Thursday, November 29, 2007

Democracy in Russia is dead

The Kremlin is planning to rig the results of Russia's parliamentary elections on Sunday by forcing millions of public sector workers across the country to vote, the Guardian has learned.

Local administration officials have called in thousands of staff on their day off in an attempt to engineer a massive and inflated victory for President Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party. Voters are being pressured to vote for United Russia or risk losing their jobs, their accommodation or bonuses, the Guardian has been told in numerous interviews with byudzhetniki (public sector workers), students and ordinary citizens.

Article continues
Doctors, teachers, university deans, students and even workers at psychiatric clinics have been warned they have to vote. Failure to do so will entail serious consequences, they have been told.

Analysts say the pressure is designed to ensure a resounding win for the United Russia party and for Putin, who heads its party list. The victory would give him a public mandate to maintain ultimate power in the country as "National Leader" despite being unable to stand for a third term as president in March.


Science Daily:
Scientists analysing data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft have confirmed the presence of heavy negative ions in the upper regions of Titan's atmosphere. These particles may act as organic building blocks for even more complicated molecules and their discovery was completely unexpected because of the chemical composition of the atmosphere (which lacks oxygen and mainly consists of nitrogen and methane). The observation has now been verified on 16 different encounters.

Professor Andrew Coates, researcher at UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory and lead author of a new paper*, says: "Cassini's electron spectrometer has enabled us to detect negative ions which have 10,000 times the mass of hydrogen. Additional rings of carbon can build up on these ions, forming molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may act as a basis for the earliest forms of life.

"Their existence poses questions about the processes involved in atmospheric chemistry and aerosol formation and we now think it most likely that these negative ions form in the upper atmosphere before moving closer to the surface, where they probably form the mist which shrouds the planet and which has hidden its secrets from us in the past. It was this mist which stopped the Voyager mission from examining Titan more closely in 1980 and was one of the reasons that Cassini was launched."

Here Comes The Sun

Proponents of CSP say you don't need to use up much of the desert space to make CSP effective. A solar farm taking up 92 by 92 miles of desert could power the entire U.S., for example, according to Green Wombat, referring to a calculation made by the chairman of solar company Ausra, David Mills.

Over in Europe, however, a group of scientists, politicians and renewable energy experts who call themselves The Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) have made claims on a much bigger scale and with far bigger ramifications.

TREC is backing an ambitious project straddling Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EU-MENA), which is based on the calculation that an area less than 0.3% of the Sahara Desert filled with CSP plants could power the entire region -- and could slash the EU's electricity-generated greenhouse gas emissions by 70% in the process.

The CSP-generated electricity would be transmitted around the region via a "supergrid" of high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines. The CSP plants, TREC says, would "generate enough electricity and desalinated seawater to supply current demands in EU-MENA, and anticipated increases in those demands in the future."


Science Now:
Paris Hilton: Actress, author, ... analgesic? Neuroscientists have found that a cardboard cutout of the ubiquitous Hilton Hotel heiress has a painkilling effect on mice. But don't expect clinical trials to begin anytime soon: Paris works only for males, and it may be only because she stresses them out.

The idea for the unconventional experiment arose when Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and his colleagues noticed that male mice spent less time licking the site of a painful injection--indicating that they had less pain--when a scientist was present. To investigate whether it was the sight or smell of a human that caused the effect, the researchers acquired a promotional cardboard cutout of Hilton from her television show The Simple Life ("A special order," says Mogil's collaborator Leigh MacIntyre).

As in humans, Paris's effect appears to be gender-specific. Male mice spent less time licking their wounds when fake Paris was in sight, but females showed no such effect, the researchers reported here Saturday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. When the team put up a screen to block the rodents' view, the effect went away. Following a Paris Hilton encounter, male mice--but not females--also had lower-than-usual expression of a gene called c-fos in a part of the spinal cord that transmits pain signals to the brain, suggesting reduced neural activity in this pain pathway.


A recent Scientific American article (1) describes how even deidentified data can be used to reidentify individuals, specifically when bits of information exist in public databases. The article recounts the work of Lantanya Sweeney, who runs the Data Privacy Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. Her research found that reidentifying personal information is simpler than one might have imagined. In one case, a banker cross-referenced information in publicly available hospital discharge records against his client list to determine whether any of his clients had cancer. If they did, he called in their loans. In another case, Sweeney found a way to reidentify patients with Huntington disease even after all information about the patients had been deleted from their records. She combined known sequencing data indicating the presence of the disease with hospital discharge records, which included patients'ages, and succeeded in accurately linking 90% of the Huntington disease patients with DNA records on file.

