Category Archives: Science

Even the ‘most transparent administration in history’ failed to pardon Snowden

In February 2013, President Barack Obama hailed his administration as “the most transparent administration in history.” It was an echo of a 2008 promise, made first on the campaign trail and then enshrined in Presidential memoranda, to share with the world the otherwise opaque dealings of an executive office, to restore trust in public servants. It was a bold promise, and one ultimately hamstrung by the very nature of the office. The Presidency, in charge of a permanent national security apparatus that manages multiple wars and perpetual intelligence operations, is a host of secrets. No well-intentioned transparency from the top-down would ever provide a clear picture of that world.
Transparency would come to the intelligence community from inside. In June 2013, revelations about an NSA mass surveillance program named PRISM appeared first in the Guardian and then in the Washington Post. These stories, which would prove to be the first of dozens, were sourced from secret documents, obtained by a system administrator, working as a contractor for the NSA, named Edward Snowden.
For months, Snowden worked inside the security apparatus, compiling an archive of secrets. This trove is, as it can only be, an incomplete look at the inner workings of America’s intelligence community. After communicating his findings to several journalists, Snowden took leave from his job at the NSA, and then fled from his Hawaii home. First to Hong Kong, and then to Moscow, where he has remained in a state of asylum. While Snowden was in Hong Kong, the United States government charged him under the espionage act, for taking and transmitting secrets to an unauthorized person.
Revelations from the Snowden Files continue regularly, with some coming as recently as December 2016. Almost as long-running as Snowden’s revelations is the debate about what the government should do with Snowden himself. For those who see Snowden’s revelations as spurring needed reforms within the intelligence community, a pardon is the logical next step. The costs of the revelation, from burned assets to compromised missions, are high enough that others see a pardon for Snowden as not only impossible, but dangerous. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers and in so doing revealed to the American public the full scale of the Vietnam war, hailed Snowden and Chelsea Manning as kindred leakers, courageous in their actions.
Chelsea Manning, it’s worth noting, also leaked a trove of government secrets for publication. Unlike Snowden, Manning was arrested and is currently serving time in Fort Leavenworth prison, where she stated her intent to transition and was regularly subjected to long durations of solitary confinement. On Tuesday, Obama commuted Manning’s sentence. Manning’s 35-year sentence was reduced to time served, plus a few months, with Manning’s ultimate release scheduled for May 17, 2017.
From The New York Times:
At the same time that Mr. Obama commuted the sentence of Ms. Manning, a low-ranking enlisted soldier at the time of her leaks, he also pardoned James E. Cartwright, the retired Marine general and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with reporters to F.B.I. agents investigating a leak of classified information about cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program.

The two acts of clemency were a remarkable final step for a president whose administration carried out an unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaks of government secrets. Depending on how they are counted, the Obama administration has prosecuted either nine or 10 such cases, more than were charged under all previous presidencies combined.
Despite the many pardons and commutations late in his presidency, it appears that President Obama has made no effort to pardon Edward Snowden, and time has run out for him to do so. Obama entered his office in the middle of two wars, with a national security apparatus fighting a global war on terror on multiple continents. Despite pledges toward transparency and progress on some fronts, the weight of the Obama administration tilts toward secrecy. What the government does in the shadows we may never be privileged to know, until the government itself chooses to declassify it decades later. If Snowden hoped to encourage others to reveal secrets they felt should be public, then Obama’s refusal to pardon Snowden before handing his fate over to a Trump administration could create a chilling effect, discouraging whistleblowers through official or unofficial channels.
It is too early to say how history will judge Edward Snowden. It is, perhaps, fair to say that without Snowden, our version of history would be incomplete.

By Kelsey D. Atherton/PopularScience

Posted by The NON-Conformist

CDC used 40% less sensitive Zika test, punished whistleblower for raising concerns – investigation

The US health agency in charge of fighting Zika used a less effective test to diagnose the virus and punished a whistleblower who raised his concerns both internally and to health officials, an investigation revealed.
Dr. Robert Lanciotti, a microbiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accused the federal agency of prioritizing a substantially less sensitive test versus an alternative approach that in his studies proved to be more effective in detecting Zika.

