Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Leaky Jonathan is dribbling again

Below is an old and hilarious claim about James Hansen -- that the world's most vocal and visible scientific panic-merchant was ever "silenced". But it is the sort of reporting we expect from Jonathan Leake. There is an earlier example of Leake's deliberate deception on climate matters here. Hansen is a NASA employee and the truth of the "censorship" matter is as follows:

In 2006, Hansen accused the Bush Administration of attempting to censor him. The issue stemmed from an email sent by a 23-year old NASA public affairs intern. It warned Hansen over repeated violations of NASA's official press policy, which requires the agency be notified prior to interviews. Hansen claimed he was being "silenced," despite delivering over 1,400 interviews in recent years, including 15 the very month he made the claim. While he admits to violating the NASA press policy, Hansen states he had a "constitutional right" to grant interviews.

Now for Leake's dribble:
Jim Hansen has long been a thorn in the side of the White House. Now he has a stark warning for Britain. The trap was sprung in February 2006. The White House ordered that Dr Jim Hansen was to be denied the oxygen of publicity forthwith. He was to be banned from appearing in newspapers and on TV and radio. He was effectively to disappear. It was the kind of treatment that might be reserved for terrorists, criminals or, in a totalitarian regime, for political dissidents.

Hansen, however, was none of these things. The director of Nasa's renowned Goddard space science laboratories was a dry, rather self-effacing climate change scientist with a worldwide reputation for accurate and high-quality research. What had happened? "All I had done was to give a talk to the American Geophysical Union, setting out how 2005 had been the warmest year on record," recalled Hansen, in a visit to London last week. "But someone at Nasa got a call right from the top, from the White House. They were very annoyed."

It was not quite all he had done. Hansen had also e-mailed a transcript of the talk to a raft of reporters before he spoke. "I did make sure it hit the headlines," he recalls modestly. In his talk he declared that humanity, especially Americans and Europeans, were burning fossil fuels so fast that they risked transforming Earth into "a different planet".

Government scientists were not supposed to say things like that. Shortly afterwards the head of Nasa's public affairs office, one of George Bush's political appointees, banned Hansen from speaking to the media. "Then they also forced us to remove all our data about the latest temperature rises from the website," says Hansen. "I realised they really were going to stop me communicating." It looked like a classic case of a naive scientist being ruthlessly crushed by a government machine.

In reality, however, it was Hansen who laid the trap - and the Bush administration that got caught. A few more calls to the media and soon the story of the lone scientist gagged by the mighty Bush administration hit the front pages all over the world, carrying Hansen's warning about climate change with it once again.

More here

British Government "collects more data than the Stasi"

One consolation: The Brits are usually too inefficient to do much with it

This has got to stop. Britain's snooper state is getting completely out of hand. We are sleepwalking into a surveillance society, and we must wake up. When the Stasi started spying on me, as I moved around East Germany 30 years ago, I travelled on the assumption that I was coming from one of the freest countries in the world to one of the least free. I don't think I was wrong then, but I would certainly be wrong now. Today, the people of East Germany are much less spied upon than the people of Britain. The human rights group Privacy International rates Britain as an "endemic surveillance society", along with China and Russia, whereas Germany scores much better.

An official report by Britain's interception of communications commissioner has just revealed that nearly 800 public bodies are between them making an average of nearly 1,000 requests a day for "communications data", including actual phone taps, mobile phone records, email or web search histories, not to mention old-fashioned snail mail. The Home Office website notes that all communication service providers "may be served with a notice by the secretary of state requiring them to maintain a permanent intercept capability. In practice, agreement is always reached by consultation and negotiation." How reassuring.

The cell phone networks have been configured for legal wiretapping for a long time now. For example a recent case in Greece, parties unknown simply called the utilities in Ericsson's AXE system to perform an unlawful intercept.

In modern mobile telecommunication networks, legal wiretaps, known as lawful interceptions, are preformed at the switch. Ericsson AXE telephone exchanges support lawful intercepts via the remote-control equipment subsystem (RES), which carries out the tap, and the interception management system (IMS), software used to initiate the tap which adds the tap to the RES database. In a fully operating lawful interception system the RES and IMS both create logs of all numbers being taped so that system administrators can preform audits to find unauthorized taps.