Lake Inferior

This fall, the water level of Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, dipped below the record it set in the Dust Bowl days of 1926. In September, the 1540-square-kilometer lake on the Canadian border was at its lowest since record-keeping began in 1860--with an average depth of 183 meters. October's level went up after several weeks of rain but was still 30 cm below the long-term average. Boats are resting on mud, docks are poking nothing but air, and fishermen and lakeside rice growers are watching their livelihoods dry up.

Some factors that explain the mess: The surface temperature of the lake has mysteriously risen 4.5°C since 1978--twice as fast as the temperature of the surrounding air. Ice, which blocks evaporation, has become rare on Superior, and precipitation has dropped 15 cm a year from the annual average of 77 cm.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Associated Press:
An outbreak in Europe of an obscure disease from Africa is raising concerns that globalization and climate change are combining to pose a health threat to the West.

Nearly 300 cases of chikungunya fever, a virus that previously has been common only in Africa and Asia, were reported in Italy — where only isolated cases of the disease had been seen in the past.

"We were quite surprised," said Stefania Salmaso, director of Italy's Center for Epidemiology at the National Health Institute. "Nobody was expecting that such an unusual event was going to happen."

While the outbreak was largely the result of stronger trade and travel ties, some experts believe it is a sign of how global warming is creating new breeding grounds for diseases long confined to subtropical climates.

Monday, November 26, 2007

As the world burns

A group of rich countries including Britain has broken a promise to pay more than a billion dollars to help the developing world cope with the effects of climate change. The group agreed in 2001 to pay $1.2bn (£600m) to help poor and vulnerable countries predict and plan for the effects of global warming, as well as fund flood defences, conservation and thousands of other projects. But new figures show less than £90m of the promised money has been delivered. Britain has so far paid just £10m.

The disclosure comes after Gordon Brown said this week that industrialised countries must do more to help the developing world adapt to a changed climate, and two weeks before countries meet in Bali to begin negotiations on a new global deal to regulate emissions which is expected to stress the need for all countries to adapt.

Andrew Pendleton, climate change policy analyst at Christian Aid, said: "This represents a broken promise on a massive scale and on quite a cynical scale as well. Promising funds for adaptation is exactly the kind of incentive the rich countries will offer at Bali to bring the developing world on board a new climate deal. This is the signal we are seeing on all fronts, that the developed countries are unwilling to fulfil their moral and legal commitments."

It's Worse

Been behind updating this site, so this is now a little old, but needs be stored.

New York Times:
In its final and most powerful report, a United Nations panel of scientists meeting here describes the mounting risks of climate change in language that is both more specific and forceful than its previous assessments, according to scientists here.

Synthesizing reams of data from its three previous reports, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the first time specifically points out important risks if governments fail to respond: melting ice sheets that could lead to a rapid rise in sea levels and the extinction of large numbers of species brought about by even moderate amounts of warming, on the order of 1 to 3 degrees.

The report carries heightened significance because it is the last word from the influential global climate panel before world leaders meet in Bali, Indonesia, next month to begin to discuss a global climate change treaty that will replace the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. It is also the first report from the panel since it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October — an honor that many scientists here said emboldened them to stand more forcefully behind their positions.

As a sign of the deepening urgency surrounding the climate change issue, the report, which was being printed Friday night, will be officially released by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.


Los Angeles Times:
Kivalina is disappearing, the victim of a warming world and a steady natural erosion that probably began long before the Eskimos settled here 100 years ago.

"You see the white water out there?" Swan said, pointing to some ripples a couple hundred feet offshore. "That's where the beach used to be."

When he was growing up here in the 1970s, the ocean would freeze each fall into a slush the thickness of mashed potatoes. Waves from the storms would crash into the ice, not the shore.

Lately, the autumn ocean has been a vast, iceless expanse that leaves the beach vulnerable to waves. The island is now a sliver of sand and permafrost less than 600 feet across at its widest point. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates it will be 10 to 15 years before the ground beneath the clump of clapboard houses washes away.

