Whistleblowers win one in Iceland’s Parliament

At 4 a.m. last Thursday, at the end of an all-night session, Iceland’s Parliament, the Althing, voted unanimously in favor of a package of legislation aimed at making the country a haven for freedom of expression by offering legal protection to whistle-blower Web sites like WikiLeaks, which helped to craft the proposal…

…Iceland hoped to become “the inverse of a tax haven,” by offering journalists and publishers some of the most aggressive protections for free speech and investigative journalism in the world. “They are trying to make everything opaque,” she said. “We are trying to make it transparent…”

The plan to make Iceland a world leader in journalism protection took shape in December with the assistance of two leaders of the whistle-blower Web site WikiLeaks.org, Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt, whose publish-nearly-anything ideology has given them personal experience with news media laws around the globe…

Monroe Price, who runs a program in comparative media law at the University of Oxford, told The Independent in London, “As an exercise in aspirations, it’s a bold and important endeavor.” But, he added, “if it’s a significant issue like a national security question, then the charging jurisdiction will figure out ways of asserting its power.”

Does he really mean that bastions of Free Speech and Liberty like the UK and US might be willing to break or band the law in pursuit of preserving their political will?

You betcha!

Let’s leave mutual defense treaties in the past

French President Nicolas Sarkozy believes the idea of Russia and Europe building up defenses against one another is something that should remain in the past.

The announcement came during Sarkozy’s speech at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg on Saturday.

“The idea that Russia should protect itself from Europe and that Europe should protect itself from Russia is a thing from the far past,” Sarkozy said, adding: “We must believe that we are fighting against one and the same threats.”

He said that terrorism and mafia are identical threats and that Russia and Europe must jointly fight against them.

Russian President Medvedev announced his initiative to draw up a new pan-European security pact in May 2008, and the first real draft was presented by the Kremlin in November 2009. It got responses from more than 20 governments and their administrations. The European Union and NATO have also studied the draft.

However, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said such a treaty was unnecessary.

Her position was echoed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who has stated repeatedly that the West is no threat to Russia and that extra security guarantees are uncalled for.

Unless, John McCain had won the 2008 election and appointed George W. Bush secretary of state and Dick Cheney secretary of war. All bets would have been off.

Yellow submarine finds more clues to Antarctic thaw

A yellow submarine has helped to solve a puzzle about one of Antarctica’s fastest-melting glaciers, adding to concerns about how climate change may push up world sea levels.

The robot submarine, deployed under the ice shelf floating on the sea at the end of the Pine Island Glacier, found that the ice was no longer resting on a subsea ridge that had slowed the glacier’s slide until the early 1970s.

Antarctica is key to predicting the rise in sea levels caused by global warming — it has enough ice to raise sea levels by 57 meters (187 ft) if it ever all melted. Even a tiny thaw at the fringes could swamp coasts from Bangladesh to Florida…

West Antarctica’s thaw accounts for 10 percent of a recently observed rise in sea levels, with melting of the Pine Island glacier quickening, especially in recent decades, according to the study led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Loss of contact with the subsea ridge meant that ice was flowing faster and also thawing more as sea water flowed into an ever bigger cavity that now extended 30 km beyond the ridge. The water was just above freezing at 1 degree Celsius…

Adrian Jenkins, lead author at BAS, said the study raised “new questions about whether the current loss of ice from Pine Island Glacier is caused by recent climate change or is a continuation of a longer-term process that began when the glacier disconnected from the ridge.”

Research that provides more data, better directed conclusions is always welcome. Welcomed, that is, by scientists and those who would make decisions about life and politics based on scientific understanding.

School Board prez fiddles with, uh, inappropriate behavior

Detroit school board President Otis Mathis admitted Friday to engaging in “inappropriate actions” but tried to take back his resignation after he was accused of fondling himself during a meeting with the district superintendent…

He said medical issues may have contributed to the incident. “I need to pursue treatment. … I want to make sure that what happened doesn’t ever happen again…

“It’s over. He’s done. We have more important business to handle,” said Carla Scott, a member of the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education. “We can’t afford a circus.”

DPS police were investigating allegations by Superintendent Teresa Gueyser that during a meeting Wednesday, Mathis touched himself for 20 minutes, then unzipped his pants.

Gueyser, in a memo to the board, said she ended the meeting. “I told him that there was no reason for us to continue the meeting with that behavior,” she said…

Seems reasonable to me. I can think of a few places where such behavior might not be surprising; but, none of them include meetings of school board staff.