The wiretapping infrastructure is there. And it's going to be used. The attack and defense of the information infrastructure inadvertently creates a technological arms race in which both sides get more sophisticated. The defense of any network -- and the Internet is no exception -- relies to a large extent on having a profile of its "normal" activities. Statistics based on huge samples and datasets are used to create a picture of what should be. Just as when a person knows something has been disturbed on a tabletop with which he is intimately familiar, so must network defenders have a way of spotting "anomalies". But this in turn creates threats to those who, often for legitimate reasons, want to do new things. For example. The RIAA wants to monitor peer-to-peer traffic on the Internet, but advocates of privacy want to prevent them from doing so. In order to frustrate the Internet monitors the privacy advocates use all kinds of ways to obfuscate or encrypt their information. This in turn leads to even greater investments in monitoring and cryptanlysis.

Sometimes public policy goes off in two different directions at once. Privacy laws mandate that data should be protected, while anti-terrorism laws provide that in certain respects they should be monitored. Recently a group of law professors denounced "online mobs" operating under cover of anonymity. But the same law professors might object to requiring everyone who went online to swipe an identity card into a reader before accessing the Internet. Somehow the balance must be struck, but not before there's collateral damage to the little guy.

Perhaps the saddest story of the last week concerned a "59-year-old PG&E worker and his wife, who were mistakenly flagged as pro-Scientology hackers" and had his home address, phone number, cell numbers, Social Security number dragged through the Internet through no fault of his own by a shadowy group called Anonymous. The big bad boys on the network can more than take care of themselves in this "arms race" but the ordinary man must trust to luck.


The batty British welfare State at work

UNEMPLOYED scrounger Mohammed Salim is getting the state to pay for him, his wife and their ELEVEN kids-because he can't be bothered to go to work. He quit his 27,000 pounds job teaching maths and science three years ago and is BETTER OFF claiming 29,096 a year in benefits. And he has much more time to devote to his Islamic political party- which ATTACKS the British government, even though this country gives his family their food, clothes and house for free. Mohammed is also busy planning his TWELFTH baby with wife Noreen, 35, but has no plans to get a job.

He grinned: "For many years I worked in Derby as a teacher, earning 27,000 a year, and Noreen would be at home with the kids. "I would come home at weekends. Then I moved back to work in Manchester and took a pay cut to 24,000. It was a load of c***. "I was teaching at a college and I'd be up at 5.30am with the kids then have to go to work. "I just couldn't be a***d with sitting in traffic. I'd be sat in traffic for hours and I felt like I'd done a day's work by the time I got there, I was so stressed." "It's nice to be at home with the kids and for Noreen to have a hand."

That's a luxury most hard-working taxpayers who struggle to support their families can only dream about. The family we're all supporting live in a comfy five-bedroom house on a quiet street in Rochdale, Gtr Manchester. They get 19,000 a year Jobseeker's Allowance, 6,600 Child Benefit, 2,496 free school meals and 1,000 pounds Council Tax Relief.

They have a minibus to swan around in, two TVs and a computer, plus a garden full of brightly-coloured toys. Noreen has never worked since marrying Mohammed-who is her cousin-when she was 16. She said: "I spend all day clearing up after the children. As soon as you pick up one pile of crisps or mop up drink, there's another."

As she sits on the sofa nursing their latest addition-an as yet unnamed two-week-old girl-Mohammed explains: "I can't stand condoms. "I used a condom once. It was awful. Never again, it's nothing like the real thing. It's up to God whether we have any more kids." He chortles: "It says in the Bible and the Koran to go forth and multiply, and that's what we'll do. It's Noreen, she finds me irresistible! "I see my children as God's blessing, as a gift from God. Some people out there pay to have children, through IVF or surrogacy. I feel so lucky that I can have as many as I want. "I want to carry on my family name and for my children and grandchildren to remember me."