Interesting that this hasn't yet been muzzled

US corruption investigators have gone behind the back of Downing Street to fly a British witness to Washington to testify about Saudi arms deals with the UK arms firm BAE Systems, the Guardian can disclose. In a hitherto secret move, Swiss federal prosecutors have also agreed to hand over to Washington financial records linked to the Saudi royal family.

The US is seeking - but has so far been refused - more than a million pages of documents seized from BAE, its bankers, Lloyds TSB, and the Ministry of Defence during an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the US, who says there was no impropriety about a £1bn payment he received for brokering arms deals with BAE, has hired a former head of the FBI and a retired British high court judge to defend his position. The British government has been attempting to block all investigations into payments from BAE to members of the Saudi regime.


TPM Muckraker:
Another year has almost passed under the Bush Administration, and so it's time to review how much less we know.

Last year, we launched the insanely ambitious project of recording every significant instance of this administration stifling government information. As we said then, "they've discontinued annual reports, classified normally public data, de-funded studies, quieted underlings, and generally done whatever was necessary to keep bad information under wraps." To be sure, the list will continue to grow through January, 2008.
Go read.


Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Friday hailed a United Nations committee vote calling for a moratorium on the death penalty - a cause for which Italy has long lobbied.

''The UN a great success for Italy and the cause of peace,'' Napolitano said after Thursday night's human rights committee vote.

''Now all that's missing is the final seal of the General Assembly,'' the president said.

The resolution, which calls for ''a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty,'' is expected to go to the 192-member Assembly in mid-December.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

After five and a half years

McClatchy Newspapers:
Despite the fact that Iraq and U.S. officials have made water projects among their top priorities, the percentage of Iraqis without access to decent water supplies has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent since the start of the U.S.-led war, according to an analysis by Oxfam International last summer. The portion of Iraqis lacking decent sanitation was even worse -- 80 percent.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What's wrong with this picture?

New York Times:
In its final and most powerful report, a United Nations panel of scientists meeting here describes the mounting risks of climate change in language that is both more specific and forceful than its previous assessments, according to scientists here.

Synthesizing reams of data from its three previous reports, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the first time specifically points out important risks if governments fail to respond: melting ice sheets that could lead to a rapid rise in sea levels and the extinction of large numbers of species brought about by even moderate amounts of warming, on the order of 1 to 3 degrees.

The report carries heightened significance because it is the last word from the influential global climate panel before world leaders meet in Bali, Indonesia, next month to begin to discuss a global climate change treaty that will replace the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. It is also the first report from the panel since it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October — an honor that many scientists here said emboldened them to stand more forcefully behind their positions.

As a sign of the deepening urgency surrounding the climate change issue, the report, which was being printed Friday night, will be officially released by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.
The government department spearheading the fight against climate change is planning an emergency package of at least £300m of cuts covering key environmental services, the Guardian has learned.

Frontline agencies tackling recycling, nature protection, energy saving, carbon emissions and safeguarding the environment are all being targeted in the package which is being drawn up by Helen Ghosh, the top civil servant at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Details of the cuts have emerged just as the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due to publish its latest report. The study, to be made public today ahead of a UN climate meeting in Bali, will warn that all forms of carbon pollution from flights to inefficient light bulbs must become more expensive if the world is to avert catastrophic effects of warming.

The disclosure of the Defra cuts plan will embarrass Gordon Brown, who is expected next week to give a major speech on climate change, recommitting Britain to supplying a fifth of its energy requirements from renewables by 2020. Previously government officials had said Britain would struggle to meet the target and lobbied to be allowed to use different statistics.

Bush: destroying our military

Associated Press:
Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

While the totals are still far lower than they were during the Vietnam war, when the draft was in effect, they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.

According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared to nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.

The War on Whistleblowers

Every year, hundreds of federal workers sound the alarm about corruption, fraud or dangers to public safety that are caused or overlooked -- or even covered up -- by U.S. government agencies. These whistle-blowers are supposed to be guaranteed protection by law from retaliation for speaking out in the public's interest.

