Many college students consider it an accomplishment if they beat their hangovers and make it to class on time. But last year, Nelson Kanuk, a freshman at at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, sued his state for failing to reduce carbon emissions or slow climate change. Last week, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed to hear Kanuk's appeal, becoming the first high court in the country to take up such a case. (You can view the full hearing, which took place in a high school auditorium, here.)
Kanuk hails from a remote Yup'ik Eskimo village called Kipnuk, which is accessible primarily via river. Due to melting permafrost, the riverbank that protects Kanuk's family's house from floods softened, and some 13 feet of their front yard was swallowed up by the rushing water. The family has since been forced to move about 100 miles away.
"[My village] is not really connected to the outside world, but I was always interested in what's going on all around us, I was curious in climate change and how it was affecting us," Kanuk says in a video put out by the environmental group helping with the lawsuit, Our Children's Trust. "I didn't realize how bad it was. When I finally understood what climate change was, I thought, what can I do to help?"
Kanuk's legal argument hinges on what's called the "public trust doctrine" which holds that there are natural resources (like lakes, or places where the states issues hunting permits) that can't be subject to private ownership, and as a consequence, states have a responsibility to protect them so that they can be enjoyed by future generations. Kanuk and his six co-plaintiffs claim that the atmosphere falls under this doctrine, and although the air hasn't been "threatened" before, "throughout history, law has evolved as courts respond to unforeseen, often urgent, circumstances."
Kanuk isn't the first person to bring a climate change lawsuit against a state—or even the first teenager. Lawsuits are also pending in 12 other states, including Montana, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and also in federal court. The environmental group working with Kanuk, Our Children's Trust, has been helping teens bring many of these lawsuits, and in Kansas, the plaintiff was only 14. But so far, only a trial court in Texas has backed the plaintiffs and the case is now facing appeal, according to Alaska Public Media. A decision in Kanuk's case is expected in a few months.
With the government shutdown entering its second week, it's widely believed that the House has enough Republican votes to pass a government spending bill with no strings attached, if Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) were to actually bring this measure to the floor. But even if Panda Cam gets turned back on again (with the rest of the in-hibernation government), the country will still run out of money to pay its bills on October 17, unless Congress agrees to raise the debt ceiling. The consequences of failing to raise the debt limit are far graver than shutting down the government, potentially causing a default that could lead to a global financial catastrophe and another recession. Mother Jones surveyed the House Republican caucus, emailing the offices of over 200 lawmakers and digging through public statements, to gauge which lawmakers would support a bill to raise the debt ceiling without any unrelated demands. Here's the full list of every Republican we found who was publicly favorable to the idea:
1. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.)
In an interview with E&E Publishing on October 4, Whitfield said, "For myself, I'd just like a clean debt ceiling. I'm working with Democrats in the Senate, and I don't want to get tied up in a big argument about the debt ceiling and everything else." Whitfield is the chief backer of a plan that would erode the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate emissions, and he was specifically talking about leaving the climate change debate out of debt ceiling negotiations (right now, the GOP's draft debt ceiling bill contains a host of energy-related demands). Elana Schor, the reporter who interviewed Whitfield, said he made this comment within the context of discussing environmental riders, but she believes he was referring to an entirely clean bill. Mother Jones contacted Whitfield's office to confirm that he was indeed in favor of boosting the debt ceiling without trying to extract concessions from the Obama administration. His office did not respond.
Memo to first ladies: If you express a remotely controversial opinion, don't bother attempting to defend your remarks. Your husband can do that for you.
Governor Rick Perry's (R-Texas) views on women's reproductive rights are crystal clear: He's shuttered family planning clinics across the Lone Star State, championed abstinence education, and blamed rising teen pregnancy rates on the fact that America is ignoring the Boy Scouts. But last weekend, Anita Perry, who worked as a nurse before becoming the First Lady of Texas, said that abortion "could be a woman's right." Given her husband's efforts to destroy every last abortion clinic in Texas, news of her quote spread like wildfire. But before pundits' ink could dry, the governor made sure to shut that whole thing down.
“From time to time we’ll stick the wrong word in the wrong place, and you pounce upon it,” Perry said to the press yesterday during an appearance in New Jersey with Republican US Senate candidate Steve Lonegan. Anita Perry has not made any further public comment about her remarks—although they didn't seem to leave much room for interpretation:
In the interview she said, "it's really difficult for me...I see it as a woman's right, if they want to do it, that's their decision, they have to live with that decision." In response to a follow-up question from a Texas Tribune reporter—"are you saying that you believe abortion is a women's right, to make that choice?" Anita Perry said, "Yeah, that could be a women's right. Just like it's a man's right if he wants to have some kind of procedure. But I don't agree with it, and that's not my view." In the past, Anita Perry has done fundraisingfor a group called the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, which supports abortion rights. The Washington Post pointed out that Rick Perry pushed for his controversial (among social conservatives) executive order requiring HPV vaccines after his wife made a speech on the subject.
Perry will retire at the end of his third term. State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democrat famous for staging a marathon filibuster against Texas Republicans' restrictive abortion bill, is expected to run, probably against Greg Abbott, the Republican state attorney general. Abbott, who opposes abortion, has not said whether he would make an exception for rape or incest, but noted that "we just don't discriminate against a child because of their beginnings."
