In the News

Local News: Ramp at 247 on I-81 to close two nights next week, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.
State News: Virginia on iTunes U, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.
State News: ACLU critical of threat assessment for colleges, universities in fusion center report, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.
State News: More than 2 million Virginians went uninsured at some point last year, according to report, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.
Local News: Bridgewater to host debate on Middle East, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.

 

Local News: Ramp at 247 on I-81 to close two nights next week, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.

In Harrisonburg the Interstate 81 exit 247 southbound on-ramp from the Route 33 eastbound lanes will be closed for two nights to allow for milling and paving work. The closure will be on April 14 from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. and on April 15 from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Message boards will be placed in the area notifying motorists of the closures. Motorists will be directed to use the I-81 exit 247 southbound on-ramps from the Route 33 westbound lanes.

The I-81 exit 247 project improvements include removing the cloverleaf northwestern loop, which is the on-ramp for traffic entering I-81 from Route 33 westbound lanes. In its place a 350-foot left-turn lane will be constructed on Route 33 near the existing southwestern ramp. At this location a new crossover and traffic signal will be installed, which will allow Route 33 westbound traffic to turn left to access southbound I-81 using a new short connector to the current southwest ramp. Eastbound Route 33 traffic entering the southwestern ramp will yield to vehicles entering the ramp using the new connector.

Additionally, the deceleration lane for traffic leaving southbound I-81 for Route 33 west will be extended 200 feet with an additional 180-foot taper. This will provide motorists using this I-81 off ramp more time to reduce their speed and enhance safety.

The project will improve the traffic pattern at the I-81 and Route 33 interchange at exit 247 in Harrisonburg. The interchange was constructed in the late 1950s in a cloverleaf configuration. Currently the I-81 southbound side of the interchange is experiencing twice the number of accidents as the northbound side. With this interchange configuration, the right I-81 southbound lane services traffic both exiting and entering Route 33, creating a weaving traffic pattern. This conflict point in the right I-81 southbound lane is the location of many traffic accidents.

 

State News: Virginia on iTunes U, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.

Building on a number of recent initiatives designed to take learning beyond the classroom, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine today announced the official launch of “Virginia on iTunes U,”(direct link, requires iTunes) a dedicated area within Apple’s iTunes Store featuring free access to educational content. Through iTunes U for K-12 education, students, teachers, and other interested users can “learn on the go” by downloading audio and video content onto an iPod, iTouch, or iPhone from any computer with Internet access. To extend this initiative, Gov. Kaine also issued the “Learning Apps Development Challenge” today to encourage developers to produce innovative mathematics applications that will engage middle school students and encourage advanced learning and achievement.

“The 21st century has presented unprecedented opportunities to expand learning beyond the walls of the traditional schoolhouse,” Gov. Kaine said. “We want to embrace those technologies that can help us provide a personal and more meaningful learning experience for students of every kind as we continue to shift our expectations from competence to excellence.”

Led by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), Virginia on iTunes U is a collaborative effort among state and national organizations including Radford University, Blue Ridge Public Television, and Thinkfinity. The site enables teachers and content partners to share digital content and resources that support the Virginia Standards of Learning. The site also provides education flexibility, allowing individuals to choose what, when, and where they learn. Materials will be submitted for review by VDOE and subjected to a rigorous evaluation to ensure available content maintains the highest standards of quality, accuracy, and relevance.

Complementing the Virginia on iTunes U effort, the “Learning Apps Development Challenge” led by Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra in collaboration with the Department of Education, seeks applications focused on middle school mathematics Standards of Learning (SOL), such as fraction computation, proportions, and the relationship between fractions, decimals and percents. The details of the challenge and a full list of topic priorities can be found at www.lwbva.org. Developers must accept and abide by Apple’s App Store Terms and Conditions, and all submissions should be uploaded to Apple’s App Store by 5:00 PM EDT on June 19, 2009. A panel of judges will review and evaluate the proposed apps, and the “Learning Apps Development Challenge” winners will be announced in late June during the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC).