But a six-month investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting, in collaboration with Salon, has found that federal whistle-blowers almost never receive legal protection after they take action. Instead, they often face agency managers and White House appointees intent upon silencing them rather than addressing the problems they raise. They are left fighting for their jobs in a special administrative court system, little known to the American public, that is mired in bureaucracy and vulnerable to partisan politics. The CIR/Salon investigation reveals that the whistle-blower system -- first created by Congress decades ago and proclaimed as a cornerstone of government transparency and accountability -- has in reality enabled the punishment of employees who speak out. It has had a chilling effect, dissuading others from coming forward. The investigation examined nearly 3,600 whistle-blower cases since 1994, and included dozens of interviews and a review of confidential court documents. Whistle-blowers lose their cases, the investigation shows, nearly 97 percent of the time. Most limp away from the experience with their careers, reputations and finances in tatters.

Legal experts and lawmakers say the system is badly in need of reform. In fact, new legislation to strengthen whistle-blower protections has been moving through Congress this year, with strong bipartisan support, and is expected to come before the Senate this session. But in the latest setback to the system, the Bush White House has vowed to veto the legislation, citing among its criticisms a risk to national security.

We're never leaving! Ever!

Wall Street Journal:
he U.S. Navy is building a military installation atop this petroleum-export platform as the U.S. establishes a more lasting military mission in the oil-rich north Persian Gulf.

While presidential candidates debate whether to start bringing ground troops home from Iraq, the new construction suggests that one footprint of U.S. military power in Iraq isn't shrinking anytime soon: American officials are girding for an open-ended commitment to protect the country's oil industry.

That is a sea change for the U.S., which has patrolled these waters for decades. In the past, American warships and their allies flexed the West's military might in the Persian Gulf to demonstrate a broad commitment to protect the region, which produces almost a third of the world's oil. President Jimmy Carter codified the doctrine in 1980 in response to a perceived Soviet threat.


ABC News:
Sometimes the music was American rap, sometimes Arab folk songs. In the CIA prison in Afghanistan, it came blaring through the speakers 24 hours a day. Prisoners held alone inside barbed-wire cages could only speak to each other and exchange their news when the music stopped: if the tape was changed or the generators broke down.

In one such six-foot-by-10-foot cell in February 2004, equipped with a low mattress and a bucket as a toilet, sat a man in shackles named Ibn al Sheikh al Libi, the former al Qaeda camp commander described by former CIA director George Tenet in his autobiography last year as "the highest ranking al-Qa'ida member in U.S. custody" just after 9/11.

In this secret facility known to prisoners as "The Hangar" and believed to be at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, al Libi told fellow "ghost prisoners," one recalled to me for a PBS "Frontline" to be broadcast tonight, an incredible story of his treatment over the previous two years: of how questioned at first by Americans, by the FBI and then CIA, of how he was threatened with torture. And then how he was rendered to a jail cell in Egypt where the threats became a reality.

Junk food makes you stupid and crazy

Science Daily:
Research has shown convincing evidence that dietary patterns practiced during adulthood are important contributors to age-related cognitive decline and dementia risk. An article published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences highlights information on the benefits of diets high in fruit, vegetables, cereals and fish and low in saturated fats in reducing dementia risk.

Adults with diabetes are especially sensitive to the foods they eat with respect to cognitive function. Specifically, an adult with diabetes will experience a decline in memory function after a meal, especially if simple carbohydrate foods are consumed. While the precise physiological mechanisms underlying these dietary influences are not completely understood, the modulation of brain insulin levels likely contributes.

This deficit can be prevented through healthful food choices at meals. The findings suggest that weight maintenance reduces the risk of developing obesity-associated disorders, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and is an important component of preserving cognitive health.

Keeping the corporate media corporate!

Washington Post:
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission yesterday proposed relaxing an agency rule to allow big-city newspapers to buy the smaller television stations in their markets, a move designed as a compromise in the ongoing issue of corporate control of the airwaves.

The proposal put forward by Chairman Kevin J. Martin appeared to please almost no one -- the newspaper industry said it stopped short of helping the ailing print media and anti-consolidation groups said it went too far, with one calling it "yet another massive giveaway to big media."

Under Martin's plan, set for a commission vote Dec. 18, newspapers in the nation's 20-largest media markets could buy one radio or television station in their cities, if certain conditions apply. The station could not be among the four most-watched in the market, essentially preventing newspapers from buying popular stations affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox.

The proposal would partially lift a 35-year-old ban on the "cross-ownership" of newspapers and broadcast stations. Although Martin's plan would not automatically ban cross-ownership in the nation's smaller 190 media markets, it is unlikely such purchases would be approved by the FCC, he said.