California strawberries just started sounding less sweet to me

SACRAMENTO — Even as the sweet strawberry harvest reaches its peak here, a bitter disagreement has erupted between the State Department of Pesticide Regulation and a scientific review committee over the approval of a new chemical, the outcome of which could affect farmers across the country.

Members of the review committee say the state’s decision to approve the new pesticide, methyl iodide, was made using inadequate, flawed and improperly conducted scientific research.

“I’m not in blanket opposition to the use of pesticides, but methyl iodide alarms me,” said Theodore A. Slotkin…a member of the scientific review committee. “When we come across a compound that is known to be neurotoxic, as well as developmentally toxic and an endocrine disruptor, it would seem prudent to err on the side of caution, demanding that the appropriate scientific testing be done on animals instead of going ahead and putting it into use, in which case the test animals will be the children of the state of California…”

For decades, farmers injected another chemical, methyl bromide, into the soil before planting strawberries. Then the Montreal Protocol international climate treaty banned methyl bromide, saying it had been found to deplete ozone. That sent regulators, farmers and the chemical industry scrambling for an alternative.

They found methyl iodide, a chemical less harmful to the ozone, but with more potential hazards to human health. In 2007 the chemical was approved by federal environmental regulators to the chagrin of many scientists. More than 50 chemists and physicians, including members of the National Academy of Sciences and Nobel laureates, had asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency not to approve the chemical…

How worthless do you think planning for safety was during the Bush years? Do you think they did a better job on pesticides than they did, say, on offshore drilling permits?

Continue reading

Blackwater is back and working for Obama in Afghanistan

A firm affiliated with the former Blackwater security company has been awarded a contract to provide protection to U.S. consulates and diplomats in the Afghan cities of Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, a U.S. State Department official has confirmed.

The official said U.S. Training Center got the contract on Friday. It is part of Xe, the new name of Blackwater Worldwide.

Blackwater became the target of widespread outrage in Iraq after its contractors were involved in the September 2007 shooting at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square that left 17 civilians dead and 24 wounded, straining relations between Iraq and the United States.

The deal is a one-year contract with an option to extend up to 18 months. If the contract is fulfilled for that entire period, it would be more than $120 million.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, said on Saturday she was “extremely disappointed” over the deal and that the former Blackwater shouldn’t be receiving more U.S. contracts.

“This is a company whose cowboy-like behavior has not only resulted in civilian deaths; it has also jeopardized our mission and the safety of U.S. troops and diplomatic personnel worldwide. Instead of punishing Blackwater for its extensive history of serious abuses the State Department is rewarding the company with up to $120 million in taxpayer funds,” she said in a statement.

The congresswoman has introduced legislation that would phase out the use of private security contractors.

“Though the name Blackwater has become synonymous with the worst of contractor abuses, the bigger problem is our dangerous reliance on such companies for the business of waging war.”

Sooner or later, the easy rationale for the Obama Administration – things at the departmental level are still being run by Bush leftovers – will have to run out.

Responsibility for stupidity like this will have sit alongside Obama and Hillary at one of their press conferences. Presuming someone from the Washington Press Corps will ask the question.

Arizona citizenship bill targets children

Migrant children, born in Texas

And then they came for the children.

Just when you thought Arizona lawmakers couldn’t stoop any lower, these cowardly and shameful politicians grab a shovel and put in a basement.

This fall, the Arizona legislature is expected to debate a bill that would deny birth certificates to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants — the “anchor babies” that some Republicans have been trying to marginalize for years.

The lawmakers are cowards because, first, they go after illegal immigrants who don’t vote, lobby or contribute to political campaigns. And now they’re going after children who don’t vote, lobby or contribute to political campaigns.

Whom are they not going after? Employers of illegal immigrants. You know why? Because they vote, lobby and contribute to political campaigns…

By the way, the term “anchor babies,” which refers to the tots that supposedly increase the chances that mommy and daddy can stay in the United States even if mommy and daddy are in the country illegally, isn’t just offensive and crude. It’s also misleading.

The real anchor is a job, the kind eagerly provided by U.S. employers who thumb their noses at federal law prohibiting the hiring of illegal immigrants…

Sorry if I offend folks who believe only in polite discussion; but, I think legislation like this is for the lowest of scumbag politicians. The issue isn’t illegal migrant labor. The issue is the American tradition, the American law that says if you’re born here you can claim American citizenship.

I grew up in a New England factory town. All the neighborhoods were immigrant neighborhoods. You may have been first generation or second generation American. Then, your parents or grandparents came here and went through the drill to become citizens. But, you were a natural-born American.

Turning your back on that tradition is just one more face of the pyramid of bigotry that was the foundation of the Civil War. A war that Americans true to American history won a long time ago. Losers are on the other side.