The Virginia on iTunes U portal is part of a larger effort by the Commonwealth to harness the power of digital media and mobile devices to expand and supplement classroom -based education. Last month Gov. Kaine announced the launch of the Virginia Physics Flexbook, a web-based, open-content compilation that will allow teachers to share the most up-to-date lessons and techniques, bringing the best information and practices to all students in the Commonwealth.

In addition, Virginia’s Learning without Boundaries initiative is leading the way on integrating technology into the classroom experience. With support from the Productivity Investment Fund and in collaboration with Virginia Tech and Radford University, VDOE is exploring the potential benefits of wireless mobile technologies for day-to-day teaching. Most recently, the Commonwealth has launched a pilot program called “iLearn” in Radford City and Montgomery County schools using the Apple iTouch to let students learn in alternative, comfortable ways.

“Mobile communication devices are an integral part of the lives of thousands of Virginia students,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Patricia I. Wright. “We can choose to ignore them or we can leverage them as powerful, personal learning devices.”

 

State News: ACLU critical of threat assessment for colleges, universities in fusion center report, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.

A recently published “terrorism threat assessment” from a Virginia fusion center says the state’s universities and colleges are “nodes for radicalization” and encourages law enforcement to monitor First Amendment-protected activities of educational and religious foundations as terrorism threats. The document, which drew concern today from the American Civil Liberties Union over its constitutional implications, also characterizes the “diversity” surrounding a Virginia military base and the state’s “historically black” colleges as possible threats. The March 2009 document, which claims there are currently at least fifty active “terrorist and extremist” groups in Virginia, is posted on the website www.cryptome.com.

The federal government has facilitated the growth of a network of fusion centers since 9/11 to expand information collection and sharing practices among law enforcement agencies, the private sector and the intelligence community. There are currently 70 fusion centers in the United States.

“If we are to believe this exaggerated threat assessment, Virginia’s learning and religious institutions must be hotbeds of terrorist activity,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This document and its authors have displayed a fundamental disregard for our constitutional rights of free expression and association. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time we’ve seen such an indifference to these basic rights from local fusion centers. Congress must take the necessary steps to institute real and thorough oversight mechanisms at fusion centers before we reach a point where we are all considered potential suspects.”

The Virginia threat assessment comes on the heels of two recently publicized and troubling documents from Texas and Missouri fusion centers. From directing local police to investigate non-violent political activists and religious groups in Texas to advocating surveillance of third-party presidential candidate supporters in Missouri, there have been repeated and persistent disclosures of troubling memos and reports from local fusions centers. Last week, the ACLU sent five letters to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties urging investigations into five troubling incidents, several of which have stemmed from DHS-funded fusion centers.

“There is an appalling lack of oversight at these fusion centers and they are becoming – as the ACLU has repeatedly warned – a breeding ground for overzealous police intelligence activities,” said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. “The Virginia threat assessment isn’t just disturbing for encouraging police to treat education and religious practices with suspicion, it’s bad law enforcement. Lawmakers from all levels of government need to enact legislation to protect against these spying activities that threaten our democracy while doing nothing to improve security.”

In 2007, the ACLU released a report entitled, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers?” which was updated last year. The report identifies specific concerns with fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, the troubling role of private corporations, the participation of the military, the use of data mining and the excessive secrecy surrounding the centers.

 

State News: More than 2 million Virginians went uninsured at some point last year, according to report, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.

Approximately 2.1 million Virginians—31.4 percent of residents under age 65—were uninsured at some point of time during 2007-2008, according to a report released today by the health consumer organization Families USA. In fact, nearly 1.6 million of those uninsured Virginians, 73.7 percent of the total, were uninsured for six months or more during that time.

The situation is reflected nationwide. Approximately 86.7 million Americans—one out of three people (33.1 percent) under 65 years of age—were uninsured at some point during 2007-2008. The Families USA report is an essential supplement to commonly-used Census Bureau data, such as the 45.7 million people deemed to be uninsured for the entire 2007 calendar year.