Because neither is a fan of democracy

Robert Scheer, in The Nation:
"The war on terror" made me do it. That's the excuse that works for George W. Bush to rationalize his assaults on the rule of law, from arbitrary arrest to torture. So why not try some war-on-terror obfuscation to bail out his president-dictator buddy over in Pakistan?

That's the card Bush played at his Saturday press conference when he once again celebrated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as a strong ally in the war on terrorism: "If you're the chief operating officer of Al-Qaida, you haven't had a good experience. There has been four or five Number 3s that have been brought to justice one way or the other, and many of those folks thought they had found safe haven in Pakistan. And that would not have happened without President Musharraf honoring his word."

Of course Bush's statement was utter nonsense. Al-Qaida has been having a very good experience with its CEO Osama bin Laden--whom Bush had promised to get "dead or alive"--being still very much alive and apparently moving with his minions quite easily across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. So too his Taliban sponsors, who seem to get stronger each month; Afghanistan is no closer to stability than Iraq, that other war-on-terrorism battleground where Bush once claimed triumph.

But now, even Pakistan is a war zone in which the terrorists seem to be thriving, and that is more troubling than the chaos in that other country we invaded to seize its imaginary nuclear bombs. Pakistan has real ones, upward of eighty, as well as the aircraft and missiles to deliver them if some of the religious extremists in the military ever get in charge. Some highly placed folks in the Pakistan military supplied the transport planes used by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the "Islamic bomb," to transfer key nuclear weapons technology out of Pakistan and into North Korea, Libya and Iran. If Musharraf is such a determined warrior against terrorism, why has he pardoned Khan, the man who did so much to help those rogue nations that Bush warned us against, while preventing US intelligence agents from interviewing him?

Smithsonian exhibit denied science, downplayed global warming

Washington Post:
Some government scientists have complained that officials at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History took steps to downplay global warming in a 2006 exhibit on the Arctic to avoid a political backlash, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The museum's director, Cristián Samper, ordered last-minute changes to the exhibit's script to add "scientific uncertainty" about climate change, according to internal documents and correspondence.

Scientists at other agencies collaborating on the project expressed in e-mails their belief that Smithsonian officials acted to avoid criticism from congressional appropriators and global-warming skeptics in the Bush administration. But Samper said in an interview last week that "there was no political pressure -- not from me, not from anyone."

Samper put the project on hold for six months in the fall of 2005 and ordered that the exhibition undergo further review by higher-level officials in other government agencies. Samper also asked for changes in the script and the sequence of the exhibit's panels to move the discussion of recent climate change further back in the presentation, records also show. The exhibit opened in April 2006 and closed in November of that year.

Katrina damaged carbon sink

Science Daily:
With the help of NASA satellite data, a research team has estimated that Hurricane Katrina killed or severely damaged 320 million large trees in Gulf Coast forests, which weakened the role the forests play in storing carbon from the atmosphere. The damage has led to these forests releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Iran not arming Iraqi insurgents!

McClatchy Newspapers:
Iran appears to have stopped shipping the deadliest type of weapons used against U.S. troops in Iraq after a European government confronted Tehran with proof that the weapons came from Iranian factories and Iraqi officials warned their neighbor that instability in Iraq affects the entire region, U.S., Western and Iraqi officials said.

A senior U.S. general in Iraq said Thursday that Iran is upholding informal commitments it's made in the last several months and no new weapons caches have been found recently. "We believe the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up," said Maj. Gen. James Simmons, a deputy corps commander in charge of studying explosive attacks, during a press briefing.

That's a striking departure from repeated U.S. condemnations of Iranian meddling in Iraq and from the argument by allies of Vice President Dick Cheney that there's little point in negotiating with Iran because its leaders can't be trusted to deal in good faith.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Spiegel Online:
When the Taliban destroyed two Buddhist statues in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001, there was an international outcry. But similar incidents are now occurring in northwest Pakistan, where radical Islamists recently blew up a sculpture of Buddha in broad daylight.

The phenomenon is new and disconcerting. Even the Pakistani government describes it as "Talibanization:" Parts of the country are now in almost exactly the same situation as neighboring Afghanistan was when the Taliban were still in power there.

This is especially the case in the formerly peaceful Swat region, where a militant Islamist leader has even proclaimed an "emirate." And just as in Afghanistan, the Islamists' hatred is directed, in part, against the traces left by the ancient Buddhist civilization in the region.