The couple's ten other children are Muhammad Aves, 16, Sarah Zenib Bibi, 15, Maryam Hajra Bibi, 13, Muhammad Bilal, 11, Muhammad Haider Ali, nine, Halimn Sadia Bibi, eight, Umayah Habiba Hadia Bibi, seven, Saadiqah Fatima Bibi, five, Muhammad Ibrahim Amter, three, and Muhammad Imam Ismail, 18 months.

Mohammed moved to Britain from Pakistan in 1966, when he was eight. He went on to university and qualified as a teacher. He then taught computer studies, maths and science at primary and high schools and a higher education college in Manchester and Derbyshire until three years ago.

Soon afterwards he stood as a candidate in the Rochdale constituency in the 2005 General Election, using an anti-war message. But he only got 361 votes-less then one per cent of the total cast. Mohammed said: "It goes to show that we are not living in a democracy, because a democracy is supposed to reflect the opinions and the interests of the majority. "The so-called democratic process has let down the Rochdale people, just as it let down the people of the entire country when the Blair government went to war in Iraq." Previously, Mohammed staged a hunger strike in protest at the publication of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses-which some Muslims claimed was blasphemous. He said: "The hunger strike was successful in that people saw I was prepared to make a sacrifice for what I believed in."

Now he spends his time running his political party, Islam Zinda Badd, whose name means `Long Live Islam'. He said: "I set it up to protest about the war in Iraq and the NHS, and we want to show that all Muslims are not terrorists. "We use the Koran for guidance. We are not radical. We believe that we should look after each other, especially children and the elderly, and that wealth should be shared. "That is what is great about Britain. In Pakistan the government does not look after you like in England. The government here is so supportive...

And he has no plans to go back to Pakistan despite his party's anger at British policy. He said: "I did want to move back at one point but now it is so unstable-and I don't think we would be able to have the quality of life we have here."


British minister warns of `inbred' Muslims

It's a wonder this guy is not accused of "hate speech" In Australia there is a similar problem and a radio host was heavily attacked for mentioning it. For some facts on the Muslim inbreeding problem in Australia, see here.

A government minister has warned that inbreeding among immigrants is causing a surge in birth defects - comments likely to spark a new row over the place of Muslims in British society. Phil Woolas, an environment minister, said the culture of arranged marriages between first cousins was the "elephant in the room". Woolas, a former race relations minister, said: "If you have a child with your cousin the likelihood is there'll be a genetic problem."

The minister, whose views were supported by medical experts this weekend, said: "The issue we need to debate is first cousin marriages, whereby a lot of arranged marriages are with first cousins, and that produces lots of genetic problems in terms of disability [in children]." Woolas emphasised the practice did not extend to all Muslim communities but was confined mainly to families originating from rural Pakistan. However, up to half of all marriages within these communities are estimated to involve first cousins. Medical research suggests that while British Pakistanis are responsible for 3% of all births, they account for one in three British children born with genetic illnesses.

The minister's comments come as Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, rejected calls to resign over claims that Islamic law should be introduced in Britain. "I'm not contemplating resignation," he told friends. Williams insists his remarks were misinterpreted and that he was not advocating a parallel sharia jurisdiction for Muslims, but Lord Carey, his predecessor, warned acceptance of Muslim laws in Britain would be "disastrous". The archbishop is believed to have received hate mail since he made his controversial comments but has rejected offers of round-the-clock police protection. Williams is set to clash with the government again this week by voicing opposition to plans to extend detention without charge for terrorist suspects to 42 days.

Woolas, who represents the ethnically mixed seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth, has previously warned that Muslim women who wear headscarves could provoke "fear and resentment". Yesterday, he was similarly outspoken. "If you talk to any primary care worker they will tell you that levels of disability among the . . . Pakistani population are higher than the general population. And everybody knows it's caused by first cousin marriage. "That's a cultural thing rather than a religious thing. It is not illegal in this country. "The problem is that many of the parents themselves and many of the public spokespeople are themselves products of first cousin marriages. It's very difficult for people to say `you can't do that' because it's a very sensitive, human thing."