He claimed that the CDC “created a substantial and specific danger to public health” when it did not disclose lower sensitivity of the test it used.

The tests Lanciotti was talking about are the Trioplex and the Singleplex. The first detects not only Zika, but also dengue and chikungunya, and is recommended for testing by the CDC. The second test is only used for diagnosing Zika, the virus transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas known to cause microcephaly in newborn babies.

More from RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

A leap for women’s rights: The Texas abortion case and the end of reproductive Jim Crow laws

Radical conservatives have devised loopholes to criminalize abortions — the Supreme Court dealt them a massive blow

After the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were ratified, collectively freeing the slaves and granting them full citizenship rights (the men anyway), white supremacists concocted various subversive laws to oppress African-Americans within the new mandates of the Constitution. The laws were originally known as the “black codes” and eventually as “Jim Crow” laws.

One of the many draconian statutes passed was a law against the trivial non-crime of “vagrancy,” allowing law enforcement to arrest and incarcerate African-Americans for being unemployed or incapable of proving employment. In many cases, these men were sold to the owners of semi-secretive mining operations or plantations as, essentially, neo-slaves to serve without pay – in many cases, permanently disappeared from society. But since these were convicted criminals, slavery wasn’t slavery. It was justified as legal punishment for a ludicrous non-crime handed down by a kangaroo court, staffed by members of one good-old-boy network after another. Other laws, such as literacy tests, poll taxes, segregation and anti-miscegenation statutes followed, and not just in southern states, by the way.

Fast forward 150 years and we find ourselves in a similar predicament with regard to reproductive rights.

Incapable of overturning Roe v Wade, radical conservatives have devised loopholes to prevent or even criminalize abortions, each of which in some way regulates the basic human right to retain purview over ones body. Faced with an increasingly permanent Roe decision, we’ve seen countless examples of laws that make it nearly impossible in some states to undergo a constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Rather than banning it, legislatures decided that clinics can only exist within a certain distance of a hospital; they’ve decided that women should be forced to have what’s known as a transvaginal ultrasound in order to intimidate them against having an abortion; they’ve decided in some cases to redefine what constitutes a “legitimate” rape; and they’ve peddled “fetal personhood,” “fetal heartbeat” and “fetal pain” laws that are de facto bans on abortion. The endgame here, whether intended or not, is the oppression of women as second-class citizens if not outright criminals committing a so-called “genocide” against the unborn. In this case: Jane Crow. (This isn’t intended to diminish the African-American experience and the atrocities of the past. However, the conservative strategy of oppression is similar in both cases.)

Gratefully, in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court overturned several of these laws on Monday, ruling five-to-three to strike down the controversial HB2 law in Texas — a law that successfully closed half of clinics in the state by requiring those facilities to follow strict “surgical-center” guidelines about the design and layout of the structures, as well as requiring that clinic doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, no farther than 30 miles from the clinics.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion was perhaps the most salient:

Ginsburg kept her argument simple: Abortions are statistically safer than many simpler medical procedures, including tonsillectomies, colonoscopies, in-office dental surgery and childbirth — but Texas does not subject those procedures to the same onerous requirements.

“Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that H.B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,’ Ginsburg wrote. “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners … at great risk to their health and safety.”

When challenged to cite cases in which women’s health was in danger due to a lack of surgical facilities or admitting privileges, attorneys arguing in support of HB2 couldn’t name any. Because none exist.

The Court weighed HB2 against the precedent of the landmark Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v Casey case from 1992, which ruled against placing undue burden on women seeking a previability abortion. While the Court is obligating to rule on laws based on objective facts and the integrity of precedent in support of or contrary to those statutes, the motivations behind the Texas law, as well as other Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws nationwide are obvious. Anti-choice conservatives aren’t at all interested in clinics with surgical-grade equipment and the like, nor are they interested in women’s health in general. It’s not breaking news to observe that TRAP laws are all about making abortions as inconvenient as possible without outright banning the procedure. The assenting justices had to have known this.

