Mojo - March 2006

Canada has its warmest winter ever, and other global warming news

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 3:39 PM EST

Looks like there might be something to this global warming stuff after all. Here's AP:

TORONTO — The winter of 2005-06 has been Canada's warmest on record and the federal agency Environment Canada said Monday that it was investigating whether it was a sign of global warming.

From December through February, which is considered meteorological winter, the country was 3.9 degrees above normal — the warmest winter season since temperatures were first recorded here in 1948.

Environment Canada climatologist Bob Whitewood said it smashed the previous record set in 1987 by 0.9 degrees.

....Whitewood said the last 10 winters had been warmer than normal and along with this winter reflect a trend that could be explained as global warming.

Hmm, yes, I can see how he might infer that.

Hockey-playing Canadians are said to be "disappointed" about thinner ice. No comment from the thousands of pregnant seals "forced to give birth on shore by unusually mild weather that has prevented the Gulf of St. Lawrence from freezing."

Apropos, it's been at least a day since we last drew attention to this Mother Jones story about the plight of adorable polar bears doomed to (probable) extinction thanks to pollution and global warming. (Their Arctic home is literally melting beneath their feet.)

In other climate change news, NASA has roused itself long enough to tout a survey it says confirms "climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in Earth's largest storehouses of ice and snow." The story has an agency researcher noting an "internal NASA change...to allow scientists greater freedom." Which, if true--and don't count on it--will be quite the cultural shift.

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New national security guidelines reflect significant semantic changes

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 10:45 AM EST

At the end of last year, National Security Advisor Stehpen Hadley did some word tinkering with the "Adjunctive Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information." The result is that the government now has broader, vaguer power to deny information to those seeking it. The overall change puts emphasis on loyalty to the U.S. government, and allows those holding information to look at various "suspect" factors rather than singling out a specific violation as grounds for denying classified information. It also places particular burdens on gay citizens that did not exist before.

For example, in addition to the already existing requirements for U.S. loyalty--things such a voting in a foreign election or expressing a desire to divest oneself of American citizenship--the new version says that the vocalization of allegiance to another country disqualifies a person from receiving information.

Under the category of "personal conduct," Hadley has added:

Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include: credible adverse information that is not explicitly covered under any other guideline and may not be sufficient by itself for an adverse determination, but which, when combined with all available information supports a whole-person assessment of questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor, unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations, or other characteristics indicating that the person may not properly safeguard protected information.

Deliberately providing "false or misleading" information to an employer could also disqualify a person from receiving classified information under the revised guidelines.

And under "psychological conditions," there is a definition of "adverse behavior":

Behavior that casts doubt on an individual's judgment… that is not covered under any other guideline" is now a condition that could render an individual unfit for approval.

However, a former sentence that would permit access to be denied because of "reliable, unfavorable information from neighbors or coworkers" has been removed.

In the area of leaks, the earlier version of the document listed one condition that could arouse a security concern; the current version lists nine, many of which are related to computer technology, and some of which are related to efforts to gain information "outside one's need to know."

The 1997 version stated that sexual orientation "may not be used" to disqualify applicants, but Hadley's new version states that clearances cannot be denied "solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual." Also, the 1997 version eliminated "adverse sexual behavior" from disqualifying an individual if the behavior was "not recent." However, the new version states that the behavior cannot be used for disqualification if it "happened so long ago, so infrequently, and under such unusual circumstances, that it is unlikely to recur."

In the "criminal conduct" section of the document, Hadley has removed the word "acquittal" from a list of factors to be considered in granting access to information. He has also added discharge from the military "under dishonorable conditions" as a reason to deny access. And though it was removed in the past, Hadley has re-instated the abuse of prescription drugs after a prolonged illness as a reason to deny access.

Contraceptive issue becomes hot in Connecticut

| Mon Mar. 13, 2006 9:08 PM EST

20% of hospitals in Connecticut do not routinely offer contraceptives to all rape victims, but there is now a pending proposal that would make it illegal to not offer them. Rape counseling activists argue that not only should all hospitals provide contraception to rape victims, but that making women who are already traumatized go to another hospital or pharmacy to get them is contributing to their trauma.

The state has four Catholic hospitals which are, of course, opposed to offering contraception of any kind. What makes the Connecticut conflict interesting is that the state's Victim Advocate, James F. Papillo, is a Catholic, and is opposed to the proposed legislation, which he calls an "attack on religious freedom." Papillo's remarks resulted in calls for his resignation and also a reprimand from Connecticut governor M. Jodi Rell. But--stay with me here--Rell has also said publicly that she is not sure the legislation is necessary.

To make matters even more interesting, Democratic senator Joe Lieberman has spoken out against the legislation, saying that he believes that hospitals who refuse to provide contraception "for principled reasons" should not be forced to do so. "In Connecticut," he said, "It shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital."

Genocide in Darfur to Accelerate?

| Mon Mar. 13, 2006 8:28 PM EST

Eric Reeves looks at two recent developments that will "accelerate the genocide" in Darfur:

First, the African Union decided not to turn over the task of securing the region to the United Nations for at least another six months. The African Union, out of its depth in Darfur, has proven unable to stop the genocide; and there is little reason to believe it can do any better in the months to come.

Second, Jan Egeland, head of U.N. humanitarian operations, explained to his colleagues that humanitarian efforts in Darfur are facing a major shortfall in funding. In an internal e-mail sent Friday to U.N. personnel, Egeland worried that "the massive gains we made on the humanitarian front over the past year will be lost, and that the tide is starting to turn against us." If the African Union's decision and Egeland's warning are any indication, the twenty-first century's first genocide will not slacken any time soon. On the contrary, it will grow worse.Over at his own site, Reeves has a longer analysis for those interested, which notes that "the lives of some 4 million human beings are at stake" here, as the conflict starts spilling over into Chad.