He added that the issue is not talked about. "The health authorities look into it. Most health workers and primary care trusts in areas like mine are very aware of it. But it's a very sensitive issue. That's why it's not even a debate and people outside of these areas don't really know it exists."

Woolas was supported by Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, who called for the NHS to do more to warn parents of the dangers of inbreeding. "This is to do with a medieval culture where you keep wealth within the family," she said. "If you go into a paediatric ward in Bradford or Keighley you will find more than half of the kids there are from the Asian community. Since Asians only represent 20%-30% of the population, you can see that they are over represented. "I have encountered cases of blindness and deafness. There was one poor girl who had to have an oxygen tank on her back and breathe from a hole in the front of her neck. "The parents were warned they should not have any more children. But when the husband returned again from Pakistan, within months they had another child with exactly the same condition."


Plastic bag hatred

Hosking was filming a wildlife documentary in Hawaii in 2006, on how plastic pollution is killing whales, sea birds and turtles; apparently these animals are choking on our discarded plastic fragments. She then returned to her hometown of Modbury in Devon, south-west England, determined to convince the town's traders and residents to replace plastic bags with other, biodegradable and re-useable varieties. She was successful, and Modbury is now hailed as Britain's first carrier bag-free zone....

Hosking may well be a wonderful human being (though her comment about people who have second homes in Devon - `Oh, you're one of the ones I need to put a pipe bomb through your letterbox, quite frankly' - does not suggest an entirely generous spirit). But she doesn't seem to think very much of the rest of us. In an interview last year, she expressed a cynical and fashionable disdain for modern British society: `We are 60million people eating up vast amounts of valuable natural resources. this can only lead to us drowning in our own waste and cooking in our own gases. Plastic bags clogging our waterways and climate change are two symptoms of the same problem - unsustainability.'

Whatever Hosking's personal merits and flaws, there is clearly something in the issue of bags that gets people agitated. Politicians have picked up on this mood, too, and are falling over themselves to suggest bans or compulsory charging for plastic bags. Indeed, Hosking was by no means a pioneer. First off the mark was Ireland, which introduced a `plastax' in 2002. Shoppers must now pay for each bag they receive. Currently the price of a plastic bag in Ireland is 22 Euro cents (about 15 pence or 30 US cents); the introduction of this charge initially cut the number of bags handed out by 90 per cent, though bag usage has crept up again since. According to the Irish government, the proportion of litter made up of plastic bags fell from five per cent to 0.22 per cent after the tax was introduced. Other administrations - in France and San Francisco - have banned plastic bags altogether; London may soon follow suit. This month, China announced a ban on free plastic bags.

Yet contrary to the assertions of campaigners, plastic bags are a mere footnote in Britain's use of resources and production of waste. They do not contribute very much to overall waste levels. The bags handed out for free by supermarkets weigh about eight grams. We use absolutely loads of them each year: about 10billion in the UK, which amounts to 80,000 tonnes of waste. It sounds like a lot, but in fact it represents only 0.27 per cent of all municipal waste produced annually in the UK. Moreover, the bags are produced using a part of crude oil - naphtha - that generally can't be used for anything else. If naphtha wasn't used to produce bags, it would mostly be burned off.

If anything, the plastic bag is a victim of its own success. These wafer-thin carriers are durable, ridiculously cheap to mass produce and have all sorts of wonderful ancillary uses, from bin liners to bicycle seat covers. This capacity for imaginative re-use - and the irrationality of obsessing about such trivial consumption - was neatly illustrated by Louise Carpenter in her Observer Food Monthly interview with Hosking. Her Hosking-inspired aversion to plastic bags left her, almost literally, in the shit: `In the middle of our conversation, I feel a rumble in my daughter's nappy [diaper] that quickly turns into an explosion. When I get to the loo to change her, I realise with dismay that I only have a plastic Sainsbury's bag in which to contain the dirty nappy. To my shame, it is my usual method of dealing with such a business. Not only is this clearly unacceptable in Modbury but I realise that Hosking has already converted me. "I'll take that from you!" says the Modbury cafe lady when I emerge holding the un-bagged nappy.' Welcome to Brave New Modbury, where even sticking a stinking nappy in a plastic bag, and tying a very tight knot, is frowned upon.