In this regard, the Court’s majority opinion was precisely what it should’ve been: the excoriation of an obvious strategy to force pregnancy on women regardless of whether they can afford it or whether they can physically endure it. The ruling was additionally satisfying knowing that 40 years of conservative efforts along these lines has been swiftly obliterated, irrespective of the ideological makeup of the Court. While anti-choice zealots will walk away knowing they might’ve saved some fetuses along the way, they’ll have no choice but to hunker down and figure out a new path forward. Considering how the constitutional route hasn’t worked, and now the TRAP route has begun to disintegrate, the anti-choice movement will have no choice but to double its efforts to accost organizations like Planned Parenthood, which, itself, is turning out to be a losing proposition given how more than a dozen investigations have exonerated the clinics of illegal or unethical activities, including the sale of fetus parts.

Along those lines, acts of terrorism could become more frequent, principally due to the deceptively edited videos targeting Planned Parenthood, and now accompanied by the rage that’s already brewing as a result of the Hellerstedt decision. This fight for reproductive rights isn’t over by a long shot, but the era of reproductive Jim Crow appears to be concluding. Monday’s judgment has effectively decimated perhaps the most effective conservative weapon against choice since Roe.

By Bob Cesca/Salon

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The NRA has blocked gun violence research for 20 years. Let’s end its stranglehold on science

orlando
Image: LA Times

The Orlando massacre reminds us that there’s an enormous amount we don’t know about gun violence — what causes it, what its consequences are for surviving families, how to stop it. You can blame our ignorance on the National Rifle Assn. – and on the federal officials the NRA has intimidated away from this crucial field of public health for 20 years.

It’s widely supposed that Congress enacted a “ban” on federal funding for gun violence research in 1996. That isn’t quite true, says Mark Rosenberg, a gun violence expert who was head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the time. But the truth is even more demoralizing.

Infuriated by CDC-funded research suggesting that having firearms in the home sharply increased the risks of homicide, the NRA goaded Congress in 1996 into stripping the injury center’s funding for gun violence research – $2.6 million. Congress then passed a measure drafted by then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ga.) forbidding the CDC to spend funds “to advocate or promote gun control.” (The NRA initially hoped to eradicate the injury center entirely.)

More from the LA Times

Posted by Libergirl

‘The law has been broken routinely’: Scientist who identified lead contamination in Flint to RT

Water departments in at least 33 cities across 17 states were found to have “cheated” for over a decade on tests to conceal dangerous levels of lead in their water supplies. The scientist who discovered the Flint water contamination joined RT to discuss.

“We have a 25-year-old law that protects people from lead in the drinking water, and unfortunately that law has been broken routinely around the country,” Virginia Tech University Professor Marc Edwards told RT.

“For the last 10 years, people were doing sampling in water that made lead look low when they were reporting it to the EPA, but it was high when children were drinking it. And the EPA effectively condoned this ‘cheating’ as I call it until at least the Flint story became an international embarrassment,” stated Edwards.

The revelation about cheating on water tests in at least 33 cities in 17 US states was first reported by The Guardian. Their investigation found the same water testing methods that have prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint were used in at least 21 cities, including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee. Those testing methods underestimated lead found in drinking water.

Under current rules, the US Environmental Protection Agency requires water utilities to test a small pool of households for lead contamination at least every three years. Residents are asked to provide the samples, but how the water is gathered can impact the results.

The Guardian found that if residents ran the faucet before collecting a sample, known as pre-flushing, it helps clear lead from home plumbing before a test, and can lead to lower lead readings.

On Thursday, the Hagens Berman law firm in Philadelphia filed a class action lawsuit against the city, alleging the water department testing protocols “temporarily hide” lead contamination. The suit also claims that the city did not do enough testing in high-risk homes.

Professor Edwards was asked if he thought we might see a slew of class action lawsuits across the nation.