“The huge number of people without health coverage in Virginia is worse than an epidemic,” said Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA. “At this point, almost everyone in the country has had a family member, neighbor, or friend who was uninsured—and that’s why meaningful health care reform can no longer be kept on the back burner.”

The Families USA report reveals additional important demographic information about uninsured individuals in Virginia:

• More than four out of five of Virginia’s uninsured, or 81 percent, were in working families, working full- or part-time.

• Well over half, or 54.1 percent, of those individuals and families in Virginia with incomes below twice the poverty line—$42,400 of annual income for a family of four in 2008—went without health insurance at some point in 2007-2008.

• In addition, almost one quarter, or 23.2 percent, of those individuals and families in Virginia with incomes at or above twice the poverty line—$42,400 of annual income for a family of four in 2008—went without health insurance at some point in 2007-2008.

• While whites accounted for the largest number of uninsured in Virginia, Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans were much more likely to be uninsured than whites: 60.6 percent of Hispanics/Latinos and 36.7 percent of African Americans went without health insurance in 2007-2008, compared to 25.8 percent of whites.

“These startling numbers clearly document the seriousness of the problem and demonstrate what happens when a problem is ignored for too long,” Pollack said. “It’s important, however, to note that the Congress and the President have begun to address this serious issue and have made a down-payment on comprehensive health care reform by extending coverage to more than four million uninsured kids.

“The action of Congress and the President was an important down payment for health care reform, and it offers the promise that all Americans will one day have access to high quality, affordable health care.”

The Families USA report was based on data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation as well as the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey used by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. The data were compiled with the assistance of The Lewin Group, a distinguished health policy and data consulting firm.

A copy of the report is available at: www.familiesusa.org/assets/pdfs/americans-at-risk/virginia.pdf.

 

Local News: Bridgewater to host debate on Middle East, posted Tuesday, 2 p.m.

Anisa Mehdi and Michael Lame will debate “Disagreeing on Everything: A Debate on Attaining Peace in the Middle East” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, in the Carter Center for Worship and Music at Bridgewater College.

Mehdi and Lame present, explore and discuss with the audience various perspectives that keep peace between Israelis and Palestinians at bay. Friends and collaborators for more than 20 years, Mehdi and Lame demonstrate the art of respectful dispute, while simultaneously arguing points of history, religion, aggression, victimization, justice and conflict resolution.

Mehdi is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and filmmaker specializing in reporting on religion and the arts. She produced and directed the National Geographic special, “Inside Mecca,” which premiered on PBS in 2003. She also was executive producer of the PBS Frontline documentary “Muslims,” which premiered in 2002. She wrote and produced the four-part series “Muslim Voices” for ABC’s Nightline. As the first American woman to report on the hajj from Mecca for U.S. television, she produced award-winning coverage of the hajj for PBS’s “Religion and Ethnics News Weekly.”

She received a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and a master’s degree from Columbia University. She began her career as a news writer for WBZ-TV in Boston and later was an associate producer for CBS News in New York. A trustee of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif., she builds Citizen Diplomacy programs and interfaith workshops.

Lame is co-founder and president of PROSPERO LLC, a management consultant and organizational trainer who conducts leadership and communication programs in the U.S. and the Middle East.

Before becoming a consultant, Lame was the founder and president of The Foundation for Mideast Communication, which promoted face-to-face communication between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East as well as among Christians, Jews and Muslims throughout the U.S. and Canada. He developed, led and trained others to lead the two-day Re-Thinking the Middle East Workshop.

Lame received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz and holds a law degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

The debate is sponsored by the Harry and Ina Shank Endowed Lecture Series and is open to the public at no charge.

Bridgewater College, a private, four-year liberal arts college, enrolls more than 1,500 students. Founded in 1880 and located in the Central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, it was the state’s first private, coeducational senior college.


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