charges, but under the same agreement were able to plead to lesser charges and will pay a $500 fine each. While there is no parole in the federal system and Van Hecke will have to serve the entire sentence, it's cheap in comparison to spending the rest of his life in prison. Does anyone else wonder what really went on here?
The Iowa Supreme Court has approved new guidelines for child-support payments for low-income, noncustodial parents. Included is an increase in the payments to $50 for one child, $75 for two children, $100 for three, and $125 for four or more. Also included were changes involving health insurance, and "shared parenting" arrangements. For more details, see the Iowa Supreme Court's Web site at (http://www.judicial.state.ia.us).
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has announced that Davenport is one of several Iowa communities receiving a total of nearly $9 million in federal funding for community development, shelter for the homeless, and affordable housing. Davenport will receive $2.1 million in Community Development Block Grant funding; $75,000 in Emergency Shelter Grant Funds; and $729,000 in Home Investment Partnership funds.
The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has released its semiannual report on corrections. The number of people under some form of correctional supervision - jail, prison, probation, or parole - has reached a record 6.3 million, or 3.1 percent of the U.S. adult population. That report, as well as a fascinating compilation of related statistics, is available online at (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/correct.htm). Days after BJS released its latest numbers, the Justice Policy Institute released its own study, "Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States." That study is available online at (http://www.cjcj.org/drug/). One of the more interesting conclusions of the Justice Policy Institute is that there are almost as many inmates imprisoned for drug offenses today (458,131) as the entire U.S. prisoner population of 1980 (474,368).
The House Judiciary Committee recently convened a hearing on the FBI's controversial Internet surveillance program, Carnivore. (See "City Shorts," River Cities' Reader, Volume 7, #281.) It was hoped the hearing would shed light on the largely unknown capabilities of the program, as well as allow feedback from Carnivore's critics. Carnivore is a program installed by the FBI on the backbone of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to scan and record selected communications - in theory looking for e-mails to and from targeted criminals. It works by scanning all of an ISP's Internet traffic, looking for and recording relevant messages. Carnivore's ability to scan large volumes of e-mail has civil and privacy rights groups and Internet users up in arms. You can read the testimony from the House Judiciary Committee hearing at (http://www.house.gov/judiciary/2.htm). The hearing can be viewed in its entirety over the Web at (http://www.cspan.org/technology_science/). More on the history of FBI monitoring of Internet communications and the "digital telephony" law is available at the Electronic Privacy Information Center Wiretap Page at (http://www.epic.org/privacy/wiretap/).
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, various distractions played a role in 25 to 50 percent of the 6 million automobile crashes occurring in this country every year. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has formed a new advisory panel in conjunction with his office to develop an educational campaign to increase motorists' awareness of electronic distractions, including cell phones, Global Positioning Systems, and even fax machines. The new panel is made up of representatives of the insurance, automobile, and cellular industries, as well as law enforcement. The first task of the panel will be to distribute 1 million safety-tip sheets to the state's 138 driver's license centers and to visitors at the Illinois State Fair.
Cutting by one-third or more the amount of nitrogen runoff washing into the Gulf of Mexico's valuable fisheries is a goal set by a White House task force. Scientists say some of the biggest contributors to the problem are Iowa and other Midwestern agricultural states. Nitrogen from fertilizer runoff, sewage treatment plants, and other sources is a major factor in a large area off Louisiana and Texas with little or no oxygen in the water. While the area has ranged as large as 7,000 square miles, it recently was measured at 1,700 square miles - the smallest area in 15 years of measurement. Plans by the Environmental Protection Agency task force call for reducing nitrogen run off by 30 to 40 percent more, which is expected to cost billions of dollars.
The American Red Cross of the Quad Cities Area has developed a Web site showing area pools, their phone numbers and addresses, and the services they provide. See for yourself at (http://www.qccarc.org/aquatic%20resources.html). For the Web impaired or for more information, call the American Red Cross office at (309)794-9030.
The National Endowment for the Arts has recently awarded the City of Bettendorf a $10,000 ArtsREACH grant for a study to identify the need and interest level for a performing-arts facility in the city. A plan of action will follow the study. ArtsREACH grants go to community-based arts projects to strengthen local arts organizations, to apply arts-based solutions to local issues and problems, and to preserve artistic resources. Partners in the project include the Family Museum of Arts and Science, Quad Cities Arts, the Bettendorf Chamber of Commerce, and the Bettendorf Public Library.