“One would think so,” said Edwards. “It is official US government policy that there is no safe level of lead exposure.”

Edwards added, “We routinely throw landlords into jail that do not disclose lead paint risks to their tenants. But in this case, the crime was perpetrated by government, and the EPA effectively allowed this. People were talking about cheating right in front of the EPA for years and years. If the policeman says it is not breaking the law, is it breaking the law?”

Edwards blew the whistle about lead water contamination in Washington, DC in 2001 when he was contracted by the EPA to conduct tests and found contamination levels so high, “some of it would literally have been classified as a hazardous waste.”

The contamination continues in some 15,000 homes in Washington, DC even to this day.

“Lead,” he said “is a neurotoxin.”

“Lead affects every system in the human body. There is no safe level of lead exposure,” he stressed. “We have to do everything in our power to prevent these lead exposures. You cannot undo the harm that is caused by this neurotoxin.”

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Nuclear threats in US worse than previously known — study

Conflicting with a prior industry study, a new analysis claims 96 nuclear facilities in the US are less safe than reported, citing risks such as terrorism and sabotage. The study says there remain lessons to be learned from the Fukushima disaster.
Neglect of the risks posed by used reactor fuel, or spent nuclear fuel, contained in 96 above ground, aquamarine pools could cost the US economy $700 billion, cause cancer in tens of thousands of people as well as compel the relocation of some 3.5 million people from an area larger than New Jersey, a study released May 20 finds.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s study, ‘Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of US Nuclear Plants,’ is the second installment of a two-part study ordered by Congress on the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. It not only cites, but also outright challenges a 2014 study by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US industry’s regulator and enforcer of safety standards.

The spent fuel, The Academies’ study recommends, is safer in dry casks rather than pools, because of the risk of leaks, drawing water away from the irradiated nuclear rods. An accident, terrorist attack or malicious employee all pose greater dangers to the pools, the study says.

Aside from calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to offer a better evaluation of the health risks posed, The Academies study conducted by 17 engineers, nuclear physicists and other scientists demands the commission fulfill a 10-year-old promise to put together an impartial review of the surveillance and security policies on spent nuclear fuel.

“Even with the recommendations that the Academies’ board has put together,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Scott Burnell responded, “we continue to conclude that spent fuel is being stored safely and securely in the US.”

“Nothing in the report causes immediate concern,” Burnell added, although the commission is planning a more formal follow-up later this year, according to The Center for Public Integrity.

Congress felt compelled to fund the study on Japan’s natural-turned-nuclear disaster to help prevent a similar accident from occurring in the US. On March 11, 2011, the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima was thrashed by an earthquake and tsunami, leaving three reactors without power or coolants, which resulted in their radioactive cores melting down.

Pure luck kept the disaster from becoming even worse, The Acadamies found. Instead of Daiichi’s highly radioactive rods being exposed to oxygen, which would have sent over 13 million people packing from as far as 177 miles south in Tokyo, a leak happened to be situated between a fuel rod pool and a reactor core, which sent just enough coolant to keep the vulnerable rods from rising above the water. In the end, 470,000 people were evacuated and the still ongoing cleanup is estimated to cost about $93 billion.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 2014 study put the highest odds of an earthquake happening near spent fuel storage at one in 10 million years, boasting that “spent fuel pools are likely to withstand severe earthquakes without leaking,” while the odds of a terrorist attack or internal subversion were deemed incalculable and left out of any risk assessment.

Calling that cost-benefit analysis “deeply flawed,” The Academies panel member Frank von Hippel, also an emeritus professor and senior research physicist at Princeton University, complained that the commission’s study also left out the impact on property contamination in a 50-mile radius of an accident, tourism rates and the economy, The Center for Public Integrity reported.

The new analysis also calls for new officially designated risk assessments of safety and financial impacts at the federal level as well as what improvements aboveground dry casks may bring compared to pools. The latter is estimated to cost upwards of $4 billion by the industry.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

Santorum: Climate change, flat-Earth believers are alike

Posted by Libergirl