You probably haven't heard, but the US government has shut down as of midnight on Tuesday, and it won't reopen until President Barack Obama and Congress quit bickering over Obamacare. Online, some government agencies appear to be in denial about the shutdown—the US Mint is still tweeting about coin laser imprints, and GOP.gov is running normally. But most of them are shuttering their Twitter feeds and websites, and leaving sad goodbye notes. Without further ado, here are 10 of the most tragic:
1. The National Zoo promises that someone's still feeding the animals. But, sorry folks. No pandacam!
2. USA.gov wins the politeness and optimism award.
3. The US Geological Survey doesn't beat around the bush.
4. The Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade informs us that, until hisinterns come back, small businesses are screwed.
5. US Fish and Wildlife Service leaves duck-stamp enthusiasts hanging.
6. The NSA isn't updating its site, but it's probably still spying on you!
7. The National Archives and Records Administration is basically in chaos.
8. The Government Accountability Office takes the opportunity to remind Americans that it won't be doing any government oversight while the government is shut down.
9. The White House thumbs its nose at Republicans.
And one bonus non-governmental Tweet: (we initially labeled this as an official NASA account, but a NASA spokesperson clarified that it is not.)
At a tech and music conference last weekend, John McAfee, controversial founder of the eponymous anti-virus software company, announced that he is inventing a device that will stop the NSA from spying on Americans. It's called D-Central, it will be out within the next six months, and it will only set you back around $100. But does it work?
McAfee—better known as a bath salts enthusiast (he says he was joking) who once dodged the police in Belize after his neighbor there was murdered (he maintains he didn't do it)—has been dropping hints about the device, but there are still big questions as to how it works and whether it will deter government snooping. Encryption experts say that the device McAfee describes is certainly possible—but if Americans want to be truly NSA-free, they'll have to say goodbye to everything that makes the internet fun, or better yet, get off the internet.
Here's what we know from McAfee's cagey description at the C2SV Technology Conference + Music Festival on Saturday (as reported by the San Jose Mercury News): The NSA-proof device acts like a wireless internet router that broadcasts small, private networks across a radius of about three blocks in the city and a little over a quarter mile in the country. By accessing these networks, users within range of the device can secretly swap files with each other or access a "public mode"— without jumping on the main internet backbone. "It will of course be used for nefarious purposes, just like the telephone is," McAfee said at the conference, agreeing that it could be described as a "dark web."
"It looks like this is definitely something that could be physically built, but whether anyone would want it is another question," says Matthew Green, an encryption expert at Johns Hopkins University. "You would still have to avoid Facebook, Google, Twitter—because these are centralized providers that have a relationship with the NSA."
So is McAfee the harbinger of a new wave of internet freedom? If so, he would be a surprising choice. He claims to have faked heart attacks while detained in Guatemala to avoid deportation to Belize. And last year, the New York Times reported that he "kept a pack of untethered dogs on his property who barked at and sometimes bit passers-by."
Eccentricities aside, there are several ways the device McAfee describes could work, based on current technology. The first, most likely, way is a mesh network in a box, which would carve out NSA-free space on the Web by creating little wifi villages. Instead of having big providers, such as Verizon, run a network, a single person controls his or her own little network, potentially renting out usage. Mesh networks are cheap and accessible and have traditionally been popular among Cape Town grandmothers. But they have a major downside: You can only communicate locally, and you don't get to participate on the regular internet. "You can do things like trade files, and chat and do voice and video calls, all locally," says Micah Lee, a staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). But even if you have a secure chatroom with your college dorm, you can't use Facebook. And as soon as you leave campus, you can't use your private network anymore.
Expanding mesh networks globally is "super hard, but not impossible," as Mother Jones contributor Clive Thompson reported. But they still won't necessarily be NSA-proof. Lee says, "We've learned that NSA has put backdoors in commercial crypto products [so] if a user of McAfee's system is being targeted by NSA, and NSA has hacked their computer and planted a keylogger, their communications will be compromised even if they are avoiding the internet."
A second way that D-Central could work is by creating a peer-to-peer network wherein one computer is hooked up to the web and the rest of the computers then piggyback onto that computer, accessing web services without actually having to be on the web. "I don't think anyone has really tried that before," says Richard Bejtlich, the chief security officer at Mandiant, a company that offers cybersecurity services for Fortune 100 companies. "That would be a much tougher situation for the NSA to break into, but, if they wanted to, it would be a little bit like the hunt for Osama bin Laden. There's only one of his courier's interacting with the outside world, and you've got to find him, and then the next courier, and so on."
The third way is simply getting more Americans to use cryptography and encrypt their communications from end-to-end. This kind of network technically already exists—it's called Tor, and it's popular among hackers and journalists. "If I was going to build some kind of NSA-proof device, I would build everyone a box that just plugs you right into Tor," says Green. (Still, Tor isn't perfect—researchers say that its encryption could potentially be broken by the NSA.)
McAfee didn't comment for this piece, so for now, we'll have to wait the 173 days or so until the product launches to find out more. McAfee said at the conference that he'd been tossing around the idea of the device long before the Edward Snowden disclosures—and if the United States bans it, he'll market it to "England, Japan, the Third World," because "this is coming and cannot be stopped."
Lee, from EFF, is more skeptical. "It could possibly end up being a cool product," he says. "[But] if anyone claims that their product is NSA-proof, I would not recommend buying it."