Looking for an excuse

US military officials are putting huge pressure on interrogators who question Iraqi insurgents to find incriminating evidence pointing to Iran, it was claimed last night.

Micah Brose, a privately contracted interrogator working for American forces in Iraq, near the Iranian border, told The Observer that information on Iran is 'gold'. The claim comes after Washington imposed sanctions on Iran last month, citing both its nuclear ambitions and its Revolutionary Guards' alleged support of Shia insurgents in Iraq. Last week the US military freed nine Iranians held in Iraq, including two it had accused of links to the Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force.

Brose, 30, who extracts information from detainees in Iraq, said: 'They push a lot for us to establish a link with Iran. They have pre-categories for us to go through, and by the sheer volume of categories there's clearly a lot more for Iran than there is for other stuff. Of all the recent requests I've had, I'd say 60 to 70 per cent are about Iran.

'It feels a lot like, if you get something and Iran's not involved, it's a let down.' He added: 'I've had people say to me, "They're really pushing the Iran thing. It's like, shit, you know." '

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The risk is not in the politics, it's in ignoring the facts

Washington Post:
All of the leading Democratic contenders for the presidency are committed to a set of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that would change the way Americans light their homes, fuel their automobiles and do their jobs, costing billions of dollars in the short term but potentially, the candidates say, saving even more in the decades to follow.
And the Republicans?
While Democrats are working to outdo each other on climate change -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, for example, supports a 90 percent greenhouse gas reduction by midcentury -- GOP presidential candidates remain more skeptical, to say the least. Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) stands by his commentary on National Review Online that warming on other planets has led some people "to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle."

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said in the wake of Gore's Nobel Prize win that when it comes to global warming, "if we try to deal with it at too hysterical a pace, we could create problems."

Among Republicans, only Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) -- who began crusading against climate change after a heckler dressed as a penguin followed him around New Hampshire during his 2000 presidential bid -- backs a specific, 60 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2050. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee endorsed a mandatory carbon cap last month but has not laid out specifics.
Could it possibly be more clear that every Democratic candidate is better than every Republican candidate?

Good for MSNBC!

And it's purely market-driven. As it should be. As it hasn't been, with the corporate media.

New York Times:
iding a ratings wave from “Countdown With Keith Olbermann,” a program that takes strong issue with the Bush administration, MSNBC is increasingly seeking to showcase its nighttime lineup as a welcome haven for viewers of a similar mind.

Lest there be any doubt that the cable channel believes there is ratings gold in shows that criticize the administration with the same vigor with which Fox News’s hosts often champion it, two NBC executives acknowledged yesterday that they were talking to Rosie O’Donnell about a prime-time show on MSNBC.
The O'Donnell negotiations didn't pan out, but MSNBC clearly understands that there's money to be made bucking the right-wing television hegemony.

But here's the interesting part:
Having a prime-time lineup that tilts ever more demonstrably to the left could be risky for General Electric, MSNBC’s parent company, which is subject to legislation and regulation far afield of the cable landscape. Officials at MSNBC emphasize that they never set out to create a liberal version of Fox News.

“It happened naturally,” Phil Griffin, a senior vice president of NBC News who is the executive in charge of MSNBC, said Friday, referring specifically to the channel’s passion and point of view from 7 to 10 p.m. “There isn’t a dogma we’re putting through. There is a ‘Go for it.’”
That the Times would mention this in such an off-hand way is very telling. A free and independent media should not have to worry about the political ramifications of playing to the market, and a government that might punish a corporation for producing profitable news programs that criticize said government is not a democratic government.

Rudy the race-baiter

Thomas Edsall, of the Huffington Post:
Strategists for Rudy Giuliani are quietly preparing a significantly race-based campaign strategy to strengthen support among socially conservative white voters, in the South as well as in the North.

The former Mayor carries the burden of three marriages and a Brooklyn accent, but he has more race cards to play than any of his opponents, and his success in the fight for the nomination - according to close observers of the campaign -- may depend on how aggressively he plays his hand.

The themes the campaign are lining up for renewed emphasis are those reflecting Giuliani's confrontational stance towards black New Yorkers and their white liberal allies, as well as his record of siding decisively with the police against minorities who launched protests alleging police brutality during the years he was mayor from 1994-2001.