The cost-benefit ratio of the modern plastic bag is extremely high - they cost little financially or environmentally, and they are extremely useful. That doesn't mean plastic bags are perfect, of course. If a small charge for bags reduces bag litter, it might not be a bad idea. If alternative, cost-effective materials can be found to make carrier bags, materials which do not linger in the environment, then that's all to the good. But the crusading tone of today's anti-plastic bag hysteria suggests there is something more profound going on here than the problem of litter or plastic waste on the sea shore; this has become a deeply moralistic campaign, with some worrying undertones.

UK prime minister Gordon Brown put his finger on it last November when he suggested that plastic bags are `one of the most visible symbols of environmental waste'. It is the very visibility of plastic bags, the fact that they are used to carry all that nice food and various other consumer products, that makes certain people uncomfortable. At root, the mostly middle-class activists who get excited by the detritus of everyday life, like plastic bags, are really guilt-ridden about consumption in general - which is ironic, given that the middle classes consume more than the majority of the population. While most expenditure continues to be on the necessities of life - housing, food, heating and transport - the relatively small proportion of income devoted to the non-essentials has in recent years taken on an overwhelming importance for middle-class campaigners and commentators.

The anti-bag campaign is a product of society's current impasse. In the absence of any new political vision for transforming society, greens argue that we have reached our `natural limits' and must stop, rein things in, live more humbly. Therefore, overconsumption is looked upon as downright foolhardy, even sinful; we must reduce, reuse, recycle, they say. In this narrow-minded climate, the plastic bag, and more importantly he who carries it, has become a symbol of reckless greed and waste. What's more, many people see society as lacking any moral purpose today; thus they seek out activities and campaigns that can provide them with a sense of purpose and moral bluster. Fretting about something as historically and environmentally insignificant as the plastic bag might seem mad to many of us, but it allows Moralistic of Modbury to feel as if they are doing something Important.

Above all, this new `ethical' outlook represents a psychological, sometimes even physical, retreat from modern life. Hosking's description of her return to Modbury captured many people's view of modern life these days: `I'd been running away from Modbury for about 15 years, going as far away as I could. But right now I think it's probably quite important to localise yourself, batten down the hatches and have a life where you can sustain yourself a bit.' (6) `Sustain yourself a bit' - that could be the motto of environmentalism and of contemporary society in general. What about the millions of people who expect more from life than basic sustenance and degraded debates about non-degradable bags?


NHS reforms 'in full retreat’

Reform of the National Health Service is stalling as Britain continues to fall behind comparable countries in Europe, a report from the influential Reform think-tank concludes. While the Government claims that the overhaul of the NHS continues, it is in denial about what is happening on the ground, according to Professor Nick Bosanquet and his co-authors, Andrew Haldenby and Helen Rainbow.

The reform programmes remain “embryonic, and in some cases in full retreat”, the report says. As a result, the NHS is facing “a perfect storm” created by the combination of an ageing population, expensive new technology and a more informed society. Without successful reform, the report says, the NHS will decline, providing substandard quality and access. An outflow of talented staff would increase the difficulties.

Mr Haldenby, the director of Reform, said: “In his major speech on the NHS in January, the Prime Minister said that reform was all but in place . . . In fact, reform has barely left the starting gate.”

Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: “This report highlights Gordon Brown’s mismanagement of our NHS. He has spent a lot but achieved too little.”


The cringing British: "British athletes will be banned from competing in this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing if they criticise China's totalitarian regime. The gagging order has been imposed by the British Olympic Association. Competitors who break the rule will not travel to the games or, if they are already in China, will be put on the next plane home. It means sportsmen and women will be unable to raise concerns about China's human rights record or its occupation of Tibet. Critics accused the BOA of bowing to political pressure and said that the move raised the spectre of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which passed off without protest and were hailed as a propaganda coup for the Nazi regime. The reaction is in contrast to other countries, including the United States and Australia, where athletes will be free to speak out about China should they wish to do so".

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