Democrats Run from Abortion Fight

| Mon Mar. 13, 2006 2:10 PM EST

Let's see. The South Dakota GOP passed a new law criminalizing abortion in virtually all cases, including rape and incest. According to Newsweek, Republicans in Washington are terrified that when voters, who are overwhelmingly pro-choice, start looking at the South Dakota law, they'll wake up and realize that conservatives really are willing to ban abortion:

Catholic Bishops Stop Adoption Services

Fri Mar. 10, 2006 7:55 PM EST

The Boston Archdiocese's Catholic Charities announced today that it will no longer provide adoption services in the state of Massachusetts, because it doesn't want to sanction the placement of children with same-sex couples. Over the past two decades, Catholic Charities has placed 720 children with families, 13 of which were same-sex couples. There are currently 692 kids waiting to be adopted. Despite the fact that the charity's board voted 42-0 to continue providing services, the state's four Catholic bishops overruled the decision, arguing that "gravely immoral" homosexual adoption ''would actually mean doing violence to these children."

Not everyone agrees with the bishops. Seven Catholic Charities board members resigned last week in protest, calling the bishops' ruling a contradiction of the true mission of Christianity—to help those in need. Rev. J Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities, acknowledged that because the world has changed since the organization began, the ministry should adapt "to meet the changing times and needs." Even Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who opposes same sex marriage, said, "It's a sad day for neglected and abandoned children. It's a mistake for our laws to put the rights of adults over the needs of children."

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Trafficking and Abuse a Concern at the World Cup

Fri Mar. 10, 2006 3:48 PM EST

It's less than a hundred days until the start of the World Cup in Germany, where more than three million fans will fill the stadiums from thirty-two nations. Understandably, the host country wants to do its part to make sure its guests are comfortable. But in addition to bathrooms and food stands, German cities are also bringing in mobile brothels to accommodate the anticipated boom in the sex trade.

In addition to the registered German prostitutes who will be there, it's possible that over 40,000 women from Central and Eastern Europe will enter the country illegally to "entertain" clients. (Prostitution is legal in Germany, and all registered prostitutes are unionized and receive pensions and health benefits.) So while many women are anticipating a boom in business, critics are concerned about human trafficking and abuse, especially once fired-up soccer fans start hitting the streets after hours of drinking at the games.

European soccer games are notoriously rowdy, and often lead to disorderly and violent behavior. One need only glance at the Scotsman's regular feature, "football and sex assault claims" to get a sense of what goes on here. And while Germany is spending upwards of 20 million euros on stadium security alone, they've done little to quell fears about sex abuse beyond pledging to hand out 100,000 free condoms.

A "Communal Civil War"

| Fri Mar. 10, 2006 3:39 PM EST

The other day, Donald Rumsfeld mentioned that he would prefer to avoid a "civil war" in Iraq—right, obviously—but that if one did "break out" (presumably he means if things got really, really bad), then the United States would stay out of it, letting Iraqi security forces "deal with it." That's not exactly comforting, and ignores the fact that U.S. forces might not be able to stay neutral. Gary Hart recently worried that if "all-out civil war breaks out, we could lose our army. If Sunnis and Shiites take to the streets by the thousands, it could literally be impossible to get [the soldiers] out."

"The Arctic climate of the Bering Sea is in full retreat"

| Fri Mar. 10, 2006 3:21 PM EST

Not to belabor this, but if your appetite for alarming environmental news wasn't sated by our special issues on global warming and, more recently, the roiling sewers that are our oceans, well, then, the LA Times has just the story for you.

Whales, walruses, seabirds and fish are struggling to survive the changing climate of the Bering Sea, their northern feeding grounds perhaps permanently disrupted by warmer temperatures and melting ice, scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science.

By pulling together a broad range of observations and surveys, an international research team concluded that it is witnessing the transformation of an entire ecosystem in a region home to almost half of U.S. commercial fish production.

Then it gets shocking.

...As sea ice diminished, breeding grounds for seals were disrupted and populations plummeted. Polar bears started to drown. Walruses, accustomed to diving in the shallows to feed along the sea bottom, found themselves adrift on broken ice floes in waters 6,500 feet deep. The animals starved.

For more on the effects of climate change on polar bears in particular--if you can take it--see this piece by Marla Cone in the current issue of Mother Jones.

U.S. found guilty of violating human rights of Native Americans

| Fri Mar. 10, 2006 1:41 PM EST

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has urged the United States to "freeze," "desist" and "stop" actions or threatened actions against the Western Shoshone Peoples of the Western Shoshone Nation. This action challenges the United States' government's claim of ownership of almost 90% of Western Shoshone lands.

According to Shoshone spokeswoman Bernice Lalo:

The mines are polluting our waters, destroying hot springs and exploding sacred mountains--our burials along with them--attempting to erase our signature on the land. We are coerced and threatened by mining and Federal agencies when we seek to continue spiritual prayers for traditional food or medicine on Shoshone land.
And from spokesman Joe Kennedy:
...we have rights to protect our homelands and stop the destruction of our land, water, and air by the abuses of the United States government and the multinational corporations. He says "the situation is outrageous and we're glad the United Nations Committee agrees with us.

The land in question has been used for military testing, nuclear waste disposal planning, and open pit cyanide heap leach gold mining. The federal government has seized Shoshone livestock, issued trespass fines, and practiced armed surveillance of Western Shoshone. The Shoshone claim that the U.S. government has also dug up their ancestors' graves.