Giuliani's eight years as New York's chief executive exemplified a Northern adaptation of the GOP's politically successful "Southern strategy" - the strategy playing on white resistance to and resentment of federal legislation passed in the 1960s mandating desegregation - resistance that produced a realignment in the South and fractured the Democratic loyalties of white working class voters in the urban North from 1968 to 2004.

Not that it necessarily matters

McClatchy Newspapers:
Despite President Bush's claims that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons that could trigger "World War III," experts in and out of government say there's no conclusive evidence that Tehran has an active nuclear-weapons program.

Even his own administration appears divided about the immediacy of the threat. While Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney speak of an Iranian weapons program as a fact, Bush's point man on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, has attempted to ratchet down the rhetoric.

Another problem

Many of the largest food and fuel companies risk climate change disaster by driving the demand for palm oil and biofuels grown on the world's greatest peat deposits, a report will say today.

Unilever, Cargill, Nestlé, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, as well as all leading UK supermarkets, are large users of Indonesian palm oil, much of which comes from the province of Riau in Sumatra, where an estimated 14.6bn tonnes of carbon - equivalent to nearly one year's entire global carbon emissions - is locked up in the world's deepest peat beds.

More than 1.4m hectares of virgin forest in Riau has already been converted to plantations to provide cooking oil, but a further 3m hectares is planned to be turned to biofuels, says the Greenpeace report.

Can anyone?

Spiegel Online:

Iran Crisis To Top Agenda of US Trip

The sounds of saber rattling against the mullah regime in Iran are getting louder in Washington. When Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to the United States this week, German politicians at both ends of the political spectrum will expect her to voice clear opposition to further military escapades. But Merkel prefers quiet diplomacy.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Bush considers war, and Britain?

Gordon Brown is considering a Saudi plan to limit the supply of uranium to potential nuclear weapons states and will call for new EU sanctions against Iran in the next few weeks, most probably in the form of an end to export credit guarantees.

US-allied Gulf states said yesterday they were planning a consortium to provide enough enriched uranium for Iran's civil nuclear programme, which they believe could be a deterrent against the development of nuclear weapon.

That Other War

Associated Press:
Afghanistan's deadliest suicide attack since the Taliban regime's ouster killed 59 schoolchildren, while 96 other students were wounded in the blast, the Education Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The attack in the northern province of Baghlan on Tuesday killed at least 75 people. The dead children were ages eight to 18, said Zahoor Afghan, an Education Ministry spokesman.

Five teachers were also among those killed in the attack, the worst in the country since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban militant movement from power. Six lawmakers also died.

Our ally

New York Times:
The opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest this morning, her political party said. Streets were filled with police officers carrying batons and shields, and trucks blocked roads, trying to prevent access to a protest rally that Ms. Bhutto had helped organize in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to the capital of Islamabad.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Thursday, a day after President Bush called, that Pakistan’s parliamentary elections would be held before Feb. 15. But his security forces continued to widen their crackdown and jailed thousands of opposition party members before the rally, which is scheduled to start in the early afternoon today.

Will America ever grow up?

Associated Press:
Programs that focus exclusively on abstinence have not been shown to affect teenager sexual behavior, although they are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, according to a study released by a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce teen pregnancies.

"At present there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence or reduces the number of sexual partners" among teenagers, the study concluded.

The report, which was based on a review of research into teen sexual behavior, was being released Wednesday by the nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The study found that while abstinence-only efforts appear to have little positive impact, more comprehensive sex education programs were having "positive outcomes" including teenagers "delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use."

Friday, November 2, 2007


Spiegel Online:
In the wake of 9/11, European countries have been busy enacting controversial mandatory data retention laws. Now draft legislation by the German government would make it easier to monitor virtually all communications by journalists -- effectively ending source confidentiality and press freedom.

It may soon no longer be a good idea to tell a journalist something confidential over the phone in Germany. It would also perhaps be prudent to avoid sending e-mails, faxes or text messages. In the future, sources might be better off furtively intercepting reporters on their way home, writing letters, or sending smoke signals.

As of Jan. 1, 2008, this kind of cautious behavior may be advisable -- that is if the German parliament, the Bundestag, approves a bill next week that would effectively remove all protection of journalists' sources when it comes to telecom and Internet communications.

If this happens, all newspapers and magazines will perhaps also be well advised to print warnings like the labels found on pharmaceutical and cigarette packaging: "Caution -- an effective protection of sources can no longer be guaranteed."